10.01.2017

not scary: halloween outreach

Alright, Christian, once again, we have an incredible outreach opportunity and time to plan for it. So here's my ever changing Franken-article to help get you motivated. Read on...
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“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
-Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)


Once a year we have the world coming right to our own doorsteps begging for treats. So we encourage Christians to do something incredibly easy—on Halloween night, turn your porch light on and share the love of Jesus along with your treats. In other words, be present with people.

Remember, this is as simple or complex as you want it to be. (We tend to go a bit on the complex side, but here's some inspiration if you like: All Hallow's Garage)

Need more ideas? Have a few:
• Dress up your goodies. Buy plastic bags, plain or decorated. Add a small toy or something fun. Give the best treats on the block.

• Provide hot chocolate for your guests. Kids and adults love this. It can lead to time spent together and potential for deeper discussion.

• Set up a fire pit and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Same effect as above.

• Do something big at your house to draw attention. Set up spotlights, games, fun scenes, whatever. People tend to remember these houses, and what you gave them.

• Use your skills, or those of a friend, and do magic tricks, balloon animals, music or something else fun and entertaining.

• Invite the neighbors to your house for a “getting to know you” party early in the evening or a day or two in advance. Pass out invites that week to let them know.

• Invite Christian friends to help out, especially if they have fewer children in their neighborhood. That way, you can double your efforts.

• Alternately, if you don’t have many children in your neighborhood, actively find someone who does and work with them. Or maybe go to a party. Be where people are.
• Consider having some Bibles to give away in case the opportunity arises.
• If you use print material (see below for tips), you might have something specifically for adults. We recommend "Quest for Joy." (Available to purchase here.)
•  If you’re feeling generous, and it's appropriate, give away small New Testaments or compact Bibles with the treats.
• Pray, both before and after the evening, for the people you will meet and for a true love for your neighbors.
Whatever you do, don’t hide behind closed doors. The world is coming to us. Let’s give them something “sweeter than honey.” (Psalm 119:103)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of
power and of love and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

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Sharing the Gospel on Halloween (or any time) 

The Gospel is all about what Jesus has done, is doing and will do. Throughout Scripture we see reminders of the Gospel given to believers, or those who claim to be (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-5). So don’t forget, the Gospel is for everyone all the time, Christian or non, not just a one-time event in which we hope someone responds and we move on. This is what our salvation is based on, and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that every day.

As a summary, we might say:
• God is perfect, and He says we have to be perfect too. Unfortunately none of us are perfect. We think and say and do things God says not to, or ignore things He says to do, all the time. For that, God says we can’t be with Him.
• Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, took on punishment by dying for imperfect people like us, and came to life again, proving He’s God. Only He could repair our relationship with Him.
• God calls us to stop focusing on ourselves and what we want, and to focus on Him, trusting Jesus as Lord and God, the One who does everything we can’t.
• Through faith in Jesus alone we can have eternal life with Him in a renewed Heavens and Earth forever.
(This example limits religious language and jargon. Always explain words such as “sin” or “repent.”) 

If you’re picking out print items, it’s important they include the basic truths stated above. Don’t go for handouts created simply to draw attention without sharing the true Gospel, and don't use paper in place of relationships when you have a chance to engage people in person.

While summaries such as this can be useful, especially for review, they by no means express all the depth and richness that is the Gospel of Jesus seen through all of Scripture. There is a lot of theology behind the statements above that disciples need to have explained. There are also many ways to draw people more personally into the wonder of Christ and His beauty. Consider creation. Listen for ways the individual might see the Lord’s work or provision in life. Ask how they are doing and how you can pray for them. The possibilities are as endless and amazing as Jesus Himself.

When speaking to someone, we need to remember we aren’t doing the saving work, nor is the person saving himself with a response. God is Savior, and He knows who He has enabled to respond and when they will. Ask questions to understand where the person is spiritually. Don’t do all the talking, and certainly don’t aggressively attempt to force someone to “seal the deal” with an on-the-spot prayer. This creates confusion and could end in false assurance, especially if you can’t or don’t follow up. We are to make disciples by sharing who Jesus is and what He’s done, encouraging others to trust and believe Him, and to further encourage love of and joy in Christ for those responsive to Him.

