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.

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Posted in Discipleship, Leadership, Student Ministry, Theology

Christ Followers, Committed Athletes, and the Faith Journey

I’m a big sports fan. It is not the most important thing in my life or even the second most important thing in my life but it is something that I have committed a lot of time, energy, and resources to over the years. In fact, I don’t remember to many summer vacations growing up because most my summers were spent on the baseball ball field. Therefore, my family would vacation during the Christmas break. Currently, I serve with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a Character Coach at a local elementary school.

We live in a sports-crazed society no doubt. A week rarely goes by in which we don’t learn about some sort of “breaking news” in the world of sports. Recently, three men were inducted into Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame for Major League Baseball. This week is the Super Bowl in the National Football League. There is a lot of hype, analytical work, and money spent on things like this.

As Christ followers, Jesus desires certain traits and characteristics in us. When you read the Scriptures you see the type of people He called to follow Him, to join Him on mission. You will notice things such as hard work, devotion, and passion. You also see these traits in athletes that are successful on any level of competition. Furthermore, I believe we as Christ followers can learn a lot from the lifestyle, work ethic, and passion of committed athletes. Allow me to highlight four of these areas.

Train effectively and often. The coaches I had growing up taught me this: Games are won in preparation. If you have lousy practices during the week, you will probably not find yourself in the win column that often. Committed athletes train physically no doubt but, it is just as important to train mentally and emotionally as well. Winning athletes wake up before any else to train. They are the first ones in the building and the last ones to leave. Their dedication to their team and sport is undeniable. As Christ followers, how often are we training spiritually? This goes way past picking up a Bible every once in a while. Some Christ followers might tell you Jesus is the most important aspect of their life but then will scramble to find their Bible for church on Sunday mornings. It is not only important to train often but also effectively. Things such as accountability, biblical community,  involvement in the local church, and consistent gospel conversations, are crucial in the life of a believer and help us grow in our walk with Jesus.

Forced to think “we” before “me.” Sports, in large part, are team-oriented sports. You have to be successful as a team unit in order to be effective and win. The most successful teams are full of individual team members who work hard to be the very best at their specific job so that the overall team is successful. With that being stated, there is no denying teams are full of self-centered, egotistic, “all about me,” athletes. What do you see come from this? Distractions and a broken team unit. While they may be incredibly gifted athletes, they end up hurting their team instead of helping their team. Committed, successful athletes are forced to think and thrive on “we” before “me.” A quarterback-wide receiver combination is only as good as the offensive line is. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, Jesus told His disciples you must deny self, pick up your cross daily, and follow me. The mission of God is all about one person, Jesus Christ. It is not about us, it is about something  way bigger than us.

Make others around them better. This is possibly the single most important trait of a committed, successful athlete. When they step onto the field or court, they make others around them better. Their skill set allows others to shine. I love seeing an elite quarterback make an average wide-receiver look incredible. This also gets back to the theme of work ethic. When leaders in the locker room work endlessly, it is amazing how often others on the team exemplify that. On the other end, when leaders in the locker room have terrible attitudes, it can destroy the team as well. Jesus spent His earthly ministry pouring into a few men with an incredibly calling on their life. He taught them, spent time with them, prayed with and for them. Why? Ultimately because He loved and cared for them but also because He knew the type of impact they could and would have. Being around Jesus, His Kingdom and mission makes us better believers, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, employees, and so on.

Play through the pain. Committed, successful athletes want to be on the field or court at all cost. They will do whatever it takes to be able to play and help their team win. It kills them to stand on the sidelines and watch. They play hurt and convince the training staff they can play even when they probably shouldn’t. Their attitude is “cast it up” and lets play ball! The Christian life is hard, no doubt. It is a life of self-denying sacrifice that comes with victories and hardships, bumps and bruises. At the end of the day though, a committed, successful athlete knows it is worth it. Following Jesus is not always easy, it is always worth it. Every single time.

So to the Christ follower… are you training effectively and often or are you being lazy and apathetic? Are you thinking “we” before “me?” Are you making others around you better by the example you are setting? Are you playing through the pain or are you giving up?

Posted in Leadership, Sports

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? 

