What’s Happening to the Youth in America?

What’s happening to the youth in this country? All around us, in nearly every direction we look–family life, school life, community life–we’re seeing a deterioration of youthful innocence that is being replaced by violent tendencies that are not only uncommon among most adults but are betraying the system that purports to have our youths’ best interests at heart. In other words, the very systems that our state expects our full trust and support for are failing us before our eyes. And the proof is in the media.

For example, CNN.com recently reported, “Alex Hribal, now 20, was 16 when he stabbed 20 students and 1 security guard in the hallway early on the morning of April 9, 2014.” This wasn’t a gun-related incident, so the media can’t cue the talking points for their typical agenda on gun control. (Full disclosure: I’m not necessarily for adding more “controls” to a system that isn’t maintaining the ones it already has, but that’s another blog.) At 16, Hribal acted with pure, unfiltered rage. When a youth can wield a knife with so much anger and force that he can stab 20 students to death (a number typically expected from shootings) and 1 guard (would he have stopped this horror if he had been trained and armed?), there is something fueling his psyche in an evil and dangerous way.

Recently in South Florida, a group of approximately 4 girls, who had already been reported for bullying by their eventual victim, poured milk over a Freshman’s head while she sat at lunch, seemingly minding her own business, and then be pulled off her bench and held down while others pounded on her head with clenched fists. Apparently, the “see something, say something” motif isn’t working. This was blatantly demonstrated to us recently in Broward County with shooter Nikolas Cruz, as The Washington Post reports that the system was aware of Cruz’s behavioral problem as early as Middle School (even forbidding him from carrying a book bag) and that, according to The Guardian, the FBI, after being warned of his violent threats online, failed to complete their due diligence.

One thing is certain: The system isn’t the solution.

Obviously, words and warnings are no longer reliable deterrents of youth violence and degeneracy. But what can help? I have 3 suggestions.

Teach Youth to Respect the Image of God
Although youth violence is an age-old sin and problem (Genesis 4:1-16), it seems to be more prevalent today. In my opinion, the educational and cultural structure that we’re relying on to inform our youth on what is relevant, important, and precious is failing us. But how can we expect for such a message to pierce the minds of an already skeptical youth when abortion, for example, is ending lives by numerical leaps and bounds? Regardless of what they’re taught, youth today lack any respect for human beings made in God’s image. We need to teach them, from an early age, that we all–regardless of color or creed–are made in God’s image.

Teach Youth the “fear of God”
Paul said that sinners universally don’t have any “fear of God before their eyes”; that is, they don’t care to respect God, His laws and commands, His principles (see also Proverbs 1:7).  I wonder how many of the incidences that have happened would’ve happened had there been a healthy “fear of God” taught at some point. I wonder what would be done if justice, fairness, and righteousness were tenets that were impressed on our youth, since the God of the Bible is a God who demands and expects justice, fairness, and righteousness from His creation (Proverbs 21:3).

Teach Youth to Beware of the “I” and “Me” Complex
With the physical aspects of life so overly emphasized, with popularity being such a barometer of success, an inferiority complex is plaguing many youths in our culture. They simply can’t meet the unrealistic expectations that are being thrown on them. To correct this tendency, there’s an overemphasis on individuality, a teaching that says, “Different is always the way,” an emphasis that has robbed the community of its own importance, relevance, and contribution in regards to individuality. In other words, youths are being led to believe that they can become whoever they want without the contribution of the community, but nothing can be further from the truth. We’ve seen how dangerous isolation can be for a young mind. Unfortunately, the youth today seem to be secluded more than usual, rejected more than usual, even ostracized more than usual, if they don’t fit a certain social norm. This has resulted in an “I” and “Me” complex that is nearly impossible to tear down, as they endeavor to protect themselves from the unrealistic expectations that are burdening them.

Whatever route is taken, one this is clear: our youth need us to invest in them. These are 3 simple ways in which we can help them today: teach them the image of God; teach them the fear of God; and teach them to beware of the “I” and “Me” complex.

