Category Archives: Youth Ministry

It Takes a Village

by Andrea Vigil-Ruiz

“It takes a village to raise a child.” This is a quote that I’ve heard in different contexts: amongst people who serve in Children’s Ministry, the church coming together to provide meals to parents of a newborn, and in informal ministry capacities where people meet together outside the church to help care for one another’s children. In all of these different contexts, the child is usually young in age, probably from about 0 to 5 years old. However, have you considered that this quote can also apply to people who are of youth age? It may sound strange that we would think of 6th-12th graders as children who need a village, but I’d like to challenge your thoughts in this area and how important of a role the church body plays in ministering to our youth aged attendees.

To help you understand why this is such an important topic for me, I’d like to share a little bit of my own experience in youth group. When I started attending the youth group at my grandma’s church, I was not a believer. My mom would drop me off at church on Fridays, we’d sing worship songs, hear teaching from Scripture, and then a married couple that was not officially on youth staff would drive me home. Looking back, I appreciate the youth staff’s faithfulness in showing up every Friday, ready to interact with me and my friends. I also really appreciate the couple that drove me home and talked to me about church and what it means to be a Christian because even though they weren’t officially on staff, they still went out of their way to take me home every single Friday. Those Friday nights in youth group were usually the times when I got to talk to people outside of my age group. It was actually encouraging to know that people who were older and weren’t in the same life stage as I am would take the time to talk to me.

Then on Sundays, it was quite different. Usually the people that I talked to and interacted with on Sundays were my friends from youth group and maybe some of my grandma’s friends (my broken Cantonese only got me so far). I have to admit, there were times when I actually felt excluded from the church. I know I wasn’t a believer back then, but not having people outside of youth group talk to me caused me to feel a bit uncomfortable. It was as if I didn’t fit in. I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming or pointing fingers at anyone. I am just sharing my personal experience in youth group to hopefully help you see why I’m writing what I’m writing.

From my experience in being a part of youth group and now being on youth staff, I have come to see that youth groups can be made up of a wide spectrum of people: people who proclaim themselves to be Christian and are learning what that means in their young life, people who have grown up in the church and are not sure where they stand in relation to God, people who admit they’re not believers, people who say they want to believe but are not sure how to, and everything else in between. If you really think about the spectrum of attendees in youth group, you’ll realize that the youth are basically just like anyone else who is attending the church, whether they’re learning how to grow in their faith or trying to figure out whether they believe in Christ or not.

Regardless of what exact category a youth fits into (because one can never fit neatly in a box, right?), the church’s body of believers has a calling. Our church’s mission statement is “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ is calling all believers to go and make disciples of all nations, and that also includes the youth here in San Diego. As a body of believers, it is crucial then that the church upholds a consistent testimony in showing those who are younger in the faith and those who do not have Christ why the gospel and ultimately Jesus is needed. This is the task that God has commanded us to do as believers.

A couple weekends ago, our church had a retreat with Pastor Tim Carns on the Mission-Minded Church. There were so many great takeaway points, but Friday night’s sermon about “A Mission-Minded God” and Sunday morning’s sermon about “A Mission-Minded Heart” stand out. In “A Mission-Minded God,” Pastor Carns referenced Matthew 28:18-20 and how we are to make disciples of Christ. But in making disciples, it doesn’t just involve evangelizing people (although that is a very important starting point). This passage also speaks to how if we want to make disciples, we as believers are to teach others to observe all that God has commanded, which means sharing what it means to live out the Christian life daily. Our youth are in a time of their lives where they are figuring out their spiritual lives. It is even more important that the church come alongside them as they go through this stage. Having other people outside of the youth staff share about how the gospel is needed and what it means to be a Christian can be beneficial because the youth will be able to see how the same message can affect so many different lives.

Then, in Sunday’s sermon “A Mission-Minded Heart,” Pastor Carns took a look at the story of Jonah. Pastor Carns pointed out that when God asks Jonah the last question in the book in Jonah 4:11, we are to ask ourselves the same question. If God was able to show mercy to the 120,000 in Nineveh, shouldn’t we be able and willing to show that same mercy to others who need Christ? This question is basically getting down to this: Do we genuinely care for others and their salvation? “Others” also includes the youth in our church.

As believers, are we also considering there are people who are always watching us, especially if we say we follow Christ? In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul gives great advice to the church in Colossae in regards to the watchfulness of unbelievers when he writes, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Are we making the most of every opportunity we have in terms of interacting with the youth, especially knowing that some are young in their faith or do not know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? The youth may be young, but they do notice things around them and they are indeed watching.

To sum up, youth aged church attendees are also in search of Christ and what the gospel means in their lives. Although the youth staff is designated to work with the youth, I’d like to encourage the church body to think of and pray for the youth and their salvation. Also, whenever a youth is nearby, please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself, talk to them, ask them how they’re doing, or even have conversations related to spiritual matters with them. After all, it takes a village to raise a child … even if the child is in middle school or high school.

Growing Pains: Fulfillment (Part 3)

by Kristen Lim

This article is a continuation of the Growing Pains series, a look at various topics that young Christians encounter.

My late paternal grandfather was a Korean immigrant who came to the United States to provide more opportunities for his children. He worked odd jobs, making just enough to put food on the table and pay for rent. He wasn’t a leader at his church or a part of any official ministry due to his poor health. He never became a homeowner, got his name in the newspaper, obtained awards, or had a mass following. He didn’t enjoy long vacations traveling around the world, dining in fine restaurants, or had the latest technological gadgets. On purely earthly standards, you would come to the conclusion that his life didn’t achieve greatness, and thus was unfulfilling. But how about on God’s standards?

