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Hold Back or Open Up? – Contagious Candor

Authentic ChristianityKey Bible Verse: So put away all falsehood and “tell your neighbor the truth” because we all belong to each other.  – Ephesians 4:25

Bonus Reading: Galatians 6:1-3

A team of Christian men recently conducted a Manhood Without Models seminar at Seattle Pacific University. Each of us on the team—two pastors, three laymen— honestly shared our own stories, including both failures and victories, and the lessons we’d learned from them.

Dwight, one of those who attended the seminar, was an elder from a prominent local evangelical church. “I’ve never heard honesty like this before,” Dwight said in one of the small discussion groups. He went on to share his own story of private pain about his rebellious son, who had run away from home twice in the last year.

“I haven’t told anyone else about this before today,” he admitted, “especially anyone at church. I was too afraid of what they’d think. But hearing you men share about your own struggles has helped me to see that I need to reach out for help too.”

I called Dwight a couple of weeks after the seminar to ask how he was doing. “Great!” he exclaimed. “My son and my wife and I have started working with a family counselor, and it’s going really well! I can’t thank you and the other men enough for modeling that it’s okay to reach out for help.”

—Patrick Means in Men’s Secret Wars

My Response: What experience of failure or victory should I share to help my buddies get real?

Thought to Apply: You can never establish a personal relationship without opening up your own heart. —Paul Tournier (Swiss psychologist)

Adapted from Men’s Secret Wars (Revell, 1996, 1999, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.



Hold Back or Open Up? – What They Chew Over

Authentic ChristianityKey Bible Verse: I’m eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.  – Romans 1:12

Bonus Reading: Romans 1:10-12

Jay’s men’s group has met at 6:30 at a coffeehouse every other Friday morning for the last three years. Long enough to get used to each other stepping into the hard spaces of one another’s lives.

Recently Shaun reported that he hasn’t been struggling with Internet porn at work. Ed said his business trip was “uneventful” and that he shared his faith with a guy on the plane. Matt described the “good flow” that he and his wife, Carol, have been enjoying—an answer to prayer after the previous week’s “doghouse” tale.

When Jeff announced that his sister was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, the guys just listened. Travis, who didn’t have anything dramatic to share, felt led to offer Jeff a frequent-flyer ticket to Denver to see his ailing sister.

As for Jay, he took advantage of the time to confess that he’s struggling to connect with his wife, Alene, and asked for advice on how to break through the resentment preventing him from loving her the way God loves him.

No subject is taboo as God’s Word is brought to bear on it. Advice from guys who care about one’s spiritual welfare can be trusted. And it feels good to have someone watching your back.

—Kenny Luck in Every Man, God’s Man

My Response: Who do I need to watch my back? Whose back could I watch?

Thought to Apply: We are born helpless. … We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually … if we are to know anything, even ourselves. —C.S. Lewis

Adapted from Every Man, God’s Man (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.



Hold Back or Open Up? – Masculine Matters

Authentic ChristianityKey Bible Verse: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 27:6

When we ask guys if they’re connected spiritually somewhere, they often reply that they’re in a couple’s Bible study. Then we ask them if, in their couples’ group, they’ve ever talked about their struggles with porn on the Internet or with hot babes at work. We’ve yet to hear a positive response.

When in the company of women—including our wives—we simply don’t discuss the things we need to deal with. Lust and temptation aren’t the only topics. We need to deal candidly with the dynamics unique to men in marriage, career, and parenting.

Most importantly, we need to be real with one another about our progress in commitment to Christ in all areas of life. Men become men in the company of other men. Ask any warrior in any culture.

Connecting with other men isn’t optional for men who want to do life God’s way. As they share their commitment to spiritual growth, they can sustain their momentum and achieve personal changes faster than if they attempt to go it alone. No big mystery; that’s God plan.

—Kenny Luck & Todd Wendorff in Being God’s Man by Pursuing Friendships

My Response: Have I volunteered for serious discipling in a male-only context? How could I get started?

Thought to Apply: We Christian men need each other. There is strength in numbers. When isolated and separated from our brothers, we are easy picking for the enemy of our souls.  —Robert Daniels (author pseudonym)

Adapted from Being God’s Man by Pursuing Friendships (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.



Hold Back or Open Up? – Banter Breaker

Authentic ChristianityKey Bible Verse: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  – James 5:16

Bonus Reading: Matthew 18:19-20

Years ago I was part of a group of guys who got together for breakfast every Saturday. We liked to think we had some deep relationships going, but our talk was mostly about “da Bears,” “da Bulls,” “da Cubs,” and “da Hawks.” (Hey, this was Chicago!)

One day one of the guys was quiet. We routinely asked him how things were going, expecting a smile and a “Fine, how ’bout you?” Instead, he blurted out, “Guys, my marriage is falling apart and I don’t know what to do!” I was so shocked that I almost dropped my toast. With one outburst he’d shattered our group’s veneer.

Suddenly we found ourselves rallying around him, praying for him, and revealing things about ourselves we had suppressed in the past. The experience drew us together like we’d never been before, and it changed the dynamics of our group forever. One person’s risk-taking had revolutionized our relationships.

Going deep requires disclosure. Transparency should be appropriate, equal, and gradual, and it should come after trust and confidentiality have been established. But at some point it has to come, or the relationship will remain shallow and ultimately unfulfilling.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: My guys group fellowship would go deeper if we agreed to …

Thought to Apply: When friends stop being frank and useful to each other, the whole world loses some of its radiance.  —Anatole Broyard (literary critic)

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

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.



What A Church Does, in Dollars and Cents

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Ram Cnaan has been researching the economic value of churches for more than two decades. Because some congregations would almost certainly close their doors without tax exemptions, Cnaan thinks proponents of taxing churches are misguided.

Your research looks at the “halo effect” that churches have on their communities. What is the “halo effect”?

It is the way that congregations contribute to the local economy. Churches spend money locally, and since they spend money locally, they enhance the local economy. So on a small scale, every church buys flowers. Where do they buy flowers? From a local florist. No one mentions this, but across the country there are florists in business because of local congregations.

People don’t look at the value of the congregation financially. They look at the spiritual aspect. Now, I’m not a person of faith, I’m a social scientist. I started to look at the congregation as an economic engine. What is the value that an urban congregation on average contributes to the local economy?

In the first study [in 1996], we went to 10 congregations in Philadelphia and we looked at the replacement value of social services like finding people jobs. On average, it was $140,000 per year. Of course, social services is only a small component of what congregations do. So next we looked at 90 churches in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Fort Worth, and all the ways they contribute to the local economy. There was a range—each generated between $1.2 and $2.5 million annually.

How did you arrive at those numbers?

Central United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls, PA

There are about 100 things that we measure. First, we said, “What should be included?” And then we work with experts in valuation and ask them, “What is the lowest credit I can give for this?”

For example, a pastor tells me a member of the congregation was thinking strongly about suicide. The pastor worked very hard to help this person, and this person did not commit suicide. How much credit, valuation, should I give to the church?

We found a source on the cost of suicide. For the sake of discussion, let’s say it’s $100,000—that’s what it costs the family and community. Then I say, I’m sure that other people, family and friends, helped this person as well, so I’m only going to give the church half. Then I’m going to say, well maybe next year the person will commit suicide, so give the church credit for one year only. I divided it by 20 years and gave the church 1/20 of 50 percent of the cost of suicide for that social work. That’s the valuation.

