The Story of Christmas

This is an edited version of a sermon given by my father, Dr. Ted Kautzmann several years ago in Cartago, Costa Rica. The text has been reprinted with his permission. Translation was provided by DeepL and Sam Kautzmann

We are now in the Christmas season. The haze of turkey and stuffing has passed, and the intensity of Black Friday has reduced to a mere boil. The malls are full of people, Amazon is overflowing its banks, and we’re reminded by car companies that the greatest surprise gift is making a five-figure financial commitment without consulting your spouse.


Merry Christmas! We’re in massive debt and I didn’t talk to you about it!

We know that Christmas is not really about commerce or consumption, but rather the celebration of Christ’s story. We usually think of the story of Christ as his birth, his life, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.  In other words, Christmas as the beginning of the story of Jesus, right?

But the Bible does not present it like that. Christmas is presented as the end of a long story. The surprising and shocking end. If we don’t see it that way, we don’t truly understand the story of Christ’s birth. It’s like watching the final episode of a Netflix series without seeing any of the other episodes.  Conflicts are resolved, mysteries are revealed, but one does not understand much of anything without knowing the series.


When we don’t see Jesus as the end of a long story we’re just like this meme

For months, our the pastor has been teaching on the book of Genesis: Creation, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the fall into sin, the flood and Noah, the tower of babel, Abraham, and Joseph in Egypt. 

We are better prepared now to understand the birth of Christ as the climax of the story which begins in Genesis. Even still, there are significant pieces that we are missing.

I. The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

How many people like to read genealogies?

How many know the names of their great-grandparents? or great-great-grandparents?  Today we don’t have much interest, but in the ancient world people were very conscious of their ancestors, many knew even seven generations back (great-great-great-great-great-grandparents). This was a major part of their identity.

Let’s read Matthew 1:1-17

In 1:17, Matthew divides the genealogy into three sets of 14, Abraham, David, and the exile.  It begins with the words: This is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ. These are the same words as Gen 5:1 but inside out. Rather than naming the line by the one who started it (the family line of Abraham or David), Matthew focuses on Christ. It is Jesus who gives meaning to all. They are HIS generations.

The genealogy emphasizes that Christ fulfills several promises.

II. Christ fulfills the promises to Abraham

Let’s start with Abraham. In what sense is Jesus the son of Abraham? He lived about 2000 years before, he’s in the family line, but the key is in the promise given to Abraham. In Genesis 12:2-3, God says to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

As the book of Matthew unfolds, we see that Christ is going to solve and fulfill all these promises. Moreover, Christ personifies Israel, Abraham’s ‘great nation’. He was all that Israel was meant to be. Israel pointed to him. 

We see this in Matthew chapter 4.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

 Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus said to him, “It is also written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.

Away from me, Satan, for it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Israel failed her temptation in the wilderness, but Christ won her over perfectly.

In Matthew 2:14, “When he awoke, he took the child and his mother by night, and went into Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This happened to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.’”

Israel pointed forward to Christ. It was supposed to do so positively, but often did so negatively. Christ is the son of Abraham, the descendant par excellence. He also fulfilled the promise of being a blessing to all nations.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do all the things I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, until the end of the world. Amen.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew places Abraham in the first passage and the last passage of his book ON PURPOSE.

From Matthew 8:

“The centurion said to him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my house. But one word from you will be enough for my servant to be healed. For I too am under authority, and I have soldiers under me. If I tell one to go, he goes; if I tell another to come, he comes; and if I tell my servant, ‘Do this,’ he does it. When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Who are the first to come to worship Jesus Christ in Matthew’s account? Foreign wisemen.

In Matthew 1:3-6, there are 4 mothers, who are they?

Why only them and not Sarah? All were foreigners, apparently. (Remember Uriah was a Hittite)

Matthew included them to emphasize Christ’s role as the one who would be the blessing to all nations

III. Christ Fulfills the Promise of the Savior King

Jesus is heir to the throne of David. Nathan the prophet announced to King David in 2 Samuel 7, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you, and your throne shall be established forever.”

Isaiah 9 talks about this future king:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

Matthew 1:16 gives him the title ‘Messiah’ (which in Greek is Christ) which literally means ‘anointed one’. At the time of Jesus, many Jews referred to the messiah as the Davidic king who will bless and save them.

IV. Christ Fulfills the Promise to Save from Exile

“[Israel] enjoyed the vast and fertile land that you gave them; and yet they would not serve you nor repent of their wickedness. Therefore we live today as slaves of others; we are slaves in our own land, the land you promised to our ancestors.”

Neh 9:35

Although there was some restoration, Christ would finally solve it.

Matthew 1:21 the angel says, “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Fantastic video describing the idea of exile (and Christ’s role in saving us from it

V. Christ Fulfills the Promise to Bless You

Another thing the four mothers have in common: They had the appearance of a bad reputation.

“The birth of Jesus Christ was like this: Mary, the mother of Jesus, was betrothed to Joseph, but before they were joined as husband and wife it was found that she had conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and wanted to leave her secretly, for he did not want to denigrate her. While Joseph was thinking about it, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “’Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary, your wife, for her son has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.’”

