Category Archives: discipline

Four Ways to Connect With God: 3) Love With All Your Strength

Like several people I know, I track my steps on my phone. The reason for this is so I can make sure that I don’t sit too long and miss out on a daily routine of staying active. I also work out, and though my schedule has changed, I am working on trying to get a routine where I can can get into my favorite place on a regular basis and sweat for an hour or so. These are important things to me, because being physically fit will in theory let me be around longer to enjoy life, my family, and worship here on earth. 

To love God with all your strength means to be present with Him daily. It means that you are willing to physically follow through with what your head and heart has said is true. I come to worship, I read my Bible, I pray, but I don’t just do it, I do it with all my attention and focus. In other words, being present with God is an intentional, disciplined act of love. 

I think that this is seen so much in scripture. Think about Abraham’s sacrifice in moving his family to a land God was to show him. Think about the physical love shown by Rahab as she hid the spies then hung the thread out her window. Think most of all, about the example of Jesus, hung on a cross willingly, in agony, in glory. Think about it and your physical sacrifice that you can do for Him as an act of love. 

Pray for God to show you a way to focus on Him today. I know that He can show it! 

In Him, 

Fran

Four Ways to Connect With God: 2) Love With All Your Soul

In a sense, our creation in the image of God is trinitarian in nature. The bible says that people are made of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess 4:23, Heb 4:12). Above that, we also know that in Christ, we are a new creation, and that we are new in Christ to become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:17, 21).

god-1772560_640This is why Jesus was very clear that when we love, we are to love in a deeper sense. We relate to the Lord and to others within our soul, in an indescribable relationship that transcends the physical, emotive, and cognitive. Of course, you can never love God nor the things of God until you are born again, but when you are reborn, you are restored and ready to love with a new dimension of love.

Look at David as an example. Even though he had blown it with in case of Bathsheba and Uriah, he knew of God’s grace and trusted in it. David, once was so caught up in his sin, remembered God as the One who forgives and restores. He would later write,

“To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust” (Ps 25:1-2)

You who are forgiven, love God back with the soul that He refreshed. Take time to thank Him for His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness! Most of all connect with Him and with others with a humility in the kindness of the Lord like never before.

Next post: Love God With All Your Strength

In Him,

Fran

5 Ways to Seek God’s Wisdom

Over the 22+ years of ministry, I have had many opportunities to minister to people while they’ve gone through various issues and difficulties of life. I’ve had people ask me for spiritual, marital, parental, and even financial advice (yikes!), and in every case, I have taken them to seek a bigger picture from God through His Word. You see, it doesn’t matter what I or any other person thinks, but what truly matters is what God thinks.

But how do you know what God thinks? Here are a few ways to seek God’s Wisdom by running to His Word:

  1. Read His Word. Daily. Take part of your day to read through the Bible. I read through it at least once per year, trying for more than once this year. Wisdom doesn’t come in spurts- it comes from a daily, regular commitment to being in His Word.
  2. Study his Word. Frequently. Like gold in a deep mine, so is the wisdom of God for those who take the time to truly seek and study it. Get into a study with other believers who take the truths of God seriously.
  3. Apply His Word. Uncomfortably. Don’t fall into the “check-box” mindset for your time in the Word. Everything you read and study needs to be focused on a life application, even though it may be uncomfortable for you at the present time.
  4. Pray His Word. Fervently. Check out Dr. Don Whitney’s post on praying through the Bible and do it. You won’t regret this.
  5. Share His Word. Generously. Be sure to be a part of making disciples by sharing the love of Christ with others. It can mean giving away pocket New Testaments, sharing the gospel in a personal witnessing opportunity, or even offering an in-home Bible study. The point is that you have a terrific chance to change lives with the power of the Word of God.

These are some thoughts. Do you have anything else to add?

