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Grow Up: Maturing in Christ

A sermon given at Reston Bible Church – April 15, 2018

An Integrated Approach to Sermon Preparation: Applied to Philippians 3:1-14 – Part 2

Man-readingThe process I will walk you through today is in 5 steps;  (1) identify the boundaries of the text, (2) choose appropriate analytical tools, (3) interpret the true point(s) of the passage, (4) apply the passage, and finally (5) develop a rhetorical strategy for effective communication.   I will use Philippians 3:1-14 as a test case for this process throughout this presentation.

Boundaries

The old question and answer, “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” applies to the study of God’s word as well.  The full counsel of God cannot be fully explored on any subject in a single sermon and so we must choose what passage or passages of scripture we will exposit.  There are many approaches to setting these textual boundaries, but in the case of Philippians 3 we will utilize rhetorical analysis to identify the pericope for exposition.  Verses 1 and 2 give us our first marker through the use of a very brief introductory narrative which introduces the audience, “my brothers and sisters,” Paul’s goal in writing, “a safeguard for you,” and the threat he is addressing, “beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!”  What follow are Paul’s proposition and his arguments for that proposition.  We find our closing marker in verse 15, “Therefore,” which signals a shift from argument to praxis or from indicative to imperative tone.

Pick your tools

In approaching God’s Word for the purpose of interpretation and exposition, it is critical to first choose the tools that best fit the passage.  In other words, the tool should fit the genre you are interpreting.  The tools appropriate to interpreting a Psalm would likely differ from those you would employ in interpreting an Epistle.  In our example of Philippians 3, Paul’s letter was meant to be read aloud to the churches.  It is in affect a persuasive essay or speech, therefore rhetorical criticism, as we have already employed, would be a valid tool.  The letter was written in a specific time and place in order to address specific challenges being had by the local church in Philippi.  This would indicate that a historical-critical analysis, in particular Greco-Roman cultural analysis, as well as a 1st Century Jewish historical understanding, would be useful in providing the proper lens through which to examine the passage.  In addition, a close reading of the text reveals some etymological questions that a careful word study would help in answering.  Lastly, our ultimate goal for any exposition is to relate what the passage teaches us about God and about ourselves from God’s worldview.  Therefore we must also pull the theological interpretive tool from the bag.   Now we are ready to get to work.

What’s the Big Idea?

Whenever we are working with the inspired word of God it is important that we resist getting cute or inappropriately creative with our interpretation.  While God’s word may be applied to many different circumstances, any given passage only has one meaning.  Recognizing, not inventing, that meaning and communicating it to our audience is the goal.  In our example of Philippians 3, Paul’s proposition in verse 3, “For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials,” is the main point he will elucidate in the following verses and defines the rhetorical situation he is addressing.   In other words, physical circumcision as practiced by the Jews in this context represents the self-righteous acts of the law, while followers of Christ exult in His works of righteousness on their behalf and do so by faith through the Spirit of God, not depending on their own effort which adds nothing to Christ’s completed work.  Following this rhetorical framework Paul then responds to the implied argument from his opponent that credentials matter. He does via a description of his own impressive credentials, “If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more,” which he then immediately dismisses three times in increasingly strong language.  They are liabilities because of Christ, liabilities compared to knowing Christ, and finally, they have the worth of excrement compared to being found “in Christ.”  In plain language, self-righteousness is a pile of useless dung when compared to the righteousness based on the faithfulness of Jesus.  It is this righteousness from God that is available to us in Christ.

