I Believe in Christian Teens

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I believe that from within the church God is raising up an army of counter-cultural warriors for the faith. I believe that this generation of born again believers will be sold-out for Christ, not bending their intellect to the whims of cultural godlessness, but unreservedly living out a faith that is firmly grounded in biblical Christianity.

I believe that this coming generation of Christ followers will speak boldly where we have kept silent. I believe that their speech will be seasoned with salt, but unabashedly truthful in witness to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of God’s Word. Their mouths will not only sing praises to God, but will actively tell future generations of the Gospel-grace of God that is found through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe their conduct will bear living testimony to the joy of doing life God’s way. They will walk worthy of their calling in Christ. They will put to death the cravings of the flesh, and bring to life those actions that are congruous with the holiness of God to which they have been redeemed. Their lifestyles will model the message of Christ that their lips proclaim.

I believe they will love people – all people – like we have failed to love them. Their self-sacrificing, Christlike love will not be bound either by old stereotypes or by current events. This love of theirs, fresh and deep, will be living proof of their loving God.

I believe this new generation of Christians will return to biblical purity – sexually, mentally, and relationally. I believe the curse of sinful sexual temptation, having spiraled out of control in recent generations, will be obliterated as they crawl out of the salacious cultural bed we have made for them, preferring instead to honor the marriage bed as holy unto God.

I believe in Christian Teens.

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Comforted to Comfort

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“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves received from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, HCSB

When I was eight years old I was outside playing in the ditch in our front yard (in Archibald, LA), barefoot of course, and a piece of broken glass became lodged in the bottom of my foot. I screamed and cried. I limped inside and sat on the couch. My Mom has always been sympathetic and sweet during such instances, but Dad was really the softy. He sat down on the couch and wrapped me up in his arms like only a father could do. Together, they removed the broken piece of glass, bandaged me up, and then Dad just held me for a while. There’s something about the strong arms of a loving father that have the unique ability to make a little boy’s world “okay,” when it seems everything but okay.

Since I became a father myself, I have had innumerable opportunities to comfort my own children in their various afflictions. Sometimes I have failed. Other times, my heart hurt for them as I wrapped them up in my arms and administered to them the fatherly comfort I learned at the hands of my own Dad when I was a child. Comfort from all places is usually welcomed. But, again, there is just something special about the strong arms of a loving father.

As I’ve traversed the land of the living these thirty-five years, I have often found myself in a torment of soul that remains unrevealed and unknown to most around me. Such affliction can be a very lonely place, an interminable desert of emotional isolation. Perhaps you have experienced something similar in your walk with Christ. But there has never been such an occasion in my walk with Christ when God the Father – “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” – has not stepped in to wrap me up in His strong, loving arms. Sometimes He removes the instrument of my pain and bandages me up. Other times the object of my affliction cannot be immediately removed, so I find the affirmation and comfort I need by just sitting with Him a while, resting in the grips of His strong arms there in the desert sand.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 teaches that because I have received such comfort in my sufferings, it is my Christian duty (and privilege) to extend this grace to others who suffer around me. The end of God’s Fatherly mercies and comfort is not my own comfort, but the comfort of those God chooses to place in my company. If I selfishly hoard the comfort of the Father and never extend it to others, I abuse the gift of God. However, if I take the comfort I often receive from Him and extend it freely toward others, I allow myself to be used as a vehicle of the Father’s love. If I love broken people with the heart of Christ then I will go to them with the feet of Christ, speak to them with the voice of Christ, and serve them with the hands of Christ. Sometimes I can help alleviate the pain. Sometimes I can only sit down next to them and help them cry. In this way, God the Father extends His love to the afflicted through me. I become the strong arms of the Father, wrapped around another broken soul. [As a side note, how sad (oxymoronic, even) that Christian arms can often be a source of another soul’s affliction, instead of an extension of God’s long, strong arm of comfort and grace.]

What about you, Christian? What comfort have you received from the Father? And how are you comforting others today with the comfort you have received? There is a time to be the child in the Father’s lap, resting in the security of His strong arms. And there is a time to be an extension of the Father’s strong arm, wrapping yourself around others who are in desperate need of the comfort you have come to know.

