Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bannister Life Review 2016 (TFC Friends)

It's been a long time since we talked.  But because of technology, like Facebook, we have been able to keep up with all of you.  The line from the old Michael W. Smith song is true, "Friends are friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them."  After being in ministry for the past 15 years and watching all of you stand strong in the faith, I have a profound appreciation of this truth.
 
So let me begin by saying, we are so glad to call you our friends.  Distance tends to make strangers of us all, life continues to happen outside our shared class schedule we had at TFC.  Family, children, jobs, ministry as well as sickness and trouble have appeared on our Facebook feeds concerning all of you, keeping us informed and helping to know how to pray for you, as the years have flown by.

Vacations have been few and far between for us and visitations to our old stomping grounds, because our family is from the area, haven't netted the connection with each of you that we would have liked.  Hopefully soon that will change.

So what has happened to the Bannisters since graduation of 1999?  Like you...A LOT!

The week after graduation we found out that we were pregnant with our firstborn Victoria.  Because of that we stayed in the area until she was about 15 months old, we figured that one big life change was enough.  In the summer of 2001, I was hired as Youth Pastor for Heights Christian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico...and have been here ever since.  When we came, Shannon was pregnant with our second child, Micah (boy).  About 17 months later, we had our third and final child, Kathlyn. 

The early years were a struggle for us as we had to learn how to balance ministry and family, often times failing.  We (mostly me) took on too much responsibility at the expense of a family that needed me.  God brought us through that season and it truly made us stronger as a family, and strengthed ministry as well.


Shannon worked various jobs from 2003-2010 and even tried college again, but God kept closing the doors.  In 2006, because of our chaotic schedule, Shannon and I began to homeschool our children, taking a break one year (2012) because Shannon was burned out. 

However, the fruits of our labor are paying off.  Victoria will earn her GED this year (1 year early).  Micah will hopefully duel enroll this next year at CNM (he will be in 10th grade then).  And Kathlyn is coming along fine in currently in 7th grade.

In 2008, we received news that Shannon was losing her vision.  She has a condition called Retinitus Pigmentosa, or RP for short.  It is a genetic condition with no known cure.  In her condition, she gradually loses sight around the periphery until she either sees a "tunnel vision" or goes completely dark.  In 2014, after our last trip to GA (where we missed many of you), she was officially diagnosed blind.  She has less than 20% of field of vision.  Now she can still see, but she uses a cane for objects out of her range of vision.  She has taken it very well.  Me...on the other hand...depends on the day. 
It has been an adjustment, but God is good.  We truly believe that this is the reason that we began to homeschool and didn't become dependent upon 2 incomes.  (I know she can work, but homeschooling 3 is job enough.)

Over the last few years, Shannon has been writing songs.  It has been amazing to see how God has grown her.  I am sure if you wanted a sampling of her work...all you would have to do is ask (and let her know where to send it to).  She has written or co-written about 15-20 songs (it's starting to get hard to keep up).  Right now, it is just a hobby, but she enjoys it so.  She keeps joking that in 10 years, we will flip roles and she will support me with her music (wouldn't that be cool!).

Victoria knits...mostly scarfs and hats, right now.  And she writes...boy does she write.  She hopes to write books someday and has already "completed" one manuscript.

Micah loves archery, animals, science and music.  He has been playing for about 2 1/2 years and has a real gift toward it.

video
Kathlyn is currently into gymnastics and cooking.  She is constantly flipping, rolling, splitting and handstanding everywhere she goes. 

It is a joy to see how different each of our children are. 


So what about me...well, I was hired as Youth Pastor in July 2001.  Over the years, I have seen two Pastors come and go and am currently working with the thirds since my tenure here.  It is a great working relationship and I truly couldn't be happier. 

The longer I have been here, the more responsibility I have acquired.  Since becoming the Youth Pastor, I have now grown into the role of co-Pastor.  We currently have no Senior Pastor, but rather Mark (the other co-Pastor) and myself work in areas of giftedness.  I am over Youth, Children, Families and our Day Care.  I also preach half the time at the church and help create the various series we do.

Recently, God has burdened me with reaching out to families and helping parents disciple their children.  As a Youth Pastor, I have always been convicted that it was the parent's responsibility to disciple their children in the Lord.  If they don't, then my impact in most youth's lives would be minimal.  Being in ministry for the last 15 years has only strengthed this view.

This past year, I have been working to create a set of videos for parents in helping their children in each of their phases of life (0-3 yrs old, 3-5 yrs old, K-2nd, 3rd-5th, Mid High and High School) in six different areas (Prayer, Bible Reading, Fellowship, Outreach/Service, Discipleship and Giving).  We just finished the filming and are hoping to have the editing done soon.  I pray for it to be a resource for anyone who wants to use it (free, we are putting it on YouTube).       

Known to some of you, we are HUGE gamers.  We love strategy and deck building games.  We are fans of Dominion, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride...etc.  So if we are ever in the area and you have the same passion, it won't be too hard to scare up a game with us.

More than anything else, we want to let all of you know that you will always hold a special part of our lives.  Whether we ever get to see each other face to face again or we are forced to connect electronically until the day we see His face together, please know that you are never alone and will always have a friend with us.

Lord bless you all!  If you get time, let us know about the adventure that God has you on.  If you don't have the time, we truly understand.  And we will be praying for you all the same.

I pray your 2017 is filled with God directed adventure!

The Bannisters  (Jeremy, Shannon, Victoria, Micah and Kathlyn) 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

When "Thank You" Isn't Enough

Blessed. 

Humbled.

Stunned silent (if anyone can really imagine that for me).

Over the last 15 years, I have had the privilege to be a pastor at Heights Christian Church.  During the last eight, I have shared the task of co-pastoring with Mark.  In 2008, with Mark coming on staff, we had just created our "new" mission and vision statement of "Love God, Love God's People, Love Serving God" for our church.  Our goal was to make a community where making disciples and truly desiring God was part of our DNA.

I wish I could accurately describe how I feel about our fellowship.  The people there are more than just friends and fellow believers in Christ, they truly are family.  As a matter of fact, our children's godparents are there.  Our staff doesn't just have meetings together, we pray together, laugh together, get in one another's faces when necessary and more than anything else, love on one another.  Our elders are much the same as we pray through the needs of the body and struggle over doing the right thing by God for each of the members entrusted to our care.  Sunday mornings, Tuesday nights (when my lifegroup meets) and Wednesday nights (when our youth meet) are highlights of every week, as I get to spend time with the people whom I care for most with my family.

The last few years have seen an outpouring of love toward us as pastors that has literally left me speechless.  Mike Hatchell's words of being compared with the greatest men to have lead this congregation over the years (because Heights has had a tremendous history of faithful men leading) is a designation that I don't know if I deserve, but the thought is humbling and I am honored to be thought of in that way. 

A few hours ago, I went through every card that was written to me (and my family).  The thankfulness conveyed, the appreciation for faithful, and even, hard sermons, the different ways in which we are told how God uses us, in ways small and large, to members whom we call friends is a humble recognition of the type of community God has created us to be and the reminder of the constant need of faithfulness by us as leaders to continue what God has begun.

I wish others could experience what we do each time we come together.  I wish other pastors from other places were as honored as we have been by those we serve. 

"Thank you" doesn't seem enough for the love shown to me, Mark and our families, but it is all we have to offer.  So thank you for everything, and may God keep us faithful to Him and continue to grow us all into who He has called us to be.

