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Archive | Spiritual Leadership

Healthy Church or Unhealthy Church? 7 Signs to Check

healthy churchWe’ve changed churches eight times in 34 years of marriage. No, we aren’t “church hoppers,” we’ve simply moved a lot with my husband’s job. In fact, my husband and I are currently visiting churches after our recent move to a new city. With all that “church searching,” we’ve learned to spot a healthy church and we’ve learned some marks of an unhealthy church.

After each church visit, Wayne and I talk about the experience. What did we see and hear? What sense did we get of the church body and its leadership? What did we learn about the church that helps us understand its priorities? What did we witness that was either positive or threw up some red flags?

Although not an exhaustive list, the following seven areas will help you diagnose the health of your church or one you are visiting.

7 signs to help you know if your church is healthy or unhealthy

  1. Quality of the Fellowship – God designed the church to do life together, not just gather for a brief time on Sunday mornings (Acts 2:42-47). Do the members  engage with one another before and after the service? Do they connect at other times during the week? Another important question – is their fellowship inclusive or exclusive? A healthy church will reach out to visitors with genuine interest and attempt to include them.
  2. Centrality of the Gospel– The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus should be of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Topical messages and sermon series are helpful and needed, but we should never neglect the Gospel. Whether a formal presentation or sprinkled throughout the Sunday message, the Gospel should always be in mind. How often do you hear it at your church? When was the last time someone responded to the Gospel invitation with a profession of faith in Christ?
  3. Involvement in missions – Jesus commissioned His church to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:16-20). How involved is your church in sharing the Gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, both locally and around the world?
  4. Attitude and atmosphere – transparency, share struggles and victories as fellow faith travelers, worship, prayer
  5. Commitment to spiritual growth – Commitment should start at the top. The church’s leaders should be personally committed to spiritual growth and maturity and they should purposefully work to guide the church to grow. Things like corporate prayer, Bible study, mentoring, and discipleship indicate a strong commitment (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  6. Accountability for its members – This is an area of weakness for any the healthiest of churches. Our culture has conditioned us not to mess in other people’s business. But that’s not how God designed the church. God calls us to holiness and calls us to encourage others to holiness. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-13, James 5:16).
  7. Passion for Jesus – The church not only belongs to Jesus, it’s all about Him. A church can work hard, preach the Word, and impact the community, but if Jesus isn’t her “first love,” her heart is not in the right place (Revelation 2:1-5).

What About Your Church?

Numbers, prestige, and celebrity pastors don’t mean much. I’ve seen huge mega-churches that weren’t spiritually healthy. I’ve visited small, country churches that shone with spiritual vitality.
As our church search continues, we are aware God may direct us to either a healthy church or one that needs some spiritual healing. That’s His choice. We will do our best to serve Him and the church where He calls us.
Are there any marks of a healthy church you would add to this list? If so, feel free to share them with a Scripture reference! 
Other posts in this series on the church:
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Praying for Our Children to Know Their Deepest Need

Today’s guest blogger is Teri Lynne Underwood, author of the new book “Praying for Girls.”

“Mom, I need a new binder for school.” “Mom, I really need some new foundation.” “Mom, I need you to sign this permission form.” “Mom, I need this shirt washed for tonight.”

“Mom, I need …”

For a while, I began to think my daughter thought my name was “Mom, I need.”  If you have children, you can probably relate.

Our kids understand need in a far different way that we do as parents. They make very little (if any) distinction between needing and wanting.

How can we teach our children to understand what they really need can’t be found at Target or on social media? How can we help them recognize their deepest need in life is Jesus?

Praying for our children

Two of my favorite people in Scripture are Mary and Martha. Most women tend to relate to one of these sisters more than the others. Me? Oh, I’m a Martha. No doubt about it. I want to solve the problems, do the work, and get the right answers.

But Mary knew something Martha didn’t — and it’s something I want to learn and live in myself. Mary knew what she really needed.

In the familiar story found in Luke 10, we read Jesus’ words to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42 ESV).

One thing is necessary.

Some translations say one thing is needed. Mary understood the good portion, the better choice — she recognized her deepest need wasn’t what she could do for Jesus but time spent with Jesus.

And, friend, that’s our deepest need too.

How do we help our daughters (and sons) understand this truth? How do we point them toward the reality that without a relationship with Jesus, nothing else really matters?