Application

Once I have determined the appropriate interpretation or point of the passage, I take time again to read and reread the passage, meditating on what it means or has meant practically in my life.  The best place to start with Philippians 3 is with Paul himself.  What did it mean in his life?  How would he apply this truth? He makes this clear in verses 10-14.   Because of Christ’s faithfulness, Paul has four aims in life that we can share; to know Christ, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death.  In verse 11 Paul states the goal of these aims is to “attain” (Greek – katantaō) to the resurrection of the dead.  It is important that we understand that the word “attain” here should not be construed as “earned.”  The Greek verb means to arrive at or to come to.  Paul’s desire is to be like Christ in everyway and persevere until His coming and the resurrection of the dead on the last day.  In this sense Paul’s “striving” or running after in verse 14 is not a work in order to earn salvation, but a deep ceded desire to know Christ more and more.    Having arrived at an interpretation and before beginning to compose a message, it is the cautious pastor who will look at some trusted commentaries to make sure he hasn’t made any fatal flaws or missed any nuggets that could be helpful to his final product.

The Exposition

Much as Paul employed rhetoric in writing to the churches of the 1st Century, so we will take the product of our interpretive work and put together the pieces in a way that is clear, convincing, memorable, and moves our hearers to action/application.  In doing this we will ask ourselves questions like; what historical background or etymological information that I have uncovered will be useful in my opening narrative?  How can I phrase my proposition in such a way that it will be memorable and complete?  What will be my arguments from scripture for that point? What potential objections or questions might my hearers have and how I can answer them?   How I can employ elements like parable, metaphor, or hyperbole to make the point more memorable and move my hearer to action?  What combination of my personal testimony on the subject (ethos), emotional appeal (pathos), and logical argumentation (logos) will have the greatest impact on my hearers?  What action or attitude do I desire to evoke from my audience?  Answering these questions will assist us in developing our manuscript from which our sermon will derive.

As you apply these steps; identifying boundaries, choosing exegetical tools, arriving at an interpretation, finding application, and finally developing a rhetorical strategy for preaching, we must keep in mind our ultimate objective.  It is not our purpose to reinvent what Paul said to the 1st Century church at Philippi, but rather to develop an interpretation and application that are faithful to the text and then to present them to the 21st Century church in a such a way that the power of God may be made manifest through it in their lives for the glory of Christ.

An Integrated Approach to Sermon Preparation: Applied to Philippians 3:1-14 – Part 1

Man-readingThis is a departure from my usual postings in that I am speaking mostly to others who teach and sharing a little of what has worked for me.  I pray that it will be helpful to others who answer the call to teach God’s word to people of all ages. 

A Solemn Call

There is no more solemn responsibility in the church of Jesus Christ than that of teaching others out of God’s Word. James the brother of Jesus warns would-be teachers not to respond carelessly to this calling: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). However, it is God who calls and God who gives gifts to men, so neither should the person of faith run from a true calling to teach. “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly… if it is teaching, he must teach” (Romans 12:6-7).

Therefore, with all seriousness and diligence we, those called into a teaching ministry, must approach the holy Word of God with prayer and a reverence that drives us to give heed Paul’s advice to his disciple Timothy. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is here, with this frame of mind, that we must consider the methods or process employed in both “rightly dividing” the word of truth as well as expositing that word in such a way that we do not hinder God’s power therein, but rather present a message that is both faithful to the text and complete in its ability to inform and move the hearer to action or belief.

Today we will discuss a process for figuratively picking up any passage of scripture and turning it around in the light so that it can be examined from every angle, observing it through the eyes of the author and original audience, recognizing the true meaning of the passage, and then both systematically and artistically presenting it to our audience in a such a way that the power of God may be made manifest through it in their lives. The process I will walk you through today is in 5 steps; (1) identify the boundaries of the text, (2) choose appropriate analytical tools, (3) interpret the true point(s) of the passage, (4) apply the passage, and finally (5) develop a rhetorical strategy for effective communication. I will use Philippians 3:1-14 as a test case for this process throughout this presentation.

…Stay tuned

As You Walk Along The Way – God’s Call to Generational Discipleship (Audio)

marriage-booster-0514

The greatest battle that the church family currently faces is the knock-down drag-out fight with Satan over the hearts of the next generation. Raising a generation that knows Christ and makes him known will be the greatest gift & legacy we leave for the world.