Young Christians need to be mindful that there is a spiritual war going on, and living in this world means being bombarded with unbiblical ideologies, perspectives, and values. We all need to be continually renewing our minds with God’s word (Romans 12:2), since the Bible is the lens through which we can clearly evaluate the world and our lives. Let’s discover what God has to say about two factors that lead to fulfillment: greatness and ambition.

Redefining Greatness

There is nothing new under the sun. Humans have always been on the quest to achieve greatness, investing time and resources to make sure they’re the best, the top dog. Even Jesus’ disciples argued about who was the greatest amongst them. In Luke 9:48, when prompted to give an answer of who was the greatest, Jesus answers “…the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” You can imagine the disciples’ jaws dropping from that response. It’s noteworthy that Jesus doesn’t denounce their desire to be great; rather, their definition of greatness was the problem. True greatness is not found in eloquence of speech, abundance of knowledge, achieving many degrees, building a platform, or to be well known by others. Those things are not necessarily bad things, but they do not define true greatness.

Since God is the Creator and author of life, He is the one who determines the definition of greatness. Can we all give a collective amen that Jesus is the epitome of greatness? He is greatness incarnate and exemplified, so we learn from his example. In John 13, we see Jesus and His disciples getting ready to begin the last Passover supper before His crucifixion. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,…” (John 13:3). From just reading that verse, what would you assume the next verse to be? Naturally, we would think the flow of thought would lead to something grandiose and majestic. Let’s read on in John 13:4. “[Jesus] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded…” (John 13:4-5). At first glance, it doesn’t seem logical that the God of the universe would choose to wash dirty feet, but this is exactly what our Savior and Lord did.

Not only did Jesus condescend to do a slave’s job of washing filthy feet, but He laid down His life in order to give sinners the hope of salvation through His substitutionary life, death, and resurrection. This is true greatness. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). Jesus died for us not only to save us from our just sentence of God’s wrath, but so that in the newness of life we would be like Jesus in how we live. In John 13:15, Jesus says, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” So, a truly great person in the eyes of God is someone who mirrors Jesus, characterized by sacrifice, looking out for the interests of others in self-forgetful service (Phil 2:4).

Refocusing Ambition

Just as we are called to pursue biblical greatness, God desires for us to have godly ambition. Ambition can almost seem like a taboo word among Christians. We erroneously equate ambition with pride, but ambition in and of itself is not necessarily a sin. Ambition can be either selfish or godly. In Dave Harvey’s book Rescuing Ambition, he describes the difference between the two. Simply put, “selfish ambition is a motivating desire to do things for selfish glory. Godly ambition is a motivating desire to do things for God’s glory.”

In James 3:16, we can see the destructive nature of selfish ambition. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” A heart that is focused on “me, myself, and I” will not be submitting to God’s will or desire God’s glory, since no one can serve two masters. A sure sign of selfish ambition is if you are sinning (or willing to) in order to achieve certain desires, or sinning in the event of desires being unmet. Or, if you wallow in envy and are not able to rejoice when God chooses to allow other people to achieve success or obtain a desire that you sought after.

A common question to ask a young person is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” which focuses just on the vocation itself. But how often do you hear the question framed in this way: “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Godly ambition starts with who you are, your character, rather than what you do. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he spends the first half to remind the church of the gospel, that God has saved them by grace through faith in Jesus. They have been brought near to God, and have peace through the blood of Christ. With that foundation laid, he proceeds to exhort them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph. 4:2-3). Note that Paul doesn’t say that in response to the gospel they all need to become pastors, overseas missionaries, soapbox preachers, or do “big things for God.” Those things aren’t bad, and certainly God calls people into those roles, but what matters most is cultivating a heart that wants to love like Jesus.

A sure sign of godly ambition is attributing glory to God for the blessings, gifts, and success you may experience, because you know that He is the source of power for everything you do. Can you resonate with Paul when he proclaims in Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Can you echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”

Paul succinctly sums it up by saying, “Therefore we also have as our ambition whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). Our ambition will remain the same for all eternity, to please our Heavenly Father. So whether you’re a mom with three kids all under the age of 5, or working in the office under an unreasonable manager, or a student studying for finals, or changing your career direction, your aim is to please God by being faithful in your specific roles and responsibilities at hand and proclaim Jesus in words and actions.

Though my grandfather didn’t have much material wealth or fame, he had the greatest treasure of eternal life, in knowing Jesus Christ. He found the secret jewel of contentment in having a thriving relationship with Jesus, and that made him wealthy in joy. He displayed true greatness by sacrificially serving his family and passing down the love of God to them. He was ambitious for God to be glorified and pleased with his life, not to make much of himself. Not many knew his name, but many will be pointed to God because of his life, as those who have been impacted by him continue on the work of making disciples of Christ. He enjoyed a fulfilled life because God had redeemed him to pursue true greatness and ambitiously seek first the kingdom of God. May our church be unified in that same pursuit, for God’s glory.

