Youth

Reflections from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Christmas Day Sermon for Kids)

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Sermon Audio:

Sermon Text:

How many of you watched a Christmas movie this year? We have a tradition at my house, though we haven’t been the best at it this year, of watching Christmas movies throughout the month of December. We like the fun ones like Elf, Santa The Clause, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, Rudolph, and the Grinch, but we also make sure to watch other ones like The Nativity and It’s a Wonderful Life, but my favourite one is probably A Charlie Brown Christmas. Has anyone watch that one this year?

It’s a really interesting story. Charlie Brown starts off the movie quite sad because he doesn’t feel happy at Christmas time. He wants to feel happy, and looks around to see everyone else enjoying themselves, but he just can’t join in. He even says, “I think there’s something wrong with me. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” He likes Christmas trees and decorations and gifts, but none of it really seems to cheer him up enough. It doesn’t help that no will send him a Christmas card. He figures that the problem is that everyone knows something he doesn’t.

So, his solution is to go to Lucy to ask for some advice. He pays his nickel and she tries to figure out what’s wrong with him. In the end, her advice is simple: “You need to get involved in some real Christmas projects.” and invites him to be the director of the Christmas Play. Charlie Brown agrees, but on the way to the Christmas Play, he sees even more reminders of what people think Christmas is all about.

Lucy wants to be the Christmas Queen. Snoopy is setting up a dazzling lights display on his doghouse so he can win “money money money”. Even his baby sister, Sally, asks him to write a letter to Santa to ask for lots of presents, but figures if that’s too hard, then Santa can just send her money – preferably 10s and 20s. For them, the true meaning of Christmas is all about showing off and getting things.

When he finally gets to the school where they’ll be having the Christmas Play, Charlie Brown walks in on a huge party! Everyone is dancing and listening to music. He yells, “Stop the music! We’re going to do this play and we’re going to do it right!”. He hands out the scripts for everyone to learn and yells, “Places everybody!” and tells the piano player Schroeder to “set the mood”. He blasts into the party music again and everyone starts dancing! Even though he’s told them their parts as innkeepers, shepherds and sheep, they just want to party! For them, the true meaning of Christmas is all about partying and having fun.

Charlie Brown stands frustrated off stage and Lucy comes up with a big smile, snapping her fingers and saying, “Hey Charlie Brown, isn’t this a great play!?” and tries to convince him that it doesn’t really matter what they do in the play as long as it’s loud and “commercial” (meaning that it’s flashy, popular, and gets people to spend money on tickets). Charlie Brown says he doesn’t want the play to be “commercial”, but wants it to have the true meaning of Christmas, the “proper mood”, so he grabs on to the one thing he thinks will help – a Christmas Tree! Maybe that’s the true meaning of Christmas – a Christmas Tree!

But what happens? When he goes out to buy the tree, he can’t even find one that’s made of wood! They’ve take the old fashion trees and made them “commercial”: big, metal, multicolored and fancy! They don’t even look like trees anymore! What happened? Well, just like Snoopy and his sister and all the kids in the play, no one wanted the real thing anymore, but preferred something bright, shiny and fake. Even Linus asks, “Do they still make wooden Christmas Trees?” But Charlie Brown is resolute! In an act of rebellion, he gets a little, withered, old fashioned, wooden tree. It’s the only real one in the whole tree farm.

Charlie Brown wants the play to go right, so he can find out the true meaning of Christmas. But when he brings it back to his friends, everyone HATES IT! They wanted the fake kind, not a real one!

He’s seen a lot that day. His family thought Christmas was all about showing off getting presents. His friends thought Christmas was all about partying and having fun. But none of it feels real to him. He feels like that little tree!

Frustrated and sad after being laughed at and abandoned by all of his friends – even his dog – he yells out, “ISN’T THERE ANYONE WHO KNOWS WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT!?”

Drop the Blanket

And Linus steps in. Now, Linus has been pretty quiet so far, but one thing we know about him is that he is famous for having a blanked he takes everywhere. Lucy keeps telling him to get rid of it, but he doesn’t want to. When Lucy threatens to punch him, he uses the blanket as part of his costume. When Sally embarrasses him, he hides under his blanket. When everyone is trying to throw snowballs at an empty can, Linus uses his blanket as a slingshot. He uses it for everything! He says that when he grows up he’s going to turn it into a coat! Nothing can separate him from his blanket!

But now, when his friend Charlie Brown needs to know what Christmas is all about, he knows it’s his time to speak. And here’s what he says:

Did you notice something? It happens very quickly, and most people don’t notice it, but it’s there. As Linus is quoting the story of the shepherds from the Bible, the moment he says, “Fear not!” he drops his blanket.

It’s not until he is done that he picks it up, walks over to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown smiles, grabs the tree, and heads out to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

But there’s still a problem. Charlie Brown is alone. He tries to decorate his little tree, but it doesn’t work and he thinks he killed it with one decoration. And then something very special happens. All the kids who had listened to Linus’ story about the true meaning of Christmas follow Charlie Brown home, see his little tree, and dress it up for him. They even like it now! And they all sing “Hark the Harold Angels Sing”, a Christmas hymn all about Jesus coming as Saviour of the World.

Fear Not

This is one more reason I love this little cartoon – because of that moment with the blanket.