 

Posted in Discipleship, Leadership, Theology

We Didn’t Go to Church on Wednesday

We didn’t go to church this past Wednesday evening. Before you jump to conclusions, no, I have not lost my job and yes, things are fine at the church. We didn’t go to church on Wednesday because it was fall break for our local school system and we didn’t have our regularly scheduled activities. Our local school system actually has a two week fall break. Our student ministry had a game night during the first week and then the second week we gave our leaders and families a break. Many people were out of town for both weeks anyway.

This past Wednesday actually ended up being a very eye-opening, confirming night for me. Let me explain by giving you four observations/confirmations I made by being a home on a Wednesday night.

Our neighborhoods are full of people not connected to a local church. I saw many of our neighbors and their friends. At one point I looked out our front door and counted 8 kids, various ages. The driveways were full of cars, not empty. I had a great conversation with my next door neighbor about his job, family, and what it is like raising kids. It lasted about 30 minutes but no where in the conversation did he say, “Wait a minute, aren’t you a pastor? Why aren’t you at church right now?” We talk about missional living as this trip we go on 10 hours down the road in a different city, all while we have people we see everyday, that live right next to us, that may not be saved. That aren’t connected to a local church.

Our start times may be difficult for some. Several of my neighbors got home right before 6pm or right after 6pm. Most of the ones I personally know work 30-45 minutes away from our neighborhood. Our church has an optional dinner that begins at 5pm and then activates start at 6pm or a little bit after. People are busy, no doubt. Several families have two working parents, leaving/picking up kids at daycare, practices, recitals, and so many other things. We have to have a start time for programming. If you start earlier people can’t get off work to be there in time. If you start later you run into bed times for younger kids, middle and high students cramming to finish homework, and so on. Its a hard call when is the best time to start. Again just an observation about how crunched people are for time.

People miss church. I received a text message from one of our leadership high school students right before 6pm asking what time the party started at my house. We joked for a little while and I thought to myself, “What a great idea for another fall break down the road!” If I had student stuff that night would some have came, yes. Would it been a great night, yes. Next two week fall break am I going to meet both weeks, no. Why? It’s totally okay and valid to give volunteers a break every once in a while. It gives them a necessary break and tells them I appreciate what they do. You also have to have volunteers to pull it off. If you don’t, then you need to seriously evaluate what and how you are doing ministry. It was good to hear from students and know that they miss when we don’t meet.

I love what I do. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and spending time with them, but I missed church as well. It was an odd feeling. What was on TV? What were we going to do? I ended up thinking a lot about church and actually began writing this blog post. Outside of family vacation and if I’m so sick I can’t see straight, we are always at church on Wednesday. Some may say, “Well you are paid to be, right?” Technically, yes, but I have gone to church on Wednesday nights long before I was a paid staff member. That does not make me more spiritual than someone who works third shift and simply can’t make it a Wednesday night at 6pm. Church is a priority in my family, always has been, always will be.

We didn’t go to church this past Wednesday evening. Was that a bad thing, not at all. Should that be the habit, not at all.

 

Posted in Family, Leadership, Ministry

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.”

Posted in Discipleship, Small Groups, Theology

Small Groups and Student Ministry

The fall semester began this week for many students all over the nation. This means getting back into regular routines that seem to go away during the summer months. Parents are waking up their kids in the early morning hours, school teachers are preparing lessons, coaches are lining the fields, and you can hear the marching bands once again as they prepare for Friday nights. All of these things are exciting things to look forward to and be a part of.

In the life of the local church, student ministries all over the nation are gearing up for their fall launches as well. Student pastors and leaders have the incredible opportunity to partner with parents in developing students to be salt and light on their school campuses. To take what they learned during the summer months through camp, retreats, and mission trips, and leverage it for Gospel influence.

Also, new small groups are gearing up to launch and existing ones are beginning to get back into their regular routines. Whether these are on campus groups or off campus groups, these are crucial in the life of a Christ follower. Of all the things student ministries do, small groups are one of, if not the most important, aspects we can build into. Allow me to give you a few reasons why I believe this.

Biblical small groups faithfully engage in the Word of God. Students have the incredible opportunity to engage in God’s Word on a more intimate level with a caring adult. While the preaching of God’s Word in a worship service is very important, it is almost impossible to digest the content of God’s Word outside of a small group community. When we sit down with a group of people to read and study Scripture, we have the opportunity to get to know God, our Heavenly Father, more intimately. It is important to remember that without the Word of God small groups are simply social clubs. Discipleship is key.

