Fruit from Deep Brokenness

For my weekly Leadership Journal interview, I chat with Mary Demuth, a good friend. She’s a gifted author and speaker. Mary has a way of speaking from her own personal pain and brokenness into the lives of others in a unique way.

I asked her about this:

Your own story of sexual abuse has been catalyst for some of your writing and blogging. How hard was it to begin telling your story?

Initially, I shared my story in my late teens to garner attention, so, oddly, I wasn’t scared. In my twenties I naively assumed I’d been healed, so I kept the story locked away. In my thirties, my life exploded in pain, and I had no desire to share that with the world. God used that decade to heal me further and birth in me a desire to see that past pain as a platform to help others be set gloriously free. So now? I find it a huge privilege to tell my story, almost as if it’s sacred ground when I share it. I see folks set free. It’s humbling. God is so very good to let me see fruit from my own deep brokenness.

Read the entire interview here:

How Small Churches Can Love Their Communities

Today I’m over at Trevin Wax’ blog with a guest post. The subject is how to love your community if you are a small church:

What if you are the pastor of a small church but would like to do something to serve your community? What if you love the idea of adopting a school, but barely have enough resources to cover your nursery on Sunday?

Is it possible to do acts of mercy in your local Jerusalem with a tiny band of volunteers? Surprisingly, it is. Here are six tips for small church outreach:

1. Relieve yourself of false guilt.

If there is one thing that plagues small church pastors in a big metro area, it’s the constant guilt about what your church is “not doing.” Mostly this guilt comes as a result of comparing yourself to the other churches in town.

Instead, begin to look at the entire body of Christ in your community rather than your own specific congregation. You are just one of many God is using in that region to bring about His glory. When I finally realized that God wasn’t calling Gages Lake Bible Church to be the entire Church to our local region, it enabled me to focus on a few small areas of opportunity and giftedness.

Read the rest of the post here:

Five Ways We Do Family Worship

I’m a big believer in family worship. I believe God has clearly called parents to intentionally teach their children the ways of God. But for some, the idea of family worship is a bit scary. Either they don’t know how to do it or they think it means three hours every night of exegetical study through Leviticus.

But family worship doesn’t have to be scary or boring or a drudgery. It can be simple. Here are five ways we do it:

1) Around the Table. Sometimes we do it at dinner, other times we do it at breakfast (especially if I’m home for those meals). We usually use some kind of tool. In the past we’ve used the Jesus StoryBook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, a book every Christian parent should own (in my opinion). Right now we are using an excellent book, Proverbs for Kids. This is a terrific book takes a proverb and offers some practical spiritual truth applicable to kids. It doesn’t take very long and it always includes a relatable story. We decided to do Proverbs because we just felt our kids needed some relational wisdom during this season of their lives. I also highly recommend New City Catechism by The Gospel Coalition. There are other really good resources out there for children as well.

When we do this around the table, it’s very informal. I usually read some Scripture and do some explanation, then I ask the kids questions about it. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we joke. After we are done, we usually offer a prayer. But we’re very intentional about teaching our kids about the Scriptures. The table is a great place to do it. We are all gathered, we’re enjoying God’s good provision of food and the grace of conversation. I think it’s important for families to share as many meals together as they can.

2) With a Hymnal or Singing. We don’t do this as often as we do the above, but every so often I will reach over and grab a hymnal and we’ll sing some songs together as a family. It can be really fun. What I love about the hymns is that they ground spiritual truth into the hearts of our children. We also like to listen to good Christian music in the car or at home. Sometimes words will come up, especially with hymns, that need explanation. This is a great way to share with our kids some good ideas and truth.

3) In everyday life situations. I love Moses instructions to the parents of Israel to teach God’s truth whenever their kids “sit down” and “rise” (Deut 6:7; 11:19). I don’t think this is a legalistic exercise. I think it is simply telling parents to use every opportunity that comes up, in daily life, to point to Jesus. We really try to do this and you’ll be surprised by the really cool conversations that come up. As a parent, you don’t have to do this in a scolding, lecture-type way. You can be fun, witty, and conversational.

But daily life presents golden opportunities for conversations about the gospel, about the character of God. And we’ve observed that sometimes these are more formative than the structured, sit-down, type of things we do. Our kids need to know that all of life is God’s, not just the space we reserve for him on Sunday. This is God’s world and we live in it, to worship and glorify him.

4) Before Bed. We have some of our great conversations before bed. Well, at least on the nights we are not getting to bed late and just trying to get to bed ourselves! But many nights, we’re able to do a lot of praying. We try to have each kid pray to God, to get used to that idea. It can be a bit chaotic to keep the kids from messing around during prayer. But there are some moments where you hear your kid pray an incredibly honest, beautiful, heart-warming prayer to the Lord. And you, also, can model prayer when you pray in front of your children. We also try to pray for at least one missionary every night. We’ve had stretches where we’ve slacked on this a bit, but we try to get back to doing it. We also ask our kids, “So, who do you think we need to pray for tonight.”

