Parenting & The Bible

“…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, NIV)

As a dad, I am responsible to teach and train my kids how to live. By design, I am held accountable to care for and instruct them to develop a moral compass and biblical worldview to guide and shape their lives. Sometimes parents delegate certain aspects of this training, such as formal education–science, math, language arts, etc. We get assistance from churches through Sunday school, children and youth ministries. But ultimately, we as the parents are the key influencers.

There are times when I like being one of the most influential people in my kids’ lives. Those times when they are learning to ride bikes, go fishing, or play football in the backyard. I love those moments when they ask me how a car works or why Jesus died on the cross.

But there are other times, when I fear the influence I carry in my boys’ worlds. I consider those moments when I lose my emotional cool and express frustrations in the tone of my voice. I hate the fact that there are moments when I push my kids off because my heart is filled with the self-worshiping attitude of “I need…” this or that. My decisions, actions, and words display idolatry at the core. Oh, God! Forgive me!

But then, the Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am. He offers me grace to carry on. He whispers in my hear, “You’re loved. You’re free.” Sometimes God strikes me through a song I hear on the radio. Other times, one of my boys say something that just pierces my heart. Sometimes it’s a podcast or a sermon heard at my local church. However it happens, God taps on my heart, draws me to Himself, and reminds me of my call…to be a dad. He shows me my responsibility to teach and train my kids the most profitable way to live. And in that moment, I am reminded of the most vital and influential way I can instruct my children: The Word of God. The Bible.

Everyday, I need to be in the Word. I need to read, study, meditate, and memorize the Bible. It is the source of all and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. It is sufficient for all things and all people. And therefore, I need to lead my family to the Word as well.

The Apostle Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy, “…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

It is through reading, studying, meditating on, and memorizing the Bible that we become “wise for salvation.” We can begin to comprehend God’s supreme power and sovereignty through His Word. In this place of soaking in the Word, we become stabbed with the reality of our depravity. We fall overwhelmed by the love of Jesus, through His death, burial, and resurrection. It’s in and through the Bible that we hear and respond to God’s grace offered to us, even while we are still sinners. Scripture is the doorway to salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ.

I have determined that there is no more sufficient textbook with which to train my kids than the Bible. Although there are other important subjects to learn and books to read. If they read and understand the Word of God, they will have heard the most preeminent message of eternal hope. Outside of this message, there is no other teaching that carries such grand and everlasting importance.

If there is one thing I must do with my boys, I must get into the Word. I want them to know, grasp, and live the Word of God. And to do this, they must regularly hear, read, and study the Bible.

I realize very well that parenting is hard work. Sometimes it is frustrating or just flat out discouraging. There are times when we parents do not treat or invest in our kids as we should, but the good news is that God sustains us by grace. He gives us a second chance…and a third and a fourth and… He simply asks us to be faithful. And even our faithfulness is a gift of grace from God so that we can do those things He has called us to–including, being parents.

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Reflections On Following Jesus: Ephesians 2:1-7

Because of the distractions faced in the world, we tend not to be in tune with our sinfulness. We are also inclined to forget the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ that is by faith. These necessary meditations fall from the consciousness of our minds everyday. Yet, our sin is still evident; and, God’s grace still reigns. Therefore, the repentance that concludes God’s conviction of a Christ-follower’s heart is missing; the joy that is experienced through the awareness of God’s grace is absent.

Ephesians 2:1-7 provides an explicit picture of our sinfulness and God’s grace. Verse one says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” To understand our spiritual deadness prior to God’s work of grace in our lives requires much contemplation of Scripture as well as prayerful reflection. Once the reality of spiritual deadness is realized through conviction from God, the only result for a Christ-follower is repentance—turning, by faith, from sin to Christ.

The actuality of repentance in a Christ-follower exists because of God’s grace. God has taken what was lifeless and spiritually barren, and He has made it alive.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

As the fullness of the truth of God’s grace—the grace that took that which was dead and made it alive—becomes intimate to us, we rejoice. That which we had longed for but could never acquire was made sufficiently true in our lives. Therefore, we rejoice! The joy of being dug out of a spiritual grave and being filled with the breath of life exceeds all expectations. It is like a blind man seeing the setting sun; it is like a deaf woman hearing the waters of a stream or the birds of the air; it is like a paralytic boy running through the woods. The joy of what God has done overwhelms the heart and moves us toward a life that follows Christ.

