What do we do when we are locked down? Here are 7 suggestions!

The watchword right now all over the world is lockdown!

My daughter’s last PUC board exam scheduled for Monday morning got postponed on Sunday night. In India, during the last 48 hours, several services and operations have been shut down with immediate effect. As of now, transport, shopping malls, offices, educational institutions and entertainment avenues are all shut in many parts of our nation and around the globe. What more restrictions to follow, God alone knows!

Let us pray and hope that this Coronavirus lockdown is temporary. Let us co-operate with the authorities in their efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic. Stay at Home.

But what do we do when we are locked down? For many of us, this will be a totally new experience. If you are like me, an extrovert who loves meeting people, chatting, traveling around, so on and so forth, staying inside a house for a few weeks or even a few days is not going to be easy! Self- isolation or imposed isolation is difficult for most people. In addition to this, some of us will have to deal with frustrations and disappointments. Many of our immediate plans and projects have to be, now, either canceled or postponed indefinitely. I know a couple of friends who had to postpone their wedding date. For some, the much-awaited travel and summer vacation is gone. Perhaps there are many others who are facing other such heart-breaking situations.

I would like to suggest some practical ways to make the best out of this lockdown scenario. To start with let me briefly talk about Apostle Paul who faced a lockdown situation in his life. Acts 28:30 states, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house…” Paul was arrested in Jerusalem on the pretext that he created riots through his preaching. Recognizing he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Jewish territory, Paul demanded that he be tried in Rome as he was a Roman citizen. That’s how he ended up in Rome as a prisoner. He was not put in a dungeon but was allowed to hire a house and stay there. He was under house arrest. Praetorian guards monitored him day and night. He couldn’t move out of the house but could receive visitors. Inside the house Paul could read, write, pray, converse, so on and so forth. However, he could not move out of the house. He was locked in. Sadly, this experience didn’t get over soon. Paul had to spend almost two whole years waiting for the trial. There are some definite lessons that we can learn from his life.

1) Don’t let the lockdown dampen your joy and enthusiasm.

This is evident in the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian church from house arrest. Despite the restrictions, he wanted the Philippians to know that he was rejoicing in the Lord. How could Paul manage to do this? He had a heart of gratitude. He thanked God for the manifold blessings (both spiritual and physical) in his life. Phil.1:3-4, 18, 2:17, 4:1, 10.

I’m sure all of us, in spite of our present disappointments and problems, if we take time to count our blessings, it will truly surprise us! I suggest you take a paper and write down all the blessings the Lord has given you and your family. Ask each member of your family to write 5 things that they are grateful to God and then share with each other.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

2) Get closer to your family members.

The ones who were with Paul during his house arrest were his occasional visitors and the soldiers who guarded him. They were his only social contacts at that time. There were no other outsiders. Paul used that time to get closer with them and perhaps even led some of them to Christ (Phil.1:13, 4:22). Furthermore, whoever met him during his confinement experienced spiritual upliftment (Phil.1: 14).

The current lockdown situation has given many of us a rare opportunity – to get closer with our loved ones and spend more quality time with them. Because of tight work schedules and travel situations, many husbands and fathers have lived with the guilt of not being ‘present’ at home. Maybe the Lord has given us an opportunity to sort this out. Of course, some of you will be working from home, but you will find some extra time for your beloved ones which you longed for. Several things can be done during this lockdown. If your family prayer time has been erratic and not substantial, this is the time to regularize it. Pray together. Read the Bible together. Discuss spiritual topics with your family members. Perhaps watch some good Christian movies online as a family or play board games. We, as a family, enjoyed a game of Uno and another local game during the last two days. It was good fun!

3) Pray earnestly and meaningfully for those whom you know.

Paul used the lockdown time to pray meaningfully for the churches and individuals whom he knew personally. Philemon 1:4, Col.1:9-12, Eph. 1:15-21, Phil. 1: 3-4. I want you to look at the meaningfulness of Paul’s prayers. He knew the spiritual condition of his people and prayed to God accordingly. Meaningful prayers are not like the spontaneous ones. They are pre-planned, well informed and timely. Of course, it needs time!

Maybe we too could use this lockdown to increase our personal prayer time. Let’s get rid of superficiality. If we do not specifically know the physical and spiritual needs of our friends and acquaintances, better give them a call or text them and find out. Also, use this time to pray for the thousands who are going through a difficult time because of the virus all over the world. Use ‘News’ not just to quench your desire for information but convert them into prayer points.

4) Re-energize your inner being.

While under house arrest, this active minister of God took the time to scrutinize his own spiritual life. He was mostly on the giving side and now this lockdown provided him the much-needed break to take stock of his inner being. This led to the realization that he needed to grow. Phil. 3:10-14.

