Is God Worth It?

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So I’ll be sharing at an event called Youth Connect this Saturday and Sunday to inner-city youth from various Bible clubs in Lancaster. I’m looking forward to leading two sessions, one in which I tell them my personal walk to victory in Christ, the other entitled “Is Jesus Worth It?” This is the short version of what I intend to share.

Is Jesus Really Worth it To You?

Worth is a really funny word.

Today I got a notification on my phone about wedding podcasts that for some reason my phone thought I ought to listen to. I do intend to attend a wedding next Saturday, but I don’t believe that exploring any of those podcasts is worth my time. But the interesting thing is, it would be worth it to my friend who will be getting married next week.

If I were still in college I would likely ask one of my philosophy instructors this question…

Is Worth Objective, Subjective, or both?

I’ll be spending time with my former classmates this weekend as I attend FaithBuilders Educational Program’s graduation, and I can just imagine how much fun they would have had with that question in class.

On one hand, I don’t want to admit that it isn’t objective. I believe that things like beauty, order, and truth are objective, and so there are many things that I’ve been left to ponder with this question. Is worth really in the eye of the beholder? Is there not an inalienable essence of worth in everything?

I’m not sure, but one thing I do know for certain, is that Jesus is worth it. He’s worth all of our attention, devotion, pain, frustrations, persecution, suffering, and everything else in-between. But this idea is not just a common sense thing… “Of course Jesus is worth it!” some will say. “It’s common sense, it is a requisite to our faith!” And I can’t disagree with those claims. But I do know that statements like that don’t win souls. They don’t convince people outside of the Christian faith. They carry no persuasive power. Simply stating truths is only part of the evangelistic battle, we must articulate the truth well to pass it on to others.

The strongest proof of God’s worth and value is actually found in the Scriptures. We have solid examples of a willing choice to choose God over better circumstances in both the Old-Testament times and New-Testament times.

Hebrews 11:1-3 and 23-26

Now faith is the reality[a] of what is hoped for, the proof[b] of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it.

By faith we understand that the universe was[c] created by God’s command,[d] so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.

By faith, after Moses was born, he was hidden by his parents for three months, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they didn’t fear the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter 25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin. 26 For he considered the reproach because of the Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since his attention was on the reward.

In this example found in Hebrews, we have a New-Testament scripture telling us of a principle based on something that happened in the Old-Testament. These are by far my favorite kind of Scriptures. I love when the Bible cross-references itself.

More specifically, I like how in verse 25, the writer of Hebrews describes a view-point of Christianity that many contemporary Christians would tend to avoid. The idea that suffering for the cause of Christ is noble, sound, and doctrinally exemplified leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of a predominately wealthy and well-to-do America. Most evangelistic Christians in my part of America are white middle-upper class people with good paying jobs and healthy families.(and no, skin color doesn’t determine worth) The weakness in this is not primarily in their wealth itself, it is in their struggle to see even their own faith as a choice to suffer for the Lord rather than choose the lusts and enjoyments of this world. I’d see myself as scarily guilty of this problem.

This is conjecture, but based off of what I read in the Bible, I believe the reason God warns the wealthy so strongly is because He never intended us to limit our struggle as much as we have. It’s funny how wealth is so subjective. When I was high school I told several of my class mates that they are indeed middle class citizens. They fought me, nearly to the death, to prove how poor they were. Perhaps they just didn’t want to admit that they’re blessed. (Shrugs)

In Western society we are equipped with everything we need to live mostly comfortable and luxurious lifestyles. Perhaps this is why we’ve allowed the odor of Moses’s example to waft right underneath our noses undetected. Moses very clearly chose suffering, it wasn’t an unfortunate series of events that caught him down on his luck. He chose faithfulness, and he lived the way he did because of that choice. We see in the Pentateuch Moses’s personal struggle with this lifestyle, but overall a willingness to live in it even in its discomfort. He certainly isn’t the only one in the Bible that exemplifies this…

Philippians 3:8

More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ

This is perhaps an even stronger case that God’s people will undoubtedly suffer the loss of potentially “all things” for the sake of gaining Christ. The Apostle Paul was making a choice here, and it’s a choice we all ought to make.

I’m not an advocate for forcing suffering on ourselves. Voluntary poverty is noble, but I have not experienced higher forms of Godliness from the intentional harming of my bank account. Charity is most beautiful when it’s a part of our heart in general, and not out of systems and procedure. I think both are important, but one is higher than the other. But all this to say, that we should not wish for suffering on ourselves.

It is not a wishing for more suffering the Christian should be doing, it is a choosing of Christ and release of the safeties that our societies and lifestyle has granted us. I ought to be willing to suffer for Christ, far more than I am willing to prosper in the world.

Again, Is He Worth It?

If there was anything with objective worth, He would be it. God’s value to our world is not determined by age, size, rarity, or any other worldly measuring stick. God’s value is and always will be definite, immeasurable, and unlimited. Likewise, our suffering on this earth will be immeasurable and certain until we are called home. The real question that we need to answer is, “Is God worth all of that trouble?”

More than our own conscience telling us that He is, the Scriptures point clearly to the truth. God is worth it all.