Lord bless you all.

Pastor Jeremy

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How far is too far?

Since I work with youth, you might have guessed that this post is about the election.

I have had a lot of people ask me about the election wanting to know my opinion concerning the mess we are walking into in about 3 weeks.  This represents my thought process concerning the election and the candidates involved.  I realize that not everyone will agree with these thoughts or my decision and I hope to cover some of the other views and the reasonings behind their views too.

If you are repulsed, confused and just plain tired of the election this year...join the club.  Never in all my life have I so sincerely wished for Election Day to just go away.

My dilemma, and the problem for many people, is that the main candidates are so repulsive that whether I vote or not, I feel as if I am throwing away my vote.



I feel like Vizzini from the Princess Bride.  A clever man would want to keep the poison as far away from him as possible, so I clearly cannot pull the lever for Hillary.  But knowing I would want to keep the poison as far away from me as possible also means that I cannot pull the lever for Trump.  Hillary seems a criminal and is therefore not trustworthy, therefore, I can clearly not pull the lever for her.  Trump is an opportunist and is slanderous toward everyone who gets in his way, so I clearly cannot pull the lever for him.

You might think that I am stalling, but I am not.  At least with Hillary, as bad as it might be, we would know exactly what we were getting which is something no one can say about Trump, so I can clearly not pull the lever for him.  But with Trump, and only Trump is there a possibility for appointing conservative Supreme Court candidates and repealing bad laws that have been passed the last 8 years (and in some cases longer) that Hillary would never consider, so I can clearly not pull the lever for her.

No third party candidate has a chance at the election, so any vote cast for them is wasted because even if they were to garner electoral votes and play havoc on the choosing of the President by throwing it into the House of Representatives, no major party will choose them for the Presidency, so I can clearly not pull the lever for any of them.

And round and round we go just like the Princess Bride until a choice is made and we find out, too late, that both choices were poisonous.

Up until this election cycle, there has always been something that I could point to in a major party candidate that I believed I could pull the lever for and believe that I have made a principled stance (understanding, of course, that no candidate will line up with my views 100% of the time).

However, this time the question I have had to ask myself is:  How far is too far?

How far does a candidate's views on issues stray from biblical truth and I still vote for them (without denying my faith in the process)?  Or how far does a candidate's personal conduct stray from biblical truth and I still vote for them (without denying my faith in the process)?

The Democratic platform concerning abortion, gay marriage and heavy handed government policies have disqualified them from my vote for many years.

The argument on the other side for the Republicans was that they would appoint conservative justices and repeal bad laws that the Democrats have made.  Oh yeah, do you remember who was the deciding vote on the Supreme Court for Obamacare?  That would be Chief Justice Roberts, touted to be one of the most conservative justices ever appointed.  Promises, promises...but no delivery.

What's worse...is that the current Republican candidate is slanderous to no end!  He has continually smeared everyone in the most personal of ways in order to get his way.  What started during the primaries has continued on through his nomination and now during these debates for President of the United States.  Can you imagine what might happen if Trump were to negotiate with foreign powers this way?  What evidence or assurances could you point me to that he won't act this way?  Please...anything.

I find myself a Christian who happens to be an American with the privilege to vote and no candidate to vote for.  I know many Christians who are voting for the Vice President or the President based on the things that might happen.  I respect their reasoning and will in no way malign a hard decision.  However, my conscience holds me captive to the standard of God, and for me (not necessarily for them) to vote for either of these major party options would be sinful for me (see Rom. 14:23).

I am recognizing more and more that this world, and even this nation, is not my home and am content with the King whom I have chosen.  I believe there is more power is fulfilling His command of making disciples around me than electing the next President or ruler of any country.  So I am voting for Jesus this election cycle, while keeping my Presidental slot either blank or filled in with a candidate that I can truly believe in (even if it is third party).  I have a feeling that following His lead would do more good for this country than anything I can do in the voting booth.


PS...I do believe it is important to vote for other candidates both local and national (and I will be), but the same litmus test applies to them, as well.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Why the Gospel is the Best "Help" You Can Give Someone

As a pastor, I have seen great need come knocking at my door.  It is one of the things that I honestly wasn't prepared for.  Maybe not so much the need itself, but the sheer magnitude of the need and the consistency by which the need has presented itself over the years.  The homeless, the sick, the stranded, the single mothers financially struggling, the hungry, the relationally shattered and the desperate have all visited my office.

They have all come for one reason:  We are the church and this is supposed to be a place of help and hope. 

At the church, the need seems to come in waves.  There are sometimes whole seasons with very few needs presented.  Then, there are times where days and even weeks are filled with encounters of these heart wrenching stories from men, women and families who have come seeking a hope of relief.

I wish that I could say I have always met these needs the way that Jesus would want me to, but I am sure that I have failed about as many times as I have succeeded.  Don't get me wrong!  I am not being too critical of myself.  An education like this comes with its fair share of failures, if we are truly going to learn.  And my failure may not be what you think...

So what I would like to do is share with you an education that has taken me 15 years to learn concerning "helping" someone.  To be sure, there may be many of you who have already learned this lesson before me in less time.  To them, I can only hope to promise to be a better student in the future.  But I share this in the hope that it may lessen the "learning curve" for those who have begun to struggle with this problem.

The Gospel is the Reason We Help

I could have said "Jesus is the reason we help", but in reality we help in hopes to share the good news of Christ.  Our motivation for helping is because of the incomprehensible love of Christ that we have experienced ourselves and wish to tangibly share that love and hope with others. 

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.  Think about how different our culture would be if we took the Christian footprint out of our society.  Think of all the hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, abuse shelters, sex slave rescue missions, schools, third world child sponsorship programs, orphanages and a myriad of other programs and institutions that have been created simply as a means to advance the gospel of Christ and obey His commands (see Mat. 28:18-20; James 1:26-2:7; 1 John 3:16-18; Mat. 10:40-42). 

This doesn't even begin to consider the daily acts of kindness done by individual believers simply for the sake of planting a seed for the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-15).  I mean, how many of you have, out of compulsion from the Holy Spirit, been lead to give of your time or treasure for the opportunity of reaching a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even a stranger, with the love of Christ...not for any glory or recognition, just because of a quiet obedience to the One you wish to serve (Mat. 6:1-24)?

How dark would our country, city and community become without this life giving presence of individuals and institutions motivated to do their good works because of the gospel!  

Our hope with this outreach is not just to meet an immediate need, but to present to those whom we are helping through our good works their true need and the good news that that need has been fully met in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

How Good Intentions Begin to Go Awry

However, many a believer is often overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the need before them, once their eyes are open to it.  Whether it is a person who has gone on their first missions trip or inner city excursion where the culture shock of the atmosphere can shake even the most stoic or it is a person who has reached out to a neighbor or family member in need and discovered the tangled mess that broken relationships and circumstances can lead, the situations faced can often engulf a good intentioned believer.

Even though we have been told by Jesus Himself that we will always have the poor among us (Mat. 26:9), we seem to think that if we work hard enough, give more, create more opportunities for relief, we can eradicate this need where Jesus could not.  And it is at this point, whether looking at the multitudes that we want to help but can't or looking at the one that we are helping, but the need is so beyond us...we begin to take on the responsibility ourselves and out of the hands of Jesus.  I have done this often and has been the cause of many of my failures to serve Christ (even as I was "serving" Christ).

