Articles

Lessons from my Daughter

I’ll never forget the day that Natalie was born.  My in-laws were in town, hoping to be a part of the excitement, and my father-in-law and I decided to go play tennis.  I thought that my decisive win was going to be the highlight of the night, until I came home to my wife—who was in labor.  Like most first-time parents, Shelby and I arrived at the hospital thinking delivery time was just around the corner! We were wrong! After an hour of doing laps in the delivery unit and several more hours of waiting and sleeping (for one of us), we finally got to welcome Natalie Joy Collins into the world.

Even after Shelby’s parents went home for the night, I sat there in complete awe and totally in love with this little squishy ball of cuteness that is our daughter.  Every sneeze, cry, and movement was something worth watching, and, of course, I thought she was the most beautiful baby in the world (I still think that)!

When I first became a parent, it was obvious that my role was to begin the long process training my child to be an independent, Jesus-loving adult.  We knew to start by teaching her to eat a full meal, then to sleep through the night, soon to talk and crawl; and, as many others have told us, we’ll soon find ourselves teaching her how to drive.  I heard from almost every other parent that having a child changes you, but I didn’t understand fully what that meant until God started to train me as Shelby and I tried to train Natalie.  I’ve recorded some simple lessons that God has taught me that I hope can be a help to new dads, not-so-new dads, and future dads alike.

  1. Parenting is a team sport.
    I would imagine that every decent man intends on helping his wife with the day-to-day parenting responsibilities—diapers, clothes, holding, etc. Men are different from women in this area.  Unlike my wife, the cries of my daughter don’t awaken my hormones and cause me to immediately rush to her aid.  No matter my hormonal makeup, though, my responsibility as a father should lead me to offer my fair share of help in changing the diapers, getting up with a crying baby in the middle of the night, and other not-so-fun parts of parenting.
    Men, here’s the thing: your wife can survive as “single parent”, but the emotional and physical strain of parenting a newborn is more than any woman should have to bare alone.  Sleeplessness, post-partum depression, and many other things are close to unbearable without a spouse’s help.  Even with my help, the rough patches of infancy were very taxing on my wife.  I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for her if I didn’t help at all!
    It may be funny around your friends to say the number of diapers you’ve changed is in the single digits, but there are plenty of moms who wished their husband would have helped just a little bit more.

New Dad tip: Offer to feed your baby a bottle so your wife can sleep uninterrupted or offer to care for the baby while your wife gets a much-needed nap.

  1. Patience is key
    My first week of dad life was deceivingly easy! All Natalie did was eat, stare, poop, and sleep, eat, stare, poop, and sleep.  Then week two happened.  Our squishy ball of cuteness suddenly morphed into a screaming ball of terror during the darkest hours of night!  I remember holding her, with her little mouth screaming into my ear, thinking, “When will this stop?”  We tried every remedy to get her to sleep better (and have since moved past that stage), but those 2 weeks simply turned into a grind of outlasting that phase.
    As I held my beloved screaming ball of terror in my arms one night, I remember being very frustrated with her.  It was silly to be frustrated with an infant, but I had nobody else to be frustrated with.  I remember the Spirit reminding me that the parenting process was also designed to grow me, and this sleepless night was one way for God to instill in me a much-needed fruit of the Spirit—patience.
    It occurred to me that getting frustrated or giving up was short-circuiting the process God had designed to help me.  I will need the lessons from those sleepless nights in the terrible two’s and all the way through her teenage years.  In fact, I need those lessons of patience in my marriage and in my career!

New Dad tip: When parenting gets tough, stop and think, “What is God trying to teach me right now?”

  1. Slow Down and Take It In
    After Natalie was a few weeks old, a sense of normalcy finally came over the Collins household.  I was getting my sleep again, and I was back to working full-speed at the church I love.  Like every other working man, there are days that I need to work a little late, or take my work home.  There were also plenty of other days where my drive to get as much done as possible kept me away from home more often than necessary.  Around this same time, I was reading a parenting book in which the author made a statement that stuck with me: God made some moments of parenting for you to enjoy.  The smiles, giggles, and first steps aren’t really for the child as much as they are for the parent.  God loves His children enough to make parenting an experience that can be enjoyable for the parent, too!
    What was I doing by missing out on those moments? I was only cheating myself of some of the joys God had in store just because I chose to be present in Natalie’s life.

New Dad tip: Get a camera, or a good phone, and take lots of pictures and video.  Find a way to keep those files long-term: you’ll be glad you did!

I’m not an expert dad (not even close!), but I’d like to think I’ve stopped to learn some of the lessons God has been trying to teach me.  I hope you will keenly listen for God’s voice in the whirlwind of parenthood and learn the lessons He has for you.  Parenting isn’t just about a product: it’s a process that should mature Mom and Dad just as much as it matures their child.

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The Importance of Church Camp

Faith Baptist Church in Fritch, Texas, where I am the youth director, just got back from a wonderful week at camp. Although I have been the youth director for three years of camp, this was the first I was able to attend due to my secular job. Besides that, I haven’t been to any church camp in about five years, so to be able to attend was amazing.

Our church has for a long time used church camp as a family camp, and it has worked well for our church. For instance, this year we had 7 campers, but 26 people from our church attended Cedar Hills Baptist Youth Camp in Binger, OK. Camp is one of the highlights of our entire church every year.