Pomp in the Circumstance of the Cross

by Elder Johnny Kim

For our senior youth group students, high school graduation is just around the corner and they can hardly contain their excitement. In the midst of trying hard not to succumb to a debilitating bout of “senioritis,” their thoughts are no doubt on that day when, before friends and family, they will walk across the stage and be presented with their high school diploma. While the momentous occasion marks the start of a new chapter in their life, be it college or otherwise, it also represents the culmination of their high school career. It’s a final act that ceremoniously signifies that they’ve done all that was needed in order to be granted their diploma. At that moment, there are no longer any more assignments to turn in, reports to write, or projects to be completed.

During our Youth Ministry Friday Night Bible Study, we have been walking through The Gospel According To Jesus by John MacArthur. After having studied through 23 chapters of the book together, we are now at the final chapter and fittingly, it is about the final act of Christ’s earthly life – His crucifixion. When we consider the various things we come to finish or accomplish in our own lives (such as high school), how infinitely more is the sense of finality and accomplishment associated with Christ’s death on the cross! In John 19:30, when we read about Christ’s final words, ”It is finished”, consequently we must understand that it was a statement shouted in victory, not a resignation uttered in defeat. It was the proclamation of a victor having accomplished something monumental. It wasn’t only that Christ’s earthly life had come to an end as He hung on the cross, but much more, the very purpose for which Christ came into the world was now finally finished:

“The work of redemption was done. All that the law of God required, full atonement for sins, everything the symbolism of ceremonial law foreshadowed – the work that the Father had given Him to do – everything was done. Nothing was left. The ransom was paid. The wages of sin were settled. Divine justice was satisfied.” (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus)

It was not a meaningless statement and it certainly wasn’t a lie when Christ shouted “It is finished!” before giving up His spirit. As much as it was a proclamation of triumph, it was also a proclamation of divine truth. Having finished bearing the holy and just wrath of the Father and having finished paying the penalty for all our sins past, present, and future, the work of redemption was now completed and finished forevermore. Consequently, for us to be compelled to try and contribute towards our own redemption through religious rites and rituals is to make Christ out to be a liar. To offer up our “good” works in the name of making penitence for our sins is to communicate by our actions our disbelief and distrust in Christ and what He proclaimed on the cross. The divine truth of Christ’s statement means that for those who are in Christ, not a single drop remains in the barrel of God’s wrath that would have been poured out upon us. For those who are in Christ, not a single cent remains outstanding on the balance of our sin penalty accounts.

Imagine what it would be like if on the day of high school graduation, you walked across the stage amidst cheers and applause to receive your diploma, but upon opening up the cover you see in the place where your diploma should be a list of additional assignments, reports, and projects that are still due. Understandably, any of our graduating youth group seniors would find that to be tragic I’m sure! Infinitely more tragic is the situation where the Christian would stand before God ready to be ushered into His kingdom only to find out that there remains some atonement still to be made or some ransom left to be paid. Let us not take for granted that ultimately, it’s a hypothetical situation that we need not fear because of the assurance we have in the truth of Christ, the truth of His work on the cross, and the truth of His words spoken on the cross, “It is finished!”

Ambassadors for Christ

by Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the apostle Paul sought to explain to the Corinthian church that as new creatures in Christ, God has not left us alone in what we are to tell those who are outside of the faith. He has delivered to us the message of reconciliation, and from here on out, are called ambassadors for Christ. This is the status of every believer who names the name of Christ as Lord. Recently, I had the opportunity to teach the youth how to grow as a faithful ambassador of Christ in three key areas. As they continue their studies in school, and live in a secular culture that has influenced what they learn and the worldview of their friends, it is crucial that their minds be renewed in the truth of Scripture. It is the lens by which we can view reality aright. Here are the three areas:

Knowledge: An Accurately Informed Mind

If you were enlisted to represent your native land in a foreign country as an ambassador, and knew nothing of your native land’s leadership, economy, language, geography, politics, history, would you be considered a good ambassador or a bad one? Obviously, we know the answer. Yet, in the area of Christian discipleship, the tendency for many believers is their inability to speak for their sovereign in evangelism, as well as communicate the character of their sovereign. Many who name Christ as Savior and Lord find themselves stumbling to tell others who it is they follow, or even to know what He has said concerning Himself in the Scriptures.

In order to be considered an ambassador of Christ, Scripture assumes we know the message of reconciliation, which is the message of the gospel. In order to understand that message, it requires that we know something about the two parties who are in conflict (God and man), the nature of the conflict (sin), and the good news that brings about reconciliation (Jesus Christ, the God-man sent by the Father to redeem man by His death on the cross and resurrection, demonstrating the acceptance of His life on earth as our justification). It also seems to include what God calls for every person in order for them to call the gospel ‘good news’ (faith and repentance).

This, in itself, requires knowledge about the Scriptures! Knowledge about God, His character and works, man and his rebellion, Christ, His character and works, the gospel, and the call of the gospel. We must get the gospel right, since it isn’t ours to edit, but to proclaim. Not only will this require knowing the message, but primarily knowing the One who gave us that message. It requires us to know God Himself!

Wisdom: An Artful Method

To continue the portrait of an ambassador, if one is fully aware of the culture and customs of their native land, but cannot communicate them in a language that foreigners can understand, would it make a difference how much you know? Certainly not. There is an awareness that an ambassador must have in order to be effective in fulfilling his/her duties. You must know how to express the knowledge you have in a way that is intelligible and persuasive to those you are speaking with.

