Friday, 8 March 2019

HIGHLIGHT REEL PART 3- ABRAHAM'S ADVENTURE



Last week, we talked about how God wants us to know and follow him….to do what’s RIGHT, even if it’s really hard! He wants us to live life the way he designed it to be lived! That kind of thing might seem a little CRAZY today! Most of your friends might not really know or care that much about God and what he wants for their lives…so if you’re someone who is living in a way that’s different from them…it definitely STANDS OUT! 

I shared a story of how, when I was a teenager and decided to follow Jesus, God brought some awesome changes in my life. For example, I used to swear like a sailor (do sailor's really swear a lot???), but soon after I invited Jesus into my life, I found that I wanted God to be proud of the things I said. Well guess what? It wasn't long until people noticed that my language was different. In fact, I had friends who even DARED me to swear and offered me money just to say a bad word--- just so they could hear it coming out of my mouth! Isn’t that crazy? 

That's just one example that reminds us that if you are serious about loving and following God, people MIGHT think that you're a bit odd. They might not understand why you do what you do. It might lead them to ask you some questions! They might even make fun of you because of it! Tonight, we're looking at the story of Abraham and how God invited him on an adventure....to follow him!

Genesis 12:1, 4 says, “The Lord had said to Abraham, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. So Abraham departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot (his nephew) went with him. Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.”

Imagine this. Imagine that your mom or dad called a family meeting and told you that God spoke to them and said that he wanted them to move to a new country (and they aren’t sure what that country will be…they’ll find out on the way), AND THAT THEY WERE DOING IT.  How would you feel? Scared? Angry? Shocked? Would you think they were totally insane?

Well, that’s what God was asking Abraham to do—to leave life the way he had known it, to step WAY OUTSIDE his comfort zone, and move to a new country—to go on an adventure. And he wasn’t an adventurous 20 year-old either--- he was 75 YEARS OLD! That’s like your grandma or grandpa deciding all of a sudden to move away without giving their next address! You would probably try to talk some sense into them! You would probably tell them that they should sit back, relax and enjoy life instead of going off to do something crazy! But here’s the deal—God had a special plan for Abraham…and God just asked Abraham to trust him--- to trust that he would lead him someplace good—to trust that he had a good plan for his life!

God actually told Abraham that “if you love and follow me, I’ll be committed to you and your family. I’ll be your God and you will be my people. I’ll take care of you! I’ll bless you! In fact—ALL PEOPLE ON EARTH will be blessed through you!” God said that Abraham would have a huge family with many descendants!”

Now, here’s Abraham. He’s 75 years old. And God is telling him to move to a new place and that he would have KIDS. He didn’t have any kids at the time…and his wife was just 10 years younger than he was (65 at the time)! Well, guess what Abraham did? He followed God on this adventure. He trusted that God would take care of him….and He moved away to a new country and it wasn’t until YEARS later that he had a kid.  In fact, he was 100 and his wife was 90 when they had their kid. It was kind of a miracle! His wife Sarah, actually LAUGHED HYSTERICALLY AT THE THOUGHT THAT AN OLD LADY LIKE HER COULD HAVE A KID! But God kept his promise!

And spoiler alert—Abraham’s descendants would become the people of Israel---and all through the Bible, we see God sticking with them even when they bailed on him and sinned---God constantly offered them love and forgiveness, even if they didn’t deserve it….because of the commitment that he had made with Abraham ----and Jesus—the saviour of the world (remember, God said that he would BLESS THE ENTIRE WORLD through Abraham) was born in that family line! Joseph, Jesus’ adopted dad was a descendant of Abraham!

So, God had pretty big plans for Abraham and his family---but if Abraham had said, “No way! I’m too old! I want to play it safe! I don’t want people to think I’m crazy!”—none of that would have happened!) Instead, Abraham packed up and went on this road trip

There’s something that we can learn from Abraham’s story….and that’s that God asks us to FOLLOW HIM- to live life the way he designed it to be lived and to trust that He knows and wants the best for us!

For you, following God might not meaning moving to a strange new country or having a kid when you’re 100 years old…but it’ll definitely mean that you’ll stand out in a crowd! Just like for Abraham, following God can be super risky and might seem totally crazy to some people!

It might be as simple as living in a way that’s different from other people around you (actually living what you believe). That might mean being honest when you could get away with something or refusing to gossip or make fun of somebody else. It might mean asking someone for forgiveness when you did something wrong or hurt them in some way?

Following God might mean going on a mission trip to help others around the world or to share God’s love with others. For example, even our trip to the Capital City Mission as a youth group might be something that’s out of your comfort zone or something that scares you---  but it’s a way that we can be a help and show God’s love to others who might be poor or looked down on by the rest of society! FOLLOWING GOD ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE COMFORTABLE AND SAFE!

Following God—might mean GASP—actually letting your friends know that you’re someone who loves God and that you go to a church or youth group….and maybe even INVITING THEM TO JOIN YOU!  Sure, some people might think it’s kind of weird, but you never know how just an invite might change somebody’s whole life!

Following God might mean giving money to charity, giving money to the church, or volunteering in the church or community when you could spend the money on yourself or spend your time sitting at home playing video games instead!

That’s what following God looks like—it means standing out--- it means being COUNTER-CULTURAL--- doing the opposite of what a lot of others around us might do--- being committed to doing what’s right, even if it’s really hard or might mean people think we’re crazy!

Each one of us will have to make the decision for ourselves--- If God created me to know and follow him….AM I ACTUALLY GOING TO DO IT? Am I going to live life the way he designed it to be lived? Am I going to go on the adventure that God has planned out for me?

Abraham is a pretty inspiring old dude. He trusted God with his life- and it meant stepping WAY OUTSIDE his comfort zone--- but as a result, God blessed him and his family in AMAZING WAYS—and ultimately, God used his family to be a part of his plan to SAVE THE WORLD—to offer love and forgiveness to EVERYONE through Jesus! Just like God called Abraham to an adventure, he's calling us to an adventure-- and we can trust that when we follow him, wherever it leads it'll be a place where we can really make a difference with our lives.

QUESTIONS FOR HOME

1. What is the most adventurous thing you've ever done? Parents, share some stories with your teens about adventures you've gone on! Can you think of ways that you trusted or followed God even if it was out of your comfort zone? What happened?

2. What do you think a Christian should look like? For example, what are some things that a Christian might say or do that might be different from what others would do? When people look at you, do they see those things?

3. Take the time to pray together and ask God to help your teen trust and follow Him. Pray that your teen would do what's right EVEN if it's REALLY hard and everybody else is going in the opposite direction. Pray that your teen would hear God's leading and direction in their life and that they would trust God enough to follow him wherever he leads.