Matthew 1:18 – 20

Christ even follows this model of being the son of a questionable union, publicly speaking. The five women in the genealogy are vulnerable and marginalized yet still used by God for His most important purposes.

This ending is shocking. Look at what God accomplished with those lives. What is He going to accomplish with YOUR life? We are in Christ now.

So Christmas is the celebration of the end of a 2000 year history. A surprising and powerful ending.

But it is also a new beginning. A new season.  The last episode of the first season, and at the same time, the first of the second season.

As we celebrate the story of Christ, let us also celebrate how God has fulfilled His promises to save you from the first part of your life and now we are only at the beginning of what God is going to do in your life.

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How Can They Live with Themselves?

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source: fox news latino

The following is a voter guide. Not for your own vote, dear reader, I trust that you have made a wise and moral choice. This guide is for you to understand how that heathen sitting across the aisle in church could vote for THAT other candidate (you know the one).

How can they just sit there and vote like that?

On Tuesday, one of the most contentious elections in recent memory will take place (check here for a ranking of contentious US elections) My prediction is that it will end in the 5 – 8 range.

This post is simply a guide outlining why anyone (especially Christians) would ever vote for THAT candidate. I have presented arguments for each of the three major candidates, as given by their supporters. My goal was to accurately state their reasoning, help readers better understand and sympathize with others, and also reflect on their own decisions.

I am not unbiased. Still, I’ve tried to present a balanced and fair summary of their reasons. As much as I say, “I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m just telling you the facts,” I am actually hoping to change your minds. Feel free to discuss my choice, but refrain from attacking the choices of others, my manhood, or my mother. While I believe I have represented other views adequately, it is wearisome defending my opponents.

Finally, these views are my own. These are not the views of my workplace or church.

I have not included a bibliography, instead I have provided links to articles/videos I refer to. I have tried to use news outlets that were reasonably neutral (or tilted in favor of the candidate).

Unattributed quotes are from supporters I interviewed. They have given me permission to quote them anonymously.

Feel free to message me on Facebook if you would like any clarification.

4 REASONS WHY I AM VOTING FOR TRUMP*

*Please remember that these are reasons given by supporters of this candidate. They do not necessarily reflect my own views.

  1. ABORTION

    As a believer, I am pro-life. I cannot support a candidate who does not take a position that defends the unborn. Whatever his faults, I believe lives are at stake. Interestingly, Trump’s position on abortion has been his most consistent. Although he stated in 1999 that he was ‘very pro-choice’,  I believe he has changed. From his Facebook page

    “The primary responsibility of the federal government is to protect the rights of its citizens. Life is the most fundamental right. The federal government should not diminish this right by denying its protection.”

    He opposes the use of government funds to pay for abortions. Trump does allow for abortion in extreme cases (rape, incest, mother’s life).

  1. The Supreme Court

    Franklin Graham has been one of the biggest proponents of this view (though he hasn’t actually endorsed Trump), I’ll quote him here:

    “The public needs to recognize that this presidential election is not about personalities the way the media is trying to make it sound. What’s at stake is the future of the Supreme Court. This court and their rulings on issues of religious freedom, marriage, abortion, and much more will impact this country for our lifetime and the lifetime of our children and grandchildren. There’s so much on the line here. Our next president will immediately appoint one justice, and could appoint three or even possibly up to five during their term…”

    We must win the Supreme Court, therefore we must vote for Trump.

  1. Mike Pence

    A true conservative, honorable, and a faithful husband. I may disagree with Trump on some things, but his pick for Vice President has gotten my vote. Perhaps Pence will influence Trump, or perhaps the Lord will use this election to bring Mike Pence into office.

  1. Hillary Clinton

    Simply put, I cannot support Hillary Clinton. The email mess, the tragedy in Benghazi, her super liberal policies, her support for abortion, immigration, gun control, and much more… She’s a lifelong dishonest politician. Anyone would be better than her.

There are other reasons for voting Donald Trump (He’s an outsider & Washington is corrupt, His platform, Refugee/Immigration policy, He’s not politically correct), though not every Trump supporter approved of those. The reasons listed above were simply the most commonly cited.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

What about the recordings of gross comments he made?

First off, the recordings were made 10 years ago. It’s locker room talk. Coarse joking, while unacceptable, happens.  We can’t expect a perfect candidate. Besides these comments pale in comparison to what Hillary has done. Finally, Donald Trump has apologized.  We should accept that and move on.

He’s lied before, how can we trust him?

The lies are overblown; the media hates him and they’re trying to undercut him. Politicians lie (we know Hillary has); Donald Trump is someone who says what’s on his mind, and he’ll hold them accountable.

As for trusting him, Donald Trump’s stance on abortion has been reasonably steady, so when it comes to that issue, we’re probably okay. While there may be some reservations about whether he’ll actually nominate those justices, I feel this is our only option for gaining the Supreme Court. Therefore, I will vote Trump.

Critics of Donald Trump like to bring up many other things (racist comments, denying he supported the Iraq War). I chose the most commonly cited ones.

Several of the other complaints about Trump are bogus (such as Russian connections and buying children) You can find them refuted here

4 REASONS WHY I AM VOTING FOR HILLARY*

*Please remember that these are reasons given by supporters of this candidate. They do not necessarily reflect my own views.

