Category Archives: Church

And Can it Be

Tomorrow we will sing this great hymn of faith. I encourage you to listen to it and read the text as we prepare our hearts and minds for worship tomorrow.

Listen Here!

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!

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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.

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!

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!

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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.

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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!

 

Light Before Christmas

Last year, I challenged our church family to put on a Christmas play with only a single hour-long rehearsal. Songs, props, stage directions…everything would shared only an hour before we got up on stage. You can see the results by clicking here.

Not only did they do a fantastic job last year…we did it again! A new play, new props, new songs…same deal…only one hour to prep. Below is the video from the event! Enjoy!

Never Too Late or Too Soon

timeline

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

I was in line at the grocery store just the other day when I noticed the front cover of LIFE magazine. The cover pictured 6 deceased celebrities that I immediately recognized as world-famous musical artists.   This recent issue of LIFE magazine is entitled The 27-Club: Rock Icons Who Died Too Young. The cover and content of the magazine features 6 musical artists who all died at the age of 27, hence the name 27-Club. These musicians were quite fas-l225mous and known throughout the world for their music; particularly for their contributions to jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll. The 27 club includes musical superstars Brian Jones (1969), Jimi Hendrix (1970), Janis Joplin (1970), Jim Morrison (1971), Kurt Cobain (1994), and Amy Winehouse (2011).

I understand that some of these names may not be familiar to some of you, while others of you are quite familiar with the person and their music. I only had a moment to read the cover while at the register, but since I recognized the names of these celebrities and because I’ve heard about the “27-Club” before, I was immediately intrigued. So I decided to get a copy of the magazine at a later time. As I’ve read the articles and short biographic sketches of the lives of these complex and talented men and women, it has struck me at just how much influence a single person can have on literally millions of other people, and yet in the scope of time and history, each person’s life is so fleeting and fragile (James 4:14).

What I have found most intriguing about this magazine issue is how much these musical icons are praised and exalted for their contributions to the music industry while their personal lives were so incredibly heartbreaking. Their sudden and what some would consider “early” death have led to their lives being dubbed with the “tragic” label since they were unable to have long and productive careers of making music. What is most common among all 6 members of the 27-Club is their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and many broken and destructive relationships. It makes you wonder how it is that all the praise and fame that comes with celebrity also brings with it despair and unceasing temptations to satisfy the flesh. There is no doubt that these artists truly lived out the stereotype of a rock-and-roll icon, and in each case, it ended their lives earlier than most people can accept. Their dreams of being a serious and respected musical artist, along with the adoration of millions of fans was the real drug they lived for, and it captivated their minds and souls, to the point that they could not find satisfaction in all of their achievements. So they turned to external things to cope with the deep groaning in their souls for significance and peace.

This issue of LIFE magazine also leads me to ask a deeper question. “Who gets to decide how soon is too soon for someone to pass away”? This has always been an interesting thought to me. Who gets to decide when it is time for a person to leave this world and why does age matter? Do we label a person’s early departure from this life as a tragedy because of their worldly achievements? What if these famous celebrities would have been relatively unknown musicians playing in dirty bars and half-empty night clubs instead of in massive arenas or on national television shows? Would we view their deaths in the same way?

I realize that these questions can make us uncomfortable, but considering the difference between how the world and the Word of God view life and its value differently, as well as death and its timing, it is especially important for us to know what we believe. Our purpose and direction in this life are particularly tied to where we find our identity and hope. We are all groaning deeply within our souls in some way for redemption (Romans 8:22-23), but for those who are of faith in Jesus, our groaning has a glorious end, and the timing of it cannot come soon enough (Romans 8:18).

Life and death are God’s prerogative, and he doesn’t often share what he knows with us about the timing of our departure from this world. While this may cause uneasiness in some of us, the reality is that this is NOT bad news for those who know Jesus. There is never a time in the life of a believer in which death comes too soon, nor are the conditions of our passing greater than the glory we behold once we’ve left behind these broken bodies for eternally completed ones (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

In fact, we are to live in this life in in such a way that points others to the reality of the next life for which we long for so deeply. Sadly, the members of the 27-Club lived for the praise of man, pointing others to themselves and looking for happiness that was only shifting sand beneath their unstable feet.

