Precious Freedom

Precious Freedom

is satan stealing your freedom?Thinking a bit more about your freedom these days?  A little frustrated?  Anxious?  Freedom is back in the national conversation.  Although that conversation is 100% political, I was predisposed to think about it spiritually in what may seem an unusual place, Mark 5.

Jesus and his disciples had just crossed the Sea of Galilee.  Upon arrival in the Gerasenes, they were met immediately by a man possessed by a legion of demons.  The conversation between the demon and Jesus is fascinating:

And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud   voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”  For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are   many.”  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

This passage provides refreshing peace and rest for our weary souls.  About this, I will make two points.

First, in the exchanges between Jesus and the demon, we see that Jesus is in full control of Satan and his dark forces.  Satan must submit to God!

It helps to remember this at a time when so much evil is on public display.  It is a powerless feeling to watch what is happening to our nation.  But God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and is still in control.  We need not be afraid.  God is not the author of evil.  That God allows it is a deeper conversation beyond the scope of this article.  But we know from Scripture that God’s redemptive plan is not stymied by evil.

While we rest in his sovereign control, we can be thankful for the opportunity we have as the Church to creatively and powerfully give testimony to the hope that is within us.  Certainly, this is one way that God is using the current crises.  There is a great opportunity for people to come to know God personally.

If you are looking for a place to read in the Bible, please consider Mark, especially the first nine chapters.    These chapters are full of examples of Jesus’ absolute power over Satan and his demons, the forces of nature, sickness and death.  This is a perfect place to read during these times when the world seems to be spinning out of control.

Second, how many times have you read a passage like this and thought, “Why can’t change in specific areas of my life be as immediate?  Why can’t I be like that person?!”

It is in this kind of self-talk that Satan slithers in and does some of his most effective work.  He gets us to think about our battle with sin as something yet to be accomplished that WE must do on our own.  Indeed, we must apply effort but the effort is more in applying THE victory that has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ through his life, death and resurrection.

The power of Satan to force us to sin is already broken!  Jesus’ work with the demoniac did not make him sinless but it miraculously freed him from possession and sin as a controlling condition.  Those who are in Christ are like the demoniac in that we have been freed from sin’s tyranny.  How are we freed from sin’s tyranny in our lives?

Attracted as we are to our idols, the pleasure they offer us is replaced by a much greater pleasure: the pleasure of knowing The God Who loves us so much He died for us.  Do we remember that and act on it?  This is the locus of work in our daily battle with sin.  It takes Holy Spirit energized faith that is grounded in Jesus’ once for all victory.  Like the demoniac, we are free indeed!  Like the demoniac we are filled with the same joy.

We are free and might not know it.

When I listen to Christians talk about their struggles, sometimes it sound as if Jesus never came.  I wonder, “Do they know they are already free?”  I find myself asking this question in my own struggles at times.  Now, certainly we struggle with temptation and it is painful.  But Jesus has already accomplished the victory we need over our present sin.  Do we really believe that we are already free?

Ultimately, mercifully, and gloriously the freedom we need most is not given by politicians, but by God alone.  He alone has the power to free us from what troubles us most: our sin.  This is the only real message of freedom there is for us personally and as a nation.  We need it now more than ever.

Celebrate Faithful Training in the Home

Celebrate Faithful Training in the Home

celebrate family leadershipWhat would you say to a Christian who told you they wanted to get into major sin just so that they could repent thus giving them an experience that would affirm their faith as real?  The thought of such a thing seems completely insane—and it is.  But this sort of thinking is apparently alive and well in some churches and homes.  I am not making this up!  How can this be?

I remember speaking at a denominational youth and children’s ministry conference.  In talking about the struggles children who are raised in the church face, one of the other plenary speakers made a startling point that knocked the wind out of the 400 people in the hotel ballroom that day.

He said that a growing number of children raised in faithful homes in the church felt like their faith was not as authentic as others because the church seemed only to highlight the people with glory stories who were saved out of backgrounds in illegal drugs, gangs, or illicit sex.  He said that they felt like “second class citizens in the kingdom of God”.

This puts the spotlight on some glaring weaknesses in our churches and homes that need correcting.  One of these weaknesses is that we tend to celebrate either the people who blew up their lives and were miraculously “saved” or those who possess something extraordinary while we rarely celebrate ordinary, faithfulness in homes that by God’s grace and mercy avoids major sins.  Maybe this is because we prize entertainment.  And nothing entertains like a good story spoken by someone who has a story to tell or a pastor who is a good storyteller.  Ordinary faithfulness seems just, well, ordinary and nothing to celebrate.

Certainly, we should celebrate and give God glory for these exceptional stories!  But here’s the point: we should also find ways to celebrate ordinary faithfulness because this describes many people in the church, especially our younger members.  Faithfulness is not perfection.  We are ordinary, weak, struggling people.  More is accomplished in ministry through the ordinary than the extraordinary.