  1. Social Issues

    As believers, we should support and help those in need. We should be compassionate towards the poor, the oppressed, and even refugees. As a result, I support Hillary’s positions on welfare, immigration, and healthcare.

    I understand that people are worried about terrorists entering with refugees, but I believe that our vetting process is up to the task.  Statistics show that the likelihood of terrorists allowed entry as refugees is almost nonexistent. As Christians (and Americans) we should protect those fleeing violence.

    The Affordable Care Act needs fixing, but we shouldn’t get rid of it. Healthcare shouldn’t be looked at as a luxury; everyone should have access to it. Without government intervention in the insurance market, many are denied care (such as those who have had cancer, diabetes, etc).

  2. Experience

    Hillary Clinton is well prepared for the position. She has experienced the White House first hand, she was Secretary of State, and a Senator. While she hasn’t always done the best job, few candidates have had as much experience as Hillary.

  3. Lives Matter

    Our nation is struggling with violence and injustice. Whether it’s school/public shootings or violent protests, there is a problem. Hillary’s stance on guns, poverty, and race will help make our country safer and help address some of the underlying causes. While many worry and criticize Hillary’s stance on gun control, few have actually read her platform:

      • Expanding background checks to more gun sales and making sure to close any loopholes allowing people to bypass this requirement
      • Holding gun dealers who break the law accountable
      • Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill

    While we may not agree the definition of ‘military-style weapons’, I think that with more legislation, we can make it harder for dangerous people to acquire guns, while keeping them in the hands of responsible users.

  4. Donald Trump

    Simply put, I cannot support Donald Trump. The tape-recoding mess, the inappropriate comments, suggesting that Saudi Arabia should be allowed nuclear weapons, his support for a wall, and much more… He’s a lifelong dishonest businessman. Anyone would be better than him.

There are other reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton (childhood education, mental health policies, women’s rights, climate change). The 4 Reasons listed above were simply the most commonly cited.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

Given Bill Clinton’s sexual past, why would we allow him back into the White House?

Bill Clinton cheated on Hillary. He abused his power (and abused women). I respect Hillary Clinton.  She had good reasons for divorcing her husband, yet she chose not to. Maybe she wanted to stay in power; maybe she chose to forgive her husband. At the end of the day, we’re electing her, not her husband.

Isn’t Hillary Clinton a socialist?

“I think in general people misuse the word Socialism or use it as slur and sound byte to tear down credibility of one person…The idea that America could ever become a pure socialist state, regardless of who is President, is a ridiculous idea. By the way the government is structured alone, I don’t see that happening nor would the free market allow that. No, I think people call her a “socialist” because they fear the idea that a national healthcare system would take away their right to choose whether to be insured or not or which system to be on. And since she’s been a proponent of that for decades, she’s been called a socialist since the 90s. At the very core, though, we’ve actually had dozens of programs that could technically be a form of socialism, but have benefited our country.”

How do you justify Benghazi?

A two-year Republican-led congressional committee investigated the tragedy and cleared her. I’m deeply sorry and shocked by what happened. Clearly there were costly mistakes, but Hillary Clinton was absolved by the investigation, we should be satisfied.

What about the deleted emails?

“The FBI investigated and chose not to prosecute based on the evidence they found. For me that’s a period to this story. I know it will never go away, but while I think it was an error in judgment, I don’t think it makes her unfit to be President.”

If there is (legitimately) more to the story and she is found guilty, she should withdraw (or resign).

As a Christian, how can you support someone who is pro-choice?

I am pro-life. This is why I support Hillary Clinton’s policies toward the poor, refugees, immigrants, and welfare. I do not agree with her stance on abortion. George Bush, with a majority in the Supreme Court, wasn’t able to overturn Roe v Wade, I doubt Trump will succeed in a more divided nation.

Abortion is an issue that won’t be stopped just by a law. America needs a law change AND a heart change. Abortion is at its lowest rate since 1973, let’s work on changing hearts while we wait to change the law.

Critics of Hillary Clinton like to bring up many other things (being a war hawk, dirty politics, ties to Wall Street). I chose the most commonly cited ones.

Many of the other complaints about her are bogus (such as freeing a rapist, stealing White House furniture, shutting down the NRA, USA can’t vet all the refugees). You can find them refuted here.

4 REASONS WHY I AM VOTING FOR JOHNSON*

*Please remember that these are reasons given by supporters of this candidate. They do not necessarily reflect my own views.

  1. Less Government

    The government has overstepped its bounds. Gary Johnson has promised a balanced budget. We cannot keep spending money we don’t have or overtaxing our most productive people. Rather than taxing income, which penalizes those working, Johnson’s Fair Tax Plan would impose a single sales (consumption) tax (roughly 29%) with certain exceptions for the poor (prebates)

    Repeal the NSA. This act is a violation of our privacy and freedom of speech.

  2. Less International Involvement

    As someone who believes in the sanctity of life, I think we need to avoid foreign wars. This includes the War on Terror.

    “…Terrorism will never be eradicated, thus we are locked into perpetual warfare. We’ve killed or displaced millions of Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians, and made the Middle East less stable. We are not the policemen of the world. Bring the troops home immediately and defend our borders.”