Key Verse:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut. 6:5-7

Considering our passage in its immediate context,

  1. Verse 5 – Preceded by the “greatest command”
  2. Verse 6 – It is a matter of the heart

Notice in Verse 7,

  1. Not a request – The imperative form is used. This is a command.
  2. “Impress them on your children” – Teach them diligently.
  3. Life on life discipleship

7 Principles for Walking Along the Way

Principle #1 – Don’t Freak Out – “Concern is healthy; panic kills.”

  • Take the long view because God is writing a story in the life of your child. It’s a movie not a snapshot.

Principle #2 – Be Real

  • Walking along the way means not being a pretender. You may fool a very young child for a little while, but they will find you out it will shake their faith to its core.

Principle #3 – More lens, less shield

  • Spend more time giving our children the proper lens through which to see this world, and less time sheltering them from it. If we don’t someone else will.

Principle #4 – Enter their world – Jesus entered ours (Phil. 2:5-7)

  • Make it a point to know the young person you are walking with.

Principle #5 – The target is the Savior, not behavior – Adjust your aim

  • Lead them to the gospel (Romans 3:23, 6:23)

Principle #6 – Be joyful

  • “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

Principle #7 – No excuses

  • Excuses may be valid, but they will be overcome when generational discipleship becomes a priority.

I hope that you found something here to challenge you and to encourage you to take seriously God’s call to generational discipleship and ask yourself the question, “What legacy are we leaving?” “Will we be mentioned in anyone’s story of faith?”

Questions for further discussion:

  1. If I could be remembered by my children or grandchildren for only one thing it would be…
  1. If you looked back at your life using Mike’s metaphor of the “snapshot” what period of your life might have given the adults around you reason to despair? How has God used that time period in the broader narrative of your life?
  2. Have you ever thought about your relationship with the children in your life as one of teacher-disciple? Why/why not? How might this perspective change the way you parent or engage with young people close to you?
  3. Did you ever view your relationship with your parents as one of disciple to teacher?  Why or why not?
  4. In what ways does the teacher-disciple relationship change as children grow up and in what ways does it stay the same?
  5. How are you, or could you be, living out God’s command to “walk along the way” with the next generation?

Raphael the fearless…Shark Wranglers continued

Raphael the fearless

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

Early on in our work in Brazil we made a lot of rookie mistakes.  One in particular led to a wonderful story of the fearless faith of a child.  I think it might just encourage the shark wrangler hidden within you.

We had begun our first outreach using a building belonging to a little church.  As we reorganized the space to make space for our material we encountered a room full to the ceiling with used clothes.  Clothing had been collected for a bazaar and these were the leftovers. The clothes were in good condition, but no one was quite sure what to do with them. So after getting permission from the pastor, we set a date to take the clothes and distribute them in a favela (slum neighborhood) adjoining the neighborhood where the church was located.  On a typically balmy Brazilian summer afternoon we loaded the clothing into the back of our pick-up truck and headed out.  My two boys, Michael (9) and Raphael (7) were riding along, as well as Pastor Tiago, my friend Marcelo, and another boy from the outreach, Adriano. dnfr

A Just Cause

As we pulled to a stop in the neighborhood we were immediately approached by curious children and then adults asking what we were doing.  When they realized we were giving things away, the word went out and in an instant a sea of humanity surrounded us.  People pushed and shouted as we tried to distribute the clothes in some semblance of order.  About that time the door of the pick-up opened (I had forgotten to lock the door in the confusion) and some children jumped in and started grabbing at whatever they could find.  My soccer ball went first and then one of them grabbed my handsaw and took off up the street.  My youngest boy Raphael saw the whole thing and yelled to me, “Dad, that boy stole your saw!” I told him we had bigger problems and that we just needed to lock the doors now so that my wallet wasn’t next.  He insisted, “But that wasn’t a donation!  That’s stealing and it’s wrong!” Again, I told him to forget about it.  Next thing I know, there goes by little boy, barefoot, up the street, through the favela after the saw.  He didn’t hear me when I called to him so I asked Adriano to tail him and make sure he didn’t get into any trouble.

