Culture Change

Warning If You Track Church Attendance: The Numbers Are Lying to You

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There is much conversation in my church right now about whether we are a declining church body and whether or not we will survive this decline.  So, purveyors of statistics tell us that we are in for a long slow, steady dip before we hit rock bottom and recover.  Not exactly the message you want to hear if you are a believer faithfully caring out the work Christ left the church to do.  Here’s the thing, the numbers are the numbers, right?  We have to trust the numbers, the numbers wouldn’t lie, right?  Na, Na I say the numbers are lying. Here is what we know about the church. Chuck Colson summarized it nicely in his book, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing, p. 70.

“Yet membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together.” His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church,” Calvin wrote,” that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.””

The Lie.

If we measure the success of the gospel by church attendance and dollars in the offering plate, then we have to also admit that the life-saving message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins is not working.  That is what the numbers say, right?  No matter how faithfully you preach and teach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptize, it won’t change the numbers.  We continue to see a steady decline in the numbers of people coming to church and supporting the work of the church.  What we don’t want to deal with is that if we believe the numbers, our work is ineffective.  The gospel has lost its power.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Is that what is deflating morale in our churches?  We see the numbers, and our answer to stop the decline is to do what God called us to do, and it is not working.  The numbers do not define the power of the gospel.  Attendance is not a reflection on God’s word.  The lower offering numbers do not mean we have no mission left to accomplish.  It’s lies all lies.  God made us a promise, and God keeps his promises. In Isaiah 55,

10 Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky
and don’t return there without watering the earth,
making it conceive and yield plants
and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater,
11     so is my word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.

 

The numbers do not define us, they serve as useful data.  But God’s mission is still needed.  If anything, the numbers prove that God’s mission is needed more than ever.  The church is facing stiff competition for the heart of culture.  This writer captures the challenge well by comparing the church to sports.

“Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…

Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came to
see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.”- Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.

Be Encouraged.

One of the most hurtful things the idea of church attendance has planted in the America Christian psyche is that “if you are not growing as a church you are a failure as a pastor and congregation.” So, we play the comparison game with our younger self.  So, how were we doing 10 years ago today?  Imagine doing that in your life now.  Compare your fifty-year-old body to the body you had in your twenties, how is that comparison going to turn out? And we judge our shepherds on the number of new converts.  And our church body on the number of new churches planted.

If you want to stop that madness, then we need to find new ways to gauge the congregational health and denominational health.  By putting the health report numbers of attendance and weekly offerings in the Sunday bulletin, we are asking those reading it to judge our success based on those measurements.  And we are buying into a false narrative about the effectiveness of the Word of God.  When the church continues to miss the mark of the weekly recording of those numbers it only serves to further demoralize the membership and even an entire church body.   So, if you don’t want to be judged by those figures and feel like you are losing the battle, start tracking other things.  Not to mention the numbers are Holy Spirit driven numbers, and we can’t control His work anyway.

Instead, track numbers that help hold your church accountable for those things that the church in Acts was measuring: people studying God’s word, the number of individuals engaged in living life together in community, the number of people helped with the offerings of God’s people, the number of prayer gatherings and the number of answered prayers.  Imagine measuring in church what God is doing among his people vs. the number of individuals coming on one day a week?  Isn’t faith a 24/7 thing not just one hour on Sunday?

More on Metrics:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/09/new-metrics-for-the-small-congregation/

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Search For Identity

You are Part of God’s Plan: You Were No Accident

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A professor in a world-acclaimed medical school once posed this medical situation — and an ethical problem — to his students: “Here’s the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again; The parents come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion if you decide they should. What do you say?”

The students gave various individual opinions, and then the professor asked them to break into small groups for “consultation.” All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

“Congratulations,” the professor said, “You just took the life of Beethoven!”

Have you ever felt unsure about your importance in the world or wondered if you matter to God? It is possible you have felt uncertain about your usefulness or whether God found you acceptable.   If this describes you, then I want you to hang with me through this next series of “Finding Your Place in the World.” In this series, we will examine important things about our identity in Christ.  It is my prayer that you will gain a greater sense of your divine purpose.

You were On God’s Radar from the Beginning.