Friday, 22 February 2019

HIGHLIGHT REEL PART 1: CREATION- Catalyst Youth, Feb 22, 2019



This week, we kicked off a brand new series at CATALYST called "HIGHLIGHT REEL" where we're looking at some of the GREATEST MOMENTS, the highlights, in the Bible!

Kicking things off, we started right on the first page of the Bible looking at the CREATION story in Genesis.

We talked about how, in our culture today (including school) we're never really given the possibility that we were CREATED as even a potential option or possible theory. Instead, we're told that our existence is a result of some weird cosmic accident that happened billions of years ago, and over the process of time, that accident somehow produced a planet that’s perfectly suited to sustain life, and that the accident also created all of LIFE itself-- including creatures that evolved into living, intelligent and creative PEOPLE with distinct personalities, skills, and interests!

But the problem is that no textbook or scientific study has ever been able to explain HOW life started….how something came to exist out of nothing! It’s a big question mark even in the scientific community.

The reason why scientists, our textbook writers, and the people on the news choose to believe that life came about because of some random chance, as far-fetched as it might seem, is because they start off with the assumption that there is no God. Science is all about observing and reporting on those observations, and for the most part, it discounts the supernatural. Because of this, they are looking for any natural explanation for our existence. But tonight, we explored how-- if we have open minds, there is a A LOT more reason to believe in a creator than to believe that all of life and creation just happened by accident. When we try to explain life without factoring God or the supernatural into it, we’re left with a lot of big question marks--- because EVERYTHING coming from NOTHING is a pretty big miracle!

In the first few pages of the Bible—in the Book of Genesis, we’re given an alternate theory for all of us to consider--- what I think is a far more plausible reason why life exists and why this planet is perfectly suited for us! 



Now there are some Christians who interpret the Creation story very LITERALLY—where they believe that God created all of those things over a LITERAL period of 6 days…and that each of those days was a 24 hour period (which, I might add- is not impossible—because we’re talking about God here).

There are others who aren’t super nitpicky about the specific details of the Creation story, These people would suggest that it’s not really important whether or not this happened in 7 literal days---or whether it took a billion years--- or whether God sped up the growth process of our planet to make it appear older than it is, or whether or not there’s a million years between each day of creation, because this was never meant to be a scientific research paper-- it was something that was passed down from generation to generation and was told in a way that could be easily remembered and memorized so that people could learn and remember ONE IMPORTANT TRUTH.

The key takeaway from the Bible’s creation story, and one that ALL Christians agree on--- is that WE WERE CREATED. That, “IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS GOD…AND HE CREATED!”

If there is a CREATOR—than it means that we aren’t here by accident. It’s not random chance that our planet is the only one we’ve ever discovered that can sustain life and has life on it! The Bible tells us that our planet and humankind was CREATED with intention and purpose by a God who loves us.

John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”.

Job 12:7-11- “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind”.

This isn’t saying that animals will LITERALLY take us to school and teach us stuff or that the earth has a mouth--- but it’s saying that by scientifically examining animals, the earth, plant life and all of the things we find in nature, the intricacy of those things lets us know that they couldn't have all appeared out of nothing by complete accident, rather, “the hand of the LORD has done this.”

I’ve used this example before, but if you were to walk in the woods and happened across a chair— you wouldn’t assume that it just grew out of the ground and naturally appeared that way--- you would ASSUME that it was CREATED and put there by somebody. By looking at it, you would see that it was sanded or painted, that pieces of wood were cut, that metal or plastic was melted down and poured into a mold—that someone shaped the materials and put it all together.

But here’s the thing--a chair, in comparison to humanity or what we see in nature, isn't really that complex. Look at our bodies—our eyes compete with some of the best cameras that technology can build! When we cut ourselves, our body has the ability to heal itself! Look at our minds—we can create and invent all kinds of amazing things, from a tablet to an amazing piece of artwork! Nature, our bodies and our minds are far more intricate and complex than a chair—and yet we say it’s OBVIOUS that someone made the chair, but it’s not OBVIOUS that someone created life? That life is a completely random occurrence!

Our textbooks always say that the first spark of life came from nothing. That a big bang happened (and again, there’s no answer to who might have caused that big bang), and somehow a spark of life occurred and it started as a plankton and it took billions of years for that plankton to slowly improve and eventually become a human being. Our textbooks say that the answer is in the "billions of years"—that somehow, when you add a long period of time to the equation- ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! But, that doesn’t make sense.

To use another of my favorite illustrations. I’m a fan of LEGO—I actually have a big collection of Star Wars Microfighters in my office. A LEGO set isn’t very complex. You can have a box with around a hundred pieces that contains ALL of the parts inside to build that exact model. But if I shook that box for billions of years, do you think at the end, a fully built LEGO set would be inside the box? No. If anything, the pieces would wear down and degrade over time! 

I'm a colossal failure when it comes to baking. Just a little while ago I made some homemade bread…but I accidentally had one ingredient wrong--- I used Baking Soda instead of Baking Powder. Let me tell you, the look on my kids faces said it all--- just one simple mistake and the bread turned into a doorstop! To say that a loaf of bread could be made out of nothing, with no intelligence, no creator, nobody stirring or mixing things together is completely ridiculous! I mean, BAKING is insanely complicated—you’re supposed to mix it--- but if you OVER-MIX it, you’ve ruined it! How a tree works (this living thing that grows from a seed, produces delicious fruit, and even creates oxygen) or how a baby is born is WAY more complex and miraculous than making a loaf of bread.

But, that’s what we’re being told is the most PLAUSIBLE explanation for our existence—that the building blocks of life (and remember, they can’t explain how those building blocks of life came to exist in the first place) somehow became something as complex and intricate as a human body over billions of years WITHOUT SOMEONE ACTUALLY CREATING IT OR CAUSING IT TO HAPPEN! Our bodies and minds are WAY more complex than a few pieces of shaped plastic! To say that we evolved over a process of billions of years with no intelligent designer or creator is a HUGE stretch of logic! It’s like saying that a simple LEGO model built itself! It's like saying that a loaf of bread made itself!

Psalm 19:1-4 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world”.

Here, the Bible isn’t saying that nature LITERALLY talks to us—but that everything in nature, is in a sense, SCREAMING out that it was created by a “craftsman”- by an intelligent designer! The evidence is ALL around us!

So what does that mean for you and me?

Well, if we agree that all of the complexity of life and this planet couldn’t have just happened by accident, then it leads us to ask some deep questions!

WHO CREATED US? CAN WE KNOW OUR CREATOR? DOES THIS CREATOR HAVE A PLAN AND PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES?  IS THERE AN ACTUAL RIGHT/WRONG WAY TO DO THIS THING CALLED LIFE?

Next week, we’re going to look at the story of Adam and Eve—and what it says about who God is and why we were created.

DISCUSSION FOR HOME

1. What are some reasons why people might disbelieve that God created all of life and creation?

2. This week we looked at how all of Creation bears God's signature (that creation tells us about God). By looking at life and creation, what are some clues that reveal that it isn't be accident-- that we were created?

