For All Lads to Leaders Participants

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Snapshots of Faith

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When my mother was passing from this life, I sat by the bedside and made what I called “mental snapshots” of her. I looked intently at her face and her beautiful white hair. I stared at her hands thinking about all of the hard work they had done, and how tenderly they had cared for me. 

Recently, not long after the seventh anniversary of her passing, I began to look around our congregation and see some “snapshots of faith” that exist within our spiritual family there. 

I saw a woman named Bette slowly make her way into the building on her walker. She was dressed for warmth even though the temperature outside wasn’t all that cold and the inside temperature was warm. You see, she is very thin and frail, and her steps are very slow. She sits in the foyer on one of the soft seats and we keep a small electric heater directed at her. She lives in the nursing home now and is dependent upon someone else for a ride to worship. Her husband and her two children have preceded her in death. She loves hugs and they are handed out plentifully. Recently when I told her what an encouragement she is to me, she replied that her mother told her to put God first and always go to church. Bette is one of my “snapshots of faith.” “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

I looked across the auditorium and saw Morris and Jeanne. They are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary. I have observed their tender looks at one another, and their care for one another as they enter and leave the building. They are a delight to talk to because they always have a funny story and they really listen to whatever you may share with them. In a world full of people who don’t recognize the sanctity of marriage, they are a “snapshot of faith.” “…Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:33).

I sat in a ladies’ Bible class made up of women of all ages and watched those women listen intently to young girls as they presented their speeches for Lads to Leaders. At the end of class, those seasoned women showed me another “snapshot of faith” as they praised those young girls on a job well done. In so many ways those older women follow Paul’s admonition in his letter to Titus for the older women to teach the younger women.

I saw a woman named Peggy come to worship services on Sunday having just attended the funeral of her beloved husband just days before. Living just down the street from Peggy is a lady named Alta Mae who lost her husband several years ago. She is confined to a wheel chair but comes to every service she can along with any activities she is able to attend. Both of these ladies are “snapshots of faith.”

I could talk about so many more “snapshots of faith” I have taken just in this one congregation. I would have an album full if I included all of them.

I’d like to encourage you to take some time to look around your congregation and fill your own album with your “snapshots of faith.” You will be encouraged and your spiritual family will become even closer to you in heart.

“…And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…”  Gal. 2:20

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When a Church Family Struggles

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Of all the descriptions found in the New Testament for the church, I suppose my favorite is that of a family. That image is the one I include in sermons more often than any other, and I think it is the easiest picture to relate to on the local, congregational level.

The picture of the church as a family has many positive connotations. We think of times when we share memories. We think of laughing and crying together. We think of meals together and times when we just spend time together because we love each other deeply.

It’s Not All Positive

There is, however, another side of this image.

Families often struggle.

There is no family that is perfectly functional. We all, no matter how healthy our physical family might be, have some level of dysfunction somewhere. Obviously, there are some cases that are extreme, but every home has struggles.

And the same is true of the church. It is true of your local congregation.

No matter how vibrant and seemingly mature a congregation may happen to be, there are always struggles and squabbles that are going on. They are real. They hurt.

If we are not careful, they can also greatly tarnish the image of the church as a family.

Turning a Negative into a Positive

While there are going to be some negative times, a church that is willing to work through those struggles will come out stronger on the other side. Even in a strong physical family, there will be times of stress, arguing, and maybe even fighting (at least, to some level). It is made up of individuals who still struggle with selfishness and sin.

But when a family works through those issues in grace and love, it comes out stronger on the other side.

That is exactly what a church family must do, as well. It must work through its struggles and squabbles in grace and love, with Scripture always as the guide. When that congregation does, it comes out stronger on the other side.

Practically Speaking

What does working through these squabbles look like? Here are a few simple suggestions to help.

