Confessions of a Professional Christian – Going to Church

churchI was about 7 when I was pretty much forced to go to church (this pic is actually where I went to church!). I didn’t want to go. But after a short time, I actually wanted to go. Why? Because I met a friend and we were best friends til I moved away before tenth grade. For some reason, I could always be myself at church, which wasn’t always a good thing. In school, I was a perfect angel. In church, well, I got kicked out of Sunday School a few times. I didn’t always agree with my teachers. The teachers wanted to teach.  I wanted to make people laugh. I know. I know…priorities…

By the time High School came around, going to church was pretty much a habit. I don’t remember much about the services or getting much out of them, but growing more familiar with the Scriptures was pretty much all I remembered in my growth (though I’m sure there was more).  I also remember being released from my duties as a sound tech.  Guess they didn’t like the extra high pitched squeals…

College was different. No parental pressure, though there was an unwritten pressure from Christian peers (I went to a Christian college).  So I went to church sometimes on my own.  My attendance dropped a bit from High School…until I found myself in a singing group that toured the area singing at churches. That kept me in the church.  God knew what He was doing…

But what about now?  Honestly, at times, it is a struggle.  Sometimes, going to church is a way of life.  It is what you do as a Christian.  You go to church.  See people.  Talk. Learn a bit.  Serve.  Then go home.  Done.  Until next Sunday and you repeat the cycle.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat. This is what it seems like sometimes.  At least, it does to me as a professional Christian.  Church becomes a Christian tradition, a meaningless Christian activity that should help us in our walk, but doesn’t.  Sermons are fine.  Worship is OK.  People…well….most are pretty good…but going to church isn’t as uplifting as we desire.

Truth is, when church feels this way or it becomes a Christian activity, something is not right in our spirits.  Spiritual growth is stagnant at church because it is stagnant outside of church.  We’re not being fed at church partially because we’re not hungry enough.  Loving people is lacking because loving God is lacking.  Focus is often on the self while others, including God, simply become other characters in the church story life of blah.  Of course, if we stayed in this mental place, going to church would simply become depressing.

Overall, I find this to be true: If church simply becomes a meaningless traditional Christian activity of the week, than the focus of my heart is too small.  The best part about church is this: as a part of the body of Christ, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  It helps us to redirect our focus on what matters:  1) God & 2) God’s mission.  Going to church helps us to look beyond ourselves and focus on loving others and focus on God.  It helps us to see that we are not the center of our worlds.

One thing I ask the Lord, that as He changes me, that I would not implode by my own self-centeredness, but be amazed by His glory, His love, His Majesty, and His Awesomeness. I pray that church does not become a traditional thing to do, but an opportunity to leave my world of me and drink deeply of Him.  I pray that I will cooperate with Him in preparing my heart to hear His by reading His Word and reading other godly books that will draw me to Him.  Why did I write this article?  Because I am a professional Christian.  And the “every Sunday” can become mundane.  So, I, like many others, need to be reminded that I need Him and that I need His people to love and to be loved by…Overall, I need to go to church.

The Teen Challenge – Life As A Christian Teen

The following blog is from my nephew, our guest blogger, David DeLeon (16).

The battle of being a Christian teen is challenging. When a battle is fought and won, our character grows because we have learned how to overcome the enemy in a specific situation. When a battle is fought and lost, we stumble, but we can still learn from our mistake and grow stronger. This battle as a teen is a battle of the mind and it is an intense battle between the teen and the devil. It is essential for a teen to know what he or she is up against before the teen finds oneself miserably defeated.

For me, I had fallen into many temptations that looked good, at least for myself. Little did I know, the devil was playing with my mind. There are five main plans that the devil had against me and has against everyone:

DIVERSION:  Diversion makes the wrong things seem attractive so that you will want them more than the right things.

DEFEATED:  Feeling defeated means that you feel like a failure so that you don’t even try. I had felt so defeated after every mistake that I could not bring myself to try to overcome my mistakes.

DELAYING: In this case, the devil makes you put off doing something so that it never gets done. When I was in the process of not trying to overcome my mistakes, I began to just stop me and God time. I began to delay prayer, bible reading, and almost all communication with God.  The decision to be away from God will often result in a downhill spiral of feeling an overwhelming state of being alone, or dead to the world, or isolated, or unworthy, or hopeless, or unloved.

DISCOURAGEMENT:  Discouragement makes you look at your problems instead of God.

DOUBT:  Doubt, in my opinion, is the most dangerous weapon that the devil possesses. Doubt makes the right seem wrong in a ponderous confusion of the mind. Imagine you mind rejecting the very reason of your existence. That is what teenagers do sometimes for whatever their own reasoning is. Many varieties of doubts tend to come across the mind of a teenager. For example, “Am I worth anything?” “Is there really a God full of love and grace?” “Is there really that love that is so pure and divine?” Even the most simplistic questioning of God can easily lead to a person deciding to go their own direction based on the lack of trust invested in God.

