Kamis, 30 Juni 2016

6 Ways to Find Balance

6 Ways to Find Balance

by Kevin Conklin
Every Pastor I have ever met is busy – some more than others. In spite of this, I’ve also met a few who hardly ever seem hurried. This is a remarkable phenomenon. How is it that so many appear to be so hurried while only a few rarely do? In pondering this question, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s equal parts art, science, and discipline.
Like the rest of you, I have a huge desire to be productive, effective, and yet unhurried. I may have a long way to go, but I think I have also come a long way.
As I look at the life of Jesus, I get the impression that His life was busier than most. The demands placed on Him by the many needy people around Him were greater than most of us will ever have to face. On top of these immediate people-needs, He also carried the burden of training His disciples to become effective leaders. You and I have as many hours in a day as Jesus did. We also have the advantage of being far more mobile than He was (He had to walk or take a donkey). Yet, unlike many of us, He never seemed to be in a hurry, and we can be sure that the impact of His ministry will outlast ours. His secret? Scripture makes it clear that He often slipped away to be alone with His Father, while it was still dark, and after a long and heavy day of ministry (Mark 1:35).
After long days of ministry demands there are times when all I want to do is hide away from people – especially church people. I’m sure you’ve never felt that way! (Of course you have.) In the midst of the challenges we’re facing, the question we need to answer is, how do we live an unhurried life in the midst of a very hurried society and still be effective in the ministry God has granted to us?
As you read my thoughts on this subject, ask God to bring someone to mind who is effective in ministry but who does not seem hurried. Perhaps that person would be willing to spend some time with you. You may think that he would never say yes to your request for mentoring in this discipline, but there’s a good chance that this individual would be flattered and honored to pass along to you what he has learned. It may be that someone did the same thing for him at a desperate point in the past.
Here are my practices:
  1. Morning time in the Word and prayer. Keep it daily and creative. Make sure it’s a “want to,” not a “have to,” because it’s definitely a “need to!”
  2. You cannot give what you don’t have, so make sure you are getting lots of good input from iron-sharpeners, encouragers, books, articles, seminars, etc. Schedule this consistently into your weekly routine.
  3. Don’t overbook your schedule. This is the biggest drain. You are in charge of your schedule, no one else is. Some things can wait, others can be delegated, and there are probably some that just don’t need to be done. Push back, take a look at your regular tasks and appointments, and cut what needs cutting. Believe me, it will bring freedom!
  4. Make sure to schedule time with the people and activities that deposit something positive to your life and soul. There will always be plenty of time for those people and activities that make withdrawals. I especially am mindful of this when I am entering a big withdrawal season with people and activities. Don’t let your tank get too close to empty.
  5. Schedule extended times away for prayer and reflection. This may sound like pie in the sky, but as I study the lives of great people of God, I consistently read how they made time for sabbaticals. When we slow down and get away for a few days or even a few hours, we can hear from God so much better. Incorporate these times into your schedule and keep them. You should also put some effort into finding a good place to do this. Go where no one can interrupt you.
  6. Family time. I realize this should have landed further up the list, but I leave it as the last suggestion so you will remember the importance of spending time with those you love the most, who matter the most, and who need you the most.

5 Reasons Why I Hate Religion

5 Reasons Why I Hate Religion

3.23 hate
Losing your religion may sound like a strange idea, so here are five reasons that I hope will convince you that you should …
I have a confession to make. To some it may sound shocking, especially considering I write faith based blog posts, but … I hate religion. Now, before you think I have gone off the deep end and I’m renouncing my faith—please understand what I mean by “religion.”
When I say religion, I’m not talking about a denomination, a doctrine or even a box you might check off on some paper work. No, when I say religion, what I am talking about is a belief that that says your performance, your devotion, your practices or your morals makes you right with God. The idea that righteousness is achieved, rather than received.
That kind of belief—that kind of religion—will suck the life out of you. I know from firsthand experience. Thankfully, I now know the truth that God wants us to live in relationship, not religion. Losing your religion may sound like a strange idea, so here are five reasons that I hope will convince you that you should …

Religion causes you to condemn yourself

For years I lived a life believing that God loved me because of what I did for Him. I looked at my church attendance, my Bible reading, my prayer time and my service as things that kept me on “God’s good side” and what “saved” me. The problem with this kind of belief though is that it will enslave you to performing religious duties. The moment you begin to read the Bible less or pray less you will start to feel guilty.
The truth is—you will never be able to pray enough, serve enough or read your Bible enough to earn anything from God. God doesn’t love you because of what you’ve done; God loves you because of what Jesus has done for you. He desires devotion that is inspired by relationship, not obligation.
Romans 8:1

Religion causes you to judge others and live a life of comparison

As I’ve mentioned, if you live a life of religious duty you will eventually condemn yourself because of your inability to be perfect. Along the way though religion will cause you play the comparison game with those around you. You will look down at someone struggling with a drug addiction and at the same time you will look enviously at someone with a more powerful prayer life.
When you start comparing your spiritual life to others, if you don’t feel like you are doing enough then you will condemn yourself; and if you feel like you are doing more then you will start to condemn others. The only one whom we should compare ourselves to is Christ. And in that comparison, there is no comparison. Our only option is to accept His grace and allow Him to bridge the gap where we don’t measure up.
Romans 2:1

Religion makes you to feel like God owes you something

If you buy into the idea that righteousness is something you can achieve then you will ultimately believe that God owes you. Sure, you may not come right out and say it—but you will believe it. This mentality will cause you to question God—because why would God allow something bad to happen to someone who follows His rules?
Bad things happen because we live in world cursed by sin, and the idea that God owes us anything is in complete opposition of the Gospel. The Bible plainly says that no one does good before God and that our salvation is only made possible by grace through faith so that no one may boast. God doesn’t owe us anything, because He has already given us everything when He died on the cross for our sins.