Never forget the importance of listening and relating. If someone feels they can trust you, they will often tell you a lot about their life. This can help you discern where they are spiritually and how ready they are to hear more. Rather than approaching with a formulaic method, listen for concerns and needs, and consider how Christ meets that need. (Example: They’ve been unemployed for months. Jesus is Provider of both physical and spiritual needs. How have they seen Him provide?) Be ready to pray with them while present. Many people are touched by this act alone. Pray the Lord gives you a heart of compassion for anyone you meet.

If someone claims to be a believer but you feel unsure, you might ask them to explain the Gospel to you. Then you can commend or gently correct as necessary.

Should a person truly be ready to receive Christ as Lord and feel compelled to pray in repentance to Him, let them pick the words and see how He leads. Ask for their information as they are comfortable so they can be discipled. 

Even simple discussions with neighbors just letting them know you are a believer could easily lead to deeper relationships born on Halloween night. Be ready to follow up with your neighbors in any way necessary to show them the love of Christ throughout the whole year.

More treats for you:
>> Check out some additional related articles by Verge Network.

>> Also, an excellent 3 minute video by Jeff Vanderstelt, who encourages us to "Open the Door to Halloween" in order to engage our neighbors.
 

6.19.2017

Mission: St. Louis 2017 - The Move North

A couple weeks ago we took a team to serve with Mission: St. Louis. A lot's changed since serving with them in 2014, for the organization and the city, so this provided new opportunities to learn.

Before diving in, this is a continuation of my reconciliation and development series. You can click those words to see all related posts and how God's guiding an STL lifer through these concerns. With that in mind, here's where He took me next...

On our last trip we served in The Grove. Founder Josh Wilson told me that neighborhood gentrified (read: the trendy spots got middle class popular), families they'd connected with moved out and they had to develop a more regional approach. In November M:STL moved into the old YMCA building on Grand Ave. in North City's JeffVanderLou neighborhood, and the former home of World Impact. While they're partially renting with hopes to purchase the structure, they just had a grand opening May 11.

Checking out the classic original pool.
This area was once very active and fairly wealthy. The YMCA was built in 1918 across from Sportsman's Park, a former home of the St. Louis Cardinals. It's near Fairground Park, which has its own intriguing history, including the 1949 race riot when the pool was racially integrated. We also weren't far from Grand Center, a popular arts and entertainment district. On a personal note, my grandparents and at least three great grandparents once lived on streets like Penrose and Kossuth, giving me specific ties to the region.
The old Sportsman's Park across the street.
It's also an area I've generally learned to avoid, either via negative news reports or stories that if you're white the police think you're only around for illicit reasons. So though we'd often pass this way when I was younger, I hadn't been through in years and was excited to see all this history with an adult understanding.

Monday: Foundations
On our first morning we heard from Josh Wilson, who shared how Mission: St. Louis came to be. Josh was once moved by a student's answer to the question of who she'd like to spend time with, dead or alive. She wanted more time with her brother who had died in her arms in their front yard. While this shocked him, he sadly realized it was not shocking to other students, but was reality for many. This motivated him to want to do something in the city.
Josh Wilson
Josh gathered 200 volunteers but quickly burned them out, doing more harm than good in just 3 months by working with a charity model, spewing out resources with no plan or understanding of needs. A principal at Adams Elementary in The Grove helped him better understand this, and a partnership was formed with the school. He developed relationships with guys in that neighborhood, and listening to their needs created Beyond Jobs as a bridge between businesses and those who might be considered unemployable due to troubled histories. The hope is to cultivate the next generation, changing families and neighborhoods over time, leading to the healing of our city.

Josh said if we understand the Gospel of Jesus rightly, it will change how we view the world and our city. We who are wrecked by our sin and changed by God's grace should want to be part of God's restoration in our world today. Gospel transformation includes being involved, loving culture and city while holding fast to biblical truth.
What they do now: The M:STL Program Map
Josh also told us teams like ours are relationship ambassadors for M:STL in the community, plus we would help in the building as they get set up in this 90,000 square foot space.

