Getting Below the Surface

www.unterwasserfoto.chSix Words Guaranteed to Get You There

“How can we pray for you?”

Asking people this simple question has several benefits:

First, this one question is often a very effective way to get a quick fix on what is really going on in someone’s life. Think of it as the “nuclear option” for getting to know people. If the things shared are of a surface nature, much can usually be discerned simply from the way they respond to that question.

Second, it is an easy question to ask! Anyone can ask it. It accomplishes the same goal as “What’s going on in your life” but without the awkwardness. Even better, it’s a question that can be asked impromptu, without the context of a deep relationship.

Third, it conveys our sincere concern for them and a desire to enter into their struggles with them. I dare say that most people—especially unbelievers—have no one who shows them that kind of concern.

Fourth, their responses are an opportunity to actually talk about spiritual things. Since prayer is a spiritual activity, it is natural to share a biblical truth that applies to their concern. I remember a neighbor (single mother) of whom I asked this question. She responded with how she was scared she’d lose her job. I was able to talk with her a little about how God can be trusted to care for us in all things, especially financial provision.

Fifth, when someone gives you something to pray about, you have an understood invitation to come back later and ask about the matter. I usually ask, “Can I come back and ask you about this in a week or so?” I’ve never been turned down. You can go deeper and most importantly, introduce them to Jesus Christ. One neighbor who we pray for regularly has shared more deeply, listened and asked more questions which over time led to a full presentation of the gospel and conversion.

Asking the simple question, “How can we pray for you?” provides a wonderful opportunity to establish a connection and begin to minister to anyone, especially our neighbors.

Four Things That Will Greatly Bless your Wife

Four Things That Will Greatly Bless your Wife

My wife is not indestructible. Is yours?

Most men want to minister to their wives but struggle to know how best to do that. We think it is one of these complicated “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” things. I have good news. It really is easy to bless our wives. Thankfully, our wives are much better at seeing effort and appreciating heart than we probably are. So, a little effort goes a long way.

Pray for her, daily.

Leslee is the first person on my list to pray for each day. If you struggle to remember to pray for your wife, or struggle to know how to pray for her, simply write her name on a 3×5 card along with a few specific prayer requests and put it in your Bible as a bookmark for your daily devotions. Or put the card on the dash of your car and pray for her on your way in to work. Remind her regularly that you are praying for her and how you are praying for her.

Date her regularly.

Dating is not a nice-to- do. It is a must-do. The more kids you have or the more complicated and stressed out your lives are, the more necessary it is to do this. When we initiate dates, regularly, it demonstrates that we love our wives and that our marriage is a priority. Further, our wives are deep thinkers. For us to truly minister to them, we have to mine those depths. This requires time and intentionality that in these hyper-busy times is usually only possible when you break the routine and set aside time to just be together by yourselves.

Take notes—literally.

Perhaps this sounds weird, but consider starting a journal for your marriage. Purchase a simple notebook that you can write down the issues you discuss with your wife. Issues that are important to her (and you, too) and that you need to take time to think about, research the scriptures, and/or pray about. Doing this helps demonstrate that things that are important to her are also important to you.

Write her love notes.

You do not have to be Shakespeare to write a meaningful note to your wife. Writing a simple note that communicates your love and appreciation and leaving it for her to find will be a huge encouragement.

The marriage relationship is vital to the health of a Christ-honoring home and the church. How we love our wives sets an example that will likely be followed by our children—one way or another. Being intentional about developing and protecting the marriage relationship is an investment that will pay eternal dividends.

What do Your Wife and Children Believe About the Bible?

Adorable father and son reading a book to their family sitting in the living-room

Adorable father and son reading a book to their family sitting in the living-room

It was a very difficult moment. My wife and I were sitting in the living room. Discouragement and doubt were creeping in. We had just had another stressful health episode with our daughter and the circumstances were so overwhelming that it left Leslee in a very hopeless and discouraged place.  I have never actually seen her in such despair in all of our years of marriage. I wanted to say something encouraging but did not feel like my words could reach the depth of despair she was feeling. I too was discouraged and unusually wordless.

Then the Holy Spirit impressed upon me, “God is”. I told my wife this. I continued…Because God “is” we can trust Him. He is good. He is merciful. He is in control even when our circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. This was a turning point.

Doubt is our Enemy’s Greatest Tool
Satan’s chief design is to get us to doubt the truth of God’s character. If we slow down the video tape of our words and actions and examine them, frame by frame, we see that every sin is conceived in doubt. Doubt that God is who he says he is and doubt that he is able to do all that he has said. It is easier to fall to Satan’s scheme when the circumstances are emotionally painful and/or apparently hopeless.

