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Pew Research: Sunday Regulars Are Happier and Healthier

According to an article by Kate Shellnutt published in Christianity Today earlier today, across 25 countries, active religious participation is linked with habits like nonsmoking, community involvement, and voting.

During his sabbatical at the end of last year, Chance the Rapper quit smoking while studying Scripture. “I feel really good right now, thank u Father,” he wrote on Instagram, where he shared passages of Scripture and counted days gone by without another cigarette.

The Chicago native, who has become outspoken about his walk with Christ in his music and public life, is one example of a trend researchers found among the faithful: Believers who are active in their faith tend to make healthier choices and live happier lives.

Religious habits make a major difference for smoking status in particular, according to a Pew Research Center report released today on religion and well-being.

Among Americans who identify as Christian or another religious tradition and attend services at least once a month, 85 percent don’t smoke, compared to 74 percent of the religiously unaffiliated and 72 percent of those who attend services less often.

The trend holds up around the world, where regular worshipers are less likely to smoke by a significant margin in 16 of 19 countries surveyed. (In most of those places, the active religious also drank less, but not by as wide a margin.)

Smoking and drinking were among several measures of well-being analyzed in the new report, based on data from the World Values Survey (2010–2014), the International Social Survey Programme, and Pew surveys.

Religious attendance—rather than religious affiliation—consistently linked to higher levels of happiness than the growing population of people around the globe who claim no faith. The report said:

Whatever the explanation may be, more than one-third describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans.

Across 25 other countries for which data are available, the actively religious report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries) and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.

While believers can rely on God to help manage their suffering and endure hardship whether active members of congregations or not, those who regularly attend services have the added support of social connections. Earlier research, Pew pointed out, indicates that friendship is a key factor.

“Those who frequently attend a house of worship may have more people they can rely on for information and help during both good and bad times,” the report said, citing scholars Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Robert Putnam of Harvard University. “Indeed, a range of social scientific research corroborates the idea that social support is pivotal to other aspects of well-being.”


To the Frontlines of Faith – Why Not?

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: “If anyone acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will openly acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32

Bonus Reading: Daniel 5:1-17

What if a senator or congressman appearing on Meet the Press would say on camera, “Tim, we’re going to be discussing some vital and sensitive issues. I wonder if we could begin with a word of prayer.”

Would CBS pull the plug on the show? Would his constituents immediately mount a recall campaign?

What if you were watching C-Span when your own congressman got up to address the House of Representatives, openly based his remarks on scriptural truth, intelligently delineating how this persuaded him to vote a certain way, and urged his fellow representatives to vote the same way?

Would you say, “Whoa! I believe in the Bible, but this is going too far”?

Well, why should we consent to keep the most important aspect of our lives in a closet?  Gays don’t.

The “politically correct” position is that a person’s religion is private and shouldn’t be publicly displayed.  But is this scriptural?

We need to earn the right to be heard, choose our battles wisely, and be sensitive and respectful.  But can we be the salt He commands us to be if we refuse to acknowledge His ownership of our lives?

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: Does being openly who I am sound farfetched? If so, why?

Thought to Apply: If India is the most religious country on our planet, and Sweden is the least religious, America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes.—Peter Berger (sociologist)

Adapted from Think Before You Look (Living Ink Books, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


To the Frontlines of Faith – Rub It In

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: “The Kingdom of God … is like yeast [that] permeated every part of the dough.”  – Luke 13:20-21

Bonus Reading:  1 Corinthians 9:19b-23

Keeping Christ bottled up in the churches is keeping salt in the shakers. Salt must penetrate the meat to preserve it.

Being salt isn’t nearly so much about having more pastors and missionaries as it is about having many more Christian laymen thinking strategically about and acting on ways to build the kingdom in such areas as public policy, advertising, media, higher education, entertainment, the arts, and sports. They must penetrate key areas of culture to have a preserving effect.

That doesn’t mean standing outside and lobbing hand grenades of criticism over the wall. It means being inside through competence and talent, offering scripturally based alternatives to what is corrupting and evil.

When Christians carp and complain but offer no alternatives, the world rolls its eyes and snickers. Only if we offer a “more excellent way” do we command or deserve attention.

I’m calling for a radically different way of thinking about our world. Instead of running from it, we need to rush into it. Instead of hanging around the fringes of our culture, we need to be smack dab in the middle of it.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: A believer I know who wields respected influence with his colleagues is …

Thought to Apply: The world we confront is aggressively pagan. The only adequate answer is for Christians to recover the New Testament power of spiritual aggression.—Karl Barth (Swiss theologian)

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.

Why Churches Are an Economic Benefit to Their Communities

Pastors are used to preaching about the spiritual riches of church life, but according to one study, churches also have a tangible economic benefit to their communities. A Recent column at Fox News highlighted the importance of congregations to the neighborhoods in which they are planted:

But let me tell you why a decline in the health of faith organizations is an alarming problem for your neighborhood… Churches and other faith organizations provide vital social services to your community members, regardless of their theology. In fact, studies dating back to the 1990s find that the typical community church provides about $150,000 worth of social services per year.

This is encouraging news for the dedicated folks at Central Church since it can be hard to measure the impact of our ongoing community feeding outreach ministry in tangible ways.  Although we know that we provided more than 11,500 hot, nutritious meals to anyone who came through our doors last year, it helps to step back from big numbers to consider the impact that our outreach can have on a single soul. 

We thank all of our volunteers and contributors who strive to keep our community outreach programs fully staffed and funded! 

May God richly bless each of you as we seek to share God’s love everyone in our community.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!


To the Frontlines of Faith – … or Salt?

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse:  You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?  – Matthew 5:13

Bonus Reading:  Genesis 41:14-16, 33-40

Could the most critically acclaimed director in Hollywood one day be a layman active in his church? Could the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting go to a Christian journalist on staff at a major daily newspaper?

Is it too much of a stretch to think that a major exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art could feature the works of an artist on staff at one of our Christian colleges? Am I out of my mind to suggest that your son or daughter could be the principal dancer for the Joffrey Ballet Company, leading a weekly Bible study for others?

I don’t think so.

Why should we be so ready to encourage our children to become ministry professionals but stand in the way of their becoming journalists, actors, photographers, and painters? Do we believe God is strong enough to take care of His own only as long as they stay within the safety of the Christian ghetto?

