Monday, August 24, 2015 doesn't affect you

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Choices matter.  I think that we can all agree with that.

Choices also have a varying degree of impact on our lives.  For example, outside of the embarrassment that it may cause me, the choosing my favorite pair of checkered knee length tube socks to be worn with my running shorts isn't going to have the same impact that the acceptance of a job offer halfway across the country would have on me, my family and my friends.

Choices can be good or bad, beneficial or destructive, personal or corporate in nature.

However, in the current climate in which we live, I believe there has been a confusion over the categories which our choices actually fall under.  Many people have fallen victim to the false assumption that the personal choices that they make are ONLY personal and therefore should not affect how others view them.  Erroneously, they believe that because their choice was a personal one, the only person that it should affect is them and if it affects someone else or someone else's view of them, then that person is in the wrong for feeling this way because in the end "it doesn't affect them."

But is it true...

Let's test this theory against the most ultimate of personal choices...suicide.

(For those who have been personally touched by this tragedy, I am sorry for your loss, but I do pray that by the end of this post you will understand why this example was used.)

Suicide by nature is a personal choice but one that universally we understand affects much more than the person who commits the act.  Family and friends are left mourning.  Some never get over such an act committed by someone they love.  They question in their minds over and over again what they could have done different to see the signs, to instill hope, to be a listening ear and wish that somehow they could have helped share what a blessing life was and how temporary the problems they were facing really were.  Every thought and suggestion comes to mind to think of a way they may have intervened, no matter how they may have been viewed at the time, to preserve hope and stop them from going down this destructive path.

With suicide, there is a finality to the act that exposes the fact that choices that we make, even personal ones, have a profound impact on those whom we love and associate with.

Choices have a cost to them and a ripple effect through the relationships that we have with others.

Much is being made over the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across all 50 states.  One of the mantras that I continue to run across from those sympathetic in the media and individuals on social media is that legalizing gay marriage doesn't affect you, so get over it and move on with life.

Obviously, people chanting this mantra must be thinking that gay marriage occurs only in a vacuum where the only two people it affects are the two exchanging vows.  However, as with any decision, the personal choices made by these two individuals affect family and friends who have differing and conflicting views concerning this arrangement.  Some think that there is nothing wrong with it and believe that it should be celebrated.  Others believe that it is harmful, physically and emotionally, to the beings involved (not to mention spiritually).

So a simple evaluation of differing views concerning the personal choice of one person ends up having profound relational effects.  Some parents and friends celebrate while others grieve and are torn by how to show love while withholding support for a decision they deem destructive.  No one is left unaffected through this personal decision.

Apply this logic to any "personal" decision of similar nature and you end up with equal turmoil.

What about abortion?  Or one's views on Planned Parenthood?
What about the use of weed for recreational purposes?
What about alcoholism?
What about pornography?
Or sex outside of marriage?
Or marrying a non-believer?
Or divorce?
Or believing in Christ from a devout Muslim family?
Or believing in Christ in the current climate that will get one branded as intolerant, bigoted, uneducated and hateful for merely holding a contrary viewpoint of the culture?

All of these decisions are personal in nature, but have a relational cost to them no matter what side of the issue you take.

So as believers, and even as non-believers (if any are reading...and I hope that you do), can we please stop pretending that the personal choices that we make only affects ourselves?  Can we stop being shocked over the fact that our strong stance on any controversial issue actually has an effect on how other people view us, even people we are closest to?

Jesus told His followers to count the cost for following Him and even showed how belief in Him would divide families.  If the choice to follow Him has such far reaching ramifications to the relationships we have, how could we not believe that other important decisions we have would not have the same effect?

The next time someone tries to stop the conversation by saying..."but it doesn't affect you", feel free to share this article and maybe by the end they will understand why what they said wasn't true to begin with.  And I hope that all of us will carefully begin to consider our "personal" decisions and count the cost each of those choices will inevitably have on those around us...because it doesn't just affect us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Do you have a plan for your kids?

Discipleship...we are all called to do it.  But do any of us really know how?

The following post is for every parent who calls themselves a believer in Christ and sees as their calling the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  But it begins with some penetrating questions, not to discourage, but to open our eyes to reality so that we may be fulfillers of the commission Christ has given us.

I begin with parents because I have worked with youth for 14 years and have strong feelings toward this subject of discipleship.

According to Scripture, parents are the ones that God has entrusted to pass down the faith to their children (see Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Psalm 78:1-8).  As such, I do not worry too much whether or not any youth come to my youth group.  Now that may seem like a shock to many parents, but if you, as parents, are discipling your children, then you will have many more opportunities to teach them about the Lord than I will in my 2 hour slot on Wednesday night.  Sunday is the gathering together of believers and every family should be involved in that, but a specialized time not representing the entire body but an outreach to a group of peers, is optional, because families could create a similar environment themselves within their own home.

