My Child and My Faith

Posted by on October 30, 2006 under Sermons

Did you hear about the family with a 5 year old daughter who moved to a new job in a new community? The first Sunday they were in their new home, they worshipped with the church in their new community. They took their 5 year old daughter to her class with this note safety pinned to her sweater. It read: "The opinions expressed by this child concerning God and the Bible may not necessarily represent those of her mother and father."

I imagine every Sunday school teacher can identify with the problems of those parents. While amusing, that story also touches on a sad, often tragic reality. Too often the daughter of 5 grows to a young lady of 18 without being influenced by her parents. Parents often talk about the difficulty of being a parent today. Commonly we parents forget how difficult it is to be a child today. For parents genuinely concerned about the spirituality of their children, our lack of awareness often makes childhood tougher than it should be on our children. Could it be that too often our concern is more about ourselves as parents and not enough about our children?

Do you consider the quantity of anti-spiritual input that goes into our children’s lives every week? For example, do you actually know what your child watches on TV? Do you really know the content or the language? In a week’s time, how often will your child see a woman seduce a man or a man abuse a woman? How many sexual scenes will he or she see? How many rapes will he or she witness? How often will they see a person get high or drunk? How many times will they see drunkenness or drugs presented as the keys to pleasure and good times? How many night club or stripper scenes will he or she see? How many beer commercials featuring a prominent personality will he or she see? How many times will he or she see prostitution presented as a desirable lifestyle? How many people will they see shot, stabbed, strangled, abused, run over, or drowned? How many creative illegal acts will he or she witness? How tempted will he or she be to consider such occurrences as innocent and normal portrayals of life?

Want an informative experiment? First, ask your child the title of his or her favorite movie. Ask for an honest answer with the assurance there will be no reaction from you. (This is for discovery, not for reprimand.) Second, rent the movie for you and your spouse. Third, in privacy, watch the movie with your spouse. Fourth, have one of you write down all objectionable words. Have the other note all the objectionable scenes. After the movie, ask each other what you thought. (Remember, this is not to censor the child, but to inform the parents.)

In the course of one week, how many curse words do you think your child hears? Would you know what all the words mean? How many sexually explicit terms and words do you think they hear? How many vulgar jokes and tales of sensual exploits do you think they hear?

Does your child voluntarily talk to you about the things they hear? When we returned from 4 years in West Africa, one of our children said, "I did not know any curse words when we came back. I did not know what my friends were saying." When he talked to us, he knew what they were saying.

We cannot end all the anti-spiritual input into our children’s lives. Yet, we need to control anti-spiritual input when we can. However, mere control of anti-spiritual input will not solve our children’s spiritual problems. The essential question is this: what spiritual input are we giving our children to counter the anti-spiritual influences?

Today, consider perpetuating our faith in our children.

  1. What do you want for your child spiritually? (There are commonly three basic approaches to answering that question.)
    1. First approach: this is what I call the naive approach to spiritual influence.
      1. The characteristic statement of this approach: "I want my children to make up their own minds about religion when they are grown. I do not wish to impose my spiritual values on them."
      2. I know of no greater disadvantage parents can impose on their children than willfully refusing to provide their children with spiritual guidance when they are incapable of guiding themselves.
      3. I call this the naive approach for a number of reasons.
        1. One, it blindly assumes that there is no anti-spiritual influence exerted on the child or children.
        2. Two, it assumes the child or children will make an unprejudiced decision at or after 18 years of age.
          1. The truth is he or she will live for the most important 18 years of his or her life with only anti-spiritual values and perspectives.
          2. By the time the child reaches the point of "adult decision," the decision already has been made (likely long ago).
        3. Three, no matter how much you teach and influence, the child will modify (at least) your guidance after leaving home.
          1. In spite of your teaching and influence, your child will make up his/her own mind about spiritual commitment after he/she leaves your home.
          2. No one can "program" one’s child for a spiritual adult existence.
          3. Even with your best efforts, your child will face temptations and disadvantages in an anti-spiritual culture and world.
        4. Four, a refusal to give spiritual guidance is just as much a parental influence as is a decision to provide spiritual guidance–both approaches are guidance that influences one’s spiritual values.
      4. I am thankful my parents taught and influenced me!
      5. After spending my life learning from Bible study and experience, I certainly want my children to profit positively from those influences in my life.
      6. If spirituality in Christ is worthy of guiding my life, it is worthy of guiding their lives.
    2. The second approach: it is the "limited emphasis" approach to spiritual influence.
      1. Basically, this approach is voiced in the concept, "I want to introduce my children to religion."
      2. The primary concern becomes, "We do not want to be too religious; we do not wish to overdo a spiritual emphasis."
      3. The child is taught, "You ought to go to church once in a while."
      4. When as an adolescent he/she asks the "why" questions, the answer basically is, "You just ought to."
      5. Often this approach leads to a rejection of spirituality as a meaningless obligation.
    3. The third approach: it is the spiritual foundation approach.
      1. Spirituality is a way of life (not just a religion) that surrounds the child.
      2. He or she is taught to do spiritual things long before he or she understands spiritual ways.
      3. When he or she reaches an age of understanding, he or she is encouraged to ask why and understand why.
      4. The child is taught how to live for God, not merely a religion.
      5. Great emphasis is given to developing relationships, accepting personal responsibility, and understanding values.
      6. The objective is to enable the child to grow into a spiritual person.

