The Cure for Spiritual Depression

13947234681_94a051e9daDear Christian,

Today, you will be tempted to live to meet someone’s expectations. And you’re liable to disappoint. It may be your boss, your spouse, your kids, your client, your friend, but most likely it will be yourself. Maybe you’ve already blown that New Year’s resolution to eat less, exercise more, or be more patient with people. Perhaps you just can’t shake the regret over past failures that continue to haunt you.

Don’t forget Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I have often called this the most neglected verse in the Bible. We are programmed by our emotions and that liar, the devil, that this truth from God’s Word is too good to be true! Maybe even worse than that, sometimes our own well-meaning religious friends become an obstacle to believing what God has written. [Read more…]

Do You Know Your Story?

What’s your story? Everyone has a story about life, hopes, fears, joys disappointments. We live in a day where people are captivated by stories. People can tell the stories in their lives that are most meaningful to them. This should be especially true about our faith. In his book, A New Way To Be Human, Charlie Peacock challenges Christians to, “Know the story you profess to be participating in. Know it well and tell it with enthusiasm.” That statement inspired the theme for the North Carolina Baptist Disciple-Making Conference coming up on February 23 at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, NC: One Story.

The purpose of the conference is to help Christ-followers to hear the stories of the people around them, connect their own stories with the stories of others, and ultimately share the One Story that unites all of our stories; God’s story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption through Jesus Christ. If you are in North Carolina, I hope you will consider coming to this conference featuring Ed Stetzer, Robby Gallaty, Afshin Ziafit, and Jon Erwin. The conference is free and will feature over a dozen equipping sessions with hands-on application for hearing, connecting, and sharing God’s story with those around you.  Lunch is $7.00 with limited space. You can register here!

How To Read Through the Bible in 2015 (and Why You Should)

rtbfl-logoEarly in my ministry, I met a sweet widow named Marie. Marie was a godly woman. She was a poet, a prayer warrior, and a lover of Scripture. I remember once that Marie told me that she had read through the Bible from cover to cover over twenty times in her life. Her declaration both inspired and intimidated me. Since Marie had that conversation with me two decades ago, the status of the Bible in America has dwindled. Al Mohler adeptly dissects the latest attack on God’s Word from Newsweek. Moreover, in a 2014 Barna survey  39% of Millennials say they never read the Bible and only 37% of Americans claimed to have read the Bible at least once a week. Of course, it should be common sense that Christians should read the Bible. The reality is that few people read any part of the Bible, much less all of it. Compared to the devout Muslim or Orthodox Jew it is shameful just how little regard Christians give the Bible. It is more than shameful. It is sin. [Read more…]

Six Steps to Spiritual Growth in 2015, Part Three

praying handsToday is devoted to the final two steps in developing your spiritual growth plan for the coming year. On day one, we looked at reflecting and committing. Day two was devoted to reading and memorizing the Bible. Today is focused on prayer and evaluation.

Step Five. Decide how you will pray. Prayer aligns our hearts with the heart of God. Read a book like With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray to help you orient yourself rightly toward God. A simple and useful device to remember some components of prayer is the “prayer hand” by the Navigators. As a parent, I love to pray for my children using Andrew Case’s free resource, Setting Their Hope on God: Biblical Intercession for Your Children. You can also list the people you know who are lost and pray for them by name. I have a list in the front of my journal. This has allowed me to celebrated as I have been able to record the dates that many friends on the list have come to Christ. It also causes me to weep over friends who do not yet know or have rejected the hope of Christ. Additionally, use a prayer guide like Operation World to pray for the peoples of the world to know Christ.

Step Six. Evaluate. As we noted in the first post of this series, most people abandon New Year’s resolutions within the first six months. This is due in large part to the fact that people rarely stop to evaluate their progress. It is a good idea to schedule monthly reviews of how you are doing in your spiritual growth plan. Frequent stops along the journey will prevent you from falling so far behind that you become discouraged and drop out. A monthly audit allows you to get back on course or make course corrections. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Where am I on track with my plan?
  • Where have I fallen behind?
  • Are the practices I am engaged in helping me grow in Christlikeness? Why or why not?
  • What do I need to change?
  • What do I need to do differently/keep the same to ensure success?