Paul says,

 “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:4

 When I was a young kid, I was not an athletic stud. When the kids in my neighborhood would get a game together whether it was basketball or football, the players would line up, and the captains would choose their teams one by one. Inevitably, as the draft took place, I would be one of the last ones standing there. After all the other players had been chosen, and the pickings got thinner, the captain who was about to get stuck with me would first look up and down the block, hoping against hope that another potential teammate was approaching, he eventually had to settle for choosing me. It didn’t matter who, someone’s younger brother or sister, even someone’s aging grandmother.  When it was obvious no other help could be found he would point at me and say, “OK, I’ll take Keith.” Somehow, that didn’t make me feel chosen. I was just the lesser of two evils.  In fact, I had the feeling that if it hadn’t been my ball we were using, I had the sneaking suspicions I wouldn’t have gotten to play at all.

I think many of us can relate to this feeling in some arena of our lives.  It may be in the realm of relationships and dating where it seems we are always the third wheel.  Or in our profession, when the new people keep jumping over us for promotions. We can relate to the feeling being the second fiddle in a rock and roll band. We are the last one chosen and the least talented in at least some area—academically, athletically or musically. Fear not, there is a field where we never need to feel that way: our relationship with God. Probably all of us have wondered, at one time or another, “If they had it to do all over again, would they choose me? Would they hire me? Would she marry me?” Maybe some of you have even thought, “If God had it do over, would He choose me again?” Some of you believe that you have been such a disappointment to God that He would have been better off if He had not created and redeemed you in the first place. The message from Ephesians 1 is the exact opposite of that notion. The message of Ephesians is that God invited and welcomed you into the body of Christ not because He had to, but because it was God’s heart’s desire to do so. You are part of His plan. From the beginning, He has wanted you to be a member of his family.

(v. 5) “…he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

 You are part of His plan. From the beginning, it was His idea that you would become good.

Notice what Paul says,

(v. 4) “Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us to be holy and without fault in his eyes…”

.Whether or not you think it’s possible for you to become “holy and without the blame,” the Bible makes it clear that God thinks it is possible. Whether or not you believe in your potential, God believes in your potential.

You are part of His plan. From the beginning, God has known that you would arrive at this moment.

(v. 11-12) “…for he chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago.”

Long before Genesis 1:1, God knew that you would be where you are today in your job, in your relationships, in all areas of your life. He was aware that you would be here at this moment. For some, it’s been a rough ride. There have been mistakes and disappointments along the way, and you’ve fallen short of God’s glory more times than you want to admit. Many of you have many regrets, and you’ve wanted to give up many times. But God’s love for you has never changed. From the beginning, he has known that your life would bring you to this place today. Even though your past may be littered with failure upon failure, it doesn’t change the fact that God loves you, He chose you, and He believes in you. You have been on His mind from the very beginning.

Other posts about identity:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/03/21/fearfully-made/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/18/fatherhood-only-real-men-need-apply/

 

Purpose

Creating a Multiplication Movement, Culture Change, Leadership

The US Factor Barrier in Church Planting

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At my last congregation in Milwaukee we had reached a critical place in our ministry, it was year six of our ten-year vision plan. As a church, we had reached a point where God had given us an opportunity to do something bold for the kingdom.  We had the chance to plant an African immigrant church.  Unfortunately, we also ran into four considerable hurdles to clear.  In this post, we will look at the four barriers you must navigate to create a church multiplication movement in your congregation.

  1. The perception of scarcity of resources.

Many churches do not take the leap of faith into church planting because members worry they don’t have sufficient resources to share with a church plant and still meet their current obligations.  Though our God is a generous God, we live life much like Hattie Green.

It was 1916, and Hattie Green was dead. Hattie’s life is a sad demonstration of what it is like to be among the living dead. When Hattie died, her estate was valued at over $100 million; yet Hattie lived in poverty. She ate cold oatmeal because it cost money to heat it. When her son’s leg became infected, Hattie wouldn’t get it treated until she could find a clinic that wouldn’t charge her. By then, her son’s leg had to be amputated. Hattie died arguing over the value of drinking skim milk. She had money to meet her every need, but she chose to live as if it didn’t exist.   Turning Point, March 1993.

