Gauging Where People Are Spiritually

When your burden to reach the lost becomes deeper, your passion to reach the lost will become greater. I am convinced that people do not share the Gospel on a frequent basis because they simply do not have a burden for where others will spend eternity. Christians all over the world have a direct mandate from Scripture, said by Jesus Himself, to “Go make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20)  As simplistic as this sounds, depending on the context and the realistic hardships in that context, this may be at best, difficult. It takes courage to talk about our faith but what we will realize is, more people than not, are open to a conversation if we will simply open our mouth.

So how should the conversation begin? How do I know where to even start? First, I would not begin with the classic line “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” My personal approach is much more relational. Get to know the person, talk about common interests, family, etc. What this does is break down preconceived “religious” barriers. In other words you do not want to come across as a “Bible thumper.” Men, if the co-worker, neighbor, is a lady be sure and involve your wife or connect her with a female small group leader from your church so they can connect. Ladies, the same for you. Second, we must realize that only the Holy Spirit truly knows where one is at. We cannot save and we must not act like we are God, knowing all and being all. We are as human as the person we are in conversation with.

So… to the best of my ability, how do I determine if someone understands the Gospel and is a Christ follower? Asking the following questions can help you in gauging where they are at and help them in taking next steps. If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, I encourage you to take these questions and find a Christian you trust and discuss them. Eternity is a big deal.

God: If someone with very little exposure to the local church and the Bible asked you, “Who is God and how do you know He is real…” how would you answer them? Here we have to determine what one thinks about God, whether it is accurate or not. This will help us in determining where their foundation lies.

Sin: What does it mean to commit a sin? What has sin done to our relationship with God? No doubt sin can be a hard thing to talk about. The goal here is not to unveil all of one’s deepest and darkest secrets but, sin is necessary in understanding our need for a Savior. Those who don’t view sin as a big deal will not view the need for a Savior as a big deal. 

Jesus: If someone with very little exposure to the local church and the Bible asked you, “Who is Jesus…” how would you answer them? Why did God send Jesus to us? Jesus is absolutely crucial in the salvation conversation. Understanding Jesus had to come in order for things to be made right, cannot be overlooked or missed. God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit DO NOT operate independently.

Salvation: In your understanding, how does one accept Jesus as their personal LORD and Savior? Has there ever been a time you asked Jesus to be your LORD and Savior? Tell me about that time. Where were you? How old were you? Who was involved in the conversation? Is this a one time decision or can this be done many times? This is where we get to the when, where, who and how. What you are looking for is a time in which a real conversation with a real person occurred. Within this we must determine that the Gospel was clearly and biblically explained, understood and accepted.

Baptism: What is the purpose of baptism? Why should one be baptized? What can baptism not do for you? Baptism is an outward symbol of the work Christ has already accomplished on the inside. Baptism does not have the power to save. A new believer should joyously want to embrace this step with their local faith family.

Spiritual Growth: What is God teaching you right now in your walk with Him? What are you reading in the Word of God right now? This is needed further evidence that Christ is working. Salvation and baptism are not the finish line, it is the beginning.

Click HERE to download the Gauging Where People Are Spiritually tool to help you when you are witnessing or ministering to someone. It can also be found in the Ministry Resources section of the blog.

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3 Things to Remember When Teaching Kids the Bible

One of my absolute favorite things I get to do every week is teach kids the Bible. For some, a room full of elementary kids bouncing off the walls, desiring to play tag with every free minute all while downing a sprinkles-filled donut, might not sound so awesome. While at moments it can drive you nuts, another way to look at it is all the potential that lies in the room. Here is the truth: these kids will not stay kids forever. They will continue to grow up. They are growing up in a world that does not love Jesus and could care less about pursuing Jesus. Parents, therefore, what you teach them matters. Kids ministry leaders, what you do every Sunday and Wednesday matters. It matters for eternity. You can’t save your child or anyone else’s child for that matter but what you can do is teach. You can take a pie-in-the-face, laugh with kids, and then share the Gospel with them. You can set a Godly example. You can equip and release.

Recently, I stepped into more of role in our church’s kids worship environment. It has grown me as a teacher of God’s Word and has shown me things I never saw before. And, quite frankly, I love it. There is simply something incredible about seeing a kid have a “lightbulb” moment and get it for the first time.