You do that for 100 things, and add it up. We were as conservative as possible.

What do you say to people who want to tax churches?

I think they are miscalculating. If you tax a church, maybe you get $6,000 or $7,000 in taxes, but the loss to the community will be greater.

The taxes won’t change the budget of the local municipality. But the church buying flowers, and food for fellowship, and paying the clergy—that will impact the town. Most congregations don’t have a surplus at the end of the year.

I always ask, why does no one want to tax museums? I’ve never seen any museum serving soup to the hungry. And I’m not talking as somebody who hates museums! But there’s no museum in Philadelphia where you can drop your kids off at 1 p.m. and pick them up again at 6 p.m. And for churches, this is not so strange a thing.

Are churches different than other nonprofits?

There are many nonprofits and they’re all tax exempt. No other organization does as much as a congregation. Congregations are—I want to say weird, but not in a negative way.

I cannot call the head of the museum at 2 a.m. and tell them I have a personal problem. Even if I’m on the board, I cannot call. But people can call a clergy and say, “My father is dying at the hospital, will you come?” The fact that it is not considered out of the norm to expect clergy to be available for something like this explains how unique this kind of organization is.

Daniel Silliman is news editor for Christianity Today.

What are you grateful for today?

Living a life filled with gratitude is key to our spiritual journeys.

“I think gratitude is really the catalyst for all of our spiritual growth because it opens the door for us in so many ways to experience God’s goodness, to recognize God’s goodness.

It impacts how we respond in service, in relationships, in our ministries, in our family,” says the Rev. Cathy Boileau, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. “The power of gratitude is that it allows us to see how God is working in our lives and that God is the center of the story and not us.”

Growing in gratitude requires intentionality. We have to work at it.

“What we count, we tend to increase… If we are a person who tends to count our blessings, there are more blessings to count,” says Dr. Kent Millard, president, United Theological Seminary and author of “The Gratitude Path.” “If we count our problems, there are more problems to count. Am I complaining or am I giving thanks? They are mutually exclusive,” Millard says.

Take a cue from Jesus

The story recounted in all four gospels of Jesus feeding 5,000 people near Bethsaida illustrates Jesus modeling gratitude.

“And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people” (Matthew 14:19 NIV, italics added).

Later in the New Testament we learn Paul was also a big fan of the practice. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 the apostle leaves no room for anything but gratitude when he writes, “In everything give thanks.”

The Rev. Susan Oeffler, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Rice Lake and Canton United Methodist Church, both in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, advocates that gratitude can bring balance to lives and to a world that can feel out of control.

“The uncertainty of the world is not going to change, but we can change. We are not built to always be stressed out,” she says, adding that gratefulness in our lives leads to feeling grace, which leads to seeing beauty in the world and reduces anxiety.

“Every time someone asks you ‘how are you doing?’ return with ‘I am grateful,’” Oeffler says. “These simple words cause each of us to recheck our gratitude meter and be thankful.”

Pain is real

When Millard’s wife of 47 years passed away, he found an unexpected relationship between his grief and gratitude.

“I found myself writing about how lonely I was and how much I missed her,” he says. “In the midst of writing about the pain, I could not deny that I was deeply thankful for a community of people who walked me through the loss.

“When I expressed my gratitude, the grief began to dissipate.”

Though painful situations do occur, Boileau believes that gratefulness helps us better navigate challenges.

“Grateful people are more resilient,” she says, “because they understand everything they have is a gift. So when that ‘thing’ disappears, they are more able to thank God for the gift.

“Gratitude is that which calls to mind God’s presence,” she says. “I think focusing on what God is doing helps us to trust Him with all the things that aren’t healed or aren’t full enough.”

Cultivating gratitude step-by-step

John Stephens, senior pastor at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, echoes Millard’s idea about choosing to focus on our blessings rather than our problems. Philippians 4:8 calls us to do just that, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

“Paul is saying, ‘I want you to change the way you think.’ And you’re going to have to allow God to help you,” Stephens says.

“All of that gets you to a place where you’re able to live a life of thanksgiving and gratitude, because as God starts pulling us back together, that oneness, that quiet, that rest, that peace of God that comes in our lives, that expands our spirit,” he says. “That’s what allows us to live a life of gratitude.”

Unexpected benefits

“When you have a gratitude mindset, it’s easier to not have fear and denial and perfectionism control your thoughts,” Oeffler says. “It also may lower your blood pressure, increase your energy and block those negative feelings.  And you recognize that even though there are things that can go wrong, you still have things to be thankful for.

“That’s so great,” she says, “that something as simple as giving thanks can do all of that.”

*Crystal Caviness works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.


Hold Back or Open Up? – Cut and Run?

Authentic ChristianityKey Bible Verse: The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  – 1 Corinthians 12:21

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 10:23-25

I can’t believe I’m doing this, Clayton thinks as he maneuvers his Ford Taurus through the early-morning rain. At least there’s no traffic at this hour. Well, in 90 minutes it’ll be over. And if it’s weird, I’ll tell Ted, “Sorry, but it’s just not for me.” What had Ted called it? “A men’s accountability/prayer group”? Clayton just can’t picture a bunch of guys sitting in a public restaurant (okay, a private room, but still!) talking openly about their problems and asking each other personal questions.

As Clayton switches lanes, he toys with turning around and heading home—or fleeing to the office. How safe is it to share your problems with a bunch of guys you barely know? Besides, I don’t have any real crises. What if I say something innocent and all of a sudden they want to pray for me? … put their hands on me? If they do that, I’m outta there!

Through his rain-streaked windshield Clayton sees the restaurant ahead. Moments later he finds himself inside the small meeting room. Guys are smiling and introducing themselves. Ted comes over and says, “Hey, Clayton, glad you decided to join us!”

Clayton smiles weakly. “Good to be here,” he mumbles, slipping into the chair closest to the door.

—Len Woods in Tough Choices

My Response: When does opening up seem most risky to me?

Adapted from Tough Choices (Multnomah, 1998)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.



Hold Back or Open Up? – Marks of Authenticity

Authentic ChristianityWho Said It … Jamie Bohnett

Jamie Bohnett directs the Redmond, Washington-based Fathering Forum (and its sponsoring foundation established by his own father). Earlier, he partnered in a family restaurant, managed a meat market, developed community relations for a Bible college, and served in a Christian discipleship organization. Jamie and his wife Cindy are big on short-term mission trips. And he’s into weight training, biking, and kayaking.

What He Said … Marks of Authenticity

“My father collected pistols,” said Bob, a small-business owner. “I inherited from him a rare 1848 pistol. Since there are less than 50 of them in the world, it’s worth thousands of dollars. How can you tell it’s authentic?” he asks, and answers, “By the gun’s imperfections: its scratches and nicks.”

Bob led the launch of a men’s ministry in his church based on simple authenticity. “Men are either going to be performance-based or trust-based,” he insists. “Once we realize that we’re loved by the Father, and that nothing we’ve ever done or will do can cause him to love us less, we’re set free to be real with each other.”

Bob leads by example, creating an atmosphere in which men can safely take down walls of attempted self-sufficiency. Openly sharing burdens, weaknesses, and struggles with sin fuels prayer focused on real spiritual battles.

What happens when men stop trying to cover up those scratches and nicks?

Authentic, joyful Christian fellowship!

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.


Life Is Too Short – Living the Christian Life

Living the Christian LifeWhat was Jesus’ life too short for?