In the Bible story that Linus was telling it says that when the angels came to the Shepherds, “they were filled with great fear”. This happens a lot when angels show up in the Bible – people get scared. But the Shepherds had more than just the shepherds to be afraid of. They were living in very difficult times. Most people hated shepherds. They weren’t allowed to go to the synagogue, which is like our church. They had bad reputations as being untrustworthy and unlikeable. Sure, they wanted their sheep and wool, but they didn’t want to be their friend. Religious people wouldn’t even talk to them. It was a rough life for a shepherd.

Plus, they were under Roman Rule. Their money was often taken by the government, they were abused, and they didn’t get much to themselves. It was a sad, lonely, life full of dirty, hard work.

And yet, who did God send to see Jesus first? The Shepherds! One character in the Charlie Brown cartoon doesn’t like that he has to be a shepherd – maybe because he doesn’t think they’re important enough – but they were incredibly important to God. They may have been the very first people, other than Mary and Joseph, to meet Jesus the Saviour!

These men, full of worries and fears hear a very special message from the angel who says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “You don’t need to be afraid. Be full of joy because the promised Saviour has come to you. Go see him and rejoice!”

Conclusion

This is why the Christmas story is so important to us Christians. It reminds us that we never need to be afraid because God knows who we are and Jesus is always near.

Like Linus, we all have our own blankets that we cling to. Maybe it’s a person or a thing, a teddy bear or a special toy, that we grab when we’re scared or worried. Some of us adults cling to more complicated things like money, food, chemicals, or other bad habits. We turn to them when we’re worried, afraid or alone.

But the message of Christmas tells us that when we trust in Jesus we can drop our blanket because Jesus will take care of us. The moment that Charlie Brown heard the story of Jesus, his whole view of Christmas changed. He suddenly knew the true meaning of Christmas, and it wasn’t the presents, the lights, or the parties, but the message of joy that the angels gave about Jesus…

And it was that message that brought all his friends together. The boy who didn’t get any Christmas cards, who everyone called a blockhead, but who wanted desperately to know the true meaning of Christmas had found it in the story of Jesus and the love of his friends singing praises to God.

So, my encouragement today, as you celebrate Christmas, is to remember the true meaning of Christmas. That Jesus came to set us free from fear, to be the one we can turn to for help, and to give us a brand new family of believers to help take care of us.

 

 

Sharing Our Faith Can be Scary (Kid’s Sermon)

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We just had Halloween a couple weeks ago, and of course that strange season is one where people talk about scary things like ghosts and vampires and zombies. Who here went trick-or-treating? Did you see anything scary?

Well, I went digging around on the internet to learn about some different things that people are afraid of. So what I’m going to do is put up a list of things and we can say scary or not scary to all of them, ok? Now, I’m not going to make fun of anyone here because we can’t really pick what we’re scared of, can we?

For example, I’m scared of heights. I don’t like being high up in places, but I don’t know why (Acrophobia). Anyone with me? Here are some others::

  • Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia)
  • Fear of taking a bath (Ablutophobia).
  • Fear of Loud Noises (Acousticophobia).
  • Fear of Needles (Trypanophobia).
  • Fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia).
  • Fear of Chickens (Alektorophobia).
  • Fear of Peanut Butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (Aracibutyrophobia).
  •  Fear of slime (Blennophobia).
  • Fear of clocks (Chronomentrophobia)

Tonight I want to talk about something that might also be a bit scary. Sharing our faith with others can be a little scary too. A lot of questions go through our minds: How do we start talking about Jesus with someone that knows nothing about Him? We’re supposed to be kind and say kind things to our friends, so how can we tell them Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” or Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” when that means that they are a sinner who will die and can’t go to heaven because of their sin? That doesn’t sound very nice. What if they misunderstand and get upset with us?

And when should we do it? Should we wait for the right moment? Should we just blurt it out whenever we want to? You know… get invited over to their house for dinner and say, “This meal is very nice, please pass the ketchup – oh and by the way you’re all sinners who are doomed and need Jesus.” That’s a little weird, right?

Should we invite them to church first, or tell them about Jesus first? Maybe we should wait for them to ask. But what if they never ask? Then what?

Sharing our faith can be a little difficult sometimes – and sort of complicated when we think about it – so I want to tell you four things to remember when you want to share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone.

First Show Them Love

The first thing I want you to know about sharing your faith is that you need to show them love before you tell them the Gospel. This is something that a lot of people – including adults – get wrong. We all know the Great Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20 that says,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.

Sometimes we think that means that it’s our job to simply go out and tell the gospel to people wherever they are, even if we don’t know them. Sometimes God calls people to do that, but that’s not usually how He works.

Jesus says something very important in John 13:35 that we need to remember, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Loving the person comes before we teach them the Bible or bring them to church. The way that they know that we have Jesus in our hearts, and the way that they will know that Jesus is real to us, is by the love we have for them and others. So that’s where we have to start – loving.

So ask yourself some questions: Do I love this person? How am I showing it? Do I want to tell them about Jesus so they will be nice to me, or because I love them and want the best for them? Have I shown them love by helping them, caring for them, sharing with them, eating with them, telling them the truth, and being their friend? We have to love them first, because it is by our love for them that they will know that the love of Jesus is in our hearts.