The young men and ladies I speak to this weekend will be hearing a Gospel not preached to convince them that Christianity is a bed of roses. They will hear a Gospel that calls them to potential martyrdom. To certain alienation from the World and its societal standards. And undoubtedly a forsaking of life as they know it. The benefit I have, is that they already know what suffering is like. Many of them are fatherless, consequently living in the mistakes of their parents. The idea of suffering won’t be foreign to them, and neither is it to anybody else. God relates to us in our suffering, He speaks to us in our suffering, and He wants us to choose Him. Choosing Him will ultimately mean that we are subjected to potential unique sufferings that come through faithfulness to Him. We will have to forsake the securities of the World for the security of the Lord. In hindsight, He has promised us we will see it as a far better choice.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

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Racism vs Prejudice/ A Christian’s Response

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This blog isn’t going to please everyone. Some are going to disagree with me. Some will say I’m splitting hairs. Others are just repulsed at any form of discussion or opinion on racism. The best way to end racism is to “stop talking about it” they say.

I know it’s not going to make me popular, but it’s worth it.

I believe that racism is a crippling part of Western society today. I believe that there is discrimination in the work force, and that people are unfairly treated because of presupposed ideas of what they are probably like based off of things they can’t control. i.e. their skin color. I believe that some people benefit from the color of their skin, some people maintain a false sense of pride in their skin, and that some people have found value in their skin and not in their character.

I also believe that racism has been used as an excuse note for many people from all social classes in a vain attempt to explain their misfortune in life. They haven’t come to terms that life just isn’t fair, and that it isn’t up to everyone around them to make sure that it is. They pull the “race card” only when it is convenient to their worldview, and rarely show balanced or credible evidence to prove that true discrimination has taken place.

I’ll have to disclaim for fairness that I am far more personally burdened by the racism that I see, then the misinterpretation of it in certain places. Racism is a problem whether it’s abused or not. People still need to be held accountable.

I believe racism is disgusting, it’s of the devil, and that Jesus wants it expelled from His Kingdom.

So it is with these beliefs that I share my perspective… I believe that racism and prejudice are two similar but different things that have been tearing us all apart. Both of which are countered in very similar ways, both of which need to be addressed by the church. And I’d like to be clear, these are prejudices that specifically lead to or qualify racism. It’s unlikely I’d try a salsa you brought to the potluck. Although it’s prejudiced, that doesn’t have anything to do with the color of your skin. I’m not going to be talking about all prejudice, just the kinds that ought to be worked against.

Racism and Prejudice Defined

I know that the cliché thing to do is to turn to the dictionary. People read the Bible and turn immediately to a dictionary to prove what a verse “really means”. I’ve tried very hard not to resort to those methods. However, a simple google search does unpack much of what I think the key differences between these two words are. I’ll let you do that work.

Perhaps an analogy will help us understand the key difference between racism and prejudice.

I bought a Russian Tortoise for my class pet this year. Her name is Alexandra, and she has brought much joy to our classroom… Okay, I’m being sarcastic. She cost way too much money and she poops in her water dish. The bright side is that she only grows to be 8 inches long, and can live up to 50 years.

One of the things I did to spark interest in our class pet was introducing several videos about tortoises that Coyote Peterson has released on You-tube. In one of those videos, he explains the difference between a tortoise and a turtle. Basically, all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. Make sense?

It’s a lot like how all milkshakes have milk but not all milk has shakes… Okay I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be…

Likewise, all racism is prejudice, but not all prejudice is racism.

Prejudice is the idea that someone has formed an opinion that is not based on fact or credible experiences. Since people are not defined in any real way by the amount of melanin in their skin, this would mean that people who are then racist towards others are also prejudiced.

Racism is a lot like prejudice, except it is using prejudice in a much more vile and evil expression. Racism takes prejudice and says “therefore, one race is better or worse than another”. Any true Christian would immediately lose their appetite at such idiotic and baseless claims. God does not classify our character or our righteousness by the color of our skin. Furthermore, he does not condone or endorse racism. There are several proofs for this…

  1. God made Adam, a brown man, in His own image Gen 1:26
  2. When God sees The Church, he sees neither Jew nor Greek Gal 3:28
  3. He made from ONE blood every nation to dwell on the earth Acts 17:26
  4. He desires ALL men to be saved and come to know Him 1 Tim 2:4 
  5. God is the Father of ALL those who believe Rom 4:11-12 or 8:14
  6. God hates oppression Ezekiel 9:4 
  7. He inspired his disciples to preach against oppression and prejudice Eph 4:31
  8. Job recognized that all were equal before God Job 31:13-15
  9. Christ is in all Col 3:11
  10. Jesus never distinguished by skin color Matt 19:14

Prejudice does not have the same power that racism has to control economic and social aspect of our society. Racism leads to structural inequality, and that’s why racism takes some forms of prejudice to their logical conclusions. My hope is that we work against prejudice in our heart before it gets to that point. It’s against God’s nature, and it’s going to require Him to combat it.

“We are all a little racist”

Actually, no we’re not. The fact of the matter is we’re not even “all a little prejudiced”. We are all Really Really Prejudiced.

I’m very seriously prejudiced towards many things, especially in the food diagram. I can’t stand things like olives, pickles, duck sauce, or unsweetened chocolate. You wanna know what each of those foods have in common? I’ve either never had them, or I haven’t had them in the last 10 years. I’m prejudiced against these foods, and many of my friends would say wrongfully so. It’s rather innocent when it involves the foods or hobbies we don’t tend to enjoy as much. I’ve been encouraged by many of my Christian friends to work against those prejudices. “Try them and maybe you’ll like them.” “You know, your tastebuds aren’t even fully developed yet.” “Don’t knock it till you try it.”

I’ve heard for years that my pickiness with food is a result of my unwillingness to try to enjoy them. The irony is that some of these same people are doing the exact same thing, except it isn’t with something harmless like our food choices. It is human beings, made in the image of our Creator, and who we are commanded to love.