Answering that question makes sense of passages in which Jesus urges people to keep mum about being healed by him, or (in Matthew 16:20) about discovering his true identity.

Following the Father’s timetable first meant resisting going to Jerusalem (John 7:1-10), then (Luke 9:51) making it a priority.

Interact with God’s Word:  Luke 4:42-44; 5:12-16

  1. The people of Capernaum (4:31) wanted Jesus to remain as their synagogue’s resident rabbi. What (4:43) was Jesus’ response?
  2. What (4:42; 5:16) appears to have been behind Jesus’ decision to move on?
  3. Jesus found it essential to lay his plans and goals out before the Father for frequent evaluation. Have you ever submitted your plans and goals to the Lord like this?
  4. How (v. 43) did Jesus define the Father’s calling for him at this time?
  5. Why do you think Jesus told the cured leper (5:14) not to tell how he’d been healed? How could excessive demands for miraculous healings have restricted his ability to accomplish his primary goal?
  6. Why do you think Luke juxtaposes reports of Jesus’ mushrooming following and reputation (5:15) with his making time (5:16) for solitude?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the insight and strength to resist being run ragged by the expectations of others or by your own misplaced priorities.

Luke 4:42-44; 5:12-16

42 Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. 43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.

12 In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. 14 Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

15 But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.


Christian Pastor Beheaded in Nigeria by Boko Haram

The minister kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Rev. Lawan Andimi, has been killed by his captors.

Terrorism and conflict reporter Ahmad Salkida broke the news that Andimi had been beheaded Monday afternoon (Monday, January 20, 2020) in Adawama state in Nigeria.

“Reverend Lawan Andimi was beheaded yesterday afternoon, the video of the appalling executions with that of a soldier was obtained at 2:42pm,” Salkida wrote in a Twitter update. “I made sure that the family, the authorities and the church were duly informed before the news was put out to the public this morning.”

Andimi was the Adawama chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and also a leader of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN). According to MorningStar News, Andimi was kidnapped on January 2 in Boko Haram attacks on Michika County and a nearby area in northeast Nigeria’s Adamawa state.

CAN leader, Bishop Dami Mamza, told reporters ransom negotiations were in the works with the terrorists, but ultimately broke down. The extremist group rejected a N50 million ransom deal and asked for N200 million instead. “They called his wife last week, informing her that they will be beheading him on Saturday, but somehow, they waited till Monday (yesterday),” Maza said.

On January 5, a video was released of Andimi pleading for help. While he asked his fellow church leaders to help him by soliciting Adamawa state Governor Ahmadu Fintiri to intervene, he was also resolute in his belief that God’s was in control of his situation—and no matter what happened it would good. “By the grace of God I will be together with my wife, my children and my colleagues…” Andimi says in the video. “If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God. I want all people close and far, colleagues, to be patient. Don’t cry, don’t worry but thank God for everything.”

In a statement released by the Director General, Media and Communications of Adamawa state, Governor Fintiri called Andimi’s death “gruesome” and expressed his sadness.

Andimi was 58 years old.  Please remember his wife and nine children in prayer.


Life Is Too Short – Go for the Gold!

Living the Christian LifeKey Bible Verse: “I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich.”  – Revelation 3:18

Bonus Reading: Revelation 3:14-22

In the 1984 Summer Olympics, Carl Lewis won four gold medals. Despite his outstanding performance, some critics accused him of holding back in the long jump. Instead of going for the world record in that event, he stopped competing after his first jump, confident that he’d win the gold. He stood by and watched as other jumpers tried unsuccessfully to best his distance.

Lewis later said that the Olympic trials had taken more out of him than he had expected, so he decided to save his strength for the other events. He was there to win gold medals, he explained, not to set records that would probably last only a short time.

Mart De Haan, president of RBC Ministries, notes that the Bible has something similar to say about choosing to devote our time and energy for pursuits that have lasting value. The believers at Laodicea failed to do this. Our Lord perceived their misplaced values by the pride they took in their riches and their self-sufficiency. He warned that they were lukewarm spiritually and not relying on him. They had to decide, he told them, whether they’d keep pursuing temporal things in order to impress others, or go for the eternal gold of his approval.

—Harry Genet

My Response: What am I pouring my strength into? What eternal value does it carry?

Thought to Apply: The man who is always available isn’t worth much when he is available. —Elton Trueblood (author & university chaplain)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Life Is Too Short – Holy Ruthlessness

Living the Christian LifeKey Bible Verse: “I must preach the Good News … in other places, too, because this is why I was sent.” Luke 4:43

Bonus Reading: Luke 4:42-44; 5:12-16

I hadn’t studied very hard my junior year at college—and had the marks to prove it! Now it was summer. My senior year would determine if I could go on to grad school and an academic career. But I’d also committed to lead my university’s Christian fellowship, gotten engaged, and was teaching the church high school Sunday school class. How to cope?

I learned of a theologian who graduated from a Canadian university while leading an InterVarsity chapter. So I wrote to him for guidance. I received a page-long reply he’d typed himself: “You should focus on that to which you believe God has called you, even though others might misunderstand, even resent, your priorities. Some might think you ruthless, but you must obey God, not other people’s agendas.”

That holy ruthlessness, I now realize, is key to the successful Christian life. Jesus modeled it. Regardless of what his disciples, family, or the crowds wanted him to do, he obeyed his Father—often in ways that astonished, even dismayed, his associates.

Taking this scholar’s advice, allowing my own agendas to be overruled, helped me through that crucial year. I’ve tried to follow it ever since.

—John Stackhouse Jr. in FaithToday

My Response: My focus is ____, and I will avoid distractions by …

Thought to Apply: Don’t take on things you don’t believe in and that you yourself are not good at. Learn to say no. —Peter Drucker (business consultant & trainer)

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/02)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Life Is Too Short – Opportunity Mindset

Living the Christian LifeKey Bible Verse: So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. … Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Ephesians 5:15, 17

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Are today’s Key Bible Verses about overloading your schedule with church events and obligations? … or turning normal relational moments into abnormal witnessing encounters?

No!  They’re about committing daily life to God’s purposes.  So …

  • Make the most of every area in which God has placed you. Are you single, married, retired, parent, child, friend, employer, employee, student, or grandparent? See these callings and seasons of life as opportunities to display the grace of Christ.
  • Avoid a “get through this season” mentality. We say to ourselves, If I can just get through this busy season of life, then I’ll be okay. This is an ungodly understanding of our current responsibilities and opportunities. I tend to do this with parenting: If I can just get through the diaper phase … Next it becomes: If I can just get through these early years of elementary school, then I can minister to others. But if I’m not careful, I’ll wish my life away and miss many opportunities to love and serve my children … to die to self and grow in grace. God wants us to see the daily struggles of life as critical moments of redemptive opportunity rather than hindrances.

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: A current redemptive opportunity I need to grab hold of is …

Thought to Apply: Every day is a day of reckoning.  —John W. Gardner (educator, government & philanthropy administrator)

Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Life Is Too Short – Skirmishes Decide Wars

Living the Christian LifeKey Bible Verse: “Awake, O sleeper …” Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Ephesians 5:14, 16

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 5:14-17

“Redeeming the time” is how today’s Key Bible Verses were traditionally translated. The Greek word for “time” used here isn’t chronos, referring to the passing of time in hours and days.

