Saturday, August 29, 2015

Leading Kids to Jesus

           This is the real New Year for both school and church.  As kids start back to classes, churches across the country are all gearing up for their Fall ministries.  When it comes to the Christian education of children, church teachers have a responsibility that is more than following a curriculum; they have a wonderful opportunity to lead their students to Jesus.

Every person’s spiritual journey is unique, including children.  Every teacher’s relationship with his/her kids is different.  There is no “how-to” formula that can replace the leading of God’s Spirit in our own hearts as we prayerfully seek to follow God by leading children to Jesus.  Through all the things teachers do in the classroom, we are seeking to bring kids into a living, growing relationship with Jesus Christ, while continually recognizing that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince a child to respond to the gospel. 

As we look for ways to lead kids to Jesus Christ there are few pitfalls we need to avoid.  One pitfall is that we can manipulate kids to make a commitment they are not yet ready to make.  For example, younger kids are eager to please their teachers.  We need to ensure that children understand what they are doing so that it is not a meaningless commitment.  The second pitfall, on the other hand, is to ignore clear signs of a child’s desire to express a commitment to Jesus.  We need to avoid missing a God-given opportunity to direct a child to an age-appropriate avenue of faith in Christ.

The best ways to be assertive in bringing children to Jesus are to:  pray for them; present the gospel in forms they can understand and respond to; answer their questions; make sure they understand the content of the gospel; allow them to express their desire to be a Christian; help them to pray; and, follow up with them.  For older kids, asking questions is helpful and effective:  Why do you think Jesus wants to be your Savior and Lord?  How can that happen?  What do you like about Jesus?  Do you want to give your life to Jesus and follow him?

It is exciting to have a spiritually sensitive child desire to follow Jesus.  When a child comes to a point in which the Holy Spirit is truly working within them, pray with the child, inviting him/her to pray.  Offer to help if they need it with a simple prayer like this:  Dear Jesus, thank you for loving me.  I know that I disobey you and do wrong things.  I am sorry for my sins.  I know that God loves me and forgives my sins.  I want to love you more.  Amen.  Encourage older kids to write out a simple prayer so that they can think about it before praying with them.

As a church teacher one of the great things about leading a child to Jesus is that you are already an important person in that child’s life.  Thus, you are in a significant and strategic position to point the child toward growth in Christ.   You have an established relationship in order to help the child understand that a lifelong walk with Jesus will have ups and downs, but that Jesus will always be there.

      If you are already a teacher or leader of kids within a local church, then think intentionally and prayerfully about your role and influence for this coming educational year when it comes to leading children to Jesus Christ.  If you are not in an actual position to teach or lead, maybe God is speaking to you about stepping up to be a teacher in your church; or, perhaps God wants you to come alongside certain children or teens in order to speak into their lives with grace, love, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Whatever role God is leading you toward, take heart that the majority of Christians today were influenced in some vital manner through a faithful Sunday School teacher, a caring youth leader, or an attentive lay person who desired to see a child know Jesus.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Spiritual Warfare and Prayer

When I think of the Apostle Paul, the man who wrote most of the New Testament epistles, I think of a guy who had a bucket-load of boldness, a man who did not sidestep or try and step out of situations, but who fearlessly stepped into the world with the good news of God’s grace in Christ.  Maybe Paul was that way because of prayer and the prayers of God’s people (Ephesians 6:18-20).  Maybe what stands in the way of people coming to know Jesus and the church maturing in the faith is not a lack of resources or programming, but a profound lack of intense, consistent, and sustained prayer.  Maybe too many of God’s people have been duped by the enemy of our souls to retreat in a bubble of fear, unable to effectively engage God’s big world and Christ’s church with confidence.

            The truth is that there is an unseen world all around us that cannot be observed with our physical eyes.  We serve an invisible God, and we have an invisible enemy (Ephesians 6:10-12).  Satan and his wicked spirits actually exist and they are organized for war with schemes, methods, and devious strategies designed to blunt our spiritual development and the expansion of God’s kingdom.  The devil seeks to render us ineffective in our walk with Christ, be unproductive for God, and be all knotted up inside in a broken mess so that we are weak, not strong.

            The names of our invisible enemy in Scripture tells us the kind of diabolical and methodical work he is doing to snare us:  Satan, the adversary; Lucifer, the shining one who comes looking like the light but only delivers darkness; Beelzebub, the lord of the flies, who is a false god promising protection and help apart from the one true God; the evil one, who seeks to have us engage in sin instead of righteousness; the tempter; the accuser; and, the prince of this world.  The unseen wicked spirits of this dark world pull out whatever technique they can to turn us from knowing who we are in Christ and how we are to really live.  They seek to distract us from our mission, to keep us busy fighting among ourselves, and to put our confidence in anything (i.e. particular ministries; certain people; good ideas) but Jesus Christ.

