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THE BLURP, September 19th
Even if Faith Vs Only If Faith
This week I started a new class in Seminary called Spiritual Foundation. Part of this class is to study the disciplines of spiritual worship and prayer. This class has come at a perfect part of my life because I am going through so many changes right now. I need to be in a continual state of prayer and petition with the Lord. As I started this week’s reading, I got hit in the gut with a reality check. I was falling into the pattern of “only if faith” and getting away from the faith we should have which is “even if faith.” Let me explain…
Only if faith is when we ask God for things and as long as he delivers them we will continue to worship and praise him. “Only if faith” is like making God into a Santa Clause who is going to be praised, loved and worshipped as long as he meets our wants. Notice I said “wants”, we rarely pray for our needs, because he provides all of them, we often pray for things we want. We want the promotion, the new game, the new job, the friends, the new shoes or other tangible things. We don’t always need them, we just want them. When we pray for these things, we put a subtle even silent addition to our prayers, something we would never say out loud. It may sound like this, “lord as long as you do this for me, I will stop doing that thing that is a sin.” Or Lord as long as you do this for me, I’ll start going to church more.” It might even be, “God as long as you provide me this thing or this want, I will commit my life to you.” Don’t get me wrong, committing to the Lord is great, but coming to him in this way with “only if faith” directly questions God’s credibility and character and now our relationship with him is based only on his ability to meet our wants, not a loving relationship as he desires. We can easily turn away from God and our faith if our prayers are not answered right away or what we asked for. This creates a rollercoaster of faith, we are happy when we get what we want and mad when we don’t.
On the other hand, the kind of faith we should be having is “Even if Faith.” Meaning even if he does not provide me with my “wants”, I will still praise him and worship him because he is worthy of all my praise, all the time. I am reminded of the story of the three Hebrew children from Daniel in chapter three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar had just built a huge gold statue described as sixty cubits high and six cubits wide. In case you are like me and don’t know what a cubit is, it is an ancient measurement that is based on the length of the forearm. I have short stubby little arms, but they are about 2 feet so we can assume this statue was at least around ninety to a hundred feet high. In Babylonian religious culture statues were frequently worshipped. After he made this statue, he made a decree that whenever the horn, flute, lyre, harp or all kinds of music played, everyone was to bow down and worship the image of gold he had created. King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that anyone who did not bow down and worship the image would be thrown into the blazing furnace. Shortly after this some astrologers came forward to the king and denounced the Jews. They explained that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not following the kings orders and worshipping the statue. The king was furious and called them forward to him to question them about their actions. This is what they said…
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Wow!! Even in the face of death they still refused to worship any other Gods and were loyal to him. This is not all though, they said our God will deliver us from the fire, but “Even If” he doesn’t, we still won’t worship your statue to other Gods. What faith! I can’t imagine being in that situation and what I would do, but I hope I would have the kind of faith they have. This is the kind of faith we should strive for! That even if God does not deliver us, we will still worship him. “Even if” he does not give me my “wants” I will still read my bible and go to church. “Even if” he does not do what I am asking, I will still praise him and try to stop that one sin that I think I can get away with. That is the kind of faith these three boys had. They were willing to die for their Lord, our lord who Is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. They could have made all kinds of excuses or tried to justify why they should just bow down and worship the idol, but they held on to their faith. So what happened to them, I’m sure you want to know….
They were thrown into the furnace and God delivered them. The furnace was heated seven times hotter than normal and they were thrown into it. It was so hot that the soldier who was holding them to go in was immediately killed. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego however, were not touched by the flames at all. The God we serve delivered them from the flames!! How great is our God.
I know what you are thinking, well he does not always deliver us, and yes, you are right. But, just because he doesn’t deliver us immediately when we ask, does not, by any means, mean that he can’t! In fact there are many reason why he waits or does not answer and deliver us every time, I won’t go into them all here, but one is that if he answered all of our “wants” we wouldn’t need faith. Everyone would have their own personal Santa God and the line to be a Christian would be out the door and around the corner. Everyone would want to sign up. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego understood this and believed this with all their heart, they were willing to even die for it.
So as I adjust the way I have been praying and strive towards having “Even if” faith, my prayer is that if you have been making God your personal Santa Clause, that you also adjust your spiritual foundation and prayer life. Are you ready to take a stand for God no matter what? Are you prepared to deal with the pain and not always have the happy ending you think you want? My hope is that you are ready to say “if he rescues me or not, I will only serve one God, our God and he deserves all the praise and glory.
THE BLURP, September 13th
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Winning a race requires purpose and self-discipline. The Apostle Paul uses this illustration to explain that the Christian life takes hard work, self-denial and grueling preparation. As followers of Christ we are running towards our heavenly prize and reward. The essential disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and worship equip us to run with vigor, endurance and stamina. We should not merely observe from the grandstand; we should not just jog a couple of laps each morning. We must diligently train because our spiritual progress depends on it. Staying diligent and training in this way requires self-discipline.