Instead, kairos is employed, which in the Bible refers to the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. An appropriate rendering would be, “As you go about your life in this in-between time, use it to its fullest to display the grace of Christ to others.”

What is Paul urging?

  • Seize the little moments of life (where 95 percent of your life is lived). Suppose a husband and wife are upset with each other. Will they turn toward each other or remain angry? This redemptive moment is huge! Imagine if this couple misses thousands of these over the course of their marriage. Where will their marriage be in 20 years?
  • See the context in which the details of life take place. Paul says, “Because the days are evil.” You live in a war zone. Every morning as you get out of bed there’s a battle raging for your soul, your life, your friendships, and your marriage. You can’t afford to waste these moments. The war is won in the little skirmishes that take place throughout your life. “Wake up!” Paul says, “you’re at war.”

—Tim Lane & Paul Tripp in Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

My Response: What “redemptive moments” have I been failing to take advantage of?

Thought to Apply: We speak of spending time; the Bible speaks of buying it.  —source unknown

Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Life Is Too Short – Life at Full Throttle

Living the Christian LifeKey Bible Verse: There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.  – Mark 6:31

Bonus Reading: Mark 3:20-21; 6:30-32

As Robert pops out of bed and hits the floor, he knows he’ll have to run full speed just to stay up with the pace of life. Breakfast is three big swallows of orange juice and a granola bar he grabs as he rushes out the door at 7:00 A.M. …

At 7:30 P.M. Robert rolls into his driveway. He sits at the dining room table and shovels down a reheated dinner while cranking out a couple more hours of work. Finally, exhausted, Robert flops onto the couch, turns on the TV, and shifts into neutral. Eventually he drags himself to bed and tries to put his frazzled mind to rest. But in numb desperation he admits to himself that he can imagine no way out of this daily cycle.

Is Robert the protégé of some Fortune 500 company? Hardly. He’s a normal high school freshman who works hard to get good grades, plays an instrument in the school band, and excels at two sports in the school year. By the time he gets home from his soccer game after a day of school, he still has homework for three classes.

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: Our culture cheers for those with breakneck schedules. Am I ready to break ranks on this?

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Life Is Too Short – You the Man! Oh Yeah?

Living the Christian LifeWho Said It … Dennis Swanberg

Dennis Swanberg travels widely from his home in Louisiana, performing stand-up comedy with a Christian message. A pastor for 21 years, Dr. Swanberg now hosts his own television show, Swan’s Place.

What started him doing impersonations? “Most moms yell at kids to go outside and play,” he chuckles. “Mine said, ‘You sit there and watch that TV. Your daddy worked hard for it!'” So the first voice he nailed was that of Don Knots as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show.

What He Said … You the Man! Oh Yeah?

Admit it: You like being the playmaker, getting things done, the guy who comes to the rescue, fixing what’s broken. Getting things done is good, of course. But when you take on too many jobs, you simply can’t do them all well. If you become overcommitted—at home, work, church, or anywhere in between—you’ll burn out faster than a match in a wind tunnel.

You must learn to say no to things you don’t have the time or energy to do. I know what you’re thinking: Sometimes saying no can be tough. Why? Because well-meaning guys (like you) genuinely want to help other people. But if you never do, pretty soon you’ll start underserving—and disappoint just about everybody, including yourself.

Guys who overcommit and underserve lead lives filled with frequent foul-ups and endless complications. They find themselves feeling overworked and underappreciated. So simplify your life. Pledge to take on only those things you can do—and do them well.

Adapted from Man Does Not Live by Sports Alone (Howard, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: I want to devote my life to Your purposes, Lord. Help me work that out in my responses to the situations I face every day.



Be a Community Changer – Serving Our Neighbors

Serving Our NeighborsOccult practices were rampant in Ephesus, capital of the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey today).

As Paul planted a church there, God validated his message by giving him “the power to do unusual miracles.”

Itinerant exorcists attempted to mimic his Spirit-given power by adding Jesus to the deities they named in their incantations.

The stage was set for a power encounter between the power of Satan and that of God.

Interact with God’s Word:  Acts 19:8-20

  1. How does God view sorcery and all occult practices? (See Deuteronomy 18:9-14.)
  2. How do powers in the realm controlled by Satan stack up (1 John 4:4) against God’s power?
  3. What do the evil spirit’s words (v. 15) tell you about attempting to use the name of Jesus as a magic charm?
  4. What spadework had Paul done (vv. 8-10) that culminated in the events of verses 17-20?
  5. How (v. 17) did learning about the disastrous experiment by the sons of Sceva impact the populace?
  6. What were the effects (vv. 18-19) when individuals responded to the gospel?
  7. Would you say the overall effects (v. 20) were primarily individual, community-wide, or both combined?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to use you as a change agent for His kingdom in your community.

Acts 19:8-20

8 Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Be a Community Changer – A Neighborhood Revived

Serving Our NeighborsKey Bible Verse: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor” … to proclain that captives will be released.  – Luke 4:18

Bonus Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-12

In his book, Just Generosity, Ron Sider offers one of the best definitions of justice I know: “restoration of the things people need for dignified participation in their community.”

Mark Gornick and Alan and Susan Tibbels moved into Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester community in 1988, then perhaps the city’s most broken neighborhood. The three came armed with little more than their certainty that Jesus, who announced good news for the poor, was far more passionate about justice than they.

They began New Song Community Church. Today that congregation is nestled among the church’s other ministries: Sandtown Habitat for Humanity (which reclaims 17 houses a year), Eden Jobs (jobs and economic development), New Song Health Co-Op, Martha’s Place (transitional housing for women recovering from drug addiction), New Song Arts, and New Song Community Learning Center (a new 28,000-square foot facility that houses a preschool-through-eighth-grade school).

They never felt the burden of having to change the world, but they knew they could claim Christ’s rule over 18-plus city blocks and watch the gospel breathe life again into a neighborhood of dry bones.

—Robert Lynn in BreakPoint WorldView

My Response: How could I help promote “dignified participation” in my community?

Thought to Apply: A ghetto can be improved in one way only: out of existence. —James Baldwin (author)

Adapted from BreakPoint WorldView (9/05)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Be a Community Changer – Happy Urban Campers

Serving Our NeighborsKey Bible Verse: “I have been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard.”  – Acts 20:35

Bonus Reading: Acts 20:31-35

Larry Mendelsohn leads an oncology-hematology practice in plush West Little Rock. As Larry and his wife, Sonya, grew in faith, our church challenged them to serve the community. They settled on helping an established-but-struggling inner-city social service.

The church-sponsored group Larry and Sonya put together planned parties and retreats for the kids. Then they got the idea of sending them outside their harsh environment to a summer camp. That year they worked alongside the kids in car washes, raising enough money to send 20 young people to camp. “Gang members were saved, and lives changed,” Larry said.

The next year they conducted a five-kilometer road race to send even more kids to camp. A radio personality donated his time. Corporations gave money. A black choir sang by the river. Forty young people were sent to camp. Leftover money funded special needs and sent 12 inner-city kids to the Christian high school or college of their choice.

In 2000, the race generated more than $60,000 and made the front page of the newspaper. They sent 55 kids to camp and distributed more than $30,000 in scholarship money. And it just keeps growing.

—Robert Lewis in The Church of Irresistible Influence

My Response: What could my church do that would win community support?

