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Baptism: What is it? Why it’s important? How do we practice it?

By: Darin Lund

There I was, dripping with water, standing by the ocean, and looking into a crowd of people. I had just gotten baptized on a beach in Florida. But this wasn’t the first time. Some 20 years earlier my parents wrangled the squirming ball of baby that was me and had me baptized as an infant. Not every Christian can put “baptized twice” on their spiritual resume, but I can!

My own story shows that the practice of baptism is often understood and practiced differently from church to church. Looking back on my own experience I can see how misinformed I was about what baptism is and how it should be practiced. You may have not been baptized twice, but perhaps you have lingering questions about this practice of the Church.

This article will explore what baptism is, why it’s important, and how it is practiced at Christ Community.


What is Baptism?

Baptism was instituted by the Lord Jesus and is practiced by the Church (Matt 28:19). It is a public display of a spiritual reality (Rom 6:1-4; Col 2:11-15; 1 Pet 3:20-22), an outward gesture of a person’s entrance into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-14) and it is one of the marks of a true Church. Our website states, “The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the Church in genuine faith, these practices confirm and nourish the believer.”

What I find really interesting about baptism is its connection to the gospel. Baptism, as the statement says, is a tangible and visible sign of the gospel (Rom 6:1-4; Col 2:11-15). The New City Catechism, a resource which distills the basics of the Christian faith into a question-and-answer format, in Question 44 asks, “What is baptism?” It answers with, “Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his Church.”

The Catechism elaborates. Question 45 asks, “Is baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?” and answers, “No, only the blood of Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit can cleanse us from sin.” So far so good. Many churches would agree with this statement on baptism, but what is often debated is the timing (credo or paedo) and the mode (immersion or sprinkling).[1] More on this later! At the moment let’s consider why baptism is important.

Why is Baptism important?

The very fact the JESUS commanded the Church to practice baptism makes this practice immensely important! Let’s not forget, Jesus Himself was baptized (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:9). Both His example and His commandment to go and baptize fill this practice with significance. In other words, baptism is important because Jesus is important!

I love how our statement on baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) describes the spiritual importance of this practice, “Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the Church in genuine faith, these practices confirm and nourish the believer.”

Is baptism important?
Yes! Baptism is nothing short of a God-sanctioned practice that both nourishes our faith and tangibly expresses the gospel!

How is Baptism practiced at Christ Community?

At Christ Community we practice credobaptism by immersion. Say what? That is a technical way to say that we baptize believers (credo is Latin for “I believe”), those people who are able to articulate their conversion to Christ, by immersing them in water. When we baptize these believers, we immerse them in water and raise them out.

For those interested, you can view this baptism video below to see a baptism celebration at Christ Community.

Other churches practice baptism differently by baptizing the infants of believing parents. This is done by sprinkling water upon the baby in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what happened to me when I was an infant. This has been called paedobaptism (paedo is Greek for “child”). While at Christ Community our regular practice is credobaptism by immersion, we do practice child dedication. We believe that the incorporation of infants and children into the church family is immensely important, both for the church and the family involved.

Another area where Christians differ on the subject of baptism is whether or not baptism should be required for church membership [3]. At Christ Community we do not require people to be baptized in order to become members of the church. Our practice is grounded in our understanding that membership in the church is dependent upon a genuine conversion to Christ (Acts 2:47, 16:5).

Conversion, not baptism, is our core requirement for those who want to become members at Christ Community. That may sound straightforward enough, but a unique challenge at Christ Community is the fact that many of our members were baptized as an infant. Should those who were baptized as an infant be re-baptized after their conversion?

The Bible does not command people who were baptized as a baby to be re-baptized after their conversion. In fact, the Bible says basically nothing about infant baptism. The Bible does, however, command every Christian to be baptized. The Scripture does seem to allow those who were baptized as infant to be re-baptized as a public profession of their conversion and as an expression of their unity with the Church.

Conclusion

If you have never been baptized and are considering it, we would love to talk with you more about it! Our baptism service is a really fun time! We come together as a church and celebrate the work God has done in saving people from their sin.

Hearing people share their story about becoming a Christian is one of the most encouraging and joyful things we do at church.


Resources for Further Study:

  • Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, By: Thabiti Anyabwile and J. Ligon Duncan III. [This is short and very accessible treatment on what the Bible says about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is published by The Gospel Coalition, one of our ministry partners. This is a great place to start for people interested in learning more about Baptism!]
  • Baptism and the EFCA: The 2005 Mid-Winter Ministerial Conference. [This is a manuscript document of four different lectures that were hosted at the EFCA Mid-Winter conference. This article explains both credo baptism and paedo baptism, while also looking at the history of baptism in the Church and in the EFCA.]