Religion causes you to live a double life

One of the most crushing aspects of religion is the way that it takes your eyes off of Jesus and puts them onto yourself and those around you. Religion creates pride, and because of that pride you will not want to admit your faults and your issues.
However, the Bible explains that we must confess our sins to one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). If you feel that your “goodness” is made possible by your own power, instead of by God’s grace, then you will be enslaved by it. You will be tempted to maintain a public persona that in no way matches the condition of your heart. This is not the life God intended for us. God wants us to live in the freedom of being fully known and fully loved.
Psalm 32:3-5

Religion focuses on the “how” instead of the “Who”

Religion causes us to focus on the “how” of everything and everyone around us.
How should the worship music be done?
How long should you pray?
How much of the Bible should you read?
How much money should you give?
How should you dress at church?
Asking these kind of questions, in my opinion, is why there is so much division in the church and why some people feel that Christianity is exhausting. Following Jesus isn’t an easy life, but it is life-giving, not life-taking. Relationship makes it simple because it focuses on the “Who” and  the only “Who” that truly matters—Jesus. Instead of worry about how we perform or how much we pray or how much we read the Bible, in a relationship we are free to just magnify and marvel at the One we worship!
If you are exhausted in your efforts to earn your way onto God’s good side then there is good news, because God wants you to come just as you are. He invites you to an abundant life defined by relationship instead of dry, mechanical religion.
Religion doesn’t save, Jesus does.

Rabu, 29 Juni 2016

Sex on the Silver Screen

Sex on the Silver Screen

“I am increasingly convinced that Christians should avoid watching movies with scenes of nudity and sexuality.”
What would it take for you? What would it take for you, husband, to be OK with your wife baring her breasts and body in front of a movie camera? What would it take for you to allow another man to strip off her clothes, to kiss her, to fall into bed with her and to pantomime having sex with her? What would it take for you to be OK with a camera crew recording shot after shot, angle after angle, until every detail is perfectly convincing? What would it take for you to be OK with the rest of us watching this as entertainment? And you, wife, would you be OK if your husband was the one acting it all out, holding her in his arms, mimicking ecstasy? Is there anything, anything at all, that would make all of that OK?
I believe the Bible makes it very clear that sex and the nakedness that goes with it are sacred, matters to be shared only between a husband and wife. What is good and appropriate within marriage—unashamed nakedness and uninhibited sex—are matters of exclusivity and privacy. I think you probably agree with me.
Nakedness and sexuality are common themes in today’s movies and television. It seems increasingly rare to find a movie or show that doesn’t have at least one lingering shot of nudity or one steamy scene of passion. And even while so many Christians feel freedom to watch it all, I am increasingly convinced that we should not. I am increasingly convinced that Christians should avoid watching movies with scenes of nudity and sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but today I will constrain myself to just one—one that I have found particularly compelling and convicting.
Let’s begin here: What we see on the screen is both fact and fiction. When it comes to nakedness and sex in movies, we sometimes lose the fact in the fiction. What we watch is a fictional story, but one that has been acted out in real ways by real people. This has important implications when it comes to a bedroom scene. To film that scene, real people had to remove real clothes, bare real bodies, touch each other in real places and move together in a real bed. It may not have been full-on sexual intercourse, but it still involved real acts between real people. The reason sex scenes look real is that to a large degree they are real. Those are not fake breasts you see, the actors are not exchanging fake kisses or fake caresses, she is not pretending to straddle him.
Now the question: What would it take for you to be OK with your wife participating in that scene? Would you send her off to work tomorrow knowing that she would be topless for hours at a time, that she would be rolling around on a bed with another man as a crew looked on, as they adjusted the lighting, as they practiced different angles, as the director instructed her, “No, put your hands there. Move in that way …” She would not be having sex with him, but she would be doing her best to act like it, to make others believe it. She would be taking all she knows of the movements, the motion, the pleasure of sex with you and imitating it with this other man. Wife, what would it take for you to be OK with your husband stripping her and kissing her and carrying her to bed? My guess is that you cannot imagine any scenario in which that would be tolerable, in which that would be moral and right. Now hold onto that conviction for a moment.
You know the second of God’s great commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment implies that the way you behave toward the ones you love most is meant to regulate the way you behave toward those you love least and even toward those you may not know at all. God assumes you will protect your own interests and makes that self-interest your guide to protecting the interests of others.
We have established how unthinkable it would be for your wife to bare herself for the camera or your husband to simulate having sex with that actress. This is a good indicator of how you ought to think about that Hollywood glamor girl when she begins to peel off her shirt, when she wraps herself around that guy. You have no right to see her body as any less sacred than your own spouse’s. If it would be intolerable for you to watch your wife acting out sexual deeds and sexual pleasure with another man, it should be equally intolerable for you to be entertained by watching anyone else simulate those deeds and that pleasure. To refuse to see such things is simply loving your neighbor as yourself, loving that actress as you love your wife.
The reality is, the Bible forbids what those actors are doing. If the Bible forbids what they are doing, it also forbids your voyeuristic participation in it. If they act sinfully by doing it, you act sinfully by watching it. But you bear the greater blame because you are a Christian, one who is meant to think of them with the mind of Christ and to see them through the eyes of Christ. God forbid that you would ever accept your wife baring herself for our entertainment! So God forbid that you would ever tolerate another woman baring herself for yours!