We are all prejudiced, and it’s something that instead of trying to cleanse ourselves from, we need to maintain attitudes that are conducive to positive change. My food vocabulary has drastically changed in the last 4 years. It’s because I’ve chosen to put things into my mouth that I would really prefer not to. Likewise, if the Anabaptists ever want to work beyond the prejudices that exist in their culture, they need to go beyond what comes easily or naturally. If we don’t, if we simply remain uninterested in the cultures and skin tones around us, where do you believe that will lead? If racism begins in prejudice, aren’t we already half way there? That’s pretty dangerous, and it’s where all of us stand.

But no, you are not necessarily a racist. Because racism is an evil and perverted twist. It’s unnatural, it’s against God’s will. You have the falleness present in your life to accomplish racism, but just because you are able to steal does not mean you are a thief. You have the capacity to lie, but you might not be a liar. And much like those things, if you’ve committed the sin of racism, there is redemption and cleansing offered at the cross.

Asking God to cleanse you from prejudice is sort of like asking Him to give you the knowldege of all things. If I properly understood human beings for exactly what they were, I would then lack prejudice. All of my decisions and relations would be done perfectly and I’d be walking in perfection in that area. I’m not, and neither are you. Should we still rely on God to help us overcome these things? Absolutely. Just because we will never arrive, does not mean we shouldn’t strive for righteousness. When we’ve stopped showing that hunger and thirst, we’ve shown decline in or spiritual lives.

Asking God to cleanse you from racism is very important. The real question is, when He starts to change you… will you let him? It’s going to be hard.

Once you ask God to help you know how to love all people, then you are going to have to be willing to do it. The biggest opposition that Satan will use in your life against you? Your prejudice. God is ultimately the only source that can help you love in spite of that. I pray for God to give you and myself the strength and Wisdom to do so. May others forgive us for the times when we fail.

Going Forward

So there you have it. We are all prejudiced, but not all racist. The real question now becomes, does that really change how we approach it? Ultimately it doesn’t as much as we’d hope. We still need God’s help, and it’s still going to take a lot of work.

I hope that people recognize the prevalence of racism. It’s not that I think the way that political sources are approaching it is the way to go. I don’t support either the left-wing or right-wing stances on it, and believe like much of the world’s problems it will continue to be a problem for generations. My sincere hope is that it is not a problem in the church as we continue to enter into cities and diverse cultures. I hope that we see how quickly our prejudices impact our values and lifestyles. Let’s work together under God’s hedge to love all skin colors and cultures. It’s going to take work, and if we aren’t putting in that work, we aren’t doing enough.

If you have helpful contributions or critiques to the concepts I’ve shared here, you are welcome to comment, message me, or make it a point of conversation at your supper table. But… if your comment demonstrates a divisive or malicious spirit, it will not be published. I welcome your thoughts.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. Romans 10:12

Further Reading and References

https://answersingenesis.org/racism/are-there-really-different-races/

https://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/12-tribes-of-israel/god-is-not-racist/

 

10 Methods of Urban Discipleship You Probably Never Thought Of

I’m preparing to share at Urban Youth Workers Retreat on the 14th in a workshop entitled “How to Love the Attention Seeker”. As I was working on my outline I caught inspiration to list several things that worked for me (a former attention seeker myself) in regards to feeling loved and blessed by others. All of these methods have touched my heart personally, created fond memories, and caused great change in my life.

I could have listed many other things here, but I wanted to list only the ones that I think ought to be implemented on a larger scale than it is currently. I also wanted to keep them practical, hoping that you as the reader could do any or at least most of these if you desired to do so. I could have included making a missions trip to Asia and taking them with you, but I know for sure that I can’t personally do that. So why would I include it on this list?

Pray for me as I prepare for the retreat, I anticipate having a lot of really good conversations.

One of the criticisms I’ve received for this list is that It doesn’t involve the Bible and Jesus near enough. That it promotes the idea that doing fun things with them is more important than convicting their heart and pointing them vehemently towards the Lord. I’d like to simply acknowledge that concern and clarify that I assume that it is up to the spiritual leader in the relationship to center the discussions and the love prevalent in these interactions on the savior. Ultimately, these relationships have a clear goal in mind, and it is my opinion that should be clear on both sides. We love them because that is what Jesus has moved us to do, let’s not forget that in our desire to pour time into them. Time without love is wasted time.

1. Invite them over for Dinner

This is first, and it’s not by coincidence that I’ve inserted it here. When children sit down and observe a family in operation, their jaws drop wide open. It is fulfilling to see children who may or may not eat with their family, share and pass food in coordination with the rest of the people at the table. You don’t realize it because you are used to it, but having someone at the supper table communicates something very loudly… “You are family to me”. If you don’t want to have that level of commitment with the child/young adult in question, perhaps you need to re-evaluate the true level of commitment you have in the context of your church ministry. There isn’t anything wrong with being too busy for it, but it is damaging to invite someone to be family, but never follow up on it. Use this method with caution but do it often.

When I sat down at a supper table for the first time of my life just over 10 years ago, I recognized quickly that there was something incredibly strange about the people I was eating with. The way that the siblings loved their brothers and sisters. The way the parents kept a solemn but loose control over the table. The way that nobody stared at me or “over-explained” things to me… It was almost as if I had eaten at that table my entire life.

I found out just a couple of years later, that the strangeness I observed in the Shenk family, was indeed supernatural. It was the only hope that I had for a victorious and joyful life. I discovered that very day, for the first time, Jesus being modeled to me in a way that captivated me. And it all happened with some pork, potatoes, and a whole lot of kindness and love. 3 years of Bible school paled in comparison to 1 hour at a supper table.

