Stephen talks to us this week about:
- The Elder & Deacon installation coming up on Sunday
- The Church’s new phone number (716) 791-7576
- This week’s passage, Ephesians 5:15-20
Tomorrow Stephen will walk us through Ephesians 5:1-2 where Paul calls us to be imitators of God, as beloved children. This is a huge section of scripture as Paul continues to remind the church in Ephesus that it’s all about BEING before DOING.
In the video Stephen also covers the following:
Ian will be preaching out of Ephesians 4:17-24 this week and he will be spending time on the difference between being and doing. and why we so often get it switch the wrong way. Get your hearts ready to receive and be taught.
Stephen also talks about the following:
We have our annual meeting after church this Sunday. Members please make it a point of being there to vote on this coming years budget.
Our last baptism class is being held this Sunday at 8:30am. Everyone who would like to be baptized on 8/28 at Tuscarora please attend this class.
Remind that Kids Community starts back up on September 11. We will also be throwing a celebration luncheon after church for all the parents and kids to meet the teachers. The kids will be starting off Kids Community with a service project this Fall. They will be collecting empty bottles to raise money for the mission work. It’s so cool to see our kids actively involved in the advancement of the Gospel in WNY.
FBC Inside is a weekly or bi-weekly video series that I (Stephen) have started to record. The goal of these videos are to give you some inside information (that’s not typically to be covered on a Sunday morning) about what is going on in the life of the church.
Please feel free to use the form below to share information on what you would like to know more about and I will try to address what you guys send over.
Love Stephen & Nicole
FBC Inside is a weekly or bi-weekly video series that I (Stephen) have started to record. The goal of these videos are to give you some inside information (that’s not typically to be covered on a Sunday morning) about what is going on in the life of the church.
Please feel free to use the form below to share information on what you would like to know more about and I will try to address what you guys send over.
Love Stephen & Nicole
FBC Inside is a weekly or bi-weekly video series that I (Stephen) have started to record. The goal of these videos are to give you some inside information (that’s not typically to be covered on a Sunday morning) about what is going on in the life of the church.
Please feel free to use the form below to share information on what you would like to know more about and I will try to address what you guys send over.
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
The first chapter of Simple Church was reviewed. The assignment for the meeting on Oct. 20 will be chapters 2 & 3 and the study questions at the end of chapter 3. Concerning Simple Church, it was agreed that we would not start any new ministry programs while we proceed through the process of establishing a mission driven process. We want to be deliberate in our efforts to move away from programming.
Love Stephen & Nicole
Love Stephen & Nicole
Even though church was canceled due to the cold weather, here is Stephen with a short video explaining the differences between the roles of Elders and Deacons.
Follow along with Acts 6:1-7
 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
I just wanted to take a quick minute before my day really gets started to say a massive thank you to everyone who volunteered on Sunday night, I don’t think it could have gone any better than it did.
The music, testimony and message came straight from the Lord and I am positive that He used each element to glorify Himself and draw those who were there to closer to Him. James, Tim and Brian, thank you for being obedient to His call on your life to serve, I am praying that the Lord would bless you for your efforts.
The food. There is only one thing to say about the food, it was out of this world. I am so encouraged by everyone who helped prepare this meal. Your pursuit of excellence to provide the best meal possible was both inspiring and contagious. I heard numerous comments about how good the sauce was, so that extra time you took with the garlic was definitely worth it. Thank you!
Those who served did so with class and efficiency. The food was delivered in no time and I didn’t see anyone waiting to eat. I believe the way you interacted with everyone was done in such a way that Christ was reflected through you. I know that your selflessness knocked down walls in their lives. Nicole and I personally got to minister to and pray for a man (Billy) as a result of your efforts, so thank you.
The youth. You guys rocked! The way you gave up your Sunday night for the sake of the Kingdom was incredible. I guarantee the simple fact that you were there and not afraid to get your hands dirty inspired those who were being blessed by your service. My prayer is that through your selfless acts you would lead and inspire older generations towards Jesus.
A super special thank you goes out to Phil for all of the time that he invested into this outing. You were awesome bro and it’s an honor to minister in His Name with you.
Shaun Smith the Executive Director texted me yesterday, here is what he said,
We are thankful for this! We hope only that you were even more blessed than we, or those we serve were, for it is always more blessed to give than to receive.
We don’t have an official date yet on when or how frequently we are going to head up there, but I do believe the consensus was that this was something the Lord wanted us to be involved with. More details to come in 2015.
Thank you again church! It’s is a privilege to be one of your pastors and to minister in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with you.
Love one of your Pastors
[lollum_button text=”Download Notes” url=”http://wilsonfbc.com/download/town-hall-meeting-notes-14-11.pdf” size=”small”]
November 23, 2014
Attended by: Sally Bishop, Tom, Mimi and Caleb Bach, Tim Bach, Stephen and Nicole Hay, George and Ida Mae Waters, Lisa Johnston, Phil Sheppard, Don and Jean Potter, Dawn and Jeff Monroe, Rob Reisman, Ken and Sherrie Twist, Keith and Laura Schessl. Randy and Kim McNally, Matt and Amanda Vail, Doug and Lois Farley, Steve Ornella, Jack Hanna, Chris and Sandy Scrufari, Matt Johnson.
The meeting was opened by Stephen Hay who explained the proposed agenda followed by a corporate time of prayer.
Lisa Johnston expressed concern about Pulse and the ages that are currently being served on Friday nights…She stated that we are losing some of the older students who are basically the core of strong believers due to the immaturity of the 8th grade students. Lisa stated that she has heard the students discuss this issue and has also talked with them about it. Her suggestion was to possibly have 2 rooms segregated by ages.
Rob Reisman then asked as a point of order…if there were notes being taken as per the Constitution. Though the Church Clerk was not present, Lois Farley stated she was taking notes and would provide them for record.
Jean Potter stated that the Eldership process is in its second year and when it was begun, it was stated that an Evaluation would be part of the process. She then asked, “What is being worked on and when is that going to be shared?” As well as “Is this a tool that the Congregation would have to evaluate the Elders?”
Stephen responded, that indeed there is a tool, it is in its second draft, and the goal is to get this done sooner rather than later. Stephen also pointed out that the Elders are open to evaluation at any time and that members of the congregation should contact them. Currently, there are two forms of communication, those being (1) email to the Elders or via the website: wilsonfbc.com, or (2) write a letter and put it in the box that says Elders upstairs in the sanctuary. Phone numbers are also listed in the bulletin for each Elder.
Keith Schessl stated he and Laura have been members for 14 years and they love this church and like seeing the ministry grow particularly to youth and community.
Stephen’s response: Elder Rule versus Elder Led…Stephen stated that the Elders have recently begun discussing this exact issue…that there is no reference whatsoever to Senior Pastor in Scripture and the desire was for a Scripture based structure of the church. When the current Elders started the course 3 years ago they thought that the model they were taught was Scriptural and realized within the past 4 months the model is not practical or Scriptural and the Elders have begun discussions as to rectify the discrepancies of the model being used.
One issue they have discussed was George and Tom looking at the Constitution that was put in place with the Eldership program and how it is a key piece to moving the structure from Elder Rule to an Elder Led model. As well as putting the call out for Godly men to come along side and work as God leads to Elder Led.
Stephen also responded about the issues Keith had mentioned concerning the Parsonage asking Keith what work he referred to. Stephen explained that the sign for Kevin Wise was simply some advertising done for Nicole’s brother and the work he did for them was personal; he built a desk for them, which was for them personally. Stephen stated that the only other work done was a dishwasher was installed and Doug Rohring has been contacted with any changes happening at the parsonage.
Sally Bishop asked for clarification of what was meant by Elder Rule (or Run) versus Elder Led. Stephen explained that Elder Rule was like a dictatorship with no input or voting from the Congregation that the Elders made all decisions…and the Elder Led model means the church is shepherded, nurtured, guided and decisions are made with the consent of the Congregation.
Stephen stated that one of the issues is how do we engage more of the Congregation in communication. This forum (the town meeting) was done because it appears the perception is that the Elders were not/are not being transparent and sharing all the information with the Congregation and that to some degree this may be a reality in certain areas.
Tim reiterated, “This is why we are having this meeting,” and that the Congregation is learning as the Elders are learning and the hearts of the Elders is that they lead and not rule.
Nicole brought up the property issue with it being put on hold. Doug and Ken both responded to this. Ken stated that this may be partly due to his leave from the Elders starting about that time period. Ken stated that a lack of communication may be at the heart of that issue and Doug stated that with what demolition was going to cost at that time there would not have been enough money to pay for demo and pay current bills. The demolition work was not budgeted so an appeal went out to the church to provide building fund donations to get the demolition done.
Jack Hanna stated there has been a recent rash of break ins in the area and that he felt a swift demo would be warranted, rather than investing money to secure a building that is going to be demolished.
Doug responded that the finances are back in an upswing because of the cycle of church giving and this could be considered, but little or no building fund income has been received yet.
Doug Rohring was not in attendance and Doug Farley stated that he did not speak with Doug Rohring about the demolition and that if he had he would have communicated the financial point.
Stephen spoke at this point about Elder versus Deacon role and the desire to have more men rise up to take active roles in the Ministries. He stated within the last year the Elders have gotten into the bad habit of picking up all the things that need to be done instead of turning it over to particular ministry leaders. He stated that the goal/vision was to raise up Deacons who handle the hands-on daily tasks.
At this point Chris Scrufari suggested a time check to see how many others had issues they wanted to raise and maybe not give answers right now. After a show of hands it was decided to continue in same format.
Tom Bach brought up the issue of the Constitution, wanting to clarify Elders and when they do what they want.
Stephen stated that the goal is not to split and divide but to seek unity. The Elder’s intention is not to make decisions but come to the Congregation and if they disagree with the Elders recommendations that they would go back to God and continue to pray until a decision could be made in unity.
Nicole stated that with the trust and skepticism issues that it will take time to trust decisions of any leadership.
Lisa brought up the subject of questionnaires’ used in the past to help screen volunteers for youth workers as far as background checks and wanted to know if they are still being used.
Stephen stated that he has spoken with Tammy Rohring about them but they are not widely used right now for any of the youth programs.
George Waters stated that he meets monthly with the current Deacons who are taking care of the ministry to the shut-ins, planning Communion and with flowers and gifts throughout the year.
Rob stated that it is not Biblical to make everyone who serves in a ministry be a Deacon, and that there is only one or two verses that would indicate a difference between Deacon and Elder. He is concerned with the financial end of things and feels that it is a Deacon responsibility and would take the pressure off the Elders- there should be Deacon run finances. This would leave the Elders to take on spiritual issues inside and outside of the building.
Concerning the Constitution, Rob stated he needed to be ask for forgiveness for not reading the Constitution when he became a member…mentioned that the Constitution does contain a lot of Scripture references, but felt it was an Elder Rule not Elder-Led. Rob read the responsibilities of the membership. Rob stated that he has read many Constitutions and there are many on line that could be examined and the fact that the Constitution needs to be rewritten.
As far as the Youth/ Worship Pastor should we bring someone into this disunity and the search should be put on hold because it would not be fair to a candidate or the church. Rob stated that we already have the most qualified Worship/Youth Leader who knows the youth and is the most Biblically educated pastor. Rob recommended a solution of putting the search on hold for 6 months.
Rob also shared that he had felt that he was not called to serve as an Elder because he was to serve in this own community but has realized that many of his community, about 30 -35 in number, are presently coming to Wilson FBC. He is willing to help in the spirit of truly Elder- Led and not Rule. He has had experience in getting out from under the brutality of a Constitution.
Tim Bach responded asking,”Is it fair to bring someone into this disunity?” He cannot answer. Tim stated he has been praying to the Lord for a new staff member – since the Lord has put a huge call to music and eventually to the Philippines. Tim feels we need prayer and asked if it was disunity or a learning and growing process.
Chris stated that everything that was spoken tonight was a sign of God’s grace. Also this is an opportunity for the Elders so that we can grow and create unity.
Sally asked how we could pay a salary for new staff with family.
Stephen stated this is certainly not an ideal situation, but that he felt it unwise to go back to a one person staffed church and that Lord has clearly blessed the 2 staff format. Stephen shared the statistic that regardless of the size of the church-only about 30% of people volunteer in a church but that 15% is a more realistic. We have to be aware of the calling on Tim’s life and that it would be foolish for us to try to stall God’s call and the timing He has in mind for Tim’s ministry. He stated that a lot of people are talking and asked that they talk to the Elders. The Elders are trying to be transparent. He stated that it was God who opened the church and it is His business to close it. He stated that there is pain in the birthing or creating process- that we all need grace for the process.
Chris stated that Tim agreed to stay on in an interim basis, so we need to ask God for more provision or ask God to release Tim to stay longer.
George stated that God had given the vision to the church to start the youth program and bring Stephen here and He has continued to confirm this. George also spoke to the property purchase and the funds being there when needed and having faith that God would continue to provide – God pays for what He wants.
Jack Hanna stated concerning the Constitution- that he hoped we would put a committee together to revisit the constitution to be more palatable and Godly. Jack asked the Elder candidates to look in their hearts to examine for prideful debt …that debt can become a god to you if the church is not financially set.