Do you genuinely believe that if we asked God for the resources to carry out the mission He gave to the church, He would deny us?  In John 16, Jesus reminds us of God’s generosity.  23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask, and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

2) Silo thinking

Silo thinking produces part-time disciples.  Part-time disciples are partially committed to the church and God’s mission. Part-time disciples are defined in the Bible in this manner:

  • More concerned with what people think. “Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave. Galatians. 1:10
  • More concerned with their public image.  6The influential leaders didn’t add anything to what I was preaching—and whatever they were makes no difference to me, because God doesn’t show favoritism.” Galatians 2:6
  • More concerned about bringing people into the church (Jerusalem). While this is not a wrong motive, the mission is larger (Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth) than growing your church attendance. As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.  Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8

 

3) Being too church centric.

In the book “Multiplication Today, Movements Tomorrow,” by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im, they warn against having a church-centric mindset. A church-centric mindset is the temptation to focus so much on the needs of the local church that you forget to include space, time and resources for those outside your walls. “We must overcome the church centricity barrier by moving from an ‘inward focus’ to an ‘outward focus.’ So, what does an ‘outward focus’ look like? In our research on transformational churches, churches that met our criteria as a transformational church had 67 percent of members agree that, ‘our church leaders think as missionaries and work to understand the cultural context in our region.’ In addition, 71 percent believed, ‘our leadership senses a call to our local city or community,’ and 77 percent said, ‘Our church leadership understands the context.’”

Imagine have a congregation that understands the mission is outside its walls.  What happens far too often is that these numbers are in reverse.

4) We have enough churches attitude.

The final barrier to starting a church planting movement is that most churches believe multiplication is not for their congregation.  Many just don’t see the need.  Their argument being we have too many churches now, why don’t we just focus on getting our own wayward members back, then we will be just fine.  To be fair, many understand the vision behind church planting but just don’t have a personal conviction to participate in a multiplication movement.  Leaders need to not only get their people to buy into this vision but often need to be convinced themselves.  Which means as a leader you need to share this vision clearly, consistently, and creatively in various forms and fashions.  The research shows that “Churches who regularly communicated a commitment to multiplication were more likely to multiply within their first five years than those who don’t.” [1]

What we communicate most often, most passionately gets done.  What are you communicating to your congregation on a regular basis?  Of course, we better be communicating Jesus and Him crucified, but how are we communicating His mission?

 

[1] “Multiplication Today, Movements Tomorrow.” E. Stetzer & D. Im, p. 37

 

Other posts on Church Planting:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/12/14/how-to-start-a-church-movement/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/12/19/the-fear-factor-in-creating-a-church-multiplication-movement/

 

Devotional Message

What Does the Year Ahead Hold?

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10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Ecclesiastes 3:10-14

As we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another, our society tends to stop and reflect on the lives of those who passed away.  It is usually a somber time of reflection because there is such uncertainty for many when it comes to the afterlife.  I thought now would be a good opportunity to begin the year taking a closer look at heaven.

Death is not a stop sign, it is a marker of where the greatest miracle of all will take place for the Christian, a reunion with the Creator. This is the great Reversal.  As Christians, we don’t fear death because we look to “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” God turns the defeat of mortality into the victory of eternal life.

If we were to go back four thousand years, we would find the Egyptian culture was made up of people who not only believed in life beyond the grave, but we see individuals who were obsessed with life beyond the grave. Most Egyptians began preparing for the afterlife before they reached midlife.

If you ever get the opportunity to study Egypt, the tombs, and pyramids, you will discover what it took to build some of those monuments. Some studies show that it took hard labor from one hundred thousand workers for forty years to make one of the great pyramids. As you think about that, it makes you ask “why”? Why put so much effort preparing for death? Why would somebody put that amount of emphasis on a tomb, on the afterlife?

The answer is that the Egyptians understood what many of us take for granted, that they would spend a lot more time in the afterlife than they would spend in this life. Though some of their beliefs of what would happen in the afterlife were a little misguided. The point is, they understood to the very core of their being that the afterlife was a whole lot more important than this life.  So, they prepared for the afterlife during this life. God had placed that desire in their heart.

We live in a culture that lives for today, for instant gratification.

We live with a live-for-the-day mentality. We live with the belief that the only thing important in life is whether we’re enjoying the moment. Live life fast and hard, who cares about tomorrow? Instant gratification is what people are concerned about. There’s a total preoccupation with the here and now.

You see it in the morality of the day where the cultural attitude is: “Whatever feels good, whatever gives you or me gratification, it doesn’t matter what others think, so long as it is legal.  If it does not hurt others, then fine. And if it is pleasurable, then let’s do it! Who cares about the consequences!”

