Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Spiritual Gifts:" Where We've Gone Wrong

It's no coincidence that gifts from the Holy Spirit has been heavy in my thinking, because this is the time of year where churches look for new volunteers to fill all sorts of positions and roles needed for our churches to operate. I've also been reading, thinking, and meditating on what Scripture actually tells us about how Spiritual Gifts are supposed to function in the church. Not to my surprise, I feel the way these gifts are often treated poorly represents what the Bible teaches and what the Holy Spirit desires to accomplish through believers in the local church.

Peter said, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10, NIV). The focus and implication that I believe is often overlooked is grace: Peter is saying that because of the grace given to us, we have been gifted, or in other words, it's the grace inside of us that has equipped us to serve the church. Therefore, we have to immediately fight the tendency to rely on our own strengths, talents, and experience lest we miss out on what the Spirit is offering here. It's an incredible struggle for many churches to find excited, motivated volunteers to fill positions on committees and in children's and youth departments. You know why? The excuse we hear is, "I'm not good with little kids," or "I've never worked with students before," or the classic, "I'm not comfortable doing that..." (That one makes me want to cry sometimes...). From Peter's teaching in this one passage, we can derive several truths about how God has gifted members of the church to serve one another.

1. Gifts are a result of grace - spiritual gifts were not implanted in a believer at birth; sure, God will use talents and predisposed abilities in many useful ways, but that is not necessarily the same as spiritual gifts. It is the grace received in one's heart that blossoms into various acts of service ("various forms" in 1 Peter 4). Grace given to sinners may radically change ones predisposed abilities into whole new creations; for example, a young adult who was abused as a child may be afraid to work with children or teens, but through grace they are given a new perspective and can begin to rely on the Spirit as He uses their experiences to mold them into a servant of the church. God can take a stage-frightened, introverted boy and transform him into a teacher and bold preacher of the gospel. It's not about our talents, our skills - it's about His grace!

2. Gifts are to be used to serve others - I know that some church members would rather die a painful death than stand in front of an audience, but that's okay because God created gifts to serve others. Spiritual gifts are certainly not confined to the public roles in the church, but rather they are used all over, as long as they are for serving others. Peter rightly focuses on the fact that the Holy Spirit gifts believers to serve, not to be served or to look good or to show how awesome even the Spirit can be. They exist for service, so whenever a believer receives grace, they are immediately equipped by the Spirit to serve others. Peter goes on to say in 1 Peter 4 that if you speak, speak with authority; if you serve, serve with the strength only God can provide. You see, once again it's not about what I can do, what I'm good at, what I'm comfortable doing-it's about doing what God has asked, so that He is praised in the end. If our service brings us praise, even if it brings the church praise, we've failed. Peter makes it clear in 1 Peter 4:11 that our service should bring God all the praise! So whatever the Spirit gifts you to do, do it to serve others!

3. We are stewards of God's grace - like a tattoo placed on our foreheads, God's grace remains with his children. Wherever we go, we have the Spirit-given gift of grace which means that other people should see that on us. Also, as stewards, this grace is not ours to hold captive - it's from God and we should cherish such an incredible gift by using it properly and by allowing it to bless others. It's simple: when the grace in us impacts others, God is glorified. According to the Puritan Thomas Moore, "Grace is the seed, glory is the flower." When grace is manifested in incredible ways, God is glorified. This is why we must be looking for the Spirit to lead us in service instead of doing what we like or what's most comfortable. Think about it, when you are able to serve others and impact a person's life in a way you never thought possible, isn't that an incredible moment? Even in our moments of weakness and failure, God uses the grace within us to change lives and bring Himself the glory he deserves.

Here is what really excites me about the gifts the Spirit gives: they always have a purpose! What if I said that the Spirit could provide you with what you needed, when you needed it? What if you didn't need any kind of skill sets or natural talents before you responded to God's call? What if you are actually the worst teacher ever, and God wants you to teach? Is the grace inside of you not enough? The Bible is full of weak, unable people that God used to do incredible things (Moses, Gideon, David, Amos, Peter...and the list goes on) and bring Him glory that He may not have received had he called out the best and brightest to fulfill His purposes. We need to remember that the same grace and the same Spirit are given to all Christians. I know that each of us brings different skills and abilities to the table, and God can and will use them for His glory when we submit them to Him, but in the end God's story is about making the weak strong, about making the useless useful. That's a beautiful picture of how God operates through us.