As we are to communicate this message to those who don’t know God, we will come up against those who are either apathetic about the message, or entirely antagonistic at the message. These are roadblocks that can also be a setback for many who want to represent the King faithfully. Many times, in delivering the good news to unbelievers, there may be opposition that comes in the form of objections, many of which we may be unprepared to handle. Issues of morality concerning God’s actions in the Old Testament, atonement by way of crucifixion, perceived conflict between faith and science, and more come to the forefront of what one may raise.

Being able to drive the conversation to a deeper understanding of the Christian worldview must include drawing others to justify their own worldview in opposition to that of Scripture. This is most effective in terms of asking questions that will allow us to practice listening to those who do not accept the authority of Scripture. Asking the kinds of questions that get at knowing what others believe, why they believe it, and whether they have seriously considered the ramifications of their beliefs will advance the conversation in a wise fashion.

Character: An Attractive Manner

The final key to being an effective ambassador involves having the kind of character that will draw people to want to know what message you bring. If you know the message, and can direct the conversation in a way that will expose others to the message of the King, yet are brash in your attitude, with constant interruptions, would that interest a person in knowing what you have to say? Not at all. An ambassador must act consistent with the message that he/she intends to bring to those who need to hear it. Otherwise, the ambassador will be left to speak into the air, or to him or herself, and that’s just weird.

When we try to bring the gospel to others, our intention is to get it across to them, and yet believers have generally fallen into two errors: being so nice that nothing is said of the offense of the gospel, or being so offensive, that the gospel pales in comparison in terms of offense. Our growth as Christians must include the kind of character that commends the gospel, and point to the God we love and worship. To act contrary to His character distracts from seeing the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel.

Christlikeness is the Goal

Imagine if Jesus Christ, when speaking with the Pharisees, would not know how to answer their pointed questions concerning the intricacies of the Law. Or if, when speaking with Pontius Pilate, he cowered, neither confirming nor denying what was claimed about Him by the crowds. What if he was arrogant in His attitude towards the woman at the well for her sinful life, or brash in dismissing her as a Samaritan? Would this gain a hearing, or be consistent with the character of God? We all know the answer to that. If it wouldn’t be ok for Jesus to do this, why should it be ok with us?

As believers, we have the duty to get the gospel out to dying sinners unaware, or in complete denial, of their ultimate destination. Would we be so calloused as to ignore the darkness that surrounds us, while having the light of the gospel in our hearts and minds? Some have never seen it, or have been put off by the behavior of others to seriously give it consideration. If we truly seek to fulfill the Great Commission in response to the Great Commandment, our calling as ambassadors would be taken with utter seriousness and reverence for the One who called us to it.

As Christ modeled conversing with the knowledgeable leaders of His day, boldness in identifying who He is to those in authority, and compassion to those who were in need of grace, we too need to grow in these areas as a means of pursuing Christlikeness. These three areas are life pursuits of an effective ambassador for Christ, and I pray we all seek to glorify God in seeking His strength to model His character consistent with His message of reconciliation that He gave us. Let us never waver, no matter what age we are, in representing the King of kings and Lord of lords, all to the praise and honor of His holy name.

Author’s Note: I have been greatly helped by the ministry of Stand to Reason, who models this approach in every interaction. You can learn more about their Ambassador Model.

The Worth of Our Words

by Elder Johnny Kim

One of the things that happens when you become a parent is you quickly become accustomed to bodily fluids that emanate from all manner of places out of your children. At least it’s been my experience that the things that might have repulsed you before having kids no longer seem to have the same crippling effect. You don’t think twice about changing dirty diapers, picking noses, and swapping out wet bed sheets all with your bare hands. But every once in a while, even the most invincible super-parent is tested to their limits. I had one such occasion several months ago when my oldest son became sick enough that I had to drive him to urgent care. After I had parked our car just outside the clinic, I opened the passenger door to take him out and was no more than two seconds away from removing him from his car seat when he vomited all over himself, his car seat, and my arms. The worst of it was that since he had been sick for several days, it was the type of vomit that smelled as if it had been festering and rotting in his stomach for just as long. I was equally disturbed by both the rotten smell of it and the fact that it had just gushed forth from his mouth!

As weird as it sounds, that experience is what pops into my head when I read Ephesians 4:29, a verse that we learned about a couple weeks ago for our Youth Ministry Friday Night Bible Study. In the passage, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” The word Paul uses, “unwholesome” or “corrupt,” literally means that which is rotten or worthless. It invokes the idea of rotten food coming out of someone’s mouth. Food that, because of its rottenness, is not only utterly worthless and useless, but also offensive and disgusting. The imagery in the verse not only serves to command us to abstain from such speech, but it also serves to vividly paint the picture of what it looks like when we disobey and speak such unwholesome or corrupt words.

It seems clear from Ephesians 4:29 that Christians are to abstain from rotten speech including profanity and vulgar language, but other passages can also help us to understand that Christians ought to avoid more than just blatant profanities and vulgarities. Later on in the same epistle, we read in Ephesians 5:4 that “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting” coming from our lips as well. Colossians 3:8 says to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” If Ephesians 4:29 conversely describes “unrotten” speech as that which is edifying and gracious, it seems to me that we ought to understand that rotten speech then also includes dirty jokes, inappropriate comments, insults, put-downs, and the like. Things that are anything but edifying and gracious. All these things should have no place in the Christian vocabulary and no utterance from the Christian mouth.

