Thursday, April 30, 2020

For the Good of Our Students (by Casey Conrad)

Church, right now youth need a lot of prayer. From the events involving their schooling (seniors not able to graduate being a major one) or to the impact of social media and the draw to be popular, students are experiencing new and daunting challenges.

Every Christian is implored to have influence in their culture. This seems like a daunting task for youth - to do something “big” for God. As a church, we need to help youth understand that influencing our culture can simply be having spiritual conversations with another student at their lunch table, soccer practice, while riding bikes with the kid down the street, or through posts on social media. Teaching youth to live with wisdom in their culture makes them shine as a city on a hill as Jesus describes in Matthew 5:

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Church, how are we being the light just as our mission statement says to make disciples? This has a major impact on teens in influencing this culture. Parents are you doing this at home? You can help your youth by teaching through wisdom from scripture, sharing about a spiritual conversation at work or at the store, or going out and having spiritual conversations together.

Right now we at home and majority of the activities we are normally demanding our attention have changed to the events around the house. Can we take this time to reset, step away from the cultural distractions, and do something “big” for God?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Children are a Gift (by Chris Ellis)

Matthew 19:4 “but Jesus said, Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Children are a gift from the Lord. Whether you are a parent or not, you most likely have children in your life.  Maybe you are a Sunday school teacher, school teacher, nursery worker, coach, aunt, uncle, the list goes on and on.  We are truly blessed when children come into our lives, no matter what avenue they arrive.  Children are very loving, forgiving, accepting, impressionable and vulnerable.

The current situation our world is in right now, is sure to be at the very least, quite confusing for our children.  Many have transitioned into remote learning, and the relationships with their teachers and classmates halted, some without any warning.  There was no end of year field trips, parties, celebration of achievements, or “closure” which the last few weeks of school provides. Even though we are no strangers to disappointment, our children are experiencing a type of disappointment most of us have not experienced. How do they begin to process this? Where are they looking for answers?

Just because children are small, does not mean their feelings are small, or they are any less justified.  Their information, and how they perceive what is going on in this crazy world is dictated by the adults around them.  We need to do our best to reflect an attitude of faith.  Our children do not need long drawn out explanations of what is going on. They need to be reassured by our faith, and encouraged to lean on theirs!  “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

There is a fine line between acknowledging a child’s fears and reassuring them God is in control.  We need to address it carefully and thoughtfully.  It is normal to have fears, questions and anxiety, but what we do with it, is the important part.  We need to acknowledge it exists, and ask the Lord to help us in this time of need.  Children are not looking for deep theological answers, so don’t be intimidated to talk to them!  Reassure them by responding in faith, showing them love, and pointing them to His promises!  “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in Him” Nahum 1:7. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

It isn’t any coincidence Jesus references childlike faith as in Matthew 18:1-6 “…calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven...” Children are important to Jesus, and they are important to us, and our church!  Children are a gift!  Let’s join together to pray for our children, their growing faith, and that our response to them would be nothing short of Christ’s love, and His expectations. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Heart of Worship (by Chad Crooks)

It’s just about the greatest job in the world!  Not only do I get to do what I love, I get paid for it.  Leading God’s people in worship is one of the most exciting, enjoyable, fulfilling, life-changing jobs in the world. We get to help people do what they were designed to do – glorify the living God. We get to point hearts toward One who is greater than we can imagine. We get to put in view the Savior of the world who died, was buried, rose again, and now sits at the right hand of the Father bidding on our behalf.

We have to deal with our own heart.You haven’t spent more than 5 minutes in God’s Word or praying in weeks. There is never enough time to get everything done. You feel unworthy to even stand in front of the very people you serve. Despite the pain and difficulties, the joys outweigh the issues. There is no way you could stop doing this. The key is your heart.

Whether a worship leader or a worshiper, what you bring as an offering of worship is your greatest challenge. We each have a battle going on within us over what we love the most – God or something else.  Anytime it is something else, we are guilty of idolatry.

Idols are all around us – material comforts, financial security, sensual pleasures, newest song, electronic gadgets, reputation, power, control.  We are often just like the people described in 2 Kings 17:33, fearing the Lord, yet serving their own Gods. We fear the Lord externally, doing the right things on Sunday morning, yet actively serving false gods throughout the week.

Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before Me."

Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

These verses do not mean we can’t love anything else, but they do mean that we cannot love anything else rightly, unless we love God first and foremost. How do I know what I love most? Bob Kauflin answers this way, “By looking at my life outside of Sunday morning. What do I enjoy the most? What do I spend most of my time doing? Where does my mind drift to when I don’t have anything to do? What am I passionate about? What do I spend my money on? What makes me angry when I don’t get my way? What do I feel depressed about? What do I fear losing the most?  Our answers to these questions will lead us straight to the God or gods we love and worship.”

The state of our hearts must be our primary concern as we live the life of a worshiper.

The Heart of Worship (Matt Redman)

When the music fades all is stripped away, And I simply come
Longing just to bring something that's of worth, That will bless Your heart
I'll bring You more than a song, For a song in itself is not what You have required
You search much deeper within, Through the way things appear, You're looking into my heart
I'm coming back to the heart of worship, And it's all about You all about You Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it, When it's all about You all about You Jesus

Friday, April 24, 2020

Biblical Perspectives on Suffering

Pastor William Willimon tells a story about visiting a woman in his church who had just given birth. When he got there, the husband and wife were waiting forth doctor because they had received the ominous news that “there were problems with the birth.” When the doctor arrived, he told the couple that the child had been born with Down syndrome, but he also had a minor and correctible respiratory condition. He said, “My recommendation is for you to consider just letting nature take its course, and then in a few days there shouldn’t be a problem.” The child would die “naturally” if they just left things as they were. The couple was confused and asked why they shouldn’t fix the problem. The doctor looked at them and said that raising a Down syndrome child would create enormous amounts of stress in the marriage, and that studies showed that many parents of Down syndrome children separated or divorced. He then said, “Is it fair of you to bring this sort of suffering upon your other two children?”
At the word suffering, the wife suddenly seemed to understand. She countered that her children had lived a safe and comfortable life with every advantage in the world. They had known, if anything, too little of suffering and the difficulty of life in the world. She spoke of “God’s hand” and said, “I could certainly see why it would make sense for a child like this to be born into a family like ours. Our children will do just fine. When you think about it, it could be a great opportunity.”
The doctor was dumbfounded and turned to the pastor, urging him to “talk some reason into them.” Willimon of course knew that the couple needed to be given good instruction as to what lay ahead so that they did not take up their parenting of this new child without some notion of what to expect. But, he wrote, the couple was using reasoning, though it was reasoning foreign to the doctor. It was the reasoning that suffering is not to be avoided at all costs.
The Bible does not give us all the answers we would like when it comes to all the particulars of suffering, but it does take it seriously, it provides a perspective from which to face it, and it does tell us what will finally become of suffering.
The book of Job tells us that though we may not understand from our limited perspectives, there is greater purposes at play even in the midst of suffering. Like Job, the New Testament book of Romans tells us that God is in control and does have a plan (Romans 8:28; see also Ephesians 1:11), and Revelation tells us that one day suffering will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).
In the meantime, the Bible assures us that suffering can be used by God to instruct us, humble us, and teach us not to set our ultimate hopes on transitory things (Romans 5:3-4). Pastor Tim Keller sums this up well, “One of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind.”
Christians may understand many doctrinal truths, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through enduring times of disappointment, hardship, and loss. As C.S. Lewis famously put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.”

