Strengthen the Family, Church, and Association

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago (April 10-13) of attending a conference and while much of the information didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, it did stick with me and solidified a few ideological convictions that I have. One ideological conviction that was renewed is this, spiritually healthy individuals and families make a spiritually healthy church, spiritually healthy churches make a spiritually healthy association or network of churches. It is the idea of what is the basic building block and for the church the basic building block is the individual and/or the individual family. So here is the question I want you to pray about and think on, how can the church encourage, support, and resource individuals and/or families to be spiritually healthy? Here is the working assumed answer that must be fleshed out:

1) Healthy and Vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, that not only teaches the foundations and principles of the faith but also shares life together. Within this is also a system of care for both the individual and the family.

2) With healthy and vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, is a process to recruit, train, and mentor new Sunday School leaders/teachers.

3) A growing foundation of one-on-one or small group discipleship groups (D-Groups). It is foundational for a more mature believer to pour their life into one that is newer in the faith. Let’s be honest the Christian faith is a generational faith, in that it is passed from one generation to the next. This can be seen in an older generation passing the faith to a younger generation, and this can also be seen in a more mature believer pouring their life into the life of one that is not as mature. My emphasis for now is on new believers (believer for 5 years or less). This process of D-Groups is to be one where those who go through the process are also challenged to pour their life into another.

4) A process to train, encourage, support, and resource parents to be the primary spiritual leaders and teachers in their family. The range of parents will be for children from preschool to high school.

What do you think of the general premise? Are there things that you would add or subtract?

Knocked Down Not Knocked Out

They say that there are two things guaranteed in life, taxes and death. While taxes may seem like death, there is a third that isn’t in this saying, struggles and pains. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life and there is no getting around this fact.

Sometimes our struggles and pains are financial. We live on a budget, yet there are times that our money is funny as we get further away from our last pay check. Sometimes the struggles and pains are with relationships. Maybe there is a disagreement with a friend that has divided or broken ‘your relationship. There are also times that trust is broken with a family member and you just don’t know if you will be able to trust them again.

Our struggles and pains can be in the form where we just can’t seem to catch a break. Murphy of Murphy’s law becomes your new and unwanted friend, where what can go wrong, does. Sometimes the struggles and pains are physical, with an injury or a painful diagnosis. Sometimes these struggles and pains are with the loss of a loved one. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life.

These struggles and pains can cut us deep, knock us down, and at times they can even deliver a knock out blow. My friends, there is no preventing the fact that these struggles and pains do cut us deep, they hurt and the pain stays with us for days or years, and at times a life time. In like manner there is no preventing the fact that these pains and struggles can knock us down with the blows that are either significantly hard or the blow catches us off guard and sends us to the mat, dazed and confused. Yet, these pains and struggles do not have to knock you out. A.A. Milne the creator of Winnie the Pooh once stated, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

How can you keep these struggles and pains from knocking you out? First, if you are a believer, you have an anchor in Jesus Christ. Psalm 31:2-4 states, “Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; for Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength (NASB).” What an amazing passage that gives us the promise that we can hold tightly and confidently to the Lord, as a ship holds tightly and confidently to an anchor in the midst of a storm, as the passage tells us that the Lord is a ‘rock of strength’, ‘a stronghold’, and ‘my fortress’. Not only are we given this truth, but we are given a second truth in this passage, the Lord will lead and guide you through life’s ups and downs.

Second, you need support from loved ones. We were not meant to go through this life alone, so we need others in our life. This is especially true in those times of life’s pains and struggles, where we need those words of encouragement, that shoulder to cry on, and that pat on the back. We simply need those loved ones around us, to help us remember that we are not alone. If you are that loved one, can you be there to be that presence, that word of encouragement, or that pat on the back to remind them that they are not alone?

Third, you need to refocus on your purpose. Each of us has a purpose in our life, yet when we are in the crucible of life it is easy to loose track of that purpose. I am reminded of Elijah after he is threatened by Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. As a result Elijah runs, yet the Lord restores him by refocusing him on his purpose as a prophet.

Simply we get distracted and detoured by pains and struggles. The problem is when we loose our purpose because of a pain, we get lost in the pain. When we get lost in the pain we go down the rabbit hole and the way out is to refocus on our purpose.

My friends, you may find yourself in the midst of pain or struggle, remember to hold on to the Lord as the anchor of your life, that you are not alone, and that you still have a purpose. You may be knocked down, but you are not knocked out.

Chasing your Lions

Here is an article I wrote for the local newspaper here in Asheboro, NC. You can find it over the next couple of days in the pastor’s column at http://courier-tribune.com/faith-worship.