The Insanity of ‘Self-Care’

The Insanity of ‘Self-Care’

“You need the healing, forgiving, restoring and transforming grace of a God who loves you.”
The self-care movement strives to address the stresses of everyday life with simple, practical habits.
Clinically, “self-care” has to do with anything someone might do for the sake of their own physical or mental health, including, for instance, eating well, exercising or sleeping eight hours a night. Functionally today, the articles seem to focus more on stress management, and often target women in the workplace (often with major responsibilities at home and at work). Self-care strategies attempt to apply structure and discipline to “me-time,” re-centering our world around ourselves (wouldn’t Ptolemy be proud?), and looking for hope, healing and stability from some hidden place deep within ourselves.
The list of strategies will vary from website to website, but they will often be some combination of the following steps (in this case, developed by the faculty at the University at Buffalo):
1. Start eating healthier.
2. Work out regularly.
3. Reduce stress.
4. Prioritize and schedule your time better.
5. Relax.
6. Practice “mindfulness.”
7. Be good to yourself.
OK, but how do you “reduce stress”—for instance, stress about a struggling marriage, or about consistent interpersonal conflict at work, or about years of chronic pain or disease, or about habitual, demoralizing personal sin or weaknesses? Here are a few suggestions from one PhD in philosophy:
  • “Blow bubbles.”
  • “Plant a flower.”
  • “Hum a tune.”
  • “Feed birds and squirrels.”
  • “Walk a labyrinth.”
  • “Listen to a cat purring.”
It’s all diversion. Every item on the list of 75+ activities is simply meant to get your mind off of the stressor. It’s the licensed healthcare equivalent of turning up Taylor Swift so loud you couldn’t possibly think about anything else. Just shake it off. It’s medication by distraction, not redemption. Practicing forgetfulness, rather than pursuing forgiveness.
These tactics do not even pretend to address your needs or to offer a cure. If you think that a tune, a labyrinth or a squirrel are going to heal the things that haunt you, you are more helpless than you even realize. A tune covers the silence you fear, but it will never cover the sin you carry. A squirrel might find a nut, but he never finds freedom from guilt and shame. A lonely walk in a corn maze never leads to reconciliation between estranged friends or family members.

The Maddening Idea of Mindfulness

And what is “mindfulness”? Dr. Cindy Sanderson says, “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience.” What does that mean?
  • “You eat dessert and notice every flavor you are tasting. … You’re not thinking about ‘is it good or bad to have dessert?’ You’re just really having dessert.”
  • “Dance to music and experience every note, instead of wondering if you look graceful or foolish.”
  • “You walk through a park, you actually walk through the park. What does that mean? It means you let yourself ‘show up’ in the park. You walk through the park aware of your feelings about the park, or your thoughts about the park, or how the park looks, or the sensation of each foot striking the pavement.”
Mindfulness sounds an awful lot like mindlessness. Do whatever you want, but whatever you do, don’t think about your problems. Want to deal with stress? Fixate yourself on chocolate or Netflix or the park near your house. Pretty soon, you’ll realize you haven’t been thinking at all about your looming financial debt, or your failures as a father, or your mom’s cancer. For a whole five minutes, you’ve been thinking about Reese’s, The Office and golden retrievers.
Isn’t that the freedom you’ve been dying for?

The Self-Care Search for Big

The closest the self-care movement can get to truly good news is to tell you to stare at something big:
  • “Watch a sunrise.”
  • “Hike in the woods.”
  • “Go to the beach.”
  • “Take a country drive.”
  • “Watch a sunset.”
Each of these is an effort to put you in front of something bigger than yourself long enough that you forget yourself. The strategies hint at the Christian gospel because the sensations we feel gazing at bigness begin to uncover the God-sized cavity beneath our guilt, stress and anxiety.

The Care You Really Need

The care you really need is not buried somewhere deep inside of you, waiting to be unlocked by some dessert or diversion. No, you need the healing, forgiving, restoring and transforming grace of a God who loves you. Only Someone stronger than your greatest weaknesses, bigger than your worst failures and brighter than your deepest darknesses could address the things you fear or regret.
If you’re drawing on the ocean of God’s grace to you through Jesus Christ, then your habits might make all the difference. Our habits of grace—our daily and weekly rhythms of seeking God, of surrendering our dreams and anxieties to him, of spreading his fame in all we do—are the means by which we experience real, genuine happiness, and they are the highway along which we will begin to experience freedom from sin and all its awful consequences in our lives.
David Mathis writes,
Grace is too strong to leave us passive, too potent to let us wallow in the mire of our sins and weaknesses. “My grace is sufficient for you,” Jesus says, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is the grace of God that gives us his “means of grace” for our ongoing perseverance and growth and joy this side of the coming new creation. And the grace of God inspires and empowers the various habits and practices by which we avail ourselves of God’s means. (Habits of Grace, 23–24)
Where does the weary soul find rest and relief from its stress? Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Where does the anxious soul find peace for all its fears?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
Where do we find the strength to keep battling our sins, overcoming our weaknesses and running hard through this difficult life into eternity?
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

The Massive God in Your Small Habits

Practice a different kind of mindfulness. Go ahead and listen to music, or watch a sunset, or play with your pet, but go Godward—be mindful of God and his great love for you. It really can be helpful to practice gratitude, or to enjoy a particular moment or activity, or to focus on something bigger than yourself, but not if it ends there, and certainly not if it only ends with you. Any habit or activity can be a means of joy, peace and healing, but only if it brings you to God—our only Lord, Savior and greatest Treasure.
  • “Blow bubbles,” and remember that your sins have been forgiven. (1 John 1:9)
  • “Plant a flower,” and pray for God to satisfy you, again. (Psalm 90:14)
  • “Hum a tune,” and memorize another stunning promise in the Bible. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • “Feed birds and squirrels,” and know how much your heavenly Father cares and provides for you. (Matthew 6:25–34)
The power of effective habits is not in the seclusion, or the silence, or the journal, but in whom you find in the habit. If you only find yourself, then your weaknesses, failures and stresses can only be amplified and perpetuated. But if you find more of God, you have found resources far beyond yourself to address your deepest, most desperate needs.