3. If God is our creator, what do you think that means for our everyday life? Should it affect or change how we live?


Friday, 8 February 2019

RELATIONSHIP STATUS- CATALYST YOUTH- Feb 8, 2019


Usually, around this time of year, when we’re getting close to LOVE DAY, we take at least one night to check out what the Bible has to say about dating and relationships in a series called RELATIONSHIP STATUS. While some teens haven’t even thought about dating yet, MOST of them will choose to date someone at some point and maybe even get married someday. Of course, the perfect time to get some relationship advice is BEFORE you actually need it. You don’t start driving a car BEFORE you take driving lessons or get your license, right?! All of the stuff you learn PREPARES you so that you won’t drive the car off the road!

If you’re looking to our culture for advice or guidance on dating and relationships, you might just find that you end up living with a lot of regret. Back in the day, people used to get relationship advice from people they knew and respected- people they considered to be wise- people who had been married for years and had managed to stay together and work at their relationship when others would have bailed.

Where do we get our relationship advice today? Are the people we listen to examples of "relationship success stories"? Probably not so much.

Maybe you’re getting advice from friends who might be lovely, well-meaning people, but are just as confused as everyone else? Maybe you’re learning about dating and relationships from media--- like those horrible magazines you find near the cash at the grocery store, song lyrics and music videos, Netflix shows or movies, or from celebrity culture? 

Most of the entertainment we watch/listen to doesn’t really depict what a real-life, healthy relationship is like. It’s usually depicted as super-glamorous (like something out of a fairy tale), where the couple sleeps together 5 minutes after meeting in a bar (which is actually super unwise and even dangerous) and then they go on to live happily ever after! The music and videos that are getting the most hits are usually full of content where women are depicted as objects and where women are lovingly called some pretty despicable names! Our celebrities (the people who our culture seems to idolize the most) jump from relationship to relationship with marriages barely ever lasting. While their lifestyle might look glamorous (and believe me, they WANT you to believe that), the reality is that they're not happy. We constantly see stories of celebs who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, who commit suicide, who are dealing with mental health issues, who have their hearts broken over and over again, who have kids and go through painful divorces, and who have the person they loved and trusted cheat on them.

Maybe, just maybe we’re learning about relationships from the wrong source? Maybe, just maybe, we need to look to what God has to say? After all—GOD INVENTED LOVE--- HE WAS THE VERY FIRST MATCHMAKER! HE CREATED US AND KNOWS AND WANTS THE BEST FOR US!

Tonight, we watched a clip from an online dating show called VERSUS 1. In it, a girl interviewed a bunch of guys without seeing them, and then eliminated them one-by-one until there was just one person left who seemed like the best match for them! What's really cool about that clip is that:

It actually stands out from what’s normal in our culture (where hotness and physical attractiveness is viewed as the most important thing in a relationship). IT’S A BLIND INTERVIEW! It’s completely different from shows like the BACHELOR where a guy chooses girls to date based on their looks and make-out abilities. The girl in the video clip isn’t making the choice based on superficial stuff—like how dreamy the guy’s hair is.  Now, that’s not saying that being physically attracted to someone isn’t important…but it’s not EVERYTHING. It's not what's MOST important. If you were dating and your boyfriend/girlfriend decided to leave you because you got a scar in an accident, wouldn’t that just seem insanely superficial and gross? Wouldn’t that be a horrifying reason to break up? I think we all know deep down inside that love, romance, and relationships has to be more than just physical attraction and hotness. There are, after all, a lot of people who are beautiful on the outside, but kind of ugly on the inside.

The second thing that I think is pretty cool about the dating show is that she’s putting some thought into the kinds of people she wants to date! There’s a bit of an interview process going on! It’s really important that you put a bit of thought and effort into who it is that you choose to date and why you want to date them. You should be picky! You should have some standards! A person being “into you” really isn’t a good enough reason to date them! You’re worth more than that!

Tonight, we focused on the MOST IMPORTANT THING we should consider before dating someone, and we did it, by looking at one of the biggest DATING DISASTERS in the Bible, focusing on the story of Samson.

The Bible tells us that Samson was strong, not because he was hit with a gamma ray and got superpowers, and not even because he had magical hair--but because God made him supernaturally strong for a special mission—to free the Israelites from captivity! Before Samson was born, God told his mom about this special purpose he had for her son and that as a symbol of that, he shouldn’t cut his hair (that’s where the hair thing comes from).

Just to give you a bit of backstory--the nation of Israel had been captured by a despicable group of people called the Philistines and they were basically being treated as slaves, being mistreated and abused for 40 years—so God chose Samson to be the person to help rescue his people!

One thing you might not know about Samson though, is that he ended up becoming one of the biggest CREEPS in the Bible. He really isn't a hero that we should look up to. He was super vain and conceited, and he CONSTANTLY chose to disobey God and do whatever he wanted instead. Part of that involved making HORRIBLE dating choices!

“Samson went down to Timnah. There he saw a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he spoke to his father and mother. He said, “I’ve seen a Philistine woman in Timnah. Get her for me. I want her to be my wife.” His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there one among any of our people? Do you have to go to the Philistines to get a wife? They aren’t God’s people!... But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” (Judges 14:1-3)

In these first few verses, we discover that Samson is kind of creepy. We also discover that he refused to listen to his parent’s advice. Because he didn't have high standards, he ended up getting engaged to this girl who didn’t share his faith and values…and I’m editing out some of the insane drama--- but she ended up running off with the best man at the wedding! It wasn't a great relationship.

Now, you might think that this would have taught Samson to make better choices when it came to who he became involved with….but you would be wrong. Just a chapter later we read that he went to visit a prostitute! After that, he fell in love with a woman that he didn't TRUST at all. In fact, she was deceiving him the whole time so that she could help the Philistines defeat him! Samson's relationship choices ended up costing him big time. Samson’s story ends pretty tragically. God had huge plans for him. God had chosen him to be the rescuer of his people….and yet Samson ended up blind and ultimately committing suicide. It's a really sad end to a life that had so much promise, and it all ended that way because he kept making terrible choices.

If there’s anything that Samson’s story tells us, it’s how important it is to make good dating choices!
Samson is one of the biggest creeps in the Bible….and part of his problem is that he wasn’t all that choosy when it came to who he chose to love! His parents even tried to be the voice of reason and reminded him that he should find a woman who shared his faith and values… but he totally ignored them! He was like a caveman! “Woman look good. Fetch her for me”. The guy didn’t have high standards at all—and because of that, he wasn’t just unhappy—but his life was a complete disaster!


WHEN YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT DATING SOMEONE, YOU SHOULD FIRST MAKE SURE THAT THEY SHARE YOUR FAITH AND VALUES.