Mimi Bach spoke to the process of the hiring and looking for a new youth pastor and wanted to know who else was included in the process. Her concern is that she wants to be sure that a youth pastor background needs to be looked into- look into everything from their past. Mimi spoke about including some parents of current youth in the search for youth pastor…feeling they would have a better grasp of youth today and the qualities we need in a candidate more so than the Elders on the board.
Don Potter stated the budget was in place before air conditioning was installed and the final cost not being in budget. He asked if the units need to be covered and also expressed concern about snow plows. Don also wanted to know if he gave money what it would be going toward.
Doug responded the first thing would be the demolition and once costs are estimates are for work on the parsonage and any church work would come to the congregation for approval.
Keith (and Chris) stated that this was the time of year that those who will be graduating from Bible College would be looking for positions and the job posting should go out to college sites.
Sandy asked for Scriptural reference as to how do we faith budget. God does not go on credit. She felt the church should budget for what they could afford.
Doug stated that in actuality the entire church budget is a faith budget we have no other income than people’s tithes and offerings, there is no guarantee of meeting a budget…we have to have faith.
Phil Sheppard shared about tithing and stated that we need to use wisdom and discernment in budgeting but have faith. Phil also stated that it sounds like the engine was sputtering but it is in need of a tune up in regards to the church leadership process.
Rob asked that the Elders have a timeline -a timeframe for the Constitution and that a solution to the parking issue is an important issue since it is one of the top items people look at in a church.
The meeting closed with a time of corporate prayer.
(These are certainly not all the comments and not word for word, I tried to write key phrases and ideas discussed and I am not a secretary so I ask for grace if you made a comment that was missed in my notes. Notes were written in the order that the comments were made.)
The Bible teaches that for Christians, God is our Father, other Christians are our brothers and sisters, and the church is like a family.
Like every family, the church is made up of imperfect people who need to ask for forgiveness, receive grace, and grow in their love for the other members of the family. With that in mind, I would like to share with you ten practical, simple ways that we as a church family can love one another. This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a “top ten” list that God has put on my heart recently.
One of the most loving things that we can do for each other as a church family is to pray for one another. Great love can be shown not by merely saying “I’ll pray for you,” but by putting a hand on someone’s shoulder right then and there and lifting up the need in prayer.
“Brothers, pray for us.” —1 Thessalonians 5:25
In this age of technology and digital “friendships,” one of the most loving things we can do is gather together in person to worship our King Jesus. When the church gathers together, I like to think of the analogy of the family sitting down for a meal together. The band provides the soundtrack for the party, the preacher is like the cook who serves the meal, the volunteers help set the table, and all the adopted children of God gather around the table to spend time with their Father.
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” —Hebrews 10:25
There are approximately 90 “one another” verses in the Bible: greet one another, comfort one another, seek good for one another. It is pretty hard to live out these commands when you don’t actually spend time together. We should want for our Community Groups to be places where these “one another” verses can be lived out in love.
“Live in harmony with one another.” —Romans 12:16
Serving the church is both corporate and individual, both in large groups and small. We can serve by showing up early on Sunday and helping make the church building welcoming. We can serve by giving money to a friend in need. We can serve by leading a community group. This service is a practical, tangible way to show others the love that God has already shown us.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” —Ecclesiastes 4:9
In many cultures, honor and respect are huge. American culture is not one of those cultures. In fact, a good argument could be made that our culture actually encourages dishonor and disrespect. God’s children can show love by speaking words of honor where honor is due: for a job well done, for a particular servant-hearted act, for longevity in the faith, etc.
“Outdo one another in showing honor.” —Romans 12:10
I recently heard from a brother in Christ, how a simple phone call of encouragement meant so much to him and his wife as they faced some challenging circumstances. In this fallen world, trials and hardships are all too frequent. God has put us together as a church family so that we can encourage each other as we face these difficulties.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” —1 Thessalonians 5:11
People who are looking for a conflict-free life will not find it in following Christ. In fact, there are many verses warning us to expect bumps and bruises as we live out this life together. However, the one thing we cannot do is bail on each other just because we fight. The family of God can love each other by hanging tough even when we disagree.
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” —Colossians 3:13
A godly family is one that also knows how to enjoy each other. I think that sometimes we forget that joy is one of the attributes of God. Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding. He was known for going to parties, so much so that he was accused of being a drunkard. Kids loved spending time with Jesus, and if there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they love to play. As a family, we can love each other by simply having fun together.
“Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” —Ecclesiastes 3:13
God is a truth-speaking God, and as his image bearers, one of the ways that we show love to each other is by following his example. Speaking truth includes, but is not limited to: doctrinal correction, calling to repentance, teaching the Bible, confessing sin, giving wise counsel, not lying or exaggerating or gossiping, and using our words to build up.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” —Ephesians 4:15
Flee from sin, leave unrighteousness behind, and seek the Holy Spirit’s help to become more and more godly in your words, your thoughts, and your conduct.
“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.” —2 Peter 1:5–7
May God grow us in our love for one another as we seek to be the family that God wants us to be.
[lollum_button text=”Original Blog” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2014/08/27/ten-ways-a-church-family-can-love-one-another” size=”big”]
On the 23rd of May myself and Steve met with Jim Kelsey the Executive Minister of New York for the American Baptist Church. The goal of the meeting was to meet directly with the upper authority in the ABC to discuss ministry perspectives, specifically in regards to their stance on certain social issues and their leadership structure in general.
The meeting unfortunately went as expected with both ourselves and Jim being very clear and honest on where we stood. The ABC has a leadership structure where they do not provide oversight or direction unless first asked by a congregation. This leads to a very apathetic leadership structure and in my opinion frustratingly irresponsible on the shepherding side. The ABC as a denomination has a fundamental root where they allow churches to interpret scripture how they choose and ABC will back them fully (except in areas of abuse noted Jim). In the realm of social progressiveness this leads them, as Jim put it, “not to fight this battle anymore” but this is to ensure that they “don’t make their circle too small”. Jim’s position is specifically designed to oversee and to intervene in matters that need to be resolved amidst churches so if there were a person that would be in the know, it would be him.
At the end of the meeting both Steve and myself left understanding that prayer as a body needs to be sought. The ABC has a lackluster structure that they are very content in and it is apparent that they are not ones to stand on Biblical Truth for the fear of dying on the mole hill of some social issues. As elders we would as that as a family we pray through our association with ABC together. Jim proudly stated in our meeting that he has been in many other denominations and “is American Baptist through and through”, so may we pray and seek what the fruit of having ties with this denomination are and if we can confidently and biblically stand with them.
Ten years ago I was in my third year of graduate school, and my wife was getting up each morning at 5:30 so she could drive 45 minutes to teach 7th grade science. Both of us were not particularly happy in our professional lives, yet we pushed forward, grinding away at life so that some day we would be where we wanted to be. Although I remember being frustrated during those years, my general attitude was that I could handle it. I was in control of my circumstances and was living decently. I would have defined myself as being patient in the midst of imperfect times; I had been peacefully married for a few years and never became angry with the people in my life. My wife and I used to take walks, which allowed us to talk about and resolve many of the challenges we faced in the day. We could figure things out. We could work hard. We were in in control. We also had no kids.
A few months ago I found myself walking the dog in ten-degree weather praying for my children and admitting my relative helplessness in the face of a seemingly endless steam of challenges. The short list of kid-related problems included: late potty training problems, anxiety about kindergarten, refusals to eat at dinner, temper tantrums, not listening, and so on. Moreover, I have learned that I am more selfish and less patient than I previously assumed. The temptation to avoid parental responsibilities or to respond to problems with frustration/anger is strong. Even the inevitable small parenting failures feel like a burden that I cannot support. Children are precious, and they are subject to my imperfection. That realization scares me.
My old mindset of hard work and solving problems is not particularly helpful. My children are not projects that I can fix by discovering the “child raising formula” or by reading the latest self-help book for Christian parenting. That mindset often causes me to go to bed at night thinking about my daily failures. “I need to try this approach to my childrens’ problems, or I need to work harder at being patient and unselfish.” This, of course, only leads to future frustrations. Living under my own power produces a continual cycle of failure (Romans 7:14-25). As life continues, I am slowly learning that I cannot work hard to solve all problems or reason my way through every challenge. I cannot depend on myself. Being a father has humbled me.
Pride comes in multiple forms. The pride of self-reliance is a subtle yet common form that can be very dangerous in even the most well meaning Christian’s life. It involves the general attitude of “I can do this because I am competent, wise, intelligent, hard working, etc.” This form of pride places self over God in a profoundly foolish way. It is the pride that led to the fall of man in the garden, repeatedly led to demise of Israel in the Old Testament, permeated the spiritual lives of the Pharisees, and even tempted Christ in the desert.
Although pride often causes people to disregard God’s instructions for living, it can also cause a person to pursue good things through the improper means of self-reliance. It convinces me that I can rely on myself to be loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, self-controlled, peaceful, and joyful in the midst of life’s frustrations. I can persevere on my own strength. Yet such an approach, though well meaning, only produces frustration and failure. We can only truly love those around us when we surrender to God, rest in Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit (love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) (Galatians 5).
Parenting has forced me to my knees in prayer more than anything else that I’ve encountered. The stakes are enormous. The relationships are intimate. The challenges are unceasing. I don’t really know what I am doing. Yet parenting is not the only thing in life that can force us to face our limitations. What are you struggling with? What are you attempting to solve or accomplish through your own strength that produces consistent frustration, worry, anxiety, and a sense of failure? We have access to the Holy God of the universe who has humbled himself in the form of Christ and empowered us with the Holy Spirit. He loves us personally and graciously allows us to talk to him. We can also know him through scripture. Why do we resist him and depend on ourselves?
Ever since Johnny Carson, “The Tonight Show” has been a staple of late night television. Our grandparents invited Carson into their homes, our parents invited Leno, and now we welcome Jimmy Fallon every evening to commentate, interview and entertain.
Fallon has taken over “The Tonight Show” and is cranking out viral videos every week. Whether he is tag-teaming with Justin Timberlake, impersonating Neil Young or lip syncing with a celebrity guest, one thing is clear: people love being on and watching “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
Why is Fallon so appealing? What makes his show a joy to watch? Why is he a great host? I think Fallon’s success can be traced to three key practices: He doesn’t take himself seriously, he puts the spotlight on others and he speaks through culture. I believe Christians can actually learn from Fallon’s example as they attempt to demonstrate the love of Christ. Here’s how:
Fallon is not afraid to acknowledge his faults. He is quick to laugh at his quirks and cheerfully accepts teasing from his guests. Like all great hosts, Fallon demonstrates that people are attracted to those who are humble.
As believers, we are free to take the gospel seriously without necessarily placing ourselves in the same category. James 4:6 reminds the believer, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” We don’t have to present ourselves as perfect. In a culture where pride is pervasively praised, Fallon shows us that humility can be hilarious, endearing and attractive.
I don’t know if Fallon has ever read Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” but his show is a great example of how to consistently give the spotlight away. For example, most late night shows have a house band; Fallon has The Roots, one of the most celebrated and sophisticated hip-hop groups of the last decade. On most late night shows, the band plays background music and gets the occasional nod from the host. Instead of following this model, Fallon has made The Roots a huge part of his show, offering sketches, punch lines and applause breaks to the band.
Whether at work, home, church or the golf course, we generally want the attention to be on us. We want people to see and celebrate our needs, our gifts, our property and our persons. It has been said that people rarely care how interesting you are, but always care how interested you are. How interested are you in the lives and gifts of those around you? Fallon shows us that making others the focus is not only wise, but enjoyable.
Fallon has learned how to listen to culture and make us laugh by using words, analogies and stories that are familiar to our 21st-century ears. Every time Fallon, a musical guest and The Roots collaborate to do one of their infamous songs using classroom instruments, we all share, tweet and like the video because it does three things: It makes us feel nostalgic for elementary school choir, it connects that nostalgia with a current pop hit we can’t get out of our head and it does these things while making us laugh.
Even the Apostle Paul saw value in using the cultural works of the day to speak to the hearts and minds of his audience. When Paul preaches from the Areopagus, he references an idol to an unknown god and quotes a pagan poet to draw Athenian minds to the superiority of the one true God over the false works of metal and wood they called gods (Acts 17:22-34). Believers should feel free, though not obligated, to use various cultural works (i.e. movies, songs, books, etc.) to point back to Christ. Everything that is Truth will be rooted in the One who gives all good gifts (Jas. 1:17).
So, the next time you tune in to watch “The Tonight Show,” consider these questions: Do I take myself too seriously? Do I outdo those around me in showing honor? Have I learned how to speak through culture by using words, analogies and stories that will make sense? We as Christians have the opportunity to communicate a message that is far more captivating than that of any guest on “The Tonight Show.” The question is, will we be known for communicating this story in a captivating way?
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For months the movie Noah has come under immense amounts of scrutiny from local churches around America, due to it’s lack of Biblical accuracy. Pastors and church critics have even gone to the extreme of announcing to their congregations from the pulpit that this isn’t a movie that they should be watching, or letting their children watch.
The only question that has been running through my mind during this time is; What in the world are you doing? Don’t you realize that we have been waiting for this opportunity?
The harsh truth is that the majority of Christians in North America are very ineffective at reaching people with the message of Jesus.