  2. While there are numerous variations of these approaches, I urge you to evaluate your own approach.
    1. Evaluation one: what priority does spiritual development have in your system of values you teach your child?
      1. If the choice is between school work and worship or Bible study, which is the priority?
      2. Is it understood that we will assemble with like-minded people to worship or study, or is it a weekly decision?
      3. Does your child get as much encouragement to be a dependable part of the spiritual education program as he or she gets to excel in extracurricular activities?
      4. If the choice is between fun and spirituality, what choice is made?
      5. My point is not an "either-or" decision.
        1. My point is what are the values and priorities you are teaching them?
        2. Is there a difference in what you tell them and what you show them?
    2. Evaluation two: what spiritual environment do your children live in?
      1. Do you show them the joy of worship or the duty of assembly?
      2. Do you prepare to worship, or do you "get it out of the way"?
      3. Do you speak of Christian involvement as an opportunity and privilege or as an irritating drudgery?
      4. Do you show them Christian work is a part of our nature, or do you teach them to do just enough to avoid criticism?
      5. Are you challenging them by your example to view spiritual things as negative and critical or positive and encouraging?
      6. Do you encourage them to get Bible lessons?
      7. Do you see them read the Bible? pray?
      8. Do they see you read the Bible? pray?
      9. Do you discuss your spiritual hopes for them?
      10. How would you react if he or she seriously told you, "I want to be a missionary!"
    3. Evaluation three: is spirituality seen in your family relationships?
      1. Dads, have your daughters ever said, "I want to marry a man like you?"
      2. Moms, have sons ever said, "I want a wife like you?"
      3. Have you heard them speak of things happening in other families they are glad do not happen in your family?
      4. Do they see the joy Mom and Dad find in each other?
      5. Do they hear Mom and Dad tell each other they love each other?
      6. Do they see the affection expressed?
      7. Do they ever hug you?
      8. When is the last time you told your child you loved them?
      9. Is your spirituality all external store front with emptiness inside, or does it bless the whole family?

  3. Scripture bears certain testimony that the spiritual guidance of children primarily rest in the hand of parents.
    1. Moses stated these words to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
    2. Paul wrote of the unpretended faith in Timothy that first existed in his mother and grandmother in 2 Timothy 1:5, "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well."
    3. Later, in the same writing he reminded Timothy of his spiritual teaching in 2 Timothy 3:15, "… From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
    4. I value God’s thoughts about Abraham in Genesis 18:19, "For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

  4. How can I help my child toward a spiritual life?
    1. We can begin by facing facts.
      1. Fact 1: if our children are to be spiritual adults, they must learn to live in an ungodly society with confidence in God.
        1. We cannot hide them from all ungodliness in our society (no matter what approach we take).
        2. We must teach them to cope in ungodly situations.
      2. Fact 2: we must have enough faith in God to teach faith to our children with confidence.
      3. Fact 3: we must approach our task as parents knowing Christian parents have the ability and strength in Christ to train children to be Christians.
    2. We must use a positive approach in spiritually training our children.
      1. Pray for guidance in specific situations daily.
      2. Be extremely cautious about discussing weakness in the church or other Christians in the presence of your children.
        1. Do not teach your children a negative view of spirituality.
        2. Teach them to be compassionate with grace and mercy (as is God), not to be distrustful–all humans have flaws and make mistakes!
      3. When they are capable of understanding, teach them spiritual reasons, standards, and responsibility.
      4. Always be honest with them.
      5. Reassure them that they can talk to you without fear.
      6. Create circumstances that promote spiritual involvement.
      7. Compliment honestly and encourage sincerely.
      8. Help them discover the joy of being spiritual rather than just a necessity to be spiritual.
      9. Help them value godly living in Christ by noting the joys and benefits of godly living.
    3. Take advantage of spiritual opportunities designed to assist parents.
      1. Usually, a congregation’s education program for its children is among its major investments.
      2. Make Bible study a priority, not a convenience item.
      3. Make preparation for Bible study a family commitment.
      4. Talk to your children about what they are learning and reinforce insights.
      5. Expect to learn and do not be content merely to go to classes and worship.

I am not an authority on rearing children, and I know the challenge is enormous. Success is not guaranteed even with our best efforts. Ultimately, as adults, our children will decide the role God serves in their lives–just like you did! The most important thing you provide your child is your example, in every life situation from moments of frustration and failure to moments of joy. Let them see Christ’s influence in your life in every situation!

Challenge your children to be committed, involved people who love the Lord!

A Question of Authority

Posted by on October 29, 2006 under Sermons

Read Matthew 8:5-13.

When I read this text, I want to be the centurion. His faith is commendable. His respect for the authority of Jesus is absolute. Wouldn’t it be great to be like the centurion?
But the way the text is written, the way Matthew tells the story and the other stories around it, it isn’t so easy to step into the place of the centurion. You see, Matthew was writing to “insiders.” He was writing to disciples and believers, many of whom had roots in Israel, which simply means they had been in the tradition of God’s people for a very long time. The centurion, however, is an outsider. He is a pagan. He’s just heard about Jesus and has heard that this Jesus has incredible power and authority. But he is not a disciple and has certainly not grown up in the traditions of God’s people. He is not an insider – he is an outsider.

Now consider, which are you? Which describes you better and your experience: the centurion pagan outsider, or the insiders with heritage? Look, you are going to be one or the other. It’s okay to be one or the other. One isn’t better than the other. But which describes you better: Have you been raised in the traditions of God’s people? There’s a humorous email making the rounds: “You might be a member of the church of Christ if …”
* If you know exactly what song I’m talking about when I say, “Let’s sing 728b.”
* If you could recite the books of the NT before you could barely read them.
* If you know the first and third verse of nearly every song.
* If you pray for the preacher to have a “ready recollection” and that the Lord should “bring-us-back-at-the-next appointed-time.”
* If actually understand the differences in shape notes.
* If you select your Bible translation based on how Acts 2:38 reads.
* If you reach for your wallet when you hear the phrase, “Now, separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper …”
* If you think the Bible questions on Jeopardy are way too easy.

This little email doesn’t have to be disrespectful. It simply points out that we have a heritage. And it is the familiarity of these situations that brings a grin to our face.

Even thought there was a time that my family had very little to do with fellowship and church life, I am thoroughly and insider. I am a minister – I am obviously on the inside. I don’t apologize for that and I am not ashamed of it. And yet, I long to have the perspective of the outsider. I need it. Why? Because sometimes it is the outsider who understands God better than we do on the inside.

This centurion outsiders opens our eyes – the eyes of insiders – to something very important: a question of authority. It’s not bad to be an insider, but it has its challenges. One of the challenges is to remember who is in charge. As insiders we can slip into a misunderstanding that we are “in charge” because we’ve been around for a while. It’s good to have a high sense of ownership, but when we forget that we are just stewards of the mission of God, we might confuse authority.