Grace and Peace, Tony

Unsung Heros of Your Local Church

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“From Him [(Christ Jesus)] the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part.” Ephesians 4:16, HCSB

Have you ever thought about how many things need to be done every single week, just so that you can gather in your local church and have a meaningful worship experience? Sure, your paid church staff members are working all week long to discern God’s Word, pray for you and others, connect with the community, communicate vision, and lead with forward momentum. But have you considered and prayed for all of the volunteers that give freely of their own time, energy, giftedness, and resources to make the worship experience happen every week? Here are a some volunteers in your church that are often overlooked, but are an indispensable part of what God is up to in your church. These men and women are making it happen every single week, and are often overlooked and under-appreciated:

The Children’s Ministry Volunteers. They give up their time in corporate worship every week, once a month, or once a quarter, so that YOU can enjoy the worship service free of various distractions. They spend time on their feet investing in your children while you sit in a comfortable chair/pew and enjoy the worship service. These men and women are Kids’ Ministry Super-Heros. If you want a quality Kids’ Ministry at your church–and if you want to reach young families in your community–it will not happen without faithful, sacrificial, servant-hearted Kids’ Ministry Volunteers.

The Nursery Workers. They wipe snotty noses, change dirty diapers, hold, sing to, and comfort crying babies, and clean up messes that you don’t even want to imagine. Their tools for ministry are Lysol wipes, diapers, sanitary trash cans, vacuums, burping cloths, and goldfish containers. If they are to enjoy the worship or the sermon, it will be from behind a computer screen sometime during the week. Sacrifice. Commitment. Selflessness.

The Sound Man. If you haven’t noticed him lately, that’s a good thing. But every time a microphone squeals, a singer can’t be heard, or an instrument goes haywire, looks of judgment from turned heads unsettle him and make him feel unappreciated. He is faithful to serve in his post every week, as a committed part of the ministry team. But no one ever says much to him in the way of encouragement.

The Musicians. They are gifted. Talented. Blessed. But they give up so much to lead you in meaningful worship every single week. Whether they play instruments, sing on a microphone, or stand in the choir, their leadership in worship each week puts pressure on them that you do not know. They memorize music, work on blending, intonation, and tuning, worship through their own mistakes, sacrifice hours every week for rehearsal, and endure the pressures of up-front leadership, all the while trying their best to maintain a visible appearance of authentic, genuine connection with God.

The Deacons. Every day they come alongside their pastor to prayerfully bear the burdens of hundreds of souls. They give from their own pockets to meet tangible needs in the church. They leave their families on their days off to make hospital visits, or to sit beside the bed of ill or grieving people. They buffer and diffuse the disgruntled remarks of church members, keeping the peace among the fellowship at all costs. And it weighs on them. Sometimes very heavily. Not many people approach a deacon unless they have a problem or want to voice a concern. It’s a shame that they are not more often appreciated for their devoted service to their church family.

The Small Group Leaders/Teachers. Every week your Small Group leader spends hours in study and preparation to bring God’s Word to you in an engaging, timely way. When they’re not studying, they are doing the difficult work of staying connected with group members. They remember the dates and times for your surgical procedures and job interviews. They pray for you and your family tirelessly. They are the frontline of ministry needs for everyone in their group. They lead with much investment. But too often they are overlooked in their service to your church.

The Custodian. This person, though most likely paid (underpaid, honestly), is vital in preparing an atmosphere that is conducive to distraction-free worship every week. Cleaning your toilets, sweeping your crumbs, taking out your trash, and maintaining the church’s ins-and-outs is too often a thankless job. We tend to see it as “honest work.” But to him or her, it is absolutely a ministry. The faithful church custodian’s work is essential to distraction-free worship.

