The best place to be

I was driving down the road in England when I had my first experience of culture shock.  It wasn’t driving on the left side of the road.  It wasn’t seeing fields of sheep instead of cows.  It wasn’t the small cars, narrow roads, and never-ceasing roundabouts. It wasn’t the architecture, accent, or the food.  My first experience of culture shock happened in a  town outside of Birmingham, named Alum Rock.

A couple of hours previous, we had just met our new friends who are ministering in another suburb of Birmingham.  We went for a tour of the city to see the opportunities for ministry and to get an understanding of what life is like in that area.  Our friend drove us through Alum Rock to give us a taste of what life is really like.  You see, Alum Rock is 90% Muslim.  If you were blindfolded, and plopped down in the middle of that village, you would be tempted to say you were in Pakistan.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’d experienced London a few days prior and had been through a number of smaller English towns and quaint villages, so I thought I had a taste of England.  This was a flavor, I had never seen or experienced before.  No one ever goes to England and visits Alum Rock, I can promise you that.

It was during this drive that I felt completely overwhelmed by the gospel need of this town, but I didn’t know where to even begin.  My mind couldn’t process what church and ministry would be like in this neighborhood.  In this part of Birmingham, there are a few small churches, and abundant mosques.  We drove by 2 of them that can hold thousands.

I’ll never forget Alum Rock or the drive that day, and I hope I never do.  As I was processing all that we had experienced earlier in the day, I cried out to God to help me light_in_dark7understand what I had seen.  God in His perfect timing brought to mind a sermon I had heard earlier that week from Tim Chester about how the church must be a community of light because God is light, and in this world is great darkness.

What a powerful truth!  The best place to be sometimes may be the darkest.  Not because the dark is good, but because it’s in the darkness that the smallest light has the greatest power.

As a child, I was afraid of the dark.  I always had to have a nightlight on when I went to bed.  In some ways, the darkness, spiritual darkness, still captivates my heart with fear.  I hope that God will continue to give me the grace to push beyond this fear and go to places that need light the most.

You may be in a dark place emotionally, spiritually, or relationally.  Our tendency is to run to false lights that promise hope and comfort.  My prayer for us as a church today is that we would let the light of the gospel shine forth from us and that we would be willing to shine this light into the dark places around us.

Going to the dark places of this world is difficult, but it may be the best place where God is going to show you how great and powerful His light really is.

What our church needs to hear

One of the things I take very seriously is the teaching theme and calendar of our church. There is a lot of prayer, meditation, and discussion with our elders that goes into what we teach and preach during our Sunday gatherings.

As we’ve started this year’s theme of “Every man, woman, and child”, I recognize how far I have to go in order to live a life of mission. I’ve realized that many times the greatest hindrances that you and I have in living a life on mission are the idols in our hearts. What it comes down to is that we all love certain things more than Jesus. It’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. We can do a lot of talking about mission, but the proof of our faith will always be manifested in our lives.

I can’t help but think about what our church would look like if we were unshackled from the idols that rob us from the Kingdom joy and work that God wants for us. Talking about idols of the heart is always difficult because we don’t like looking at reality, but reality is our friend. There are times that hard things need to be confronted and said.

This leads me to share with you that after we get back from our mission trip, on March 16 we’ll be starting a new series at Providence talking about the biggest idols we all face: money, sex, and drugs.

I know that some churches talk about these things in order to be provocative, but our desire is rather to address these things because there are idols in our lives that are keeping us from being a church that is fully realizing our kingdom potential in Christ. Simply, we cannot live on mission while holding onto the idols of the world.

Over the next few months we’ll be talking about some hard things, but, more importantly, necessary things. If we want our church to mature, there are things we need to confront and talk about.

I was talking with someone from our church the other day and they were sharing how in their corporate culture, the leader doesn’t like to hear about the problems that exist in the company. Maybe you’ve felt frustrated by a similar work culture. The church should be different. We need to courageously and boldly talk about the problems and issues that lie before us.