We begin to think that we are the only hands of Jesus for the need placed before us, rather than the view that Paul had that he was one who planted (not the only one who planted) that Apollos was the one who watered (but not the only one who watered), but God, and Him alone, gave the increase.  We stop seeing the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) in our everyday interactions with the needs that we face and erroneously believe we are the only part of the body that will have any effect.

But when we divorce Jesus from the solution, and make no mistake that is exactly what we are doing when we take on these needs ourselves without acknowledging our limitations, we end up hagridden, losing the joy of service and freedom of giving that Christ blessed us with to begin with.  We give, not out of joy, but compulsion and we begin to resent the "service" that we are doing for the Lord because of the lack of tangible results (the opposite of what we are commanded in 2 Cor. 9:6-15).

It is at this point that we face a crossroads. 

Settling for "Help" without the Gospel

In our hopes for solving the problems before us, because it is easier, we begin to look for what will make the person or people we are ministering to happy.  So we either drop Jesus all together (by saying something like, "I am trying to share Jesus through what I do, not through words.") or begin to morph Jesus into a "god" who is only concerned with the fulfillment or happiness of others.  Some of our institutions founded on presenting the true gospel to a world in need has replaced it with a false gospel concerned only with a person's perceived happiness.  They, with the very best of intentions, have found themselves slowly transformed into a people who boldly proclaim that God didn't mean all that He said about morality and righteous living, even though it may very well be those things that are needed most to help those they truly wish to minister to.

The solutions that are ultimately offered without the gospel only entangle and enslave.  Like cough syrup, they only mask the symptoms of a condition and never deal with the root problem.

Single motherhood, AIDS in the homosexual community, many abuse situations, the breakdown of the family, higher drug use (especially marijuana) and all the problems that these and many other ills bring to our society is a direct result of the sin we are so enslaved to that Jesus came to set us free from (Heb. 12:1-2). 

If you don't get to the root of the problem and treat only the symptoms, you will only get more problems and none of the gospel which we are entrusted with.

Stop Giving Pearls to Swine!

Which brings us to a harsh truth that all of us have to deal with:  Not everyone wants the gospel.  Or put another way:  Not everyone wants the type of help that Jesus commanded us to give others. 

We are told by Jesus not to give that which is valuable to those who disregard it (Mat. 7:6).  This comes right after He spoke on proper judgment (Mat. 7:1-5) and commanded His followers not to judge hypocritically.  But equally important is for His followers not to waste time on those who truly want nothing to do with Jesus and the good news that He brings.  They only want "help" on their terms, not His...which is really no help at all.  And when you don't "help" that way, no matter how often you have helped in godly ways, they turn around and malign you for all the "help" you didn't give (or call you judgmental).

I can't tell you how much time I have wasted in my ministry spending my time on those who truly wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  Whether it has been the endless times of encouraging youth, adults and families to come into fellowship, or trying to help with a specific situation that needed repentance that I would dance around or confront directly, again and again, each time thinking that this time their response might be different.  My time spent on giving the gospel to those who don't appreciate it or want it prevents me from giving it to someone who does or just spending time with my family building them up in the faith.

Shortly after many of my interactions with many of these people that I have wanted to help, I see them in worse condition than ever before I knew them.  Of them, Jesus' words ring more true to me than ever that the last state of that person is worse than the first (Mat. 12:43-45).  Or Peter's words of how it would have been better for them to have not known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned their backs on it (2 Pet. 2:21). 

And the sad reality is...there is really nothing I could do about it, no matter how hard I tried...and neither can you.  This is why I have to entrust these larger than life problems with God...and you do too.  I can't tell you how long you are supposed to be in a certain situation, not every one is the same.  But I do know that we are not supposed to be weighted down with needs that we cannot meet or disobedient hearts that cannot be made to be obedient (that is the job and burden of God).  However, when we entrust these people whom we love in the care of God, we find ourselves praying more sometimes and doing less.  This isn't a faith without action, but rather a faith that trusts God after action has been taken and trusting that our help is enough because it is what God has called us to do.

After 15 years, I am finding that my timetable for helping people revolves around two things.  First and foremost, my responsibility to share the gospel of Christ the hope that He brings and the results that an obedient life will bring to those who are hurting.  Second, is their response to the hope and help that I have presented.  If there is no obedience to instruction, if there is no repentance and no trust that Jesus is the true answer that they need, then my timetable is drastically reduced.  Because I have finally come to truly realize that the gospel is the best, and ultimately, only hope and help I have to give.

Sure people don't always understand and sometimes I might be maligned for not giving them what they want...but it is all that I have to offer and I believe it is more than enough.

I pray this revelation through a lifetime of successes and failures will help you as well.  Lord bless you all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Problem with "Privilege"

In a fallen world, we have become obsessed with fairness.  While there are certain admirable qualities about being fair and desiring fair and equal outcomes to equal situations, we have taken things a step further:  We have decided to trace all perceived injustices back to their ancestral roots and blame the current generation for past misgivings and the benefits they may have received (or just assumed they have received) as a result of such injustice.

It is understandable that the world is having a hard time reconciling the idea that while all men are created equal in the sight of God, not all men are born into equal circumstances because of the fallen nature of the world we live in.  However, this very plain truth should be evident for every Christian.

As I search the Scriptures, I do not see God holding people responsible for sins of a past generation, even if there was gain by the current generation because of it.  To be sure, sins of one generation can affect the generations to follow (Ex. 20: 4-6).  While unrepentant sins of successive generations do lead to national punishment, for a people pledged to God, God makes it equally clear that individually He only punishes according to each person's actions apart from previous generations (Ez. 18).

The current fervor of our culture to shame or condemn based on perceived advantages based on race or status is, in many cases, nothing more than a cover for covetousness.  As a people of God, we should be content with the circumstances that we have been placed in, as long as our basic needs have been taken care of, so that we might be a witness for Christ (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
The problem with the concept of privilege
(other than it is unbiblical) is that it is so
hard to quantify.  By only looking at
one diametric (race or economic status), we
oversimplify the differing circumstances that
may affect individuals or even whole families.

Consider:  The single largest determiner of
poverty in America today is to be raised in
a single parent home.  Therefore, by simply
coming from a two parent family, regardless of
race, there is an advantage over those
whose homes are broken.

The most common factor of those incarcerated
is the lack of a father in the home.  Again,
simply having a two parent family brings an
advantage.

The fact that the black community suffers
from a larger proportion of single parent
homes and thus also has higher proportions
of poverty and crime cannot be simply
laid at the feet of "white privilege", no matter
what the unrighteous history of the past
generations may have been.

But the idea of privilege has our culture looking to everyone else's circumstances as a excuse for grievance that destroys godly contentment.  It does this in two ways:  First, it creates a false sense of guilt in those who are bombarded with the idea that their circumstance, because of skin color or socioeconomic status, is unjust by merely existing.  Second, it produces envy, strife and covetousness in those who feel that they have been wronged by merely being born into a circumstance less fortunate than others. Many professing Christians are adopting this harmful view into their lives, as well, and it eats away at the thankfulness we should have toward God for the provision that we have, no matter how meager or plentiful.

Consider the words of James...

What causes quarrels and what cause fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask [God].  You ask [God] and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  --James 4:1-3

Isn't that the state of our nation right now? Why would we, as the people of God, wish to emulate that?  Why would we trade out the knowledge, provision and blessings afforded us by God through Christ for discontentment based upon a comparison to someone else's circumstance?  Why would we choose envy and strife over joy and contentment?

As if those reasons aren't reason enough to change our attitudes, there is a greater reason still.

