Blackmail by Snapchat

There are some things you hear that you simply can't believe. You say, "No. No way. That's not happening. Is it?"

There's an epidemic going around with Snapchat and our teens. Snapchat, if you didn't know, is a photo/video/texting service that allows people to quickly send messages and funny animations back and forth between their friends. Lots of services do this, but the distinguishing feature of Snapchat has been that the pictures and videos are only available for a short time, a few seconds, and then they disappear.

In case you didn't know, Snapchat, as quoted by its own creators, was originally designed for sexting - sending nude photos back and forth so that they self-destructed after a few seconds, to never be seen again, and to only be seen by those viewing it at that time.

Only it doesn't work that way.

Because we always find loopholes. Whether it's with scripture, our taxes, or Snapchat, we always find loopholes to justify what we want to do.

Teens are now using Snapchat to blackmail one another.

Let me walk you through a scenario. A scenario that a friend recently told me about that actually happened.

Girl meets Boy. They hit it off. Both are upper-middle school, age 14. They immediately friend each other on Snapchat, because if you're between the ages of 13-18 these days and don't have Snapchat on your phone, you might as well be wearing hand-me-downs and shoes from 1998.

Things are fine for a while between Girl and Boy. They send goofy pics with text on them, all of it harmless.

Then one day, Boy asks Girl to send him a nude picture of herself. She does.

Why does she? She wants approval from this Boy. She wants to be sexy. She wants him to like her. She also figures that, "Hey, he's only going to be able to see this for 10 seconds, right? Because Snapchat photos go away."

Only they don't. Not when the Boy takes a screenshot on his phone.

It's a handy tool on iPhones - you can take a screenshot of what's on the screen by hitting the power button and the home button at the same time.

The Girl had not thought of that.

So the Boy blackmails her. "I have the photo," he says. "Send me a video of you doing _ or I send this picture to all your friends."

Now, there's lots of things that should not have happened here. But regardless, this is apparently a regular occurrence between teens on Snapchat. In talking to my friend about his situation, he said that the girl had said "Yeah, of course. This is a normal thing that happens. Especially with kids in high school."

Parents, how are we letting this happen? Are we that clueless?

You know of a good way for this not to happen? Don't let you children have this app!

Parents, this is out of control. We always want to assume that our child would have the sense not to do something like this, but we would be naive and wrong.

Check your children's phones today. Have them delete Snapchat, along with any other apps that hide use from parents (apps like Whisper, Yik-Yak, and Tinder come to mind). Ask the hard questions like "Have you done this before? Do you know people who do? Have you ever been asked to send nude photos of yourself?"

Parents, make a stand. Now. Before your child gets into lots of trouble.

God's Word Over Google

How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and been wondering about something?

I'll sit with friends at lunch and we'll be discussing some topic. Usually sports. There's always a question. Where'd that guy go to school? Who beat that guy's record? When was the last time that team went to the Super Bowl?

As adults in our mid-thirties, we have still not become accustomed to the idea of having access to the wealth of all human knowledge in our pockets. We will sit and argue (politely) about something when someone says, "Well, why don't we just ask Google?"

There's no need to wonder anymore - we have the answers in our smartphones, which are constantly connected and seeking out that information, important or not, that we desire.

I think if we took the same idea with Scripture then we'd be much better Christians. Instead of arguing pointlessly about an issue, we need to ask, "Why don't we just ask God's Word about that?"

We may have access the wealth of knowledge in our pockets, but we have access to God in our Bibles. We need to be looking to the Bible for answers to life's most important questions, not to Google.

The Future is Still Bright

When I watched Back to the Future Part II as a 10-year old, I was in awe. Hovercars. Hoverboards. Holographic sharks. Video phones. I've always been facinated by the future, but that movie had me wishing for it to be now.

I thought then, "Man, the future looks bright."

It still does.

Today is the future. Today is the day in that movie where Marty and Doc go to the future to correct an injustice - a mistake - that would cripple Marty's family for years to come.

Can we go back in time and fix mistakes? Certainly not. But we can appeal to the One who is in charge of our future.

If you look at the headlines or talk to people over age 50, you might get a pretty bad impression of the world today. They'll say the world is doomed, that people can't be trusted, and that we're all heading to oblivion on the same boat.