After a few minutes I was getting worried.  The throng began to subside as the last of the clothing was carted off. Where was my son?  I looked up and my heart jumped as I saw Raphael walking back toward the truck…with a triumphant look on his face and my saw in his hand.  As scary as that was for a dad, I learned a lesson that day. When our mission is just and godly we cannot let fear stop us.  

Shark Wranglers continued

see previous post...https://lastmanstandingchurch.com/2014/02/21/shark-wranglers/

Substitute “Strong Man”

Brothers, we all know it is our GOD given duty as men to care for our own children, to protect them, to fight off the sharks of this world and guide our children on the narrow path that leads to life.  But as Christian men we have a call that goes beyond just our own little ones.  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16.  It is not enough to hide with our children, or the children of the church on shore, within our homes, our safe neighborhoods or the walls of the church building, when there are still children in the water with the sharks.

Ladies, are you laboring with the men in your life as a team to pull more children away from the sharks, like the aunt in our story, binding up the wounds of one child while he goes back for more?  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, as a substitute.  When the “strong man” in the life of a child has been removed we, as Christ imitators, the last men standing, have the privilege to step into the gap, in the name of the Savior, as a substitute and sure up the walls in the life of that young person. bridgingthegap

Does that sound scary?  Sure it does.  But “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  If this is a mission from our Father, and it is, then we must trust in the words that GOD said to Joshua and to all those warriors who would follow, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

 

Shark wranglers

Continued…(click HERE to read previous post)

Sound Scary?

“At-risk children in my house?  Drugs dealers and thieves?  Juvenile detention centers?  Are you crazy?  That is the kind of thing best left for professionals, missionaries or folks without their own family to care for.  Besides, in this country you can get sued for looking the wrong way at a child. The risks are just too great.  What if I just write a check?”

As the President of a non-profit organization that survives on the giving heart of GOD’s people, I would say, yes, please do.  Better yet, you, your family, your business and your church could purpose to become regular financial partners with an organization, like Open Arms Worldwide (www.openarmsworldwide.org), that is working to get more “bull elephants” out into the places where children have been left most vulnerable.  But, if you stop there you are missing out.  Is it dangerous and risky? Absolutely. But with great risk comes great reward.

Do Not Fear

That leads me to my second animal story.  This one took place in the warm gulf coast waters of Florida in 2001 and was picked up and reported by most major television news networks at the time.  A man was relaxing at the beach with some relatives when he heard screams and looked to see a pool of blood forming around his nephew who was standing in the shallow water.  A seven-foot long, 250-pound bull shark had a firm hold on the boy and wasn’t letting go.

Shark Wrangler

The uncle jumped into the water, as most of us would, and, taking hold of the sharks’ tail, pulled the animal away from the boy.  The shark released, but had taken the child’s arm just below the shoulder. He was losing a lot of blood as his aunt began caring for him onshark finshore.  At that point the uncle would have been perfectly justified in releasing his hold on the shark and returning to the safety of shore to care for his nephew, but that would have to wait, there were other children still in the water.  Holding on tightly to that tail, he wrestled the beast, which was all the while trying to turn on him, up on to the beach where a park ranger shot it with his 9mm service pistol. The boys’ arm was retrieved and reattached, and the immediate danger to the other children in the water was removed.