[3] See the very helpful article on re-baptism by Greg Strand (the EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing): https://www.efca.org/blog/understanding-scripture/baptism-faith-rebaptism-and-roman-catholic-church

How Smart Are You Being With Your Smartphone?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On my phone, I recently caught up with a friend who is doing graduate studies in Paris. After we concluded our FaceTime conversation, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and savor the technology in my hand. When we stop to think about it, smartphone technology is a bit breathtaking. With just a touch on a screen, we instantly access almost any information imaginable. From almost anywhere, we quickly hail a ride to get where we need to go. If we are in a new city, we can get detailed directions to a close-by restaurant, gas station, or movie theatre. With our phone camera we can capture a memory-making moment and, in a flash, post it on Facebook or send it via a text message to our family and friends.

Our smartphones are helpful things, but they also can be harmful things. It may be time to put a warning label on your phone: “Excessive use of this phone may be hazardous to your life.”  The problem is that many of us are not being very smart with our smartphones. They have become too much a part of our lives.

In Tony Reinke’s new book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, he points out that on average we check our phones about 81,500 times each year or about once every four minutes of our waking lives. Rather than being tools to assist us, phones can become masters that enslave us.

Neuroscientists tell us our phones are actually re-wiring our brains. Technologists point out that smartphones are specifically designed to keep us glued to the screen. Other researchers and social observers note how excessive use of phones is transforming us into distracted people where intimacy in our interpersonal relationships is increasingly suffering. Excessive phone use fills our minds and hearts with digital junk food, impairing our literacy skills as well as our ability to think critically. Distracted drivers are a growing concern in automobile accidents.

We must also ponder the damaging effects of excessive phone use as it relates to our spiritual formation and cultivating intimacy with God. If spiritual formation requires an attentive life to Christ and others, a smartphone-driven, distracted life is a real and present danger for any apprentice of Jesus. Transparently, my phone woos me so much that on my day off, I often put it in a drawer out of sight. If I leave my cell phone at home even for a short drive to the grocery store, I feel a kind of panic, like I can’t function without it. How pathetic.

I believe it is time for us to become smarter with our smartphones so that we can pursue a more attentive, disciplined, and less distracted life. If you are not being very smart with your smartphone, if your intimacy with God, the wellbeing of your soul and your relationships are suffering as a result, let me suggest a wiser way forward.

First, get off your phone. Don’t text when you drive. On a weekly basis, do a several hour phone fast. I assure you the world will go on and you will survive. Not only will you survive, you will thrive. A technology fast is both freeing and enriching.

Second, get alone. One of the most foundational spiritual disciplines is solitude. We live in a very noisy world. Solitude not only nourishes our soul, it also helps us be more attentive to God and His still small voice in our lives.

Third, get in the Word. What is your regular weekly pattern for studying God’s Word? The spiritual discipline of study will fill your heart and mind with life-giving truth and timeless wisdom, not digital junk food of trivial information. Put your phone aside and pick up your Bible. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”

Fourth, get outside. Get your eyes off the screen for a while and get them on God’s beautiful creation. Find places and spaces where God’s general revelation of creation can be restorative to your body, mind, and soul. Remember the word recreation comes from re-creation, and a part of Sabbath rest is the restorative nature of nature.

Fifth, get with others. One of the gnawing ironies of our smartphone digital age is that while we have never been more connected, we have never been lonelier. While we may have a ton of Facebook friends, we have too few face-to-face friends. Incarnated relationships formed and nurtured in real time and space are a vital component of human and societal flourishing. Embrace the spiritual discipline of community. Spend regular times eating together as a family and keep your phones away from the table. Join a small group that meets regularly and attend worship services each Sunday.

Let’s be grateful for our smartphones, but let’s also get smarter in managing them. If you are looking for a good resource to read, I suggest Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. It is my heartfelt prayer that we live lives characterized not by distractedness, but rather attentiveness to Christ, to others, and to our own hearts.


Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash

 

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Surviving the Holidays

GUEST AUTHOR: Karen Mendrala

Surviving the holidays…if you’re in the thick of grief, you might wonder how that’s even possible. If you are spinning from the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, or another important person in your life; if you’re already dealing with anxiety, loneliness, and depression, how do you add “the holidays” to the mix? It can certainly be overwhelming.

The holidays can cause a magnification of any loss, and there is a very good chance your emotions will blindside you during this time of “Christmas cheer.” How do you face the memories of past holidays while still managing to figure out what you will do about this year? How do you handle putting up a Christmas tree, sending out Christmas cards, preparing a meal, or attending a family celebration? It’s not really an option to just skip the holidays altogether. We are surrounded by them.

