The Gospel of Christmas

To really celebrate Christmas, you must understand the gospel (the good news) of Christmas. The gospel of Christmas does not begin when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The gospel of Christmas began before the beginning of anything when the earth was formless and void, and the Godhead spoke into the chaos, ‘Let there be light.’
 
You cannot understand Christmas without considering creation. He created the heavens and the earth in six days before resting on the seventh. The crown of His creation was mankind, who was created in His image to rule over what He had made in the same way that He (God Himself) ruled over the universe. In mankind, God designed a creature to whom He could relate. One who would be like Him.
 
Mankind proved to be a poor manager of creation. When given a choice, our ancestors chose wrongly. Rather than worship God alone, they chose to listen to the serpent, who was the embodiment of Satan, who promised them that they could become like God. In-other-words they chose to worship themselves rather than to worship God or to seek Him for wisdom in their task to rule the creation.
 
As a result of their failure, they fell from God’s grace. All of creation fell with them. The whole earth descended into chaos once again as God, who once declared all that He had made very good, pronounced judgment on mankind. But even as He handed down the judgment, He also made a promise that a savior would come, born of woman, who would set everything back in order once again.
 
For thousands of years, mankind awaited a savior. There were many who came and who seemed to fit the bill. It could have been Abel, but he was murdered by Cain. Then there was Noah, who became a sort of a Neo-savior, but not the promised one. Then came Abraham, whom God called out to be the father of His nation, but he died and proved not to be the savior, nor was his promised son Isaac, or his son Jacob, or Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. Many more good men came including Moses, Joshua (whose name means “he delivers”), Gideon, Samson, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, along with other kings and wise men. They all died and proved not to be the One who would rescue mankind and creation from destruction.
 
All of creation continued to groan like a woman in the pangs of childbirth. The whole world longed for the Savior who would come. Meanwhile, the prophets continually encouraged them that the Savior was on the way. The prophets, in speaking God’s judgment on the world continued to reiterate the promise of God and give details as to how the Savior would come, what manner of life He would live, and how He would suffer on behalf of the people in order to reconcile them to God and to one another. 
 
The period of waiting ended on the night that a virgin gave birth to a son in Bethlehem just as the prophets foretold. This baby boy was different from all who came before Him in the fact that He fulfilled every prophecy and promise of God. His birth was heralded by the angels. He was worshipped by the lowest of shepherds and the wisest of wise men. He was given the name Jesus. He held the titles, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and Immanuel (God With Us). 
 
Jesus was raised by Joseph and Mary. He became a man. Though He was God in the flesh, He was also fully human. He was tempted in every way. He experienced every human emotion including fear, sadness, joy, despair, and anger, but He never fell short of the glory of God. Thus He lived the human life to perfection.
 
He died upon the cross as a penalty for sin, but not for sins of His own. No, He took our sin upon Himself and accepted the punishment of God for us. Then, three days after His death and burial, He was raised from the dead in victory. This proved beyond all doubt that He was that one who was promised in Genesis 3. It proved He was the Son of God and thus the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 
 
The gospel of Christmas is that all who receive Him as King of their lives and believe on His name are given the right to be called children of God. 
 

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Fighting Fear and Finding Courage

Most people believe that courage is an innate quality; you either have it or you don’t. Thousands of years of military history tells us that this is not true. Courage is a quality of character that is learned, developed over a lifetime of channeling fear and dread in a more sophisticated way to avoid cowering before the enemy in a time of battle. Nowhere is this truth better communicated than in the life of Joshua.
 
Joshua was not an innately courageous man.  Joshua learned to be courageous by remembering his past victories, channeling fear, and relentlessly believing in the promise of God. We can, likewise, develop the courage to carry us through difficult battles and find victory in the face of seemingly certain defeat.
 
1. Joshua found courage by remembering his previous victories. In Exodus 17, he was called upon to lead a battle against the Amalekites. It was a serious hard-fought battle that could have been easily lost. Had it not been for Moses, Aaron, and Hur’s work of prayer on the hilltop, all would have been lost and the Exodus halted. After Joshua’s defeat of Amalek, God commanded Moses to write a memorial in the book and recite it in Joshua’s hearing. He also built an altar and called it, “The Lord is My Banner.”
 