That's one of the most important dating tips we find in the Bible! It's something that we rarely hear mentioned when we see relationships in music or movies.

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (a false god)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”

The first part of that verse talks about not being YOKED together with unbelievers. It has nothing to do with eggs—but it’s actually a farming metaphor (because in Bible times, everybody raised animals and farmed for a living--- they didn’t have grocery stores back then--- they needed to do it to survive)



A yoke is a farming tool that was used to help make it easier for animals to pull heavy loads and till the ground—for example--- in the above picture, there are two oxes who are yoked together. The yoke not only helps them distribute the weight of what they’re carrying better, but it helps them work together as a team! They’re headed in the same direction. They’ve got the same goal! So here, the Bible is saying that if one ox wants to go in a different direction and is fighting against the yoke, you've got some major problems!

To use a modern illustration—have you ever gone canoeing before? The secret to canoeing (when you’ve got two people in the boat) is that you have to work together with the other person so that you’re dipping the oar into the water at the same time, and you’re rowing in perfect timing. I shared about how my kids often play a video game that has them rowing in the same boat, and it's pretty hilarious to watch. They’re arguing and fighting the whole time! They row against each other! When one kid wants to go one way, the other is rowing in the opposite direction! Usually, they get stuck going around in circles or floating out-of-bounds because they haven’t realized that you can’t row on the same side of the boat! 



This is actually a pretty decent analogy for dating and relationships! It’s SUPER IMPORTANT that you’re in a relationship with someone who shares your values, and especially someone who shares YOUR FAITH IN GOD! You want to find someone who is your partner and teammate in life instead of someone who is trying to go in a different direction or has different values and priorities.

There are no guarantees in life that, after you use a lot of wisdom and are selective in choosing someone to date or marry, life will be a fairytale and it won’t end in failure. Dating and relationships is RISKY stuff. It means risking that you might get hurt! It means making yourself super vulnerable!
But all that said, your relationship has a FAR greater chance of success if you choose someone who loves and follows Jesus and who can encourage you and help you grow in your faith, so that you’re on the same team and heading in the same direction instead of steering each other in opposite directions! Statistically, couples who consider themselves to be happier, have less problems in marriage, and are less likely to go through divorce are ones who both consider themselves to be committed Christians and are a regular part of church community. Again, that’s not a guarantee—but dating/marrying someone who shares your faith and values gives you a far better chance at having a healthy and strong relationship!

For Samson, he wasn’t someone who really took following God all that seriously in the first place, but then he made some HUGE dating mistakes by choosing people based on their looks instead of who they were as people or whether or not they shared his values and faith in God--- and it ruined his life! God doesn’t want that for any of us! He wants us to find a real teammate—someone who is a real help and strength to us! So use wisdom! Be picky! Make it a priority to date someone who shares your values and your faith!

DISCUSSION FOR HOME

1. What are some important qualities that your teen feels are essential to someone they might date?

2. What are some potential problems that might result if you rush into a relationship without putting some thought into it or listening to wise advice?

3. Watch one of the shows/movies your teen likes with them (particularly if it focuses on relationships). Does it teach us anything about relationships? What are some of the positives/negatives to how it portrays relationships? 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

EYES AND EARS PART 2- CATALYST YOUTH- Feb 1, 2019



Last week, we started a new two-part series called EYES & EARS where we talked about making GOOD (OR RIGHT) choices when it comes to what we watch or what we listen to! This is a pretty important topic because technology has made it INCREDIBLY easy and convenient to watch or listen to whatever we want at the click of a button…and most of it is COMPLETELY FREE!

It has never been easier to watch porn, to watch movies full of graphic violence, disturbing images, or insane amounts of swearing. It’s never been easier to listen to music or watch videos that might be full of TERRIBLE messages! For most of us, we carry around the power to choose in our pockets!

1. MEDIA DOES INFLUENCE YOU
In 1 Corinthians 15:33, it contains a pretty famous saying, “BAD COMPANY CORRUPTS GOOD CHARACTER.” It means that when you hang out with the wrong kind of people, you’ll start being influenced to do the wrong kinds of things. That’s not just true when it comes to the friends we choose---but it’s the same with the stuff we choose to watch or listen to--- if we’re watching or listening to stuff that isn’t that good, it can CORRUPT US! It can affect us in negative ways! It can even lead us to sin (to make choices that are the opposite of what God wants for us) and distance us from God!

It’s amazing how the stuff we surround ourselves with can influence us! I shared a story of how when I worked at Canadian Tire in the parts department, everyday I dealt with customers who were angry and complaining because they had to buy parts to fix their car. And do you know what? After working there for awhile, I noticed that it started to affect my behaviour—where I was less patient and more angry and irritable--- where I would even snap at my friends! The attitudes of complete strangers were affecting me in bad ways just because I was around it all the time! 

 It's not just people-- the things we think about and spend our time with can also influence us! Now that doesn’t mean that if we watch violent movies, we might go out and kill somebody….but scientific studies HAVE proven that watching violent stuff can affect our outlook on life, our attitudes, and it can even desensitize us to real violence! If you watch stuff that’s full of swearing....you might find that seeping into your own language!  If you listen to music that’s misogynistic (which means that it has messages that treats women like objects, uses hateful language to describe women—a lot of rap/hiphop culture is full of it), that might influence how a guy treats girls or might teach girls that it's normal behaviour to expect from boys. If you spend your time reading and responding to ANGRY trollish comments online…eventually your comments will be more ANGRY!  If you watch porn, it can mess with your expectations of what a REAL relationship is like—and it can lead you to OBJECTIFY and DEHUMANIZE real people! Scientific studies are constantly coming out warning how dangerous it is!  If you’re listening to music that communicates the message that getting wasted, experimenting with drugs, or sleeping around is great, those ideas DO seep into your own values the more you immerse yourself in them! 

2. FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

In the Book of Corinthians, it says- “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.”

What that verse is getting at is that God has given us the freedom to make our own choices in life! God doesn’t force anyone to follow him! He didn’t create robots programmed to do the right thing without any ability to choose! We all have the freedom and ability to do whatever we want! But that doesn’t meant that all of our choices are good and beneficial for us or others!  God wants us to seriously think about what we watch and what we listen to, and make the HARD choice to do what’s right!

To give you an example--- a friend of mine asked if I was watching a particular show on NETFLIX, and I told him that I heard that it was full of a lot of violence and swearing…and he said to me, “Well, you’re an adult! You can watch whatever you want!”. When he said that—the above verse just popped into my head--- “Yeah, I have the FREEDOM and ABILITY to watch whatever I want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right or it’s a GOOD thing!”

EVERDAY you will face choices to press “play”, and you have the FREEDOM to do it! Nobody will stop you! But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing! That doesn’t mean that it’s something God will be super proud of! That doesn’t mean that it won’t influence you in a negative way! God has given us the FREEDOM to choose! He’s given us the FREEDOM to do whatever we want! But he’s also given us some directions in the Bible--- to help us make WISE and HEALTHY choices.