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10 Building Blocks for a Leader’s Credibility

Credibility is often overlooked by aspiring leaders, but it is a vitally core element among those who are actually successful at leading others. Credibility is gained by building trust among people over time. So you may be asking, “Mike, why is a young guy like you writing about credibility?” Well, there are many reasons I probably shouldn’t, and you may be much better off leaving this blog right now. But the truth is, I am right in the middle of it. I am in the mist of learning about gaining and losing credibility.

Currently, I serve as the Life Group director in a church where I oversee more than 60 individuals or couples who lead groups and over 750 people participating in groups. I inherited this ministry role not quite two years ago. And it is in this role that I find myself needing credibility among those I lead in order to grow the ministry. But for this to happen, I need to first gain the trust of those I lead because credibility is birthed from trust.

Although I have significant trust and credibility still to gain, below are 10 building blocks God has used to help me increase trust among those I lead.

1. Time – Time is one of the most determining factors in building trust among others because building trust is about relationships, and relationships take time.

2. Age – Generally, when a leader is older than his followers, he will be more quickly trusted. In my case, most of the people I am trying to lead are older, with many having more practical leadership experience as well. This can make building trust difficult.

3. Supervisor Credibility – When a leader’s supervisor has substantial credibility, the leader gains trust from others by simply being spoken of positively by the supervisor.

4. Understanding Generations – When a leader can understand the sociological tendencies among different generations of people, he will learn how to best interact with others so as to gain their trust. For example, some generations trust leaders until they give them a reason not to. While others are highly skeptical of leaders and will require more time to hand over their trust.

5. Character – A leader who is humble, teachable, authentic, compassionate, and generous will build trust faster than those who aren’t. A leader’s true character will become evident to others at some point. Vulnerability increases the rate at which character is noticed.

6. Research – “I don’t know it all; I never will; and, I am okay with this.” This is the kind of humble attitude every credible leader possesses, and it requires research. A leader builds trust through research by learning from others. This can be done by reading books and talking to older, wiser people—people who are more experienced in similar leadership situations.

7. Communication – When a leader communicates clearly and consistently, he will gain trust. People want to hear, directly from the leader, what is going on. They want to clearly know and understand the leader’s vision and plan. They want to know how it affects them. But even more importantly, they want to be heard. They will trust a leader who listens well. It is vital for leaders to create regular, effective communication channels.

8. Faithfulness – Leaders need to follow through. When a leader says he will do something, does he do it? This can be as simple as showing up for meetings on time.

9. Availability – A leader who is available and accessible to those he leads will have more opportunities to build trust, which will help him do so more quickly. Being available also shows care towards others.

10. Integrity – A trusted leader admits mistakes. He takes responsibility for his actions, especially when in the wrong. This shows others the leader will do the right thing, even when no one else is around. Doing the right thing builds trust very quickly.

I have much more to learn about building credibility and trust among those I lead, but these are some building blocks that have been useful to me. I hope you find them useful too!

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Escaping Stress

When the stresses of life come in, what do you do to escape?

It might seem presumptuous to assume that all seek to escape stress, but I have found this is what most tend to do. This has been true of my life.

I remember seeking various stress outlets at different points in my life. As a teenager, I turned to video games and watching sports. Whenever stress came in, I almost simultaneously turned on the TV to play Madden or distract my mind with the latest on ESPN.

But stress was still there. It clung to me.

When I went to college, I would seek to divert my stress-filled moments by engaging in activities with friends. This included, campouts, hiking, off-roading, skiing, eating large amounts of food, hot-tubbing, and my favorite—saunas. Yes, I lived in the land of long snowy, dark winters; the home of the North American Fins; the great north country of Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Say yah to da U.P. eh?). There were simply so many new and exciting activities in which I could spend my time that stress was sort of pushed to the side because I was always looking forward to the next fun event.

But stress was still there. It didn’t leave because I was distracted. It waited for me.

After getting married, starting my first “career job,” and having my first child, stress continued to build in my life. My stress seemed to result from struggling to fulfill lofty responsibilities such as: providing financially for my family; ensuring my wife and son had the emotional, physical, and spiritual care they needed; and, sustaining my own emotional, physical, spiritual nourishment. The stresses that came as a result of learning to manage these new duties led me to work and sleep more. Working my job became my release; sleeping was my escape.