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Biblical Counseling 101

Though biblical counseling as a subject and practice is both complex and broad, Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju, in their book The Pastor and Counseling, do us a great service by helping us grasp some of the basics of biblical counseling. It’s most necessary elements can be boiled down to moving from listening to considering to speaking:
  • You listen to the problem – to understand the context of the person’s life and troubles (Prov. 18:2, 13; James 1:19).
  • You consider heart responses – how the person’s heart is responding to God, to self, to others, and to circumstances (Prov. 20:5).
  • You speak truth in love – in order to teach, comfort, warn, encourage, advise, and admonish as appropriate (2 Cor. 2; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:14).
These three actions – listening, considering, speaking – are key:
1. Listen to the problem. You want to know what is going on, but people often share their troubles haphazardly, piling up details in an unorganized lump. You can sort things into smaller piles and help a person organize what he is saying. Here are some diagnostic questions:
  • Circumstances. First, what is going on? What circumstances seem most important to the person?
  • Other people. Who are the most prominent people in their story? How are they treating him? How is he treating them?
  • Self. What is his posture toward his troubles? Does he see himself as a victim, perpetrator, inferior, superior, ignorant, insightful, confused, clear-headed, guilty, innocent?
  • God. How is the person factoring (or not factoring) God into his troubles? What is his perspective of the Lord’s involvement with his predicament?
2. Consider heart responses. After you’ve found out the basics of what’s going on, you want to consider how the person’s heart is responding in each of these areas. His responses will be characterized either by faith or by a number of other things – fear, anger, discouragement, lust, indulgence, escape, ignorance, sadness, disappointment, discontentment, suspicion.
  • Circumstances. Does the person recognize the difference between his circumstances and his response to his circumstances? Is his response characterized by faith or by something else?
  • Other people. Is this person loving others? Is he being influenced by others in unbiblical ways?
  • Self. What is this person’s functional identity – the beliefs or values about himself that shape his conduct? How does this identity align with what God says about him in the gospel?
  • God. Does this person trust God to be who he says he is and to do what he says he will do? Or is there some preferred version of God he’s quietly holding?
3. Speak the truth in love. Speaking accurately to the need of the heart comes only after listening and considering. The goal is to call people to faith in a way that specifically addresses their heart responses, since faith alone is the means by which a person responds rightly (Heb. 11:6, 13-16; 12:1-2). And faith comes through hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). This is why counseling must be biblical. Here are some appropriate ways you can speak to a person’s need:
  • Circumstances. We are to give biblical guidance appropriate to the situation. Fro those grieving, we comfort them by pointing to the hope found in God (Rom. 8:18-25). For the abused, we protect them from the abuser with the law (Rom. 13:1-4) and call them to forgive (Luke 6:27-36). For the anxious, we help them understand that fear reveals desires that must be actively entrusted to a loving God (Phil. 4:4-13).
  • Other people. Active faith means loving others instead of fearing or using them (Rom. 13:8-10). You help people see what it means to believe the best about others while being realistic about their faults and sins (Rom. 12:17-21). You help them know how to lay down personal interests for the sake of others (Phil. 2:1-8).
  • Self. We are to call people out of rival identities and into Christ as the source of identity. These identities are where people try to find life – as a successful businessman, a capable mother – so finding confidence in these is a direct competitor to confidence in Christ alone (Phil. 3:3-16).
  • God. Most importantly, we are to help people have a more accurate view of God from his Word. You help them to know and trust God as the only way for human life to be meaningful and to yield lasting change in the soul (Jer. 9:23-24; Col. 1:9-10).

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Marriage that Sustains Love

A moving story from Dr. Wesley Ely, who is a critical care doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center:
When his wife’s scream from the next room awakened him, Ford Callis leapt bolt upright out of bed. Then he fell, his left eye smashing the edge of the bed stand. As he hit the ground, the air gushed out of his lungs. Mr. Callis, who is 94, listened intently to the noise-monitor in the dark for any clues from his demented wife, Daisy, in the next room. He could hear his own heart throbbing, he would later tell me, but nothing more. He tried unsuccessfully to crawl to her.
The bleeding laceration on his eye, and his new shoulder and chest injuries, reminded him of the time 60 years ago that he’d been injured and trapped in a foxhole in the French Alps, a member of the famed World War II Lost Battalion. Rescue came then, and it would come now, since the morning phone call from his daughter had gone unanswered as he lay stranded on the floor hours later peering at the sunrise through the window.
Later that day Mr. Callis ended up on our ICU service. Lying helplessly on the floor after his fall, he had developed enough muscle breakdown on what he called the “death crawl” toward his wife that his kidneys shut down from toxic injury. He also developed a bleeding stress ulcer and a new blood clot in his left leg, all of which made for complicated medical circumstances that nearly ended his life.
Yet Mr. Callis kept asking only: “When can I return home to care for Daisy? She’s waiting for me in Ridgetop”—in the rustic house in Tennessee she bought 71 years ago with savings from her job as a riveter making planes during the war.
In the hospital our team of white coats swooped in to “save” Mr. Callis. Yet we later learned from what he told us that his real rescue, the one that mattered most, had occurred on a much higher plane, through a sacramental promise made many decades earlier.
The story began before he became a soldier, when he was 20, and he and Daisy had married. Shortly thereafter, he went through military training and shipped off to Naples, Italy, with the 36th Infantry. The company made its way to the Vosges Mountains of the French Alps, where the Germans surrounded them and began starving them out.
Following failed rescue attempts by the two other battalions of the 36th Infantry, they became known as the Lost Battalion. After eight days without food and water and stuck in foxholes drinking from a pond and eating worms, they were liberated by the 442nd Regiment of Nisei Japanese-Americans.
And now, decades later, Mr. Callis was determined to rescue Daisy. Sporting a black eye but smiling from his ICU bed, he said: “Doctor, I need you to get me home to my wife as soon as possible.” His dutiful daughter stopped staring at the blood dripping into his IV and said, “Yep, that’s his main mission in life, and he refuses to fail.”

