Romans 15: A Reason For Hope

“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.  As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name….’  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”    – Romans 15:8, 9, 13

Hope is hard.  Some days it is difficult to look at the future and see positive things, much less to see great things.  But this passage says we can hope because of what Christ has done.  He came to show God’s truthfulness.  In His life, He showed what God’s truth really is.  He is the Truth.  He came to confirm His promises.  He fulfilled all the prophecies in the old testament.  And in doing so, He showed that we can trust every single thing He promises to us.  And He came to show His mercy.  The Gentiles get to glorify God for the mercy He has shown them.  Christ died for us all.  If He has paid for our past, then we have hope for our future.

I think many times hope is hard to come by, because we look at the days ahead through the lens of our own abilities.  I don’t have the ability to make tomorrow any better than today, so why would it be?  We see tomorrow through the lens of today’s troubles.  Today they seem insurmountable.  And if I can’t get past this, then how could tomorrow have any value?  But just like the story of David and Goliath, when we stare at the giant, we are impressed by His strength and in fear of His power.  But David looked not at the giant, but at God.  He saw a God whose power is immeasurable, beside whom the giant is nothing.  That gave him hope.  And we have the same opportunity.  We can look at Jesus.  We can see how He showed God’s truthfulness, so we can believe.  We can see how He fulfilled God’s promises, so we can trust.  We can see how He showed mercy, how He gave good where none was deserved, and we can hope.

Thoughts?

Todd

Romans 14: The Same Team

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1-4 ESV)

Apparently, in the Roman church, there were some confident in their freedom in Christ who ate all foods.  And there were others who still maintained a dietary regimen.  Paul is merely encouraging them not to despise each other.  We get so passionate about issues that it can divide the church.  While I may disagree with you on an issue, I can see that you are passionately pursuing obedience to Christ.  Each group was doing their best to obey God in the way they understood.  And yet, they weren’t happy with that; they wanted the other group to change.  We see this so much in the modern church.  Where it’s an issue of worship styles, or Armenian vs. Calvinist, or anything else, we would rather hate and disagree than love and appreciate that we all are trying to know and love God the best we can.  God did not make the members of the church the same; He asked us to live in unity.  There is no need for unity when all is conformity.  There is need for unity when we are different.  That is one of the things that makes the church of Jesus beautiful.  It is artwork with many differing pieces with different looks, shapes, and purposes, but together make a lovely whole.

Thoughts?

Todd

 

New Blog Series?

Hey guys, the youth ministry series ended last week, and the end of Romans is upon us. Are there any other things you think we should tackle in a blog series? What would you like to read about and discuss? I’d love to hear from you and then I’ll write about whatever I want to anyway. Just kidding. Well, partly kidding. I’ll always write about what I want to, but I’d love to know what you’d like to read about as well.

Thoughts?

Todd

Youth Ministry Nuggets, pt. 5: Things I Learned from Great Youth Ministers

All right, we’re going to go ahead and close down the youth ministry thread with these last two nuggets.  But they are incredibly important nuggets, so read on and join the conversation.

Youth Ministry Nugget #12: Be a husband and father first.

I’m sorry, I realize this is sexist.  But it’s how I heard the advice, coming from a man to another man.  For you ladies in youth ministry, please receive it as “Be a wife and mother first.”

The main idea behind this is that your family comes before your ministry.  I’ve heard the argument that you are doing God’s work.  But in that, we fail to see that loving our spouses and raising our kids IS God’s work.  They have to come first in our lives.  I can say a lot more, but I don’t think I need to.  I think you get it.  You just have to live it.

Youth Ministry Nugget #13: Finish well.

I wish this was taught to every youth minister in the world.  Once God is drawing our time at a church to a close, we know we are moving on, maybe even have the next job already, and are just finishing our time at this current church, we have a horrible tendency to quit.  We stop connecting and loving these kids because we are preparing for the next group.  We stop trying as hard; we stop investing for the future because we know there is not a future.  But for these students, this is still the only present they have.  And we waste it.  Many times I’ve talked to guys who have told me that they no longer have a vision for their current ministry, that God is moving them on to their next church.  That may or may not be so.  But if you don’t have a new vision, then at least follow the old vision.  Continue loving students.  Continue teaching the Bible.  Continue to take kids to lunch.  Continue to build relationships.  Continue to connect them to each other.  This is still the work of the kingdom.  You are still a leader and lover of God’s children.  Do it well.  Sprint to the end of the race.  And when you move on, be able to say, I gave it everything.  Finish well.

I hope some of these have been beneficial.  Pass them along to your youth leaders.  Start conversations in your church.  Join the conversation here.

Thoughts?

Todd

Romans 13: Nothing’s sure but death and taxes

“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”                              Romans 13:7 (ESV)

Does this chapter mean you should pay your taxes?  Yes.  Does this chapter mean you should respect the government, even if you happen to support an opposing party?  Yes.  Does it mean something even more?  Yes.