3. TAKE DRASTIC MEASURES

Making wise decisions about what you watch and listen to can be really hard. It means imposing limits on yourself! And doing that might make people think that you’re totally crazy and weird! You might stand out! People might make fun of you for it (just like my friend thought it was ridiculous that I wouldn’t watch a particular show on Netflix even though I’m old enough to watch it). Following Jesus and doing the right thing when nobody else really cares about God or shares your values can be super hard. Doing the right thing is usually never easy!

Here are some helpful tips that might help you make better media choices:

CHECK OUT THE LYRICS

I’ve made a habit of checking out the lyrics whenever I’m interested in listening/buying a song or an album…and you know what, when some of my FAVOURITE BANDS put out music, I’m really tempted to overlook what they say because it sounds so good…but I have to ask myself if it’s something I could sing along to if my kids were in the car, or if the message/values in the song conflicts with my own beliefs/values. That doesn’t mean that it has to be Christian music or worship music (although I’ve been listening to a lot more of that in the last few years), but just something that doesn’t conflict with my Christian faith! Like I said last week, the #1 song on iTunes WAS “7 Rings by Ariana Grande” (it’s now #3! Yay!) with the message that the most important thing in life is how hot and rich you are!

The current #1 is Lady Gaga’s SHALLOW—which actually has really cool lyrics about being tired of living an empty/meaningless life! As a Christian, parts of the song even sound like a prayer where she’s asking if there’s more to life than this!

There are some songs that have weird or perplexing lyrics where the message isn’t that straightforward—and you’ll have to make the call about whether it’s something worth listening to- for example-the #2 song is Billy Eilish’ “Bury a Friend”. There are parts of that song that seem really interesting and deep (where she seems to be questioning what happens when we die), but then OVER AND OVER again she sings, “I WANNA END ME”. Even if she’s making some deep statement, do you think it’s good if I’m singing “I WANNA END ME” over and over? Do you think that’s a good song for some of your friends to listen to? Probably not!

Check those lyrics out! Google has made it SUPER EASY!

VIEW THE RATINGS/CONTENT ADVISORY

In the same way—whenever I’m thinking of watching a movie, there’s a few things I do. First of all, I check out the movie rating. If it’s R or 18A, then the odds are that it’s NOT all that great to watch. Another tip is to visit a movie page on IMDB and click on VIEW CONTENT ADVISORY. It can sometimes be spoilery, so don’t read the details too closely, but it actually breaks down what the content is like in the movie! Each movie is separated into sections like "Sex/Nudity" and "Violence" and right underneath it will tell you if the content is mild, moderate, or extreme. If you’re seeing “EXTREME” or “HEAVY” in those sections, it might be a good idea to skip the movie!

USE RESTRICTIONS/PARENT CONTROLS

This is a super healthy tip. Tell your mom or dad that you want to make sure that what you’re watching/listening to is good, and get them to set up the RESTRICTIONS or PARENT CONTROLS on your phone or tablet! 

I realize that sounds completely crazy, because it means that you're WILLINGLY giving up your freedom and making it difficult to watch whatever you want, but it's a really smart thing to do when trying to navigate the minefield of the Internet- I mean, not even Google Image Search is safe! On pretty much all devices, you can filter the ratings of the music you’ll listen to, the apps you’ll use, or more importantly, the websites you visit! As a full-grown adult, my wife set up the restrictions on all of my devices (and it has a password that I don't know). Why? Because it helps me to avoid situations where I might click on something that isn’t right…AND it also shows my family that I want to be accountable for what I do online! On my computers, I even have accountability software installed, so if I were to visit a questionable website, it doesn't block it, but it sends the links in an email to my wife (who I've chosen as my accountability partner).

TIP FOR HOME

Parents, do you have filters, accountability software or parent controls set up on devices at home or ones that your teens use? If not, now is a pretty great time to start. (Email me if you want some recommendations). Talk to your teens about why it's helpful to have restrictions placed on what they view.




Friday, 25 January 2019

EYES & EARS (PART 1)- CATALYST YOUTH- January 15, 2019



This week we kicked off a two-part series called EYES AND EARS, where we’re talking about the importance of making healthy and wise decisions when it comes to what you listen to or what you watch.

It's a pretty important topic for all of us because, honestly, the world is at our fingertips. With just one click, we can watch or listen to stuff that’s the opposite of what God wants for us—stuff that might tempt us or influence us in negative or unhealthy ways. 


1. TAKING THE ADVICE OF OUR HEAVENLY DAD 

Any good parent wants the very best for their kids. Parents want to protect their kids from things that will do them physical harm (which is why we teach our kids not to play near the stove or run across the street looking both ways). But good parents also want to protect their kids from stuff that might harm them emotionally or spiritually.

All through the Bible, God is referred to as our parent. Often it describes him as our Father—our Heavenly dad—although there are a few times where he’s also described like a mom! For example, in Luke 13:34 it describes God as “wanting to gather his children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings”. 


That’s a pretty cool metaphor for God. He loves us SO much and he wants the very best for us. He wants us to be protected from getting hurt, from going through life and making bad choices and living with regrets! He wants us to stay close to him! He doesn’t want us to be damaged or messed up! When God gives us rules to live by and tells us that some things are right and some things are wrong, it's not because he wants to suck the fun out of our lives, but because, as our Creator, he really does know and want what's best for us! In the Bible, there are a lot of rules or guidelines for life, and even if we don't always understand why God asks us to live a certain way, we have to trust that it's for our very best!

2. WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT OUR MEDIA CHOICES

When I was in youth group, there aren’t a TON of things I remember that my youth pastor said… but one of the things I still remember is the Bible passage that he called “The SCREENS chapter”. Even though this Bible passage is thousands of years old, it’s something that’s SUPER RELEVANT today—especially when we all carry screens in our pockets, and with just one click we can watch anything we want or listen to any music we want FOR FREE! There has never been a time when media has been so convenient!

Have you ever heard someone use the numbers 101 to describe something? In colleges and universities, they usually have introductory or foundational courses called __________101 (like Philosophy 101). It means that it’s the most basic course you can take on that topic. Well, tonight, we’re talking about MEDIA 101, SCREENS 101, MUSIC 101. And it can be found in Psalm 101. 

Psalm 101 is a prayer from David where he’s making a commitment to God.

Psalm 101:2-4 says, “I will be careful to live a blameless life. I need you to help me! I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil”.

Here, David is making a commitment not to sin. Not to look at stuff that is VILE and VULGAR—stuff that will dirty him up and is the opposite of what God wants, stuff that you wouldn't watch with your grandma sitting right beside you..

David also says here that he’s committed to rejecting PERVERSE IDEAS (the word perverse means things that are wrong or twisted- more on that in a minute). David is committing himself to stay away from evil (or things that celebrate sin).

In 2019, his prayer would be something like this—“God I need your help. I don’t want to mess with sin. I want to make sure my eyes are looking at stuff that’s right- that when I’m surfing the net on my phone, when I’m texting my friends, when I’m binge watching Netflix, when I’m alone in my room and nobody else is around, I want to be a person of INTEGRITY- a person who does what’s right! I also want to make sure that when I’m listening to music, that the ideas and lyrics aren’t wrong or twisted. I’m committing myself to staying away from garbage—stuff that influences me in bad ways. Stuff that is the opposite of what you want for me. I’m trusting that you know and want the best for me--- and I want you to be proud of what I’m watching and listening to!”

What an amazing prayer that is! It’s amazing that even THOUSANDS of years later, David’s prayer is SO relevant for today! And that’s before everything was just one click away! God wants the things we watch and listen to to be things that are RIGHT, things that won't tempt us or lead us to sin, things that won't fill our minds with images, thoughts, or ideas that are the opposite of the way He wants us to live.

3. A LOT OF MEDIA IS “EXPLICITLY TWISTED”

In David’s prayer he talks about wanting to stay away from stuff that’s perverse (stuff that’s twisted—which means thoughts, images, video, ideas that are the opposite of what God wants for him)…well, funnily enough, LADY GAGA was just in the news last week talking about this!

Lady Gaga is a pretty famous singer (with a terrible celebrity name, in my opinion. It’s hard to take someone seriously when their name is Gaga) who is actually up for an Academy Award for best actress this year. For years, she’s been putting out music that has influenced a lot of people (in some good and some not so good ways). She has over 77 MILLION followers on Twitter! She’s won a ton of awards for her songs and her videos! People are really interested in what she has to say…and some of her fans (called Little Monsters) are OBSESSED with her. She is worshipped by some people!

This week she posted something on her Instagram that I thought was REALLY interesting. She wrote that she REALLY regretted writing one particular song—and that she wished it would just disappear. Now, part of the reason for that is because the song features the singer R. Kelly, who has been charged (AGAIN) with sexual assault. Looking back at her song, Lady Gaga has come to the realization that the message in the song is a terrible one!

The song is definitely not something that would meet David’s criteria for what would be good to listen to—it has quite a bit of swearing it, it talks about doing drugs and getting drunk (and let's not even mention the video that contains a lot of sexuality), and it repeats over and over the line- “You can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind but do what you want with my body”. Great message, right? It’s hard to believe, at a time when the #METOO movement is on everybody’s minds, that this song was made just 5 years ago! And the guy she recorded the song with? He has a long history of some messed up stuff, including charges for making child porn (and that was BEFORE this song was written)!

Here’s a quote from Lady Gaga—“I made the song and video at a very dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was so angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life. I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time. I’m sorry both for my poor judgment when I was young, and for not speaking out sooner.” (paraphrased- actual link here)

Here she’s saying, “You know that super popular song and video off of my award winning album that I made 5 years ago? Well, I was kind of young and I had poor judgment, and I didn’t really think about the message and whether or not it was something good and healthy. I really regret it. And let's not mention the person I sang it with.”

I wanted to talk about Lady Gaga just to highlight the fact that MOST artists, movie studios, youtube channels, websites-- only care about the money and the clicks. They don’t really think about (or care) about how a kid or teen or even an adult might be influenced or negatively affected by what they put out into the world. Honestly, it boggles my mind that a song that kind of encourages sexual assault and treating a woman like an object was greenlit—that nobody close to Lady Gaga, that the record company, that her friends wouldn’t have suggested that maybe the song was carrying a message that wasn’t very healthy- that maybe it wasn’t something worth putting out, that maybe the lyrics needed to be changed!

The thing you’ll find about a lot of music is that there’s lots of stuff that’s put out because it’s got an awesome beat or a super catchy chorus, but the message of the song is terrible. In fact, the #1 song on iTunes right now is “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande—the song contains a bit of swearing and is all about how hot and rich she is. Yup, the WHOLE song is about how great it is to be her. The video is also VERY sexually provocative. Some of the lyrics include, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it. Whoever said money can't solve your problems must not have had enough money to solve 'em”. 

The song glorifies the pursuit of wealth and good looks and is pretty much the opposite of what the Bible teaches--- that it's not what's on the outside that matters, but God looks on the inside, that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t know God, then you’re missing out. That’s just one example!

I wanted to highlight that because the people who put out media don’t really care about you or have your best interests at heart. Most artists don’t care if their message is terrible--- they just want to make more money off of you! When you realize that a lot of the music and movies you watch MIGHT have garbage values, it reminds you to pay closer attention to what the message is before you hit play. 


And you could say, "But it’s just a fun song with a good beat! Really, can it be that bad"?, but when you’re singing or thinking about those lyrics over and over—it can influence your thinking and can influence your own values. I don’t want my kids growing up believing that as long as they look hot and have lots of money to spend on whatever they would like, that's all that matters, and I definitely wouldn't want my daughter to be dancing like Ariana Grande in that video. We're God's sons and daughters! How do you think he feels about it?

God wants us to make wise choices when it comes to what we put in front of our eyes or what we put in our ears! We need to think about whether or not the messages are positive ones. We need to ask ourselves if the stuff we’re watching on our screens is leading us to sin, tempting us, or pulling us away from God! Is the media we’re consuming good for us? Is it making God proud?  Is it celebrating things that are good and right, or is it celebrating sin (actions and choices that are the opposite of what God wants for us)?

The good news is that God offers us forgiveness and a brand new start! We can make better choices starting today!

DISCUSSION FOR HOME

1. Parents, take the time to sit with your teen while they watch a channel or show that they like. Afterwards, talk to them about it. What is the message in the story? Is there anything in it that celebrates sin? Does it have content that features sexuality, profanity, or excessive violence? Does it promote values that are contrary to how God wants us to live? Discuss what the positive messages might be in it.

2. Parents, ask your teens what their favourite song is right now. What's the song or video that all of their friends really love? Take the time to look at the lyrics (and if you dare-- to watch the music video together) and discuss some of the same questions above.

3. Remind your teens that God wants us to make right choices when we "consume" media. He doesn't want us to focus on things that celebrate sin or things that promote values that are the opposite of what he says is right. Take the time to pray together and ask God to help you and your teen make viewing and listening choices that reflects your faith and values.

Friday, 11 January 2019

AMAZING GRACE! CATALYST Youth, Friday, January 11, 2019


My wife and I recently got a board game where we have to be detectives and solve crimes (like we're in the middle of a crime show on TV), so I thought it would be cool to start the year off by looking at the story of a pretty bad dude in the Bible—he even KILLED people…and yet, there’s a pretty big twist in his story! It doesn’t turn out the way we all might expect it to!