While being a part of kids worship I’m learning more and more about the ways kids learn and intake information. If you are a parent of a child, a kids ministry leader, a life-long VBS volunteer, a chaperon for events, or whatever role you find yourself in ministering to kids, I would like to offer you three tips when teaching kids the Bible. I’m in no way an expert in this area but I have found these helpful.

Break it down, don’t water it down. It is huge we understand the difference in these two things. When you break it down you desire to teach for impact. When you water it down you are simply “getting by.” By breaking it down you understand that you have influence in a kid’s life and you desire them to know Jesus. Typically, kids has a greater capacity than we give them credit for. They CAN understand the Gospel and Biblical truths. They CAN understand sin. They CAN understand why Jesus had to come to die for our sins. When we choose to water it down, we live under the false pretense that “kids can’t handle this yet.” As a result, we are doing kids a major disservice. This way of thinking usually comes from an immature Christian that simply does not want to put the time or preparation in. No doubt teaching kids is a difficult task. They are restless, up and down, and their favorite word is usually “why.” However, what we miss when we water it down instead of breaking it down, is the incredible opportunity to speak Gospel truth into the life of a kid at the most receptive time of their life.

Make it stick, so it will click. How you teach, what you teach matters. Hardly a time goes by that I don’t use objects, visual aids, or some form of media, when I’m teaching kids the Bible. These are all great tools in breaking it down to help kids understand what we are trying to communicate to them. When kids understand truth it gives them the opportunity to embrace truth and then apply that truth to the people around them. So work hard at making it memorable so they will have “lightbulb” moments. It is important to remember that you won’t hit a “home-run” every time. That is to be expected and okay. Change your methods up every once in a while, spend time with a parent or a ministry leader further down the road than you and ask what worked for them. All these things can help you think of ways to creatively teach kids the Bible.

Explain the Gospel clearly and often. Never, ever lost sight of this. While I’m all for exciting environments, they should NEVER replace or trump the Gospel message. Again, teach in a very age-appropriate way but never lose sight of the bottom line of why you are teaching in the first place- to introduce kids to Jesus. Don’t lose Jesus in the production. Ask a kid how they became a Christian, and they will inevitably tell you about a time that a caring adult, whether it be mom and dad, a Sunday school teacher, a coach, or a kids pastor/ministry leader, took the time to invest into them and tell them about the greatest hope they can ever have. This is a beautiful picture of the Church being the Church.

Bottom lineCreatively break down the Gospel message so kids clearly understand it and as a result have the chance to connect to it.

Here are three questions to consider as you are teaching kids the Bible:

  1. What is the one thing I want them to remember from our time together in God’s Word? (In other words, what is your bottom line?)
  2. How can I best teach this to them in a fun, age-appropriate way?
  3. No matter what I’m teaching them, how can I tie it back to the Gospel and what Jesus has done for us?

3 Things Christ Following Parents Need to Constantly Remind Their Kids

My wife and I have been parents for a little over 3 years now. We have a 3 1/2 year old daughter and a 4 month old baby boy. No, we are not getting sleep at night and yes, we still love being mommy and daddy. Just the other night I was holding our 4 month old, Caleb, as he had fallen asleep in my arms. I began to look at him, gently rub his head and pray for him. In the background I could hear our 3 1/2 year old daughter running around, avoiding brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed. She is a constant reminder of what energy and laughter is. I thought about the world they will grow up in. I then thought about the solar eclipse that occurred this past Monday and what an incredible display of the awesomeness of God it was. I thanked God for who He is and how He graciously continues to reveal Himself to us. I thanked God that no matter how crazy our world gets, He is still on His throne.

As I was looking at Caleb I began to have a thought I have had many times before, “What do I really want our kids to learn and grasp?” As a Christ following parent, if I could remind them of a few things over and over, what would those things be? These three things came to mind…

God loves you more than you will ever know. Yes, it is crazy important for our kids to know how much we as parents love them. We are very intentional to constantly be affirming and loving with Madelyn and Caleb, even in the tough moments. Yet, even in their very young minds, we want to instill in them that the greatest love they will ever know is the love of God. As much as mom and dad love them, God loves them more. While being raised in a Christian home, having a dad who is a pastor, and being taught the Bible at church and at home, a relationship with God is personal. We desire for our kids to personally know and embrace how much God loves them. He loves them so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for their sins so they can have a right relationship with Him.