The Bible is filled with examples of people like Joseph, who not only served as adviser to the “president” of his day, but used that position to influence the entire land. If we’re obedient to our Lord’s call to go into all the world, we’ll begin reentering the fields we’ve fled.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: What field am I equipped to penetrate with Christian values?

Thought to Apply: [Christians] must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable.—Jacques Ellul

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.



To the Frontlines of Faith – Scorekeepers…?

Personal EvangelismKey Bible Verse: I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers. … You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  1 Corinthians 5:9-10

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:14-21

Our responsibility isn’t to keep score. The ultimate victory will be ours, but it won’t happen here.

If we’re effective, we’ll thrill to see the Holy Spirit turn our efforts into positive benefits in the lives of some around us, but evil will survive, even prosper. We’re to keep living for Christ and leave the results to Him.

The scorekeeping mentality is most pervasive in our approach to television. Well-meaning but ineffective Christians spend much of their time monitoring telecasts to tell us how many acts of violence, sexually explicit scenes, and anti-Christian plots are seen on the nation’s networks.

Our job, it seems to me, isn’t so much to monitor evil as it is to provide alternatives to evil.

If the resources used to survey all those hours of television, report those results, and organize a boycott had been used to produce and distribute even one quality national program that pointed viewers to the more excellent way, that would be of more value than all the scorekeeping.

Participating in a boycott of products of companies sponsoring trashy TV programs might make us feel righteous, but has little to do with real influence.

—Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs

My Response: Do I tend to protest or seek to provide better alternatives?

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


In Memorium – Grace Schleiger

Central Church regrets to announce the passing of Grace Schleiger, one of our oldest members, earlier today while in hospice care at the Medical Center.

Details concerning a memorial service to be held to commemorate her life and service will be announced as information becomes available.

Please remember Grace’s family in your thoughts and prayers as they move through this difficult time.



To the Frontlines with Faith – The Amateur Edge

Personal EvangelismWho Said It…Bob Briner

Bob Briner was a leading figure in professional sports management, an Emmy Award-winning producer, and president of ProServe Television. He wrote regularly for the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

With Michael W. Smith, he co-hosted the nationally syndicated radio show Roaring Lambs. Bob wrote a book with the same title, and while battling cancer in 1999, struggled to finish one more book during his final weeks on earth—pulling it off just in time.

What He Said…The Amateur Edge

The conventional wisdom says that Christianity’s best spokespersons are the Chuck Swindolls and the James Dobsons of the church. But guess what.

Out where I spend my professional life—in the headquarters of the television networks and in the advertising agencies in New York and in the offices of the professional sports leagues—people have never heard of either one. They are both extraordinarily effective at speaking to and equipping Christians. But we are not applying what they are teaching us.

It is my firm belief that the most effective spokespersons for Jesus Christ in the public arena will:

  • Have never asked for money on radio or television.
  • Not be on the payroll of any Christian organization.
  • Through competence and class in their own “secular” profession, have earned the right to be heard.
  • Be a superb communicator.
  • Know and love God’s Word.
  • Understand that Christianity is relevant to life.

Adapted from Roaring Lambs (Zondervan, 1993)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to penetrate my corner of Your world with the salt of the gospel.


Winter Weather Advisory

The weather forecasters tell us that there will be snow overnight Saturday into Sunday morning, with 1-2″ of fresh snow by early Sunday evening.


The downtown streets will be plowed and our sidewalk will be shoveled and salted as usual Sunday morning.


The coffee will be on for Sunday School at 10, and the Sanctuary will be toasty warm for our worship service at 11.


Singing a few hymns will warm you right up.




Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Grace for the Other Guy – Loving Our Neighbor

Loving Your NeighborThis passage is part of the much-loved climax to Paul’s explanation of forgiveness of sin through Christ and of freedom from sin’s grasp.

It sets these realities in the broader context of God’s purpose for all who’ve responded to His call through the gospel, and the Holy Spirit’s role in shaping the desired result and assuring our solid standing into eternity.


Interact with God’s Word

Romans 8:29-34

  1. Have you thought of yourself as chosen by the eternal Father to be a brother to His Son?
  2. How does knowing you are chosen make you feel?
  3. Why, according to verse 29, has God called you to come to Him?
  4. What does verse 30 tell you God gave you when He included you as a brother of Christ?
  5. What did Jesus do in the past (v. 34) to secure your right standing?
  6. What is He doing now to sustain that standing?
  7. Who is the guarantor (v. 33) of your right standing?
  8. What is the future for Jesus’ brothers and sisters?
  9. How should you value brothers and sisters whom Jesus died for and the Father chose?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for choosing you and the brothers you relate to. Ask Him to make you each more like the divine Brother you seek to follow.

Romans 8:29-34

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Sinner Saint

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: The Father … has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:12, NIV

Bonus Reading:  Col. 1:9-14

Ryan and Sam shrank from disclosing reality in their lives to each other. Although saved, they instinctively knew they’d still be condemned as sinners. But after connecting with the truth of grace for the first time, the two walked up to me.

“Sam here and I’ve been close friends for years,” Ryan said. “Over lunch we did the exercise about choosing to believe that we’re each saints. And I learned something about Sam that he’s kept hidden from me.” Ryan turned to Sam. “Why don’t you tell Bill what you just told me?”

Sam said, “I told Ryan that a while back I acted out an unhealthy behavior, and that right now I’m deeply tempted to do so again. In fact, I just wish someone would hit on me.”

Ryan responded, “You’ve lied to me for years, Sam. I feel hurt and confused. Before, if you’d told me the stuff you just did, I’d have rejected you. But today I’m proud of you for telling me. I don’t have a clue how to help you. But I know you’re a saint, Sam—one with deep issues that are freaking me out right now. But I’ll stand with you.”

Now the masks were off. Each saw the other as a fragile and compromised, but dearly accepted saint.

—Bill Thrall in TrueFaced

My Response: What mask must come off if I’m to reach out to others?

Thought to Apply: If we don’t accept Jesus in one another, we will not be able to give him to others.—Mother Teresa (Albanian missionary to India)

Adapted from TrueFaced (NavPress, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.

Grace for the Other Guy – Convicted Convict

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: Now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. Hebrews 2:11

Bonus Reading:  Romans 8:29-30

The third day I was at the federal prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, it rained.  The groundskeepers work detail to which I was assigned was excused from duty.  Finding an empty spot in the dayroom, I read my Bible and came across the Key Bible Verse for today.