Be Prepared: They won’t have the manners you would think they should. They are probably deeply intimidated and will either be mute or will seek attention to make up for that awkwardness. If you put on a show (i.e., giving the kids the “You better act right tonight! We have guests…” speech). Then the effectiveness will be put in danger. Be who you really are, and they will notice and deeply appreciate that.

 

2. Invite Them on Random Drives

Every month I need to drive one hour to my doctor for my monthly check-up. It only recently occurred to me that I could make this a ministry opportunity. We are so quick to press play on our podcasts, or stream our favorite playlist on Spotify, that we don’t think of the availability to make worthwhile conversation with people. Not only are we prone to shorting our friends with our time, we also short our disciples of it as well.

Make the invite complete and honest. “Hey Alex, do you wanna come with me to my doctor’s appointment tomorrow? It’s about an hour away and you should bring money along if you want to get something to eat.”

Now wait a second, what a cheapskate!

You don’t need to invest any more money than the gas it took to get there! And in my case, the money it took for the check-up. (Sheesh)

You can spend hours asking question after question if you honestly care about their lives. If it doesn’t work out well the first time, try again once your relationship is a little more solid. For some of you, this opportunity could give you a weekly chance to invest time into someone who may just need to talk through some things.

Be Prepared: Young people are very stimulated by social media and virtual stimulation. If you choose not to use these methods, you might want to have questions ready in your head to ask. This all depends on the personality you and the young person you are taking along has. Put a little thought into it on the way to pick them up, “What will I do if they get bored”. “Do I have any goals in inviting this specific person?” “Are we stopping to eat on the way back?”

 

3. Big Brother/Big Sister Relationship or Program

If you are really serious about your commitment to someone who needs Jesus, consider adopting the concept of being their older brother or sister. There are very few church Big brother programs, but you don’t necessarily need a program to do this.

Devote once a month where you take an afternoon to spend time with them. Go hiking, biking, camping, swimming, sight-seeing, etc. Anything you like to do with your “Menno” friends, invite them to do with you personally. If you aren’t comfortable just doing this alone, grab a friend and have her do the same with you. Have a double-date of sorts.

The Tidings of Peace Big Brother Program has in the past had up to 8 sets of big brother and little brothers. We’ve graduated over 10 young men from our program, and some of those relationships remain strong today. If you pour into this method and your church agrees to pursue something like this, we are willing to discuss how we got started and provide some advice. You are also more than welcome to join our current program as well. We can supply little brothers for entire churches if need be. 😊 Contact info is listed at the end of this document.

Be Prepared: Devoting a brother to brother relationship is risky and time-consuming. You will probably cry, or at least want to. They will probably cry and resist you at times. Don’t commit to this avenue of loving them if you are thinking of going into the mission field elsewhere any time soon. It is CRIPPLING to a young person’s heart to see another person walk out on them. Be very careful before committing to something like this.

 

4. Give Them a Meaningful Gift

Don’t buy city kids guns!!!!! Okay, now that I got that off my chest…

Believe it or not children don’t really feel loved when strangers give them cool things. They are just happy for their new toy. We, as rich people, have to not cop-out and just start buying them things to show our affection.

With that being said not all gifts costs tons of money. Some kids from the city don’t have many pictures to hang on their walls. They don’t have a nice Bible with their name on it. They don’t have an item of significance to remind them of a fond memory.

About 8 years ago, TOP went on their first canoe trip. About 7 of our men took a “little brother” along to spend 5 days on the river. Have you ever taken 7 city kids on a river for a whole week? It’s so unpractical… But boy is it fun!

On that trip the whole group voted on who could have the “Splashing Deleware River Warriors Official Paddle”. No, we weren’t all going to spank them. Instead it was a wooden canoe paddle that we all signed and left encouraging memories on. At the end of the week, one kid took that home. I caught up with him several years later, and his fondest memory of the “Mennonites” was that canoe trip. Sitting in his room to this day? That paddle.

Be Prepared: Sometimes we can set improper expectations by giving significant gits to others. Make it a rare thing, not something you attempt every single time you see them.

 

5. Invite them to Sunday School/Church

Church isn’t going to be the coolest thing that they ever attend. For some reason, we could always get kids to come to Sunday school though. This opens up the possibility that they can develop relationships with others their age from a Christian background. In our setting, it’s common for us to go quickly pick up some of these kids for Sunday school. We have Sunday school after the morning service, and I know that likely isn’t the case for you. If it’s okay with your Sunday school leader for them to only attend Sunday School, that could be a good way to spark interest down the road for more faithful and complete church attendance. It may surprise you, but a lot of kids are hungering for things to do on Sundays. You opening up your life to them in this way could prove to be something special to them. Even if it only works on 1 out of every 10 you invite, that will still mean a lot to that one that decides to be brave and give it a try. If they’ve stuck around for the end of the service, make sure they’ve got a place to eat!

Be Prepared: This is obviously something that needs to be checked in with whoever is in charge of Sunday school at your church. Church is likely okay, but how will they feel about having them in Sunday School?

Also recognize that getting them to church can not be out primary goal. The culture in Anabaptist churches can overwhelm someone if they are forced into church attendance too aggressively. Let them decide to come, and don’t shame them for being hesitant. It really can be a very uncomfortable experience for them. It’s not as simple as it seems.