  3. You Can’t Legislate Morality

    “Adults should be as free as possible to do whatever they like as long as they do no harm to others”

    I believe in right and wrong, but we should be free to make this choice. We cannot force someone else to subscribe to our own code of ethics.

    “Rates of addiction remain unchanged, overdose deaths are at an all-time high and drugs cost less than ever before.”

    The War on Drugs has failed. We need to decriminalize drug use and make addiction a health issue, not a criminal one.

  1. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

    Simply put, I cannot support Hillary Clinton. The email mess, the tragedy in Benghazi, her super liberal policies, her support for abortion, gun control, and much more… She’s a lifelong dishonest politician. Anyone would be better than her.

    I cannot support Donald Trump either. The tape-recoding mess, the inappropriate comments, suggesting that Saudi Arabia should be allowed nuclear weapons, his support for a wall, and much more… He’s a lifelong dishonest businessman. Anyone would be better than him.

There are other reasons for voting for Gary Johnson (such as his views on immigration, state’s rights, lack of scandals). The 4 Reasons listed above were simply the most commonly cited.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

Isn’t voting 3rd Party throwing away your vote?

I don’t believe that voting for Gary Johnson is throwing away your vote. While he will probably not win the election, if enough people vote for him, the Libertarian Party would gain ballot access, more federal election funds, and help change our Two Party System.

Doesn’t Gary Johnson support Abortion/Prostitution/Homosexual Marriage?

I am pro-life. While I disagree with Gary Johnson’s views on abortion, he has stated that since it is not mentioned in the Constitution (he’ll let states decide). I think this is better than what we will get from Clinton or Trump, and hopefully more states would come to outlaw the practice. I believe that more of us should adopt, which, hopefully, would help put an end to this.

As for the other two, I don’t believe we should force others to adopt our morality. I don’t think prostitution or homosexuality is right, but I also don’t think I can force someone not to: if they want to sin (and are not hurting anyone), we should not stop them.

After Gary Johnson asked ‘What is Aleppo?’ on an interview, many questioned his qualifications for handling foreign policy. How do you respond to this?

“Admittedly, Johnson is not well versed on foreign policy. As President, he would have access to the top foreign advisors and intelligence in the world to assist him.”

In addition, Donald Trump has just as little foreign policy experience (not to mention a dangerous temperament), and Hillary Clinton’s record is abysmal as well.

Conclusion: 3 Points, 2 Questions, 1 Vote*

*Yes these are my actual views; no these are not my church’s views.

I actually have about 40 points per candidate, but I’ve settled on 3.

  1. Abortion

    I cannot support Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion. I fear that she will further the practice (and I worry that her political experience will help her do so).

    Donald Trump’s views on abortion are a compelling argument for voting for him, but I struggle. If President Bush, with a conservative Supreme Court, was unable to challenge the practice, I do not see Trump succeeding. Voting for him will (at best) preserve the status quo.

    Gary Johnson’s views are less compelling. He is pro-choice. Johnson believes that the government has no right to tell you what to do with your body (which extends to abortion). As president would he be willing to fight to allow the states to make that decision? Doubtful.

  2. Abuse of Power

    When Donald Trump is in power, he has a history of abusing it. Some examples:

    He’s been sued at least 60 times for failing to pay his employees.

    The obscene recordings. (Careful clicking, they are bad)

    I understand that the recordings happened 10 years ago, and I understand that Bill Clinton committed some lecherous acts during his presidency. Neither of these are good defenses. Bill Clinton’s sin does not justify Donald Trump’s.

    Calling these statements simply dumb comments is incorrect. In the recording he talks about what he had done. This is not a crude joke, but a proud admission of sexual harassment and assault. Assault which he claimed he could do because “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

    His apology was not much of an apology either. He says he regrets it. He says he’s changed. And he says ‘let’s be honest, this is the real world’ Bill has done worse.
    As for changing, threatening to sue those accusing him and defending himself by saying “believe me, she would not be my first choice.” This is a strange response since he admitted to saying that he did similar things (and that he regretted it).

    Donald Trump has a history of abusing his power to get what he wants. I cannot vote to give power to this man.

 

  1. Refugees & Immigration

    We should be compassionate towards the poor, the oppressed, and even refugees. I understand that people are worried about terrorists entering with refugees; but I believe that our vetting process is up to the task: statistics show that the likelihood of terrorists allowed entry as refugees is almost nonexistent.  As Christians (and Americans) we should protect those fleeing violence.

    Most importantly: Muslims need to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. The chances that they would hear the gospel in a war-torn Middle Eastern nation are minimal. The chance that they would hear the gospel in the United States? Bring the mission field here.

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

Not voting for X is a vote for Y!

Not a question, but I’ll answer it anyway. I will not vote for Donald Trump. Nor will I vote for Hillary Clinton. Nor will I vote for Gary Johnson. Not voting for any of the 3, does not constitute choosing one.

Voting is a privilege and a responsibility. A presidential vote is supposed to be our choice. I do not believe that if someone CAN’T win, we shouldn’t vote for them.

I’ll quote Atticus Finch, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”

And I’ll leave this here…

vote-pedro

What about the Supreme Court!?

I am afraid of who Hillary Clinton would appoint.