I would have laughed (and maybe puked) if you told me five years ago I would be a kid's pastor and have the opportunity to teach, preach, and serve in a church. I know that the grace in me has changed me, and that the Spirit has equipped me to do things I otherwise would never be able (nor want) to do. Our thinking on this issue needs to be reworked, and I think many of us are too comfortable filling the same positions and working with the same people at church because it's comfortable. God hasn't called us to be comfortable, he's called us to serve others so that Jesus Christ is glorified and so the Father is praised. Let's do our best to be obedient to serve wherever we can, because we know that the Spirit will gift us and equip us for His purpose. So next time someone asks you to volunteer, think about how God can use you, and please, resist that natural urge to focus on "what I'm good at" or "what I'm comfortable doing." God is glorified when incapable people are made capable through His Spirit! I like what Melvin Blackaby says: "Do you sense that God wants to use your life, but you think you have nothing to offer Him? Don't merely look at what you have to offer the world; seek the heart of God and allow His Spirit to work through you." It's never been about what we have to offer, but it has always been about what God can do through broken, incapable, even downright boring people to bring about transformation in others. So let's be active in changing our thinking and begin serving in ways you never thought you could.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Those Who Mourn Will Be Blessed: Kids of Divorce and the Church's Response

I was struck when reading a recent article from Lifeway's Kid's Ministry, and I was reminded about the precious children I see who already have divorced parents or who are facing such a situation. In some ways it seems that divorce has become accepted to the point that the children are sometimes overlooked, but I believe that an incredible amount of pain, loneliness, and uncertainty fills the hearts of these kids. A child exists because of the union of his/her mother and father, so when that marriage dies, the very essence of that child's identity is broken: the child wonders if their existence even matters anymore, and if they will ever be able to cope with this disaster (on average it can take 10 years for a child to fully process a divorce). We all know these kids, see them playing ball, even coming to church regularly, so what should be our response as the church? How can we create hope, stability, and maturity in these children when their home life is divided, confusing, and unstable? When a child loses a parent to death, the church is usually there to offer support in many ways, but what about the child whose mother or father has left home? Maybe it's time that the church began ministering to its most vulnerable parts instead of turning away from the shame divorce brings.

If the church is unwilling to grab hold of this issue and seek to serve kids of divorced parents, then that statistics will continue which show us that high percentages of adults whose parents were divorced have left the church and have no desire to return. This tragedy can be reversed if the church is a little more patient, a little more loving, and a little more concerned about the spiritual life of children who have divorced parents. Let's make sure they are welcomed, that their hearts are nurtured by caring teachers, pastors, and friends, and that they know God's love and grace are just as available to them as any other child. Instead of regret, anger, or anxiety the church must give these kids hope, joy, and a growing relationship with their Heavenly Father. May we as God's ministers never be responsible for the downfall of "one of these little ones who believe in Me" as Jesus said.

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child — this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! (Matthew 18:4-6, HCSB)

Friday, February 7, 2014

VBS 2014: Something to Get Excited About!

So this year's VBS may just be one of the best themes and content I have seen in a long time, if ever! I'm excited that we are diving headfirst into the world of Agency D3 this summer because our children will have an incredible opportunity to Discover, Decide, and Defend the person of Jesus Christ. There are three main reasons why I can't wait for July 13th of this year...

1. The Content is ALL about Jesus - this year's content begins and ends with who Jesus is, why he came, and that he died and rose for all people. Kids will be asked tough questions like, "Did Jesus Really Die?" and "Did Jesus Really Raise from the Dead?" Kids who have never made a decision for Christ will have explored the answers for themselves, and it will be up to them to decide if Jesus really is who the Bible says he is. 

2. The Theme is Awesome!! - Who doesn't enjoy being a detective or a secret agent? We see the shows all over TV and I believe it's simply in our nature to want to discover and look for evidence and clues about things. (I clearly remember playing with my dad's old briefcases...I'd keep "secret" files and cap guns and the sort in them as if I was an agent). We all need to get out our magnifying glasses, fingerprint dust, and laser pointers so we can uncover the truth about Jesus! 

