The Grand Miracle


Louis Zamperini’s Testimony


Joni’s Story

Joni Eareckson Tada Shares Her Story

Saved from drowning…but for what purpose?


My friend Garrett Kell wrote a great blog over at “All Things For Good.” I wanted to re-post here in its entirety for your benefit.

For Christians, the Bible is the most precious and important book we possess. In its pages are the divinely inspired words that guide us to know and love our God.

After the Bible there are a few books that every believer should probably read, reread, and apply. On this short list would be works likeFoxe’s Book of MartyrsPilgrim’s Progress,Augustine’s ConfessionsMere ChristianityKnowing God, and Operation World. But even these great works fall behind what I consider the second most important book for every Christian.

What book is that? Your local church’s membership directory.

Now, before you roll your eyes and run off to read something else, give me a moment more of your time.

Christians are not isolated spiritual pilgrims on a journey to heaven. Rather, the Bible says we are all members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), children in His family (1 John 3:1-2), and sheep of His flock (John 16:10). These descriptions reflect the reality that God intends Christians to be part of a tight knit community.

One day that community will all be together in heaven with Jesus (Revelation 5:9-147:9-17), but for now we gather together in local churches. These churches are assemblies of believers who regularly come together to worship Jesus through song, prayer, preaching of the Word, and sharing in the ordinances (baptism and Lord’s Supper).

But we don’t just gather for those reasons, we also gather to foster relationships in which we help each other to the heaven. Consider these two verses from the book of Hebrews.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).

These verses highlight the kind of things that flow out of relationships formed in a local church. We are not merely a social club who gets together for sweet tea, chitchat, and a round of golf. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle awaiting our Savior’s return. We are being assaulted with temptations, trials, and hardships of every kind. In light of this, we need each other to help one another not give up, but to keep our hope set on Jesus’ return.

So what in the world does this have to do with a church membership directory?

I believe it is the second most important book you own because it keeps before your eyes the brothers and sisters you are responsible to help to heaven. God has called you to help particular brothers and sisters to fight against sin. He has called you to stir up particular people to love and good works. He has called you to encourage particular people every day until it is no longer called today.

The directory, if designed and used well, can be one of the most practical tools to helping you and your church fulfill the one another commands of the New Testament.

Let me explain a little more…

1.     It gives every member a practical tool to aid in prayer and encouragement.

When someone joins our church we explain that they’ll likely develop several deep relationships, but that they won’t be able to be friends with everyone. However, one way they can encourage everyone else in the church is to pray for them. The membership directory is the best way I can think of to help them do this.

Here’s a few ways our church is encouraged to use the directory:

  • Make it part of your daily devotions. I suggest that our members pray through a page of the directory each day. Some keep it in their Bibles, some in their cars to pray during their commute (be careful), some have it downloaded on their iPads for lunchtime prayer.

By making prayer for fellow members part of your daily life, God knits your heart to them while also moving in their lives in response to the things we’ve prayed. In case you aren’t sure what to pray for when you do pray, I suggest asking God to help your fellow members…

    • …love God and hate sin.
    • …become more like Jesus everyday.
    • …have open doors to share the Gospel.
    • …grow in humility, wisdom, compassion, and courage.
    • …be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and leading.
    • …be willing and able to endure persecution for Jesus’ sake.
  • Make it part of your family’s devotions. You can use it as part of your family’s devotional time. By picking one person each night or one person per week that your family is praying for, you take a good opportunity to teach your family the importance of loving and praying for the local church where you are members.

Along with this, if the directory has a section in the back of missionaries your church supports, your family can regularly intercede for Gospel workers around the world. If your family sends them encouraging notes or emails telling them that they are being remembered in prayer, it will only bolster their faith.

  • Use it as an opportunity to encourage someone. If you pray for another member, consider taking a moment to text, email, or call them and let them know. A simple “I just wanted you to know you were prayed for today, may God bless you” kind of note can be hugely encouraging to people.

Also, if the Lord brings to mind something specific to pray about for someone, consider checking in with them and see if they need any further prayer or counsel on the matter. You might be surprised how often God’s Spirit uses prayerful members of the church to encourage other members of the Body.

  • Use it as tool for hospitality. Take some time to look through the directory and see if any other members live near by. If so, extend an invitation to have them over for a meal. You never know how the Lord might use that connection to reach your neighborhood with the Gospel.

2.  This helps pastors better shepherd the flock Jesus entrusts to them.

Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account…”

As pastors we need to know whose souls Jesus expects us to be watching over and preparing to give an account for. Church membership helps make this clear, but a church directory helps make it practically clear.