The mere thought of the holidays can cause dread for anyone experiencing loss. The thought of facing them without a loved one can often even bring about a panic attack! GriefShare, a class offered at our church, enables people to walk the journey of grief together in a small-group setting. They begin with a video of a woman saying, “I just want to go to sleep before Thanksgiving and wake up after New Year’s.” How true!

I vividly remember the year I lost my husband. I was struggling to work through my first holiday without him and I asked my mom, “How do you face the holidays?” She wisely replied, “It’s only one day, so you get through one day at a time.” I’ve found in my own personal journey this philosophy is helpful not only for the holidays but for every day.

So, what are some practical real-life ways to face grief in the midst of the holiday season? Here are a few important ones:

  • First and foremost, there’s One who will be with you through all of it. He promises us several times in the Bible that He will never leave nor forsake us. (Deut 31:6; Joshua 1:9 and Matthew 28:20)
  • Recognize that the holidays are going to be tough. Acknowledge their impact on you in every way: emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself. Think through your holidays. What traditions and activities are meaningful and important enough to continue? Visualize how you will accomplish that. Who can you call to help you when you are struggling? What might need to be taken off your to-do list because it’s too painful or you’re just not ready to face it?
  • On your list of activities that you’ve chosen to keep, which ones might cause the most emotional pain and therefore be the most difficult to get through? Understand that while careful preparation will not keep you from being blindsided by emotions, it may give you the ability to give yourself grace when they come.
  • One of the counselors in GriefShare says, “We hear ourselves talking in our heads more than anyone else,” so have a Bible verse ready to use to “self-talk” through difficult moments, such as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” or Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you…I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • GriefShare suggests writing a “Grief Letter.” This can be a perfect way for you to help others in your life understand what you are going through. They may want to know how you are doing and how they can help. In your letter:

– Describe your experiences and your feelings in an honest manner.

– Describe what they might expect from you (tears, anger, despair, etc.). You don’t know how you’ll react at the time; there are many ups and downs. However, if you can communicate your thoughts it is helpful for them in better understanding you.

– Let them know what you find comforting to discuss and what’s not helpful at this time.

– Tell them your tears are a normal part of your grief process and nothing to be afraid of.  I love what author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “We grieve deeply because we loved deeply.” It’s OK to cry.

– List some specific and practical ways in which friends and family can help you. Perhaps your loved one was the one who carried in the tree and set it up. You want a tree but can’t face that part, so maybe that means someone can do that for you. Maybe you need help shopping or wrapping or placing decorations in the house. Don’t be shy. The people you are writing to love you and want to help you.

Sometimes people just don’t have a clue as to what to expect or what to do for you. Or perhaps they are so caught up in their own holiday plans that they haven’t realized what this time might be like for you. Sometimes they may be afraid to bring up your lost loved one for fear of causing you pain, not realizing it may help and comfort you to talk about him or her. Help them understand. Good communication is such a blessing to everyone!

  • Keep a journal. This is a personal, structured time between you and God to reflect, process, and share your deepest fears, hurts, and desires with Him. It helps to sort through what’s going on and how you’re feeling about some tough situations and, in general, it can assist you in dealing with pent-up emotions. I always say it helps to get things out of your mind so they don’t spin until they are out of control. Journaling is a good way to help with this (as is an honest visit with a good and trusted friend, pastor, or counselor).
  • Finally,

– Think about decorations, Christmas cards, gifts, meals, family time, Christmas parties, and other social events.

– Decide how you might respond to invitations. Feel free to reply with “I’ll try to make it,” or, “I may need to leave suddenly. If that happens, please don’t take offense.”

– You might need time alone. Alert family or friends that you might need to disappear for a few minutes or maybe even hours. This is normal and okay.

Any of these are a good way to clear out your mind.

Surviving the holidays will be hard. There will be emotional triggers from sights, sounds, smells, songs, and activities. When you’re dealing with anxiety or struggling to process your grief, a plan will help you feel less overwhelmed and will give you coping strategies for those rough seasons. It won’t fix the difficult tasks you face, but it can give you hope and help you get through them.


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30

Our Hero. Our Hope.

Guest Author: Rachel Gorman

It took me most of my adolescence to truly meet Jesus—bad decisions, misdirection, lies and chaos followed me through high school and college. It wasn’t until the end of college that I could say I truly wanted to know Jesus. During this time I read Philip Yancey’s excellent book The Jesus I Never Knew. I’ll never forget reading about what he describes as the “flannel board Jesus.” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 85). Somehow, I’d missed actually seeing the true character of Jesus for the first twenty-one years of my life. I only saw the flannel board Jesus, packaged neatly for Sunday school—one dimensional and flat. What kind of hope is there in a story without a hero?