Perhaps some of us have been mostly on the giving side as ministers of God. It is time to take stock of our inner being. I suggest you download the following PDF from the internet. It is a wonderful tool to analyze one’s spiritual growth. I did this a few years ago and found it useful: http://blog.lifeway.com/growingdisciples/files/2013/08/Spiritual_Growth_Assessment.pdf

Read good books. A lot of Kindle books are available for free. You don’t have to have a kindle pad. Create a Kindle account and download a book into your phone. Check out https://kindredgrace.com/free-kindle-bookschristian-readers

I suggest a few books as ‘must’ read. William MacDonald’s True Discipleship, George Verwer’s “Hunger for Reality”, Robert Dann’s “Father of Faith Missions: A. N. Groves”, and Jerry Bridges’ “Trusting God.” Check the online Christian library https://www.rightnowmedia.in/ (It is a paid website, but it is worth it).

There are also a lot of free online resources made available for free by people like John Piper, John Stott, and many others.

5) Try to be productive despite the lockdown.

Paul’s success in life was his ability to be productive amid difficult situations. He didn’t while away his time thinking of the disappointments of the past or difficulties of the future. Rather, he focused on the present and wanted to make the best out of it. Paul used his lockdown situation to write a few letters, of which 4 of them are preserved as part of God’s Word today – Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Looking back at Christian history, a lot of saints have used their lockdown to pen down masterpieces. John Bunyan wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” while in imprisonment. Amy Carmichael wrote close to 20 books while confined to home after she broke her leg in a fall.

We live in an age where we have plenty of opportunities to be productive, even in lockdowns thanks to the internet. Enroll yourself online for a short-term course. Equip yourself with skills that can help your job or learn some new skills.

6) Think about the inevitable event of life called death.

Paul was not frightened to meditate on death. As he faced an uncertain future, he contemplated on death as one of the possible outcomes. Phil.1:21-23. He didn’t shy away from thinking about death. His view of death as a departure from this world to his Savior’s presence gave him hope. Though he contemplated the possibility of death, he wanted to live, if it is God’s will. Phil.1:24. He also believed in supernatural deliverance. Phil.1:19. Likewise, he believed that God is capable of showing mercy and deliver his children from death like situations. Phil.2:27.

Though we hate to talk about suffering and death, it is real. Times like this remind us of that fact powerfully. Looking at history, epidemics like this has wiped out populations across the world – Black death – 20 million in Europe, between 1918 and 1920 Spanish flu killed close to 50 million. Many sincere believers also lost their lives. It is unbiblical to think that all believers are going to be protected from this pandemic onslaught. Sincere believers may also face death due to Coronavirus. Nevertheless, what makes a believer distinguished in times like this is the hope he or she has. On the one hand, we can plead with God to deliver us from this deadly virus for He is merciful. On the other hand, we are called to exhibit eternal hope in the midst of death all around. For those who are in Christ, death is not a failure to survive the pandemic or withdrawal of God’s grace. It is just a vehicle to depart from this world to his glorious presence.

Fear of death is real and natural, especially in times like this. I went through this kind of experience when I was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) 3 years back. Since then, I do take precautions wherever possible. I do take medicines daily. I continue to do scans and tests periodically. But I live by faith. I trust in His word which says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Take necessary precautions to protect yourself and your beloved ones while at the same time trusting in His care.

7) Know that our Lord is Sovereign, and He is in Control.

Although Paul could not really see the end of his lockdown or the eventual outcome of his trial, he knew that His God was in control of his life. He knew that his life was in the hands of the one who could turn every situation for his good and His glory. Phil.1:12. He knew the one in whom He believed.

Coronavirus may have originated because of human absurdity, carelessness, or wickedness. But our understanding of God’s sovereignty demands that we believe that our God knew the exact moment and mode when the first covid- 19 virus entered a human body. I’m not suggesting that God is responsible for this. But by being Sovereign– He knows what is happening, and he has allowed it to happen. Why? We cannot know for sure. But we do not have to jump into abrupt and absurd conclusions.

The world may find it difficult to control the pandemic, but it is not beyond our God’s control. So, let us plead with Him for Mercy upon this world. May we also have the boldness to pray ‘Let your will be done’!

Sam serves as an itinerant Bible teacher. Based out of Bangalore, he directs Emmaus Academy of Biblical Studies (EABS), an online correspondence Bible course. He is also in charge of the Missions Focus wing of Operation Barnabas ministries in India. Sam is married to Jiji and is blessed with 2 children.