As a pastor, there are few things that help me feel the weight of the Hebrews 13:17responsibility like spending time praying through the pages of our church’s membership directory. As I do this, I see the eyes of those who have said “I am following Jesus by obeying and submitting to your leadership.” If that isn’t weighty to you as a pastor, then I’m not sure what is.

Here’s two ways I’ve found the directory helpful to our church’s leadership:

  • Elder / staff meetings. Our elders take 30-40 minutes to talk about and pray for members at the beginning of every elder meeting. To aid this we use the membership directory and intercede for a group of members in our church. To make this more fruitful, we try to email or call those we’ll be praying for beforehand to see how they are doing spiritually. This is one of my favorite parts of our elder meetings.
  • Sermon preparation. By taking time during my sermon prep to look through the directory, I am able to think more clearly about how the promises and commands in my sermon best apply to different types of people who will be hearing it. I often take a truth from the sermon and pray it over several people from the directory. This tends to bear good fruit for my prep and the people who hear the message.

3.     It keeps homebound members on your mind, though they may be out of sight.

James 1:27 “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and father is to visit orphans and widows in their distress.”

Members who are no longer able to worship with us are marked as “homebound” in our directory. We encourage families and non-married members to write them letters or go by and visit them. The Lord has used this to help us keep these sometimes forgotten members close to our hearts. I’m not sure of a better tool to help keep these members on our mind like a well-used directory.

4.  It helps homebound members continue to invest in the spiritual health of the church.

For many members who can no longer come together with the church for worship, prayer has become their primary ministry. By ensuring that they get updated copies of the picture directory, we remind them that they are not forgotten and that they are still playing a vital role in the life and health of the church. By having pictures and names in a booklet they can look at each day, it can help those whose memories may be fading to be reminded of their bothers and sisters in Christ.

5.  It helps alert church members to people who may be in danger.

James 5:19–20 “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

We’d like to think that our church is the kind of tight knit community where everyone knows who’s showing up regularly, and even more importantly, how one another’s souls are doing. But the fact is, some people get overlooked.

If however your church and elders are regularly praying through the directory, the probability dramatically increases of someone saying, “have you seen ______ in a while?” And, over time, as God develops a culture of members knowing (and caring) that they have responsibility for each other, members will take initiative to reach out to people they haven’t seen in a while.

 I know of several people who had been absent from church and wandering in sin, but when a praying member noticed they hadn’t seen them in a while, they reached out and God used them to help that fellow member begin walking with the Lord again. May God make us a people who are always alert to those who may be wandering into danger—and may people rescue us were we to ever be the ones who wander.

While the idea of a membership directory being the second most important book a Christian may not be real sexy, I hope you can see why I say it is. There are few other practical resources that help every member in your church love one another by praying for each other. So if you’ve got a directory, start using it. If not, lead the charge to get one put together. To help spark some ideas, consider this article. 

May God make us a people who are intentional to pray for one another.

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From Zero to Family Worship (The What)

Not long ago someone asked me what our family does to make time around God’s Word. Here it is: Sing, Read, Pray. That’s what we call “Family Worship.”

It’s somewhere in between a devotional time and that moment on The Price is Right when someone gets called to “Come on Down!!” We call it “Family Worship” not to over spiritualize it, but because this is what we are attempting to do together as a family: to set our minds attention and heart affection on God for who he is and for what he has done.1 That’s it. When we do that as a church, it’s worship. When we do that throughout the week as followers of Christ, it’s worship. And when we carve out about 10 or 15 minutes before or after supper as a family, it’s worship.

Specifically

(1) Get a Good Bible:

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The Gospel Story Book Bible

Jesus Storybook Bible

Right now we are in love with this Bible App for kids

For younger children, starting with a story is a great way to begin. Read it with excitement and enthusiasm. After we read I try and ask 2 or 3 questions about what we just heard.

(2) Get Some Good Music:

Seeds Family Worship

There are dozens and dozens of songs on the above CD’s, full of Scripture and set to great music. We put them in the car, on the tablet, everywhere. They become part of our daily language. Most days,  it is very easy to connect something about what we just sang to something we heard in the Bible Story and I’m amazed at how often the words of the songs we sing (which are often the words of Scripture) roll off my tongue as I seek to “showing them truth, expose rebellion, correct mistakes, and train them to live God’s way” (2 Tim. 3:16, paraphrase)641444144822_cover.170x170-75

We are currently wearing out this CD, The Great God and His Big Story from our friends at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.