Prayer is to undergird everything we do.  The early church was effective and successful in many ways through prayer.  They all joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14).  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).  The early apostles re-arranged their busy schedules so that they could give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).  Everywhere we go in the book of Acts, believers in Jesus are praying.

            As Christians, we might think of ourselves as people of prayer, but compared to our spiritual ancestors we are not engaging in the same kind of intense, sustained, and strategic prayer that pushes back the enemy and graciously talks about the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  If you do not believe this, just call a prayer meeting and see how few people show up.  We are too afraid to pray in front of others.  We are too fearful of saying the wrong thing or looking unspiritual.  Let me ask:  who wants you to think that way?

            The business of Christ’s church and all its leadership is prayer, and we need to re-arrange our lives to make it happen so that we give God our focused attention.  When prayer takes a back seat to everything else, we end up fighting the wrong battles and the result is a lot of friendly fire where people get spiritually and emotionally hurt because we are not in touch with God.  Our battle is not with flesh and blood human beings; it is with Satan and his wicked spirits (Ephesians 6:12).  Fight them, not each other!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


            Most people aren’t crazy about the word “vulnerable.”  We might like to see it in others, but have no intention of being vulnerable ourselves to anyone.  If you have ever poured out your heart to someone or a group of people and only got blank stares in return; if you sincerely loved someone and they did not love you back; if you have ever shared your genuine thoughts on something important to you and received only criticism; then, we may think that being vulnerable is a bad thing and not worth the emotional effort.

            Yet, vulnerability is an important, even vital practice for Christians.  In the Gospel of John, Mary displayed vulnerability in pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, all the while exposing her true feelings for her Lord.  In return Mary got pushback and criticism from Judas.  But Jesus upheld Mary’s actions and told Judas to leave her alone.  Mary was clearly not concerned with how she might appear to others, but was completely focused on Jesus (John 12:1-8).

            When we go to the book of Psalms, even a cursory reading reveals a psalmist who is not afraid to explore the depth of human emotion, misery, joy, and praise of God.  It would be weird to think of King David as a man who was self-conscious about what others thought about him.  Instead, we get a wealth of vulnerable statements:  “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9); “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:1-3).  One does not get more real, raw, and vulnerable than this:  “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 55:4-6); “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.  My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3).

            This is all a far cry from many contemporary Christians who feel the need to wear plastic smiles and insist everything is “fine.”  Maybe we need the person who will stand up and say they are finally learning patience by being among a group of really annoying co-workers.  Perhaps instead of laboring so hard to keep a check on ourselves, church will become a place that lends itself to a person bawling their eyes out with a whole cadre of others who will just sit and cry with them.

            But this kind of vulnerability will not happen unless we are first real with God, who is never fooled by our deceitful hearts.  Our evil-radar might be carefully attuned to others’ sin, but we are woefully inept at identifying the blackness within ourselves.  This is what makes places like the Psalms such counter-cultural texts; the psalmist sees his sin in stark relief to the holiness of God, and it absolutely slays him to know that his sin has offended God (Psalm 51).

            What is so amazing about all this is that God himself became completely exposed, naked, abandoned, alone and vulnerable on a cruel cross.  Yet, instead of being shamed by the whole thing, Jesus scorned the shaming power of his crucifixion and embraced the suffering as the means of victory for our salvation.  Vulnerability might seem ugly, but it turns whatever it touches into beauty.  God can change our weakest, worst, and most shameful places into incredible strength and newfound love.

            Therefore, any ministry worth its Christian salt will not forsake the broken and despised, the struggling and the lost.  Whenever we are too afraid to walk into the mud of people’s lives, including our own, and are enamored instead with every spiritually shiny thing that comes along, we have lost sight of our Lord whom we are to imitate in his vulnerability.  When Christian leaders pretend like they have all the answers and know what always should be done, they have lost touch with the Scriptures and need to take a Sabbath hiatus to read the entirety of the Psalms and connect with God.

            So, where do you go from here?  Stop running long enough to listen well, read carefully, rest liberally, and feel passionately with emotions both good and bad.  Just maybe you will find solidarity with Mary of old and “waste” your resources on simply being with Jesus.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pursuing the Good Life

Everyone desires a good life.  No one wakes up in the morning and hopes they have a bad day.  A person might get up on the wrong side of the bed and grump his/her way through the first hours of the day, but nobody makes a conscious decision to deliberately have a bad life.  We all want a good life.  Students go to school hoping to have a good experience.  Marriages begin with the hope of having a good life together.  New employees start with the wish that there will be satisfaction in doing a job well-done.  Parents dream of their kids growing up to have a good life.  We want the kind of life that brings contentment, joy, and happiness.

