Sermon by Stuart McCallister: By All Possible Means

Stuart McCallister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is an annual favorite at our church. No matter how many times he visits, he is always challenging and convicting, preaching on the importance of apologetics and the biblical mandate to reach people for Christ by all possible means. Here’s the sermon he preached this past Sunday:

“By All Possible Means”_Sept. 9, 2012 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

Dear Youth Pastor (Teenagers Can’t POSSIBLY Grasp Deep Topics)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

This past week, one of our volunteers called me on the phone. He told me about a book he’d been reading about something called apologetics. (I had to look it up just to spell it correctly!) He told me that it had really opened his eyes about how we can know that the Bible is true and that Jesus is who he claimed to be. He said that he thought our high school students could benefit from learning about apologetics, not only to encourage their own faith, but to help them share about Jesus with their friends, especially as they prepare to go to college.

I really wasn’t sure if this was a joke or not, so I didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes of awkward silence, I told him I’d think about it. After all, does he really think that teenagers are capable of that kind of thinking, or that they even are concerned about this sort of thing? What should I do?

Sincerely,

Concerned in Corona Springs

Concerned:

We hear about this sort of thing all the time. Well-meaning volunteers or parents do a bit of below-the-surface thinking, and the next thing you know, they want teenagers to do the same thing. This probably won’t be the last time you hear a volunteer using such big words, so make sure you know how to respond:

Keep the focus on what really matters. Teenagers aren’t ready for any kind of deep thinking. Youth workers need to stay away from teaching too deep of material, and just entertain our students long enough to keep them around church until their old enough to think for themselves. The best we can hope for is to get students sleep-deprived enough that they are tired and worn out enough to make a highly emotional profession of faith at the end of summer camp or a weekend retreat. Stay away from the deep stuff!

Make sure your volunteers know that teenagers aren’t interested in any kind of learning or intellectual engagement. Listen, we all know that the only thing that gets teenagers to youth group is just enough cute guys and cute girls. They last thing they are thinking about is whether the Bible really is true, or if they really can put their trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Difficult teaching of any kind should be avoided in youth ministry. If it’s a bit difficult to understand or perhaps even difficult to put into practice, you shouldn’t be teaching it to teenagers. And whatever you do, stay away from controversial topics such as whether Jesus is the only way. That’s only going to get you into trouble.

I hope that for your sake, all talk of topics that involve words with more than three syllables will be a thing of the past in your youth ministry.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Great Apologetics Resources

Credit: Creative Commons (Ethan Lofton)

Note: This post is a companion piece to a guest post I’m contributing to YouthMinistry360.com that will post tomorrow. Update: You can read the YouthMinistry360.com post here.

Christian Apologetics (the logical defense of biblical Christianity) is a huge passion of mine, and I think it’s important to include apologetics in our regular rotation of teaching as youth workers. However, it can be tough to know where to start. Below is a list of apologetics resources that I’ve made use of over the years. It’s certainly not a complete list, but simply the resources I think would be most helpful for youth workers. If there are some you’ve found useful that aren’t listed, please leave a comment to tell others about additional resources.

Resources for youth workers wanting to learn more about apologetics
Know Why You Believe by Paul Little. This is probably the best ground-level book on apologetics I’ve ever read. If you’ve never before studied apologetics, start with this book. You can also read my short review of the book here.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Probably the most important area of apologetics is showing that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, and that he came to Earth as God in the flesh, that he died for our sins on the cross and rose again three days later. This book gives evidence for those things in (mostly) plain language.

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Doug Groothuis. This one’s not for the faint of heart at over 750 dense pages. But if you want to really dig into apologetics, this book needs to be on your shelf and marked up on a regular basis.

Veritas Forum (www.veritas.org). This website has hundreds of great in-depth talks and debates held on college campuses. If you’ve got an hour or so and you want to learn about a particular topic (such as whether the gospels are historically accurate), just search for your topic and pull up the audio or video.

Helpful websites for leaders and students
Veritas Forum (I know, it’s already listed, but it’s worth mentioning again).

bethinking.org. This is a great website with tons of articles and videos on just about every area of Christian apologetics. The best part is the resources are divided into three categories: introductory, intermediate, and advanced, so students and leaders can start where they feel comfortable, and go deeper when they’re ready.

Apologetics Curriculum
TrueU DVD Curriculum. So far TrueU has two sets of curricula, Does God Exist? and Is the Bible Reliable? These are more for older high school students, but in general, this should be used with students who want to learn because of the high level of material. Essentially, each session is a 30-45 minute college-level lecture, but it is anything but boring. Two of our small groups have used TrueU and really enjoyed it.