Non-Chrisitians aren’t interested in the Bible, they don’t want to know what it says. Every time I bring something up in conversation, they switch off or change the subject. It’s too hard for me to push past that barrier, I don’t want them to get mad at me.
These are just some of the excuses that Christians are using today, and if I am honest, they are extremely valid. The truth is that non-Christians aren’t typically interested in the Bible. Therefore, trying to break through that barrier is extremely difficult. It can be exhausting at times, so I can definitely relate!
However, I want you to think for a second… what would be the perfect evangelism scenario for a Christian? What would make your job as a Christian a lot easier? Think about it… It would be if the non-believer approached you, right? It would be if they brought up the stories in the Bible, it would be if they gave you an opportunity to talk about it with them.
Christians, don’t you see that we have been given a unique window, a very rare opportunity? We have a secular world making movies about the Book that we claim to love and follow. We have non-believers breaking down their own walls and giving us free opportunities to bring up the Bible and venture into conversation about faith, Jesus and Christianity with them.
But all we can do is theologically pick it apart, call it heretical, and miss every opportunity to give them Jesus. Opportunities that they are freely giving us.
I struggle to understand how any Christian can validate waisting time to theologically pick apart this movie. Why are we placing a level of expectation concerning Biblical accuracy on Hollywood? Let me say this plainly, they are not out to be Biblically accurate, they are out to make money, and they did, over $44m on opening night.
Why are you placing Christian expectations and standards on non-Christians?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is wise to protect and shepherd the Christians in our lives so that they know what is true and what has been embellished, concerning movies like this. But do we really need to be taking it to the extend that we are?
Wouldn’t it’ make more sense to stop waisting time pointing out everything that is wrong with this movie, ultimately rejecting it, and instead use that time to recognize what elements in this movie can be redeemed? This movie clearly communicates the doctrine of sin and it’s offenses to a holy God, human depravity & the Wrath of God. Even these three elements alone, offer bridges over water we would normally have to try and swim across.
Don’t you see that we have been given an incredibly unique opportunity, one that past generations were not. But instead of taking advantage of it, the non-Christian world gets to sit back and watch us emotionally vomit our hateful, judgmental opinions on them. They get to watch us completely reject the free pass that they are giving us.
I am suggesting that before we cast judgement so quickly, we prayerfully discern the opportunities we have been given in the middle of a fallen and sinful world.
Are you rejecting something that could actually be redeemed for the glory of God?
If you’ve ever experienced disunity in a church, you know how upsetting it can be. Not many of us enjoy conflict in general, so the thought of conflict within the body of believers is particularly uncomfortable. But conflict happens, just as it does in any committed relationship. Christians are exhorted to be known by their unity even in their diversity, but does that mean we never raise a concern? How can we know if an issue is worth fighting for? Is there ever a time to break unity for the sake of integrity?
Every member of the body of believers possesses a set of beliefs that can be divided into three categories: essentials, convictions and preferences. Understanding how these relate to unity can help us know whether to speak up or to remain silent, whether to break fellowship or to stay put.
An essential is any truth which, if denied or misrepresented, nullifies the gospel. Examples of essentials would be belief in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Essentials do not require a seminary degree to understand. They are plainly revealed in Scripture and accessible to believers of all maturity levels. Essentials are what you find in the historic creeds of the church. They define orthodox belief.
A conviction is any deeply held belief which, if believed in error will not nullify the gospel, but can harm spiritual growth. Examples of convictions would be views on baptism, the role of women in the church, eschatology, or the functioning of the charismatic gifts. Some convictions are more deeply held than others, depending on the church, and unlike essentials, not all convictions must carry the same weight. Some convictions, if held in error, have greater potential to harm than others. Disagreements surrounding convictions usually have to do with how we interpret Scripture.
A preference is something I care about, but that is a matter of personal choice. I can readily acknowledge that there is more than one possible right answer while still feeling strongly that my answer is the best one. Examples of preferences would be whether I prefer contemporary worship or traditional worship, casual dress or dressy clothes, smoke machines or stained glass. Disagreements surrounding preferences usually have to do with how we apply Scripture.
So, how can we judge whether an issue merits division? Think in these terms:
Unity must be broken if an essential is compromised or denied. If your church suddenly decides that Jesus is merely a man and not also God, you need to pack your bags.
Unity may be broken if a conviction is violated but must not necessarily be. It could be possible, for example, to remain a faithful member of a congregation that affirms believer’s baptism while still holding to belief in infant baptism.
Unity should not be broken if a preference is not shared. To leave your church because you dislike the worship style (assuming the worship style is not anything sacrilegious) or disagree with its ministry model is to hold in light esteem the beauty of having shared essentials and convictions. This doesn’t mean that preferences are unimportant. They are. And we should be able to dialogue about them with charity. They just aren’t deal-breakers.
Unfortunately, we often sacrifice unity on the slipshod altar of our preferences. Many a church split has happened over whether God loves the organ more than the electric guitar.
The book of Acts celebrates unity, and it stands as an exhortation to the Church throughout the ages to work hard to prize it. Never has such a diverse assembly of believers been reconciled to one another as in the days of the early church. Acts records the uniting of Jew and Gentile under one God, and the debates and discussions necessary to join these two groups as members of one body. It details the differences in ministry philosophy between Peter and Paul, two men united in the goal of spreading the gospel but divided as to how it should be done. Acts shows us that the tension of the interplay of essentials, convictions and preferences is a natural part of church life, and that unity is worth fighting for. But unity does not mean unanimity.
To be a member of a body of believers who affirm every essential and many of my convictions is a rare gift. I need not require that every conviction be held in unity, and I need not require that any preference be held in unity. A marriage is more likely to be easy and enjoyable when a couple shares the same convictions and preferences. So is church membership. It isn’t wrong to long for that kind of harmony, but it is wrong to break or withhold relationship over the lack of it. As with all relationships, our list of preferences should receive due consideration before we commit but far less consideration after.
The way we express our concerns matters, too. Just as no spouse benefits from being nagged or attacked about a conviction or preference by the other spouse, no church benefits from a nagging or attacking member. Far better for the member to hold a respectful debate or dialogue with someone in leadership than to complain publicly or privately to other members of the body. One approach demonstrates a love of unity. The other does not.
As we each soberly evaluate our essentials, convictions and preferences, we are well served to remember the watchword of the Lutheran theologian Meledenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May we meditate on the beauty of a church seeking unity in diversity, whose crowning virtue is love.
Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell – C. Michael Patton
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Two days ago one of the most prestigious music award ceremonies took place, The Grammys. As you probably know by now, it has been coined as the most controversial to date.
If you don’t know what happened, here is a link to bring you up to speed, click here.
In my opinion, the spectacle that was “The Grammys” this year, was definitely troubling for the average Christian. In fact, I have found that as I look back over the last several years, that these sort of ceremonies are becoming more and more controversial (Britney and Madonna’s kiss, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction & not to mention Miley Cyrus’ twerking endeavor).
However, what I have also found as I thought over these events, perhaps troubled me more. That Christians are getting increasingly worse at responding to what happens. I have noticed that Christians are responding in one of two ways now.
This would be where the Christian is very vocal about their discontent. Often times that comes in the form of obnoxiously exploding over social media about the demise, and liberalization of the world. This explode is then usually met with a large response from other Christians that they associate themselves with, agreeing and thanking them for their obnoxiousness.
I personally find this response to be ineffective when considering Matthew 28. How can you intentionally reach and make disciples of a world that you are openly insulting and ungraciously pursuing?
This would be the response that I have a tendency to fall into at times. The response where the Christian observes what has just taken place and then says something like, well this is just a sign that Jesus is coming back soon, and then goes on with the rest of their day without thinking twice about trying to biblically respond.
Usually the passive intolerant is easily frustrated by the active intolerant, and the active intolerant is increasingly convinced that the passive intolerant isn’t even saved. How can you just sit back and watch what happened and not say something? What about Romans 12:1-2?
As I think about both camps, I am struck with the sobering reality that they both actually produce the same outcome – an increasing distance from a world that needs Jesus, a world that needs the Gospel.
So, I am writing this blog not to give you a revolutionary answer as to what your response should be (there are too many Christian bloggers trying to do that). But rather to confess to you, that as these spectacles worsen, I am scratching my head for an effective way to respond to them with the Gospel. I understand what both Matthew 28 & Romans 12 say, and I know that it can’t be one or the other, it has to be both and… but how?
I think Christians would be better equipped; they would have a stronger, more effective, testimony and outreach; and God would get more glory if they stopped being actively or passively intolerant – and starting an honest discussion with each other about ways that they can be reaching an ever changing culture for Jesus.
Perhaps the world would see that dialogue and be amazed at the love they have for one another (John 13:35) and concern they have for reaching the world that needs Jesus… just a thought.
So here’s the question I would like to encourage you to have an open discussion about:
My hope is that this discussion would strengthening Jesus’ church by better equipping them to reach the world for Him. What have you found works for you?
Up until now, if you weren’t able to make it to church because you were under the weather, you could head to wilsonfbc.com/live and listen to a live streamed audio feed of the sermon, which quite honestly, isn’t a bad option for a small church. However the Elders were made more aware that we have some members in our church family that find it difficult to venture out on a Sunday morning in the middle of a Buffalo winter, and so we wanted to provide a better alternative to a simple audio stream.
Obviously the natural step up from audio streaming is video streaming, however to do it well (offering a professional production, the way that mega-churches do it today), you’re talking a few thousand dollars worth of an investment. Which is honestly a great idea, but there is just one problem, we aren’t a mega-church and we can’t afford the large investment.
After several months researching possible cheaper alternative and having no luck, the Lord gifted us with the great idea that we are proud to call PewView. We have purchased a HD 1080p webcam from amazon.com (for $70) and we plan to stream that signal through Google Hangouts every Sunday. Naturally with the video signal coming from a webcam and not our Canon XF100, we don’t have the same versatility that the Canon offers. However, what it will do is provide a High Definition picture that will make you feel like you are watching the sermon from a pew in the church, hence the name PewView.
We will keep the accessibility of this resource just as easy as the audio stream. All you will need to do is visit wilsonfbc.com/live around 10am on any giving Sunday and you should be ready to watch.
PLEASE NOTE This will not replace the weekly edited sermons that our creative team have ready for viewing by Tuesday, they are still dedicated to that process too.
Our hope is that this would not replace your commitment to the local church body. Our prayer is that you still see the biblical significance of being actively plugged into the life of the local church body. Jesus didn’t just save us from hell, he also adopted us into his family, one that we are called to actively be a part of. We are very grateful that this is a resource that that Lord has allowed us to offer, but we can’t stress enough the importance of remaining part of the body too.
We are praying that PewView is a resource that you will enjoy, and perhaps a system that other small churches can adopt too.
Today is the day that we launch our exciting new initiative for Christians and the non-churched, we’re calling it Confused Church.
One of the main frustrations for people not daring to darken the door of a church, or for plateauing Christians in our generation, is that they have questions that were never answered. Often times the non-churched will approach a Christian they know and love with their questions, in search of hope, love & answers, but only to be received by a nervous unappealing response because the Christians themselves are too embarrassed to acknowledge that they don’t know the answer either.
As a church we believe that our responsibility is two-fold. First, we are called to help equip Christians successfully reach a world with the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel. Second, it is also our calling to lead by example and extend the same grace that we received from Jesus, to the rest of the world. We are called to be accessible and ready to help them along life’s terrain, no matter how tough/rough it can be sometimes. Life can deal some pretty daunting blows, and Christianity can be pretty confusing, especially if you open up the bible in the Old Testament.
We want to make sure that you understand it’s never stupid to ask any questions about Jesus, the Bible or Christianity, in fact it’s important that you do, because a question unasked will always remain a question and all unanswered questions do is lead to frustration and defeat. We don’t believe that it is God’s intent for the world’s greatest news.
That is why we are introducing Confused Church. We hope that this page will provide a comfortable, risk free environment to ask the questions that you have always had about Christianity.
We plan to take the questions that you ask between now and March and compile them into a 20 weeks series that we are also titling, Confused Church (launching April 27 – the Sunday after Easter).
I know that we live in a world of instant results and ideally you would like a timely response in the space of a couple of seconds, however we want to make sure you understand that each question asked will be dealt with a great amount of respect and prayer and it would be unwise of us to rush a response back to you. So we would ask for your patience in the process and obviously extend a huge invitation to you and anyone you might know to ask those burning questions and then attend the 20 week series.
It is our goal that in the future we would be able to provide more concrete and speedy responses to the continued questions that I know are going to fall on your doorstep as you journey through life, but that comes with a larger team than we currently have at Wilson FBC.
So it is our desire and prayer to, one day, have a team of Pastors, theologians, godly men and godly women all with a passion to equip the church and un-churched with real, raw, applicable answers & blogs to life’s tough questions.
We prayer that the people of Western NY would never feel that Jesus is unapproachable, because his church was.
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
One Christmas, quite a few years ago, my then 3-year-old daughter was into staging plays about the nativity. “I be Mary, mama, you be Jofess,” she would instruct, and off we would go through the house on a wintry morning on our own journey to Bethlehem.
One day, wanting to gauge her understanding of the whole story, I asked, “But where’s Jesus?” Seemingly surprised that I didn’t know, she pointed to a spot right next to me and stated confidently in her tiny voice, “He’s right there!”