3 Ways to Help Our Children Recognize their Greatest Need

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But the following specific can guide them toward this vital understanding:

  1. Tell – Let’s share our own faith journeys with our kids. When we tell them of our need for Jesus, and the way He has sustained us, we help them recognize their own need for Him.
  2. Point – When our children face trials and difficulties, let’s consistently point them back to Jesus as the source of peace and comfort. That will lay a foundation of faith for the rest of their lives.
  3. Pray – for them to know their need for Him and seek Him above all. Praying for our children is an investment in their spiritual growth. Let’s pray that they will recognize their need for Jesus and seek Him above all else. And this sort of prayer helps us remember, we as moms can never meet the deepest need in their lives — only Jesus can!

Praying for our children to know their deepest need is Jesus is one of most important ways we intercede for them.  And it is a prayer we can pray with confidence and boldness, knowing God’s desire is for them to know Him and walk with Him for their whole lives.

How do you encourage your children to recognize Jesus as their deepest need?

Praying for GirlsTeri Lynne Underwood is a pastor’s wife, ministry speaker, and Bible teacher. As the founder of www.PrayersforGirls.com, Teri Lynne is a cheerleader for girl moms and the author of Praying for Girls: Asking God for the Things They Need Most.

About Praying for Girls:

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by concerns for your daughter, enjoy the peace that comes when you pray targeted prayers for her straight from the Bible. No matter your girl’s age, pray confidently about struggles she may be facing now and in the years to come.

Covering five vital areas of a girl’s life–her identity, heart, mind, relationships, and purpose–this easy-to-use book is ideal for anyone who feels intimidated or uncertain about what to pray for the girl they love. Rounding out the book are conversation starters and fun activities to help you guide your daughter into becoming a godly woman.

 

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3 Ways to Encourage Others

encourageEarlier this week I got to teach at my church’s ladies’ summer Bible study. It was a bit bittersweet because it was the last time before we move next week. And ironically, the summer Bible study topic is friendship. I admit, a few times I had to hold back tears.

I taught on the friendship of Barnabas and Paul, specifically the way Barnabas encouraged Paul. What I learned from studying their relationship was enlightening and I thought you might get something from it too!

“Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement,” was a nickname given to Joseph the Levite by the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). You can guess how Barnabas earned this endearing moniker. He was well-known for encouraging others.

Barnabas and Paul’s relationship began with Saul the Persecutor returned to Jerusalem for the first time after his saving encounter with Jesus. He tried to join the believers, but they fearfully rejected him. “But Barnabas…” (Acts 9:27).

3 Ways Barnabas Encouraged Paul

  1. Barnabas Extended Friendship (Acts 9:26-30) – Barnabas did not act foolishly. He listened to Paul’s story and then with spiritual wisdom and discernment he became an advocate for Paul with the Jerusalem church. Barnabas opened the door for Paul into the fellowship of believers.
  2. Barnabas Fostered Paul’s Gifts (Acts 11:22-26) – When the new, thriving church in Antioch needed leadership, Barnabas brought Paul to work alongside him. Barnabas knew the church needed Paul’s gifts and that Paul needed to grow and develop his leadership skills. Barnabas acted as “matchmaker!”
  3. Barnabas helped Paul reach his spiritual potential (Acts 13:1-13) – In the middle of their first missionary journey together, Barnabas recognized God’s call on Paul’s life. Without any signs of jealousy, he humbly stepped back and let Paul take the lead.

3 Ways We can Encourage Others Like Barnabas

After studying Paul and Barnabas’ friendship, I cast a wider net to see what the rest of the New Testament teaches us about encouraging one another. Both the noun and verb forms of the basic Greek word mean “to call to one’s side; to comfort, exhort, encourage, and console.” After reading numerous examples, I condensed them to these 3 specific ways we can encourage other believers.

  1. Comfort the suffering and hurting (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) – When tragedy hits, when troubles rage, our friends need more than our prayers. They also need our presence. They need us to come to their side. To cry with them. To serve and help in practical ways. And they need to share about times God has helped us in similar circumstances.
  2. Strengthen the weary (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3) – Sometimes believers just get tired. There isn’t necessarily any one specific trial, we are just bone tired. Or discouraged by life in general. We need some refreshment. We can encourage each other by helping with the load. By sharing a laugh. By bringing ice cream!
  3. Exhort the spiritually lazy or those tangled in sin (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12) – This is the form of encouragement we lack the most today. We don’t want to “meddle” in others’ lives. We don’t want to “judge.” But all that is merely an excuse to ignore our biblical responsibility to each other. Scripture commands us to call other believers out of sin. To push them toward holiness. And in doing so, we may save them much heartache.

Who needs your encouragement today? Is there someone you know right now that needs an advocate? How can you build a bridge for them into your local fellowship? Is their a weary friend who needs refreshment? What tangible thing can you do today to encourage them? Is there a friend caught in a harmful cycle of sin? How can you bravely intervene? 