 

6. Go to Their Homes/Neighborhoods

Personally, I hate Christmas caroling. But there is one benefit that ought not be overlooked. The fact that we as a people purposely go to their setting for a change. Mennonites especially seem to me to be good at waiting or inviting people to come join them in their own settings. This isn’t bad at all…

How much more powerful would it be for us to take a trip to their hometown?

As an individual, can you establish a relationship with the parents that allows you to enter their home? Can you sit on their couch? Can you enjoy some of the things they enjoy? Can you play basketball on the court that they always go to? Maybe help them out with their chores?

Be Prepared: Some home situations aren’t safe. Some of them are also very deceptive. I cringed when people from my church talked so nicely about my dad and mom. I knew who they really were, but some seemed to wonder if the things I mentioned about them to others was actually true. Don’t enter the home and use things you learn as leverage in the relationship. Go because that is the loving and kind thing to do.

 

 

7. Send Them Really Really Long Letters

This one is admittedly hit or miss. There is a chance that the person you are looking into writing doesn’t enjoy reading or can’t for that matter. Everyone grows up differently and is exposed to these things uniquely. But there is tremendous power in taking the time to tell someone what you appreciate about them with pen and paper.

These letters should be letters of affirmation, not of rebuke or criticism. Letters of criticism are often not as helpful as a discussion in person. However, a letter of affirmation actually has the power to strike the heart better than an actual conversation. Again, it can all depend on the person, but it could really do well. Some of most affirming words I’ve received from people who care about me I’ve never actually heard from them directly. The awesome thing about a letter is that not only did I get the message, but I get to keep it as a gift for years to come. (Actually, I’m terrible at keeping letters, hopefully they do better at this than I do)

Alternative: You know how you send out personal or family pictures to all of your church family and friends? Those Christmas greetings, graduation photos, or those new addition to the family pics? Print enough for the people you know in the city as well. Pictures don’t get passed around much in the city, people live with an increasingly small amount of printed items. I don’t do well at keeping track of those pictures, but if you feel like you are wasting your money then spend the 15 cent for the copy and mail me the bill. You have to pay postage though.

 

8. Take them Traveling with You

Do you want to know the stories that city kids will tell over and over again? The ones that happened when they were taken to the cabins in Virginia, or to the lake across the state, or to the streets of Pittsburg. Taking them for a weekend to a place you enjoyed as a child will create memories that cause them to smile in the future. It needs to be something overnight though.

The experience in sleeping in a safe, comfortable environment that is far removed from the abuses of family and the stresses of familiar living arrangements can be effective. Make breakfast with them in the morning at the cabin, start campfires, go sight-seeing. Make the trip something they annoyingly bring up over and over again. That’s when you know you’ve communicated something to them. Hopefully it shows them your commitment to them.

Be Prepared: Once you leave home-town, you are on your own. You’ve gotta take care of that kid like he’s your own son or daughter. There is nothing worse than taking your little brother home to his mom with a twisted ankle and scuffed up body from a four-wheeler accident that was your fault not even two days away from the start of school… Luckily, the mom of my little brother has a sense of humor that matches her son’s and she laughed it off.

Not every parent is that way though. One parent, after an accident that happened to her child on a Big Brother Program activity over 10 years ago told us the following. “I won’t press charges, if you stop the program.” We were left with no choice but to honor her wishes and indefinitely pause the program. All because we did not weigh the concept well that we were being entrusted with the safety of several young boys. Ever since we have been careful to have the proper paperwork for sure.

 

9. Do Memorable Things at Your Own Expense

There are two things that my students and other young people I interact with know about me.

  1. I was once in Puerto Rico and arm wrestled a girl from my youth group. I not only lost the match, but shattered a re-bar enforced concrete bench in the process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gx-7V0qFeo or just simply type in “Keetch Goes Through a Bench”
  2. On a Big Brother weekend activity in Virginia, I drove a Barbie cart down a steep hill. It didn’t end the way I would have liked it to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V00Nrp8d3YY or just simply type in “Sparkling Springs Nascar Accident”

Both of these embarrassing videos are wonderful memories for not only my little brother Sammy, but many others from York that have seen them. Would I go back and redo these painful things? Nope!

But seeing it bring joy to their lives at my expense helps them to know I don’t take myself too seriously. Something very important if I want to win their heart.

So… Don’t be afraid to be a little extra silly during game time. It can be a good way to loosen everyone up and further grow your relationship with them.

Be Prepared: It takes effort not to lose respect with these things. Just warning you.

 

10. Now it’s your Turn…

You decide what the 10th, 11th, 12th, and so on methods of discipleship that you’ve never really considered are. If you’d like share them with me personally or in the comment section. If all of these are already a part of your routine then bravo to you! But there is no one way of discipleship. None of these methods work for everyone, and everyone needs their own way interacting with the unsaved. Pick your method/s and do them faithfully.

 

TOP Big Brother Program Director: Al Stoltzfus—– alstoltzfus4634@gmail.com

How Often Do You Tell Your Friends You Love Them?

How often do you tell your friends you love them?

I have a very strange habit of having conversations with myself in my head. The funniest arguments I have are with myself while I am going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit on a snowy road. Don’t judge me. I traveled to Kansas and back this weekend for two of my good friends’ wedding, and thus had a lot of time to think through some of the tougher questions of life.

One of the arguments I had with myself several times over this past weekend was whether I am a good friend or not. On one hand, I understand and fully recognize the fact that I value and rely on the existence of my friendships. How could I ever dare to say I am not a good friend when I care about others so much? On the other hand, I realized how messed up I am, and how much baggage people acquire when they decide (or are forced) to be friends with me.