Listen to these amazing words by Paul in Athens:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from each one of us...  --Acts 17:24-27

You see, the circumstance...the family...the race...the country...the poverty (or riches)...even the very time in which we were born was hand-crafted by God Himself. While you and I are distracted by the haves and the have nots of the world, God is carefully placing each person in each home in each country and each circumstance for one reason only:  that each person might reach out and find Him.

The very idea of invoking privilege as a reason that would make us more or less ready to accept the gift of Christ in our lives flies in the face of a God who has placed you (and me and everyone) in the most likely situation where we might actually reach out to encounter His grace through Christ to begin with.  By even acknowledging privilege as a commendable value, it reveals in us as a people that the greatest treasure that we consider having in this world is actual treasure (or position) and not Christ.  It also puts us in a position of an unrighteous judge toward God basically saying that, "God doesn't know what He is doing."  I'm not sure I can go there.

Our true treasure is that Christ has died for us and counted us, unworthy as we are, as one of His own.  We have reached out to Him and found that He was not far from us, as He has promised.  He has given us new life and the promise of the Holy Spirit.  He has satisfied all of our longings and we have found Him to be enough.  He has given us the mission of spreading this message of truth, grace, love and forgiveness to a hurting world seeking all the wrong type of privileges that never satisfy and only leave people longing for more.

As such, this worldly privilege is the enemy of the gospel of Christ.  We would do well not to see through its corrupted lens. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The One Commodity Needed for Discipleship

If I were to ask you:  What is the one thing that you need in order to effectively disciple others?  What would you answer?

I can imagine a great number of you would say "A knowledge of God's Word" or "Effective ways for reaching out".  And while these things are paramount, even necessary, they are but an outgrowth of something even more necessary than that.

The one commodity needed for discipleship, above everything else, is TIME.

If I take away time, then I can take away knowledge of the Word of God.  I can take away opportunities for outreach.  I can take away everything that has to do with discipleship, by simply taking away time.

Take a look at the Great Commission:

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.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.--The words of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20)

How can we possibly complete this lofty mission given to us...without time?

As a pastor over youth, I can tell you that the most effective times of ministry haven't been when youth show up on a Wednesday night, but when they choose to show up outside of that time.

When they meander into my office to talk about a question that they have or when they just come in to hang for a while, that is when true discipleship takes place.  One conversation about the latest movie leads to interesting questions to ponder from a biblical point of view...and we are off.  We begin the process of seeing how the Word of God and a relationship with Christ intersects the real world that we live in.

To be sure, there may be many rounds of Super Smash or Mario Kart in between conversations, but the conversations only come because the time was there to be used.

And that is what concerns me...

Youth and adults have become more and more busy.  I speak often about, and seemingly against, sports and extracurricular activities, but in truth, I am speaking against lack of time.  The number one complaint that I have received from youth and from adults alike is the lack of time that they have to disciple others, whether it be those in their own family or the people they come in contact with, or even themselves.  But the busyness of our society has crowded out the time that we need to both become mature disciples of Christ and to make disciples out of anyone else.

Doug Fields made an astute observation that many pastors (and many people, in general) pride themselves on being busy.  It is like we wear busyness a some sort of sick badge of honor.  We equate busyness to importance.  So we fill every minute of every day with stuff to do, but we have become so busy that we have no time for people, whether it be family, friends or anyone else whom we could touch with the love of Christ.

And while the objection will come that doing some of these things, such as extra curricular activities, can present opportunities for discipleship, it is often the ones who make this observation who also give the excuse of not having time to do it.  You can't have it both ways.

So let me ask you a few questions:  Do you have time on a weekly basis just to hang with people, to have fun, but to also talk about potentially deep conversations (read: discipleship)?  Do you have time to read a good book that will encourage you in your faith (or even just the Bible itself)?  Or is your life so busy that you would have to schedule a time in a couple of weeks or months or maybe sometime before the year 2020?

Don't think that this indictment is against you alone.  I struggle mightily with it too.  As a homeschooling parent who has three teenagers, I know just how valuable time is as a commodity.  However, it shouldn't take me 6 months to plan a night out with friends to fellowship or have deep conversation with...but it does.  (And my kids aren't involved in a lot of things.)

The freedom, or lack thereof, of our calendar life on a daily and weekly basis is, like it or not, an indication of the priority toward fulfilling God's commission for our lives.  The busyness we pride ourselves in is actually the greatest barrier to discipleship that we face.

Remember Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)...  Martha was so busy doing what she thought needed to be done that she was actually offended that Mary was listening to Jesus.  Busyness had become a barrier to holiness and discipleship.

Time is the commodity that we need more than any other...how are you spending yours?

I pray that by shining a light on the problem, together we can both make the time we truly need to both be and make disciples.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:15-16








Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Tempting Allure of False Apologies

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  (The words of Jesus; Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

I wonder how John the Baptist would be treated today.  I know that it seems like a strange place to start...but follow me here.

John the Baptist had basically one job...to prepare the way for the Lord (see Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-17; John 1:19-28; Isaiah 40:3).  And he had one message...Repent!

People came from all around in anticipation of the Lord's coming.  So they asked questions of John in practical terms to understand what "repentance" was.  He told the crowds to be generous with what they had to the poor (Luke 3:10-11).  He told the tax collectors, who were used to a corrupt and unrighteous culture, to only collect what was required of Rome and not line their pockets (Luke 3:12-13).  He told the soldiers to practice justice by not extorting money through force or false accusation and contentment through living on the wages given them.

But he crossed a cultural line when he told King Herod that it was wrong to have his brother's wife (Matthew 14:3-5; Mark 6:17-18; Luke 3:17-18).  Luke even records that he confronted Herod with "all the evil things that Herod had done".  However, the one that stung the most was that it wasn't right for him to have his brother's wife.  Herodias, Herod's wife, held such a grudge against John the Baptist that she wanted to put him to death (Luke 3:19-20). 

If John the Baptist had just recanted, he probably could have had his life spared. 

You know, that whole "wife thing"...my bad, it's totally okay.

It's okay because you really aren't believers in God, so I can't judge you by His standard.

It's okay because you really feel love for one another and that's all that matters.

It's okay because our culture has evolved to include this as okay.

It's okay because you are in power and what you say goes.

It's okay because saying that you are wrong creates a trigger warning and makes you feel bad...and we can't have that.

It's okay because telling people that you are wrong for living this way creates an atmosphere of violence against you that I am responsible for.

It's okay because my forefathers did far worse things than you did, so I should really be the one apologizing.

It's okay because you should have the freedom to live as you want without anyone telling you that you are wrong.

But John the Baptist couldn't do that.  If he did that he would be perverting righteousness, destroying the meaning of repentance and violating his mission given by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. 

He would be creating a false witness by saying that God is good with any way that you want to live, just so long as you believe in Him.  He would be creating a false witness by apologizing for upholding God's standard and calling His standard sin.  He would be creating a false witness by saying that he was doing something wrong, when he was doing what was right by the only standard that truly matters...God's. 

In order to fulfill God's mission, he just couldn't cave to the pressure, no matter how much it would cost him.

And neither can we...

Jesus said "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake...", which means that proclaiming righteousness is part of that package when proclaiming Christ.  Not everyone is going to be okay with that.  Jesus even tells us what their reaction will be...[you will be] reviled, persecuted and falsely accused of all kinds of evil.

