That Terrible Dungeon of Doubt

I recently began listening to the audio book version of one of the greatest Christian books ever written, titled “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by the English Baptist minister John Bunyan (d. 1688). This beautiful work of allegory was first published in 1687, but was written over a span of 12 years when Bunyan was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672. He began his work while in the country jail of Bedfordshir, England, for violating of the “Conventicle Act.” This was an act established by the Church of England that prohibited the holding of religious services outside the authority of the established (official) church.  Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the most read books in the history of publishing. It has been translated into 200 languages and over the past 250 years, it has never been out of print. The fact that Bunyan’s story has been so widely read should indicate to us something of its attraction and importance. The story of a man named Christian journeying TO faith and onward IN faith on the wonderful and dangerous path of life in Christ is one of great fascination, as Bunyan writes with such detail and clarity on the many trials that the believer will face as he journey’s toward the “celestial kingdom”.

Bunyan is a pastor, and so he writes with a shepherd’s heart to those who have “ears to hear.”  There is a particular part in the story that really captivated my attention, when the man Christian and his traveling companion Hopeful encounter a brutal Giant named Despair, who rules over Doubting Castle. While on the journey and weary from their travels, Christian and Hopeful leave a rough section of the King’s Highway to walk upon what looks like an easier route named “By-Path Meadow.” When a storm forces them to spend the night there, they are captured by the evil giant. This giant named Despair is an unscrupulous being who often has fits of anger and rage, so he imprisons the two travelers in his terrible dungeon of Doubt, where they are beaten mercilessly and starved, in hopes they will give up and take their own lives in crushing despair. But these two beleaguered souls do not give in to the despair of doubt; instead, they pray.  And in the midst of their troubled and desperate prayers, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise. Here is the scene:

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, broke out in passionate speech: What a fool, said he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news; good Brother pluck it out of your bosom and try.

 Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the Iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed; but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it awakened Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s High-way again, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.

This scene in Bunyan’s story reminded me so much of what many believers face today on the path of the Christian life. The giant of despair captures us and casts us into a dungeon of doubt. Our lives have not progressed in the way we desired and fear has had its way with us more times than we can count. Our children or parents have made life hard, perhaps our church has not lived up to our expectations, and our daily life “feels” like more dungeon than meadow.  We have faced health issues, financial challenges, and goals have gone unfulfilled. And the worst part of our despair is what seems to be the lack of growth in our faith in Christ. The process and path of sanctification is a slow one, and it seems that so many others are growing while we have become stagnant. These troubles we face “capture” us, like that pitiless giant, causing us to despair and then finding ourselves in a stinking dungeon of doubt. As much as we would like to deny this is true, I would say it’s a bigger problem than we know. So what’s the answer?

Bunyan tells us just how Christian and Hopeful escape that dungeon: with the Key of Promise. Brothers and sisters, if you are doubtful today, open the Word of God and take hold of the key of promise! If you are in despair and your heart is heavy with burdens or concerns, turn to the infallible Word of God and take hold of the key of promise. If you’ve taken an easier path but found it to be deadly to your soul, turn again to the right path of Christian faith and walk upon steady ground. Read and hear just how God has promised you hope, joy, and life everlasting if you would only believe Him. Yes, you will face troubles, but you will not face them alone or without the resources to guide you along the way. Your unbelief has put you in a dungeon, so escape it with believing God’s promises to love you and keep you until the day of Christ. Believe Philippians 1:6 and 1 Thessalonians 4:23-24 (read them now!)  Set your heart on the promises of Romans 8:31-39 and John 14:1-3 and Proverbs 3:5-6 (read these too!). The promises of God are the key to unlocking the gates of doubt that we find ourselves trapped behind. If you fight despair with certainty of God’s truth, then you will not fear that terrible dungeon doubt. The light of Christ will shine in that darkness and lead you out into a path of peace and security. Believe God’s promises and find your way back onto the Kings Highway.

