Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are You Blessing Your Children?

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. (Prov 17:1)

This year was especially eye opening as a parent. I was always told from the time my son was a newborn, that it wouldn't be until much later that I would feel like a "Dad." "You're a father now but you will feel like a Dad later," said a dear older friend of six. I feel like a new leaf sprouted in my parenting relationship with my son. His spiritual formation is as much a priority as his physical growth. God has come through, conquering all my fears and proving faithful, gracious, sovereign and merciful. This year I won my son's hearing by doing an act I felt was really small. One Saturday morning while my son was watching Ninjago, and patiently waiting for breakfast, I sat with him and asked him what he was watching. Immediately he stopped the show, assuming I didn't want to watch it. I asked him why he stopped the show and prompted him to continue. To his surprise he continued, asking me, "you like like this show Daddy?!" I replied, "I do." He nestled close to me and we enjoyed the show. It was an exhilarating moment and I won his hearing and heart. 

I always want to make sure my son receives all that he needs. And as much as God has blessed my soul and life I want my son to receive the same. I wanted to share this helpful article excerpted from "The Love Dare for Parents," by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Their writing challenges and displays how Christian parents can become more than mere care-taking and stewardship but to also be a blessing to my children - to bring them closer to God.

"One of the great joys of parenting is the opportunity to know and love another person from the moment of their birth. To watch them discover the world with wonder. To see them grow physically and relationally. Day after day. Season after season. Firsthand and front row.

Enjoying the journey of seeing them ... become. But a hidden key to children truly becoming the persons God created them to be involves a parent's influence in that direction—not by manipulation or force but by the intentional watering of the seeds God has planted. By giving them a blessing. 

But what exactly is a blessing?

Consider this contrast. No parent hopes their child grows up to be a failure. Our love wants nothing but health, happiness, and God's best for each of them. A blessing is simply a God-ordained way to handle these loving desires for our children, turning them from hopeful wishes into future realities. 

To bless someone actually means "to speak well of." It's a parent using their God-given authority to verbally affirm their children for who they are, while also encouraging and inspiring them toward future success.

In a blessing, powerful words and wishes combine with prayers and praise. God instructed Moses to teach the high priests how to bless the sons of Israel. "Say to them: 'The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.' So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them" (Numbers 6:24-27).

As heavenly Father, God set up a pattern of blessing for His people: verbally affirming His acceptance and support of them, painting vivid pictures of their expected future, and investing Himself and His resources to make His words a reality.

The Bible is filled with dynamic blessings. From the beginning of recorded time, God "blessed" the first man and woman with the responsibility of being fruitful and multiplying (Genesis 1:28). He blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who in turn blessed their children after them. Jacob uniquely blessed each of his 12 sons "with the blessing appropriate to him" (Genesis 49:28). Often in Scripture, people would place their hands on little children or take them lovingly into their arms to bless them (Genesis 48:14; Luke 2:28; Mark 10:16).

Through blessings, God continually inspired His people toward lives not only of usefulness, faith, and service, but also of hope, peace, and honor. His blessing urged them forward, renewed their confidence, and prepared the ground beneath their feet. It strategically launched them on a path of purpose toward spiritual prosperity.

After Jesus was baptized, a voice came from heaven: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (Mark 1:11). God the Father publicly affirmed and blessed His Son, and then invested in Jesus' future success by immediately sending His Holy Spirit to fill Him (Luke 3:22). This powerful experience set Jesus up to completely fulfill the will of His heavenly Father during His earthly ministry.

Many children, even grown adults, long for but rarely if ever hear statements of love and approval from their parents. By simply saying, "You are my son (my daughter) and I dearly love you; I am so pleased with you and hope and pray God's very best for your life," you can change their lives forever. You can build the ideal setting for future wings to take flight.

Pointing out a child's skill or character could be part of a blessing. Say things like:

"I could see you becoming a great ..."

"With your strengths and abilities, you could probably ..."

"What impresses me is your giftedness and heart for ..."

