Living with Joy and Peace in a Broken World

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Fear. Anxiety. Depression. These are words of which we wish we never had to think or speak. Unfortunately, these heartaches are often a reality in our lives. How do we face the hardships of life without living in a deep pit of fear, anxiety, and depression?

Paul’s counsel to the Philippians helps us amidst the stresses and difficulties of life. Consider’s these insights from Philippians 4:4-9.

First, have the right attitude. In verse 4, Paul reminds the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord. It isn’t that the Philippians would rejoice that bad things were happening. No, they should rejoice in the Lord. They reflect on the fact that in Christ, they have forgiveness, a new identity, a certain future, and countless more blessings. For this reason, the Philippians are commanded to rejoice, and this reminds us that we must strive to have the right attitude.

Second, have a merciful spirit toward others. In verse 5, Paul urges the Philippians to be gracious toward others. They should strive to show mercy to people in their weakness instead of having a critical spirit. A person who continually focuses on the failings of others isn’t going to be filled with God’s peace or joy.

Third, do not worry. In verse 6, Paul commands the Philippians not to be anxious. Paul means that believers shouldn’t be weighted down by angst and fear. How can Paul say something like this since life is filled with difficulty and suffering? Paul tells the Philippians not to worry because he recognizes that God is sovereign. God is the ruler of the universe, and He works through the hardships of life for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).

Fourth, pray expectantly with a thankful heart. In verses 6-7, Paul encourages the Philippians to pray instead of worry. When your mind is filled with thoughts of fear and anxiety, pray for God’s help. Paul says that God will send His supernatural peace to guard your heart and mind. Paul emphasizes having a grateful heart in prayer. Focus on all of the ways that God has blessed and helped, and be thankful for His kindness. Through prayer and thanksgiving, God sends peace and joy.

Fifth, have a disciplined mind. In verse 8, Paul admonishes the Philippians to focus on that which is good, true, and honorable. In other words, we should dwell on the truths of God and the blessings of God. We should avoid filling our minds with what is dishonorable, false, and impure. Paul says dwell on what is right and good.

Sixth, have a submissive will. In verse 9, Paul tells the Philippians to obey God’s instruction. God’s truth isn’t meant to sit on a shelf. It is meant to be lived out. When we disobey God, we set ourselves up for fear, anxiety, and depression. Our sin has terrible consequences.

How do you live a life of peace and joy? Consider what Paul says in Philippians 4:4-9. By God’s grace, make changes where changes are needed. You’ll discover God’s presence and His peace. If you find yourself in a bottomless pit of anxiety and depression, get some help. Talk with a pastor, another mature believer, or a solid Christian counselor. May God’s peace and joy be yours in the midst of the hardships of this broken world.

Growing Deeper in Christ: Essentials for 2018

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In the craziness of life, as we rush from one activity to the next, it is easy to let spiritual priorities fade. We have good intentions and plan to grow in our relationship with Jesus, but our busy schedules overwhelm us. As the new year approaches, here are a few essentials to help you refocus on growing closer to Christ.

First, make your relationship with God a priority. You must carve out a regular time in your schedule. When can you set aside some time on a daily basis to read the Bible and pray? Maybe you’ll set your alarm earlier or take some time after the rest of your family has gone to bed or use your lunch break to read God’s Word.
BOTTOM LINE: Find a specific time to read the Bible and pray daily.

Second, have a Bible reading plan. Find or develop a plan to read through the Bible or the New Testament or selected books of the Bible over the course of the year. There are a lot of great Bible Bible Reading Plans. At FBC, we are encouraging members to read through the Foundations reading plan during 2018. This plan will take you through highlights of the entire Bible over the course of the year. Also, there is a version available for children and teenagers that corresponds with the adult version. In this way, your whole family can study the Bible together
BOTTOM LINE: Follow a Bible reading plan.

Third, don’t give up. If you miss a day of prayer and Bible study, jump back into God’s Word the next day. If you’ve missed a few days, don’t surrender. Instead, pick up the Bible and take time to develop your walk with the Lord.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep going!

