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The Earth is Full of Holy Glory

  
  
  

A guest post by Howard Snyder, presenter at the New Creation conference on October 19

 

The Earth is Full of Holy Glory“Holy, holy, holy!” The words resound in praise to the hymned Trinity. Surprisingly, this phrase occurs only twice in Scripture—once in Isaiah; once in Revelation:

Isaiah 6:3 – “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Revelation 4:8 – “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

Verses so similar that we should mark the differences!

Both passages picture glorious scenes of the Sovereign Lord upon his throne. In Isaiah, six seraphs (seraphim, “burning ones”) call to each other, proclaiming God’s holiness.

Revelation 4 is similar: Four “living creatures” unceasingly sing “day and night.” “Holy, holy, holy, [is] the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” The seraphs of Isaiah 6 and also the “living creatures” of Revelation 4 have six wings. Pictured here are the glorious angelic beings who ever attend God’s throne.

But the passages are different, and the difference teaches us a lesson. In Isaiah: “The whole earth is full of his glory.” In Revelation: The Lord “was and is and is to come.” Here is the Lord of both space and time. The whole earth (space); all of history (time). Jointly the two passages embrace heaven and earth; space and time! Holy is the Lord.

So in our discipleship, we remember this: The whole earth is full of God’s glory, and all time is God’s context. Through the promises of God, we see a story here. We know that more and more, as God’s plan of salvation unfolds, God’s glory will be seen in the whole earth. “The earth will be full with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; cf. Hab. 2:14).

God’s Glory in the Earth

Psalm 33:5 reminds us that the Lord “loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” Psalm 104 sings movingly of God’s presence and acts in the earth. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps. 104:24).

Our news channels are full of pain and problems and disasters—not of God’s glory. We get blinded; we forget that the whole earth is full of God’s glory.

The earth shows God’s glory in at least six ways.

1. The beauty, color, and splendor of the creation reflect God’s glory. See a horse run, or stately storks walk, or graceful birds fly! The last chapters of Job say it over and over. The poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer caught the scent: “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”

2. Each God-imaged man and woman reflects God’s glory. Every person is a God-glory-bearer—in fact, or in potential. God’s glory shines in human uniqueness and diversity. Humanity created male and female shows God’s glory more than would genderless beings.

3. The glory of the Lord is seen most fully in Jesus Christ–incarnation, life, death, resurrection, reign. “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

4. God’s glory is seen in the church when it is filled with the Spirit. His glory shines in the faithful expansion of the church worldwide. Faithful community, vital worship, and diversity of the Spirit’s gifts all reveal God’s glory. Unfaithful churches tarnish the brightness of God’s glory.

5. God’s glory glistens in every act of love, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Acting justly and enacting justice shows the glory of the Lord. As God’s glory is shown in all his works, so all our works in fidelity to God display his glory.

6. God’s glory appears when we practice creation care, demonstrating God’s care for the earth. Creation care is glorious, for it first and foremost honors the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. Honoring God in this way, we bless others now and into future generations.

God’s Glory Now and Evermore

Despite the fall and all the problems of sin, the whole earth is still full of the glory of the Lord! Not just will be, but is! For the One who created us and the whole creation to reflect his glory is still working in the world through his Holy Spirit.

This then is a fact we can rejoice in and meditate upon: The whole earth is full of God’s glory.

Scripture nowhere says explicitly, “Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory.” Yet that truth shines from nearly every page. The seraphs emphasize in Isaiah 6:3 that “the whole earth is full” of God’s glory. How easily we forget; fail to see. So easily we feel that heaven is glorious, but the earth is full only of death and disease, evil and woe.

God is the Lord of space and time, of spacetime. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of history. The Holy Spirit worked in creation, in Jesus’ incarnation and full history, and is working still. God the Father is, was, and always shall be. Jesus came and is yet to come.

