Praying for Financial Guidance

24 Mar
March 24, 2016

3-21

In preparation for Easter, my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for this past Monday on financial guidance:

Financial Guidance for Those Out of Work or Laid Off
Matthew 6:25-27, 31-33 (NLT)

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Reflection

Some passages are harder to live out than others. It is easy to say not to worry when surrounded by security, but seasons of difficulty can test the limits of our faith and our patience. The stress from uncertain financial and career status can spill over into family life, relationships with friends, even our health. Often times we like to refer to Job, a righteous man according to God. We hold him up as a silent example of long-suffering; but when we actually read through his prayers to God, it’s shocking how blunt, how real, how deep his hurt and anger were – and yet he was a righteous man! Somehow he was able to be incredibly honest about his suffering without sinning.

This passage in the Gospel of Matthew records the words of Jesus as an encouragement to us. Our big picture can be different from God’s big picture, and Jesus gently reminds us that as much as we may worry or fear, God will take care of our needs. The challenge is in how we navigate those times of uncertainty.

Prayer

Lord, we ask for patience, endurance and peace for those impacted by layoffs and financial struggles. We pray for our church, that we will be an encouragement, blessing, and resource to those in need in our region. We ask that You would use us for Your glory. Amen.

Praying for Hurting Marriages and Families

23 Mar
March 23, 2016

3-19

In preparation for Easter, my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Saturday, the 19th:

Hurting Marriages and Families
Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT)

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Reflection

Author and speaker Stephen Covey once said, “I am convinced that if we as a society work diligently in every other area of life and neglect the family, it would be analogous to straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.”

If we as a church work diligently in so many areas of faith, but ignore the realities of living in a broken and fallen world, and the stresses which that puts on marriages and families, we would be missing the heart of God’s vision for the church. We are one body, united together; when one suffers, we should all feel that pain. I love the challenge by the author of Hebrews to motivate one another to acts of love and good works, to encourage one another!

We need to be the type of church that is honest with one another, speaking to the challenges we have each had, so that those presently suffering feel safe in reaching out for help instead of pressure to hide and project an illusion of harmony. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot turn a blind eye, but need to reach out in loving concern when God shows us cracks in each other’s facades.

Prayer

Lord, we lift up the marriages in our church, that these couples would grow in strength and love. We pray for those who are struggling that they would have the courage to reach out for help. God, help us be the type of church body that cultivates an environment that fosters honesty and being real. Amen.

Praying for Deacons

22 Mar
March 22, 2016

3-4

In preparation for Easter, my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for the first week on praying for Deacons:

Deacons
1 Peter 4:8-11 (NLT)

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Reflection

The office of deacon was created in the New Testament to take a leadership role in serving the church body, enabling the pastors to focus on prayer and teaching of the body. In many ways, the roles complement one another, working together in common vision and direction for the good of the church body. Our deacons are called to serve and help this church with all the strength and energy that God supplies, as this passage in 1 Peter describes.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” The challenges of leadership are great. Standing like a rock can come at great cost, often times without anyone knowing the depth of the challenges. That is why in 1 Timothy 2, the apostle Paul tells us to pray for our leaders.

Prayer

Lord, we lift up the twelve men that serve on our Board of Deacons. We ask that You would give them wisdom, direction, strength, clarity, joy in their service, and peace. Thank You for giving us leaders committed to our church and Your Kingdom. Amen.

Book Review: Gospel Centered Youth Ministry

21 Mar
March 21, 2016

youth ministry guideThe Gospel Coalition’s new book, “Gospel Centered Youth Ministry,” is a great resource for youth leaders and volunteers. Fourteen different authors each contributed to put together a book that sets out to address both the theological depth of the gospel and student ministry, as well as give practical ways to live that out. Where so many youth ministry resources tend to skew either only into the practical, or only into the theological, this is an exciting merging of the two.

The book is split into three sections; (1) Foundations for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, (2) Practical Applications for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, and (3) The Fruit of a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. I appreciated the progression of the book; each of the authors were tasked with chapters that fell under those broad headings, building over the course of the book a great overview of a gospel centered youth ministry.

It is a strong work; the authors have done their research, cite their sources, and take an academic, yet very approachable methodology to their writing. They cover a wide range of topics, giving strong presentations on the underlying theology supporting their views before diving into the practicalities of living it out. Definitely a great resource for youth leaders; also a great training tool for student ministry teams and interns.