That verse hit me hard. I suddenly saw life differently. The men around me weren’t “murderers,” “armed robbers,” and “drug dealers.” They were brothers, human beings just like me.

Some of them had done terrible things, sure.  But so had I.

I might have some talents that society rewarded more highly than it did the talents of these men, but those abilities had been given to me at birth. I’d nurtured them, it’s true, but I’d also misused them time and again. Anything that might distinguish me from these other men, I realized, was a difference in degree, not in kind.

We were all gifted and flawed people, and I could no longer pretend I was qualified to judge anyone.  Who was I to place myself apart?  I became convinced—no, convicted—that in God’s eyes, I was fortunate to be someone, like my fellow prisoners, of whom Jesus was not ashamed.

—Charles Colson in The Good Life

My Response: Colson says, “I never truly understood people until I was crushed.” I think the reason for that is …

Thought to Apply: Be as patient with others as God has been with you.—Source Unknown

Adapted from The Good Life (Tyndale, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Attitude Check

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: So why do you condemn another Christian?  Why do you look down on another Christian?   – Romans 14:10

Bonus Reading:  Romans 14:11-13

I had never liked “Jerry,” a Christian leader in my community.  True, I’d never met him.  Yet I “knew” that Jerry oozed arrogance—and I “knew” that he didn’t respect me.  Why would I want to meet a person so stuck-up and judgmental?

One day as I filled my plate at a local diner, I turned and came face to face with Jerry.  Flustered, I said, “Hello, Jerry. I don’t think we’ve ever met. My name is Matt Woodley.”

Jerry’s eyes lit up. “Oh, my goodness,” he effused. “I’m so happy to meet you, I’ve heard so many good things about you and your church.  I hear you’re having such a positive impact on this community.  I even hear you’re a writer.  I have so much respect for you.  It’s good to meet you!”

I felt myself shrinking in shame. I had assumed that Jerry’s heart seethed with noxious attitudes toward me. A stingy spirit entraps us in suspicion, self-righteousness, and misery.

But people like Jerry reveal a Christlike commitment to see the best in other people, until it’s proven otherwise. They refuse to rely on hearsay or assumptions; instead, they base their opinions on face-to-face and heart-to-heart conversations. Generosity of spirit makes us and God very happy.

—Mathew Woodley in Discipleship Journal

My Response: When in doubt, do I assume the best or the worst? Why?

Thought to Apply: Generosity of spirit builds Christlike relationships; stinginess of spirit undermines and eventually shatters them.—Mathew Woodley (New York pastor)

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (7-8/05)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.


Grace for the Other Guy – Pecking Order

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Bonus Reading:  Romans 13:8-10

When I was in fifth grade, nobody hung out with two boys: Ted, a geek who wore thick glasses, talked with a high-pitched voice, and wasn’t very athletic; and Johnny, who was overweight and older, because he’d failed fifth grade twice.

One spring day our teacher sent Ted and Johnny out of the room on an errand. Then she said to the class, “Before recess twice a day, you choose sides for kickball; and every time Ted and Johnny are selected last.  Why not try something different?  Why not do for them what you’d want them to do for you?”

The next day, I was captain for one of the kickball teams. If I close my eyes, I can still see the joyful surprise on Ted’s face when I chose him first for my team. And I’ll never forget the excited expression on Johnny’s face when the other captain selected him first.

Was this a big thing?  No.  We’d merely treated them with dignity and respect.

And that’s all we need to decide to do as we encounter waiters and cashiers, blue-collar laborers and white-collar executives, neighbors and friends, children and parents, people in trouble or just muddling through life.  As we do, they’ll be impacted.  And so will we.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: This is Lee’s clearest memory from fifth grade. I think that’s because …

Thought to Apply: Love stretches your heart and makes you big inside.—Margaret Walker (African American poet)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.



Grace for the Other Guy – “I Knew It!”

Loving Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified.  – Romans 15:7

Bonus Reading:  Romans 15:2-6

As volunteers in the local Young Life club, Mike and Karla Yaconelli befriended a student whose father, an alcoholic, had emotionally and physically abused his entire family. They worked with the young man for six months.

The Yaconellis were remodeling their house and needed new kitchen tile laid. The only professional available was the young man’s father. Reluctantly Mike agreed to employ him—but only after obtaining a legal bid.

The boy’s father performed the work. On his last day, Mike asked him to drop by his office later for his check. He replied that he would because he needed to talk to Mike about the money. “I knew he’d try to cheat us,” Mike muttered to Karla. He braced himself for a confrontation.

At the end of the day, the boy’s father entered Mike’s office and began to talk as he wrote out his bill. He acknowledged that he’d abused his family. He told how he’d observed Mike’s involvement with his son change the boy’s life.

After seeing his son’s change, he said, he’d gone to AA and remained sober ever since. He handed Mike the bill, saying, “I’ve never been able to thank you, but I’m thanking you now.” It showed the agreed-upon bid price, and was marked “paid in full.”

—Howard Butt Jr. in Who Can You Trust?

My Response: Given the same situation, would I even have hired the father?

Adapted from Who Can You Trust? (WaterBrook, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time! Help me to dish it out to others.



Grace for the Other Guy – God’s Penetration Play

Loving Your NeighborWho Said It…Mike Singletary

Mike Singletary is one of the most determined and accomplished players in NFL history. In the 12 seasons (1981-1992) that “Samurai” Singletary played linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he was twice named NFL defensive player of the year, and named ten times to the Pro Bowl team.

Mike is outspoken about his faith and family (he and Kim have seven children). In 2005, he became the assistant head coach and linebacker coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

What He Said…God’s Penetration Play

While speaking in prisons, I urged inmates to reconcile with their fathers.  Kim called me on it: “Mike, how can you tell other people to reconcile with their loved ones when you won’t call your dad? Are you going to forgive him or is the blood of Jesus going to be in vain?”

My parents got a divorce when I was a kid. I’d sided with my mom, refused to forgive my dad, and hadn’t talked to him for years. God finally made it clear that I had to act. I made the call. There was screaming and crying. We both almost hung up. But we stayed with it, and talked for three hours. I forgave my dad, he forgave me, and we started a new relationship.

A couple of months later, I visited my dad. We hugged, and for the first time in my life, I told him I loved him.  As we talked, I began to understand the dynamics that shaped him.

Now he’s bedridden.  It’s a good thing we got our relationship right while we could still enjoy each other.

Adapted from Mike Singletary: One-on-One (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I’m on the receiving end of Your grace big time!  Help me to dish it out to others.


