Our Philosophy of University Ministry

five group smith

Why doesn’t Eagle Heights have a designated university student gathering during the week? Why don’t you all do more free food? Doesn’t requiring membership keep people from serving? Why do you do what you do? Why are there some things that you don’t do?

Let me begin with a bit of personal background. I value being a part of a local church in a small town with a major university. I have been working with university students for almost twenty years either in a parachurch capacity (BCM – Baptist Collegiate Ministry), or as a local church pastor. It is hard for me to imagine being in a place where university students are not a regular part of making disciples.

But Stillwater has its challenges when it comes to pastoring a local church in a small town with a major university. For instance, there are a lot of parachurch ministries that are targeting university students, which means we have to figure out how to work with them –  or around them. With this in mind, here is what we do and why we do it.

  • We desire to partner with parachurch ministries, not compete with them. There are many (15+) Christian Parachurch Ministries on the campus of OSU that spend most of their time and resources specifically targeting university students. As a local church we support some of these ministries in various ways, including financially. Additonally, many of the staff and students who are committed to parachurch ministries also regularly attend our church. So instead of competing with them, we would rather partner with them to make disciples.
  • We want to be a biblical local church for university students, not duplicate the specialized efforts of parachurch ministries. Some of these parachurch ministries have mid-week worship gatherings and most all of them have a weekly Bible study. If we are supporting some of these university groups financially or otherwise, then why would we duplicate or compete with what they are already doing with our support?
  • We have something unique to offer university students while they are in Stillwater. I spent almost ten years doing campus parachurch ministry. I value groups like BCM, Student Mobilization, etc. The Lord used BCM to change my life. But groups like these are not local churches. Some of them act like local churches, but most of them don’t recognize biblically qualified leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-7), or practice membership and church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20), or acknowledge the biblical authority of the local church in the administration of the biblical ordinances. Parachurch is a designation that describes ministries that are coming alongside local churches to accomplish specific disciple-making tasks with specific groups of people. Besides what was mentioned above, one of the realities that often differentiates local churches from parachurch ministries is diversity. For example, the diversity of age that should exist in local churches is a strength when rightly understood. Young people need to know and learn from more mature people with life experience, and people who are more advanced in years need to know and learn from younger people who are often still full of passion and zeal. We intentionally try to be multi-generational in our approach to disciple-making strategies. We organize the way we do ministry to get people from different generations to build each other up. In other words, we don’t think our local church needs to be another affinity-based, age-specific parachurch ministry, when there are a lot of those already existing on campus. We want to begin to integrate university-aged people into the life of the church so they can know how to build up the body of Christ when they move on to the next phase of life.
  • We want university students to see and be committed to a healthy local church. To do this we emphasize church membership. Church membership simply means a person is making it publicly known that they are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and therefore, they are committed to His people in a local body through regular attendance and serving,  and they are under the biblical authority of biblical leadership that is affirmed by a local congregation. Unsurprisingly, some people balk at the idea of church commitment because they are convinced it keeps people from the local church. But we believe church membership is a biblical means of discipleship, and that to lessen the level of commitment to “reach” more is doing a biblical disservice to those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. We also try to organize multi-generational groups that read the Bible together so that they can learn to value the benefits of generational diversity, while also learning how to make disciples in a local church context. We call these 5Groups. For most students, the local church is the next step for disciple-making community. Parachurch ministries need the local church for this reason.

Though our university ministry is very decentralized, we do have a Sunday Morning University Bible Study, a monthly university lunch, and a university spring break trip. By the way, almost all of these still have a multi-generational dimension to them. But primarily we are trying to help university students be a committed part of a healthy local church. One of our goals is that in participating in a healthy local church, university students would then go and be a part of what they have experienced with us. If that happens, then we would consider that a biblical win, and that is why we have chosen to do university ministry the way that we do it. It’s also the reason we have chosen to refrain from activities that are commonly associated with university ministry.

 

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Should Pastors Publicly Name False Teachers?

wolf ins sheeps clothing

When preaching, should pastors call out false teachers by name for the protection of their local church?