In the wake of recent events, the temptation many Christians have is to remain silent on the righteous standard of God.  We are being told that by proclaiming or defending this standard, we are actually inciting violence, showing how bigoted and hateful we are and have no idea what God's love really entails. 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
@ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Some Christians are buying that false narrative and asking forgiveness for things they haven't done, for views they don't hold and for hate that they don't have.  What they don't realize is by giving in to the false accusations, they actually produce a false witness toward the very God they wish to draw others to.

You can't cut out righteousness and be led to repentance.  It's a non-starter.  It leaves people in the same state you found them in...no closer to a God, who wishes reconciliation through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. 

John the Baptist was killed because the culture wanted his voice about God's righteousness silenced. 

Many today would say that Christians can't compare the situation because we aren't being killed for our faith in America.  However, the goal of the current cultural climate is the same, to silence the righteous standard of God.  If this current pressure doesn't work, you can be sure stronger methods are just around the corner.  This is how persecution starts...by claiming that it really doesn't exist.  This is why Jesus included reviling, persecuting and false accusations in the same statement so we would know what it is when we encounter it, and also to know to listen to His voice more than the voice of the culture around us for truth.

To a culture that is perishing, we must proclaim the righteousness of God so that they may have a hope of repentance and true faith in Jesus Christ.  We can't listen to the false accusations that will be hurled our way, whose origin is ultimately found in the father of lies and the accuser of the brethren (John 8:44; Rev. 12:10).  This is the only way to fulfill the mission God has given us (Matthew 28:18-20).
And in order to fulfill God's mission, we can't cave to the pressure, no matter how much it may cost us.
   






Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Blurry Line of Collective Christian Conscience and Individual Christian Freedom

I worry for the church in these tumultuous times. 

As I look at the headlines of our ever changing nation, I know that I can be overwhelmed with the speed and ferocity by which we see our country's ethical standard deteriorate.  This transition which I am seeing is disappointing, but not unexpected.  As a matter of fact, I have been talking about these changes for about a decade.   

My worry for the church isn't in whether or not Jesus will keep His church.  He has already bought and paid for His bride with His blood.  He has given us the promised Holy Spirit which is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment and also to lead the believer into truth and seal him for the day of redemption.  The church...the true confessing, believing church...is safe in the arms of their Savior.

My worry is over whether the church will be one, as Jesus wants them to be:  United as one body with many parts, who all have a function for the edification of the body while providing salt and light to the world.

In our American culture there has grown a "collective Christian conscience" on many subjects that has the ability to skew and inhibit individual Christian freedom, causing unnecessary disunity among members of the body of Christ.  Because of the rapid acceleration of the changing morals within our society, I think it important to explore this dynamic so that when we encounter them we are prepared to recognize the subtle schemes of the enemy and not fall for the bait.

It is important to note that on the essentials of each of these examples the individual believers are united.  This is not a matter of the Christian believer on either side of the equation compromising the gospel of Christ, the definition of sin as defined by God's word, the need for repentance of sin or the hope of glorifying Christ through their actions.

Rather, what is different in each of these scenarios is how the individual Christian believers are being led by God to be that salt and light to the world around them.  When people of the same conviction come to differing conclusions concerning the same matter, our American mentality of "Collective Christian Conscience" comes in.  That, coupled with the American desire to have to win the argument, has caused many a division where none existed before, and none is necessarily needed.

So here are some examples that put this tension to light:

Craig Gross runs a Christian ministry called XXXChurch (xxxchurch.com).  This ministry is in the heart of the pornographic industry.  They go to the conferences and rent out booths in the porn conventions in hopes to reaching those involved in the pornography industry for Christ.  They also
provide accountability tools for those caught in the cycle of addiction. 

On the other end of the spectrum is...me.  For many years, I battled an addiction to porn.  The images will be burned into my head for the rest of my life.  I have fallen and repented (more than once) and have experienced the ravages of this terrible sin and what it does on individuals and families.  My advice to all I see is to avoid this temptation, gain accountability, confess when fallen and run as fast as you can in the other direction of the sensual.

In this situation, my advice matches with the "collective Christian conscience".  Craig Gross could easily be seen by many to be compromising his beliefs because he is "supporting" an industry that ruins the lives of so many others.  I wonder how many times he has heard that or other similar charges of his faithlessness because his "answer" to the problem of pornography moved him in a different direction than most. 

But is there really a conflict?  Or are we just creating one because personally we might not have the same "freedom" as Craig Gross?  I know that I don't have that freedom, but I applaud and pray for one going into the "den of lions" that I and many others have been burned by.  After all, Jesus died for them too, so it would make sense that He would equip special individuals for a task that many of us cannot partake in.

Last year, the Girl Scouts became public headlines in the LGBT debate when their policy concerning "transgendered girls" came to light.  The voice of the Christian community worried about boys being mixed with girls further confusing their God given identity or the possible protections needed for girls from boys who might abuse the "transgender rule" by becoming troopers or troop leaders.

As a result, the "collective Christian conscience" proposed bans for Girl Scout cookies and, of course, actively encouraged Christians to abandon the Girl Scouts altogether because of the policies and training.  Similar petitions have been proposed for the Boy Scouts and more recently Target.

To be sure, withholding support from organizations that promote policies can be very effective and cause corporations and institutions to bow to public pressure.  Also, it is wholly appropriate for Christian believers for the sake of protection of their loved ones from what they perceive to be harmful influences to withdraw participation.

But what of the believer who is convicted that their participation as a troop leader or their children's involvement does more to be salt and light?  Or the believer who works at Target or wishes to continue to shop there to be an active influence for Christ?  Are they wrong because their answer doesn't match the "collective Christian conscience"?

Is it possible to have a believer fully convicted in their own mind that purchasing merchandise from the Girl or Boy Scouts or Target would be wrong and also have another believer fully convinced that they need to be more involved in any (or all) of those organizations to be salt and light, without being condemnatory to either for their stance since both come from a position of faith?

This, I believe, is the greatest challenge toward our unity as a Christian people in our current atmosphere.  When an individual doesn't conform to an expected (and appropriate answer) to a controversial issue, we tend to vilify and to call into question the motives behind such a differing view.  Especially in the light of the tremendous changes caused by our culture's acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle, we will continue to see varying responses by individual, committed believers (and even churches and parachurch ministries).

May God, in the midst of this trial, grant us unity in the faith, purity of motives and freedom to act individually for the glory of Christ, while supporting one another in our mission to love God and be salt and light to a hurting world...because that is where our attention really should be.   

  




Friday, March 4, 2016

Has Your Faith Become Counterfeit?

I worked at a bank for many years.  And for those who know me, I gave them as hard of a time as any of my youth in my current youth group.  Aside from the phone calls that I gave to the person next to me, I actually learned a thing or two about banking.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of the most important lessons that we were taught was about counterfeit money.  At a seminar in Savannah, we were taught to recognize all types of counterfeit things.  The best way to recognize a counterfeit bill was to be intimately acquainted with the real thing.  Before we even encountered any of the counterfeits, we spent a good part of the day looking at the real bills.  We felt their texture.  We learned every little secret about the bill.  Some are well known to the public.  Some are not. 

To be honest, by the time we were done, we were bored.  I mean, this is the currency that we handled and counted everyday...numerous times a day.  Yes, we know what a one dollar bill looks like.  Yes, we know what a twenty feels like.  Yes, I remember about that cool security feature that you have mentioned 15 times this morning.  (And it is beginning to lose its "coolness" because of you.)  We thankfully broke for lunch with the promise that afterward we would actually look at the fakes.

