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    ThuThursdayAugAugust17th2017 The Whole Me
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Discipleship Life 0 comments Add comment

    What do you think of when I say the word “whole”? Maybe eating a whole pie comes to mind, or a whole carton of ice cream. Possibly, your thoughts go to money, such as a bill that is due: “I owe the whole amount!”

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that word. It hasn’t been in the context of food or money, but as it relates to all of me, the whole person.

    God made all of us, the whole us. And he is working through the whole that we would become more like Jesus in our entirety.

    Through a series of conversations, someone has brought to my awareness that there are actually eight areas that make up our lives.  You may add or take away from the list, but I present eight:

    • The physical
    • The emotional
    • The mental
    • The spiritual
    • The digital
    • The relational
    • The missional (work, what I do)
    • The cultural (community, its impact on me and my impact on it)

    That’s a long list. I had no idea. I thought I was much simpler than that. As I’ve thought more about it, though, I’ve observed interconnectedness between them all. Sadly, my neglect in one or more areas hinders the areas where I think I’m doing well and, ultimately, impairs the whole me.

    Case in point: You love hearing a particular pastor preach, admire his spiritual maturity, yet he is severely overweight. Something is off. God is transforming him into the image of Christ but he has kept one area off limits.

    Or, a friend of yours is the life of the party, always happy and making the most of everything. You wish you had her humor and optimism. Yet, her walk with God has waned over the last year and she changes the subject every time you bring up how she is doing spiritually. Her emotional formation is on track but she has made her spiritual formation off limits. Something is off.

    God made the whole person. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.13-14). He is intimately involved in every detail. He cares about the continued formation of every part of us, all eight parts apparently.

    In a season of serious self-evaluation over the last couple of months, I see considerable neglect as it relates to the whole me. I overemphasize some areas while tossing others to the wayside. I devalue some as not important enough. Even if I haven’t said “off limits,” I might as well have since my neglect offers the same detriment.

    I want all of me to be on the table before God, offered completely as a sacrifice to him. I want all of me to be on a formation track, moving forward, onward, and upward as I give it needed attention. God is faithfully making me more like Christ as my years go on. It is something he does. I want him to form me and he is doing so. But I want the whole me to be in his working hands.

    What on the list stands out to you? Is there an area you view as strong in your formation efforts? Is there an area that is weak or neglected, even roped off as “off limits”? Maybe you devalue an area as “not spiritual enough” to give it needed attention. Give it the time. It’s worth it. The whole you is worth it.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust10th2017 You vs. God
    byBill Davis Tagged Dependence Psalms Worship 0 comments Add comment

    Volumes and volumes have been penned on why the Psalms are so essential to our devotional development in the Christian life. They connect in ways that other Scripture doesn’t (not in a superior way, as 2 Tim 3:16 is clear, but still in a rather unique way). The cry of the psalmist can connect to the cry of our soul when we really aren’t sure how to think about God, let alone how to express emotion to him. Sometimes we’re not even sure what those emotions are until the example of the psalmist shows us how to think about our circumstances and gain a broader perspective. Some of the darkest, most dire moments of my life have resulted in the Psalms moving from words on a page to understanding, comfort, wisdom, hope, perspective, and life.

    But thankfully we don’t have to be in the middle of dire circumstances to tap into the life and perspective of the Psalms. How do we make this connection just in our more day-in and day-out moments? I suggest it starts with an unlikely pairing: worship and grammar.

    The Psalms are many things, but they’re nothing if they aren’t a direction to worship. They are songs and poems to express the heart of a worshiper after the heart of God, and the very heart of God himself. I like a definition of worship I once heard that goes something like this: it is rightly recognizing who God is and who I am. The more I rightly see God in all his splendor, sovereignty, and glory, the more I recognize there no one or no thing like him (Ex 15:11)… certainly not me! And thus I start to rightly see who I am – both as one in desperate need of his saving, but also one gloriously and graciously saved and brought to new life!

    Okay, worship makes sense, but grammar? In particular, I think one key way to read the Psalms is to make note of the subject and the predicate (and if you need a little refresher on that, you might enjoy one of our family’s favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs here). Namely, who is doing something, and what are they doing? Now this is where the worship comes in. If worship is rightly viewing God and thereby rightly viewing myself, then I can look to the Psalms to see what does God do, and then I look in the same psalm to see what is my action or response.

    Sarah and I were recently praying for wisdom and direction, and found ourselves looking into Psalm 25. It’s a cry of David for God’s leading and deliverance. But just take a look at some of the verbs assigned to God, and compare them to the verbs assigned to you and me:

    God: lift, save from enemies, make me know, teach me, lead me, remember mercy, remember not sins, love steadfastly, be good, instruct, pardon, guide in choosing, befriend, rescues, turn to me, be gracious, consider me, forgive, guard, deliver, redeem

    Us: trust, wait, keep covenant, fear the Lord, look toward the Lord, take refuge

    Two things quickly become very obvious. First, one list is clearly longer and more active than another. God is saving, teaching, leading, forgiving, and on and on. We’re trusting, anticipating and receiving. I’m not saying that trusting is trivial or easy, but clearly he’s doing all the heavy lifting here!