The Centurion has a different perspective on authority – one that comes from his Roman and pagan background. Yet, it is a view of authority that Jesus commends because it rings true. The centurion believes that Jesus has absolute authority and that the word of Jesus is powerful because he himself is a man who is under authority. So, he understands authority and he recognizes authority. This Centurion was a high ranking officer – he was trusted with authority over a major Roman trade route – the Via Maris, and yet he still considered himself under authority, but that authority was given to him. He recognized that an authority greater than himself, and authority he submitted to, was the source of his authority. He did not assume that authority came from within himself.

It is a question of authority: Are we under authority? We like to be the authority; I am not sure about being under it. In America, the assumption is that final authority rests with the people. In Arkansas, the people rule (“regnat populus”). It leads to the attitude that in America we are all monarchs. We are all authority. But in a land where authority comes from within, we don’t easily recognize any authority greater than our own self. Even Jesus.

It is a question of authority: Who or what is the source of our sense of authority? Is it our heritage? Is it money and influence; is it strength and will? What do we cite as our authority? What do we regard as a source of power. Whatever you trust in “to get things done” or to feel secure – that may be your concept of authority. And what about us as a church? Do we recognize the authority of Christ in all things? Let’s think carefully about this even as we discuss our “church business.” Do we speak and act as if Christ has all the authority? Is our sense of his authority over even the most “mundane” affairs of the church ingrained (like the Centurion) or is it just ceremonial? (Like the Pharisees.)
Notice that the centurion will not have Jesus come to his house even though Jesus is willing to go. The centurion knows how to respect authority. We must be careful not to lapse into a laziness that compartmentalizes reverence and respect for God into “religious activities” and leave everything else to “business.” [The girl in Nicaragua – she set her future hopes on God’s sovereignty. I was thinking like a “can-do” American.]

It is a question of authority: Who is in charge? Another challenge of insiders is to create an “us and them” mentality and unintentionally we might make it too difficult to bring anyone from the outside to the inside. When we think we are in charge we start to interfere in God’s business. Jesus uses the Centurion as an example for all of us to respect what God is doing to bring outsiders inside. Jesus says that there’s a great feast coming at the end of the age. A banquet for God’s redeemed. Who will be at the party? We tend to think of the party as “Us and Them.” Jesus says that there will be “foreigners” at the table with Father Abraham. People from the east and west will take a seat right between the founders of God’s nation. Now who’s outside? Who is on the inside?
The nations were always in God’s plan. Everyone in Israel acknowledged that. But the assumption was that “they” were supposed to witness “us.” (lsaiah 2:2-3) In Jesus’ statement, however, the nations are more than witnesses – they are direct participants. They have become “us.”

I hope I can be across the table when this Centurion sits beside Father Abraham and they trade stories. And after the Centurion relates his amazement and awe over the absolute and effective authority of God in Christ, Abraham sighs and tells his story. “I wish I had understood it like you. God promised Sarah and I a child when I was 75. But we weren’t getting any younger and God was taking his time. So, we came up with a plan to have a child. And it worked. My first son Ishmael was born – Sarah’s servant was the mother of course – but we filled out all the necessary paperwork to make Sarah the mother of the child. It wasn’t always easy over the next few years but the real kicker came close to my 100th birthday when God showed up and said that Sarah and I were going to have that child he promised. Sarah just burst out laughing, but I said, “Lord, we took care of that about 12 years ago. That’s old business.” And God said, “No Abraham, that was your business. I’m talking about my business. I am talking about what I promised you 25 years ago.”

Well, maybe the Centurion wouldn’t have been so quick to say “Say the word” and trust completely in the authority of God if he had to wait 25 years for an heir like Abraham. Maybe, but then I bet the walk home for that centurion was a long walk home. Not really knowing if he would arrive to find his servant healed. But then, he has the faith perspective of an outsider. He knows authority and he knows who is in charge. So if Jesus says he is healed – then he is healed.

It is a question of authority: Who is in charge? I want you to come back tonight for the family meeting. We have church business to talk about and pray about. I am not asking you to come back because this is your church and we need you to vote. No, you are not in charge. But I am not asking you to come back because the elders, ministers and ministry leaders have something to share with you because they are in charge. No, they are not in charge. I am not in charge.

I am asking you to come back so that together we can seek out the one with all authority. Jesus Christ is in charge of all of us and the authority that any of us have comes from him. We are under his authority. And that is why we need to get together. To pray and talk about what it is he wants us to do.

Over the last few years we have determined that God is working to form a congregation for people who speak Spanish. Where shall we build a building for them? It is easy to assume that that decision is left to the city, or to the contributors, or to church leaders. But along the way we have learned to wait on God and trust in his authority. There have been some very interesting developments on this and we need to talk about it to see what God is doing in this. Who will commit to prayer on this? Who will petition Christ on behalf of brothers and sisters we love. Did you notice that the Centurion did not petition Christ for himself? It was for a servant that he cared about. Maybe the pagans understand more than just authority better than we do sometimes. Sometimes they understand loyalty and love better than we do.

Over the last few years we have followed God’s lead in serving UAFS students with the Lions for Christ ministry. What does God intend next for that ministry. We need to talk about that tonight. The leaders of our Campus Minister Search Team and the students are trying to embody a trust in Jesus’ authority. Trying to do it his way rather than our way. We need you to share in this.

What we are talking about is critical in the life of a church when a congregation recognizes additional elders. We want to talk about plans for that in the first part of next year. God raises up his leaders and we have an opportunity to be involved in that. After all, this isn’t our business, it is God’s business. It is his authority that empowers every other authority. And our elders current and future are men under authority – not our elected representatives. They are men who are under the authority of Christ and they have been given charge to teach us all how to live.

A Question of Authority: Whose rule do you acknowledge in your life? Whose rule do we acknowledge in this church? The word acknowledge is very similar to the “church” word confess. Those who are baptized confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Making that confession is an admission that he is in charge. And it is a confession we only begin to make at our baptism. After that, we must confess it everyday in words and in all of our business.