But why is it so important? Whether you only allow teenagers to go, or if you open it up for more people, no doubt you see camp as somewhat of a necessity. You do fundraisers, practice for the different competitions, load everyone up on hot buses and use tons of gas money. People (hopefully) pray in anticipation for camp. We try to hype up the teenagers and families about the camp speaker and the activities that will go on. The reasons why may be familiar and obvious, but in the spirit of this time of year, maybe it would be a good reminder to consider why camp is important.

  1. Those who attend camp can grow spiritually.
    You don’t have to be around a “camp-going” church long to find out that camp is often a place where teenagers make life changing decisions. I was excited to see 3 out of the 4 teenage boys that went surrender their life to Christ. One of the teenage girls in my youth group made a number of important decisions as well, such as the decision to remain sexually pure and rededicated her life to Christ.

    Teenagers are given a chance to grow spiritually, but often many are born spiritually. I wish there were a count of how many people have gotten saved while at church camp, but I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said millions of teenagers, and adults alike, have accepted Christ while at camp.

    The opportunity for growth is optimal. They are able to take a week away from their normal lives where they are constantly bombarded with the world and its ways. The distractions of their phones and social media can be (and, in my opinion, should be) taken away. They are able to clearly focus on the teaching, preaching, and studying of God’s Word. They can more easily listen to voice of the Holy Spirit. Those who attend can grow spiritually.

  2. Those who attend can grow in unity.
    There’s something about camp that brings a great deal of comradery among those from your church who attend. Living together for the week at camp can bind teenagers together that weekly meetings at church rarely can. Besides living together, I think that making decisions to follow Christ together brings people closer. There is a sense of accountability that arises in this situation. “We can help each other follow through with the decisions we made this week.” Teenagers grow together as a whole. The young men grow together. The young ladies grow together. The teens grow together with the youth director and other sponsors. All around, unity based on truth is achieved at camp.
  3. Those who attend can fellowship with other believers.
    Teenagers who attend camp have a great opportunity to meet other believers. Some will be reunited from friends from last year and years before that. New friends will be made. Churches that have the same goal and much of the same body of doctrine will be joined together for a week of fun, preaching, and fellowship. Youths will get to be with other teenagers who face the same struggles, yet in a different town. They will see people who are like them. Fellowship with other believers is necessary, and it is very helpful to connect with people not from your church. You get to see that you aren’t the only church out there. There are other people who are trying to see people saved. There are other people who are striving to be all that God wants them to be. These friendships are incredibly valuable and can last long past the years of going to camp.

 

Wherever you are, I encourage you to go to camp. Camp is an invaluable resource to Christians, for teenagers and adults alike. Amazing decisions for Christ are made all around the country at camp. Friendships are made both in your own church and with other churches. Don’t rob yourself of this profitable time away from the world.

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Five Great Forgotten Hymns

I love congregational singing! It’s a wonderful, Biblical way to praise and worship God, and reflect on biblical truths. Music just has a way of affecting our hearts in a way that few other things can! When you combine that influence with great truths about God, the results can be dynamic. There have been many wonderful hymns written throughout the centuries (and many great hymns being written today) that we all know: Amazing Grace, It is Well, In Christ Alone…but there are also many hymns that have been somewhat forgotten or left behind. One of the greatest joys I have had in the music ministry at Foundation Baptist Church is introducing some of these hymns to our congregation. Here are five that I have found to be particularly good:

 

1.Glorious Freedom

An exciting, beautiful song by Haldor Lillenas. This triumphant hymn speaks of the freedom from sin we have in Christ:

Once I was bound by sin’s galling fetters,
           Chained like a slave, I struggled in vain.
           But I received a glorious freedom,
           When Jesus broke my fetters in twain.

2. My Wonderful Lord

The Collingsworth Family recorded this hymn on one of their albums, but I came across it in our hymnal, and it has become one of my favorite hymns for worship. It combines a beautiful melody with lyrics that reflect how wonderful Jesus really is.

My wonderful Lord,
My wonderful Lord,
By angels and seraphs in heaven adored.
I know Thou art mine,
My Savior divine,
My wonderful, wonderful Lord.

 3. All I Need

I love hymns that reflect great biblical truths, and this hymn draws from I Corinthians 1:30 – “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:”. It is an upbeat song with a fun, catchy melody!

Wisdom, righteousness, and power.
Holiness this very hour.
My redemption full and free,
He is all I need.

4. Tis Marvelous and Wonderful

This song may be familiar to those that have been at Heartland Baptist Bible College in the last few years. The school introduced it in our chapel services. I have since introduced it at our church, and used it to work with our congregation on singing parts! It is an exciting, powerful song, which makes strong use of counterpoint.

Oh, it is wonderful, it is marvelous and wonderful
What Jesus has done for this soul of mine,
The half has never been told!

  1. Satisfied

I first heard this hymn sung by Josh Cobb, a former Gospel singer. It’s a quiet, pensive song, with a very emotion-filled melody and thoughtful lyrics.

All my life long I had panted
For a drink from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.

 Oh hallelujah, I have found Him,
Whom my soul so long has craved.
Jesus satisfied my longing,
Through His blood I now am saved.