Through marriage, it became clear, Mr. Callis had undergone the type of indelible change in a soul that no personal injury or earthly event can undo. “Having someone believe in me and waiting for me back home, that is what gives me purpose. I am more than myself because of our marriage,” he said, expressing his hope that people not give up on marriage even when the sparks of romance seem distant.
All this brought to mind the words of the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he wrote from a Nazi prison to his niece before her wedding: “Marriage is more than your love for each other. . . . In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed in a post of responsibility toward the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office.”
The story of Ford and Daisy generated lots of discussion on hospital rounds that day. Theirs was not a tale of military or medical rescue, as exciting and perhaps technically interesting as those were. It was one of marital rescue. This covenant has liberated their souls and given them a higher purpose. Each of us that day, married or not, caught a glimpse of where our true north lies and a reminder of when we are at our best—in serving another.
Mr. Callis eventually regained color and strength, and on the morning of his hospital discharge he once more explained, “You know, it takes three people to stay married: Daisy, me and God. This is not just a civil agreement; we are one.” It was a beautiful echo another line in Bonhoeffer’s letter to his niece: “It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”
If you need reminders or encouragements to keep loving you spouse as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5), or if you marriage is struggling in this time, one resource that we recommend is Love and Respect by Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. The video is available to you free of charge on RightNow Media by clicking the link above.
If you do need more support in your marriage, please reach out to our counselor Vikki Crouch ( or one of our pastors here at the church. We would love to help you in any way that we can.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Hope for the Blues (by Vikki Crouch)

Admittedly life can be hard at times and sometimes it is harder than at others. There seems to be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We all experience this. We get “down” because of the hard things, but it is important to not get stuck there. Depression can be termed “down and out” (isolation, do not want to get out of bed, assume our responsibilities, etc.) and the following is not directed to those truly experiencing depression which requires immediate attention by one’s health care provider and counselor. The following has to do with “being blue or down”, discouraged, disheartened. In that one’s thinking drives one’s feelings, the way to change one’s feelings is to change one’s thinking. (Mark 7;21-23; Prov. 23:7 KJV) In other words, the mind is the engine and feelings are the boxcars and caboose. 

We find wise counsel in Ps. 103: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (v.2). The benefits represent God’s steadfast love (vv.4,8,11,17), and mercy, such as His forgiveness and constant care. The Psalmist then proceeds to list them in vv. 3-22. So, let us determine to do the same. Keep a gratitude journal and daily list a minimum of 10 blessings you have. Do not repeat the same ones in the days ahead; name additional ones. Look up, away from yourself and your circumstances to God, His mercy, grace and love.  He blesses us all daily but when we focus on ourselves and our circumstances we do not notice the blessings. “Count your blessings, one by one” daily and thank God for each of them. It is difficult to stay “down” when one is looking up and praising God. A grateful heart is more likely to be a joyful heart. Focus On Christ’s Undeniable Sufficiency. That spells FOCUS. This results in a Godward view of difficulties in our thinking. (Phil. 4:8).

Philippians 4:9 tells us we need to practice certain things as well. This, too, directs our thoughts away from our circumstances and ourselves to our responsibilities to others. List your responsibilities; note which ones you are fulfilling and those you are not. Determine to push through your feelings and get busy doing what you are to do. Determine a plan; make a schedule. Do not focus on whether or not you want to do something. If the responsibility is yours, then get to it. No excuses. God will help you. ”I can do all things through him who gives me strength”. (Phil. 4:13) Dr. Charles Swindoll teaches a powerful truth: “Attitude determines altitude.” Therefore, fulfill your responsibilities with a positive attitude. And don’t neglect time with God in prayer and His Word in the process. Seek to implement what He reveals to you. Share with others what you learn.