Is there a lesson for us here?  Stay tuned…

Eduardo continued… From “Last Man Standing” the book

Eduardo continued

…When we left Eduardo he was serving out his time in the infamous FEBEM juvenile prison system of Brazil, never hearing from a single “friend,” his only visitor being his mother.  But then he got a letter that would change everything. The letter, came from a an old P.E. teacher from his grade school years, Marcelo, and was accompanied by a photograph of the two of them together with some other boys from one of the many schools he had passed through in his childhood.  Marcelo wrote that he had heard from some friends of the trouble Eduardo had gotten himself into and let him know that he was praying for him and would like to catch up with him upon his release.  It was a simple letter, but it was also the only letter Eduardo would get from anyone throughout his 18-month sentence.

The day of his release came and it wasn’t long after getting home that his so called, “friends” came to welcome him back. Their first order of business was to invite him on a home invasion they were planning in the coming days.  He accepted.  In the mean time he thought he should at least track down Marcelo, this P.E. teacher who he still couldn’t believe remembered him, and thank him for the kind letter.  He found Marcelo, thanked him and, after a little chitchat, was ready to go back home, mission accomplished.  But then Marcelo invited him to come out to a party with some youth from his church.  Eduardo was leery of going to a “church” thing, but Marcelo assured him it was purely social and not a worship service.  He accepted, completely missing that the night of the party was the same night as the planned robbery.

Attending that party with Marcelo, Eduardo was taken aback by the other youth he met.  They were different.  The way they talked to each other and to him was completely foreign to him, but he liked it.  The next day his “friends” came around and asked why he had blown them off and not shown up as planned.  Eduardo made some excuses and rescheduled for another night the following week.  The day of that robbery Marcelo paid an unexpected visit to Eduardo and invited him to join them again for a night out.  This time Eduardo jumped at the chance, completely forgetting that he was “double booking” himself yet again. Once more he had a great time with Marcelo and his new friends and was more and more intrigued by what made them so different.

The next morning the old crew showed up at his home, even more frustrated with being dissed another time.  Eduardo wasn’t so sure of the sincerity of his apology this time, but

Marcelo & Eduardo (center)

Marcelo & Eduardo (center)

rescheduled once more just the same.  The day came and this time it was Eduardo calling Marcelo to ask if he could please come to a worship service being held for the youth at a local church that night.  It was the last time Eduardo would schedule a robbery, because that night, as Marcelo shared the good news of Jesus with the youth gathered together, GOD stole Eduardo’s heart for good.

Eduard at FEBEM

Eduardo outside the juvenile detention center

Soon after, Marcelo introduced Eduardo to Patricia and me at an Open Arms outreach project and we got him plugged in as a volunteer, teaching hip-hop dance to the kids.  Marcelo, Patricia and I have been walking with Eduardo ever since.  He has lived in our home, sharing a room with our boys, when things were going badly in his.  He has shared meals and holidays with our family.  Eduardo has gone on to go to college, has planted (at the time of this writing) three Open Arms outreach projects, has shared his testimony all over Brazil, began an outreach back into the same juvenile facility he spent time in, and has led untold numbers of children and youth to Christ.  Eduardo says today, “After about three months of resisting the temptation of returning to drugs and crime, my so-called “friends” stopped coming around.  Had it not been for my new-found faith in Jesus and friends from Open Arms, I don’t think I would have made it.”

DSC_0251

Eduardo and I at an Open Arms Outreach

Du e Claudia

Eduardo and his bride, Claudia

An interesting footnote to this story of Eduardo is that, on one particular evening soon after his conversion, he was invited with some of the other church youth to a meeting at a house belonging to the family of one of the girls in the youth group, one of his new best friends.  As they arrived at the house Eduardo’s jaw dropped.  It was the very same house he and his crew had planned to rob the day he went to jail, the day a voice inside him said, “Not this house.”  He knew now whom that voice belonged to.

Bull Elephants and Shark Wrestlers

continued from  https://lastmanstandingchurch.com/2013/12/14/being-imitators-of-god-continued/

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

In the following chapters we will explore what this might look like in your life.  We will hear testimonies of men and their families who are engaged in the fight in very real and practical ways and hopefully encourage you to step into the fray.