I sincerely believe that God wants us to help the youth in this country, however and whenever we can.




“Evangelicals” in a Political World: Should We Employ a New Word?

pexels-photo-129112The title Evangelical has taken on a nuanced meaning today. In my opinion, this is largely the result of two different but closely linked things. First, it’s the result of the media’s use, or misuse, of the word Evangelical, as they’ve lumped non-Christians and Christians together simply because they have correlating political views on some issues. In other words, today, if you’re not a Jew or a Muslim, if you’re not a “liberal,” if you’re not a minority, then you’re a “(White) Evangelical.”

The second reason the title Evangelical has a nuanced meaning today is due to people who think they’re Evangelical, in the traditional sense of the word, but actually aren’t. The problem is that these so-called Evangelicals wouldn’t satisfy the Bible’s definition of what it means to be a Christian. But in the United States, you can conveniently hold a variety of positions without ever having your position or well-being threatened. We can partly thank post-modern philosophy for that. Of course, no one aims at being persecuted for their beliefs, but in other parts of the world, and certainly throughout history, to align yourself with Christ comes with an almost certain threat of persecution. It costs you to be a Christian. In the US, however, aligning with Christ, for some, is more of a political association than it is a spiritual one…and it never really gets put to the test outside of political debates.

For these reasons, I’d like to suggest that the word Evangelical has lost its usefulness.

Consider, for example, these radicals (I’m choosing my words carefully here!) who celebrated their Second Amendment right by having a service to bless their AR-15s. I have a problem with this on many levels. But when it comes to the political sphere, I have a problem with it because most media outlets would group me with these–what’s the word I used?–“radicals.” Their behavior isn’t only unChristian, as it’s inconsiderate of hundreds of people who are mourning losses that resulted from a gunman wielding an AR-15 in a recent high school shooting that left over 20 students killed or injured, it’s just plain foolish! I’d even place having a service in order to bless an inanimate object under the Old Testament jurisdiction of idol worship!

Can you see where I’m coming from?

Forget, for a moment, what constitutes an “Evangelical” today, and let’s address some Christian principles. As Christians, we believe in God’s saving grace, His everlasting faithfulness, and His unrelenting love. So, when we’re commanded to pray–commanded to pray for leaders of all persuasions, ethnicities, and political philosophies–this means that no one should have to earn our prayers.  We’re to pray for everyone, even the shooter who we wholeheartedly hope receives serious consequences for his sin.  What’s more, as Christians, we should speak out for justice, racial harmony, and unborn life. The Church is made up of Christians who vote differently for different reasons, Christians who have had different experiences (both good and bad). But that is all the more reason to prioritize the virtues taught in the Scriptures. This isn’t Evangelical, conservative, or liberal: it’s Christian.

Many so-called Evangelicals, however, aren’t only doing a disservice to the genuine Christian lifestyle, they are also making the beauty of Christianity’s otherworldliness unattractive to watchers who might otherwise consider the faith. The more Christianity looks like the world, the more unattractive it becomes by measure.

No political topic or social agenda should ever be used to dislocate the Church from its eternal purpose: to make Christ known to the world!

This is precisely what Scripture teaches; namely, that regardless of where we live, or who the head of government is, or what policies we agree or disagree with, we live for Christ’s Kingdom and fame.

Philippians 2:15 says that Christians should “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Eugene Peterson’s translation of 1 Peter 2:9-12 is also enlightening here. It says,

9-10 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

11-12 Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

Should we employ a new word to replace Evangelical? That’s not an easy question to answer. One thing is certain. In some cases, we should beware of fitting into the Evangelical framework today. In other cases, in my opinion, we should proudly land squarely in the middle. Whatever disservice the word Evangelical may be bringing the Christian cause today, as Christ-followers we have an obligation to rise above the criticism, above the political platforming, and above the one-size-fits-all view of Christianity. Regardless of what our political preferences or alignments may be, our priority as Christians is clear–it’s Christ first.