As is our most consistent practice of preaching, our church has been working through First and Second Peter. Chapter two of Peter’s second epistle focuses on exposing and excoriating false prophets and teachers. The picture that Peter paints is not a positive and encouraging one.

A cursory reading of the New Testament makes it evident that false teaching was not only a problem for the churches Peter was addressing, and therefore, it’s no surprise that false teachers and their teaching continues to be a problem today. Satan is a deceiver, and he deceives people and uses the deceived to deceive more people. It’s what he does. Peter was protecting the sheep (1 Peter 5:1-5) by letter and aimed to bring these dangerous teachers and their doctrine into the light. Shouldn’t present-day preachers and teachers follow Peter’s example?

But here’s the rub – well, it can be a rub for some. Should preachers today call out false teachers by name when they preach? Should they publicly expose enemies of Jesus during the sermon? Or should they just teach what is right, what is wrong, and let the audience sort through who qualifies as a false teacher and leave the prosecuting by name to God?

Here are a few of my thoughts and convictions:

  • Even if I am convinced someone is a false teacher, I am often hesitant to call them by name. I have a few reasons for this. First, I don’t want it to be easy for those who are listening, to Google a name I mention and begin to listen to their teaching. In other words, I don’t want to advertise for false teachers. Second, I wouldn’t want this to be a stumbling block to a first-time guest who already sees Christians and churches as overly harsh and critical. And, yes, I know that the gathering is for believers, but I want to remove as many barriers to the gospel as possible so that the gospel might be heard without hindrance. And, yes, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe both of these are excuses because I care too much about pleasing others.
  • Additionally, we live in a hyper-critical culture of name-calling and condemnation. Look, false teachers are real and eternally dangerous, but not everyone that is in error is a full-blown charlatan and destined for hell. I am under no illusion that I have everything doctrinally right. But not all error is the same. Some error(s) is the kind that will cause Jesus to say to you: “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23) Though you were certain you did. So we must be extra careful that our secondary doctrinal disagreement with someone is not portrayed as though it is a matter of first importance; an essential theological matter. As the difference between heaven and hell. But I also don’t want to make hyper-critical disciples with my preaching leadership.
  • On the other hand, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we see that the Holy Scriptures called out Christian impostors, betrayers, and false teachers by name. Recognizing that the original manuscripts didn’t have chapters and verses, an example of calling out gospel troublemakers by name is found in Second Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul names Phygelus and Hermogenes for abandoning him in Asia. In chapter two, Paul identifies the disease-like teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus. In chapter three, he remembers Jannes and Jambres who opposed God, Moses, and “the truth” in Exodus. In chapter four, he singles out Demas, who loved the present world over the eternal Christ, leading him to abandon Paul. And finally, Paul identifies “Alexander the coppersmith” who did Paul much harm, saying the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. In four chapters, Paul calls people by names five times to warn Timothy about those who have turned their back on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unrepentant, public sin was publicly condemned by the Holy Spirit and Paul.
  • Finally, consider that if someone who lived in your neighborhood was a known child predator and sexual offender, would you only teach your children what good people look like and what bad people do wrong? Or as the primary protector and shepherd of your children, would you say, “Don’t go near that house. The man who lives there is very dangerous.” Further, would you not describe him? And if you and your children knew his name, would you not tell them to stay away; to avoid even the proximity of his presence? If you knew who it was that could damage and even destroy your children, would you not give very specific descriptions and warnings? I would be as precise as possible to maximally protect my children. I know that pastors aren’t parents and church members aren’t children, but isn’t it a pastor’s job to know the dangers of the day and to know the people who peddle them? Is it loving for a pastor to allow false teaching in the name of Jesus to seduce the sheep he is to watch over and will give an account for (Hebrews 13:17)?

There is a reason so many fall prey to false teaching. Error is insidious, and it looks deceptively like the truth. It is true that all truth is ultimately God’s truth. But when you have a half-truth posing as a whole truth in the name of Jesus, it can only be classified as a total and deadly untruth (JI Packer). And concerning those teachers and preachers who seem to be saying some really good things that may even be helpful to some degree, but also say some questionable things about essential, gospel truths, wouldn’t it be better to stick with the people who are teaching us the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

What I know for sure is that people have strong opinions about this question. What do you think?

