Youth Pastor’s Corner Archives

While I worked as the youth pastor at Casper, WY First Church of the Nazarene from July 2002 to September 2004, I maintained a blog of sorts on the church website.  Following are the articles that I submitted to this blog.

I should note that while I think that I hold to pretty much all of the same ideas as these writings revealed, my approach to some of them today might be a little different.  I have perhaps “mellowed out” over the years.  In a couple of situations, such as what I had to say about Prom, I made several students pretty upset.  I regret having done so, but sometimes it is the role of people in ministry to make people (including ourselves) uncomfortable.  As far as I know, those who perhaps took a thing or two that I wrote personally have gotten over it, and everything is good now!

February 22, 2003

Recently, I was watching television with several of the students in the youth group.  While surfing through the channels, the person with the remote decided to stop on a reality TV show.  This particular show included women who were wearing very little in the way of clothing.  Some of the students wanted to continue watching the show, and some of them wanted to change the channel.  While reflecting on this incident, several things have come to mind.  These things will be the topics of this posting.

The first thing that I want to talk about is stumbling blocks.   Paul instructs us in his letter to the Church of Rome: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.  As on who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.  But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died”  (Romans 14:13-15).  Now, in the situation discussed above, the students who wanted to watch the show were female.  There reason for wanting to watch the show had nothing to do with the clothes being worn.  They were truly interested in what was going on.  The student who was most opposed to the show, however, was male.  He did not want to watch the show because of the clothes, or rather, the lack of clothes.  For him, the near nakedness of the women on the show was a stumbling block.  Therefore, it was wrong for him to watch it.  Likewise, since it was a stumbling block for him, nobody else in the room should have insisted on watching it, either.

Now, this same logic can and should apply to the choice of clothes that people wear on a daily basis.  The temptation to be trendy and wear next to nothing has no place within Christianity, for either guys or girls.  Ladies, although it may be cool to show off your belly button, wear spaghetti straps, and wear pants that hug your hips, if you are being a stumbling block for guys, (and I guarantee you that you are), then don’t do it.  Likewise, guys, if you have rock hard abs and the ladies like to see you without a shirt, you are more than likely creating a stumbling block for them when you show off you six-pack.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”   (Matthew 5:27-28).  For the Christian, any situation that has the potential of causing lust must be avoided, both by the person who causes the lust (even if they do so unintentionally) and by the person feeling the lust.

Now guys, it my sound like I am saying that all lust derives with the ladies and is thus their fault.  Perhaps you are applauding that when you see someone wearing a string bikini and you feel lust, it is their fault for wearing it and not yours for feeling it.  However, I’m here to let you know that you are just as accountable as the ladies, if not more so.  When King David saw Bathsheba bathing from his roof, I don’t think that he was initially at fault.  He was just walking around up there checking out his kingdom when he inadvertently saw a beautiful woman bathing.  But when he looked again, he was given over to lust.  The first time he looked, he didn’t know that he would see a beautiful, naked woman.  The second time, however, he look with the full knowledge of what he would see.  Likewise, guys, when you willingly and knowingly go into situations that will tempt you with lust, then you are at fault for doing so.

There is one other element to this that I want to lift up, and this is in regards to public swimming facilities.  Paragraph 904.13 of the 2001-2005 Manual of the Church of the Nazarene says this: “Recognizing the increasing trend toward immodesty of dress in public places of recreation such as beaches and swimming places, we remind our people of our traditional concept of ‘modesty that becometh holiness’ and urge that Christian judgment be exercised in the matter of swimming or sunbathing in public places.”  Now, this paragraph leaves a lot up to personal interpretation, but let me give you how I interpret it.  There are, quite obviously, some forms of swimming attire that are completely inappropriate in any situation except if you are alone with the person that you are married to.  Examples of these would be almost all, if not all, types of bikinis for ladies and tight, brief style swim suites for guys.  However, I do not see anything wrong with women wearing modest and tasteful one-piece swim suites in public.  Obviously, guys, if this is going to cause you to stumble, then you should avoid it, but I don’t think that male lust should always hold females captive to what they cannot do.  Guys, as believers of Jesus Christ, you should be maturing.  Part of this process of maturing includes being able to look at ladies as beautiful children of God, whom Christ gave His life to save, instead of beautiful creatures that are meant for satisfying the lusts of the male gender.  So I would say that if you are unable to be in a public swimming situation where there are modestly dressed females without feeling lust, then you need to focus your prayers to God that He would deliver you of the dominion of lust.  Christianity is about freedom, not captivity.  We are not Muslim; we do not believe that every inch of the female body needs to be covered.  We believe in a God who became incarnate and delivered Himself over to death so that we might be reconciled to Him, and we believe in a God who gives Himself over to us in the form of His Holy Spirit so that we might be sanctified and delivered from the sins that hold us captive, such as lust.

May all praise, glory, honor, and power be lifted up to God the Father.  Soli Deo Gloria!