Thought to Apply: The height of our love for God will never exceed the depth of our love for one another. —Patrick Morley (men’s ministry leader)

Adapted from The Church of Irresistible Influence (Zondervan, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Be a Community Changer – Out of Business

Serving Our NeighborsKey Bible Verse: The Pharisees … complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Luke 5:30

Bonus Reading: Acts 19:13-20

Raised in the hard part of Chicago, Harvey Carey managed to graduate with honors from high school and move on to college, where he encountered Jesus.

After his conversion, God called him into pastoral ministry, so he went to seminary in Dallas. While there, the Lord gave Harvey a strong desire to start a church in Detroit. First he married a sweet girl and became a youth pastor in Chicago. Then he headed for Motor City, planting Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Michigan’s poorest zip code.

On his arrival, Harvey learned about a crack house operating near a park where children played. He made it his personal mission to go there daily, from morning until late evening, hanging out with the drug dealers. Whenever a car pulled up to pick up drugs, he’d start witnessing to the prospective buyers before the dealer could make an offer. Unwilling to hear anything about Jesus, they’d screech away—no sale!

Then Harvey got his church involved, holding prayer meetings in front of the crack house on its busiest nights. It relocated twice. But each time the Citadel family found out and showed back up!

Now that the crack house is no longer in business, the park is safe, the neighborhood kids free of that up-close influence.

—Craig Gross in The Gutter

My Response: What community transformation would I go out on a limb to achieve?

Thought to Apply: Whatever makes a man a good Christian, also makes him a good citizen.  —Daniel Webster

Adapted from The Gutter (Relevant, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Be a Community Changer – The Power of Six

Serving Our NeighborsKey Bible Verse: When you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me”  –Matthew 25:45

Bonus Reading: Acts 17:1-9

Dave Kella moved to Little Rock when he was promoted to lead IBM-Arkansas. He and five other men from our church began exploring how to connect the deep needs of the inner-city poor with the metropolitan area’s enormous resources.

Touring a private Christian school in one of the worst sections, they observed how well-mannered, hungry to learn, and hopeful these often-neglected children were. As important as the funding and programs were, they concluded, the key was changing people.

These six soon became a board, unleashing their bent toward creativity, management, and networking to do the work of the kingdom. The same school—once crippled by poor infrastructure and inability to fund teachers and parent tuition discounts—is now blossoming with an enrollment of more than 1,000. The efforts of Dave and his partners, down to one-on-one mentoring of some students, lie behind the progress.

In 2000 the board—now the Christian Educational Assistance Foundation—hired a full-time director. In 2001, in tandem with a national scholarship organization, the foundation gave away more than 1,500 educational scholarships to poor children throughout Arkansas.

—Robert Lewis in The Church of Irresistible Influence

My Response: What can I learn about stimulating change from Dave’s example?

Thought to Apply: There is only one, very uncomfortable test of the extent of our love for him: How have we handled the poor?  —Michael Green (British theologian)

Adapted from The Church of Irresistible Influence (Zondervan, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.

Be a Community Changer – No Child Left Behind

Serving Our NeighborsKey Bible Verse: “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted. Acts 16:20

Bonus Reading: Acts 16:16-23

Most middle-class white people are conditioned to avoid vulnerable places. Moving toward people in need—finding ways of being available, alert, and responsive to them—is a challenge.

Randy Roth pastored an Evangelical Covenant church located in Oakland, California, that served a diverse group of people. He became increasingly aware of the needs in the Oakland schools. Among its many other crises, the school district had been in state receivership for several years. Randy came to feel God’s call to respond to the needs of all the kids falling behind in their academic lives.

In time Randy took the bold step of leaving his secure position as a pastor to launch Faith Network, a ministry that provides volunteer tutors in needy schools. What started as a small grass-roots effort has steadily grown, winning the trust and support of the large and diverse school district. Randy’s courage and faithfulness has in turn led people from our congregation and many others to find their place in making a real difference in students’ lives.

Now our church has begun to partner with Faith Network in launching the same kind of effort in Berkeley schools.

—Mark Labberton in The Dangerous Act of Worship

My Response: Have I ever made myself available to make a difference in the life of a disadvantaged person?

Adapted from The Dangerous Act of Worship (InterVarsity, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Be a Community Changer – Brokenness-Inspired Breakout

Serving Our NeighborsWho Said It … Steve Mayer

Steve Mayer is the pastor of Strategic Initiatives at Mars Hill Bible Church, housed in a Grandville, Michigan mall.

He leads young adults in studying how the Church can make justice a reality locally and internationally.

Mars Hill has committed to serve the homeless and underemployed in its Grand Rapids area, and to fund small business startups in Burundi.

What He Said … Brokenness-Inspired Breakout

While serving an internship at a small evangelistic church, I led a team to Alaska to share the gospel with villagers. That trip forever changed my passion for ministry. We thought we could just come in for a week and change the lives of these Native Americans with VBS and other evangelistic programs.

But as I saw the effects of alcoholism, suicide, depression, hopelessness, poverty, and broken families, I realized that the programmed evangelistic method I’d been trained to follow was selling a pre-packaged Christianity out of touch with the brokenness of these Native Americans.

I balked—and broke all the rules of the program. I stayed out very late at night talking to people on the street, often alone, often in co-ed contexts.

For help, I turned to the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. From King, I learned that Christianity could be passionate about souls and passionate about the “slums those souls reside in.” For me, caring about souls and the real-life situations in which those souls move became authentic evangelism.

Adapted from World Magazine (4/10/04)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help us believers serve our neighbors in ways that make them thirsty for the Gospel.



Battling the Blues – Spiritual Encouragement

Spiritual EncouragementC.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, imagines correspondence between an old devil, Screwtape, and a young demon, Wormwood, whom Screwtape is mentoring.

In one letter, Screwtape writes, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human … looks round upon a universe from which every trace of our Enemy seems to have vanished, asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Interact with God’s Word:  Psalm 119:81-83

  1. The image of a shriveled-up wineskin (v. 83) is from a different era, but do you get the picture? Have you felt like this?
  2. How does the writer feel (v. 81) about the prospect of God rescuing him?
  3. How does he choose to deal with the God’s apparent absence?
  4. Does the fulfillment of God’s promises (v. 82) seem far off to you?
  5. What is the psalmist’s big question for God?
  6. How might God respond to a question like this: dramatically? In a still, small voice? Not at all?
  7. What conclusion would a person who trusts appearances draw?
  8. How is it possible to respond the way the psalmist did?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for strength to cling to His promises when you can’t feel His presence.

Psalm 119:81-83

81 I am worn out waiting for your rescue,
but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.
When will you comfort me?
83 I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke,
but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees.

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.



Battling the Blues – Cure Cultivation

Spiritual EncouragementKey Bible Verse: You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11

Bonus Reading: Psalm 112:1-10

Psychiatrist Milton Erickson was a guest in the Milwaukee home of a man concerned about his very old, wealthy, and depressed aunt. At this friend’s request, the doctor visited her.

The blinds were closed throughout her Victorian mansion—except for one room full of gorgeous African violets. On entering, it Dr. Erickson abruptly exclaimed, “I see what your problem is.”

“Oh?” she warily replied.

“You’re not really a very good Christian.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have this great gift for growing African violets,” the doctor explained, “yet you keep it all to yourself. If I were you, I’d get your church bulletin, and whenever someone had a birthday, death, wedding, anniversary, or whatever, I’d take them one of your plants as a gift.” He soon left and never encountered the depressed woman again.