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LEARNING TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

Over the past year or two, there has been a resurgence of interest in Mister Rogers and his iconic tv show. We love the kind and gracious spirit that Mister Rogers exudes. But in this cultural moment that we are currently living in, under the specter of advancing COVID-19 coronavirus, learning how to live in such a way to love our neighbor is a lot more challenging, it would seem. It turns out that loving our neighbor is harder than just watching movies and asking others, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” No, the truth is, loving our neighbor requires sacrifice on our part, and that’s always difficult.

THE SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT

When Jesus was approached by a group of self-righteous religious teachers who asked Him what the greatest commandment was, He told them that the greatest command was to love God with all of their hearts, souls, and minds. Secondly, He said, they were to love their neighbor as themselves. Finally, He told them that all of the law and prophets were dependent on these two commands (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus wanted these religious teachers to understand that the priority of His ministry was to teach people to love God and to love others. Of course, this question of loving their neighbors was one they needed to test. Just who was their neighbor? The Pharisees were concerned with the broad-reaching implications if they couldn’t more tightly define, or restrict, the definition of who their neighbor might be.

In another story of a Pharisee’s engagement with Jesus, the Pharisee affirmed that loving God and loving neighbor are at the top of God’s priority list. But when he pressed Jesus for clarity on who his neighbor was, Jesus answered by giving him the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable, of course, set the Pharisee’s enemy up as his neighbor. Jesus’ point is that everyone is our neighbor, and we need to pay particular attention to how we love those we are not naturally inclined to love.

What does all of this have to do with COVID-19? Well, right now, essentially every corner of the planet is paying attention to it. It has encroached on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. There is basically nowhere we can hide from its advance.

And even as it continues to advance, we are being asked to make sacrifices. Large gatherings, including churches, are being asked not to meet. In many places, children are out of school or doing school online, for an extended period of time. The concept of social distancing has come into our vocabulary and has created an uncomfortable new reality.

All of these sacrifices, of course, have spun off a tremendous amount of conversation. Is it biblically acceptable to cancel our worship services, or to move them online? Is it possible that this whole virus is a politically driven hoax? If we aren’t visibly sick ourselves, do we really have to distance ourselves from others?

I think, in large part, we have to approach each of these, and other questions, through the filter of how we love God and love others. For the sake of space, I want to focus on the latter question in this article.

PRINCIPLES TO SHAPE HOW WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR

I think two guiding principles should drive how we behave and shape how we love our neighbor. Principle #1: We should act toward others in a way that causes the least harm. Principle #2: We should prioritize others’ lives over our own.

To act toward others in a way that causes the least harm means that we have to be willing to make difficult, even overly cautious decisions, for the benefit of the whole. As to the question of canceling public gatherings and practicing social distancing, and beyond, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we know what is best.

In an issue as intricate as this one, with as much information and disinformation floating around, it is incumbent upon us to listen to the authorities over us. This becomes even more compelling when political divides are being bridged and we are seeing unified positions across the political spectrum, which is exactly what we have right now.

Recently conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz was on Twitter agreeing with and advocating for liberal Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (often known as AOC) about the perils of COVID-19 and the approach we need to take. The actions being requested by our government seem extreme, but the positions they are holding are held by the vast majority of medical professionals worldwide and nearly the unanimous position of our governmental leaders across the political spectrum.

It’s important for us to love our neighbors by following their instructions, even when they are difficult to follow.

The second principle at play here, that of prioritizing others’ lives over our own, is a distinctly and historically Christian position. A cursory glance of plagues and epidemics across history reveals to us Christians willing to place themselves in harm’s way to care for their neighbor.

“Our trust in Jesus allows us to pursue His kingdom when everyone else is pursuing self-protection.”

Our trust in Jesus allows us to rest in times of natural evil; it allows us to pursue His kingdom when everyone else is pursuing self-protection. We are, at this moment, to do what Christians have done so many times before us—namely to allow ourselves to be placed in harm’s way, if necessary, to care for the hurting, the vulnerable, and the weak. We are able to do this because we have trusted in Christ and in doing, we have given up the rights to our own lives.

When once asked if Christians should flee the plague, the great Reformer Martin Luther said no, and argued that Christians should be found at their posts, serving among the hurting. He argued that to do so in a time of crisis was to fulfill both of the two greatest commands, to both love God and to love your neighbor. “The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards that St Paul says to Timothy, ‘Godliness is of value in every way and it holds promise for the present life and the life to come.’ (1 Tim 4:8). Godliness is nothing else but service to God. Service to God is indeed service to neighbor.”

So in this moment of global pandemic, what should the Christian do? And how should the Christian love their neighbor? In short, we are to obey those in authority over us, and follow their lead in an effort to do the least amount of harm, and we are to prefer the lives of those around us, placing ourselves in harm’s way, if need be, to make sure the weak, the hurting, and the vulnerable have been cared for.