March 31, 2003

As most of you probably know, my favorite band is Caedmon’s Call.  One of their songs, 40 Acres, off of the album by the same name, contains on line that really sticks out to me.  This line will be the topic of today’s addition to the Youth Pastor’s Corner.

Aaron Tate, one of the former song writers for Caedmon’s Call, wrote the following line: “You say that you’re the black sheep, I say you’re still family.”  Now, I probably listened to this song over 100 times before I paid attention to this line.  But a month or two, when I was listening to 40 Acres, the line stuck out to me like it never had before.  What is the significance of this line?  What was Aaron Tate trying to say when he wrote this line?  Here are my thoughts on it.  Feel free to click on the NYI Discussion Board link above if you would like to post your own comments.

When someone is considered the “black sheep” of the family, it is usually not a compliment.  It implies that the individual in question is different than everyone else.  The “black sheep” has a habit of rebellion and non-conformity.  The “black sheep: is the trouble maker of the family.  The “black sheep” does his or her own thing, regardless of what the rest of the family may think of that individual.

Two years ago when I was at a family wedding, one of my uncles, an uncle by marriage, called himself the “black sheep” of the family.  You see, many people in the family tend to look down on him.  He is the lead person in a bar band, and his job required him to be away from his home and family frequently.  Being in his late 40s, many of the family members think that this uncle needs to, as they put it, “grow up” and get a real job so that he can more effectually care for his family.

Now, I don’t bring this up to commentate on whether or not my uncle’s decisions are right or wrong.  I’m merely using the example to illustrate what a “black sheep” is.  He felt that he was the “black sheep” because of the way he perceived the family viewed him.  Likewise, when I lived in the Denver, the youth pastor of the church that I attended said that our church was the “black sheep” of the Christian Churches in the area.  He felt this way because of the way that our church had been treated by other churches.  Our church had a bit of a colorful history, and this led to some other churches looking down on it.  When the pastors had dealings with other churches, they were able to detect this, and this led the pastors to conclude that our church was the “black sheep”.

So, being a “black sheep” seems to me to be a title that an individual or entity takes upon himself, herself, or itself as a result of the way that that individual or entity perceives other view him, her, or it.  It has little to do with the true view of others, but the perceived views of others.  This should underline the importance of how we treat others that we are in relationship with.  It is my believe that their should be no “black sheep”.  If our attitudes are the same as that of Christ Jesus, and we are treating others the way that He would treat them, there is no reason for anyone to feel like a “black sheep”.  We should recognize, as Aaron Tate did when he wrote 40 Acres, that all people that consider themselves “black sheep” are still a part of the family.  It is the responsibility of the family, whatever type of family is in question, to make all the “black sheep” feel like family.  Once that happens, they will cease to be “black sheep”.

The writer of Hebrews wrote in 2:11, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”  If Christ Jesus, the very God who created the Heavens and the Earth, is willing to call the lowliest of people his brothers, should not we, who are not any better than the lowliest of people, be willing to do the same.  In Christ, we are all a part of the same family, and we all are able to cry out, “Abba, Father!” to God.  It is time that we, in the church, start treating our brothers and sisters in Christ exactly as what they are, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is absolutely no reason for anyone in the church to feel like a “black sheep”.

April 7, 2003

Well, the time of year is upon us for people to go hang out in an environment where music that is contrary to the Gospel is being played and that is full of half-naked people who are getting ready to go off somewhere and fornicate.  No, I’m not talking about the annual Sheepherder’s Festival in Powder River, nor am I referring to the Democratic National Convention.  I’m talking about the event that every, or almost every, junior and senior in high school anticipates all year long: Prom.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan.  But before I get into the details, I want to say a couple of things.  First, this article isn’t for the faint of heart.  I will be talking about some provocative issues that deal with teenage sexuality, an issue that, as a youth pastor, I have some very strong feelings on.  Many people who read this article will undoubtedly disagree with a lot of what I have to say.  If you begin to read, though, I encourage you to continue.  At the end, I will be providing some practical advice for those people who will be going to Prom, so don’t get discouraged early on just because your toes might hurt a little.  And, as always, feel free to go to the Discussion Board and post your own comments on these issues.  Finally, I do not think less of anyone just because they may choose to go to Prom.  I might question some decision-making skills, but its not like I haven’t done anything stupid before.  Short of the grace of God, we are all just a bunch of morons bumbling around this forsaken world, but through His grace, we can proudly claim Jesus as our brother.

Before I discuss Prom and high school dances specifically, I want to address the position of the Church of the Nazarene regarding dancing.  If you’ve been around The Church for some time, you’ve undoubtedly heard the saying, “Nazarenes don’t dance.”  This statement is antiquated and inaccurate.  The historical stance of The Church has been against dancing, but this has changed over the years.  Here is a former Manual’s statement on dancing:

Paragraph 603.5

Resolved, That we go on record as being opposed to modern or folk dancing, in either ballrooms or other places, even under the guise of physical education classes.