  1.  “Divorce” is off-limits. In our physical family, no matter how strained our lives might get, divorce is not an option. Too many Christians, when a congregation goes through a struggle, threaten to “divorce.” They threaten to leave. It’s convenient, and (seemingly) not as painful. But it is a tactic that it hurtful and based on selfishness. Do not bring this up over simple squabbles or differences in personality.
  2. Tackle One Issue at a Time. In conflict resolution, there is a term for bringing up everything in one argument, even if it not related to the issue at hand. It is “kitchen sink fighting” (because you bring up everything, including the kitchen sink). When a congregation goes through a time of struggle, leaders do well to keep people focused on one issue at a time. There may be several issues, but you cannot work through them all simultaneously.
  3. If God has Spoken, that Settles It. I wish this went without saying, but it still needs to be said. If we are arguing over a matter of Scripture, there is nothing to argue about. At that point, we are not arguing with each other; we are arguing with God. If He has spoken, that settles the matter. My feelings or wants are subservient to the will of the Lord.
  4. Communication from Leaders Must be Constant, Firm, and Gracious. There is no way to overstate the importance of communication in times of trouble. In a physical family, just avoiding the issue does not make it go away. That’s also true in a congregation. Leaders need to speak clearly and boldly, but they must also maintain grace. Also, the communication from–and with–leaders needs to be constant. It should not appear to be some “edict from on high;” rather, it should be one piece of an ongoing conversation about something that is vital.
  5. The Church that Prays Together… Even through struggles, a congregation needs to pray. Even more, a congregation must be willing to pray specifically for struggles that are known and are threatening the unity and love of the church. While prayer should not be used to run people down, seeking God’s wisdom and guidance is never a bad thing!

Conclusion

I love that we are part of God’s family. The vast majority of the time that imagery is positive and fills our soul with joy. There are, however, times when that picture can be strained. Every family struggles, and every congregation will fuss at times, too.

The key is to work through those issues, treating each other like Philemon was to treat Onesimus, like a “beloved brother.” We are God’s family, and that means we better be willing to work together.

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

Do You Really Care what the Bible Says?

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Sometimes reading the Bible is hard. Not because it is hard to understand. Not because it is hard to make the time. Not because it is hard to pay close attention.

But because it is hard to care enough about what it says to change.

Jesus once told a parable about a sower who went out to sow his seed. In the explanation of that parable, Jesus said very plainly that the seed was the word of God (Luke 8:11). The rest of the parable discusses how that seed was received. The seed never changed, but depending on where that seed landed there were differing results. Some soil rejected the seed. Some never let it take root. Some received it but allowed it to get choked out by worldliness. Finally, one particular soil received the seed and patiently yielded a bumper crop.

Over many years of preaching, I have learned that the majority of the people who are exposed to the teachings of the Bible do not properly respect its authority. Perhaps they have never been taught the truth about the nature of inspired and divine text. After all, if you are raised in a religious organization that has its own doctrine or creed, why would you really care when you came across a Bible passage that clearly disagrees with what you have been practicing for years?

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees because they transgressed the commandments of God for their own traditions (Matt. 15:3). Every single person who will ever read the Bible is in danger of making the same mistake. This is proven by the fact that people often plant and organize churches according to individual human preferences, and not according to the pattern of God. Jesus said in Matthew 15:13, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” There may be no stronger statement from the Son of God about the error of self-made Christianity than this one. Certainly the teaching is clear. Just because you call it holy or good or spiritual or Christian – doesn’t make it so!

Recently I have been engaged in a few Bible studies with individuals who gave me a new appreciation for the good soil Jesus praised. One of my study partners said, “Well, it is in the Bible and Jesus said we should do it, so that is what I am going to do.” Another one said, “I want you to help me to stop doing anything in my life that God tells me in the Bible I don’t need to be doing.” These individuals have the right kind of heart and they will be blessed. They are good soil. They not only care what the Bible says, they care enough to obey it to adjust their entire lives accordingly. They know their eternity is at stake.

I love you friend, and I am as obligated as you are to change some things. Some who will read this article need to change how they worship. Some need to change their view concerning Biblical authority. Some need to realize they are wrong about the plan of salvation. Some need to stop committing sins that they have tried to justify out of the arguments of silence or liberty. And some need to even leave their old religion and organization behind and become a part of the one church that belongs to Christ alone.

For all of us, the question is the same – “Do you really care what the Bible says?” If you do, sometimes reading the Bible will be very difficult. Sometimes it is harder than not reading it at all.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 7:21

“If you love Me, keep My commandments” – Matthew 14:15

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Photo background credit: Dwight Stone on Creative Commons

Just Men Made Perfect

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Hebrews 12:23 speaks of “…just men made perfect” (KJV). I am intrigued by the word “just.”