Remember to Pray

The second thing I want you to remember to do when you share the gospel with someone, is to pray. You must pray first. God promises in the Bible that He will give you the words you need, the wisdom you need, the timing you need, and the help you need when you come to talk to your friend about Him. But even more important is that God says that the Holy Spirit must do the work in your friend’s heart before they can hear anything you say!

You probably remember the Parable of the Four Soils that Jesus told. It’s the story of a farmer who goes out and spreads seeds on all kinds of different ground – hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The seeds represent the story of Jesus and the different grounds represent different types of hearts.

Many people have hard hearts, like the hard ground. The seeds of our message just bounce off and never grow. God says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin (John 16:8) and change their hard heart into a soft one (Eze 36:26). We can’t do that. We can’t yell at someone, or argue with someone, or bribe someone, or do anything to someone to make them believe in Jesus – only the Holy Spirit can do that – which is why we must pray.

So first we show them love, and then we pray that God will make the person’s heart soft so they can hear the words that God gives you to say to them.

Tell Them YOUR Story

The third thing to remember about sharing your faith is that you need to start with your own story. Tell them that you know God and His Son Jesus and what you know from the Bible. Tell them what it means to you that you are a sinner who needs a Saviour. Tell them what it’s like to be a Christian.

You don’t have to make anything up, or tell missionary stories, or try to copy what your pastor or parents say – just tell them what it’s like for you.

  • What does it feel like to know you’re forgiven from sin?
  • What’s it like to talk to God in prayer?
  • What’s it like to know that you are loved no matter what you do?
  • What’s it like to have the Holy Spirit inside of you telling you right from wrong?
  • What’s it like to be afraid of something, but then pray and know that God is taking care of you?
  • What’s it like to know that Jesus has a plan for your life, and that even if bad things happen, He will still take care of you and help you be more like Him?
  • What’s it like to be part of His church?
  • What’s it like to sing worship songs?
  • What’s it like to memorize Bible verses and know that His Word is in your heart?

Tell them your story. God is writing a story in your life and that’s the one that He wants you to tell.

Be Patient

And the fourth thing I want you to remember is that you need to be patient and keep talking about it. They may not get saved the first time you tell them. They may not be ready to turn from their sin. They might be afraid, or confused, or have more questions, or something else. So be patient with them, keep loving them, keep praying for God to open their hearts, and keep talking to them about what God is doing in your life.

There may come a time when you think that you’ve said it too many times – don’t believe it. I know people who heard the gospel for the first time and then gave their life to Jesus right there – and I know people whose friend told them about Jesus for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years before their heart was soft enough for the seed of Jesus’ story to take root. So keep on praying for them. God isn’t finished with them yet.

Yes, sharing our faith can be a little scary sometimes, but some of you have non-Christian friends, or family, or even parents. So my message to you today is to keep loving them, keep praying for them, and keep talking to them about Jesus. That’s what God wants us to keep doing, and that’s how people get saved, so that’s what we should do.

The Soul Killer (Youth Camp Talk)

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2 How To Kill Your Soul

Last night we talked about living like an animal and living like a human being – and how the difference comes when we see ourselves as a special creation of God, worthy of dignity and respect, and someone loved so much that Jesus was willing to die for you. Accepting that gift of salvation is an invitation to God to work in your heart and make you into a new creation, to be born again.

Last night I divided the thinking using the idea of Animal and Human, but another way of dividing it is between things that fill our spirits and things that kill our spirits. When we think and live like animals we are denying the fact that we have something special that animals don’t have – a soul, a spirit, the special breath of God that no other creature of God has. So tonight what I want to do is spend a little time talking about some things that fill our soul, and things that kill our soul.

I want this to be immensely practical for you, so let me explain what I mean. There are things that we do, ways we think, activities common to all of us, that either fill us up, bring us closer to God, improve our relationships, increase our joy, and make us more like Jesus – and there are things that we do and think that empty our souls, draw us away from God, ruin our joy, harm our relationships, distract us from our God-given mission, and kill our souls. And I want to talk about one of them tonight:

Empty People

Why is this important? Because a lot of people feel very empty. There is a vacuum inside of them, a gaping hole, that they keep trying to fill up, but no matter what they throw into it, it never feels full. Do you know this feeling?

You’ve got a family, friends, school, work, a hobby, teammates, books, skills… and no matter what you do with them, you still feel empty. Certainly, all these things are good, and for a time, as long as you’re with them, they are distracting… but then, at night when you go to bed, when you’re alone, when the noise stops that empty void inside of you feels just as big as it ever did.

That’s why you spend so much time on the internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music, texting on the cell phone, sending pictures and videos, exercising your body, sleeping, or doing whatever you can do to fill your eyes and ears – because you don’t like the silence. And the worst part is that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter what chemical you put into your body, no matter how good you do on that test, no matter how hard you hit it, no matter how many people see your video, no matter how much you try, the emptiness never gets better.

God Shaped Hole

What I want to tell you tonight is that the reason that you feel that way is because you’re trying to fill the hole inside of you with something that can never fill it. The hole is too big for anything this world has to offer. No friend, work or distraction will ever fill it.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has “placed eternity in a man’s heart” which means that there is a God-shaped hole inside of us, an innate longing for something outside of ourselves, something transcendent, something other than what can be found in this world.

But the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “the hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…”. We talked about that last night when we talked about our animalistic natures.