And I had a moment. It was as if I suddenly realized he had been travelling around the house with us all along. It was so palpable, I had a sudden urge to turn to the space beside me and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!” The presence of Jesus standing next to me felt very real that day, through my daughter’s believing eyes.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good.
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. In their simple faith, kids have not yet learned to doubt the truth. Become like children, humble yourselves, and you will inherit the kingdom, Jesus tells the disciples (Matt. 18:1–4). Bring the children to me, says Jesus, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them, and I want to pray for them (Matt. 19:13–15).
We too can learn to trust him, even though we do not see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8–9).
There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children.
With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good, that he is for us, and as Emmanuel, he is God with us. We are not alone.
Though we cannot see him standing next to us, we trust in his presence and in the knowledge that he will not leave us. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.
As I talked with my teenage son, I learned what was meaningful to him about our Advent celebrations when he was a little guy. He told me the time we took to prepare slowly over days of lighting candles and reading stories allowed him to enjoy anticipating Christmas. He never doubted that Christmas would come, because every preparation we made indicated that it was, indeed, on its way.
When it did come, we took the time to open gifts slowly, savoring each one and allowing others their turn to increase the enjoyment of everyone. As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
Things are not always as they seem. As parents, we have perspective our children don’t, because we see the big picture. They become anxious when an activity is over, when the treats are gone, or when it’s time to go home from the party. Many a meltdown is the result of their limited knowledge.
We know that the desires of their hearts will be met again, many times, and we are confident in our ability to provide it again for their delight. There is so much more to be seen that they do not see.
As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
Romans 8:24–25 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Likewise, we can trust that what God says will come to pass, and anticipate the perfect working of his will with patience.
We are often the instruments that cultivate this good fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our children. Don’t freak out! Like a loving parent, God is faithful to reassure us that he will also meet our needs and desires in the best possible way.
Now that they’re older, I have to ask my kids for their Christmas lists every year. When they were little they needed no prompting and proclaimed their desires with confidence.
I’ve saved some of those carefully printed lists from the days of asking for doll accessories, computer games, cars, and candy. Who doesn’t want to see their children’s eyes grow wide as they finally get to unwrap what you’ve been up to for their good?
God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).
Did you know that your generous Father delights in hearing you ask, and longs to fulfill the desires he has given you? (Psalm 37:4)
This may seem counterintuitive, and no one knows it better than a kid at Christmas, even if they have a tummy ache. However, applied as a spiritual principle, it’s true. God’s resources are unlimited and never-ending. It’s not a promise of material wealth, but of everything we truly need.
Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God.
Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. How do we convey this generosity to our kids? One of our favorite family traditions in recent years is a trip to downtown Seattle to see the Christmas sights, do some shopping, and watch a movie. The first year, unable to decide which movie to see, we decided to see both. It was great fun to see the shock on our kids’ faces when Dad agreed to underwrite not one but two movies on the same evening! Now we look forward to repeating the experience yearly.
Similarly, there are times when God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.
Kids love a good party. A healthy child’s desire for celebration reminds us that we need to take time to recognize our benefits. There is much about life on this earth that is commonplace and oriented around laborious effort, but we can easily lose our joy if we focus only on toil. Any parent who has tried to convince their child to complete their chores in a timely way knows this is true.
We build moments of celebration into our lives to nurture a sense of wonder and create opportunity for gratitude. Christmastime gives us the best reason of all for celebration—God’s lavish gift of Jesus, born to live and die to save us, is the reason that we celebrate by giving gifts to each other.
We rejoice in knowing that the one whose birth we honor is here: God with us, always, until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The assurance of his constant presence affirms our trust even when (especially when!) we don’t remember he’s right there, next to us.
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Even as our culture drifts away from Christendom, Christmas is still the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. Here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.
It was a Christmas Eve service in 1992, and I had been recruited to play the role of one of the young shepherd boys. With typical 90s flair, the night retold the birth of Jesus with skits, carols, praise banners, and awkwardness. Yet the gospel was preached and many who had been invited by friends responded by turning to Jesus and receiving the gift of God’s grace.
Why is any of this important?
Well, because one of the people who responded to the gospel that night was my dad.
Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.
You’re probably aware that Christmas is that magical time of the year when lights are up, stores are full, and millions celebrate the angel’s declaration of “peace on earth” by stressing out over the perfect gift or their frustrating family members.
But what you may not be aware of is that Christmas is also the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. From the carols that are sung to the nativity scenes that are set up, over the next few weeks Jesus is placed front and center in our cultural eye more than at any other time of the year. Like my dad, many people are more open to Jesus during the Christmas season.
While it is certainly true (and curious) that there are those in our culture who consider it an offensive social taboo to talk about Jesus during his birthday celebration, the bottom line for Christians is that Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.
As we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Christ into the world, here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.
Whether you like it or not, Santa Claus is a part of the cultural landscape of December. And he’s likely not going anywhere. Apart from a few troubling stalker tendencies (“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”!?), he seems like a pretty nice fellow who genuinely wants little boys and girls to try their best to be good. If they behave, they’ll have earned themselves a place on the nice list and be showered with presents instead of punished with coal.
Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.
Come to think of it, Santa would have been right at home with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Santa, like the Pharisees, has a fondness for rule-keeping, good behavior, and rewarding high performers.
However, the message of “try harder, do better” is not good news, and it’s not Christianity. It’s a depressing cultural distortion known as moralism, and is about as liberating as being chained to a treadmill and instructed to run to China. No matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself in the same place—just more tired and cynical.
But instead of seeing Santa as an opponent to be protested or a myth to naively endorse, Christians should see him as one of our greatest opportunities to astonish people with the gospel. Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.
Christian, you don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.
The gospel shows us that the true gift-giver is Jesus.
The gospel is a beautiful scandal that turns the Santa story on its head. InEphesians 2:8, Paul reminds us that the unfathomable joy of salvation is the undeserved gift of God.
Santa says, “Earn it.” Jesus says, “Receive it.”
Santa says, “If you’re good, you’ll get my love.” Jesus says, “Only my love can make you good.”
Santa makes a list and warns, “I’ll be checking it twice.” Jesus fulfilled the list and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
You don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.
The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.
The good news we get to celebrate at Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to detach our hope from our futile attempts to “be good,” and to attach it to himself. By living the life we couldn’t live and dying the death we deserve to die, Jesus gives sinners on the naughty list (if you’re human, you qualify) the gift of God’s love. That’s news worth telling someone over the next few weeks.
While Christendom may be dead, it has left in its wake some quasi-religious cultural traditions. For many non-Christians, attending some sort of church service during the holiday season is as much a part of their family tradition as chopping down a Christmas tree. It allows them to check off the “God” box (at least until Easter). This kind of thinking is nothing more than dead religion that is devoid of the life-altering power of the gospel. But it does come with one redeemable caveat: the opportunity for people to encounter the life-altering power of the gospel.
The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.
That friend or family member of yours who doesn’t know Jesus is far more likely to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service with you than any other time of the year. Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Research, has pointed out that “if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas Eve.” Another study by Lifeway shows that 47% of households will attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service as a part of their celebrations.
So go ahead and invite them!
This year, we have scheduled our Christmas Eve services around the local Christmas parade that takes place a block from our church. Snowflake Lane is one of our city’s favorite traditions, with performances, lights, and Christmas carols. By choosing to schedule our services before and after the parade, we provide an opportunity for our church members to “double up” and invite loved ones to a local celebration plus a Christmas Eve gathering with a gospel presentation.
To many believers, the thought of evangelism can make them feel more uncomfortable than a hammer at a Miley Cyrus video shoot. Christ’s command to leave our comfort zone and be his witnesses often leaves us feeling like Peter stepping out of the boat into the waters of the impossible (Matt. 14:26–33).
Don’t get me wrong; I totally get it. The fear is real. It’s just misplaced. We all experience those moments on mission where we seem to be sinking like Peter under the chaos of the storm. But that is only because we have taken our eyes off the one who rules the weather (Mark 4:41).
We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us.
The key to living out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) is in the verses that surround it. In verse 18, Jesus reminds us that he is the King and possesses all authority. He may have humbled himself to a manger, but now Christ reigns once again from his throne. Then in verse 20, King Jesus makes a game-changing promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here lies our courage! Christ’s promise is what fuels his command. We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us. As John Newton once counseled a fearful Christian, “When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that [Christ] is your leader.”
The most important four words you can remember this Christmas season as you step out and give the gift of the gospel are the same four words that Jesus gave to put steel in the backbone of those who loved him: “I am with you.” They are the very words that God has spoken to breathe courage into his people again and again (Josh. 1:9; Isa. 41:9; Jer. 1:8).
Think about it. If the Author loves you completely and is with you continually, why should you fear the other characters in the story?
Freely we have received. This Christmas, let’s freely give.
How can we reflect God’s generosity toward our family, our church, and our world at Christmas?
As a dad at Christmas time, I want to reflect God the Father’s heart to my family, my church, and the world. And his heart is generous! Very generous. My favorite Christmas verse is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God gave. And during the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.
God the Father gave us something he valued most and we needed most: his beloved Son, Jesus. Christmas is the advent of God entering our world in human form on a rescue mission. During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine. I want to give my wife and daughters generous gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive gifts, but I do want my gifts to be costly. I don’t wish to skimp or be cheap—the Father didn’t and isn’t. I want my family to receive from me the gift they want the most.
During the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.
As a pastor, I understand how important year-end financial gifts can be to the church. Offerings given during the month of December make up a disproportionate amount of monthly funds during the year. I enjoy doubling my average monthly gift each December, and when possible, I like giving even more than double. Giving to the church is an act of worship. And worshiping Jesus through sacrificial and costly gifts seems to be a fundamental part of the biblical nativity narrative (Matt. 2:1–12). It’s the very best kind of historical re-enactment.
While the arrival of Jesus literally did change the world, I realize there isn’t anything I can do at Christmas that would have such far-reaching results. But I enjoy being generous to the point I want others to experience it too. I like to help others feel that same buzz that comes from giving good gifts. So each Christmas season, I set some money aside for spontaneous giving.
During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine.
Some years this looks like giving cash to the parents of a needy family secretively so they can go big on Christmas Day with their kids. Other years it may look like partnering with solid charitable organizations like Angel Tree or Operation Christmas Child. I have a discretionary amount to give to help people to give who wouldn’t be able to otherwise. In this sense, those who are poor can give generously as if they were rich. And that to me is one of the big ideas about the good news of Christmas: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
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The whole Christmas season celebrates God with us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.
Recently my family and I moved. With moving comes all the obligatory tasks of packing boxes, finding moving trucks, and bribing friends to help you with copious amounts of pizza.
What else comes with moving? A new set of neighbors. People who God knew I was going to live by and who I have been called to know and love.
We can often get lost in the question, Who is my neighbor? Our lives are filled with different places where we connect and relate to other people. These are the places where we shop, work, and live. Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the play area at the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).
I grew up in Las Vegas, a city where many people go to spend their Christmas alone. Often it is a place to numb their depression about being alone during a time of year when connecting with family and friends is so important.
The truth is that you don’t have to be in Vegas to find people who are alone during the Christmas season. Many of us have neighbors or co-workers who have a deep sense of dread rather than joy about the Christmas season. Their disdain for Christmas is not rooted in an ideological culture-war, but rather in an emotional pain—they have little to celebrate or few loved ones to celebrate with.
Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor.
The Christmas season is amazing. We get to remember and rejoice that Jesus loves us enough that he would not stay far off at a distance, unfamiliar with human life, but rather he became a human to experience all that we experience. He would be a God who is able to empathize with all our struggles and joys (Heb. 4:15).
The whole Christmas season celebrates Jesus as Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:22–23). This changes everything for us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.
We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Here are some ways we can express Jesus’ love to our neighbors this Christmas season:
Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly heard the needs and cries of his people. All around us are people with needs during this holiday season, but because we are so busy we often don’t take notice. Take the time to really listen to the needs of your co-workers, friends, and neighbors. Be proactive in finding out if they have somewhere to go. In the midst of all the great Christmas festivities, don’t miss the needs of people around you.
When God heard the cries of his people, he didn’t stay removed and wish the world well. Instead he drew near: he came down to earth and took up residence with us. He wasn’t content to just give us distant instruction, but rather close, transforming connection.
Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be.
Take a step to draw near to your neighbors this week and include them in your holiday parties, family traditions, and church worship services. This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.
Here is where it counts. Jesus did not wait for the world to embrace him or roll out the red carpet. Even to this day much of the world stands in opposition to him. Yet Jesus chose to engage and take the first step because he loves first (John 3:16).
Because we are loved by Jesus, we are called to take the first step toward our neighbors. We can’t wait until we just bump into them at the mailbox or while taking out the trash. Let’s go over and knock on their door. For many of us, this could be a life-changing decision. Maybe we have lived next to someone for years and still don’t even know their name. This year, invite them to come over to that ugly sweater Christmas party and drink too much eggnog. Or tell them to come hang out for that inevitable white elephant gift exchange with your community group.
Jesus wasn’t in need of more friends or relationships. He had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus chose to move toward us at great expense. Becoming human, he experienced loss, betrayal, and even death. It is a major understatement to say that Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced to reach us. Jesus’ love motivates us to endure the inconvenience of disrupting our plans to reach out to our neighbors and invite them into community.