This world is broken. Just yesterday morning, while working from a local coffee shop, I had conversation with someone about brokenness in their family. Divorce in the midst of an affair had broken a more than 20 year marriage within their family. As I talked with this person, the conversation led into how an 8 old girl had been effected by the situation and the things she was being exposed to. In one word, brokenness. An 8-year-old sees this and an 88-year-old sees this. We live in a broken world as a result of sin. We need to constantly remind our kids that the brokenness they see is NOT the way God intended the world to be. Yet, He still is crazy in love with us even when we make decisions that do not bring Him glory. We must instill in our kids that yes, brokenness will always exist on this side of eternity but, they can choose to pursue Jesus.

Jesus is always better. Our kids will face many temptations and decisions along the way.  When it comes to choosing the God-honoring path or the worldly path, may we always instill in our kids that Jesus is simply better. He always is. The world offers quick, temporary “happiness” and Jesus offers eternal joy. There is a big difference in these two things. From the young child that yells, “But Mommy, I want it now!” to the teenager that keeps asking, “But why…?!” we need to constantly keep Hebrews 12:1-2 on the hearts and minds of our kids. Why? Because Jesus is better, in every single circumstance that may arise.

From one Christ-following parent to another one that is reading this right now, I know it is hard. We in no way have this parent thing figured out. There are parents that we lean on and ask for Godly advice all the time. We are praying for you as you raise kids in a world that does not love and pursue Jesus. We pray the Gospel of Jesus Christ will so grip your kids hearts and minds that they will passionately live for Jesus and His Kingdom. We are constantly praying this for our kids.

 

Following Jesus.

We live in a world that embraces superficial things, is always looking for whatever is “new and next,” and will ultimately follow things that are only important to them. The moral compass of what is right and wrong is ever-changing and it seems that every time we turn on the TV something is going wrong. In the middle of this we do see things that excite us and things that are good. Maybe its our kids achieving a goal they have worked really hard on, our team excels and is in the state playoffs, we get a promotion at work, we find out that “the news” at the doctor’s office is not as bad as it could have been.

In the middle of all these ups and downs is the prominent priority that is on every Christ followers heart, following Jesus. As a pastor, I get asked all the time, “How do I know if I’m truly following Jesus?” For the most part, at the bottom of this, is a sincere heart that desires to make the name of Jesus famous. While it may not be announced from a stage with a microphone, it seems that many Christ followers, at the same time, feel as if they are consistently wondering what God thinks about them. “Man, I messed up this week” or “Wow, that didn’t go like I had hoped, how did that go so wrong” fills our minds. This leads us to wonder if our commitment to Jesus is genuine. While the enemy is masterful at “getting in our head” and lying to us in order to take eyes off of Jesus, I believe there are at least four indications that we can tangibly see that affirm we did have a genuine relationship with Jesus, the Savior.

The pursuit of God in His Word. A follower of Jesus Christ is simply this: A person who admits they are a sinner, in need of saving. They believe in their heart that Jesus can forgive them of their sins and have confessed Jesus to be the LORD and Savior of their life (Romans 10:9). It is not a speech given, it is a life lived. After making this life-changing commitment to Jesus, the pursuit of God in and through His Word is the desire of the heart. Each and every day we wake up and crave to be washed in the Word, wanting to know Jesus more, and leaning into His promises. It is absolutely impossible to follow Jesus apart from His Word. It simply cannot be done. If you claim to follow Jesus then you should be able to comfortably answer these two questions, “What are you reading in God’s Word right now?” and “What is God teaching you as you read His Word?”