You should be able to remember some harrowing battle where you emerged victoriously. Remember that it was the Lord that brought you through. It was recorded in His book. That victory is proof that even the most harrowing of battles, the banner of the Lord flies over you, and there is nothing that can harm you. Recite those memories of victories back to yourself, and find the courage to lean into the battle and keep fighting the good fight. 
 
2. Joshua found courage by channeling his fear and transforming it into courage. There is at least one instance recorded in scripture where Joshua was gripped by fear. In Numbers 11, when Moses appointed elders to help him lead the people, the elders began to prophesy in sight of all the people. This shook Joshua, who had grown to trust in Moses’ leadership alone. Now there was change afoot. He begged Moses to make them stop but this was to no avail. Joshua had to lean into courage in this moment and trust in God’s plan.
 
During seasons of change, you will not be able to avoid the creep of fear. You will pray, to no avail, for God would make it stop. You will interpret your fear as a lack of courage which will lead you to even greater fear. Remember this in those moments: courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is the channeling of fear in a more sophisticated manner—in a manner that is constructive rather than destructive. When the season of fear seems to be unending and relentless, this is the time when you learn what it is to be courageous. Let your fear lead you to cling to your Lord, and allow him to do the needed work in your heart so that you can stand on two feet and enter the battle once again. 
 
3. Joshua found courage by relentlessly believing in the promise of God. God made a promise to Joshua, first through His servant Moses, and then to Joshua face to face that He would be with him (Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Joshua 1:1-9). He promised that He would go before Joshua, that victory was sure, and that he had no reason to fear or be dismayed. Scripture records that Joshua trusted in this promise to the very end of his life and thus gained the promised victory. 
 
What has God promised you? Jesus promised that there is nowhere that you go where He will not be by your side (Matthew 28:20). He promised not to leave us as orphans, but to come to us in our time of need (John 14:18). Even if you lose your battle and with it your earthly life, He will be there in heaven waiting for you in the place that He has prepared beforehand (John 14:1-4). He told us not to fear, for He had already overcome the world (John 16:33). If God is for us, then no enemy can stand against us. If He would sacrifice His only Son to rescue us from sin, how can we not also trust Him to save us in our daily struggles (Romans 8:31-32)?

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What is an Ambassador for Christ?

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 is a passage well known to teach about the reconciliation of God and mankind. Verse 21 may be the most concise summation of the gospel, besides John 3:16. What often gets dropped in the teaching of this passage is the call for the reconciled ones to be ambassadors for Christ and the description of what it looks like to be an ambassador of Christ. 
 
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gives three very specific attributes of an ambassador for Christ. Grab your Bible and walk with me through this passage (really go get your Bible or open the app on your phone because I do not have room here to write out all the verses).
 
1. An ambassador for Christ is one who is controlled by the love of Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-15. 
 
Paul and his comrades were most misunderstood. In fact, one of the main reasons that Paul wrote this particular letter to the Corinthians was to defend himself against these misunderstandings. Some thought he was crazy and beside himself. Others thought that he was the real deal. In this passage, Paul made it clear that it mattered not to him what people think. If he was crazy, then he was crazy for God. If he was found genuine, then that meant that some people were going to get saved. 
 
It’s the love of Christ, not the approval of others, that really drove him and his fellow believers. They saw the world in a very binary manner. Jesus had died for all, therefore every single person they encountered had also died. Their every acquaintance was either dead in their sins, or dead in Christ. If they were dead in Christ, then that meant that they would also be raised in Him. If they were dead in their sins, then that meant that they needed to hear the gospel, die to themselves, and receive the hope of the resurrection. This mission to tell the world about Jesus was the guiding principle of their life. This is what it looked like to be an ambassador for Christ. 
 
2. An ambassador for Christ is one who sees fellow Christians as Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.
 
When the ambassadors met people, they saw their faces like an avid reader sees the cover of a book. The ambassadors were unflinching when they heard their stories of struggles with sin. These were matters of the flesh. What Paul and ambassadors like him were concerned about was their spirits. What mattered was whether or not they were in Christ. 
 
Verse 17 is often quoted to someone who is sinning to encourage them to stop. It’s often followed by something like, “you’re a new creature now act like it.” That is not what the Spirit is communicating here. He is telling us that as ambassadors we should regard people the way they are regarded by God. If you are in Christ, then God sees Christ in you and His righteousness that has been graciously applied to you. This is the way an ambassador should view their brothers and sisters, and this is a way to keep our brothers and sisters encouraged.
 