After the Christmas season has passed and the tree is back in the box or out in the dumpster, let’s not put these new relationships away. Rather, we should endure in loving our neighbors and seeking to draw them into community with us and Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus has done with us, showing us patient love that does not give up (1 Cor. 13).
This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.
So yes, go nuts in filling up your schedule with great holiday activities and events. Have a blast in making memories with your family that will last a lifetime. Just look around and see who you can bring along with you. Draw near to those who are alone and don’t forget them during this significant time of year.
Jesus draws near to the broken-hearted and those who feel alone. When you were alone in your sin, Jesus came looking for you so that you would never be alone. Because this is the love that saved us, we can love like this as well.
So reach out. Extend joy to your neighbor and be generous about loving and connecting with others. That is the whole point of Christmas.
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No one fast to rule them all
Once you have your purpose, plan out your fast. People have been fasting for thousands of years in all different ways.
Once you know your purposes for fasting (the ultimate purpose and immediate purposes), consider your health. Consult your doctor, and if it’s time for a checkup, get in there. Fasting can aggravate medical conditions and you don’t want to find that out the hard way. A few reasons you may not be able to fast safely include a myriad of health concerns from anemia to anorexia to heart disease to pregnancy to nursing—there are many legitimate reasons to not fast.
If fasting from food is not a reality for you, pray about what God wants you to do. He knows your limitations and won’t be disappointed. If you are unable to fast, you might consider partaking in another form of spiritual discipline, abstaining from technology, entertainment, music, a hobby—the list is endless, but the important part is your motive! Use the time you would normally spend eating/snowboarding/facebooking/whatever, and spend it with Jesus.
Thousands of years of fasting could teach us something
Dr. Bill Bright has a very thorough article on fasting that presents and expands on many of the ideas in this article.
There isn’t one particular formula for fasting. It’s a personal decision. How you fast, how long you fast, and what you fast from are all individual choices, none of which are as important as your reason for fasting. God doesn’t command everyone to go 40 days without food. Ask him what he would have you do and start slowly. Avoid jumping into an extended fast without building up to it first.
In the Bible, we find several types of fasts. The partial fast is illustrated by Daniel, who abstained from the best foods and chose to eat vegetables and drink water instead. You could opt for similar plan.
An absolute fast means not eating or drinking anything at all. Paul fasted absolutely for three days. Moses did the same for 40 days, but following suit would be so extreme that you should not copy Moses unless you are absolutely sure God has called you to do so. Don’t worry! If God wants you to do something this extreme, he knows how to make it so clear to you that there is no room for uncertainty.
The most common fast involves not eating any sort of food, but drinking plenty of water and juice. Ideally, juice your own fruits and vegetables or drink 100% juice. Beware of caffeine and sugar, as they will have stronger effects without any solid food in your system.
Ultimately, pray, pick the one that seems best, and think about your motives. God won’t be impressed if your fast is more difficult. He’s already fully pleased with you because of Jesus, so fast in whichever way you choose and praise God that you don’t have to earn his favor through misery!
It’s tempting to have your own personal Mardi Gras, eating every one of your favorite foods just before starting your fast. While culturally popular, this makes fasting more difficult. It’s better to wean yourself off of food slowly. So plan ahead, as this will mean changing your diet during the days leading up to your fast.
Look at your schedule and plan realistically. Fasting during holidays is not only difficult because of all the special foods you will be around; it can also be a huge bummer to those around you. They want to enjoy a feast with you and celebrate—not easy over the sound of your growling stomach or your sad expression. Avoid this. There is a time to fast and a holiday probably isn’t it.
Also consider the point of fasting: spending time with Jesus. If you’re running a million errands in the lead-up to Christmas or a birthday or another special event, you won’t have the time to sit and commune with God in isolation. Remember, the point of fasting isn’t just to be hungry; it’s to take the time you would normally spend eating and use it to focus on God.
Breakfast vs. breaking your fast
When your fast ends, it’s very important to reintroduce food slowly. Avoid the six-course dinner or the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Your body will have responded and adjusted to life without food fairly quickly. Suddenly shoveling in normal food will not end well. Start simply, with plain vegetables or broth. Take your time and eat small quantities. Just like you led into the fast slowly, come out of it slowly.
Eye on the prize
Fasting isn’t a burden or a requirement for belonging to God. It’s a gift that helps you to know and run alongside your heavenly father. Going without food is a reminder that cuts straight to one of our most basic needs.
If you’ve never fasted before, be courageous, give it a go, and expect great things. Fasting is an act of faith, and faith pleases God.
Fasting during the Living for a Legacy campaign
During the Living for a Legacy campaign, we are asking people to be praying everyday for 40 days. We will conclude the 40 days with five days of fasting, beginning at sundown on January 5, calling the people of Mars Hill Church, including our Extended Family, to abstain from food or use one of the alternative fasts. We will then, as a gathered family at each of our locations, celebrate by breaking our fasts on the evening of Friday, January 10. We would encourage you, if you do not attend a local Mars Hill church, to also have a celebratory meal of thanksgiving and rejoicing.
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With Christmas fast approaching, I’m sure a lot of people (me included) can feel that pull of stress and exhaustion.
It is like sitting at the top of a stress slide, scooting forward inch by inch. We know what is coming, and we might already be worried about how we will land in the bark chips at the bottom. While Christmas may always be busy, here are a few simple things to think about that have helped me control some of the stress.
Traditions are tools that we use to make culture, to make memories, and to make childhoods. Traditions are not a base that we have to tag or we can’t count the run. Failure to make the gingerbread house does not make your Christmas a sham, for example.
If we were craftsmen, we would not mark our success by how many of our tools we touched. Instead, we’d look at the product. The point of gingerbread houses, cookies, homemade stockings, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, presents, shopping, caroling, lights, and every joyful tradition you can think of is joy. If you are failing to get that result, that’s a heart issue that using more tools will not help.
Joy is not something that you can manufacture through traditions—it is something you can shape with traditions.
But the joy itself cannot come from festive moments, new gifts, or tasty treats. The joy can only come from our salvation and our hearts resting in that. After that, joy is expressed in our physical world through our traditions, through what means we have at hand.
If your Christmas is not joyful, get things right with God. The joy of our salvation is the substance of celebrating. Traditions are simply a human response to great joy. Love your traditions because of why we have them, but never love them apart from our deepest joy in Jesus.
You can reduce stress tremendously by tightening up on the normal things rather than loosening up.
Tighten up your standards on yourself first, and then your children. Do not use the holidays to have a self-indulgent spiritual slump. When you feel rushed, it is easy to give yourself leeway that you shouldn’t.
Baking a lot of cookies is not an excuse to snap at your children. “Needing” to run errands is not an excuse to ignore your small child’s temper tantrum and just buckle them up napless and mad to go peeling off to the mall. Do not get into a cycle of bribing with treats instead of blessing with them. This is a time to follow through. Be clear, be calm, and be consistent. This will not decrease your workload, but it will sweeten it considerably! It is also a great gift to your children, helping them to celebrate such a precious time from a place of security and peace.
If you are finding it impossible to do the things that you think you need to do while maintaining joy in your home, you need to lower the standard. Years ago, we went to a wedding where one of the bridesmaids no longer fit into her dress and wore it down the aisle unzipped in the back. That’s not what you want to be.
Fancy traditions, fun shopping expeditions, huge parties, or insanely perfect gift-buying are all beautiful things to do, but not if you no longer are able to fit them into your family’s life. There comes a time to either size it up or sit it out. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish, and do what you can joyfully.
Anticipating opening presents is such a fun thing for kids, that it’s easy to forget that Christmas is full of temptations too. It is a good idea to talk to your kids about what to expect. With our kids, my husband and I talk about envy and thankfulness. We talk about people less fortunate and people more fortunate. We try to have our children be aware that Christmas morning is hugely joyful, and that we all need to discipline our hearts and stay in grateful fellowship.
We have used the illustration of running with our kids: Look in front of you, look at the way you are running, and be thankful. Whenever you start to look at what other people are getting, or what other people are doing, you are likely to run into something, and it will probably be a big envy tree.
This certainly applies to grown-ups too. Do not spend a lot of time or energy examining the motives of celebrations of others. Christmas celebrations are a response to our salvation. Look at your own feet and at your own work. The fact that people out there are just talking about Santa, holidays, and Xmas, and being all greedy and ugly and commercial about it really doesn’t matter. The power of a joyful, thankful, God-honoring celebration is not changed because some people do not know God and are trying to mimic it. Psalm 37:1 sums this up nicely: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”
Do not spend your time getting wound up over the sins of others. Do not tie yourself into knots over unbelieving family members or friends who are doing things wrong. Take responsibility for yourself, and leave their hearts to God.
With so much happening all the time, it is easy to slip into a pattern of virtual life. When we view our phones and computers as relaxation, we can start turning to them when we feel stressed. Live in your home with your family. Don’t spend all your time looking at other people’s ideas—have some of your own!
Try leaving your phone on the counter all day and skip Facebook. Spend your downtime actually down and not hopping all over the virtual world. You are needed in the real world, so be there.
And lastly, the best way of all to keep from getting grumpy and wound up and stressed out about Christmas is to remember what we are doing in the first place.
We are celebrating that God dwelled among us, that he sent his Son to redeem us. This is not a big burden; this is about the absence of a burden. We are not obligated to party. The excitement, the joy, the laughter, the lights, the food, and the presents: this is all part of the glory of having been forgiven. We are free to do this, and we are free to do this with light hearts. Because, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6).
That child wasn’t just born to be a neat story from a long time ago—he was born so that the world might be born anew in him.
This is not just the birthday of our Savior, but one big collective birthday celebration for all who have been born in him. Don’t let a little anxiety or a big to-do list separate you from the joy of that salvation.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t be stressed because Christmas doesn’t really matter anyways; our stress is simply pointless. Christmas is so much bigger than our little efforts to mark it. It is so far beyond us, that we should take comfort in knowing that our celebrations—our paper plates of cookies, our singing of glorious carols, our joyful gifting to others—can only scratch the surface of a joy that is so big, so vibrant, and so deep that it changed the world.
The love of the Father for his perfect Son is so great that we have been caught up in it. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, indeed.
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Fasting is an awesome gift. And like all awesome gifts, it can be misconstrued in a way that leaves us bitterly disappointed. Now that we know what fasting is and why we fast, let’s consider what it is not.
Fasting is not a manipulation tactic or a way to earn points with God. Fasting doesn’t make you more holy or acceptable to God. Christ Jesus alone has made us holy. Instead, by practicing a fast and other spiritual disciplines, we are asking for grace just like we did when we prayed for salvation. We didn’t save ourselves. We received God’s gift to us. So in fasting, we don’t transform ourselves; we receive the grace that transforms us (1 Pet. 1:13–14).
Fasting is not an endurance test and, like anything else, can be done in pride forthe praise of men. Self-righteousness is a signpost on the road to hell. That’s the reason we must clarify our purpose for fasting—to avoid ego-tripping. Jesus warned us not to make our fasting a public service announcement in order to get attention. If you’re tempted to look at your contrite spirituality and get smug about fasting, remember that even the ability to fast is yours by grace alone and without Jesus you couldn’t even do that much.
Fasting is not some religious formality to check off the list. Some believers, out of a feeling of duty, will participate in the 40 days of Lent by giving up something easy, but their sacrifice becomes a mere annoyance which they are glad to drop by the time Easter Sunday comes. Without a purpose beyond “It’s Lent,” a religious approach to fasting falls far, far short of the awesomeness God wove into the fabric of fasting.
Fasting doesn’t force God to be more attentive or give us quicker answers. We don’t tell God, “We’re fasting now. That’s our part; now you do your part” (Isa. 58). No matter what we do, God will perform all his holy will. So fasting isn’t our effort to twist God’s arm. It’s our response of pressing into him like it says in Joel: “rend your hearts and not your garments.” Fasting is one way that we express our surrender and honest petition before God.
Finally, be careful to differentiate between aligning your heart with God (what fasting does) and getting closer to God (what fasting does not). Jesus alone brings you, spotless, into God’s presence. If you belong to Jesus, fasting basically makes you more aware of where you already are.
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The purpose of fasting is ultimately God himself. There are many reasons to undertake a fast, but the bottom line for them all is to align your heart directly with him. Think of that as the big picture. The small picture, the immediate purpose for a fast, can vary. So the first step for any kind of fast is to declare our immediate purpose. Fasting can’t be done casually, because there isn’t any spiritual benefit in simply not eating. Going through the motions just makes us hungry, but genuine, purposeful fasting is a powerful discipline for the disciple of Jesus and can play a part in literally transforming your life.
To help us define a godly purpose for fasting, Donald Whitney gives us these 10 reasons:
Throughout the Bible, we see people fast for a variety of reasons:
None of these purposes amounts to twisting God’s arm to do what we want. Who can do that? God is not a genie who will grant us whatever we wish. He is a good father who is working out his sovereign will. Our reasons for fasting are for our own humility. By denying ourselves for a time, we provoke ourselves to rely more on God Almighty. It isn’t about changing God; it’s about changing us. In fasting:
Lastly, fasting helps us to remember the true source of our utmost joy. Most people would agree that food is a good thing. If you’re unable to fast but chose to abstain from something else, such as a hobby or technology or entertainment, those can also be good things. All good things come from God, but the human heart is inclined to worship God’s gifts rather than God himself. Fasting helps our hearts to look past the good gift to the good God, who blesses us despite ourselves.