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Planning Your Future God’s Way

If you’ve flown recently, you have probably followed the normal custom of walking by the pilot on your way out the airplane and thanking them for safely delivering your family to your destination.  While it is obvious that a pilot is a contributor to the safe delivery of airline passengers, there is a lesser-known person who has a major role in each safe flight: the Air Traffic Controller.

THE GUIDES IN THE SKIES

The people who work in Air Traffic Control have an extremely important job.  Though each man and woman who pilots an aircraft has thousands upon thousands of hours of training, they each have a very limited understanding of the other factors that go into their flight.  The pilot rarely knows who is flying around him nor does he have their exact location and altitude.  A pilot has a limited understanding of the different dangers on the flight pathway, and is therefore unable to fly to the destination safely without the help of Air Traffic Control.

The people who make up Air Traffic Control perform a high-stress and high-stakes job every single day.  In fact, the job is so demanding, the mandatory retirement age is 56 to prevent age-related fatigue from endangering those in the air.  Air Traffic Controllers know which planes in their region are in the air and they know the exact location and altitude of each aircraft.  Since they know where each aircraft is located, they are able to prevent mid-air collisions (especially near airports) and manage the busy “highways” in the skies.  The Air Traffic Controller’s knowledge of the big picture is what ultimately allows the pilot to deliver hundreds of passengers safe to their destination.

What if a pilot decided not to consult Air Traffic Control? You probably don’t even want to imagine the sheer horror of commercial airlines colliding in the sky or running into each other as they attempted to land at the same landing strip.  Each pilot is smart enough (and legally obligated) to consult ATC because they realize that their decisions affect hundreds of other lives onboard the aircraft.

THE GUIDE OF YOUR LIFE

In a sense, each of us pilot our own plane and take it to the destination we choose.  What we often forget, though, is that there are other passengers aboard our plane and our life decisions affect them just as much. When a man chooses a career path, he has onboard of his plane a wife, kids, friends, church family and more that will be impacted by his choice of career.  The college a young person chooses to attend will affect their parents, friends, and the unknown people in their future at that particular college.  Financial decisions always seem to affect people other than yourself: the family you provide for and the church to which you give, just to name a few.

I think anyone could agree that the number of passengers on board only highlights the fact that you need an external force to guide you in every major decision of your life.  You need someone who sees things you can’t see and can give you the best course to take to the intended destination.  If you’re a Christian, then you’re in luck because you have a loving heavenly Father who wants you to make wise decisions that will be best for you and the other people aboard your aircraft.  In fact, He cares so much about us making the right decisions that He gave us one filter that would help us make the right decision in every situation.

IF THE LORD WILL

Before James wrote his letter to the scattered believers he knew so well, it is possible that he had caught wind of some plans that they were making to take a short-term business trip into another country.  The plans weren’t intrinsically evil: they were just going to do some business and make a profit for themselves.  The plans were even well thought-out: they knew where they were going, when they’d be leaving, how long they’d be staying, and they evidently determined that they would be able to make a profit in this other country.  If there wasn’t anything wrong with the plans themselves, then why did James correct them at the end of chapter 4?  The problem with their plans was that they failed to make their plans with consideration to God’s will,

“For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
(James 4:15).

Was James commanding these believers to tack on the words, “Lord willing” to all of their stated plans?  “Lord willing, we’re going to have lunch with our friends tomorrow and, Lord willing, we’ll be eating at the restaurant that opened up last week.” Sounds a little strange, right? What James was telling these believers was that all of their plans needed to pass through this one filter before they acted upon them.  No plan was to be approved before they could confidently answer this one question, “Does God want me to do this?”  Even if their business trip seemed like a profitable venture and fit into their calendar, they were best served if they made sure that God approved of their plans.

That means our plans, no matter how thought-out, should always pass through the filter of God’s will.  When you are deciding if you are going to marry a significant other, it’s not good enough just to see if you are attracted to each other and compatible.  You need to also answer this question, “Does God want me to marry this person?”  That will take some time in God’s Word figuring out the type of person He wants you to marry, it will require prayer and fasting, and it will take humbling yourself to seek the counsel of a spiritual mentor.  The next time you are making a career decision, it’s not good enough just to assess the work environment of your next job, or the living situation of a city to which you might relocate.  You also have to seek God through prayer and figure out if this is job change is something God wants for your life.  It’s wise to make major financial decisions not just by looking at your spare monthly income or your need for a new possession, but to also consider what God’s Word potentially has to say about the purchase you’re going to make.

But why? It takes a lot of extra effort and time to confidently be able to answer if something is God’s will, doesn’t it? It requires an understanding of the direct commands and principles in the Bible relate to your situation.  It often takes weeks of prayer, and possibly fasting, to get the confidence that you are following God’s will, and it takes a lot of humility to ask for someone else to give you advice about a situation you think you know perfectly. Frankly, decisions often seem so urgent that it seems impractical to seek God’s will before we choose what to do.  James told the believers who received his letter one reason why it would be worth all of the trouble: God is infinite, while you are not.