O God, by your Holy Spirit give us eyes to see your glory in all the earth, and grace to manifest your glory in every sphere of our own influence. May we see and reflect and extend your glory. Help us trust your promises for the future as fully as we celebrate your past acts and the resurrection of Jesus, the guarantee and firstfruit of your kingdom in fullness. May your will be done on earth, as in heaven. Amen.

I wonder — Are there other ways in which it is literally, visibly true that “the whole earth is full of God’s glory”?

We could reflect as well on the full biblical meaning of fullness! — an important New Testament word.

 

This article was reposted with permission of the author.

 

Howard SnyderHoward Snyder

Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); now engaged in research and writing in Wilmore, Kentucky. Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Formerly taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of WineskinsCommunity of the King, and most recently, Salvation Means Creation Healed.

Compassion and Neuroscience—Sister, Can You Spare a Dollar?

  
  
  

A guest post by Diane Stephens, a keynote speaker at the McCown Symposium on September 23

man with homeless man

Since this last economic downturn, the number of men and women panhandling on the streets of Chicago seems to have increased. Sometimes I offer a dollar or spare change—my pastor friend Anita who was once homeless encourages me to do so—and sometimes I simply smile, shake my head as if to say "not today" and keep on walking. Why do I respond compassionately one day and not the next?

Witnessing the pain of hunger and who knows what else is, well, painful. It could be compassion fatigue—that feeling of being overwhelmed by devastating situations and the attention we want to pay to suffering in the world. It is a hazard for those of us in the caring professions. After a steady diet of personal pain, we start to recoil from it, knowing there's a limit to how much suffering we can take in.

Resisting the sight of pain, or looking away is a natural response. But I remain unsatisfied and disappointed in myself.

For eons, we have thought empathy and compassion were matters of the heart. But recent research suggests they are matters of the brain. Our brains, it turns out, are wired with an intricate empathy circuit that starts with the eyes. The physiological components of our visual system take whatever we're looking at and send it to the brain where instantaneously, the brain begins interpreting what we're seeing. Some things have emotional valence; some do not.

Neurons get involved. So do biochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Before you know it, we're feeling empathy—automatically, rapidly and unconsciously.

So now I remember my banker friend Mark who, one Christmas, gave his 12-year-old son Sam 20 five-dollar-bills and walked the streets of Chicago with him. Sam was to give out all the fives, each to a different person who likely had no place to go for Christmas dinner. Sam could choose who to give the money to. After he gave away the first five, Mark called his son aside and instructed him to go back, look the man in the eye and give him another $5. And to do the same when giving away the rest of the fives. Mark stressed the importance of "seeing" the person. 

Next time I'm in the city, I'll remember Mark as well as Anita. I think I'll take a moment to look and really see. And make sure I have several ones.

 

DianeStephensHeadShot

 

Diane Stephens is a spiritual director, retreat leader and Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA. She also serves as affiliate faculty in spiritual formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and as faculty of the CREDO program of spiritual renewal for Presbyterian pastors.

 

Diane Stephens and her husband, David Hogue, are the keynote speakers for the McCown Symposium at Northeastern Seminary on Monday, September 23. They will offer a thoughtful,
heartfelt analysis of the vital intersections of classic Christian spirituality, emerging discoveries in the neurosciences and spiritual practices that have become hallmarks of the Wesleyan movement. For more information and to register, visit www.nes.edu/mccown.

5 Things I Learned from my Youth Pastors

  
  
  

Three individuals highly influenced my spiritual growth from 7th-12th grade: Steve Bellavia, Craig Riportella, and Dan Schmidt. These youth pastors did far more than play games or pull pranks. Each one left an indelible mark on who I am today. As NES focuses on aspects of youth ministry, I wanted to share a few lessons I gleaned from these mentors.

1. Youth ministry is about time.

I remember having lunch and coffee with each one of these pastors. They invited me to come to the church office and intern with them. I had the chance to plan events and organize the sheet music for worship, and they gave me opportunities to preach as well. They allowed me to use and develop my gifts and this came from spending time with me. While youth ministry has changes over the last 50 yeras, one things that still remains is students' need for quality mentors.