“Life is a walk in the desert… until you reach the everlasting stream.” This is a personal quote I made for myself as reminder as I go through my teen years and the rest of my life. Sometimes I feel that I am walking aimlessly through a dry desert. I am in search for water. My mouth is dry, and I start to believe that I will not survive much longer as I lie on the hot, sizzling sand. When all seems lost, I cry out for God, and God pulls me up and gives me a drink. I feel my strength increasing more than ever. I feel refreshed. I feel renewed. Once again I am up on my feet.

Through the battles in life, whether you are a child, teen, or adult, God is the everlasting stream. God will not leave you thirsty, or unloved, or alone as long as you trust and follow him. He is the way, the truth, and the light in all darkness. It is a challenge as a teen to live life how God wants us to live, but God offers his hand to all people.  We just need to take his hand.

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Praying With Your Spouse

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I had the pleasure of speaking at a Couple’s Seminar this past week and spoke on a topic I had previously not spoken about: Praying together as a couple.  Not a week later, I was approached about this topic on two other occasions.  Taking the hint, I figured it would be best to write about it.

Many Christian couples have a difficult time praying together.  It is especially difficult for some who have never grown up in the church or prayed out loud.  It’s just…awkward.  “What do I pray about?” “What if I don’t do it right?” “Will my spouse be better than I am?” “How do I do it?” “What if my spouse laughs at me?” “What do we do if it’s awkward?”

Let me give you a few points to consider when you desire to pray together.  These aren’t original, but ideas I have gleaned in research.

1.  Praying together can bring a couple closer together through physical touch and uniting hearts in humility seeking the Lord.

2.  Praying together often involves both partners feeling “safe” to pray.  If your relationship is characterized by criticisms, judgments, arguments, etc., now might not be the right time.  But you can pray by yourself that the Lord will change you to         become a safe person and that the Lord will change them as well.

3.  Praying together will seem awkward at first.  Keep going.  It will become more natural.

4.  Before praying together, have a list of things to pray for so you know what to pray for together.

5.  You can start by silently praying together, holding hands and squeezing the other’s hands when you are finished.

6.  Take only a few minutes to pray (5 minutes max) at first, this will limit the “awkward time” and help people not fall asleep.

7.  Dedicate a certain time of the day that best fits your schedules together and be committed to that time.

8.  The Bible does not command that you do this together as a couple, yet it is encouraged that people pray together.  Do not treat this as a “law” you must do nor demand that your spouse pray with you.  This does not bring about the best prayerful attitude.

9.  Do not pray AT your spouse.  In other words, don’t do this: “Dear Lord, please change my self-centered spouse and help him to love me as he ought.” or “Dear God, please help this woman I married to give herself to me and submit to my leadership.”  Just not a good idea.  Prayer is about seeking His will as a couple and not about asking God to do what you want Him to do.  It’s not to be used as a manipulative tactic to change your spouse.  Pray WITH your spouse, not AT them.

10.  Feel free to pre-write your prayers if you feel nervous.

11.  Talk about the obstacles to praying together and work together to overcome them.

12.  Hold hands.

13.  Seek prayer requests from your spouse and pray specifically for your spouse.

This is not an unusual problem for Christians.  It is a good desire to have to pray together, yet it is a horrible demand.  Praying together is not the temperature gauge for a Christian marriage, yet it certainly can be beneficial for the couple and can be very meaningful as well.  Some will refuse to pray together.  This does not mean that they are not Christian or that they don’t pray, simply that they choose to be personal in their faith “me and God”.  Though Scripture does not encourage such an approach (it encourages community), you may continue to pray for them and occasionally ask that they pray for you (even if he or she won’t pray with you).  And please, don’t take it personally.  It’s just where they are in their walk with God and it is up to God to move them if they are willing.

Deny Yourself = No Fun. Right?

“Christianity is no fun.” “To be a Christian is to be a ‘stick in the mud.'”  “All Christians are ‘goody two-shoes.'”  Have you heard these accusations (or similar ones) before?  Perhaps you have even thought them yourself.  To follow Christ, seemingly, is to say no to friends, fun, and freedom.  Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  So, are these statements true?  Are Christians really supposed to say “no” to friends, fun, and freedom?mud

The answer is…well…maybe, perhaps, and definitely not.  To get to the answer, we really need to know what Jesus means when he says to “deny”  ourselves.    I remember one time while speaking at a training for mentors, one person asked me what it meant to “deny yourself.”   But when asked, it was with a scowl and a tone of anger.  Her understanding of denying ourselves was for us to think less of ourselves, to put all of our wants and “rights” aside, and to let people walk all over us – in essence, to be a punching bag for others.  This is not exactly what Jesus means.