And that we did. Our guide, Beau, gave us a partial tour and cut us loose to start painting, clearing rooms, and moving an incredible amount of furniture, tools and equipment to different floors. Despite dust and sweat, most of us found this organizational work pretty satisfying.
Stuff got put "wherever" during the move.
We made short work of this area at least. (See left side above.)
Tools and equipment began being sorted on a higher floor.
Later groups will continue to organize and inventory.
Tuesday: Systemic Issues
Katie Bench, AmeriCorps VISTA Services Manager, spoke today. AmeriCorps is the Peace Corps in the U.S. through which M:STL gets many short term employees. Katie, a New Jersey native, quickly noticed the race problem in St. Louis, and primarily discussed some history of systematic issues here.
Katie Bench
Katie highlighted that St. Louis was the country's crown jewel during westward expansion as everyone stopped on their way, and the 1904 World's Fair kept us on the map. In 1876, the city split from the county over tax and other concerns. In time, wealth began moving to the county. African Americans were largely relegated north where they were allowed to buy property. In the 1950s, white folks began leaving the city for suburbs. Red lining, or only showing certain properties to black families, was heavily practiced by realtors in the 60s and 70s. The county today has 90 municipalities and 10 unincorporated census-designated places, creating issues in resource sharing. The Ferguson Commission specifically called for "consolidation of police departments and municipal courts" among other reforms. (For more history, visit the City of St. Louis website, especially the "African-American Experience.")
A view of downtown St. Louis and our iconic gateway symbol.
Katie then focused on some encouraging areas of change.

• Schools - City schools are now accredited and doing well financially, but are primarily affected by poverty. Kids often come from less educated families and are not as cognitively ready when they start school. The Beyond School program can help kids gain 3 months of reading skill level for every month a student is involved. They also provide any physical resources students need.

• Economic Opportunity - For those who need employment but did not learn job skills, the Beyond Jobs program provides training.

• Food Deserts - Many city areas lack convenient grocery stores. VISTAs are working to get farmers markets in the area to provide better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, while offering food training classes. I was also excited to learn the International Institute has purchased city land to allow farming immigrants to raise crops.

After her talk, the team visited South City to work at St. Louis College Prep, a free charter school for middle and high school students. Executive Director Mike Malone told us when they inherited the building they also inherited a lot of stuff. We moved much of that stuff from garage to dumpster, then collected gym equipment to organize in the garage. We also hauled things out of their amazing (and deep) boiler room and assembled furniture.
Most of the contents of the garage at back ended up in the dumpster.
A scrapper was happy to take as much as he could haul too.
At lunch, we heard from Erin Malone, Director of Youth Development for Beyond School and wife of Mike. They give a hand up in education by partnering students with success coaches, who form deep relationships with the families, helping kids get on track for high school. To decrease drop outs, they give individualized academic support, intentional social and emotional support, community service learning and enrichment experiences, along with eliminating as many barriers to education as possible.
Erin Malone and success coaches.
As we learned and worked, students went about their school day, allowing us to see some of the faces we were quietly supporting with our labor. I pray for the success of every one, and through them future strengthening of families and communities.

Wednesday: Engagement
Beyond Jobs Director Jason Watson, known in the rap world as Json, shared his story. An STL native, Jason began selling drugs at 12, was kicked out of school and did some jail time. When he became a Christian at 21, he wanted to help guys with similar backgrounds. He returned to St. Louis 2 years ago and was asked by the former director to work at M:STL. He now works primarily with guys 22-35 who get paired with a mentor and work a paid 8-week internship. If they prove themselves, they're often employed full time. Mentors continue with them for 10 to 12 months, developing authentic relationships. He loves seeing these guys overcome so many obstacles.
Jason Watson
Jason discussed the need to enter into other people's narratives. Get to know them. Differences between city and county or worship styles aren't right or wrong, just different. Ask questions to understand someone's context and why they feel/think/act as they do. He suggested using the internet to learn how others think, or documentaries and books that give snapshots of people's lives. Better yet, really be with people and do what they do. Racial reconciliation is when you really enter into someone else's world. It's not just a church service with people from different backgrounds, but knowing them in their world.

