Overcoming Election Anxieties

It’s very easy to say, Jesus is Lord. It’s not easy to live like Jesus is Lord.

Watching the presidential debate the other night reminded me of this. After it was over I felt anxious. And when I woke up the next morning I still felt residual anxiety.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My feelings of anxiety were not bad in and of themselves, but they did point to something bad. Like a flashing “Check Engine” light in my car, these feelings signaled that something within me was broken and in need of repair.

That broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus. Specifically, that broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus as Lord.  I had lost sight of who Jesus really is.  And as a result, I was no longer living as if Jesus really is Lord.

The remedy was the God-breathed words of Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory
.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods
.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

 

These divine words filled my heart and mind with a fresh vision of Jesus as Lord. That Jesus reigns. That his reign is built on righteousness and justice. That Jesus is exalted above all. That he preserves my life and is able to deliver me from the wicked. That because of all these things, I can “rejoice in the Lord” and “give thanks to his holy name.”

With fresh vision came fresh healing. As I reflected on the psalm my attention was taken away from the frustrations of the election and instead was transfixed on the goodness of Jesus. As a result, my feelings of anxiety faded away. I was left, like the people of Zion, feeling “glad.” I was now living like Jesus really is Lord.

If this election season has you feeling anxious, maybe it’s because your “Check Engine” light is flashing. Maybe something within you is broken. Maybe you too have lost sight of Jesus as Lord. Maybe you’re not living as if Jesus really is Lord.

If so, let Jesus heal you.

Come to God’s Word. Reflect on the words of Psalm 97. Then, take a moment to rejoice and to give thanks that Jesus is still the Lord. I promise you’ll feel better… I sure did.

 

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What Puritans Can Teach Us About Family Worship

What can I do to help my kids grow spiritually?

For most of us, the first thing that comes to our mind is to teach our kids the Bible. This is great, but depending on the age and stage of our kids this can be rough. So what can we as parents do?

This week I came across a conversation between  Tim Challies and Dr. Joel Beeke on the family worship habits of Puritans.  In it, Dr. Joel Beeke points out that for Puritans reading the Bible was just one part of family worship. But it certainly wasn’t the only part.

Below is a part of the conversation between Tim Challies (TC) and Dr. Joel Beeke (JB). You can read the entire conversation here.

TC: To hear people talk about the Puritans, you would imagine they were harsh toward their children, making them endure endless hours of family worship. Is this accurate?

JB: Endless hours in family worship would have been impossible for most people in the seventeenth-century. In Puritan New England, many people were farmers who had to labor hard to produce food. Children also had much to do in school, household chores, and working alongside their fathers and mothers to learn a vocation. The Puritans also took time for recreation. They enjoyed hunting, fishing, shooting competitions, and wrestling—two New England Puritan ministers were famous amateur wrestlers. They enjoyed music in their homes, owning guitars, harpsichords, trumpets, violas, drums, and other instruments. There was a lot to do; family devotions were one part—albeit the most important part—of a busy daily schedule.

The Puritans aimed at pithy instruction and heart-moving prayer. Samuel Lee wrote that in all our teaching of the family we should beware of boring the children by talking too much. Long devotions overburden their little minds. It is best to hold the attention of children by using spiritual analogies with flowers, rivers, a field of grain, birds singing, the sun, a rainbow, etc.

 

What is clear from this brief exchange is that Puritan families were spiritually strengthened by at least three practices:

They worked together

Whether household chores or learning their parent’s vocation, children worked along side their parents. This provided plenty of opportunities to for parents and children to talk together about life, the Bible, and the Christian faith. It was a way of living out the principles of Deuteronomy 6:4-7.

They played together

As hard as it is to imagine, puritans families had fun together. Sports, music, and just good old fashion play was a regular part of the their household interaction. They understood that all activities could be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

They enjoyed God’s creation together

Notice when teaching the Bible, parents were encouraged to use spiritual analogies to help children understand. They used pictures of flowers, rivers, fields of grain, singing birds, the sun, and rainbows, to help explain the Christian life. They used such analogies because they took pleasure in these creations. Puritans understood that one of the purposes of creation is to lead us to worship of our Creator (Romans 1:20).

 

Helping you family grow spiritually doesn’t have to be boring. And it doesn’t have to just consists of a series of Bible studies. If you really want your family to grow spiritually, then take a lesson from the Puritans. Work to together. Play together. Enjoy God’s creation together. Knowing that such practices will enhance those times when you do read the Bible together.