Hey new gym guy: I’ve Been There (and I still am)

I know you. You made that resolution to exercise and lose weight. Yeah, yeah, you felt guilty about eating that good (but awful) food last week. You got that twinge of guilt for sitting around too much watching movies, football, or whatever else was on and saw the gym membership commercials. I get it: you are tired of the extra pounds and just had to lose it, so you began to workout, started “dieting” and started the New Year with a determination to get on it. Yep, I’ve been there.

My change came from a desire to be healthier for my family, for ministry, for a longer, more productive life. I don’t know how the pounds added up, the moments of denial, the justification that my clothes just “shrunk” or the designers made their clothes run a bit small, but the extra weight kept coming. Eventually, I got tired of being out of breath going up stairs, of not being able to tie my shoes without a struggle, of feeling a lack of energy. I hated it, and I had to do something about it.

A visit a few years ago to my doctor, however, confirmed what I feared. I was, as he put it, a very “unhealthy guy.” My lipid profile reflected what my scale had said and what I already knew deep down inside: something, anything had to be done. Since I had a parent who had a heart attack in his late 40s, it was obvious that I had both the family history and the appearance of a ticking time bomb. I was ripe for my own personal disaster. So, yeah, I’ve been there.

gym-546138_640So what did I do? I eventually changed the foods that I ate to plant-based, exercised regularly, and I scheduled in time for my physical health on my calendar for intense work outs with a supportive friend and trainer. I included my friends, family, and church family in these changes, even being accountable to a few, and constantly sought to make improvements in my health habits. It has been hard work and there’s been a ton of detours and mistakes, but I’ve somehow stayed on track. And for all of that, I am grateful to God for this journey, because I’m no longer taking my health for granted.

Three and a half years later after my start, I’ve lost 20% of my body weight. My blood tests as of today now show that my Cholesterol/HDL Ratio is down 25%, Triglycerides reduced 30%, LDL, down by 20%. In fact, every imaginable test of health shows that I’m much physically healthier inside and out. More work is needed, but I’m getting there.

So, yeah, I’ve been there (and I still am) on the journey. For you, don’t quit. Don’t be tempted to lie to yourself and slow down what you’re about to do. Don’t take your foot off of the gas pedal to healthiness. Do the hard work in the gym and at the food choices you make. And for crying out loud, run from the fad diets, pills, and gimmicks, because nothing will replace consistency and dedication. Most of all, as you make your changes, allow those who love you the most to help encourage you on your journey to wellness.

So, new gym guy, I’m rooting for you- I know that you can do this! After all, I’ve been there (and I still am).

Pastor Fran

 

What Do You Do When You Are Working in a Toxic Working Environment?

Many of us have been there. A boss, co-worker, or even the work conditions are draining, depressing, or even toxic. The employee might be in an environment that does not align with his or her own values. The boss is an equal opportunity “yeller.” Gossip is rampant, nastiness is all around, or a systematic dishonesty exists.

The first temptation for a Christian is to start looking for a new job, and for some, this might be a viable option. There are, after all, poison-1481596_1280employers that align with Christian values or at least has a healthy work environment. Others might be tempted to fall into a sort of a depression, to disengage mentally and give up on the workplace, or to even write it all off and justify your lack of passion about your work. But hear this: before you leave physically or mentally from your work, there are other options to consider.

Here’s the problem: I believe that in a sense, people relate with one another in the way that we should relate to God. In the gospels, Jesus affirmed the Shema (Deut 6:4-6, Mark 12:30) in saying that we should love God with all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and in so doing we are fulfilling the greatest commandment. In the same way, He affirms our need to love our neighbors as ourself. And the truth is that none of us are good at either, which is the crux of the problem. It’s even worse for the person who does not have a relationship with Christ because they are not going to possess a consistently God-centered ethic.

A Christian has a difficult enough time following these commands in a healthy environment, but a boss or coworkers who willingly tramples on these commands for various reasons makes it even harder. This is why when a Christian works for an organization in which the environment is decidedly anti-Christian, tension almost certainly going to develop. Employees and employers that do the opposite of either of the two greatest commands will affect everyone inwardly and outwardly. Moral and ethical dilemmas are bound to appear and godly principles violated. More tension, more conflict for the Christian.