For our work today, we went back and finished up what we could at the school, including the assembly of some rather frustrating tables. Afterward, we toured more of the YMCA building, checking out the former World Impact apartment which they hope will house work teams, and spent some time on the old, elevated gym track. Every bit of that 90K square feet has so much potential, as does every person we encountered, each one created in God's image.
Assembling those complicated tables. Or trying to.
Hanging out on the elevated track.
Those rails just don't seem quite high enough for today's standards.
Thursday: Fatherhood
Today we heard from Chris Hill, Beyond Jobs Student Relations Coordinator who serves as Jason's right hand man. Requested to speak on fatherhood, Chris was hesitant as he approached, but his story was powerful.

Having gone from career thief to drug dealer to rapper, Chris explained how Jesus called Him through some amazing circumstances. Now 41, he didn't expect to make it past 25. He said much of what he went through came from not having a father around. He wanted guidance from the man he knew as dad, but got a poor example instead. He hated the man, but obeyed when he felt God saying to tell him he loved him. When he developed cancer, Chris cared for him and they grew close. Chris was able to treat and forgive him the way God had treated and forgiven Chris.
Chris Hill
He later learned this man was actually his adopted father, and wanted to find his biological dad. Chris located him about 3 years ago and began a surface relationship. They recently reconnected through a deeper discussion, and he was so relieved to hear his dad say he loved and was proud of him. He was hopeful to get to know him better. Sadly, just days later he learned his father passed away.

"Honor your parents, cause once they're gone, they're gone," Chris said, reminding us to tell people we love them while we can. He's trying to do right by his own kids now, two of which didn't see him much when they were young either. Don't wait until it's too late to have that relationship.

While Chris' story was fresh and painful, it was also full of Gospel redemption. I pray the Lord comforts Chris, using him powerfully in the lives of other men with similar stories who need to know the love of God as Father. This is an important topic, and one of many discussed with guys in the program.

Our work today led us again to the south side. Our team split to weatherproof a couple ADA compliant decks installed by Home Services. We reunited at a home on Chippewa to scrape paint from a large garage. I spent time with resident JoAnn, learning about her life and living in the area. She said it's not so bad as you hear on the news and she loves the community. She even showed off some of her doll collection. I was thankful to engage in ways Jason suggested the day before.
Weatherproofing a ramp.
Paint scraping. Another team will paint after us.
Friday: Local Impact
We went straight to work today, picking up trash around the neighborhood, then doing yard work at local homes. It was amazing to see these old, beautiful houses, some in fine shape and others just shells needing to be torn down. Residents told our group much of the issue in this area is the city needing to provide proper services. Just days later local media covered a forum for residents to speak on the abandoned building problem and need to remove these structures, which are dangerous and attract crime.
A damaged home right next to one well kept.
An unfortunately common sight.
Cleaning the streets in front of a once beautiful home.
Tearing out brush along the fence line.
And all cleared. This team just knocked tasks out.
We got to try some local cuisine at Bing Lau Chop Suey just across the street as recommended by Jason earlier in the week. They serve the STL classic St. Paul sandwich, a large egg foo young on bread. Our food guide was also awesome enough to rap for us a Json verse from "Struggle" off his new album "Foreign." We wrapped up our week with a debrief at M:STL and headed home.
A St. Paul sandwich. In case you're wondering.
Takeaway
Our team spent evenings at four host homes, my own included, and debriefed daily highs, lows and takeaways. We had a more diversified group than one might realize at first glance, with a variety of cultural backgrounds represented, including black, white and hispanic, so it was really interesting to hear everyone's views.
The team mostly represented. Some switched out during the week.
(Photo credit: A. Maxwell.)
I'm thankful to have any part in restoration as informed by the Gospel. Jesus died to give us a relationship with God, to make me new and one day make all things new. How can I help in working toward the restoration of relationships and places around me now? One way seems as simple as sharing stories like these to help others broaden their own views. Another is to enjoy relationships as the Lord brings them, gladly entering into those narratives, plus watching for ways to leverage God-given resources and gifts to help empower others and meet actual need.