Act of Approach

Remember, O My Soul,

It is my great duty and delight to rejoice in God:

He requires it of me for all his gracious favor

Rejoice then in the One who gives and in His goodness toward you,

Be happy in the Lord, O my heart, and in nothing else but God,

For whatever man can trust in

Is where he will expect to find happiness.

But the Lord God, who is the foundation of my faith,

Should also be the substance of my joy.

 

Where does the heaviness and heartache of life come from?

When joy is yet planted deeply in my heart,

Promised by the Father

Imparted by the Son

Produced by the Holy Spirit,

Mine by God’s divine grace

Joy is then my birthright in believing!

 

Are you, O my soul, seeking joy by believing in yourself,

Derived from a selfish motive of pride and exalted reputation?

I can claim no good deeds to my merit, but only sinful pursuits;

I have nothing to move God to be gracious in saving me,

Nor have I anything to claim in myself to warrant his continued grace.

If I forget this truth, then my joy will slip away and be lost.

 

Are you grieving O weary soul, over some recurring sin that you have yet to confess?

Pray for godly sorrow to work the good of repentance,

As those of true spirit are blessed of the Lord

As in that same spirit comes the fullest joy.

 

When sorrows rise over the failings of self, rejoicing in God is a door opened to you,

For self-denial brings down divine delights of grace and mercy.

Are you comfortable, O soul, in the worldly goods of mankind?

Do not look for or settle yourself on happiness in worldly possessions,

And do not fall asleep in the lap of temptation

Press into God and make Him your everything,

And the never-ending fountain of divine joy will overwhelm you

 

Translated from Valley of Vision, A Colloquy on Rejoicing, p. 278-279

Masterpiece Kids 2017 is Officially Complete!

I thank God that we have the opportunity to meet a special need, art education for children, while incorporating our faith. It’s so cool at the end of the week to see these kids walk away with 15 different art projects while quoting scripture!

Each year, we have a theme that runs through the art camp. A couple of years ago, we had the theme of Kintsugi, the art of taking something broken and making it even better. Our art used recycled materials, giving them new life as we talked about how Jesus can give us new life. Last year, we went Around the World, and taught art projects based on different cultures found all over. This allowed us to talk with real-world missionaries in those parts of the world and discover they share God’s great love.

This year, our theme was Glow. In addition to our Art Smart class (which taught color theory) and World Art class (which picked up from last year), we added a Glow Art class. Our wonderful volunteers transformed two of our rooms into blacklight studios where kids could make special glowing creations.

Some of the art they made would look normal in the day, but when placed under blacklight would shine in the darkness. One project they worked on was even invisible until it was placed under the special lights.

We went with a glow theme this year because all of our Bible lessons were based on who Jesus is, and we know that Jesus is the light!

In John 8:12, we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Kids saw what it meant that Jesus is the light, engulfing the darkness of sin and showing us the way.

On the last day, we talked about how we can glow for Jesus. In Matthew 5, we see how believers are called to be light. Children who follow Jesus as Lord discovered ways they can glow, being a light for Jesus in Baton Rouge and beyond.

Right now, we’ve asked for feedback from volunteers and parents so we can continue improving. Yes, that’s right! It’s already time to start thinking about Masterpiece Kids 2018! Go ahead and mark your calendars for July 9-13th! Hope to see you there!

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Children’s Ministry Training // Bible Skills for Life

I’m excited to share with you a training for children’s ministry parents and volunteers we recently held. David Anderson, Children’s Ministry Strategist for Louisiana Baptist Convention, helped us understand how different Bible skills are understood at different developmental stages in children’s lives.  If you would like a copy of the handout and booklet provided at this training, please let me (David) know!

Preschool Parents Lunch & Learn // Discipline Verses Discipling

When do we start teaching children about God? What can babies understand about the Bible? How can preschool ministry be more than just babysitting?

We invited David Anderson, Children’s Ministry Strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, to come and speak as part of our preschool parent/volunteer lunch and learn series. This is a great session for preschool parents as well as those who volunteer in the preschool ministry. Check it out!