3. An ambassador for Christ is one who is entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
 
Far too often, people skip through verses 18-20 to get to 21. That is a huge mistake. Look at verse 18 again. It has two parts separated by the conjunction “and.” The clause before the conjunction “Christ reconciled us to Himself” speaks directly to the hope we have in Christ. What comes after the conjunction speaks to what has been given to us as a result, “the ministry of reconciliation.”
 
Look at verse 19 and you see the same thing. There are two ideas joined by the conjunction “and.” “God was reconciling the world unto Himself…, and entrusting us with the ministry of reconciliation.” Do you see that the fact that we have been “entrusted” with an ambassadorship is just as important as the fact that we have been reconciled to God?
 
Spend some time meditating on this truth. The Godhead could have chosen to use any number of means to get the gospel message to the ends of the earth. You are the one He chose. He could have sent an angel. He could have written it in the sky. Instead, he chose to use the reconciled ones as His ambassadors. What a responsibility! What a blessing!

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Everyone needs to know a missionary.

Last week, the nation was shocked by the killing of missionary John Chau as he attempted to reach the most unreached of people groups, the Sentinelese people, who live on the Andamans Islands in Asia. Chau was killed on just his second contact with the Sentinelese. He has been called crazy, a criminal, and a white colonialist among other labels, but the most accurate title for John Chau is “missionary.”

 

Many people were surprised that this man would so recklessly risk his life just to share the message of the gospel with this group of unreached people. His bravery did not shock me in the least, because I know a handful of missionaries and this is their course of life. Firefighters go into burning buildings to save the lives of those in peril. Law enforcement officers run towards danger while everyone else runs away. So also, missionaries go into the darkest places, places no one else will go, in hopes of bringing light and life to those who dwell in darkness.

 

John Chau is an extraordinary person, but he is not the first to give his life as a martyr. He is one of many that you can and should read about. I encourage you to pick up and read Nik Ripken’s book, The Insanity of God, to learn more about the missionary way of life. Better yet, I encourage you to get to know some missionaries personally, as I have because they have so much to add to your own walk with Christ.

 

Missionaries love Jesus, and they love people. They are not fond of the title “missionary.” They’d prefer the title “Christian,” because they are, above all, followers of Christ. They are so blown away by the difference Christ has made in their lives that they cannot help but speak of Him to others. The darker the place, the more they want to go there and shine the light of Christ.

 

A missionary friend who works with Muslims in East Africa once told me, “There is no such thing as a ‘closed place.’ Jesus has opened every door. It is only a matter of being willing to pay the price required for walking through that door. There is no price I am not willing to pay if He calls.”

 

Missionaries are wise. They see the world not as a collection of objects, but as a collection of stories. Like Moses, indeed like Christ, they leave comfortable places of privilege in order to lead under-privileged people enslaved to sin into a brighter more hopeful place. They seek to make it their life story to change and brighten the stories of others.

 

One missionary friend in Cuba told me upon my visit there, “I believe in the effectiveness of a pastor’s fervent prayer. To me, there is nothing more beautiful, more powerful, than when a pastor is on his knees before God praying for the church.” He made that the story of our trip. In every village we visited, he had me pray for the churches of the village. He believed that much in the effectiveness of prayer to bring change.

 

Missionaries talk more about Jesus than anything else. Most of them have some skill that helps to meet a need in the people they serve. One of my missionary friends is a farmer and teaches the people he serves how to get the most out of the land. Another is a teacher and a counselor and serves people by helping them with their problems. Another is a very talented musician. Their gifts are different, but their singular aim is to introduce all people to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

On one trip to East Africa, I met a coffee buyer. He was an interesting fellow from South Africa. I got lost in my interest in him. I asked him no less than forty questions about the coffee business. Afterward, my missionary friend who listened in on the conversation challenged me, “Why were you more interested in talking about coffee than you were about that man’s soul?” Ouch!

 

If you have an opportunity to go on a mission trip with your church, then GO! Not only will you have an opportunity to do a great work in the name of Jesus, but you will also have a great opportunity to get to know a missionary. This will help to center your life in the only thing that really matters, doing the Great Commission.


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What is the best thing that could ever happen to you?

A lot of people would say that winning a mega million jackpot is the best thing that could ever happen to them. They would not have to worry about working for the rest of their life. They could give to charity, buy a house, and just relax and enjoy the rest of their lives.
 