Looking back, I think I would have admitted that this version of Jesus wasn’t someone I really wanted to know or spend time with—and definitely not follow or obey. A flannel board Jesus is boring. A flannel board Jesus is weak. There’s no hope with this type of character. No hero to be found. But then I read these words I’ll never forget: “Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it then that the church has tamed such a character—has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, ‘very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.’” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 23)

With those words the flannel board was beginning to fade, and I was starting to see the Lion of the Gospels. Jesus is not weak. Jesus is not predictable. Jesus is not tame. Jesus is not boring. Jesus is Aslan, the powerful and kind lion in the Chronicles of Narnia books. That was someone I wanted to know. The hero of the story was beginning to take shape.

As I began this journey to put away the flannel board Jesus and know the real Jesus, I still struggled to understand which parts of me and my personality were acceptable. As a Christian, was I allowed strength and femininity? Was I allowed to feel bold and gentle? I was trapped by these thoughts—I was too much and never enough. The world with its misconceptions, and often other Christians, dictated how I should act and what I should feel. Always too much. Always never enough. Since all expectations contradicted each other, I was at a loss.

It was when I discovered these powerful words by Dorothy Sayers, in her book Are Women Human?, that I started to finally feel free. Accepted. Wanted. She said,

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?, 68).

As I read these words, my confusion began to dissipate, and I started to see clearly for the first time. Here was my hero. The Jesus Sayers describes, the real Jesus of the Gospels, pulled at all my misconceptions about myself, my world, and Jesus himself. Sayers’ words simultaneously did two very powerful things for me: First, I’m not the only woman to feel this dichotomy between who I am and who the world tells me I should be. And second, here is a man I want to know, here is the Jesus who accepts me, frees me, and puts my fears and insecurities to rest. I can trust this man.

Whoever you are, no matter how you grew up, what you’ve experienced, what kind of hope you’re longing for, or situation you need fixed—I believe we are all looking for hope. The longer I’m alive and the more people I begin to truly know, I’m realizing every one of us has experienced sadness, longing, and loneliness. Even if it’s hidden and no one else knows—not one of us is exempt. We long for hope.

And because we know Jesus,—because we know the hero, and much more importantly, because he knows us!—we are gifted the very hope for which we search. This is the hope promised in God’s Word: that God keeps His promises, that we are not alone. And that we can find our hope in the Scriptures through Jesus. I love theses verses in Hebrews, “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us.” (Hebrews 6:18-20, MSG)

Maybe you’re like me, always feeling too much and not enough, or maybe you’ve always understood your place in the world. Maybe you grew up knowing Jesus as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional hero, or maybe you’re longing to put away the Sunday School flannel board and meet the lion, Jesus. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV) Our souls are anchored.  Our hearts are secure. No matter the storm, we are tethered to the very Hope that sets us free. We have Jesus, we have the Lion, we have the Hero. All is not lost.


Adapted for this blog post from God’s Wisdom for Women by Patricia Miller and Rachel Gorman.

Praying the Blues

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[SERIES: Part 1 of 3]

At some off-the-map place, on September 16, 1925, in a plantation down around the Mississippi Delta, Riley B. King was born. We know him by his legendary stage name: B.B. King. This man—the man behind Lucille, his black Gibson guitar—was shaped by the care of his mother, Nora Ella King, who made sure King was refined by Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church and the preaching of Luther Henson. He was taught the church songbook full of gospels and spirituals.

And like every black man in Mississippi, B.B. King grew up knowing another king in the south: King Cotton, a slogan thrown around by pre-civil war politicians to highlight the importance of the cotton trade in the south’s economy. Even though more than 50 years had passed since the end of the Civil War, B.B. King was mentored in the blues first and foremost by the voices of African American men and women singing those church songs with large sacks hung over their shoulders, going through rows and rows of cotton.

It was heat, cotton, family, racial injustice, and, lest we forget, the church that formed this man. Beauty and chaos that formed his songs. And though, on May 14, 2015, at 89 years of age, he passed away, he keeps on teaching us to sing songs and to pray prayers that we have far too often forgotten.

Like most blues songs, King’s music forces the pain and brokenness we know all too well into the light. They bring a realism to how the past impacts the present. Old relationships leave scars. Social injustices still prevail. And while King was brilliant in bringing this pain to bear, he wasn’t all that original. What King and others have called the blues, Scripture has always called lament.