We see it in nation’s economics.  The national debt grows by the millions daily and who cares?  It is not our bill to pay. You can have anything you want today; just sign on the dotted line. Easy credit, plastic; you won’t get a bill, at least not for thirty days. You can have it now. And if I die before it is all paid off, good luck collecting the rest. Thirty days will never come. Buy anything you want with a balloon payment. Five years later will never come. Right? You can have it now. Worry about the balloon payment later. Instant gratification. Instant pleasure.

The idea of get it now, pay later has worked its way in every area of our culture even when it comes to faith. People just don’t want to talk about the afterlife. Nobody intends to think about dying.  No one wants to plan and prepare to die, but the reality is that unless Jesus comes again, we will all die someday.  And here is the dirty little secret no one wants to talk about, “No one will know the day or the time that death will come.” We can pretend we are in control, but we are not.

We can say, “Not only am I not planning on dying today, but I’m also not planning on giving an account of my life today. Eat, drink, and be merry. That time to stand before God and give an account of the life we lived is far way off.”  But are you certain of that?  Remember this the Egyptians had one thing right, “You will spend more time in the afterlife than you will in this life.”  So how prepared are you?   Over the next few articles, we dig much deeper into this question for the New Year.

Other posts in this series:
https://revheadpin.org/2017/01/12/what-is-heaven-like/
https://revheadpin.org/2017/01/19/heaven-is-community-restored/

Transitions

New Years Resolutions: Do You Have the Desire to Change?

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“Some people will change when they see the light. Others change only when they feel the heat.” Unknown.

When I hear the word change I break into a cold sweat; my heart begins to race, and my anxiety level hits code red.  Nothing inside of me has any desire to do anything differently than what I am comfortable undertaking.   Change implies that whatever I am doing now needs to go through a radical redirect.  What part of that sounds like fun?  I like consistency; I love the status quo.  The status quo is comfortable.  It is familiar.  The status quo is maybe outdated. Possibly no longer relevant, and may not even be working but to be honest, I am ok with that.  Change is scary.  Change is unpredictable.  Change is often painful.  Change requires lots of work. Why do you think I look more like Kung Fu Panda than Terry Crews?

This series on change will lay out for you a simple, three-step process needed to make a change in your life.  To be honest the steps are simple the change is not.  So here we go.

To change you need to have to answer three fundamental questions.  Over the course of the next month, this series I pray will empower you to make whatever change God is placing on your heart.

  1. Do you have the desire to change?

About two years ago I went in for my regular health check-up.  The doctor runs the blood work, and usually, the numbers were somewhere in normal range.  Not this year.  The numbers came back that I was a Type-2 Diabetic.  That hit me like a ton of bricks.  I knew that life would never be the same.  I know people who have lost limbs and died horribly from this disease.  I was devastated.  I told my wife the results and God bless her she went into research mode.  And she discovered that there was a way to treat this without medication, but here is the kicker it would require a radical lifestyle change.  I went back to the doctor armed with this new found knowledge.  He said, “Yes this is a possible solution, but you would need a ‘Biggest Loser’ type lifestyle change. Nothing in your past says that is possible.”  Wow, what a kick in the gut.  One thing my doctor didn’t know about me was I thrive, even excel, when people tell me it is impossible.

I now had the desire to change.  I went into deep change mode.  Changed my eating habits and found some friends to compete with for weight loss.  One of my top strengths is competition.  And through the power of God working through my beautiful wife and great friends.  I lost 75 pounds and got numbers in range.  When I went back for a follow-up with my doctor, he said, “not only are your numbers lower but you are not at pre-diabetic levels,” they were somewhere in normal range.

Diabetes was a negative motivator.  But there can also be positive reasons that will motivate you to change.  You could find something in life that speaks to your soul in such a way that you would make the tough choices necessary to make that dream a reality.

Don’t be this guy when it comes to change.

Openness is essentially the willingness to grow, a distaste for ruts, eagerly standing on tiptoe for a better view of what tomorrow brings.

A man once bought a new radio, brought it home, placed it on the refrigerator, plugged it in, turned it to WSM in Nashville (home of the Grand Ole Opry), and then pulled all the knobs off! He had already tuned in all he ever wanted or expected to hear. Some marriages are “rutted” and rather dreary because either or both partners have yielded to the rutted” and rather gloomy because either or both partners have to change.” Homemade

Whatever direction you choose, realize that there are moments in time that you will need to make a change.  You need to find that inner strength to make those changes.  My inner strength is grounded on my faith in the might and power of God. The changes I need to make in life are far beyond my ability and power, but nothing is impossible for my God. He had the capacity to turn a heart from Him to one wholly committed to Him.