 
Many studies have been done on people who win the lottery. You might be surprised to know that those lottery winners do not turn out to be very happy in the long-run. Two things happen to spoil their happiness over winning: First, friends, family, and relatives come out of the woodwork and pester them for money. Second, in the same way, that a person with a disability adapts to their handicap, so also a person with great wealth adapts to and grows used to being wealthy. When wealth comes suddenly, they are very happy at first, and then their windfall becomes less fulfilling to them as life goes on.  
 
 
Other people might say that the best thing that could happen to them would be to see their children do well. I would love to see both my children grow up to be fine adults, get great jobs, marry Christians, give me grandchildren, and make me proud. I confess it is difficult for me to think of anything greater happening to me.  
 
But I’m wise enough to know that I have very little control over what they do as adults. Their mother and I can do our best to raise them right, but what they do as adults is their decision. It is also not right for us to put pressure on them to become the people we want them to be. They have to find themselves. They have to seek the Lord’s will for their lives. Their mother and I have a responsibility to encourage them along, but we cannot control their lives once they leave adolescence.  
 
Some people would say that the best thing that could happen to them is to live a long happy life. Others would say to advance to the highest levels of their career. Perhaps some would say to marry well, to earn a PhD., to own a vacation home, or to retire in Florida. It is fine to hope for all of these things, and it is important to set goals. In fact, studies show that people who set goals and work toward them tend to be happier people regardless of whether they reach those goals.
 
 
What I hope to get you to see, though, is that if you have believed in Jesus, then the best thing that could ever happen to you has already happened. Becoming a follower of Jesus is better than winning the mega million lottery because the reward lasts infinitely longer. Hoping to become the creature He designed you to become to the praise of His glory is better than hoping for your children to become all that you may dream because becoming who you are in Christ is not a far-fetched dream. It’s a guarantee according to Romans 8:29-30.  
 
The Apostle Paul’s joy in life had nothing to do with making this world his home. He said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He said, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). At the end of his life, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  
 
This Thanksgiving season, I encourage you to give thanks for your salvation through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have it, then you have something to live for. Not only that, you have a goal to work toward. Making it to the end of your life, finishing the race, keeping the faith, fighting the good fight are goals that are well within your reach. In fact, you are guaranteed to reach them, if you keep your eyes on Him. 
 

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It’s time to sound the alarm on the decline in the American church

When it comes to the decline in church involvement and the church’s influence over the culture, I say it is time to sound the alarm. We can no longer ignore the trends. We desperately need an awakening. 
 
Studies cited in David Olsen’s book The American Church in Crisis show that church attendance and involvement was in steep decline between 1990 and 2005. During that time period, even though a healthy majority claimed to be of the Christian faith, only 17 percent of them could be found in a worship service on any given Sunday by the end of 2005. More recently, generational researcher and psychology professor at San Diego State University, Jean Twenge, observed in her book iGen that today’s youth and their parents are drastically less religious than their grandparents. 
 
Some will ask “hasn’t this always been the case.” Yes, but the line grafts showing the religiosity of the boomer generation versus the most recent generation has widened from a deep valley to a vast canyon. If the current trend persists, America will be looking more like Europe very soon with empty church buildings littering every neighborhood. 
 
Perhaps you think I am overly alarmist. I encourage you to pay attention to the language and behavior of the young people in your life. It is not just that fewer Americans attend church. Twenge points out that, “[While] Boomers and GenX’ers were perfectly happy to be religious while they were young; [the latest generation] is less religious even in beliefs that do not require religious institutions; fewer Americans believe in God or pray; fewer, not more, young adults are spiritual; the number who do not participate in religion has doubled.”
 
Today, fewer young people lying to researchers when asked about their faith and spirituality. More and more Americans are perfectly happy not believing in God at all. More are content to believe that there is no God who cares about them and wants a relationship with them. More are content to find their community online with less face to face social interaction. They are more active in the pursuit of extrinsic goals like money, fame, prestige than intrinsic goals like being a good neighbor, lending a helping hand, and caring for their communities. 
 
There is a revolution afoot. Recent technological advances, a greater concern for emotional safety, and a general anxiety about the future of our economy have given way to a new generation of Americans who have fewer friends, a smaller tolerance for opposing viewpoints, and more of a survival mentality in their thinking about the future. This leads them to see the church as outdated, abusive in its adherence to the Bible, and unconcerned for the difficulties facing the majority of Americans. I’m not saying that this is an accurate perception only that this perception is what is driving the current trend toward a churchless society. 
 