Winter Weather Advisory

The weather forecasters tell us this morning that the snow is done until tonight. We have 4″ of powdery snow and no ice.

The downtown streets are plowed and our sidewalk is shoveled.

The coffee’s on for Sunday School at 10, and the Sanctuary is toasty warm for our worship service at 11.

Singing a few hymns will warm you right up. Come join us!

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Winter Weather Advisory

Tonight and tomorrow it will be snowing.

Tomorrow is Sunday.

Central Church will be open as usual. See you there!



Tackling the TV Threat – Spiritual Vigilance

TV InfluenceKing Solomon, who collected and arranged most of the sayings in the Book of Proverbs, was a brilliant thinker. But he didn’t consistently model for his own children what he advocated.

Our kids, too, will pick up our values more from what they observe us read, listen to, and view, than from the values we recommend. So we need to be on constant guard duty.


Interact with God’s Word

Proverbs 4:18-27

  1. Since we usually find time to do what we enjoy, what do your leisure activities say about your affections?
  2. What is the goal of guarding your heart?
  3. What actions that help guard your heart are listed in verses 24-27?
  4. How can you “stick to the path and stay safe” (v. 26)?
  5. What are some assumptions in the media (v. 19) that could easily trip you up?
  6. How can you reinforce your confidence that the “way of the righteous” (v. 18) is the only way with a truly bright outlook?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God for a firm resolve to honor Him in all that you allow yourself and your family to be exposed to.

Proverbs 4:18-27

18 The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like complete darkness. Those who follow it have no idea what they are stumbling over. 20 Pay attention, my child, to what I say. Listen carefully.

21 Don’t lose sight of my words. Let them penetrate deep within your heart, 22 for they bring life and radiant health to anyone who discovers their meaning. 23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.

24 Avoid all perverse talk; stay far from corrupt speech. 25 Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. 26 Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. 27 Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – Spectator Sport?

Key Bible Verse: We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Is TV viewing a spectator sport?  Hardly.  With split-second accuracy, you must change channels, zap commercials, or even shut the whole thing down.

This year I was with a group of friends watching the Super Bowl.  My pastor, C.J. Mahaney, had the remote.  As soon as commercials came on he’d switch to C-SPAN, possibly the safest channel available.

Why does he practice “active remote” television viewing?  Doesn’t he know how entertaining the Super Bowl commercials can be?

Yes, and he also knows how often they use sex to sell their products.  He knows that nothing he might miss is worth exposing himself to lustful images.

Well, it’s just a commercial, I’ve rationalized.  It’s going to be over in a few seconds.  It can’t be that bad.  But that’s a lie.  A sinful image can lodge itself in my mind in much less than 30 seconds.

At times when I’ve traveled and stayed at hotels, I’ve sinned against God by mindlessly surfing through the channels, knowing there’s a good chance something will flash before my eyes.  This is an expression of lust.  TV InfluenceBecause of my poor track record, I no longer turn the TV on in a hotel.

—Joshua Harris in Not Even a Hint

My Response: I’ll agree with my wife on what will automatically trigger termination of a show or commercial.

Thought to Apply: In Beverly Hills they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.—Woody Allen (director, comedian)

Adapted from Not Even a Hint (Multnomah, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – Where Did They Get That Idea?

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Isaiah 29:13

Bonus Reading: 1 John 2:15-17; 24-27

A dozen years ago, Bob Briner wrote in Roaring Lambs about his experience trying to get a New Year’s Eve concert on the air.  The concert featured several Christian stars, many of whom were also popular in the secular market.

Although he had 20 years of experience in program distribution, he couldn’t get one network to air the program.  Briner commented, “The main over-the-air networks do not believe that Christians in America are an identifiable, reliable audience.  Their view is that Christians protest against bad programs but watch them anyway.”

If the lambs of today are letting themselves be shepherded into the TV industry’s neat and tidy little demographic categories with everyone else, is it any wonder that popular culture is rapidly sliding into the sewer?

What has happened to our mission to challenge cultural assumptions from a Christian point of view?

We tend to blur the old line between “in the world” and “of the world” until it’s almost unrecognizable, and we’ve stopped pushing the media to produce something better, instead trying to make the best of what’s already there—or worse yet, thoroughly enjoying it.

—Gina Dalfonzo in BreakPoint WorldView

My Response: To what extent are the network assumptions justified judging by my Christian friends?

Thought to Apply: Why should people pay good money to go out and see bad films when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing? —Samuel Goldwyn (film producer)

Adapted from BreakPoint WorldView (12/02)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – Familiarity Breeds…Acceptance?

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.  – Psalm 101:3

Bonus Reading: Matthew 6:22-23

The first time you heard a curse word, saw a sex scene, or witnessed a televised kiss between two people of the same sex, you likely reacted with disdain. But the more you’re exposed to things that you may consider wrong, the less negative reaction you’ll have to them.

If these subjects are presented in a favorable, acceptable manner, you may begin to accept them as the norm and possibly even decide to indulge in such acts yourself.  Our initial reaction of being repulsed by something can change with oversaturation and move us to acceptance, and, even worse, make us approve.

The phenomenon of oversaturation changing the views of the public about what’s considered normal, tolerable, and appropriate can be easily seen in the difference in today’s television, movies, magazines, and advertising as compared to just a couple of decades ago.

Overexposure to the many vices of the world through the media has caused our views of what’s right and wrong to dim to the point that today those views are barely visible. As our views of right and wrong change, we find ourselves experiencing appetites for things that just a few short years ago we’d have run away from.

—Debra Cherry in Feeding Your Appetites

My Response: One thing I’ve begun to tolerate that used to be off limits is …

Thought to Apply: We Americans have always considered Hollywood, at best, a sinkhole of depravity. And, of course, it is. It is not a Protective Monastery of Aesthetic Truth.—David Mamet (playwright)

Adapted from Feeding Your Appetites (Integrity Publishers, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – Why TV Threatens Families

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: We are … fighting against … the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. Ephesians 6:12

Bonus Reading: Psalm 128:1-6

What societal threat poses the greatest threat to Christian families?  According to a survey of FamilyLife Conference guests we conducted, it’s television.

Why?  Because …

  • TV replaces real relationships.

Communication ceases when the TV is turned on. Who can compete with million-dollar commercials, and programs that parade sexy bodies in front of us? I agree with Erma Bombeck, who said that if a woman has a husband who watches three consecutive TV football games on a Saturday, she should have him declared legally dead and have his estate probated!