As he told this story to a group of students, Dr. Erickson pulled out an old newspaper clipping: “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Dies, Mourned by Thousands.” A student raised his hand. “Why did you have her give out plants instead of treating her depression?” he asked.

“It would be easier, I decided, to grow the African violet part of her life than to weed out the depression.”

—Greg Smalley in HonorBound magazine

My Response: What gift have I kept to myself that I should share with others?

Thought to Apply: I’ve learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help someone. —Booker T. Washington

Adapted from HonorBound magazine (4-5/02)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.



Battling the Blues – Swallowed Pride

Spiritual EncouragementKey Bible Verse: Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for … my people?  – Jeremiah 8:22

Bonus Reading: Psalm 142:5-7

Lewis Smedes, a teacher of mine in seminary, was one of the best writers and preachers I’ve known. Although he was brilliant, accomplished, and devoted to God, he suffered from a sense of inadequacy that at times grew into deep depression.

God came to him through two avenues. One was a three-week experience of utter solitude, where he so vividly heard God promise to hold him that he felt lifted from a black pit straight up into joy. The other avenue he describes this way: “I have not been neurotically depressed since that day, though I must tell you that God also comes to me each morning and offers me a 20 milligram capsule of Prozac. He clears the garbage that accumulates in the canals of my brain overnight and gives me a chance to a fresh morning start. I swallow every capsule with gratitude to God.”

I used to think that taking Prozac would be a sign of weak faith in God. But what if Prozac might be his gift? What if refusing might be spurning his hand because of pride? Maybe God is present in wise doctors and medication that makes synapses and neurotransmitters work right. Maybe weakness is really refusing—out of our own blindness and stubbornness—the help that God is offering.

—John Ortberg in God Is Closer than You Think

My Response: How might I benefit from the help of a counselor?

Thought to Apply: The Christian’s chief occupational hazards are depression and discouragement. —John Stott

Adapted from God Is Closer than You Think (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.



What is Ordinary Time?

The Christian year includes two central cycles focused on major events in the life of Christ: the Christmas cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and Easter cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).

Each of these seasons begins with a time of preparation and anticipation followed by a time of celebration. Ordinary Time follows each cycle.

The word “ordinary” here does not mean “routine” or “not special.” Instead, it refers to the “ordinal numbers” (first, second, third, etc.) used to name and count the Sundays (such as the Third Sunday after Epiphany). This term comes from the Latin ordinalis, meaning “numbered” or “ordered,” and tempus ordinarium, “measured time.”

The first period of Ordinary Time, called the Season after Epiphany, begins on Epiphany Day and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). The central theme of this season is the calling of disciples and the early ministry of Jesus.

For some congregations, this will mean a focus on evangelism, as found in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for each week. For others, the focus will be preparing to help others grow in their discipleship. The Epistle reading each week emphasizes this.

The second period of Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost, follows the Easter cycle. It begins the day after Pentecost and continues to Advent. The purpose of this season is to support new disciples and the whole congregation in living out the gifts and callings discerned during the Easter Season and commissioned on the Day of Pentecost.

Every year, Christians experience the contrast between the central seasons of Christmas and Easter, where we see God in the events around the coming of Christ, and the in-between times, where we see, speak about and join God’s ongoing work in the world.

We thus experience two regular cycles of preparation, celebration and action in ministry each year, with the Ordinary Times as the primary periods of action.

Have questions? Ask The UMC or find a pastor near you to talk with. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.




Battling the Blues – Brilliant Plan Backfires

Spiritual EncouragementKey Bible Verse: Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise … promises a reward in both this life and the next. 1 Timothy 4:8

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 40:27-31

Kenneth Cooper, M.D., famous for popularizing aerobic fitness, tells about a fellow who was depressed.

It seems this poor guy didn’t want to live anymore, but he knew that if he committed suicide, his wife and kids wouldn’t be able to collect his insurance. So he decided to “jog himself to death” so it would look as if his death was accidental.

The first evening, he put on his jogging clothes, kissed his wife and kids goodbye, and ran out the front door. But because he wasn’t in very good shape, his legs gave out before his heart did. Disappointed but not dissuaded, he limped home, showered, and went to bed.

The second evening it was the same story: his legs gave out, but his heart didn’t.

Every evening for the next month the fellow repeated his ritual of kissing his family goodbye and running out the front door. Then something began to happen that he hadn’t expected—his depression disappeared.

If you’ve been feeling a little ragged, see if you can make time before a meal to go for a brisk walk or jog. Or find some other activity you enjoy. The best thing to do when you’re feeling down in the mouth is get up on your feet.

Hope Heart Newsletter

My Response: What enjoyable activity takes your mind off your troubles?

Thought to Apply: When you’re depressed, the worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better.  —Charlie Brown

Adapted from Hope Heart Newsletter

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.



Understanding the Season after Epiphany

The purpose of the Season after Epiphany is to help the whole congregation get ready to accompany candidates preparing for baptism.

The first Sunday focuses on the Baptism of Christ and the last Sunday on the Transfiguration. These “bookend Sundays” frame the whole of Jesus’ journey in ministry, taking us from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry at his baptism to a glimpse of its fulfillment in the age to come in his Transfiguration. As it frames Jesus’ journey in ministry, so it also frames the journey of his disciples, then and now.

The scripture readings in the lectionary provide two distinct pathways of focus for this season.

  • One, marked by the Old Testament and Gospel readings, follows Jesus in his earliest days with his disciples, from their calling to beginning to learn what it means live in his way. These scriptures help the local church to focus outward on inviting others to join them, or “Come and see.”  The hope is that some who respond to your congregation’s invitation may choose to “Come and stay” to prepare for baptism.
  • The other pathway, through Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, helps focus the church inward. These readings help congregations work on internal issues in their church life so they can walk more effectively with those preparing for baptism.

By either path, the church is supported by the scriptures of this season for its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.


Battling the Blues – Un-Slump Yourself

Spiritual EncouragementKey Bible Verse: I think of the good old days … I search my soul and think about the difference now. Psalm 77:5-6

Bonus Reading: 1 Kings 10:9b-18

[continued from yesterday]  I realized that I’d grown accustomed to sleeping on my arm. My soul had gone past the tingling stage; it felt numb and listless. Dr. Blakeslee had more to say: “Bill,” he told me, “sometimes you need to let go of an impure form of security in order to grab hold of a pure form of insecurity.”

It was like suddenly solving a mind-twisting riddle. In a flash I saw his meaning. I realized that I’d held on to work and ministry for security. My stubborn unwillingness to let go of one or both had corrupted my soul. I had believed the lie that a growing ministry and financial security would lead to contentment.

I was resolved to leave the dark, lifeless world of depression, but rolling over would mean taking the risk of grabbing something less secure. Frankly, I didn’t know if I had the courage to walk away from my job. It seemed almost like bungee jumping without a harness and cord. What if God didn’t stop my fall?

Eventually I took the leap and embraced a new direction that offered no financial security and uncertain success. I quit my writing job and later resigned from the church I pastored in order to launch a national men’s ministry. I knew I had grabbed a pure form of insecurity.

—Bill Perkins in Six Rules Every Man Must Break

My Response: I need to let go of ____ and then grab hold of ____.

Thought to Apply: When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.  —Dr. Seuss (children’s book writer & illustrator)

Adapted from Six Rules Every Man Must Break (Tyndale, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.