Our heart tells us to keep doing the same old things over and over, hoping that they will fill the God-shaped hole. It’s madness to continue, but we keep doing it hoping it will work. We hope that we will finally find meaning, peace, happiness, joy, and freedom in our work, education, friends, sports, money, things, experiences – but the things we are pursuing with such energy are utterly unsatisfactory – not enough to fill the void.

That’s why so many people can’t stand silence, but keep filling their head with noise. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who always has headphones in their ears or their phone in their face? Someone who can’t even lie down at night without filling their minds with noise? They fear silence because it’s in the silence that they start to realize how empty things are – and it terrifies them to think that no matter what they do, they will never shake the empty feeling.

So what can we do? Well, the first thing is what we talked about last night. Turn our lives over to Jesus, accept His death on the cross on your behalf, and begin a relationship with Him. Become a Christian by connecting back to your creator through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But after that there are some other things that we can do to start filling our souls instead of killing them. And I want to talk about a big one tonight:

Killed by Comparison

The number one killer of our souls that I want to tell you about tonight is Comparison. Comparison kills joy. Theodore Rosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Rick Warren, one of my favourite authors and pastors once said, “You cannot be happy and envious at the same time.” The Bible says, “They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.” (1 Cor 10:12)

What I’m talking about is the trap that people fall into when they see their life as a competition with others. They’re not happy unless they can say they are better, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, than others. If they get something, I need to have a bigger one. If you eat one, then I’ll eat two. If you start talking about their vacation, then I need to tell them how much better mine was. Both men and women have this problem – it’s not just a girl or boy thing, though it does come out different ways.

Do you ever get this? It happens all the time, without even thinking.

One person says, “Oh man, I had to go to the hospital for two days because I had an infection.” and what does the other person say, “You think you were sick?! Well, one time I was in the hospital for a whole week!”

One person says, “I just got a new iPhone.” and instead of saying, “That’s great for you!” what do we say? “Well, iPhone sucks. I have an Android! Which one ? Oh, a 5? Well, I’m saving up for a 6.” Or you whip out your phones and start comparing features.

Someone says, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” And you think, “Why do they have someone? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should lower my standards? Everyone else has a boyfriend/girlfriend? There must be something wrong with me.”

It doesn’t matter if there isn’t anything wrong with you, that you have high standards, and that no one meets them yet! That’s actually a good thing! It doesn’t matter that other people are hooking up and breaking up every week and that you’re not. But comparing yourself to them makes you feel terrible. Comparison kills your soul, doesn’t it?

And then it inevitably happens that you can’t compete with someone. You come across someone that really is smarter, faster, prettier, wealthier, more talented and more popular than you. And no matter what you do, they keep winning. So how do we react? A person who lives by comparison doesn’t react well.

They get depressed because they don’t have what the other person has – and may never have it. They get angry because that person doesn’t deserve it as much as they do. They get bitter and lash out at the person, treating them badly, even if they’ve done nothing, simply because they perceive them as a threat. And even if that person is somehow eliminated – they move, you finally beat them, or something else – then you live in constant fear that someone else will come along that will challenge your superiority.

That’s the danger of living a life where you are constantly comparing yourself to others. No matter what you achieve, you will live depressed, angry, bitter and afraid. You may look amazing on the outside, part of the crowd, or rising above them. You may project confidence and strength. You may have everyone else fooled, but inside you are always afraid someone is more loved than you. You are always angry, and you don’t really know why. You don’t see people as people, but as competitors, rivals, stepping stones.

And that colours all your relationships. If you think like that, then everyone else must as well. They’re just waiting for you to screw up so they can take what you have. They’re laughing at you behind your back. And now you’re even suspicious of your friends. Does anyone know this feeling?

Chasing Love

Maybe this has seeped in because of the tonne of books and movies that keep feeding you this. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, X-Men, I Am Number Four, Twilight, Harry Potter, are all fun movies to watch, but they all have the same underlying message: You are very, very special. You are on top. You are the chosen one. Only the chosen one is really important. Everyone else is second class. Every wants to take what you have. Trust no one. If you’re not special, you’re nothing.

Maybe you have had this pressed on you by your parents. You have to be stronger, fasters, smarter than others. They’re telling you about their failings and how you need to rise above. Telling you that you need to do well in school or sports, to have a great job, and get lots of money – you don’t want to be like your loser uncle whatever do you?

That sets you up for a life of comparison where you see everyone as a threat, and it’s a terrible way to live, and will kill your soul. But it’s so tempting, so persuasive.

Why? Because all the comparison boils down to chasing love. They believe that popularity equals love, wealth equals the ability to find love, being beautiful means being loved, being smartest, most talented, or strongest means people will need you and therefore love you. Having great toys and tech means that there’s someone out there that will give you good things because they love you. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means that you’re loved.

But is that true? Not necessarily, right?

Can you be popular, but unloved? Sure. There are lots of people that are widely known, but hated.

Can you be rich, but unloved? Absolutely. Some wealthy people are very lonely.

Can you be beautiful and unloved? Certainly. Sometimes how we look on the surface, even being beautiful, becomes a barrier to a real, deep relationship.

Can you get presents every day, but still feel unloved? Certainly. Receiving gifts doesn’t always mean closeness. I get a birthday card from my insurance company – but they don’t love me!