 

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12 REASONS FOR USING SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS

By Daniel L. Akin

Few things are more difficult for a preacher than finding the right illustration, using it in the right way, and telling it at the right time. However, few things will yield greater fruit. In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon rightly noted,

“You may build up laborious definitions and explanations and yet leave your hearers in the dark as to your meaning; but a thoroughly suitable metaphor [illustration] will wonderfully clear the sense.”

Many people see preaching as dull, boring and irrelevant. The ideas are complex, theological jargon is unclear, and little if any specific direction is provided for commitment and action. A good illustration can mean the difference between an average sermon and an outstanding sermon. It may be the difference between a sermon that changes lives and one that does not.

Good illustrations serve several important purposes. These purposes fall into both theological and practical categories. It is not surprising to find some overlap with sermon introduction and conclusions. In fact, illustrations are often the key to the effectiveness of both.

  1. Illustrations inform and instructOur goal as gospel heralds is to teach our people the ways of God. The use of illustration recognizes that people more readily grab hold of pictures and images than they do propositions. However, the purpose of a picture or an image is to shed light on the proposition or principle that undergirds the picture.
  2. Illustrations explain and clarifyExplanatory power resides in good illustrations that make the truths of the Bible apparent. Good illustrations will evoke an “Aha” moment or provide a “Now I see” experience.
  3. Illustrations can help the preacher connect and identify with his peopleGood communicators learn how to touch the souls of their congregation and take hold of their hearts. This personal touch is a natural component of good illustrations. You and your people come together as you weigh the issues of real life that touch all of us.
  4. Illustrations are a tremendous aid to memorization and recallPeople remember stories. Remembering our stories or our striking and memorable statements will pave the road back to our exposition and aid in its recall.
  5. Illustrations help to capture and regain attentionThe average mind begins to wander after extensive and lengthy discourse. Good illustrations help refocus attention on the message. My friend Alistair Begg says if he has a really good illustration, he allows it to “float” along with the message until it is needed to recapture the attention of his congregation. Having listened to Alistair many times, we do not think he struggles to keep the attention of his audience. Still, his point about the usefulness of a powerful illustration is right on target.
  6. Illustrations motivate, persuade, and convinceIllustrations are not meant merely to clarify; they are primarily meant to motivate. Scripture teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27; Deut 6:5). Engaging exposition with good illustrations moves the whole person as the Holy Spirit through biblical truth impacts that person’s total being.
  7. Illustrations allow for mental relaxationThe mind naturally shifts gears when listening to a story. The need for intense concentration is lessened, and listeners are allowed to catch their “listening breath.”
  8. Illustrations help our people see the immediate relevance of the biblical text for their livesThe Bible is relevant. We do not have to make it relevant. However, making it relevant and showing it to be relevant are two different things. “Does God have a word for me today?” The answer is a resounding “yes.” Good illustrations will make this answer abundantly clear.
  9. Illustrations personalize and particularize the general/universal truths revealed in the BibleWhen we structure and outline the biblical text, we want to capture that which is true any place, any time, and under any circumstances. Illustrations allow us to take universal and eternal truth and show how it impacts and changes lives now. Illustrations reveal how God’s truth changed the lives of others and how it can change our lives as we respond to the same truth in repentance and faith.
  10. Illustrations make biblical truth believableSometimes the Bible seems otherworldly. However, God is in the business of changing lives and making things new today (2 Cor 5:17). Stories of real life transformations reveal the beauty of God’s amazing grace found in King Jesus.
  11. Illustrations create interestThe experience and stories of others fascinate people. A good illustration can capture the ear of a listener who had every intention of tuning you out and taking a nap.
  12. Illustrations explain biblical doctrine and personal duty in an understandable and compelling wayGood preaching impacts the whole person. It recognizes that the mind, heart, will, and emotions are intertwined and interrelated. It understands that what impacts the heart and emotions can and should find its way to the mind and the will. It provides what I call a visual commentary on the inspired text. It allows us to see what God is doing.

Illustrations bring clarity to biblical truth and reveal how God’s Word works and has worked in the lives of others. They help us turn the ear into an eye so that our listeners see biblical truth more clearly. Illustrations make abstract truths concrete.

 

Humans are visual by nature, and we live in a visual age. Crafting “mental pictures” taps into this reality and engages the emotional aspect of human nature. Good illustrations move the emotions, stir the heart, and heighten our senses. We become more alert and sensitive to what is being said.

The fact that we emphasize the teaching of Bible stories to our children is instructive. They remember them. The aid to memorization makes these stories a valuable and powerful ally both for children and adults.