Stay away from naysayers and negative people. Spend your time with those who want to use the challenges of life as opportunities to trust God and “walk in the light as He is in the light.” (1 John 1:7). God is good and therefore He is always up to something good. Look for it – look for Him. He daily loads us with blessings. A grateful heart results in a joyful heart.

Friday, April 17, 2020

God is in the Ordinary

In our popular culture (through media and advertising), we are regularly exhorted to purse the next big thing, and buy into the hype that we can (and should) change the world. If the Christian publishing industry is any indication, then the church has bought into this line of thinking as well. Words like ‘Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Life-Changing. Ultimate. Extreme,” have become increasingly commonplace.
The problem is that for most of us, it is simply unrealistic that we will ever “change the world” (Isn’t that God’s job any way?). Further, if we buy into the rhetoric, the expectations can become crushing to our souls.
Listen to the experience of Tish Harrison Warren. Raised in an evangelical culture, she began to buy into the “change the world” mentality.
I was nearly 22 years old and had just returned to my college town from a part of Africa that had missed the last three centuries. As I walked to church in my weathered, worn-in Chacos, I bumped into our new associate pastor and introduced myself. He smiled warmly and said, “Oh, you. I’ve heard about you. You’re the radical who wants to give your life away for Jesus.” It was meant as a compliment and I took it as one, but it also felt like a lot of pressure because, in a new way, I was torturously uncertain about what being a radical and living for Jesus was supposed to mean for me. Here I was, back in America, needing a job and health insurance, toying with dating this law student intellectual (who wasn’t all that radical), and unsure about how to be faithful to Jesus in an ordinary life. I’m not sure I even knew if that was possible.
After spending time in various “radical” Christian communities, Warren began to wonder if ordinary life was even possible.
Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.
So, if aspiring to change the world is not the goal, then what is? I love the phrase of one Christian sociologist, when he said that we are to have a “faithful presence” in our world today. It is not as dramatic as “radical, epic, and revolutionary,” but it is more biblical.
We are to be faithful to God in what he requires. He has revealed these requirements to us in the pages of Scripture. In addition, we are to have a presence in this world that is oriented toward loving and serving others. Especially in this time of Coronavirus.
The biblical pattern is that God loves and gives his gifts to ordinary people, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings. This is how God normally operates. We see this in Jeremiah 29:4-7: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
  • Settle in…build houses (v. 5)
  • Grow gardens…put down roots (v. 5)
  • Have families…this is how the generations will continue (v. 6)
  • Be civically minded for God’s glory…your welfare is tied up with the welfare of the community (v. 7)

None of the above is particularly “radical” or “revolutionary”, but it is how God was went to work through his people for the good of others, it was how he carried out his purposes in the world.
This means that wherever God has placed you (and it may not even be where you want to be), however he has gifted you (it may not even be the talents and abilities that you want), you are to love God and serve your neighbor. It’s all very ordinary. In doing this we fulfill the ‘Great Commandment’: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.] This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’(Matthew 22:37-39).
As Tish Harrison Warren continues,
My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us.
I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.
In our wedding ceremony, my pastor warned my husband that every so often, I would bound into the room, anxiety etched on my face, certain we’d settled for mediocrity because we weren’t “giving our lives away” living in outer Mongolia. We laughed. All my radical friends laughed. And he was right. We’ve had that conversation many, many times. But I’m starting to learn that, whether in Mongolia or Tennessee, the kind of “giving my life away” that counts starts with how I get up on a gray Tuesday morning. It never sells books. It won’t be remembered. But it’s what makes a life. And who knows? Maybe, at the end of days, a hurried prayer for an enemy, a passing kindness to a neighbor, or budget planning on a boring Thursday will be the revolution stories of God making all things new.
If you want to see what God is doing in the world, don’t think that it is only to be found in the extraordinary, but look for it in the ordinary – the everyday. That is where you will see God at work. And don’t just be a passive observer, but join in wholeheartedly – “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).