–Manual, 1964

Now here is the current statement on dancing:

Paragraph 34

We hold specifically that the following practices should be avoided: . . .

34.4  All forms of dancing that detract from spiritual growth and break down proper moral inhibitions and reserve.

–Manual, 2001-2005

See the difference?  In the past, The Church was opposed to all non-worship dancing whereas now, she specifically opposes dancing that has the potential of causing someone to stumble.  In the past, it was very black and white and didn’t leave anything up to discernment.  Now, she has empowered her members to use the discernment that we receive from The Holy Spirit when we are sanctified.

This being said, I must personally take a stance against high school dances, not because I’m a Nazarene, but because I believe that the environment is very dishonorable to God.  When John Wesley was asked to sum up sanctification, he pointed people to the Greatest Commandments, found in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  These two commandments give us two aspects of holiness, personal and social, and it is my belief that both of these aspects are in danger at high school dances.

Personal holiness has to do with our direct relationship with God.  Everyone that I have talked to, whether they are for Prom or against it, will admit that many inappropriate things take place there.  It is almost an orgy with the way that many of the ladies dress and the physical contact that takes place between people there.  How can this environment encourage personal holiness?  How can this environment build up your relationship with Christ?  On the contrary, it is more likely to cause you to fall.  The fact is, we are all, in and of ourselves, crooked deep down.  We are immoral beings who care nothing for God.  Our only aim is the gratification of our sinful desires.  Now, it is true that when we are indwelt by The Holy Spirit, he sets us free from these things.  But we are still responsible to make sure that we are in situations that are honorable to our Lord and Savior.  James 4:7-8 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  How is embracing this unwholesome environment resisting the devil?  Can we expect him to flee from us when we willingly submit ourselves to such filth?

Let me tell you a story I heard once.  One day, a man went walking down the street.  As he was walking, he fell into a hole.  The man exclaimed, “I didn’t see it!  It wasn’t my fault!.”  The next day, the man went walking down the same street and fell in the same hole.  He exclaimed even louder, “I swear I didn’t see it!  It, it wasn’t my fault!”  On the third day, he walked down the same street and fell into the same hole.  This time, he said, “I knew the hole was there.  It was my fault.”  The following day, he walked down the same street.  This time, he walked around the hole.  On the last day, he walked down a different street.

Resisting the devil is much like this story.  We can keep on walking down the same street and pretending like we aren’t accountable for it, but ultimately we must admit our fault.  We can draw near the sin and avoid it, much like the man walked around the hole, but when we truly resist the devil is when we walk down a completely different street.  How does edging near the border of sin glorify God?  How does doing so help us grow in our relationship with Christ?  How is it resisting the devil?

Next, I want to talk about social holiness.  Social holiness has to do with our relationships with others.  The specific aspect that I want to address here is stumbling blocks.  To understand what I am talking about when I mention stumbling blocks, read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10.  A stumbling block is when we do something that might not necessarily be sin, but it has the potential of causing someone else to stumble.  For example, everyone admits to me that many of the outfits worn by many of the ladies at Prom are lacking in the modesty department.  Guys are very visual creatures, and they can fall into physiological adultery (see Matthew 5) very easily.  Although, ladies, you yourselves may not be dressed immodestly, if you bring a guy to Prom that struggles with physiological adultery, which almost all guys do, you have just become a stumbling block for him.

Also, you can be a stumbling block for a person who has moral a dilemma with Prom by openly embracing it, even if your own relationship with Christ won’t be effected by attending.  For example, let’s say one of these nights I’m going to get together several buddies who are over 21 and go down to the bar.  At the bar, we are going to hang out and drink Pepsis.  I have not dishonored my covenant with The Church by drinking alcohol, but is this something that I should do?  Should I willingly go into this environment that is almost exclusively used to dishonor God, even though I don’t plan on dishonoring God there?  Should I pay this establishment money for my Pepsi, thus supporting the establishment, when I disapprove of the product that they primarily distribute?  What if someone from The Church sees me go into the bar or leave it?  They don’t know that I was only drinking Pepsi.  They may think that it is ok for them to drink alcohol, or worse, they may write the entire Church off as a bunch of hypocrites.  Can I honor God by going into this environment that markets alcohol?  Can you honor God by going into this environment that markets sex?

Most often when I ask people why they are going to Prom, they say that it is fun to dress up nice, go to dinner, and go hang out with their friends.  Is it necessary to go to Prom to be able to do these things?  What would happen if all of the Christian students at Natrona County High School organized a Prom alternative?  You can dress up nice, go to dinner, have some sort of fun activity afterwards that could even include modest dancing to God-honoring music, and not be embracing Satan.  Obviously, this close to Prom, this isn’t a likely situation.  But had you begun planning after last year’s Prom when you observed the profaning of our Lord and Savior, it would have been completely doable.  The choice is yours: you can either resist the devil or embrace him.  You can either draw near to God or avoid Him.  You can either worship Christ or profane Him.