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DON’T OUTSOURCE YOUR SERMON PREP

We’ve all experienced that “back against the wall” scenario: a week that didn’t go as planned—crises appearing from nowhere as crises are most likely to do—and study time set aside in the face of more urgent tasks. Now exhausted and distracted, you sit at your desk staring at a stubbornly incomplete sermon. You may even begin to wonder if people will notice whether you just rehash a sermon you preached a few years back. Change the title and some key illustrations and surely they won’t notice. Right?

Sunday looming, another solution presents itself. With just a few clicks and some creative searching, you could access the entire wealth of the internet: blog posts, commentaries, even entire sermons. You could be done in less than an hour, leaving space for some badly needed time with your family.

Maybe just this once.

After all, is it really that big of a deal if you’re the one who does all the research? Shouldn’t it be enough for you to craft the final product, shaping it to meet the needs of your particular church? Does it matter who does the grunt work?

In one particularly interesting passage in On Christian Doctrine (4.29), Augustine wrestles with this same issue. And, as he often does, he takes the question even a step further, envisioning a situation where it might be advisable for this to be an ongoing practice in the church, not just a one-time thing.

There are, indeed, some men who have a good delivery, but cannot compose anything to deliver. Now, if such men take what has been written with wisdom and eloquence by others, and commit it to memory, and deliver it to the people, they cannot be blamed, supposing them to do it without deception For in this way many become preachers of the truth (which is certainly desirable), and yet not many teachers; for all deliver the discourse which one real teacher has composed.

Augustine specifically has in mind people who are gifted communicators (he calls these “preachers”) but not gifted at researching and writing sermons (these are the “teachers”). In other words, they can present a sermon powerfully, but they can’t write a powerful sermon. Or, in our context, we might even include gifted communicators who simply don’t have the time to write powerful sermons, focusing their attention instead on other meaningful activities. And Augustine argues that it’s perfectly legitimate for such pastors to memorize sermons written by other people and preach them to their own congregations, as long as they do so “without deception.” In other words, just tell people where you got this brilliant sermon and you’ll be fine.

In my next post, I’ll offer some reasons that I think Augustine’s proposal is worth considering, so long as we do so thoughtfully and openly. But, before we get there, I think it’s important to pause for a moment and reflect on four reasons to be careful with any suggestion that pastors should let people do the hard work of crafting a sermon for them.

  1. A good preacher needs to be shaped by the text. Before preaching the sermon, preachers need to soak in the text and allow it to shape their lives. And the only way to do that is to do your own homework. You have to wrestle with the text yourself before you can challenge others with it.
  2.  A good preacher checks their sources. Everyone preacher uses resources when putting together a sermon. After all, you can’t know everything. But the danger of using someone else’s sermons is that you have to assume they got it right. Not a safe assumption no matter how brilliant your source. If you’re going to stand before God’s people and preach God’s word, you should probably invest some time to make sure you’re doing it well. I hear God takes that rather seriously.
  3. A good preacher needs to contextualize the text. As I mentioned above, every preacher knows that a good sermon is written for a particular audience. But there’s more to contextualizing a sermon than just reading someone else’s sermon and figuring out how to say the same thing to your audience. Good contexualization arises from good interpretation, and that only comes from homework.
  4. A good preacher needs to adapt on the fly. Even people who manuscript their sermons know that a good preacher should be able to adjust the sermon on the fly. Reading the audience, you can tell when you need to dwell on a point just a bit longer or explain something just a bit more clearly. But that means you have to own the material well enough to make such adjustments without losing the thread of the sermon.

With these four reasons in mind, we need to be careful with advice suggesting that pastors can outsource sermon preparation, whether that advice comes from an online service or someone as influential as Augustine.

Nonetheless, as I said earlier, I do wonder if there’s a way of capturing the value of Augustine’s collaborative approach to preaching while still guarding against the dangers we’ve just discussed. And that’s what we’ll pursue in my next post.


photo credit: Macsoundhine via photopin cc

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6 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LEADING CHILDREN TO JESUS

Recently, at our church we have had a number of children place their faith in Jesus. It is exciting to journey and celebrate salvation with children and families. There is no greater honor as a pastor than to lead someone to trust in Jesus. When it comes to the children in our churches, this honor is a great responsibility. Here are 6 observations about talking with children regarding faith in Jesus Christ.