What is the answer? It is certainly not to water-down the truth of Scripture as this would be a huge mistake leading to more not less decline. The preaching of the truth is not what is driving people from the church, rather, it is our lack of love while preaching the truth that turns them off. We need to realize that our children are scared. When you are scared, the thing you need most is to know that people care. They do not think that the church cares, therefore they don’t think that Jesus cares. 
 
If lost people have no real Christian influence in their lives, then all they will know of Jesus is what they read online or see in the news. Most of the information they consume about the church focuses on what we are against rather than who we worship. Is it any wonder why they aren’t flocking to the church for the safety they seek?
 
This generation needs to hear that there is safety in truth. Comfort, healing, and peace are found only in the arms of the Savior. To remain on the current path will lead to them facing the judgment of God. The same can be said for the church.
 
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. It is time to wake up. It is time to give a care. If we really believe that ours is a message of hope, then we had better get to sharing it with those in need of hope before we lose yet another generation.

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Who is iGen?

Let’s talk about our children. Over the last month, I have read 4 books that yield a very startling insight into the culture of American youth. Here they are in the order in which I read them: The Vanishing American Adult, by Nebraska Senator and former university president Ben Sasse, The Coddling of the American Mind, by social psychologist Johnathan Haidt and policy expert Greg Lukianoff, Them: Why we hate each other and how to heal, also by Ben Sasse, and iGen, by generational researcher and professor of psychology at San Diego State Jean Twenge.
 
Sasse, Haidt, Lukianoff, and Twenge come from a diverse political background. Sasse is a Republican senator and ultra-conservative. Lukianoff is a libertarian. Haidt is liberal, and Twenge doesn’t say. What is interesting, though, is that virtually all of their analyses of today’s youth are in agreement.
 
Here’s what we know about the generation born between 1995 and 2012 (the one Twenge has named iGen, or the “internet generation”) compared to earlier generations. They are growing up slower. They spend more time interacting online rather than in person. They are less rebellious, waiting longer to try alcohol or have sex. They are less religious. They read less and spend less time on homework. They are more depressed, require drastically more mental health treatment, attempt or consider suicide more often, and are less able to react to difficult situations in a healthy way. What’s more? These findings are across all regions of the country (including the south) and across all religions, and across all races, and across all socioeconomic statuses.
 
The rise in the availability of the internet along with the proliferation of social media platforms has sparked a revolution in our country. This revolution, not unlike the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is having a profound effect on our youth. iGen is the first generation to grow up with the internet in their pocket or within arm’s reach 24/7. This is shaping their brains, in both good and bad ways, and thus it is shaping the future of our country and our church.
 
I read these books because I care about our children. Their experience is so different from mine. Gone are the days when we can say things like, “well I was a kid like you once too, now let me tell you how to deal with that bully…” Their experience is so unique that we will never be able to understand what they are dealing with unless we talk to them and look at the findings of researchers who are talking to them. 
 
In addition, these four books (particularly Sasse’s two) give great advice on how to help our children through this revolutionary season. There are things that parents should do like limiting their screen time, giving them more responsibility for household chores, teaching them how to think differently in order to combat negative feelings, and encouraging them to read more. These authors really help to show why these parenting changes will work.
 
Jesus said, “let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). We should make bringing our children to Jesus a priority. However, bringing our children to Jesus is much more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. I encourage parents to pray earnestly for their children, to be intentional in discipling their children, and to read books like these. 

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How Satan is destroying American culture and how Christians should respond.

We have an enemy who is real and personal. Ever since the fall of man he has made it his business to bring chaos and destruction into the world and to distract people from the life and love that is available through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians need to wake up and recognize what he is doing to our culture today.
 

Here are three tactics Satan is currently using and what Christians can do to combat them.

1. Satan is using television media. From the 1960’s to the early 1980’s, the evening news brought our culture together. There were only 3 television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). With so few choices there was not much need for networks to compete. Watching the news was a shared experience. That changed with the advent of cable and the 24hr news cycle. Suddenly, Americans had more than a dozen choices for their television news. The competitive new environment drove the networks to add more sensational programs and use more shocking headlines. Plus, the 24hr cycle necessitated the covering of “news” that would have previously been left on the cutting room floor.