Battling the Blues – When Life Tingles

Spiritual EncouragementKey Bible Verse: You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!  – Psalm 77:4

Bonus Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-9a

I am not by nature a depressed guy. But several years ago I suffered a bout of clinical depression—meaning I was depressed for more than two weeks. How did I get into such a dark place?

My therapist, Dr. David Blakeslee, helped me realize that I’d developed an unhealthy ability to persevere. That’s right, I didn’t know when to quit. Twenty years earlier I’d resolved that once I started something I’d never throw in the towel. After all, if I hung in there long enough I’d outlive most of my problems and a lot of the competition.

I was writing over 500 words a day for publication as well as preparing a sermon every week. I was also leading a church and caring for my family. These activities provided me with a growing ministry and a sense of financial security, and—oh, yes—burnout.

“Bill,” Dr. Blakeslee asked one day, “if you were sleeping on your arm and it began to tingle, what would you do?”

“I’d roll over.”

“That’s right,” he said. “Yet when you’re involved in something that’s causing you mental and emotional pain, you refuse to roll over. You believe God wants you to hang in there even when it’s destroying you.”

As he spoke I heard a mental gear fall into place, cla-clink!   [continued tomorrow]

—Bill Perkins in Six Rules Every Man Must Break

My Response: What area in my life is “tingling” right now?

Adapted from Six Rules Every Man Must Break (Tyndale, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.



Battling the Blues – The Road Test

Spiritual EncouragementWho Said It … Wayde Goodall

Wayde Goodall pastors a thriving Assemblies of God congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition to theology, he has studied counseling and psychology.

Wayde and his wife Rosalyn were previously missionaries in Austria, where they founded the Vienna Christian Center, one of Europe’s largest evangelical churches.

Dr. Goodall is an author, has hosted the TCT television network, and coaches other pastors.

What He Said … The Road Test

Living in the Wake Forest-Duke-North Carolina University “triad,” I can attend many ACC basketball games. When playing at home, the rush that comes to a team from the affirming crowd is amazing. A team at the bottom of the conference has been known to take down the top-rated leader.

But to be the best, I’ve discovered, a team has to know how to win on the road. The discouraging drain that comes from an away-game crowd can take a talented team down in front of the nation. Their skill, lineup, or experience didn’t change—just how they felt. To win on the road, players must learn to ignore negative emotions.

We all have moods—it’s just a matter of degree. For any of us, the pressures of life can add up. Too much pressure in too short a time can overwhelm anyone. Most of us don’t have a psychological disorder. But thinking you aren’t susceptible is a mistake. Learn to fight through your down times while paying attention to possible burnout or depression.

Adapted from Why Great Men Fall (New Leaf, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel discouraged, Lord, help me make positive adjustments and pour myself into others.


Effective Stewardship – Month #17

God expects us to provide for our families.

“And whoever does not provide for relatives,

and especially for family members,

has denied the faith and is worse

than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).


One of the most striking accusations the Lord Jesus made when He was on earth was to label someone a hypocrite. Time and time again, He criticized the Pharisees and others for their hypocrisy. They said one thing but did something entirely different. They fit the description used by Zig Ziglar who said, “A hypocrite is one who is not himself on Sunday.”

That’s perhaps what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy: “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” In other words, to give credence to Christianity, to give lip service to following Christ and to trusting in Him as Savior and Lord, and then to fail to provide for our own family, is hypocrisy. To do so, in reality, is to deny our faith and to be considered as someone who has no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and no interest in spiritual matters.

It seems like such a small thing — relatively speaking (pun intended) — that Paul is exhorting Timothy to do. Provide for your own household, your own relatives. Take care of those under your care. Minister to those closest to you as a demonstration of your Christian faith.

Yes, we are to give to His ministry here at Central United Methodist Church. Yes, we are to be involved in ministering to others “on our own” and as part of the outreach of this church. But we are also to provide for our own families. We are also to minister to them and to care for them, for by doing so, we demonstrate the practical reality of our Christian faith. We thereby avoid the label of hypocrite since what we say is what we do.

How’s the balance in your life? Are you providing for the needs of this ministry and those of your household? As a result, do others (especially your family) see Jesus in you?


Stick to the Fundamentals – Spiritual Growth

Spiritual GrowthPaul had never visited Colosse. Evidently the church had been founded by Epaphras and other converts from Paul’s missionary travels.

The church, however, had been infiltrated by religious relativism, with some believers attempting to combine elements of paganism and secular philosophy with Christian doctrine.

Paul warns them against shifting from faith in Christ alone to any beliefs based on self-effort.

Interact with God’s Word:  Colossians 2:5-8

  1. What (v. 5) about the believers in Colosse made Paul feel good?
  2. What concerned Paul (v. 8) about these believers?
  3. What (v. 6) was the foundational belief of the Colossian Christians?
  4. So how should this foundation lead them to live out their faith?
  5. How (v. 7) does a plant draw nourishment from the soil? How can you derive life-giving strength by sinking your “roots” into Christ?
  6. What are indicators that a person is growing in his faith?
  7. How does being thankful to Christ for your salvation protect you from being diverted to false philosophies or religion?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a genuine gratitude for your salvation that helps you keep grounded and growing in your faith.

Colossians 2:5-8

5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.

6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

8 Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.

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


Stick to the Fundamentals – Finishers’ Formula

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in faith … and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians: 2:6-7

Bonus Reading: Col. 2:5-8

In 2005 the Chicago White Sox battled through adversity and injury, individual slumps, and losing streaks. Refusing to believe “experts” who said they didn’t have what it takes, they stuck with the fundamentals of the game—and ended up champions!

Bryan Hickerson, the White Sox’s chaplain, said he’s convinced that the greatest challenge a major league ball player faces is the mental and physical grind of a baseball season. Christians, he notes, face similar challenges spiritually.

Paul, [in today’s Key Bible Verses], spelled out what it would take for the believers in Colosse to stay on track. It would take work; it would be a process. They’d need to be …

  • Grounded (rooted). By faith, you’ve been rooted in Christ, drawing from him all you need.
  • Growing (built up). Trusting Christ placed you on a solid foundation. Now keep building on this. How? Paul urged the Colossians to do so by putting into practice what their leader, Epaphras (Col. 1:7), had taught them.
  • Grateful (overflowing with thankfulness). Paul taught that when the believer is under attack, gratitude protects him from loss of peace and joy.

—Harry Genet

My Response: How am I grounded? How am I growing? How thankful am I?