9 Bridge Builders for Your Marriage

Mature couple sleeping in bed together

If you want to bridge the differences in your marriage, you’ll need a few things to help you along the way.

1) Love and respect

Love and respect shouldn’t be handled like our typical exercise routine—only when we feel like it! It shouldn’t be meted out only when we believe it’s been earned. Love and respect are philosophical positions that we should hold, not because they always feel good or we always feel like doing them, but because, under God and His design, LOVE and RESPECT are RIGHT.

Here are some ideas for what love and respect might look like.

  • consideration
  • appreciation (“The things you see and experience over and over again tend to be the things that at some point you quit noticing.” Paul Tripp)
  • politeness
  • arguments that don’t devolve into name calling
  • the benefit of the doubt
  • positive (not negative) reinforcement

2) Put Jesus first

If you’re a Christian couple, then Jesus comes first—always and forever. If you want your relationship to be healthy and happy, then don’t put yourself first, don’t put the other first, put Jesus first. Any other priority leaks into idolatry.

If you feel like you should come first, you have an idolatry problem and the idol you’re worship is yourself. If you can’t imagine putting Jesus before your spouse or your fiancé or whoever, then you have an idol problem, too, and your idol is your lover.

Listen: no matter what, Jesus comes first! And I don’t mean that theoretically; I mean practically. We can’t put Jesus first in theory but not in practice.

3) Remember grace

As sinners in the hands of an just and holy God, we’re all in dire need of His mercy and grace. That’s Christianity. It isn’t about candles, stained windows, a certain dress code, or a particular denomination. Christianity is about sinners coming to God through faith in His Son and His Son’s work, because there we find mercy and grace where and when we need it. That’s mere Christianity—plain and simple. And therefore to treat people ungraciously is non-Christian. We should be dealing graciously with our spouses and loved ones, because we of all people have a keen awareness of the grace we require from God.

4) Grow and grow together

Paul once said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Listen, if you want to bridge differences, grow and grow together. To say it negatively, if you want to create differences, then grow and grow apart!

I have seen so many relationships begin happy and seemingly healthy but eventually fall apart for the simple reason that one of the two involved continued to grow while other stopped. So, grow…read the Scripture, watch good movies, listen to good podcasts, have deep, meaningful conversations. Physical growth doesn’t happens

5) Listen to understand

This is a principle from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Laws of Highly Effective People. (It’s definitely a book worth reading.) In it, he explains that most people listen so that they can respond to what’s being said, which means that they aren’t fully listening, that is, listening to understand.

Proverbs 18:13 agrees: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
So, many of the communication breakdowns that we experience in relationships can be attributed to nothing more than a failure to listen, and consequently a failure to understand and express compassion.

It’s a fact of nature…if you’re talking, you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding.

6) Speak even if it’s uncomfortable

Recently, I was talking to someone who called me out on something. Let me tell you about being called out…it’s not fun. It means you’re hearing something about yourself, that you would never tell yourself, because it’s negative, it’s something you don’t want to hear, something that you don’t want to receive.

But when I was called out about his thing, it made perfect sense to me the second I was told. I sometimes avoid saying something that I should say, because I prefer to keep the status quo than deal with something that should be addressed. Don’t trust your own silence. Silence is often a disguise… If something should be said, whether or not it’s comfortable, then is should be said sooner than later. (How do you say it? Refer back to #1.)

7) Consider needs

Bridging differences means a willingness to do the work necessary to maintain the relationship once you’ve reached the other side! When you’re in a relationship with someone, God has designed relationship so that you don’t go into it for what you can get but rather for what you can give! Let me say that again: Christians have relationships for what they can give not what they can get.

Matthew 7:12 instructs us, saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

8) Determine success

If it’s soccer, it’s goals. If it’s football, it’s touchdowns. If it’s basketball, it’s points. If it’s baseball, it’s runs. That’s the name of the game–do what you must to get more than the other team. In sports, that’s success.