So what does a Christian do? First of all, remember that many Christians have worked in far worse evil conditions over the years than the United States of the 21st century, at least from the perspective of persecution. Christians have endured through the martyrdoms of Ancient Rome, the beatings of the slaveholding South, the insanity of Nazi Germany (see Bonhoeffer), and the persecutions of Christians in various countries today. Yet through these times, Christians continued to hold to those Great Commands- they continued to love God, to work for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23), and remained salt and light to many (Mt 5:13-16). They overcame evil with good, and darkness with light. What’s encouraging is that these are not super Christians but ordinary people, dedicated to Christ and living in the Spirit!

That said, I get it- being salt and light is going to be hard in such an environment. It’s hard enough to do in a healthy environment, but even worse when you are fighting the battle day after day. And yes, if another opportunity exists to be in a better environment, this might be a time to go- if God leads. But Christians are not always called to the “easy,” and the truth is, we are all in a spiritual war, under attack by an enemy who hates us. Besides, this world is not our own, and we as the citizens of heaven are looking to a different Kingdom than the kingdom of man. And since you are in enemy territory, expect to do battle in the Spirit, no matter who your employer is or what your work environment might be like.

So what do you do? Change your mindset and remember your calling as a follower of Christ, carrying out the mission given to you by Jesus. You can change your environment, affecting the lives of others around you who are also caught up in the toxicity in your workplace. But to do that, you need to be ready- to purposely live in the Spirit, to be in the Word, to discipline yourself for godliness, and to humbly love those around you as yourself. Most of all and whatever you do, remember your calling- a calling beyond the immediate, a calling for life and for eternity, a calling to love God and for the glory of God.

Pastor Fran

How God Changes You…

There is no doubt that a true change in Christ happens when a heart is transformed by the work of the Spirit. In fact, change really can’t happen without the work of the gospel in a new believer’s heart. From this life change, a desire for producing spiritual fruit almost immediately comes to a person’s life. This is an exciting time!

But what about the long term changes in maturity that a believer shampoogoes through? How does this sanctifying change happen? Often, people give simple instructions (like on a shampoo bottle) and simply tell new believers to read, study, and pray every morning. Sure, this makes sense, but it’s also easy to just read, study, and pray, and then get on with your day, never to think on what you read. You read, study, and pray, and move on, then wake up the next day, and it’s read, study, pray, and again move on, etc. Just like on a shampoo bottle: wash, rinse, repeat!

But is this what God intends? Of course not! God uses devotionals, bible reading, prayer, and other quiet moments with Him, but He really wants more than what is on the surface. He wants your full attention with Him in order to truly stretch and grow you in Him. Psalm 40:6 says, “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened;” You are not devoting time to God as a ritual, a sacrifice, or even a habit as much as to see God make real change within your heart. He has in mind a greater mission than a daily blank routine, He wants you to be conformed to the image of Christ!

That said, spend time with God in devotion, but make it count. Your time with the Creator is a time for real change, a change which affects everything you do- work, family, home, entertainment, and yes, your internal, private thoughts of your heart. I pray that this encourages you to grow in Him and for His glory!

What devotionals and time do you spend with the Lord?
How has God used this time to change you?

Pastor Fran

A Word on the Transgender Issue…

On Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King, stated, “No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus” (source). Out of this sentiment, a call for change in the use of restrooms has come from the Federal executive branch to all educational institutions in one fell swoop. Also in line with this thinking, both governments and businesses have begun to allow transgender individuals to use any restroom that they feel comfortable with using.

Of course, this has unleashed reaction like a tidal wave. Parents, churches, and community leaders have protested that such a policy would create an unsafe atmosphere in the most private of places. In essence, they claim, this practice would literally open the door to anyone who wishes to enter any restroom, even if there are nefarious reasons. Safety and security are issues, to be sure.