Thanks to Mission: St. Louis for allowing us to serve, connect and learn, and for all they're doing to restore our city.

4.17.2017

MLK 50 Conference, April 4, 2018

In early April I had the opportunity to attend my first conference by The Gospel Coalition. There they announced a one-day event coming to Memphis on April 4, 2018, the date on which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life. The conference, "MLK 50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop," will reflect on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Conference cost is just $50 for the first 50 days (through May 23) using coupon code MLK50 at MLK50Conference.com. Please view the promo video below.

4.12.2017

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Easter 2017

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
-Jesus, quoted in John 10:27-30


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Remembering is so important. Throughout the Bible, God constantly calls His people to remember. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember what He has done.

I was recently surprised to realize it’s actually been 20 years since God unmistakably called me to Himself. Ten years ago I shared that story in an Easter letter, which launched my holiday writing tradition and eventually led to the creation of this site. On this anniversary I wanted to share the story again, now slightly refreshed with a deeper understanding.

I spent days pondering these memories, through which the Lord deeply encouraged me. It’s a story that says nothing good of me, but so much about the faithfulness of God. It struck me to consider the reality that in all this time, despite my stumblings and struggles, He has never let me go.


As the Church remembers Jesus’ death and resurrection this Holy Week, I humbly submit to you the story of how God brought me from death to life in Him. Please read here: “my story, His doing.”


God’s blessings to you this Easter.

Scripture: ESV, Art: creationswap.com

4.10.2017

Holy Week: Crossway "Final Days" Series

In conjunction with the release of a book by the same title, Crossway has released a video series "The Final Days of Jesus" for each day of Holy Week. Available below are the videos for each day with a link to more details at their blog, which includes a Scripture guide to each day's events.

Palm Sunday: Scripture guide and details


Holy Monday: Scripture guide and details


Holy Tuesday: Scripture guide and details


Holy Wednesday: Scripture guide and details


Maundy Thursday: Scripture guide and details


Good Friday: Scripture guide and details


Holy Saturday: Scripture guide and details


Easter Sunday: Scripture guide and details

3.19.2017

A simple logo & tagline update


Well I've been meaning to do this for just ever, and I've finally gotten round to a really nice logo update. Just before Easter seemed like the perfect time, and I was so pleased with the result, here it is.

Most significant to this update is the tagline addition of one word, "Him." I want to be clear, the knowing is all about knowing Jesus. Not just head knowledge, but actually knowing the God of the Universe. There is nothing more exciting, or more important. More subtly, red is included to represent Christ's blood and purple for His resurrected reign and royalty.

I also want to give props to the creator of the top font, whose work I stumbled upon and can be found at www.kimberlygeswein.com. Lots of talent there.

I hope you're having a great season of Lent as we move toward Holy Week. The Lord is encouraging me in some big ways through some old memories I'm excited to share soon. Shalom to you all. : )

2.25.2017

Going Dark for More of His Light: Prepping for a 40 Day Social Media Fast

For several years I’ve taken the season of Lent, the 40+ days approaching Easter, to break from social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. The journey is always worth it, and I’m ready to embark again. So here are some of the reasons and practices I’ve picked up along the way.

The practice of “giving up something for Lent” was fairly misrepresented to me as a kid. It always seemed to involve forcing yourself to give up something you really love (pizza and chocolate were always high on everyone’s list) or adopting some kind of largely unwanted healthy habit solely for physical benefit. It felt more about self imposed misery or phony piety than anything.

Thankfully I now have a greater understanding of Lent, and biblical fasting in general. Any time of “giving up” is meant to point us to something else. Actually, it points us to Someone, as we look away from ourselves and to Jesus, the one who really loves us, in a way that shows us “loss” really is gain.