While we may not all sing with King Everyday I Have the Blues, we all know the feeling when King sings The Thrill Is Gone. We’ve felt a righteous dissatisfaction with the way things are in the valleys of the shadow of death. A holy discontent. But is it ok to sing the blues just because we chalk the word “holy” onto the uncomfortable word “discontent”? Because it kind of feels like complaining at times, and who wants to be a whiner?

What do we do? When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. But how?

There is one lament—which spans two psalms, Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out. The psalmist is going to guide us a little further in the landscape of prayer: what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.

THE DROUGHT

The psalmist begins his prayer in verse 1 with the image of a deer in the midst of drought, searching for water. The word used to describe the deer is “panting.” A sort of shortness of breath that comes as a result of frantically running from this place to that. In desperation, its tongue is sticking to the roof of its mouth, hoping water is just around the corner.

But he’s not looking for literal water. Listen again to Psalm 42:1-3:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

The psalmist’s whole life is unraveling, and he’s desperately looking for God. Yet it’s as if God is nowhere to be found. Feeling alone in the mess, the psalmist isn’t sleeping, and he isn’t eating. Disillusioned  and broken tears are the only thing he’s eating, and to top it off, with every new sunrise, instead of the rooster crowing, he hears from those around him: “God still hasn’t showed up yet, huh?”

Have you ever been there?

It’s in these moments that if our only authentic option is to pray the blues, we’d rather just stay quiet and keep to ourselves. Why? Because we convince ourselves that it’s all our fault. We believe the blues could have been avoided if we would have just done the right things.

But that’s not what we find here. Instead, at the heart of being a child of God comes the freedom to lament. We are free to admit that there are certain things broken in the world that I didn’t break, and there are certain things in life that I can’t do anything to fix. And when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer.

Why? Because keeping quiet makes it worse. There is an article in The Onion, a mockumentary news site, titled, “Study: Pretending Everything’s Okay Works.”

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A study released Thursday by researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology has found that the simple act of pretending one’s life is not in complete shambles threatening to collapse at any moment…works. “Even when everything is coming apart at the seams and disaster is almost certainly imminent, putting up a good front for friends and loved ones makes everything better,” said Professor Christine Wanamaker, who explained that smiling a lot and evasive answers were usually enough to get by. “Tell everyone that things are fine, and they will be fine. Just don’t over-think it.” When asked about her study’s methodology, Wanamaker said the research was rock-solid, had been looked over by a bunch of scientists, and definitely wasn’t anything to worry about.

We can laugh at this, because it sounds ridiculous when you put it that way. But the reality is that many times in our own lives we actually live like that, and sometimes we can even treat church like that too. I’ve heard from folks before how they didn’t want to come to church on a particular Sunday because they couldn’t put on a smile when they walked through the doors. “Everyone else seems to have it together, and I just don’t want to be a burden.”

You can’t live like that. It seems like you’re expected to have it together in our culture. But we all know that no matter how big the smile is on the outside, we don’t have it together. None of us do. There are times we feel miserable. There are times when we just feel far from God. When injustice rocks our world and we can barely stand. There’s a reason that a majority of the 150 psalms in Scripture are prayers of laments, and as the church, we are called to be a lamenting community. A safe place. A people where those who are struggling with depression, loss, death, disease, frustration with injustice—you name it—can come and pour out their souls.

We need to pray the blues. When you are most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Let it ring out.

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Continue to read in PARTs 2 & 3 of this series as we talk more about what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Jesus and the Poor

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Excerpt from Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson

In his death and resurrection, Jesus the Messiah provides the final solution for humanity’s greatest poverty. However, we must also remember that Jesus Himself demonstrated compassion and care for the materially poor throughout His earthly ministry. When Jesus spoke about his messianic mission, He often spoke of the poor.

In His hometown of Nazareth, as He read the Isaiah scroll, Jesus identified Himself as one bringing good news to the materially impoverished. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). And as John the Baptist languished in prison, having second thoughts about Jesus and His messianic mission, Jesus reassures John by informing him that all kinds of healing has occurred, and that “the poor have the good news preached to them” (Mt 11:5). Jesus highlights the economic dimension of His messianic work alongside His physical healings. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus look on the multitudes with deep, heartfelt compassion, moved by those who were poor, weary, and sick. Our Lord told stories that gave dignity to the poor and elevated their status.

A poignant example is the story Jesus told of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus, whose disparate temporal circumstances in this life are highlighted to a hyperbolic extreme.

