Winter Jam

I went to Winter Jam for the first time this past Friday, and I have to say, it was quite the experience. For those of you who don’t know, Winter Jam is a nationwide Christian concert series that happens every year. At each location, ten major Christian artists take the stage throughout the night as well as a couple of speakers. When all is said and done, the event lasts between 5 and 6 hours (or at least ours did), and so it’s well worth the $10 entrance fee even if you don’t like all of the bands that are playing. Anyways, the reason I’m writing about this isn’t to be an ad for Winter Jam (although you should totally go if you get the chance), but because before the concert got underway, there was a time for youth pastors and leaders to go to a separate room for…well, something. It was kind of ambiguous when it was announced, but I figured it was worth a look, so I made my way to the designated room. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be given some encouragement and advice from a handful of the headliners from the concert. As cool as the concert itself was, it’s hard to top being 30 feet away from some of Christianity’s biggest current names in a room of about 150 people and have them encouraging you on the path you’re on. They left me  with a few interesting thoughts, so that’s what I want to discuss in today’s post.

The first one to come out and speak was Mike Donehey, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North. When I first started listening to Christian music around 8th or 9th grade, these guys were one of my favorites. I don’t think I’d call them my favorite band of all time, but they’re the only ones from that I listened to back then that I still consistently listen to today, and they’ve always been in my top 10. So basically, I’ve got a ton of respect for these guys. Their newest album is titled “Followers,” and Mike pretty much used that as his mini-message to us. The whole idea behind the album is that even though we’re leaders, our highest calling is to follow. We can’t get so caught up in leading that we forget that the true leader is Christ. It’s so easy to fall into pride when you’re in charge of something, especially if it’s something that’s working. But when you keep in mind that your youth are only following you as you follow Christ, you’ll not only avoid sin, but you’ll become a much more effective leader.

The next to speak was Sadie Robertson. To be honest, I don’t really follow her at all and I’ve never really been into Duck Dynasty, but she spoke well here, so that was cool. As a younger person (she’s currently 19), she obviously spoke more from a youth’s perspective than a pastor’s or leader’s, but it was just as important. She spoke about the importance of youth group being like a second family. Many youth today don’t get a lot of support at home, and even the ones that do are always looking for more. Sadie talked about how when Duck Dynasty first started getting really popular, she was worried about what the spotlight would do to her friendships and relationships, but her youth pastor made sure to let her know that no matter where this journey would take her, she would always have a home and a family there. Obviously, not everybody gets a positive spotlight thrust upon them, but even if it’s negative things that are coming to light, the same principle applies. Regardless of their situations, these kids are all still human, and more than that, they’re all still kids. They need reassurances even more than us adults do, so make sure to give it to them, whether you’re a parent or a leader or just a church-goer with any amount of influence (which is all of you).

The last two kind of went together. First, David Crowder came out, but before too long he brought Louie Giglio up with him. David shared a story of how if it wasn’t for Louie, none of us would probably have ever heard of him. David had been the worship leader at his church and had written a few of his own songs, but he never dreamed that they would ever be heard outside of his own church. Then, one day Louie Giglio heard some of his music and suggested that he go to a recording studio and try to get his music out there. David protested, saying there was no way that he and his band could afford to go get a professional recording done, so Louie offered to pay for it. And the rest is history. David’s main point from his story was that just because you have a gift that you’re using in your church doesn’t mean that it’s meant only for your church. God isn’t bound by the four walls of your church, and neither are the gifts that he’s given you. We talk so much about not putting God in a box, but then we put ourselves in one.

Louie Giglio’s message kind of piggy-backed off of David’s. He started off by talking about how Tychicus was one of Paul’s friends who kept him company while he was in jail. He actually ended up being the one to take Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, which we now know as the book of Ephesians in the Bible. Louie focused in on the fact that even though Tychicus knew that his mission was important, he had no idea that this little letter he carried in his bag would have an impact on the entire world for thousands of years to come. So he asked us: “What’s in your bag?” What do you have that you know could have an impact, but could also do something way beyond what you would ever expect? It could be a personal gift or talent, a student that you’re raising up, an event that you’re taking part in, or any number of other things. You never know what impact you’re going to have, so always work as if working for God Himself, because honestly, you are.

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True Sacrifice (Part 1)

If you could boil Christianity down to a single action that encompasses everything a Christian should do, it would have to be sacrifice. Here on Earth, our life is meant to serve God and to serve others. We’re supposed to emulate Christ, sacrificing for others like He sacrificed for us. But what does sacrifice truly look like? I think that in our modern-day American Christianity we’ve really forgotten what it means to sacrifice. We’ve become too used to our cushy lifestyles, we’ve lived too long with having everything we need (even if we don’t have everything we want). To us, sacrifice looks like giving up an extra hour during the week to go to a midweek service or giving our tithe or holding our tongue (or even our hands) when all we want to do is lash out. And while these are all important things to do, they’re not really all too much of a sacrifice. At this point, you may be wondering, “Well, Kyle, if that stuff doesn’t count as a sacrifice, what does?” And if you’re asking that, I’m really glad, because it means that this post was worth writing for you. So to answer your question, let’s take it back to the basics and look at some examples of true sacrifice from the Bible.

First, let’s take a look at the very first sacrifice recorded in Scripture. If you don’t already know, the first sacrifice we hear of comes from the recounting of the tale of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-5. It reads, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord has regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (ESV). So here we see two kinds of sacrifices: one that God approves of, and one that he doesn’t. So what’s the difference? Why does God appreciate Abel’s offering more so than Cain’s? Is God just like the rest of us and prefers meat over pretty much anything else? Well, there are plenty of other Scriptural references of God accepting crops as worthy sacrifices, so that isn’t the issue. So what was the key difference between them? The Bible tells us that Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” and that Abel brought “the firsborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Did you catch it? The difference is right there: Abel brought the firstborn; Cain did not. But why does that matter? Why would God care if you sacrifice what comes first or what comes later, so long as you actually offer up to God what He deserves? Because one of the things that makes a sacrifice a sacrifice is that it is an act of trust. When you give up what comes first, you aren’t garuanteed what comes next. If you get paid and immediately set aside your tithe from it, that money won’t be there if you end up needing it later to buy that new gadget or fix your car or pay for a doctor’s visit or anything else.  It’s gone, handed over to God. And if you sacrifice some of your precious sleep to get up early and read your Bible and pray every morning, you can’t get that back either. But if your “sacrifice” doesn’t require you to put your trust in God, how much of a sacrifice is it?
Thus concludes part one of this two part post. Look for the next part next Sunday, where we’ll take a look at a couple of other examples of Biblical sacrifice and come up with some ways we can change how we look at sacrifice and how it affects our relationship with God.