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Family Devotional Guide for Your Summer Vacation

family devotional guideWhen our kids were young we did a lot of cross-country driving. Combine little money for airfare with living far away from grandparents and you’ve got at least two long days in the car – one way.

It’s not easy to keep 3 kids under 10 restrained in the back seat for hours on end. I did everything I could think of to keep the kiddos occupied. Lots of snacks – healthy and not so healthy. Games like I Spy and 20 Questions. Books and toys.

While vacations offer adventure, rest, and relationship, they can also be opportunities to teach our children more about God. Travel time, whether it’s by plane, train, or automobile, provides a captive audience! But we must be prepared.

While you’re packing the swimsuits, sunscreen, and car snacks, grab this 7-day family devotional guide to use during your family vacation. You can use it in the car, on the beach, or around the campfire.

Each Scripture reading is about a biblical journey. Questions are provided each day to get your family talking together about the truth presented in each story. Family Vacation Devotional Guide Print it off and pack it. It won’t take up much space!

Would love to hear from you! What do you do to keep your kids occupied during long car trips?

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A Century Old Bible and a Legacy of Faith

BibleFor the last few months, my brother and I have been working to move my parents from Louisiana to Tennessee. Mom and Dad’s health took a nosedive last summer and they need to be closer to one of their children. I’ve been making regular trips from Houston to Shreveport to check on them on begin to go through the family home in preparation for the move.

Since our parents have been in the same house for almost 50 years, there is quite a bit of “accumulation.” Though much of it is regular household stuff like gift-wrapping supplies, long-lost Tupperware lids, and manuals for appliances they no longer have, we have also discovered a few treasures that reveal a family legacy of faith.

For instance, back in September, I shared a letter I found from my great-great grandmother to my great-grandfather. She wrote how she prayed daily for him and his family.

BibleI discovered another treasure this past weekend – a crumbling Bible given to that same great-grandfather, Howell Adam Shouse from that same great-great-grandmother Mary Dozier Cash. The inscription is dated March 7, 1910, more than 100 years ago.

Over the last few months, I have discovered several letters, Bibles, and other items that reveal the consistent and persistent faith of Mary Dozier. I’m not sure what Howell Adam did with her legacy, but I know that her name sake and my maternal grandmother, Mary Dozier Shouse Addington, shared her love for Christ.

My grandmother, Mary Addington, shared her grandmother’s name and her faith. And like her grandmother, she constantly talked about Jesus with her grandchildren. That legacy of faith continues with me – Mary Kathryn. I share my grandmother’s name and her faith. I pray I will continue that legacy of faith with my grandchildren.

How can we be purposeful in passing our faith to the generations that follow?

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6 Ways to Impact Your Children with the Truth of Christmas

A couple of years ago, while speaking at a ladies’ Christmas event, something significant happened. I had planned to read portions of the Christmas story from Matthew 2 and Luke 2. But as I began to read from my open Bible, I discovered I did not need it.

The words flowed from memory – KJV style. “Being great with child.” “They were sore afraid.”

Christmas truthHere’s the truly amazing part: I’ve never worked to memorize those sections of Scripture. The passages were embedded in my heart simply because my father read them to our family every Christmas Eve. My dad desired to keep our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas. And God honored his commitment to impress God’s truth on his children (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

We can all have the same kind of positive spiritual influence on the children in our lives. Whether a parent, grandparent, aunt, babysitter, or Sunday School teacher, we can point them to Christ in Christmas with purposeful intent. Even in the midst of the commercialization of the season, we can help them see the important.

People over things. Spiritual over physical. Lasting over temporary.

6 Ways to Help Your Kids Focus on the True Meaning of Christmas

Although you can probably come up with a longer list, here are 6 ways you can help impact the children in your life with the truth of Christmas. We used them all with our own children!