I am thankful for our system of checks and balances. Whoever is nominated still needs to be approved by the Senate.

BONUS PREDICTION

First I’ll quote Max Lucado’s excellent statement:

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

Finally, I believe that our next president will be slandered and falsely accused by the opposing party. I also think the next president will have most actions criticized and blocked by the other party. We’ll be left with an administration that will struggle to accomplish much and will blame their opponents. I believe the opponents will point to failed policy as narrow escape and false accusations as certain truth.

In four years we will repeat the venomous process.

MY VOTE

I’ve spoken my piece; I cannot support any of the three. I will write in.

Defending the Indefensible

Is it time to kill the Lock In?

The youth blog comes out of retirement as a cutting response to Bill Nance’s recent article Why It’s Time to Kill the Lock In

I have not met Mr.Nance; but, given the article, I assume that we both serve under the same Lord Jesus. This response serves two purposes: being a non-essential topic (I’d argue almost frivolous), I can indulge in a favorite pastime: aggressive discussion. That said, he brings up several interesting points, and I agree with him that in certain contexts, the Lock In should be put down. Second, Dissecting Nance’s article will hopefully spur some new thoughts on the purpose and effectiveness of church events.

I love sleep. In college, faced with the daunting task of staying up all night to meet a deadline or give up and go to bed, my choice was sleep. I would get a solid 9 hours and accept the consequences.

My previous response to lock-in requests was ‘wait til next month’. The next month, I responded ‘how about after the break’, then ‘don’t you guys have tests this week?’. By then it was summer. I was anti-lock in. Needless to say, something changed. While I don’t think they are always the most effective choice for ministry, I do think they can be a useful tool in youth ministry. Nance argues 5 reasons that the Lock In should be killed, here are 5 responses.

1.They don’t grow the Kingdom

I would argue that they do; we’re simply not understanding what these events offer for Kingdom building. Lock-ins can be an effective tool for building community.

They work as an investment for future spiritual conversations with students. A shared bond (even a bleary-eyed one) can go a long way towards deeper relationships. “I don’t know you all that well, wanna grab a coffee?” is significantly more effective when stated: “Remember when we _____________ at the lock-in? That was awesome, I realized I don’t know you that well, we should talk more, wanna grab a coffee?” Discussions may not be very deep at 3am, but those silly discussions can foster deeper ones. The shared experience, especially of goofiness, helps build the sense of togetherness. It’s easier to cross cliques at 3am.

They also work as effective marketing.

A big part of advertising is not simply to make you want something right now, but for you to associate good feelings with the product. A kid who comes to a lock-in (hopefully) will associate church with a loving & welcoming family who enjoy each other (and were loads of fun). Not the worst investment, especially considering the way others (specifically non-Christians) have marketed the church.

2. They require a lot of work and money

A prime objection to lock ins is the cost to your volunteers. These folks already give so much of their time and energy to the kingdom, asking them to stay up all night to build community (which admittedly can be done in other ways) risks burning them out. My wife suggested a solution: shifts. 9-12, 12-3, 3-6. Volunteers can choose 1 or several. This keeps us sane and energetic. Something something hands and light work.

Budgeting for bands, speakers, special equipment is not a lock in requirement. Lock ins are as cheap as you want. Dodgeball, sardines, and board games are inexpensive. If you want cheaper, you can charge an entry fee or ask parents if they would provide a dish. Start the event AFTER dinner.

Arguing that an even CAN require a lot of work and money doesn’t mean it HAS to.

3. Nothing good happens at 3am

Interestingly, the author mentions finishing his article at 2am. Glad he made the deadline.

Tons of good happens at 3am. Prove me wrong.

Simply put, this argument is an opinion. His horror stories are pretty horrific, but groups of pastors (especially youth pastors) have these types of stories for all kinds of events (even mission trips and service projects). I believe this is anecdotal evidence.

I would say that lock ins, perhaps more than most events, depend on context. Some groups can’t handle them. Sometimes, kids see these as opportunities for mischief. Sometimes, lock ins won’t work. I’ve known several groups of youth who could not lock in without incident. In that context, this type of event might need to be killed (or at least shelved for a time).

I would also say that these paragraphs have gotten increasingly mature. On to the next point.

4. It’s not healthy

Nance shares the dangers of staying up all night. And a story about a kid drinking 2 two liters of Mountain Dew. Can we lock in without someone drinking that much Dew? Than why does this have any impact on the discussion. Bring healthier food.

I wonder about the sleep question. First, I think 1-2 all-nighters per year won’t cause significant damage. Second, I would like to see sources (college studies on test performance after staying up all night studying isn’t concerned with long term affects).

Arguing that staying up all night causes excess dopamine seems strange. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system, dopamine can be released in our brains from a myriad of activities.

5. They set up false expectations of ministry

From Nance: “Lock-ins set up a fake picture of what youth ministry is supposed to be. People start to think: it’s supposed to be wild and crazy with lots of games and food! It’s supposed to be a big event that gets bigger all the time! It’s supposed to be high-energy, pushing-the-envelope type stuff!”

“Yeah, we should have fun, but when having that big event becomes our focus, and we try to top it year after year, we’re creating a ministry idol that needs to be torn down.”