When we got back, as promised, the counterfeits were shown to us.  What surprised me was that anyone would have been fooled by these obvious frauds!  Immediately, when we handled the bills, we could tell that they were not the real thing.  The coloring was off.  The print wasn't that close.  The texture felt weird.  Yet, here we were looking at these bills that had been taken in by businesses and banks fooled into believing that they were the real thing.

So what caused these people to take in the false so easily?  And what does this have to do with us knowing the Word of God?

1)  Many of them didn't know what the real currency was.

Unlike us in the seminar, they had never taken the time to study the real currency.  Therefore, when they were presented with something that looked somewhat similar, they were easily fooled.

The same thing happens with many who profess belief in Christ.  They know of Christ.  They have heard Him preached from the pulpit.  They have read books by people who seem to know Him.  But because they, themselves, have never studied the Word for themselves, they can be easily lead astray by something that sounds somewhat Christian, but really isn't.

I am currently reading a book that stated that Jesus (or the Bible) never uses shame to draw people to Christ.  While there are many good things about this book, I know the Word of God well enough to know that statement (and therefore the entire chapter) wasn't true.  What is one to do with Matthew 23 and the denunciation of the leaders of Israel...by Jesus?  Didn't Jesus love them too?  Didn't He wish for them to follow Him and recognize Him as Messiah?  Yet, He uses harsh language and shame to expose their ways. 

And don't get me started on Paul.  There is shame and sarcasm dripping through many of the things that he wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the express purpose of drawing people closer to Christ.  I mean, read 1 Corinthians for numerous examples of this.

Now shame isn't always used and the author rightly points out that many times Jesus met those in downtrodden circumstances with grace where shame was expected, but not always.

You see, I only recognize this false point (by a Christian writer) because I compare even my brother and sister's teaching to the Word of God.  It helps me not only recognize the obvious differences between true Christian faith and cults like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormonism, who twist the plain reading of Scripture, but also the faulty reasoning of fellow believers using Scripture to prove their point rather than letting God speak for Himself.

It is why I want those in my congregation to test my teaching with that of Scripture and not just "take my word for it."  My word is not the real currency...only His Word is. 

2)  They became lazy with what they knew.

There were some of those who did take classes like we were taking.  However, in our class, we were told that we needed to pick up the bills throughout the day during our downtime and continually remind ourselves about the money we handled.  To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that I did this all that much.  Neither did those who carelessly handled and accepted the counterfeits they were so sure they would recognize because they studied the dollar bill once.

I have heard so many people say things like, "I've read the Bible once" as if once was enough to protect them against being tossed "to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14).  Many a "former" Christian who "read the Bible" stopped after one time believing that once was enough to inoculate them from all the false teachings of the world, only to come to the conclusion at a later time that the Word of God was one of those false teachings.

Drawing close to God means that we learn about Him continually.  We recognize His Word, not because we have read it just once, but we want to know everything about it because it tells us about Him.  And He is the One we love, not just know stuff about.

3)  They were rushed.

Counterfeiters are often in a hurry because they don't want you to look too closely at what they are giving you.  So they tell you to hurry up.  They talk through the whole transaction.  They point out other things like photos of their family or get you engaged in a story.  Their whole effort is to get you away from the one thing you should be doing:  Focusing on the money you are taking in.  Many in the banking industry fall for this ploy...and so do many Christians.

Our enemy prowls around like a lion seeking to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy who wishes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).  He doesn't want us to keep our eyes on of Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).  So, in our culture, he has made us busy.

We are so busy, we never seem to have time for God and His Word.  We go from one event to another and before we know it, another day has gone by and we haven't been in the Word.  If this happens enough, we find ourselves taking in doctrines and teachings we never thought we would.  We still want to regard Jesus, but we just never have time for Him.  We never test and approve what the will of God is (Rom. 12:1-2) because the time just isn't there.  So we settle for less.  We accept the counterfeit and then wonder later why our lives are so unfulfilling and compromised.

We are like Martha distracted thinking so many arrangements in life are needed when only one thing is necessary (Luke 10:38-42).  Jesus didn't take that one thing away from Mary.  May we not take that one thing away from ourselves and our children because of busyness.

The Bible is God's declaration about Himself.  Through it, we discover His revelation of Jesus Christ.  We need to know the Word.  We need to remind ourselves of the Word.  And we need to make sure that the Word of God isn't cut out of our lives through busyness.  Only then, will be able to withstand all the counterfeits that are thrown our way...and test even the good things that are given to us.     

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How "Instant" Has Ruined Self-Control

Good things come to those who wait...or so the saying goes.  I wonder if the person who invented that phrase could have foreseen the age of the internet and smart phones.

Image courtesy of adamr
@FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The idea of waiting for anything in our culture has become anathema.  So much so that we have road rage incidents when we are caught in traffic.  We get impatient at the grocery store when we choose the wrong line and have to stay 5 minutes longer because of our misstep.  We are always in a hurry and when we fall behind, we have no grace for those who have cost us those precious moments that we will never get back.  (Just ask my kids as they have been the target of my wrath for the 2 minutes that I think I'm behind...only to still arrive on time.)

This hurried culture has made us a less patient people, and as a result, less self controlled.

This lack of self control manifests itself as a reactionary people whose peace is only found in the feeling of the moment.  If the experiences we have in life make us feel good, then, we surmise, it must be good, because we lack the self control to pause and ask the question:  Does God think this is good?

However, to invoke God is to actually know what He has revealed about Himself through His Word.  To do that requires the self control to actually read and understand the God whom we serve and that takes time...time we don't think we have (though we had time to binge watch an entire season of whatever on Netflix last week).

Don't they have an app for that to make it easier for me to get into the Word?  Or how about a movie?  Or just something more entertaining than that boring Word of God...no offense God.

The funny thing is that we have all of those things.  The entire Gospel of Matthew, John and Acts in the form of a movie.  A number of great Bible apps that will even read the Bible to you, if you want, so you don't even have to get bored looking at the script on your smartphone.  More podcasts, more books (even on audio...and dramatized) by more great Biblical teachers than ever before.  Sermons, illustrations and teachings are all available for free on YouTube.

And even with all of this...we have the most Biblically illiterate generation growing up in the church in America today.

Peter tells believers to...  make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fail.  2 Peter 1:5-10

This lack of self control is the cause of the lack of steadfastness (to the faith), godliness, brotherly affection (love for the members of the body of Christ) and love we are seeing within the church.  All of these are the casualties of the loss of self control.  Peter tells us that they build upon one another and should be found in every believers' life to be effective for the work that God has called us to.

Because of their lack of self control, Paul advised couples to get married instead of burning with passion for one another (1 Cor. 7:8-9).  However, today many in the church simply settle for the living together mentality rather than the self control to abstain from sexual relations or the commitment to marry.  Living together is quick.  It is easy and can make us feel just as good as any marriage...so God must be okay with it, right?

It is interesting to note that the lack of recognition of God is the reason why God gave people over to their passions listed in Romans 1:18-32.  Each and every one of those sins that came in increasing measure can be accounted for by one factor...a lack of self control.  Many of those passions listed are sexual in nature.  Is it any wonder that we are having a hard time in our churches when sexual sin runs rampant in our culture and has bled through the four walls of the church?

Josh McDowell has recently stated that he believes that the biggest threat to Christianity is pornography that is so easily accessible through the internet and smartphones.  Kids and adults becoming addicted to the images and the feelings produced by the sexual content that is only a click or touch away.