Family Meetings

Posted by on October 26, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

I once visited two countries that regarded personal opinions as dangerous. In one, people were reserved in public. In the other, people were publicly mute-even people in large cities walked silently as if they had no friends (they were privately warm and gracious). Many could cause harm, but no one could help you. Thus, publicly, it was best to say nothing.

I once observed voting where all candidates were pre-selected and pre-approved. The vote only said a citizen agreed with the choice. Though many could not vote, over 95% of the population agreed with the selections. In the absence of voter registration, voters were marked with water soluble ink easily washed off outside a polling site.

A good friend, a citizen, explained the situation in this way: “We are not ready for two-party Democracy, so we just have one party. No one wants to vote twice-why would he or she do so?” When I asked what happened if you disagreed, the friend said you might disappear. Thus the only choices were agree or keep silent.

Imagine living in such places! If we did, situations would change quickly and radically! We think too little about our freedoms and their contribution to our daily lives. When was the last time you were literally afraid to voice an opinion? More people live in the three situations I described than in our situation! Yet, we seem to endorse apathy.

West-Ark is far from perfect, but it is often unique as we seek to grow towards God’s priorities and concepts. One such uniqueness is having a leadership who values our input. Their task is enormous! Often important factors in a decision are not evident. Perfect men? No! Caring men? Yes! Men who carefully consider what you say? Yes!

In a lifetime of preaching, the most constant complaint I heard regarding leaders was this: “They never want input! They never listen to the congregation!” At least four times yearly your leaders provide opportunity for public input. They want and seek it as they listen! The purposes of the Family Meetings are two fold: (1) to inform you; and (2) to solicit your input. Is it at times less than stimulating? Yes, but so is leading. Rarely will it be “Hurrah” material. Often it is direction material. Always, your input is wanted.

Please do not respond with apathy and silence. Come not only this Sunday night, but to all Family Meetings. Say, “Thanks,” with your voice and your presence! Ignorance is the same whether uninformed, apathetic, or unlearned. Ignorance is ignorance, regardless of its cause. Your leaders say you matter. What do you say?

Addressing the Spiritual Needs of Our Children

Posted by on October 24, 2006 under Sermons

The Churches of Christ always have emphasized the importance of spiritual growth in our young people. I have never heard members of a congregation reject the necessity of providing quality spiritual training and guidance for our children. Verbally, we endorse the urgency of maximum spiritual involvement for our children.

In taking a strong verbal stand, we direct ourselves and others to relevant, significant scriptures, such as Moses’ instructions to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-7: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."

Or the words or Ecclesiastes 12:1 "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them.'”

We often have stressed Jesus’ knowledge of scripture and spiritual interest when he was 12 years old. Luke 2:41-52 emphasized the fact the he spent 3 days with adult teachers of God’s law discussing, answering, and asking questions. Luke concluded his report on the incident by saying, And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).

We site Paul’s words to Timothy: "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well" (2 Timothy 1:5). Someone said, "If you want to give the world a Timothy, start with the faith of a grandmother."

A statement you commonly heard in Churches of Christ for years was: "We dare not spiritually neglect our children, for they are the church of tomorrow." What is meant by "the church of tomorrow?" If we mean the distant future, we are wrong. In our rapidly changing world, they are the church of the immediate future. Check the ages of those who dare to be missionaries today in dangerous places. Check the ages of "new" preachers. Check the ages of those who now accept kingdom challenges. Most of them are young and are doing things 40 year olds would not dream of attempting. It is the young adults who are our energy, our enthusiasm, our spirit of commitment, and our acceptors of challenging situations now. They are the ones who dare to accept challenges that confuse most of us over 40!

  1. Consider a desire and concern in most generations of parents.
    1. It is the desire to work earnestly with our children.
      1. It is the desire for increased spiritual support and encouragement for our children.
      2. It is the desire for a better coordinated spiritual effort for our children.
      3. It is the desire to better meet their spiritual needs.
    2. Let me be specific:
      1. It is not the feeling that nothing has been done, but the desire to be more effective.
      2. Two reasons fuel that desire.
        1. First is the enormous need.
        2. Second is the incredible challenge.

  2. The need for developing this area of work is real, not manufactured.
    1. Consider a painful, disturbing reality.
      1. Remember all the sons and daughters you know who grew up in this congregation but who are not faithful Christians.
      2. After a person passes adolescence, the probability of him or her becoming a Christian radically declines.
      3. The battle is won or lost before he or she leaves home and his or her home congregation.
    2. The work of building faith in the hearts and minds of our children is involved and complex.
      1. Nothing can program it or guarantee it.
      2. Our children will for their own reasons accept or reject God.
      3. There is much we can do to help and encourage, but little we can do to force a serious decision on them.
      4. If we reduce conversion to only a matter of control, we eliminate faith as a factor in conversion.
    3. We surely have a significant opportunity to produce a more fruitful work in our children’s lives.
      1. We also spiritually can touch and influence many of their friends’ lives.
      2. Yet, we must clearly understand there are no magical solutions.

  3. A part of the puzzle can be a devout, effective youth minister.
    1. What is the basic job description of such a person?
      1. He must be a prepared teacher teaching meaningful classes.
      2. He must be a good coordinator.
        1. Not only must he plan a solid program of balanced activities,
        2. But he must also coordinate parent and adult involvement.
      3. While he will seek to implement major involvement projects annually, he must have adult involvement and help.
      4. There always will be more work than one person can do!
    2. Some realities need to be clearly understood.
      1. Just because we have a capable youth minister does not mean a wonderful work blossoms.
        1. It takes time to develop a successful work–sometimes a long time.
        2. It also takes interested, reliable parents and adults.
        3. It takes children who are willing to get involved.
        4. It must be encouraged to grow and develop naturally–no "quick fixes."
        5. Without exception, it takes hard work.
      2. The work of a good youth minister is difficult work.
        1. It is easy to have too many outside expectations and priorities! It is easy for everyone to be a critic!
        2. The different value systems of different families can create some interesting lists of "most important things" and generate some incompatible agendas.
        3. Different family concerns easily can produce conflicting priorities.
        4. Opportunity for good work demands flexibility among parents, a cooperative spirit, and a willingness to reach compromises.
        5. It is impossible to please everyone or do everything.
      3. There must be a realistic understanding of his needs.
        1. Youth minister work is commonly a high-expense work.
          1. Often he takes youth to places that he (and his wife) are expected to pay costs he really cannot afford.
          2. Too many congregations never think about what it costs him to do what they want him to do.
        2. As an adult, he needs some adult association in his life.
          1. Not even a loving parent desires to spend all his or her time with their kids.
          2. He often spends more time with kids than their parents spend with them.
        3. While it appears he spends lots of time playing, playing and late hours are a part of his work.
          1. Chaperons rarely consider their chaperoning work as play time!
          2. There is too much responsibility and energy involved for it to be play!
        4. He needs some time away from kids to care for his own family.
          1. He likely never has weekends or holidays.
          2. If he is not careful, there is never a time that belongs to his family.
          3. He needs help, not criticism–workable suggestions, not condemnation.
    3. When hiring such a person, congregations need to understand he looks at us while we look at him.
      1. Is it obvious that we regard his work as important?
      2. Is it obvious that our expectations are reasonable?
      3. Is it obvious that leadership will be encouraging, supportive, and understanding?
      4. Is it obvious there is a broad base of parental involvement and support?