Habits of Grace Now Available

Three seemingly unremarkable principles shape and strengthen the Christian life: listening to God’s voice, speaking to him in prayer and joining together with his people as the church.
The everyday habits we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow—including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.
Also available is a study guide workbook for individual and group study.

Call Me Coach: Winning Starts At Home

Call Me Coach: Winning Starts At Home

Baseball coach
by Tim Popadic
If you have children, you’re no stranger to the countless things that kids will ask of you – including the roles that they expect parents to play in their lives. On one hand, it’s flattering that children think their parents have an endless supply of wisdom and energy. On the other hand, the reality is that trying to balance your family and ministry life is no easy task.
Over the past few years my son, Graham, has requested something of me that I didn’t think was possible. He asked me to become a coach for his little league team. Every year I put him off with some great (at least to me) excuses: “Son, I’m too busy”; “I’ve never been athletic”; or the best one yet, “we have too many kids for me to coach everyone.” And every year Graham would patiently wait for me to understand just how important this was for him.
Just to set some context regarding my athletic abilities, I was one of the only people in history to be cut from the track team in high school. But athleticism aside, I also didn’t want to overcommit to something that might pull me away from my other responsibilities (ministry, etc.). So I checked into the process of becoming a coach, and found out that the only requirement was taking an online course followed by a short half-hour exam.
Each year our family sets goals that we hold each other to. Some are related to experiences, some educational, and some are outright dares – and this was mine. Examination day finally arrived; after years of excuses, and days of course review, I finally stepped up to the coaching challenge and took the test.
I’ve taken a lot of exams in my life, but for some reason this one created more anxiety and sweat than all of them put together. My only inspiration was the little heart of my son. The test should have only required about 30 minutes, but somehow took about three hours of my time. When I finally finished, I called Graham in to share the news that he could now call his Dad “Coach.” He jumped into my arms and then stood up and did a dance. He said, “Today is one of the best days of my life!” It was as if this exam meant more to him than I will ever realize.
I don’t want to over-analyze the test, but it was a close one. I needed to answer 80 percent of the questions correctly, and I scored 83 percent. I wasn’t aiming to be a head coach; I just wanted to be a father who kept his promises and made his son’s heart jump – even if it was only for a second.
Graham went on to play baseball for the next four years on every travel team he could make, and even went all the way to Cooperstown. I, on the other hand, retired after the second season. It was quite an honor to coach from the sidelines and cheer my boy onto great memories and real life lessons of winning and defeat.
More importantly, the day I became “Coach” taught me a valuable lesson: Winning at home requires being intentional in every area. I was not coaching material, but my son thought I was. Mark 10:14 says “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in” (MSG). It’s remarkable to me how our children can often speak into our lives through their simple faith.
Even several years later, my son still remembers my fairly brief tenure as his coach. He recently said to me: “Dad, I’ll never forget the day you took that exam. You weren’t the best coach, but you did what you could. You challenged me to be better and try things that I’m not good at. I’m so glad I can still call you Coach!” No matter how many degrees I’ve earned, sermons I’ve preached, or seminars I’ve taught, nothing – absolutely nothing – matters more to me than winning the hearts of my children.
So listen closely to your children’s hearts. What do they see in you that you can’t see yourself? Perhaps God wants to teach you something by giving you the opportunity to view your life through the eyes of your own kids.

The Extravagant Father

“Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and
therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is
a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18

When the tax collectors and sinners drew near to the Lord Jesus to hear
Him, the legalistic and self-righteous Pharisees and scribes complained,
saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2 NKJV).

But, the Lord Jesus responded to their complaint with some parables to
reveal that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7

One of the parables Jesus gave was that which is traditionally referred to
as “the Parable of the Prodigal Son.” However, a deeper look into the
parable will reveal that that prodigal son has a gracious father, who
demonstrated an extravagant love towards him when he was unworthy or
undeserving of his love.

Therefore, let us consider the extravagant father of the prodigal son who
is indeed the true hero in the parable.

The parable is about a certain man who had two sons. In response to the
passionate request of the younger son for his own share of their father’s
property, the father divided to the two sons his wealth or property.
Afterwards, the younger son journeyed to a far country and there wasted and
squandered his possessions in loose, riotous or prodigal living.

At the climax of his suffering, the prodigal son came to his senses and
decided to return home.

Luke 15:
17 "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired
servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have
sinned against heaven and before you,
19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of
your hired servants."' (NKJV).

In any culture it is outrageous and improper for a child to request for
his share of his father’s property while the father is still alive, hale
and hearty. The prodigal son’s request for his portion of his father’s
wealth while his father was still alive clearly portrayed him as unloving,
greedy and self-centred.

Without any doubt, the rude, outrageous and improper request of this
greedy son would have brought pain and sorrow to his father. Surprisingly,
the father granted the outrageous request of his greedy and selfish son.

What a gracious father with an extravagant love!

Eventually, the prodigal son returned home with nothing but shame and
sorrow, having wasted all that his father gave him with riotous living. But,
while he was still a great way off from home, his father saw him and had
compassion on him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

What a warm, tender and affectionate welcome for an undeserving, unloving,
callous, greedy and prodigal son!