I wrestled through this from several different directions until I remembered some wise words one of my close friends told me several years ago. We were even closer at the time because he was sitting in my passenger seat snoring like a walrus.

He told me “I know you like to over-analyze things…”

Ever since he told me that I’ve been trying to figure out how that applies to my life and what the implications are. (don’t overlook the irony there)

I decided I wanted to narrow it down to one question so that I could at least, in some regard, objectively say whether I am a good friend or not. I don’t believe I arrived at a definitive or all-encompassing question, but I do think it is an important one to consider.

I asked myself… “How often do you tell your friends you love them?” I immediately took it to the context of my classroom. Do I tell my student who hates his math (and consequently me for giving to him) that I love him to give the confidence he needs in me to help him? Do I tell my student who is routinely cursed out at home for not holding his spoon right that I love him, so that he is able to trust that there is a gentle and understanding authority in his life? Do I tell my student who is majorly insecure with herself and her abilities that I love her? I came to the conclusion that I don’t tell my friends, students, or family, that I love them at all. I felt especially bad as I received this token of love and appreciation from my school today. They know I am on a diet and chose to encourage me with this…

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I suppose I always just assumed that my actions spoke louder than my words. I never came to terms with the reality that as someone whose words are so powerful in both negative and positive contexts, it would be important for me to voice my appreciation for people in my life on a regular basis. My first day back from a long road-trip, I am already emailing people who are important to me and trying to establish a continuing conversation so that I can both show and tell them that I love them routinely. I think it could be kind of awkward to just text my friends that I love them with no context or conversation prior. Especially those with no Y chromosomes. I just don’t think they’d understand why I was doing what I was doing, and the whole purpose would be shattered if my words were taken out of context.

Quantum Theory and Love

One of the values I have carried with me my entire life is the idea of communicating my love to others. I’ve always pondered quantum theory and its relation to sound. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Look it up, I don’t have time to explain. But I applied it to the concept of love as well. If you love someone and they don’t ever see the proof of that love, is it still love? In our mind we say of course, because we must. We can love someone without being around them to show or communicate that to them. We have to accept that as true because of all of the people we love that we don’t see or talk to routinely. This is true just like when a tree falls in a forest the vibrations from the fall produce a reaction in the air to make noise. Here, sound is used as a physical phenomenon or occurrence. But if we use sound in the context of a human experience, then we would of course have to say no, it does not make a sound. Semantics suck… the life right out of us sometimes.

I think love is like this as well. If we love someone but we don’t share that with them in our human experience, then we leave so much confusion as to whether or not love really exists. If you don’t believe this can really affect you, ask someone who has had a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. The most painful part of the disease is the loss of communication and expression of love. You are left to wonder if the person who is ill still has the competence of that love in their heart. It makes a grab of the hand or a physical embrace that much more special.

Ask someone who has a loved one who left Christianity for a bitter and lonely alternative of anger and resentment towards Jesus. Do you feel love the same way? Do you not wonder sometimes how you could really ever love each other fully again?

I’m aware that you CAN love someone without physical expression, but I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would choose to do so if you could help it.

Obviously as a man of faith I claim to love everyone. So, I am not saying that you should feel guilty for not sending cute notecards to everyone you’ve ever met with a reminder of your appreciation for them. I know people who do stuff like that and instead of it communicating love it communicates other things. It may even be unrealistic for some of you to physically reach out to all of your “friends” and tell them that you love them. That is why I’ve sort of redefined what my definition of my friends are. Although it isn’t complete, I consider my friends to be those I have the time and desire to communicate my love for them on a regular basis. It’s so subjective, but it also has been so helpful in helping me think through who in my life I care about.

I cared enough about two of my friends to travel 48 hours over the weekend to attend their wedding. I consider them friends because I have chosen to make myself a friend. It’s biblical you know! As it says in Proverbs 18:24, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly”.

How You Can Live This Out?

I have friends that I saw this past weekend that I know I love, and I believe and trust that they know that. They didn’t all get a hug, handshake, or joke out of me this weekend, but we both know where we stand. I appreciate friends like that, and that’s why I hit my email right away to make sure they knew that. Being a friend isn’t about keeping a schedule of when I contact each person in my life that matters to me. It’s not about living on the edge about what others think about me or think I think about them. It’s not even awkwardly hugging people just so they know you don’t hate them. It’s about living in constant recognition that love is most pure when felt in the heart but is most helpful when it’s communicated.

How is this lived out?

  1. When you are consoling a friend, be sure to ask them boldly “do you feel loved?” This will leave you with a clear chance to show what you already feel in your heart. Simply asking it often communicates it loud and clear.
  2. Tell your friends you love them. Make it a habit after your daily encounters. It may be awkward for everyone at first, but it will become natural for you and everyone else eventually. Be “that guy” that communicated his love verbally.
  3. If you are involved in missions, make sure your mission field knows you love them. If they don’t, don’t expect them to know Jesus loves them either.
  4. Allow other people to communicate their love as well. Don’t resist hugs, even though you probably hate them. Don’t ignore emails people took time to write to you. Say “I love you too” when appropriate.
  5. If you aren’t sure if someone loves you or not, love them. It will become clear very soon whether or not they do.

I came across people this past weekend that I know I care about, but I don’t consider them to be a “friend” in the same way I do to the man I let snore next to me for half of a 48-hour trip this past weekend. Their life intrigues me, and I am interested in what they do. I am encouraged by their choices in life and want to encourage them when appropriate. I would probably even call them friends loosely if given the right context. Many people who I would walk past at a wedding with no eye contact, but I communicate with routinely on Facebook. There are a lot of people who see that as the problem with Facebook, because it dumbs down the definition of friendship. It makes it superficial and watered down. I agree that this can be a side-effect of social media “friendships”.