It's a good thing that my faith isn't in this world. It's a good thing that my faith is in God, who is able to do far more than I can possibly imagine. It's a good thing that I know that he's going to take care of my family. It's a good thing that I know He will take care of His Church.

I know, without a doubt, that my future is still bright with God. And yours is too.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3.20-21

May The 4th Be With You: Don't be a LUKEwarm Christian

What does it mean to be a LUKEwarm Christian? (See what I did there?)

According to Francis Chan, there are 18 ways that you can tell a lukewarm Christian. Wow.

1. Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go. Isaiah 29:13

2. Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so, After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right? 1 Chronicles 21:24, Luke 21:1-4

3. Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives. Luke 6:26, Revelation 3:1, Matthew 23:5-7 4.

4: Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one. John 10:10, Romans 6:1-2.

5. Lukewarm people are moved by stories of people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers. James 1:22, James 4:17, Matthew 21:28-31

6. Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion. Matthew 10:32-33

7. Lukewarm people gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street. Luke 18:11-12

8. Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives, their money, and their thoughts, but he isn’t allowed to control their lives. Luke 9:57-62

9. Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him all their heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; its only for pastors and missionaries and radicals. Matthew 22:37-38

10. Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. Their love for others is typically focused on those who love them in return, like family, friends, and other people they know and connect with. There is a little love left over for those who cannot love them back, much less for those who intentionally slight them, who kids are better athletes than theirs, or with whom conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. Their love is highly conditional and very selective, and generally comes with strings attached. Matthew 5:43-47, Luke 14:12-14

11. Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give. Luke 18:21-25

12. Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. Daily life is mostly focused on today’s to-do list, this week’s schedule, and next month’s vacation. Rarely, if ever do they intently consider the life to come. Philippians 3:18-20

13. Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. Matthew 25:34, 40, Isaiah 58:6-7

14. Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be “good enough” without requiring too much of them. 1 Chronicles 29:14, Matthew 13:44-46

15. Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them sacrificing and risking for God. Matthew 10:28

16. Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America.

17. Luke warm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them—they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live—they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis-their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God. Luke 12:16-21

18. Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Matthew 23:25-28, Luke 14:34-35

The Absolute Truth


I sat in astonishment, with my mouth hanging open. I had just played the above 2-minute excerpt from a podcast I listen to from above (take a listen if you haven't), and then asked the question, "Is there an absolute truth?"

To which I got mostly questioned looks, but a few fairly confident "nos." 

"Really?" I said, in disbelief. "That's what you all really believe?"

I asked questions about a true right and true wrong. Why does the world's postmodern mindset say that "Everyone's religion is ok - and we're all ok," but yet something like stealing and lying is wrong? If we apply the same logic to religion, would that not infer that there is a true right and wrong religion

And if everyone's different religion is right, then why even believe in religions? What's the point?

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm not. But it seems to me that the general mindset of everyone in the world is that "You're ok, I'm ok, we're all ok and we're all going to heaven." 

That's just not the truth. 

I even had a very smart and intelligent 16 year old argue with me that it's not wrong from someone to believe in Buddhism, because that's what they grew up believing.

The single truth about all this is that our teens don't know what the absolute truth is. They know the difference in right and wrong, but the truth? They're foggy on that. And that astounds me. It was a great class that we had this week and I think a lot of the teens learned a lot, but we need to be preaching and teaching the one absolute truth: That Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and that he died for our sins. All other religions, all other ways that promise eternal life in heaven or some form of it are wrong

That will get you into hot water in the world if you say that. You'll be branded as an intolerant bigot. But it still does not answer the question:

If everyone is right, then who is wrong? 

The Osteen Doctrine: Taking the Christ Out of Christianity

This, from Matt Walsh:

Our nation wants a shallow Gospel that doesn’t challenge us to make sacrifices and be righteous, and Joel Osteen has come to give us exactly that.
He distorts Scripture and offers up a hollow, empty message, but he is adored because he does it with a smile, he doesn’t offend, and he gives off the general vibe of a man who probably chuckles at Family Circus cartoons. In other words, he is exactly what our society believes a Christian should be: nice, non-threatening, non-Biblical, and superficial.