    1. Theological clarity is needed when talking with children about trusting Jesus Christ. While this could a much more extensive topic, it is important that we are attentive to the theological lessons we teach by the means we use in sharing the gospel with children. For example, no one (child or adult) has ever been saved by a formula prayer. Salvation comes by placing our faith in Jesus Christ alone. If we lead children to pray a rote prayer as a formula or mantra, or salvation insurance, we may actually be doing them a disservice. Prayers don’t save you; Jesus does.
    2. We should avoid manipulative or leading questions when talking to children about issues of faith. I’ve heard of children in a large group being asked to raise their hand if they want to go to heaven. The follow up to the question is then to lead the children who raised their hands affirmatively in the group prayer and then declare them saved. Of course, many children will reply affirmatively to a question about going to heaven whether they understand their sinfulness or how the cross provides forgiveness and subsequently eternal life. Saying you want to go to heaven and being ready and willing to trust Jesus alone as your Savior are not necessarily the same thing.
    3. We should speak the gospel to children just as we would to adults. Children have an incredible capacity for faith and trust in God. They are also sinners in need of a Savior, just like adults.We need to clearly speak the gospel story and gospel truths to children—God is holy; we are sinners; Jesus is the only Savior and means of forgiveness; we must respond in repentance and faith. As such, we should use concrete language when talking to children about salvation. We should avoid using the phrase, “asking Jesus into your heart.” It is a metaphor that can be difficult for children to grasp and is not found in the Bible.
    4. When children ask faith-oriented questions, we should take the time to listen. Children who grow up in church or who have been exposed to the gospel often begin asking questions about heaven, hell, death, eternal life, the cross, Jesus, God’s love, etc. These questions give us clues as to how the Holy Spirit might be convicting of sin and bringing to light the gospel in the lives of children. Patiently and clearly answering their questions is an important aspect of child evangelism. One thing to remember—every child is unique and it may take more questions or more time for some children than others to place their faith in Jesus.
    5. My mentor taught me a fascinatingly simple question to ask children who expressed interest in trusting Jesus. “If you could trust Jesus today or wait a week, what would you do?” This diagnostic question helps discern the urgency of the child regarding salvation. If the child answers, “Today,” then we clarify the gospel and lead them to trust in Jesus. If the child says, “Wait a week,” then we give them more time. Once, I was talking to a young girl and asked her, “If you could trust Jesus today or wait a week, what would you do?” She said, “I think I’ll wait a week.” Before she and her mom got to her car, she turned, looked at her mom and said, “No, I think I need to trust Jesus today.” So they walked back, we talked, and she placed her trust in Jesus.
    6. Finally, we should remember that Jesus is really good at bringing people, children included, to salvation. Paul promised in Romans 1:16 that the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” We need not manipulate. Rather, we need to communicate. And when we clearly and regularly communicate the gospel, we should anticipate that God will bring adults and children alike to faith in him.

For more children’s ministry helps, check out LifeWay Kids.

Featured image credit (edited for size).

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LIFEWAY INDIA VBS 2020 : Game On!

LifeWay’s Vacation Bible School resources help churches host incredibly evangelistic outreach events every year! So what are you waiting for? Go reach your community with the Good News of Jesus. Your kids will have a blast while every activity, Bible lesson, and song points them to Jesus. Available in three languages English, Hindi, and Telugu.    CONTACT US Email: rajeev.kumar@lifeway.in;  info@lifeway.in Phone Number: +91 98868 86733
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Seema Story

SEEMA, began in 2002, with the goal of empowering women by giving them an opportunity to work and earn their livelihood, which goes a long way in building their self-esteem. It has taken SEEMA many years to draw the conservative rural woman out of her often miserable environment, to being aware of the opportunities provided here. These women who come to SEEMA for help have been beaten, cast out of their society, abused, tricked in to sex trafficking, forced into prostitution and disregarded by the community and government

Today, they are no longer shackled by familial barriers, but have found a sense of freedom and fulfilment through the paradigm shift that SEEMA has initiated.

At SEEMA, the women are taught to dye thread, and weave them on a back strap loom. The cloth is then sewn into bags and other products, which are in turn sold to provide income for the women. The back strap loom, one of the most ancient looms in the world, is still being used because of its innate simplicity. However, this simple craft, has given the women at SEEMA, a sense of pride and self-worth.

Today, SEEMA provides 45 women from various backgrounds, a window of hope and security. Hindus, Muslims and Christians, all sit together under one roof, working for eight hours. But to hear them, they might sound like they were at a party! The friendships they have made here will last a lifetime. SEEMA has given them a sense of belonging.

 

Buy Now: https://lifewayindia.in/seema-story/

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Four Ways We are to Shepherd our Groups

The elders of the church were put in place to shepherd the congregation in the same way we as small group leaders are to shepherd our portion of the church. Although we are not that familiar with shepherds in today’s society, God chose shepherds throughout the Bible to lead His people. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds chosen as leaders by God. Jesus even referred to Himself as a shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14).

Here are four ways we are to lead as shepherds for our groups:

1. From the heart

They know each sheep in their care and will work hard to get them to their destination. The small group leader’s role is to help the people in their group take the next spiritual step to get them from where they are to where they need to be. A shepherd leader will work hard to make sure no one is left behind on their spiritual journey.

