Teachable Moments

The Real Work of Thanksgiving Preparation

Dear Friends – Here’s an early Thanksgiving treat for all of you.  I am going to introduce to you a guest blogger – Pastor Brian Smith (yep, it’s no coincidence that we have the same last name).  When my husband and I were discussing this upcoming Thanksgiving, he generously shared with me his latest bible study in preparation for this holiday.  It blessed me – may you be blessed as well!

Do you want to have a great Thanksgiving this year?  

Let’s not settle for a superficial thanksgiving. I am struck by how offended our God is with a thankless heart. The book of Romans starts with the warning that the wrath of God is being revealed. Why? “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking…” (Romans 1:21). The natural response to having life and breath, food, clothes, and a family (and for the Christian, salvation, a church family, and the security of salvation) is to give thanks. 

Paul tells us that if we are not thankful there is something drastically wrong. Our thinking has become futile. The Holman translation puts it this way, “their thinking became nonsense.” The grumbling person is not in their right mind. The tragedy is that they think their thinking is just fine. Like the man who thinks he is the king of Mars others see his nonsense, but he sees his every thought as self-confirming of his kingship. 

The tragedy is that the thankless person can’t be reasoned into thankfulness. His reasoning is broken. What the thankless person needs is not to be reasoned into “having a better attitude”, but to repent of a heart set in rebellion against his Creator. Anything less is dressing the wound lightly (Jer 6:14) by working up some sentimental feeling of thankfulness. 

The secret to having a thankful heart is the opposite of what most people think. It is to repent of our rebellion. Cry out for a renewed heart. Long to be truly thankful for life, breath, health, family, our own green grass, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of a church family, the joy of music, and the promises in the Word of God. The problem with the thankless person is not with everyone else, it is within. It is ultimately with our Creator. The solution is not to complain, or to run to greener grass, or to be reasoned with; the solution is heart surgery. If you want a great Thanksgiving, will you turn off the media, find a quiet place, and take as long as it takes to pray this prayer, honestly, from the heart? 

Psalms 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.  14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.  15  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Brian

Friends – are you encouraged and challenged? I hope so.  May this year as we celebrate this Thanksgiving, no matter where or how, may we be thankful to the God who provides so well for us eternally.

Blessings and Warmest Thanksgiving Blessings – Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

All I Want for Christmas Is a New Cell Phone Pt. 2

We continue our cautious investigation of the benefits of purchasing the newest cell phone that will certainly be available this upcoming holiday season.  If we pay attention to the eye-catching commercials that will flood our screens, we could be in danger of buying before considering all the pros and cons.

Referencing once more Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Cell Phone is Changing You, we will consider 6 more ways that owning a cell phone with all the bells and whistles might be more of a detriment than a blessing.  Make sure and read Part 1 for the first 6 considerations.

7. It’s just a click awayEternal regret may follow private smartphone clicks happening right now. 

  • We have at our fingertips an instant opportunity to barrage ourselves with an epidemic of images that brings everything from mindless diversion to blatant sinful activity.  Our present moment can produce long-lasting remorse if we’re not diligent in guarding our “here and now”.
    CONSIDER:  Do you have the self-control needed NOT to click for images at every opportunity?  Do you have the godly fortitude to resist sexual temptation offered through your cell phone?

8. Chronological Snobbery The average output of email and social-media text is estimated at 3.6 trillion words, or about thirty-six million books – typed out every day… We suffer from neomania – an addiction to anything new within the last five minutes

  • With the amount of information available, Christian discernment is a must for anyone who seeks to use their cell phone wisely.
    CONSIDER: How will you determine what is worth reading and what is not?  

9. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) We worry that we might miss an important status update, an urgent news alert, the score of the big game, or even the latest offering on our preferred streaming service. 

  • FOMO is a cause of anxiety, especially for Millennials and Gen-Zers.
    CONSIDER:  Can you put yourself on a timer, purposefully making sure you are missing out?  Make sure you can live with not-knowing if you purchase a mobile device that allows for 24 hour connectivity.

10. Gossip is still gossipCrowd-sourcing verdicts and spreading unfounded conclusions online can destroy the reputation of Christian [and non-Christians]. This is when the script goes satanically wrong… Smartphones and social media help feed our generation’s outrage.

  • Gossip is telling someone else’s story without their permission, especially with the intent either by commission or omission to harm them.  We really don’t have the right to go around sharing our opinion about others. It hurts and is sinful.
    CONSIDER:  Are you able to only use your words for good and to be wise in how you share your opinions?  