It is harder to maintain faithfulness when it seems like it doesn’t matter.  These days some young people apparently reason, “Why not just sow some oats and enjoy what the world has to offer.  Afterall, I can always come back later… and be a cause for celebration!”  While I don’t believe people think about it or verbalize it in just those words, I think it represents a very discouraged, bitter faith experience in younger generations who are increasingly leaving the local church.

It is wise to celebrate ordinary faithfulness.

If you are a faithful parent, here are a few encouragements to keep going!

  1. God sees your faithful efforts.
    In one sense, this is motivation enough to stay the course (Prov. 5:21).
  1. God is working through you.
    Even if outward fruit is lacking, God is still working. His word that we lovingly and gently proclaim does not return void (Isa. 55:11).
  1. God will reward you.
    God is a rewarder of the work we do heartily unto him (Col. 3:23-24).

If you are a church leader, here are a few ideas that will greatly encourage the parents in your congregation.  Before reading these, be encouraged that faithfully functioning homes can be vital supports to the church’s ministry!

  1. Teach on the importance of faithful training through a sermon or mini-series. *Consider sermons that include not only the commands to teach but the comfort and power God gives to do those commands.  See my notes on Deut. 6 and Psalm 78 in my book, Real Hope For Your Home.

  2. On some regular basis, dedicate an entire pastoral prayer (or segment of it) to parents being faithful in training their children.  Pray for families by name.
  3. Share victories with the church body (or in small groups) that commemorate ordinary training     efforts. “The Wallace’s just finished reading the Gospel of Mark.”  “12 year old Maria is going to recite John 3:16 as part of our service today.”
  4. Provide families with excellent devotional material, practical guidance, and accountability.

For more ideas on how to encourage churches and homes to work together, see my book, Real Hope for Your Home.

 

Simplified Communication

Simplified Communication

simple communicationLife.  Overcomplicated!  Hard.  To.  Simplify.  Argh!

Whether it is making a simple weekend plan or figuring out exactly how to help someone struggling with fear, worry or anxiety; we can quickly get frustrated.  Our identity as ambassadors for Jesus Christ who speak grace according to the need of the moment, can instantly degrade into something like Genghis Kahn demanding food after a long day of marauding the countryside.  Bringing clarity and resolution to the issues in our hearts is not turn-key.  Wisdom, discernment, and understanding are needed but those usually require more time.  Where do you start?  How do you minister in the moment especially if you’re short on time?  Here is a helpful little diagnostic tool that quickly brings initial clarity and a way forward.

It is what I call the “1 to 10 scale”.  Sophisticated isn’t it?  To bring definition to an otherwise complicated, and sometimes emotional situation, especially when time is short I will sometimes ask, “On a 1-10 scale, 1 being good, 10 being bad… how do you feel about the situation?”  Or, I might say, “Rate each of the three issues you are struggling with.” Or, “Over the past two weeks, how intense has your struggle been with this?”

If someone is struggling with fear, worry, and anxiety.  I will ask, “On the WAF scale (worry, anxiety, and fear) where are you?  A “1, 2, or 3” answer means the issue is not exigent.  I can give a word of encouragement, pray about it with them and move on–but come back to it.  On the other hand, an “8, 9, or 10” means that I need to take time for a fuller conversation now or soon.

When trying to communicate, I find the scale extremely helpful.  When I can’t figure out exactly how one feels about something such as a career path or how one feels about a particular friend for example, a number is quite helpful in cutting through the conflicting emotions and forces a clearer idea of the intensity of the struggle.

Certainly, it would be counterproductive to reduce all such conversations to the 1-10 scale.  This is only a diagnostic tool.  But it is helpful tool at certain times.  While it is not sufficient to deal with most situations, it is a decent barometer for discernment, understanding, and formulating a word of grace in the moment.

 

The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

May I suggest that after our children’s salvation in Jesus Christ, the second-most important prayer we can pray for our children is actually… a prayer for ourselves: “God, please turn my heart toward my children.”

We need to pray this prayer for at least four reasons.

#1. Our identity is one of being ambassadors of Jesus Christ to our children(Deut. 6, Eph. 6:1-4, 2 Cor. 5:20). God’s clearly revealed will is to use us as the primary evangelizers and disciplers of “our” children. To do this well, our hearts need to embrace what is already true about us: that we have been given this calling. God’s callings are His enablings.

#2. We are easily distracted by everything going on around us.Technology has made our attention spans like that of gnats on espresso. Instant gratification is just milliseconds away. Consequently, we’d rather lick the icing than make the cake. Priorities? What are those? Everything seems equal in importance. We complain about the tyranny of the urgent but in our worst moments we use it is a convenient excuse for why we rarely engage our children on a deeper, spiritual level. What do we really value most? Our hearts must change.
#3. We would rather pursue things that bring us glory.Let’s be honest. Discipling children, even with its joys, is still what sometimes feels like an odyssey into the paranormal that does more to humble us than shower us with accolades of success. We find it easier to give our time to pursuits that we find much more affirming, immediately rewarding and fun. Our hearts must change.