One Simple Way To Make a Lasting Difference

One thing

I desperately want to make a difference in the life of my children. I want them to flourish and live life to the fullest. I want them to know the truth so that they can be free and full in Christ. I want the same for all the people I love, including myself.

With so many competing voices in the world, I have come to firmly believe that one of the best ways we can make a difference is by having a statement (or a few) that we really believe, and say it over and over again.

As I reflect on my childhood, the statements that were said over and over are the ones that have stuck. Not all of those statements that have persisted have also impacted my life in profound ways, but they remain nonetheless. For instance, my dad would say often to my siblings and I: “You all are a three-ring circus at the world’s fair.” Though the meaning escaped me for a long time, it became a part of me. It’s ingrained in my brain.

One statement that I say every morning to my children as I drop them off at school is this: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24) I also try to frequently say this in times of mistakes and discipline: “There is nothing you do to turn me away.” Here is one more example: “We have to do what we need to to, to do what we want to do.”

So ponder the long-term implications of saying the same statements over and over. What if for the next ten years I declare daily to my children: “This is God’s day! He made it. Therefore, we can have joy in it because we know He is present and this day is no accident. Make the most of this day for His glory and your joy!” Then when my day of departure arrives and I go to be with the Lord, what will my family and friends say about me when they gather to celebrate the life God has granted? What will they remember?

I hope something like this: “Remember that dad always used to say to us Psalm 118:24. He did that because He wanted us to know that each day was worth living to the fullest because He believed that God had made it, and it was a gift to be used for His glory in Christ.”

If that is what they say when I go to be with Christ, then I will rejoice for all eternity that God has used me because I consistently proclaimed one glorious truth about God and how we should respond.

What is the one truth you say to yourself and to those you love everyday?

 

3 Ways Church Membership Can Protect Against Child Abuse at Church

On guard

In the last month many were horrified when they learned the details of sexual abuse that has taken place in Southern Baptist Churches across the United States. The Houston Chronicle released a three-part expose detailing the reality that over 20 years there have been at least 700 victims of sexual abuse.

For many this has been a massive wake-up call as it relates to making sure that everything possible is being done to protect children and everyone else from the threat of abuse. I am glad to say that our own church, Eagle Heights, already had many safeguards in place. But it is always good to take a crisis like this seriously and do some thorough review and self-examination regarding protective plans and execution of those plans to make sure we are doing all we can to prevent something so evil and tragic.

Our church family has policies that protect both children and volunteers. For example, we have regular training times, which includes a recent video that we have put together about what to avoid and what to be looking for as it relates to abuse. And of course, any person who works with children or youth has a current background check. Additionally, the Elders and church staff are presently working on evaluating and addressing any gaps in our plan.

But as a church we take one more step that might be undervalued as firewall against abuse: Church Membership.

In his book, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church (2014), Deepak Reju argues that there are three reasons that church membership “can help decrease the likelihood of sexual offenders infiltrating your children’s (and youth) ministry.” (All quotes below are from Reju.)

  1. Church membership done thoroughly helps us to identify whether a person is genuinely a Christian. Before a person can become a committed and active part of our faith family and serve, they are required to meet with an Elder and answer four questions: First, what is your testimony of being saved? Second, what is the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ that alone can save and transform? Third, have you been baptized as a believer by which you publicly identify with Christ? Fourth, what is the evidence that the Spirit lives within you? Are you bearing much fruit showing you are really His disciple (John 15:8)? Now of course we know we can’t ultimately judge the the true spiritual condition of a person, but if we are going to let people teach the gospel to our children, and give them the responsibility of physical and emotional care over them, it only makes sense that we do all we can to reduce the risk of spiritual and physical harm. Church membership helps identify genuine believers, and Genuine believers are less likely to abuse those under their care.
  2. A church membership process also gives the pastors, the staff and other members the opportunity to know people before they are given responsibility as a part of the church. We have started presenting prospective members to the congregation for consideration a week in advance before the church affirms them. We know this can be uncomfortable for some, but if there is a concern, we want to deal with it up front. A church membership process prevents “immediate access to the church and, consequently, the church’s kids.” (Reju) I trust most parents wouldn’t let someone watch their children if they knew nothing about them. If a parent vets a babysitter, why would a church be less diligent and careful?
  3. “A church membership process causes pedophiles to think twice about joining, especially since there are other churches that don’t require this and will give them almost immediate access to children.” Reju writes, “Anyone can come to church, but not everyone who comes should have access to our kids.” We want the struggling and hurting person to come to our church, but we also want to make sure hurting people don’t hurt others. Reju is surely right when he suggests that a sexual offender, or potential sexual offender, is more likely to gravitate toward a church that has less protection and a “low wall” of accountability. And frankly, it saddens me to think there are churches who have such a low standard for protecting their children.