Both sides of this issue offer arguments with both logic and emotional considerations. The media is having a field day, grabbing clicks with emotionally charged headlines to get readers to state their opinions and stir up debate. Yet all of the arguments fall short of the main issue at hand. While the assumption in almost every discussion here is that restroom choice is the problem, the truth is, we are missing the main point.

What is the main point? To answer this, we have to return to God’s creation. When God created the universe, He created it as a proclamation of His glory. He made men and women to be equal in value, image bearers of Him, willingly fellowshipping with His presence, following His commands without burden. He intended a perfect paradise, a place where love and truth share an equal coexistence, unopposed to one another in contrast to some of the thoughts of today. His created order is a perfect order.

Unfortunately, we as a people have fallen. Because of sin and death, we live in a broken world. We rebel and squeal and scream, we try to find our own path instead of what God wants best for our lives and our world. We struggle with our lives and we pridefully seek our own ways and our own lives and we miss God’s way. We and others struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gluttony, pornography, or anything else which mars and scars us. As we see today, our minds come into conflict with our bodies, often because we fail to see God’s sovereignty even in our struggles. As such, we miss the joy and pleasure of turning our lives and struggles to a powerful God who can get glory in the victory over these things.

And this is the underlying issue behind the transgender bathroom debate. The conflicts of our desires with God’s desires are as old as the temptation of sin in the Garden. Whether it’s gender identity or anger management or sins of the heart, the truth in love is found in the perfection of Christ. Our conflicts will happen if we turn from God and His Word, and anything contrary to God’s created order in the beginning is going to create problems, even chaos in our present world. We should know what it means as to what biblical manhood is and on what biblical womanhood is. In other words, our struggles are resolved if we think and act and behave as Scripture teaches vs. what the culture claims.

So what is a Christian to do? I respectfully disagree with this decision, and I call for the church to focus on showing our children, youth, and adults that being a man or a woman is more about following Christ and His Bible than biology. We must love boldly in reaching out to those who are hurting and confused, and yet be the voice of safety and security for our children. But most of all, we as believers must be a voice to share the Scriptural teachings on men, women, and God’s sovereignty. That said, let’s remember that our witness to the world should have both love and truth- today, even in the face of yet another societal controversy, we have the opportunity to do both.

Love boldly. Share Biblically. Live blamelessly.

Pastor Fran

A Devotion: What to Do…

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. – Romans 7:15, 19

adam-and-eve-798376_960_720No one is immune from the peril of sin. Satan, that father of lies, the thief who came to kill and destroy, continues to attack every human being. Ever since the temptation and Fall in the Garden, the addiction to sin has continued, and all humanity has been held captive by the evil one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23), all have been led astray (Isaiah 53:6), all have walked in this transgression and sin in rebellion against God (Eph 2:1-3). The wickedness of sin wages war in the soul to rebel against the Creator God. Just like in Paul’s example here, we desire to do the right things yet we do the opposite. How horrific and cruel sin has been!

But praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His salvation! The forces of Hell have already been defeated by the King of kings and Lord of lords. This freedom from sin, born through the cross, has transformed the victim into the victor, the rebel into the redeemed, and the lost into the liberated!

Fellow sinner, take heart: if you are in Christ, you are no longer condemned. This is why Paul just a few verses later wrote the ultimate truth of our condition in Romans 8:1, “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Be comforted: the Bible is full of promises that the Holy Spirit will protect, guide, and even open a way out of the temptations that come. You don’t need to surrender to the temptation. Instead, His grace is sufficient, so rely on His strength, look to His Spirit, and live for His glory!

Pastor Fran

Five Reasons Why Families Should Worship Together

Whether called Kid’s Own Worship, Kid’s Church, or just simply children’s church, a great12888757_10153621814759611_556307441460214700_o many churches have a separate worship option for children apart from their families. Having this time of worship separate from the children offers mom and dad a chance to worship, grow, and focus on the message without distraction. And though we currently have a Kid’s Own Worship at First Baptist, I see the need for our church family to have a more integrated approach to have worship together.