Jesus heightens His listeners’ visceral response by portraying the rich man as indulging his opulent lifestyle with a cold and callous indifference to sick, hungry, and poor Lazarus, who sat by the rich man’s gate each day. The rich man sees Lazarus, but only with his eyes and not with his heart. Even the dogs that roam the streets have more compassion for the poor man than the rich man does; they lick Lazarus’s oozing sores to bring temporary relief. But the rich man remains indifferent. (Lk 16:19-31)

To heighten the intrinsic value of the poor man, Jesus gives a name to this poor beggar, which is very unique within His parabolic teaching. In the midst of his ongoing suffering, Lazarus exhibits a gentle and patient soul, while the rich man reflects a prideful, self-absorbed, unrepentant heart. With this heart-tugging story, Jesus attempts to get the attention of the cold-hearted pharisaical religious leaders, who have bought into false conclusions that material wealth signify God’s blessing and material impoverishment serves as a rightful punishment for sin.

New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey makes the compelling case that Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches several heart-changing themes, including the corrupting potential of material wealth.

Wealth, be it little or much, is not condemned in Scripture. What is criticized is the failure to see that all material possessions belong to God. We are merely stewards of his treasures.

The parable reflects the corrupting, blinding potential of wealth and is critical of the socially irresponsible wealthy. The rich man used his resources for his own self-indulgent living. He cared nothing about his God, his staff or the needy in his community.

Jesus also highlighted sacrificial generosity toward the poor, showcasing the giving of a humble widow, who gave all the money she had to the work of the temple. Indeed, Jesus identifies so closely with the materially impoverished that He says when we care for the poor, it is as if we are caring for Him.

Following in Jesus’ footsteps, the New Testament writers continue to amplify God’s heart for the poor. One of the compelling evidences of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was how the gospel opened hearts and hands to those who were materially needy. Not out of coercion or forced distribution, but out of generous hearts of neighborly love, the early church met many material needs. “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). The New Testament writer James captures the early church’s heart for the marginalized and vulnerable, emphasizing that true Christian faith has at its heart concern for the poor: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27).

The apostle Paul’s concern for the poor was consistently on his heart and often on his tongue. In his farewell address, Paul urged the Ephesian elders to work hard, stay generous, and be eager to help the economically vulnerable. Defending his apostolic gospel mission to the Gentile world, Paul affirms his eagerness to care for the poor. While Paul preached and planted churches, he also took up monetary offerings to care for the materially impoverished in the Jerusalem church (Rom 15:25-28). Paul’s earnest appeal for generous giving to those who are underresourced, particularly to members of other local churches, suggests the goodness of striving for economic equity for all.

Paul does not advocate a coercive ecclesiastical or government redistribution of income or wealth, but rather seems to suggest that people who have been transformed by the gospel should embrace wise efforts to encourage less economic disparity and more economic equality. Writing to a financially advantaged church at Corinth, Paul says, “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness, your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Cor 8:13-14). In a time of increasing wealth disparity, both within the church and outside the church, Paul’s words should be carefully pondered. How should the principle of equity or fairness inform our lifestyles, philanthropic efforts, and public policy? How does equity and fairness play a role in our free-market economy as we seek the flourishing of all people?

When we take a closer look at the extensive biblical teaching that calls for open hearts and hands toward the materially underresourced, we realize God’s heart for the poor is expressed not merely in acts of benevolent charity but also in providing opportunity for work and productive engagement in the economy. Whether the poor are part of a local faith community or not, in common grace we are called to empower, strengthen, and protect the vulnerable in society.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vcex_divider][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]CG2017Tom Nelson will be one of the featured speakers at the Made to Flourish CG2017 Conference on Friday, October 13. The conference will be live streamed to local sites throughout the United States. The theme for this year’s conference is churches for the common good, and features other speakers such as Andy Crouch and Amy Sherman.

To hear more from Tom, and find out about this upcoming conference, visit Made to Floursh.org.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

How to Grow Virtuous Children

Parenting is hard, isn’t it? As parents, we have many hopes and desires for our children and we pray regularly for the day our children accept Christ into their hearts. Even before we had kids, my husband and I both had visions of what our house would look and sound like. However, our dreams typically do not align with the day-to-day tasks of parenting.

During our sermon series on Vices and Virtues, we took a closer look at each of the seven deadly vices and their corresponding virtuous solutions. Throughout this series, a question has come back to my mind again and again (and I don’t think it’s just because I work with kids!): when it comes to kids, how do we instill these virtues, but also keep the gospel front and center?

Given a choice, we’d all say we want children who display virtues like the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But frequently we display outbursts of anger, hostility, jealousy, envy, dissension, and so on.