#4. God is conforming our children into his image, not our image.Our children were created in God’s image, not our own. Jesus’ death and resurrection ensures the transformation of his children into his image. Yet, how often do we find ourselves trying to conform them to an identity that wehave planned out for them? God has a plan for “our” children that usually looks different than our own. We have to stop the tug-of-war with God. God’s dream needs to become our dream. Our hearts need to change.

Time is short. It seems to go by ever so slowly until you wake up and realize that you’ve been at it ten years and the things you wanted to do “tomorrow” you didn’t do. Regret is hard to live with. I already regret things I should have done but didn’t because in key moments, my heart was somewhere else.

Good fathers are not perfect (as if that were even possible). Instead, good fathers are weak fathers who have hearts that are increasingly mastered not by guilt, fear, or self-righteousness but by the overwhelming, compelling love of Jesus Christ for us—in our weakness.

His love for us becomes compelling when each day we realize ALL that he has done for us in making us new creations and giving us every spiritual blessing. We have been given a new identity that is rocket fuel for us fathers.

What are you praying for as a father? Is it for God to change your heart toward your children? If so, seeing all that God has already given you in Jesus is a powerful tool he will use to answer your prayer.

Take a look at what Jesus has done for you!

Please consider the following two resources. First, my 38 minute webinar, Three Wounds Fathers Face and How Our Identity in Christ Helps us Overcome Them, and then second, our 25 page booklet, Who ARE You? For Men!
Books For Men With NO Time to Read!

Books For Men With NO Time to Read!

Months ago, I published an article recommending 10 books every father should have on his bookshelf. Today, I am adding to that list!

The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in cooperation with New Growth Press has published a list of 116 mini-books covering about every type of issue you can face in your home. A partial list is provided below.

  • Each booklet is small, only about 4″ x 7″.
  • Each booklet is very brief, only about 25 pages and immediately practical, powerful, and encouraging.
  • I have referred to many of these mini-books, many times over the past several years. What a blessing to be able to get quick answers without having to read a typical 200 page book!
  • I purchased about 50 of these min-books and placed them in a special box that my wife and children can pick up and read as needed. They have proven to be a tremendous help to all of us.
  • The best deal on these mini-books is found at wtsbooks.com.
Partial List
Depression
Anger
Marriage
Stress
Priorities
Pornography
Depression
Suicide
Worry
Thankfulness
Pleasure
OCD
Domestic Abuse
Child Abuse
Bad Memories
ADD
Forgiveness
Pre-Engagement
Procrastination
Self-Injury
Grief
Just One More
Who Should I Date?
Teens and Sex
Suffering
Homoexuality
Sexual Sin
Sexual Addiction
Sex before Marriage
Restoring Your Broken Marriage
How to Talk to Your Kid About Sex
How to Love Difficult People
Family Feuds
Eating Disorders
A Father’s Guide to Raising Boys/Girls
Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Maybe it’s a Saturday. You are busy doing any number of things all at once: entering receipts into Quicken, squeezing in a three and a half minute conversation with your wife, or trying to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen… and then it happens. Like a bolt of lightning screeching from a cumulonimbus cloud, one of your kids rushes in, “Dad! Will you please do something about (insert sibling’s name)?! I am SO SICK AND TIRED of how he doesn’t listen to me!”

It is in those encounters that as fathers we might close our eyes and ask, “WHY is this happening to me—again?!” At worst, we might think, “Why did I ever think it was a good idea to have children?!”

Those are revealing moments. Thankfully, our righteousness is not in our performance as fathers, but irrevocably in Jesus Christ. We can confess such thoughts and our angry, frustrated, or disinterested responses as sin and be forgiven. But wouldn’t it be better to simply have a good response in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to quit viewing such events as pesky distractions and instead embrace them with a completely different perspective?

Consider the following quote: These guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of childrearing is not the child but the parent.

I do not endorse that statement as a philosophy for parenting. But there is a powerful string of truth in it that is insightful and even biblical. Romans 8:28-29 talks about how God uses “all things” in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. For fathers, this includes those situations where we struggle with our kids’ behavior. We should ask God to show us how he is using these situations to reveal how—we—need to change!

I confess that I am often wrapped up in my own issues to the extent that I sometimes don’t see that there are other people—even my own kids who are standing right in front of me—who need/want my help. In fact, I often see those moments as the burdensome requirements of parenting rather than providentially orchestrated opportunities for greater redemption in my own life.

If God is trying to show us something about ourselves, and we refuse to listen, we are kicking against the goads. Often, he uses our spouses and children as his sanctifying tool. We can conquer these tests by asking God, “Ok. What are you teaching ME here?” When we know we’re struggling with our own attitude, asking this question helps position us not only to minister to our children, but to do so in a way that allows us to see God’s redemptive intention for us as well.

When the lightning strikes and we remember that God intends to refine us, too, it humbles and comforts us and then compels us to minister in a truly redemptive way. This provides an entirely different perspective on the otherwise frustrating situations we often encounter with our kids.