Growing deep in our love for Christ certainly takes more than spending time in Bible reading and prayer, but surely not less. A daily time alone with God is essential for growth in Christ. Let’s make this discipline a part of our daily schedules. What a great way to start the new year!

FBCU Folks: If you are interested, we are making the Foundations Study Guide available in the church office for $5 (children and teen versions are available as well).

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case: Why It Matters

Close-up of figurine couple on wedding cake

Last week the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In this case, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, declined to create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. Mr. Phillips gladly serves same-sex customers but could not in good conscience create a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.

When Phillips declined to make the cake, the couple filed a sexual orientation discrimination claim with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The same-sex couple prevailed in this claim. Since then, courts have upheld the commission’s ruling.

Through the years, Mr. Phillips also declined to make cakes for other events including cakes with messages related to witchcraft, adult-themed parties, anti-American themes, divorce celebrations, and more.

To comply with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Phillips no longer makes wedding cakes. Of course, wedding cakes were a significant source of revenue, so his business has suffered greatly.

The Supreme Court will announce their decision in June. This case has obvious implications for others who provide wedding services such as florists and photographers, but the results will inevitably have implications for religious liberty far beyond the wedding industry.

Please pray for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of religious freedom, allowing space in the public square for Christians to live out their values.

For more on this case, click here.

A Great Resource for Helping Kids Read the Bible

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The greatest responsibility we have as parents is to model a vibrant love for Jesus and to train our children in the faith. Of course, learning to read the Bible daily is an important Christian discipline that we want our children to develop. To help our kids learn to read the Bible daily, we must model a deep commitment to daily time in God’s Word ourselves. The power of our example in this regard can’t be overstated. Our kids need to see that we are dedicated to spending time with God every day.

To help our children learn this important discipline, we also need to provide an easy-to-read translation of the Bible. The Christian Standard Bible is an excellent version for kids as it provides a good balance of faithfulness to the original languages and readability. Also, providing some tools will help children navigate Bible reading. An excellent resource is David Murray’s Exploring the Bible. This book is designed for children ages 6 -12 and takes kids through key passages of the Bible over the course of a year. Also, it includes space for children to write prayer requests and take sermon notes.

Parents, God has given us the incredible responsibility of training our kids in the faith. Let’s take this responsibility seriously and make time to help our kids learn to read the Bible. Grandparents, I hope you’ll use your influence in the lives of your grandchildren to foster a love for the Word as well.

Note: FBCU folks, you can find a copy of Exploring the Bible in our library and purchase a copy in the office for $5.

A Legacy that Lasts: Investing in the Next Generation

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If you went to church as a child, do you remember going to Sunday School or Awana? You learned about God and His plan. If you were blessed enough to grow up in church, I’d bet you remember Mr. Salazar or Mrs. Pollard. Of course, their names were different, but you remember men and women who taught you about Jesus and who modeled a deep love for Him and you and other kids. His impact or her impact runs deep in your faith formation. If this is your story, you know the importance firsthand of passing on the faith to the next generation.

In fact, the Bible is the amazing story of a great and awesome God who redeems a broken and sinful people for Himself. He rescues us from our sin, gives us life, and will one day take us to be with Him forever. David reflects on God’s incredible plan of redemption in Psalm 22 as he envisions the message of redemption being shared with generations not yet born, “… the next generation will be told about the Lord. They will come and declare his righteousness; to a people yet to be born they will declare what he has done” (Ps 22:30-31).

As a church, God calls us to pass the truth of the gospel faithfully to the next generation. This calling is undoubtedly among the most urgent given to the church. What an awesome charge! Of course, the Bible is clear that parents bear ultimate responsibility for their children’s faith training. However, the church comes alongside parents in this critical mission and ministers to children who come from homes whose parents aren’t believers.