Baby Dedication

Baby Dedication is always a special time. It’s so special to see the sanctuary fill with family and friends in show of support for these new parents.

And as much fun as it is to see the babies all dressed up and Pastor Oren steps on a tossed pacifier…this special time isn’t just for show. This is a time where the parents make a covenant, dedicating their child to the Lord. They make a commitment to raise their child in a Christian home of love and peace, to raise it in the truth of our Lord’s instruction and discipline, and to encourage it to one day trust Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

But, the parents aren’t the only ones making a commitment during Baby Dedication. We also ask the church to make a covenant as well. I wanted to share with you the commitment we made yesterday, so you can see it again, and keep it on your mind…

As the members of First Baptist Church, we declare ourselves to be the children of God because of God’s gracious work in our hearts to save us and by our faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  We vow today, by God’s help, to be faithful in our calling as members of the body of Christ, to help the [NAME OF FAMILIES] families to be faithful to God and faithful parents for their precious children, [NAME OF CHILDREN].  And we vow to help teach and train these children in the way of Christ Jesus so that they might one day trust him as Savior and Lord.

Next time you see one of these precious families in our church, remember this covenant. This is something that will go on far beyond just Sunday!

***

I also wanted to share with you the book we gave parents during the dedication. Each family received a copy of Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney. The author makes the case for family worship and explains the three elements that make it up: reading, praying, and singing.

“Having your family in a Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, Bible teaching, local church is crucial to Christen parenting. But it is not enough for conveying to your family all you want to teach them about God and your believes. Moreover, it is unlikely that exposure to the church once or twice a week will impress your children enough with the greatness and glory of God that they will want to pursue him once they leave your home,” says the author. “This is why family worship is so important. But even more importantly, God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families.”

I have placed a copy of Family Worship in our church library and it should be available to check out very soon!

Introducing a New Bible Study for Families

Is your family constantly in a whirlwind of activity? Is it controlled-chaos at your house? Unsure about how to parent in this day and age? Want to see how your family fits into the gospel?

Next week, FBC will be kicking off a brand new Bible study group built particularly for parents. After some thought, we ended up calling the new group the Busy Family Bible Study. Why Busy Family? I like how Pastor Oren put it when talking to parents…

“I know that you have so many responsibilities and commitments, whether it is with your job, caring for your children or perhaps your aging parents, as well as maintaining friendships and trying to keep the grass no taller than knee high. You’re busy, we all are,” wrote Pastor Oren.

“Our families are busier than ever, so much so that it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain consistent spiritual growth in our personal lives. This means that our families struggle to grow spiritually as well. We all like to think that Jesus is at the center of everything we do, but if we’re being honest, that isn’t always the reality in which we live. We feel stretched, pulled in many directions. But there’s no reason why we cannot make a concerted effort as Christian believers to take time to pray, study, and grow together. As a pastor and a parent, I want to help as much as I can.”

This is something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. And I am excited that we are kicking it off with a study called Gospel Centered Parenting by Tim Chester and Ed Moll. There are a lot of books dedicated to helping parents develop well-trained children, but this one focuses on the family as a whole, and will help us grow as God-knowing, Christ-confessing, grace-receiving, servant-hearted, mission-minded believers.

I love how this book goes beyond good advice for parents. It shows how the gospel influences family life and the craziness therein. “Good parenting is not about adopting certain techniques,” says the authors. “It’s about living as part of God’s story and letting God’s good news shape your values, attitudes and behavior.”

That’s something all families can get behind…big, small, single-parent, step-families…everyone needs the good news of Jesus.

The Busy Family Bible Study group will meet on Sunday nights beginning February 12th at 4:30 PM at FBC. The first series will run through April 9th. For those of you with children, we’ve got special activities planned at the church for the kids and youth during this time.

If you are interested, please fill out the form below, so we know how many to prepare for. We would love to see your family join us for this study!