They can. The idea of what youth ministry is supposed to be is undergoing a shift. Hopefully away from entertainment/crazy/event style things to a Christ-centered part of the whole church –  one with specific gifts and specific needs.

It sounds like, in the context of his ministry, lock ins may need to go. I would like to thank him, for a chance to think and reflect on why we choose to do what we do.

Prophetic Introduction

Three good ideas while reading the Prophets.*

Heavily borrowed from Fee & Stuart’s excellent book How To Read the Bible For All It’s Worth

DISTANT FUTURE PREDICTION WAS NOT THEIR MAIN CONCERN.

When we hear the word ‘prophet’, we generally either think profit (shout out to Elijah Armstrong) or future predictions. Although the prophets did predict the future, it was rarely distant. In fact, less than 2% of prophecy is about the Messiah, less than 5% is about the New Covenant, and less than 1% is about stuff that still hasn’t happened yet. On top of this, their predictions were never for the sake of ‘calling it’, rather they predicted with purpose: warning of impending consequences for sin or inspiring hope.

THE PROPHETS WERE GOD’S LAW ENFORCEMENT.

Just like the po-po/fuzz/police enforce laws we already know the rules they’re enforcing.

It’s strange to think, but very little from the prophets is actually ‘new’ information. The crazy punishments, dire warnings, and sweet blessings were ALREADY KNOWN. Check this out from Leviticus:

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season… I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid…  You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you… I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place[a] among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”

“‘But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, 15 and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.

“I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over… I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings… I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies…”

 “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land… I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God.”

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 2011. Print.

Even the Messiah had already been promised through the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12), though the prophets further developed the concept.

In reality, the primary role of the prophets was calling Israel back to obeying the terms of the covenant. The covenant (or agreement) Israel entered into with God was a serious deal. Similar to a small nation pledging itself to a much more powerful one. It was agreed that if the smaller nation (Israel in this case) held up its end of the bargain (following God’s Law), great blessings would happen. If they broke the agreement (in this case disobeyed the Law) there would be curses. If these were nations, the smaller one would be liable for destruction and exile if it broke the agreement.

GOD’S PROPHETS HELP REVEAL GOD’S HEART.

In the prophets, we see God’s power over all the nations and human history. We see God judging and dealing with sin. We see the importance God places on mercy and justice. We also see God going above and beyond, trying to reach his people and turn them back to him, even though they break his covenant. Once the punishment is over, God restores them; in fact, He promises a new covenant with the law written on their hearts, and with Him as their shepherd and caring for the weak.

The Intern: #1

This summer, our church is blessed to have a youth intern. Every Friday, she will be posting right here.

Hello everyone, my name is Natalie VanLith and I will be the new youth intern this summer. I am extremely excited to be a part of the FBC youth group and get to know all of you better. Before I say anything about plans for this summer I should probably tell you a little about myself.

My family started attending First Baptist Church in Minot when I was four years old and has continued attending ever since. I came to know Christ as my Savior when I was around 4 or 5 years old through the AWANA program here at FBC. My walk with Christ has been a series of ups and downs that have contributed to my spiritual growth. Some moments of great growth occurred in this very youth group through different events such as my mission project to Romania as a sophomore in high school and the weekly discussions that were generated by my youth pastor every Wednesday night. Currently I am attending Cedarville University in Ohio although I spent this past semester studying abroad in Lithuania. College has been a season of great growth for me as I have been able to see God work though people all over the world in all walks of life. One lesson that God has been really emphasizing to me during my time in college is the need to make every aspect of my life count for him. A big way that I can be doing this is to intentionally make every relationship I have point back to him. I hope to continue learning how to make this happen through my time here at FBC as the youth intern.

As the youth intern I hope to not only learn from this experience how ministry works but also strengthen my relationship with God. In order to have meaningful relationships with people we first have to have a meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father. I look forward to developing this relationship while also developing relationships with the youth and sharing how God has worked in my life and witnessing how God is working in theirs. I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead the Junior High youth group this summer and assist at the high school meetings. I will also be leading a girl’s Bible study this summer. I will share more details about these events in the future. Can’t wait to get to know all of you! Have a blessed day in Christ!

The Panic Button: Part II

The Panic Button is an ongoing series which will include resources for those moments of terror when a lesson is needed and there’s no time to prepare. Hopefully these will prove useful when someone calls in sick, when you’re called to teach fourth graders, or when you simply forgot.

Panic Parachute

Welcome to Panic Button II.


The Lesson

1. Set up 8 chairs in a circle

2. Choose a Bible-related topic or question (such as Spiritual Gifts, Evangelism, Faith/Works, Themes in a book of the Bible, Calvinism/Arminianism, White/Wheat, Paper/Plastic etc). You can (and sometimes should) have the students read a passage(s) on the topic.

3. Ask for six volunteers who love discussion and have them sit in the chairs (leaving two open seats) Let them discuss the topic

4. If anyone from outside the circle jumps into an open seat, the discussion group needs to stop and let them share. If someone from the outside keeps wanting to jump in, you can expand the circle.


‘Good Discussion’ is a holy grail for teachers. Many, like the Nazis in Indiana Jones, spend their lifetimes searching, only to be skeletonized when they drink from the wrong grail. Good discussion isn’t just ‘many people said something’ or ‘people answered correctly’ or ‘somebody cried.’ An important component is collaboratively discovering or adjusting perspectives.