Israel took the bait when despite God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan they believed instead the doubt-ridden report of 10 spies (Numbers 13). Think of the doubt-inducing serpent in the Garden, “Has God really said?” In both cases, devastating and long-lasting destruction were the consequences of doubting God’s word. We are all susceptible to the lies meant to shake our confidence in God.

In his book, Already Gone, Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) reports that 61% of 20-29 year olds have left the church. If this were not startling enough, consider that 45% –almost half—of these 20-29 years olds (“left” in their hearts) before high school. What happened in their 20’s was only the natural outworking of a process that started in the elementary years. Ironically, 95% of these young adults were regular attenders of Sunday school. The ultimate reason for the attrition? According to the research, it is an inconsistent view of the Bible as the inerrant, authoritative, completely, 100% dependable Word of God. If we doubt the veracity of any part of the Bible, we can easily doubt its message of salvation.

Faith Trumps Doubt
Because we are created beings, we are dependent upon our God our Maker. And His word, the Bible, is his special revelation of himself to us. Yes. It takes faith to believe it, but it takes more faith to believe something or someone else: we just don’t realize it. Think about that! Why not just hold tenaciously towhat we know is true?

Faith Needs Daily Encouragement
In Hebrews 3:13, God commands us to encourage one another daily so that we don’t become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Note that in this very passage the writer of Hebrews uses the Numbers 13 generation referenced earlier as the example of what happens when we don’t believe! Note also that this is a daily command. Why? Because every thought, word and deed is a demonstration of what we believe. We can’t help but believe. It is our nature. But in order to believe in God we need to remind each other that God “is”. God’s word is true and 100 % reliable…despite the circumstances. We cannot depend on Sunday school to deliver this message because our battle with doubt occurs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year—not just on Sunday morning. As husbands and wives, parents, siblings and friends, we must remind each other—especially in the darkest moments—that “God is”.

Speak this message to one another more and more but especially in the darker moments. When you gather your family together to read the Bible and pray, remind them that the Bible is God’s Word that we can trust what it says…entirely. I don’t think we can say this enough.

God is sovereign. He is loving, merciful. He is our source of life. His Word is true! We can depend upon God. These feel weak, maybe even insensitive to say. But these words said with humility, love, and empathy are powerful words that work powerfully especially in the painful, or hopeless moments.

What is the Key to Effective Relationships?

The Key to Effective Relationships is…

The gospel…in particular, the regular reminder (Heb. 3:13) of who we already are in Jesus Christ because of His finished work on our behalf.

These truths (called the indicative) are powerful weapons against our heart’s daily battle with idolatry (sin).

When we act on these truths by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:17), not only do they defeat sin, they, at the same time, also motivate us to repentance, greater obedience (imperative) and holy living.

For example, consider Romans 6:11, that because of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, we “are to consider ourselves dead to sin”. By faith, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin’s power and pleasure in our lives. This is a truth of which we need to be reminded.

Scripture is replete with these Identity statements, yet they don’t register in our devotional reading of scripture and we fail to use them effectively in our relationships.

Applying the gospel in our relationships requires intentionality. Faithful application will lead to what we desire most, to be more like Christ!

For a great resource we have created a booklet, “Who are You?”

Elders and heads of household: Consider how you can be more intentional in equipping those under your charge to learn and apply these simple statement to life!

God’s Discipleship Pattern in Scripture

discipleship_patternThe latest research reveals that 75% of the children raised in evangelical churches are leaving the faith. It appears that the church is hemorrhaging its children out into the culture. Did Peter know something that we don’t when he preached, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…”(Acts 2:39)?

Having been a children’s ministry leader, and having met many children’s and youth ministry leaders over my 21 years of ministry, I can say that the efforts of the men and women who faithfully and lovingly serve on staff are not in question. In fact, the problems we see cannot be laid at the feet of these programs.

I submit that perhaps there are biblical principles that we’ve lost sight of. A renewed focus on these principles could make the difference in seeing Peter’s promise move from elusive dream to reality.

On one hand, Children’s and Youth ministry leaders increasingly are saying, “We’re doing all we can, but we can’t disciple children in one hour per week. We need parents to step up to the plate.” On the other hand, parents are maxed out, stressed out, and sometimes checked out of the daily process of making kingdom disciples of their covenant children.

The Word of God Provides The Solution In a Simple Pattern

What does God’s word tell us about how He expects us, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to establish covenant faithfulness in the home? I begin with a short story.

I remember one Christmas Eve getting quite frustrated with putting together a toy for my son. I finally, humiliatingly, after two hours of exasperation, found the directions and actually read them to learn that I had missed an important step. I imagine anyone reading this has had the same experience at some time or another. In some cases, the pieces are all there, but they aren’t put together in proper order. Either way, successful completion of the project remains elusive, until we read (or re-read) the directions.