5 Websites to Bookmark Today

30141_laptop_keyboardI spend a lot of time on the internet. Within the first moments of turning on my computer, you can find me on children’s ministry social networks connecting with others, on Pinterest grabbing some cool ideas, sending emails to our volunteers, or opening multiple tabs on Bible Gateway.

Looking at my bookmarks folder, I have over 80 pages saved to comeback to with a simple click. I asked around the office what are some websites my co-workers have bookmarked and, tossing a few of my own, we’ve come up with this list!

*****

1) Desiring God – This organization exists to help people everywhere understand and embrace this truth…God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him. They take aim to make the glory of God and the goodness of joy the foundation and flavor of everything we do. I know many enjoy listening to Ask Pastor John, a question and answer style podcast. I enjoy their Look at the Book series, in which John Piper breaks down select Bible passages.

2) Adam4d.com – Adam Ford is a Christian, husband, and father of 3 young boys. I’m often checking back to read his “curiously Christian webcomic.” If you’re new to Adam’s work, check out his most popular comics, and if you ‘re familiar with his work then make sure you’ve also got the Babylon Bee bookmarked.

3) The Gospel Coalition – TGC encourages and educates current and next-generation Christian leaders by advocating gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior and do good to those for whom he shed his life’s blood.  I really enjoy their many, many blog posts. There is so much good content here on a wide variety of subjects. For example, click here to see a list of their posts on parenting!

4) The Bible Project – I love YouTube…but there are more than just cat videos there! The Bible Project creates videos that show the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. They believe that the Bible is literary genius and has divine wisdom for the modern world. The link above takes you to their channel to start watching these videos, but make sure to check out their website for more information.

5) smile.amazon.com – I do a lot of shopping on Amazon, both personally and professionally, so I have made sure to bookmark Smile Amazon. By making sure I add the smile, a small portion of my purchase goes to a charity of my choosing. I’ve picked to donate to the International Mission Board.

*****

What sites to you have bookmarked on your browser? Let us know in the comment section below!

 

 

Unwrapping Christmas Part 2

In our last post, we started talking about the family Christmas devotional gifts we made for 2016. Let’s pick up where we left off…

Week 3- Teaching and Preaching

We started week three with a look at John 13:13, “You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am.” We explained how in many ways, Jesus’ teaching was unexpected. He took things that the people were familiar with and changed the way they understood it.

That’s when we challenged families to try our mystery drink. All families knew was that it should taste like something familiar, just in soda form.

lesters-sodas-flavors

We ended up using the peanut butter and jelly flavored soda!

We asked families what it like experiencing this familiar flavor in a new, unexpected way? We explained how we see in the John 13 how Jesus did something His friends didn’t expect.

We explained the story of Jesus doing the lowly task of washing feet and how He used that moment to teach not only how to love and serve others, but to also foreshadow how He would clean His people from their sin.

We also gave families a magic tree. By adding the solution, small green crystals would grow on the cardboard making it look like a Christmas tree.

magic-christmas-trees-growing

But, it takes time for the tree to grow. When Jesus preached, He sometimes used gardening words and pictures to get the point. We used John 15:1-2 and explained that Jesus teaches that the good news doesn’t stop at forgiveness of sins. The gift of Jesus continues! God’s at work in believers’ lives, helping them act more like Jesus! Just as the tree grows, we can grow as Christians as well.

Week 4- Love

We started the fourth week talking about underserved love and 1 John 4:10.

We told families that in this world, there is a lot of pressure. You may struggle with some things. Sometimes people describe this feeling of burdens as if they are being weighed down. Inside the gift this week was special paper.

flying-wish-paper-action-2

We had families take it out, and with a pencil, write down some things that may be weighing them down. It may be a recent loss, fears, or even sin.

We explained how Jesus loves them so much and how He wants them to let go of their burdens and give them to Him. When the instructions were followed, the paper shot into the air and floated  as it burned. All those fears, worries, sin…all gone. We connected this to the gospel and explained how Jesus can forgive us and wants to give us comfort even when life gets tough!