Now, since I’m not under the delusion that my words have persuaded anyone, I will go on to the practical advice.  First of all, I will give some general gender-specific advice, and then I will give some advice specific to high school dances and Prom.

Ladies, you’re up first.  I want each and every one of you to know that you do not need a man on your arm, you don’t need to wear next-to-nothing, you don’t need to plaster yourself with cosmetics, you don’t need rock-hard hair.  You don’t need any of these things or anything else of this world to be a special, important person.  You only need the Love of Jesus Christ.  If you submit yourselves to Him, He, you will be His sisters.  John 1 says that the very heavens and earth were created through Christ Jesus.  Think of what it means to be the sibling of God!  You don’t deserve it.  I don’t deserve it.  But it is a gift that He freely gives out to all who will humble themselves before Him and accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

Ladies, don’t let any guy trick you into compromising even a little bit.  Sex, outside of marriage, has nothing to do with love, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  If a guy truly loves you, he will desire the best for you.  The best for everyone is given to us through Christ Jesus.  The gift of sex is a beautiful thing, but only within marriage.  Anything else profanes the name of Christ and is not about love.  And don’t let any guy trick you into “fooling around”, even if it stops short of intercourse.  Any guy who does this is unworthy of you and does not understand love.  You can not edge close to the border of sin and not sin.  “Fooling around” outside of marriage is just as much of a sin as intercourse is.  Take heed of this advice given to John Wesley by his mother: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over mind, that thing for you is sin.”

Guys, it’s your turn.  If you take a young lady out, whether to Prom or anywhere else, you need to treat that lady like the princess that she is.  Anything less is completely unacceptable.  Treat that lady like you would want someone else to treat your future wife.  Do you want for some sick, perverted, young teenage boy to take advantage of your future wife?  I didn’t think so.  Likewise, treat the lady that you take out, whether you have thoughts of marriage or not, as you are hoping someone else is treating your future wife.

Guys, if you love someone, you will want what’s best for that person.  What is best for everyone is to follow the commandments of the Lord.  If you try to coerce someone into sleeping with you, or even just “fooling around”, you don’t love that person.  You’re only seeking to fulfill your own disgusting perversions.

Now, for the dance-specific advice:

  • Go with someone that is a Christian.  When you go with someone that professes the same Lord and Savior as yourself, you are less likely to have potential problems regarding sexual pressures.
  • Go with someone that you personally know well, and that you know that you can trust.  Being a Christian isn’t enough.  Here are some statistics compiled in 1994 in a Josh McDowell book.  Of churched teenagers (notice I emphasized churched teenagers), 95% had held hands, 86% had engaged in embracing and some kissing, 74% had engaged in “heavy” French kissing, 55% had either fondled someone else’s breasts or had their breasts fondled by someone else, 44% had either fondled someone else’s genitals or had their genitals fondled by someone else, and 27% had engaged in sexual intercourse.  I repeat, being a Christian isn’t enough.
  • Travel to and from all events that evening with at least two couples (that’s at least four people) in the car.  Many a young person’s innocence has been lost in an automobile.
  • Plan pre- and post-dance activities with a group of people and not just yourselves.  I thought it was awesome last fall after Football Ball when a number of Christian teens rented the skating rink as a post-dance group activity.
  • Dress modestly.  Guys are visual creatures, and although that fact doesn’t justify any sinful actions, they are easily led astray.
  • Keep your church commitments.  If you sacrifice the commitments that you have made to Christ, whether they be Sunday School, Morning Worship, or anything else, you commit spiritual adultery.
  • Seek to glorify God in all things, including your leisure time.  If this is your sole desire and goal, He will prevent you from being in situations that compromise your faith.

May 9, 2003

Today I want to talk about the occult.  Before I get into that discussion, though, I am going to clear up a common misunderstanding.  Many people, when they hear the word “occult”, automatically assume that what the person is referring to is “a cult”.  This is not the case, however.  The occult is a general reference made to anything involving witchcraft, demonism, fortune telling, palm reading, tarot cards, astrology, etc.  Cults, on the other hand, are quasi-Christian religious organizations.  Cults can, and often do, contain occultic practices, but “the occult” and “cults” are not the same.

Now, most people in Christianity will agree that occultic practices should be avoided.  Saul was rebuked by Samuel for seeking the advice of a medium (see 1 Samuel 28).  The ancient Hebrews were commanded by Yahweh through Moses to abstain from practicing divination or sorcery, interpreting omens, engaging in witchcraft, casting spells, consulting the dead, or being a medium or spiritist (see Deuteronomy 18:9-13).  Witchcraft is listed by Paul as being one of the obvious acts of sinful nature (see Galatians 5:19-21).  St. Luke calls Elymas the sorcerer a false prophet, and Paul addresses him as follows:  “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!  You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.  Will you never stop perverting the Right ways of the Lord?  Now the hand of the Lord is against you.  You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun” (see Acts 13).