Who will teach and disciple the next generation of kids who are growing up in the church? When our little ones are adults and many in our generation have gone on to be with the Lord, who will our little ones remember as that woman or that man who showed them what it means to love Jesus and to be shaped by God’s Word? Will it be you?

As you read these words, a thousand thoughts probably flood your mind. Reasons that it can’t be you. It is so difficult to commit to teaching a class every single Sunday or Wednesday night. You have this and you have that to take care of; you need to travel for this reason or that reason. Many of these things are truly important, but might the Lord be calling you to sacrifice for something that is even greater? Could you be that man or that woman who will be remembered by the kids for the rest of their lives? What a great and lasting legacy! Is God calling you?

Standing Firm in Tumultuous Times

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American culture continues to secularize as illustrated by a recent Gallup Poll. Gallup measured the moral acceptability of a range of social issues. In comparing the last poll to previous polls, thirteen issues showed a meaningful change in a liberal direction, and no issue showed a significant shift toward a conservative position. Consider the following examples in which each of these matters related to marriage and sexuality represents the highest moral acceptability positions to date.

  • 69% believe that sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman are morally acceptable
  • 63% believe that homosexual relations are morally acceptable
  • 36% believe that pornography is morally acceptable
  • 17% believe that polygamy is morally acceptable

Next, consider issues related to the sanctity of human life.

  • 61% believe human embryo stem cell research is morally acceptable
  • 57% believe that doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable
  • 43 % believe that abortion is morally acceptable

What does this mean for the church and for believers?

First, it means that we need a firm grasp of God’s Word. If we aren’t reading and studying the Word of God, we’ll eventually abandon faithfulness to God.

Second, it means that the cultural pressure is going to increase for those who hold to historic Christian positions. In other words, we’re going to face more opposition for remaining faithful to biblical teaching. For example, the state of Illinois recently revised child welfare policies requiring state workers, foster families, and even relatives who might provide care to children in the state system to fully affirm LGBTQ policies. In other words, those providing care for children must respect the decisions of the child regarding the child’s gender or face termination or lose the opportunity to foster/care for a child.

In Ontario, Canada, recent legislation even permits the state to remove a child from their home if parents don’t affirm their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These examples illustrate the fact that Christians will face greater hostility. We must be prepared to stand individually and as a church family.

Third, parents must be intentional in discipling and training their own children in the faith. The culture isn’t going to reinforce biblical values as it has done in some ways in the past. If we aren’t serious about teaching our children God’s Word and modeling deep commitment to Christ, it is likely that our children will be overwhelmed by the tumult of cultural forces. We need to schedule intentional time for faith training in our daily routines.

While the culture rapidly unravels, we must stand faithfully by God’s grace. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” For His glory and by His grace, let’s stand.

How Long, O Lord? Hope in the Heartache

Depression in young age

This life not only offers great happiness but intense sorrow. Every person will eventually face dark days, and most people will suffer unbearable heartbreak along the way. The dreaded call in the middle of the night. The broken marriage and heart that never heals. The stillbirth and the empty crib in the barren room. The debilitating disease that takes more each day. The disability that steals dreams. The list could go on and on.

Pain is an unavoidable part of life. Faced with terrible tragedy, we wonder why. In fact, David asked a similar question in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord?” From Psalm 13:1-2, we’ll  look at a couple of realities about suffering and seek help from additional Scriptures as well.

First, our pain almost always leaves us with unanswered questions. David asked, “How Long?” four times in just two verses. The trial he faced seemed unending and exceedingly agonizing. This kind of intense pain leaves us wondering about God. How do you pursue a God who doesn’t stop your pain? We simply can’t answer all of the questions that result from our suffering, but we do find truths in Scripture that help in the midst of our pain.