Instead of that word, some translations use the word “righteous.” According to some of the information I have at my disposal, the Greek word that is used here can mean such things as “just,” “righteous,” “upright,” “virtuous,” etc. 

However, there is another use of the word “just” that comes to mind when I think of that verse. Often, we will use “just” in the sense of “merely.” We will excuse our behavior by saying, “I’m just human.” We may deflect some compliment by saying, “I was just doing what I was supposed to do.” Children of important or powerful people may have difficulty understanding why a parent is so popular. To the child, the parent is just Dad or Mom.

I am well aware that this passage does not use the word “just” in that sense. At the same time, the fact remains that God can and does use those of us who are merely people. 

In the chapter that precedes the one in which the verse being discussed is found, we find a long list of people. Some of them are named and some are unnamed.  I can think of fewer compliments higher than the one used in Hebrews 11:38: “of whom the world was not worthy…”

Were they not “just” in the sense of being righteous? Apparently, the Holy Spirit thought so. It is difficult to believe that they would have been included in this list if that were not the case.

Were they not also “just” in the sense of merely being human? Absolutely so! While they are presented to us as great examples of faith, the fact is that they were as human as you and me.

The same God still has, at His disposal, the same “raw material.” Superheroes are fascinating, but the real world is populated with folks just like you and me. We’re merely people.

Who knows what can be accomplished if I will stop focusing on my weaknesses and will start focusing on the God who offers to forgive my sins as I obey Him (thereby being seen by Him as righteous)? 

Please notice how the common condition of those of us who are merely human and the fact that God can see us as much more than that are discussed in this passage:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:23-26; KJV).

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10 Ways Every Congregation Can Utilize Periscope [Video]

Recently, I recorded a short video about Periscope. This free online tool is one that I think congregations need to be using more and more. In this short video, I shared 10 quick ideas for how every congregation–no matter their size or budget–can utilize Periscope.

One additional note: I got a phone call later in the day from someone who had watched. She had a great reminder that I failed to mention in the video. She mentioned that, when you stream events–especially involving children–you need to have permission from parents. At the very least, you need to have your location setting turned off. Just a simple online safety tip, and I appreciate the reminder!

Spring has Sprung!

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It’s here! It’s finally here! My favorite season of the year is upon us: spring. I love all four seasons but there is something about spring that just makes me happy. The warm days after the biting cold of winter … The beautiful display of fresh colors as redbud trees, weeping willow trees, daffodils, and hyacinths bloom and bud … The freedom of my toes as they enjoy open air sandals … These all make me happy.

I think one of the reasons I love spring so much is the realization of hope. While I love snow days with the most hopeful of students, there comes a point where the gray, cold days of winter begin to weigh me down. At some point, I long for the days when I won’t have to put on a heavy coat for every trip outside my home. At some point, it seems as though I will never feel warm and energetic again. At some point, it seems the sun will never share its joy and warmth again.

And then comes the spring. Spring that brings new life. Spring that renews energy. Spring that warms both the arms and the soul.

While I love spring for the physical blessings and renewal in brings, I also love it because it is an onslaught of reminders that the same type of renewal and beauty is available at all times spiritually with God. He can take the darkest, dreariest life and inject warmth, color, and life!

1 Peter 1:3 tells us that, as Christians, we have a living hope! Ephesians 2 reminds us that we “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Friends, that is hope!

So, as you enjoy the colors, scents, and sensations of this wonderful time of year, remember the spiritual hope and renewal that comes through Christ and thank God for spring!

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5 Things a Real Man Has on His Calendar

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I admit it: I live by a calendar and to-do list. I am a total time nerd.

Side note: If Google Calendar ever goes out of existence, I might just be going out of existence, too!

Admittedly, though, I have struggled through the years with a calendar that was filled by everyone else. A few years ago, however, I heard a fellow preacher teach a session at Polishing the Pulpit about time management. He suggested (very strongly) that we need to put everything on our calendars.

I started doing that as best as I could, and what a difference it has made!