So, it is plain that the occult is condemned in the scriptures, and there are few Christians that would try to defend the occult.  But I wonder if we do as good of a job opposing it as we should.  In fact, I wonder if sometimes we don’t openly embrace it.  Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat that fortune cookie they give you at Chinese restaurants.  I am saying, though, that we need to be careful in the activities that we engage in.  Tarot cards, horoscopes, astrology, and other forms of “harmless” fortune telling all open us up to the occult.  Movies, TV shows, and literature that involve demon possession, witchcraft, vampires, and the like all fall into this same category.  These practices do not have a place within Christianity.  James tells us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us; and if we resist the devil, he will flee from us (see James 4:7-8).  When we embrace the occult, though, we are not drawing near to God and we are not resisting the devil.  How can we expect God to draw near to us and Satan to flee from us when we partake in these activities?  Should we associate ourselves with these practices, even if it is “for entertainment purposes only” when the Scriptures so clearly condemn them?

I have just one other thing to bring out.  Let me remind you that you are all responsible, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, to make sure that you are not a stumbling block for your fellow believers.  Sure, maybe you personally can engage in some “innocent” fortune telling for fun without it having a negative effect on your relationship with Jesus Christ.  But if your brother or sister in Christ is led astray by your actions, then you have just become a stumbling block for that person.  For more on what the Scriptures have to say about stumbling blocks, see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10:23-11:1.

May we seek to glorify God in all that we do, and may He guide us down the paths of righteousness!  God bless you all!

October 17, 2003

I couldn’t think of anything too profound to write today, so I thought that I would tell a story instead.  This is a true, though somewhat amusing, story (hence the blue font).  The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Once upon a time, there was a little youth pastor named Eddie.  Eddie was a loveable youth pastor.  In fact, I’m not sure if there is anyone who didn’t love Eddie.

One Sunday evening, Eddie and several of his students decided to visit the seven wonders of Wonderville.  The students who were with him were named Jill, her younger brother Little Jack, his friend Bobby, and Billy, the senior pastor’s son.

After having already visited five of the seven wonders of Wonderville, and endured several other adventures that do not fall into this story as Jill was driving, Pastor Eddie and his four students found themselves in his car.  (Actually, Pastor Eddie and Little Jack were the only ones in the car, the others were preparing to enter.)  As Pastor Eddie turned the ignition on his car, “BOOM!!!”  To his surprise, Pastor Eddie heard a loud explosion and discovered an airbag in his lap.  His glasses were missing from his face, he was seeing stars in his left eye, his left ear rang like a church bell, and his left thumb was swollen up like a cantaloupe.  He heard, amidst the ringing in his ear, Jill outside of the car screaming over and over, “Oh no, Eddie!  Get out of your car!  Your car’s on fire!”  Silly Jill, though.  Pastor Eddie’s car wasn’t on fire.  She was just seeing the powder in the air that is released when an airbag is deployed.

After exiting his car, Pastor Eddie proceeded to laugh for about five minutes.  He then found out that Little Jack’s airbag deployed too, but he just received a small carpet burn on his right forearm.  As those who still had good vision looked for Pastor Eddie’s glasses (everyone except for Pastor Eddie), Pastor Eddie stood outside his car and continued laughing.  (The adrenaline was making him a little crazy!)  His glasses were found, contorted out of shape, but the left lense was missing.  They continued to look for the lens as Jill said, “Eddie, I can’t find it anywhere!”  As she was saying this, her foot went down on the ground and she heard a “Crack!”  Sure enough, she had just stepped on and broken Pastor Eddie’s missing left lens.  Silly Jill!  She tried to pretend like it didn’t happen!  Sure enough, though, it did.

Billy, the senior pastor’s son, called his father, who was out of town visiting family.  He only got his father’s voice mail, though.  Billy left the following message on his father’s voice mail: “Dad, something bad just happened!  Eddie said to call!”  Silly Billy!  You shouldn’t leave that sort of message on your parent’s voice mail.  You might make them have a heart attack!

Well, Pastor Eddie’s insurance company was notified, the cops came and filed a report, and frozen corn was given to Pastor Eddie to help decrease the swelling on his hand.  He ended up having surgery on his thumb, and he now has two screws in his hand to keep him company.  Throughout the whole ordeal, though, God has richly provided for Pastor Eddie and helped him take care of everything.  There are still some details yet to be resolved, but all in all, everyone is living happily ever after.

The End.

December 4, 2003

I have been requested by several people at the NYI Discussion Board to share my thoughts on how music relates to Christian living.  This is my attempt to do so.  Disclaimer: I wrote this rather hurriedly, so if anything doesn’t make sense, bring it up on the Discussion Board, and I will try to clarify.