This addiction has led to very unbiblical views of sex and marriage being promoted within many churches.  It seems to echo the conclusion Paul made at the end of Romans 1:  Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Our culture has taken off the restraints and gloried in it, taking many professing believers with them.  Our only hope for healing and health within our Christian community comes with the rediscovery of the lost discipline of self control.  The Bible calls it "dying to self".  It means that we actually want God more than even the things that we desire that wish to drag us away from the God who loves us and gave His Son for us that we may follow Him (not profess to know Him and never do what He says).  Until that happens, we will continue to spiral down the path of self destruction...never recognizing that we had the power to prevent it, if we only used the self control over our desires that God empowered us with through the sacrifice of His Son.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Juggling a Relationship with Christ

If I were to ask you how you were doing in your relationship with Christ...how would you answer?

If you are like a lot of people, immediately your mind runs to two areas of spiritual devotion:  prayer and getting into the Word.  From these two areas, we often assess our relationship with God.  Usually when looking at these areas, the common response I hear is that prayer is alright and Bible reading is non-existent or could do a lot better.

Responses like that make me sad for two reasons.  First, as Christians, we have identified only two disciplines and called it our relationship with God.  And secondly, we aren't very good at even those two disciplines.

Listen to the following verses from Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (NASB)

According to this passage, we are supposed to be living sacrifices, set apart from the world (this is what holy means).  This is our spiritual act of worship and it encompasses so much more than just prayer and Bible reading.  It is every moment of every day living on mission for Christ.

Now to be sure, none of us will ever perfectly live out the life Christ has called us to.  However, I believe that the definition that we have adopted as our relationship with Christ has hurt us as a Christian community.  It relegates our relationship to Christ to a tidy 15 to 30 minutes we did or didn't set aside for Christ, rather than realizing that Christ is supposed to rule every waking minute of our days.

As I look through the Scriptures, I see 6 areas where God consistently calls us to be on mission for Christ, each and every day:

Prayer
Image courtesy of renjith Krishnan
@ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Bible
Fellowship
Outreach/Service
Discipleship
Giving

Prayer is the outlet of our communication with God.  We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "pray continually".  We should be talking to God and, more importantly, listening to God, all the time.  Prayer is all at the same time the easiest discipline and the hardest.  It is the easiest because us presenting our requests or even just talking to God can be done so effortlessly...even without much thought.  It becomes hardest when we are actually trying to listen to His voice, allowing Him to speak to us and guide us and remind us of who He is and who we are in relation to that truth.

The Bible is God's communication about Himself to the world.  Through the Word we become familiar with the God we serve.  The lack of this knowledge produces a faith that is founded upon our feelings and confusion over whether the leadings that we have are truly from God, our own feelings or even the enemies temptings.  This is what Paul meant when he said, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Knowledge of the Word gives a believer great confidence that we can know the will of God in a great many areas because He has already spoken. 

Fellowship isn't just church going.  It is found with the gathering of believers for encouragement to walk with Christ.  It is relational at its very core.  It is living life together as we learn to forgive one another, love one another, serve one another, teach one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, laugh and mourn together...until we all reach maturity and unity in the faith (see Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor 12, Romans 12).  All the one another passages are about the mingling of believers and cannot be fulfilled outside of it.  We should be looking for it at church, at work, at school and in our families...everyday.

Outreach/Service isn't just doing good things for others.  It is an intentional effort to share with those we are serving about the Christ who compels us to love our neighbor, care for the sick or imprisoned, feed the poor, clothe and shelter the homeless, etc...  Jesus told us that even evil people do good things (Luke 11:11-13).  But to do this service in the name of Christ is to invite the one looking at our actions to the One who motivates us to do so.  It can be done just by giving a glass of water in His name or baking cookies for your neighbors with a tag attached that Jesus loves them.  It is everyday acts of kindness that dares to name the One who makes the action worthwhile.

Discipleship is the discipline of going deeper with Christ than just Bible reading and prayer.  It is the deliberate action of being mentored and finding those to mentor within the body of Christ.  It is growing in our understanding of who God is through conversation, study and accountability. So few Christians read any books about their faith that our capability for sharing the Gospel, deepening another's faith or defending our own faith remains at an elementary level (see Heb. 5:11-6:3).  And yet, it is the very commission that Christ has given us all (see Mat. 28:18-20).  So all of us should find a mentor and be a mentor because it is usually as we are leading others that our faith flourishes the most.

Giving is not just making sure that we tithe.  Rather it is a gut check for each of us on how invested we are in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus Himself said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, were moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Mat. 6:19-21  You see, if we are not truly committed to our church, to our outreach, to our discipleship, to our fellowship, to our life of prayer, it manifests itself in a life that is unwilling to invest in the things of God.  However, the opposite is true too.  The more that we invest with our treasure, time and talent the things that are important to God, the easier it becomes to do so down the line...and the more the things of God actually mean to us.

No one does this juggling act perfectly.  But each of these disciplines intersect one another in such a way that doing them builds up the others.  Outreach and Giving often drives us to Prayer. Discipleship draws us to the Word.  Fellowship builds relationships that brings us to all of these areas.  It helps us avoid the jaundice account that our relationship with God is relegated to prayer and Bible reading only.  My prayer is that this holistic view of our relationship with Christ will help each of us stay on mission for Christ each and every day.

Lord bless you all. 


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy or Holy?

Our goal as believers is to strive for holiness.  Not just for ourselves but for our fellow believers.  It should also be our prayer for those who don't yet know Jesus. 

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However, in our personal conflict avoiding society, we are often settling for far less...happiness. 

"If it makes them happy..." has become the mantra and wish of our generation and many of us, as Christians, have fallen for it.  We may not personally agree with the choices that they make, but instead of taking a stand for holiness, we settle for wishing them happiness. 

Happiness is easy.  It costs you nothing to wish someone happiness.  Happiness has no conviction other than happiness be the goal.  The greatest evil to happiness is that which denies someone the happiness they seek.  Happiness says that relationship must be preserved at all costs beyond condition.  Which is what makes happiness, in our society, one of the biggest hindrances to holiness.

For the sake of happiness (or peace), I have seen women in relationships settle for living together rather than marriage.  Because marriage is hard and mentioning it to him, makes him unhappy.  After all, commitment to a lifelong relationship speaks of conviction toward God and toward a life of self sacrifice to another.  Why ruin all of our happiness for that?

For the sake of happiness, I continually see Christian men and women (and youth) "liking" statuses on Facebook that Jesus would have nothing to do with.  We don't want to lose the relationship by being critical or judgmental so we will affirm those people in their sin and hope that our "like" for their happiness will win them over.  I can't tell you how many I have seen affirming same sex relationships and celebrating that which brings pain to many families who wish for holiness for their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. 

For the sake of happiness, I have seen those caught in addictions (alcohol, drugs, porn) stay silent or excuse them instead of crying out for the help that they need that may lead toward holiness.  The status quo is easy and gives brief glimmers of happiness in-between the regret and vicious cycle that ensues.  Holiness demands change and threatens to take away those fleeting glimmers of happiness they have come to live for.

For the sake of happiness, believers settle for feeling good about God.  We celebrate our closeness to Him through the way that a worship service makes us feel.  Our feelings therefore dictate our closeness to God rather than our obedience.  Obedience is hard.  It speaks of conviction and doesn't always feel good.  So we settle for being happy with our relationship with God instead of striving for holiness.