So I'm sure we have beat this dead horse enough, but every story I read about this, including both excellent articles by Matt Walsh and Albert Mohler, it just makes me more confused and angry. 

Confused that thousands in Joel Osteen's "church" could be duped to follow his message, and angered that thousands if not millions more Americans and those around the world buy into his doctrine. 

I'm not angry at Joel Osteen, nor his wife who made the ridiculous comments in their service a week or two ago. I'm angry at the millions who have bought into this shallow and shameful doctrine that does not include, in any form or fashion, Jesus Christ. 

I, like so many of you, have seen Osteen on television while flipping through the TV on Sunday morning. He has great little stories mixed with a message that God wants us to be happy. Unfortunately, it's a message completely devoid of Jesus Christ

Why? Because Jesus suffered. Because Jesus was persecuted. Because Jesus said hard things. 

You can't take Christ out of Christianity, or the Bible for that matter. It defeats the whole purpose. It's like taking penalties out of football completely - eventually people would come up with their own versions of football and we would have lots of different versions floating around...

Wait. That's precisely what the Osteen "church" is doing. They're taking Christ out of the Biblical equation and making worship all about ourselves. 

The entire Bible is about God's one and only Son. The entire purpose of the Gospel is to tell the story of Jesus and how He lived His live and died to save us from our sins. 

But Osteen won't tell you that. He won't talk about sin, obedience, or consequences. He won't because it's designed that way. They've come up with their own version of the Bible, and it's all about peace, harmony, and prosperity. It may have glimpses of truth, but it's mostly false doctrine. 

The base of the problem is that people see what they want to see. And when they don't see what they want they turn to something else - even if it isn't correct. We want to be reassured. We want to have hope. But we don't want to have to deal with difficulty. 

Joel Osteen needs to get rid of his writing team and open his Bible. And so do you and I. We need to open the Word every day to see what it says to us. If we learn from the source, then we don't have to worry about what anyone else says. 

Autism, Temple Grandin, and Christianity

Autism is very near and dear to my heart because my little boy Jacob was diagnosed in December 2013 as being on the Autism Spectrum

I love my little boy and we've had some difficulties, but nothing we can't overcome, and nothing Jacob himself couldn't overcome with our help. We are working with him every day to better develop his speech and social skills. 

If it weren't for Jacob's diagnosis, I may have never looked for movies like Temple Grandin. 

Temple Grandin is the title of a movie about a real person by the same name. Temple was a woman who had Autism, but because of her mother's encouragement and steadfastness, Temple excelled in prep school and in college. She is now responsible for developing new methods in the 1970's and 80's on how cattle were handled on big cattle farms. 

At one point in the movie when Temple seems to have a lot of difficulty, her prep school professor who used to work for NASA and now teaches science, told her something very simple and very profound. Temple was frustrated and indicating that she was too different from everyone else and couldn't cope with the stresses of being at school. 

That's when her professor simply said, "You're different. Not less."

We as Christians in this world today are many times viewed as less because of what and who we believe in. We are battered by a world that laughs at us and says that the Christian life is a joke, and that there is no God. We know better. 

We are different, but most definitely not less

And on the flip side, we should not look at the people in the world as less. We should see every person in our lives as a soul that can be won for Christ, not look down on them because they don't prescribe to our way of thinking. 

We as Christians are called to be different. But not less. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. - 1 Peter 2.9

Is The Church Too Simple?

There is one company on this earth that I follow with almost the same gusto as I follow Jesus (or at least I hope I do). And that's Apple. 

In Ken Segall's book Insanely Simple, the overwhelming idea that he tries to paint is a picture of simplicity in Apple's business decisions. Everything, not just their design of products and marketing, but everything that Apple stands for exudes simplicity. Many times in the book Segall makes a point to remind readers that simplicity may seem easy to achieve, but in practice is anything but.

Contrast that with a recent discussion I had with two teens, older teens who were going off to college soon. They called me over after church and one said that he wanted to be baptized. I was, as anyone should be, overjoyed. Without thinking, I suggested that his close friend next to him (who was a Christian) baptize him.

If you could have seen the look of terror, confusion, and bewilderment on his face at that moment you would have been astonished. His eyes got big, he raised his eyebrows and said, "I don't know about that. I don't know what's all involved with that."