Not only was the prodigal son welcomed back home warmly or heartily by his
father, he was also fully restored to his former exalted position of honour
and authority in the family, and a big party was thrown to celebrate his safe
return home.
Beloved, God’s love for you is not based on your performance,
righteousness, or good works. Therefore, God’s love for you is ever
constant, unchanging and unflunctuating.
The undeserving prodigal son was undoubtedly lavished with an extravagant

Luke 15:
22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it
on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
23 'And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be
24 'for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
And they began to be merry. (NKJV).

What a gracious father with an extravagant love!

Did the prodigal son deserve such a warm, tender and affectionate welcome
and reception from his father? Not at all!

Did he deserve to have the best robe put on him, the ring put on his hand
and sandals put on his feet after wasting his father’s wealth in prodigal
living? Not at all!

Did he deserve to be celebrated and restored to his exalted position at
his return? Not at all!

Although the prodigal son pleaded to be received and treated like one of
his father’s hired servants, yet his father received and treated him, not
as a servant, but as a son he loved dearly.

What an incredible and amazing father!
What an extravagant love!
What an amazing grace!

This parable undoubtedly gives us a glimpse of the extravagant love of God
towards us. God lavished us with love when we were sinners – unloving,
undeserving, callous, rebellious and self-centered.

None of us deserved to be loved when God demonstrated His extravagant love
towards us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to be an atoning sacrifice for our
sins on the cross so that we might be redeemed, and receive the adoption as
sons and thus become an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:4-7).

The Scripture amply testifies to this truth.

Romans 5:
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still
sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJV).

1 John 4:
9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His
only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His
Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (NKJV).

1 John 3:
1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be
called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did
not know Him. (NKJV).

Beloved, God’s love for you is not based on your performance,
righteousness, or good works. Therefore, God’s love for you is ever
constant, unchanging and unflunctuating.

As illustrated by the Lord Jesus with the parable of the prodigal son, God
does not love you less if or when you sin, fail, or stray from Him.
Similarly, your sins don’t change your status as a son of God.

The born-again believers don’t become sinners if or when they sin; they
remain God’s sons. Why?

Because we were adopted as sons into God’s family, not based on our
performance, self righteousness or good works, but based on faith in Jesus
Christ and His finished work of redemption.

Your sonship with God is a gift, not a reward for keeping God’s laws
(Rom. 8:15-16; 4:1-5)!

Paul clearly states this truth in Galatians 4:
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born
of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption
as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into
your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir
of God through Christ. (NKJV).

Like the prodigal son who erroneously thought that his mistakes or sinful
actions had changed his status as a son with his father and exhausted his
father’s love for him, many born-again believers today are being held back
by wrong beliefs from returning to God as His beloved sons to claim, receive,
experience and enjoy God’s best after they have sinned, erred or strayed
from the right path.

Like the gracious father of the prodigal son, God is always waiting and
looking forward to be gracious to his prodigal children or backsliders who
repent and return to Him to lavish them with extravagant love, to give them a
warm, tender and affectionate welcome or reception, and to fully restore to
them all His blessings they have squandered in prodigal living.

Isaiah 30:
18 Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and
therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is
a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. (NKJV).

Friend, what are you still waiting for? Arise now, like the prodigal son,
repent and return humbly and wholeheartedly to your gracious heavenly Father
who loves you with an extravagant love.

God is waiting to be gracious to you, to restore you, and to lavish you
with great love and mercy. Let nothing hold or keep you back. Arise and
return home today!

Isaiah 55:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let
him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He
will abundantly pardon. (NKJV).

My Dear Heavenly Father, I return humbly and wholeheartedly to You today like
the prodigal son. Thank You for welcoming me back home warmly and lavishing
me with great love and mercy, and for restoring me fully, in Jesus’ name.


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You and Your Spouse DO NOT Need a Weekly Date Night Out

You and Your Spouse DO NOT Need a Weekly Date Night Out

Weekly Date Night
A good marriage isn’t about chasing special moments, it’s about making ordinary moments special.
“You need to go on one date night outside of the house every week to keep your marriage strong…”
I remember the first time I ever heard that phrase. My husband and I were married with an infant and a toddler at the time, born only 20 short months apart, trying to survive the madness of parenting young children.
I was staying at home with the kids six out of the seven days a week and also working desperately to complete my very first book, and John was halfway through his extremely busy medical residency. Needless to say, we were short on cash, short on energy and short on time.
As much as I wanted to have “one date night out a week,” to be completely honest with you, it was nearly impossible. Trying to find a babysitter we trusted, find time in his crazy schedule and then fork out the minimum $100 dollars to cover dinner and a sitter just seemed way out of our “weekly” budget. Heck, I was trying to simply stay under $100/week for groceries, much less a date night.
So when I heard those words coming from a trusted leader at the time, my heart kinda sank. We’re doomed, I thought to myself.
Over the next few years, I’ve actually heard that phrase many-a-time in sermons, books and even in one-on-one conversations. On one hand, I absolutely agree that couples need focused time carved out in their week for one another. But on the other hand, the traditional thought of a “date night out” can really amount to a lot of pressure. Especially when you’re in the stage of having really young children, which coincidentally as I write, my husband and I find ourselves in once again as we welcomed baby #3 just two short months ago.
If you want my personal opinion, the idea that you HAVE to go out every single week in order to keep your marriage strong is actually a harmful idea. The expectation for fancy date nights out, fine dining and dancing, or whatever it is you put on your list, is not only impossible for some people’s budgets, but doesn’t always work out in the daily grind of life.
And trying to meet unrealistic expectations can leave one or both partners feeling disappointed, bitter and discouraged in their marriage.
Now back to the idea of carving out time for one another—that, I highly recommend. I just don’t believe it always has to be a “date night out.” For a healthy marriage, you absolutely have to learn to prioritize one another no matter what stage of life you find yourself in…but that might not always look the way others expect it to.
For my husband and I, that time of prioritizing has looked different in different stages of our marriage. Sometimes, it definitely does mean a fancy date night out. I’m with every other romantic on earth in saying I enjoy that special time when we can get out of the house and have a night, or even a weekend, all to ourselves.
But the real truth is, most weeks, “date night” means being deliberate about using our time to invest in each other once the kids have gone to bed. It means sitting on the couch folding laundry together and talking about our day. It means playing a game of cards or a round of trivia. It means holding hands by the fire (or the “pretend fire” flickering on the TV screen thanks to the Netflix mood setters). It means making time to be intimate. It means having couch time, laying face to face and just chatting. It means spending time reading God’s word together or just taking the time to pray with one another. It means holding hands across the dining room table and having a late night snack. It means no cell phones, no laptops and no distractions. Just some time to focus on one another.
I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like us I just want to encourage you…
It’s about taking the time you have, and using it to make your marriage stronger. It’s about being deliberate to connect and communicate. Sometimes that might require a date night out…but most nights, all it requires is an open heart and a little effort. So to all the couples out there in a busy season, in a difficult season or in a broke season…here’s to many more #DateNightsIn.
Comment Below: What is your favorite #DateNightIn idea?  
This article originally appeared here.