I’ve always loved this passage from Matthew 22.  The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus with a question about taxes, and He answers this way: ” ‘Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them,’Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’  ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’”  (Matthew 22:19-21 NIV).

Money, debt, and taxes are of this world.  They should be paid and settled in an honorable way in this world.  But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He didn’t just say “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  He continued, saying, “…and to God what is God’s.”  How did He determine what things are Caesar’s?  The things made in his image.  So, is Jesus talking about taxes?  Yes.  But He is also making a huge statement about our lives.  Genesis 1:26a says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'”  So when Jesus says give to God what is God’s, He is speaking about us.  We are made in His image; we are His.  And we must give ourselves back to Him.

Paul is doing the same thing here in Romans 13.  Should we pay taxes?  Yes.  Should we pay our debts?  Yes.  But in the same way, we should give respect and honor to those who deserve it.  Does this mean we should respect and honor our government officials?  Yes.  But no one deserves our respect and honor more than God.  And we must purpose to do that today as well.  We must give ourselves to Him.  We must give Him respect and honor.

Thoughts?

Todd

Listening by Jenny Agnew

This is a really great blog my wife wrote about listening, and I wanted to share it with you.  So, with no further ado…

 

When was the last time you heard a story so compelling that it grabbed your attention and held your focus? You zoomed in on the speaker, all the world around you grew still, and you listened. You listened to every word. You were entranced.

 

When was the last time you shared a conversation with someone and caught a glimpse of what really makes us who we are: a glimpse of a heart and a soul?  You put your phone away, in a pocket or a purse, and there was nothing between you, just a connection of words and minds and hearts and souls.

 

You listened. You listened, and you connected with another human being. Listening is an act of love. It is a gift; it is a skill. It is a purposeful act that conveys value, respect, and, again, love. It’s also something most of us don’t do enough.

 

I have the greatest job on the planet. I am a nurse. I often spend time with people at their worst, at their most vulnerable; and, I love it! All pretense is gone. I have the privilege of stepping into the story, and thus the life, of another. Sometimes in that story we get to celebrate, sometimes we cry, sometimes we are left in uncomfortable places… places with no answers and no clear path. But no matter where we end up, we end up there together, connecting at so many points along the way.

 

I totally get behind on my charting, which turns my 12 hour work day into a 14 hour one, but I wouldn’t change a thing. My life is so much richer. I learn so much from hearing how people have struggled well; how they have learned to be patient; how they have seen God–how they have seen Good–in times of despair.

 

One day recently in the infusion clinic, I took care of a patient with Multiple Sclerosis. To give you a little background, she and her brother both have MS; both have tried all the same medications with no improvement or slowing of the disease progression. Last year, they both began the same medication, one that is given when all else has failed. When I met her 10 months ago, she walked with a cane. Now she is wheelchair bound. Her brother is walking, holding his daughter. They have had complete opposite outcomes. That first time we met, she passed out while I was putting in her IV. Awesome. Last month though, she and I both managed to stay conscious. Woo hoo! She got her medicine, and… I got to hear her story.

 

Thirteen years ago, she woke up in the middle of the night not able to move the left side of her body. She was taken to the closest ER.  After a bunch of prodding and poking, they told her that she probably has MS, there’s nothing anyone can do. She says that night MS picked her up and threw her off a balcony. She says she knows that eventually she’ll hit the cement. She can see it coming, but the decent is slow. This has afforded her the opportunity to make every day, every moment count.  This has helped her to be thankful every day.  And sharing in her story helped me to be thankful every day.  The  Bible says that my life is a vapor, too, here for a little while and then gone.  In my little while, I want to do things that matter, to love well, to listen.

 

When I finally make it home at the end of the day, the kids are usually fast asleep and I am totally wiped out. Every once in a while though, my ten-year-old son will be awake, unable to fall asleep. I am tired, hungry, and already feeling the next day’s pressures creeping in on me, but I sit on the edge of his bed and I listen. I listen through the silliness and the facts about his day until he gets to the stuff that he has deeply buried.

“I pushed Dmitry.”

”Do you think I’m fat?”

“Is it my fault you can’t have more babies?”

These are precious moments. Moments that I almost always miss when I get caught up in the busy-ness of my house, my job, my yard, my schedule.

 

I encourage you the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of a story, stop whatever you are doing, put away your phone/iPad/whatever, and listen, really listen. Give the person sharing themselves with you a gift. You’ll probably receive one back.

Thoughts?

Jenny and Todd Agnew

Romans 12: Breathe Worship

The first year we went on tour with Grace Like Rain, we had a t-shirt that said Breathe Worship.  The idea came out of this chapter, Romans 12, specifically the very first verse.

“Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV)

The idea that worship had nothing to do with music was revolutionary to me.  And yet, here was a verse which distinctly talked about worship but mentioned not one thing about music.  It is completely about God and being God’s.  To offer our lives as our worship, specifically to offer our bodies.  Every act, every movement was to be a sacrifice to God.  Which meant that worship wasn’t something I did on Sundays.  It was something that was intrinsically a part of every single thing I did.  It was like breathing.  Breathing is not something you put on the calendar to make sure you fit it in.  It is something you do as an integral part of everything else you do.  I think Paul is trying to say that worship is like that as well.  We don’t just show up, sing some songs, then go back to not worshipping.  We worship in everything we do.  God is just as deserving of honor and praise when I am brushing my teeth as when I have the amps cranked to 11 singing everyone’s favorite song.

Worship is continual, but it is also purposeful.  “Offer your bodies” is intentional.  I want to learn to give God all that I am every moment.  To do it on purpose.  To recognize His worth is the most mundane tasks.  I want to offer myself to Him continually.  It’s hard.  I walk through much of my life without thinking of Him at all.  But I am asking Him to change that.  And I believe He can.

Thoughts?

Todd

 

Youth Ministry Nuggets, pt. 4: Things I Learned from Great Youth Ministers

Youth Ministry Nugget #9: Learn names.

One of the nuggets of wisdom I remember from my dad was to learn people’s names.  It matters.  When you remember their name, you are telling them they are important to you.  Individually important.  You’re not just telling them that the youth group in general is important, but that they individually have value.  It takes work.  A few of you are naturals but for the rest of us it takes work.  You have to invest time, focus, and energy, but it is possible and it makes a difference.

Youth Ministry Nugget #10: Take notes.

You are not going to remember everything about your students.  Take notes.  Just like in class, when you wanted to remember something you wrote it down.  Do the same with your kids.  Then you have something to pray over during the week, and you can look over it before ministry events (Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, whenever you meet).  You can read over it and refresh your memory on what your students are going through.  Obviously, do not leave it where anyone else can read it.  And if something is important and private, then code it.  Use initials or code words.  But give yourself a chance to remember, because naturally we will forget.

Youth Ministry Nugget #11: Connect your students to the church.

Your youth group is not the church.  If that is where students are connected, then when they go to college, they are now disconnected.  When they turn 18, they no longer see their place in the church.  So connect them.  Build relationships with adults, with senior adults.  There is such a wealth of wisdom there.  When I was 19, I realized that I had grown up in church but had no idea what deacons did.  I knew they took up the offering but that was all.  None of them had spent any time with me.  How is the next generation supposed to lead the church when we don’t know how it’s being led now?  Connect your students to the leadership of the church.  Have your pastor come teach or just spend time with your students.  Have the worship pastor, or the discipleship pastor, or the senior adult pastor, come and hang out with your students.  Hopefully there is a good reason those people are on staff and your students will benefit from being around them.  And connect them downward as well.  Encourage your students to know the children in your church.  Few things light up a child’s life like being with an older student.  They will begin not just to go to church, but to be the church.

Thoughts?

Todd

Romans 9-11: The Jews

When we started studying Romans this summer, the opening comment from a friend of mine after reading the opening of Romans was: “I’m not sure what to think about the Jews.”  I love honesty like that.  And Paul continues to touch on the subject momentarily throughout Romans, but then in chapters 9, 10, & 11, he settles down to address this issue once and for all.  Now we are not going to try to understand all that God thinks about the Jews, or even all of what Paul thinks about the Jews.  We are just going to address one thing that broke my heart.

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  (Romans 11:25)

When I was in college, I took a class in Ancient Hebrew Thought.  It was basically a class on Genesis at a secular institution.  My professor was a brilliant Jewish man.  I learned so much from him.  But at the end of the class, for all his brilliance, he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah toward which his faith pointed.  I’ve never understood that.  I’ve thought about it for almost 20 years now.  But in studying this summer, it finally started to become clear.  God has chosen to harden the hearts of many Jews to the truth until such a time that “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  It doesn’t matter how brilliant they are.  God decided to harden their hearts in order to save the rest of the world.  That’s why he couldn’t understand.  Not because he was stubborn, but because God is stubbornly pursuing the hearts of the Gentiles.

“Rather through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.”  (Romans 11:11b)

God has made salvation distant to many Jews in order to win the hearts of the Gentiles, but then also plans to use our faith to win the Jews to Him as well.  It makes me wonder if we are living lives that would make Jews jealous?  Or are we just criticizing them for being wrong?  Are we reaching out in love, building relationships, or just treating them like a cult of unbelievers?  Because whatever the current status of their faith is, they are still God’s chosen people.  And if He wants to use us to win their hearts, are we living lives that they would want?  Like the new song by Casting Crowns, do they feel loved by us or do they just know us by what we’re against?

This really changed my heart.  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Thoughts?

Todd