Music is a very important part of my life.  I spent two and a half years in college as a music major, and though I didn’t finish the degree, I still remain highly involved in music, both as a performer and as a fan.  I have liked, or currently like, a wide assortment of musical genres, everything from Gregorian Chant to grunge bands like Nirvana.  I have literally traveled around the world as a performing musician.  I am also quite skilled in music theory and composition.  I say all this, not to brag, but to establish that I am quite knowledgeable in the field of music.

Music is not only important in my life, but in most people’s lives.  As we walk through stores, ride in elevators, drive in our cars, or whatever else we do, music is always there with us.  What would the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies be without the musical scores that accompany them?  How many TV shows are there that have no music?  For that matter, how many commercials do we see that are music-less?  Music sticks with us.  Have you ever had a song that for whatever reason you kept finding yourself humming, whistling, or singing?  Usually it is an annoying song that we don’t like, but whatever it is, it keeps on playing over and over in our brains and we have to get it out.  And how surprised we are when we go to hear a symphony orchestra play Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo, and in the middle of it, we here the theme from the beef commercials!  Yes, music truly is a thing that accompanies us where ever we go and invades every facet of our lives.

Music is also a recurring theme in the Scriptures.  Right in the middle of the Bible, we have a book made up of 150 different songs, not to mention Moses’ and Miriam’s song in Exodus and Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs in Luke.  After the Last Supper and before the betrayal of Christ, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn together.  The Apostle Paul refers to the importance of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the early church several times in his Epistles.  Writer J.R.R. Tolkien recognized the importance that music plays in the Scriptures, and when he wrote his version of the Creation event (found in his book The Silmarillion), music was the chief medium that Iluvitar (i.e. Yahweh) used in creating the Heavens and the Earth.  Likewise, Tolkien’s good friend C.S. Lewis wrote in The Magician’s Nephew that the mythical world of Narnia was called into existence by the singing of Aslan, his representation of Christ.  Indeed, music plays a crucial role in the Word of God.

So the question is, how does the modern-day Christian use music?  What is appropriate for him or her to listen too?  Does anything go, or do the Scriptures set any standards for us?  How do we apply Biblical standards to our use and enjoyment of music?

The Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Church of Corinth, “‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is constructive.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23)  Indeed, as followers of Christ Jesus, we are now no longer under the Law.  In a very real since, everything is permissible.  In a very real sense, we are truly free.

However, for us to say, “Since ‘everything is permissible’, I can listen to whatever I want” is to go against the principles taught in Scripture.  When we have such a mindset, we are not living the lives of Spirit-filled Christians.  All of the passages in the New Testament that deal with Christian freedom not only establish that we do have a very real freedom in Christ, but they also go on to say that protecting our freedom isn’t as important as establishing strong relationships.  As Christ tells us, the greatest commandment has to do with our relationship with God, and the second greatest commandment has to do with our relationships with others.  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  These two things, our relationship with God and our relationship with others, make up the entire essence of Christian holiness.

Let’s examine some lyrics from modern music and see how they relate to our God and others relationships.  I am giving year here the censored lyrics to Kelis’ song Milkshake.  I have never heard of this artist, and I have never heard this song or seen this video, but according to Yahoo, this is the most popular video this week.

My Milkshake brings all the boys to the yard / And they’re like “It’s better than yours” / (Expletive) right, It’s better than yours / I can teach you, but I have to charge / I know you want it… / The thing that makes me / What the guys go crazy for / They lose their minds, The way I whine / I think it’s time / (La-La-La-La-la) / Warm it up / (La-La-La-La-la) / The boys are waiting / I can see you’re on it… / You want me to teach the / Techniques that freaks these boys / It can’t be bought / Just know thieves get caught / Watch if you’re smart / Oh, Once you get involved / Everyone will look this way so / You must maintain your charm / Same time maintain your halo / Just get the perfect blend / Plus what you have within / Then next his eyes are squint / Then he’s picked up your scent

Now, I suppose it’s possible that I could be wrong, but I am pretty certain that the theme of this song is of a sexual nature.  (There is, of course, nothing wrong with sex, as long as it is between a man and a woman in a monogamous marital situation, but this song seems to stretch the boundaries.)  I won’t go into the specifics of what this song implies, but generally, it appears that the young lady who is singing it is singing about displaying her body for a group of guys in ways that, to put it mildly, would lead the average male spectator to have a breakdown in proper moral inhibitions.  This violates standards of personal holiness in that it goes against God’s command about looking lustfully at other people (see Matthew 5), and it violates standards of social holiness in that it is leading people astray (see Romans 14).  And the sad part is, this song is mild compared to many that are out there.