That said, this lesson is one of the best discussion frameworks I’ve seen. The talkers can talk; and, equally important, introverts have time to think through the question, frame a response, and be heard when they share. Even better, the leader can spend time during the activity encouraging those on the outside to consider the statements and even directing them toward relevant scripture.

Great stuff.

Panic Button II borrowed the lesson from Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Ben Vinje and plagiarized the comic from Gary Larson.

Awana Challenge

“You are not done.”

I considered ending there. The crowd was about as silent as a crowd of 3rd – 12th graders can be.

Maybe I should explain.


My first experience at an Awana awards night was as you would expect. We were all underdressed. The youngest were squirming and the oldest distracted.

I had been asked to bring ‘the challenge’ for the group. One that had a nine year age gap that spanned forty years. I also had about five minutes.


The pause was much more dramatic in my head.

“The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians said as much. “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

If Paul, author of much of the New Testament, Apostle of Jesus Christ, didn’t think he was finished. How can we?”


Ten years ago, I wasn’t dumb enough to say I was done, just to think so. Having been a youth leader, lead small groups, taken seminary classes, lead worship teams, given messages, I thought I was doing pretty good.

Sometimes I wondered why nobody in my new home was asking for my advice or spiritual guidance.

Sometimes, I’m just preaching to myself.


“Sometimes we forget what God’s goal is; sometimes we substitute good for the best. God wants to see us transformed into the likeness of his Son, and help others do the same. We’re supposed to fill the earth with people after God’s heart.

Awana can help us do this. Learning and memorizing God’s Word is part of it, but this is a process that doesn’t stop when we finish our books. It stops when we die.


Telling 3rd graders that Awana doesn’t stop until we die may not have been the best idea. My first and last Awana Awards Ceremony.

Mother’s Day

Since Sunday was Mother’s Day, I thought I would share an article I wrote for the First Word at my church. It’s very loosely based on Gary Shogren’s excellent post here

“There’s a mother’s day and a father’s day, why isn’t there a children’s day?” Little Sam asked. Mom smiled. Sam struggled pronouncing his ‘L’s.

“Every day is children’s day.”

Much like “Because I said so” and “I’ll tell you when you’re older”, he didn’t like the answer. Grudgingly, Little Sam scurried off to play with his dinosaurs.

While every day might feel like Children’s Day, the real answer is that everyone is a child. So who would buy the gifts or prepare the meal or write the cards? Clearly, that would be left to the mother.

But mom would never tell him that. She may not even know. Moms don’t think like this.

Mom’s favorite team was her son’s favorite team (though secretly she hoped it was a tie… that way nobody was sad).

Mom’s favorite food was what was left after her kids were full. If you tried to get her to eat first, somehow the discussion would end with her agreeably serving you seconds of delightful chicken pot pie. While her plate had yet to see firsts.

Mom points me to 1 Thessalonians:

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”

On Mother’s Day, let’s remember, honor, and celebrate our mothers, and let’s do so with cards, flowers, cleaning, meals, and gifts… But even more, let’s carry HER attitude to love those around us so much we’re DELIGHTED to share NOT ONLY THE GOSPEL but OUR LIVES AS WELL!

Praying for them, caring for them, doing whatever it takes for them… like mom.

The Problem with Worship Songs

I’m pretty nostalgic. By High School, I even liked sandwiches with dirt in them; the grit reminded me of childhood days at the beach. Nostalgia makes pool water taste like memories and causes me to declare ‘The Lego Movie’ Oscar-worthy. Things simply aren’t like they were ‘back in the day’.  Cartoons, clothes, entertainment, and especially worship music have changed, mostly for the worse.

Nostalgia shouldn’t be confused with whining. They are very different. Whining is ‘complaining in a feeble or petulant way’. Nostalgia is mourning the greatness of lost cultures and bygone eras. Back in my day, we really had something to complain about!

Anyways, over the last several years, one of my constant nostalgic refrains is that many new worship songs fall into the “Jesus is my Boyfriend” category. Defined as: ‘1 a : a love song addressed to an unidentified second person, generally understood to be Jesus, but possibly another party b : a love song addressed to Jesus that contains language generally reserved for romantic relationships e.g. ‘I want to touch you’ ‘I want to swim in the ocean of your gaze’.

One evening, while reminiscing on my front porch, I wondered, if you removed the context of church, how many worship songs can actually be identified as Christian?

Let’s play a game. Which of these lyrics are from a Praise & Worship song?

Song A

Only you can make this world seem right
Only you can make the darkness bright
Only you and you alone can thrill me like you do
and fill my heart with love for only you

Song B

I know you can save me,
no one else can save me now but you!
As long as the planets are turning,
as long as the stars are burning,
As long as your dreams are coming true,
you better believe it

I would do anything for love,
Oh I would do anything for love,
I would do anything for love…

Answer: Neither. Song A is by the Platters, who, according to Wikipedia, “were one of the most successful vocal groups of the early rock and roll era. Their distinctive sound was a bridge between the pre-rock Tin Pan Alley tradition and the burgeoning new genre. The group had 40 charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1955 and 1967, including four no. 1 hits.” Song B is by Meatloaf.