There is no plan that is completely foolproof, but there are ways to reduce the possibility of abuse. It is better to have tried and failed, than to have failed to try. We must be able to say that we did all that we could to prevent abuse. Believe it or not, church membership can serve as a useful preventative tactic. It is just one piece of a safety wall that may protect our church from a disaster that hundreds have experienced over the last twenty years. May God give us the wisdom to do all that we can to love people and protect them from evil.

The Importance of WHY for Tooth-brushing and Parenting

 

child-looking-at-brush

Does anyone else find it challenging to get their children to brush their teeth – along with a lot of other simple and necessary tasks?

A few mornings ago our six-year-old was in full resistance mode about brushing her teeth. She just could not understand why it was necessary to brush when it would all be undone by eating in a few hours. She plead her case to her mom. She stated it again. It just didn’t make any sense to her. “What’s the point?”, she complained.

Her patient mom had decided enough was enough, and forcefully commanded that she go brush her teeth or else. And so our reluctant six-year-old moped toward the bathroom, like a teenager with shoulders slouched forward, to do the senseless act – the act of brushing her teeth.

On her way from one end of the house to the other, I stopped her and asked her to talk to me. I asked why she did not want to obey her mom. She put forth her best argument, and I listened. Then I asked her: “Don’t you think we have good reasons for asking you to brush your teeth?” She wasn’t sure we did.

I explained to her that she had been sleeping all night and that there were things in her mouth, that if not brushed out, would create little holes in her teeth. Those little holes would need to be drilled out, and to drill them out, she would need to have a shot to numb her mouth. And all of this would cost us money that would be better used for other, more enjoyable things. I concluded our conversation by showing her the fillings in my teeth and asked: “You don’t want fillings like daddy, do you? Do you see we are trying to help you by asking you to brush your teeth?”

Having appeared to be persuaded by my reasons, she went to the bathroom with shoulders up and brushed her teeth.

So what’s the point of sharing this little experience?

Well, I am not saying we have to formulate careful and coherent arguments for every act of obedience we command, but one of the things I am learning about parenting is that most of the time children respond well when we give them reasons for our expectations. When we take the time to do this, it also teaches them how to think and communicate. We are helping them develop and grow as a person, and we are helping them see that we know and want what is best for them. We are earning their trust.

Sometimes its necessary to demand obedience because “I told you so and I am the parent.” But perhaps taking an extra five minutes to explain the “why” would be beneficial to child and parent.

 

4 Strategies for Discipling Your Teenager

Strategy

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic. I have one teenager and he is in his first year of teen-aging. Check back with me in fourteen years when my youngest exits the up-and-down teen years, and I might have some different ideas. I might retract much of what I have written. Having said that, I am am trying to be intentional and experimenting with ways to help my son think biblically and trust Jesus. With the help of my wife and church, I am taking seriously the biblical responsibility to teach my children to trust and obey Christ in all of life.