YOUR GREATEST RESOURCE

Many reading this blog post have heard verse 14 over and over again, “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Many times, we’ve heard that verse used as a way to scare people into accepting Christ because life could end at any moment, but that doesn’t seem to be the intended meaning in the context.  It seems that James is trying to emphasize to some proud believers that they are very finite people with a very limited knowledge: they don’t even know how long their lives will last, let alone be able to guess how well their business would be received in a foreign country.  On the other hand, they serve and are under the authority of a very infinite God who has all wisdom.  It just made sense that they would seek the counsel of their infinite God before they made that major decision.

It just makes sense to seek God’s will before every major decision you make.  In a way much greater than Air Traffic Control, God has an understanding of all of the factors surrounding your decision that you can’t see.  God sees the heart of a boss who is hiring with promises he can’t keep.  God sees the shifts of economy that could leave you jobless within 5 years of switching to a career in a new industry, and God sees the deepest secrets in the heart of someone who is pretending to be a different person just to secure a marriage.  Doesn’t it make sense to spend a few weeks seeking God’s will about a decision that will impact your life for years?  It just makes sense to let God shape your plans because He’s the one who holds your future.

You know why planning your future God’s way is always worth it? It’s worthwhile because you always have the security that you’re taking the best path on your journey and you know the other passengers on board your aircraft are in good hands. When you let God shape your plans, you can take every bump knowing that God intended for you to be there, and you can push through every inadequacy knowing that God is going to help you through.  Let God shape your plans because he holds your future; you’ll never regret it.

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A Forgotten Battle

The fall of Constantinople had dramatic effects on the Western world. From the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance to the ushering in of the Ottoman empire, the Western world would never be the same because of the 1453 battle between the Byzantines and the Ottomans. 

The Ottomans had a great numerical advantage over the Byzantine army; however, the Byzantines had a fighting chance. The towering walls of Constantinople helped the Byzantines not be overtaken in the opening minutes of this important battle. If the Byzantines could follow a simple strategy, they would have had a fair chance of winning. 

However, one small detail destroyed the Byzantine army, ensuring an Ottoman victory: someone forgot to close the gate to the city. The Walls of the city of Constantinople were formidable. They would have been key to a Byzantine victory. But someone left the gate open. Because of that gate being left open, the Byzantine army was defeated. 

With this battle in mind, I can’t help but think of a battle that Christians face where one important detail is often overlooked, to the detriment of the believer. When I was growing up, I heard one particular phrase countless times, “Stay pure until you get married.” I was all for it. I asked God for help. I tried to honor God in the couple of relationships I had before I got married. However, it wasn’t until I got married that I took a step back to consider what that statement was implying. I took it to mean two things. 1) When you get married, you are no longer pure, and 2) you don’t have to stay pure if you have a ring on your finger. Either way, what these people were saying (unintentionally) was that purity doesn’t matter after marriage. What I am getting at is this: the teachings about purity build a great wall, but they leave the gate open. 

However, I submit to you that purity is just as important after you get married. This is the forgotten battle. Pastors and Sunday school teachers preach and teach to teenagers about it. Teenagers will make decisions at camps and youth conferences to stay pure. Parents try to help their kids by monitoring cell phone use and how kids spend their time. But it seems, that as soon as a person gets married, hardly anyone checks up on married people. I know what you may be thinking, “If they got married, they must have figured it out.” That is not necessarily the case. One statistic showed that 65% of Christian men of all ages, regardless of marital status, purposefully viewed pornogrpahy at least monthly. That is alarmingly high for a group of people in which many had been taught about staying pure. 

Please know that i am not saying it is pastors and teachers and mentors faults that nearly two-thirds of Christian men are not staying pure, even in marriage. That is a decision that they make. However, what I am trying to get at is this: we, myself included could do a much better job of being a help to those fighting this battle. So, what can we do as preachers and teachers?

Recognize that married men fight the battle as well. Just because a man has said “I do”, does not mean that they no longer struggle with lust. This is a sad fact. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. A man’s being married does not ensure purity. As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is half the battle.” Taking the time to recognize this should cause us to change up our strategy a little. Starting when they are young, maybe we should shift away from “Stay pure until you’re married” to “Stay pure.” Maybe shift away from “Stay pure for your future wife” to “Stay pure for Christ.” Friends, we must hit this battle head on. From the beginning stages of manhood, we must be instilling that purity is not only for single people. I’m not saying that it is too late for those who are married, but when we start young, a strong foundation can be laid. 

Maybe you are fighting that battle. Husbands, you have a responsibility to stay pure. All the verses in the Bible that talk about purity that are always preached to teenagers are meant for you too. Men, your signed marriage license does not give you the right to watch every single scene on television. Just because you are married does not mean you can be flirtatious with that girl from your work. Having a ring on your finger does not mean you can walk into Victoria’s Secret and it not affect you. Men, be careful. Don’t think that being married gives you a pass on purity. 

The call to purity should never be solely for teenagers. Married people need purity as well. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to stay pure unless you are married. The command goes farther than that. Specifically it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” While some passages that talk about staying pure and avoiding fornication (any extramarital sexual activity), are specifically spoken to young men (Solomon talking to Rehoboam or Paul talking to Timothy), we see that every time, he never says that purity is meant for a specific time period. 

What can you do if you’re fighting that battle? Is there hope? Yes there is hope. It is never too late to get help. God never desires us to leave defeated. He never wants us to live in sin. Because of that desire, He gives us the answers. He gives a plan for victory. There is hope, so be strong! What do you need to do.