Plenty of time and effort can be spent on trying to specify and categorize these rotten words, phrases, and slang terminology for any given societal and cultural context. However, to think that we only need to simply curate a list of rotten speech to have in our minds to avoid misses the truth about how God has created us. The Bible tells us that our mouths and what we say are merely an expression of what is in our hearts. Matthew 12:34 and Luke 6:45 reveal that at the bottom of it all, a speech issue is ultimately just a heart issue. Because it is a heart issue, speech can serve as window into a heart that is kind, loving, and one that desires to glorify God with every utterance. Because it is a heart issue, speech can also be a barometer for a heart that is sick, dying, and rotten. For those who are saved who still struggle with unwholesome speech, our ultimate hope also lies in this very truth that it is a heart issue, for because it is a heart issue, it means the hope of changing our speech rests in the one who is able and willing to change our hearts.

I concede that certain speech, like with many other things, can be argued to be a gray-area issue. But in the end, also like with many other things, Christians should be occupied with striving for the heights of godliness and righteousness rather than trying to plumb the depths of permissiveness and acceptableness. In any matter of Christian living, we ought to seek to be more like Christ and less like the world. If unwholesome speech could be pictured as foul and rotting food coming out of our mouths, then edifying and gracious speech is sweet, fragrant, beautiful, and refreshing to those who hear it. Which of those two pictures describes the taste and smell of the words you use and the things you say? I would hope that we would all be striving for our speech to be like the latter.

Movin’ On Up

by Elder Johnny Kim

Growing up, the end of the summer always meant one thing. It meant that the time of rest and relaxation and fun in the sun was drawing to a close and the new school year was just around the corner. Like other kids, the tail end of the summer was the time I would start anticipating moving up to the next grade in school. Wondering what new subjects I would be taking and what new things I would be learning. Year after year, the routine was always the same. You spent the school year at a particular grade level, had a summer break, then started the new school year at the next grade level and so on. It’s a routine that we’ve all been a part of and one that represents the progression of academic learning. All throughout school, we are always acquiring more and more knowledge year after year and learning things more complex than those learned the year before.

This principle is pretty elementary (pun intended) in the context of school, yet sometimes we as Christians neglect to consider that in some sense, our Christian walk ought to be the same way. Specifically, when it comes to the study of the Bible, our knowledge of God’s Word ought to reflect a similar constant progress towards a greater and deeper understanding of God, His character, and His commands. Like Ezra, our hearts ought to be set on “studying the law of the Lord” (Ezra 7:10). And by doing so, year after year, the faithful Christian should exhibit a growth and a maturity that is always increasing. As it is with school, it should be just as much a given that as Christians, we are to constantly be growing in the Word and ever moving up through the proverbial “grade levels” of learning all there is to know in God’s Word.

Unfortunately, for some of us the pattern of our growth and knowledge of God’s Word is more stagnant and static rather than swelling. Particularly for those further along in the faith, for some reason it seems easier to be caught in the position where we find we are no longer as excited and disciplined about reading and studying the Bible as we were when first saved. Sure, the more mature Christians may no longer be spiritual “preschoolers”, but they could still find that they’ve been “stuck in 8th grade for the last decade” in terms of what they know about God and His holy Word.

Christians are called to diligently study God’s Word and to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). The student who is held back a grade in school because of laziness and lack of motivation feels a sense of shame and rightly so. So there is shame for the believer who after years and years of being a Christian still only knows little more than the fundamentals of the faith. With each passing year, we should know that much more about God and the doctrines and truths in His Word than we did the year before and because of that, with each passing year, there should be a marked difference and a maturation in the way that we evangelize, teach, and serve. Growth in godliness is never separate from growth in the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Studying God’s faithfulness, His goodness, and His promises can’t help but cause us to better trust in Him, worship Him, and glorify Him with our lives.

Let us encourage one another to diligently read and study the Bible, God’s divine truth given for us. Grade school may be just a distant memory for some of us, but none of us should ever stop being an active student of God’s Word. If we, like the psalmist, can truly proclaim that we love the Word of God (Psalm 119:97), then we will quickly find that we will never need nor want a “summer break” from studying it for as long as we live.

The Walking Dead

by Elder Johnny Kim

Even as one who hardly watches television and rarely makes it out to the movies, even I couldn’t help but to notice the exploding fascination with zombies in pop culture as of late. From the aforementioned television shows and movies to the various zombie conventions and even theme parks, zombies have seemingly popped up everywhere. And as if all these things weren’t proof enough that zombies have gone mainstream, even various government agencies and organizations have embraced the fad by producing zombie-themed public service announcements in order to promote disaster preparedness among the general public! As ridiculous as it sounds, I have to admit that it’s actually an effective and brilliant marketing move on the government’s part. The average citizen may not have ever experienced large-scale natural disasters before and therefore might be unable to fully comprehend the dire consequences and fallout of such an event. But because zombies and the idea of zombie outbreaks and ensuing apocalypse have become so pervasive and popular in our entertainment and media, it turns out people might actually be more likely to have an appreciation of the gravity of at least that fictional scenario. By relating the level of preparedness needed for natural disasters with how people would prepare for the type of zombie apocalypse that they’ve surely seen in movies and on television time and time again, they are more likely to be better prepared for a very real large earthquake, blizzard, or hurricane. As ironic as it is, that just goes to show how popular zombies have become.