It all starts in the Book of Acts. After Jesus had died and rose again, people were coming to faith in Jesus all over the place and churches (groups of Christians who met together) were sprouting up in different cities. Now this kind of thing was a real threat to the Jewish religious leaders who believed that Jesus wasn’t God (because that’s impossible, right?), so he must have been an evil liar who was tricking people into putting their faith in him. And that’s the whole reason why they killed Jesus in the first place! These religious leaders hated Jesus and believed he was a liar and deceiver, even though they had witnessed Jesus doing incredible miracles with their own eyes and couldn’t explain it! They saw Jesus as a threat to their religion!

So, because of this, the Jewish religious leaders made it their mission to put an end to this movement of Christianity. They began to accuse and punish anybody who believed in something different than them, and they made it their goal to kill or imprison anybody who taught that Jesus was the Son of God and that people could experience forgiveness through him.

Last year, we talked about how, one of the reasons we can have confidence that what the Bible says about Jesus is true is because the disciples kept sharing their faith and leading people to believe in Jesus even though there was NOTHING good in it for them! They didn’t make millions of dollars selling their story, they didn’t become rich and famous! In fact, talking about Jesus at the time was SUPER RISKY! Most of the disciples actually ended up being killed for talking about Jesus and refusing to say that it was all a made-up story…and I don’t know about you, but I would NEVER die because I wanted to convince people of a story that I made up. That would just be insane!

Anyhow, in Acts 7, it tells us about the FIRST MARTYR (someone who is killed for their faith). This guy, Stephen, just kept telling people about Jesus, and this angered people so much, that they actually threw stones at him until he was dead! Acts 7:57-58 says that the person overseeing the whole thing, was a young man named Saul.


In a lot of movies, they establish how bad the villain is and make you hate him by having him doing something terrible right near the start. For example, if you saw AVENGERS:INFINITY WAR, it took us about 5 minutes to realize that Thanos was ONE BAD DUDE. Well here, we’re first introduced to a guy named Saul…and it’s pretty easy to see that he was a villain…. the first time we hear about him, he’s helping people kill a guy!

Saul was a Jewish religious leader who HATED all of the “lies” that Christians were saying about God! Acts 9: 1-2 says that he was given a mission by the other Jewish religious leaders- to hunt down Christians and arrest or kill them! This guy, Saul, meant well….he thought he was doing the right thing and making God proud, but little did he know that HE was the villain! It's kind of hard to wrap our minds around this kind of thing these days, but I guess you could kind of compare it to life in a community country. For example, in China, there are people who are arrested and even tortured JUST BECAUSE THEY WENT TO CHURCH!


Acts 9 says that while Saul was on the road to go and kill some more Christians, something kind of supernatural happened! He was blinded by a light from heaven, fell to ground, and heard the voice of Jesus. Jesus asked Saul, "Why are you persecuting me?" and then told Saul to go into the city and wait.

If the story ended there, we would be all like “YES! Saul got what he deserved! He was killing and throwing Christians in jail, so now he’s going to be blind for the rest of his life as punishment!” Only….that’s not what happened!

God sent a follower of Jesus to meet Saul- a guy by the name of Ananias, and Ananias told Saul that Jesus forgave him for the things he was doing and that Jesus wanted Saul to follow him and tell others about him! Now that's a pretty shocking twist! So, Ananias prayed for Saul, and the Bible says that it was like scales that fell off of Saul’s eyes. He could see again! Saul was so shocked and amazed that right then and there, he believed in Jesus and was baptized (which means that he wanted to show people publicly that he was going to follow Jesus with his life!). Acts 9:19-21 says that Saul started travelling and telling people about Jesus, and this just floored people. People were absolutely shocked that this HATER of Christianity became a Christian himself! I mean, this guy had KILLED people just because they believed differently than him! 


Now, this guy Saul, he became kind of a big deal. In the Bible, you might know him by another name—Paul. And this guy Paul, became a pastor and missionary—a leader of the early church. He actually wrote 13 books of the Bible! Maybe you never thought about that before—but a good chunk of the New Testament was written by a guy who used to hate Christians so much that he had them thrown in prison or killed!

Later on, in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, Paul wrote: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I AM THE WORST OF THEM ALL. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Isn’t that amazing! Paul here, admits that Jesus came to make a way for sinners to be forgiven (sinners are people who say and do things that are the opposite of what God wants). Paul even says that he was the WORST SINNER OF THEM ALL! He definitely didn’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness! He definitely didn’t deserve a second-chance, but God gave it to him anyway, because the thing that God wants THE MOST is for everybody (no matter who they are, or what they’ve done) to experience his love and forgiveness!

Hopefully none of us are killers, but the Bible tells us that all of us have sinned—we all say and do things that are the opposite of the way God tells us to live. We lie. We’re unkind to people. We might gossip. We might look at stuff on our computers that we know isn’t right. We might be selfish, We might lash out at people in anger….the list goes on and on. And that's just what we did today!

But this is the really good news. Despite the fact that we’re all a mess—despite the fact that we keep making bad choices and do things that we know God isn’t proud of, just like for Paul—God offers us love and forgiveness, and a brand new start. A second, third, fourth, and a one-hundredth chance to follow him! When I think about Paul’s story in the Bible---I sometimes ask myself—WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD GOD FORGIVE THIS GUY? I mean, he was throwing Christians in prison and even killing them! I mean, didn’t this guy cross a line?

Some people have this picture of God being someone who enjoys punishing us--- where he wants you to pay for your mess-ups, but that’s not true at all! One of my most favourite Bible verses is in Psalm 103:8-10 where it says, “God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs”.

Definitely, one of the best reminders we can have as we start a new year, is that God loves us—he wants a friendship with us—he wants us to follow him—and he wants us to accept his love and forgiveness, even if we might not deserve it! He did it to Paul--- a guy who killed other Christians and considered himself to be the WORST SINNER EVER—and he can do it for you and me! Christians (people who try to follow Jesus) aren’t perfect people. We’re just people who try our best to follow God with our lives and lean on God’s grace when we mess up! We're people who NEED God's AMAZING GRACE!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR HOME

1. What do you find the most shocking about Saul/Paul's story?

2. Do you think it's fair that Jesus offered him forgiveness? Why or why not?

3. What is the hopeful thing about Paul's story? What's the good news?

4. Remind your teen that no matter what they've done or how badly they've sinned-- God isn't standing up in heaven pointing his finger down in judgment. His actual response is quite jaw-dropping! He's wanting for us to come to him for forgiveness! 