The reason is simple: when you put everything on your calendar, your priorities truly set the agenda. This is not necessarily about being a time management ninja; it is about spending time doing what is most important.

With that in mind, I want to speak to men. Specifically, Christian husbands and fathers.

Too many men put “the game” on their calendar (which is fine), but not things that are of far more eternal value.

So, what does a real man have on his calendar? Here are some things to make sure you prioritize on your calendar.

1. Worship

I am a preacher, and yes, I have worship on my calendar. Well, sort of. You see, 9th Avenue has a public Google Calendar with all our events, and we make certain to include worship. I simply subscribe to that calendar (which you can see here), and am reminded of worship.

It may seem silly to have that on my calendar, but if nothing else, it shows my children the absolute priority of worship in our lives. But also, to be honest, there are some dads who need that reminder, and that is okay (at least for awhile).

2. Time with His Wife

Husbands and wives need to continue to date each other. And it must be a priority.

Husbands, let me put it this way: if you are not prioritizing time with your wife, then it is as if you are “dating” your job and hobbies before her.

You may not have the resources to go on a date every week, but surely you can find something romantic to do together once each month. Put it on the calendar and don’t move it for anything, save a major emergency.

3. Specific Time with His Children

Daddy/daughter dates. Specific outings with that strapping boy. It is so easy to let those things slide in all the hurry of life. It is also easy to take your kids to their ball games (or band rehearsals, whatever) and act as if that has been special time.

Real men spend time alone with each of their children. It does not have to be extravagant. It could just be taking her out for an ice cream cone, or taking your boy to shoot hoops in the park.

By the way, it may almost seem callous or cold to actually put these on the calendar, but I disagree. We set the times as a family for one “big” outing each month (we call them “daddy/daughter date” and “time with Turner”). Of course, we do other things together throughout the month, but the kids anticipate these special days or evenings so much.

4: Time Alone with God

I will confess: I do not add this to my calendar now, but I used to, until it became part of my daily routine. For many busy men, reading the Bible and/or prayer time falls by the wayside, simply because it is not given a priority on the calendar. There is no shame in having “time with God” or “read Bible” on your calendar, if it helps you grow closer to the Lord.

5. Birthdays and Anniversary

I know the dates of my wife’s birthday. I know the dates of when my two precious children were born. I know the date of my wedding anniversary.

But I also know I am way busy, so they are on my calendar. I want to see those dates upcoming, not just so I won’t forget to buy something, but so that, from first light in the morning until bedtime, I am celebrating those special days with my family through words of affirmation and praise!

Conclusion

Let me ask, how differently would your life look if these five things were prioritized on your calendar? Would you be closer to the Lord? Would you be more connected with your wife? Would you know the heart of your children better?

Then get out whatever you use for a calendar and start putting your priorities on that grid. That’s what real men do!

RESOURCES

Need a little help with organizing your calendars? Especially if you use Google Calendar (or would like to try it), here are a few resources you might want to check out.

“Google Calendar Tutorial 2015: Quick Start” [VIDEO; YouTube; A very basic starter guide, but very well done]

“Why I’m Trying Google Keep for My To-Do Lists” [VIDEO; Katch.me; I made this video about 2 months ago on Periscope, and am still using Google Keep for my to-do lists.]

“5 Hidden Google Calendar Gems” [VIDEO; YouTube; A bit more advanced, but I love the ideas on this video, and have used almost all of them at one time or another.]

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

Should You Spank Your Children?

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It is amazing how the order of words in a sentence can change a statement. What if the title of this article was changed by a slight adjustment in the first two words? It would read, “You should spank your children.”

Certainly if that was the title, more people would be tempted to keep reading. But we are not interested in some flamboyant ploy, or a persuasive human opinion, or a controversial platform. We are interested in truth. Let’s just answer the question: Should parents spank their children as a means of discipline?

The fact that we are even having this conversation goes to show that we are a far cry from where we were a generation ago. My dad used a razor strap. Most of the older generations got to pick their own switch. Sometimes it was a ping-pong paddle or a clothes hanger or a wooden spoon or just a hand – whatever was available. I was spanked regularly for the majority of my developmental years. Many of you out there could say the same. I am sure thankful my parents did so. I was willful and sinful and I needed well-defined boundaries established in my life.