Fasting from food is expected and important for Christians. (Matthew 6:16-18) It helps us feel our dependence on God in many ways, seeing Jesus as the true Bread of Life and the only one who satisfies our ultimate need for Him. (For helpful resources on fasting, search the articles at Desiring God, or check out the book “A Hunger for God.”) I sometimes include dietary modifications during Lent, but I focus on social media due in part to physical issues which make dietary fasting somewhat tricky. Those with blood sugar limitations and other concerns should definitely use caution. Maybe you can fast for a meal rather than a day. But this also makes alternatives like a social media break a great option.

I also break from social media for reasons more common to us all:

Social media can be consuming. How often do we claim to lack time, perhaps especially for Bible reading or prayer, but spend hours scrolling a news feed? And am I the only one with the unhealthy habit of typing the letter “F” and waiting for autofill to do the rest any time I’m on a computer? A break can help us unlearn bad habits and replace them with better ones.

Negativity, news saturation and hyper politics. Friends express themselves in ways better suited to personal conversations, which we often lack. Emotional fatigue sets in from exposure to every atrocity this broken world produces. We’re immersed in a constantly heightened political climate where polarization and online fighting are rampant. From these things, we need a break. But more than that, we need Jesus and His promises to restore.

The tendency toward narcissism. It can be great fun to share in positive ways online, but who among us isn’t just a bit excited to see that little red circle or response notification? Whether in ways large or small, we lean toward making this incredible social experiment all about us. We need to remember that all glory belongs to God.

With these and more in mind, I increasingly look forward to this time each year. Lent’s 40 days and build up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection provide a convenient schedule and focus.

If you’d like to join me, I offer eight tips to help you prep for the fast:  

1. Take some time to clean up. Just before the break is a great time to reassess your likes and follows. This can really help improve your experience when you return.

2. Get those final thoughts off your mind. If you have something appropriate and timely to share, go ahead and post before the break so it doesn’t bother you after you’ve imposed your limits. Then be content to praise God for your next meal without sharing it with the world. ; )

3. Let your friends know. This isn’t about self proclamation, but since social media is a form of communication it’s fair to let others know you won’t be on for a while. I tend to mention Lent in part to give a timeframe, but also to encourage others to consider if it’s right for them.

4. Consider a scheduled allowance. Remember, this is supposed to free us to focus on Jesus, not constrain us from people. You may minister to individuals through social media, or it may be right to share something to God’s glory during this time. I like to follow a pattern of brief use on Sundays (which creates the true 40 day fast), often sharing Scripture or praise.

5. Log out, turn notifications off. I like to do this on all devices, work and personal, the day/night before. This really helps when I type that letter “F” the next day. Instant roadblock. I also log out quickly if I need to use FB for work. If the temptation is too great, delete the apps altogether. You can always reinstall later.

6. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to unlearn those deeply ingrained habits. You can use those moments when you’re tempted to check in as triggers to pray.

7. Have a plan for what you’ll do instead. You’re about to find out how much time you really have, so it’s good to have a plan. I suggest picking a specific Bible book or reading plan. (Ideas here.) You could take a free online Bible course. (More options here.) I’ll still use apps from The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. I have a stack of theology books to choose from, plus I write my annual Easter letter during Lent. And, of course, specifically devoted time in prayer is always recommended.

8. Prepare to feel different when it’s done. Since you’ll change your thinking and habits, you might surprise yourself by wanting to keep limiting social media intake. Hopefully you’ll also learn new ways to pursue Jesus. Embrace all of that freedom.

Whenever and however you fast, during Lent or any time, begin with the goal to pursue Jesus, grow in your understanding of His love and sacrifice, look forward to His coming restoration and find ways to glorify God throughout.

Are you ready to “go dark” online for more of His light?

12.24.2016

Christmas 2016: The Hope of a Child

 

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;
and the government shall be
upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6

A child’s birth gives a family so much hope. Hope for the potential of what he or she will become. Hope of love and care. Hope of a future to extend a lineage.

The birth of Jesus gave hope for all this and eternally more, and not only to His earthly family but extended to the whole world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

“Whoever believes.” This may already be you. Or perhaps it will be you. Maybe even today.

Believes what? That Jesus is all the Bible says he is. That He, the only perfect child, would grow into a perfect man. And that man would love His people so much that He, though innocent, would die the death of an imperfect criminal.