1) You need humility.

You must also know that it may take humility. Let me rephrase that. It will take a lot of humility. However, there is hope. Help is available. Don’t be afraid to ask. While you may be struggling with this issue of purity, you won’t be able to be helped until you humble yourself and admit your need for help. 

2) You need honesty.
This goes hand-in-hand with humility, but you need to be honest. Men, the struggle needs to be confessed to someone, including your wife. Trust me, this won’t be easy. It will be embarrassing. But it’s helpful and it’s necessary. Be honest. 

3)You need help. 

One of the great things about being honest with your spouse is that they can help. Because there is a balance to be had between help and purity officer, I feel it would very wise to seek accountability in a spiritual mentor: pastor, Sunday School teacher, or carefully choose a trusted mentor. (Heath Lambert speaks of accountability in his book Finally Free. I would greatly recommend this book as a tool in this battle.) Accountability is necessary. You can fight this battle, but not alone. You need help. 

If you are fighting this battle, don’t give up. Keep fighting. Pastors and youth pastors, don’t forget this battle. Don’t leave this gate open. This battle has taken out too many soldiers. One man said, “Bitterness hath claimed its thousands, but adultery its tens of thousands.” This battle has taken too many casualties. Let’s be ever so careful not to close this gate. 

Not About Us

We have more resources at our fingertips than just about anyone else in human history. I’m only 24, but I remember (barely) a time before the internet; I certainly remember a time before smartphones. In about 20 years, there has been an explosion in our access to information! You don’t have to go to a library anymore to do research; you can do it all from your cell phone! News reaches us almost instantaneously; Twitter and news sites have become (for many of us) our primary source of news. The accessibility to information that the internet brings gives an opportunity to create and share that many people never would have had otherwise. 
There are obviously some great benefits to this! For those in ministry, there are a plethora of resources, blogs, and books to help us be more effective. I personally love it; I devour information and input. I can easily find new games for youth ministry, sheet music for a special, new tips for managing my time…the internet is amazing!
This availability of these resources has certainly affected ministry. For one thing, it has led to a culture of self-improvement in ministry. The vast amount of information available to us challenges us to constantly find new resources, better ways to do things, and methods to be more effective. We are constantly encouraged to read good books, manage our time well, eat healthy, exercise, and try a new tool that will help us accomplish more. There are countless ideas for outreach, teaching, games…you name it! Overall, this is a great thing! We should all strive to be our best for the Lord; we should take care of bodies, enrich our minds, manage our time well, and learn to be more effective in our ministries.
However, I’ve noticed an error that we must watch out for. Well, let me clarify: I’ve noticed this error in myself. I’m assuming that I’m not the only one who is affected by it, but it’s a dangerous error; especially because it sneaks into our hearts by hiding under a good and genuine desire for self-improvement. The error is focusing on ourselves instead of God- seeking our glory instead of His.
Think of this: you wake up in the morning, eat a healthy breakfast, and go to the gym. After all, your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and you should take care of it! During your busy workday, you implement all the time management techniques you’ve learned to make yourself more effective in your ministry. That’s good! The Bible tells us to redeem the time. When you get home, you pick up the book you recently bought on preaching. Nice! The lessons in that book will help you preach the Word of God more faithfully. 
All of those are excellent things! They are things we should all be doing, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves improving ourselves for ourselves, and not for the Lord. It can be a subtle shift, to be sure. We go from implementing time management techniques to be better stewards of our ministry to doing it because we begin taking pride in our organizational ability. We go from budgeting and investing wisely because we want to follow biblical principles on money to doing it because we like feeling like a financial guru. We start reading- not because we want to be helped by the knowledge in the book, but because we want to be smarter than others. Our quest for self-improvement can easily become an avenue through which we glory in ourselves!
I find this to be a struggle in my life; I love taking tests to help me better understand my strengths and weaknesses; I love reading new techniques to be more effective and organized; I love learning something new! All those things are great, and have helped me become more effective, but the problem is that I can begin to glory in my own wisdom or discipline instead of glorying in the Lord! I can easily begin doing those things because it makes me a better me, not because it makes me a better Christian and servant of God.

What’s the solution? Stop expanding your mind by reading good books? Go back to eating Oreos and Mountain Dew for lunch? No! The solution is to change our hearts. To make a choice not to glory in ourselves, but in the Lord. Don’t stop seeking to be better; just stop doing it for yourself! Seek to be the best you can be for the Lord! Jeremiah says it well:

Jeremiah 9:23-24

“Thus saith the Lord,

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”

We could rephrase this to match some of the things we might struggle with:

Let not the reader glory in his books,

Neither let the health nut glory in his health,

Let not the organizer glory in his time-management ability,

But let him that glorieth glory in this,

That he understandeth and knoweth God.

Is it possible you’ve fallen into the trap of glorying in yourself? Whatever your talents or abilities, don’t glory in the things you know, or what you can do; keep your focus on God! Keep trying to be the best you can be! Just be sure you’re doing it for God.

Security Update 

Just a few blocks away from all of the turmoil and panic of the NY Stock Exchange sits the world’s largest stockpile of gold. Deep under the streets of Manhattan sits more gold than is even housed in the impressive confines of Fort Knox. Five stories underground, nearly 30 feet below the NYC subway system, the vault at the Federal Reserve of New York houses more than $200 billion in gold. The gold stored underground in this vault accounts for more than twenty-five percent of the world’s gold reserves.   