Chapter 5 – Of Bull Elephants and Shark Wrestlers

To begin unpacking Psalm 68:5-6 we need to first explore what it means to be a “Father to fatherless,” the critical role the church can and must play as the last man standing.  We will see how that is reflected in the life of a godly man and, should he be blessed to have one, his family. We will also examine the role for the godly woman and the local Christian congregation in what at first may seem like mostly a “guy thing.”

Elephants behaving badly

Those who know me well know that I love a good story, especially a true one and extra-especially one with dangerous animals involved.  My mother would tell you that not much has changed in that regard over the 42 years of my life.  I am hoping that you like them to because I have a couple I’d like to share with you. This first one made headlines back in 1999 when it appeared in a report by CBS news.  The tale goes something like this,

In South Africa’s Pilanesberg Park, white rhinos began turning up dead in astonishing numbers, nearly forty to be exact.  This was alarming and confusing: alarming because it represented 10% of the whole population of white rhinos, and confusing because the deaths hadn’t been the result of poaching.  The latter was made clear by the fact that the highly valuable ivory horns had not been removed.  A little bit of investigation led the park rangers to the culprits, juvenile male elephants. But why?  This was not normal behavior for juvenile elephants at all. What could possibly have led them, as was subsequently observed, to form into violent groups and rampage through the park, molesting, tormenting and eventually killing white rhinos?  The answer to the question can be found by looking at the history of the park as well as elephant social structure.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am not an expert on elephants, but this story intrigued me so I did some reading.  In elephant “culture” the young are raised by the females of the herd until a certain age.  We’ll call that age adolescence.  At that point the male elephants are pushed out of the group and will seek out the older bull elephants of their family (grandfathers, father and uncles presumably) in the wild where they will essentially, “learn what it means to be a bull elephant,” which, by the way, does not include murdering rhinos.

Street Thugs of the Savannah

So what went wrong at Pilanesberg?  For that answer we need to travel back some twenty years from the time of the rhino killings.  In those days another large reserve in South Africa, Kruger National Park, was having an elephant over-population problem.  A government veterinarian (it just had to be the government right?) developed the ingenious plan to sacrifice the adults, because they were too difficult to move, and instead relocate only the babies. Where to?  To Pilanesberg of course.

When these now “fatherless” baby boy elephants reached adolescence; they went out into the wild to look for their male “kinfolk.” When there were no bull elephants to be found these youngsters stuck together and formed gangs.  Yes, gangs.  Interestingly enough, one of the things older bull elephants do for their juvenile counterparts is to discourage them from mating too young.  This keeps their testosterone in check and, as a result, diminishes some of their more aggressive impulses.  Without older bull elephants to lead the way, the young bulls began mating and seeking to mate at a very young age, stimulating their testosterone levels through the roof and, just like that, dead rhinos and other such mayhem.  Sadly, several of these delinquent elephants were put down before someone finally had a stroke of real genius.

 

Elephant Big Brother Program

Using modified trucks, larger, older bull elephants were trucked in from Kruger Park by rangers.  What happened then must have seemed like a miracle.  A new hierarchy almost immediately emerged as the older bulls quickly established themselves as dominant over the younger, smaller bulls.  Through sparring with the younger elephants, the older bulls successfully discouraged them from being sexually active. This, predictably, lowered testosterone levels and the rhinos, once again, were safe to roam the savannah.  In fact, since the big bulls arrived on the scene, not a single rhino has been molested.

Taking a page out of the playbook

Is this so different from what is happening with fatherless children in communities all around the world?  It is precisely what we described when we talked about “street activity” and the missing “strong man” in our communities. So what is the lesson here?  Fathers are important?  Yes. Youth, and boys in particular, are trouble if left alone without supervision?  Clearly.  We’ve already established that the “strong man” has been tied up and what the ramifications of that are for our children and society.  But this is more than a wild kingdom mirror image of what is happening in our communities and around the world, it is a road map for how the last man standing, the church of Jesus Christ, could and should respond.

