Thursday, October 23, 2014

 

Christian parents, kids, and sports

It was much more intense for my children than it was when I was growing up.  It is even worse for my grandkids.  Youth sports have exploded.  There are two issues that I hear over and over again among Christian parents about youth sports.

One is the whole investment of time and money in super traveling teams.  Will my child be deprived of a chance to get better if we opt out of the hyper competitive level?  Am I robbing them of their childhood?  How do I know how good my child well be?  Will they burn out or get hurt if they play at a high level?  (And the answer to this one is yes... some do).  Will they get bored and quit if the skill level is not high enough?  (And the answer here is yes, some do).

I do not claim to have all the answers, but here are a few ideas that might ease your mind.  Most of your kids are not going to be professional athletes.  Of all the kids playing Little League in your area, only one or two of them will play professionally.  In fact, less than one in ten will play in college.  Most of them will not even play in high school.

And if they are that good, trust me... they will make it, no matter what level they have played at.  But that is not to say I am against competitive sports.  I think they are fine if you use common sense.  Some kids like competition.  Many enjoy the experience.  And some kids do enhance their skills and become better high school athletes.  Nothing wrong with that.

But whatever you decide for your child, be supportive of your Christian friends who make other choices.  Choosing to play at a higher competitive level does not have to mean parents are choosing sports over Jesus, church, and family.  Nor does opting out mean that you value the right things more.  Each family must do what they feel is best for their child.  Support each other.

Which leads to the other thing I hear from Christian parents.  How do they maintain a focus on Jesus when they travel so much?

So here are a couple of suggestions for that.  Make it family time.  Some of our best family memories were made on tennis trips.  And I encourage families to worship on their travel.  Have family church.  It is rich and meaningful.  Have worship with other Christian families on your team.  Have worship at your hotel or at the field and invite other families to join you.  You may find a whole new way to make disciples.

Being a parent is hard.  But don't get overly stressed.  Think, pray, get advice from successful parents (meaning those whose kids are faithful Christians), talk it out, and make a decision.

And whatever that decision is, it will work out.

Go God.  And go whatever team your kids are playing on.  At whatever level.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

 

Why the church in America is in trouble

I hear a lot of discussion about the future of the church in America.  Why aren't we growing?  Will we be here in 20 or 30 years?  Will we be a post Christian nation?

I am not smart enough to know all the answers.  But I have seen three things that just might be contributing to the death of Christianity in America if not stopped.

We have too much money.  Most of our churches cannot pray the Lord's prayer.  "Give us this day our daily bread."  Most of us do not really need to ask God for our daily bread.  Most of the time we mean "thank you for our daily bread."  That's nice but there is no faith dependence there.  I know there are Americans who do need to pray this way.  It's just that most of them are not in our churches.
Budgets and buildings are killing us.  Those are things only rich churches wrestle with.  Poor churches don't have budgets.  Many of them do not have buildings.  Check out churches in poor countries.  Look how they grow.  At least until an American church gets over there and builds them a building and helps them develop a budget.

It is hard for economically self-sufficient people to realize how much they need God.  It is hard for them to depend on God.

I know that all of us are sure this does not describe our church.  But how many poor people are in your church?  How many of them are elders?  

Our churches are rich, our members are economically sufficient. And we are dying.

So what should we do?  Give away our money and stop being controlled by a budget?

Yes.


We are too intent on having dual citizenship.  America is not a Christian nation.  Never has been.  Never will be.  Neither will any other country.  We are citizens of a heavenly country.  We believe that should be true in every country except ours.  It is easy to get caught up in trying to make our country into something it cannot be.  So we worry about legislation.  We demand first amendment rights.  We buy into the lie that God guarantees us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  So it becomes easy to confuse fighting, killing, or dying for a political system with serving God.

And we are dying.

What if we really believed we were citizens of a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly kingdom?  We worry about abortion.  Why not put our time, money, energy, and prayers into caring for unwanted babies, helping single Moms that feel trapped, or ministering to those who are in pain over the choice they made?

Quit expecting a country to be the guardians of God's plan for marriage.  Let the church do that.  I have no problem sending members of my flock to a government official to have whatever official recognition the state expects.  Then I would do a church recognition of marriage.  It would have no legal standing at all.  That's OK with me.  It would have standing with God.  And the state ceremony would not.

But that only works if you believe there is a difference between being a Christian and being an American.

So what are you suggesting?  That we "disunite the states?"

Nope.  That's God's business.  But this I know.  My kingdom will last forever.  This one will not.  Guaranteed.

We do not expect persecution.  The church has always been persecuted.  Christians have always died for their faith.  But we celebrate the fact that we are "free from persecution."  That may be part of the problem.

Acts has so many great stories about the incredible growth of the church in the first century.  Started in Jerusalem on a cross and exploded all over the world.  And they were persecuted.  They died.  They were jailed.  They lost property.

And the whole world heard about Jesus.