3. The Music and Worship Rally Content - this year's music is gospel-driven and lifts high the name of Jesus, and the videos that go along with each day will captivate kids' minds and immerse them into the theme. There's something special about seeing all those kids singing and screaming during the worship rally!

We need a lot of help, and we definitely need all of you to be praying now that God would not only send us children from this community, but that the message of salvation would clearly be understood by those children so that they will have an opportunity to commit their lives to Him. Sign up soon to volunteer!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Should We Do With Santa Claus?

Christian parents and teachers are always faced with the challenging discussion at Christmas time about what to do with good ole Saint Nick. Should we promote him, or should we only focus on the real Christmas story and the Nativity? Should we tell children about Santa’s existence or not? Our culture promotes the jolly old fellow so strongly I don’t think we can ignore it, but I do believe there are some great ways that children can be taught Santa Claus as a way to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. One great way to do this is by sharing the actual story of St. Nick (yes, he is actually a real saint!) with our children. 

The real Nicholas was a bishop in Lycia (Turkey) during the 4th century AD who was well-known for his service to the people and his generosity. He was known to secretly place coins in the shoes of people who left them out—thus he became the model for Santa Claus many years later. “Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas which is actually a misinterpretation of Saint Nicholas. Nevertheless, over time his reputation and stories grew and grew as folklore was added and his works increased in the eyes of the people. After St. Nicholas was venerated as a saint, his feast day was placed on December 6th: once the celebration of St. Nick’s day became more popular in Europe and America as a day to give gifts and fill stockings left out by children with small gifts, Christmas began to merge with this day. Therefore, the story of Santa Claus and Christmas became two December holidays that were forged into one month-long celebration of generosity and joy. 

So you see? The real St. Nick actually embodies much of what our culture celebrates (the whole north pole/reindeer thing was developed in the early 1800s, but he actually was known for wearing a heavy red fur coat due to the cold weather!) but many people may see Christ’s birth and Santa as opposing forces. The truth is, we can use the story of St. Nicholas to further proclaim the real message of Christ’s birth, because St. Nicholas was a devout believer in God and gave generously in order to serve others. He provided small gifts to the poor and gave whatever he could to help people feel merry during this time of year. He is still known as someone who was full-heartedly devoted to his Christian faith; one of his most well-known acts of generosity was buying dowries for three impoverished girls so that they would not have to become prostitutes. 

I know it’s still difficult to try and explain some of these details without forcing children not to believe in Santa (I made a friend of mine cry when I was little when I told him Santa wasn’t real…). However, we simply cannot allow Jesus to be pushed away at Christmas; I know for me, my family never really talked about Santa even though he wasn’t denied, but we always read the Christmas story from Luke 2 on Christmas morning with our family before we could open any presents. Maybe we can explain that the “magic” of St. Nick actually came from his love for God and people. We should be generous because God has blessed us so richly with things we never deserved, and I know that those attributes were impressed upon me from a young age. Hopefully as adults we will be able to impress the same ideals upon our children! What to do with Santa is ultimately the individual parent’s choice, but let’s not replace Christmas with “holidays” or the manger scene with reindeer and a sleigh, for that does injustice to Jesus and to the real St. Nick! Let's all make a special effort to worship Christ's birth and salvation as the only one who could ever save us from our sins!

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Hope with Billy Graham - You can do it!

We have been stressing the importance of My Hope with Billy Graham for a few months now, and ever since we four pastors went to a training meeting back in April (I'll never forget because they fed us the best cookies I've ever had...just saying) we have felt the need and the call to participate in this amazing and powerful opportunity to see the lost come to faith in Jesus here in a few weeks. We have been praying, and our church has been listing names and inviting people already-trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide the conviction and help we need to bring salvation to friends, neighbors, and relatives in our community.Never before have we had a united, national effort to see the lost saved and discipled in Jesus Christ, so I'm excited to see what will happen and how God will transform lives across our nation through this event.
It's simple, really, all we are asking people to do is open their homes and give people an opportunity to watch a 30-minute video featuring powerful testimonies from celebrities such as Lecrae (Christian rapper), Lacey Sturm (Christian band Firefly), David Tyree (NFL), and Jim Munroe (Illusionist). These characters share their stories and how the gospel impacted them at a defining moment, and they gave their hearts to Jesus when nothing else could possibly satisfy. The focus is hope, for we live in a world grasping for some semblance of hope in the world, whether it be through entertainment, pleasure, sports, food, alcohol, success, money, or some other route. Truth is, they'll never find it there. True, lasting hope comes only in the assurance of salvation that Christ gives. Let's pull together and make a difference for Christ in our community by giving the lost an opportunity-we don't save them, we simply give them the gospel. I'm trying my best to meet and invite neighbors, will you too?