2. With compassion

Jesus (the ultimate shepherd) set the example as a leader who always had compassion for His followers—even when it was most inconvenient.

We see in the book of Matthew Jesus withdrawing for time alone to grieve immediately after receiving the news of the death of John the Baptist, but He still could not escape the crowds.

When Jesus heard about it, he withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a large crowd, had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matt. 14:13–14)

Even though Jesus had every right to not care for another person at that moment, He saw sheep without a shepherd and had compassion for them. There will be many times as a small group leader where a member of your group will have a need at the most inopportune moment. It may be a phone call late at night. It may be someone who wants to stay after group to talk. It may be someone at church who needs to grab time in the lobby during the service you are about to attend. While inconvenient, it’s at those times where we have to remember the compassionate example of Jesus.

3. From the front

“When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). A leader that people will follow is a leader willing to go first. This may mean sharing a vulnerable story with the group to set the example of authenticity. The group will model the behaviour you display. If you want your group to be open, open your heart first. If you want the group to serve, serve them first. Leading from the front does not mean dictating direction. It means setting the example for others to follow.

4. Sacrificially

There will be times when leading your group will be a sacrifice. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). While your sacrifices will probably not involve laying your life down for someone, opening your home to a group of people weekly is a sacrifice. You have to keep the house clean, put up the pets, pull out all the extra chairs, make sure there is food, etc. It’s exhausting to host a group! You will need occasional breaks to not burn out, but that sacrifice of time and effort will lead to a group that bonds through consistency.

At the end of our time as leaders, we want to know we led our flock well. We can look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and follow His example of shepherding His flock. Though we will not be perfect, we want to lead from the heart, lead with compassion, lead from the front, and lead sacrificially.

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Lead Your Church To Love Your City

Within a half hour of the writing of this article, I noticed some pretty graphic extremes. On one end, I heard about 15 different languages spoken, observed the building of four new high rises, saw the hustle and bustle of a more than a million plus people in downtown Miami, and even jumped on the metro mover to get to my next appointment; that’s one extreme. The other extreme led me to greeting the resident homeless guys that stay right outside our church office area, out of choice by the way, walking through the courthouse district that deals with the custody takeover of children in troubled homes, and seeing the local pimp doing … well, doing what he does. Dear Lord, how are we, as the church, going to reach all of these people? Where in the world do we start?

As we consider loving our cities, it’s important to remember that the city is not a “what,” but rather a “who.” The residents of our cities are living people with souls, social consciences, worldviews, and feelings. Since our mission is to reach people, let me ask: If the folks mentioned above were your closest family and friends, what would you do differently? How would you try to love them? Wealthy or poor, how would you respond? Let’s consider these ideas on how to love the under-resourced of your city.

Before storming the hill, I suggest we take a diagnosis of the land. Before we mobilize the troops and start handing out food at the local corner or assume that we know what’s needed, we should be fast to listen, and slow to speak or in this case, act. In church world, we enjoy service that is good and noble. This, however, does not always address the greater need — the disparity. Disparity is a lack of similarity or equality; inequality. These are the underlying causes to the tangible expressions of challenge that the under-resourced face in our cities. It’s the “why” behind the “what.” Our friends in the non-profit and government sectors normally have a good pulse on specific needs of their communities. In fact, if you know how to use Google, I would suggest typing in “disparity,” the name of your city, and your zip code.  You may be surprised to discover what the issues are versus the solutions we are trying to provide.

Let me share an example. At my church, Christ Fellowship Miami, we operated a soup kitchen/clothing closet/shower center/worship service for the homeless of our community. When we started this work, we were the only center in Miami that was open on Sunday’s. There was a massive shortage on services, housing, food, and services then. Through the years, more centers began to open up. They provide all the services we did along with sufficient housing for almost all of the homeless of downtown Miami, health care, education, job skills training, life skills training, and future potential jobs. Once these centers opened, we had to ask, are we doing this because it’s what is going to help our homeless friends the most or do we continue to do this because it make us feel better about ourselves? We were doing great things, but we weren’t addressing the disparity.

Disparity
vs.
What did we want to do/What we’ve always done

Within six weeks of the opening of these centers, we had to make the hard decision of closing our ministry, and redirecting volunteers and resources to one of these centers. It was not a popular decision, but it was the right one. It was right because wholistic care, which we could not and were not providing, was now available to our friends. We had only housed or transitioned a handful of men. Now, before we jump to any conclusions about bailing out or giving up, I want to clarify that we didn’t stop feeding, we didn’t stop resourcing, we didn’t stop praying and serving. It all continued, within these centers that were established to better serve our homeless friends. We were able to find our place within the wholistic response.