Traditionally, zombies are portrayed as mindless and soulless beings inhabiting corpses and otherwise lifeless bodies, usually on a quest to consume the brains of the living or to perpetuate their disease by infecting the living with their bite. Of course the prospect of living in an apocalyptic world and being surrounded by hordes of zombies, or the walking dead as they’re often referred, is a fictional fantasy that we’ll never encounter in reality.

Or perhaps we already have?

Before you parents fire off a concerned email to Pastor Patrick, for the record, I have not been teaching your youth about zombies. But for Lumos youth Friday night Bible studies, we have been going through Ephesians and we recently learned in chapter 2 of the epistle that Paul makes mention of those who are “walking” according to the course of this world and “living” in the lusts of the flesh, yet “dead” in their trespasses and sins. Walking and alive and yet dead; sounds familiar, right? While we might not ever find ourselves surrounded by zombies, spiritually speaking the “walking dead” are already all around us. The truth is the one who is without Christ is dead. Not only does Paul refer to this truth in Ephesians 2:1-3, but it’s a truth that he echoes in Colossians 2:13 as well. For the one who is without Christ, their cheerful disposition, happy demeanor, and other external evidences of being physically alive hide the fact that internally, they are spiritually dead. Our sinful nature and propensity to love worldly pleasures and vices make us dead to God and His goodness, His righteousness, and His holiness.

The loud sobs and wails of loved ones will never wake the one who lies dead inside the coffin. Pounding on the casket in grief and sorrow will never rouse the one inside to life. In the same way that the physically dead are completely and utterly incapable of walking, talking, or reacting in any way to anything, the spiritually dead are unable to respond to the facts of Christ and the gospel. In other words it’s all sinners who, because of their sinful nature, are unable to respond to the facts of Christ and the gospel. The most accurate knowledge of God’s character and the most passionate appeal to consider His righteousness and His holiness cannot rouse a sinner to glorify God. As sinners, we have as much capability to do that by ourselves as a corpse has to get up and walk around. We first need to be brought to life by an intervening external force. And not just by any force, but by the most powerful force there is. God is the only force sufficiently powerful for this miraculous task; power that was proven when He raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). As those who were once dead but now brought to life in Him, we preach the gospel of sovereign grace to those who remain spiritually dead. While dead, there is nothing anyone can do but to acknowledge their “deadness” and to beg for God’s grace and mercy and to rely on His goodness to save them and to bring them to life in Christ. We preach this gospel to the dead who are around us, and indeed they are all around us, as in Matthew 9:37. However, not only are they spiritually dead, but they also face an inevitable eternal and permanent death.

As Paul uses the analogy of death to portray our former spiritual lives apart from Christ, the analogy also describes the certainty of eternal and permanent death that awaits all sinners after living in this present world. So inevitable is this eternal death for all sinners, that Paul points out we might as well be considered dead, though technically we are alive for whatever brief moment our lives will last here on earth (James 4:14). Apart from Christ and the salvation that is only obtained in Him, the only possible and assured outcome that awaits us all is an eternal death in hell. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Because of our trespasses and sins, and ultimately our sinful nature, we were like “dead men walking”. But the good news is that God made us to be alive in Christ because of His rich mercy and great love (Ephesians 2:4-5). God, through Christ, not only makes us to be spiritually alive in this present life, to be able to live according to His commands and to please Him and bless Him by glorifying Him with our lives, but He also makes us to be alive in Christ forever. We have the hope of eternal life with Him beyond this life in the life to come. Those who are in Christ are truly alive in every sense of the word, now and forever.

I’ve found that the challenge of preaching these specific truths to the youth is that outwardly, they are seemingly the furthest from being “dead”. With vibrant attitudes and being full of energy, if anything, the youth are the liveliest affinity group in the church. Walk into the youth room (especially after soda, snacks, and candy) and the last word that comes to mind is “dead”. Similarly, youth being as young as they are, have that many more potential years of life here on this earth as compared to older adults. Death is often the furthest thing from their minds as it is from our minds when we think about youth. Yet all that doesn’t change the internal and spiritual reality that without Christ, they too are dead in the way that the Apostle Paul describes. They too are in desperate need of the One who can bring them to life, in this present life and in the life to come. It’s a sobering reality that I’ve come to be reminded of in youth ministry. The reality that as far off as it seems, I am surrounded by “walking dead” for every youth who has not yet been made alive in Christ.

I encourage you to consider your own lives and see that the same reality holds true for you as well. In our schools, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, and even in our own families, the sobering reality is that we can all find that we are surrounded by the “walking dead”. We shouldn’t let others’ worldly successes, temporal happiness, and comfortable affluence betray the fact that they are anything but alive absent Christ. If we stop to consider those around us who do not have life in Him, then we will realize that we are all constantly surrounded by those who are really dead and dying. Let us be bold and clear and constant in the way we preach the life-giving gospel of Christ to all those around us.

Growing Pains: Maturity Mirages (Part 2)

by Kristen Lim

This article is a continuation on the Growing Pains series, a look at various topics that young Christians may encounter.

If you’ve been keeping up with this series so far, we’ve seen how maturity takes time as we utilize the means of grace God has given (reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, etc.) to grow in holiness and fight sin. He will surely be faithful to produce fruit in His children! But what exactly are we maturing towards? In short, spiritual maturation is becoming more like God (Ephesians 5:1). Rather than providing a survey of various marks of spiritual maturity (for that, I usher you to Peter Lim’s series entitled “Signs of Spiritual Maturity”), I wanted to point out two “maturity mirages,” or two misleading indicators of spiritual maturity. It is important that we are measuring spiritual maturity based on God’s standards and not on our opinions, so that we strive towards true Christ-likeness.