Note: TrueU is the only apologetics curriculum I’ve used, so I can’t speak to any other teaching resources. Generally, when I teach on apologetics I write my own lessons. If you’ve used any resources with students that have worked well, I’d love to know about them.

Question: What resources would you recommend to youth workers desiring to teach students apologetics?

Questions From Teenagers on God, Faith, and Life in General

Credit: Creative Commons (Ethan Lofton)

I am so excited for a series that we are starting with our combined junior and senior high groups this coming Sunday. For four or five weeks (depending on the construction schedule at our church) we will address a particular question voted on by students. To get the initial questions, we asked students one Sunday to write any question they had about God, faith, or life in general on a 3 x 5 card. I was impressed at how many actually submitted a question, and the things they asked provided a lot of insight for me. For me, the best one was about why we have a coffee shop at our church when Jesus drove out the merchants in the temple. Here’s the complete list of questions, mostly as they were written, but occasionally edited for clarification’s sake:

What do we do when we have doubts?

How can we become stronger in our faith?

Spiritual worship: like ghosts and stuff…I don’t understand it.

What does the Bible say about ghosts and other “supernatural” stuff?

Can ghosts and evil things get me?

Will we have a second chance to go to heaven?

What is heaven like? Do we get to experience life there like we get to on Earth?

Will we see it the way we see Earth through our eyes?

How do you know if you are for sure going to heaven, like, if you asked God into your heart but you still aren’t sure you are going to heaven?

If you are not a Christian and believe that God died on the cross to relieve us of our sins, can they still go to heaven?

What is heaven like? What is hell like?

What is an unforgiveable sin?

Are there “unforgiveable” sins?

Is the unforgiveable sin knowing the Holy Spirit and accepting its existence and then opposing it, or is it having Satan in you without you knowing about it and then claiming it’s the Holy Spirit & vice versa?

How do I know I’m saved?

How to talk to your friends about God/religion, or how to talk about your religion with someone of a different religion?

Why are there differences in books, for example Matthew and Mark when they describe the same situation?

I’ve read many stories and testimonies of Christian brothers and sisters, including Jesus, and almost all SKIP a portion in their lives: the teenage years. So, how and what is an effective (way) to show, shine, and represent our faith as hormonally crazy teenagers?

Why does God allow trials, tribulations, and suffering?

Why do Christians question their faith?

How do you know God is real besides “look all around you”?

How he was made! (I assume, “How was God made?”)

In Genesis, Adam and Eve leave the garden and cities are already there and other people. Please explain.

How do we know if the Bible is true?

What is the best way to approach some(one) who isn’t Christian and ask them to church?

How did people know about God before the Bible?

How did people stay alive so long back in the Old Testament?

How do we know God is real?

How did Dinos exist if not in the Bible?

What if you are trying to get things figured out with your faith but the people you are around aren’t supportive?

How did the people before Moses know how they were doing was right or wrong if they didn’t have the 10 Commandments?

It’s hard to show God’s love. How can we show God’s love to our Mormon friends and just friends in general? And not just the service of this I want to go in depth.

What is the meaning of life?

Get to know God more.

What’s the meaning of life?

Why is it ok for the church to sell coffee and other products when Jesus was outraged when merchants were selling things in the temple?

How do you know he (God) is really there?

How are you supposed to know when you’re making a decision if it’s right? Or when it honors God over yourself?

Life in general

Why?

Traditionally, doesn’t Lent only take place Mon-Sat?

Why does school suck?

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Does God know what we will do?

How do we know God is working in us?

How do we know God is speaking to us?

What do we do when we find out a friend wants to commit suicide?

Why is it wrong to be sexually promiscuous?

Why is envy one of the seven deadly sins?

How do we minister if we are already in a Christian school?

How can we make our faith stronger?

Does Jesus love us all equally?

QUESTION: What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked by a teenager?

Video of the Week: Lutheran Satire on Jesus’ Resurrection

I love watching Lutheran Satire‘s YouTube videos. Hans Fiene, who creates them, is VERY Lutheran, and the videos are hilarious. They are also quite over-the-top yet brilliantly subtle at the same time, which makes it fantastic satire. Viewers who aren’t familiar with Lutheran (or Anglican, or any other liturgical tradition) worship and theology may not appreciate every video because Fiene deals primarily with Lutheran themes.

This video is on Jesus’ resurrection, and if you love your apologetics mixed with humor, you’ll definitely love this:

Book Review: Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little

I’ve had Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little on my shelf for years, on only recently picked it up to read it. The edition I read was published by InterVarsity Press in 2000, and was revised and updated by Little’s wife, Mary. I devour just about every book about apologetics I can get my hands on, and this book is by far the best “layman’s” introduction to Christian apologetics that I have ever read. By no means is an exhaustive reference, but true to InterVarsity form, it’s short, to the point, and very clear.