Thought to Apply: The Christian walk is much like riding a bicycle; we are either moving forward or falling off. —Robert Tuttle

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



Pastor Wang Yi Sentenced to 9 Years in Chinese Prison

Wang Yi, a detained Christian pastor who’s been highly critical of religious persecution in China, was sentenced on Monday to nine years in prison.
In December 2018, the leader of Early Rain Covenant Church in China’s Sichuan province was arrested, along with his wife and more than 100 congregants.
A secret trial for Wang was held December 26, reportedly using false testimony extracted from church members through torture. The pastor’s relatives and supporters weren’t allowed to attend. Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, was released in June after spending six months behind bars. And Early Rain elder Qin Derfu was recently sentenced to four years in prison.
Pastor Wang, who’s also a lawyer and prominent blogger, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” (for not registering his church with the government) and “illegal trade” (for printing and selling religious materials).
In addition to the nine-year sentence, his political rights are suspended for three years, his books are banned, and his personal assets were confiscated, essentially resulting in a fine of $7,200 U.S. Many Early Rain congregants remain under police surveillance, and church properties have been seized.
Since 2018, China has cracked down on so-called house churches, requiring them to become part of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The country’s Communist Party also is conducting a sinicization campaign of Bible translations and using biometrics to track churchgoers.
On the latest World Watch List from Open Doors, China ranks 27th for its persecution of Christians, which has escalated under President Xi Jinping. Chinese villagers are being urged to rely on Xi rather than on Jesus.
On a Facebook page titled Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church, a post insists that Wang “did not commit any crime” but is facing “unjust persecutions.” It requests prayers for the pastor, for Early Rain leaders and members, and even for Chinese authorities. “May we be strong in his grace as we keep on fighting despite repeated setbacks,” it reads. “We do this to fulfill the Great Commission and to spread the gospel, that the glorious name of the triune God might be praised.”
Human-rights groups—both religious and secular—are speaking out against Wang’s sentence and urging U.S. officials to condemn it and take action. “This grave sentence demonstrates [Chinese President] Xi’s regime is determined to be the enemy of universal values and religious freedom,” says China Aid President Bob Fu. “We call upon the international community to stand up to the Chinese Community Party and hold this evil regime accountable.”
Amnesty International calls the sentence “appalling,” saying it “makes a mockery of China’s supposed religious freedoms.” Amnesty’s Patrick Poon adds, “The message is very clear: You will be the next Wang Yi if you don’t register and follow the Communist Party’s line on religion.”
Based on his writings, Pastor Wang intends to stand firm, saying no authorities can make him renounce his faith in Jesus. “I will resist in meekness those who resist God,” he writes, “and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.”

Why Do Most People Think God Should Let Them into Heaven?

As we contemplate our latest weight-loss and smoking-cessation New Year’s Resolutions (the ones that haven’t already fallen by the wayside), perhaps we should also give some time to a matter of infinite importance.

The article below, by Jessica Mouser, summarizes the very surprising answers obtained by B. Tyler Ellis to this question:

“Hypothetically, if God and Heaven are real, on what basis do you believe God will or will not accept you into Heaven?”

At this start of a new year, take a moment to read the answers that he received to that question, and think about what your answer is now – and how that answer may change after reading the article.

For those who prefer viewing a video instead of reading words on a screen, you can find Tyler describing what he discovered in this video:

“Hypothetically, if God and Heaven are real, on what basis do you believe God will or will not accept you into Heaven?” This was a question B. Tyler Ellis asked 50 people over a period of two years.

Ellis started his interview project because of his love of learning from people with different beliefs.  Those he spoke to came from different faith (or lack of faith) backgrounds.

He took each person out to coffee and asked them 20 questions, including the one about God and heaven.  The result, said Ellis in a TEDx Talk he gave at Wiley College, was that “What started as a series of curious interviews soon turned into a series of unexpected adventures and unexpected discoveries.”

  1. Tyler Ellis’s Discoveries and Opportunities

One of B. Tyler Ellis’s unexpected discoveries was how similarly people answered the question about God and heaven, despite the diversity of their beliefs.

These are some of the answers he got:

  • You have to earn God’s acceptance
  • You have to do more good deeds than bad
  • Following the 10 Commandments will help
  • Just try to be moral
  • God’s acceptance is based on our actions
  • God won’t accept me because of my bad deeds
  • I don’t know

“Despite such diversity in the people that I interviewed,” said Ellis, “I discovered an overwhelming consensus about the afterlife.” Even the atheists who answered the question (since it was hypothetical) said that God’s approval depends on our performance.

You might expect that people would be reluctant to open up about a question like that, but Ellis found the opposite to be true. He was just there to interview them, not tell them his views. He said, “Since they knew I was just asking questions and not sharing opinions, they were quick to open up. And many articulated their beliefs for the very first time.”

To his surprise, over half of the people Ellis interviewed actually wanted to meet with him again and interview him that time. When he met with people a second time, they would typically ask him two questions:

-Do you believe all paths lead to God?
-How can one person’s death enable another person’s forgiveness?

To answer these questions, Ellis explained the idea that all paths lead to God (which he called “mountain theory”) illustrates one similarity in all the major world religions. All agree that a moral life leads to peace and immorality leads to chaos. At the same time, all the religions disagree in two significant ways. One, said Ellis, is that “religions lead to different mountaintops”—that is, they all describe God differently. The other difference is that they prescribe different ways to make peace with God.

And in this second difference, Christianity stands apart from the rest. Said Ellis, “All the major world religions, with the exception of Christianity, believe that eternal peace is obtained on the basis of our merits. Christianity believes that eternal peace is obtained on the basis of Jesus’ merits.”

The essence of Ellis’s answer to the question, “How can one person’s death enable another person’s forgiveness?” had to do with the fact that the penalty of a crime increases according to the value of the one offended. Killing a cockroach does not carry any kind of penalty, but killing a person does because a person is more valuable than a cockroach. Offending an infinite God, then, comes with an infinite penalty. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus is the only one who could pay this debt for us. Said Ellis, “I didn’t expect that a couple illustrations would cause so many people to say, ‘I just understood Jesus for the first time.’”

Another troubling finding of Ellis’s experiment was that many of the people he interviewed said they were or had been Christian. How could so many people familiar with Christianity miss a truth essential to salvation?

The conclusion Ellis came to is that the church had taught people that Jesus was a good moral teacher, a role model we are supposed to imitate. That is how people can be raised in the church, know a lot of information about Christianity, and still think their good works will earn them a spot in heaven.

The truth, said Ellis, is that “Christianity claims that Jesus is not just the model, but the Messiah.” It was only through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection that he paid the penalty for our sins that we can never pay. And only through accepting this gift and committing our lives to him can we have peace with God and go to heaven.

And there is another lesson to be learned from B. Tyler Ellis’s project. It’s easy to push our views on others when we think we’re right. But because he was willing to listen first, he got multiple, unforeseen opportunities to share his faith with people far more effectively than if he had forced it on them.


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.”


Stick to the Fundamentals – Be in the “Now”

Spiritual GrowthKey Bible Verse: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize. Philippians 3:13-14

Bonus Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

As a high school basketball coach, I’ve observed that after a winning streak, my players sometimes begin to believe they’re better than they actually are. Such overconfidence can lead to deflating defeats. Yet a losing streak produces a mirror-image result: the team loses confidence in their abilities.

To avoid either of these, I remind my players to focus on what lies ahead rather than on the past. After each game, I say, “The season starts tomorrow.” This helps us remember what we, as a team can become.

As Christians, we’re sometimes too hard on ourselves when we reflect on our past sins. Satan can use this to try to make us feel unworthy of God and his kingdom. The truth is that as sinners we are all unworthy. But we’re not unlovable. Salvation is never something we earn, which is why Jesus paid the ultimate price on the cross so we could be saved.

God can still do great things with us regardless of our past. He says to each of us, “Your Christian life begins today because I love you.” In return, the greatest gift we can offer others is the good news that God looks beyond our pasts to give us grace for the future—if only we’ll receive it!

—Chip Mehaffey in Heart of a Coach

My Response: How can I plan for steady growth moving forward?

Thought to Apply: Don’t let your highs be too high, or your lows too low.  —John Wooden (college basketball coach)

Adapted from Heart of a Coach (Regal, 2005)

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 Congregation welcomes you!

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.