Biblical small groups give students a safe place to ask questions and seek Truth. Students have hard questions about life issues and what the Bible communicates to these issues. To many times in the local church we want to avoid hard issues and answer with the typical, “Read your Bible and pray more.” While these are definite spiritual disciplines, small groups are an incredible opportunity for students to ask questions and seek Truth on a deeper level. Students should not feel inferior or “lesser” of a Christian because they have doubts. We all have doubts, every single human being. Small groups also allow students to see caring adults as they walk through life, with their own have struggles and victories. Within this, the accountability factor is a huge part of small groups. Relationships are key.

Biblical small groups give students an intentional place to be known. Students thrive on having small group leaders they know they can trust and are available to them. Parents love that they can have other trusted adults impacting their kid’s lives. It is a win-win situation. “What is God teaching you through His Word right now?” “How are you making Jesus famous in your circle of influence?” “How are you glorifying God in your thoughts, words, and actions?” These are great questions for a caring small group leader to ask students they are in a discipleship relationship with. When the local church loves on the next generation and reinforces the truths of God’s Word to them, we see students sent out to make a difference and invest in younger believers with the same passion. Intentionality is key.

May student ministries all over be purposeful in developing healthy small groups for students to engage in. When leaders and students dive into the mission of God together, incredible Kingdom work takes place.

Posted in Discipleship, Small Groups, Student Ministry

Families and the Summer Months

Summer is here!!! What an exciting time for families to connect with each other and do Kingdom work! What tends to happen within the summer schedule is we allow our spiritual growth to drift a little bit due to different schedules, vacations, camps, and so forth. For many of us this can be done very unintentionally but yet very easily. Satan is “crafty” as Genesis 3 teaches and he may be getting your heart by getting your calendar. If you are consistently going to bed at night exhausted and worn out from various activities, there is a chance you might be falling into this category. You might be involved in really great, moral, activities but are you engaged in Gospel-centered, Kingdom work? Allow me to make four suggestions that you and your family can do over the summer to enhance your spiritual walk both as individuals and as a family.

Share the Gospel. Find a family in your neighborhood that is lost, on the fringe, or unchurched, and make a connection with them. Invite them over for a meal and fellowship. Take them a plate of cookies one afternoon and invite them to a family event at your church. The key, however, is to do all this with the intention of sharing the Gospel with them. A neat thing to also do is pray for the families in your neighborhood by street.

Connect to a Daily Bible Reading Plan. Make sure you and your family are in the Word every single day. Parents have to be the ones setting the example and modeling this. Kids will model what they see. There are TONS of great resources available to help out with this such as bible apps, websites, and printed materials are all very accessible. My encouragement to families is to find a time, a place, and a resource that works for them and be diligent to see it through.

Spend Quality Time Together. I know spending quality time together as a family is growing more and more difficult simply due to schedules, especially if you are raising multiple kids. Make it a point to spend quality family time 2-3 times a week. In this time talk about what God is doing in your hearts and lives. Spend time together by seeing a movie, grilling out with other families, going to a local ballgame, or getting some ice-cream after dinner one night. All of these things communicate a key truth: I care about you and you are worth my time. Kids, whether they want to admit it or not, want to know we care about them and love them. One of the best ways to do this is to simply spend time together. Jesus modeled this in His ministry- He was all about people. He also took time to be alone- to rest and relax and spend time with the Heavenly Father.

Engage into Ministry Outreach. Simply put, be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around you. Serve during VBS week and/or get plugged into a mission opportunity through the local church. Find another family that is in need and if you are able to, meet it. If you don’t have the resources to help them do what you can, God will honor your heart and effort. One of the best ways we can reach families with the Gospel is simple acts of service. We model this because Jesus modeled this.

Summer is often seen as a time of rest and relaxation. While we definitely need to take time to do this, that doesn’t mean we put evangelism and spiritual growth on hold or make it an after thought. This summer, whether we have a lot of free time or we find ourselves so “busy” we literally can’t fit everything in, Jesus and Kingdom work must be our top priority.

Here is a simple way to think about ministry as a family:

Sharing: Who are we telling our faith story too?

Growing: How are we growing in our faith and as a family?

Caring: When are we spending quality time together?

Engaging: Where are we plugging into ministry?

Posted in Family, Kids Ministry, Student Ministry