I highly recommend every youth worker to have a copy of Know Why You Believe on his or her bookshelf. It’s got solid answers to the most common questions I’ve fielded from teenagers over the years, such as “Is Christ God?” “Is the Bible God’s Word?” “Do Science and Scripture Agree?” and “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?” I also think it would make a great book for a small group of students if they were interested in knowing more about logically defending the truth of the Christian worldview. And for youth workers who feel at a loss in their own lives for how to engage in apologetic conversations (and teach their students to do the same), it’s a great resource. There are plenty of used copies available for cheap online!

How to meet with Mormon missionaries

My family and I have lived in Utah for a little over two years now. Not surprisingly, when people from outside Utah ask how we’re doing and what life is like in our new state, they usually get around to asking about the LDS (Mormon) church and how it affects Utah culture. (Note: I use “LDS”–which stands for “Latter Day Saints”–rather than the term “Mormon,” because that’s the term most LDS folks prefer.) Many people assume that because we live here, we are experts on LDS beliefs and theology. More than one person has asked for advice on meeting with LDS missionaries.

We aren’t experts by any means on the LDS church, but Jennifer (my wife) and I have made an effort to learn everything we can about the “predominant religion” in our state in order to better love our neighbors and others in our community. Last summer, we had the opportunity to meet with some LDS missionaries in our home each Monday afternoon for about six weeks. It was a great learning experience, and we felt like we became pretty good friends with one of the missionaries who was at every meeting with us. Again, we’re not experts, but here are some tips for others who would like to meet with LDS missionaries (or have a meaningful conversation with an LDS friend or family member):

Be hospitable and serve good food. LDS missionaries, for the most part, are college-age single guys (and sometimes women). A great dinner or some treats will go a long way to making them feel welcome in your home. When we met with “our” missionaries, Jennifer made sure to make something each week for everyone to enjoy, and always sent the missionaries off with a Ziploc bag of extra treats. If you don’t love the missionaries that visit your home in a real, practical way, don’t you think it’s rather silly to speak about the unconditional love of God? Go the extra mile and be a good host.

Avoid the “magic bullet” approach. There is no “magic bullet” argument or one-liner that will suddenly cause a missionary to reject LDS teachings and enter into a relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. Smug, “Oh, yeah, well what about…” approaches to the conversation will only put up walls, and you’ll impress no one but yourself. Apologetic conversations take time and lots of patient discussion.

Listen more than you talk. Listen to what the missionaries have to say. If you’re not willing to learn and listen, why would you expect others to listen to you? Allow them to lay out what they believe. Ask good questions, but don’t interrupt or launch into a sermon. If you don’t understand something, say so, then listen to the explanation. If you notice an internal contradiction in the LDS worldview, simply state the perceived contradiction, and ask for an explanation.

Ask your missionaries to define their terms. Evangelical Christians and Latter-Day Saints use a lot of the same vocabulary. However, a word will often mean very different things to each. When a missionary talks about being “saved,” ask them to define what they mean, and offer your own definition. This will eliminate a lot of confusion.

Stick to topics of central importance. It’s easy in apologetic conversations to get sidetracked by discussions that are interesting but don’t get to the heart of the matter. We met with our missionaries for six weeks, but such a long time is rather unusual. I suggest that you focus on the following questions, since your time may be short:

  • What does it mean to be reconciled to God?
  • Who was Jesus and where did he come from?
  • How do we know that something is true or not?
  • What did Jesus accomplish in his suffering, and what is our role in being reconciled to God?

Pray, pray, pray, pray. Remember, it is God who works in the hearts of men and women. Rely on him to lead your conversations, pray for spiritual protection, and pray for your missionaries by name (over a year later, the missionary friend we grew close to is still on our family’s prayer list). Also, offer to pray for your missionaries before they leave your house, that God would protect them and that they would grow close to him. The missionaries who came to our house said no one had ever done that for them, and that they really appreciated us praying for them.

What has your experience been in meeting with LDS missionaries?

Sermon: Stuart McAllister, Taking the Great Commission Personally

This weekend, we were blessed to have Stuart McAllister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries preach at all our English-speaking services. Here’s the full sermon:

“Taking the Great Commission Personally.”_Sept. 11, 2011 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

Video of the Week: Peter Kreeft on the Problem of Evil and Suffering

How long is this week’s video of the week, you ask? About one hour and sixteen minutes.

I’m a huge fan of the Veritas Forum. Apologetics is a huge passion of mine, especially as I work with high school students. This is a great presentation on a very popular and very significant objection to the existence of an all-powerful, all-benevolent God. It’s well worth a long lunch:

The Problem of Evil and Suffering from The Veritas Forum on Vimeo.