I share this all of you, so that we will all be in prayer to see and hear what God wants us to see and hear. We need to pray that we would be courageous enough to confront our deep seated idols, so that Jesus would receive the worth and glory that is due His Name.

May we all be free to experience the joy in worship and the power of mission in Jesus’ Name. We’ll see you all in a couple weeks.

My son prayed for $100,000 last night and I hope he gets it.

Last night, as our family was doing our regular bedtime routine of stories and prayers, I asked my oldest to give the final prayer for our family.  We have a list of things that we usually pray for, and he proceeded to pray for all of those things.  My kids have picked up on some of the things I routinely pray for, so he mentioned some of those as well.  Then my son threw a curveball into his prayer last night and prayed for 100 grand.  Now before you jump to conclusions, I have to explain why and who it was for.

Yesterday during our Sunday gathering, if you were there, you know I mentioned the 539444_242466675871887_1606113187_nUganda missions trip that our church is going on, as well as, an offering that we are going to take to help with the completion of the baby’s home.  In passing, I mentioned that they needed $100,000 to complete the 5,000 sq. ft. orphanage and medical clinic (our church and another in Nebraska have a very good relationship with Ken and Cathy Nganda and their amazing ministry to orphans in Uganda).  My son, who heard about this need in church yesterday, decided to start praying for the $100,000 for the orphanage.

At first I was proud that my son was not only listening in church, but also had enough compassion and faith to bring this before our Heavenly Father.  I was then confronted with the reality that I had not thought of praying for this need sooner.  I wrestled with this and realized how numb I have become about the needs around me.  I hear about families and marriages that are hurting.  I hear about missions needs and orphan needs, and because it’s all too big for me and overwhelming to really contemplate, I start to become numb to it all.  And what I realized was this numbness was leading to prayerlessness.

Have you found yourself feeling numb to the needs and hurts around you?

I need to rediscover the childlike faith displayed by my son last night.  He simply heard of a need, a need that’s too big for him to really do anything about, but he responded by taking this big need to the One who can something about it.

What if we all started to pray like this?  What if our first response and our continual response was prayer to the needs around us?  There’s something too big for all of us today that we are facing.  How will we respond?

I hope that my son keeps praying for $100,000.  I know I need to as well.

 

Different day, same struggles

Have you ever felt that God keeps teaching you the same lesson over and over again?  I found an old journal that I had written in over 15 years ago and as I read it I found myself saying, “I still struggle with the same old stuff!”  Things look a little different based on 1338997261_1385403335the stage of life I’m in, and God has definitely changed me, but the same root issues are still there.  I wonder how many of us could say the same thing?

There are two things that the Holy Spirit reminded me of as I leafed through my old journal.  The first is that there are some idols of my heart that run very deep.  I was reminded of the source of all of these sins the other day when I was reading Matthew 15.  Jesus after an altercation with the Pharisees about uncleanness teaches his disciples that what defiles a person is not their external conformity, but what comes out of their heart.  When I see things in my life that I don’t like, it’s a reminder that I continue to need God’s grace to shape me and transform my heart into Christ’s image.  I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself daily because there are some idols that can’t be fixed by going forward after a service or attending another Bible study.  My need for Christ is as great today as it was when came to Jesus over 2 decades ago.  I feel like Paul in 1 Timothy 1 when he says, “I’m the chief of all sinners”, yet in the same breath I can say “but praise be to God for His marvelous grace!”

The second thought that God reminded me of was how amazing His faithfulness really is.  After all these years, and after the constant moving, prodding, enlightening, convicting, teaching, comforting, and leading of the Holy Spirit, I still can turn my back on the one who has given me everything and has loved me more than anyone ever can.  Who loves like that and who keeps loving like that?  I’m in awe again of the shear magnitude of Christ’s kindness and mercy and grace towards me.  Why would I run to any other that promises my heart all that my soul craves?

You may feel defeated today because it’s the 12,537 time that messed up in that one area again, but if you are in Christ, His work hasn’t stopped, and He’ll keep working on you and in you until you are conformed into His image.