(Show of hands) How many parents are here who have grown children, no longer living at home? (Reflective question) Do you think it is easier today to be an effective Christian parent of a 13-year-old than it was when your children were 13? I freely confess I do not.

There is less godly influence in every area of today’s children’s lives than in the past. Ungodly peer pressure is greater. Our society is sending more mixed signals on every moral issue from drugs to sex, from abortion to honesty. Today there are harder moral decisions that must be made at a much earlier age. There are fewer sources of godly encouragement now than there ever has been.

I know most of you agree–I have heard too many grandparents worrying about their grandchildren. Today’s adolescent faces moral issues, hard decisions, and conflicting choices that were non-existent in college a few decades ago.

We need to be more creative in providing them help than our society is in producing troublesome choices for them. I challenge you to be an active part of the solution!

Practice What He Preached

Posted by on October 22, 2006 under Sermons

Read Matthew 7:13-29.

Jesus taught us not to judge each other. Besides we are not very good at judging others. It is rather hypocritical for us to try and evaluate and manage others lives when we have enough in our own lives to evaluate and manage.

Yes, Jesus taught us not to judge one another. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t judgment. Not at all, for God judges us all. Now that might come as a rather frightening or disturbing idea at first. After all it is only natural to compare it to the rather poor and inept judgments that most of us have received from people who are really no better at this than us. We need to receive and live within the judgment of God in a very different way. God’s judgment is more than the ruling of a judge. God’s judgment is more than a verdict – it is always a work in progress and it involves his mercy and wisdom.

As Jesus describes it, God’s judgment is given to us as a choice. God decrees that we have two options. We have two ways we can go. Even in this we begin to understand how the judgment of God is interactive – we are interacting with God’s spirit as we make these choices.

Jesus is teaching us what God has done since the beginning – he sets two ways before us…

It is in God’s law … “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today.” – [Deuteronomy 11:25-28]

It is the proclamation of God’s prophets … “See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.” – [Jeremiah 21:8]

And now the son of God, who did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to live out the spirit of both, speaks of two ways and the judgment of God. We can take the broad way that will end up in ruin, or we can take the narrow way. We can follow teachings that yield bad fruit or we can follow teachings that result in good fruit.

Once again, this talk of judgment can make us anxious. The only two ways we seem ready to recognize is the way of grace OR the way of works. Traditionally, we don’t understand how these two can co-exist. We rightly resist the notion that we are saved by works. But just because we are saved by God’s grace doesn’t mean we are out of work. We are saved by works but we are saved for works. The narrow way Jesus directs us down is the way of discipleship as well as salvation. It is about believing and doing.

Yet, our misinformed notions of judgment make us ask “Have I done enough?” “Am I doing enough?” “Did I do this right?” And that’s our measuring stick and our judgment. But Jesus is describing a WAY. It is a way of life. It is the way to the kingdom. And the question we ought to be asking is “Are we faithfully following the way Jesus went?”

The way of Jesus is not only to believe what the Bible teaches, but also to live it out without arrogance and without concern for the way others may judge us or praise us. The way of Jesus is to resist the distraction and worries of this decaying world and to live as if the coming rule of God were in place right now and in every sense. The way of Jesus is to treat others with a neighborly kindness and love that we would want them to reciprocate – but even if they do not, we still share the love of God with everyone we meet along the way.

This is the way of Jesus. It’s not easy; it is a narrow way but it leads to the kingdom. What makes it so narrow is that calls upon us to do more than ride along on the “Believe it Bus.” We have to walk the path and every alternating step is “believing” and “doing.” Some will say things, but not live them out. They do not practice what they preach. But Jesus is teaching us to do more than practice what we preach. He is teaching us to practice what HE preaches. [Even that’s the judgment of God interacting with us: God is showing us the way through Jesus.]

When I preach a sermon I have high expectations – not because I am trying to be professional or because I want to be taken seriously. It is because I choose to believe in the possibility of a different way and a different world. It is because I choose to believe that we really can be hearers and doers of the world. And I am drawn to conclude this because I believe that when Jesus preached, he had such expectations. Jesus really does expect us to be a people who have a high standard of righteousness. He really does expect us to practice a righteousness that goes beyond written rules and to practice our righteousness undistracted by the approval of others and the anxieties of life.

Jesus ends his sermon – a sermon he really expects us to do – with a parable. You have a choice: Where shall you build your house. You can build it on the open plain, the sandy soil that may even be good gardening land. But when the torrential rains come you’ll find that you are living in a flood zone and the waters will wash your house away. But you have a choice, and you could build your house on higher ground. It may be rocky soil and the path to the house may be a little harder to get to, but when those storms comes and the flood waters come barreling down, that house is going to stand up to it.

When a storm hits, everyone’s house gets stormed on – but the wise builders’ house holds up. It has a solid foundation. We are wise builders if after hearing Jesus’ words, we put them into practice just a he expects us to. We are wise if we practice what he preached.