Here’s what I have been trying and thinking:

  1. The gospel must be ultimate in everything. For example, whether I fail or my children fail, I want to maximize the use of that failure and point them to why the gospel is so precious and why we need Jesus so much. I am a 43-year-old man who still has moments of failure and sin and Jesus is my only hope in life and death. Further, the gospel empowers me to seek forgiveness from those I fail and sin against. I don’t need to act like I am perfect because Jesus has dealt with my sins once for all. I can ask for forgiveness because I have forgiveness. As parents, we must relate to our children like the gospel is real and all-important.
  2. Guard against being overbearing about everything. Honestly, I don’t like the music my son listens to. Some of my reasons are preference and some are substantive. Music was an idol that redirected my affections away from God when I was a teenager. But telling him to “turn that junk off” is probably not the best tactic. Instead, I have found that thoughtful conversations about what he is listening to is a better approach. We have talked about the truth that God makes all music possible in the way he has designed the creation. We have talked about the yearning of people that is communicated in their lyrical proclamation. We have talked about the obvious deviation from God’s design when it is apparent. There are some things a parent has to be firm about with an unequivocal stance, but coming down with an iron fist on everything is not winsome. As parents, we must choose carefully which hills we are willing to die on. And perhaps just as important, we must be wise about how we fight for those hills.
  3. Regularly expose them to intelligent and thoughtful Christians like Albert Mohler so that they can develop a robust Christian Worldview. Recently, when in the car, I have been listening to a lot of sports-talk, a little NPR and a bit of Petra. My teenager, however, likes to try to take over the radio when he is with me and listen to the classic rock station. I am willing to accommodate him most times-if he politely asks. But for the last several weeks, we have intentionally been listening to The Briefing Podcast with Albert Mohler while we make our ten minute commute from home to the school. Mohler summarizes recent national stories and then carefully articulates a Christian worldview in response. It’s been very encouraging to observe my son listening intently and commenting thoughtfully to important issues being discussed in a biblically coherent way. Some of our best conversations have been happening as we listen together and pause to discuss or understand what is being said. As parents we must intentionally expose our children to winsome and wise people who are interacting with the most important issues of our day.
  4. Make every effort to be consistent. Developing sustainable patterns in life and and in the home is critically important. For instance, my wife and I strive to have a regular family worship time. It’s not easy, but it gets easier with consistency. Training takes disciplined repetition. WE try to have a regular time of abiding in Christ for our own joy, but also to model what we hope our children will eventually do. I try to consistently praise my wife in front of my children. We effort to talk to them the way we want them to talk to others. A general rule of life is: what we believe to be important is what gets done consistently. As parents, we must create convictional consistency.

I have witnessed fruit from these four strategic ideas. I am not perfect at them, but by the grace of God, I am trying to get better. As parents, our job is to be faithful, but faithfulness means we have some idea about what we are doing to be faithful. What strategies are you intentionally employing to help your children follow Jesus? As parents, we must have strategies that we are convinced will help our children follow Jesus. It’s our divinely mandated responsibility (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 78:1-8; Ephesians 6:1-2).

Why Read the Bible and 7 Ways To Enjoy It

Bible Read

WHY READ THE BIBLE?

Spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, fasting, evangelism, etc.) are not about making you more precious to God. Jesus alone accomplished that with His perfect life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection. Spiritual disciplines are a means by which God becomes more precious to you. They are a means of enjoying God.

Reading the Bible is the way we taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). You should read the Bible to nourish your soul by filling it with the Spirit-inspired word. Read the Bible to know God more and enjoy Him forever. If you are in Christ, then you are precious to God. Is He precious to you?

7 WAYS TO ENJOY THE GREATEST BENEFIT FROM GOD’S WORD

  1. You need a reasonable and systematic plan. Many Christians suffer from cherry-picking the Bible, which results in spiritual imbalance. It’s easy to see why Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13 are popular, but those verses have a context. And when we neglect the context, we neglect what God is fully saying. We need the whole counsel of God of to enjoy God to the full.
  2. You must carve out adequate and consistent time to chew on God’s word. 5 minutes with God’s word won’t cut it.
  3. You need the Holy Spirit’s help to illumine the truth to your mind and heart. Admit your need and ask God to help you see the goodness of God’s word.
  4. You need to know what God’s word means. Study God’s word, don’t just devotional-ize it. Use a good study Bible to check your conclusions.
  5. You need to meditate on God’s word. This means that you slow down and ask questions, dwell on it, think over it so as to apply it. Slow down and ponder God’s word. It’s better to read a little slowly, than to read a lot in a hurry.
  6. You need to respond in prayer. Take the most penetrating truth and PRAY it. P – Praise God. R – Repent. A – Ask God. Y – Yield to God.
  7. You need to obey God’s word. Do not merely be a reader and a hearer, but be a doer (James 1:22). Learn to experience the blessing of trusting God’s word enough to obey God’s word.

