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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

There are many things I pray for regarding local churches.

I was thinking about the people in local churches and praying about them today, and I wanted to journal some thoughts before I forgot them, and to elicit feedback.

Obviously there are many biblical ways to pray for the people in local churches, such as praying that people in local churches would grow in holiness, unity, love, and delight in God above all things.

Yet, I have been thinking about the reality that the Christian life is both individual and corporate, and how to best pray for people in local churches to have a healthy perspective and balance of both of these aspects.  Here are some thoughts and prayers so far:

1) I am praying for less “ME” men and women in local churches.  I suspect that in our American, individualistic culture, I need to pray for this a LOT more.  For many of us, ME is the center of the universe.  We look for churches and ministries that cater to ME.  We make decisions based on ME, what would be best for ME, what happens to fit MY life situation best (whether it is moving to a new area, taking a new job, pursuing a certain vocation or ministry. etc).  We often view Christianity solely in individualistic terms, where the “corporate” church’s role is primarily to affirm and support ME.  For example, many people who think they are “called” to ministry, simply assume that the local church’s role is to “rubber stamp” the ME desire and perspective, where ME makes a decision and simply informs the local church.  In this mindset, ME rules, and the church is more seen as a cheerleader to ME or an afterthought to ME.  So, I am praying for less “ME” men and women in local churches.

2) I am also praying for less “YES” men and women in local churches (using “yes men” as an idiom as is most commonly understood in our American culture at this point in history – we obviously pray for more church members to say yes to many things, like holiness, service, evangelism, missions – but the idiomatic expression of “yes men” refers to people who always say yes without thinking, and the motivation is often people-pleasing)  Sadly, this is often the unbiblical extreme that many church leaders swing to as a response to so many “ME” people in the church.  Many times leaders only want “yes men” to always say yes to whatever they want and desire, and to do it blindly.  And people in the church, especially those  who are prone to people-pleasing, will often become passive, just waiting for the leadership to state a need or a request, for them to blindly and mindlessly fill or follow. In this mindset and culture, Christianity is often solely viewed in corporate terms, where the individual becomes a mindless drone.   And in reality, when this happens, the church is at worst like a cult and at best like an assembly-line factory, none of which are God’s design for the church.   Now, to be clear, the church should be characterized by unity.  But unity is not the same as uniformity.  So, I am praying for less “YES” men and women in local churches.

3) I am praying for more “FAMILY-LOVING, FAMILY BUILDING” men and women in local churches.  Churches need more individuals who think about how their actions or decisions affect not just themselves, but the family of God.  For example, even if the timing is good for an “individual,” but it would be detrimental or not very beneficial at that moment for the family of God, it may not be a good decision.  I am not saying that decisions always need to wait for the “perfect” timing for the family of God because there may never be an “ideal” time to leave, but instead of the family of God being an “afterthought or cheerleader,” I am praying that more individual Christians would recognize they are part of God’s family, and think actively how their actions would affect the family, not just them individually.  Every time Scripture talks about individuals being gifted by the Holy Spirit, they are gifted for the building up of the family of God, the body of Christ.   At the same time, churches and leaders must remember that there are a variety of gifts and different members of the family of God and body of Christ.  Unity is not the same as uniformity.

So, while we want people to be characterized by LOVE regardless of their spiritual gifts, we don’t want people simply to be passive, just waiting for a need to come up so they can fill it in love.  We want people to be characterized by LOVE for the family AND a proactive pursuit of using their gifts to actively build the family and build God’s Kingdom.  We want people with different perspectives and gifts and strengths to ask questions (not just be mindless “yes men”).  We want them to ask question not to be divisive, but because they love the family and they may see or notice something we didn’t.  They may have ideas and suggestions that we never thought of that are better.  We don’t want “yes-men,” we want family-loving, family-building people willing to think and pray and work with us for the good of the family.  We also want people to actively think about and pray about how to exercise all of their variety of gifts from the Spirit for the good of the entire family of God and the spread of the Gospel to all the nations.  I am praying for individual Christians to think less about themselves and more about others and the corporate family of God, desiring to love the family and build the family.  I am also praying for the family of God to recognize, celebrate, and encourage the diversity of gifts given to individual Christians, so that as individual Christians flourish in their gifts for the building up of the family of God, the entire family is benefited.  I am praying for more FAMILY-LOVING, FAMILY BUILDING men and women in local churches.

