What to Give for Christmas
Every year for Christmas we try our hardest to find the perfect gifts for the people in our lives. If I am to be honest, I am a little frustrated by the whole idea of the holiday in our American context. I know, I know. I really don't want to be a Negative Nelly, but I hate the obligation to buy gifts. I despise buying all the junk for others and loading up junk that we received that is just going to fill up the house. I hate spending money on plastic stuff that is here one day and gone the next, when we could put it to better use. And, more than anything, I hate swapping money! All that most of us do is spend $30 on folks who are going to spend $30 on us. I get you a gift card, and you get me a gift card. Some have resorted to simply writing a check to their family members! Really?!? Is that what this is?
Well, I don't have any simple answers to all of these problems. Maybe they are not issues for you and yours. If that is the case, you are blessed! Ok, I've been a Negative Nelly. My rant is over. How about Positive Polly?
In John 4, Jesus meets with "The woman at the well." Do you remember what He tells her? He says, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water . . . whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
What if we gave Living Water this Christmas? What if we decided to do a little brainstorming, got creative, and gave a little effort to bless people with not just material things but everlasting things?!? I'm not talking about making a donation to the TV preacher so that you can get a little bottle of miracle water (people really do that?). I'm talking about having Gospel conversations. I'm talking about spending some time with people and pointing them to Christ. Give Living Water this Christmas, and get creative with it! Let me know what you come up with!
Three Ways You Can Show Appreciation to Someone
We are entering into the holiday season with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year all coming up. Do not let this time of year go by without meaningful conversations, acts of generosity, and special times with families and friends. Before we know it, we will be past this season again. This holiday season, consider showing appreciation to someone. Maybe your spouse has been working extra hard for the family, or a coworker has gone out of their way to lend a hand to you, or a friend has been there with you through a hard time. There are all kinds of reasons to be thankful and people we should thank. Lots of times we say, “Thank you” in passing or let them know we appreciate them in the heat of the moment, but going out of your way some time after or at a random time to show your appreciation can really mean something. Consider these three ways to show appreciation, or let them be ideas that get your mind thinking on the subject:
(1) Send a handwritten card to someone. In a world of technology and screens, there is something unique about getting a card in the mail and seeing someone’s handwriting. It is so rare that I almost feel today what I felt as a kid when I actually got something in the mail. In the midst of a sea of bills, getting a card is heartwarming and downright exciting. Also, don’t be one of those who buys a preprinted card and simply signs your name. Take a few minutes to write something deliberate and meaningful.
(2) Invite them over to your house for a meal. We ought to be living out life together as families and church families. Spend some time with people! Slow down one evening and cook a meal for a friend. Be a neighbor to someone. Do you remember what it’s like to host someone? What a wonderful thing it is to share a meal with people you care about and you appreciate. If inviting folks over and hosting is too difficult, considering taking that friend out for lunch. Take them to the Mexican restaurant, spend $5 on them, and enjoy a good conversation.
(3) Give them company out somewhere. Hey, there are plenty of people who would love for you to join them for their hobby. Maybe you could go to a walking park with a friend, or you could go shopping with someone who usually has to do it by their self. All you would have to do is say, “I know you like to do ‘whatever,’ could I join you next time?” How enjoyable would that be? And it is such a thoughtful gesture!
Don’t let too much time pass before you show appreciation to someone. This time of year is a great time to do it, and there is no better day than “Today.” Of course, these three suggestions work for not only showing appreciation but also just to brighten someone’s day or week. Consider doing one of these for someone you know as an act of kindness!
What is a healthy church? Part 2
Last week I put forward five aspects that must be emphasized and nurtured in order to foster a healthy church. Those five attributes of a healthy church were: (1) Strong leadership, (2) Biblical teaching, (3) Vibrant prayer, (4) Genuine membership, and (5) Outward focus. Now, let me say again that these are not the only aspects that are important, or even all those that are essential, for a healthy church, but these are some of the primary ones. Let me add just a few more today before leaving this subject:
While many churches today are heavy on one age group, we must be different. For example, most established, more traditional churches are primarily made up of folks who are 60 years of age or older; on the other hand, most new church plants are made up of people 35 years of age and younger. Most people do not think anything of this trend (unless it is the older churches which are shrinking smaller and smaller, and they are worried that they are going to “die off” without another generation to keep the church alive). Most people are comfortable with this situation and actually prefer to socialize with people who are like them, including their age group. The question becomes: Is this healthy? I would argue, “No.” I can argue this from the practical side as well as the biblical side. So, let's take the biblical side: From the Old Testament to the New, from Proverbs to Titus, we are reminded over and over again how healthy it is for older men to mentor younger men and the same with the women in the congregation. So, a healthy church will have a multigenerational makeup, a heavy emphasis on mentoring, and a focus on the youth of the church.