11. Every word God will judge our digital conversations, private texts, and public tweets by the intentions of our hearts.

  • The book of James warns against the evils of the tongue.  If you can think twice and three times before you post something, then maybe the new cell phone will be a good buy after all.
    CONSIDER:  Would you say that whatever you are saying through your cell phone is God-glorifying, of Kingdom benefit, and is a blessing to others?  Do you understand the pain that can be caused by careless, judgmental, or harsh words?

12. Is it Beneficial? We must give our time to things that are godly, give us joy, or prepare us for self-sacrifice.

  • Everything we watch, look at, listen to, or read should in some way be graded by the question, “is this beneficial”? (“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything“–but not everything is constructive.  1 Cor. 10:23, NIV)
    CONSIDER:  We only have so many moments in each day – how willing are you to stop and purposefully think about what spurs on, encourages, or nourishes your soul?  And if it doesn’t, are you willing to turn off the phone and choose to do something else?

Buying a new cell phone will take a lot of work; we have to consider the price and all the features it has to offer from screens to picture quality to digital connectivity abilities. But accompanying all its features, we must reflect on our ability to handle both the benefits and temptations it offers.

Every time the cell phone is in use whether scrolling through data, searching through images, engaging in social media, or even calling a friend – Yes EVERY time it’s on -,  we must think critically with self-reflection and honest evaluation. 

Dear Reader, before you buy that cell phone – review this blog post and the one before (Part 1) to see whether it is an excellent investment for your soul.  Be willing to do without the newest and best cell phone if it is not in line with Kingdom living.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. It instructs us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we await the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:11-13, Berean Bible Study Version

Dear Reader, may we worship God daily through our careful handling of our cell phones.

Blessings Abundant – Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

All I Want for Christmas Is a New Cell Phone Pt. 1

Tony Reinke has written a book called 12 Ways Your Cell Phone is Changing You.  In light of what he has written, I might suggest that if your child of any age or stage says to you, “All I want for Christmas is a new cell phone”, I might suggest you say, “No – you don’t!” or “Wait – we have to think about this…ALOT…before we make any decisions.”

From Reinke’s book, here are some of the troublesome things we should ponder before we are convinced that we just have to buy the newest and best of the mobile devices that are available for purchase this Christmas.  Let’s not be a mindless consumer but a mindful one, listening to wisdom more than the commercials that entice us to buy without thinking.  

What challenges do cell phones bring to us?

1. Enslavement The average American checks their cell phone 81,500 times per year (that’s 15 checks every waking hour). 

  • Our brains are wired to be attracted to things that are novel – we love new experiences.  The more your phone can do – the more novel experiences it can bring to you – the more likely you are to be enslaved to it.  
    CONSIDER:  Consider going for a phone that can do less, not more.  Get a phone that is limited in what it can provide and you will find yourself less a slave to it.

2. Echo Chambers In the online world, we can separate ourselves from people who don’t think like us and gravitate toward people who do.

  • Sadly, people choose where to find their news based on their pre-existing beliefs; “news that fit my views” is what consumers go to.  We gorge on media outlets, bloggers, podcasts and even memes that support what we already believe, staying away from perspectives that challenge us or conflict with our position.
    CONSIDER:  If you choose to get data on your phone, choose to challenge yourself to seek out other sources that do not conform to what you already believe.  Think diversity in sources that challenge you to use your critical thinking skills. Who knows, you may learn a different perspective and realize, if you always practice humility, you’ve been wrong all along.

3. Still in Jr. High The sad truth is that many of us are addicted to our phones because we crave immediate approval and affirmation.

  • Millennials and Gen-Zers are characterized by experiencing high degrees of anxiety.  One way this anxiety is often combatted is by seeking the approval and affirmation of others through social media.  Unfortunately, social media can also be a source for self-doubt and bullying. 
    CONSIDER:  Parents – I challenge you to consider either getting a phone that doesn’t allow the user to engage in social media (think “no data” or “no wifi” usage) or limiting how much time your child uses it for social media.  Be done by 7pm. Put it away. Protect your child from bullying, predators, and the feeling of being “less” when they compare themselves to everyone else out there.