Even if fasting makes sense, you may not feel like you need it right now. But think of fasting as similar to praise and worship. Oftentimes joy overflows in songs of praise, but more often singing leads us into joy. We sing first and that brings us to a place of thankfulness and joy. Likewise, when our souls overflow with godly emotions and repentance, we may be led to fasting, but far more often we need to choose to fast in order to be humbled and to fight our pride by rejecting the ways we so often cope with our feelings. It’s the proactive approach.
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What is fasting and what is the purpose? This is the first of a four-part series committed to answering those questions.
Dr. Carl Lundquist, former president of Bethel College and Seminary, would fast once a week. In a letter, he writes, “I spend my lunch break in fellowship with God and in prayer. And I have learned a very personal dimension to what Jesus declared, ‘I have had meat to eat ye know not of.’”
Fasting is a spiritual discipline. Simply put, it means not eating. Instead of using mealtime for food, you use it to spend time with God. Some fasts last for one meal, one day, multiple days, or even weeks. Fasting may begin at sunrise and end at sunset or extend 24 hours per day. There are many ways and reasons to fast, but the basic idea is to set aside the time you would usually spend eating and focus that time on God instead, praying, reading the Bible, and worshiping.
When you’re fasting, you’re likely to feel hunger pangs. Allow those to serve as reminders that you are hungry to know Jesus and that you rely on him for every need. When you pray, ask the Holy Spirit to deepen your understanding and experience of Jesus in everyday life. You might pray something like, “Father, you are my daily bread. You are my comforter, my redeemer, my provider. My life is hidden in Christ. What more do I need?” Christians often focus their mind on one particular idea during a fast, such as the crucifixion during Easter. During this holiday season, as you pray and fast, you may choose to meditate on the humility of Christ’s birth.
A normal biblical fast is to avoid food, but not water. However, you have a great deal of freedom as you fast. Some people avoid everything but water. Others focus solely on not eating and instead drink whatever they want.
Whatever your plan, make sure to consult with your doctor to ensure you are medically fit enough for a fast, and get tips from your doctor on how to fast safely. There are a number of reasons a traditional fast may not be a viable option for you. These reasons range from stage of life to pregnancy to medical conditions to eating disorders and everything in between. Most people are capable of fasting without compromising their health, but if that’s not the case for you, don’t be discouraged! You can fast in other ways. One option is to eat less than normal rather than not at all. You could fast from coffee or give up the foods you enjoy most, eating only simple, plain foods. This type of fasting is commonly called a “Daniel Fast,” referring to the story of Daniel in the Old Testament when he and his friends abstained from eating meat and consumed only vegetables and water (see Daniel 1:12).
While the majority of people are able to fast from food, if you are unable to fast from food, you could consider abstaining from certain activities instead. Though this is technically not a biblical fast, people have abstained from television, Facebook, music, golf—all sorts of things. The idea is to use the time you would normally spend on the activities you love to focus on the Lord instead, praying, reading the Bible, and worshiping God.
Okay, so you’re told you should fast, that it’s a good spiritual discipline, and that it doesn’t necessarily require food. But fasting does emphasize food and it’s preferable if you are physically able to abstain from eating. Why?
There is a mystery to fasting and part of the reason we do it as Christians is simply because God wants us to. Jesus expects his disciples to fast (Matt. 6:16) and obeying God, even when it seems weird, is always a good idea.
The physical implication of fasting is that it directly impacts one of our most basic needs as humans. God has built us into a physical world with physical needs, and the physical world directly impacts the spiritual. By staying away from food and focusing our attention on God, we shut our bodies up, strengthen our soul in God, and put into action our dependence on him. He provides us with life. Food is the way he chooses to do so, but he is the source and can very well sustain us without food, water, or any of the physical necessities of life.
We do not discount the value of the body or consider the physical world bad. Fasting serves many purposes, one of which is to remind our minds, spirits, and bodies who and what we worship: God himself.
You can fast with other believers as well. If it will help you overcome any fear you might have of fasting, ask another believer to join you. Biblically, there are instances of corporate fasting where entire nations fasted together (Esther 4; Ezra 8). So feel free to fast together and pray for one another. Our church-wide fast will lend itself to this opportunity, because there’s a good chance the people around you will be fasting at the same time.
Find out what fasting should look like for you. Be in prayer about it now as we move forward into the 40 days of prayer. Then join us in our church-wide fast to dedicate this time to the Lord as we ask him in prayer for big things at Mars Hill Church in 2014. Even if you feel intimidated to try, let us all agree together as a church to fast for at least one day, in some fashion, if not the full five days.
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Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:1–8
Christians are a minority in our secular culture, which largely doesn’t honor Jesus. That’s not going to change, but there’s an ongoing debate among Christians about how we approach a secular culture that doesn’t agree with us about Jesus.
As we think about our relationship with our society, it’s important to remember we too were once far from God, but he saved us through his grace. It’s with this grace in mind that Paul teaches us, through his letter to Titus, how we should respond to a secular society.\
The first way Christians should engage a secular culture is the same way we always have. We’re to be good citizens, obey the law, submit to authority, and not cause rebellion, strife, or insurrection. We are to be obedient to the law except for when it would require us to disobey Jesus. Christians need to live under the law of the land—it’s one of the ways we manifest our faith in meekness through Jesus Christ.
Remember we too were once far from God, but he saved us through his grace.
Christians should care about the people living around us in our city, and we should be active in working toward the common good. We have a responsibility according to this text that goes beyond the walls of the church. Yes, our priority should be the people in the church, but we are also responsible for the well-being of our neighbors and our city.
Christians shouldn’t speak evil of anyone. We may disagree with someone, but we can still respect them. This is one of the ways we reflect the goodness of God. It’s not that we don’t call out false doctrine, but we do it in a respectful and loving way.
Christians should care about the people living around us in our city.
We have more opportunity than anyone in the history of the world to use our words negatively on the Internet. Words are critically important. When Jesus’ disciples were criticized for not ceremonially washing their hands, Jesus emphasized that it’s not what goes into our mouth that makes us unclean—it’s what comes out of our heart. If the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, washes us from sin and gives us a new identity, then good words can flow out of a good heart.
Christians should be courteous to all people. Good manners are very important, because the basic posture of a Christian is that we see others as more important than us. That means we treat them with respect, dignity, and honor.
Christians shouldn’t speak evil of anyone. We may disagree with someone, but we can still respect them.
Jesus was strong and bold, but he was also deferential, gentle, meek, and mild. That’s the way Jesus loves and cares for us, and we want people to see Jesus.
In the United States, many Christians act as if something has been stolen from them, and they approach non-Christian culture in a very combative and antagonistic way. To make an impact on our culture and see people meet Jesus, we must be good citizens, do good works, speak good words, and display good manners. If we’re going to be filled with the Holy Spirit and live in a culture where the rhetoric is toxic, we need to be an exemplary in our actions. Otherwise, people will never see Jesus in us.
[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/11/17/how-to-live-in-a-secular-culture” size=”big”]
The living God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ. There is a better way to spend our time than arguing with other Christians over the Internet.
“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” –C.H. Spurgeon
As a young pastor of a growing church, I am in the most demanding season of my life. We are setting up and tearing down in a community college gym every week. We have outgrown our kids space and are trying to raise $750,000 to renovate a new location. I have been working long, hard hours as our church toils to see the gospel proclaimed, sinners saved, and Jesus made great. And to top it all off, our church has recently been experiencing gossip and attacks over social media by fellow Christians who have never been through the doors of our church.
I have found myself increasingly disappointed and dismayed for those who fill their hours engaging in rock-throwing like this while displaying no interest in resolving their disagreements face-to-face. Have you ever experienced this in your ministry? Have you ever been guilty of this?
I used to be divisive and foolish like this. Early in my walk with the Lord, I was one to proclaim judgment over ministries that didn’t preach my version of Christianity, and I was even verbally unsupportive of leadership in a church I attended. But this is not what God wants for us.
Our speech should reek of grace and be seasoned with salt.
The living God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ. There is a better way to spend our time than arguing with other Christians over the Internet. King David declares in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The reverse is true as well: How bad and unpleasant it is when brothers have disunity!
Consider this: Your current theological position may not be the one you die holding. Look back at your walk with the Lord. Are there positions you once held that you no longer believe to be the truth? Maybe you have not yet arrived at your final destination, and the Lord may be continuing to shape and mold you. Be careful in making it seem that if someone holds a different position on a secondary issue then they are outside of the faith.
God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ.
Rather than contending for disunity over secondary topics, you could begin to contend for unity on the essentials of our faith—the things that are of “first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Your time and energy would be better spent contending for the proclamation of the gospel or encouraging brothers and sisters to make much of Jesus.
Christian, you are being watched. The outside world sees how you engage with, disagree with, and relate to your brothers and sisters within the church and with those outside the church. Paul gives us good counsel: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).
Our speech should reek of grace and be seasoned with salt. When discussing secondary issues with other Christians, go out of your way to show respect and love for others. If you find that you cannot do that, please do not hit Enter and post your comment.
Your current theological position may not be the one you die holding.
Let the Scriptures speak for themselves: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12–13).
As I mentioned, I have been guilty of rock-throwing and criticizing from a distance. Gossip like this is something all of us can slip into, even if only in private conversation. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and an area where many of us need to repent. As you read this, I pray that you would ask God to show you where he is calling you to repent and grow in maturity to represent Jesus well to all.
We are not God’s protectors. He is sovereign, and he is far more concerned with his glory and his name being made great than we are.
[lollum_button text=”Original Blog on The Resurgence” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/11/27/internet-hate-and-the-gospel” size=”big”]
The big idea of my Post blog was that Facebook doesn’t cause adultery, people do. Calling for a boycott of Facebook is not the answer because the issue is the heart. Even if someone doesn’t commit adultery because of Facebook, if that sin remains in their heart, they will find another way to act upon it. Sadly, after the story broke, it was revealed that the pastor protesting against Facebook was, in fact, guilty of prior adultery, along with his wife. Of course, their adultery had nothing to do with Facebook, according to the news reports. So, while I pray for the couple to get beyond whatever may be troubling their marriage by God’s grace, it simply confirmed my big idea that sinners are ultimately responsible for sin.
Facebook, like many technologies and cultural phenomena, is an opportunity for my heart and the hearts of others you and I interact with to be revealed and transformed. Funny that this week, a simple comment I made appreciating the talent of Jay-Z generated hundreds and hundreds of comments across multiple threads on my Facebook page. Compare that to nineteen comments on my post regarding a news article about the Christian who is being raped, beaten, and tortured for his faith and needs some people to push for his freedom.
The backstory is this. While flipping through TV channels recently, I noticed an enormous concert by Jay-Z. The event was simply epic. Madison Square Garden was packed and people were raising their hands and singing along with religious zeal. By no means a hip-hop expert, but someone who did grow up listening to the earliest days of rap as a non-Christian, I have been aware of his influence for some time. He has sold fifty million albums, garnered ten Grammys, and was honored as one of the Ten Most Successful Artists of the previous decade by Billboard Magazine. He’s also helped to launch the careers or at least influence the music of Beyoncé, Eminem, Rihanna, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., Timbaland, Linkin Park, and Dr. Dre, among others. Some of these friends joined him on stage for the portion of the concert I watched, which was quite a performance.
Back to Facebook, where I posted that despite using bowling words, Jay-Z is a genius. I was very surprised to see how heated the ensuing debate became. Scanning the comments, it became clear that there was a polarization between two camps of thought about how Christians should engage culture. One side citedPhilippians 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:13ff and advocated that Christians should not listen to music like Jay-Z. The other side cited 1 Corinthians 9, Romans 14, and John 17:15and advocated that Christians have freedom in Christ and should be in the world but not of the world. All in all, it was a predictably ugly display of Internet flame-throwing where it gets personal fast and people say things digitally they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. Still, I’d like to address the issue of how Christians should engage culture—mostly for those caught in the crossfire of the two extremes.
This blog is not intended to defend everything I’ve ever said and done, as, like all sinners, there are things in retrospect I would say and do differently. This blog is also not intended to defend or impugn Jay-Z. He’s a gifted producer and musician, some of his lyrics are vulgar, and though it will likely never happen, if I ever got to chat with him I would be curious to hear what he thinks about Jesus.
What I’ve found over the years is that whenever I speak about something culturally related from a Christian perspective, a debate rages. This has been the case since the earliest days of my ministry. This is because I consider myself a missionary in culture. When we started our church we did so in what was among the least churched cities in the nation, seeking to reach the least churched demographic—young, educated, single, urban men. The truth is, these kinds of young men are generally missing from the American church. One thing these men of all races are doing is listening to rap music.
So, as a missionary, I find it a good thing to be aware of what is going on in culture in general as well as in music in particular. Though not a musician myself, I have some five thousand songs on my iTunes account from a wide range of genres and styles. Music is among the most defining and revealing aspects of any culture, and so in addition to enjoying some music, I study lots of music. This endeavor is helped, in part, by a communications degree from one of the top programs in the nation, where I spent a few years analyzing advertising, marketing, political speeches, film, music, and the like.
Here’s the big idea: it’s not about music, it’s about missions.