So, finish 2014 by setting your course for 2015. Hoist your sails and get ready for a great ride!

Read Part One
Read Part Two

Six Steps to Spiritual Growth in 2015, Part Two

bible glassesIn the last post, I talked about the importance of planning for spiritual growth in 2015. Step one was to reflect by asking some questions to determine where you are spiritually. Step two was to commit by scheduling a daily appointment with the Lord for 2015. Today we will look at the next two steps. Both are related to encountering the truth of God’s Word.

Step Three. Decide how you will study God’s Word. Apart from intentional intake of the Bible, you will not grow spiritually. It is God’s Word through which He communicates His great story and His purposes. There are many different reading plans available from YouVersion. I will be reading through the Bible in 2015 using the Read the Bible for Life plan (more on this next week). Devotional guides such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening or Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest may also prove helpful for insight and reflection. One warning about devotionals – make sure they are reflections on God’s Word, not additions to God’s Word. A human’s comments, no matter how popular, should never replace the Bible itself. Don’t forget the material your church provides for you Bible study or small group. These can also provide a great framework for systematic study.

Step Four. Decide how you will memorize Scripture. Making the Word of God a part of your memory will benefit you tremendously for the purposes of avoiding sin (Psalm 119:11), worshiping God moment by moment, and encouraging others by giving biblical counsel. Perhaps, you should focus your memorization on verses related to the answers to your questions from Step One. Two great memory plans are Fighter Verses and the Topical Memory System. The Fighter Verses app gives lots of tools for aiding in memory. The Topical Memory System helps give someone a basic foundation in key biblical truths.

So, spend some time today deciding how you will study and memorize God’s Word. Without it, you will not grow spiritually. It’s how God talks to His people. Tomorrow, we will look at how we talk to Him.

Read Part One
Read Part Three

Six Steps to Spiritual Growth in 2015, Part One

Photo Credit: A.L.Gibson via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: A.L.Gibson via Compfight cc

The last week of the year is a perfect time to reflect on the year that was and the year the could be. I say “could be” because a fresh year brings fresh possibilities and opportunities. There is a season for everything according to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3. The New Year is the season for resolutions. The problem with resolutions, though, is that they often do not stick. In fact, leadership expert Michael Hyatt tells us that twenty-five percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week. Moreover, sixty percent of people abandon those resolutions within six months. In fact, it is believed that the average person will make the same resolution ten times without success! [Read more…]

Putting Santa in His Place

throne of lies
SPOILER ALERT!! This post is for adults only! Secrets will be exposed, so hide yo’ kids.A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a tacky Christmas party. Ugly sweaters abounded and there were even men in tights. Yes, tights. No, I’m not kidding (hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wife). Christmas may never be the same, but that’s another story. Seeing that I’m usually accidentally tacky and not creatively tacky I just wore a t-shirt with a picture of Santa and the words, “Don’t stop believin’.” All of you who are Journey fans just went to a special place, didn’t you?It was all fun and games until a friend of mine stated her surprise that I, a Christian, would have Santa come to my house. My friend is sincere about her unbelief and I appreciate that we have been able to have real talks about faith over the years without it being disagreeable. This time, though, I was caught off-guard. I have known some Christian families who did not have anything to do with Santa Claus. I appreciate their sincerity and I respect their freedom to parent as they see fit. This was the first time, though, that I had ever been challenged by someone who is not a Christian on why a Christian would include Santa in their Christmas traditions.Circumstances prevented us from finishing our conversation, but my friend helped me to understand that people are really curious about faith and practice. The conversation also helped me to think about where or even if Santa belongs in our Christian Christmas tradition.I think Santa has a place, but we need to put him in the right place. After all, the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the acts of a Christian–Saint Nicholas–who gave lavishly to people he found in need, especially children. So here are six key principles to remember as you consider what place Santa has in your family:

  1. Focus more on Jesus than on Santa. Jesus really is the reason for the season. Go to great lengths to help your kids understand that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and with his coming, he brings the gift of salvation. In our home, the Nativity Scenes have more prominence than Santa.
  2. Fantasy is different from deception. I understand the argument: If kids find out that Santa isn’t real will they think the same about Jesus? The logic of that argument is faulty, though. Most people, as they mature, have very little trouble separating fact and fiction. Actually for children, stories and fantasies can help them learn about morality and virtue. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error).” I believe his point was that we can use fiction to help us understand key underlying truths using make-believe. The key is keeping the mystery alive without lying (see the next point)
  3. When your kids ask, tell the truth. The day will come when children begin to put the pieces together about the truth of Santa Claus on their own. When they ask you if Santa is real, you can answer that question with a question: What do you think? There’s that mystery idea from #2. As they develop, eventually they will understand the truth. Affirm them as they begin to realize the truth and take the opportunity to talk about Christ as the reality of Christmas.
  4. Respect those with a different viewpoint. Many Christians do not celebrate Santa. We should not discount these brothers and sisters as legalists if their decisions are made out of conviction and not obligation.
  5. Think it through. It is important for Christians to know why they do what they do so that they can explain to a watching world what makes Jesus so special. We should also know why we have Santa in our celebrations and how we help our families see the difference.
  6. But don’t over think it. There are enough big issues to stress over as parents. Let’s not let others’ opinions of us add a burden not worth bearing. Have fun! Decide what is best for your family based on biblical principles. Use traditions where possible to point people toward the gift of Jesus.

So enjoy Santa this Christmas, or don’t. Either way, put him in his place.

My New Christmas Tradition

Whether it’s ugly sweaters, epic outdoor light displays, Christmas baking (yes, please),watching “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” or (for you traditionalists) “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everybody has some holiday traditions.Jimmie-Johnson-in-Ugly-Christmas-Sweater

The consistency of doing something the same way or in the same location with the same people year after year embeds memories of what is important to a family. My family has lots of Christmas traditions, but for some reason, celebrating Advent has not been one of them. I don’t know why, but it was never a part of my church or family experience. A few of the churches we attended while I was growing up lit an “Advent Candle” every Sunday in December, but I don’t remember them ever explaining what they meant. (Read more about making sure our memorials have meaning here).

We have always done something to prepare for Christmas. When the kids were younger we had a countdown calendar that told the story of the birth of Jesus by adding one character to a nativity scene every day until Jesus was added on Christmas morning. We also used the great resource “What God Wants for Christmas” to share with the kids about the birth of Jesus during the week of Christmas.

But, I have never intentionally set aside the month of December to contemplate the coming of Jesus and prepare my heart in worship of him…until this year. Now my question is, “Why haven’t I done this before?” This year, at the encouragement of my awesome wife we are using John Piper’s free eBook, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” to lead our family through Advent devotions. I am reading the daily entry in the morning during my quiet time and then we are reading them together as a family at night.

Here’s why I think Advent will become one of my traditions:

1. Priorities – It is easy to get sucked into the materialism of Christmas. Focusing on daily worship of Jesus has kept me from putting too much emphasis on the wish list side of Christmas.
2. Connection – Reading the same devotion daily and then sharing with one another at night unites our family around our faith.
3. Perspective – Advent devotions help me to not just focus on the Bible stories centered on the event of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2, etc.) but to see how every part of the Scripture points to the coming of the Messiah or looks back to his coming.

So, if you’re feeling as uptight as Clark Griswald when cousin Eddie shows up for dinner, relax! It’s not too late for you, either. Here are a few Advent resources you can use with your family.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Expected One by Scott James (Great for young families)

Multiple Advent Reading Plans available on the YouVersion Bible App.

Turning Toward Mission, Step One

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Last week I wrote about the need for churches to turn outward and amplify the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also promised practical steps for making your church systems a megaphone for making disciples. We are all seeking effective approaches. Everyone is seeking the steps that will lead to success. I am always reluctant simply to give a pragmatic answer. The books, articles, seminars–and blogs–offering the step-by-step approach are legion. But no matter what system or steps one chooses to implement, I believe true missional realignment in ministry or in your personal life comes from two key ingredients. The first is spiritual renewal. The second is disciplined, hard work. I want to focus on step one. [Read more…]

Funnel or Megaphone?

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]