But I think if someone properly understands who they find worth the time and effort to show their love physically, Facebook doesn’t matter. I’ve used Facebook to connect and communicate my care and appreciation for people on numerous occasions. That isn’t my primary reason for having my account, and perhaps I ought to be ashamed of that, but I appreciate the ability to send or receive a quick note of encouragement to my friends I am not afforded the privilege of seeing even on a yearly basis. We stay connected and we can often kick off where we left off years ago. I went back into childish insults and arm punching with my friend David like we weren’t 7 months removed from the last time we saw each other. Those moments are special to me, and those people are special to me. If you’re method is to just keep a tight circle and allow people to flow in and out of your life instead, go for it. If you are faithful to Jesus and His kingdom you don’t need to feel guilty for any of that. Because I’m an extrovert, I need other forms of communication, and I don’t like partial friendships. I’ve often joked that when someone marries my friend, they marry me to. It’s all jokes until I walk in uninvited and eat all their chicken. But those moments are even though rude and discourteous, me showing that I love them both. I’m also taking the liberty to help them love me as well. 🙂

Most importantly, focus on loving and showing you love those who you are around the most. Your church, family, co-workers, etc. Trying to keep close relationships with people who live across borders can be taxing. Do it as you have time, and not at the expense of the relationships that should be of prime importance.

Define who it is you care about the most and reach out to them. If it’s 10 people, then do it. If you think you can manage 100, go for it. Tell your friends you love them, because if you don’t, they’ll be left wondering if you do.

Here in the city, I love many people, I even see many people, but I am only blessed to see a handful of them every week. I find fulfillment in loving those closest to me, and find joy in making small efforts throughout my week to reach out to those who I know I care about. Hopefully, in being intentional about it, they know I care as well.

 

The “Savage” Generation

My First Ever Blog

Thank you so much for visiting my Blog Site! I don’t know what this journey will look like, but I intend to be as consistent with it as I possibly can! I hope to give insight on what is happening in my life, classroom, family, and ministry. I don’t hope to glorify myself, as it Jesus, and only Jesus, who deserves your praise and admiration. May this bi-weekly blog series bring glory and honor to HIS name!

Morning Devotions

I stood across from my students and began talking mindlessly. I don’t know if other teachers are accustomed to this feeling, but I just began talking without really knowing all what I was going to end up saying. I knew there were about 4 or 5 things I wanted to tell them, but I didn’t remember all of them when I started, and I didn’t remember what I wanted to say about the things I remembered I wanted to talk about. Someday…. Someday I will learn my lesson and arrive at school early enough to plan out my morning announcements!

They looked at me with their typical glassy eyes and groggy faces. My students don’t do mornings, and neither do I. We make one big, crazy, happy family! I responded with my typical annoying teacher-like encouragement. I purpose to make each of my students smile before they begin their work for the day. Sometimes, although it isn’t practical or responsible to force this rule on my students, I still try to get them to let go of their stubborn attempt to be grumpy teenagers.

I stumbled through my usual procedural announcements, and then opened my Bible to 1 Timothy 5. I looked for a bit to find the verse that I wanted to find, but I mistakenly picked up my Bible that does not have the verses marked. “Stupid, Stupid, Stupid” Is what kept circling through my mind as I frantically searched for the proper verse for my devotional topic. Alas, I finally found it.

At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.(HCSB, 1 Tim 5:13)

I took some time to explain the context, and made sure they knew that this text was not written directly to them. However, I found it especially striking and important to us as a class for two reasons. One was because a Mennonite man who disappeared over the tail end of the holiday season had been recently found. The other because a new student would be joining our classroom the following week.

My class did not spend any time praying for or thinking of this lost man, because I did not want to involve them in the drama of the situation. I personally cared about the situation, but recognized that there was nothing that I could do or add to the already boisterous support from others. Of course, I prayed, and praised the Lord for his safe return home. I was a bit uncomfortable as I heard others from my circles bring it up over and over again. It wasn’t a distaste or anything of that sort, because I know their intentions were good. But I sensed a very human tendency of being nosy and inserting ourselves in trendy movements. I imagine that many Sunday morning sermons were filled with the stigma of a missing person from one our communities, and that it made relevant sermon material for our pastors. I for one do not impose that any of that was wrong, it just didn’t feel right for me, and if it wasn’t right for me, it wasn’t right for my students.

When I relayed this story to them, they also had their questions. I encouraged them to simply praise the Lord for his providence, and to think about how divisive it would be if people started to demand information or impose their “right” to know details that I’m 95% certain is not smart or legal to relay to the public. I was amazed at how well my 6th and 7th graders understood this concept in a way that dozens of nosy adults on Facebook and other platforms did not. I am proud of the innocence and common sense of my students. They care about people, they think people are more important than selfish ambitions.

Jorge(Named changed for protection) will be joining my classroom this Tuesday as well. I had a sit-down interview with him and his parents. His parents do not speak or understand English, so I was very handicapped in trying to figure out if our classroom culture is a good fit for Jorge. His family just recently moved from Florida, and their claim is because they could find better work here in York, and that they wanted better schooling options than what he was experiencing back home. I saw in Jorge’s parents a certain desperation to take their son, whom I could tell has a lot of potential, and get him into an environment that would help him succeed. I wanted to know only one thing for certain before allowing him into my classroom. I wanted to know that his parents agreed that modeling his life after Jesus Christ was the best way for him to reach his potential. They gave a reassuring “Hmm mmm” and “Si! Bueno Muy Bueno!” to back up my pleas to Jorge that he would be encouraged to live a godly lifestyle in our school.