Faced with that (difficult) reality, we ought to first take a hard look in the mirror. That’s because the number one way to impress virtues (or vices!) on our child’s heart is through modeling. We can’t be Jesus for our kids, but we certainly can SHOW them Jesus. Each day our kids wake up, ride in the car, and eat. These are wonderful times to model and discuss with your child how to live a virtue-filled life. Let me explain…


Morning Time:

Begin each morning with statements of praise: “Look at the beautiful day God made.” Our kids are typically in the room as I open our blinds each morning. Make it a habit of noticing the weather and thanking God for the gift of another day. Adopt this habit from Psalm 5:3: “In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Bless your child each day as they leave for school or, in this season, as they wake up to spend their day at camp, play at home, or head to summer school. This reminds them of who God is and their identity in Christ.

 

Drive Time:

Time riding in a car can provide opportunities to talk about God. Point out the beauty of creation as you drive: the blankets of grass, the first tulips pushing up through the mud, the fall foliage bursting with color. When you pass through different areas of town, pray aloud for the unsaved in our world. When you hear a police, fire, or ambulance siren, pray for the workers and those involved in the accident or crime. When you pass a school, pray for the teachers who teach there and the children who attend. Ultimately, the goal is for your child to see God in action in every facet of life — and to live for Him.

 

Meal Time:

Encourage spiritual discussions during meal time. Choose a child-friendly devotional a few times a week. Spend this time reading together out of the Bible. Meal time is also a great time to hear your child’s heart and their questions and ideas about God. Use this time to share and thank God for the ways you saw His presence that day. Each week, set aside time to share how you’ve witnessed God working and moving through your child’s life. Pray together as a family. Guide your child in praying for others.

Between Time:

Kids have many opportunities to be engaged with a screen. As parents, we have to be proactive and help them chose quality media and talk about the messages. Media, from video games, television shows, to movies, can help teach virtues (or vices). Kids are using media for everything from playtime to communicating. It’s essential for parents to use these opportunities to strengthen kids’ social-emotional development. Co-view, co-play, and talk about television shows, movies, books and games. Again, model for your child. Put away your phone and explain you want to give them your full attention. When you do have to go online, tell them what you’re doing.

Raising kids is not for the faint of heart, and the days they are in our care decrease daily. Bringing a child up in God’s way is a humbling responsibility. God promises His Word does not return to us void. It won’t to our children either. Use each day to take advantage of the opportunities to impress God’s truth and virtues on their teachable hearts.

For an additional resources, pick up the Homefront magazine at church each month or visit the website homefrontmag.com. Also check out these books:  Courtney DeFeo’s book, In this House We Will Giggle: Making Virtues Love and Laughter a Daily Part of your Family Life and You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.  

Life Hacks: A Better Way to Memorize Scripture

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“I have hidden my word in your heart, that I might not sin against you”
(Psalm 119:11)

I have a strained relationship with Scripture memory. The first time I ever memorized Scripture was at church camp, because memorizing Scripture meant candy. Memorizing enough Scripture meant a full-size Snickers bar, the holy grail of candy. So I memorized John 1, Psalm 23, a few others, but not for holy reasons. Once there were no longer Snickers on the line, unsurprisingly my motivation to memorize Scripture died.

Later in life, when I was studying to be a pastor in college, I was told that Christians should memorize Scripture. Jesus, after all, memorized Scripture, which is true and important. At both of the weakest moments of Jesus’ life, He quoted Scripture. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, every response Jesus gave to Satan was quoted from Deuteronomy. He quoted Scripture as His defense against temptation. And when Jesus was hanging on the cross, close to death, He cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He was quoting Psalm 22.

These are compelling reasons to memorize Scripture, but I must say, they failed to compel me. Scripture memory just became a guilty part of my Christian life. I never did it, so I felt guilty.

Until a few years ago. I am not sure what changed internally in me, to drive me, to motivate me to memorize Scripture, but I know what changed. I had a system.

I came across Timmy Brister’s method of memorizing Scripture – “memory moleskine.”  Three key insights changed everything for me as I embarked on a new rhythm of Scripture memory.

First, I always had my notebook in my pocket. It’s small, can be carried around with me, and was a constant reminder to open my notebook and read Scripture. To dwell on it not just for a few moments in the morning, but throughout the day.

Second, Brister encouraged me to read the Scripture out loud. That helped me memorize the words more quickly, but it was also a different way of encountering Scripture. It slowed me down, and opened my eyes to the text in a new way.

Finally, I began to focus on exact words, precise phrases. My devotional life was enriched because reading a passage once will never allow a depth of understanding, or allow the passage to work its way into your heart. A cursory reading of the Bible will always lead to fruit, but Scripture memory leads to a depth of experience with what God is saying to you. It becomes more real. Scripture memory was no longer an activity to be accomplished to get candy or as a religious duty. It was God’s way of dealing with me, speaking to me, encouraging me and leading me.