(3) Model and Teach on How to Pray

A helpful book for raising the topic for children is, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray.

DO NOT THINK, “After Family Worship, we pray.” Worshipping as a Family includes prayer, and prayer is one of the most important teaching elements there is. From how you address God, how you talk with him, what you ask him for, and how you ask Him, prayer is a powerful part of teaching-through-modeling.

Although asking children to pray is a wonderful and sweet thing (and we do it often), my main goal for my children (8, 7, 5, and 2) at this point is that they learn a pattern for prayer. So when I pray I typically try to mention (A) Something about God that is praiseworthy and for which we honor Him. (B) Something that God has done that is amazing and that we thank Him for (C) Something that we want God to do that we ask from Him (this works like concentric circles: Family (including church family); Friends and Neighbors; Those we are seeking to open our lives up to (folks at school, people we are getting to know, etc.)

Slowly, as my kids pick up vocabulary and ideas I gently try to help them think through each of these elements in what they are going to say when they pray. And when they pray for the dog, that’s cool too, I don’t nitpick, it’s a process of learning and growing.

If we get through these three elements: a time in God’s Word, a Time singing to Him, and a time in prayer together in 10 mins, we’ve done well. Often this happens in between side conversations and spilled milk, so I am often drawing my kids attention to the reading or the song. And when it devolves into “The Price is Right”, that’s ok, we shoot for it again tomorrow.


Laying a Foundation-Why Catechism?

Kathy Keller wrote a blog post several months ago that I found very helpful in thinking about they why’s of doing catechism with children. It is a great argument for thinking about beginning to add some brief Question and Answer, thinking and talking, about Christian doctrine, even with small children.

“Catechism—with OUR kids?” Years ago that was my response when someone suggested that we begin doing a catechism with our very young, very active boys. But, to my amazement, it was a truly wonderful experience.

We used a version called Catechism for Young Children, a highly simplified version based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first questions are very easy, and the answers so short that even an 18 month-old can answer triumphantly “God!” when asked “Who made you?” and “Everything” to the second question, “What else did God make?” We discovered that our kids loved the question/answer dynamic; to them it was almost a game, through which they could experience a legitimate sense of achievement.

My first encounter with teaching a catechism to children was even more counter-intuitive. As a seminary student I spent one summer working for a church in a gang-infested part of Philadelphia. There I heard of a young pastor in an even more troubled area of the city who had developed a very successful ministry to children. It met on Saturdays and attracted hundreds of elementary and middle school kids. I decided to go see the program in action.

I’m not sure what I expected—warm-hearted volunteers dispensing Kool-Aid, hugs, and Jesus stories—but what I found, to my slack-jawed amazement, was a building with more than 200 kids in it, divided by age group, learning the catechism! I must admit that very few things have surprised me more. I had never given a thought to the catechism as a modern-day teaching tool, and even if I had, it would not have occurred to me to use it in these circumstances.

The pastor was used to the shocked disbelief and surprised questions—“Why on earth are you having them memorize a catechism? Don’t they need the basic gospel message? When do you get to that?” I have still not forgotten his answer:

These kids know nothing whatsoever about God, or Jesus, or sin. They’ve never even heard the words, except as curse words. We’re building a framework in their minds of words and ideas and concepts, so that when we DO tell them about sin and the Savior who came to die for it, there is a way for them to understand what we are saying.

I went away chastened, but not entirely convinced. Maybe so, but it still seemed so, so medieval to have children memorizing the catechism, no matter how deprived their spiritual education had been. A few weeks later I changed my mind.

I had developed a mentor relationship with a 12-year-old girl from the neighborhood, and I was sharing the gospel with her, or so I thought. Waxing eloquent, I said, “Do you know what Easter means?” She thought seriously for a moment, and then answered, “It was either when that guy was born or when he died, I forget.” I realized she had no framework to understand my words. I wish I’d started her on a catechism instead.

One last personal story from my family. Jonathan, our youngest, was waiting for me to pick him up at his babysitter’s house. As he stared pensively out the window, she asked him: “What are you thinking about?” Unbeknownst to her, this triggered the adult-asks-a-question-and-I-provide-an-answer part of his brain, so his answer was (taken from the pages of the catechism) “God.” “What are you thinking about God?” she responded in surprise, and got the even more surprising answer (comprising the second and third catechism answers): “How he made all things for his own glory.” She almost fell over—she thought she was in the presence of a prodigy. Really, it was just the catechism.