Maturity Mirage #1: Knowledge

There is a challenge where someone holds a burning match while reciting all the books of the Bible in order, and must complete the task before getting burned. As impressive as that sounds, it is not a sure mark of spiritual maturity. Maybe you have memorized a whole book of the Bible; you have read not one, but TWO systematic theology books; you can easily walk through the main points of the Gospel with Bible references for each key point; you can even spout out the right Bible verses for counseling situations.

All those things are not bad. In fact, it’s good and profitable to be well versed with Scripture and to understand your faith. But accumulated knowledge isn’t meant to just stay in the head. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is a familiar passage to most: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The knowledge that is garnered through the careful study of God’s word does not stop at just knowing facts, but leads to good works.

Lest we forget that we are not saved by good works, Paul reminds us in Titus 3:1-8 that “[God] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” On the basis of our firm foundation of faith in the mercy we have received through Jesus, the response is to be careful to engage in good deeds.

These good works don’t have to be super extravagant. It could simply be sharing one of God’s promises to a downcast sister or brother, cooking a meal for a sick family, or choosing to show grace and kindness to someone who made a hurtful comment to you. Perhaps the more difficult good deeds are the ones done in the quietness of your heart, for example, to seek unity and peace with a fellow member of the church after a conflict, since this truly tests your “knowledge” of God’s love towards you. A spiritually mature person not only grows in knowledge and deeper understanding of who God is, but applies that knowledge in good works and points others to glorify Him (Matthew 5:16).

Maturity Mirage #2: Giftedness

In our human nature, we find pride and identity in our talents, personalities, and status that may contain leverage to make us feel better than others. And we can also have a higher view of others that have certain desirable qualities and giftedness. This can be very subtle. We may deem eloquent people who can orate beautiful sentences filled with emotion, as more passionate for God than the soft-spoken stutterer who serves in the background. Or maybe it is the quieter person that is viewed as having more maturity in speech than the jovial jokester. Or even assuming that a married person is more spiritually mature than a single, just based on marital status.

I won’t go into every scenario or case-study, but the point is that many times we can be guilty of judging the spiritual maturity of ourselves or others based on God’s allotment of specific kinds of gifts. Public speakers, toilet-scrubbers, introverted personalities, the life of the party, married, unmarried; these are all different portions that God has wisely and purposefully given to His children, for their good and for His glory. The person given the flashy gifts isn’t necessarily more spiritually mature than the one who seems like they have “unimpressive” talents. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 helps us understand that there are a variety of gifts, but the same God who sovereignly distributes gifts as He wills. And Romans 12:3-8 reaffirms the truth that “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” and “each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” One gift is not more valuable or more worthy of praise than another. And if a person has been given a “desirable” gift, it doesn’t elevate that person to be automatically more mature.

1 Peter 4:10-11 instructs Christians to employ the gifts God has given in order to serve one another as good stewards of the grace of God, “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” A spiritually mature person not only recognizes his God-given talents, personalities, and gifts, but also understands that God is looking for faithfulness to exercise those gifts to make much of God.

Christ Must Increase

Having knowledge of the Bible and being gifted in certain ways does not necessarily make a person spiritually mature; it may even be a facade to cover spiritual immaturity. When God saves us, He also redeems our knowledge and gifts, so that the knowledge we obtain translates into good deeds, and gifts we have been blessed with are to be faithfully exercised to be of service to others. Hopefully it is apparent that spiritual maturity is less about how we can increase and build a resume of knowledge and gifts, but rather how God can use us to be a blessing to others. May we seek to grow in knowledge of God for more effectiveness in good works, and utilize our giftedness in faithfulness to God’s apportionment, so that Christ may increase, and we may decrease (John 3:30).

Growing Pains: Are We There Yet? (Part 1)

By Kristen Lim

This article is a continuation of the “Growing Pains” series, a look at various issues that new / young Christians encounter. Previous articles:

The microwave oven is one of the greatest inventions to date (slight hyperbole there). But in all seriousness, isn’t it a wonderful concept to have last night’s cold leftovers hot and ready to consume in a matter of minutes? Not to mention, people have creatively come up with ways to hack the microwave’s power, like mug cakes and quick scrambled eggs.

Why doesn’t the Christian life work like a microwave? Why can’t God make me perfect and without sin RIGHT NOW? Without even realizing it, we may have been accustomed to what I like to call “microwave-mentality:” expecting immediate results with little to no effort, and in this case in regards to spiritual maturity. We’ve lost a sense of patience, and there is a mounting panic and discomfort in waiting. In our need for speed, we want to expedite every part of our lives including sanctification, but we will soon find out that God’s plan for our growth is a gradual, life-long process.

What is biblical sanctification? Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” (Ph. 2:12 emphasis added)

Paul does not say for you to work “for” your salvation; that would be salvation by works! Let’s pause and remember Scripture is clear that salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). So what does it mean to work “out” your salvation? Paul is affirming the truth that God calls His people to holy living out of submission to our good Master and in accordance to our new identity as children of God. Our redeemed status is not conditional to whether you had a great day honoring God, or failed (again) to make time to read the Bible. Nothing can separate true Christians from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). Rest in that truth. Marinate in the extravagant grace of God. We will spend the rest of our lives discovering the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:19), and to truly comprehend that to know Christ is eternal life (John 17:3).