Friday, 7 December 2018

Christmas: UNWRAPPED! CATALYST Youth, Dec 7, 2018




This week at CATALYST, we took a look at how the first Christmas in the Bible mirrors the Christmas we celebrate today:

1. THERE'S ANTICIPATION!

A big part of what makes Christmas so exciting is the ANTICIPATION—the build up! When I was a kid, it was REALLY hard to wait until Christmas. It seemed like time slowed down and the days passed by slower than ever! We were so anxious to open our gifts that we would even sneak around and see if we could find where they might be hidden!

In the Bible—leading up to Christmas—there was A HUGE level of anticipation! In fact, even in the story of Adam and Eve at the beginning of the Bible, when humanity chose to sin and ignore God’s rules for living, God spoke to Satan (the tempter) and said that there would come a day when a child would defeat sin and evil! (Actually, specifically, God said that a child would stomp on his head—but that’s what it means). Genesis 3:14-15

From the very beginning, and all through the Bible we’re given TEASES that God had a plan to make a way for us to be forgiven for our sins!

Isaiah 7:14 is probably one of the biggest teases in the Bible. It was written 700 YEARS before Jesus was born! (This is one of those examples of Prophecy that came true in Jesus that we looked at a few weeks ago. Remember, in the New Testament—the second part of the Bible, there are people who are actually READING the Book of Isaiah. They are reading the Bible in the Bible! How? Well, as we looked at, the Bible wasn’t written at one time--- it was written by many people over thousands of years.)

This is what Isaiah said---“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Think about that! 700 years before Jesus was born, God told Isaiah to deliver a message--- that there would be a virgin birth! This alone is incredibly miraculous! That kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday. AND then he says that the child will be IMMANUEL- that this baby would somehow be GOD IN THE FLESH!

In Isaiah 9:6—again, written 700 years before Jesus was born, it says, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This again, is some pretty shocking stuff--- the TEASE is that a baby would be born who would be called MIGHTY GOD, AND EVERLASTING FATHER!

All through the Old Testament people are told that a saviour would be coming to help them know and follow God. If you think waiting for Christmas is hard when it’s a few weeks away, they were waiting sometimes THOUSANDS OF YEARS to unwrap this gift---for God’s promise to come true!

2. THE BIG DAY ARRIVES!

As a kid, it was REALLY hard to get to sleep on Christmas Eve, but it was SO worth it--- because we knew that there would be some amazing presents under the tree! It was so exciting to unwrap a gift and find that thing that I had been wishing and hoping for! Well, in the Bible---- after a long, painful wait, the thing that the people of Israel had been wishing and hoping for, finally happened!

Some INCREDIBLE THINGS happened on this first Christmas. Mary was visited by an angel! She was told that, through her, God would save the world from their sins! She was then told that she would become SUPERNATURALLY pregnant with this saviour! (Imagine having to explain that to your parents and fiancĂ©. They probably thought she was the biggest liar in town!) In fact, it was so hard to believe that Joseph (her fiancĂ©) was going to break things off until an ANGEL visited him and confirmed everything! Then, when Jesus was born, a STAR appeared to mark the place of his birth! Angels showed up in the fields to announce to shepherds that God’s promised saviour had been born!

That’s the reason why we celebrate Christmas today. God has given us this FREE, AMAZING gift. He wants to forgive us for all of the wrong things we’ve said and done. He wants to give us a brand new start! The God of this Universe wants to have a friendship with us--- and all we have to do is unwrap the gift--- to invite Jesus into our lives! And what's really cool is that the Bible says that when we do that--- when we accept this gift God has given us, it says that ALL OF HEAVEN celebrates! (Luke 15) It’s a BIG DEAL! It’s a BIG DAY!

3. SHARING GOOD NEWS

If you unwrap something AWESOME, you usually don’t keep it a secret! You tell your friends! You’re excited about it! In the Bible, The Shepherds had angels appear to them in the middle of the field to announce that the Saviour had been born! They then were told to go to Bethlehem to see for themselves….AND THEY DID!

Luke 2:17 says, “After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished”. These guys couldn’t keep it to themselves! 

I’m sure some people thought they were totally insane! “Yeah, right—angels talked to you and God is a baby”! But that didn’t stop them…..and God wants us to share the good news of Jesus with others too! This means actually living out our faith and living different from other people. It might mean sharing a Christian perspective in a conversation or discussion or explaining why we choose to live the way that we do. You can share the good news by inviting friends out to CATALYST--- or even just saying that you were out at CATALYST and telling your friends about it! It could be as simple as saying that you were a part of church on Sunday when they ask you what you did on the weekend! You can share good news by offering to pray for a friend who is going through something difficult!
We have REALLY good news to share with other people… and God wants us to share it!

4. THE THANK YOU NOTE!

Luke 2: 20 says that after the shepherds spread the news, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.

It says they worshipped God! They expressed their thanks and praise to him!

Did you ever have to write a thank you note after Christmas? It can be a real pain for some kids—a huge hassle, because we don’t want to write a note THANKING someone for the videogame, we just want to play it! Eventually, we all learn that it's really important to express appreciation to people who've given us a gift. They didn’t have to do it! They didn’t have to spend time and money on you, but they did it because they care about you and want to show it in a tangible way! I learned as a kid that, even if I unwrapped a pair of huge, ugly, hand-knitted wool socks (and I’m allergic to wool) that I could be TRULY thankful that the person cared so much about me. That, at the very least, it’s the thought that counts! Well, thankfully, God’s gift to us is WAY better than wool socks!

If you’ve experienced God’s love and forgiveness--- if you’ve invited Jesus into your life, then every day of your life can be a THANK YOU CARD to God!

That means that we can thank God by singing songs of worship that give him props! We can thank him personally through prayer! We can thank God by spending time reading the Bible and thinking about it on our own! We can thank God by coming out to CATALYST or being a part of church because it shows him that he’s important to us! We can thank God by making the right choices in life even when it’s REALLY hard! We can thank God by living our lives the way he designed them to be lived! We can thank God by giving, helping and showing kindness to others! Our lives can be one big THANK YOU card to God!

Christmas is fun and exciting---and that really mirrors what happened on that very first Christmas! It was kind of a big deal! There was a ton of anticipation! The big day arrived with all kinds of miraculous stuff going on! The shepherds went into the town and told everyone they could about the good news (even if it might have sounded crazy or weird!) AND then they worshiped God! And thousands of years later--- we’re reminded that this gift of Jesus is for us too! We can experience his love and forgiveness for ourselves! We can have a friendship with God! We can show and tell others in the things we say and do that we love and follow God! AND we can worship him with our lives--- not just through singing or talking to God personally, but by living life the way he designed it to be lived!

QUESTIONS FOR HOME

1. What is your favourite part of the first Christmas found in the Bible? What stands out to you? What do you find most interesting? Why?

2. How can you tell if someone is a Christian (if someone loves and follows Jesus)? How might that be evident in their life? Can people see those qualities or attributes in you? Pray that God would help you to be open and honest with other people about your faith and that it would be evident in the things you say and do.