The First Impressions (or “Welcome Center”) Volunteers. Can you imagine putting on a smile and welcoming grumpy people to church every single week, when you have your own problems you’re working through? You ask everyone how they’re doing, pray with them in the hallways, fix their coffee, and clean up their messes; but how often does someone stop to ask how your morning is going? How often do they bring you a donut or a fresh cup of coffee? Overlooked. Unthanked. But such an important service to the church body.

The Flowers/Decorations Team. Everyone has an opinion. Surely that is something you already know. Which colors are supposed to go with which particular season, and which kinds of flowers should and should not be included in the altar arrangement. The selection of cloth on the fellowship table, and the kinds of lights used in the Christmas wreaths. Criticism abounds, but encouragement and thankfulness are usually fleeting.

So Many More. Every single week, your experience at church hinges on countless volunteers who give their time, energy, resources, and more to serve YOU in tangible ways. Space does not permit the detailed mentioning of all other ministry volunteers such as those who volunteer for lawn maintenance, quick building repairs, meal cooking/serving rotations, ushering, security, office-related needs, and more. Each of them is an essential part of your positive weekly worship experience.

I pray that after reading this, you will commit to doing two things:

  1. Be intentional about thanking these people. Pray that God would lay some on your heart today who you can text, message, call, or to whom you can send a personal card of appreciation.
  2. Look for ways to plug in. Your church needs YOU to serve, too. God has gifted you in specific ways whether that involves your time, talents, or spiritual giftedness. He has engrafted you into His church body for a purpose. Your church needs you to be an active part of the volunteer team. You don’t need to have a position or a title. Just a servant heart, devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom in and through your local church.

Serve Him with gladness,
Enter His courts with song. 
To our Creator, true praises belong. 
Great is His mercy, wonderful is His name. 
We gladly serve Him, His great love proclaim.
(B.B. McKinney, 1959)

Grace and Peace, Tony

 

5 Steps Toward Winning the Argument

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Everyone likes to win. I know that we’re supposed to have fun “just playing the game,” and that no matter what, we’re supposed to “do our best.” But seriously. I want to win… who doesn’t? In our rapidly evolving world of social media (false senses of courage building from the perceived safety of one’s keyboard), trying to win arguments seems to be one of America’s new favorite past-times. Most of my daily news feeds are littered with one “side” or another attempting desperately to prove itself right. It appears not to matter if the topic at hand is spiritual, political, relational, or even entertainment-based. Polarized sides will take to social media daily in desperate attempts to prove their superior rightness over the baseless idiocy of their opponents. But if your social news feeds are anything like mine, it’s becoming more and more apparent that while many are playing this game, no one is really winning. 

The problem is, in most arguments, we’re not real clear on what winning looks like. You would think that redeemed children of the Living God (Christians) would have a clear understanding of what it looks like to “win” an argument. But it has become apparent that even we are losing it – both figuratively and literally. So, in efforts to help you (Christian) win an argument on social media, allow me to offer a bit of biblical advice, from 2 Timothy 2:22-26. No matter the nature or subject of the controversy, Christian, here’s how you can “win.”