Can you be in a relationship where you see each other often, have committed to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but have no love? Sadly, yes. Some of you know how that feels.

So what do we do? We go chasing after that love. We want so desperately to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us that we are willing to do almost anything to fill it – even if that means compromising who we are.

We want that popularity, we want people to like us, love us – but they won’t accept us the way we are. So what does our wicked, deceitful heart tell us to do? Change ourselves, lower our standards, pretend we’re stupid, pretend we’re someone else. People laugh when I do this stupid thing, and then they think I’m cool, so I’ll keep doing that. We hang around people we don’t really like, because they’re the crowd we’re expected to hang around.

We want that wealth, because we want people to love us, so what do we do? Stop doing something we love so we can take a job to make money. Pretend to be richer than we are. Steal things so we have more. Borrow money we can’t pay back. Buy things for people hoping that we will impress them enough that they will be our friends.

We want to be considered beautiful, because we think beautiful people are more loved, so what do we do? Look at blogs and glossy, airbrushed pictures of beautiful people and try to dress and act like them. Go on crazy diets, work out too much, take pills that destroy our bodies. Spend money on hair, nails, skin, eyes, clothes, shoes, sunglasses to look like someone else. Worry so much about what we look like on the surface that we forget to feed the soul inside. Which is why you panic every time you look at the closet. It’s because you’re afraid that if you don’t look perfect, people won’t love you. And then, after a time, you get used to it. You realize that people react positively whenever you show up looking this certain way, so you move heaven and earth to keep looking like that, even when you don’t really want to, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even if it compromises your values. Because you’re desperate for love.

Do you know this struggle? I know you do. So do I.

My Story

I understand that struggle because I lived it. When I was growing up I was pretty unpopular. Actually, that’s an understatement. My family moved around a bunch and I ended up attending four different schools from grade 1-7 – in the same town. But there was only one high school, so when I went there, everyone knew me as the weird, new kid that never quite fit in. The kids were pretty mean to me.

I remember some of them would wait for me to leave after school so they could throw rocks at me. Add to that the fact that I had really bad acne, was a computer nerd (way before Big Bang Theory decided nerds were cool), and was, as far as I could tell, the only Christian in the whole school. I was pretty smart and had skipped a grade, and was also one of the smallest and certainly the youngest person in my grade. I have no fashion sense so I wore weird clothes, and spent a lot of time by myself.

I hated being on the bus. I hated being at school. I was an outsider’s outsider.

I did have a few friends. My “best friend” would invite me over to his house sometimes a couple hours before he hosted his house parties. We would play some Nintendo, get the place ready for the party, and then I’d go home. I didn’t belong at parties. This was the same friend who actually pushed me away when “the popular” kids came around because he didn’t want to be publically associated with me.

By grade 12 I really started hating my life. I remember begging God to change me. I asked Him over and over why He gave me this family, this body, this face, this brain. I considered suicide to end it all, but God prevented that from happening. I wanted to change everything about me, but I didn’t know how. And I was absolutely miserable.

I went to college to study computer engineering at at 17 years old. That year was spent alone, in a basement, doing nothing but watching TV and drinking milk. I flunked out badly.

So I went home that summer a total failure. I had no friends, no future, no peace, and the only thing I was good at – computers – was a total bomb. Now what?

My dad suggested I go to Bible College, so I got a job so I could pay for it, and went for the first year. I stayed in the dorm and paid extra so I wouldn’t have a roommate. It was a split gender dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other, so I was surrounded by Christian guys all day, every day. And I treated them like garbage.

Everyone I’d known, all the way though school treated me badly and I learned to trust no one. And I came to that dorm full of hate, anger, resentment, fear and a commitment to not let anyone get through my shell.

But these guys wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I lashed out, the more they came into my room. They kept inviting me to things, asking to talk, asking to pray for me, including me in movie nights, game nights, band nights… and they never treated me badly. So one night I had it.

We were all sitting in one guys room and I told them how angry I was. How I hated myself and hated everyone else. I told them how I kept waiting for them to hurt me, and how afraid I was that I would never be loved. And they did something that I never expected. They told me to sit on the bed and prayed for me. They put their hands on me and started to pray. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember that at first I wanted to break their arms. I was shaking with anger, turning red and sweating as rage coursed through me. I hated them.

And then I suddenly stopped and something changed. It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized that I was loved. I was loved by these guys. They weren’t going to hurt me. And then, more importantly, I realized I was loved by God.

Over the next coming days God told me a lot of things about Him and myself. He said He’d been there all along, and that He never left. He said He let me go through those hard things because He wanted me to be able to see and know things that few people get to. He said that every single one of those experiences, as terrible as they were, were going to be things that He will use to help others. He told me that I wasn’t a mistake, and that all of my weirdness was exactly who He created me to be – on purpose.

And suddenly, I felt more free than I had in my whole life. I recommitted my life to serving God no matter where He wanted me to go. I signed up to stay at the college so I could train as a minister. Because I knew God’s love, and could love others, I met a girl and married her that same year.

The moment I stopped thinking that I was a mistake… the moment I stopped comparing my life to others, my happiness to others, my body and mind to others… I was free. The moment that I understood that I was loved by God for who I am, and that I don’t need to do anything in order to be loved more… I was free.