But stress was still there. I could not escape. Stress thickened and tightened its grip.

Most recently, my wife and I experienced some traumatic circumstances in our lives, and I could literally feel stress grasping my physical body and my spirit. It held on tightly, not willing to let go. I sought relief through food, sleep, exercise, activities, sports, and work. None of this proved effective. I thought, maybe I just need to study the Bible more and pray harder. Although this helped and was very good for me, stress still gripped me tightly. My desire to open the Bible and pray decreased. But I continued on and came to Philippians 4:7, which says:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I realized that I did not need to divert my mind or distract myself with activities. I did not need to try harder. I needed to believe.

I needed to believe that God really is who He says He is. I needed to trust that He is Almighty and Sovereign. I needed to remember that He actually is with me, and He will not leave.

God not only provides peace, He is Peace.

I needed to remember that God is not in the business of taking me out of rough and challenging circumstances, but He leads me through. And it is “the peace of God” that guards, protects, comforts, and secures me through hardships.

There is a reason Philippians 4:7 describes God’s peace as “surpassing all understanding.” God’s peace simply doesn’t make sense. However, this is not the case for the hurt, pain, and stress of troubling circumstances. The groaning, complaining, grumbling, and depression which occurs through these seemingly impossible situations seems logical. But peace? No. It seems inconceivable to experience peace in the midst of trials.

But this is where God directs us in His Word. He leads us to Himself. He shows us Peace.

God does not offer false hopes of removing painful circumstances or transporting us to utopia.

But He promises that His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He promises to protect and defend us. He promises to set up an army of angels to surround us so that our hearts and minds may find rest, which might lead us to experience joy in Him—even through the pains and trials of a broken, dark, sinful world.

And it is this peace and joy that will keep and sustain us. Not only so, but it will also launch us—like a rocket—into hope that we might be able to worship God and serve others through our struggles.

What is the stress in your life?

Know that God is with you.

Ask Him for His peace.

Claim the peace that guards your heart and mind.

And finally, walk in peace, as you trust Him; and, may you experience eternal joy and hope in Christ Jesus.

 

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Biblical Foundations for Small Groups

Trinitarian Community

God designed you for community. Since the very beginning, community existed. Scripture alludes to this as Genesis 1:26 records God saying, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” The word ‘us’ references the Trinity–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–which presents creation with the very first, and only perfect, depiction of community. This verse also points toward the primary goal for community: To reflect the image of God. We were created to be relational beings, not self-sufficient individuals who pursue isolation. God said it himself: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Our core purpose is to connect to God and one another in community to display and reflect God’s image so that he would be glorified and we would enjoy him forever. This foundation for community cannot become reality because our human sinfulness incapacitates us from experiencing this perfect union with God and others. However, as Brad House writes in Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support, “on the cross, the community of the Trinity was momentarily broken” so that “by God’s grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he (God) made true community possible.” The triune God is both the means and visionary picture for community.

 

The Great Commandment

God provided the means for true community through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he additionally offers instruction for experiencing perfect unity with God and others in the ‘Great Commandment.’ Jesus explains the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:37,39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love for God is expressed in worship through studying his Word and prayer with others; while loving neighbors—coworkers, family members, friends, acquaintances—is accomplished through showing care to others through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

God intentionally calls his people to this kind of community. Just because American culture seeks individualism and isolation does not imply community should not be sought; rather, the people of God are to know and be known in community with God and one another.True community, especially life group community, reflects the very nature of God.

 

The Family of God

In Genesis 12, God indicates his plan to structure his people in the form of a family through the line of Abram, the Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are seen in community as family.

However, due to the great chasm between God and his people caused by human sinfulness, Jesus came to redeem his family. Being part of God’s redeemed family requires leaving the old sinful nature and habits behind. Jesus’ invitation to join the family clearly displays his deep longing for God’s people to enjoy the oneness he experienced with the father in the beginning. Jesus prays for us in John 17:23: “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Although unity is the goal, the family still consists of several metaphorical figures: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and children of God or brothers and sisters in Christ. The ‘children’ or ‘brothers and sisters’ are God’s people, whom he bought back into the family with the blood of Christ. It is through belonging to the family of God that Christ-followers can know and understand their identity.