2. Cast a vision worth following.

Steve pioneered a new junior ministry. Craig led an effort to remodel a whole building floor for youth. Dan empowered student leadership. In each case their vision was captivating and I can remember thinking, "I am all in." It was not about the size of the project, but the heart and character they had. They were willing to listen to input from others. Each one of them sought God for direction on the vision.

3. Model and teach spiritual formation.

For a semester of Sunday nights, Craig took time to teach what a devotional life looks like. What did this include? He gave us a starting point for the basics like reading the Bible and praying. But he also worked with our youth group on taking notes during a sermon—which later assisted me in high school and college as well. We learned how to journal in ways that reflected our personality. It went beyond telling us what to do, to showing us how God is present in our lives.

4. Welcome creativity within your context.

Steve, to this day, is one of the most creative people I know. His messages included illustrations and stories which connected to Scripture. Far beyond his preaching, he allowed for brainstorming and invited people to use their creativity without squashing it. Creativity requires people to leave their own mindset and welcome the input of of others. I learned not only how to give ideas, but how to listen to ideas.

5. In conversations, be fully present.

Dan has the unique ability to not only listen to a person, but to allow them to feel heard. After church and youth group, he remained as the last person just listening to people. Not only about their problems, but he had the ability to celebrate their wins. In one of the most difficult seasons of my life as a student, I knew I could share anything with him and sense his understanding. To this day, I still aspire to model my life after his heart to care for people.

Currently Steve Bellavia serves as an Executive Pastor at 3 in 1 Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Craig Riportella serves as lead pastor at CenterPoint Community Church in Waterville, ME. Dan Schmidt serves as lead pastor of Batavia Assembly of God in Batavia, N.Y.

What was one of the lasting lessons you learned from your youth pastor?

 

Englert, Peter
Peter Englert
Director of Admissions
Northeastern Seminary 

Spiritual Formation for Teens is More Than Camp

  
  
  

A guest post by Doug Milne (M.Div. '10, Northeastern Seminary)


youth at campfire iStockIt was the final night of teen camp and, as is the norm, we were seated around a bonfire sharing laughs, stories and snacks. Campers often take this time to unpack all that they have learned during the week. Typically, teenagers (and adults) will share how God has touched them during camp, recounting stories of a repentant heart describing how they found themselves living contrary to a righteous lifestyle.

Toward the end of the time, a graduating senior decided to share. Personally, I was looking forward to what he had to say because this involved student usually attended for the social aspect of events, not necessarily the spiritual.

He stood, captured the audience’s attention, and said the following: “I’ve been coming to camp for a long time now. I’ve met some great friends and now I’m going off to college. For those younger kids here, make sure you always come to camp. Keep coming to camp. Keep this camp going by attending.” I sat there thinking, “That’s it? Come to camp?” Of all the things to say with a captivated, impressionable audience, he said, “Just keep coming to camp.”

Clearly, I do not want to sound judgmental in any way nor am I looking to trivialize this scenario.  I will assume this teenager had the best intentions sharing these words with his peers. However, after listening to him, I asked myself, “How does this represent spiritual formation in adolescents? What have I done, as a district leader, to aid in helping this student grow spiritually?”

Above all else, youth workers must have teenagers’ hearts and souls in mind—whether planning a Bible lesson or planning an amusement park trip. Spiritual formation is not some lofty theological exercise. It is the theological exercise. Believers must be formed spiritually on a constant basis. When Christ called believers to be his disciples, he meant for them to learn from him continually. Spiritual formation is the life lived in Jesus Christ. Spiritual formation encompasses all of the worship services, the Bible reading, the prayer times, the Christian fellowshipping, and the reading of inspirational and devotional books. We must practice and nurture our spiritual formation for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Spiritual formation is for all believers; it is not simply for adults. Our students are in desperate need of foundational, experiential spiritual formation and God has entrusted youth pastors and youth workers alike to assist in this process.