  • TV often undermines the commitments and moral integrity that bind a family together.

Shows that honor the family have been replaced by sitcoms that glorify adultery, premarital sex, and perverted behavior.

  • TV robs families of time—both in quality and quantity.

After attending a marriage conference, one dad went home, unplugged the TV, and lugged it to the garage. In its place he hung a picture of the family. Their five-year-old-son stared at the portrait; then he looked up at his dad and asked, “Does this mean we’re going to be a family now?”

—Dennis Rainey in Moments Together for a Peaceful Home

My Response: A positive alternative to tube time I could lead my family in is …

Thought to Apply: It is not that [TV content] is always directly hurtful. The evil lies rather in the forfeiture of what the child might be doing if not watching. —George Kennan

Adapted from Moments Together for a Peaceful Home (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – TV Takeover

TV InfluenceKey Bible Verse: Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.  – Proverbs 4:23

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 4:18-27

For years Barb and I had two TVs in the home—the family room and the master bedroom. We’d routinely invite the kids to plop on our bed just before bedtime. On occasion, if there was something interesting on, we’d watch TV together.

When Scott turned 15, he asked if he could have a TV in his bedroom. Because I wasn’t as sensitized to this issue as I am now, I discounted Barb’s concerns and told Scott he could get a TV as long as he bought it with his own money.

What a mistake!  That TV was like a large magnet for Scott, who was sucked into his bedroom about 15 seconds after he finished his last bite of dessert, and we wouldn’t see him again until the next morning.

It pulled him away from our family, and we had no idea what he watched. I have a sneaking suspicion Scott succumbed to the temptation to watch late-night television shows on school nights, which cut into his sleep time and made him more tired in the morning.

Allowing teens to watch what they want when they want is like inviting a total stranger who doesn’t share your values to spend a lot of quality time with them.

—Walt Larimore in God’s Design for a Highly Healthy Teen

My Response: How am I exercising spiritual leadership of my family’s viewing habits?

Adapted from God’s Design for a Highly Healthy Teen (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


Tackling the TV Threat – 3 Entertainment Industry Lies

TV InfluenceWho Said It …Michael Medved

Michael Medved is a radio talk show host and veteran film critic.  After his Hollywood vs. America was published in 1992, the entertainment establishment denounced him as “a Nazi” and “a fundamentalist Christian fanatic.”

That, says Michael, is “no way to talk about a nice Jewish boy.”  As a Yale freshman, he suffered frostbite in Omaha while hitchhiking home to California in tennis shoes. By the time he graduated, Michael had hitchhiked more than 80,000 miles!

What He Said …3 Entertainment Industry Lies

1.  It’s only entertainment; it doesn’t influence anybody.

Advertisers wouldn’t be paying multiple millions of dollars airing commercials and supporting programs that influenced no one. Networks wouldn’t be pulling out all the stops to increase their shows’ ratings if it truly were “only entertainment.”

2.  We just reflect reality.  Don’t blame us, blame society.

About 7 of the approximately 350 characters appearing on primetime television each evening are murdered. If this homicide rate reflected the real world, then in less than two months every person in America would be killed and the last left could turn off the TV.

3.  We give the public what it wants.  If people don’t like it, they can turn it off.

For over two decades, G- and PG-rated films for family audiences have earned twice as much as R-rated films. But instead of increasing production of lower-rated films, Hollywood has upped the number of R-rated films to nearly two-thirds of all releases. Many of these R titles never even earn a profit for their producers.

Adapted from Reader’s Digest (10/95)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, when I relax, it’s easy to let my guard down. Please keep me spiritually vigilant all the time.


A Relationship Redefined – Loving Spouse and Family

FamilyThe religious experts arrived from the big city to check out reports of irregularities in the hinterland.

But in response to the first question on their checklist, Jesus countered with a more basic question: what was the basis for the checklist itself?

He then condemned their nifty attempt to checkmate the clear teaching of the law by misapplying another regulation (Numbers 30:2).

Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 15:3-6

  1. What are some traditions that add richness and meaning to life?
  2. When do traditions cross a line from good to wrong (v. 3)?
  3. Is the biblical concept of “honor” limited to showing love and respect (v. 5)?
  4. Does our society’s tradition of living in nuclear rather than extended families release us from an obligation to care for them personally?
  5. Do our society’s “traditions” of corporate and governmental pension and health care provisions release us from an obligation to provide financially for our parents?
  6. Can you think of other ways in which we may have substituted man-made expectations for God’s commands?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you determine how you should observe the Fifth Commandment in a manner that honors Him, as well as your parents.

Matthew 15:3-6

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.’

5 But you say, ‘You don’t need to honor your parents by caring for their needs if you give the money to God instead.’ 6 And so, by your own tradition, you nullify the direct commandment of God.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Softened “Fence Post”

FamilyKey Bible Verse: His father said to him, “Look, dear son, you and I are very close … ” Luke 15:31

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12

Running a Kansas farm with his parents and six brothers and sisters taught Marvin solid values that would serve him well as a surgeon. But after he left the farm for college, Marvin began to feel an elusive void. It gradually took the shape of a simple sentence he and his father had never spoken to each other: I love you. Marvin knew his father loved him. But his love was understood, not felt. And it was something, like respect, to be earned. As he learned of better, deeper relationships, Marvin longed for more.

On a break from college, Marvin spoke those three words, “I love you,” and hugged his father. His father remained silent—cold yet compliant, unsure of what to do with his emotions. “It felt like hugging a fence post,” Marvin recalls.

But he repeated the scene during the next six months. The response to his words and hugs was always an unbroken silence. But after the tenth time, Marvin’s father looked his son in the eyes and said, “Son, I love you, too.”

This turning point “opened up unexplored territory in our relationship,” Marvin says. Over time, he and his father were able to share heart-to-heart their dreams, failures, and joys.

—Ken Canfield in The Heart of a Father

My Response: What “unexplored territory” do I need to probe with my father?