Then follow these words of blessing by your investment. Prayer. Encouragement. Introducing them to individuals of influence in that area. Giving them opportunities and the things they will need to help them succeed. This is not about pre-determining a college major or planning their career path. God will lead them through those matters in His time. But your ongoing encouragement will keep fresh wind in their sails as they navigate which paths to take.

Your blessing can enable them to see themselves as a chosen part of God's plan and His word on Earth within their generation. It can remind them of the grander reasons why He has endowed them with such talent, surrounded them with specific opportunities, and made them "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand" (Ephesians 2:10).

As your blessing soaks into their hearts, they can progress without feeling the need to find outside approval from unhealthy sources. They will stop living insecurely and start living confidently, free from fear and self-doubt.

When God blesses us, He is forecasting His favor, guiding us toward abundant life. So don't be afraid to speak your own words of blessing over your children. Don't fail to cast a vision that spurs them on to consider what wonderful things God could accomplish through them. The lives they could touch. The difference they could make. The blessing they could be. 

Today's Love Dare: Write out a special blessing for each of your children, incorporating what you see in them and what you encourage them to pursue as God guides and provides. Read it or speak it aloud to them as a family. Pray over them that God would bring His perfect plans to pass in their lives."


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Three Ways to Make the Bible Easier for Kids

by Bobbie Jamieson

Teaching children the Bible is actually a whole lot easier than I thought. All you need is passion and integrity. After all, if you cannot reach children with God's Word how do you expect to connect with adults. As with everything it starts with baby steps. We're talking half of a Bible chapter. Most children's Bibles are actually super legit. Bobbie Jamieson provides some top notch tips on connecting your kids with the Word.

"Now, I’m a grade-A theology nerd, but I didn’t actually set out to found a preschool seminary in our home. The parallel only struck me after we’ve been doing this for a few years, and it struck me because of the way these three basic habits all reinforce each other and help our kids engage God’s Word. So, we recently read of Jesus’ promise to give the Spirit in our story Bible, and our older daughter exclaimed, “Dad, that’s "where we are!”—meaning we’d just read of Jesus’ same promise to give the Spirit in John 16 in morning Bible. And when a character from the Old Testament is mentioned in one of the Gospels, she’ll often say, “Hey, I know him! He’s in my Bible!
“All told, this takes maybe fifteen minutes a day. Ideally we do all of this every day, but realistically we do most of it most days—maybe five days a week. We read about ten verses or half a chapter of Scripture at breakfast, along with catechism questions. And we read a story from the story Bible before bed. That’s it. But we can already see these habits radically shaping our kids’ minds, hearts, and lives.
We’ve had to shift our routine plenty of times when it just wasn’t working. We’ve found breakfast a good time for more active teaching since the kids have energy and, while they’re eating, are as close as kids get to being a captive audience.

“Kids love structure, and they thrive on routine. One of the best things about this ‘seminary curriculum’ approach is that you don’t have to think too much about it: just read the next few verses, teach the next few questions, read the next story.

Plus, the structure itself does a lot of explaining for you. Your kids won’t encounter the Trinity as an abstract puzzle to be solved, but as the Father, Son, and Spirit who work together to save us. And while they’ll ask questions you can’t answer, the catechism gives them plenty you can.

“If this seems overwhelming, start with just one piece of the puzzle, like reading a story Bible before bed. If you can cement that one habit, consider building on it. When it comes to teaching kids the whole counsel of God, a little every day goes farther than you can imagine."


Thursday, December 4, 2014

When Risking it All for God Means Staying Where You Are

Why 'taking a risk for God' often means opening our eyes to confront the uncomfortable realities right where we are.

A great think-piece from Kris Beckert. As we settle down from the maniacal beginnings of 21st millennium Christianity, something to think about is how close our walk with God really is. What are we doing with our lives and why? This is the big question we should ask especially for those chasing relevance, or perhaps fame, all the while doing it for the glory of The Lord.

“What are we willing to risk for God, and what are we doing about it?"

Here's Kris:

I’ve sat in multiple small group gatherings when that question came up as part of a speaker’s discourse on a teaching DVD or within the paragraphs of a glossy study guide.