            A good life comes through the fear of the Lord (Psalm 34:9-14).  Yes, that’s right, the fear of the Lord.  If we want to live a good life, it will have the fear of the Lord at the heart of it.  We need to make an important distinction between good fear and bad fear.  We as human beings are all too familiar with bad fear.  Bad fear is being too afraid to take the steps necessary to have a good life.  It is being insecure, risk-averse, and unwilling to take even a small step toward expanding my comfort zone.  Bad fear causes people to retreat in bubble of anxiety that keeps them stuck and imprisoned in a small world of protection, unable to engage God’s big world with any effectiveness.  Bad fear is to be afraid of what other people may or may not do or say.  Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe (Proverbs 29:25). 

The way to overcome the fear of others and the fear of the situations that might happen is to have the good kind of fear, the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord means to honor and obey God, to be loyal and submissive.  It does not mean being afraid, like the bad fear of people.

            If you want to lack no good thing; if you desire to see many good days; if you do want to simply survive in life but to thrive in it and love the life you possess; then, the first thing that must happen is taking the posture of listening.

            The Hebrew word “listen” literally means to bend or to incline the ear.  It is to take a posture of listening in order to learn.  The prerequisite to any kind of good life is to have a teachable-spirit that gives focused attention to the wisdom God has for us.  A fool is a person who does not listen, but only mocks, complains, and is continually negative.  But a wise person is one who has learned to be attentive to the voice of God.  Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.  Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Proverbs 9:7-9).

            The fear of people is a death-dealing practice.  But the person who fears God through the posture of a teachable spirit discovers a life-giving practice that will serve him/her well.  The teachable spirit takes the posture of listening and learning from other people’s hard-won experiences.  It bends the ear to good advice.  It inclines toward acquiring knowledge and learning the skill set needed to live a good successful Christian life.  There cannot be a good life without having a teachable spirit, seeking after learning, discovering, and listening. 

            Therefore, Christians cannot learn if they will not read.  The Bible is a book.  If the Bible was a car I would tell us all to learn to be mechanics.  If the Bible were a fish or a deer I would tell us all to learn the best ways to hunt and fish.  If the Bible was a store I would tell us all to learn to be good shoppers and consumers.  But the Bible is a book, and so we all need to read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and learn from it.  Get in the Word of God!  Wise churches will find ways to immerse themselves in Scripture and have moldable teachable spirits. 

If we desire a good life we will fear God and keep his commandments; we will be readers of Scripture and take the posture of listening and learning.  If we want to experience the good life we will engage in personal reading, corporate reading, and bible studies.  We will find ways to get into the Word!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Living by Faith

            Biblical Christianity is real, historic, personal, supernatural, redemptive, authoritative, relevant, dynamic, and demanding.  It’s all that and much more.  People, as created by God, were meant to have God firmly and lovingly at the central core of their lives.  But in humanity’s great fall into sin, God was replaced at the center of people’s lives with self.  Yet, the good news of Christianity is that Jesus has redeemed us back to God.  Through faith in Christ and a complete surrendering to him, we embark on a path toward spiritual growth and maturity that seats God back on the center throne of our lives.

            It’s not enough for the Christian to mentally know this stuff; the believer must understand how to put this knowledge into daily practice through faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith is the response of the entire person to God in loving trust, submission, and obedience through the person of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

            Faith is neither a warm-fuzzy designed to make us feel good, nor a judgmental feeling of guilt that leaves us wishing our lives were better.  No, faith is a decision to take God at his Word and act upon it (Hebrews 11:24-28).  Now the kicker to all this is learning to make actual decisions of faith in practical daily experience.

            For example, let’s take a look at some decisions of faith based on 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” All of us have a need to exercise faith in regard to some specific problem that dogs us.  The following steps illustrate the kinds of decisions we must make:
Ø  Confess the thing as sin.
Ø  Forsake it as a sin.
Ø  Believe that God will forgive and deliver you.
Ø  Receive Jesus as the specific need you have to deal with the sin.
Ø  Believe God’s Word that you are purified from sin, and live like it.

Faith is how we allow God to do what God wants to do:  be at the inner central core of our lives so that he can exert his power, influence, and grace in every single area of our lives.  Only then can we live in such a way where we don’t have this weird sacred/secular life where we divide ourselves according to spiritual things and non-spiritual things.  The truth is that it’s all spiritual and all belongs to God.  Therefore, the greater sin is to keep Jesus out of the center of everything we do.  God is a jealous God; he wants all of us, not part of us.

      The essence of living by faith is taking God at his Word.  The provision that God has given for us to walk by faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  When we choose to apply this good news to our lives through decisions of faith, hope, and love we experience success in the Christian life.  It is very difficult to express faith when a person is out of fellowship with God.  So, a primary decision to make every day is to engage in spiritual practices that cultivate a basic relationship with God.  Disciplines of Bible reading; prayer; and, weekly Sabbath observance; these all are necessary to developing our muscle of faith into a strong robust belief that is able to take on the rigors of life in this world.