Noah’s Good News

18 Mar
March 18, 2016

GoodNews

This past week we had another check-in with Noah’s primary doctor regarding his Localized Scleroderma. You can read my previous updates on his battle with it here; essentially it’s a disease that attacks his skin, tissue and bone structures near the skin. There hasn’t been a cure discovered yet, and while it’s a lifelong condition it typically attacks a region of the body for about eight years.

When Noah was two years old he first started showing symptoms. It took two years for doctors to finally figure out what was going on; it’s an incredibly rare condition that most don’t know to look for. The medications are powerful, and have the potential for serious side effects, which required him to have regular blood work done to keep track of how he was responding. I’ll never forget holding him down for that first round of blood work, him sobbing and struggling, and me being overwhelmed with the thought that this was going to be our routine for who knew how many years.

He’s tough, and over the months and years, through all the tests, surgeries, doctor’s appointments, procedures, and whatever else, he took it all in stride. Often times he saw the bright side of things when we would be upset. And just like the doctor predicted, after almost eight years the disease seemed to stopped progressing. Months ago we stopped giving him the medication to see if it was just the drugs keeping it at bay or if it really had run its course.

And last week the doctor told us it’s dormant! We’ll go in to see him again in a year, but more for Heather and my peace of mind than an actual need. I have to be honest, after so many years, it doesn’t totally feel real! Yes, we do still have to keep our radar up for its possible reappearance, but in the mean time, after spending the majority of his life on some seriously powerful medicines, Noah is off everything and thrilled about it!

Quite the answer to prayer!

Zach Signs the Lord’s Prayer

17 Mar
March 17, 2016

Last Sunday the children’s ministry signed the Lord’s Prayer during both worship services at our church. Zachary, our seven year old, had a blast doing it!

Praying for Student Ministry

09 Mar
March 9, 2016

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In preparation for Easter, my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. Today’s devotional was one I wrote on our church’s student ministry:

Matthew 17:24-27 (NLT)
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

Reflection
It’s incredible to think of all the disciples accomplished for God’s Kingdom. A seemingly defeated group of poor fishermen, tax collectors and others of low reputation, they led the beginnings of a movement that has grown throughout the world for two thousand years! Perhaps this is an odd choice of scripture for student ministry. It’s a passage that many scholars point to as the strongest hint we have about the age of the disciples; the temple tax was required of males over the age of twenty. Because the silver coin was only enough for Jesus and Peter, the theory is that the other eleven must have been under the age of 20 – I’ve heard some jokingly say that Jesus led the first youth group with his teenage disciples!

The Bible is full of stories of young people displaying incredible faith and accomplishing tremendous things for the Lord and His Kingdom. Some of the great heroes of the faith were adolescents! Too often in today’s culture we are guilty of setting the bar too low, of not seeing the incredible potential for leadership and spiritual gifts that God has placed in all the members of His church, including the young people!

Prayer
Lord, we pray for the students in 6th-12th grade, that they would see Your calling in their lives, that they would develop a lifelong faith, and grow as servants and leaders in our church body today. Thank You for blessing our congregation with young voices committed to You! Amen.

Why do we look up to this kind of failure?

05 Feb
February 5, 2016

behindeverymaskthereisacrosstobear

Maybe I’m too biased. I’ve seen all too close the destruction an unbalanced person in ministry can cause while being celebrated by those around them. But it pushes my buttons.

This past week I read the story of Hezekiah Smith, an 18th century Baptist “hero.” Between his work in a Baptist college, his numerous evangelistic tours and crusades, his incredible service to the Baptist church, and his pastoral giftings, he is credited with doing much to both reach the lost and expand the Baptist church, as well as make major inroads for religious liberty in America.

He would often travel for months at time, leaving his family behind to work their farm, orchard, and rental properties they owned. We don’t know much about his wife, but it would seem that she was not a fan of religion – she is described as being a “stranger” to it. He would write her letters asking if she had “yet found the comforts of true religion”.

Franklin Graham recently celebrated the legacy of Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, two incredible organizations. Behind the scenes, though, he left a family in chaos. He spent most of his time away, and seemed to resent the handful of weeks a year he had with his wife or daughters. The emotional damage and scars he left, consistently choosing ministry over family even in times of crisis was devastating and had lasting impact.