What is your church’s youth ministry like? How does the youth ministry blend itself into the vision and mission of the church as a whole? When teens leave your youth ministry and head into the workplace or into college, what does their testimony sound like? Does it sound like the opening story—keep things going for the sake of keeping things going?

 

Doug Milne 1

 

Doug Milne (M.Div. '10) is adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College and associate pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in North Chili, N.Y.

Questions About a Certain "Brand" of Student in Youth Ministry

  
  
  

A guest post by Larry Petry, M.Div. student, youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY

 

Recently, there were some statements made by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch that raised no small reaction. I share the following paragraphs from Robin Abcarian's LA Times article, "Attention Abercrombie shoppers: Walk Away." (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/14/local/la-me-0514-abcarian-abercrombie-20130514)

Last week, the website Business Insider had a story about Abercrombie's refusal to make plus-sizes, unlike its competitors H&M and American Eagle. Abercrombie Chief Executive Mike Jeffries wants "thin and beautiful" people shopping in his store, explained retail analyst Robin Lewis. "He doesn't want his core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing his clothing."

The Business Insider story also linked to a 2006 profile of Jeffries that detailed the executive's rancid retail philosophy, which has touched a dormant nerve.

"In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids," Jeffries told reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis of Salon. "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny." (Emphasis mine)

This led me to ponder a whole series of questions:

Does Jeffries' attitude sometimes seep into the culture of our youth groups?
Is everyone really welcome?
Is there a certain "type" or "brand" of student that is valued, appreciated more than others?
In what ways do we see this played out in youth ministry?
What things do we overtly or covertly lift up or celebrate in our gatherings?
Can the youth leaders' personal preferences become the litmus test for a student to be "accepted?"
And for the youth leaders: are we tempted to fit into some stereotype of "the ideal youth leader?"

As youth leaders, we proclaim the grandeur of being created in God's image (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139) and the thrill of living as God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). But when push comes to shove, how often do we struggle to be comfortable in our own God-given skin?

diversity in youth ministry

Ministry is often about asking these questions. We ought to develop habits of healthy self-reflection. As leaders in the church, we must be characterized by a fierce desire for our identity to be formed solely by "Jesus-is-with-me." (Christ in us is the hope of glory, isn't it?)

Our youth group communities must also be characterized as places where students are similarly encouraged and equipped to discover their God-given identities, to be comfortable in that skin. There is no room in youth ministry for a cookie-cutter production line nor Abercrombie-like exclusion. Developing this Christ-centered identity in ourselves and in our students is an intentional process. It will require persistent evaluation, question asking and re-alignment of ministry and personal habits.

What practices do you have for forming genuine Christ-centered identity in each of your students? And in yourself? Let's continue to pray, ponder, and collaborate toward effective practices in our ministries.

 

Larry Petry

 

Larry Petry, M.Div. student
Youth pastor, Gerry Free Methodist Church, Gerry, NY 

5 Back-to-school Tips for Youth Ministry - It's the Most Wonderful Time

  
  
  

A post by guest blogger, Niki Brodeur, M.Div. '11, youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, N.Y.

 

When I was younger I remember seeing a commercial for Staples office supplies. You might have seen it too. Chris Marquette dances around the aisles with two moping children while “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays overhead. I used to despise that commercial. Not anymore. Back to school time for our ministry equals kids returning from summer camps, family vacations, and cottages. And although the church program year gets crazy-busy pretty quickly for all of us in ministry, there are a few things that I believe we can all keep in mind and be doing before it goes into full-on excitement.

1. Pray.

I take a day each week to pray for a particular grade of youth in our church, including their families. On the seventh day, I pray for our adult volunteers. It keeps your ministry in focus on the people God has called you to serve.

2. Use mid-late August to your advantage.

youth leader with teens Many families tend to go away in the beginning of August because most camps/mission trips are over by then; which means that by mid-August, you have a bunch of bored teenagers sitting around at home. Plan an event to culminate the end of summer and get kids geared up for the start of the school year! And tell them to invite their friends! Need a few ideas? Trip to an amusement park, scavenger hunt, head to one of the lakes, laser tag, a picnic in the park … you get the idea!