So...

I think persecution is coming.  I do believe my grands and my great grands will face a hostile culture as Christians.  And I believe they will be part of an explosion of the gospel in this country.

Well I expect most will read this and disagree.  OK.  I may even be wrong.  Don't think so, but I do think this is a discussion worth having.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

 

Out of the mouth of babes...

Andrew Joel Ridgell is my 6 (almost 7) year old grandson.  He is in first grade and we got to hang out last weekend. So we get to talking and have the following conversation.

Andrew:  Pops, we do not want to hold to fire in our hand.

Pops:  That's right, Andrew.  That would burn us and that would not be good.

Andrew:  But Pops, if God said to hold fire in my hand I would.

Pops (trying not to choke up):  Me too Andrew.


It was special and sweet because he absolutely meant it with all of his heart.  You have had those same kinds of conversations with your kids and grands also.  But I have to tell you, that conversation scared me a little.

Part of me is scared because I know what radical faith demands.  What danger, persecution, and pain await him with that kind of obedience?  But God will see him thru whatever comes.  Just like he does the rest of his family.

Maybe I'm afraid of how unpopular that kind of faith would be in our culture.  And maybe afraid because I know how unpopular it would be among most churches.

But here is what scares me the most.  I am afraid there will be Christians who will discourage that kind of faith.  People that would try to explain why God can't mean it if he asked that kind of obedience.  Maybe well meaning, but those who would explain why radical obedience like that was something for Bible times, not today times.  People who will always stay in the boat instead of walk on the water.

I pray Andrew will always keep that kind of radical faith and obedience.  Because someday God will call him to hold fire in his hand.  To do something that he would not ordinarily do.  To do something that requires incredible courage and faith.  And I pray he will.

Me too.

So thanks to his parents who are raising him to be a radical believer.  Thanks to Bible class teachers who are molding him into a real Jesus follower.  Thanks for the radical spiritual heroes he sees in the Bible and around him today.

And thanks to Andrew for reminding me that I don't need to hold fire in my hand.

Unless God tells me to.

Out of the mouth of babes...



Thursday, October 09, 2014

 

Christians are not afraid of death...

Ebola is in the US.  Merv is here too.  People have died from both of these.  Cancer and heart disease are still around.  Car wrecks happen every day.  School and work shootings.  Tornado, earthquake, fire, and flood.  Hurricanes and tsunamis.

Death threats are everywhere.  Our world is terrified.

So here is our reminder why Christians are not.  But instead of terrified, we are courageous in the face of death.

Jesus beat death.  When he was raised from the dead, he defeated death.  We too will be raised from the dead.

This world is not our home.  We are aliens and strangers here.  Our real home lies on the other side.  Death is a door to life for us.

We believe that how we die is as much a testimony as how we live.  Finish strong.  Live what you believe, but also die what you believe.

We are hope grievers.  Of course the people you leave behind will grieve, but not like those with no hope.  We have hope.

Dying is better because of what is on the other side.  We live so we can die so we can live.

Jesus has overcome the world.  This world is full of trouble, but Jesus is bigger.  Even bigger than death.

Jesus tells us to not be afraid.  And he knows what he is talking about.

So in a world full of fear and panic over deadly diseases and death... we are different.

Do not be afraid.  Do not be terrified.  Be courageous.  Be bold.  Live strong.  Die strong.

Be faithful right up till death.  Do not be afraid even when walking in the valley of the shadow of death.

That is our testimony that we believe.

And we do.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

 

God does heal a lot of broken marriages

As I have blogged recently about Christians and divorce, it dawned on me that I ought to remind everyone that lots of faithful Christians end up with marriage trouble.  Sometimes, people who love God commit sins that are incredibly damaging to a marriage.  Sometimes Christians take their marriage for granted and wake it to realize they are in trouble.

Or Christians lose their focus on Jesus and end up in situations that have deeply wounded their relationship with their mate.

And God heals a lot of broken marriages.  If two people love God, he can fix their marriage.  After all, God hates divorce.  And he is in the business of changing lives.

So here are the words my wife and I love to hear from marriages in trouble.

I love God.  It starts there.

I love you.  In in badly damaged marriages, love can be restored.  You fell in love once, you can fall in love again.  But real love is a choice, not just a feeling.  And real love acts for the good of others.  So words may not be enough, but they can be a place to start repair work.  They give hope.

I am sorry.  Don't assume your mate knows you are sorry.  Say it.  And mean it.  Then follow thru on what it means.  Being sorry is the beginning of of a long, hard process to change.  It is the start of repentance.  Sorry for sin, for hurtful attitudes, for neglect, and for pain caused.

Me too.  I don not believe in the "not my fault" rule.  One partner may have crossed lines they should not have, but I never seen a perfect mate.  And that is not the same as saying it is your fault.  There is plenty of fault to go around.  Healthy marriages heal when both commit to work on ways they can each strengthen the relationship.