Our neighborhoods are overflowing with fatherless children, both boys and girls, who are in desperate need of interested adults: in need of a provider, protector, teacher and friend.  Remember what we said previously, it cannot be just any old mentor but a godly father figure, one who is committed to modeling a Christ centered life, is equipped for the battle and one who is engaged in actively teaching the truth within the context of a loving and safe relationship.

These children are waiting for the old bull elephants to come and put things straight.  Whether they realize it or not, these “youth gone wild” are desperate for an old bull to come along and say, “Whoa there boys, not the rhino’s. That’s not how we roll. You follow me and I’ll show you the way it’s done.”

Fatherless girls need to hear an old bull say, “Sweetheart, you are precious in GOD’s eyes. You are loved. Don’t let those young bulls fool you into giving away your heart.  Don’t throw yourself at them. Give them time to mature.  Stick with me and I’ll protect you and value you for who you are, not what you can do for me.” 

Several studies published over the last twenty years have focused on children identified as “students at risk” for behaviors ranging from out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drug use, and alcohol abuse.  The students who did not get involved in those behaviors identified one common reason; someone took a personal interest in them in such a way that they felt loved and connected.  Children at-risk are in need of some old bulls to ride in and say to Satan and his workers, as Jesus did in Matthew 18:6, “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Can it make a difference?  Can you make a difference? Let’s see.

Continued…God is in your corner: Come out swinging!

Continued… (click for part one)

There is a place beyond our church walls where the fight is even more intense, a bare knuckle place where the potential for heartbreak and frustration are only off-set by the enormous blessings to be enjoyed.  It is a place of a most Christ-like sacrifice where the object of your gift is powerless to give anything in return.

Prepare your Heart

We have analyzed the dire situation the children are in and developed intelligence regarding our enemy and the damage he has been able to inflict, now what? If you are committed to the fight, you must equip yourself for the confrontation, because, make no mistake; Satan will not give up this ground easily. Thankfully, in addition to the Bible, there are some excellent resources available to us. The following books have influenced my journey profoundly and I trust that they will prepare your heart as well.

For the man who is seeking to become what GOD designed him to be, I recommend, “Tender Warrior” by Stu Weber as a great place to start. For parents and church leaders wishing to do better at raising a generation that knows the Lord, I would suggest, “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” by George Barna, “Sacred Parenting” by Gary Thomas, “Shepherding a child’s heart” by Tedd Tripp, “Bringing up boys” and “Bringing up Girls” by Dr. James Dobson and “Parenting Beyond your Capacity” by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. These are just a few of the many amazing books, written by gifted, godly men who have looked deeply into scripture regarding these subjects. I have read them each at least once and recommend them all highly to those of you who are now awakening to some of the shocking information we’ve just reviewed together.

Moving Beyond

From here on out we are moving into uncharted territory. As I have said before, it isn’t enough to simply care for, physically and spiritually, our children and the children in our church family. These roles of course, are biblical, foundational and well established throughout Christian literature and the Church in greater or lesser degrees since the resurrection of Christ. But is that where our responsibility ends? I believe GOD’s answer is no.

The fact is that the fatherless outside the church far outnumber our own children and the majority of the children born in the world today are born into non-Christian homes.

Everything we have learned about children in our families and the church leads us inevitably to the children in our community and the world. Circling the wagons to make a stand leaves the majority of the world’s future generations outside the circle.  Are you willing to give them up without a fight?  Is that how we operate, as the Church of Jesus, the “Last man standing?”  I hope the answer is no because if you think Satan puts up a fight when we start spiritually leading our own children, you haven’t seen anything.  The moment we move beyond the boundaries of the church family we enter into hostile territory indeed. But that is exactly where I believe God is calling us. If not us, then who?