The security is impressive, to say the least. Armed guards from the Fed’s security force circle the surrounding blocks with large, imposing automatic weapons. The gold vault– about half the size of a football field– was built and lowered into New York’s bedrock in 1921 before the building was completed in 1924. Solid rock surrounds it on all sides. There is only one way in or out– through a narrow, 10-foot passageway cut into a 90-ton steel cylinder that sits within a giant steel-and-concrete frame. The cylinder can actually be lowered three-eighths of an inch to create an airtight and watertight seal. Large bolts then get inserted into the cylinder, locking it into place. Timers prevent it from being opened again until the next business day. On top of all of that, the vault is maintained solely through the use of robotics, which rarely makes it possible for a human to access the trove of riches stored within (nyc-architecture.com).

It goes without saying that the heavy security is in place to prevent a stockpile that is probably more valuable than any other vault in the entire world. While none of us know of the type of security like what is at the Federal Reserve in New York, we all live by the idea that what we value most is what we guard with the highest security. Most families have some sort of place where they store important documents– whether it be a drawer safe or under your bed. All of us lock our homes when we leave, knowing that theft is always a possibility and that our locked door is the easiest way to secure our safe place. If you think about it, security is one of the first things we think about whenever we buy something; we want the keys to our car, the case for our phone, the insurance for our new gadget, or the combo to the safe we use for storage at work.  

Just as security is our first thought when buying something new, it was also one of God’s first priorities with this new nation, Israel, that had recently been delivered from slavery to Egypt. 

SECULAR SECURITY

The first 46 verses of Numbers chapter 1 are often skimmed over, but they describe an essential part of Israel’s beginning as a nation. God commanded Moses and Aaron to visit the tribes of Israel and obtain a head count of all of the men over 20 years old that would be capable of fighting in the military. In turn, Moses and Aaron gathered all of the tribes together and counted the men, family by family, that would make up their military. After all of the counting was finished, Moses and Aaron totaled 603,550 men that would be eligible to fight in Israel’s military.

While this number seems large, it was hardly an impressive fighting force compared to other nations at the time. Israel would discover that they would be largely outnumbered, in a worldly sense, in many of their battles on the way to conquering the Promised Land.

You would think, with an already small military presence, that God would have made sure that every healthy young man in Israel was drafted to military– but that wasn’t the case. The last part of Numbers 1 records that God had set apart one tribe for another type of national security.

SPIRITUAL SECURITY

God set apart the Levites from military service to dedicate themselves to protecting Israel’s worship. God had just given Israel hundreds of laws about every detail of their worship: the construction of the Tabernacle and each vessel within, the proper procedure for each ceremonial cleansing and sacrifice, and even some instructions on how the Tabernacle should be transported to each place that they camped out. It was the job of the Levites to make sure no foreigner tried to enter the Tabernacle. It was their job to ensure that each sacrifice was carried out perfectly, to bring honor and glory to God. It was their sacred duty to make sure that the general populous of Israel didn’t put their own “spin” on their worship to God.  

Why did God deliberately shrink His military force, a move that would have been very strange to every surrounding nation? God recognized that Israel’s greatest threat to their stability as a nation was not a compromise of physical security; their greatest threat was a compromise of their worship. Israel not only needed security to protect themselves from the enemy without, they needed some boundaries that would protect them from the enemy within them that would tempt them to forsake their worship to God. 

The world values the protecting of their physical resources, but Numbers 1 reveals that God places an even higher value on protecting our spiritual priorities.

SECURITY UPDATE

Just like anyone else, I find it natural to protect the physical resources God has given to me. You don’t have to remind me to purchase insurance on my expensive gadgets, nor will you find my house unlocked after I leave. I’m very dogmatic about protecting my physical resources because I don’t want to pay the high cost associated with replacing them! The last thing I want to do is purchase another phone or another camera because I wasn’t wise enough to protect the first one God gave to me.  

Guarding physical resources is not a bad thing, but I wonder how often we protect our wealth, but give no thought to protecting our worship? Is it possible that we can be diligent in guarding our 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work hours, while doing very little to protect our worship hour that we should have every day? How often have you found yourself setting aside money to purchase a physical resource, but having no system in place to set apart and protect that portion of your income that should be reserved for an offering of worship? How many times have you compromised on a Spirit-led standard when God gave you those for the specific purpose of protecting the way you worship Him?

You see, worship is not just something we do; it is an attitude that shows who we value. Worship isn’t just about what you do on a Sunday morning– your worship to God dictates how you represent Christ on Monday afternoon at your workplace. Our heart of worship, and the specific ways in which that worship is expressed, is something that God deems to be precious and worthy of guarding.  

Interestingly enough, if you know Israel’s history, the destruction of their land and eventual captivity had very little to do with a military failure. The root cause of Israel’s temporary demise as a nation was due to their flippant attitude towards their worship– expressed by their worship of idols and ignoring of some of the Sabbath laws. Sometimes, I get so concerned about protecting my physical resources that I forget that there is nothing more disastrous than a failure to protect the worship of my heart. Ruined marriages and families, destroyed testimonies, and ineffective ministry always boil down to one problem: neglected worship.  