 

Fast forward to 2018. If the competition between networks was “cut-throat” in the late 80’s through the 90’s, then today’s competition can only be characterized as nuclear warfare. Rage, that’s current strategy to claim more viewers and gain more market share. Rage against the president. Rage against the liberals. Rage against this tribe or that tribe. This is from Satan. And it is hurting our country.

 

Christians should respond to this Satanic activity by refusing to buy into it. Recognize that the national television news media, like Satan, cares absolutely nothing about you. Their goal is not to give you the news. Their goal is to grab your eyeballs and sell you a product (rage) that will destroy your spirit and make you doubt the power of God’s love. Don’t buy it.
 
2. Satan is using social media. Satan is an expert at offering us shortcuts. Just as he tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger by making bread from a stone, he also tempts us to satisfy our need for community by appealing to social media. Humans have a God-given desire to know and be known. This desire is what drives us to intimate relationships with one another (think Jonathan and David in the Old Testament). Social media seems like an easier way to fulfill that desire, but the only way to know and be known is through personal relationships. Social media does not cultivate personal relationships, it cultivates pride and low self-esteem, and loneliness. As a result, Americans are more divided and lonelier than ever. This is from Satan.
 

Christians can counter Satan’s social media missiles by limiting its consumption. Get to know real people. Spend time with them. Share meals with them. Don’t take the shortcut. It is not worth it. If the only meaningful relationships you have are online, then you have no meaningful relationships, and this is dangerously unhealthy in every sense.

3. Satan is exploiting our dichotomous thinking. God made humans to live in harmony with one another as one body. However, after the fall, brother was divided against brother, husband against wife, and children against their parents, so, we responded by forming tribes. We began to see everyone as either a friend or an enemy. We all believed that our tribe was the good guys and all the other tribes were the bad guys. This dichotomous thinking survives to this day, and it is being exploited by our enemy.

 

Christians can respond to Satan exploitation by studying God’s word. God teaches us that the line between good people and evil people cuts through the heart of every human being. None of us is without sin. Read 1 John 1:8-9. Remember Jesus’ words. We are commanded to love our enemies and thereby demonstrate the gospel to a lost and dying world through the way that we treat those who hate us (Luke 6:27-31).
 

Jesus told us that we would be known by our love (John 13:35) and that by our love, the world would come to know Him (1 John 4:7-12). It sounds cliché to say that what the world needs is more love, but this is the truth. This trend of American culture toward more divisiveness is not sustainable. America as we know it is dying. So is the American church. However, I am hopeful that Christian Americans will wake up to Satan’s activity, and will engage him in battle. I am hopeful that our Lord will work in us to bring healing to our great nation.


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Leader’s, Please Remember the Children

We do a lot of “children’s ministry” in the American church. There’s AWANA, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, Bible drill, RA’s, GA’s, Mission Friends, and many more programs that could be named. I wonder, though, how much we really minister to children. Sure, we are getting them to do stuff, and learn stuff, but are we taking all the interest that we should?
 
Too often we look at our children as the “future of the church.” I wonder if we should not see them more as our church in the present. Leaders listen to adults in the church. They try to get to know them. Leaders look for ways to demonstrate the love of Christ to the adults in their congregation, but the children often get overlooked. Their voices are unheard, and they go uncared for outside of our programs.
 
I read a biography of Dwight L. Moody that recounted Moody’s experience as a child in the church. He had two childhood pastors. One did not show him any attention at all. The other would always pat him on the head, lean down, talk to him, and just generally show a lot of interest in Moody’s little life. Which one of these two pastors do you think inspired Moody to become the monumental evangelist of the 19th century? His passion for souls was sparked by his childhood pastor’s passion for his own soul.
 
Ever since I read Moody’s biography a few months ago, I really stepped up my intentionality in showing interest in the children of our church. I love to see their face light up when I call them by name. Following the example of Moody’s pastor, I will get down on my knees so that I can look the little toddlers in the eyes, and comment on their outfit or something that I know is happening in their lives. They look so impressed that their pastor is interested in them.
 
I may have taken it too far with one toddler whose whole family are huge Ole Miss fans. Every time I see him, I call him over, and send him to his papaw to tell him “Hail State! Go Dawgs!” He has obeyed me every single time. I don’t think papaw approves of my method of children’s ministry.
 