3. Put a lot of effort into September events/Sunday school/youth group.

We should be putting forth our best efforts for ministry all year, but September is pretty important. For all of those kids who are just showing up at youth group for the first time ever, teens transitioning into high school, and new kids on the block, this is where we make our first impressions. If what they get is lackluster, has the appearance of “just thrown together,” or doesn’t ring of honesty, those kids will sniff out the falseness within moments of entering your youth room. And probably won’t return.

4. Clean House.

This goes for everything. Take some of your “down time” to go through old youth group plans, games, Sunday school lessons, and events. What isn’t working? What’s not helping to accomplish the goals of your ministry? Toss it. Go through your Sunday school rooms and youth

 rooms. Clean out the old stuff. Put new stuff on the bulletin boards. Add some pizzazz with paint, glittery borders, and pictures of your group being together. Check your roster and update it. Who’s moved? Who’s graduated? Start the year with a clean feeling.

pray

5. Pray some more.

I think as ministers, it can be easy for us to forget the importance of prayer in our daily lives. Prayer is how we stay connected in our relationship to Jesus Christ. If we aren’t connected, then we’re not allowing God to fully use us in ministry to others. So pray. A lot. 

 

Youth ministry leaders, what are some of your back-to-school tips?

Talking to Christian Teens About Sex

  
  
  

Part III of a series on sex, God, and Scripture by guest blogger Dr. Nijay Gupta. Read part I here and part II here.

 

In this post I want to give a few tips regarding how to talk to Christian teens about sex.

Sex Can Wait?

Just wait. That is a popular go-to argument for abstinence campaigns. Don’t have sex now, just wait until you are married. OK, not bad. But there are two problems. The age of marriage is getting later and later in the United States (due to education, busyness of career development, and an overall lack of enthusiasm for the institution of marriage). So, that makes it a bit harder to sell “just wait.” The next campaign then has to be—just wait longer. What happens when the waiting gives out?

Secondly, perhaps more importantly, not everyone is going to get married. Remember—Jesus never got married (life expectancy in the ancient world was around 40, and he died around 30). The apostle Paul encouraged Christians to be celibate for the sake of focused ministry work. Waiting for marriage cannot be the endgame for all people. It is better to encourage chastity as a spiritual discipline.

Part of the problem with popular perspectives on sex is that it is often portrayed as something dirty and instinctual (versus intellectual or volitional). However, I think we can help teens place sex in its proper context by thinking of it as a sacrament.

Sex as a Sacrament

We need to remind teens that God created sex, and he made it special. Thus, it is like a sacrament. Now, Protestant churches tend to have two official “Sacraments:” Baptism and Communion. But a sacrament can be defined as anything that is “a tangible sign of God’s invisible grace.” A sacrament is something common in life that constantly reminds us of God’s goodness and love. It is a reminder that “every good and perfect gift comes from God” (see James 1:17). Sex is not a part of our life that is unspiritual, or one that we must hide from God. God designed sex to bring glory to his own name, and to promote thanksgiving and joy and fulfillment in God. As one author puts it, “human eros [sexual love] itself is best described, finally and most fittingly, as a part of life that points towards God and in which God is present” (Boulton and Boulton, 30).

All good sacraments are made up of resources available to everyone (like water and bread), and available as opportunities to remind oneself of God. Martin Luther once said, “whenever you wash your face, remember your baptism.” By analogy, you might say, whenever you have sex with your husband or wife, remember to thank God for how that experience is a sign of fulfillment and joy in God.

As Boulton & Boulton put it: “At its best … and only at its best, sex is a taste of heaven on earth. And heaven is not to be trifled with. It needs to be treasured, shielded, nurtured and given room to thrive and grow. For these reasons, it needs ‘strings attached’: strings that protect, limit and properly empower” (p. 30).