I won’t pretend that a short blog post is going to make you a Scripture memory master – BUT – as someone who has been at this intentionally for three years now, I have noticed one significant change. The words I speak to myself are different than what they used to be. When I am discouraged, I may still say to myself, “Everything is falling apart!” But another word rises up in my heart: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, He will save the crushed in Spirit.” There is increasingly a different Word at the center of my life now. It is why I memorize Scripture now — without the guilt and without the bribe.

I need those words, so I put them deep in my heart to let God’s Word be the defining voice in my life.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Do These Two Things Belong Together?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Three seconds. Answer this question: When you hear “spiritual formation,” what are the first three images that came to mind? Mine were: people on a silent retreat, people reading their Bibles, people praying by candlelight.

Okay, another one. Three seconds. When you hear “leadership,” what are the first three images that came to mind? Mine were: a man with briefcase outside a skyscraper, a military officer, and one of those Successories motivational posters.

Now among other things, at this point you may be thinking, Is Bill’s brain just one giant collection of bad stock photos? (Because that’s what I was thinking after I read my answers, too.)

Another thing you might be thinking though is: Huh? There wasn’t a whole lot in common with those two sets of images. (I really hope you are thinking that, because that was the whole point of those questions in first place)

We don’t often think about these two things—spiritual formation and leadership—in the same context all that often, if ever.

But in the Scriptures, in God’s design, they are inextricably linked. This is why our Razors Leadership Pathway, from beginning to end, is just as much about spiritual formation as it is leadership.

It’s always been that way, and it always will be. Why? To answer that question we need look at Psalm 78:70-72 and answer two questions: What is spiritual formation? What does it have to do with leadership?

A Shepherd King

Psalm 78 ends with a description of David, Israel’s great shepherd king. Here’s how the Psalmist describes him:

70         He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
71         from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
72         With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand. (Psalm 78:70-72)

David was a shepherd. Nothing special on the outside. But there something about David that made him fit to be Israel’s king. Two somethings, actually, both in verse 72: upright heart and skillful hands.

“Upright” translates a Hebrew word (tome) that has, at its core, the ideas of wholeness, integrity, consistency, no fragmentation. David had an integral, whole heart. He had been formed, and was being formed, into single-hearted worshipper and follower of the one true God.

“Skillful hands” speak of David’s understanding, wisdom, and skill as a leader in his vocation, in his work, as king.

David was integral and skillful. Spiritual form and leadership have an interdependent and symbiotic relationship. They are interdependent in that one cannot be what fully what it is intended to be without the other. If you are a leader, but lack integrity, sooner or later you will rot from the inside out and collapse.

On the other hand, you cannot live a fully integral life, and be a couch potato. Integrity of heart leads us to places of influence—not usually in loud dramatic ways—but in quiet, out of the spotlight ways, like teaching a child to be kind and generous, or embodying a culture of love for neighbor in your workplace. These may not seems like leadership and influence, but they are, and they are a direct result of growth in integrity of heart.

So they are interdependent and also symbiotic. One feeds and enriches the other. As you grow in integrity of heart, there are greater opportunities to exercise skillful hands. And in the midst of those increasingly challenging opportunities, your wholeness of heart is test and refined.

Under pressures of leadership, the cracks in your heart are revealed and in faith, by grace, they can begin to be healed. This leads to even deeper wholeness preparing your for greater and more challenging opportunities to exercise skillful hands.

What is spiritual formation?

So what it spiritual formation? Spiritual formation simply speaks of the process, and often the specific intentional means (prayer, Bible, study, fasting), by which God’s grace fuels our efforts in becoming more like Jesus, the most whole, integral person.

Spiritual formation (or deformation) is happening all the time. We are either becoming more or less like Jesus, the one who made us and is remaking us. Spiritual formation happens as you pray, when you take the kids to school, clean the bathroom, answer email, and take a vacation. It is always happening, which means it is happening in the place you have influence and leadership.

What does spiritual formation have to do with leadership?

Our places of work—whether that’s at home, in the shop, at the job site, or in the office—are the primary training ground for spiritual formation and where we often have the greatest opportunity to exercise skillful hands. Places of influence—whether it is with toddlers, troops, or trade commissions—provide the crucible in which our hearts continue to be refined and remade.

You cannot be long in the journey of spiritual formation, of becoming integral of heart, before you find yourself being tested and refined in the place where you most regularly exercise your skillful hands. And it is in this way that spiritual formation and leadership are inextricably linked. Wholeness of heart and skill hands cannot be separated. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]