Watch, download, and order DVD's from this link

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bible Apps for Kids!

     While there are plenty of opinions about the use/overuse of technology among children these days, I want to point out some great ways that your iPhone, iPad, or other device can be used to teach children Christian values and about the Bible while still providing that waiting-room/in-the-car/bored at the store level of entertainment and commitment. There is a lot of good that can come from such incredible technology, so let's be sure to use it to allow children to connect with God's Word and with Jesus so that their faith can be matured literally anywhere and at anytime.Below I've listed a few of the best apps that I have used myself and some educated opinions on them. If you're kids already play on your phone or iPad regularly, why not use that time to have fun while learning the Bible?

1. Children's Bible Games & Activities (Barcelona Media)
      As one of the highest rated Bible apps for kids, this game-based app engages children with Bible truths and stories through over 300 games and 60 comic-book style Bible stories. Guaranteed enjoyment for kids around 6 or 7 and up. Full version with all packs is $10 but a trial version with 15 games can be downloaded for free and then additional packs can be purchased in-app. Visit this site for a full review and information.

2. Granny's Bible Dojo
     What could be more awesome than a karate-fighting wise sage of a grandma to teach the books of the Bible? This app is designed to help anyone learn the books of the Bible and their order through a fun game setup. $1.99 in the App Store.

3. Olive Tree Bible Study
     While not designed as a kids' app, this is by far the best free Bible/Bible Study app I have ever used. Features the KJV and ESV for free with tools such as notes, bookmarks, highlighting, and more! Can be used by children and adults alike for an accessible way to always have the Bible at your fingertips. Other Bibles and resources can be purchased in-app as well.

4. Bible Time
     This is a fun, interactive, and challenging Bible app for children ages 5 and up. Involves games, puzzles, and stories to teach the Bible and basic Christian truths. Users can recreate Bible scenes using props. $2.99 in the app store - see it here

5. Children's Bible (Barcelona Media)
      There really is not another kids Bible in digital form that compares to this app. Featuring thousands of comics and pictures of Bible stories, this app allows kids to read and look through the whole Bible in a fun way. Free to try, $20 for everything including a video Bible, but it also provides cheaper options for separate parts of the Bible.See it here

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What makes VBS so special?

   Preparing for VBS is no easy task: it takes months of thinking, planning, recruiting, and preparing for a five-night, epic adventure where children will see the truth of the gospel and experience it in a fun, fast-paced, and interactive environment. Some may question the value of putting so much time, effort, and money in to such a production, but they miss the point and I believe it's easy for adults to forget what it was like to be a child. Children learn in different ways and respond better with some of their senses than others. For instance, when we have the kids at VBS follow up their Bible study with a unique craft that expresses the same principles, some children have a "light-bulb" moment and they get the point of the lesson because they are creative or hands-on responders. Other kids light up during the time of music, and some even respond well to their sense of taste, remembering that gooey green snack they had and how it related to the message about sin and salvation. Still another child responds well when the teachers use colorful posters and activity sheets because their minds hone in on visual-oriented data as opposed to only hearing a lesson.
     This is why I love Bible School so much, because it draws in children and families from all over the community, and for many kids this is one of the only chances they have throughout the year to hear the truth of the gospel and be given an opportunity to respond to that message and commit their lives to Christ. Every year we see children take that step of faith-and it's not because the message of the gospel is watered down for them, it's because their experience lit up all of their senses and the condition of their hearts and their need for a savior was painted right before their eyes! Now is the time to be praying for God to use Kingdom Chronicles this year to teach children and youth the importance of knowing what truth is, how to defend it, and how to share it with others. Out goal is to see our children "put on the whole armor of God" as they learn to be a defender of truth and a herald for the gospel message wherever they go in life. So whether your child learns by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting, Vacation Bible School provides the opportunity for them to encounter Jesus and know in their hearts the truth of God's Word. It's sure to be a royally fun time!!