Become Like Children

become like children

I think Jesus was trying to teach us something really significant when He gathered the crowd together and said to them, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

I am constantly amazed by kids, and as a former children’s pastor, and current pastor, I have seen quite a few kids in my day.  Kids have this great and innate ability to call it just like they see it and as a pastor that is incredibly refreshing.  Teaching a room of kids is far more intimidating than teaching adults.  Why?  Across the church (in my own experiences) I have been asked more complex, hard to answer, thought provoking, laugh inducing, heart wrenching, honest questions from children then I ever have from adults. Check out these real questions I’ve been asked.

“What if I pray, but can’t hear God’s voice?”
“Can I have more communion? I like it.”
“Why doesn’t God stop the bad people from  hurting me?”
“Can God come visit me?”
“If Jesus was a real kid…did He pick His nose too?”
“If God is everywhere…did He watch me in my school play ?”
“My parents are getting divorced will God ever do that with me?”

Perhaps this was one of the qualities of children that Jesus was trying to impress upon the crowd that day.  If so, we as adults, should take note.  We should learn transparency, urgency, humor and the art of asking questions.

Children are also capable owning their faith and it’s implication in their lives.  When a child “confesses with their mouth, and believes with their heart that Jesus is Lord” they are saved – and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell with them, and within them. (Romans 10:8-10) It should be said clearly and loudly that children get the SAME Holy Spirit that adults do.  Just because a child is 6, does not mean they only get a fraction of the Living True God – thats ridiculous.

Yet often we treat children as if they are lesser than us; incapable of ‘real’ ministry and unable to fully participate in the body of Christ.  We drag them along until they are 18 and ‘adult’ and suddenly expect them to have skills, passions and maturity ready to go.  Yet the whole time they could have matured in those areas we told them, “you’re too young” or “when you are older” or “that’s just for adults.”  Kids want to participate, they want to engage, to have ownership – and they are capable of it!

I see no reference in Scripture that indicates kids can’t – but I do see plenty that indicates they can.   Check out these biblical examples.

A young girl taken captive demonstrates immense grace toward her captor. (2 Kings 5)
God spoke to a young boy when the adults failed to listen. (1 Samuel 3)
It was a young boy who stood his ground against the giant Goliath. (1 Samuel 17)
A young girl was willing to obey God no matter the cost. (Luke 1:26-56)
A young boy with a sack lunch was ready to help feed people. (John 6:1-15)
A 8 year old boy became king to lead God’s people, and did right before God. (2 Kings 22)

What child do you have in your life that you can encourage to do great things for God? What is Jesus trying to teach you about your own faith through the kids around you?

Want to hear more about kids and God, and what it means for you as an adult? Listen to this recent message from KetchikanNaz:  All God’s Children.

Become Like Children

4 Things Sermon Prep Should Always Include

sermonprep

Every pastor develops their own style for writing a sermon: some prefer isolation in a quiet environment; others enjoy group dynamics and discussion. Some outline and some manuscript, others simply read, study, and get up with just the Bible in hand. Whatever your style is, here are 4 things that your prep should always include:

1. It should be founded in Scripture
There are many great books available, which contain great truths found in scripture–some of them by Christian authors – but they are not the inspired Word of God. There are many great blogs and articles available online for pastors to read and enjoy and even learn from, but they are not the inspired Word of God. There are many movies with clips that express deep emotions that pull at our hearts and move us to tears, but they are not the inspired Word of God.

When I come to prepare a sermon, I must always start with the primary source: The Holy Bible. There is only one book penned under the authority of God by eyewitnesses and those who gave their lives for Christ. There is only one book preserved down through the generations by the hand of God and nearly identical in every way now to its original in the days of old. This is where life comes from – the Word of God – and I must caution myself to never to build a sermon from anything else.