4 Tips to Leading a Child to Christ

4 Tips to Leading a Child to Christ

Leading a Child to Christ
Here are a few suggestions to help you along the way.
There are few things as amazing as praying with a kid to become a Christian, but for some people, the thought of it is terrifying. Questions might swirl through your head. How do I do it? What should I avoid? Is it possible I could mess this thing up? It’s understandable that some people might feel nervous about walking a kid through such a huge spiritual milestone, but fear not! By the grace of God, you can do it! Here are a few suggestions to help you along the way:
Avoid coercion. Most kids have the desire to please adults. Avoid language that might pressure a kid into a disingenuous decision to follow Jesus. It’s OK to present opportunities by asking questions like, “Do you ever think about asking Jesus to be your Savior?” but allow them to reach a conclusion on their own. In other words, lead them toward a decision; don’t push them toward one.
Use the ABCs. If a kid has already heard the Gospel and has expressed a desire to become a Christian, explain to them the ABCs of prayer.  “A”—Admit you have sinned and ask God for forgiveness. “B”—Believe that God has sent His son, Jesus, to die for your sins. “C”—Choose to follow Jesus and make Him the leader of your life.
Prompt the child in prayer. It’s important that the salvation prayer comes from the heart of the child. Instead of having a kid repeat the prayer after you, provide prompts and let them do the praying. For example, begin by opening the prayer, but then prompt the kid to “admit” he’s sinned and ask God for forgiveness. Pause for the kid to say his own prayer and then prompt him through “believe” and “choose.”
Celebrate! This is the greatest decision anyone could ever make and it’s worth celebrating! Let him know that all of heaven is rejoicing over his decision. If the kid doesn’t have a Bible yet, you might consider buying one for him as a celebration gift. Be sure to share the news with the leaders in your room or any other people who are important in the life of the child.
This article originally appeared here.

The Sexual Revolution’s Coming Refugee Crisis

The Sexual Revolution’s Coming Refugee Crisis

The Sexual Revolution Refugee Crisis
“The danger for Christians is that we buy into the Sexual Revolution’s narrative.”
This past weekend I met a couple who were married on the Fourth of July and baptized on the fifth. They had been cohabiting for many years and had several children together. They had never known anyone who was part of a church. But when their lives didn’t turn out the way that they hoped, they were willing to try anything, including a local church. There they ran into an old gospel, and new life. As I watched them plunged into the waters of baptism—and as I heard their three-year-old son yell from his pew “Wow!”—I thought about how their story may well be the story of the coming generations.
The Sexual Revolution certainly seems triumphant. After a generation of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, ubiquitous pornography, and the cultural unhinging of sex from marriage and marriage from childbearing, we now see the courts and the culture decoupling marriage from even its most basic reality: gender. And there are hints on the horizon that the next step is to culturally, and perhaps legally, decouple marriage from, well, couples. If sexuality is about personal expression and individual autonomy, after all, then by what right can society deem that sexuality should be limited by such an arbitrary number as two?
The danger for Christians is that we buy into the Sexual Revolution’s narrative. I don’t just mean that we accommodate ourselves to the sins and heresies of the movement, although that’s always a danger too. I mean the danger is that we assume that the Sexual Revolution will always be triumphant, progressing upward and onward. To assume such is to assume that the Sexual Revolution will be able to keep its promises. It can’t.
We live, after all, in a cosmos ordered around the Logos of God, a Logos we have come to know personally as Jesus of Nazareth (Jn. 1:1-14). Part of the wisdom of the universe is the resilience of the marital one-flesh union. Marriage, and the limits of sexuality, not only pictures the gospel (Eph. 5:32), it is also the way that human beings thrive and flourish. We think we want autonomy and novelty and transgression. What really satisfies though is fidelity and complementarity and incarnational love.
That’s why I say the church should prepare for the Sexual Revolution’s refugees. We should understand why the culture around us is exuberant. They believe this will make them happy, that their alienation has been a result of cultural marginalization or Puritan repression. But the primary problem we all have is internal. There’s a conscience that speaks to us of a word we want to hide from—“Where are you, and where are you going?”
There are two sorts of churches that won’t be able to reach the refugees of the future.
The first is the church that is so scared of people that we scream at them in anger and condemnation. If we see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, this is how we will be. That will be exacerbated if we take our cues from those who play outraged Christian caricatures for a living rather than from those who have come to seek and to save that which was lost. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it.
The second sort of church that will fail these refugees is the church that gives up, or silences, its convictions because they’re not popular. This too is fear. We assume that we can reach people if we dance around the sexual questions, thinking that we can get to that part of discipleship after they’re part of the family. That’s just not the way Jesus does it. Jesus gets right at the point of guilt, the part the person is protecting, and calls the person not only to repentance but also to forgiveness and freedom (Jn. 4:16).
If we are silent about what the gospel says about sexual immorality, we will not only lose our mission, but we will also lose the respect of those we are seeking to reach. They can read texts. All the gymnastics of the revisionists does nothing to silence what honest people read in our Scriptures. When they hear us clearing our throats in embarrassment or explaining away things unfashionable at the moment, they hear from us that we are more afraid of them than we are confident in our gospel. How then can they trust us with words of life that can overpower the grave, when they see that we are not even willing to go against the spirit of the age?
The Sexual Revolution cannot keep its promises. Many people are going to be disappointed, and even before they can admit it to others or to themselves, they are going to ask, “Is this all there is?” We need churches that can keep the light lit to the old paths, that can keep the waters of baptism ready. We need to be the people who can remind a wounded world of what we’ve come to hear and believe, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). That’s good news for refugees, like us.