Again, we need to take “sex” out of the “dirty and sinful” category and put it in the “holy and awesome” category.

Parents: The Buck Stops With You

Parents need to talk to their teens. R.D. Auten explains that “Most of the attitudes and values that cause sexual problems among young couples can be traced back to attitudes, behaviors and values that are either consciously or unconsciously absorbed from parents” (The Role of the Church in Helping Early Adolescents Deal with Issues of Sex and Sexuality).

So, moms and dads, talk to your children. Talk to them about beauty, identity in God, wholeness. Tell them that you love them. Teach them boundaries and discernment. The more of an open, honest, and deep relationship you can foster (which takes time), the more they will trust you, listen to you, and model your attitude and habits.

Foster within your children (at the earliest age possible) a sense of “dignity.” While they will inevitably associate with a variety of social groups (friends, teams, clubs, relatives), they must be taught to think for themselves, and “own” their decisions. Dignity means we see value in ourselves. We don’t sell our actions out to the highest bidder (“just do it,” “I won’t love you if you don’t…,” “everybody’s doing it,”). We can have a deep sense of self-respect, because God made us and gave us purpose—his purpose.

Finally, because we realize that we are broken and fragile creatures in our sinfulness, be sure to talk to teens who have struggled with past decisions that Jesus is the great Forgiver. Jesus’ job is to untangle what sin has bound. Jesus does not require repayment, just surrender. At the end of the day, the only thing that Jesus doesn’t own until you give it to him is your will. No matter your past, Jesus is the Welcomer. The Lord of Freedom. The Man of Generous Love.

In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.

 

Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.
Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009).
Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).

 

Dr. Nijay Gupta

 

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary
gupta_nijay@nes.edu

What Does Our Identity Crisis Have to Do With Sex

  
  
  

Part II of a series on sex, God, and Scripture by guest blogger Dr. Nijay Gupta. Read part I here and part III here.

 

In the last post, we talked about sex and Scripture. Scripture is not a rule-book with loopholes, but a story about God and his world in which he created humans to live and serve him. In a sense, Scripture is a commentary on identity – especially the identity of God and our identity. It addresses a serious problem: our identity crisis.

Identity Crises

We have many such crises. I want to talk about 3 identities: body identity, sexual identity, and social identity.

First off, it is very unfortunate that American Christians tend to associate their faith primarily with “heart and soul” and “life after death.” Actually, spend some time in the Old Testament and you will see, Israel knew their relationship with God to be very “here and now” and very much “in the body.” God redeems our soul, but he also wants our whole self – including our bodies. The apostle Paul underscores this in many places. When writing to a very dysfunctional church in Greece (Corinth), he reminds them, you think you can do whatever you want with your bodies, but you have forgotten one important thing: when you accepted the lordship of Christ, you filed for bankruptcy on your body and God bought it out. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Your body is worth a lot (a lot more than you think), and God paid a high price for it (the blood and honor of his only Son). (This is my very loose paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20!)

Jesus died for your soul. Yes. Jesus also died for your body.

Secondly, we need to understand our sexual identity based on God’s perspective (and as taught in Scripture). The stale, old, traditional (though inaccurate) view is that sex is dirty and bad, and one should at least have the decency to hide it in marriage. Basically, for this view, “sexual purity” means “no sex. Ever.” I found a study from the 1970’s done among a group of Christians which asked this question: “Did Jesus feel sexual attraction?” According to 81% of respondents: “no.”

Apparently Jesus never read the Song of Solomon either! You may have heard that Biblical interpreters throughout history have had a hard time explaining why the sultry Song of Solomon is in the Bible at all. Well, that is because God wants to remind us sex is good! It is a gift!

Here’s the thing, though. It is a powerful gift. Why? Because it is a bonding agent. It is relational duct tape. God is not anti-sex. But he wants to teach us that it has a meaning and purpose.

Thirdly, we must think about our social identity. We are not alone in our sexual choices. We are a part of a community called the Church. Like it or not, God has given the Church a “say” in our sexual partner.