  1. Understand what winning looks like. “Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (v.26). When someone who disagrees with you is freed from the snares of Satan, you’ve won. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to win… It looks like freedom. Grace. Salvation. The real “win” is that Satan’s work be squashed and his will overcome by God’s great glory. That’s the “win” for the Christian. Anything else is a loss. So maybe, before going on to Step 2, you need to make sure you have a proper vision of what it will look like to win. If your goal is to prove yourself right, to beat your opponent into humiliating submission, or to catch him in the entanglements of his own flawed logic, you’re not pursuing the Christian win. You’re pursuing something else. And our time is too short and our mission to important to settle for anything less than a real win.
  2. Grow up. “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v.22). If you’re responding to opposition with self-centered, childish behavior, get a life. Namely, get Jesus’s life and let Him live it through you. Your unholy tantrums are producing nothing of value in the fight against Satan’s schemes. So grow up. You can’t control what other people say, do, or think. But you can control how you respond to their words, actions, and attitudes. If your actions or reactions are anything but righteousness, faith, love, and peace, you’re playing for the wrong team. If your alliances are with anyone who is not calling “on the Lord from a pure heart,” you’ve switched benches in the middle of the game. So grow up. Get over yourself. Pursue Christ-like spiritual maturity over pursuing a win in any argument. Once you’ve got that down, you can move on to Step 3.
  3. Pick your battles. “But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel…” (vs.23-24a). Part of winning is knowing what battles to fight. If you spend all of your time, energy, and report on insignificant battles, you will not win the war. I heard a coach yelling incessantly the other day, on the basketball court. He could barely get a breath in because he yelled at the top of his lungs about every single little thing. Halfway through the second quarter, he called (yelled) for a time out and the officials didn’t hear him. He kept calling it and calling it and they never acknowledged him. Eventually, someone else had to call for the time out from the bench. Know why they never acknowledged him? Because they had tuned him out. He was talking, but they weren’t listening. I wonder, Christian, if you’ve been incessantly talking/complaining – staking your claim and yelling at the top of your lungs (TYPING IN ALL CAPS) – about things that are “foolish and ignorant disputes.” And I wonder if this has caused you to lose report with those you are trying to reach. Don’t quarrel for quarrels’ sake. If you’re going to win the war, you must choose your battles wisely.
  4. Be patient and gentle. “…but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness” (vs.24b-25a). When you do engage in battle, understand that it is the “kindness of the Lord” which leads us to repentance (Ro.2:4). Biblical Christian opposition is always done from a position of gentleness. If you “win” the argument but misrepresent the Savior in the process, you’ve won nothing at all. In fact, if your actions or reactions point people away from the kindness of God instead of to the kindness of God, you’ve not won, but lost. Speak with gentleness. Exercise great patience. Don’t soften the truth, but don’t speak it without love. Don’t cower in fear, but don’t borrow on it either. Whatever the argument, be gentle. And be patient. That’s what points people to Jesus.
  5. Let God do what only He can do. “Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth” (v.25b). Christianity is not a showboating event. You’re playing for the team – for the kingdom of God. Your part is to represent God well in the world where He has placed you. His job is to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and draw them to salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Read the playbook. You’re just the assist; God gets the dunk. The real win is not your win anyway. It’s Jesus’s win. No matter how flattering, convincing, or emphatic your words, you cannot get the win on your own. You must play your part well, with a surrendered trust that God will play His. “Repentance” and “truth” cannot be attained by those who are far from God unless God Himself grants it to them. So as you constantly work on Steps 1-4, be sure to let God handle Step 5. And when He does, make Him famous for it. Let Him get the glory.

Grace and Peace, Tony.

The New Self

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The goal of your saving faith is that you mature – grow up – in Christ. Paul speaks plainly to the Ephesian church about this, in language that demands a change. You can come to Christ as you are… but you can’t stay there. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ will change you from the day of your new birth to the day of your final glorification. In v.24, Paul highlights the tension between the “old man,” crucified in Christ and the “new man,” resurrected with Him.

“…you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:23-32 (HCSB)

Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Those who have “put on the new man” must be about the business of reacting to their former way of life by changing each of those offenses toward Christlikeness. Specifically, Paul says the liar should speak the truth, the angry one should let it go, the thief should become generous, and the filthy mouthed should learn to bless instead of curse.

Then he mentions that those Christians who refuse this change “grieve God’s Holy Spirit” who indwells them. How do we “grieve God’s Holy Spirit”? Bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting, slander, and unforgiveness (vs.31-32).

If we refuse the Christlike change that God’s Spirit desires to bring to our lives, we’re not only stunting our own spiritual growth; we’re also grieving the Holy Spirit of God. What areas of your life look a whole lot more like the “old man” than the “new man”? How might your thoughts, words, and actions be grieving God?

Those who are truly reborn into Christ have a prevailing desire to grow up in the faith. They long to please God, not grieve Him. Determine, today, to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man.” Refuse bitterness, envy, anger, wrath, slander, and unforgiveness. Live for God’s glory, not your own. And watch how He’ll begin to shape and mold your life into the man or woman He created you to be.

Grace and Peace, Tony.