2. It should begin with prayer
Prayer is simply talking with God. He is the Head of the Church, so before I go and get fancy ideas about the flock that He has entrusted to me, I should sit down and spend some time talking to Him. God alone knows the needs of those in the church; He knows them better than I ever could. He alone is the only one who can speak life, hope, and redemption into the hearts and souls of those who come on Sunday (or Weds, or whenever you all meet). He also knows me better than I do, and is the only one who can reach into my heart and soften it.

That said, there are two questions that I ask God before I begin a sermon: “‘What do you want to teach me from this passage, Lord?” and “How do you want me to teach from this passage, Lord?” Both of these questions correctly place me under God’s authority. The times that I have failed to begin with prayer are the times that my heart has been hard towards His leadership and His voice, because of that I have struggled. If I cannot listen and obey, how can I expect to lead my flock to listen and obey?

3. It should involve repentance
Every sermon needs to contain the Gospel and a call to respond; otherwise, it is not a sermon but a nice talk. I want those who hear the Word to receive the Word, repent of their sin, and walk in the newness of life with Christ as their Lord. I want those who are in Christ to hear the Word and be convicted of their sin as well, remembering their need of and love for their Savior, Jesus. As a pastor, I am not above this. If the messages I preach contain the Gospel (they should!) and a call to respond – have I evaluated my heart in light of that call? Is there sin in my life that the passage reveals to me? Do I need to repent and respond to Christ’s love and mercy and holiness? Yes, and I need to do it before Sunday morning. I must let God show me the log in my eye and respond accordingly.

4. It should end with worship
I am compelled to worship the Lord as I write my sermon. I worship Him for providing a savior, for providing a way out from temptation, for providing a body of believers to keep me accountable and encourage me, for the Word of Life, for the Great Commission that I can play a part in, for a community in which to serve, and for the breath and life I have. No one in scripture who encountered the Lord responded in any way except worship. If I have indeed sat down with the Word of God, spoken directly to the Lord, and allowed Him to work in my heart, then worship is the only right response. Then and only then am I prepared to write the sermon, for I have allowed God to teach me first so that I, in turn, may teach others.

4 Things Sermon Prep Should Always Include

50 Shades

50 shades

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

From the very beginning of time in the garden Satan has tempted man and women with the 50 shades of grey between good and evil, between life and death.   He whispers in our ears and hearts and paints shades of grey in our life; “Does God really love you?   “Did he really say not to partake?” “Don’t you want to know what it’s like?” “Don’t you want to be like God?” “If looks good, why not eat?” “Your choices won’t hurt you.”

The reality is that your choices do have the potential to hurt you (and others). If you choose to sin, to ignore God in any area of your life, you are choosing one of the shades of grey between life and death.   The world speaks about the enticements of pleasure, of sin (though it won’t call it sin), and continually places before you 50 shades of grey between life and death.   It will echo the voice of the serpent in the garden and you will be encouraged to do what feels good in the moment with no thought for the long-term consequences for your life, your family, or your soul.   This can be clearly seen when a book that promotes sexual sin, abuse of women and self-gratification becomes so widely popular that it is turned into a movie. This book, and this movie are of no benefit to those who call Christ Lord.   Yet, the book isn’t the root of problem it’s just a symptom. The problem is in your own heart – it’s your own desire for sin and sins desire for you. “..sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” (Genesis 4:7)

If the world speaks about the enticement of sin so freely then the church must talk more passionately about the beauty of holiness, of the detriment of sin, and must continually place before the world the need for repentance and the righteous grace of Christ. There is no grey area in faith – it is Christ or not. You do not have the liberty to choose sinful behavior when you have been purchased at the cost of the life of Jesus. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) God has said to us, “I set before you life and death…therefore choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 20)

Christ follower, you must recognize the voice the tempter in you own life and flee from it. His desire is to cause you to choose one of the shades of grey and by doing so to step away from God. “He (Satan) was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) What is it that tempts you? What is it that causes you to choose sin? Is it pride? Is it lust? Is it selfishness, greed, money? Is it a need for relationships? Do you find yourself drawn to sin when you are tired? When you are angry? When you are overwhelmed? “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:7-9)