Thought to Apply: Love cures people—both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.—Karl Menninger (psychiatrist)

Adapted from The Heart of a Father (Northfield, 1996)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Pumping Positives

FamilyKey Bible Verse: May God … give you grace and peace. Every time I think of you, I give thanks to God. Philippians 1:2-3

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 23:22-25

How many of us thank God every time we remember our parents? Almost everyone has negative memories of his childhood. But you can balance this with positive memories of your home. Here are pump primers to get these positive thoughts flowing:

  • Where did your parents take you on vacation, and what did you do?
  • What did you most enjoy doing with your dad? With your mom?
  • What was your favorite family tradition?
  • What were the family jokes?
  • What special phrases or nicknames did your family invent?
  • What was your favorite Christmas? Your favorite birthday?
  • What problems did your parents help you through when you were a teenager?
  • What values from your childhood home are you trying to pass on to your children?

As you think about these questions, thank God for the positive memories and their power to give your own home strength and stability. Write some of your thoughts down and send them in a letter to your parents. It’s a tangible way to let them know you wish them “grace and peace.”

—Dennis Rainey in Moments Together for Growing Closer to God

My Response: What are the positive childhood memories I’m grateful for?

Thought to Apply: The real histories of families aren’t the records of births, deaths, and marriages. They are the stories told after dessert.—Frederick Waterman (writer)

Adapted from Moments Together for Growing Closer to God (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Dad’s Mistake

FamilyKey Bible Verse: You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Colossians 3:13

Bonus Reading: Colossians 3:12-14

My love growing up was baseball. Dad worked long hours and didn’t come to my games. But my last year in Little League, we played the league-leading team in a real stadium! I was so proud to have Dad finally see me play center field. I got two hits off one of the league’s best pitchers. The game ended. I felt good, ready for Dad to congratulate me on my hitting. Instead: “You missed that fly ball. You should have charged it. You could have caught it.” I was devastated.

I held it against him for years. But then I started going to my son Sam’s games. As we’d drive home, it would take everything in me to not say, “You took a called strike three.” That’s when I really forgave Dad. Now I see that Dad saw the potential and wanted me to be better. He knew I could have caught that ball if I’d charged it. But all I could see back then was that I was a failure in his eyes.

Loving our parents means we quit holding their humanness against them. We let them be fallible, like us. God wants your parents to experience forgiveness from any place they can get it—especially from you.

—Paul Tokunaga in Faith on the Edge

My Response: I’ll ask God to dissolve resentment for how I may have been hurt by my parents.

Thought to Apply: Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.—Oscar Wilde (playwright)

Adapted from Faith on the Edge (InterVarsity, 1999)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Two Strings to Cut

FamilyKey Bible Verse: There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Luke 12:53

Bonus Reading: Exodus 18:13-27

The first apron string to sever is the counseling string. When issues arise between a husband and wife, they should never first call mom and dad for advice. Rather, using the principles laid out in God’s Word, they should prayerfully work out their own problems, seeking outside counsel only if necessary.

Setting up your own household doesn’t mean you must terminate the relationship with your parents. You’re to leave them, not forsake them or forgo all their influence. Their hard-won experience can still play a vital role in your lives. Consider the biblical examples of Naomi, the mother-in-law who had a beautiful relationship with her daughter-in-law Ruth. And recall Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who pulled him aside and told him he was working himself to death. Taking his advice made Moses’ service to God much more effective.

The second string to cut is the economic string. It’s hard for some married children to leave behind the security of the homes and lifestyles in which they grew up. But if you want a healthy marriage, you must leave the “safety net” of your parents behind and create your own “home, sweet home.”

—Ed Young in The 10 Commandments of Marriage

My Response: One way I can still benefit from parental experience is …

Thought to Apply: Behind every successful man is a proud wife and a surprised mother-in-law. —Hubert H. Humphrey (American politician, vice president)

Adapted from The 10 Commandments of Marriage (Moody, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Commuter Marriage

FamilyKey Bible Verse: This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united. Genesis 2:24

Bonus Reading: Genesis 24:50-61

Doug’s dad had deserted, leaving his mom to sacrifice for her son’s welfare. So when Lisa, Doug’s new wife, began experiencing tensions with her mother-in-law, Doug sided with the woman who’d always been his hero—his mother. Whenever Doug suggested to Lisa changes in her behavior, she suspected he was parroting his mother’s concerns, and resisted. The icy intensity between wife and mother grew.

“How can I get Lisa to make these reasonable changes my mother wants her to make?” Doug asked his valued friend Sam.

“It sounds to me like you need to run away from home,” Sam said, quoting Genesis 2:24. “You’ve been trying to live in two homes. When you got married, you moved your stuff in with Lisa, but your heart never left your mother. This is your deal, my friend—not Lisa’s. Until you completely move in with Lisa, you’ll never get this fixed.”

Doug resolved that whenever Lisa and his mother were on opposite sides of an issue, he’d side with Lisa. Over the next months, Doug’s mother tried anger, tears, and guilt. Competing with Lisa, he told her, was a battle she’d lose.

—M. Robert Wolgemuth in The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life

My Response: Have I declared my primary loyalty to my wife in a way that’s clear to both her and my parents?

Adapted from The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


A Relationship Redefined – Forgotten Commandment

FamilyWho Said It …Dennis Rainey

Dennis Rainey is the executive director and cofounder of FamilyLife, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Dennis lives in Little Rock and has spoken at Promise Keepers events across North America. He serves as host of the daily radio program, FamilyLife Today, where Barbara, his wife, is a frequent guest.

What He Said …Forgotten Commandment

Honoring your parents is a command for children of all ages. There’s no exception clause that exempts you as an adult child from responsibility. But what does honoring your parents involve now?

Honoring your parents doesn’t place you back under their authority or give them permission to manipulate you. It’s not endorsing irresponsibility or sin by denying what they’ve done wrong as parents. It’s not flattering them by “emotionally stuffing” the mistakes they’ve made or denying the pain they may have caused you.

Honoring your parents does mean forgiving them as Christ has forgiven you. It means recognizing the sacrifices they made for you and what they did right. It means praising them for the legacy they’ve passed on to you. It means seeing them through the eyes of Christ, with understanding and compassion. It means taking the initiative to improve your relationship.

It’s an attitude accompanied by actions that say to your parents, “You are worthy. You have value. You’re the person God sovereignly placed in my life.”

Adapted from Moments Together for Growing Closer to God (Regal, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, I realize that honoring my parents is a part of fully honoring You. Help me to lovingly fulfill this obligation.


How God’s Word Works – Reading the Bible

Bible 2Timothy’s Jewish mother had made sure that he was taught the content of our Old Testament.

Some materials included in our New Testament weren’t yet written when Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy.

But others were already considered equal in authority to the Old Testament.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, for instance, he identified (in5:18) quotations from both Deuteronomy and Luke as Scripture.