You may feel tired of struggling with the same old weight of sin, remember that Jesus paid it all.  It is finished.  Live in the freedom of grace that He’s provided for you today.  He isn’t tired of showing you grace.  Let His love fuel your desire to change.

It’s good to know in another 15 years, I may have the same struggles, but the same God will be with me as well.  As Paul said in the final chapter in his letter to the church of Thessalonica, “He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”

The best way to train your children in 2014

I know a lot less today about successful parenting than I did 12 years ago.  If you are wondering why the number “12″, just know that my oldest is 12 years old.  I feel like I’m learning something new all the time about how to be a godly parent, so what I share is not coming from anyone who considers themselves an expert.  There are a host of mistakes that I’ve made, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could start over, but thanks be to God that the outcome of my children depends more on God’s grace than my abilities.

My perspective has changed a lot since I first became a dad.  I used to push my kids to make big behavioral changes if I saw something sinful or selfish in them.  I wanted sanctification to happen on my timetable and not the Holy Spirit’s.  Of course, God has a way of humbling us as parents, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t produce the change I Mason building brick wallwanted to see in my kids.  I also realized that pride and fear were the biggest motivators in the “discipleship” process I was implementing as a father.

One of the biggest perspective changes I made was looking at my role as a father a little bit like a brick or stone mason.  Now if you see the craft of a skilled stone mason, you’ll notice how quickly they can build a wall, foundation, building, etc.  Unfortunately, we don’t get the privilege of building quickly as parents.  It’s a slow, tedious process.  I look at my life now as an opportunity to lay one brick a day in my child’s heart.  That brick is either going to be made in oven of gospel truth or the oven of legalism, or, unfortunately, no brick at all.  Each brick will be placed on the foundation of their heart or taped on the outside of their flesh.

This picture of laying one brick a day has helped me to stay consistent and purposeful in how I engage with my children on a daily basis.

The question you may have now is, “so how do you lay that one brick everyday?”

The best way I have found to lay a brick everyday is to read to your child/children.

Reading to them is far greater than sitting down and watching a movie or show.  Veggie Tales videos are great if you are looking for something to not wreak havoc on your child’s mind, but if you want to lay a gospel brick on their heart, read to them.  I know that this may seem like an archaic idea, and you may believe that your children will never sit still long enough to listen to what’s being read.  Just remember that you don’t have to start out reading for 30 minutes.  If your children are young, start with 5-10 minutes and move up from there.  Sitting still and listening is a discipline that needs to be developed in children.

Here are the books we’ve read as a family together with the age range beside it.  I’ve even added a few that we haven’t read yet, but have come highly recommended and that we plan on reading soon.

1. The Bible – I know, like this even needs an explanation, but I think we would be shocked how many families do not sit down together and read even 1 chapter of the Bible.  Find a version that reads easier like the NIV and try to read at least 1 chapter a day to start.  It’s definitely the best brick that you can lay.

51Yl4qoqtvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2. Building on the Rock series (5 books) by Joel Beeke and Diana Kleyn – Scores of short stories from the last few hundred years of God moving in powerful ways.  They range from stories of God working to bring about salvation in individuals to God working through providence to help His children in need.  My kids used to ask me to read these books to them every night when they were younger.  Age range 5-10 

 

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3. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones – I love this book because it doesn’t just teach the details of the stories of the Bible, but it weaves in the grand gospel narrative of Jesus as the hero throughout every Bible story.  Age range 3-6

 

51OYC0PZmVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-63,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_4. The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken – Amazing story of one man’s journey with God through persecution and ministry.  Nik goes on to interview hundreds of other Christians around the world where it isn’t easy to follow Jesus.  The stories of God’s power, love and faithfulness have made a big impression on our family.  Age range 8-high school