Romans 8:11 gives us this promise: 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. This promise alone should stir in us a deeper love for God and a more serious commitment to make the most the time we have, for the days are short and the mist of our lives will soon pass. Praise be to God that our short time in this life can be of tremendous impact if we would look to him first and always.

I agree that it is sad that those musical artists died so young, just as I would for any young man or woman. It is hard to accept the loss of a life so young. My sadness is not only in that they are now gone, but that their lives ended in such despair and destruction. Their groaning for redemption led them to self-deception and sorrow. One of the 27-Club members Janis Joplin once said “Don’t ever compromise. You are all you’ve got.” But that is simply not true. Praise be to God that I am not all I’ve got! If all I have is me, then I am without hope. My groaning for redemption is incomplete and will never be content in this life if I only look within myself to be satisfied. The best news is that Jesus Christ meets us where we are and fulfills the longings of our souls, to the degree that our perspective in this life and the next is eternally hopeful and filled with joy! Jesus is all I have, and Jesus is more than enough.

5 Things Your Preteen Can Understand About the Bible

bible-983104_960_720Last month, the Barna Group reviled the results of their 2016 Teen State of the Bible research. If you have a few extra moments, I’d recommend reading over the full results. There are many positive responses that can encourage us, but here are a few that may renew our resolve to help kids understand the Bible.

  • Half of teens say the Bible contains factual/historical errors.
  • About 1 in 3 teens say the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.
  • Only 47 percent of teens say the Bible is a source of hope.

That’s a simplified look at the minds of teens when it comes to the Bible. Now, let’s look at what a preteen mind can comprehend about the Bible. (These come from Lifeway’s Levels of Biblical Learning, something that our leaders are being equipped with as they reach our kids.)

  • The truths in the Bible are without error and will last forever.
  • The Bible is God’s message about Himself and God’s plan for salvation.
  • The Bible is the only inspired, written Word of God.
  • The Bible teaches that salvation through Jesus is God’s gift of forgiveness.
  • The Bible teaches how to live a Christian life by following Jesus.

Parents, help your preteens understand these concepts. Make Bible reading a special time in your home!

SUMMER CAMP 2016 RECAP FOR ADULTS (PART 2)

Note: This is the second in a five part series on devotionals for adults from CentriKid camps. See part one for more information.

STATION 2:  Peace Through God’s Word

Where do you find “the truth?” Do you find truth in what your peers say about you, with what you read on social media, or possibly even your own thoughts? Each day, we are faced with hundreds of statements and beliefs all claiming to be the truth.

With so many different distractors clawing for your attention, the truth could be difficult to discern. As a follower of Christ and child of God, you must always seek to find peace in the unchanging Word of God.  It is vital that we set apart time to read, meditate on, and internalize God’s Word to learn more about what He wants to teach us in order to find the truth each day.

Read the following passages:

Psalm 119:105, Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119:162

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Let us imagine that the pictures of soil above are symbols of a life full of the Word of God, and a life absent of the truth of God’s Word.  Some pictures show us what it is like our lives when we set our focus in finding truth in infallible Word of God. The pictures with dry sand is like our lives when we allow the things of this world to fill our lives with stress, filth, and lies.

James 1:21 says, “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.”

Imagine a seed. Ask yourself in which soil you desire to have your life rooted. Do you want your life to be planted in the enriching life-giving soil of being rooted in God’s Word, or in dry, barren soil absent of the ultimate truth of God?  Which picture represents where you’re at and where you want to be?

Pray and ask God to give you the desire and opportunity to daily read His Word, meditate on His Word, and internalize His Word.

Unfailing

There are many strange, odd, and weird occurrences in the world, some of which we as human beings will go to great lengths to accomplish ourselves.  I remember as a 12 year old at Eunice Jr. High school going with my friends to the school library during my lunch break to read. Now, before you begin to applaud my studious and noble academic pursuits, let me make a confession: We went to the library to read the Guinness Book of World Records. That is much less commendable, isn’t it? Yes it is true; we used the extra time of our lunch break to look up the strangest, weirdest, and most disgusting world records we could find. And we found a bunch.