Time and Commitment

Stories aside, how do people in the real world, with real 21st-century families, find the time or commitment to do something like a catechism? It’s a challenge. Most families, on their own, stop and restart several times. (We did, too.) It is so much easier if there is a church-sponsored program, or small group accountability, where each week the next question and answer will be memorized for recitation. One mother at our church wrote:

We have several ways that catechism has fit into our family lives . . . some more successful than others, but we do feel it is very important. We’ve used a catechism for bed-time devotionals with our children. We have started and stopped memorizing catechisms as a family several times. And I taught it as a class at church for 4th/5th graders. The positive effect catechesis has had on our family is: summarizing God’s truths into digestible question and answers so that as our children experience life and the world around them they are able to understand how God has worked through time and history, how he will work in their lives and in the future of this world and mankind. As we walk through the difficult questions in life, the catechism is often the guide to which we are able to direct our children to the truths in Scripture.

The key is becoming convinced that you are furnishing your child with the mental foundation on which the rest of his or her spiritual life will be built. Or, to switch metaphors, you are laying the kindling and the logs in the fireplace, so that when the spark of the Holy Spirit ignites your child’s heart, there will be a steady, mature blaze.


Stealing Christmas Back

Did you know that Christmas BEGINS on Christmas Day?

It seems obvious at first but some things can be hidden in plain sight. I think for most of my life Christmas has ENDED on Christmas Day. But not historically. For most of church history Christians celebrated Christmas BEGINNING on December 25th.grinch

In other words, Christmas Day did not cap off an otherwise fine season of feasting, unwrapping, gluttony-filled celebration by giving us a few moments to remember the birthday boy who planned us such a wonderful party. No, Christmas Day BEGAN the season and then continued on as Christians used the ensuing 12 days to reflect on Him…on Christ…on the miracle of His incarnation and work. Christmas celebrated the Giver, not the gifts. And so it should today.

But somehow, the Grinch has crept into our 12 Days and stolen 11 of them. Well, maybe it’s time to steal them back. Here are some simple ways you can begin to do so:

1. Celebrate Advent. Ok…so this idea might be a little late for you, but file it away. You can read more about celebrating Advent here. The key is simply remembering that Christmas Day is not the END of Christmas, it’s the BEGINNING. It starts the celebration that the Advent season (period of waiting) is over because of the arrival (advent) of the King. God’s people were waiting for their consolation. When he comes, it’s celebration time. Christmas Day is just the beginning!

For children, books like Jotham’s Journey help heighten the expectation and create anticipation for the day of arrival. Mark a calendar for November next year and make preparations to make room for waiting…waiting…waiting. Advent doesn’t replace Christmas, it prepares us for it.

2. Give some thought to the 12 Days of Christmas. Increasingly, as we are trying to make Christmas Day the beginning and not the ending of the season, our family is trying to make memories on the days that follow our celebration of the Light of the World that has come. One day we might give our kids a gift of flashlights (the really cheap ones from Dollar General) and talk and play with those as we think about light shining in the darkness (John 1). Another day we might all get around the computer and decide together on a donation to St. Jude Children’s home, or Samaritan’s Purse, and celebrate using the money God has entrusted to us to bring that same light of Christ into the world of others the same way God has done so for us.

It doesn’t have to be much, but if you’re like me, it’s actually easier to give attention to these things in small ways after the air of the holiday-season balloon has been let out a little bit.

3. Celebrate Epiphany. What, you needed another reason to have a party? January 6th can be a great day to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi). Let’s be honest, they get swept under the rug, right? (No, literally, I can never find all those guys when it’s time to clean up.) The Magi, who were not in the stable, but came a little bit later, “fell down and worshipped him” (Matt. 2:11), the Christ who has come for all nations. (Rev. 21:24) So give yourself an excuse to bake your first King cake and read about the history, and celebrate the power and glory of the King who was born in the manger, who came to be the lamb, and who will return as the conquering lion. We can also think of the The Shepherds who saw the baby in the manger went out “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard” (Luke 2:20). As the Taits write in their article on the Real 12 Days of Christmas,

As the true end-point of the Christmas season…Epiphany sends us into the world to live out the Incarnation, to witness to the light of Christ in the darkness.

grinch2Epiphany helps us to ignore the Valentine’s Day decorations that will crowd the shelves and make our Christmas celebration disappear faster than the wrapping paper in the fire. It places Christmas right smack dab in the middle of January, taking us out of one year and into the next, with a rich remembrance and celebration of God’s Only Chosen King who is seeking himself to lead us out of one year and into the next.

So congratulations, you just got 11 more days of Christmas. There’s 12 days to celebrate, not just one. Steal them back.


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