Why die? Because the world is filled with imperfect people constantly acting against God’s commands. We are the imperfect criminals deserving capital punishment, having no future hope without the birth, life and death of this perfect child.

Why can we have eternal life? Because after 3 days Jesus exited the grave. God Himself was willing to take our punishment. Now our hope springs to life, and new life. His birth can lead to our re-birth. His death saves us from eternal death. And all He does allows us to know God now and eternally.

As Jesus fulfilled the full potential of a perfect human being, we now have hope for the love and care of God Himself, and a future as His child forever.

I pray you truly will believe, and in believing know, all the hope and promises of God delivered through the birth of Jesus.

God’s blessings to you this holiday season.
(Scripture: ESV • Photos: creationswap.com)

11.23.2016

Invitation Navigation & Loving Others Well


How do you handle invitations? Do you try to avoid social situations at all costs, or do you consider the privilege of an invite, understanding that someone thought of you and is requesting to spend time with you? Maybe you’re somewhere in between. 

As Christians, we should see every invitation as an opportunity to love others well. Yet, as someone who enjoys both giving and receiving invitations, I often see them handled poorly, and sadly admit to having made a few less than stellar navigations myself. So how can we best respond to these opportunities?

To be clear, I’m not really considering general invitations, nor am I addressing events with particular moral concerns. I am focused here on personal invitations, those times when another person or group specifically invites you to spend time with them in a generally neutral setting. In those situations, how can we best show God’s love to others? 

Here are six points on navigating the invitation.


1. If you can go, go.

If there’s nothing holding you back, accept the invitation. Be where people are. Jesus spent plenty of time with and among people. His first recorded miracle was at a wedding. (John 2:1-11) But Jesus was always present for far more than mere socializing. If we are to be like Him, to develop relationships and have meaningful conversations about His Kingdom, we need to be present and pursue others as He has pursued us.

2. Don’t make up excuses.

We’re all busy. Most of us are actually far too busy. But we can also use that “busyness” as a smokescreen to ignore people who actually need us in places God is calling us to minister. Another trend is to defer to our brokenness via personality traits and largely self-imposed categorizations as reasons we can’t spend time with others. But nowhere in Scripture do we see any of these as valid excuses for avoiding people. We do see that we are to “go.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

3. If you genuinely can’t make it, kindly decline.

Life happens. You can't make it to everything. Maybe you can't afford it or you’re already booked. Maybe you’re not feeling well. By all means, don’t be generous with your germs, but do be sure to inform the person or group what’s happening with you. No need for lengthy details, but a response is truly appreciated and shows consideration for those who think well enough of you to include you.

4. Don’t say you’re coming if you’re not.

Again, things happen, but it is a terrible feeling to wait in anticipation for someone only to be disappointed at a no show. There's never a reason to lie, and we should care enough for others not to forget or ignore them. This also has the potential to damage relationships on many levels, and for no reason, when our goal in love is to build others up in Christ.

5. Thank those who invited you.

Acknowledgement is huge. Whether you can make it or not, let them know you’re grateful they thought of you. I’ve worked to improve on this myself, especially if I can't go. It’s a great touch with that person, and can lead to ministry opportunities down the road.

6. Enjoy yourself.

You'd think this one obvious, but it’s no fun for your host or invitee (or you, for that matter) to have you present but miserable. This tends to happen when our focus is on ourselves and not on God and others. We’ve all been in situations which weren’t our preference, but it’s well worth finding redeeming moments. With a Master who went to the cross for us, living sacrificially should be our norm, and a few hours lived in deference to others for their good and God's glory is no great loss. If you'd rather be elsewhere, pray for the Spirit’s guidance and help with your attitude even before you arrive. Who does the Lord want you to connect with?


The next time you receive an invitation, whether in person, by mail, text or on social media, consider the privilege of having someone reach out to you, and ask God how He’d like to use you in that person’s life, or even the lives of others if it’s a group event. As we focus on Jesus and on the people He puts in our lives, we can find countless opportunities to love as He loves and to share who He is, which is truly the greatest privilege of all.