Psalm 119 – The “D” Psalm
Daleth is the first letter in the Hebrew word for “Way”

A prayer for those who get tripped up on the way …

25 I am laid low in the dust;
      preserve my life according to your word.

26 I recounted my ways and you answered me;
      teach me your decrees.

27 Let me understand the way of your precepts;
      then I will meditate on your wonders.

28 My soul is weary with sorrow;
      strengthen me according to your word.

  29 Keep me from deceitful ways;
      be gracious to me through your law.

30 I have chosen the way of truth;
      I have set my heart on your laws.

31 I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
      do not let me be put to shame.

32 I run in the way of your commands,
      for you have set my heart free.

Perhaps the Hardest Thing to Believe

Posted by on October 19, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

No more! Now ?casual’ is the appropriate attire on many occasions, and ?casual’ is defined by the one who wears-not the occasion. We used to show respect by what we wore. If most of us declare anything by our clothing now, wonder what it is?

When God looks on us, He sees us for what we are. Clothing does not hide sin or conceal faithlessness. God sees character flaws, not skin blemishes. He sees the negative emotions we try to hide. He sees lousy attitudes we conceal. He sees genuine heart motives. Every moment of every day in every situation, He sees the ?real me’.

The only being in the whole world that knows the total truth about us as individuals is God. Our wife or our husband knows us well, but not like God does. Our kids know many of our inconsistencies, but God knows all of them. Our best friend knows our imperfections, but not as accurately as God knows. He knows all we think. He knows the correct answer to every ?why’? He knows the actual motives in every situation-even when we manage to deceive ourselves. He even knows the controlled but unsaid.

Yet, the most amazing thing is this: He has all that accurate knowledge of us as individuals, and He still loves each of us as a person. He is able to forgive me when I cannot forgive myself. He can forget what I did when I cannot. He can ignore weaknesses that haunt me. When I fail, He will let me begin again as if I never made the mistake. When I absolutely hold myself in contempt, He still cares about me.

When I arrogantly claim I am not responsible for my faults, He can inform me of the worst thing I have done-yet, He still loves me. When I condemn others for their flaws, He shakes His head and, in love, hopes I repent (He sees the two-by-four in my eye while I look at specks in your eye). He sees my anxieties when I justify them, and, in love, hopes I heed Jesus’ call to come to him. He saves me in all my imperfections because He loves me. He asks of us but three core things: (a) let Him be our measuring stick; (b) trust what He did for us in Christ; and (c) love Him in return for His love for us. Being flawless is not a divine expectation. Human flawlessness is never an option.

All I can do is trust Him to love me as much as He says He does. My mistakes may be bigger than your ability to forgive me. However, my mistakes are never bigger than His forgiveness. He can actually love me when I refuse to love myself.

Perhaps this is the greatest expression of faith: to believe God loves me as much as He says He does. Only then will I forgive me because He first forgave me.

Asking, Seeking, Knocking

Posted by on October 15, 2006 under Sermons

Read Matthew 7:1-12.

Jesus really does expect us to be a people who have a high standard of righteousness. He really does expect us to practice a righteousness that goes beyond written rules. He really does expect us to practice our righteousness undistracted by the approval of others and the anxieties of life. And now as you heard what Jesus said in the reading today – He really does want us to stop judging others. This is flipside of what Jesus has been teaching us. He has urged us to focus on God and his kingdom – to seek it first – and not be dismayed by the judgmental attitudes of others who bind the burden of legalism on us. Jesus has urged us to focus on God and his kingdom and not worry about what others think of us and not worry about our basic needs.

But now he flips the coin and says essentially: “It would be a real shame for you to take this teaching that comes to you with the blessings of heaven and turn it into a means of treating others as less than you.” It would be pretty ridiculous for you to assume that the teaching of Jesus is your calling to straighten up everyone else’s messes. This is like the poor phony who goes around trying to pick the speck of dirt out of the eyes of others when they have a 2 x 4 in their own eye.

Do you know someone like that? Don’t answer that! Because if you do, you fall into the trap. As soon as you take the teaching of Jesus and start to evaluate others rather than see to your own “eye care” you have fallen into the trap that Jesus is warning us about.

What is the trap? It’s the judgmental perspective that tries to develop a measuring stick that we use to evaluate others. (Last week our family went to ride go-karts, and there is a measuring stick that tells you that you cannot ride alone if you are not “this tall.”) That works for go-karts and roller coasters, but not the kingdom of heaven. Why? Go back to the beginning of the sermon and look at who Jesus is welcoming into the kingdom … the poor, the sad, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted. Has Jesus just lowered the stick? Has he lowered the standard? Well that hardly makes sense when he says that our righteousness has got to surpass our ideas of high standards. This is a clue that Jesus is leading us in a different direction.

You see, Jesus is very aware of the problem that we might have if we think he is asking us to guard the entry point into the kingdom. We would build a little measuring stick and tell everyone, unless you are “this tall” you cannot get in. And our problem is that we would either set it way too high – and we would end up like the hypocrites with logs sticking in their eyes and would destroy ourselves with our own ridiculous standards; or we would set it way too low and end up like the well-meaning but unwise folk who give pearls to swine and holy things to dogs. Dogs and pigs are not interested in what you cherish and the dogs will just attack you.

So here we are at the gate of the kingdom. We are eager to make disciples for Jesus. We want to go into all the world preaching the gospel, baptizing and teaching. But we just aren’t sure where to set the measuring stick. Is there a happy medium that is not too high and not too low?

I have high expectations of a sermon. I think Jesus does too. And I think you do too. I think you would like to believe that this teaching of Jesus really describes the world and isn’t just a figure of speech or something we aren’t supposed to take literally. I am not content to take that way out and return to the dissatisfaction of the way things are. So, if it isn’t an option to be legalistic or to hand out cheap grace with our yardstick at the entrance, what shall we do?

Listen again to Jesus: 7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

In response to our gate-keeper question, Jesus is telling us to get away from the gate. That’s not our business. Our business is to ask, seek and knock. We are interested in others entering into the kingdom. We are interested in others receiving it as we have. But do we ever stop to think that the way we do that is to pray. To ask, to seek, and to knock. God knows how to respond to our requests – even better than we do. Asking, seeking, and knocking is not an instruction on how to get God to shake loose the good things. It isn’t a formula for material abundance. It is a program for mission.