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However, many Godly Christian parents lack a true plan of discipleship for their children.  This is in stark contrast to all of the other plans parents have for their children.  I have had many parents tell me the plans that they have for their kids as it pertains to sports or schooling and stressing the importance that can be found in those activities.  In sports, it is to win state or district or just keep them out of trouble.  In school, it is the importance to get a good education for a future career.  I have seen parents run themselves ragged over the school year taking their children from one sporting event to another or one school event to another to fulfill these plans.

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No one is saying that these things are not good, but godliness is more important.  Consider the words of Paul to his young apprentice Timothy:  Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  1 Timothy 4:7b-8  Yet in our culture, a loud voice tells us that if we don't get our kids involved in sports or extracurricular activities we are somehow depriving our children of their future.

So let me ask some questions to shed some light on this ridiculous assertion:

How many of you as adults make a living as a sports figure?
How many of you as adults reference American history on a daily basis in life?
How many of you as adults do math at a higher level than Algebra 1 on a regular basis?
How many of you as adults have dissected a sentence or even a frog in the last 2 years?

Chances are you might have been able to answer "yes" to one of those questions, but only if you worked in a specialized field that required that specific knowledge.  Yet here we are as parents, taking our children and youth to every practice to every sporting event and quizzing them every day concerning the particulars of this subject or that...or at least harping on them to get their homework done.

Compare, if you will, the answers that you might give to the following:

How many of you want your children to grow up to be honest, respectable adults who love God passionately and love others in such a way that Christ is seen in their lives?

How many of you want your children to be able to make the right decisions in life when the pressures of the world come crashing in on them, to choose the Godly thing, even when it hurts because it is right, not because it is convenient?

How many of you want your boys to grow to be men who have been instilled to treat women with a respect that comes from God?

How many of you want your girls to grow to be strong women who can resist temptation and find their identity in Christ who has made them special instead of being swayed by feelings of wanting to impress someone else for the wrong reason?

How many of you want your children to know the sound reasons you have for believing in Christ and trusting in His resurrection and His Word, in a world that challenges them that God doesn't exist at all?

How many of you want children who will humbly admit mistakes and not cover them up, no matter how hard it is?

I am sure that all of you would say that that you want all of those things for your kids.  And some of you might even object to this line of reasoning because it is possible to do both.  I agree, it is.  But which set of questions are more important?  I believe that if a parent was forced to choose, we would rather choose the second set of questions over the first, if we had to.  However, if the truth be known, I have met very few families who have majored on the second set of questions by having an active discipleship time with their children in the same way as they focus on the first set of questions.

In 14 years of being a youth pastor, I know less than 14 youth who have read the entire Bible by the time they have left High School (this number includes my 2 kids currently in youth group who had to read the Bible before they were allowed into youth group at 6th grade.  Btw...this isn't a bragging point for me and my family, but rather the realization that many parents do not challenge their kids to the level of faith their children can comprehend...I had to learn this lesson too.)

Consider what the Psalmist says in Psalm 119:9-11

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to Your word.  With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!  I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.

Or these words from Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he propers.

These promises of purity and salvation only come to the one who continually thinks about the Lord and His word (see also James 1:19-25).  And while this is what we truly want, we often get distracted by the priorities of the world without even knowing it.

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As a parent, when was the last time you encouraged your child to read the Bible on a daily basis?  When was the last time you recommended a Christian book for your child to read to bolster their faith?  When was the last time you outreached to the lost as a family or served those less fortunate in the name of Jesus?  When was the last time you prayed together or worshiped God at home just because He is God and He is worthy?  Or had a Bible trivia night?  Or talked about current issues/situations in the light of God's word?

Or just developed a plan to start doing all these things?

Your head may be swimming thinking about all of these things.  You may feel clueless on where to begin.  But begin you the same way as you have begun in all of the other areas you have by asking for help by those who have gone before you.

This is the true role of your pastor/youth pastor/children's pastor.  Not to just entertain your kids or try to teach them for a few hours once or twice a week, but to come alongside parents and help them create a real plan of discipleship for their children.  I believe every parent needs to be meeting with their pastor/youth pastor/children's pastor at least once a year and developing a plan of discipleship for each of their children.

As I look back on my many years of ministry, one thing I wish I would have done differently, would be to do less events for youth and more planning with parents because, in the end, we both want what is best for your children...and what is best for your children is that they know Jesus.  And parents are best equipped for the job.

So what are you waiting for?  Get on the phone, talk to your pastor and start planning for the spiritual success of your children.  It's never too late to start!

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