This was a kid who had grown up in the church, who had been baptized years before, and didn't understand how simple it was to baptize someone.

Find some water, ask them to confess Jesus as their Savior, and then dunk them! is what I wanted to say to him. It really is that simple. 

That got me thinking - is the church really so simple that people can't understand it? Even people in the church?

In his excellent article entitled 10 Things I Love About The Church of Christ, Michael Hanegan states that one of the things he loves about the church is An intrinsic commitment to simplicity of worship. He says that by and large we have chosen to engage in worship instead of a "production." In other words, we've chosen to put the focus on the worship of God rather than our own entertainment. 

But think about it. Our worship is incredibly simple. Songs. Prayers. Scripture readings. Sermons. The Lord's Supper. 

Baptism, the required means to gain entrance into God's fold (Acts 2.38, Matthew 3.13-17), is also simple. Water. Confession. Immersion. 

Is the church too simple? Is there such a thing? 

I would say that it is not. Our society has become more complex. Business has become more complex. Technology has become more complex. The church, in my opinion, is largely the same church I read about in the New Testament. It's the same church I've read about in the 1950's. Simple. Effective. Genuine. 

I guess the real question is: is our simplicity and adherence to the New Testament tradition turning out to be to our detriment? Are people so bored with the simplicity of the original idea of the church that we're losing ground to other denominations and religions? 

I've done no research, and I have no statistics, but I see the church as a healthy organization. We don't see record growth, and maybe we shouldn't. What we do need to do is not be confused and swayed by the complex ways of the world. The New Testament vision for the church is something that very few abide by these days. And I'm proud to say that I belong to a church that has respect for the scriptures to adhere to that vision. 

God's Path: A Sermon to Graduates

I preached this sermon last Sunday night for our 11 grads going off to college. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me preach it. 

Congratulations, graduates. In just a few short days, you’ll step onto a stage and receive your diploma, and while doing that two big things will be happening for you - 1) You’ll be making a significant accomplishment on 13 years of work and dedication, and 2) you’ll be closing one chapter of your life and opening a whole new one. 

On a personal note, this Class of 2014 is a very special one to me. This is the first group that I saw as Freshmen. I remember walking into class that Sunday morning in January 3 ½ years ago, terrified at how such a large group of freshmen were going to react to my teaching. Since then, we’ve had a lot of great times to share at activities, sporting events, and here in worship. 

Safe to say that I, personally, have some pretty good memories from you all. 

So the main question I have for you tonight is:

What memories will you make from here on out? And what path will they take you on? 

Tonight we’ll be talking about God’s path: how to stay on it, where it might lead you, all those things. 

If we’re moving forward on this path, we can’t dwell on the past. We can’t relive memories from high school. After you walk across that stage in a few weeks and get your diploma, high school is over. High school, and all the tests, grades, drama, and sometimes, the relationships are over. So where does your path go from here?

If you’re not a Christian, there’s a lot of uncertainty with that question. You can’t move forward on God’s path if you’re not first a Christian! If you are, then your path is actually very clear. This evening, very quickly, we’re going to talk about your path that you should walk with God and how to seek out God’s direction. 

1. Steps are ordered. 

You’ve always heard “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step,” but what does that actually mean? It means that in life there are lots of steps. 

High School is a big step that you’ve just completed. But that’s all it is, is a step in your life. The next step may be college. It may be going out to work. It may be both. But the next step for you, whatever that may be, comes after the last. Like we said before, dwelling on the past doesn’t do you a lot of good when going to your next step. 

Our steps have to be ordered, just like we order our food. One of the best parts about graduation is all the eating out. I must have ate out with parents and grandparents for like 4 days straight when I graduated high school. It was great. But when you go out to eat and your order food, you expect the food that you ordered to be what they bring out. If you ordered something small and they bring out a 7-course meal for you, that’s going to be too much. We usually only order what we can eat, and when we don’t, when we eat too much, our stomachs let us know fairly quickly. 

In the same way, God orders our steps and steps that we are able to take. Psalm 37.23 says The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. 

If our steps are ordered, then we must assume that there is some planning involved as well. Think about it - you don’t ever do anything without a plan. Whether it’s deciding and going to eat Mexican or Chinese after Sunday morning worship this morning or making plans for where to go to college, your steps in life are ordered and your plans don’t just happen, they are put in place and planned carefully. Proverbs 16.9 says, A man's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Notice the word ‘step’ again. Our God directs our steps.