4. Squirrel! We are called to suspend our chronic scrolling in order to linger over eternal truth.

  • Thinking deeply and critically over a sustained period of time is more difficult for today’s students.  Having had a steady diet of instant information (just ask Alexa or Google whatever you want to know with a voice command), video games and texting, students are finding it more difficult to think their way out of a complex situation or a not easily discernible solution.  To be able to linger over eternal truth, you have to give yourself uninterrupted space and time to do so – meaning, stop scrolling!
    CONSIDER:  How much time do my children or myself spend mindlessly searching for irrelevant information?  Whatever we own, we need to control; it should not control us.  What limits will you need to enforce if you get the newest and the fastest mobile device out there?  Do you have the time and strength to do it?

5. Living or Image Management? We must learn to enjoy our present lives in faith – that is, to enjoy each moment of life without feeling compelled to ‘capture’ it.

  • I’ll confess, I have to stop and enjoy the moment and put the camera down.  Stop with all the picture taking, already! Or take 1 and be done with it.
    CONSIDER:  If your cell phone has the best image quality out there, how much more self-control will it take to enjoy life’s moments vs record them on your phone?  To record a moment but not really live it – how sad that would be!

6. Well like, like... We are becoming like what we like.

  • You know the “thumb’s up” or “heart” or “wow” emojis that you can put out there on anything and everything?  Whatever you’re liking (approving of), it is having an impact on who you are becoming. If you say you like something, your brain will automatically program itself to be more like that.  
    CONSIDER:  Can you be more discriminating about who and what you “like”? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, not to affirm random bits of information or trivia.  Be able to regulate your responses to people and information before you get the newest and best new mobile device.

Dear Readers, the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control (Galatians 5:22,23) and you will need a lot of it if you get the newest, fastest and most diverse mobile device out there.  Realize that when Paul tells the Colossians (3:2), “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (NLT) that to obey this command requires the ability to say “no” to the things your phone offers.  Do an honest assessment of yourself and your children and what you can and can not handle.  

BOTTOM LINE:  Choose a cell phone wisely with self-control, humbly and honestly assessing what would lead to the most godly and God-glorifying life.  

Praying we all make the wisest choices when it comes to deciding about the newest technology sure to be offered up for Christmas this year.  

Blessings Abundant,  Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Praying Like Eliza Spurgeon

Let me tell you a story – a story about Eliza Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon said this about his mother, Eliza: “She was the starting point of all the greatness any of us, by the grace of God, have ever enjoyed.” 

Eliza Spurgeon, mother of well-renowned preacher from the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, took the responsibility to pray for the souls of her children as a sacred duty of parenting.  Charles noted that his mother prayed earnestly for her children often and throughout their entire lives. 

Remembering one moment as a young boy, Charles never forgot her tearful prayer when she threw her arms around him and cried out to God, “Oh, that my son might live before Thee!”.  Eliza instructed all her children in the scriptures, also using the help of books like Alleine’s Alarm or Richard Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted.  Never shy to get to the point, Eliza would read and ask her children questions about what they understood, usually concluding by asking each child, “how long before (they) would seek the Lord”

Along with Bible reading and meditation with discussion, Eliza prayed often for her children.  Charles recounted hearing her pray: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” Charles’ soul was pierced, and his heart stirred as he considered the witness his mother was bearing before the throne of God on his behalf.  Her prayers had such a profound impact on him when he was young that he wrote many years later, ““How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come?”  The prayers of Eliza Spurgeon were as much a part of and an example for the faith Charles came to call his own as any sermon or study that he did himself.

 A Parent’s Prayers Can Be The Mean to an End

God not only decrees ‘the end’, but ‘the means to the end’, and it is often the prayers of the parents that are the means which lead to salvation for their child’s soul.  No greater responsibility lays before a parent than to pray on behalf of their child. 

 Do you wish to become more like Eliza Spurgeon?  I do!  If so, how should I pray for my children?  Consider using scripture as your prayer.  Eliza often prayed God’s words back to Him and then applied them directly to the child she was praying for.

·       Pray your child’s heart will be open to God and the salvation He offers

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  Ephesians 1:18

·   Pray for the spiritual protection of your child

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but you protect them from the evil one. John 17:15

·   Pray for your child to not fall into temptation.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Matthew 26:41

·   Pray for their joy, patience and faithfulness to prayer

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Romans 12:12

·   Pray for them to run to God when they need help

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

Dear Reader, are you busy?  Are you too busy to give yourself over to praying on behalf of your child and their soul?  What a temptation to live by the tyranny of the urgent and never get to what is eternally valuable.  May we never, ever be that busy for if we are – we are trading in the temporary for the eternal, the cheap for the priceless.