Usually, most of us in the room, myself included, squirm as we hear stories of missionaries moving to Africa, folks who gave up careers to move across the country or to take a job that was beneath their education level, Christian musicians who risked everything to go on tour with their families or nonprofit founders who ate Ramen for months on end.

When it comes time for sharing, we nod our heads about “stepping out of the boat,” to leave everything behind, to take that big risk for God by going somewhere in the wilderness or pursue a profession that serves others but doesn’t make much money.

Step, leave, go, abandon—these are the words we normally associate with risk.

In a society that is constantly telling us to chase the latest and greatest, what if, more often than not, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay where you are and keep doing what you’re doing for the time being?

And we shouldn’t be surprised—it’s how we’re taught. Risk-taking is a big deal—and a big industry—in our society. Skydiving, free-climbing, wilderness hiking, whitewater rafting, obstacle course racing, alpine skiing—the list of activities goes on and on. There’s a pride and honor that comes with going somewhere or doing something “out there”—even if your adventure is tethered to steel beams or conducted through a travel agent.
Posting a selfie on top of a mountain or falling out of the sky solicits a lot of attention. Participation in these kinds of “safe” risks enables us to feel alive, bold and accomplished—without actually having to put too much on the line. We “go” to say we’ve gone. There’s admiration that comes along with it. And many of us in Christian circles come to applaud “risk-taking for God” in the same way.

But in a society that is constantly telling us to chase the latest and greatest and change ourselves with the seasons, what if, more often than not, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay exactly where you are and keep doing what you’re doing for the time being? What if instead of jumping from here to there, thinking God will do a miracle when we’ve chosen the right thing, person or place, we should really be standing firm? What if we should be allowing our feet to sink in a while and keep at the hard, dirty, messy work in which we’re involved? In the words of Ecclesiastes 11:6, “Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow—perhaps it all will.”

What if God wants you to start a ministry where you are instead of going to one? What if it’s actually more God-honoring to deal with an uncomfortable family situation than moving away from it? What if instead of leaving this position and that location again and again to “find ourselves,” we should be staying put? What if instead of leaving church after church, we should just keep coming to the same one? What if instead of abandoning all that is ours, we should be continuing to invest ourselves, our gifts, our resources?

What if “taking a risk for God” were less about jumping off cliffs and going and more about examining our motives and opening our eyes to how God might be wanting to use us right where we are, embracing the uncomfortable in our midst? Maybe God is wanting to use you as a change-agent in your workplace, as the glue in your neighborhood, as the light in your social circles and family. It’s possible that quitting your job or moving your family across the country right now to be “risky for God” is exactly what God wants you to do, but I think that more often than not, it could actually be counter to what God wants.

Reflecting on my own 30-something years of life, I can say that the risks I’ve taken to follow God have come in many forms and actions. I’ve quit a job and moved to another state to pursue a calling to ministry by going to seminary. I’ve stayed put in a place during a very difficult time when it would have been easier to go—and now look back to see the fruit God was bearing. I’ve jumped for the sake of “taking a risk for God” and found that I was really just following my own desire to be somebody—and landed flat on my face. I’ve stayed in a place when, looking back, it was clear God wanted me to move on—but I was too scared to do so. In any case, God used my decision, my risk, my going and staying, and I learned something through it, something about myself, something about Him.

Has God revealed to you any hidden motives? Are you assured that you are already loved and that doing something “risky for God” is not going to make Him love you more?

So how do you know whether taking a risk for God means staying or going? In my experience, it helps to consider a few things:

1. Scripture: Is leaving it all behind detrimental to the things God holds precious—marriage, promises, responsibility, etc? Or is fear alone keeping you where you are?

2. History: Did you just take a risk to go somewhere or do something new last week? Are you running away from something or someone?

3. Wise Counsel: What are trusted mentors, teachers, elders, your spouse or best friend saying to you? Has God revealed to them that the risk He wants you to take is to go, or to stay?

4. Peace: Can you have peace where you are or is there peace that comes with making a change? Has God revealed to you any hidden motives? Are you assured that you are already loved and that doing something “risky for God” is not going to make Him love you more?