There are some very, very good reasons to for a family to worship together. For example, though there are some benefits in having children’s church, it’s also vitally important for children to see, hear, and experience worship with their family. And, with the right planning and attitude towards worship, mom and dad can manage their children and benefit from a dedicated time of worship with them. Of course, it’s not easy, but it can indeed be done, and I believe that it will provide fruit in the long run.

That said, here are some reasons families should worship together regularly:

  1. The children will see their parents worship. Worship is caught more than taught. We cannot delegate this responsibility. In fact, when a parent takes worship seriously, the children will follow. When they don’t, well…
  2. The children will hear their pastor’s message. Most pastors study, prepare, and pray over the message for many hours prior to the Sunday service. A life long diet of God’s Word is encouraged from the pulpit as the Word is taught and applied to their lives as well as to others.
  3. The children will see the response to the Word. For those churches that offer a time of response to the Word (or invitation), I see this as a treasured, precious moment for people to pray, seek, and connect with Christ after the Word has been preached. What better time, then, for the children to see faith and life intersecting as people share their victories, struggles, tears, and joys with their church family?
  4. The children will gain insights and have questions. Children have the opportunity to ask questions and receive insights on a pastor’s message or other aspects of the worship service. A family experiencing this time together can easily have these conversations on the way home, at lunch after church, or even during family worship times. Almost a Deut 6:7 moment, right?
  5. The children will be stretched in their spiritual walk. We have been guilty in the past of setting the bar too low for our children, thinking that they can’t handle sitting still for a period of time or unable to handle conversations.  In some cases, this is possible, yet it is up to the parents to help them to grow into this period of worship and learning. It’s not going to be easy, but in the long run, they can and will grow.

These are some of the reasons, and I think, very good ones. Our hope is always that we will see the fruit over the long run in our children, and this is but one of the ways to accomplish that.

Any additional reasons or thoughts on this topic?

In Him,

Pastor Fran

How to Destress…and Stay that Way

I have always worked.

Once, as a nine-year old boy I went door to door with my dad’s old shoeshine kit, looking for neighbors who would pay me to shine their shoes a quarter per pair. 2012-01-09 14.58.22As I got older, I mowed lawns, worked in my parent’s restaurant, you name it, I did it! Needless to say, I have always worked. 

This didn’t change as I became an adult. For a long time, I made myself be “that guy” who was the first to come to work and the last to leave. I never took vacations. I never got sick. I worked, and I worked hard, and there was no that anyone was going to out work me!

But this pace caught up with me. Stress began to show. I began to develop symptoms like involuntary eyelid twitches and short bouts of depression. I would get pretty sick with colds because of a decreased immune system. And I gained weight. Oh boy, did I gain weight!

Thankfully, as I got older, I knew that I had to do something, and that to be able to serve Christ fully, I needed to watch my stress levels and take better care of myself. That said, here are some ways that I destressed- maybe this can help you as well:

  1. Be devoted. Spend dedicated, focused time with the Lord. Allow your prayer life to be a time to escape the worries of today as you trust the Lord of tomorrow.
  2. Be physical. Exercise with some intensity 3-5 days per week. I workout at an awesome place, but when I’m not there, I’m running or doing some other kind of exercise. Exercise will help you to destress, without a doubt.
  3. Be sleepy. Get enough sleep- go to sleep earlier and wake up a bit later. It’s that easy! If you have trouble falling asleep, find out if you had any caffeine intake during the day. Sometimes I have found that even having a Coke Zero at 2 pm will affect my sleep that night.
  4. Be fun-loving. For crying out loud, get out and do something once in a while! Take your spouse on a date, catch a ball game (Go Reds!), or do something different that you normally wouldn’t do. And yes, take vacations!
  5. Be smelly. In other words, smell the roses. Stop and thank God for what you have. Enjoy life and appreciate your family. Most of all, love them while they are close.

I have been practicing these things and have had lots of long-term success and have been more effective with less stress. Let me ask you to share- are there any other ways that you destress?

Pastor Fran