Preaching Your Priorities

Preaching Your Priorities

Man and Clockby Ted Cunningham
One Sunday morning, our four-year-old daughter escaped from her class at church. I was in the middle of a passionate teaching point when I saw her waving at me from the back of our auditorium. I waved back and gave her a wink. That did not suffice, so she took it as permission to ask me a question right in the middle of the service.
As she walked down the center aisle, I got nervous. She walked right up onto the stage and asked me, “Have you seen Mom?”
Not only were we going to have a conversation, but the congregation would hear every word. Corynn spoke to me as though no one was there.
“Corynn, we are in the middle of the sermon, and I need you to go back to your class,” I said.
“Daddy, Mom said Emma could come over after church, and I want to see if Lucy can, too,” she requested.
With every eye in the room watching me, I got down on one knee and worked through our after-church social arrangements, then kissed Corynn goodbye.
At that moment, an impromptu sermon trumped my prepared sermon. Our worship pastor said it was the best sermon he had ever seen. Years later, people still talk about that moment and the impact it made on them.
Interruptions such as this are defining moments for pastors. They communicate love and concern, but also demonstrate how to care for and prioritize the ones you love. Interrupting a football game on TV, stopping the mower for a chat, closing a book while studying, and even pausing in the middle of a sermon are ways we show our children that they matter to us.
Does your congregation know that you prioritize your family? Will you say “No” to a church member when you know your kids need to spend quality time with you? Do you preach this priority in your sermons? Do you model healthy family to your congregation?
We do not want to succeed in the pulpit and fail at home. I love my family and ministry. Finding balance requires prioritizing my family while fulfilling my calling.
As pastors, we cast a vision for the many purposes of the church. We teach how to give, serve, and evangelize. Prioritizing family needs to be a part of our regular vision casting. Our congregations need to see and hear, “Family is important to me.” What can we say and do this Sunday that casts that vision?

Study: Cohabitation Before Marriage Is Officially the New Normal

Study: Cohabitation Before Marriage Is Officially the New Normal

For most adults in America, it looks like cohabitation is now a standard compatibility test for marriage. Two-thirds of adults in America are OK with cohabitation before marriage, according to a recent Barna study. The study asks participants of several different demographics about what they perceive to be pros, cons, motivations and possible effects of living together before getting married.
All of this research points to the shift of norms this country is experiencing, says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group.
America is well beyond the tipping point when it comes to cohabitation.
Living together before marriage is no longer an exception, but instead has become an accepted and expected milestone of adulthood. Even a growing number of parents—nearly half of Gen-Xers and Boomers, and more than half of Millennials—want and expect their children to live with a significant other before getting married.
Along the lines of religion, predictably, only 41 percent of practicing Christians either strongly agree or somewhat agree that cohabitation is a good idea compared to 88 percent of people who described themselves as having no faith being in agreement. This is likely because Christianity's teaching, while it doesn't specifically call out cohabitation, it calls out things that are often linked or connected like pre-marital sex.
Millennials and their parents are 72 and 69 percent in support of cohabitation; compared to elders, who are anyone older than Baby Boomers, at only 36 percent. Barna attributes the difference to the more secular culture millennials have grown up in and played a role in shaping, where gender norms, career paths and plans for marriage continue changing.
The divide is even more drastic when it comes to liberals who are 86 percent in favor of living together before being married compared to 37 percent of conservatives.
Interestingly enough, far and away the most common reason people who supported cohabitation did it was to test compatibility at 84 percent, with 9 percent citing the convenience or practicality of it and 5 percent citing the cheap rent.
"Many of today’s young people who are currently contemplating marriage, see it as a risky endeavor," Stone explains. "They want to make sure they get it right and to avoid the heartbreak they witnessed in the lives of their parents or their friends’ parents. Living together has become a de facto way of testing the relationship before making a final commitment."
Another interesting aspect of the study was the reasons people who don't agree with living together gave for being against it. Religious reasons was the biggest share at 34 percent, with "I don't believe people should have sex before getting married" following at 28 percent. Family tradition was a 12 percent share.

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Stone also gives advice to religious leaders who are fighting to help their followers understand why they should wait for marriage to have sex when surrounded by a culture that doesn't teach the same things.
Religious leaders will need to promote the countercultural trend by celebrating the reasons to wait—rather than trying to find evidence for why it’s wrong (because such tangible, measurable evidence may not exist). What are the spiritual reasons for waiting? How does waiting promote better discipleship? Better marriages? A better family life? These are the questions that young people, in particular, will need answered in order to resist the cultural tide toward cohabitation.