As I’m reading Scripture, I see countless stories of men and women whose biggest challenge is not stepping out to go and follow God but continuing to follow Him. The biggest risk is often continuing to live in a God-honoring way, day in and day out, when it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure. It seems that many of us are in the same boat—where Jesus might be calling us to step out and walk on water, but He also might want us to just keep paddling.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Mark Driscoll's Fall and Mars Hill's Breakup Issues a Warning for Megastar Pastors

by Sarah Pulliam Bailey | Religion News Service | Friday, November 07, 2014

Can a megachurch survive the departure of its megastar pastor?

For Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, it’s an open question.

Mars Hill announced last week that it would dissolve the multisite network of 13 churches across the Northwest that took root under pastor Mark Driscoll, who stepped down in October after supporters lost confidence in a high-wattage leadership style that was criticized as bullying, hypermacho and intolerant.

For many megachurches, a pastor can become larger than the church itself — particularly for multisite churches where the pastor’s sermon is the only thing binding disparate congregations connected by little more than a satellite feed. Before his resignation, the name “Mark Driscoll” was more widely known than “Mars Hill.” The dueling brands sometimes clashed along the way; some say Driscoll once told staff “I am the brand.”

Driscoll’s edgy personality built up a congregation of an estimated 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. Weekly attendance is now reportedly about 7,600. In August, the church saw a budget gap of nearly $650,000 as expenses exceeded revenues.

According to Mars Hill leaders, by the start of 2015 locations within the Mars Hill network will either become independent, self-governing churches, merge with another church or disband completely.

Mars Hill’s existing church properties will either be sold or the loans on the individual properties will be assumed by the newly independent churches. Central staff in Seattle will be laid off as the formal Mars Hill organization dissolves.

Megachurches across the country have faced similar dips in attendance once their popular pastor left, a problem that can plague any church but one that can be exacerbated in a megabrand context. If the CEO of McDonald’s left, for instance, the company would face fewer questions about its survival than “The Colbert Report” will when its star leaves.

“It’s not uncommon for CEOs to say the first agenda item is to talk about ‘What happens when I’m not here anymore?’” said William Vanderbloemen, co-author of the recent book “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works.” “The key is to have an emergency succession plan.”

After former megachurch pastor Rob Bell’s controversial book “Love Wins” raised debates over whether hell exists, his Grand Rapids, Mich.-based church experienced a loss. Current pastor Kent Dobson said the church lost about 1,000 people during the controversy and now has about 3,000 attendees.

Every megachurch pastor wrestles with challenges of brand and leadership, said Mark DeMoss, who handled some public relations for Mars Hill before Driscoll resigned.

“If the pastor is the best communicator and preacher and pastor in that local context, I think you can make a good case for that’s who ought to be up there,” he said. “The dangers are sometimes in succession.”

Not all churches with large followings experience a loss in attendance after a pastor’s departure. After Joel Osteen’s father died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1999, his Lakewood Church in Houston surged from 5,000 to more than 50,000 today.

Attendance at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., was about 4,000 when he died. Under his son, Jonathan Falwell, the church now boasts about 10,000 attendees.

Similarly, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., founded by the Rev. D. James Kennedy, an icon of the religious right, had an average attendance of about 1,000 (and a broadcast reach of about 3 million) when he died in 2007. After facing turmoil during the transition, under Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson who is a popular pastor in his own right, the church’s membership is around 2,400.

Driscoll’s fall from grace came after a combination of growing scrutiny of church finances, plagiarism allegations concerning his books and comments he made under an online pseudonym. Much of the criticism came from bloggers and on social media from people who did not even attend the church.

Could Driscoll make a comeback at another church or ministry? For an evangelical movement that values forgiveness, redemption and second chances, anything is possible.

For one, Driscoll’s resignation did not reach the scandalous level of Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s. Bakker was accused of fraud related to time shares, while Swaggart was accused of adultery. Both men remain active in the ministry but aren’t seen much beyond late-night cable TV.

Other high-profile pastors have stepped down and attempted to come back with varied success.

After allegations of gay sex and drug use were made by a male escort, Ted Haggard stepped down from his Colorado Springs church (and as head of the National Association of Evangelicals) but has since started another church.