But the church routinely celebrates these kinds of men! Their failings at home and in the care of their families are discounted because clearly, Satan attacked them harder than he would others because of their impact. These men’s failings in their families and marriages are portrayed as almost unavoidable because of their importance for God and the resulting spiritual warfare.

I think we do God a disservice if we think significant ministry accomplishments justify unbalanced lives. We ignore God’s values if we celebrate a Hezekiah Smith or Bob Pierce and instead advance the values of the world – the ends justify the means! Hezekiah’s wife resenting religion and God is a small price to pay for all the lives he reached. Pierce’s failed marriage, and destructive relationship with his children is sad but worth the children throughout the world being reached.

I’m biased. I grew up in a family where my father had decades of ministry, but in the end lost the relationships with his wife and children. I read these stories, I see the authors gloss over the failings, focus on all the good that was accomplished. It frustrates me to no end. They do it by discounting the family. They do it by ignoring the sins against these spouses and children. I don’t believe for a moment that that kind of telling honors the heart of God for ALL His children. It IS possible to do incredible things for God AND honor His sacred calling to our families. We need to as a body of believers stop celebrating unbalanced approaches to ministry.

FREE Six Year Student Ministry Curriculum

03 Feb
February 3, 2016

disciple-6-curriculum-students

This is pretty incredible to me; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has created, through their students and staff, a complete six year discipleship curriculum for middle school and high school students that they are making available completely free to churches to download! It looks like a great resource, and definitely a gift to churches! You can learn about it and download it here. Here’s their description of it:

Southwestern Seminary desires to see teenagers who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the full supremacy of the Son, responding to His kingly reign in all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.

To that end the seminary has presented a gift to the churches. That gift is a comprehensive, six-year curriculum to be used with those specific teenagers who want to be disciples of Jesus. The studies are grounded in Scripture and include the content areas of:

Apologetics Core Doctrines Servant Leadership
Biblical Interpretation Ethics Spiritual Disciplines
Biblical Relationships Evangelism and Missions Worldview

Teenagers share in the leadership of the sessions. They prepare to disciple believers now and for a lifetime, nearby and to the ends of the earth.

The Disciple6 curriculum is available as free PDF downloads and free smartphone/tablet downloads. Southwestern Seminary believes every teenager and every church deserves the best discipleship resources, regardless of economic situation.

On Prayer in School

01 Feb
February 1, 2016

prayer-in-schools

As part of my Baptist history class, we were asked to participate in an online discussion board. I tend to lean towards the idea that the church today has it easy, what we think of as suffering is nothing like what persecuted churches go through around the world, and as a result, in many ways have grown too comfortable. Others of my classmates took a different stance, suggesting the American church is heavily persecuted, with some pointing to prayer in school being removed as the opening salvo. This was my response:


The only place where you [my classmate] and I really diverged from each other was in response to the last question and the continuing legacy of the church today. I think in America what we label suffering discounts the actual suffering of Christians elsewhere in the world. We risk being mocked or skipped for promotions in the workplace, a minor inconvenience in comparison to our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are being tortured and beheaded. I think part of our challenge is that our natural inclination is to want things to work best for our set of beliefs. The church in America is upset that prayer is no longer in schools – but I have a hard time wanting public schools to reinstate it. I don’t want non-believers leading my children in prayer time.

I love that students do have the freedom to bring Bibles, to pray privately or with their friends, and to even use school facilities for their Bible study groups. All of this is without state control or managing, and equal access is given to all faiths – which our Baptist forefathers fought for. If the state actually did coordinate prayer in schools, as it once did, then by virtue of our nation and not favoring one belief over another, we would have to expect the state to mandate other faiths as well; Islam, Judaism, Native American faiths, Buddhism, etc. Even further, if the government did rule on facilitating prayer in schools (because prayer is currently allowed, it is just not led by the school), what type of Christian prayer is the correct one? We tend to assume our way is the way everyone would gravitate towards, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was Catholic prayers? What if it was prayers from a denomination we don’t agree with?

I was horrified to read about Baptist parents in America in the 18th century being fined for “parental cruelty” because they would not baptize their infants, instead believing in believer’s baptism. The laws were “Christian,” but they were based on a denomination that Baptists did not agree with, and so Christians were punished for not being the right kind of Christians. Ultimately, the real need is for the church to reignite it’s evangelistic fervor that the Baptists were so well known for in the 18th century. If we reach our nation for God, whether or not the government leads prayer in schools, our schools will be full of praying students because their hearts have been changed – not because the government forced them to pray.