God gave us a book to capture His timeless truth so that we might know and enjoy God. For God’s glory, your good and the good of others, you need regular Bible intake.

A Family Devotion Plan for 2019

catechism

Family devotions can be difficult and discouraging. Below are some challenges you may have run into:

  • It’s hard to make consistent time.
  • The children won’t sit still or be quite for any amount of time.
  • We (parents) haven’t taken the time to formulate a reasonable plan and expectation.

The struggle is real.

As a matter of fact, you may be able to think of many other reasons why a family devotion just won’t work. Yet God’s word clearly places on parents the primary responsibility to make disciples of their children by teaching them the life-giving truths of the Spirit-inspired scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-3).

We want to help you trust and obey God’s word, and so we have provided the following resource for 2019. If you are utilizing the  2019 Eagle Heights Bible reading plan, you will notice that at the end of each week there is a question in bold (see the example below). This question is also in the Big Picture Questions and Answers Booklet pictured above. There is also a handy poster inside each booklet. These are available at the Eagle Heights Connection Center.

cateachism bible reading plan

TRY THIS PLAN FOR FAMILY DEVOTIONS

  • Plan a consistent time and place you can have a family devotion. You may have to adjust on occasions, but carve out a time that works most of the time and stick with it.
  • Make known reasonable expectations. For example, let them know that your time will only last for 10 minutes. Ask them not to get up while it’s devotion time. Ask them to raise their hand if they want to speak. Don’t try to do too much.
  • Begin with prayer
  • Ask the question from the catechism booklet or poster: “Who is God?” Let them try to answer. Give them the answer and show them what God’s word teaches by reading the verse from the Bible. (Note: We have provided Bible references to the catechism questions because there are not any in the booklet or on the poster.)
  • Try to think of a brief story or object lesson to illustrate this. This will help you learn God’s word and will help them grasp abstract concepts.
  • Say to them, “Throughout the week we will ask you this question(s) to help you memorize the biblical truth.” Do this every day. It will only take a minute or two.
  • End with a song that everyone can sing together.

This is simple enough and looks pretty easy – right? It won’t be. But if you stick with it, you will create a new habit and God will not only use in the life of your children, He will use it to change you. Pray for conversations and fruit, and whatever you do, don’t give up. Jesus Christ was and is faithful. Follow His example.

5 Ways To Maximize Your Bible Reading Plan in 2019

“And never cast off the habit of reading in the Holy Scriptures; for nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind so well as those sacred studies do.” Theonas of Alexandria, 300 AD

Bible Reading Plan 2019.jpg

When reading the human writers of the Bible, it’s unarguably clear that they believed that their Spirit-inspired writings are the key to a vibrant and joy-filled Christian life.

Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 15:16: “Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.”

Everywhere one turns, the writer’s of the Bible talk about the Bible like Jeremiah talked about the Holy Scriptures. The scriptures are essential spiritual sustenance. They are a guiding light that feeds the soul with lasting truth.

I deeply desire for the people I pastor to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and I am convinced that there is no abiding joy in Christ a part from the regular intake of His Spirit-inspired word. God’s Spirit uses God’s word to empower God’s people for God’s mission.

For this reason, we have provided a 2019 Bible Eagle Heights Bible Reading Plan. But having a plan is not enough. Many are the plans of many, but few people act on those plans. The reasons for this are many and varied, but some simply don’t know what to do when they actually read. It’s not just reading that we hope to accomplish for the sake of checking it off our to-do list, but reading to know and enjoy God through Jesus.