 

I know I’m a little different, that is ok. One of the unusual things I personally do is at Christmas my attention moves to the cross and at Easter, you guessed it, my attention goes back to that first Christmas with the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Luke 2:8-11 states of the birth of Christ, “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”

In this passage we are introduced to some shepherds and we have an angel who delivers a message that will forever change the course of humanity. When these shepherds saw this angel we are told that they were “terribly frightened”. Yet what I want us to notice is this simple message from the angel, “Do not be afraid.” I wonder how many of us are buffeted by fear? How many opportunities do we let slip by because of fear? Your fear may be that conversation you know you really need to have, yet your fear keeps you from engaging in that conversation. Your fear could be a situation or some type of circumstance that you see as your Goliath that is too big or impossible to overcome. In the end your fear keeps you from being a lion chaser, a conqueror, a giant slayer.

Some time ago I came across a manifesto of sorts from Mark Batterson in his book In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. In this manifesto he states, “Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don’t try to be who you’re not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Take a flying leap of faith. Chase the lion!”

Paul tells us this same truth in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” We can enjoy the journey of life, we can set God-sized goals, we can blaze new trails. We can take that leap of faith because we have been given power and love and boldness, not fear. My friends, we are not called to fear and worry, but we are called to be lion chasers, conquerors, and giant slayers.

You ask, how do we overcome our fear? First, you overcome your fear through prayer. I truly believe that everything should begin and end on our knees in prayer. You need to seek the source of your strength, to give you boldness to overcome. Second, you need to trust in our Heavenly Father, because He wants the best for you. There is an insurance company that has the slogan, “You’re in good hands.” When it comes to your Heavenly Father, you are truly in good hands. Third, there comes a point where you have to take that step of faith. It may be uncomfortable, yet you have to make a move.

The question remains, what lion or giant is God calling you to chase?

Listening with Care

I am a task oriented and goal setting person in life and in work. I hate down time. I hate being overly early to meetings, as I could have gotten that ‘one more thing done’. My life operates by moving from one task to the next. To be honest, in my conversations I am more of a person of “give me the facts” or “give me the information I need and let’s move on”. This is both good and bad.

It is good in that I’m able to accomplish the things I need to accomplish. It is good because it keeps me motivated and moving. It is good…

Yet it is bad, you see because I am so task oriented, I can inadvertently come across as cold and uncaring. Cold and uncaring is not me, but because I’m constantly moving from one task to the next it is difficult for me to slow down, much less stop, and truly listen to others. This is a lesson I’m constantly having to learn and relearn and relearn again. This is a lesson I am and have struggled to perfect. This is a lesson that affects so much of life. It affects my marriage relationship with my wife. It affects my relationship with my children. It affects my relationship with my friends. It affects my ability to lead.

When it comes to leadership, the lesson I’m learning is leading is as much about relationship with those you lead as it is about accomplishing the goal. It is and must be a both/and. It is foolish to try to accomplish a goal through leadership without investing in the relationships with those you lead. For me and maybe for you, this all comes down to truly listening. To stopping and truly hearing someone out.

Here are the questions I working through now and maybe questions for you to work through as well.

  1. Am I making the people I have relationships with and those I lead feel valued and important?
  2. Am I creating enough margin in my day to slow down and truly listen? For me without this margin, I simply race from one task to the next with little time in between.
  3. Am I truly listening before I think of responses?

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 3

All day today I have been dragging, something has been off. I suspect it is all because of a ball game. You see I’m a big Duke fan and well the men’s basketball team just didn’t play up to Duke standards and to be frank just didn’t play like they really wanted the win last night for the UNC game. All day today I have been just off key. Yet, one thing I know with the UNC win over Duke last night, we live in a broken and fallen world (well maybe that is a stretch, but it makes me feel better about life). Either way all we have to do is watch the news or simply look around and know that we live in a fallen world that is far from the Lord.

A weeks ago we began the series on how we can respond to this fallen world. The first post we discussed the great need for us as believers to stay engaged with the world around us. It would be easy for us to look around and say we don’t want any part it, yet the Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20).

The second post we discussed that we as believers must live and stand by conviction. Our faith isn’t some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions?

In this third post we are going to discuss that as a believer you must know that when you live by conviction, you will feel increasingly less comfortable. What creates this discomfort?  I believe the key to this discomfort that we see the two world: the world we live in and the world of eternal life seeing the Lord face to face. If you have been in the church very long you have probably heard the slogan “In the world, but not of the world.” This is a true statement, with just one revision. The Bible puts it like this in John 17:14-18, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Clearly from this verse we as believers are not of the world, yet we are sent into the world. Therefore, we are sent into the world, but not of the world. It is this sense and with this growing awareness of the Kingdom that we will grow more and more uncomfortable.

This is especially true in certain circumstances we find ourselves. Maybe you are watching a TV show like this past Grammy Awards show or having a movie go in a direction you didn’t expect. Maybe you find yourself uncomfortable at the office around the water cooler as one co-worker is talking negatively about another, it may be that colorful and course joke, or it may be just the general topic of discussion. As we go through life and as we live more and more by conviction we will find ourselves in situations of discomfort.