In 2011, Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney took a leave of absence from his church-planting network amid charges of “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy.” Mahaney was reinstated after a year, and he is now pastoring a local church in Louisville, Ky.

In 2010, John Piper took an eight-month leave from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, explaining that his soul, marriage, family and ministry pattern needed “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He returned for a few years before retiring.

Some evangelicals see high numbers as a measure of success for a minister — something that could be hard for Driscoll to reproduce in a second act.

“If (Driscoll) can continue to draw people in and have a successful ministry, then his authority — even if it has been questioned — will still rest on what he’s producing,” said Scott Thumma, a megachurch expert at Hartford Seminary.

Some critique evangelicalism as a tradition that encourages a drive for more and more numbers, regardless of the costs. Wendy Alsup, who attended Mars Hill from 2002 to 2008, said she sees a growing movement of evangelicals asking whether bigger actually is better.

“There’s a big reaction among some to identify with something that has longevity,” Alsup said. “They’re rejecting fast growth and going back to the slow, methodical structure.”


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Those Suspicious Medical Missionaries

An excellent manifesto upholding medical missions, especially in these dark days of the now world wide Ebola outbreak.

“It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?” So muses Brian Palmer at Slate about the work of medical missionaries like Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. I’m almost embarrassed to write about this piece, because it is such an easy target. But the Brantly case has put new focus on the work of medical missionaries, who are generating surprisingly negative comments from certain observers. These critiques have fallen into several categories: those who say that the missionaries are stupid for putting themselves in harm’s way, those who say that the missionaries should get no special treatment when they contract a disease that has affected so many others in Africa, and those like Palmer who insist that medical missionaries are wrong to speak about their faith to patients. Here’s three observations about this debate:

1) Palmer and other critics have a deluded sense of “neutral” medicine. Doctors who deal with suffering and dying patients will inevitably send messages, explicit or implicit, to their patients and patients’ families, about the meaning of dying and death. Doctors who think that death is a purely natural event, and that there is no afterlife, or who are agnostic on such questions, will tend to communicate that sentiment to clients. This partly explains why so many Christian doctors do volunteer for the mission field – they believe that there is transcendent meaning in both life and death, and that every person has an eternal destiny. They are uniquely positioned to help people who are struggling with such questions. All doctors can and should be sensitive to issues of politeness and propriety, and the religious convictions (or lack thereof) of patients. But no doctor – no person – is “neutral” on topics like suffering, death, and the afterlife.

2) Making volunteer medical service contingent upon silence about one’s faith would be devastating to impoverished regions internationally. As Palmer himself notes, disproportionate numbers of doctors and nurses serving in under-serviced areas of the world (like Liberia) are people of faith. Devout Protestant and Catholic Christians are among the most common volunteers. They serve to honor God, and they do not believe that they can honor God fully if they do not speak about Jesus Christ to clients, when appropriate. Palmer seems unable to identify with the vast majority of people in the world who do not believe that death is the end of life, nor does he fathom that serious believers cannot be silent about their faith in their vocations.
Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people. (Just this week another survey appeared demonstrating that the most charitable states are those with the highest rates of churchgoing.) You can accuse these believing folks of having ulterior motives, but where are the legions of atheist volunteers to take their place? Palmer’s innuendos about how the missionaries might be doing more medical harm than good are vicious and slanderous.

3) Christians must not object to other medical volunteers who speak of their own faith (or lack thereof) to clients. Of course, there are secular medical agencies such as Doctors without Borders (though presumably many of their individual volunteers are people of faith as well), Muslim medical missionaries, and those of other faiths. While Christians will not agree with the implicit or explicit messages these doctors may share with clients, the principles of religious liberty and charity would affirm that all medical “missionaries” are free to serve and speak (or not) in the name of their faith, and that their healing work does great worldly and humanitarian good. If we expect others to honor Christians’ right to freely witness about Christ, then workers of other traditions, or no faith at all, should have that freedom as well. Of course, this point may be moot: I don’t recall hearing of many Christians echoing the kinds of complaints made by secularists like Brian Palmer…

See also Ross Douthat’s take on the piece, in which he concludes that he thinks Palmer’s real complaint is “not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.” Agreed.