There’s another little one who I know is a chatterbox at home, but who I have honestly not heard say a single word in my three and a half years as her pastor. Every time I come near her, she slides in behind her mom or dad’s leg. I talk to her anyway. I ask her questions and all she can do is giggle. It has become our little game.
 
Then there is the teenager who comes in nearly every Sunday with a new wild and colorful hairstyle. She knows as soon as she walks in the door that Bro. Robby is going to be shocked at her new hairdo and is going to have something to say about it. I’m never critical, only playful. I can tell she loves the attention, and it ministers to her when she is noticed.
 
I’ve had the privilege of coaching several of our church boys and girls in basketball and football. They know the Bro. Robby that stands in the pulpit, and the Bro. Robby that yells instructions from the sidelines. They’ve seen me at my best and my worst, and I like to believe that in the process they have learned a lot about the grace of God from me.
 
Brothers and sisters, I have learned that this is what children’s ministry really is. It is not merely herding them through our various programs. It is about getting to know them. It is about listening to them. It is about modeling the Christian life… the abundant life for them.
 
May we remember the stories of how Jesus handled the little children:

 “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’

Church leaders, let us not forget the children. To minister to them is to minister to Christ.

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Get Rid of Your Stinking Thinking

Most people incorrectly believe that negative feelings are their major problem when in fact it is their thinking that is the real problem. People will say to themselves, I feel so sad all the time. Why am I so angry? Why can’t I let things go and stop feeling so sorry for myself all the time? The truth is that all those “feelings” began with some event that caused them to think negatively, and that negative thinking (stinking thinking) led to negative feelings. What if I told you that there is a gospel-centered way to get rid of your stinking thinking? What if I told you that by getting rid of your stinking thinking, you can get rid of your stinking feelings too?

 

  Here’s how:
  1. Trace your negative feelings back to the event that caused them and write it down. Write it out by finishing this sentence: “I feel (blank) because (blank).” For example: “I feel guilty because I gave into temptation and sin yesterday.” Or, “I feel anxious because I said something to my coworker that could have been taken wrongly.” Or, “I feel angry because my best friend did not include me in her plans last weekend.”
 
Be sure not to mix your thoughts with your feelings. We’ll get to thoughts next, but you first need to identify what happened and how you felt about it. Feelings are usually identified with one word. The most common feelings are happy, mad, glad, scared, guilty, and sad.

 

  1. Write down the automatic thoughts you had after the event. Finish this sentence: “After (blank), I thought for sure (blank).” For example, “After I sinned, I thought for sure that I was a total failure.” Or, “After I said that thing to my coworker I thought for sure he must have taken it the wrong way because…” Or, “After I learned my best friend didn’t invite me to her outing, I thought for sure that it was because she doesn’t like me as much anymore.”

 

The point is to get to the bottom of the thoughts that caused your feelings. Remember, your feelings are not the problem. It is your stinking thinking. The reason why your stinking thinking persists is that you get caught in a feedback loop. Something happens that causes you to think negatively and then thinking negatively causes you to feel bad. Then you start thinking about feeling bad, and this makes you feel worse! You get yourself caught in the wormhole that leads to despair.

 

  1. Write down any scriptures that contradict your negative thoughts. For example, Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This verse, and really all of Romans 8 is a weapon against thoughts of failure. If you are in Christ, then you are a winner! By His grace, you have escaped condemnation. He’s cast your sin away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)! If your escape from condemnation was dependent upon your righteousness, then you would have reason to sit and dwell on your failures. Since it doesn’t… you don’t!

 

Here’s another example: Luke 12:4-7 teaches us that we should care more about what God thinks of us than what other people think. If we belong to the Lord, then He cares for us immensely. He knows us intimately. He knows every thought and intention of our hearts. Say you said something that could have been taken wrongly by your co-worker. Sure it is possible that your thinking could be right, but there is no cause for you to dwell on it. Apologize if you think you should and move on because God knows what you meant or didn’t mean. The process is the same even if you did mean harm in what you said (see Romans 8 again). In the case of thinking you were slighted by your friend, it is possible that your thinking is accurate. It is also possible that it isn’t. But is this something you should dwell on according to scripture? What matters most is that you are loved by God. Forgive your friend and move on.

  If you will practice this little exercise at least once a day, it will change your life. This is a matter of bringing your flesh into subjection (1 Cor 9:24-27). When you take “every thought captive to obey Christ,” (2 Cor 10:5b) your feelings will follow. Just try it!  


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