7. Ongoing discipleship
Much like the last point and others before it, a healthy church is one that pursues the Great Commission by making disciples. We are to make new disciples as well as continue teaching longtime followers of Christ. The church is a teaching institution because God is a speaking God. He has revealed Himself, His will, and His plans in His holy word, and we are to make it our business to mature in it by devoting ourselves to learning and teaching it. Discipleship is a lifelong pursuit of God through the Bible, and a healthy church is one that knows this truth.
8. Long-term pastorates
The last point that we can make before leaving the subject of healthy churches (and this list of eight is certainly not exhaustive) is to say that the pastor does have an important role to play in the health of the church. None of us would deny that a minister can certainly have a negative effect on the church, some of us have experienced that firsthand, and, if that is true, then he certainly can have a positive effect on the health of the church as well. Many studies have shown, and it should be common sense, that ministers must commit themselves to the local church for the long haul. Only when this dedication is present will the minister and church grow together, stick to the plan of biblical ministry, and really learn to love one another. If the church is looking for a new pastor every 2-3 years, then the church is “starting over” every 2-3 years, lots of times with heartache and turmoil.
After reading this article and the previous one, would you consider committing a certain amount of time to prayer for the health of our congregation? Maybe you could commit to praying about all eight of these things over the next eight days. Or, maybe you would devote yourself to praying for our church at noon every day for a month! If you’re willing and want to share your experience, then let me know. I’d love to hear about it!
What is a healthy church? Part 1
There are several aspects of church life that are required to be obedient to the Lord and to foster a healthy congregation. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few non-negotiables if we want a healthy church:
1. Strong leadership
While common sense and practical thinking dictates that any group needs strong leaders, the Bible makes clear what the Lord wants for His people. The apostles have taught us what kind of men to look for to lead the church. They are to be well respected inside and outside the congregation. They are to be godly men, full of the Holy Spirit, proven, trustworthy, servant-leaders, fully devoted to and involved in the life of the church, and so much more. Without strong leadership, the church will stumble around at best. The Proverbs teach, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Or, as others have creatively noted, “A mist in the leadership is a fog in the membership.”
2. Biblical teaching
We have a deep conviction which is, once again, backed up by practical experience- The Bible is the Word of God, and the people of God need to hear the Word of God to live and mature. How is it backed by experience? The churches and denominations that have abandoned the Scriptures in favor of motivational, self-help speeches, entertainment, and the like are the ones that, over the long-haul, are declining and dying. Jesus is the one who said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” A lot can be said about this point, but let me leave one more comment- Memorizing every single detail that is taught is not as important as yielding to the Word of God over and over again. The Lord forms and shapes our souls this way.
3. Vibrant prayer
Many churches are missing this vital aspect to their life and ministries. While we need to hear God speak to us (from His Word), we also need to speak to Him. The New Testament even instructs us to pray without ceasing. Prayer is many things, but, maybe most simply, it is voicing our faith to the Father. We ought to give thanks to Him, praise Him, voice our trust in Him, bring our problems and worries to Him, and we ought to ask for needs to be supplied, both for ourselves and for others. We need to do this individually, but praying together as a church is a blessed, wonderful, and beautiful activity.
4. Genuine membership
This point brings together several Christian responsibilities. So many Christians in America are neglecting their duties to the local congregation. A Christian who is not loyal to the local church is like a fish out of water; that fish is going to have a hard time surviving! So much of the biblical, Christian life is lived in and through the church; it is experienced as a part of the life of the church. As you know, I could go on and on about this point. If you want to talk about it, let me know. P.S. I love our church, and I love being a member of it!
5. Outward focus
The last point that I will share for now (because there are so many others we should mention) is that we are blessed to be a blessing. We are to be fruitful and multiply, and in this present age we do that by sharing the Good News. We cannot think of only serving our own interests and monopolizing the Gospel. We must get out to share and to serve, to serve and to share. The Great Commission is labeled so for a reason. We are to be selfless, just as our Master was selfless and sacrificial.
So, in conclusion, we ought to get to it! We all want health for ourselves, our families, and our church. Health is something that needs to be nurtured, promoted, and protected. With your own health, there are certain things you need to do to bring about these things. And, we should think in terms of all the different aspects of health. We want strong spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. Sitting at home eating chips and watching TV all day will not nurture, promote, and protect our health. As a matter of fact, laziness or negligence will only injure our health. All of this is true of the church as well. We cannot sit idly by and expect our congregation to be healthy. We must pursue health. We must all work together to bring it about. We need to promote and protect these five things and more! If we do, the Lord will bless us and work in and through us to be a blessing to one another and others!