Romans 8

And God gave me a chapter of scripture that would be something I would read and share and teach over and over and over: Romans 8. And I want to read it to you because it means so much to me:

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 14-15, 22-39)

The Solution

So what’s the solution to the problem of comparison? Contentment in God by following Jesus. Contentment means being mentally and emotionally satisfied with the way things as they are now. That can’t happen if you believe that satisfaction comes from things outside of you, or things that can be taken away – like popularity, wealth, beauty, friends… Contentment is extremely rare and is only found in people that know they are loved no matter what. Show me someone that knows they are loved, and I will show you someone who isn’t caught up in the comparison game.

Tonight I want you to know that you are loved.

You are loved no matter how popular or weird you are.

No matter how wealthy or poor you are.

No matter how intelligent you are.

No matter how you look.

No matter how strong or weak you are.

No matter what your family is like, what you have done, or what you haven’t.

You are abundantly loved by a God who sees every moment of your life and no matter how hard it is, He promises that He will walk with you through it, and use every part of it for your good, His glory, and to help others. He won’t waste a drop of it because He loves you.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It will kill your soul. Instead, learn who God created you to be and live as that person — because that person is richly loved.

You Are Not An Animal! (Youth Camp Talk)

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1 You Are Not An Animal

The Elephant Man

Have you ever heard of the movie The Elephant Man? It’s a pretty famous movie from 1980 – which I know is a long time ago, but bear with me. It won lots of awards and was quite popular at the time.

It’s based on the true story of man who lived in the 1800’s, named John Merrick, who suffered from a condition or syndrome that caused his body to grow abnormally. His skin was thick and lumpy and his head grew large bones that caused it to be so heavy that he couldn’t even lie down because if he did he couldn’t breathe.

His father and mother rejected him, he left school at age 13, couldn’t find a job, and ended up touring with a circus group as a side-show named “The Elephant Man.” At some point a doctor named Frederick Treves came to The Elephant Man show and invited him to come to the hospital to be examined and photographed.

Soon after that meeting Merrick went back on tour as the Elephant Man, but was robbed and beaten by his manager. He eventually made his way back to London, but since he couldn’t speak well, they didn’t know what to do with him. They searched his pockets and found doctor Treves’ card in his pocket and brought him back to the hospital. Though they couldn’t do anything for him medically, they allowed him to live there for the rest of his life. He and Doctor Treves actually became good friends and he received a lot of visitors from wealthy and famous people.

The movie spends a lot of time exploring John Merrick’s life as The Elephant Man side show, and how abusive his show managers were. Throughout the movie we are shown that despite his physical deformities the Elephant Man isn’t a horrible monster, or an animal, but a human being worthy of dignity, respect and protection. Eventually his fellow side-show friends help him flee his managers and he runs to the train station in London where he is forced to run through the public.

Here’s what happens:

Before he collapses you can hear him yelling to the crowd, “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I… am… a… man!” He had to shout it because people didn’t see a human being when they saw him – they saw an animal, a monster, a freak – but not a human being.

More Than An Animal

Now, why am I telling you this tonight? Because I’m angry on your behalf – for something you’re probably not even angry about. It’s because you, yes you, right now are being treated like The Elephant Man. You are being told over and over, all day long, that you are an animal. You are being treated like an animal, and you hardly even know it.

I wish you were angry about this, but it’s so subtle and so pervasive in the culture around you, so overwhelming from so many of your teachers, books, movies, blogs and friends, that you don’t even notice it anymore. It’s like asking a fish what water is like – it’s all they know so they can’t describe it – you’re immersed in it.

I want to tell you tonight that you are more than an animal. You are a beautiful creation of God, a person with a heart, a soul, a mind and a body. The world tells you over and over that you don’t have a soul. It teaches you that your mind is just a series of electronic and chemical impulses coursing through the grey matter in your brain. They tell you that your choices don’t matter, that your feelings come from only natural means, that you are driven by evolution, instinct and predisposition. Some people equate your worth with that of a housepet, a chicken or a cow. They believe you are an animal.

In school, as you learn the Theory of Evolution – regardless of whether it’s true or not – you are taught alongside that you that you are merely an animal, a descendant of scum, with simple, biological instincts that drive everything you do. And after doing some reading about it, I believe your school treats you like an animal too.

They tell you that your body is coursing with strong, natural drives that you can’t help but follow. Have you ever been told that you have the choice to say NO to the feelings that are happening within you? Most likely not. More than likely you’ve been told that everything you feel and experience is “natural”, right? How many times have you heard that term, “it’s natural”, or “it’s biological”, as an excuse for doing something? What that means is that “I’m an animal and I can’t help it.”

Telling people that they can simply say NO doesn’t occur to them. Why? Because they believe you and I are animals.

The End of Right and Wrong

When was the last time you heard something was right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or evil from one of your non-religious teachers or friends? People without belief in God can’t really talk about right and wrong because they have no baseline for what’s right and what’s wrong. They don’t have an authority or a book that tells them the rules – so they make them up for themselves. If you ask them if stealing, murder, swearing, or war or any number of other things is “wrong”, they don’t say “yes, that is wrong”, do they?

No, instead they talk about “the situation”, “personal choice”, “biological drives”, “what’s right for you or me”, but never “what is right and wrong.” “Well, that might be bad for you, but it’s ok for me. Well, that’s what you believe, but I believe different, and that’s ok too. Well, it’s good for me, but it might not be good for you. It depends on the situation!”