So if God doesn’t want us guarding the gate (he will take care of it) then how exactly are we supposed to relate to others who have not yet entered into God’s kingdom? That simple, says Jesus: In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you.

You can sum up the whole content of the Law and the teaching of the Prophets in that phrase. And don’t make it more difficult than it is, because yes, Jesus really does expect us to live it out. If that seems to hard or too easy, step away from the gate with the measuring stick, get on your knees and ask, seek, and knock.

[End with prayer of asking, seeking, knocking.]

The Power of Christian Encouragement

Posted by on October 12, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

“Those were the good old days! Ah, what wonderful memories of past times! When only Jews and proselytes were Christians (Acts 2:10), there was not all the ‘baggage’ those gentile Christians who were former idol worshippers brought into the church. There were only us Jewish and proselyte Christians who knew who God was and understood His spiritual priorities! Now those were the days when you understood the need for suffering and solidarity with fellow believers (see Hebrews 10:32-34).

“But times change! Now the Jewish community wants to force us Jewish Christians completely out! Back in the ?good old days’ it was tough, but we could be both Jews and Christians! No more! Now we must make a choice-we must be one or the other, but not both! There surely is a lot to lose if we are ostracized from the Jewish community!

“We separated ourselves from the Christian community-we did not associate with Christians, go to Christian fellowships, or even worship where Christians were (Hebrews 10:25). Though we were sacrificial Christians, it reached the point it just was not worth it. We were so discouraged we seriously considered quitting the Christian community completely!”

There has never been an age or a culture/society in which it was simple and easy to commit to Jesus Christ! In all ages at all places there were moments of powerful discouragement-even in the early church!

Every Christian has two responsibilities to fill in commitment to Jesus Christ. The first: be a living example of what it means to place faith in Christ. Let your life be a model to those who do not believe, do not just tell them or say “Amen” when others tell them. The second: encourage those who are committed and those who struggle with their commitment. We struggle in an evil world that at times seems to have the advantage. We have enough to contend with without having to contend with each other. All of us need encouragement from each other, not discouragement.

Our Ministry Fair last Sunday was a powerful avenue of encouragement! What an obvious pooling of talent and gifts! It took no imagination to see the multitude blessed by all those efforts! Please use your gifts and talents to benefit others! Not only will those needing help be blessed, but those who are committed will be encouraged. And the cherry on top is this: God will never forget what you do!

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints (Hebrews 6:10).

Showing People Jesus

Posted by on October 11, 2006 under Sermons

Occasionally we sing a beautiful song entitled, "Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?" It begins by asking a question and making a statement. "Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? He’s standing here in full view." The song asks if you have seen a beautiful display in nature, or a family who loves each other, or Jesus’ cross? It responds by saying if you have seen those things, you have seen Jesus my Lord.

The song says Jesus is the power behind creation, the force that makes loving relationships possible, and the one who in total self-surrender and complete love gave his life for us.

That thought is quite Biblical. When Paul expanded the awareness of Jesus among Colossian Christians, he said, (Colossians 1:16,17) “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

When Paul taught the Ephesian Christians about the kind of love and respect that should exist between Christians, he said, (Ephesians 4:24,25) "…put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."

My point is not the suggestion that the only way one sees Jesus is through such evidences.  My point: one perceives the reality of Jesus’ existence in daily terms by considering such evidences.

At this moment, people need to be shown Jesus. If you are a Christian, one of the greatest gifts you can give your community and nation is helping people see Jesus.

  1. A basic understanding stressed to first century Christians: if an idolatrous world is to see Jesus, the individual Christian must show the world Jesus.
    1. Jesus must be obvious in the lives of the earliest Christians.
      1. When Peter and John stood on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, they "took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
      2. Paul, who discussed the fact that the priceless gospel was communicated through frail human beings, said in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
        1. God used weak humans to declare the power was not in a person’s unique ability, but in God.
        2. For that reason, they endured hardships without those hardships destroying their faith or Christian lifestyle.
        3. They were not ashamed to find their strength in the body of one killed in a disgraceful manner, a manner reserved for the worst criminals.
        4. It was their lack of shame regarding Jesus’ death that showed the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
        5. They were consciously using their lives to reveal Jesus was the Christ.
      3. That insight adds depth of meaning to two other statements:
        1. Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
        2. Galatians 6:17 From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.
    2. The Christian was to understand that being in Christ also meant Christ was in him/her.
      1. Galatians 3:27, For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
      2. Romans 8:10, If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
      3. Colossians 1:27, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
      4. 2 Corinthians 13:5, Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?
    3. If Christ’s influence in the Christian’s life is obvious, then the Christian’s life should be a powerful way to teach people about Christ.
      1. If Christ lives in me, you should be able to know something about Christ by knowing me.
      2. My life should make Jesus’ nature evident.
      3. You should see Christ in me in the way I respond to success and failure.
  2. I say without hesitation that the greatest misconception in today’s America is misconception about Jesus.
    1. Surely there are enormous misconceptions regarding Jesus’ church.
    2. However, one of the significant misconceptions we have about people is this: "We do not need to teach about Jesus because everyone knows about Jesus."
      1. "We need to teach about things people do not understand."
      2. "People know about Jesus."
    3. When we are convinced that everyone knows about Jesus, one of two things is true of us.
      1. Either we misunderstand what the Bible means by ‘the knowledge of Jesus.’
      2. Or we have such limited contact with people we do not know how extensive ignorance about Jesus is.
    4. Believing in a historical fact and knowing Jesus are entirely different things.
      1. I can know that Jesus lived, died, was resurrected, and taught some important lessons, and still know nothing about Jesus.
      2. For example, ask, "Do you know David Chadwell?"
        1. A person can say, "Yes. He lives here. He is a preacher in town." Yet, he does not know me–he just knows I live here.
        2. Or he can answer, "Yes. We are friends who do many things together." He knows me as a person.
        3. Scripture does not want us to know Jesus as a fact but as a person.
  3. The greatest article of faith in Christianity is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
    1. The greatest issue in Jesus’ Lordship is his Lordship over our lives.
      1. If you do not know Jesus, you will not let him rule your life.
      2. You cannot let him be Lord of your life if you do not know him.
    2. A fundamental commitment to spiritual existence is showing people Jesus.
      1. That is one of our basic Christian purposes.
      2. We show people Jesus in two basic ways.
        1. We let them see him in our lives.
        2. We share him with others.
      3. Those two ways cannot be separated–people who do not see him in us do not want us to tell them about him.
    3. Your greatest task as a Christian is to show people Jesus.
      1. "Where?"
        1. In the classroom and on the job.
        2. In your joy, your pleasure, and your triumph.
        3. In your pain, grief, distress, and hardship.
        4. In your confidence and doubt, your good days and bad days.
        5. When you fail, make mistakes, sin.
      2. "How do I do that?"
        1. By making it evident the Jesus is part of all that occurs in your life.
        2. By demonstrating that the way you act everyday is determined by Jesus.
        3. By showing the way you work is determined by Jesus.
        4. By making it obvious that the way you find pleasure is determined by Jesus.
        5. By letting Jesus’ values determine the way you treat all people including family, friends, boss, and enemies.
        6. By showing that the way you deal with personal mistakes, failures, and sins is determined by Jesus.
        7. Whatever happens in your life is determined by Jesus.
      3. There are many poor motives for doing right things.
        1. The basic motive of "being a member of the Church of Christ" is a poor motive.
        2. To say without insight, "Right is right, and wrong is wrong," is a poor motive.
        3. Doing something "because I do not want to go to hell" is an immature motive.
        4. To do something "because that is what my preacher/teacher taught me" is an inferior reason.
        5. To do something because "that is where my parents stood" is an immature motive.
    4. The ultimate, mature reason for doing anything is this: "Jesus is Lord of my life."
      1. Loving Jesus,
      2. Being committed to Jesus,
      3. Living in the spirit of Jesus,
      4. Seeing God and life through Jesus’ eyes,
      5. Desiring to have Jesus’ mind and heart,
      6. That is the greatest reason for doing anything we do as Christians.
    5. When Jesus is our reason for living, for being, for deciding, and for serving, we show people Jesus in our lives.
      1. I do not want anyone to think I do something because I am a preacher, or "that is my job," or I am a member of the Church of Christ.
      2. I want people to understand I do what I do because Jesus is my Lord.
      3. I want people to know that they cannot understand me without understanding that Jesus is my Lord.
      4. That is what I want for you in your life.