    Second, it’s quite evident that I all too often try to assign myself God’s list and shirk mine. This is where my worship gets warped. I don’t view God rightly enough and thus think wrongly (more highly, more lowly) of myself. Instead of trusting and waiting, I think I’ll lift myself. I’ll be the one to save myself from my enemies, I’ll figure out my path, I’ll instruct myself, I’ll…  Sound familiar to you, too?

    Oh “turn to me and be gracious to me” Lord! Even when I get this all inside-out in my thinking, the Psalms guide me even in how to repent. Let’s stick to our verbs and grow in trusting God for his. So, walk through the Psalms and take time to write out such “You vs. God” lists of predicates like the above, and let that little bit of grammar drive a lot of worship.

    WedWednesdayAugAugust2nd2017 Show Kids Jesus
    byWill Peycke Tagged Children Church Teaching 0 comments Add comment

    Last month, two of my kids ambushed me on a Saturday night. Here’s the gist of how it started:

    First child: “I don’t want to go to church tomorrow. Can we skip this week?”

    Me: “No, we are not going to skip church this week.”

    Second Child: “Why not? I already know all of the Bible stories.”

    Yikes! Those are some big questions! Parents, how would you respond?

    If I hadn’t recalled this article by Trevin Wax, I think I would have stumbled and bumbled a bit. But my children’s inquiry was so eerily familiar to the question Wax recounts from his son that it jogged my memory. What could have been a major fumble turned into a great conversation about the reasons why we go to church in the first place.

    You can read the article for yourself if you want a more detailed response, but here’s the short version: We don’t go to church to learn information, although that can be a helpful part of what we do there. The reason why we go to church is to grow in our faith and love for God and to praise him together with other believers.

    Or to put it negatively: Regardless of your age, skipping church won’t seem like a big deal if your reason for going is anything other than Jesus.

    Several of our children’s ministry workers have been reading through a fantastic book this year called Show Them Jesus. Here’s an excerpt about why so many of those who grow up in church walk away from God as young adults:

    Today, a frightening number of kids are growing up in churches and Christian homes without ever being captured by the gospel of Jesus. . . . These kids actually have good reasons to quit. They look back and realize that they learned much about Christian behavior and churchy experiences, but whatever they learned about Jesus didn’t really change them. They never saw him so strikingly that he became their one, overriding hope and their greatest love. They were never convinced that Jesus is better—a zillion times better—than anything and everything else. Our goal must be for kids to catch this rock-their-world vision of Jesus. (Klumpenhower, pp. 3-4)

    If you have kids, you’ve probably noticed the new curriculum we started using this summer: The Gospel Project for Kids. (As a side note, The Gospel Project is edited by Trevin Wax, whose article I referenced earlier.) I appreciate the positive feedback I’ve been hearing from teachers, parents, and children. We want to set our teachers and parents up for success, and good curriculum is a tool that helps us do that.

    What I most appreciate about The Gospel Project, however, is the perspective it brings on what really matters in children’s ministry. It’s ultimately not which curriculum we use (although we do want to provide our teachers with excellent materials). It’s not the appearance of our facility (although atmosphere and environment do matter). It’s not how much fun the kids have while they’re here or how excited they are about the games, snacks, or crafts. It’s not how many friends they look forward to seeing in their class each week. It’s not even how many Bible verses they learn.

    Those are all good things, but none of them is the best thing. None of them is why Kossuth Street Baptist Church is here. None of them is why numerous volunteers invest countless hours with kids every week. Not even close.

    The reason why we are here, the reason why we do what we do, is the surpassing worth of Jesus (Phil. 3:8). Our calling is to show kids over and over, week after week, how Jesus is better than anything and everything else. It’s parents and teachers partnering together to engage kids in the gospel story and impress their hearts with a love for Jesus.

    I’m thankful that The Gospel Project helps us move in that direction, but no curriculum is a “silver bullet.” Whether you are a children’s worker, parent, or grandparent, our mission is the same: in your words and with your life, keep showing kids Jesus. 

    WedWednesdayJulJuly26th2017 The Paradoxes of Church Membership
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Church Membership 1 comments Add comment

    If you’re a church member, have you ever stopped to think about how weird you are? Because you are. Very, very weird.

    But don’t take it personally. It really has nothing to do with you. (You’re totally normal. I promise.) Instead, the weirdness has to do with the nature of church membership itself.

    Most of us have probably joined a club. Or been a part of a family. Or played on a team. And so we might be tempted to assume that being a church member is roughly the same thing. But there’s really nothing quite like church membership.

    Although the uniqueness of church membership manifests itself in many ways, today I’d like to point your attention to just one aspect of that: the strangely paradoxical expectations to which church members find themselves called. Let me explain.

    One of the things we know about church members is that they must be submissive. God has appointed leaders over his church, and he expects those leaders to be followed, respected, honored, and obeyed. The church should not be a disordered group of rogues in which everyone is going their own way, doing whatever is right in their own eyes. Rather, there should be a unified spirit of humble submission.