That was disingenuous. Let’s do this for real. Which of these songs are Christian?

Song A

Your friendship, it is intimate,
I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace,
your fragrance is intoxicating,
In our secret place your love is extravagant

Song B

Changing my life with your love has been so easy for you
And I’m amazed every day, and I’ll need you,
I’ll be yours, until the sun doesn’t shine,
‘Till time stands still, until the winds don’t blow

Song C

How deep is your love? how deep is your love?
I really need to learn ‘Cause we’re living in a world
of fools Breaking us down when they all should let us be
We belong to you and me

I believe in you. You know the door to my very soul,
You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall

Song D

I want to breathe the air of your home
Enjoy your fragrance and fill myself with you
I want to be with you every day
And celebrate in your garden.

I want to be so close I can breathe you
And only hear one beat.
I want to be so close I can touch you.
And mimic your purity.

Song E

So now I come to you with open arms,
Nothing to hide, believe what I say
So here I am with open arms
Hoping you’ll see what your love means to me,

Song F

So close I believe,
You’re holding me now
In your hands I belong
You’ll never let me go

Answers: A, D, F. That’s pretty unsettling. Even if you got all of them right, they’re close. So close. And there’s a lot more.*

*I’m purposely avoiding some of the more popular offenders for two reasons. 1) They’d be ridiculously easy to guess and 2) I don’t want them to dominate the discussion. 

Recently, while grumbling about the state of p&w songs, I decided to relive my worship leading-days by looking through an old youth group songbook. The words sang praises and echoed memories of high school. Then I noticed an old favorite:

Come dance with me,
Fill and renew my heart,
 Lead me dancing

Come dance with me,
Heal and restore my heart,

Lead me dancing

As I fall into your arms,
As I fall into your arms,
Hold me, lead me dancing

That’s it. That’s the entirety of the song. Here’s another:

There is a place that I know, where I need more often to go,
A place of amazing comfort and rest,
where a smile is never rare, and your love is as free as the air,
And I lack for nothing when I can see the love in your eyes
and know that it’s all for me

Apparently, 90s worship wasn’t immune to hollow, romantic lyrics. Feeling hypocritical, I ran to the hymnal.

“Dance then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the dance,” said he,
“And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance,” said he.

Uh-oh.

“He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
and the melody that He gave to me
within my heart is ringing.”

Yikes.

In every generation you can find songs filled with deep, scriptural truth. You can also find ones completely hollow. But even those aren’t necessarily useless.*

*Some actually are. Poor or incorrect statements about the Lord are downright dangerous. The worst example I could find included this verse: “and if there’s life on other planets, then I’m sure that He must know, and He’s been there once already, and has died to save their souls.”

We can attach profound meaning to songs which have little to offer theologically. A love song, sung from the heart to the Lord of all, is not offered in vain. God is praised and glorified through heartfelt songs, even if they are ‘joyful noise’. Singing words as hollow as “come dance with me” can honor God more than all five stanzas of glorious hymn. As frequently noted by Jesus, it comes down to the heart.

Still, as a teacher, I believe that it’s better to sing praises with theological worth, especially given how easy lyrics are to remember.

I need keep watch that I don’t become like the Pharisee praying: “I thank you God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t sing songs that say nothing about who you are. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I only sing songs with words like ‘atonement’, ‘propitiation’, ‘trinitarian’ and verses 1,2,4 of hymns #233, 241, 382.”

A Wee Little Evangelism

As Jesus was passing through Jericho. A man was there, named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree to see him.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down and welcomed him gladly.

People saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus may be the most underrated conversion story in the Bible. Less than twenty verses after Jesus drops the famous bomb “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God,” a tax collector and notorious sinner gives away everything he has to follow Christ.

Several questions.

Who is seeking who?

Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus; only for Jesus to walk straight up, call him by name, and invite himself over. Jesus later says, “I have come to seek and save the lost.” So who’s seeking who?

Mind. Blown.

Next question, where is faith mentioned?

Answer: nowhere.

This might be the second biggest reason Zacchaeus isn’t a commonly used conversion story.*

*The first is clearly the irritating children’s song referenced in the title. Don’t click this link.

Zacchaeus has no sinner’s prayer or confession. There is no explicit ‘believe this’, altar call, or step-by-step plan of salvation, yet Jesus says ‘salvation has come’; it’s like he hasn’t even read the wordless book. It is here that the story of Zacchaeus challenges our culture. In America, hearing ‘believe and be saved’ isn’t a problem. Hearing ‘be transformed’ is.

The strange thing is that Zacchaeus is the goal. When we share the gospel we want the hearer to submit their lives to the rule of Jesus. None of us think that it all stops with the prayer. That’s just the beginning of a lifelong relationship.

Last week, we talked about rethinking evangelism. Zacchaeus is a good start. Instead of looking for a chance to share the four spiritual laws, we should be looking for a chance to share a story from the gospels.

*Side note: while there is no mention of faith in Luke 19:1-10, we do clearly see it reflected in Zacchaeus’s radical transformation. Obviously it’s grace by faith that starts the sanctification train. Still, if the train never leaves the station, was there ever true faith?