This woman was correct in thinking that denying ourselves is to put our wants and “rights” aside, however the wants and rights we are to put aside are those that cause us to drift or separate ourselves from God.  The wants and desires that stem from our sinful nature and pride are the “selves” that we are to deny.  Does this make us Christians “sticks in the mud?”  Well, perhaps it does…to the world.  So, are we as believers supposed to say no to friends?  Well, yes, we may have to say “no” to friends who are following their sinful hearts because we choose instead to follow Jesus.  But if our friends are choosing activities that are morally neutral (bowling, rock climbing, etc.) or helping others, than we certainly can say “yes” to these things.

Does this mean we must say “no” to fun?  If fun is defined by following our sinful nature, then we must, but not because we have to, but because we want to.  To choose to “do the right thing” because we have to is be faithful to the law.  To “do the right thing” because you want to love the Lord and follow Him is to be faithful to Him.  Sin is fun.  If sin was not fun, it would not be as tempting.  But in saying this, we must also say that not all fun is sin.  We can certainly enjoy ourselves and should enjoy ourselves in this life.  Enjoyment in the pleasures of life are a gift from God so long as these enjoyments do not become more important than our relationship with Him.

Does denying myself mean I must give up my freedom?  Definitely not.  The world (or is it our hearts?) will say to give in to your wants and desires and to do so is to be free.  It is the law and religion that makes you a slave to its desires.  Freedom is to do what you want and when you want to do it.  I would argue, however, that the act of denying ourselves is not to give up our freedoms, but to exercise them and experience the freedom from which Christ set us free.  To give in to the sinful nature ultimately results in being a slave to whom we gave in.  For example, giving in to excessive alcohol will eventually lead to becoming a slave to alcohol.  Giving in to video games will eventually lead to becoming a slave to video games.  Giving in to pornography will eventually lead to becoming a slave to pornography and other sexual sins.  Giving in to our pride will result in broken relationships and the need to protect ourselves from hurt – resulting in pride as we protect ourselves by blaming others, etc..  Giving in to ice cream will result in making us fatter, which can lead to feeling down, which can lead to more ice cream.  Romans 7 & 8 talk about this: how our sin nature desires and demands more and more and how flesh gives birth to flesh.

Denying ourselves leads to more freedom, not less. It is a spiritual act of self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Galatians 6).  Christ died to set us free.  Freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from slavery, etc. are essential so that we might be free to love.  Denying ourselves is a decision we make and it is made in our freedom to do so.  It results in freedom for our lives.  In our freedom we experience joy.  And we may share our joy with friends.

Is Christianity a “stick in the mud” religion?  Only to those who are stuck in the mud of their own making.  For more on how to deny yourself, check out this blog!

You Didn’t Build That!

President Obama and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney have been battling back and forth about the Imagemeaning of President Obama’s words to small business owners: “You didn’t build it.”  While the President and some Democrats state that Romney and the Republicans took him out of context, Romney & the Republicans insist that the President meant what he said, that Government built people’s businesses.  My intentions are not to take a side in this debate, but to ask, “Who really should be credited with the building of our lives (whether in business, family, physical or spiritual)?”

The issue in question in this debate is “who deserves the credit for our ‘success’?”  Is it the government?  Is it the small business owner?  Is it friends and family?  Is it the customers? Who?

In looking at this debate, why would we even leave out God, who ordains our steps, who gives mercy and grants success/victory and oversees failures/defeat, who causes nations (& businesses) to rise and to fall, who places kings on their thrones and removes them based on His will?  To give credit solely to the small business owners would be to ignore God and would resort to pride of the owner (I built that by myself!).  To give credit fully to Government would be to ignore God’s hand of providence and control (You couldn’t do it without me (that is, Gov’t)!).

Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city,the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

As we look at such debates and conflicts of “who takes the credit,” we must always look to the Scriptures to discern truth from opinion.  Builders (small business owners / mothers & fathers, etc.) build and put forth their efforts to do so.  These builders are subject to the laws / taxes of their states where God has placed them and who allow businesses to receive government grants.  It is God who knows the steps of business owners.  It is God who places them where they are.  It is God who gives them the health, the knowledge, and the skills to build.  It is God who grants success.

Let us not be so quick to give credit where it is undue or take credit where it is undeserved.  This is all in vain.  But let us together give full credit and glory to God who builds the home, the business, and our lives and be grateful to Him for all that He has provided for us.  Certainly, He deserves the credit.