The God of the Bible is a sender by nature. He is a missionary God who has sent his people into the world since Abraham. In the Old Testament he sent prophets like Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Jonahover cross-cultural boundaries. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live as a man, in a particular time and place, with a particular people as a missionary in a sinful culture. The Father also sends the Holy Spirit to Christians so that we, like Jesus, might also live as missionaries in culture. The gospel that portrays this most clearly is John, where Jesus says roughly forty times, “The Father has sent me,” and then says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
As a missionary, I do not view culture passively, merely as entertainment. Rather, I engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview. I teach my children to do the same. Their computer is fully visible in the middle of our kitchen and dining area, with protective software to help ensure they are not prematurely exposed to content they cannot handle, dangerous people, and also such things as pornography. The television used by our five children is also mounted for all to see in the most visible section of our home to help ensure we actively oversee our children’s cultural intake. That television also has a password that my wife or I must enter if anything is to be recorded or watched beyond a certain age-appropriate rating.
We also watch shows with our children. Those shows are recorded on a TiVo so that we can stop and have discussions during them, helping our kids understand the ideology that is being presented and how to think about it critically. We want our kids to be innocent but not naïve. Naïve Christians are the most vulnerable to engaging culture ignorantly and unpreparedly. If a Christian kid does not know how to walk as a Christian in culture, it’s no surprise that once he or she leaves their parents’ home after graduation, they are statistically likely to fail continue walking with Jesus.
The attitude we have for our children is the same we have for our church. This is why we have a pastor leading film and theology discussions. This is why we have a large contingency of Christians who are in the music business but do not wave the flag of Christian music. Rather, their theology informs their songwriting and artistry. Like our children, our goal is not to create a safe Christian subculture as much as to train missionaries to live in culture like Jesus. This helps explain why we baptized, by God’s grace, almost a thousand new converts last year alone—people who simply would not have connected with a typical Christian church existing in a cultural cul-de-sac.
Regarding missiology, the question is, how are Christians to be missionaries in their cultures? Historically, and biblically, there are two erroneous extremes that Christians swing between: syncretism or sectarianism.
Syncretists go too far into culture, abandoning or diluting the gospel in the name of relevance. Liberals in the early twentieth century did this by pandering to the high culture of academic modernity and abandoning belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, the supernatural, and the divine nature of Christ. The shells of mainline churches are their legacy. Most recently, the Emergent Church did much of the same as they chased after the postmodern mood of our culture by questioning the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and God’s design for heterosexual marriage.
Sectarians are better known as fundamentalists who impose man-made rules on people in the name of achieving holiness by avoiding sinners and hiding out in a “Christian” culture. They are prone to seeing others sin more easily than their own sins of hypocrisy and religious pride, while arguing about morality when they should be explaining how to be redeemed. Whereas syncretists go too far, sectarians don’t go far enough. Neither follows the entire example of Jesus, though both would disagree passionately.
The general concern of sectarians is that to be in culture is to be in sin. All Christians are commanded by God to avoid universal sins—offenses the Bible condemns for all people in all cultures—as well as particular sins, or offenses that are sinful for some people under some circumstances but not for all people under all circumstances. Christians are to do so without unfairly condemning or restricting the freedoms of fellow Christians who involve themselves differently in controversial cultural matters. For example, I personally disdain cigarettes, but I cannot forbid everyone in my church from smoking, because the Bible does not. This is, in part, what Paul means throughout the New Testament when he speaks of weak and strong Christians. In truth, every Christian is both weak and strong. We all have some areas in which we need to restrict our freedoms because of our weaknesses, while we are able to use our Christian liberty in areas in which we are strong.
I recognize that Christians will have different personal convictions in matters of culture and I welcome those differences that are not sinful, because what pleases God is unity, not uniformity. Uniformity undermines mission and often is promoted by erroneous restrictive and permissive theologies. Restrictive Christians go too far and name everything a universal sin, forbidding some cultural activities that the Bible does not, such as listening to certain musical styles, getting tattoos, watching movies, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol moderately, enjoying some sexual pleasures within marriage, and body piercing. Conversely, permissive Christians tend to name everything a particular sin and bless activities that the Bible forbids, such as drug use, fornication, homosexuality, and cohabitation before marriage.
I’m not advocating either a permissive or a restrictive approach to debatable cultural issues. Rather, I am encouraging Christians to involve themselves in culture not merely for the purpose of entertainment but primarily for the purpose of education. As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.
Sadly, a theology of “garbage in, garbage out” remains quite popular but has numerous flaws. First, there is no such thing as a pure culture untainted by sin and sinners, including Christian entertainment, which has had its share of scandalous behavior. One such example is the fact that as I’m writing this blog, the leader of a major Christian television network has publically confessed to adultery. Second, it is uncertain what distinguishes clean “Christian” and unclean “secular” entertainment forms and why Bibleman is so much better than Spiderman.
Engaging culture requires discernment by God’s people to filter all of the cultures they encounter, Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid in order to cling to that which is good and reject that which is evil. As we engage culture (watching films and television, listening to music, reading books, shopping at stores, and so on), we must do so as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life in our culture. We do this so we can begin the transforming work of the gospel in our culture by contextualizing the good news of Jesus. Not compromising. Not changing. Contextualizing. Practically, this means doing what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” The truth is that every ministry is contextualized, the only difference is to which culture and which year of that culture. Everything from pews to chairs, sound systems, projectors, suits, and a printed Bible in the English language are very recent missiogical contextualizations in light of the two thousand years of Christianity.
For those who are familiar with my ministry, this all may seem very confusing in light of comments I have made on other cultural issues. For those who have raised objections and questions in a gracious manner, with all sincerity I want to say thank you! They help me learn how to articulate more effectively my deeply held biblical convictions about Christ, Christians, church, and culture. They help me learn and grow, which I appreciate and need.
One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:
· Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.
· Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.
· Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.
As you can see, each issue requires discernment. Liberal syncretists tend to receive too much. Fundamental separatists tend to reject too much. So, while I would reject yoga because it is a Hindu worship act, it is possible for the Christian to redeem some of the exercise principles, as my friend, Rose, extols. Likewise, it’s not a sin to watch a film such as Avatar, enjoy the technological mastery, and learn about how to tell a great story. But, it is imperative for a Christian to not embrace the blatant pagan worldview that does not distinguish between Creator and creation, upon which the entire storyline of the film is constructed.
That said, is it possible to appreciate the musical and entrepreneurial talent of Jay-Z without praising his character or beliefs? Yes. Is it possible to watch and listen to Jay-Z to learn about culture, what people are valuing, and why some men have much larger audiences than any preacher because of how they present their message? Yes. Should Christians agree with the every message he and other artists present? No. Should Christians who like rap check out guys I have enjoyed getting to know a bit, such as Lecrae? Yes. Should all Christians listen to Jay-Z? No. Should Jay-Z sit down and talk to me about Jesus? Yes. Jay-Z, whenever works for you is good for me, and if need be I’d even watch a Nets game.
For further reading, I have addressed this topic at length in my book Radical Reformission(2004), in numerous sermons since, and last week a Mars Hill pastor wrote a blog about how we engage culture .
[lollum_button text=”Blog from Mark Driscoll” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2010/12/07/why-christians-go-postal-over-facebook-jay-z-yoga-avatar-and-culture-in-general” size=”big”]
Why do you want to make disciples?
Have you ever asked yourself that question? The answer is incredibly important.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be focused on making disciples. But if we don’t do it with the right motives, we are wasting our time. Worse yet, we could be doing more harm than good. Ministering to other people has been a deadly trap for seemingly godly people throughout the ages. If God cared only about outward appearances and religious activities, then any effort toward ministry would please Him. But God tells us repeatedly that He cares more about the heart than the externals.
If God cared only about religious activities, then the Pharisees would have been heroes of the faith. They were continuously engaged in ministry: they vigorously pursued outward demonstrations of godliness; they made sure the people around them kept themselves holy, and they diligently taught the law of God. And yet the Gospels present the Pharisees as villains. Jesus’s harshest words were reserved for these religious overachievers:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:8–9)
The Pharisees devoted their whole lives to religious activity. They must have seemed so impressive to the people around them. Yet Jesus came along and declared that it was all in vain! An important theme that runs throughout Scripture is this: “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart“ (1 Sam. 16:7). Clearly, God wants us to pursue certain actions, but as we put God’s commands into action, our motivation makes all the difference.
Ask yourself again: Why do you want to make disciples?
Maybe your decision to be a disciple maker has been reluctant. Perhaps the only reason you are still working through this material is because Jesus commands you to make disciples, and you don’t want to be disobedient. You’re not sure if you have much to offer, but you know you should let God use you however He desires.
Or maybe you’ve always seen yourself as a leader. You have a message that the church needs to hear, and you’re ready to teach anyone who will listen. You don’t need motivation; you just want to be better equipped.
For those of you who are reluctant, remember that God wants you to minister out of joy, not mere obligation. God wants us to enjoy the privilege and pleasure of ministering to others. He wants us to be cheerful when we give (2 Cor. 9:7), and He wants us to lead others willingly and eagerly:
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Pet. 5:2)
For those who are eager to lead, remember that God wants us to be cautious as we lead. Remember that you will be teaching people about the Bible and guiding them into godly living. The Bible takes the role of a teacher very seriously, and so should we.
James gave us a terrifying warning about the power of the tongue. While we can speak truth and bring life to people, he warned that our words can also cause incredible damage. The tongue is untamable, James said, capable of diverting the direction of our lives, producing deadly poison, and “setting on fire the entire course of life“ (James 3:6). Indeed, James even accused the tongue of being set on fire by hell!
If you look at your heart and find even a trace of desire for the glory and prestige that come through teaching and leading other people, take some time to let James’s warning sink in. Think about what your tongue is capable of. As a disciple maker, you could make a huge impact for the kingdom of God. Or you could lead people horribly astray.
Paul added a challenge from a different angle. In the most beautiful terms, he said that gaining knowledge and power—even sacrificing our own bodies—is completely worthless apart from love:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1–3)
The result of loveless ministry is serious: “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal … I am nothing … I gain nothing.“ In other words, even the most impressive and sacrificial actions are worthless if they are not empowered by love.
Are you the type of person who would teach someone without loving them? Don’t be quick to answer. Many good pastors have confessed that they got so caught up in the busyness of ministry that they went through the motions without loving their people. Most of us have to work hard to keep love at the forefront.
What do you think and feel when you are in a group of people? Are you overly aware of the ones who are wealthy, attractive, or have something they can offer you? Do you worry about what people think of you? Or do you look for ways to love and opportunities to give? A sure sign of a loveless heart is seeing people as a means to your own ends—they listen to you, give you affirmation when you want it, stay out of your way when you don’t, etc. Teaching other people with this type of mentality is bound to be sterile and unfruitful. According to Paul, every time we try to teach someone with this mentality, we can be sure that we have become nothing more than a clanging gong or resounding cymbal; we have made ourselves both annoying and irrelevant.
Fulfilling Jesus’s command to make disciples is about more than having the right theology or well-developed teaching points. Remember that if you “understand all mysteries and all knowledge“ yet don’t have love, you are nothing. Earlier in the same letter, Paul said, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God“ (1 Cor. 8:2–3). It’s not about what you know—or what you think you know—it’s about love.
If you’re not willing to make loving God and loving people your highest priority, then stop. Seriously, walk away until you’ve settled this one essential point. Lack of love is the unmistakable mark of death: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death“ (1 John 3:14).
Making disciples isn’t about gathering pupils to listen to your teaching. The real focus is not on teaching people at all—the focus is on loving them. Jesus’s call to make disciples includes teaching people to be obedient followers of Jesus, but the teaching isn’t the end goal. Ultimately, it’s all about being faithful to God’s call to love the people around you. It’s about loving those people enough to help them see their need to love and obey God. It’s about bringing them to the Savior and allowing Him to set them free from the power of sin and death and transform them into loving followers of Jesus Christ. It’s about glorifying God by obediently making disciples who will teach others to love and obey God.
So the question is, how much do you care about the people around you? When you stand in a crowd, interact with your family, or talk to people in your church, do you love them and long to see them glorify God in every aspect of their lives? Honestly assessing your heart and asking God to purify your motives need to become habits in your life.
Take some time to consider your existing relationships—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. The way you think about and interact with the people that God has placed in your life can tell you a lot about your heart. Think about your relationships and ask yourself how well you love those around you. By assessing your current relationships, you should be able to identify areas you need to work on.
One of the worst things you can do is teach truths that you are not applying. We call this hypocrisy, and it’s the most common criticism of Christians in America. You could argue that it may be better not to teach at all than to teach truth without applying it to your own life. Jesus gave some harsh warnings toward the religious leaders who were doing that very thing. He said:
Do and observe whatever they [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. (Matt. 23:3–5)
Hypocrisy has damaged many, so let’s run far from it.
James also gave a strong warning against this type of thinking. He said that if we hear the Word of God, but don’t do what it says, we are merely deceiving ourselves (James 1:22–25). He went on to say that religion without practical action is worthless (vv. 26–27). Let’s be realistic: a self-deceived teacher who practices worthless religion is probably not the best candidate for a disciple maker.