Before we go any further we need to recognize that any form of discipline can lead to abuse. Children who are never touched could still be locked in closets, disallowed access to food and water and shelter, or verbally and mentally abused. There is also no doubt that any physical form of discipline can be taken too far. In 1979, Sweden was the first country to pass a law that forbids any type of physical corporal punishment from parent to child. The last time I was in New Zealand, I was informed of the “No smacking” law – their terminology for the same type of legislation. These laws were incorporated to curtail the rampant child abuse that once existed in these countries. The legislation includes some discretion on the part of law enforcement as to how these laws are interpreted and prosecuted on a case to case basis. Certainly for the safety of children some of these laws can serve a protective purpose.

So there I was Friday night at the Redbox in front of Walgreens when my 8-year-old had a meltdown. She had been going that direction for a few hours (parents you know what I mean). She was begging for some form of readjustment. Right on the spot I gave her a couple swats on the backside. She immediately responded with silence and calmed down. I was confident in the decision I made but also reflective as we drove home of how that might be interpreted by any onlooker. We have always spanked our three children when it was necessary. We have never wanted to. We have never enjoyed it. And we have never failed to explain it or follow it up with teaching and a confirmation of our love for each one of them.

I want to be blunt. I don’t need a twenty-first-century child psychologist to tell me how to raise my children. I am worn out with that stuff. I need my heavenly Father. I need His word. He created us, and he knows what is best for us. He knows how to discipline us. And although there are many forms of punishment, and not all work the same with every child, spanking is not only an option, it is a commandment. And my job as a parent is to do whatever it takes to help my child to respect authority and acquire a healthy fear of the Lord. Children MUST accept correction and understand healthy boundaries if they are to successfully follow God and bless others in this world.

God’s word tells us that if we do not receive our heavenly Father’s chastening then we are illegitimate and, therefore, cannot be called children of God (Hebrews 12:8). It says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Once more it says, “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23:13). While there are no literal beatings and no actual rods being used in our home, certainly we understand the point.

My children are depending on me. I have to answer to God and I have to answer to them when it comes to my part in their development. I am not interested in being “PC.” I am not concerned about cultural changes or public opinion when it comes to their raising. I am interested in the truth. The truth is that spanking is a part of parenting and is at times necessary. At least, it is if we are parenting God’s way…

“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” – Proverbs 13:24

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Why We Need to be Careful When We’re “Just Kidding”

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Anybody who knows me is aware of the fact that I like to laugh. In fact, I agree with a preacher friend of mine who told me years ago that those who might be critical of him because they think he uses too much humor when he preaches might be very proud of him if they knew how much humor he stifles when he preaches!

I often seem to find humor in situations that are not seen as humorous by anybody else. That can cause some real problems at times. I’ve had to apologize more than once for that.

I’ve also had to apologize for something else. I’m wondering how many others have had to do the same or have needed to do the same, but have not done so.

You see, there have been times when I’ve explained away and/or tried to excuse my behavior by trying to convince myself and/or others that I was laughing with somebody. The awful truth is that I was actually laughing at somebody.

I can assure you that this was never done intentionally. Often the person or people in question made it appear as though I was, in fact, laughing with them. After all, they were laughing, too. They seemed to enjoy the joke, situation, or practical joke as much as I was.

How was I to know that, when they were all alone, they were experiencing heartache, anger, or frustration because of my words or actions?

Years ago, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded a song that has been re-recorded many times. The song was entitled “The Tracks of My Tears.” 

Although the song was about the heartache felt over the loss of a girlfriend, consider these words as they relate to all of our relationships:

People say I’m the life of the party

‘Cause I tell a joke or two.

Although I may be laughing loud and hearty,

Deep inside I’m blue.

So take a good look at my face.

You’ll see my smile looks out of place.

If you’ll look closer, it’s easy to trace

The tracks of my tears.

May I encourage all of us, including me, to be more sensitive to the feelings of others? Many very close relationships–including friendships, marriages, and churches–have suffered sometimes permanent damage because somebody was just kidding.

That could be at least one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write the following: “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29, ESV, emphasis added).

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