So here are five ways you can make your Bible-reading plan more nourishing and joy-giving in 2019.

  1. Pray: LORD God, open my eyes to see life-changing truth for your glory, my joy and the good of others. This prayer will help you to be ready to receive revelation from the Creator and Redeemer, but it will also orient you toward receiving the truth so as to be changed to be more like Christ.
  2. Ask: What does this text teach me about God? This question keeps us from turning the Bible into a self-help book. The Bible begins with God: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the primary initiator and chief actor, so look for God’s character and actions first, lest you try to take that role.
  3. Ask: What does the text teach about me as a part of God’s people? Having put God first, now we can begin to think about how we can trust and obey all that Christ commands as His disciple in light of what we are reading. We must do this so that the Bible does not become a textbook. But we must also ask how it impacts us as a part of the body of Christ. Yes, each of us is saved by grace through a personal response to Jesus Christ, but we are saved to be a part of His flock. We must not neglect the body of Jesus, and in doing so neglect the Head, Jesus.
  4. Ask: What difference does it make? Bible reading should make you more like Jesus. It should reorient your affections and actions. If it doesn’t make a difference in the way you think and live, then something is wrong.
  5. Determine to dwell on a truth you read for the rest of the day. This is what we call meditating on the Bible. You must dwell deeply so that the Bible gets deep into your heart and mind so that you are being transformed. If you read, forget and move on, then you will be like hard dry ground that does not soak up a much needed rain. Discipline yourself to ponder something that struck you as especially meaningful and helpful.

Bible reading is important, but you must have a consistent plan and approach. You will never be better off by reading the Bible less. I hope you fill your life with more of God’s word in 2019.

Ask Your Children Faith-Challenging Questions Before Someone Else Does

Our children will come under attack. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

How do we prepare our children for the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph. 6:16)? Satan, from the beginning (Genesis 3:1-6), has sought to create doubt about the Creator God’s goodness, which ultimately results in unbelief.

How many children have been brought up in a loving and caring family that is faithful to Jesus and his people, and are then exposed via the Internet, a difficult life moment or in a university class, to a question or worldly doctrine that completely destroys their faith? How do we prepare our children for that?

What we can’t do is wall them off or hide them from the world in a tower. We can’t perpetually protect our children from the trust-eroding questions that are going to come with regard to God and His word. We can’t shelter them from the hard questions that a broken and evil world often produces.

So what is to be done? I want to propose one strategy in which we carefully vaccinate them so as to build up their immunity to the destructive schemes of the enemy.

You likely know how vaccinations work in theory. Those we wish to protect are exposed to a controlled and modified dose of the disease we wish to avoid, and the recipient builds up an immunity or a protective defense against that which can harm and destroy.

Similarly, I propose we ought to prayerfully and carefully expose our children to the kinds of questions and problems that they will eventually have to face. In this way, we control the dose and the environment so that we build up confidence in God’s word. Think about it, would Christian parents rather their teenager consider the problem of evil with their help, or with the help of the atheist prof in an introduction to philosophy course? Would we rather them hear it from us first, or be completely blind-sided by a stranger or someone who does not have their best at heart?

Consider the message we are sending when we take this proactive approach. In essence, we are saying we believe in the strength of the message we espouse. If we try to hide or avoid the challenges to our faith from our children, then they may become suspicious that we don’t believe the Christian worldview and that it can’t stand up to the arguments of the world. I propose we be honest that this world is complicated and hard to understand because of the brokenness and chaos that sin has wrought.  To be clear, I don’t want us to overdose our children with the poison of unbelief, but we must show that our faith is a confident and thinking faith. We must also declare the message that the Christian worldview can withstand the attacks and scrutiny because we trust the creator God who gave it to us and the Jesus Christ is the final answer about God’s love and justice.

As an example, this morning someone posted on the Facebook the video below of Ravi Zacharias. I found it to be a cogent response to an age-old question regarding the problem of evil and suffering. The person asks a question that goes something like: “Why doesn’t God stop evil by stopping the person who is pulling the trigger to murder? If God is just and good, why does he allow evil?”