Considering the origin of suffering is critical. God created a perfect world without pain, evil, and suffering. The beauty and benevolence of this perfect paradise ended when Adam and Eve rejected the rule of God. With this sinful choice, the consequences of sin came crashing down into creation, ultimately infecting every human heart and all of creation. Now, we struggle with our own sinfulness and brokenness. Not only that, creation itself is good but broken by the terror of tornados and tsunamis and so much more.  From a biblical perspective, all suffering is ultimately the result of this rebellion against God. In this rebellion, we too are active participants as each one of us have rejected God and done as we pleased. So the ultimate origin of suffering is sin. Sin brought pain and death into an otherwise perfect world. Now, let’s consider some of the ways that God works for the good in the midst of suffering.

The Bible reveals that God uses suffering redemptively in many ways. For example, He uses suffering to test and deepen our faith (1). He uses suffering to help us find our joy in Christ (2). God works through suffering to further the gospel (3). Suffering can purify and strengthen the church (4). Heaven will be even more glorious for the sufferer (5). The reality that God works in the midst of the suffering of His people doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it does give us some reason for hope. Our suffering isn’t random and out of God’s hands. No, He is in control, even in our suffering. And He works for the good of His children.

We recognize that God can bring good even out of suffering and pain, but this does not answer all of our questions, especially when our pain is fierce and a constant companion. In these situations, we admit that suffering often remains a mystery. We just cannot grasp God’s ways or what He is doing. What Old Testament character faced greater pain than Job? Yet Job never saw what God was accomplishing behind the scenes (Job 1). Often, we won’t be able to make sense of the pain in our lives either.

We’ve seen that God works for the good of His children in the face of suffering. We’ve also seen that God’s purposes are frequently mysterious. This leaves us with the real question of where to find help and hope in the midst of misery?

Second, God is the ultimate answer in the face of our pain. David recognizes this in Psalm 13. Though he is struggling, David goes to the Lord for help in His hurt. In our grief, we must do the same. We cannot allow our agony to trap us in the dungeons of despair, keeping us from the only true hope, the only one who really heals broken hearts.

As we walk through heartache, reflecting on the incarnation of the Lord Jesus helps (Philippians 2:5-8). He left the wondrous perfection of Heaven and became flesh for our rescue. He suffered a miserable death.  In this brokenness, God did what God does so well. He took the sinful and wicked works of men and accomplished the greatest rescue of all times! So dwell on the incarnation of Jesus. We have a God who loves His children like crazy and who took the worst event of human history and accomplished the most wondrous feat of eternity. There’s  solace and hope here. He’s working in your life too if you belong to Him.

Not only do we dwell on the incarnation of Jesus, we meditate on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Why the resurrection? Because the resurrection reminds us that Jesus conquered death! His resurrection means that God’s children will be rescued one day from all of the torturous trials of this life. We’ll know a new paradise, but this paradise will have no serpent slithering around creating havoc. No, in this paradise, all of the horrors of sin and suffering are undone. There will be only joy and happiness! The tears. They’re gone. The pain. Not anymore. Eternal joy and sweet delight! While this doesn’t make our pain go away now, it reminds us that our sorrow is not eternal, but our joy and happiness will be. This life is often much more like a puzzle than a painting, but we can trust the One who holds the pieces. When your heart screams out, “How long, O Lord,” keep holding on. There is hope in the heartache.

(1) Psalm 66:10; Rom 5:3-4; 2 Cor 1:8-9; James 1:3-4, 12; Hebr 5:8; 11:17; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12.

(2) Acts 5:41, 2 Cor 12:9-10, Phil 3:7-8, 1 Peter 4:13.

(3) Acts 11:19, 2 For 1:5-6, Phil 1:14, 2 Tim 2:10.

(4) Col 1:24, 1 Peter 4:17, Rev 2:8-10.

(5) Matt 5:11-12, Rom 8:18, 2 Cor 4:17-18, 1 Peter 4:13.

 

Will Our Kids Love Jesus and Follow Him? (Part Two)

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Last week, I wrote about the importance of passing on our faith to our children (Part One). Spending time together in family worship is a crucial part of this faith training. Here are some tips for family worship:

Keep it simple and fun

  • Keep a manageable time (10 -15 minutes)
  • Don’t lecture. Encourage family discussion
  • Strive to maintain an enjoyable and fun atmosphere; make it a special family time

Set a regular time

  • Encourage everyone in the family to plan for this time
  • Find a time that is not hurried or pressured (if that’s possible)

Have a plan

Here’s an outline to help you as you plan your family devotional times.