Let me ask you this question: Do you have a definition for success for your family? If I were to ask you, “What’s a win for you and your family?” how would you answer? If I were to ask you, “What puts points on the board for you and your family?” how would you answer? Knowing these answer helps you achieve success, so that you’re not just “getting through the day” but actually achieving goals for the home team!

9) Major on the majors

Finally, major on the majors. In his excellent book What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp writes, “You cannot live with another person and make every difference equally important and equally an issue between you. Some differences are not important at all” (223, italics added).

Let’s face it, how many issues do you and I argue about simply for the sake of pride or oneupmanship? If we major on the majors, we will take ourselves out of the equation and focus on the more important ones (e.g., #2).

Finally, God doesn’t want our lives to reflect a hilarious tragedy, like the media likes to pour downward to the culture. It’s one thing to laugh at the characters portrayed on the tv. It’s another thing to live like them. God wants us to take this gift of life, invest in it, grow it, nurture it, so that in time, when we find someone to love, we actually have something to offer them—because we can’t be something for someone until we are somebody ourselves. Relationships require that we bridge differences and remain committed. These 9 points should help us along the way!



Think of What to Do, Not What Not to Do


Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’re aware of the racial tensions that culminated in a recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. (You can read about it here and here.) Granted, there are a number of arguments and angles presenting themselves since the event transpired. Yet, regardless of what is true and false, there is something that we all can be healthily reminded of: We may face intimidation in various ways during our journey on earth, but it’s what we do that proves our convictions. But the important thing is to face intimidation with a focus on obligation. We are obligated to love God (Matthew 22:34-38) and to love our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). If we are focusing on what we should do (namely, love God and our neighbors), then we won’t be intimidated by what we shouldn’t do.



Are We Losing Our Convictions?


Have you sensed a shift in Christian convictions? It seems to be happening widely across the moral scale. On the one hand, we have President Trump supporters who, in their fervor to be pro-American, have accepted language from the president that they themselves would never tolerate if it were being aimed at one of their family members. On the other hand, we have author and The Message’s translator, Eugene Peterson, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, saying that his position (that of Biblical-Traditional Christianity) has shifted, so that now he finds them acceptable. To me, it almost looks as if the tolerance worldview, popularized by secular society, has crept into the Church’s worldview, and basically amounted to Christians who have convictions only on agreeable topics and issues. I’m certain that this isn’t how convictions are supposed to work!

Today, convictions are almost entirely unpopular, inconvenient, and frowned upon. Why? Because we (and when I say we, I’m speaking to those of us who claim the name of Christ) are told to be loving, accepting, receiving, just as Jesus was and is. True, Jesus was all of those things, if by loving you mean that He loved God’s truth (John 17:17); and by accepting you mean that he accepted God’s judgment (John 5:30); and by receiving you mean that He was willing to receive severe punishment for sin that He didn’t own (John 12:24). There is an entire aspect to Christ’s Person that gets ignored sometimes by those who are proponents of convictions that accept everything without distinction. (In truth, they accept everything but those who don’t accept it!) I think that is unwise and unbiblical.

Our preferences should play no part in our convictions.

This sliding moral scale can even be seen in church leadership. It’s honorable and praiseworthy that many pastors and Christians want to reach as many people as possible. Amen! We all should. But what isn’t praiseworthy is how they leave convictions to do it. (Tragically, it may be these leaders Christ is referring to when He says that apparent ministry successful doesn’t imply personal knowledge [Matthew 7:21-23].) Our preferences should play no part in our convictions. When Jesus ministered to people, He never did so by abolishing what the Law taught (Matthew 5:17). Instead, He met people with convictions, convictions that included love. That is what gave Him the ground on which to say, “Go in peace and sin no more” (Luke 7:50; John 8:11). The “go and sin no more” motif has almost entirely lost its place, because what used to be considered sin is, today, considered acceptable with the “understanding” that Jesus’ culture was different from ours. It is, after all, 2017…they say. Today, the great sin, according to those of this position, is that we are unloving and unaccepting, so they say. True, we should love, accept, and receive people for Jesus. But if these words imply a complete disregard for change, growth, and conviction, the discipleship, worship and glory that is due to Him, then we’ve lost what it means to repent, believe, and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In a word, we’ve lost the identity of Christianity.