There is no room for dabbling in sin and cheapening the glorious grace of God to be just a free pass to “sin and repent.” Read Romans 6, my friend. Working out your salvation involves hard work of putting off the old self and putting on the new self (Eph. 4:22-24). But rest assured that it’s not in your hands to change your heart…

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Ph. 2:13 emphasis added)

God is the One who grows us! He gets the glory and praise for transforming us into the image of Christ. There is no room for boasting in ourselves or even in another person for causing us to grow (1 Cor. 3:6-7). You may wonder, how can God be the one doing all the work in me when it feels like I’m the one striving and laboring? We must remember that God is the giver of life and breath, and apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Your desire to even want to grow in faith is a product of God placing that desire in your heart! He gives us various “means of grace,” such as reading the Bible, prayer, fellowship, memorizing Scripture, sermons, etc. to accomplish this steady progression of maturity. Just because you don’t conquer a particular sin by memorizing a verse doesn’t mean that God has failed. He is growing you in other ways, perhaps patience and perseverance. In the mean time, God desires for you to continue to fight sin in humble obedience, trusting in His sovereign and perfect timing.

If you are a Christian longing for a pure heart, but still find yourself struggling in the fight against sin, you are in good company. Paul honestly admits the raging war in his soul against his old, sinful way of life versus God’s way (Rom. 7:14-25). Also, find encouragement that much of Paul’s letters are filled with exhortations to struggling Christians who needed instruction to fight hard against remaining sin. If Christians back then needed to war against sin, then I do too.

Maybe you experienced a drastic change in your life when God saved you. Praise the Lord for His abounding mercies! You have the rest of your life to keep on growing in the knowledge of God and becoming more like Christ. Know that God will be faithful to complete the work He has started in you.

Maybe you feel spiritually dry and stagnant in growth, and wonder why it doesn’t feel like God is working in you anymore. But God is still working in your heart. Though it may seem slow and the fruit may not be evident right away, be patient and persevere. Know that God will be faithful to complete the work He has started in you.

It is worth mentioning that many farming analogies are used to describe the Christian life. Psalm 1 describes the one who delights in God to be a “tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season…” Matthew 7:20 reveals that you will know the type of tree it is (Christian or non-Christian) by the fruit it bears. And in Galatians 5:22-23 we find the “fruit” of the Spirit. The growth of a tree may at times seem imperceptible, but it is still growing and will flourish with fruit in its season.

A microwave is useful for many things, but not a good object on which to build an understanding of sanctification. Hopefully it’s clear that waiting on the Lord for spiritual growth is not an idle task. Rather it is a fierce dependence on God that clings to His unchanging promises, and disciplines the self to walk in obedience, knowing full well that God is the one who changes hearts.

Growing Pains: Introduction

by Kristen Lim

Growing up can be painful. That’s why there’s even a T.V. show called “Growing Pains.” Certainly we all have various circumstances in our upbringing, but surely no one would say that their adolescence was a breeze with absolutely no difficulties.

In a similar way, being a young or new Christian can be a confusing time as you begin this journey of living for God’s glory, and you find that it’s not an easy task. There are both external and internal pressures that war against the pursuit of holiness. It is a constant battle to set our minds on the things above and not allow culture or worldliness to dictate life choices. You may mentally agree on the Christianity 101 basics, but there are still lingering questions with the mechanics of how God impacts the mundane day-to-day living. There is an itch to grow in maturity quickly, yet the same recurring sin keeps on appearing, bringing discouragement and possibly doubts of salvation. And when you do overcome a certain struggle, there is a temptation to take pride in that accomplishment rather than to give praise to God. Add in other sinners to the mix, and now there is the issue of peacemaking and loving others when they unintentionally offend you, or even intentionally sin against you. And oh, what to do with spiritual disciplines if I don’t “feel” like doing them? Do I need to have perfect and pure motives before serving God?

Thus begins a series on common spiritual topics (aka “growing pains”) that young Christians grapple with in the process of sanctification and development of a Biblical worldview and God-centered outlook on life. This series will be a grab bag of thoughts, experiences, temptations, and pitfalls young and new Christians may go through. My goal is to show you that God’s word really is sufficient for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) and has answers to the various emotions and circumstances that may make you feel stuck and confused.

If you consider yourself a young Christian and relate with some of the questions listed above, may you find encouragement that God did not leave us to ourselves to blindly navigate the rapid waters of life; we have His complete and inerrant words. Psalm 119:9 reads, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” If you are hungering to be more in God’s word, you’re on the right track.

If you consider yourself a more mature, seasoned Christian, then hopefully reading this series will remind you of struggles you once had and may God give you a heart to reach out to the baby Christians and take them under your wing (Titus 2). Reading a blog post certainly can’t and shouldn’t replace human-to-human discipleship.

Disclaimer: I have to mention that I myself am a young person who doesn’t have many years of life experiences, and I certainly am not the spiritual maturity guru. But since I am relatively young, I still recall the vivid memories of working through the various topics in this series, searching Scripture for guidance, and asking those more mature than me for their counsel. Rather than reading this series with the mentality that it holds all the answers, think of it as an ignition to whet your appetites to study these topics in further detail and spark more intentional conversations within your church family.

I’m excited to begin this series of various spiritual issues young Christians may ponder. Stay tuned next month for the discussion of the first growing pain!

Further reading related to spiritual growth and maturity: