Sober Reminders

I have a great life.  I have had years of struggles, which have greatly shaped the person I am today, but these days life is fairly calm and I hate to complain even when I am having a “bad” day.  In a church our size, there are always “sober reminders” to keep me grounded.  One would think I would become callous to disappointing news after hearing so much of it each week, but some things will always leave me speechless.  In those times, I learn more about the reality of life.  Other people’s struggles remind me how desperate each of us is for God’s mercy and grace and how incredibly blessed my life is right now.   

 

There are things that no matter how many times I hear them always take me by surprise.  Things like:   

 

  • When I learn a wife is leaving her husband for another man, it reminds me that what we see in couples does not always represent the reality of what takes place in the privacy of their home. 

 

  • When I hear that a young father received an unexpected stage 4 cancer diagnosis, it reminds me that life is fragile and family time has great value. 

 

  • When I sign another military “notification in case of tragedy” form indicating that I have to bring “bad news” should something happen to the solider, it reminds me that others serve our country so that my family and I can be safe and worship freely. 

 

  • When another teenage daughter becomes pregnant, it reminds me how much pressure is on our teens today and how desperately she needs our love and direction for life. 

 

  • When a mother or father loses their job, it reminds me that their biggest concern this Christmas is not what to buy but how will they buy anything.

 

  • When I find out the reason a couple has been married for years, but does not have children is infertility, I am reminded that there is a pain in a couple’s heart that I will never quite understand. 

 

  • When I talk with a family who has lost a child to tragedy, it reminds me that some pain in life never completely goes away. 

 

At Christmastime, “sober reminders” always help me remember that Jesus came to those who are hurting, those down in heart, and those in need of a Savior.  

Situational Evangelism

Sometimes sharing your faith with them is a matter of helping them understand their circumstances in light of God’s plans and desires for their life.  If you can connect the two points, a relationship with God makes much more sense. 
 
Recently I received this email from an Internet friend through my devotional ministry (http://www.mustardseedministry.com).   My friend knows how to share her faith, but the situation appears so desperate it has her in quandary of where to begin.  (I have changed the names and deleted a few details to protect identities, but the crux of the story is the same.)
  
Dear Ron,
I need some advice.  I have a friend who has a daughter who lives about 600 mi. away from her, but she is involved in drugs.  My friend (Joan) and her husband are in the process of adopting her three grandsons (all under the age of 8 year old) due to the daughter’s inability to care for them. Joan doesn’t have a relationship with the Lord.  I have a feeling that she has some tough feelings right now.  I really want to bring her to the Lord, but I’m at a loss for some reason right now.  She is in so much pain and she misses her daughter so much. I need ideas on how to share and communicate God’s love to Joan. Thanks so much. 
Patricia
  
Dear Patricia
It will take boldness on your part Patricia, but the fact that God has placed her on your heart so strongly is probably God’s invitation for you to share your faith with her, so I would encourage you to act on it, as scary as it might be. Scripture is clear that when we speak on His behalf He gives us words to say.
   
I would probably approach Joan in terms of a relationship. She loves her daughter in spite of the fact that she is addicted to drugs. She loves those three grandsons. Joan’s heart hurts for her daughter and she would like nothing more than a renewed relationship with her, but the drugs are in the way. They are “separated” 400 miles by distance, but even farther because of the impact. the drugs have on her life. It’s sad, which is why you are concerned for her. 
  
Now take Joan’s situation and put it into context of her relationship with God. God feels the same way about Joan. He loves her. He wants a relationship with her, but Joan’s sins have separated her from a relationship with God. If she will only believe in Christ’s saving grace she can have the relationship with God she needs; now more than ever.

 
God bless you as you introduce your friend to Christ.
Ron
  
If God stirs your heart concerning someone near you who is absent of a relationship with Him, be bold and willing to share your faith. Put it into terms of a relationship, then trust God to give you the right words to say. 

Allowing Children to Explore Their Own Faith

I want to encourage you to release your children to explore their own faith.  Okay, that sounds very liberal.  I apologize, but let me explain. I hope your children have a solid faith in the one true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I would make that a part of daily prayer and intentionally lead them towards that reality for their own life.  The truth, however, is that your children are some day going to question their faith.  At some point in life, most people I know have questioned whether what they have always believed is true. My encouragement is to let some of that process occur while your children still live in your home or under your authority. 

 

With that in mind, here are five quick suggestions to consider to spur a life-long faith and to allow your children to explore their faith:

 

1.      When children are very young, set the stage for them spiritually with what you think is best for them.  For example, if church is important, and I think it is, then do not let a 2 year old determine whether you go to church.  Take them to church on a regular basis so it becomes a natural part of who they are as individuals.

2.      At the same time, let the children’s needs play a part in deciding what church to attend.  As tough as it may be on grandparents not to have their grandchildren in the same church, it would be better to have your children actually love their church experience than to attend somewhere they do not enjoy going. 

3.      Find opportunities to talk about faith and God in non-threatening, everyday environments.  Talk about God should never be limited to “church time”.  Make God part of your normal life.  (He is you know!) Model living a life for Christ in front of your child.

4.      As a child, having been raised in church and heard all the “stories”, attempts to explore his own faith, do not feel the pressure to answer every question they have.  If children are seeking truth, guide them towards the source of truth (God’s Word) and let them explore it for themselves.  This is the only way to make sure your children actually “own” their faith.  When one of my boys was questioning eternal security, for example, I suggested he read the conflicting passages on the subject and encouraged him to reach his own conclusion.  (He did, btw, and landed in the same place I land.) 

5.      Keep the lines of communication open even when your children are questioning what they believe.  I have known so many parents who “freak” when their children express opinions about their faith that are contrary to their parents.  I have never seen this reaction work to their favor.  It usually causes further separation between the child and the parent.  This is where I believe Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.) comes into play.  Parent towards Christ early in your child’s life, release them to explore, keep praying for them and loving them, and the principle in Proverbs is that they will return to their roots in time. 

 

Children are going to question their faith someday.  Any faith worth having involves periods of testing over time.  Chances are good that you questioned your faith at some point.  Allow your children to test their faith in God, but pray it happens while they are still in your home or listening to your counsel so you will be there to help them find their way Home again. 

Battling Depression

I received an email through my internet devotional site from a woman battling depression.  Her question was, as a pastor, what would I tell someone who has been diagnosed with depression. 

The great thing about responding to her is that I can speak not only from “clinical” or seminary training, but from personal experience.  I’ve battled mild depression firsthand. 

 

If you wonder if you are experiencing depression, whether mild or severe, I encourage you to talk with your physician.  Depression is nothing to play with and should be taken seriously. 

 

Some symptoms of depression are:

Experiencing a continuously sad, nervous, or irritable mood. 

Feeling as if life is hopeless.

Losing interest in things you once enjoyed.

Trouble sleeping

Loss of weight or other repeating health problems.

Having the “blahs” all the time; generally feeling fatigued

(If you start to have thoughts of suicide, hurting yourself or repeating emotional breakdowns, please seek help immediately! )

 

I would never attempt to solve depression for you here, but there are some things I can offer you for those times where you struggle with mild depression. 

 

Follow these steps:

1.      Read God’s Word. Depression is most often caused by believing things that are not true.  We fear the unknown, we feel bad about our life or our situation, and we live out of partial truth or untruth.  The best way to battle untruth is with truth.

2.      Pray.  God loves you and wants more than just a distant experience with you.  He wants a relationship with you that is deep and personal.  When you are at your weakest point, God is there to help you.  Talking with Him intimately is better than most trained therapists can offer. 

3.      Surround yourself with positive people who trust God.  A lot of times when we are depressed we hang out with people who make us feel worse rather than better.  Look for friends who will encourage you. 

4.      Take medicine if needed.  Find a good doctor you trust and if they recommend medicine, don’t be afraid to follow their advice.  There can be chemical imbalances in our body which can cause our emotions to act up and just as an aspirin helps when you have a headache sometimes with depression we need medication to heal our minds and emotions.

5.      Counseling.  Find a good, God-fearing counselor who is trained to talk through life with you.  We all need this help at times.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for it…. (Or too tight to pay for it!)

6.      Ultimately the greatest thing you can do for yourself to battle depression is to give up control of your life and your emotions and begin to trust God completely.  Understanding this truth will set you free.  (John 8:32) 

 

Again, I urge you to seek help if you are severely depressed.  I truly believe, however, that your greatest help will always be found in the truth of God’s Word and in your relationship with Him. 

Cross Street Live Family Worship Experience

This Sunday night our church launches Cross Street Live. I am not an emphatic person most of the time, but I honestly believe this could be one of the finest moments in the life of Grace Community Church. Cross Street Live is an opportunity for kids to bring their parents to learn and worship! It is fun, high energy and especially designed for elementary age kids and their parents. Our team has invested countless hours into planning this night, which we hope to repeat throughout the year in 2009. As with anything we do at Grace, this is a community event. You don’t have to attend Grace on Sunday morning to enjoy Cross Street Live.

Spread the word to your friends today.

What: Cross Street Live

Where: Rossview High School Auditorium

When: Sunday night, December 7, 5:30

For more information send an email to office@gcomchurch.com.

Olive Tree Parenting (Growing Children of Character) Part 3

Continuing the series on the parenting model based on the Olive Tree; we are attempting to produce spiritual fruit in our children that will last for generations. You can read the beginning post HERE.  

 

Today we see a few more virtues we and some ways to instill them in our children. 

 

 

PATIENCE        

This is a tough one, because it is one of my weak points, but it is a part of the fruit of the Spirit God has encouraged us to have, so here are some actions to help your children have this trait: 

 

*Let them see you waiting patiently. (If my boys or my wife reads this they will be wondering when they will see this in me. Still, I have had to wait for many big picture things in my life many times.  I’ve attempted to do so patiently.) 

*Make children wait sometimes. Children shouldn’t get everything right away and they certainly shouldn’t be able to demand it with temper-tantrums or tears.  One statistic I read says that children today get 90% of everything they want, yet as adults they will get less than 25%.  We are setting them up for failure when we give them everything. 

*Don’t be a complainer. Do everything without complaining or arguing. (Phil 2:14)

*Don’t let your children think they are the center of the universe.  They are not; actually God is.    Encourage them, but don’t crown them kings. 

  

KINDNESS            

Kindness could be defined as “genuine friendliness, helpfulness and generosity”.  Here are some ways to instill kindness in your children: 

 

*Be a giver and not a taker.  Let your children see you giving to others regularly. 

*Never let children see you being unkind to the cashier or waitress. 

*Know your neighbors and actually have concern for them.

*Never allow degrading comments to be made to other family members. 

*Care for the hurting people of the world. 

*Be a regular giver/servant at church. 

   

 GOODNESS

Jesus said “well done good and faithful servant” and “a good tree produces good fruit”.  This is the opposite of bad.  (That makes sense, huh?)  To instill goodness in your children, try this:

  

*Reward good acts towards others. 

*Give extra praise to your children for doing good things. (That’s not buying them a toy. This can be done verbally.) 

*Never let them see parents argue and fight.            

*Demand respect always. They don’t always have to agree, but they should always have to respect. 

* Always declare truthfulness.  Never let them see you telling lies; even “little white lies”.

*Teach prompt obedience.  Don’t let them “think about” obeying you. This is especially true for younger children. 

 

 

I will continue with more traits of spiritual fruit tomorrow. 

Getting Rid of Fear In Life

Most of us live our lives with some kind of fear. That’s probably uncontrollable to a great extent. We live in a very fearful world.

What would it be like to live your life apart from fear or with less fear?

Here are some points of understanding which can help us become less afraid of the unknown situations of life:


Life can be uncertain.

There are lots of unknowns in the world. That makes people afraid. Most people would prefer to know the outcome of a situation and yet many times, probably most of the time, we do not get that privilege. Most of the horrifying experiences of my life seem to come upon me suddenly. We tend to want the expected to occur, but we should always be prepared, at least emotionally, for the unexpected.

Fear is an emotion and not necessarily a reality.

Someone actually defined fear as a felt reaction to a perceived danger. We innately have the ability to respond quickly to danger. Sometimes we can feel that a situation is going to be scary before it actually is. Our reaction to that sense of fear often determines how well we handle the situation.

We must keep ourselves from allowing negative scenarios to build in our mind. People often take a fear and begin to build scenarios in their mind of what might, could, or is going to happen. Most often these scenarios are irrational. When the emotion of fear begins we must analyze its rationality and if it is based on an unknown occurrence we must dismiss it as strictly emotion and not reality.

Sometimes we must face our fears in order to receive victory over them.

We can’t allow fear to alter God’s plans for our life or steal our joy. We should not be too surprised if in our weakness and fear God encourages us to be strong. When Elijah was hiding out from Jezebel because he was terrified, God sent him back to face her again. (1 Kings 19) Elijah had to go back before he could go forward. God will often allow us to face our fears as well.

Ask yourself two questions:

1. What fear do you need to face before you can get on with your life?

2. Is fear holding you back from moving forward in some area of your life?

There are two consistent themes in the Bible. We are to walk by faith and we are not to be afraid. I think those two themes are related to each other. It takes doing the first to accomplish the second.

God has a plan even when our fear tells us that He doesn’t.

Since fears are an emotional response and emotions are not always reliable, fears will often cause people to lose their trust and dependence on God. At the same time, God will often use fear to draw people to Him. Most people grow best when they are being stretched by life. God often uses faith-stretching events; times when people are most afraid, to grow and mature His people. One time Jesus made His disciples get into the boat, even though He probably knew as the Creator that a storm was approaching. Faith must tell us that God’s plan is secure, even when our fear says otherwise.

Grow more in love with God.

Perhaps the greatest secret to overcoming fear in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Perfect love casts out fear. If ever a person could perfectly know the love of God he would never have to be afraid again. Whenever we run from the challenges of life, God has to wonder why. He must wonder “Am I not enough? Do you think this is too big for me?” As we grow in our love for and our trust in God we will be better able to live our lives in a confident assurance that God is in full control.

To continue to mature as believers we must be working to rid our life of the fear that keeps us from completely following and trusting in God.

5 Steps to Have a Better Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, but because of the increased demands on time and finances, plus the fact that messy relationships get messier this time of year, all make it difficult sometimes to really enjoy the season.  As you plan your Christmas season, here are a few tips to help you have a more spirit-filled celebration. 

 

1.      Use this season to change your priorities where needed. If your priorities have gotten out of line lately, put them back where they belong this Christmas.

2.      Consider what you have now. Sure, you may have experienced losses this year, but most of us are still pretty blessed.

3.      Find a way to serve others this holiday season.  It is the season of giving. Giving, especially if you don’t have to, has a way of bringing joy to your heart.

4.      Make Christmas less of a spending spree this year.  Set a budget limit of what you can afford to pay for…with cash…and then don’t stress about anything else. (You are probably buying too much for people you don’t even like anyway.)  There could actually be good to come from a down economic time if you start to clean up financial mistakes of the past and started living more responsibly with your finances.   

5.      Incorporate Jesus into your celebration. Seems to make a lot of sense.  It’s His birthday.