Whatever happened to self-discipline? Many books and motivational speakers guide people to self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment and self-awareness, but not many talk about self-discipline. Self-discipline is a noun and is defined as “the ability to control ones feelings and overcome ones weakness; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.” Self-discipline requires an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis on the latter. It means building the will to say no when a powerful appetite inside you screams yes!
For example, when you have self-discipline, you can say no to friends and situations that lead you away from Christ. When you have self-discipline, you can say no to causal and pre-marital sex. When you have self-discipline, you can say no to laziness and yes to a “can do” and “Will do” attitude.
Self-discipline is a long and steady course in learning attitudes and behaviors that do not come naturally and channeling natural appetites towards God’s purposes. Where are your weak points? Pray with a confidant or trusted friend to help you channel your weaknesses and redirect them into strengths.
Your Assignment is due!
THE BLURP, September 5th
I know everyone is super excited to go back to school and back into the routine being a full time student. There is nothing more fun than homework assignments, reading, writing and arithmetic…right? Plus, for many of you sports seasons are starting and some of you are doing track, field, and football what could be better than that? With all of these assignments ahead of you it can be easy to lose sight of your real assignment and Gods calling in your life.
Yes God has an assignment for you! He has one for each of us, in fact he has many for us! We are all called to serve him and to do this he has given us a very special set of specific gifts.
Each Christian has a job to do, a role to fill or take, or a contribution to make. We will have many assignments in life, but there are none more important than the one we owe to God. One assignment may seem more spectacular than another, but all of them are necessary to carry out God’s greatest plans for his Church and this world. God’s work involves many different individuals with a variety of gifts and abilities. There are no superstars in this task, only team members performing their own God given spiritual roles.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
1 Peter 4:10-11 says “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
We are each given our own set of unique skills and gifts by God to use through the power of the Holy Spirit to serve him and his purposes. Some of us are given the gift of articulation and our assignment is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are put before us. Some of us have the spiritual gift of prayer and our assignment is to pray for those who need prayer and are hurting. Maybe the assignment is to help them praise God for the miracles in their lives that cannot be explained by anything other than God’s grace. You might have the gift of being athletic and therefore can use that platform as a means to show positivity, energy and encouragement. Having a positive influence over those around you may be your current assignment.
We can become useful members of God’s team by setting aside our desires to receive glory for what we do, and not seeking praise from people. Be available to God by placing your gifts at his service. Then as he calls you to use them, be ready to act! God’s assignment
THE BLURP, August 30th
Measuring Success in Youth Ministry
Measuring success in youth ministry is not as easy as it may sound; however it is important. It is easy to worry about the success of our youth ministry and programs, especially when people are so focused on the numbers. I want to come out right now and say it is more than just numbers. Yes, the numbers are important and one of the easiest ways to measure success. In order to know the truth about the health and wellness of a youth program, the true measurement is the impact the ministry is having on the teens in our group spiritually. We can do that in several different ways than just focusing on numbers, consider the following;
Life change: Are the kids changing in the way they carry themselves, how they act, their motives, values, personalities? Is their heart beginning to align with Christ. Measuring life change is not easy, but the more we get to know each other and as we grow together in the ministry, we will see the changes together.
Engagement: It is important for us to track and identify who is engaged and who is not. Are you participating when we are in small groups, singing during worship and praise, listening the Pastor's sermons? These are all ways to not only gauge life change, but to also see who is really paying attention and in the presence of God. Measuring engagement means paying attention to how different environments and situations are drawing teens in. That means we may have to make tweaks to our environments.
Involvement: It is important for teens to be involved In the Church, especially through the different ministries and missions the Church has. How many teens are serving alongside adults? In what ways are teens serving, Are they volunteering to serve in some capacity.
BUZZ: How much buzz is our youth ministry getting? Are kids inviting their friends and talking about the ministry and what is going on? Is the youth group being talked about on social media? Is there a reputation in the school? Are teens coming on a consistent basis. Measuring the BUZZ means knowing the impact that that youth group has on you throughout the week.
Measuring success in our youth ministry is difficult and will vary depending on the means we use to measure it. The most important step is for us to create a system of how we measure our ministry and tweak it as necessary. While it is not a perfect tool, measuring our success will help us move forward together and reach out to more teens and spread God's word!
How do you think we are doing?? Please use the contact form to let us know and provide feedback.
Thomas is currently a locally licensed Pastor and the Youth Director at Crossroads Community Church. He is currently enrolled at Nazarene Bible College and is pursuing the requirements for Ordination. Please fill out a contact form if you have any questions for him or about the youth ministry or if you need prayer.
Crossroads Community Church & Academy
We are located in the Southwest corner of Loop 410 on Ray Ellison BLVD. Our address is 5834 Ray Ellison BLVD, 78242. From Loop 410, take the Ray Ellison exit and go inside the loop. Go about a half mile and the church will be on your right. You'll see our sign.
Service Time: Sunday Mornings: 10:40am
Lifelines are small groups that meet throughout the week
For more information, call us at: 210-623-4500