2. Paths are directed. 

Proverbs 3.5 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. The key to unlocking God's direction is by acknowledging Him in all our ways.

Going to college, you probably feel like (or will feel like) you’re on top of the world. You’re finally out of your parents house. You’re at a place where no one is going to badger you with rules. You have a lot more freedom than you might have had at home. And most of us will look at our lives and say “I’ve got this.” 

Like me. Even with the rules and structure of the Marines Corps, I thought to myself, “This is great. I’m finally off on my own. I can do whatever I want. I’ve got this.” 

One of the worst mistakes I ever made in my entire life was not seeking God when I probably needed him the most. After two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was completely depressed and burnt out. I didn’t go to church. I didn’t seek out Godly things. I didn’t seek out God’s people to help me on my path. 

If we are Christians, God directs our paths. Not activities, or degrees, or careers, or others, or boyfriends and girlfriends - GOD DOES. And if we let God direct our feet to walk His path, we will be taken care of. 

Those two years without the church in my life were probably the darkest my life had ever been. Don’t forget about God when you’re off on your own. Don’t forget how He has taken care of you so far. If you trust in him, He will take care of you. Just as the verse Kyle mentioned last Sunday night - Romans 8.28 - For we know that all things work together for good. 

Ah, wait a second, that’s wrong. If we look at the verse carefully, and we see the parts we sometimes glaze over:

And we know that for those that love the Lord all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 

Speaking from personal experience - it was the times that I did not let God direct my steps and was not active in his church that I had the hardest and darkest times of my life. Let your path be directed by God, and nothing else. 

So as we close this evening, I want to offer you four ways that you can find (and stay on) God’s path. 

1. Follow the instructions. We follow instructions in everything else in life, yet sometimes we put God on the back burner. Know God’s Word. Read it, study it, just as you would civil engineering or nursing. Because there will be a test later, and you need to be prepared. 

2. Seek the narrow path. You are not the first person to struggle with sex, drugs, alcohol, or any of the other various temptations and things that would seek to take you away from God’s path. Stick with those who are struggling the same way you are. Seek out fellow Christians. Seek out churches nearby. No one has promised that the Christian life will be easy, and that’s especially true in your years to come, when you really find out who you are and what you will do with your life. So ask yourself the question that stems from Matthew chapter 7: will your path be wide and easy and lead you away from God, or will it be narrow and difficult and lead you to God? 

3. Don’t seek wide ways or strange Gods. Idols can come in many forms. Maybe your idol is yourself - you’ve finally gotten away from parents and you now choose to do what you maybe couldn’t at home. Or maybe that idol is schoolwork. Or money. Or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever form that idol takes, if it prevents you from following God in any way, it should not be a part of your path in life. 

4. Always plan with God in mind. As I told you earlier, my life did not go as I’d planned. I had hoped to be married by age 23. That didn’t happen for me until age 27. When I joined the military in 2000, it was a totally different world come September 11, 2001. I didn’t plan on that. My life did not turn out as I thought it would, but it turned out exactly as God thought it would. 

Jeremiah 29.11 says I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. I know the plans I have for you, Austin. I know the plans I have for you, Grayson, He says. 

In the scripture that was read earlier, Psalm 16.11, David says You have made know to me the path of life. We know what God’s plans are - it’s in His Word.

I love the phrase that Kyle has said in some past sermons recently, and that is to ask the question, “What is God up to?” 

What is God up to and how is He working in my life when I arrive at UT Knoxville in August? Or at MTSU? Or Cumberland University? What is God up to when He gave me THIS roommate? What is He up to when my Christian morals are challenged in my classes? What is God doing right now in my life?”

We should always plan with God in mind. God should not fit in our plans, He should be the most integral part of the plan. And we should always be asking what God is up to in our lives, because He always is. 

Tonight, this lesson has mainly been for our graduates, but the message applies to us all. Have you been true to God’s path? Do you need to get back on God’s path? Maybe you need to start your journey on God’s path by becoming a Christian and being baptized tonight. If you have any spiritual needs this evening, come while we stand and sing.