Loving the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and loving our neighbors as ourselves: these two things are what we are called to do at all times; these two things are what should motivate everything that we do, watch, listen to, etc.  The standard established in the Church of the Nazarene is this

We hold specifically that the following practices should be avoided:

Entertainments that are subversive of the Christian ethic.  Our people, both as Christian individuals and in Christian family units, should govern themselves by three principles.  One is the Christian stewardship of leisure time.  A second principle is the recognition of the Christian obligation to apply the highest moral standards of Christian living.  Because we are living in a day of great moral confusion in which we face the potential encroachment of the evils of the day into the sacred precincts of our homes through various avenues such as current literature, radio, television, personal computers, and the Internet, it is essential that the most rigid safeguards be observed to keep our homes from becoming secularized and worldly.  However, we hold that entertainment that endorses and encourages holy living and affirms scriptural values should be affirmed and encouraged.  We especially encourage our young people to use their gifts in media and the arts to influence positively this pervasive part of culture.  The third principle is the obligation to witness against whatever trivializes or blasphemes God, as well as such social evils as violence, sensuality, pornography, profanity, and the occult, as portrayed by and through the commercial entertainment industry in its many forms, and to endeavor to bring about the demise of enterprises known to be the purveyors of this kind of entertainment.  This would include the avoidance of all types of entertainment ventures and media productions that produce, promote, or feature the violent, the sensual, the pornographic, the profane, or the occultic, or which feature or glamorize the world’s philosophy of secularism, sensualism, and materialism and undermine God’s standard of holiness of heart and life.

This necessitates the teaching and preaching of these moral standards of Christian living, and that our people be taught to use prayerful discernment in continually choosing leaders and pastors to give strong emphasis in our periodicals and from our pulpits to such fundamental truths as will develop the principle of discrimination between the evil and good to be found in these media.

We suggest that the standard given to John Wesley by his mother, namely, “whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over mind, that thing for you is sin,” form the basis for this teaching of discrimination.

Manual, 2001-2005, Paragraph 34.1

Obviously, I’m a bit biased towards my denomination, but I believe that these standards are applicable to all Christ followers.  As believers, we must pursue holiness, and there is little of it in the things of the world.

Now, I am not one of those people who says, “If the artist isn’t signed by a Christian label, don’t listen to him or her.”  There has been much music of quality released by secular artists who hold to Christianity, such as U2, POD, and Bob Dylan.  Likewise, there has been much music of quality released by non-Christian artists (The Beatles’ Help and Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down come to mind).  But if we are truly Spirit-filled Christians, we must be discerning in what we listen to, and we can’t justify if by just saying, “Dude, it’s got a great beat, but I don’t listen to the lyrics.”

Now, the question of non-lyrical music, such as classical and jazz, should be touched upon.  I happen to be a big fan of both classical and jazz, but again, we must be discerning in how we use these genres.  Obviously, when lyrics are used in classical, jazz, blue grass, or whatever else, it is easier for us to judge the value of it.  When lyrics aren’t used, then there are other methods for us to go by.  Usually, the composer will still be presenting a certain idea, just musically instead of lyrically.  When this is the case, the title of the piece and the notes within an album jacket can be used to help determine the wholesomeness of a particular song.  Ultimately, if nothing objectionable can be found, then I say, “By all means!  If you like the music, listen to it.”

The question has been asked, “Should an artist’s lifestyle come into play when determining whether or not I should listen to him or her?”  I think that this question is best applied to music that is specifically labeled as “Christian”.  We should not expect that non-believers are going to conform to Christian standards, so I am not overly disappointed when I hear about such artists being arrested for drug use or whatever.  However, Christians are called to live to a higher standard, and in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul establishes that we, as believers, are to hold our fellow believers accountable.  One way of doing this may be in not supporting a supposed “Christian” artist when he or she is living in an unrepentant lifestyle of sin.

Ultimately, as with all things, I believe that the decisions that we make regarding the music we listen to should be governed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  By pursing God through Bible reading, prayer, fasting, meditation, and all of the other spiritual disciplines, we will draw closer to Him.  The closer we are, the more discerning we will be.  So, my answer to the question on music is this: read your Bibles, pray, fast, mediate, serve others, sing praises to God; seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and He will lead you in the way the way of Holiness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

March 25, 2004

It’s now been a month since the release of The Passion of the Christ.  It spent it’s first three weekends at the top of the box office, only to be pushed down to the number two position this last weekend by a mere seven million dollars (that isn’t much when talking about box office hits).  At the close of this last weekend, it had earned $295,507,244 and had just pushed The Sixth Sense out of the number eighteen position for the all time box office records.  It appears likely that this weekend it’ll take over the number seventeen position from Pirates of the Caribbean.  This movie has indeed been a box office phenomenon.

I have seen the movie once so far.  I would like to see it at least one more time in the theater, and I will definitely by it when it is released on DVD.  Although some of the material in the movie was extra-biblical, I thought it was a well done artistic portrayal of the Passion event.  Although Mel Gibson’s Roman Catholic background was obvious throughout the movie (the prominence of Mary, the stations of the cross), I think it would be good for all Christians to see this movie at least once.  Although we can read in the Gospels the account of the Passion, and we can learn from historians and doctors the specifics of crucifixion, to view an accurate portrayal of this event before our very eyes can help us believers to truly understand the price that Christ paid on our behalf.