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Sexual Abuse is incredibly sad and heart-breaking.   Every time I hear about real cases of sexual abuse dealing with real people, it makes me mourn and cry out for the Lord to come quickly and bring about His new creation where all aspects of the sinful fall will be gone.

Yet, until then, the sad and heart-breaking reality of sexual abuse is real and devastating.  And, it is much more widespread and rampant than we think because sexual predators tend to be expert manipulators and deceivers.

I read this article this morning that promoted this reflection and prayer on sexual abuse.   I pray that you would be helped by this article.

Also, in the comments of that article, one brother listed some good resources for responding to sexual abuse/assault: (unfortunately, all the links there were half-links and didn’t really work when I copied and pasted.   But, I am sure that if you search google, you will find them pretty easily)

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb: Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and
Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb: Confronting an Abuser

Justin Holcomb: Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Justin Holcomb: Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent

Justin Holcomb: Advice for Pastors in Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse

Bob Kellemen: A Theologically-Informed Approach to Sexual Abuse Counseling

Bob Kellemen: Sexual Abuse: Beauty for Ashes

GRACE/Diane Langberg: Sexual Abuse in Christian

Ken Sande, “A Better Way to Handle Abuse”

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Many times, it feels like Christians and the church create this holy huddle bubble, where we are simply trying to hide from all the allures and temptations of this world, thinking that is sufficient to keep us safe.

But, while there are biblical calls of wisdom to FLEE temptation, we must recognize that until Christ returns, we live in a fallen and sinful world and culture that we cannot perfectly escape or flee from.

So, the question becomes – when we and our kids intersect, interact, and experience the temptations of this culture, are we ready and prepared?

One area that I personally and the church (on the whole) has not done a good job in preparing God’s people is the area of sexuality and the increasingly sexualized world we live in.

If that is you, or if you just want to add to your arsenal of preparation, I would commend to you this article from the Gospel Coalition on Raising Kids in a Pornified Culture.   I pray that you won’t be discouraged (my first temptation) when you see how far short you fall in adequately preparing you and your kids.  Instead, I pray that we would simply repent of our weaknesses and neglects, turn and trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and with great hope that Jesus will win, to start taking steps to grow in preparing ourselves, our kids, and our churches to live in a pornified culture.

And as we do so, let us keep #1 that the article mentions always in mind.  We will not ultimately help our kids or even help people entrenched in the sins of the culture through negative attacks, by just attacking the dangers and foolishness of sin.  We need to highlight the infinitely BETTER glories of God in Christ.  Only a greater delight and affection in God and His good plan for sexuality will squash the paltry offerings this world seeks to tempt us with.

JESUS IS INFINITELY BETTER!

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Amusing Ourselves to Death?  That is the title of Neil Postman’s book that you can download the free PDF here.

I began to think about this title and the contents of this books in reflecting on this year.

My wife and I recognized how strongly we are pulled to amusement and entertainment.

Please pray for us as we seek to increasingly wean ourselves off to experience greater joy and satisfaction in God and seeking to advance his Kingdom through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, secure in Christ, there is no way to truly amuse ourselves to death, but the reality is that we can amuse ourselves to the death of others.   People are suffering, dying, and broken all around us.  Please pray that our hearts would be moved with compassion not to amuse ourselves to death, but the serve others unto death for the glory of God, through the power of God, and because of the Gospel of God.

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In my life, I like to set aside some planned times to reflect on life, and to think about ways God is revealing sin in my life and how He wants me to grow.  A few months ago, in my reflection time, I was convicted of my impatience in many different areas of life.  So, I wanted to spend a season seeking to understand my impatience and my heart and motivations behind it, and to grow in putting off this sin and putting on righteousness.

There have been many other thoughts and reflections as I have prayed and sought to understand my heart in this area.  But, there was one theme that seemed to continue to pop up where my mind and heart needed to be reformed and conformed to the Word of God, and that area was the “Picture of the Christian Life.”