Christ follower, you must not just recognize the voice of the tempter and flee from it; you must also recognize the voice of the Lord and run to it! Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after they sinned – they suddenly knew that the grey area was not where they should be and were scared of what that might mean for them. However God demonstrated a great grace to those first sinners. He sought them out, called them by name, and put in place a plan to redeem them (and all of us) from our sin.   Christ has died for your sins – every lustful thought, every lie, every moment of pride. Small and large, public and private, words, thoughts and deeds – Christ has paid the high price on the cross.   He willingly offered His life to redeem you from the 50 shades of grey you so willingly choose. Those shades of grey only lead to spiritual death – and Christ knowing that, and loving you even in your sins, gave Himself so that you can move from death to life. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13)

Christ follower, you must repent of your sin regularly. Let Christ move in your heart forgive you and free you! “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Having been freed, then don’t let sin entangle you any longer. “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2) In Christ we have the hope and knowledge that there is nothing that can separate us from Him. He is a good Lord and Friend to sinners.   “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (Romans 8:38-39)  

Christ has not called you to life lived in shades of grey He has made you, called you, redeemed you to live in holiness. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16) He doesn’t just command you to be holy and leave you hopeless: He will enable you live a holy life. He will enable you choose life over death! “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1 Philippians 1:6)

Take action and choose life! Which of these steps are you wiling to take today?

  • Pray to God and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and fill you a desire for holiness.
  • Ask Him to encourage your soul.
  • Ask Him to provide solid friendship with other Christians who can keep you accountable.
  • Purposefully seek someone out who is walking with Christ and ask them to keep you accountable.
  • Be honest and transparent with your accountability friend/group. (Men with men, women with women.)
  • Ask God for a teachable spirit.
  • Let your pastor know you are struggling.
50 Shades

5 Things Not To Pack Up After Christmas

packing up christmas

Taking down Christmas decorations is not as fun as putting them up, right? Putting them up is something we do with excitement. Taking them down…it’s more like, “Oh no! It’s almost Valentines Day! Quick, shove the tree in the basement!”  We have tossed out the ripped wrapping paper and saved the bows for next year. The leftover food is eaten and long gone, and the lights have been turned off, wound up and, stored in the attic.

We forget about them.   We don’t spend time with them, anymore.   We move on with life.

And that’s the problem with packing up Christmas; we really do pack it up and move on.   We pull out all the stops for a few weeks and then we go back to life as usual.

This year needs to be different, for me and for you. I’m not saying we should keep the tree up all year. I advise against it, actually; it’s weird.   Yet, when you find yourself packing away the tinsel and stockings, don’t forget about…

 1.  Jesus 

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV)

Paul had to remind the church of the Gospel that they claimed because it can be so easy to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Don’t forget about Jesus for 11 months. Pack the decorations–and for goodness’ sake, throw out the tree!–but don’t move Jesus from His place in your home and heart.

 2.  Scripture 

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12, ESV)

We spend so much of the Christmas season embracing the beauty of prophecy in the Old Testament – the voices of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Moses, just to name a few. We revel in the majesty of the miracles in the New Testament – Elizabeth conceives, the Star in the sky, throngs of angels singing and a virgin birth. We sing carols that tell the stories, emphasize the fulfilled prophecies and praise God saying “Glory to God in the highest!”

Don’t cease immersing yourself in Scripture now that Christmas is over. Don’t cease singing songs of praise, full of Scripture, now that Christmas is over. Don’t cease time spent reading and marveling at God’s Word!

Don’t pack Scripture away until next Christmas. Make a defined and concerted effort to examine the Scriptures every day; you will increase in faith and maturity when you steep in God’s word. There are hundreds of ways to encourage, and develop your passion for God’s Word.

Here are a few to get you started!