Watching this movie was an emotional experience for me, but it wasn’t really a life-changing experience for me as it was for many others.  My sins are very real to me, and I was just as aware of them before seeing the movie as I was after seeing it.  However, actually seeing before my eyes what Christ probably endured physically, not to mention the mental, emotional, and spiritual battles that he endured on the inside, on my behalf made me more repentant of my sins and more grateful to Him for what He did for me.  Not only did my sins nail Him to the cross, as was made apparent by the way Mel Gibson chose to have his own hand holding the nail, but because of my sins, I should have been the one on the cross, not Him.  The pains he suffered should have been suffered by me.

However, I have grown a little skeptical in regards to some things about this movie.  I have some criticisms in regards to what we Christians have done with it.  Now don’t get me wrong, these criticisms don’t extend to Mr. Gibson.  Although there are a couple of inaccuracies in the portrayal, I don’t see this as being any different than any artist’s representation of the Passion event.  Any attempt that we make to describe or portray the Passion is going to be inferior to what God has revealed to us in His word.  However, through the excessive merchandise tied into the movie, and also the apparent expectation amongst believers that sinners will be flooding our sanctuaries after seeing the movie, I think we have made several mistakes.

Click on the following link and take a look: Click here! This link takes you to the Family Christian Stores website’s page of Passion related merchandise.  Now, some of these things are expected and come out with any movie, such as the soundtrack and the making-of photo book.  Also, some of these things aren’t related directly to the movie but are related to the event and FCS decided to group them together for maximum marketing potential.  However, some of these things are just an attempt to take advantage of a box office success and have little to do with truly spreading the message of the Passion event.  Take, for example, the nail pendant.  Now, I don’t want to criticize anyone who gets emotional highs or some symbolic value out of wearing a nail around his or her neck (I regularly where a cross myself).  However, paying $12.99 for a nail and a piece of leather has as much to do with spreading the Gospel as me eating cottage cheese for dinner has to do with your great aunt Ruth’s beard.  If wearing a $13 nail around your neck opens up evangelism opportunities for you, by all means, take advantage of those opportunities.  But it is my belief that when I reach out and love others and make an effort to build up relationships with others that evangelism opportunities will much more likely become available.

Speaking of evangelism, we are brought to what is a much greater concern in my eyes.  What I discussed in the previous paragraph is more of a personal annoyance of how marketing folk take advantage of Christianity and how we Christians fall prey to their tactics.  However, of greater concern to me is what we Christians are doing with this movie in regards to evangelism.  It has been said by many that this movie is perhaps that greatest evangelism tool, and if we are using it as a tool and not as a crutch, that may, in fact, be true.  However, the perception that I have gotten from many people is that all we need to do is get people into the theater to watch the thing, and once they do, they will accept Christ in a heartbeat.  This is a false assumption and a grave error.

I have done a lot of reading on the results of the movie over the last month, and here is what I have observed: Christians who see the movie have had their faith reaffirmed and gained a whole new perspective on the Passion event.  This is a good thing.  Non-Christians who have been evangelized to recently prior to the movie and are at a point where they are close to accepting Christ have been pushed beyond that point and their numbers have been added to ours.  This is a very good thing.  However, there have been many non-Christians of a different category who have gone to the movie.  They have been emotionally moved by the torture and slaughter of an innocent man.  They have seen the injustices that happen in life.  But they have not seen anything that cannot be seen by watching, say, Schindler’s List.  In fact, they may think more of a movie like Schindler’s List than The Passion of the Christ, for the Holocaust is a well-documented historical event, and the Passion is believed by many to be fiction.  These people have watched Gibson’s portrayal of the center point of the Gospel, but they have not had anyone explain to them the meaning of the Gospel.  This is not a good thing.

Paul writes in Romans 10:14-14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'”  It is through the preached word that people come to understand the Gospel, not by seeing a movie.  The movie can help us to understand certain aspects of the Gospel in a new sense, but it cannot take away the importance of the preached word.  Take, for example, this story from Acts 8:26-50:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.  This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.  “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”  So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water.  Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot.  Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

The Ethiopian eunuch was unable to make any sense out of what Isaiah had written until someone came along and explained it to him  We see a similar story recorded in Luke 24:13-32:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did no the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”  So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

These disciples had themselves witnessed the Passion event, and yet they were unable to understand it until it was explained to them.

So, I will sum up by saying this: Go to see the movie, and take your unbelieving friends.  But if you haven’t shared the Gospel with them prior to going to the movie, don’t expect them to change instantaneously.  Instead, use the movie, and the emotion that they will undoubtedly feel in regards to the slaughter of an innocent many, as a tool to help you begin to share the Gospel with them.  God has called us to go and preach to those who do not believe, and, as the passage from Romans says above, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

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