Simply put, the only picture that Jesus gives in explaining discipleship and following Him is the picture of a cross – denying ourselves, picking up our cross daily, and following Him.  The cross pictures the truth that in our temporary life, there may be trials, sufferings, and unexpected and undesired things that happen.  But, God is still sovereign and through the cross, God accomplished the greatest good.  God is in control.  The cross does not hinder or thwart God’s plan.  The cross is God’s plan.  And it is when God’s people understand this truth and take up our cross, that when trials, suffering, and unexpected things come, that we realize that everything is still okay and God is still in control.  I don’t need to be impatient or frustrated or complain.  I can trust God and for the joy set before me, take up my cross and follow Jesus in any and every circumstance.

As I thought about this predominant picture of Christian discipleship, I began to think about why it is so easy for me NOT to want the Christian life to be like a cross, but more like a couch or a car or a fun entertainment center.  There is a LOT in the world that wants us to pursue our own selfish dreams, to pursue health, wealth, prosperity, comfort, ease, pleasure, entertainment, and fun.  However, I wonder whether our Christian gatherings, ministries, and churches are conveying anything dramatically different (ie: the cross).

I remember my years in high school (though I was not a Christian), and in college (when I became a Christian).  And in both stages of life, though I was taught good theology (in very small chunks of time – 1-2 hours in a week of 168 hours is really not that much), but most of the other time, the “picture of the Christian life” that was often conveyed seemed far from a “cross.”  Often times, being surrounded mainly by youth, or primarily with other college students, if it was a Christian group, it was really just a “cleaned-up” version of what the world offered.  Cleaned-up Christian entertainment, pleasure, fun, hanging out, health, living a fairly comfortable, easy, fun life.  But for the most part, I got to hang around with people just like me, going through the same things as me, and who were easy to love and comfortable to be around.

In reflecting back, many of the planned programs or activities were simply focused on me – which, as I reflect back, often reinforced my self-centered, selfish attitude and heart.   Even the way I was encouraged to “evaluate” groups, ministries, and even churches, was often, “What’s the best one for ME?  How can I grow the best?”  Yet, reflecting on this, I wonder whether the “picture of the Christian life” we often portray is wrong.  Are we theologically teaching that the path of discipleship is the Cross of Jesus Christ and giving up our lives to love God and serve others in love?   But then, functionally, most programs and ministries are designed to reinforce our natural instinct to live for self and only do what is best for “me” (in my perspective)?

So, if in reality, the BEST way for people to grow personally is for them to die to self, take up their cross, and give up their life for the good and growth of others (it is more blessed to give than receive), then how do we reinforce this imagery of the cross in the practical and functional ministries we do and have in the church?

Maybe some good questions to ask and consider are:

  • Is this ministry or program set up to make the Christian life more comfortable and easy for those who participate?  Or, is the natural make-up of the ministry and program going to draw people out of their comfort zone to love and serve people not like them (and in the process – they will grow even more rapidly to be like Christ)?
  • If this ministry is geared more towards a homogeneous subset of people – is the reason for homogeneity dealing with a certain struggle or sin, or simply to attract and make people more comfortable?  (Ie: I am thinking of starting a reading, discussion, and application group for men in dealing with the area of sexual sin and lust – but the biblical model of change is not just putting OFF sin (ie: lust), but putting ON righteousness (for all those men who come to the group to find ways to deny themselves and to serve others in love))
  • Are most of the activities of the group or ministry seeking to bring people out of their comfort zone to serve in uncomfortable and new ways?  Or are most of them “fun” activities in the world’s eyes?   (definitely not saying fun is bad – trying to redefine the term where fun has an outward, other-centered, self-sacrificing bent toward it)
  • There is time for rest and rejuvenation and being refreshed with those like us – ie: corporate worship of the local church.  But, are the “bulk” of our activities fostering the members’ selfish, me-centered, non-cross desires, or are they challenging them and pushing people to the joy and call of taking up our cross to follow Jesus?

These questions are challenging for me as I lead and pastor a church.  I want to lead a church that functionally portrays the joy of the Cross as the norm of the Christian life.  Life is not about me.  Life is not about each of the church members.  Truly loving my church members and their growth will be doing whatever I can to remind them that life is not about them, but dying to self and giving up their life for the good of others (and IN living the cross, they WILL grow more than if I just tailored things to suit them in a short season).

We can still teach good theology and train and equip people well, but it is so much more powerful when we do it in a context of the cross – of people dying to self and using whatever they are learning and being equipped by to love and serve others and train other disciples to die to self, take up their cross, and love and serve others, etc.