  • This FREE APP will email you a devotional reading, and you can share notes with your friends, post to social media and save private journaling notes. I use this, and recommend this.
  • This FREE APP is a no frills and simple, beautiful devotional app. It provides an Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms reading (with devotion) each day.
  • Got kids? Great, check out this FREE APP will keep you and your kids engaged with interactive bible stories and Scripture.

3.  Giving 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  (Acts 2:44-45, ESV)

Christmastime is marked by over-the-top generosity – to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, missions, pastors, causes and church. Christ-followers and non Christ-followers alike dig deep so that needs are met. Don’t let that kind of generosity be a once a year kind of thing – let that kind of generosity be a defining quality about your life every single day. Intentionally choose someone else’s needs over your own desires.   Sacrifice your own comfort for someone else. Sacrifice your time to minister in the name of Jesus and, when asked ‘why?’, tell them about Jesus!

Do it all without being asked – see the need, meet the need.

4.  Fellowship

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47, ESV)

At Christmastime we spend a great deal of time and effort cleaning the house so friends and family can come over. We have potlucks and gatherings and spend extra time hanging out with each other. There are parties in the office and at friends’ houses… and we simply carve out more time for just being with others.  Yet, Christmas ends and we retreat back to our busy lives, hoarding time and the sanctity of our homes and schedules.  Don’t restrict the joy of fellowship to a season: let the joy of fellowship, of a an open home and open arms, be the kind of thing you intentionally seek.

The early church spent time daily together – meeting needs, praying, telling jokes and sharing food. They were building community together because they saw fellowship as vital to the life of a Christ follower. If you forget about fellowship, you forget about what Christ has called us to be: the fellowship of believers, the Body of Christ.

5.  Proclaiming

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touchedthis we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)

Christmas and Easter are the two times of the year that you can easily leverage an invite or gospel share to your unchurched friends. It’s expected that Christians are to be vocal at these times of the year because we are proclaiming the birth (or resurrection) of Jesus! John tells us that every believer who has experienced eternal life through Jesus, is to be a proclaimer!

The Christmas season may be over, but don’t forget that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Glory of God and the joy of salvation all year long!  Proclaim eternal life through Jesus. Pray with those who are hurting. Listen and sympathize, and share how God has helped you.   Proclaim Christ boldly, authentically, and tenderly every chance you get.

Which one of these five did the Holy Spirit nudge you on?  Find some accountability through  a friend or small group to start and continue in that area this year!

5 Things Not To Pack Up After Christmas

Prayer

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We can’t seem to avoid the topic in the public arena.  Should Christians be allowed to pray in schools?  At work?  In council meetings?  The topic has made national headlines in many cities and states over the past few months. I recognize the good intent behind all the commotion – but I think the question being asked is incomplete at best.  It should not be “Should Christians be allowed to pray at …..?”  but rather, “Are Christians in the habit of praying?”

Does location matter when we pray?  Does it matter if we sit or stand or kneel or lay face down?  Eyes open or eyes closed?  Talk to Jesus out loud or in our hearts?   No.  What matters is that we are praying – not necessarily that we are seen praying.  There are times in Scripture where individuals made a stand and prayed publicly – or at least visibly.  There are other times in Scripture where individuals did not.

If public prayer is allowed at (insert location/situation) we should publicly pray.  If it isn’t allowed at (insert location/situation) we should not lose hope – because I hope that isn’t the only time we are praying.  We should not consider prayer to just be a thing of organized times and places – such as meetings, beginning of class, or even during worship services – though those are wonderful times to pray if permitted.  Prayer should be a constant in the life a believer; daily, hourly, regular conversation with the one who Created the World.   Prayer is what connects us with the Father, helps us see where we are straying, comforts us, gives us direction, and intercedes for others.

Scripture tells us that we are to ‘pray without ceasing’ – so I ask you this question (and it’s the same question I have asked myself) – “Is prayer a regular part of my walk with Christ?”    If the answer is no – then start with your own prayer before heading to a public arena.  If the answer is yes, then be in prayer for the leaders who make the hard choices in this town – no matter where you are praying from.

Prayer