If you don’t like that – too bad. No man is an island. No Christian is a lone ranger worshipper. To quote Cyprian, “He who does not have the Church for a mother, cannot have God for a Father.” What you do with your body affects the “body of Christ,” the Church. Your choices are part of a community of friendship and fellowship (the Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, by the way, means partnership). By allowing Christ to enter and rule your life, you are joining the Church and submitting yourself to her authority as well (that is why pastors “officiate” weddings; God permits the Church to consecrate marriages and the context in which sex should properly take place). To decide to have sex is not an independent decision. You are part of a sacred community (the Church) and your decisions must take that into account.

On Being God’s Image

The last thing I want to mention in this post is the notion of being made in “God’s image.” To be an image-bearer of God (as all humans are), is to recognize our role and responsibility as leaders among all creation. We humans (especially the Church as the marred image of God being renewed into the likeness of Christ) are God’s ruling agents. This is an awesome privilege, and we need to take our responsibility seriously. How we behave affects the reputation of God whom we “image.” I believe we can empower our youth with a clear sense of self-respect by reminding them of who they really are – representatives, proxies, agents of the king of the world. We need to remind teens that sexual “freedom” is not really freedom at all (in the same way that not training for a sport is not freedom either, especially when they get tackled or outrun in the big game). Freedom is not the ability to give in to cultural pressures. It is the power to always choose what meets the fullest potential of who you were created to be. I often repeat to students the powerful line from a Switchfoot song: “This is your life, are you who you want to be.”

Stay tuned for the third post, which offers some tips for how to talk to teens about sex. 

In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.

 

Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.
Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009).
Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).

 

Dr. Nijay Gupta

 

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary
gupta_nijay@nes.edu

What Scripture Says About Sex

  
  
  

Part I of a series on sex, God, and Scripture by guest blogger Dr. Nijay Gupta. Read part II here and part III here.

 

Sex is a big deal right now for teens, culturally as much as hormonally. Recent studies tell us that 90% of Americans have sex before marriage. The stats for Christians are not encouraging: 80% of “born-again” Christians have had sex before marriage.

This is certainly a societal problem in terms of teen pregnancies and abortion. But it is also a problem that affects emotional health.

Here is the bottom line: if teens don’t learn about sex from their parents, pastors, teachers, mentors, and the Bible, then they will learn about it from a movie, a rap video, or locker room stories.

Throw the Book at Them?

The refuge for many parents and pastors is simply to “Throw the Book at Them” – here are some Bible verses that tell you not to have sex. That should settle it.

OK. For starters, that approach seems sensible. The Bible condemns adultery and fornication (try Hebrews 13:4). But here’s the problem. Teens who have sex aren’t (usually) committing adultery. And they don’t know what “fornication” is. (The only times they heard the word were from a street preacher and also the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Californication.” It sounded cool to them. They still don’t know what it means.)

Even when it comes to the Bible, young Christians think that, if it doesn’t explicitly say “Don’t have sex before you are married,” then it is not off-limits. (We’ll get to why that is a bad way to read the Bible in a moment.)

In any case, I agree with Lauren Winner who says, “Repeating biblical teachings about sex is simply not enough…What we need is something larger and deeper: a clear vision of what chastity ultimately is and the most important context in which it is practiced.”

Winner is not saying there is any flaw in the Bible. She is saying that we need to do more than rattle off a string of “finger-wagging, turn-or-burn” texts. We need to have a conversation. Sex is a big deal to teens because it has to do with popularity, friendships, emotional fulfillment, love, pleasure, new experiences, curiosity, and adulthood. Digging into these subjects takes time and thoughtfulness.