The family of God is illustrated in the New Testament as a body called the church. The Apostle Paul describes the church as a body on various occasions, including his letter to the Christ-followers in Ephesus: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s depiction of the body offers a unique and clear image of how each individual exists as a valuable member of God’s family and should actively participate, using one’s spiritual gifts, to contribute to the greater good of the entire body, of which Christ is the head.

 

The Great Example

The family of God as a body is to be lived out as the Church—all the people of God from all time—as well as local churches or bodies. But even within local churches, small groups should operate within the context of the body illustration.

The body illustration of the church is in fact God’s amazing plan for community! This plan is stated in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” A common biblical example of small groups existing in this state occurred in the first century, after Jesus’ resurrection. Following Peter’s sermon to the people of Jerusalem, “about three thousand people were added” to the local church that day (Acts 2:41). Because the number of believers was so massive and because God wired his people for community, the church met in home-based small groups in order to live out the fellowship God designed for them: Relationship with God and one another.

This example of community, found in Acts 2:41-47, shows not only the importance of small groups in local churches, but also demonstrates the activities that should take place in life groups today: Prayer, the study of Scripture, the remembrance of Christ, and care and provision towards one another. These first century small groups had a vision for making disciples, and so at Gateway, our mission is to do the same: To connect people to Jesus Christ and to one another.

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When to Say “Yes” to Something New

Learning when to say “yes” to something new can be challenging. There are times when we may be called to add something new to our plates. While other times, we need to delegate responsibilities, specifically those things that others are able to do.

In Acts 6, we see Jesus’ disciples delegated the ministry of serving tables so they could focus on preaching. This is of utmost importance for all of us to do. We are all gifted and skilled to do certain things, while others are equipped to do different things. Delegating tasks develops ownership, responsibility, and leadership in others, while alleviating certain burdens from the delegator.

Although delegation is necessary and good, what does it look like for someone to assume new responsibilities, which he or she may be called to fulfill? This question is significant because, if not done properly, the person will become overwhelmed quickly.

Let’s use my life as an example. I was recently approached about taking on a new weekly service project. I was excited about the opportunity, how I would assimilate into this new role, and the potential to positively influence many others for Christ. It appeared to be a great fit! There was one problem: It would require about 10 hours of my time each week.

Given this situation, I could do what I often tend to do and just go for it, while letting the details fall into place. But this time, I didn’t. I stopped, thought, and prayed. Where will those additional 10 hours each week come from? I cannot add time to each week. I am already working 45-50 hours per week, taking seminary courses, and have one day to spend at home with my family. I concluded that in order for me to take part in this new weekly service opportunity I would need to give up something, and I did not have that much time to give. So, I declined.

This is just an example. We all have these sort of decisions every day. Whether you want to add Bible study, family time, exercise, reading, sports, movies, prayer, a job, or something else, it all takes time. Saying “yes” to something new always costs us something.

When we consider taking on something new, we must ask three questions:

(1) Is this something which would fall in line with my life mission as a Christ-follower?

(2) What will this cost me?

(3) From where will the additional time and resources come? 

We must ask God to show us the answers to these questions. And once He does, then we can respond by making a God-glorifying decision about how we spend our time.

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Two Keys to Successful Small Groups

As a small group ministry director at a church, I have seen small groups both succeed and fizzle. Although there are many variables, two measurable variables seem to be key indicators of group health.

1. Frequency – Relationships take time, specifically time together.  The more often your group meets, the more opportunities you have to develop real community.  Meeting regularly allows your group more time together to understand one another and learn how to interact with one another.

2. Consistency – Meeting often is important, but meeting consistently promotes growth as well. If you can, meet with your group every week.  American culture does well with daily and weekly habits. Every other week or monthly activities tend to get lost on the calendar.

It is our tendency to meet with our small groups less frequently and consistently because we allow the other activities in our lives to drive our small group schedules. What if it was the other way around? What if you put your small group on the calendar first–before soccer practice, grocery shopping, and lazy days at home? How would everyone in your group grow closer to Jesus Christ and one another because of one simple priority adjustment.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

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