I took some time before our interview to research the school Jorge is coming from. The reviews were very similar to the public schools here in York. There were a few young people who gave 5-star ratings and commented on the “Banging food”. But there were tons of alumni that spoke ill of the school, mentioning that there are several fights every day. Jorge confirmed this as fact in our interview. This prompted me to ask Jorge a question.

“What do you think about bullying?” I waited in anticipation as I craved to hear his answer to a very important question. I could not afford to have bullying enter the culture of our classroom. It is virtually nonexistent, and Jorge would need to contribute to that success. His answer did not surprise me, as he replied, “I don’t know, it’s just something you learn to live with, it’s a part of school”. I informed him that our school was different, and that we do not tolerate bullying for any reason. We were on the same page by the end, but I can tell that the first week will be a wake-up call for him.

Later in the interview I asked him another question. “Are you a bully?” I won’t reveal his answer, but I’m proud of him for his honesty. He, like me, gets in trouble sometimes with his mouth. I suppose it’s an area we can grow in together.

The “Savage” Generation

Jorge is a part of a generation that I like to call the “Savage Generation”. Now before you get all over my back about calling young people, or any people for that matter, “Savages”, let me explain. Over the last two years there has been a popular movement in mainstream society known as the “Let’s be disrespectful to each other and then complement one another by calling each other ‘savage’”. Okay they probably wouldn’t call it that, but it sums up well the disrespectful overtones in the YouTube, Television, and Celebrities that young people have taken part in. Most viral videos consist of some form of disrespect, and on occasion you hear someone remark “Yo, he’s a real savage!” It’s so sad…. There are whole clothing lines dedicated to this trend, and although it may seem harmless, it has noticeably changed the level of respect given to others in our world.

It didn’t take long for a major story to unleash from the sellers of these clothes lines. Recently, a YouTuber by the name of Logan Paul posted a video of a hanging man in a popular suicide spot in Japan. Besides these actions, he paraded around Japan, which is known for their calm and non-flashy behavior in the public squares, in a very “savage” but consequently disrespectful manner. He obviously received lots of backlash for these actions, as they are certainly morbid and disrespectful. Our young people may be looking up to these people, they may be wanting to be a “savage” as well. With that being said, I don’t follow Logan Paul, nor do I think you should either. But the clothes pictured above are his merchandise. See how quickly a harmless movement turns into the defaming of dead bodies? Think your kids are exempt? Just give it some time….

I was with one of the students from our school last night, and was appalled by the blatant disrespect that continued to surface throughout the evening. It was almost deliberate how the student continued to bring up people who he had not daily interaction with, just to make fun of them. I rebuked him, and encouraged him to try to think of good things to say about these people. He resisted, saying “Na man I’m a savage, I don’t like those people, and they know it.”

To the credit of young people, it is only highlighting a problem found in the generations before us. The words used by ex-Mennonites and current Mennonites(It really doesn’t matter a whole lot) made many uncomfortable in regards to the missing man mentioned earlier. If we are being truthful, we all gossip, disrespect others, and act unchristlike at times. If we believe we don’t, we are likely a part of the problem. It is something we need the younger generation to be aware of so that we are equipped as a church to combat the woos of the Devil. Satan has got a grip on our people, and I’ve personally felt it’s helplessness and vices.

Sadly, it has crept its way into our Anabaptist communities as well. Perhaps even innocently. Our young people follow basketball and begin to become fans of sports figures that really don’t match the lifestyles in which we hope our youth will live someday. 98% of sports stars are egotists that although give the surface look of commitment and devotion of their success to God, do not live their lives to reflect that image. I’ve heard way too many times “But Russel Wilson is a Christian” or “Hey man, Tim Tebow is a devout Christian.” I have my own opinions about these people but that isn’t important, the issue comes with the broader effects of these sports idols.

All of a sudden, we see young people buying the clothes they wear, making the gestures they do, shooting the way that they do. Their defense is likely that none of these things are wrong, and that’s potentially true (it often isn’t). But the deeper issues lie in the personalities and values that they gain from these “Christian athletes”. All of a sudden, being a savage becomes more important than loving the widows. Being a savage becomes more essential to popularity than visiting the sick. Being a savage is more interesting than their school work. We run into some deep issues as young people when we allow the savage mentality to take flight. I work with all my might to avoid the glorification of disrespect in my classroom. It would do us well to combat it with full force in our homes, families, schools, and support groups. Jesus Christ was the least savage person to ever walk our earth.

But why did I read a verse about young idle widows to my students though? Why did I take a verse with questionable context and build my devotions around it? My hope is that they learn that respecting and loving others is the coolest thing they could ever do. The verse suggests that if we keep busy with worthwhile things, we would not be as tempted to run our mouths about things not essential to our knowledge or concerns. We become less savage, when we become more like Jesus. Me being a social creature, I am relieved when social activities can happen that release the need to be cool or talk a big game. People can be who they are, and in the best case scenario push each other to be more like Jesus.

Let not one word be uttered to offend another in my classroom. Let not one slanderous word be spoken privately about another in my classroom that ought not to be said! By the grace of God we can overcome our selfish social tendencies. It is paramount that while the world sees the church functioning as an invasive part of the lives of the disenfranchised, that we show them Christlikeness, and not savagery. We not be idle gossips, but instead use our words to build up and edify.

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19)