Other posts in the series:
https://revheadpin.org/2016/11/22/do-you-have-the-character-to-lead
https://revheadpin.org/2016/10/18/do-you-have-the-support-system-to-change

Christian Family

Was The Apostle Paul a Male Chauvinist?

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It is funny how God prepares you for life. I remember my last year at graduate school. It was before my first call to serve Berea in Detroit. I wrote my first published article. The subject of that piece was the relationship between husband and wife. Who knew at the time that I would need that biblical understanding of marriage so soon in my young career?

The first wedding I had to perform was with a lovely African American couple. As we went through the marriage counseling, I noticed something interesting about this pair. The wife was, how do I put this in the best light? The bride to be was a strong, opinionated black woman. Observing the interactions between this young couple two things became evident. One, she was going to call all the shots in this marriage. Second, the wedding counseling and upcoming ceremony were going to be trying. When I would ask the fiancé any questions, she would answer for him. I watched as she made unchallenged suggestions about every aspect of the wedding arrangements. I desperately wanted to lean over to this quiet young man and give him a piece of advice. You need to either speak up for yourself or “RUN.”

Once we finally got around to the planning of the wedding service itself I feared we were going to have a showdown of biblical proportions. During the review of the marriage vows, we hit a snag on the word “Obey.” This proud, strong black woman was having no part of that in her marriage vows. Her exact words to me were, “We are not using that term in my wedding. You see dogs ‘obey’ I Don’t!” I wanted to look at the groom to be and say with my eyes, “Run NOW.” I was young, and competition is my number one strength, so I was not going to be intimidated. One man in this room had to stand up to her. I was armed with my well-researched article about the role of husbands and wives from the apostle Paul in the letter to the Church in Ephesians in which Paul said, “Wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife as Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body.”

Was I confident that she would respect my knowledge and the authority of the Word of God? Nope. Her response was classic and entirely unexpected. “Well, I am not marrying Jesus am I?” It was my first experience with culture clashing with theology as a pastor. How do you argue with that? Armed with more experience let’s try and address this issue again.

What Does Submission Mean in Ephesians?

Let me begin with some historical context. It is crucial to understand the audience. Paul was writing to believers. He was in no way suggesting that women are inferior to men. Nor was he suggesting that all women must be in subjection to all men in every situation. Quite the opposite, Paul was in elevating women to a place of honor and respect.

Ancient world philosophers of the day spoke of a Household Code. The roles in this code were explicitly defined. The men ruled the household as the Patriarch, the head of the household. The wife was called to support that reputation publically because in that culture honor and shame were of the utmost importance. The children if there were any, were controlled and regarded as less than fully human. Any servants or slaves were considered below the children; they were at the subhuman level.

Women in Middle Eastern culture faced an uphill climb when it came to honor and respect. The fact that Paul uses Christ and the church as his illustration is evidence that he has the Christian home in mind. Paul was framing the Christian family with a new foundation. Every member of the household has dignity and a role to play in the family.

What is the role of Husband and Wife mutually living under the Lordship of Christ?

When both husband and wife are living under the Lordship of Christ, there is harmony. Headship is not a dictatorship. Each partner is there for the other, and they are both there for the Lord.

Reverence for Christ entails his followers living in mutual subjection to the Lordship of Christ. Paul approaches the idea from a gospel-centered place. Not from an absolute, top-down point of view. Both members of this union willingly give their authority to Jesus Christ. This compliance is based on a mutual respect across every aspect of this marriage relationship. In this new marriage covenant, Paul uses a metaphor of Christ as the head of his body, the church. This biblical concept provides a sacrificial love-based model for this beautiful marital relationship where husbands and wives become “one flesh.” As “one flesh” wives subject themselves to their spouses. And husbands love their wives with the kind of self-sacrificial love Christ had for the Church. Christ was willing and did die for the church.

Paul was not degrading women. He was elevating marriage.