James 4:7-8 states "Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."    

"Draw" is a command, not a feeling or hopeful thought of happiness.  It speaks of things that we can do to draw near to God (not earn His affection).  James is speaking to believers and equating closeness with God to obedience.  It is to "double-minded" believers like us he is speaking to, who so easily want to preserve relationships with others at the cost of our closeness to Christ. 

He reminds us that Jesus didn't die for us so that we might be "happy" but holy...a set apart people for Him, and Him first.  We would do well to remember that Jesus came to make sinners holy...not happy.  It is the duty of every believer called by His name to call others to this holiness that Christ offers...even at the cost of their happiness.
 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Teaching Children (and Adults) to Avoid Drama

I have a drama queen in my family.  Maybe you have the same.

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Now I love my daughter with this trait with all my heart.  However, as a father, I recognize that this drama queening will get her into a LOT of trouble in life, if I don't guide her through how to properly handle conflict (whether it is conflict with her own desires and wants or with others).

Give me a moment to define the term drama queen (or king).  A drama queen (or king) is someone who over-exaggerates the importance of trivial matters.  These trivial matters then become the most important thing that is happening in their lives...at that moment.  Because of this attitude, there becomes unrest in their lives and everyone else's lives around them.  Their happiness and joy is affected by these trivial matters.  Fights begin.  Pouting happens.  Slammed doors.  Loud wails.  Disconcerted complaining about how unfair life is.  Exaggerated sighs or looks.  And all because you told them "no" to watching their favorite TV show. 

Conflict seems to gravitate around them.  When they don't get their way, they are poking and prodding others (usually other siblings or possibly your spouse) seemingly getting pleasure out of causing unrest.   

Childhood fights over toys turn into the gossip corner at school and a group of friends who always have drama in their lives and are rarely happy, unless they are preying on someone else's unhappiness.  They post their lives on social media, often causing more conflict.  Their constant desire for attention makes them easy targets for those who would exploit them for their looks and need for attention...any attention and put them in the unenviable position of doing anything to receive that attention, if just for a little while.  They are always unsettled at work and are easily discontented enough to quit their jobs on a moment's notice.

It's not that they are this way all the time.  Nor is it that their emotions are always wrong or misplaced.  However, for these people, their emotions always seem heightened and they are more likely to give into them rather than thinking through their actions.  These children seem to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows...all the time.

As parents, it is our responsibility to lovingly guide our children through these things.  A tough task, I know.  There are some days where it is just easier to give up, give them their way, if it would earn just a few moments of solace.  The other extreme is just to ignore them because dealing with the drama is too much to handle.  However, both of these efforts do not teach our children how to recognize what is happening with them, nor does it help them identify how to deal with these emotions.  It is also equally wrong to assume that this "drama queening" is just a phase that they will grow out of. 

As hard as it is to believe, these may be the traits that God has gifted your child with.  Our job as parents isn't to try to create a carbon copy of ourselves (which is so easy for us to want to do).  Rather, our job is to recognize the uniqueness of our sons and daughters, recognize the challenges that will face them because of their personalities, pray for a LOT of guidance and allow God to use the traits that He gave them for His glory.

So how do we deal with the drama queen (or king)?

First, we have to teach our children the difference between real drama and manufactured drama.

Real drama is that which has a significant impact on the lives that are affected.  They include things like, divorced, broken families, death of a close loved one, the impending poverty of a family because of a loss of income, etc...

The best way to teach children about real drama is to give your child experiences around it.  Minister to people in these real life drama situations.  Feed the homeless.  Care for the sick and dying.  Bring children to funerals.  The more that they are around such situations, the less they will think their situation is as dire as their emotions are making them out to be.

Emotions used in this way usually bring constructive attitudes of service to those who are in need.  Often those who are very emotional people will feel very strongly about helping in these situations.  This is a place where emotions can be redemptive, rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and grieving with those who are grieving (1 Cor. 12:26).

One of the first questions I often ask those who have older children (8 and up) is:  When was the last time they served someone other than themselves (someone truly in need)?

Manufactured drama often comes into play when there is no perspective of what real drama is.

Second, we must teach our children to rule over their emotions.

The sin of Cain in Genesis 4 is fueled by emotions brought on by manufactured drama.  Cain was caught doing something wrong.  Instead of admitting his wrongdoing, he found a scapegoat for his anger caused by his wrongdoing...his own brother.  God tries to warn Cain of the destructive nature of this manufactured drama by pointing out that if he does what is right, he will be accepted.  He will receive what he truly desires, not by doing things his way, but by doing them God's way.

We must do the same for our children by reminding them (over and over again) that the very acceptance and attention they desire comes from doing what is right.  We must teach our children to have our emotions conform to the truth, even when they wish to do otherwise.

Third, as parents, we have to teach our children to take responsibility for their actions produced by the drama they have created.

This is what God did to expose Cain's wrongdoing.  However, Cain didn't get the memo that he was actually in the wrong.

As parents, we have to do our best to make sure that our children get the memo.  This can be hard to do because with our other children, we don't seem to have that problem.  The drama queen (or king) will blame others for their wrongdoings.  They will blame siblings for tattling or ratting them out for their wrongdoings.  They will fight with those who have outted them, placing the blame on their shoulders.

As parents, we must recognize that this further conflict isn't fueled by brothers and sisters calling out wrong actions and appropriately telling parents.  Rather, this further conflict arises because the drama child hasn't got the memo that they were in the wrong and have compounded the problem by doing more wrong things.

We have to take the time to, not only punish the child, but explain...biblically, why they were wrong.  We need to show them, biblically, what it means to repent and to humble oneself when wrong.  The area of sin and wrongdoing is the one area that the drama queen or king doesn't want attention, therefore we must focus on it all the more, biblically, so they will get the memo.

(This also means that we must not tell our children that they shouldn't tattle or rat out their siblings.  This sends a message that important conflicts are to be glossed over and not paid attention to.  Rather we should teach them how to appropriately handle those situations.)

Fourth, we must teach children how to handle conflict biblically.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-17 how we are supposed to handle conflict.  First, we are to go to the person who has offended us one on one and talk to them.  Then, as appropriate, bring in others to confront for the purpose of restoration, not retaliation.  Unfortunately, this rarely happens in our society.  And for one who is ruled by their emotions, the temptation to tell someone else (or everyone else) is too hard to pass up. 

Our children need to be repeatedly taught that when we break away from God's design for handling conflict...drama ensues.  Drama steals away our joy, our peace, our trust and damages our relationships.  We need to point that out from the myriad of examples that we will see in life, so they can recognize the results. 

We must model for them how to handle conflict biblically, so they can see what happens when tough situations are handled God's way.

Finally, we need to teach our children to seek good, Godly attention, rather than attention for attention's sake.

What our children really want is attention.  So as parents, we need to share with them how to get the attention that they seek without the regret and punishment that comes through sin.  As parents, when our drama children do the right thing, we should be just as eager to commend as we are to reprimand.  We should point out how obedience to those good and Godly things are a reward of itself and are missing the guilt and regret that disobedience brings.

We should have our children eager for the words that we await our Savior to say to us when we finally see Him face to face..."Well done, good and faithful servant..."  If, by the grace of God, we can train them for that, we will save them from a lot of undue drama and troubles, and hopefully give them the attention and joy they truly crave that comes from a relationship with Christ.

Pray for me, as I move toward that end with my daughter, and I promise, I will pray for the same for you.





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