At this point, some may argue that these stricter positions are motivated by an absence of love. Let’s be clear: Convictions don’t imply the absence of love. On the contrary, to love ought to be a primary conviction for every Christian (John 13:35; Romans 12:9). But in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13, for example, we don’t read of love being ignorant or accepting or tolerant. On the contrary, love “refuses to rejoice at wrongdoing” and instead “rejoices with the truth.” Yes, we should love and be loving. But love demands convictions, as the boundary in which it finds its meaning and purpose and motivation.

Convictions don’t imply the absence of love…to love ought to be a primary conviction.

To close, I’d like to encourage you to find your convictions in God’s Word, to grow in your understanding and comprehension of them, and to consider how you can respectfully discuss differences with others, without degrading them. Our greatest conviction should be to lovingly communicate the Gospel to the lost and Christians alike.





Balance vs Seasons


Today, William Vanderbloemen, writing for Forbes.com, put out an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.” I felt vindicated. I felt satisfied. This is something that I’ve been proposing for a long, long time. In fact, I share the thought fairly regularly at New City Church, where I pastor. Whereas balance is based on an Eastern mysticism type of thinking, seasons, on the other hand, are biblical and an experiential reality. (Just read Ecclesiastes 3:1). There will inevitably be times in our lives when we’re working more (or less), when we’re playing more (or less), when we’re saving more (or less), when we’re spending more (or less), but these facts don’t necessarily mean we’re individuals who are out of balance. We are, in truth, just experiencing different seasons in our lives. There are a number of things that can lead to changes in season: marriage, parenthood, a career change, an injury or illness, even spiritual growth! The important this is this: in each and every season, God has a purpose for us…and it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

Anyway, I wanted to share the above article with you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

PS–Care to share what season you’re in???


Don’t Make Resolutions. Set Goals.


For 2017, I’m suggesting that you forget about the resolutions and, instead, set goals. Why? Well, I have 5 reasons goals are better than resolutions.

  1. Goals are specific. Resolutions tend to be general, with direction but no particulars. Goals are specific. For example, if you want to improve your health this year, don’t make the resolution to get fit. Set the goal of going to the gym 3 times per week. Want to read the Bible? Set the goal of reading John’s Gospel. (You can break it up into 3 7’s since it’s 21 chapters.)
  2. Goals are measurable. Whenever you set a goal, you’re setting a measurable thing, because you’re moving toward a definite end. So, if you want to gain 5 pounds of muscle, or if you want to read the Bible by December, you can track and measure your progress. That’s important to keep you moving forward toward your goal. Small victories are important!
  3. Goals are reasonable. Oftentimes, resolutions are just too abstract. Goals are simple: if you can’t attain them, then they’re not reasonable. The goals that you set shouldn’t sabotage your potential for progress. If you’re not a reader, for instance, don’t set the goal of reading the Bible in a weekend!
  4. Goals are God-glorifying. Whatever goal you set should aim at making you a better person, a better Christian. If not, then why set it? Jim Rohn once said, “Set the kind of goals that will make something of you to achieve them.” Check out 1 Corinthians 10:31Romans 14:23, and 2 Corinthians 8:21.
  5. Goals are reviewable. This last point is important, because we need to be able to review our goals while we progress…to know whether or not we’re on course, need an adjustment, or are doing poorly. Write down your goals, place them in your closet door, on your bathroom mirror, or your car’s dashboard, and review them regularly.

I hope this helps you achieve great goals in 2017.

Pastor Joe