My prayer is that my life, my family, and the church of God would increasingly portray the picture of the Christian life accurately, for His glory and the good of His people!

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This morning, I read a fantastic blog post / article on Gospel-Centered, Christ-centered Motherhood entitled, “You do not belong to your children, you belong to Christ.”

It was initially posted in May, so I wish I read it earlier, but I am thankful for the internet that these gems can be uncovered and discovered fairly quickly and passed on.  🙂

So, why am I, a man, a husband, and father writing a blog post highly encouraging all parents and aspiring parents to read this article that focuses on motherhood?

1) The implications of the biblical truths unpacked in the article apply to men, husbands, and fathers as well.  We do not belong primarily to our children, our wife, or ourselves.  We belong to Christ.  The Gospel saves us out of living for self and things in creation, to living in a new relationship with God first and foremost.

2) For the men, we are called by God to be the leaders of our home, and God holds us accountable for how we lead and encourage.   While wives and mothers are called to live out the principles in the article regardless, it doesn’t mean that we MEN should make it harder for them.   Let us lead well.  Let us even practically and intentionally help.  For example, let us try to do daddy & children dates/outings for the express purpose that our wife and mother of our children can spend extended time with the Lord in the Word and prayer, singing and journaling, etc.   Let us also be faithful to remind them that their primary relationship is with GOD, and everything will flow from that.    When we have those short conversations with our wives throughout the day through phone, text, or e-mail, let us be careful the emphasis of our conversations (asking how they are doing, whether they had time with the Lord yet, or if it is mainly logistical, asking about kids, asking about dinner, etc) – I am challenged and convicted to lead better!

3) I want this article to spread to many more mothers who desire to live Gospel-centered, Christ-centered lives!

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One of the hardest things in my Christian life is not necessarily KNOWING what God says in His Word theologically (though it is hard and requires diligent study and prayer).  But, one of the harder things is DOING what God says in His Word functionally (because of the Gospel and in the power of the Spirit)

One of those areas I believe is in Matthew 6:33, in the midst of talking about worry and anxiety, God says, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

There are SO many ways to apply this, but one aspect I often see neglected is the local church.  Especially in America, in our very individualized culture, we narrow seeking the Kingdom of God to our individual lives, dealing only with personal salvation, and personal holiness/righteousness and that’s it.

But, while the Kingdom of God (and entering it) IS an individual choice, living with the Kingdom of God as priority cannot be done individually.  When we enter God’s Kingdom, we become God’s PEOPLE (corporate).  And on this earth, the Kingdom of God is visibly manifested in God’s local church.  So, how does this functionally apply to God’s call to seek first His Kingdom?

In life, we have lots of choices to think about – job (providing for family, maybe some prestige, making good money), neighborhood (safety for family, schooling for children, size of house), and church.

Lots of time, what I see is that people go and uproot their whole life and revolve their life around the first two – spending lots of time researching jobs (job description, salary, benefits) and researching neighborhoods (like schooling and houses).  But, often times, people simply assume that there will be a good Gospel-centered church (because “Aren’t there churches just everywhere – of course I will find one”).

In one sense – in the context of Matthew 6, they are not anxious or worried, believing that God will provide them a church.  But, many times, finding a church is harder than they think, and then they begin to be worried and anxious about that.  Furthermore, my biggest question and concern is – have we ordered our lives correctly in seeking first His Kingdom?  And have we considered the effect our constant moving or transitions have on the Gospel (relationships we developed, and the local church – the visible manifestation of God’s Kingdom)

(Note: I am not saying it is never okay to move and leave a local church to go somewhere else and join another one.  There are very good reasons to do that.  But, what I am saying is for us to evaluate the reasons why we move and whether our motivations and reasons are consistent with God’s priorities)

If we seek first God’s Kingdom and a Gospel-centered local church first and commit there for the long haul to establish deep roots in the community for the making of disciples for the glory of God, will not God provide the food and clothes and shelter (job and neighborhood) that He desires to provide?    Objections – “What if I can’t find a job or a ‘good’ school?”  Beloved, that’s exactly what Matthew 6 is addressing.

“Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  BUT don’t seek first for those things!  But, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you.”

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