They can’t speak about rock-solid morality because they gave up the whole idea of right and wrong when they decided that human beings are merely animals. We would never say a tiger is wrong for eating a zebra, right? We’d never say that a dog is wrong for barking at a noise, right? We’d never say an elephant is wrong for stampeding, right? They just don’t know any better. That’s what some people think about humans too. We’re just animals, so there is no right and wrong.

Sin Safely

The best that they can talk about is: “safety”. They can’t tell you what is “right and wrong”, so the best they can come up is to talk about what is “good for you” and try to convince you to do things “safely”. Even if that thing is wrong, immoral, sinful, unhelpful, dangerous, or harms yourself and others, they can’t use those words – so they use the word “unsafe”. Have you heard this? I’m sure you have!

Let me give you a few examples of how they think:

“People want to do drugs, nothing is going to stop them, but we can’t say ‘doing drugs is wrong‘. We know they are dangerous, so we need to try to let people do drugs as safely as possible. We’ll tell people that cigarettes, alcohol, pot, and hard drugs can destroy your body and mind, that  it’s not a “heathy choice”, but because people are just animals, the only way to help is to try to make doing drugs as “safe” as possible. So we’ll get the government to sell the drugs, and pay for places for people to do drugs, and then offer services to help them when they get sick and addicted. Then at least they’ll be “safe” as they do it. After all, people are basically like animals that need owners to take care of them.”

The government is really talking about this right now.

Or another:

“People want to eat sugar and garbage, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them – kids and teenagers are way too stupid to make healthy choices, they’re just animals after all.”

For a while they though that since kids are just little animals, and garbage is the only thing they’ll eat, we’ll fill the school cafeterias with cheap food, pop and candy machines – at least they’ll be eating. Then they figured out that the kids were all addicted, sick, fat and stupid because of what they were eating. But they couldn’t turn to the food and snack providers and say, “feeding kids garbage is immoral and wrong”…so they tried to force schools to find “healthy alternatives”? It makes me angry because these companies and schools treat you as though you are no smarter than a monkey in a cage, or mice in a laboratory. They’re using you to make money. After all, you’re just animals who can’t make good decisions, right?

Or another:

“People want to have sex whenever they want with whoever they want, and nothing is going to stop them.”

They know that doing that is actually quite dangerous, but since they’ve thrown out the Bible and any form of morality, they can’t simply say, “this is the good way to have sex, and this is the bad way.”  So instead they try to teach kids how to do something dangerous as “safely” as possible. They are working overtime trying to keep people (children, teenagers, and adults) from killing themselves and others with heartbreak, diseases, and all sorts of abuse problems, by inventing something called “Safe Sex”.

They get the government to pay for condoms and pass them out because they don’t think people can say no. And worse, the government pays to kill any of the babies these people make, so they can keep having sex. After all, they think, all these people, even the babies, are just animals, pieces of tissue. And we can’t expect them to follow any rules in regards to sex, right?

The World Needs Animals

A lot of our society actually depends on having you to act like animals. Consider the advertisements you see. Food, toy, and cell phone commercials are no different than shining a laser in front of a cat and watching them chase it! “Look, a shiny thing! It’s so bright! Your little brain likes shiny things, right? You should get a credit card because then you’ll get more stuff! You like stuff don’t you! We know you’re too dumb to read the agreement for the credit card or your cell phone contract… and we count on that.”

Advertisements manipulate your most basic instincts: Look, a shiny… go get the shiny! Look, buying this will give you friends… you want to be part of a pack, don’t you? Look, buying this will make you powerful… you don’t want to be weak, do you? Look, buying this will make you attractive… you don’t want to be ugly and forgotten, do you? It’s all primal – they don’t want to you think, and count on the fact that you won’t think! After all, you’re just an animal, right?

The idea of us saying “NO” doesn’t occur to them – because most of the time we don’t. Why? Because they think you’re an animal, designed to consume whatever they feed you, and then crap out money for them. It’s actually quite insulting, when you think about it – and that’s what makes me angry. I know how awesome you guys are. I know how creative and amazing you guys are and it makes me angry that they treat you like animals and not people.

But here’s the thing that makes me even more mad… most of the time they’re right! We do act like animals! – I’m including myself in this because I get sucked in too. Too often we live up to (or more like live down to) their expectations.

You are a Special Creation

So, I want to yell something at you today. The same thing that the Animal Man shouted: YOU ARE NOT AN ANIMAL! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU ARE A PERSON! You are special. You have been created in the image of God with dignity, worth and purpose. You are a being unlike anything else in the universe, someone that the angels look upon and marvel. You are the perfect unity of body, mind and soul. Though you are part animal, you are so much more. You have the ability to love, create, choose, and rule this world.

Every part of you – from the way you look, to the parents you have, to the skills you possess, to the weaknesses you struggle with – was designed specially by God, each part carefully chosen, “knitted together” in your mother’s womb, to make you unique among everyone else – there is no one like you.

At the very beginning of the world, when there was nothing, God said, “Let there be Light!” and from there created everything with order and beauty – the sun, moon, stars, water, fish, birds, animals, plants, everything. And then He paused.