  1. Tell the story of the 1st Christmas – And not just once! Let’s use various ways to share it with them again and again. For instance, do daily Advent devotionals with your family. For younger children, use a childproof nativity to tell the story and then leave it out for them to play with. And don’t forget the most basic way – read the biblical account to your family.
  2. Give to someone in need – It is so easy to get caught up in the “getting” of Christmas. But the season is the perfect opportunity to teach our children the joy of helping others. When our children were young we involved them in filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Since they’ve been grown, my husband and I have given in multiple ways including World Vision gifts, Angel Tree, and more.
  3. Sing the faith songs of Christmas – Most of our kids know Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman, but do they know Silent Night and Away in a Manger? The “religious” Christmas songs tell the real story! Play these great songs of faith while baking cookies, driving to school, or making the trip to Grandma’s house. Carol on your street or in a local nursing home.
  4. Tell someone about baby Jesus – I used to have one of those “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pins. And I wore it too. But I don’t remember anyone ever asking me about it. We must look for opportunities to tell others about the reason for the season!
  5. Christmas Eve Service – Taking the time to attend church on Christmas Eve sends an important message to our children. “Jesus takes priority.” “Christmas is about Him.” Plus, the time in worship and fellowship helps put our focus where it belongs.
  6. Birthday Cake for Jesus – We began this tradition when our children were little. They always looked forward to helping make the cake, singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, and of course, eating it!

I would love to hear how you help your children focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Please share your ideas and traditions with us in the comments!

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Are Christians Obligated to Vote on November 8th?

Christians voteThe upcoming Presidential election creates a major dilemma for many Christians. Here’s the basis for our dilemma: Neither major party candidate exemplifies even the most basic Christian ethics and standards. Neither is worthy of the office of the President of the United States of America.

Some Christians believe the best course of action is to abstain from voting on November 8. Others feel they should cast their vote for the “lesser of two evils.” (Check out this helpful article by Russell Moore, “Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?“) Which action is the right response? Could there perhaps be another option?

Let’s take a step back and briefly lay a biblical foundation for government and our responsibility as citizens.

First, God holds complete sovereignty in establishing, upholding, and removing all nations, rulers, and authorities (Daniel 2:21, Daniel 4:17, Acts 17:26, Romans 13:1). He established government for our good, to suppress evil, and to prevent chaos. Government at all levels provides structure for the country and service to the people (Romans 13:1-7).

The Bible also establishes principles for a believer’s relationship to government:

  1. Intercede Faithfully – God commands us to support the government and our leaders with our prayers. In fact, regular intercession for everyone pleases God (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
  2. Submit Respectfully – Christians should obey the laws of our land and submit ourselves to the authority of our leaders. Paul goes as far as saying that rebelling against our government authorities is the same as rebelling against God. The Bible even says we should submit with a good attitude! (See Romans 13:1-2, Titus 3:1-3, 1 Peter 2:13-17.)
  3. Fulfill Responsibilities – Believers are now and eternally citizens of the Kingdom of God. But while we still live in this world, we are also citizens of an earthly kingdom. As citizens, we have rights to enjoy and responsibilities to fulfill. More than once, Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 21:25-29, Acts 25:10-12). Jesus not only taught we should fulfill all our obligations to the government, He set the example (Matthew 17:24-26, Matthew 22:15-22). Note: Yes, government is subject to corruption because it is comprised of sinful men. And when forced to choose, we must always obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29). However this election doesn’t take us there.

How should these biblical principles impact my vote?

So, how do these principles apply to the upcoming presidential election? The United States of America is a republic. Citizens have the right and responsibility to elect the government officials who will represent us.

But this go around, that responsibility seems much heavier. I am struggling with this myself. I am praying and thinking about the right thing to do. I understand why many have decided to simply not vote at all. Yet, that won’t prevent a new president from being inaugurated in January. That won’t fulfill my responsibility as a citizen of the United States.

There is another option. One I am contemplating. We can fulfill our responsibility as citizens and not vote for either of “them.” There will be other candidates on the ballot. Or we could cast a write-in vote. Yes, we can exercise our right and vote our conscious.

Without bashing or endorsing any candidate, how are you dealing with this weighty responsibility?

Find out who is else will be on the ballot:

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A Legacy Prayer from My Great Great Grandmother

Legacy PrayerThe letter was dated March 26, 1914. I carefully unfolded the fragile, yellowed paper and struggled to read the faded ink. I found this letter and several others in an old metal box at my parents’ house. Addressed to Howell Adam Shouse, my great grandfather on my mother’s side, they were written by his mother, Mary Dozier Shouse, more than a century ago.

Much of the news was what you’d expect – who had been sick, who had gotten married, and how she longed to see her “dear son.” But one particular paragraph brought tears to my eyes:

“Oh how much I do pray for you every single morning and night. I pray mightily to the Lord that you Howell and your children may be convicted and converted and sanctified. Never a day do I miss. May God hear and answer my prayers and save us all in heaven.”

I was blown away. The letter preserved a family legacy prayer. Mary Dozier, my great, great grandmother prayed daily for the spiritual well being of her son and his children. She faithfully petitioned God to make her son and his children aware of their need for a Savior (convict); to draw them into a saving relationship with Jesus (convert); and to grow them up into the likeness of Christ (sanctify).

legacy prayerAs I read those words, I knew her prayers also covered me. Long before I was born, my great, great grandmother prayed for me and my eternal, spiritual good.