Playing Possum

I love the new Geico commercial where the father gets his children a new pet…a possum (or opossum).  He was trying to save money and this option was cheaper than a dog.  The possum is seen being stared at by the children who think it’s dead.  The father declares to the children that it is not dead, just “playing possum.”  At such time the possum ‘awakens’ and hisses at the children.  Maybe a possum is not the greatest, child-friendly pet.

When a possum sees that it is in danger, it plays dead.  It knows the danger is there, but if it can deceive the prey into believing that it is dead, the prey may go away or let its guard down so the possum can soon escape.

In Romans 6:11, Paul says “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  What does this mean, exactly?  In the context of Romans 6, Paul is sharing with believers that we are threatened by sin (within and without).  He is telling the believers in Rome that even though they are saved by grace, they are not saved from choosing to sin.  Instead, they have been saved from being slaves of sin through Christ, who died for our sins.  Since he died for our sins, and we believe this, then we also died with Christ.  If we died with Christ, then we are dead to sin.  Sin has no mastery over us.

As believers, we are tempted to follow the flesh and to sin.  Here, Paul is essentially telling us to “play possum.”  We know the dangers around us and it threatens our very existence and peace.  When we are tempted to sin, we are to “consider ourselves dead“…we are to “play possum.”    Tempted to lash out in anger?  Tell yourself, “I am dead to revenge (sin)” and let the predatory nature of the temptation leave.  Tempted to cheat on taxes? Say, “I am dead to lying (sin)” and stick with truth.  Tempted to take something that does not belong to you?  Consider these words, “I am dead to theft (sin)” and will work for what I need.  Tempted to lust?  Repeat, “I am dead to lust (sin)” and focus on what you have through Christ.

But the verse doesn’t end with being dead to sin.  We are also “alive to God in Jesus Christ.”  If we are dead to sin (through Christ), we are therefore alive to God (through Christ).  If we are dead to one, we are alive in the other.  When we are alive to God, we are his “instruments of righteousness” (v. 13).  We have purpose.  We have direction.  We have freedom.  We have life!

When sin is knocking at your door and you are tempted, play possum.  You can say “I am dead to you!”  And if you are dead to sin, you cannot respond to its lure.  It may nudge you to see if you are indeed dead to it, but as long as you remain dead to it, it will not have mastery over you.  Put off the sin (death) and put on Christ (life).

Playing Golf with Jesus

In June, Foundations Christian Counseling Services held our 2nd Annual Golf Tournament to benefit the Karen Hoffner Memorial Fund, our scholarship program to reduce the rates for low-income families in need of Biblical counseling. This is a written summary of the message given:

How do you deal with making bad shots in golf?  Do you get mad at yourself?  Do you curse or throw your club?  Do you shrug it off?  Does it mess up your confidence level?  Do you carry your failure from hole to hole remembering it at each shot?  Henry Longhurst, a renowned British golf writer and commentator said, “No man can succeed at golf until he has mastered the art of not permitting one bad hole, or indeed one bad shot, to affect the rest of his game.”

What are the worst things that you have ever done?  You know what they are because you carry them in your memory only to be brought up on occasion to feel the guilt and shame and then to be buried again.  One terrible shot can bring us down for a hole.  A series of terrible shots may cause us to give up the game.  But it is the one good shot that keeps us coming back.  In life, one big mistake will bring us down awhile.  A series of mistakes may keep us down and ashamed for the rest of our lives.  Now there are some good things that we do that keep us in the game, but at best, they do not bring about what we need to play perfectly.

In golf, the perfect score is 18.  A hole in one…every hole.  You may, at best, get 1 hole-in-one, but for 18 holes it is impossible for us.  In life, the perfect score is O.  If every sin is a stroke against us, it is impossible to obtain.  Today, we played in a four person Scramble.  We each took our turns and made our best efforts to get as close to perfect as we could and we went with the person who had the best shot (or best ball)…the one that’s closest to perfection.  In life, we are in a two-person Scramble.  It’s you and Jesus.  In order to get to the 19th Hole of Heaven and the Trophy of Eternal Life, you need to score a perfect score.  This is impossible for us.  With each stroke we take, we fall short of that perfection.  The only way we can receive the prize is by Jesus’ efforts alone.  He met the standard of perfection.  We might as well put our own efforts down, lay down our clubs, and let Jesus do the work that is required…for the only work that we must do is believe in Him and accept the work that He did for us on the cross.  This can be difficult as we want to do our part, but our best shots (and efforts) end up being unplayable.  

Remember those things that you did in the past that you carry with you and cause shame?  All of those acts can be wiped clean.  You can begin a new round in life with Jesus.  Just ask Him to be your partner in the 2 person Scramble of life, lay down your clubs, and believe.