Handling Scripture

So, we don’t throw the Book at them, we share its wisdom. It is important for all Christians to understand that the Bible is not a law-book. It is not like the constitution. We are used to hearing about the “Old Testament Law.” Well, it’s a long story, but that is a misunderstanding of the meaning of the Hebrew word Torah. Torah does not mean “law” (feel free to correct your pastor). It means “guidance.” The Bible is a guide on the path to wisdom (God’s wisdom). Remember when the Gospel of Mark says that Jesus always spoke in parables (Mark 4:33-34). Why did he do that? Parables are riddles. They have a plain style that is easy to follow, but their real purpose is to get you to think. They are like puzzles. He always spoke in parables because he knew that true wisdom is hard-won. Jesus did not spout out fortune-cookie wisdom. He wanted people to fight for their wisdom.

So, Scripture is not a book of rules (for which you can happily find loopholes). Rather, it is a constant and creative invitation to see reality through God’s eyes.

Scripture is also an identity-shaping tool. It tells us who we are in God. It tells a long story into which we fit. THE PAST: our origin is in God. He created us. With a purpose. He wanted to see us happy and fulfilled. God is “for you.” He loves you. He is your anchor. He is your Father in Heaven. THE PRESENT: The world is messed up. This is not the way God wanted his world to be. Sin is real and it is ugly. It has distorted our natural, God’s given loves and desires. Pleasure is not the goal. Addiction is not inevitable. Freedom and fulfillment are possible. THE FUTURE: Our decisions do have consequences. Casual sex only happens before an Eternal God. We are going to be judged by God, not because he hates us or is wrathful, but truly because he invested so much potential in us. If you don’t show up to soccer practice for a week, you will eventually have to face the coach. If she is a good coach, she will be mad. You will be punished. Not because you are a bad person or she hates you. But because you let the team down. You put your own desires before the needs of the team. You put the mission of the team in jeopardy.

Ultimately, Scripture tells us who we really are, as God’s creation, and, as believers, sons and daughters of the living God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I return, time and time again, to a small line written by the philosopher Kierkegaard: “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Yes, only God can help us become our real self. Sex won’t. That boyfriend or girlfriend won’t. That in-group won’t.

A wonderfully provocative statement comes from G.K. Chesterton: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” But every teen is not going to find the God they are looking for by turning to sex. So, how do you approach talking to a teen about sex? That is the subject of the next post!

 

In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.

 

Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.

Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009)

Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).

 

Dr. Nijay Gupta

 

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary
gupta_nijay@nes.edu

Going Deeper in Youth Ministry

  
  
  

empty churchThere’s a thought among some church leaders that a majority of teens leave the church after they go off to college. Some believe this decline in attendance stems from a desire to go deeper and be real about life and faith, a desire that is not being met in church. Rachel Held Evans recently addressed this topic, expressing that “what millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance” (CNN Belief Blog). Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at different ways youth leaders can go deeper in their youth ministry.

What happens when the Bible doesn’t say I can’t? Dr. Nijay Gupta, professor of biblical theology and exegesis at NES, will tackle the dynamic of the Christian’s desire for a Bible passage to tell them what to do or not to do with their bodies, like “flee sexual immorality.” He’ll also address a responsible way for applying what it means to be human and to reflect God’s image.

Doug Milne (M.Div. ’10), adjunct professor at RWC and pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in North Chili, N.Y. , will take a look at the question: what does spiritual formation look like for adolescents and for those who provide leadership for them? He will provide some ways to cultivate the readiness and engagement that allows formation to flourish.

Larry Petry (M.Div. ’14), youth pastor at Gerry Free Methodist Church in Gerry, N.Y. will unpack the tendency to operate according to a one-size-fits-all image that allows us to be accepted and effective. He will also address ways of looking beyond imposed stereotypes for living a life of faith and developing the courage to pursue authenticity and accept it in others.

youth leader with teensPeter Englert, director of admissions at Northeastern will share valuable lessons he learned from youth pastors in his own life. As we transition from the summer, NES grads and students will take a look at successful strategies for starting off a new school year.

We’ll also keep the conversation going at our Twitter and Facebook sites. Follow along with the hashtag #youthmin.  If you’re looking for more resources, a few we recommend are:

What other resources would you add to this list?

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