  • Pray (1 minute)
  • Read the Word (7 minutes)
    • What’s the main idea of the passage?
    • How can we live out this truth?
  • Sing a song (2 minutes)
    • Pick a song that is related to the biblical passage if possible
    • If no one in your family plays piano or guitar, use YouTube
  • Pray (5 minutes)
    • Write down prayer requests in a family prayer journal
    • Ask for a volunteer to pray for each request

Strive for consistency

  • Meet daily or as many days each week as possible
  • Strive to have all members of the family present, but proceed even if not
  • When schedules don’t work out, don’t give up. Keep trying.

Click here for more resources for family worship.

Will Our Kids Love Jesus and Follow Him? (Part One)

Rejecting Christianity

Your elementary child comes home from school asking if God really created the universe. Your teenager tells you that God seems mean to limit marriage to a man and woman. Your college student says that she no longer believes in Christianity in light of the various world religions.

In today’s world, holding to the Christian faith is more challenging than ever. Undoubtedly, our faith will not be reinforced by other cultural forces as it might have been in the past. Consider the fact that nearly every cultural institution has capitulated to the sexual revolution, even the Boy Scouts.[1] In fact, much of the culture not only doesn’t support traditional Christian beliefs but instead is openly hostile to biblical faith.

If our children remain steadfast in the faith, it is vital that dads and moms take faith training of their children seriously. Without a firm commitment to teach and model a vibrant love for Christ and to teach a biblical worldview to our children, it is very unlikely that they will hold to the Christian faith as they mature. Consider this biblical admonition:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”      – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

A crucial tool in passing on the faith to our children is family worship. In family worship, parents and children gather together daily or several days a week to read the Word, pray, and sing. This time might be at breakfast, around the dinner table, or even a few minutes before bed.

Next week, I’ll post some practical tips for leading family worship.

[1] Richard Gonzalez, “Boy Scouts Will Admit Transgender Boys,” NPR, January 31, 2017, accessed March 15, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/31/512541372/boy-scouts-will-admit-transgender-boys.

The Shack: Truth and Deception

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Ten years ago the widely popular novel, The Shack, was published. In this story, author William Young addresses some of the most pressing and difficult questions of life. How can God be good in the face of human suffering? Does God care about injustice? The novel provided insights that were compelling to many, selling over twenty million copies (1). 

Unsurprisingly, this famous story has been made into a movie by the same title, being released on March 3. While the book offers a powerful testimony of God’s love, it does so at a high cost regarding biblical faithfulness. The late, Chuck Colson, briefly summarizes the story and warns his readers:

The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox-apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at “the shack,” the place where his daughter was killed.

When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures-the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl-who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the Godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, “Isn’t she great?” At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will “give him the trots.” And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her-or is it His?-feet. Papa coos, “Oh, that feels sooooo good.” Ugh.

Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim’s Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author’s low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who “beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses.” The author reflects derisively in another spot that “nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that ‘guilt’ edges.”

The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting (2). 

Powerful and compelling stories often have deep impact on our lives and our thinking. For this reason, we are careful that our beliefs about who God is and what is right and good are shaped by the regular study of the Word of God. Further, we are mindful of the danger of being molded by media consumption. In the case of The Shack, we must be especially vigilant as truth is mixed so beautifully with deception. 

In Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul urges believers to mature in the faith “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” 

Here are links to more thorough critiques and reflections:

(1) About, The Shack Facebook page, accessed 2017.02.27, https://www.facebook.com/pg/
theshackmovie/about/.

(2) Chuck Colson, “Stay out of The Shack,” Christian Headlines.com, May 8, 2008, http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/stay-out-of-the-shack-11575218.html, accessed 2017/02/27.