The people around us. The people that we allow to influence our lives and the people we in return influence is a great indicator if you are following Jesus. If you claim to follow Jesus then you should be able to comfortably give exact times, groups, and locations in which you are in biblical community. What local church are you a member of? What small group are you apart of? How are you serving the body of Christ? This whole idea that “My relationship with Jesus is private” is simply not biblical. When you read the book of Acts, you see the early church on fire for Jesus and you see them accomplishing it together (Acts 2:42-47). While a relationship with Jesus is a personal, individual decision, the Christian life is not a solo act. A Jesus follower has people praying for and encouraging them while they are doing the same thing for others. They also have people in their life they trying to reach with Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our perception of life and eternity. A true follower of Jesus has an eternal mindset on all things. When Jesus changes a heart and life, how we deal we conflict, how we react to situations, and how we view what is most important all changes. We do not simply live for the here and now. A Christ follower knows that eternity is at stake. They simply do not go to work with the goal of making money. While bills must be paid, we go to work and view it as a mission field. A Jesus following high school football player is not simply on the team to break records and get a scholarship. He views his team as a mission field. A Christ follower wakes up with this on their mind, “Jesus, how can I love and pursue you more today than I did yesterday?”

The manner in which we pray. The more we follow Jesus, the more we will be conformed to His ways and thoughts. I love to hear a genuine, heartfelt, prayer of a faithful saint. In this you will hear struggles, victories, and a heart for the nations. A true Christ follower rarely prays for something that will only benefit themselves. A key question to consider here is, “Do I tend to pray more selfishly or sacrificially?” Your prayers and your “Christmas wish list” should not sound the same. While it is definitely appropriate and encouraged to pray for your walk with Jesus and things on your heart, a Christ follower is always others-focused.

John 15 is an incredible chapter in the Bible. It has great words of wisdom from Jesus about abiding in Him. John 15 shows us that if we are truly connected to the True Vine, others will be able to see it. Can others see this in you?

John 15:8 (CSB), “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.”

Click HERE to download the Following Jesus Worksheet which will practically help you evaluate if you have a genuine walk with Jesus.

Making God-Honoring Decisions

Some people love to take charge and make decisions. Others hate it and avoid it at all cost. No matter what end of the spectrum you find yourself, we all have to make decisions. No matter if you are asking, “Where will I take my family to eat tonight?” or if you are asking, “Who will I marry?” decisions, big and small alike, are very crucial in life. THE most important decision one can make is accepting Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. All other decisions don’t even compare to this one.

After begin a youth pastor for almost a decade now, I have seen incredible God-honoring decisions made and I have seen terrible decisions made. Decisions tend to make or break us in one form or fashion. They have consequences and rewards. They mature us.

So the question, and one that many people struggle with, is “How do I make God-honoring decisions in my life?” The question behind the question is, “How do I know if I’m making the right decision that will please God and cause me to pursue Him more?

I believe Philippians 4:8-9 gives us an incredible framework and lenses to go by. Here we see eight characteristics that Paul is telling believers to “think about such things.” These can serve as a lenses in which we filter and make God-honoring decisions.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

1. True: Am I prayerfully grounding this decision in the truth of God’s Word?

2. Noble: Is this in line with Godly character?

3. Right: Will this encourage and help others?

4. Pure: Are my thoughts, motives, and actions pure in this?

5. Lovely: Will this help build community?

6. Admirable: How will this effect my testimony?

7. Excellent: Am I choosing best over good?

8. Praiseworthy: Who gets the credit, you or God?

Click HERE for an expanded tool that includes these eight questions and more content to equip you making God-honoring decisions.

3 People Every Christ Follower Needs in Their Life

The Christian life is the greatest thing one can be a part of and invest their life into. When Jesus looked at 12 ordinary men and said, “Follow me,” it was the invitation to die to self and follow the Master. When these 12 men put their “Yes” on the table, an incredible opportunity, full of love, grace, and devotion began. The Christian life is also difficult. Don’t misunderstand, it is completely worth it but with sacrifice comes difficult decisions and constantly defining self for a greater purpose. That being said, as a Christ follower myself I believe there are three people every Christ follower should have in their lives on a consistent basis as we continue to walk this faith journey together.

Someone in front of you. This is a mentor figure in your life that is further down the road than you. A person that instructs and speaks truth into your life. They pray for you, ask hard questions, and model what a devoted Christ follower looks like. They are not perfect by any stretch but they are obedient to what God has called them to do. Therefore they become someone we watch, we learn from, we seek counsel from, and we seek to model what they model. The danger for so many Christ followers is that we become complacent and think “we have made it” in our faith journey and we stop learning, reading, and become lazy. Christ followers, may we always have at least one person that is in front of us, urging us and guiding us to love Jesus more than anything else.