Having watched the video, and found it to put forth a sold response to a potentially faith-crippling question, I asked my teenage son to watch it on our way to school. Then after it was over, we talked about the problem and the answer.  And then I prayed for God to protect my own heart and the heart of my son from the one who is a liar from the beginning (John 8:44) and seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Truly, my best ideas are useless without God’s merciful work upon the heart and mind (John 15:5).

I share this strategy with much trepidation because I don’t know what the outcome will be with regard to my efforts. I also don’t presume this is a one-size-fits-all approach. But I refuse to sit back and wait for the enemy to dictate the conversation and frame all the questions to his advantage. I want to do all I can to prevent a blindside sneak attack that none of us are prepared for. I have faith that our biblical faith, rightly understood, can stand up and shield us from the flaming arrows. I would rather say that I tried and failed, than to have failed to try.

The enemy will attack. What is your defense? What is your strategy?

The video is worth the 6 minutes it takes to watch.

 

Gender Fluidity Education and Respectfully Disagreeing

LGBTQ Pic

When I take my fourteen-year-old to school in the morning, we often listen to NPR. It affords me a moment to catch up on the local and national news, but I have discovered there is another benefit; namely, that it creates some interesting dialogue with my teenager.

This morning we were in route and we listened to a segment: “5 Ways to Make Your Classroom More Inclusive”. The title is self-explanatory enough, but so as to be clear, the segment tells the story of several teachers who are trying to make their classrooms a safe place for gender uncertainty or fluidity. For example, one teacher in Colorado “goes out of her way to address gender identity in her classroom” so that LGBTQ children are not bullied. The article goes on to suggest strategies for making the classroom more friendly to all gender possibilities. For example, teachers should not use identifiers like “boys and girls” for “ladies and gentlemen”. Instead, it is better to use terms like: “scientists” or “athletes” or “scholars”.

So we listened to the whole show and when it ended I turned the volume down and asked my son: “So what do you think about that?” He responded with a strong opinion that I would expect from someone his age. There was not much nuance, just a blunt and certain answer. I pushed back: “You don’t think there is something to learn from what we just heard?” I hope I surprised him with my response because here was the gift of a teachable moment.

I believe strongly that the substance of my son’s moral response was right on, but the way he said it needed some refinement for the sake of loving God and his neighbor with his whole being (Matthew 22:36-40).

I explained to him that there is a lot of confusion in the world today and that it was my opinion that attempts like this one only contribute to the confusion of very young children and those who are mentally and physically still developing. I further said to him that it is fine to strongly disagree with the preferences and opinions of people and that it is possible to disagree with others without hating them. But on the other hand, I explained that there is something to be learned from the article: All people are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.

To be crystal clear, I would not want my six-year-old or my twelve-year-old to be taught what these teachers are specifically teaching about gender fluidity. That should be left to parents. But generally speaking, we must teach our children that all people are created with intrinsic human rights (created in the image of God) and deserve to be treated with kindness and human dignity. For instance, directing phrases at others like: “that is so gay” or using others slurs is intentionally disrespectful. It is using a term to belittle and demean. Mocking or ridiculing someone for their preference is wrong. Dehumanizing people is wrong, even if they are in fact wrong. Further, we should stand up for people who are being dehumanized, even if we find that we strongly disagree with them about why they are being dehumanized.

Again, I might strongly disagree with a person’s choice or opinion, but I can still treat them with respect and even defend them when they are mistreated or marginalized. If Christians wish to be light in the world, we must stand with conviction on the truth of God’s word. However, we must do it with a measured response that both honors the truth and the person who has innate dignity because of the truth that God has spoken about them (Genesis 1:26-28).

It should be said that no matter how nice you are about how you treat people when you disagree with them, it does not mean that you should expect the same courtesy in return. If you stand for the truth, then you can expect to be ridiculed and even hated. Jesus said as much. But aren’t we to love our enemies? Love does not mean agreement, but it does mean we honor the God-given humanity of people in our disagreement, and we must teach our children to think and do the same. That’s all I really mean to say. I hope you agree. But if you can’t, I hope we can keep it respectful.