5) With reading literature. This may be a bit of a stretch, since reading books other than the Bible may not technically be “family worship”, but it is part of teaching. We try to expose our kids to some good reading, both classics and biographies. And as we’re reading, we try to share and explain Christian themes and concepts. We’re also fortunate that our homeschooling curriculum is heavy on literature. So my oldest daughter Grace has already read several missionary biographies. Parents can do this in a variety of ways, but it’s really helpful, I think, for kids to hear good stories and expand their wisdom and knowledge of God’s world.

Bottom Line: Our family doesn’t do worship perfectly and I’m sure there are better ways, resources, etc. Every family has to figure out what works best for them. However, we should all strive to be intentional with our kids’ spiritual education.

Relationships and the Great Commission

This Sunday I preached from Romans 10, where Paul reminds us that we are the instruments God sovereignly uses to deliver the gospel news to the world. “How will they hear without a preacher” is motivation for every follower of Jesus to be that preacher. It doesn’t necessarily mean  only pastors and missionaries do the preaching, but all Christians should in some sense, preach the word to the lost. We should do this winsomely, lovingly, and intentionally.

This passage convicts me in a lot of ways. For starters, it presupposes that I actually care about those who don’t know Jesus. In my daily life, how often is my heart broken for the brokeness of the world around me?

Secondly, Paul’s words also presuppose something else: that we are actually building relationships with people not like us so that we may be the bridge that leads them to Jesus. Much of our Christianity is focused on prevention. Some of this is good. As parents we want to shield our children from negative influences and harmful media consumption. And yet, we must not do this in such a way that conflicts with the Great Commission. It occurs to me that the enemy, who hates seeing people connected to Jesus, is okay with us retreating so deep into our own Christian subcultures and bunkers, into our political ideologies and networks, that we don’t actually interact with anyone else enough to make friends with them in order to be the one reflection of light in their dark world.

The Great Commission carries with it an assumption. Jesus assumed those who have had an experience with Him, whereby they know that He has died on the cross, rose again in victory, and is alive regenerating their heart–these people will surely tell others. There is an assumption that we won’t be silent. But underneath even that assumption is that we will take Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 to heart and realize we were put on this earth to be His representatives.

In plain words, this means one thing: we must be intentional about building long-term, thick, vibrant relationships with people who are different than us. People of different races. People of different backgrounds. People of different religions. People who don’t vote the way we do. People who may not live like we think they should live.

You see, we can’t simply carry out the Great Commission on a fly-over basis. By this I mean that staying in our bunkers and then emerging every so often to “gospel-bomb” people with Heaven tracts isn’t what, I think, Jesus is talking about. I love Heaven tracts and know that many have come to faith in Christ because of them. Yes.

However, if we think sheepishly slipping a tract underneath the check at a restaurant gets us off the hook when it comes to the Great Commission, we are doing it wrong. Liking the Jesus page on Facebook can’t be all we do. Wearing the fish symbol on our cars can’t be all we do.

We must vigorously, intentionally, get to know people within our circles of influence.

We do this in two ways: We first love them. By loving our lost friends and neighbors and relatives, it means we apply 1 Corinthians 13 and really, really love them. You will not engage with people you fear or  despise. Ask Jonah how this works. He hated the people of Nineveh. It wasn’t that Jonah didn’t think God could save them (Jonah 3), it was that Jonah didn’t want God to save them.

We will not intentionally engage people we either fear or do not like. So for some of us, it maybe time we tune out the rhetoric we hear on talk radio and cable news and online about various people groups. Because quite often we can let our politics shape our theology rather than our theology shaping our politics.

Yes, because we love our cities we should stand for things we believe are good for human flourishing. No apologies for that. And yet, if our politics turns into actually disliking, mocking, and avoiding the “other”, then we are doing it wrong. We are here, they are here, and the Great Commission compels us.

Maybe it’s time we evaluate the way we shelter our families in such a way that we keep ourselves walled off from our communities. How will they hear without a preacher? That preacher, that person is none other than you and me.

Secondly, we do this by building intentional relationships. We must be wise in the way we pursue relationships. We should build friendships, not simply so we can spring the book of Romans on the after the third conversation. We should build natural, human friendships that grow over time. And we should allow the Spirit of God to guide us when we need to being the evangelism conversations. For some it may take months, even years for that to come up. For others it may be natural to discuss right away. The point is that we should let our friendships be natural. People know, especially in this cynical age, when they are being targeted for a “sale.” But friendship is something entirely different. It’s real. It’s human. It’s not “bait and switch.”

Friendship is love. We need to engage with warmth, authenticity, and reality. We should let our expressions of faith, our evangelism, flow naturally. If Christ is our life, then those who get near us will know it. We’ll not be able to stop talking about Him.

Of course all of this means that we are in our communities. It means we’re outside talking to our neighbors, inviting them over to our homes. It means we’re joining the local YMCA’s or other organizations where people gather. It means we’re participating in some of the charitable and civic endeavors in our towns and villages and cities.

And, properly understood, bearing the message of Jesus is not a strain. It’s a joy. Paul said that it was the love of Christ that compelled him to tell others (2 Corinthians 5:4). What a privilege it is to bear this beautiful message of the gospel! We should share it intentionally, actively, and lovingly to those God puts in our life.

Relationships are key to obeying the Great Commission.

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