For many of us, it might be time for a security update of another kind– a setting of boundaries that will keep our worship on track.

Christian Minimalism 

I don’t have to look far into my life to recognize that I have a long way to go before I am the person God desires me to be. It seems like every direction I turn, I uncover a new problem that I need to take care of. Most of these problems are pretty obvious: self-dependence, pride, anger, jealousy, apathy. The list could go, but I think you get the idea. I have a feeling that if you were honest you would agree with me. You know that there are things in your life that you need to work on as well. Perhaps many of the same struggles that you face are fairly common like mine are.     But what if I told you there is a problem that has slipped under the radar for the most part in today’s Christianity? It’s called materialism. Google defines materialism this way: a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. Americans, and even American Christians are addicted to stuff to the point that they elevate things above their spiritual well-being. They exchange “spiritual values” for…stuff.

A Growing Issue

This is not a new problem. As a nation, we have long desired to have as many things as possible. You’ve heard of the American dream, right? You’ve heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Jones’s”. Consider this quote that sums up the majority of Americans: “We buy things we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like.” We are not exempt from this problem even though we are Christians. God’s people are no exception to elevating physical things over spiritual well-being. Let me be clear; I am not advocating living with nothing: There are things that are necessary to have, and there are things that you may like to have. The issue is not having stuff-the issue is when you love stuff.

An Unexpected Solution

A few months ago my wife started decluttering our house. She was getting rid of stuff that we didn’t use or didn’t want (but had managed to keep), and even some stuff that I wanted! I wondered why she was doing this, so she told me she was starting to be a minimalist. I’ll be honest; I didn’t love the idea. I like stuff. But when I found out why she was getting rid of our beloved possessions, I had to take a step back and seriously reconsider my lifestyle.

The main idea that Crystal has started to integrate is called minimalism, but can be summed up in this mantra: “Use things; love people.” That slapped me in the face, metaphorically speaking of course. The whole reason my wife (and, eventually, I) started getting rid of stuff was because we didn’t want our life to be run by things. We didn’t want to keep wasting our money on stuff, when we could be investing in people. Whether that be investing in our marriage by getting away for a few days, or helping out some friends of ours, we wanted to love people, not things.

While there are other ideas behind minimalism, the basic idea is this: love people, use things. Many people understand this principle of minimalism; but the majority may not recognize that this principle is found in the Bible. Colossians 3:2 says this: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

The sixth chapter of Matthew (Verse 21) shows this, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” According to one website, Americans spent $10.7 trillion on shopping! Their heart is where their money is. Compare that to this stat: in 2015, Americans only spent about $370 billion on charitable giving. Let me simplify this, for every $30 spent on shopping, Americans charitably give $1. Why do I give all these numbers? To show you that Americans’ heart is in stuff. The stats for a Christian would be a little different, but not much. Christians often elevate stuff over spirituality.
Personal Choice

Jesus said that all the law hangs on two commandments: Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself. This is Christianity in a nutshell: Love God; love people. Thus, Christians have a choice to make. Do you love people, or do you love stuff? Materialism says you love things, minimalism says you love people. Friend, you have a choice. You can continue to elevate material possessions in your life, or you can invest in people and love them the way that God wants you too. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” How you spend your money is a reflection of what you love. So, do you love stuff or people? Do you live a minimalist Christianity? Let me reiterate. I’m not suggesting for every person who reads this article to throw away all their stuff. I do want us to realize that material possessions have no bearing on eternity. However, investing in people makes an eternal impact.

Spending money on missions is far more beneficial than buying a new car to replace your adequate vehicle that doesn’t need to be traded in. Spending time with a new believer in an effort to disciple him shows a love that ordering a fourth pair of brand new Nike’s for yourself does not. Volunteering in your community exhibits minimalist Christianity unlike watching an entire season of your favorite show on Netflix. What I am getting at is that employing a minimalist attitude in your Christianity will perhaps cause you to live differently. Your Amazon purchase history may not be as long, and your T.V. may not get used for a little while, but you can eternally impact someone. Choose to be a Minimalist Christian.

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Four Questions for Biblical Application 

Over the last several months, I have been taking our youth group through a series on Bible study. We have talked a lot about context, subject, complement, author, audience…we’ve covered a lot of ground! We’ve learned how to find the meaning of a passage of the Bible. It has been a great series, and I think we have all learned a lot! Every Christian needs to know how to effectively study the Bible.​However, we don’t just want to know what the Bible says and fail to do anything about it! The Bible is a living book that God still uses to speak to us today, and we need to take the time and apply its truths to our lives. When I arrived at Foundation Baptist Church almost two years ago, my pastor presented the church with four questions to help us in applying the Bible to our lives. I have found these questions to be greatly helpful, and they have really helped me in applying biblical truth to my life!