Interact with God’s Word

2 Timothy 3:14-17

  1. What are some Old Testament truths about God and mankind that lay the groundwork (v. 15) for trusting in Jesus as the Messiah?
  2. How does the assertion of verse 16 that all Scripture is God-breathed make the Bible different from every other book?
  3. So what weight should you give its pronouncements as you evaluate other truth claims?
  4. How systematically are you internalizing truth benchmarks from God’s Word?
  5. How has Scripture made you realize that an area of your life has been deficient?
  6. How has Scripture prodded you to straighten out some aspect of your behavior?
  7. How fully equipped do you feel (v. 17) for living as a disciple? … for defending God’s truth?
  8. What influences could tempt you to not remain faithful (v. 14) to the truths of Scripture?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to use His Word in your life for its purpose: to strengthen your faith and lead you to do good.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17 It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.


How God’s Word Works – Fade or Flourish?

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: These instructions are not mere words—they are your life! Deuteronomy 32:47

Bonus Reading: Psalm 19:7-11

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Fort Myers, Florida, is home to a small fern that grows on the trunk and limbs of many swamp trees.

The Audubon Companion Field Guide I bought at the entrance to the sanctuary asked, “Can you tell when the last rainfall occurred at Corkscrew? Check the resurrection fern.

If the leaves are curled, brown, and dead looking, rain has not fallen recently. However, within 30 minutes of a rainfall, the ‘dead’ leaves uncurl and return to a vibrant green.”

I am like the resurrection fern. Without the daily spiritual nourishment that the Scriptures provide, I’m often “curled, brown, and dead looking” too. At least that’s how I feel.

I’ve discovered that just six minutes a day with my Bible can make the difference between a dry, ordinary day and a refreshing, vibrant day.

It was a simple decision.

My wife Jane and I made the choice together. We stopped watching television. We cancelled the subscriptions to most of the magazines coming into our home.

Overnight, we created the free time we needed to devote to God. Now we begin each day in Scripture study and silent prayer. This spiritual resurrection has changed our lives!

—Cliff Denay Jr. in Michigan

My Response: In order to keep a time-slot reserved for refreshing from God’s Word, I’ll …

Thought to Apply: The Bible redirects my will, cleanses my emotions, enlightens my mind, and quickens my total being.—E. Stanley Jones (missionary to India)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.


How do United Methodists understand Epiphany and Three Kings Day?

Epiphany is the day Christians remember the coming of the Magi to visit Jesus, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It occurs on January 6 every year, the 13th day of the Christmas season. The word “epiphany,” from the Greek word epiphania, means appearance or manifestation.

The arrival of these visitors was a sign that the incarnation of God in Christ had been made known and was recognized by the heavens to the whole world, so that even Gentile wise men from the East came to pay him homage. This is an observance of great majesty, solemnity and awe.

An even more ancient Christian celebration than Christmas, Epiphany originally focused on the nativity, God’s incarnation (God made flesh) in the birth of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s baptism.  After the late fourth century, as Advent developed as a season of baptismal preparation in addition to Lent, Epiphany became associated with baptism.  This is why we see images of the three Magi on many older baptismal fonts.

In many Hispanic cultures, Epiphany is a day of great rejoicing and celebration, often kicked off by a parade the night before in which people dressed as the three kings or carrying statues of the three kings pass through the towns and villages throwing out candy and small gifts to all around.  Families and children alike look forward to Dia de Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) as a time for presents, feasting and celebration.  Attending church services that include the celebration of communion is also common in many of these cultures, even for those who may not attend worship regularly.

In England and some other European cultures, January 5 is known as Twelfth Night, the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas feasting and partying.  On Twelfth Night, many families gather in homes to celebrate with friends, food, singing and gifts.  It is at these Twelfth Night celebrations that “Chalking the Door,” asking God’s blessing on those dwellings and upon all who live there, is most often observed.

In New Orleans, Twelfth Night begins another season of celebrations that comes to fulfillment at Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday). Epiphany itself, January 6, becomes the kickoff day for that season, but is also often observed with a full celebration in church, complete with incense, elaborate processionals, choral celebrations, and Eucharist.

Some United Methodists in the United States, who are not part of these rich traditions, tend to recognize Epiphany on the Sunday nearest January 6.  There may be a pageant of the three kings as part of worship that day and a small party afterward.

How God’s Word Works – Pay Dirt

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: I rejoice in your word like one who finds a great treasure.  – Psalm 119:162

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 2:2;2 Peter 3:15-16

Launching into my treasure-hunting hobby, I bought my first metal detector. The salesman gave me two pieces of advice. Once I found something buried, he told me, before filling in the hole, I should always scan the hole again. Where there was one coin, there’d often be others.

And secondly, he told me, never believe that a place has been “hunted out,” meaning that all the treasure has been taken. “For the patient hunter,” he said, “there’ll likely be another treasure waiting.”

I soon proved him right. I’d been told the site of a home built in the late 1700s was hunted out.

I obtained permission to hunt the property. I started scanning early one morning, and hunted for six hours without finding a thing. But just as I was ready to give up, I started getting signals—one right after the other. I dug out so many coins that they filled both of my pants pockets. One was an 1865 three-cent piece, worth about $70.

In the same way, new Christians desiring the milk of the Word can sweep over the Scriptures and find a host of marvelous treasures. And veteran students of the Bible can be sure that, no matter how much we dig, it will never be hunted out.

—Van Morris in

My Response: What very familiar parts of Scripture should I revisit?

Thought to Apply: If you want to grow in the Word of God, become a person with a chisel and quarry the Word—look, explore, seek.—Max Lucado (Texas pastor & writer)

Adapted from (12/05/05)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.


This New Year, Build Character

We make New Year’s resolutions about money, fitness, diets, and technology.

But what about personal character?  And when choosing virtues to emulate, where should we start?

The Bible, Aristotle, and Aquinas aren’t bad places to start, says Jay Wood, a philosophy professor at Wheaton College, who has frequently written about this topic.

“What Christians have said about Aristotle is that he gives us good advice for how to flourish in a common human life,” said Wood.

“Aristotle’s virtues do not, however, prepare us for the life to come.  The great Christian teachers about virtue said we need to have the gifts that the Holy Spirit confers upon us in order to achieve the virtues.”

Just for reference, here’s Galatians 5:22–23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”


Effective Stewardship – Month #5

God grants to people the ability to earn that

which is His already: money and wealth.

“Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.

In your hand are power and might;

and it is in your hand to make great

and to give strength to all” (1 Chron. 29:12).


An oxymoron is the use of two terms which are contradictory in nature. “Jumbo shrimp” is an oxymoron. “Ferocious lamb” is another. “Dumb scholar” is yet another.

One of the saddest and most contradictory is the oxymoron, “Stingy Christian.”

Because we have been redeemed through our faith in Christ, Christians should be the most generous of all people. We have been abundantly blessed of God, who has given us all things richly to enjoy (Rom. 8:32).

James 1:17 expresses this truth clearly: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Think about some of God’s good gifts:

  • God gives the seed (Gen. 1:11).
  • God gives the rain (Job 5:10).
  • God gives health (Jer. 30:17).
  • God gives life (Acts 17:25).
  • God gives strength (Isa. 40:29).
  • God gives riches (1 Chron. 29:12).
  • God gives grace (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • God gives eternal life (Rom. 6:23).

And God gives us money and the ability to get wealth.  Solomon said that money is one of God’s gifts to people.  The purpose for which He gives us money is stated clearly in Ecclesiastes 5:19 — for our enjoyment.

Some of us make that the primary reason for money.  We major in pleasure and the things money can do for us.  But there is another major purpose God gives us money, something that also can bring great pleasure: To give it back to Him.

That’s why of all the oxymorons in existence, “Stingy Christian” is the most contradictory.  We who have been given the most from God should be the most generous people in the world.

As the tombstone in an old cemetery read, “What I spent, I had; what I saved, I lost; what I gave, I have.”


How God’s Word Works – 31-Day Trial

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: For these commands and this teaching are a lamp to light the way ahead of you. Proverbs 6:23

Bonus Reading: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“I can’t read the Bible,” Brian said. “It’s way over my head. Nothing in it has anything to do with my life.”

“Brian,” his pastor responded, “why don’t you read just one chapter of the Book of Proverbs a day and see what happens?” The pastor knew that Brian had sat in church for years but never really tried to dig into the Bible.

Brian took the challenge. After a few weeks, he met with his pastor. “Well, Brian, did you learn anything?”

Brian looked embarrassed. “Yes,” he said, “I learned that I’m a fool, and so are most of my friends!”

“Why do you say that?” asked the pastor.

“Because most of the things Proverbs says about a fool apply to me and those I hang out with. Very few things it says about a wise person sounded like me and my friends.”

“What are you going to do about it?” the pastor asked. Brian had lots of answers that led to great conversation and, more importantly, to changes in his lifestyle.

“Do you still think the Bible has little to say to your life?” the pastor asked.

“Now,” Brian admitted, “I’m worried that it has too much to say!”

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: To more deliberately dig into the Bible, I need to …

Thought to Apply: It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.—Mark Twain (author)

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.


How God’s Word Works – Active Ingredients

Bible 2Key Bible Verse: The word of God is living and active. … It penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  – Hebrews 4:12, NIV

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Like any father of three, I’m experienced at dispensing medicine. If he has a fever, give him Tylenol, or maybe Advil. If she has an ear infection, administer an antibiotic. If you’re going on a long plane ride, and really want them to sleep, give them Benadryl.

Medicine labels list active and inactive ingredients. Active ingredients address the problem at hand; inactive ingredients are extras, like flavorings and colorings. (We have a big red stain on the carpet upstairs from an inactive ingredient!)

Ever heard of the active ingredient Guaifenesin? If you’re not a pharmacist and you knew it was an expectorant, chances are you’ve spent bleary-eyed nights reviewing pharmaceutical names on the cold-medicine row at your local drug store.

We fill the rest of our lives with active and inactive ingredients. What better cure for life’s problems than the most active ingredient of all, the Bible?

It has a unique supernatural ability to address any problem you might have. But just like a medicine, it can’t work if it’s left on the shelf. Medicines must be taken to start working on the cells and tissues of the body.

The Bible must be taken—not just read, but consumed—if it is to go to work in the way God intends.

—Mark Geil in Georgia

My Response: I know God’s Word is at work in my life because …

Thought to Apply: Apply yourself totally to the text; apply the text totally to yourself.—Johann Bengel

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me a fresh grasp of Your truth as I open myself to Your Word.


New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsHappy New Year!  2018 is officially in the books, and 2019 holds unlimited possibility.

The most common resolution is to get healthy—whether that means losing weight, working out, or a combination of the two.  But most plans for getting healthy lack a critical element: God’s Word.

While it might seem strange to consult the Bible for weight loss advice, Scripture has a lot to say about body issues.  God cares about our physical bodies.  We’re created with a purpose, and we must learn to take care of our bodies so we can fully live out that mission.

Why not make one of your resolutions this year to spend some time each day in God’s Word and learn what God has to say about our purpose and our bodies, and learn how to set realistic, achievable goals for living a healthy lifestyle?


Stick to the Fundamentals – Spiritual Strength Coaching

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: Cry out for this nourishment as a baby cries for milk. 1 Peter 2:2

Bonus Reading: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

During my first playing season, Jeff Reitz, an assistant strength coach, challenged me. “You’re a good Christian kid,” he told me, “But you need to grow.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Here’s a math problem,” Jeff said. “Every day you’re either spending time with Jesus or Satan. If you only read your Bible, pray, and worship God on Sunday, how many days a week are you with the Lord?”

“One,” I said.

“Right. And how many days are you with Satan?”

I started laughing. “Okay—I got you, Jeff. Cool.”

“You go to the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meetings on Wednesday nights,” he continued. “Now—how many days do you spend with the Lord?”


“How many with Satan?”


“Right. There’s no way you can go against five of something with two and still win.”

“So what do you do?” I asked.

“Every day I get up and read my Bible, Shaun,” he answered. “I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot, just a little. And once a week I memorize a Scripture verse.” It sounded good to me. I was willing to give it a try.

—Shaun Alexander in Touchdown Alexander

My Response: How consistent is my Scripture intake? What needs to change?

Thought to Apply: Let the Bible fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. —Henrietta Mears

Adapted from Touchdown Alexander (Harvest, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Keep me, Lord, from settling for a holding pattern. Help me to realize steady growth in my walk with You.



Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone from the kind folks of Central Church!

Our doors are always open to you. 

Why not make a New Year’s resolution to join us for worship on Sunday?

Central Church’s doors decorated for Christmas