We are surrounded by people searching for meaning. We are surrounded by people who are religious but are empty and hollow. We are surrounded by people who look for more than words, or emotionalism, or ritual, or fear. We must dare to show people Jesus in our lives. Only then will they see the uniqueness of Christianity.

People often dismiss our words. They often dismiss our religious concerns. But they cannot dismiss a genuine, sincere life. It is in our lives they see the power of Jesus.

Will you use your life to show your community Jesus?

Ministry Fair 2006

Posted by on October 8, 2006 under Sermons

Do you remember when TV’s had knobs and dials? What is sort of a relic now was high-tech once upon a time. There was typically two knobs on those manually adjusted sets that you will not find on most TV’s now – the vertical hold and the horizontal hold. Adjusting these two controls kept your picture in balance. The horizontal hold kept the picture adjusted from left to right and the vertical kept it adjusted from top to bottom.
In our life together as disciples of Jesus, we are balanced by two adjustments – a spiritual set of controls that keep us balanced vertically and horizontally. Two of our banners set before us the Scriptures that keep us aware of those two “holds” and how they shape the way we live and what we do.

Vertical Hold
The vertical hold is God’s involvement in what we do. As we think about our “ministries” – and we can use this to speak of the ministries we are involved in as individuals or as a church – ask “why are we involved in these possibilities?” Take a look at Ephesians 2:8-10.
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God has created you. He made you. Not only has he made us, but he has saved us. All of that effort on God’s part is to craft our lives into a beautiful and useful masterpiece to accomplish his purposes. When God called Jeremiah, he made it clear to him that he was made for his calling. When Mordecai encourages Esther to risk her life to save her people, he asks her to consider if her entire life had not led up to this very possibility. The vertical hold is the hold of God’s shaping and forming hand that not only saves us, but enables us to do the good works that he has prepared in advance for us to do.

These good works are not efforts on our part to win God’s favor. No, the good works are the outgrowth of the kind of people God wants us to be. He wants the people around us to witness these good works and recognize how God wants the whole world to live.
Have you seen how the Amish community in Nickel Mines has taught the world how to forgive? They are striving to live out the teaching of Jesus in their attitudes. One of their leaders has said, “We must not think evil of this man.” Other Amish have reached out to the family of the shooter. Daniel Esh is a member of the Amish community and he told the news that he hoped the family of the shooter would remain in the community “I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support.”
How can we be so bold in doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do? We have to have the vertical hold of God’s spirit.

Horizontal Hold
Another of our banners comes from Hebrews 10:24. Listen to this text in its context … 19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Notice how the vertical hold of what God is doing in our lives and our life together flows into the horizontal hold of how we build up and encourage one another. The recipients of the Hebrew sermon had gotten weary. They needed to be encouraged. Maybe because of persecution or despair, they were missing their calling. That’s why we need the horizontal hold.
Thursday a friend called me out of the blue. For most of his professional life he had been a chemical engineer. But he went through a very difficult time a few years back in which he realized that his calling was to be in full-time ministry. I have always done my best to encourage him in the transition into ministry and in his continued efforts in that. Simply because I believe in him and I want him to serve God and others in the way that God has gifted him. Thursday he called me to give me a word of encouragement. At just the right time, too.
This is the horizontal hold. This is the way we spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

One other banner speaks of the blending of these two. Prepare for Works of Service to Build up His Body. ~ Ephesians 4:12. That’s what the Ministry Fair is all about. I hope as this day continues you will take the time to be prepared for Works of Service. Do a little tuning today. Adjust the vertical and horizontal holds in your spiritual calling. God has made you and saved you to do good works – good works that he has set up already for you to do. And we are all hear to spur one another on.