  1. What does this tell me about God?
    Every passage of the Bible tells us something about God. No matter where in the Bible we are reading, we can look something about God and His character. Read through the passage you are studying, and write out the things you can learn about God’s character. Does this passage show that God is merciful, loving, and kind? Does it show that He judges sin? Really take some time and effort to think and meditate on what you learn about God. Let the wonder of who He is draw you to worship and praise Him!
  2. What does this tell me about man (myself)?
    Just like we can learn something about God from every passage of Scripture, we can also learn something about man from every passage. Read the passage again, and see what it shows you about the character and nature of man (it’s rarely good!). More importantly, reflect on what the passage shows you about your own heart! It’s one thing to admit that men, in general, are liars, lustful, sinful…but it’s another to stop and think that I’m all of those things! Compare and contrast what you have learned about man with what you have learned about God. Does this passage reveal man’s need? God has the solution! Does is reveal man’s sin? Contrast that with God’s holiness!
  3. What am I going to do about it (today)?
    As James says, we are supposed to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. The entire point of application is take action on biblical truths and change our lives! After the first two questions, you should have a pretty solid grasp of both God’d holiness and goodness, and man’s sin and neediness. With those things in mind, how will you take action on what you have learned from the text you are studying? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness? Get rid of some harmful entertainment? Be a more faithful witness? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to change, and then write out something specific that you will do (preferably that day!). Don’t just write, “I’ll be a better witness”; write, “I will invite my coworker to church today.” What will you do about the biblical truth you’ve studied?
  4. What am I going to ask God to do about it?
    We must all understand that we need God’s grace and power to follow His Word and change; it’s no good trying to do things on our own! Take what you have learned, and what you intend to do about it, before the Lord. Ask for His grace and help to better live for Him; ask Him to work in your situation. Did you read about trusting God? Ask God to provide your need! Were you convicted about witnessing to your coworker? Ask God for courage, and to soften the heart of your coworker. All of our efforts will be in vain, if we fail to rest in God’s power!

These four questions have been a great help to me in my personal devotions. I have found that they greatly help me in reflecting and meditating on the Bible, and in making it personal to me. I hope it’s a blessing to you as well!

Don’t Kill the Goose

 

“One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich, he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find…nothing.  Thanks to his own greed, he killed the one thing that made him rich.”

This fable, though written centuries ago, has been passed down because of how much it relates to our human nature.  Can you imagine the excitement of the countryman as he realizes the amount of profit he could make off of this one goose? Even better was the fact that the goose required no special diet or care.  We’re not told what gave him the idea of killing the goose, but I imagine that he didn’t want to wait for the next batch of eggs.  Instead of taking care of the goose for a few more weeks to get more eggs, he thought it would be much better to get all of the eggs stored up inside of that goose.  The countryman learned a hard lesson: you can’t have the golden eggs unless you take care of the goose!

I feel like there are many wonderful gifts God has given me that have enriched me with many “golden eggs”.  To start, I’m married with a beautiful, godly lady that constantly amazes me with her selflessness.  I have a daughter who constantly dazzles me with her cuteness.  I’m a rich man because I serve on staff under the leadership of a pastor who has no problem trusting me and equipping me in ways that many people don’t experience in the ministry.  I’m rich because God has given me a measure of health that allows me to pursue any goal that I want, never having to worry about a defective heart, disability or disease.

Despite all of the riches with which God has blessed me, I find in myself the tendency to take advantage of those blessings because of my own greed.  I find myself killing “the goose” in order to extract more of the golden eggs.  As a husband, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve relied upon selfless service of my wife, expecting her to do far more than is reasonable while I sit, relax, and do nothing.  It’s no surprise that the “golden eggs” of a marriage, like a harmonious and joyful companionship, cease when one partner in the marriage stops serving the other.  How ironic that I sacrifice the potential for maintained harmony in my marriage for a short-term gain of not working a little to invest in my marriage.

As much as I love the cute baby phase of my daughter, I doubt that I would be alone in looking forward to the golden egg moments when I can enjoy the blessing of hearing her say “I love you Daddy” or coming to me when she needs help with an issue in her life.  I’m no parenting expert, but as a former kid, I realize that those moments don’t come unless Daddy invests back into the relationship in some way.  It’s unreasonable to think that a child would share their heart with someone who doesn’t go out of their way to spend quantity time with their children: in fact, it’s about as unreasonable as…killing a goose to get the gold inside.

Wouldn’t you say that working for a great employer is a rich blessing? I love the opportunity to work for a pastor who doesn’t micromanage, who adequately equips me to do my job and support my family, and, most of all, who gives me liberty to think outside-the-box.  I’m not the only one blessed with this type of employer-many of you are, as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who have greedily taken advantage of good-natured employers and spoiled the opportunity to enjoy the golden eggs of that work environment long-term.  Their own laziness forced their boss to have to check in more, or their lack of responsibility robbed them of the opportunity to steward greater resources.

If there’s any goose in our lives that has the most potential for producing golden eggs, it would arguably be our own health.  If not for good health, I would be limited to what job I could have, in what ways I could play with my children, and possibly even limit my own life span.  Yet, I’ve had to evaluate my lifestyle over and over again to see if I’m slowly killing that goose through poor exercise, eating, or rest habits.

It’s easy get so caught up in receiving the golden eggs that you forget to take care of the goose that produced them. Nurture the relationship that gives you the greatest blessing, take care of the employee that produces for your company, and maintain the health of a body will produce for years to come.  Taking care of an egg-producing goose is a whole lot better than living life without the golden eggs.

The worst thing about a dead goose is you don’t usually get a second chance to take care of it.  Don’t kill the goose!

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