What do we do with this discomfort? In many situations we as believers must continue to actively be salt and light. Several weeks ago I was sitting around a table when one person said something that completely went against my convictions. To this is was very quick speak and stand my ground, to be that salt and light.

Yet, there are some situations we must follow Joseph’s example and simply get out. You remember Joseph that young fellow with the special coat, some of us may have learned about him as the coat of many colors. You remember in Genesis 39, Joseph was serving in Potiphar’s house, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She (Potiphar’s wife) caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” During the Grammy’s Christian singer Natalie Grant, nominated twice, walked out of the show.  You ask what is the situation that you should simply get out? I think there is a few questions that will help us answer this question.

1) Are you in a position to influence the situation? If you are not in a position to influence then get out.

2) Where you at in your walk with Christ? Are you fairly young in the faith or strong and mature in the faith? The less mature you are in your walk the more likely you may find yourself in a situation that you simply need to get out.

3) What is the level of celebration of non-biblical viewpoints? To put this another way, there is no need to knowingly be in a lion’s den. If the celebration of a non-biblical viewpoint is high, then the ability to affectively influence is low.

The reality is that as we live more and more by our convictions the more and more we will be uncomfortable.

 

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 2

This past week in Greenville, NC there were two very unusual and scary armed robberies. One on Monday at a Zaxby’s and the other on Tuesday at a Food Lion. An armed robbery is scary but what made this more scary and unusual was the time: late afternoon or early night. These weren’t robberies that took place late at night but an armed robbery right as patrons were enjoying their meal or as people were stoping by the grocery store after work to grab a few items for dinner. One only has to look around to know that we live in a fallen world, and a world I would say is moving further away from the Lord or to be more intellectual, moving further away from our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil, we must confront a question: How do we as Christians respond? How do we as Christians respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light in the world and culture in which live?

Last week we said that we must first respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to give up on the world and say the world is lost and without hope, yet we as believers must stay engaged. We must be salt and light!

The second way we are to respond is we must live and stand by conviction. Our faith some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions? When there is conflict between the Bible and the world will we become ‘undercover’ Christians, who are so ‘undercover’ that no one can tell the difference between how you live as a Christian and how a non-believer lives? As a side note and sadly, when one looks at recent studies that compare a Christians thoughts and lifestyle and a non-believers thoughts and lifestyle, there is little difference. Sadly, too many of us as believers have already decided to live as ‘undercover’ Christians.

1 Corintians 16:13 tells us, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (NASB)(emphasis mine).” In like manner Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (emphasis mine).” This standing firm is to be firmly rooted, to be firmly established, and to stand your ground no matter what.

So here are my questions for you:

1) What are your convictions? How do they line up with the Bible?

2) Are you living and standing by those convictions or do you easily compromise? If find that you easily compromise, why?

3) Do those around you see you as a person who stands and lives by your convictions?

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World

Just this past Sunday the Grammy Awards were on. It was a show shown on Prime Time on CBS that was appalling, shocking, irreverent, and flabbergasting. When you think that we have reached the bottom of how far our culture can go, it sinks even further. The show started with a couple singing a song that leaves little to the imagination of what goes on in their bedroom. Then the show turned to Katy Perry who’s performance has the secular media describing as a Satanic Ritual and witchcraft. After this the performance of a song entitled, “Up All Night to ‘Get Lucky’”. If this wasn’t enough, the church-like mockery that was overseen by Queen Latifah was a wedding of 34 same-sex and mixed-sex couples who tied the knot on what’s supposed to be a music awards show intermixed with the song “Same Love”. 34 same-sex and mixed-sex to show there is no difference between the two. 

We don’t have to look at the Grammy’s we can just look around us. Broken marriages, broken families, and broken lives. We watch the news or talk to friends and hear of shootings, robberies, drug and alcohol abuse, and the the list can go on and on.

There is no doubt that we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil. Yet the question is how do we as Christians respond. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14) so the option to stick our heads in the sand is not an option, nor is choosing to wag our finger an option. We as Christians must respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light.

First, we must respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to look at their life and lifestyle and say we don’t want any part of it. Yet we as believers must resist this notion. We must stay engaged with the world around us. The Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20). I am overjoyed that the Lord did not give up on you or me, therefore how much more should we be zealous to stay engaged in the world around us? How do we stay engaged?

1) We must keep praying for our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors that are not believers.

2) We must keep ministering to those who are not believers. By ministering I mean showing the love of Christ in real and tangible ways.

3) We must keep tell our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors who are not believers the boundless love and forgiveness of Christ.

4) We must stay in the public square. We may be ridiculed and there may be an attempt to keep us as believers out of the public square, yet even through this we must stay in the public square.

In the next few weeks we will be continuing this discussion. In the mean time what do you think? Should we as believers stay engaged in the world around us?