51TRbvo1PlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_5. The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson – If your family loves Duck Dynasty like we do, then your family will love this book.  It’s a book that shares the story of Willie and Korie’s families and how God gave them the opportunity to do the TV show.  Our kids loved hearing about the humble beginnings of the Robertson family and seeing that they aren’t just about fun, but that they are really all about Jesus.     Age range 6-middle school

cover6. Not a fan by Kyle Idleman – I read this when the students at Providence were going through it.  I loved it as a simple straightforward way of challenging the consumer culture that is all around us.  Jesus is either going to be everything to us or nothing to us.  I haven’t read this yet to my family, but will in a few years.  Age range middle school-high school

 

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7. Five Who Changed the World by Danny Akin – This is a small little book that chronicles 5 different missionaries from the 18th to 20th century.  As you can probably tell, I love reading biographies to my kids and these 5 condensed biographies are the perfect length for younger kids to grasp the power of a life given in sacrifice for the mission of God.  Age range 8-high school

 

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8. Hero Tales vol. I-IV by Dave and Neta Jackson – My kids and I breezed through one of these books quickly.  Every story is unique in that it shows the various ways followers of Jesus can live out their faith in all kinds of occupations and ways.  Age range 6-middle school

 

 

9. Lamplighter Books (www.lamplighter.net) – There are really too many books to post, but my mother used to work for this publishing company, so we would get a few books every year from her.  We’ve read a lot from their collection and have never been disappointed.  Lamplighter has resurrected some great books and has written some new ones as well.  If you are looking for a library of books that helps teach children the values of the Kingdom of God through great stories, then look no further.  Age range toddler to high school  

It’s my hope that we as a church will rediscover the joy of reading together as a family.  It’s not the flashiest means of teaching, but it will definitely help you lay that one brick every day.

Happy New Year and keep reading!

My family is going to see the Hobbit in 3 hours

I’ve turned my family into Tolkien nerds.  I started working on my boys a few years ago when I first read the Hobbit to them.  We then moved on to watching all the LOTR movies, gollumface-450-x-450and finally we read the LOTR books.  This year took an unexpected turn though when my wife and daughter started getting into the movies.  That was a complete shocker.  It’s been a fun year, but needless to say, all five of us are going to see the next Hobbit movie in about 3 hours.  It’s release date has been circled on the family calendar for about 2 months.  Today is an official Rudolph family holiday.  Now we aren’t the weird Lord of the Rings fans.  They do exist.  We are definitely not dressing up like hobbits when we go to the movies, and we haven’t named our dog, Frodo.  I don’t have all those complex LOTR board games (cough, cough Billy Gibson), and I haven’t read the Silmarillion 6x (clearing my throat Tim Keith) .  I would consider our family normal fans of JRR Tolkien’s work.

It all comes down to the quality of the story.  The story is fun, captivating, and littered with a host of spiritual analogies that I can use to get my children’s minds to churn more; at least more than watching the latest episode of Duck Dynasty.

Stories do that don’t they?  They grab ahold of our soul.  They captivate our imagination and say to us, “This is the kind of story I want to be a part of.”  If you read GK images-25Chesterton’s book, “Orthodoxy”,  in his chapter entitled, “The Ethics of Elfland”, Chesterton explains the value of fairy tales, and that fiction, especially quality fiction, can actually help us see our real world in greater dimensions.

I’m reminded this morning, as my kids anticipate seeing the next chapter in the Hobbit story, that we all want to see the real story come to life.  When we immerse ourselves in the grand story of God in Scripture, we see the real story.  When we are fascinated by the struggle of not just good over evil, but God over evil, and of God’s grand story of redemption and restoration, then we want to see it.  God leads us to a place and shows us how we can be a part of the real story in history.  That we can be a part of the redemption story with Jesus as the hero is extremely exciting.

This is why I want to be a part of a church.  I want following Jesus to be about seeing the story of God played out in and around me.  God’s story is far greater than a 2 1/2 hour epic on the big screen.  We are talking about eternity here.

I hope we can teach our children to love the story of Jesus far more than any other story.  I hope we are excited to see the story of God come to life in our community as we seek to spread the fame and glory of Jesus to our friends and neighbors.  I hope this morning that the anticipation of seeing words come to life in front of me are a mere shadow of the inspired Word coming to life in me.

So what story grips your heart?