We then connected the facts that if God loves us, we should love others and had families read 1 John 4:7-8.

The other gift was a Top Blaster!

slspito-02These wind-up tops shoot out the spinning part with a light on top. It bounced off walls and other barriers and brought the light everywhere it went. The Bible reminds us that Christians are to be a light (Matthew 5:14). We need to show God’s love to others so everyone can see how great our God is!

We had a blast preparing all these gifts for the families. We hope that these little doodads will remind our children of the lessons they learned during this Christmas season!

 

Unwrapping Christmas

Our church has a focus on family ministry. We want to encourage parents to be spiritual leaders for their children and equip moms and dads to teach their children Biblical truths.

So, when we do our annual Easter and Christmas devotionals, we try to do a family-friendly version as well. (You can check out our Christmas 2016 devotional here.) The theme for our latest Advent devotional was “God’s Greatest Gift.” We looked at God’s greatest gift, Jesus, and how He exemplified the spiritual gifts God bestows on us.

For our family edition, we wanted to give families a chance to do interactive object lessons that corresponded to each week’s gift. To keep with the theme, we wrapped each week’s objects as if they were presents. Each family received two of the gifts each week. One to take home and use, and the other to give to a friend. (We made the lessons to be self-contained, so visiting families wouldn’t be stuck with a partial lesson.)

Each Sunday, after church, we had families taking two gifts each and some other members taking gifts to give to neighbors/friends/relatives. But I know not everyone got a chance to look into the gifts and see what families got to experience! So in this post, I wanted to share what was inside each gift! If you missed out on the fun, consider grabbing a few of these items and trying them out yourself!

Week 1- Mercy

buddha-board-demonstration

Seen here, is the Budda Board sold by Vat19. Using water you can draw on the canvas and the marks will fade over a few minutes. We were able to give families some special paper that reacts to water in the same way, as well as a few paintbrushes.

We explained what mercy and sin were, then asked families to write or draw an example of sin on the special paper using water. We reviewed Romans 6:23 and explained how Jesus was a gift of God’s mercy. Looking back at the paper, the sin marks would be gone by this point. Parents could then connect the activity to the included gospel presentation.

 

612klt1wvhl-_sl1000_We also included these mega-sized jelly balls. These things grow just by putting them in water and waiting(you may remember us using their smaller-sized forms at the Neighborhood Block Parties). After reading Matthew 5:44, we used these to illustrate how we can grow spiritually when we show mercy. As a bonus, you can roll these jelly balls on the water paper and they leave a trail. It was a fun way to end, thinking about what kind of trail are we leaving behind? As Christians, what sort of mark should we leave behind?

 

 

Week 2 – Service

We started our second week with a look at Matthew 20:28 as we explained how Jesus was the ultimate example of service with love. We explained to families how Jesus even gave his life for us and even included a section where families could go deeper into the gospel and explain it in a child-friendly way for those who’ve never heard it presented.

We also looked at Romans 12:11, “Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord.” (NIRV). We explained how God wants His followers to serve together, and how we we’re all made with different skills and talents to serve in different ways.

419tazrqlslEach family got a pair of mini-hands to take turns using them. They challenged each other to do simple things like lift a salt shaker, change the tv channel, or…(if they were really brave) take a sip of water from a cup. Later they tried working together (two people each with one tiny hand). We asked families to talk about how easy or hard it was to work together with your tiny hands? What are the benefits and challenges of working together with others to serve? And why do you think God made us all with different skills, gifts, and talents?

 

 

mx423Families also received a ribbon wand to play with. These ribbons, when twirled, make really cool designs. It can look like a bubble if spun around, or a flower if flipped upside-down. But, if the wand only had one ribbon, it couldn’t make those cool images. We asked families to think about ways they could work together to help others see God’s love. We wended the experience with prayer and a look at Galatians 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

 

 

Next post, we’ll go over the other gifts we presented to families!