You are forgiven.  Powerful words.  And again, just the beginning.  Forgiveness takes real work too.  It is hard.  It is worth it.

Of course there are so many more things to be said about healing broken marriages. I am not a professional counselor.  But Marsha and I do a lot of spiritual counseling.  We have seen a lot of marriages in trouble.  We have seen many -- even most -- of them healed.  So these are just some things we have learned.

Truth be told, most good marriages I know about had times when they could have fallen apart.  One, or both, could have quit. And maybe that is the key for all of us.

Don't give up.  Don't quit.      

I know God can fix marriages.  After all, Marsha and I are living proof.

So to all the struggling marriages who may read this...

God is the great fixer.  Try some of these words..

And see what God will do.


 

 



Thursday, October 02, 2014

 

Can you love God and still get a divorce

Can I love God and still end up divorced.

Yes you can.

I know many faithful Christians who did everything they could to save their marriage and could not.

Healthy marriages make it because there are three in the marriage:  Husband, wife, and God.

God can do amazing things to heal broken marriages.

But only if you both want him to... and there is the problem.

You may want to save your marriage, but you cannot control your mate.  If your mate decides not to follow Jesus in your marriage, then you may not be able to stop the divorce.

And let me be clear here.  I do not believe that faithful is interpreted as perfect.  Passionate, committed Christians who are radically sold out for Jesus are not perfect.  But they are faithful to God.  They try to live more like Jesus.  They repent when they are not.  They follow Jesus.

So I am not talking about perfect mates.  Marsha and I frequently tell couples in trouble that we do not believe in no-fault problems in marriage.  There was only one perfect person on this earth and he never married. And it is not either one of them.

But as much as you may love God, and as much as you may try to follow Jesus... you cannot force your mate to do the same.  It is tragic, it is heartbreaking, it is painful.  Life will never be the same for the Christian whose marriage dies.  But God will see you thru.  Like he does in every other tragic circumstance in this fallen world.

If your mate chooses someone else and will not repent, you can divorce them.  Jesus even said you can remarry.

But when your mate gives up on Jesus, gives up on you, and gives up on your marriage... then you cannot prevent divorce.

Stay faithful, keep loving God, pray your mate repents, go on with your life, serve others.

Just like the rest of us.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

 

Truths you need to know before you divorce

It is heartbreaking when Christians divorce.  God hates it.  And I have never known two faithful Christians that decide to break up their marriage.  They both may have once been faithful.  Maybe there will be repentance and they will be faithful again.  But someone -- or someones -- are not being faithful to Jesus for a marriage to end in divorce.

And I am not talking about two faithful Christians in a mess but trying to make it.  That's life in a fallen world.  Nor am I talking to the one doing all they can to save a marriage.  It takes two wanting to save it.  And you cannot control anyone else.  

So here are three things I tell Christians who want a divorce.

Your marriage is not about you.  When you were crucified with Christ in baptism you died and committed to let Christ live in you.  You became a voluntary slave to Jesus and committed to follow God.  So when you find the reasons you want to divorce start with the word "I"... you are missing the point of being a Jesus follower.

I need to be happy, I need to find myself, I, I, I, I,

My wife helped me figure this out in our marriage counseling as an elder and wife.  I used to start conversations with Do you love him/her?  But she figured out there was a more fundamental question.  We now start every discussion with one question.  Do you love God?

So understand your divorce is not just a rejection of your mate, it is a rejection of God.


If you will not forgive your mate, God will not forgive you.  I know the pain caused by sin in a marriage.  And I know the blessing of repentance and forgiveness.  We used to spend a lot of time trying to get people to repent (from adultery or addictions, or temper, or whatever), and work to save their marriage.  These days it seems we spend a lot of time trying to get people to forgive to save their marriage.  And we do call for repentance when they do not forgive.  I know how difficult forgiveness is.  It takes time and effort.  But if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us.

That is serious business.


Divorce teaches your kids to quit on God.  When you walk away from your marriage,  you are teaching your children to quit.  You claim to want them to be Christians but your life message is now  to only be a faithful Christian until you are not happy with something.  Or until you love someone else more than your mate (and more than Jesus).  You are teaching that things have to be like you want them to be in this world to be faithful or content.  Not gonna happen in this world.  But that is the message of your life.  So you best hope that your abandoned mate, or someone in their church family, are giving your kids a clearer message about Jesus.  Or they will end doing exactly what you taught them to do.



Most people who have decided to divorce do not want to hear these.  But Christians walking away from the light often do not want to hear truth spoken into their lives.  But some do.  And they listen.  And they ask God's help.  And they make it.  Even if they don't, we must speak truth.

And by the way, as one of my readers reminded me... if you are going to expose the lies of Satan or tell the truth of God, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and go to work.  Healing marriages -- or lives for that matter -- is hard, messy, and dirty.  And exactly what family does.

Speak truth.   

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