Family Worship

“What do you do for family worship?”

That was the question I asked my volunteer leaders about six months ago. I asked not because I wanted to check up on their family’s spiritual health. I asked because I was honestly looking for ways in which I could lead my family in worship.

Growing up, my family (although Christian) did not practice family worship. And even though I am a pastor, the idea of worshiping with my family by ourselves at home still feels a little awkward. We have, for a while, prayed together at night, and often even read the Bible together. But I still felt like I wasn’t very good at it. There were restless kids constantly getting up and down. There was yelling. There was crying. There were stuffed animal friends missing.   There was fighting over what to read and who got to hold what. There were tantrums so dramatic that I was tempted to cast out demons.

Then I came across an excellent book entitled A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home by Jason Helopoulos (yeah, I’m not sure how pronounce his last name either). Now the book didn’t magically fix everything. But it has given me a much better paradigm and model for family worship. And it is a book I would highly recommend to you for five reasons.

  1. It’s short. At 126 pages you could easily read it in a week.
  2. It’s biblical. Jason gives a great overview of family worship in the Bible, and demonstrates, from the Bible, why family worship is worth pursuing today.
  3. It’s relatable. Jason knows that, for most people, family worship is new and out of their comfort zone. So he provides real-life testimonies from regular families on the benefits of family worship.
  4. It’s incredibility practical. Jason offers some great practical models of what family worship can look like. He even has age-appropriate discussion questions for parents to ask their children as they read through the Bible.
  5. It’s from a perspective of grace. Jason is not challenging parents to add one more thing to their already full plate. For him, “Family worship is an instrument through which God gives us grace…It is not something that should be a burden. It is a joy.” Jason’s desire throughout the book is to help families experience more of God’s grace.

If you’re a parent or grandparent who wants to see your family grow in God’s grace, I would encourage you to get this book.

Family worship is by no means perfect at our house. But I can already see the benefits of making the effort. I love hearing my kids sing worship songs, I love hearing my kids pray, and I love hearing my oldest read the Bible. Every night these things happen we experience God’s  grace in our family.

 

Five Practices that Lead to Happiness

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I hear what you’re saying.  You want to succeed in life, you want to feel significant and you want to be happy. But often you feel tired, unsure, and a little depressed. You want to know how to break that cycle without spending massive amounts of money for motivation that won’t last, or investing massive amounts of time for change that won’t stick. You want life to be different but you’re not sure what to do. You’re not looking for a quick fix but neither do you want to start something that will feel like a burden for the rest of your life.

Here is my humble attempt to help with five practices that, when I choose to apply them, help lead me to happiness.

Celebrate– For me I’m currently celebrating that I have been created by God, and that God never stops pursuing me. I’m celebrating that this God of infinite knowledge and power wants to be with me, to teach me, to lead me, and to care for me.  I’m celebrating that He has given me a wonderful wife and the best kids ever. I am celebrating that He has given me a job where I get to use my gifts and talents.  And I am celebrating that I have friends and extended family that really love me. Starting my day with celebration changes everything.

Create– I am learning more and more that I am made to create. When I create I am reflecting God, my Creator. Therefore to create is an act of worship.  The creations can be small- a blog post, a lesson plan, or lyrics to a song.  The size and scope does not matter. What does matter is only that I am using my gifts, skills, or imagination to make something. Anything. When I create I feel significant, and when I feel significant, I feel happy.

Connect– There is almost nothing more valuable than taking time to connect with others. To be honest, this is often the hardest one for me. To pursue others truly, like God pursues me, takes real work and involves constantly fighting my fear of rejection. But God is continually reminding me that we are made for relationships. People want to be connected with.  And happiness comes when I take the initiative to pursue people, even just one person each day.

Challenge-I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for my mind to dwell on negative thoughts, and there are great consequences for this. My negative thoughts lead to negative attitudes which in turn lead to negative practices. It has been said many times before, but it is so true: change starts with the thoughts in our head. I need to take time each day to challenge (and defeat) these thoughts. Scripture calls us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), so I challenge my negative thoughts by spending time with God and letting Him fill my mind with His Word.  I also like to find time to be inspired by others. Just the other day I read a quote by the legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”  I need motivation every day, because I need to daily challenge my negative thoughts, negative attitudes, and negative practices. When I do, I am happy.