Someone beside you. This is a friend and accountability partner in your life. They are about the same age, same gender, and are in the same life stage as you. You minister to them, they minster to you. They ask you the hard questions, you ask them the hard questions. You meet often, text each other often, and pray for each other often. The Christian life was never, ever meant to be lived in a silo. When Christ followers isolate themselves and don’t have accountability and biblical community in their lives, we are so much more likely to fall into temptation, “hide” sin, and not grow spiritually. It is vital that every Christ follower has at least one person beside them.

Someone behind you. This is either a person that is not a Christ follower or a struggling Christ follower. For whatever reason, they are struggling in life. They need prayer, counsel, encouragement, and most important a maturing Christ follower to come beside them and give them sound, Biblical truth and guidance. They need someone to stop what they are doing and care enough to hear their story. If they are not a Christ follower, they need someone to clearly explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how to accept Him as their personal LORD and Savior. If they are a true Christ follower and they have hit a rough patch, they need someone who will be honest and help them. To commit to pray for and with them. Christ follower, don’t share with this person that you are “in front of them” in life. All this will do is create a “They think they are better than me” mentality that will discourage instead of encourage. Simply minister to them in honest, real and tangible ways.

Christ follower… who is in front of you, who is beside you, and who is behind you? 

 

Community is not the Problem… Biblical Community is.

Community is not the problem, biblical community is. Let me explain. Lets take college football for example. I personally love college football. I wake up on Saturday mornings and watch commentators and analysts talk about the day’s games, predicting wins, loses, and upsets. I have my favorite college football team’s schedule on my calendar. I talk with other fans about my team, what is going well and how we are blowing it. I buy apparel to wear to outwardly support my team. I invite others to know more about my team and connect with those that are like-minded. When I can, I go to games to support my team. Basically, I am a passionate fan and a part of my favorite team’s community.

It is not just me, this happens all over the nation. Passionate fans gather with others to cheer on, support, and encourage the hometown team. And for the most part, as long as it does not cross into becoming an idol, this is a good and exciting thing. The main takeaway from this is people really aren’t scared of community. Why is it Christ followers may not be just as excited about biblical community? Gathering together to cheer on, support, and encourage in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

One might ask, what is biblical community and how does it differ from any other community effort?

Biblical community is when you leverage your influence to lovingly invite others to lean into the instruction that transforms our lives. (Acts 2:42-47)

1. Leverage your influence. Who is in your circle of influence? These are the people you spend the most time with. How do you identify who they are? These are the people you go to sporting events, concerts, and school functions with. These are the people you invite over to your house in the summer for a grill out. These are the people you celebrate life’s victories and struggles with. Simply put, the people you are in close relationship with. When there is relationship their is friendship, trust, and accountability. When these things are evident, you have influence in their lives and they have influence in your life. The question becomes what do you with this influence? Christ followers, do you leverage it for the Kingdom of God or do you waste it? Do you speak eternal Truth into the lives of people you know or do you just talk about last Saturday’s game?

Acts 2:44 (ESV), ” And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”

2. Lovingly Invite. When there is an atmosphere of friendship, trust, and accountability , this creates the window to invitation. What is the invitation? The invitation is to be a part of and invite others to something that is bigger oneself, the mission of God. To not only connect with each other but to connect with each other connect in biblical community with the purpose of discovering who God is and how He is continually changes lives.

Acts 2:46 (ESV), “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,”

3. Lean into Instruction. The main difference in Social Groups/Clubs and Biblical Community is the Bible. Without the Bible, small groups don’t exist. This is why it is called biblical community. The Bible is the story of God: what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. It, very simply put, it a life-changer. Our mission as Christ followers should be to leverage our influence to lovingly invite others to discover the greatest story ever told. To sit with each other on a couch in a living room, with open Bibles, open hearts, and willing to do whatever to make the name of Jesus famous.

Acts 2:42 (ESV), “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

What is the bottom line, the end result? Souls are saved and sanctification is strong. Acts 2:47 (ESV), “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”