    But at the same time, a church member must be discerning. Leaders are fallen, faulty human beings, just like everyone else. And this means that they can easily be wrong. They can abuse power. They can rebel against God. They can teach what is false. In such cases, being a church member means knowing how to identify a wayward leader and deciding when not to follow.

    Or consider another example. A church member is needy. You come into the community of faith with areas of spiritual immaturity. You lack wisdom and understanding. Your ability to follow Jesus is still developing. In some cases, you may even have physical, financial, or other practical needs. And the church should be a place where you can be honest about your needs and allow others to meet them.

    But there’s a paradox here, because a church member should also be generous. You have been given gifts to be used for the edification and encouragement of your brothers and sisters. You have been given resources that God expects you to share. Even though you have needs of your own, God calls you to proactively meet the needs of others. You give, even as you receive.

    One last example: A church member should be restful. At the very heart of Christianity is the idea that we do not earn our salvation. Instead, we cast ourselves upon mercy and rest in what Jesus has done on our behalf. This means that we don’t need to be at the church building every time the doors are open, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, feverishly trying to prove something to God or to others. Our work is done, and Jesus is the one who has done it.

    But church membership brings a responsibility to be active, as well. We can’t just sit on the sidelines while everyone else does the works of service and ministry that make the church tick. Laziness is not an option. God has given us a globe-sized task, and we shouldn’t slack off until that task has been accomplished. (And for those of you scoring along at home, note that this task still remains unfinished!)

    The point is that church membership requires a truly unique interplay between seemingly contradictory ideals. Submissive yet discerning. Needy yet generous. Restful yet active. (If you can think of more such paradoxes, leave them in the comments below!) To be a church member is not a simple task.

    What tends to happen, however, is that we like to embrace one side of the paradox while overlooking the other. We veer toward what is most comfortable or natural. We try to eliminate the complexity. We stick to what’s straightforward and simple.

    But although simplicity might be easy, it’s not what church membership is meant to be. To reduce your role as a church member to something one-dimensional or one-sided is to lose what makes you unique.

    You’re supposed to be weird. So stay that way.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly20th2017 The Dangers of Life Management
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Busyness Life Prayer 1 comments Add comment

    Life management is good. From the early stages of childhood, our parents worked to train us in proper life management. We learned to use the restroom, to brush our teeth, to bathe, how to swim, what deodorant was, and how to limit pieces of candy.

    In college, we entered that interim phase of being adults while still having the care and guidance of our parents close at hand (at least with a phone call). We learned how to maintain a schedule, pace studying, keep a job, and take breaks when needed.

    After college, we sought a career, maintained time for relationships, and learned how to file our taxes.

    All the way through we learned how to manage life as responsible adults. But with that comes a certain set of dangers.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are few things more unfortunate than a forty-year-old who lacks the appropriate maturity. Maturity (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, digital, etc.) is a good thing and should be sought.

    But let me tell you something I’m learning. It is possible, over the course of years and decades, to turn life management (positive) into self-reliance (negative).

    God has been exposing self-reliance in my own life again and again over the past several months. As I’ve been peeling the layers of my heart back one at a time, I have seen a “God, I got this” attitude frequently.

    Here are some things I’ve identified that reveal a life management turned self-reliance:

    1. Equating Lifestyle. The alarm goes off on my phone. I wake up, get ready, follow the command of my calendar with an about face. Out the door I go and into the day’s events. Just as 1 + 1 = 2, so I put one and one together to get the result I want. I work these deeds of the day until I return to my pillow all to wake up again with the same movements. Now that looks like life management. But with the absence of inner dependence on God, in reality, it is self-reliance. That has been the state of my heart.

    2. Prayerlessness. Married to number one above, I can go through various events of the day, the entire day, without ever talking with God about what is going on. Even in key events or significant crisis I can push through, onward and upward, without involving God in prayer.

    3. Joylessness. This is more the outcome of the previous two points. I have recently looked inside and admitted a lack of joy. It makes sense. God designed us and life to be enjoyed with him, not without him. Self-reliance precludes experiencing his presence in life’s events. And without that comes a lack of joy.

    David said, “I have no good apart from you” and “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:1, 11).

    As I put these thoughts together several weeks ago and looked them square in the face I had to admit my fault and change. I did that. Here are two changes that I’ve found helpful so far. Both are related to prayer.

    First, I’m creating a rhythm and mind hook to not turn on my office computer until I have prayed. This is typically a short prayer of resignation but it packs a punch. I find it helps me be more aware of God-reliance at later points in my day.

    Second, a friend pointed me to the idea of “the space between the space.” This has been a much more difficult discipline and rhythm to brew. The idea is to pause and pray as I finish one activity and before I begin the next. Again, this is brief. It also requires that I engage God about my emotions and how I’m doing. For me, it is usually accompanied by a deep breath (and sometimes journaling). It serves as an opportunity for me to be honest with God about how I am feeling, what’s going on in my day and to acknowledge his presence before a next step.

    You may find a different pathway of prayer that leads from self to God-reliance. But I share these thoughts in hopes that they at least stir some thinking and action toward a God-reliant day (and life) for you.

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