Other posts on the Christian family:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/18/fatherhood-only-real-men-need-apply/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/10/the-importance-of-mothers/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/20/how-to-raise-children-who-embrace-diversity/

https://revheadpin.org/2016/08/25/the-homefront-is-crumbling/

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Devotions

Our Family Christmas Devotion

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Christmas Devotion 2017

Opening Hymn: O Tannenbaum

 

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter.
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
How loyal are your needles.
You’re green not only
in the summertime,
No, also in winter when it snows.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles.

The Christmas Story

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for,
behold , I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

From Luke 2:8-14 KJV

Christmas In CHINA                    –  Sharon Haney

Christians in China celebrate by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “Trees of Light,” with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Chinese Children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means “Christmas Old Man.”.

Since the vast majority of the Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China the Chinese New Year which takes place toward the end of January. Now officially called the “Spring Festival,” it is a time when children receive new clothing, eat luxurious meals, receive new toys, and enjoy firecracker displays. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving-Ps 100                       – Jonathan Haney

1 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

A Christmas Devotion                              -Dad

 “So, Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” John 12:35

The Christmas season is a common time to feel like you are drifting through life.  Maybe you have been there too.  It has been a rough year, perhaps a turbulent few years. The hurts, pains, and disappointments of life have caused you just to drift; having no clear objective.  Have you lost your way?  Is your head up in a cloud and your faith in a fog?  December is the time you look at your past disappointments.  As you peak into the new year instead of a sense of anticipation, you only get stressed. The future produces doubt and worry.

To be honest, there are plenty of reasons for us to have doubt and uncertainty as we finish 2017 and begin 2018.  Will, the economy continue at these record levels or will it come crashing down around us?  Will I have a job five months from now?  Can I count on my health remaining intact? These concerns are real and things to be stressed about, to have doubts about the future.  What will my options be six months from now?  Will the options be any good?  Sometimes the options are the frying pan or the fire. I am so thankful to live in the land of freedom of choice, but sometimes both opportunities for your future are bad.  Consider the voters of my home state, Louisiana.  One year they had to vote for a new governor.  Edwin Edwards, a crook or David Duke, who had been the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.  What a choice!   I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Vote for the crook.  Better a lizard than a wizard.”

Dark days of doubt.  The one who walks in the dark doesn’t know where they are going.  Have you ever felt like that?  What does my future hold?  Where am I headed?  You’re in a fog.

God will guide me when I’m doubtful.

When I’m confused, and I don’t know which way to go.  John 8:12 “Jesus said, I am the Light f the world.  So, if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through darkness, for living light will flood your path.'”

What are you worried about?  What has got you uptight?  What is it that is keeping you awake at night, keeping your stomach churning?  You’re going to have to make some significant decisions in 2018.  I don’t know what they are and you don’t either.  But I guarantee you; you will have to make some major decisions in the year to come.

On what basis are you going to make those major decisions?  “I thought/felt it was the right thing to do?”  Feelings are highly unreliable.  You might have just eaten a bad pizza the night before.  It’s not a good way to make decisions just on feelings. “Everybody else is doing it” is not a very good reason either. The majority is often wrong.

When you face doubts, there is a reliable source that you know will always give you the right advice and never steer you in the wrong direction.  Is there any place in the world you can get that kind of help?

Yes.  It’s called God’s word.  It won’t steer you the wrong way. “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

God is the only reliable guide for life. His word is a flashlight.  It illuminates.  It keeps you from stumbling, helps you to see things.

May God show up in the midst of your doubts.  I would leave you with this poem.  It inspired me; perhaps it will you as well.

Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.

Just a few smoking branches

And I would surely be …your Moses.

 

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,

Just once.

It wouldn’t have to be on White Rock Lake.

Just on a puddle after the annual Dallas rain

 

And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to blind me on North Central Expressway.

 

Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel

And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,

Just once.

Anywhere. Anytime.

Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes

Must I always be…your Thomas?

Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981, KQ (Dallas Seminary)

Prayer                                                     -Mitchell

The Gift of Gifts from The Valley of Vision

O source of all good,
What shall I render to you for the gift of gifts,
your own dear Son?

Herein is wonder of wonders:
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart,
he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreate and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me!

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind!

Let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father!

Place me with ox, donkey, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin!

 

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his!

In him you have given me so much that heaven can give no more.

Closing Song Melody

  1. The first Nowell the Angel1 did say
    Was to three poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.1b
    In fields where they lay keeping2 their sheep,
    In a cold winter’s night that was so deep.3

Chorus
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell.
Born is the King of Israel.