Be Consistent – Ok so I lied. Connecting with others is not the hardest practice for me– consistency is. Practicing the same things over and over again is incredibly difficult for me. There is a massive part of me that hates (with a capital “H”) routine. But I am learning that some routines are good.  When I get up early each morning to spend time with God, exercise, and shower before my kids wake up, I am happier. Each morning that I choose to reorder my world in a small way by taking the time to make my bed, I am happier. Consistency is hard, but it is also the most essential because it fosters the continual enjoyment of the fruits of the other practices, so it too leads me to happiness.

Celebrate, Create, Connect, Challenge and Consistency. I pray that these practices would lead you to a little more happiness each day.

What other practices have helped you find happiness?

Why pursue Jesus now?

Why not enjoy life now, do whatever I want and then pursue Jesus later…after I’ve had all my fun? This was the question we discussed last night at our high school group. It’s is a good question, one I  thought about in high school and have since thought about as an adult.  For most of us if we’re honest we’d admit that there are times when we see others “enjoying” life apart from God and we can’t help but think— why can’t I do that and then ask for forgiveness later?

But the question is usually asked when we’re not thinking about three things…

1.  I am not in control of when I die.

God says in James 4:13-14

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

No one has control over their tomorrow.  We can make plans but ultimately our life is in God’s hands.  My family became painfully aware of this truth last fall when my wife’s mother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurism.  She was healthy, full of life, and we should have had many more years with her. But instead our lives were turned upside and we were forced to come to terms with a new reality.

Medical emergencies, car accidents, and even school shootings are everyday reminders that we are not in complete control of our mortality.  So when we assume that we’ll have many tomorrows in order to turn our lives around we’re making a pretty foolish assumption.

2.  God has good things for me to do now

Ephesians 2:10  says, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is one of the greatest promises of God.  If I have given my life to Jesus, then I can know that Jesus has prepared good things for me do. I can literally wake up every morning and say to God, “Would you lead me to the good things you have for me today”. My job, then, is simply to be faithful to where God’s leads me.  The reason I pursue Jesus isn’t just to avoid negative consequences, but rather to enjoy watching God do good things through me.

3.  In Jesus I have access to joy–all the time

This leads to the third truth, in Jesus there is joy—all the time.

Psalm 16:11- You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

In the presence of Jesus there is joy.  Now what I didn’t know in high school was that this verse does not mean that Jesus will fill my life with joyful things.  Instead it means, despite the suffering that may come from external circumstances, there is joy when I acknowledge the presence of Jesus over all my life and chose to praise Him–no matter the situation.

This is actually an amazing experiment to try sometime. Wait till you’re angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, anxious, or stressed out of your mind…and then start worshiping Jesus. Seriously.  Start with the simple stuff, like “Jesus I thank you for giving me a mind, and thoughts, and the ability to think. Jesus I praise you for color and giving me eyes to see it. Jesus I praise for creating good flavors and the ability to enjoy food. Jesus I praise you for the trees outside that look like they are lifting their arms to worship you” …whatever comes to your mind.  As you do this you will literally feel your heart soften, and the beginnings of joy enter in. It is this secret of life that led the Apostle Paul to exclaim, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), while suffering in prison. Jesus is worth pursing now, because He offers joy now.

Life maybe short and unpredictable, but in Jesus we know that there are good things planned for us and joy in His presence–now and forever.

When have you been tempted to ask, why can’t I sin now and then ask for forgiveness later? How have you experienced the joy of Jesus’ presence? What has motivated you to pursue Jesus?

Discipleship as Worship

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

The goal of discipleship is worship– whole-life worship as described by Jesus in Mark 12:30:

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

According to Carson’s and Beale’s, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (which by the way is awesome), the following is true:

To love God with your Heart = Loving God with your moral choices/character

To love God with your Soul = Loving God to the risk of one’s life

To love God with your Mind = Loving God with your thoughts

To love God with your Strength = Loving God with your possessions

Now look at the words Jesus uses to call people to be His disciples:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”… Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16, 21)

In each of case (and many more like these) Jesus is simply calling people to live out Mark 12:30.  That is to worship Him (as God) with all their Heart (choices), Mind (thoughts), Soul (life) and Strength (possessions).

For those of us in leadership positions our goal is the same, to lead people to the joyful worship of the Triune God– this is true discipleship.

How do you lead people in whole-life worship of God?