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/study-cohabitation-marriage-officially-new-normal#TKbvVTzfI6HRACLr.99

Senin, 20 Juni 2016

Rhythms of the Jesus Way: Communion

Rhythms of the Jesus Way: Communion

“Churches want the Jesus way, or at least that’s what we confess.”
Churches want the Jesus way, or at least that’s what we confess. It seems like most church leaders like the idea of talking about the simple purpose of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Some use the five purposes as developed by Rick Warren. Others use the Up-In-Out idea (Mike Breen). There are lots of ways that people talk about. We know that God wants us to live the way that Jesus did, in communion with the Father, in loving relationships with one another and in gospel engagement with our world.
We could diagram the rhythms of the Jesus Way like this:

We all want this in our churches as a whole, in our small groups or missional communities, and for individuals. But how do we get it? Saying that we want it and even setting up a plan to get it is one thing. Actually leading people into it is another.
Is more training what we need? Will more sermons or teaching on the topic change things? How about another book?
Yes, yes and yes! We need all kinds of proclamations that call out of the normal and present the vision for the way of Jesus. But if we’re leading others, whether the church as a whole or a small group of people, we need something slightly different. Vision proclamations of what God wants for us might open the door, but they won’t necessarily change the way we live. For that, leaders need ways to ask questions and foster conversations. When we ask good questions, we provide opportunities for people to discover for themselves what the Jesus way means for them. For instance:
• How does the kingdom contrast with the ways of the world, especially in Western cultures?
• What does it mean to love God when the world is pulling us in ways that are unloving?
• How do things like workaholism, our addiction to power, our need for entertainment and other common patterns hinder the kingdom?
In the next few posts, I offer some questions around three rhythms of group life that form us in the way of Jesus. These three questions have at their center the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The first is the rhythm of communion.
The Questions of Communion
Leading with predetermined answers instead of questions propagates this clinging to others because we naturally try to connect to others in order to fix our loneliness. We join a small group and try to relate to others the way we are supposed to do, as outlined by the book or by the pastor. Isolated people try to fix their isolation by clinging to others. Even those who seem strong and independent connect to others in order to get their needs met. We cling like hungry leeches, assuming that this is the way we’ll find answers to our loneliness.
The alternative to relating directly to others is to relate to one another in the “space between.” That is the space where Christ exists. The most direct path to ministry is communion with Christ. The only way to relate well is to cling to Christ, the one who lives in the space between us. Nouwen writes:
We are connected not as individuals who cling together like melded metals but as individuals who are in Christ, and Christ is in us who are joined together for a journey. The Christ in me is united with the Christ in you. And the Christ in us draws us together. This is not about clinging to each other but mutual identity in Christ.
• Where is the deep loneliness within me?
• How do I tend to cling to others to fix my loneliness?
• What does it look like for me to find myself in Christ?
• How can I share this struggle to find myself in Christ with others in my group?
—Adapted from Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus, pages 55-58

7 Enemies of Organizational Health

7 Enemies of Organizational Health

“Over the years of leading I’ve observed a few things that can be the enemy of organizational health.”
I love organizational leadership. I especially love attempting to lead healthy organizations. I have been in both environments—healthy and non-healthy. I prefer healthy.
If truth be told, I’ve probably been the leader in both extremes. And, there are seasons when every organization is healthier than others.
Over the years of leading I’ve observed a few things that can be the enemy of organizational health. They keep health from happening and—if not dealt with—can eventually destroy an organization—even a local church.

Here are seven enemies of organizational health:

Shortcuts—There are no shortcuts to creating a healthy organization. I’ve known leaders who think they can read a book, attend a conference or say something persuasive enough so everything turns out wonderful. Organizational health is much more complicated. Success is not earned through a simple, easy-to-follow formula. It takes hard work, diligence and longevity. Leaders must be committed to the process through good times and bad.
Satisfaction—Resting on past success is a disruption to future growth, which ultimately impacts organizational health. When an organization gets too comfortable—boredom, complacency and indifference are common results. The overall vision must be attainable in short wins, but stretching enough to always have something new to achieve.
Selfishness—Organizational health requires a team environment. There’s no place for selfishness in this equation. When everyone is looking out for themselves instead of the interest of the entire organization—and this starts with the leader—the health is quickly in jeopardy.
Sinfulness—This one is added for those who feel every one of my posts must be spiritual. (Just kidding.) Seriously, healthy organizations are not perfect (and we all sin), but it doesn’t matter if it is gossip or adultery—sin ravages through the integrity of the organization. When moral corruption enters the mix, and is not addressed, the health of an organization will soon suffer. This is why it is so important a leader stays healthy spiritually, relationally and physically.
Sluggishness—Change is an important part of organizational health. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must act quickly to adapt when needed. Some things never change, such as vision and values, but the activities to reach them must be fluid enough to adjust with swiftness and efficiency.
Stubbornness—Let me be clear. There are some things to be stubborn about, again, such as vision and values. When the organization or its leaders are stubborn about having things “their way,” however, or resistant to adopt new ways of accomplishing the same vision, the health of the organization will suffer. Most people struggle to follow stubborn leadership, especially when it’s protecting self-interest rather than organizational interests.
Structure—As much as we need structure, and even though we should always be working to add better structure, bad structure can be damaging to organizational health. When people feel they are being controlled by rules, more than empowered by their individuality and passions, progress is minimized and growth stalls. People become frustrated under needless or burdensome structure.
What enemies of organizational health would you add to my list?