He paused and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit said to each other, “Let us create man in our image”. That’s a huge statement! We are not animals. We are beings who bear the image of God. That’s why the 2st commandment says we shouldn’t make “graven images” – because we already have an image – us! Looking at other people reminds us of the presence, the person, the image of God.

In Psalm 8 David sings about how we can see how amazing God is by looking at His creation, and how amazing it is to be one of His creations. He says,

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him….  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet… the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea….  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

David is overwhelmed as he thinks of what it means to be one of God’s creations. How carefully we are made, “crowned with glory and honour”. We are His image, His creation, His choice, His design, His idea, His artwork, His child, His beloved…

Then in Psalm 24 David sings again about how since God is the Creator of all things, everything we see is all His – He owns it – including every single human being – including you and me. He says:

“The earth and everything in it belong to the Lord. The world and all its people belong to him.”

But in the next verses, after looking at God’s power, holiness and perfection, He realizes that He has a problem. That’s probably happened to you too, right? You look at the 10 Commandments, the stories about Jesus, the expectations that God has of you, and even listen to the conscience that God put inside you, and you realize there’s a problem. People don’t live up to who God created us to be. He says, “Who may go up on the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy Temple?” What he means is, “You’re amazing, God and I’m one of your creatures… but I’m so different than you! How can I possibly live with you?” That’s a problem.

But then, in the next sentence he says, “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…”. What David is building to is the realization that the only way we can be who we have been created to be, which includes living in harmony with God, is by an act of God changing our hearts.  But how do we become people “with clean hands a pure hearts”?

Salvation

God has no problem understanding right and wrong. He invented it. Yes, He’s angry and disappointed at how much sin we have in our lives… but He doesn’t want to leave us that way. He knows we are weak, that we’ve killed our souls with sin, that we often live like animals and not His special creations. But that didn’t stop Him from coming to save us.

Let me read to you from Romans 5:6-10 which talks about who we were before Jesus came to earth, what He did, and who we are after. It says:

“Christ died for us while we were still weak. We were living against God, but at the right time, Christ died for us…. In this way God shows his great love for us. We have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death. So through Christ we will surely be saved from God’s anger. I mean that while we were God’s enemies, God made us his friends through the death of his Son.”

That’s how salvation works. That’s what Christians mean when we say that we are “Saved by Jesus Christ.” God treated his Son Jesus like an enemy so we wouldn’t have to be.

He saw that we, through our disobedience and by living like animals, were killing our souls and making ourselves into enemies. That sin required punishment – the punishment of death – and Jesus took that punishment for everyone who would be willing to believe it and accept Him as the one who saved them. Jesus died, so that God could declare us to be people with “clean hands and pure hearts”.

Why would God do that? Because God has a personal interest in making sure that you are as amazing as possible! You bear His image! You are one of His! Therefore He wants to save you, heal you, fix you, restore you to Him, and make you into the best image of Himself as possible. That means He gets more glory, and you get to be the person He created you to be. It’s an incredible arrangement.

“A New Creation”

But it doesn’t end there. God doesn’t leave us in our sin, but pulls us out of the muck, cleans us up, and changes us into different people. This is why Christians talk about being “Born again”. The change is so dramatic that it’s as though they have been reborn into a different person!

Let me read from 1 Corinthians 5:15-19:

“Christ died for all so that those who live would not continue to live for themselves. He died for them and was raised from death so that they would live for him. From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we no longer think of him in that way. If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself. And God gave us the work of bringing everyone into peace with him. I mean that God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace.”

It says “we no longer think of anyone as the world does”? Another translation says, “We regard no one according to the flesh.” In other words, what he means is that Christians don’t see people as animals. We don’t believe that people are stuck in their sin, that they have no choice, that they can’t help it. We believe every person is someone special that God loves, that God can change, and who can make the choice to say “yes” or “no” to what is right and wrong.

That’s the invitation I give to you tonight. I don’t address you as animals without a choice, but as God’s amazing creatures, made in His image, able to choose for yourself. Will you accept what Jesus has done for you? Will you believe that he died on the cross on your behalf? If you haven’t, now is the time.

And if you already have, then let me ask you to believe that you are at peace with God. He’s not punishing you – He already punished Jesus so you wouldn’t have to be. If you believe in Him, then God has made you new. From the moment you put your faith in Him He began the process of destroying the parts of you that were stuck in the muck of sin, fear, anger, addiction, and lies. He gives us all we need to live as Divine Creations and not mere animals.

Every day, as we read His word and talk to Him, hang out with His people and tell others about Him, God continues the process of making us more and more like Him – more and more into who God created us to be.

In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin [that’s Jesus], so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the gift of a relationship with God. Step back into what humans were created to be, not animals who live out their fleshly desires, but special creations of God that live lives of righteousness, beauty, peace, love, hope, courage, joy, freedom, holiness and light.

So I ask you to remember that you are not an animal, and to connect with the one who made you into a creature with a body, mind and soul.

Tonight I want you to spend some time thinking about your life, your actions, decisions and your motivations – if you’ve been living as an animal – from instinct believing you have no choice – or as a person know knows they are much more – someone with a conscience, a heart, who knows right and wrong, and who listens to the creator.

I invite you to consider who you really are, and to talk to God about who you are on the inside. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to change your heart so you can live as a human being as you give your life to Jesus Christ.