Maybe the clearest explanation of teaching by example can be found in the book of Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith“ (Heb. 13:7). The author of Hebrews actually called us to consider—literally, “to examine carefully“—the outcome of a teacher’s lifestyle. We can get so caught up in examining a person’s doctrinal positions that we overlook his or her pattern of life. But this is essential because Hebrews calls us to imitate the faith of these people. If you are going to make disciples, you need to be putting your faith into practice so that the people around you can imitate your faith.
Because of this, being a disciple maker demands your entire life. The job description of a disciple maker is the same as that of a disciple of Jesus Christ. It requires everything. It means following Jesus in every aspect of your life, pursuing Him with a wholehearted devotion. If you’re not ready to lay down your life for Christ’s sake, then you’re not ready to make disciples. It’s that simple.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect before you start. Perfection is a lifelong process that won’t end until eternity (see Phil. 1:6 and 3:12–14). But it does mean that you need to “count the cost“ (see Luke 14:25–33) and allow God’s truth to change your life. Making disciples is all about seeing people transformed by the power of God’s Word. If you want to see that happen in others, you need to be experiencing such transformation yourself.
More teens are leaving the church now than ever before. Ever wonder why? Skye Jethani makes it simple and clear in this video. He goes beyond pointing out the flaws.. he offers up an answer as well.
A few weeks ago I experienced something remarkable. In fact, the event stunned me. It occurred on a rainy, yet warm, Saturday afternoon in the beginning of October. It was one of those days when most parents keep their children inside, but I think some of the best times as a kid are spent running around outside in the rain. Besides, my kids have a lot of energy and are bouncing off the walls if forced to stay inside all day. During a break in the rain, my son and daughter walked with me to the pharmacy to pick some medication. They sought out and stomped in all the best puddles along the way. Upon leaving the pharmacy, they asked if we could take a longer walk so they could find more puddles around town. I agreed.
We found some very large puddles by Veterans Park in Youngstown, NY. The kids joyfully ran from puddle to puddle, equally excited about the experience of stomping in each new puddle. I stood and watched. It didn’t take long for another downpour to begin. This merely added to the fun, causing their joy to swell. I stood in the rain while the kids continued to play. This scene is actually not unique in our household. We often go for walks when there are puddles or run around in the rain or play in the snow or seek out snow banks to climb on. Sometimes I participate in the fun, and sometimes I stand watching. At times I enjoy these excursions, and other times they are exercises in self-sacrificial love. In this specific instance, I didn’t mind getting wet because I found joy in the joy of my children.
This experience of mutual joy is also not unique. My kids are excitable, and their joy is often noticeable. Sometimes they say, “this is the best day ever” or my favorite, “you are the best dad ever.” I fully appreciate those moments. Too often, however, my kids complain or seem entitled. They demand that I do more for them even after extended periods of daddy fun. It seems that I cannot appease their four and six-year-old selves. This is especially true of our four-year-old son. My wife and I have had many conversations about this issue. Are we spoiling them? Should we spend more one-on-one time with them? Is this age-appropriate behavior? Is this a personality trait? These are the questions that parents ask when their understanding is limited by their humanity. Yet on this day, amid the excitement of stomping in the biggest puddle, my son stopped, looked towards me, and, with a huge smile on his face, shouted, “Thanks for bringing us here Dad.” It was a simple statement, less exaggerated than some of the others they make, and I was stunned. It was the first time he had thanked me without prompting, and I found it surprisingly meaningful.
I love my children when they are both grateful and ungrateful, but I am far more pleased with their attitudes of gratitude than with their complaints and selfish demands. If I am pleased with my children’s moments of joy and gratitude how much more does God delight in our joy and thankfulness? Yet I admit that my children’s ungratefulness often mirrors my attitude towards my heavenly Father. I can easily find something to complain about: my back hurts, my kids are ungrateful, something is not going well at work, my spouse is imperfect, etc. The list of potential complaints can go on and on. And yet my attitude is contingent on the same basic issue that determines how my children respond to me. Am I considering all that my Father has done, does, and will do for me?
An attitude of thankfulness is central to a Christian’s faith, and it provides us with a proper perspective as we negotiate life’s challenges. Just as my children should be thankful for the fun, comfort, and stability that I provide, I should be thankful for the many blessings in my life. I am aware that many of these blessings are temporary. My happy marriage, children, job, house, and life comforts are good things, but focusing only on these does not produce a perspective that perseveres through life’s hardships. I will not always be healthy, “wealthy”, and surrounded by friends or family. Unexpected events are bound to happen and tragedy may occur. When these events occur I am free to voice my angst to God (see the book of Psalms), but crying out to God in moments of anguish is different than adopting an ungrateful or entitled attitude. The former is done with perspective. The latter is done with none.
God provides me with what I cannot provide my children and has done for me what I cannot do for them. An attitude of thankfulness is rooted in a proper understanding of grace and the hope it produces. In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer properly identifies that our adoption as sons and daughters of God produces hope through three truths. First, adoption includes a promise that we will inherit the entire estate of our Father (Gal 4:7; Rom 8:16-17). Second, this inheritance includes being made like Christ (our elder brother) in every way; we become “co-heirs with Christ…that we may also share his glory” (Rom 8:17; see also 1 Jn 3:2). This includes the perfect transformation of our body, mind, and character, something that cannot happen on earth. Third, in heaven we get to participate in a family gathering. I cannot articulate or even begin to grasp this last part of my inheritance, but I thought that Stephen Hay’s sermon effectively gave us a preview of what that might look like (http://wilsonfbc.com/portfolio/week-28-the-end/). Moreover, these rewards come because God poured out his wrath, which I deserved, on his beloved son (a much bigger sacrifice than simply standing in the rain). When my ungratefulness is positioned against these undeserved gifts, it is clearly unwarranted.
I am quick to see the reasons for why my children should be thankful for me yet loose sight of a far greater reason for why I should be thankful. I become frustrated with my ungrateful children while becoming ungrateful myself. The proper perspective ensures that we do not fall into these traps and become overburdened by the sufferings of this world. I have received a gift that never ceases. If you have not received this free gift, your Father awaits with open arms (Luke 15:11-33).
I’ve always had problems sleeping. I’ve battled insomnia, sleepwalking (as a child), and bizarre dreams. As a child I would occasionally wake up in a confused state; my visual perception was skewed so that things appeared distant and my movements seemed exaggerated or sped up. I would sometimes experience mild tremors that pulsed through my body. This state was also accompanied by nonsensical reoccurring dreams. During these incidents I would navigate my way downstairs and alert my parents in a confused manner that something was wrong. My father would often be the one to get out bed to deal with his confused son. I clearly remember lying on the couch as he calmly rubbed my back, waiting for the incident to end. I remember abruptly sitting up on the couch to babble nonsense or look out the picture window that was situated overhead. My father would graciously stay with me until I calmed down and the tremors went away.
Although those episodes have long passed, a good night’s sleep is still sometimes hard to come by. We have a baby who still cries at night, and a 5-year-old daughter who occasionally cries loudly in her sleep. I often wake up multiple times for no good reason or struggle to fall asleep. Another disruptive, yet enduring, nighttime event occurs when my son stumbles out of bed at night, stomps rather loudly down the hall, comes to the side of my bed, and tells me that he’s had a bad dream. My initial irritation with being woken up is quickly offset by the realization that my son is scared and finds comfort with his father. I usually call out to him so that he can find me in the dark, tell him that it’s just a dream, give him a hug, and walk him back to his room. He is typically sleeping again as soon as his head hits the pillow. Crisis averted, but such an event only increases my fatigue the next day.
These anecdotes reveal two very important elements about life as a Christian. First, it provides a picture of how fathers graciously interact with their children and do not ignore their needs. Of course, I am imperfect and fall short in my duties as a father (that’s another blog entry). I get tired, grumpy, impatient, and often cannot simultaneously comfort or closely interact with all my children. God has none of these deficiencies. He is perfectly loving, merciful, just, sovereign, holy, unchanging, all knowing, and always present (just to mention a few of his attributes). His love never fails; it endures forever (Ps 136). Whereas I don’t want to be woken up at night, God is always graciously there waiting. I put my son back to bed as quickly as possible; God is not limited by time or fatigue.
Yet, just as we can use personal experiences to better understand God, we can also use them inappropriately. When we inaccurately apply human characteristics to God, we engage him as a flawed, albeit powerful, being. We may think of God sitting in the sky, not having the time or desire to deal with our “meaningless” lives. Or we think that he is angrily judging everything we do wrong, and so we run from him rather than to him. We forget about grace, atonement, and our adoption into God’s family. We fail to see that the very best in us is immeasurably less than the goodness and lovingness of God. We forget that he is always present, waiting for us to run to him. His embrace will be immeasurably greater than that of our human fathers.
Second, it illustrates the need that children have for their father. Like I needed my father and my son needs me, we need our heavenly Father. The act of needing is not done apathetically nor accompanied by stubborn self-reliance or pride. At times it is done in a manner that is much like my son’s desperate stomping in the middle of the night. The reasons for such desperation are wide ranging. Perhaps we are suffering, anxious, confused, or afraid. Perhaps we’ve done our own thing too long and find ourselves at a point where our only option is to run back to our Father. Regardless of the reason, a loving Father awaits. Other times our need is acted out in a manner comparable to when my daughter tiptoes into my bedroom around 7:00 on a weekend morning, politely crawls to where my wife once slept, and we doze off and on until it is time to get up. Neither of us are particularly talkative in the morning; she just seems to like being nearby. Maybe we should all start our day by drawing near to our Father. It might even eliminate some moments when we have to stomp back to Him in desperation.
Such an act requires a degree of humility that can be conveyed with anecdotes about young children calling out for their human father. But as adults we often become self-reliant so that acknowledging our need to commune with God contradicts much of what we do in life. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Christ instructed his disciples to become like little children (Matthew 18). There is something very childlike in desperately running or quietly coming near to our Heavenly Father. I could use more of that childlike humility in my life.
The other day I found myself sitting on the couch trying to read, but the sound of my four-year-old son crying on the floor distracted me. My wife and I had planned on making the one mile trip to the shore of Lake Ontario after dinner but had cancelled the outing because my son and five-year-old daughter refused to listen to us (a problem that we’ve been having lately). We clearly told the kids to stop their manic wrestling session, go to the bathroom, and get their shoes so that we could go to the lake. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but we simply could not get them out the door with the way they were acting. Upon hearing our request they decided to ignore us and keep wrestling. Rather than using my stern “daddy voice” or separate them ourselves, we repeated our instructions, told them we won’t go to the lake if they don’t listen, and then left them to their own devices. Since they were still wrestling fifteen minutes later, my wife left for a walk with the baby and the trip to the lake was effectively cancelled. My son’s crying began when he realized that we were not going to the lake. He then blamed me for not being able to go to the lake.
This brief story is not a statement about good parenting. When it comes to parenting the only thing that I am confident about is that I really don’t know what I am doing. It is, however, an interesting example of how clear directives and stated consequences lead to suffering and misplaced accusations towards the one with authority. I had the power to bring my son to the lake, but doing that would have been a disservice to him. My son cannot mature if he thinks that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. In my ever growing realization that parenting is teaching me a lot about God and my relationship with Christ, this incident reminded me how we often blame God for the positions we put ourselves in.
Granted we are not always the authors of our misery. The book of Job describes the suffering of a man who was blameless. Original sin gave way to illnesses, natural disasters, accidents, and the like. One should not be quick to equate bad events with personal discipline from God. Moreover, the Bible doesn’t promise prosperity to the faithful; suffering sometimes cultivates spiritual growth (Romans 5). Still, obedience is often connected to a wisdom that reduces some types of personal suffering in everyday life. Husbands who honor Ephesians 5 by self-sacrificially loving their wives will be more content and joyful in their marriage than those who try to change their wives for selfish gain. Men who succumb to extramarital temptation will suffer (see Proverbs 2:16-19 & 6:29-7:27). Gossip destroys churches and makes life generally miserable for all (Proverbs 16:28 & 26:20-22). Obedience frees us from the tyranny of consequences that sin often brings to our lives (Proverbs 2).
More importantly the role of father teaches one about the nature of grace. Disobedience leads to consequences but does not (or should not) sever a child from his father’s love. I cannot imagine an act that would reduce the love I have for my son. Only his outright rejection of me at a later age could create separation between us, and even then I will still love him and long for him to return. And so it is with God and us (Luke 15: 11-32). Christ’s sacrifice shields believers from God’s wrath, but through grace we are all on a path of progressive sanctification (Romans 6; Hebrews 10:14). The consequences (or pain) of sin in our lives should be a reminder that God disciplines his children so that we can mature (Hebrews 12: 4-12). Maturity reflects a greater awareness not only of what is righteous but also that we are unable to work our way out of our sinful state (Romans 7). The consequences of sin should bring us to our knees, make use realize Christ’s lordship in our lives, and produce thankfulness for grace.
Later in the evening we went on a walk through Youngstown, NY. As we were leaving the house, I told my daughter that she should put on her long-sleeved t-shirt because it was getting cold outside. She refused, choosing instead to wear a t-shirt and shorts. After all, she knows more about such things than her father. We had a good walk. The kids were cheerful. We raced from point to point, all taking turns as the rotten egg (loser in each contest). The sunset over the mouth of the Niagara River was a beautiful orange/pink that highlighted Toronto’s skyline on the horizon. My daughter did complain a few times that she was cold.