I do not know the spiritual condition of Howell Adam Shouse, but I do know his daughter – my maternal grandmother – loved Jesus. She consistently pointed me toward the Lord. And my mother has done the same.

This discovery this week both blessed and challenged me. I am blessed to know that my grandmother’s grandmother prayed for the spiritual condition of her descendants. I am also challenged to be just as faithful to lift prayers for my children and their children that matter for eternity.

Yes, I will continue to pray for their physical health and temporal struggles. But I will also recommit to pray for their spiritual health and eternal struggles. If you’d like to do the same, God’s Word is the best place to start. Check out this resource of 21 Scriptures as a guide to pray for your loved ones spiritual well being.

I would love to hear some of the ways you pray for the spiritual well being of your friends and family!

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Mug Monday: Are You a Good Example?

Mug MondayIt’s Mug Monday! Join me each week through the summer to see the featured mug (some mine, some yours, & some borrowed). We will seek to make some sense out of the wisdom or humor written on its side. Pull up a chair and join me in a cup of coffee!

People are watching you. Oh, yes they are! As a Christian, you are setting an example. The question is – Are you a good example or a bad one?

Many Christians don’t want to be an example. We point to Christ and say “There’s our example. That’s who we follow, not another person.” Ah, yes, that let’s us off the hook. Let’s take the humble route and say, “Don’t look at me. Just look at Jesus.”

Good exampleToday’s wisdom from the side of a coffee mug reflects this “humble” stand with a bit of sarcasm.

There’s just one problem with that. It isn’t biblical.

Yes, our ultimate example is Jesus. In fact, the Holy Spirit is constantly working to conform us to His image. But God wants to give us flesh and blood, in our face examples too. The apostle Paul knew those first century believers needed that and he strove to be a Christ-like example for them.

To the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Those folks were surrounded by a plethora of bad examples. They needed someone who could say, “This way. I’m following Jesus, so you can follow me.”

That’s the kind of Christ follower we should be. We should be following Christ so closely that others could follow us and be going the right direction.

It’s not that we’ve gotten things perfect. Even though we still have a ways to go, we can still guide others in the right direction. Hear Paul’s words from Philippians:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus… Join with others in following my example, brothers and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3:12-14, 17

Did you hear that? Paul did not consider himself perfect. He was still learning and growing spiritually. But he was running hard after Jesus and that made him a good example. Others could follow him and be headed in the right direction.

What about us? If others follow us will they be headed in a Christ-ward direction? What does it look like to “strain ahead” and “press on toward the goal?”

 

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How to be Devoted to God’s Word

Devotion to God's Word

 

One of my biblical heroes is Ezra. He lived in the 5th century BC, a Jew born during Israel’s Babylonian exile. He was a “scribe” and a descendent of Aaron, a priest of the Most High God. Ezra was a “teacher well versed in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). He was far more than a casual student of God’s Word. He was a skilled teacher who knew it backward and forward.

The book of Ezra also tells us five times in two chapters that “God’s gracious hand” was on Ezra. And it also tells us why:

“For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Ezra 7:10

This Jewish priest had never set foot in the land of Israel. But God called him to go and teach His Word to God’s people who had returned to Israel. Ezra obeyed and God graciously protected, guided, and provided for him every step of the way.

I want “God’s gracious hand” to be on me. What about you? Then let’s commit to be devoted to God’s Word. In Ezra 7:10, “devoted” means that Ezra was firmly established in and committed to God’s Word. For him, it was an enduring, life-long pursuit. But what does that look like day in and day out?

We are told exactly what Ezra’s devotion looked like in Ezra 7:10.

3 Characteristics of Devotion to God’s Word

1. Study – The Hebrew word translated as “study” or “seek” means to “tread a place frequently, with care, consult, inquire of.” Our study of the Bible should not be haphazard or casual. Every believer should take have a plan that gets us deep into the truths of God’s Word on a regular basis.

2. Obey –  Ezra didn’t merely devote himself to the study of God’s Word, he was also committed to observing what he learned. Our study is not simply to know more about the Bible. Our goal should be application, obedience, and transformation.

3. Teach – The Hebrew word translated as “teaching” in the NIV includes not only the idea of educating (teaching information) but also training & application. As growing believers we should teach, mentor, and disciple other believers.

Want to be devoted to God’s Word? Which one of these 3 characteristics do you struggle with most and why?

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