What we need to do is “re-read” the directions for making disciples.
Very simply, it looks like this:

The Simple Pattern for Covenant Faithfulness in the Church and in the Home

1. There is a presupposed pattern in scripture, submitted to, pursued, and applied for God’s glory and our good, which rightly applied is not two but one central motive.

2. The aim of this pattern is heart-level obedience. (True godly desires verses bare-legalistic duty-oriented behavior).

3. Heart-level obedience is lived out through heart-level relationships with God and one another (“You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor”) which are the ultimate end to which we are all accountable.

4. This heart-level obedience and these relationships are not indiscriminate but maintained along covenantal lines (e.g. marriage and family).

5. The primary methodology of growth in regards to heart-level obedience and heart-level relationships is speaking the truth (the gospel) in love within these relationships, for which we are all accountable to know others and to be known by them.

6. This growth, otherwise referred to as sanctification or renewal in the likeness of Christ, involves putting off the old man with its lusts and putting on the new man (Christ in you). The love that comes from Christ to God and others, being rooted in the accomplishment of Christ and applied by faith, makes covenant faithfulness not only possible but expected, and not a burden but a joy.

7. God’s design is for each household to have a spiritual leader or ‘head of household’ (husband, father, single mother, or woman unequally yoked to a non-believer) who is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing this heart-level transformation for their households.

8. Overseers (elders) are men assigned to see to it that this transformation is being faithfully maintained in the broader Household of God (the Church). Practically speaking, overseers accomplish their jobs primarily by equipping and graciously holding responsible those (heads of households) whom God holds accountable.

How to Re-emphasize This Pattern

I will begin by stating what this pattern does not require. It does not require a jihad against church programs. Truth is, these programs can actually help facilitate the re-establishment of this pattern. But let’s be clear, absent this simple pattern being vigorously, intentionally, and faithfully maintained, these programs carry a load they were never intended to carry and as we have seen cannot fabricate covenant faithfulness.

What this pattern does require. Required is the vigorous, intentional, and faithful maintenance of this pattern because it represents what God has already clearly revealed in His word to guide us.

The place to start is with the establishment of this basic pattern of covenant faithfulness in the entire body of Christ. The big picture is beautifying the Church: the Bride of Christ. Do we really believe Ephesians 4:15-16? Are we building each other up by speaking the truth to one another in love? Faithful shepherding—and accountability—by the elders of the heads of households to fulfill their role is a clear biblical element that must be re-established if we are to accomplish covenant faithfulness and produce kingdom disciples.

Equipping spiritual heads of households to pursue covenant faithfulness in the home is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a primary, foundational and absolutely mission- critical element in the church’s ministry.

This represents an exciting opportunity for elders, ministry leaders, head of households.
Scripture has given us a simple pattern that we must live in order to see Peter’s promise realized in our time…and beyond.

How to Prioritize Relationships

One of the problems with being too busy is that we easily lose sight of our priorities. Everything seems of equal value. In some cases things of lesser value get higher priority than things of greater value. For example, rushing to take advantage of a sale at Home Depot (or Target!) clouds your devotional time on Saturday morning. Checking email competes with talking to your spouse.

Relationships are one of those important things that are often shoved aside in pursuit of usually urgent, but less important things…including less important relationships. Our relationships are very important to God because they are vital to our growth in the likeness of His Son and thus the beauty of the bride of Christ! For both reasons, we should be much more intentional about pursuing relationships. God’s Word has provided clear principles for use in prioritizing our relationships.

Check out this simple “Covenant Spheres” graphic (and scriptural justification) excerpted from You Are Ministers*.

Before you go to the graphic, take a few moments and on a sheet of paper list four people with whom you have some sort of relationship. Next to each name, write down how much time you’ve spent in face-to-face communication over the past week. Next to that, rate on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being low, 10 being high) the spiritual depth of each relationship. THEN look at the graphic.

After looking at the graphic and doing a little comparison, you may discover that the relationships where you spend the most time are a bit out of sync with God’s priorities. Perhaps you discover that the relationships where you spend the most time may be in proper order, but not have a strong spiritual focus. Or you may discover that the ones that should be most important to you really aren’t all that important.

We should seek relationships in each sphere depicted in the graphic. However, they are not of equal importance. The graphic helps us prioritize our relationships so that we can ensure that we’re generally focusing the most time on the most important relationships.

As an elder, consider that this simple tool gives you something practical to discuss with your Heads of Household that will help them think clearly about their relationships and leadership priorities.

The same is true for husbands and wives and their children. The Covenant Spheres graphic offers a tremendous opportunity for discussion about a very important part of our Christian lives: our relationships!

*You Are Ministers will help church leaders and home leaders build relationships that transform lives. Order your copy today!