  1. They looked up and saw a star
    Shining in the East, beyond them far,
    And to the earth it gave great light,
    And so it continued, both day and night. Chorus
  2. And by the light of that same Star
    Three Wise Men came from country far,
    To seek for a King was their intent,
    And to follow the Star wherever it went. Chorus
  3. This Star drew nigh to the North West;
    O’er Bethlehem it took it’s rest.
    And there it did both stop and stay,
    Right4 over the place where Jesus lay. Chorus
  4. Then did they know assuredly5
    Within that house, the King did lie
    One entered in then for to see
    And found the babe in poverty. Chorus
  5. Then enter’d in those Wise Men three,
    Full reverently upon their knee,
    And offer’d there, in his presence,
    Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. Chorus

 

  1. Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
    Let earth receive her King,
    Let every heart prepare him room,
    And heaven and nature sing.
  2. Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns:
    Let men their songs employ;
    While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
    Repeat the sounding joy.
  3. No more let sin and sorrow grow,
    Nor thorns infest the ground:
    He comes to make His blessings flow
    Far as the curse is found.
  4. He rules the world with truth and grace,
    And makes the nations prove
    The glories of his righteousness
    And wonders of his love.

 

Christmas Devotions, Devotional Message

The Light of Christmas Dispels the Dark Days of Doubt

 lightstock_268867_download_medium_byrene_haney_

So, Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” John 12:35

 The Christmas season is a common time to feel like you are drifting through life.  Maybe you have been there too.  It has been a rough year, perhaps a turbulent few years. The hurts, pains, and disappointments of life have caused you just to drift; having no clear objective.  Have you lost your way?  Is your head up in a cloud and your faith in a fog?  December is the time you look at your past disappointments.  As you peak into the new year instead of a sense of anticipation, you only get stressed. The future produces doubt and worry.

To be honest, there are plenty of reasons for us to have doubt and uncertainty as we finish 2017 and begin 2018.  Will, the economy continue at these record levels or will it come crashing down around us?  Will I have a job five months from now?  Can I count on my health remaining intact? These concerns are real and things to be stressed about, to have doubts about the future.  What will my options be six months from now?  Will the options be any good?  Sometimes the options are the frying pan or the fire. I am so thankful to live in the land of freedom of choice, but sometimes both opportunities for your future are bad.  Consider the voters of my home state, Louisiana.  One year they had to vote for a new governor.  Edwin Edwards, a crook or David Duke, who had been the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.  What a choice!   I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Vote for the crook.  Better a lizard than a wizard.”

Dark days of doubt.  The one who walks in the dark doesn’t know where they are going.  Have you ever felt like that?  What does my future hold?  Where am I headed?  You’re in a fog.

God will guide me when I’m doubtful.

When I’m confused, and I don’t know which way to go.  John 8:12 “Jesus said, I am the Light f the world.  So, if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through darkness, for living light will flood your path.'”

What are you worried about?  What has got you uptight?  What is it that is keeping you awake at night, keeping your stomach churning?  You’re going to have to make some significant decisions in 2018.  I don’t know what they are and you don’t either.  But I guarantee you; you will have to make some significant decisions in the year to come.

On what basis are you going to make those major decisions?  “I thought/felt it was the right thing to do?”  Feelings are highly unreliable.  You might have just eaten a bad pizza the night before.  It’s not a good way to make decisions just on feelings. “Everybody else is doing it” is not a very good reason either. The majority is often wrong.

When you face doubts, there is a reliable source that you know will always give you the right advice and never steer you in the wrong direction.  Is there any place in the world you can get that kind of help?

Yes.  It’s called God’s word.  It won’t steer you the wrong way. “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

God is the only reliable guide for life. His word is a flashlight.  It illuminates.  It keeps you from stumbling, helps you to see things.

May God show up in the midst of your doubts.  I would leave you with this poem.  It inspired me; perhaps it will you as well.

Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.

Just a few smoking branches

And I would surely be …your Moses.

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,

Just once.

It wouldn’t have to be on White Rock Lake.

Just on a puddle after the annual Dallas rain

And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,

Just once.

You wouldn’t have to blind me on North Central Expressway.

Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel

And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,

Just once.

Anywhere. Anytime.

Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes

Must I always be…your Thomas?

Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981, KQ (Dallas Seminary)

Christmas Devotions, Devotional Message

Two Warning Signs Your Heart Is Too Crowded for Jesus

cropped-635897229513164483-866846937_heart.jpg

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7

There is a beautiful story that comes out of the Treasury of Jewish humor about a family from the lower east side of New York City. The younger members of the family try very hard to educate their immigrant parents. Part of this endeavor takes the form of a family trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the son and daughter interpret various paintings to the mother and father.

During the afternoon in the gallery, the party comes to a nativity scene. The father points to Joseph in the picture, “Is Papa?”

“Yes, that’s the father.” Then he points to Mary.

“Is Mama?”

“Yes,” the daughter replies.

“Baby?”

“Yes.”

“Vas de cows and donkey?”

The daughter explains: “The baby was born in a stable – they were poor peasant people and could not get into the inn.”

“Ahh!” said the father, “Just like Gentiles! Too poor for a room, but still they get their picture taken!”

Perhaps there is no verse in the Gospel narrative so clearly prophetic of the whole life and ministry of Jesus as the short, cryptic words of Luke: “There was no room in the inn.”

Have you ever had one of those Christmas seasons where you struggle to find that magical Christmas spirit?  You pull out all your favorite Christmas albums and watch the Hallmark channel on your television because the day after Thanksgiving there are non-stop Christmas specials.  Undoubtedly one of those will help you find that elusive Christmas joy.  But alas to no avail, there is no room in your heart this year for Jesus.  In this post why don’t we examine what may be preventing you from having a joyous Christmas?

Preoccupation

Preoccupation is one possible culprit.  Mary and Joseph were shut out; all the rooms were occupied. Every space was already filled. Those who had arrived earlier had settled in for the night.

We can have some sympathy for the innkeeper. He was not a mean man. He had no ill will toward the holy family. He was running a hotel. He was in the business of lodging weary travelers. The simple fact is that others had gotten there first, and there was no room for more, and that was that.

Preoccupation is the thing that gets into the heart first. We don’t intend to leave Jesus out of our lives.  We don’t have anything against Jesus, but others things have taken up residency early. It is painfully dull to get so preoccupied, that other matters more pressing filled up all the space. These things are important. They are our work, our social life, and our family responsibilities. “The heart is full; I tell you, Jesus! There’s no room!”

But all is not lost! The holy family beds down in a cave where the animals are kept. A poet put it this way.

 

The innkeeper says:

I only did what you have done

a thousand times or more,

When Joseph came to Bethlehem

and knocked upon my door;

I did not turn the Christ away

or leave him there bereft.

Like you, I only gave to him

whatever I had left.

How close to home that strikes!

 

Insensitivity

 Another reason there was no room was that nobody there recognized the importance of the moment. That’s familiar, too.

Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote these, “If we had been the shepherds one night long ago, I wonder if we’d recognize the star or if we’d know the reason for His birth and if we’d actually go to worship at the manger. I wonder, would we know? Is it really any different than if Jesus came today? I wonder, would we recognize His face in any way? Or would we turn away from Him not knowing what to say?  If Jesus walked among us in our hurried, busy pace, I wonder if this stranger would actually find a place?”

We are impressed with shiny things. We marvel at greatness.  And we expect fame to come clothed with glitz and glamor.  When majesty comes from humble beginnings, we question whether or not the individual is even worth our time.  We expect that when God’s one and only unique Son enters the world that it would have to be a must-see worldwide event.  It must be impressive when he comes.  After all, the world had waited over 2,000 years for the blessed event. Our thoughts and God’s thoughts about greatness are incompatible.  God uses a manger and straw, peasants and donkey, a woman heavy with child, and a small hotel in a sleepy little, insignificant town off the beaten path.  What makes God’s coming so ordinary, so unspectacular that we meet that coming with insensitivity.  We dismiss it as not worth our time to stop and recognize the significance of that entry into the world.  How often we shut him out, not able to appreciate the beauty in the simplicity of the humble birth.  Think about how the flash would have taken away from the substance.  It was not about how Jesus arrived; the focus should be on the why He came.  To save the world from its sin.  He reached out to me, and He came for you. So, won’t you stop this Christmas season and find room for Jesus? We must make room.

The story of the Bethlehem Inn reminds us once again about preoccupation, about being unaware. And the innkeeper calls to our attention the importance of opening the door when the knock comes.

Christmas is coming again. What shall we do this year – just keep Christmas, or make room?