If we were to be completely honest, the only other wholistic option that would address the disparity would have been to adopt one of our homeless friends and provide them with housing and food in their own homes. For every person that was critical about the decision, they were challenged with adopting one of our homeless friends and taking them home in order to match the services of our centers; no one ever did. Since that time, as a church we have seen more than 200 men and women find housing and receive comprehensive services. Men and women who came through our doors have found ways to get off the streets and move in the right direction. We have seen the church mobilized to volunteer, to give generously towards these initiatives, and to celebrate comprehensive life change. The need wasn’t food. It was so much more.

As you lead your church to love your city, I’d suggest you ask the questions we are always wrestling with in downtown Miami: Is this a real need, a disparity of our city, or is this something we prefer to do?

In light of the facts, how will you lead your church to love on your city? Please share your ideas in the comments.

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Creating A Discipleship Culture In The Local Church

Albert Einstein wrote, “Out of complexity, find simplicity.”

This quote was the basis for the immensely helpful book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. At one time, it seemed as if every pastor was not only reading the book but also implementing the four-fold elements: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. After extensive research, the authors uncovered this simple process among vibrant churches.

Before a pastor can cultivate a culture of discipleship, he must clear up any ambiguity with the term. Sadly, we have many people using the same discipleship terms but speaking a different language. Rainer and Geiger define clarity as, “the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people … If the process is not clearly defined so that everyone is speaking the same language, there is confusion and frustration.”¹

Define What You Mean by “Making Disciples”
Churches, according to Bill Hull, author and disciple-maker, throw “the word disciple around freely, but too often with no definition.”² New Testament Professor Scot McKnight supports Hull’s claim: “If one understands discipleship as ‘daily routine,’ then one will produce those who have daily routines. If one understands discipleship as ‘evangelistic ministry,’ then one will produce evangelists. If one understands discipleship as ‘Bible study,’ then one will produce biblical scholars. If one understands discipleship as ‘effective operations,’ then one will produce administrative geniuses.”³

Furthermore, a quick survey of the Christian landscape will uncover various definitions of discipleship from different people. For example, Francis Chan, whom I have had the privilege of dialoguing with on two occasions, defines discipleship differently than Bill Hull, author of The Disciple-Making Pastor. Jim Putman, pastor of Real Life ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, suggests a different approach than Alan Hirsch, founding director of Forge Mission Training Network, or even Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church and author of Limitless Life.

Fortunately, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, did not prescribe a model; rather, He gave us a mandate: make disciples! He didn’t suggest a process; he left us with principles, which is why Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Discipleship is timeless.

Ultimately, Jesus left the size of the group, the length of the group, and the particularities of the group up to the disciple-maker. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Rather than using your freedom as a license for laziness, you must decide on a system and faithfully follow.

Allow me to answer the question by explaining what discipleship is not.

  • It’s not a class.
  • It’s not a seminar.
  • It’s not a degree you earn.
  • It’s not a program.
  • It’s not a 12-week Bible study.
  • It’s not a 40-day home group.
  • It’s not a quick process.
  • It’s not a quick fix.
  • It’s not reserved for super Christians.
  • It’s not hard.
  • It’s not an option!

5 Components of a Discipling Relationship
We could say that discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ. When people become disciples, they learn what Jesus said and live out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19).

Did you catch the five components of a discipling relationship?
A disciple is:

  1. Intentional about equipping others for the work of ministry
  2. Studying/obeying the Word of God
  3. Accountable to other believers
  4. Empowered by the Holy Spirit
  5. Reproducing what he was taught with others.

One last word on this subject: It’s important to contextualize the process. A “one-size fits all” approach will not work. Discipleship in Chattanooga is very different than discipleship in San Francisco or even the Dominican Republic.

After preaching an evangelistic crusade, D.L. Moody was met after the service by a man who disapproved of his evangelistic strategy. Moody responded, “It’s evident that you don’t agree with my evangelism method. What’s your evangelistic model for winning the lost?” The man replied, “I don’t have a particular method.” Moody said, “I think I’ll stick with mine.” Regardless of which model, material, or manner you affirm, decide on a plan and stick with it.

¹ Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 1996), 113.
² Bill Hull, Disciple-Making Pastor: Leading Others on the Journey of Faith (Ada: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 54.
³Brad J. Waggoner, The Shape of Faith to Come (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 12.

Dr. Robby Gallaty is the senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on Nov. 12, 2002. He is the author of Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes DisciplesUnashamed: Taking a Radical Stand for Christ and Creating an Atmosphere to HEAR God Speak. He holds a Master of Divinity, a Master of Theology and a Ph.D. in preaching from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Robby is married to Kandi and they have two boys, Rig and Ryder. He enjoys reading, golf, watching the UFC and playing with his boys.

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