As we measure our days in light of eternity, may we spend our days doing the most important work any of us could ever do – praying for our children.  May God hear our prayers and grant us grace as we prove to be faithful in our petitions.

 Prayerful blessings to all of you – Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Trick or Treat: To Do or Not To Do?

Very few holidays seem as controversial to Christians as Halloween.  Is it godly to dress up and pretend to be something you’re not? Is it a form of pagan worship?  Should we encourage kids to take candy from strangers? Oh, the joys of Halloween.

Yet, these questions are not the real issue.  The bigger question parents deal with is how to decide how to interact with the world and its traditions.

As believers, we are encouraged to be “In the world, but not of it“.  The apostle John warns his readers in 1 John against worldliness and its downfalls.  In order to follow John’s directions, we must first determine what constitutes “worldliness”.

Worldliness deals with the heart of a person and the innate desire to conform to the dictates of the world.  Worldliness is not compatible with one’s love for God; it competes with our heart’s allegiance to Him. 

So, when we are unsure of what to do with what the world dishes up – should we or should we not trick-or-treat – how do we determine what the right answer is?

FIRST, let’s agree that not one answer fits all.  There are clearly grey issues. The apostle Paul mentions disputable matters in his letter to the Romans (Romans 14).  If we can’t agree that we won’t all agree, then we’ll never get to figuring out how to make these complex decisions.   

  • KEY:  Get gracious and get flexible

SECOND, unity is more important than personal liberty.  When believers disagree, we are still called to be united as brothers and sisters in Christ, showing grace, love and tolerance for one another.  The world is watching not what we do as much as how we behave when we disagree over what to do.

  • KEY:  Study up on scripture’s commands to be unified.  This isn’t a sideline issue but a quality that God demands of His bride, the church. (To get you started, consider the following:  Colossians 3:13, 14; John 17:23; 1 Corinthians 1:10; and even the OT – Psalm 133:1)

THIRD, pray it through.  It’s no easy task to be thoughtful when deciding how to engage with the world.  Take the time necessary to make wise, godly choices that strengthens your witness and nurtures your faith.

  • KEY:  Faith is belief in the person of God; run to Him, abide in Him, seek Him when you have to make a choice in a disputable matter (James 1:5)

FOURTH, think it through and consider all your options.  How do we decide?  

Just Avoid – some handle disputable matters when engaging with the world by simply – not engaging. How do I know if this is what I need to do?

Respect authority – Parents, teachers, denominations, or schools may decide to forbid either implicitly or explicitly behaviors that they have determined are contrary to faithful Christian conduct or unwise for everyone in their group as a whole.  This requires there to be an appointed governing body who has been given the authority to make this type of rule. If you choose to attend a certain church or school, then accept the authorities that lead.  

  • KEY:  As parents, how we submit to those in authority over us is an example to our children of how we are asking them to submit to our authority.  Be careful how you disagree with those who have leadership over you – you are always modeling how to live out faith.  
    • Hebrews 13:7 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Beware the self-appointed experts – There are those godly and wise individuals who humbly suggest refraining from certain behaviors so as to promote godly virtue.  There are, however, those self-proclaimed experts who believe it is their responsibility to tell everyone else how to live; these persons tend to be characterized by arrogance, not humility.

  • KEY:  Seek the wise who live by grace and are characterized by humility; avoid self-appointed experts who promote legalism, judgmentalism and cause division
    • Romans 16:17 – I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Last:  Question Yourself

When deciding if or how to engage with the world, discern if the disputable matter encourages or discourages your walk with Christ.

  • Personal Contemplation
  1. Does this situation or behavior hurt my walk with Christ?
  2. Does what I am doing emulate Christ-like behavior?
  3. Does what I am doing glorify God?
  • Other Consideration
  1. Does this situation or behavior get in the way of me sharing Christ to unbelievers?
  2. Does what I am doing edify other believers?
  3. Is there anything unethical, immoral, ungodly or illegal about this situation or activity?

IN CONCLUSION

With prayerful consideration of these questions and the wise, humble counsel of those mature believers who speak into our lives, we can all make choices that may be different from one another, yet bring glory to God and expand His kingdom.  And after all – isn’t that what life is all about?

Dear Reader, whether you engage in cultural holidays or not, may your mind always be set on things above.

  • Colossians 3:1-2 (The Message) So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Blessings to you – Elizabeth