I revisited my childhood recently by searching the Guinness World Records website to find some of the strangest and most ridiculous world records to date. Here are a few notable selections:

  • Ram Singh Chauhan’s mustache is the longest in the world, at 14 feet, officially measured in Rome, Italy, on March 4, 2010.
  • Charlotte Lee (USA) holds the world record for the largest collection of rubber ducks, numbering 5,631, as of April 10, 2011, while Ann Atkin of West Putford, England has a four-acre “Gnome Reserve”, where she has curated a collection of 2,042 garden gnomes and pixies, as of March 2011.
  • The number of most apples crushed with the bicep in one minute is 8, achieved by Linsey Lindberg of Texas.
  • In 2008, Kevin Shelley set the record for most toilet seats broken by one’s head in one minute by shattering 46 in Cologne, Germany.

These records are no doubt astonishing and undoubtedly strange (Toilet seats? Really?) Meanwhile, the rest of us are hobbling along each day just trying to eat healthier, or not to oversleep, or not fall into a hole (hey that could be a new category, “the most consecutive days NOT falling into a hole”).

Obviously these record holders are people who found something that they are “good” at, and they’ve made it a life-passion to the point that they are known as the best or the greatest or the most accomplished individual who can do something that few others can, or desire, to do. And they will be remembered as such. But they did not achieve these strange records without many failed attempts. In fact, if we took the whole of their lives in seeking to achieve such peculiar records, we would see much more failure than success. So if you thought that you had nothing in common with Ashrita Furman (USA), who holds the records for the fastest mile hopping on a pogo stick whilst juggling three balls (23 min 28sec), think again! How many times do you think Ashrita failed before achieving the record? I hopped on a pogo stick once; it didn’t go well. And I’ve also tried juggling, which was a disaster. To do such amazing things takes a lot of hard work and overcoming many failures along the way, which leads us to the point of this article. (You are probably asking “how in the world will he draw out a spiritual message from this apparent nonsense?”)

We are as followers of Christ still struggling with constant failures. Every day is filled with activity, busy-ness, work, play, family, and friends. All along the way we have inner thoughts and struggles which lead us to sin, on top of the many personal interactions we experience each day. And sometimes, perhaps many times, we fail in our attempts to live “Christianly” in those encounters. While we are not out to set any world records for “most Christian man or woman”, we know that we are also called to live our lives in such a way that others see Christ in us and glorify God as a result (Matthew 5:13-16). So what do we do when we fail? We do the same thing that world record holders do: get up, fix your eyes again on the goal, which is Christ, and take another step toward knowing him.

Your failure as a Christ follower does NOT define you, rather the unconditional grace of God and his steadfast love for you are what identify you now (1 Peter 2:9-10). I don’t consider any of the failures of my life (which are too many to count) the defining aspect of my life. Nor do I consider any achievements or noteworthy accomplishments the identifying mark of my life (Philippians 3:3-7). I cannot care about what I’ve accomplished, I must find my hope, joy, and identity in what Christ Jesus has accomplished for me (2 Corinthians 5:21). The most important fact which others much know about me is NOT what great or strange things I’ve done, but what God has worked in me through the person of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29). Like the Apostle Paul, I must consider all things as “rubbish” (all the successes and failures of life) compared with what I have in knowing and being  known by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8).

So all of my failures at honoring Christ supremely and my constant shortcomings in obedience to His Word will not be my defining mark, neither will those days of soaring faith and Christ-honoring righteousness. But what DOES and WILL define me as a person is the saving and life-changing grace of God in Christ Jesus my Lord (1 Corinthians 15:10). I do not foresee a day when I will hold any world records for anything, but I will be no less recognized and known by God, and that is all the recognition I desire.

And so what if you can’t spin the most hula hoops simultaneously around your body (200) or hold your breath under water while suspended upside down longer than any other person (4min 29sec), you are noticed and loved much, much more. Take heart saints of God, for your heavenly Father holds your life close to his heart, and Jesus your Savior reigns as your great Redeemer King, and the Holy Spirit indwells your spirit and life, compelling you and molding you to look more like Jesus every day (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). God knows you, loves you, and He calls you his own. That is all the reason you need to get up and follow him each day. So let us be confessing, repentant lovers of Christ Jesus and by the power of God we will grow in our knowledge of Him. I will continue to pray for you each day, that Christ would be your great pursuit and his glory will be your greatest joy!