FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk, a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional, a pastor, and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

Public, Private, or Homeschool - Deciding Factors - Which is affordable?

(Continuing the topic of choosing education for your kids; deciding factors).
Affordability.
Once you have your options before you, count the beans.  Which of them are affordable for you?  Don't think that public ed. comes free.  Oh no, you will pay!  And if somehow you will not pay, you will sell gift wrap, gourmet chocolates, and all sorts of knick-knacks to make up the difference.  Public school is cheaper, but it is by no means cheap.  You should also know that the further your children go in public school, the more they will pay as their activities increase.  This is especially true if your child is athletic or artistic.  As government budgets become more strapped fees for extra-curricular activities grow higher and higher.  It is not unusual for a public school cheer leader or football player’s family to throw in $500 or $1000 just so their child can be on the team.
Homeschool and private school come with some sticker shock as well.  If you homeschool, you will probably lay out a few grand just to begin.  However, there are some incredibly thrifty homeschool moms who cut coupons and create shampoo out of peanut butter who can show you how to get radical and cheap.  Thriftiness is something I find inherit in the homeschool movement and it is a unique art form all its own.  My former church actually hosted a homeschool bookstore exchange.  Those involved demonstrated a very Acts 4 and 6 type of common sharing that made education possible for other families.  It was incredible to watch.  There are probably others who can speak more to the coops and creative solutions than I and I would invite your comments.
The greatest sticker shock is no doubt to be had in the private school.  The private school sales pitch can at times seem like a spill for the timeshare condo.  They show you all the wonderful things that can be yours and then sit you down with a very persuasive fellow who can change your perspective on spending tons of money on their product and never having the necessary finances to go on vacation again.  
I will talk about this under the deciding factor of freedom, but with the sticker shock does come a great deal of freedom.  Private schools are not under the same constraints as government funded schools.  Without government support, funding must come from somewhere, and you may weigh the facts and find the price well worth it.  With a quality private school there is a greater likelihood you get what you pay for.  
Well run private schools are also good about finding options for families.  Truth be told, most students in the school probably don’t pay the top line sticker price.  There are scholarships, grants, and private subsidies that make private education affordable.  However, every family is expected to make some sacrifice.  You may not pay equal price, but you will be expected to make equal sacrifice.  Most families, contrary to stereotype, that choose private school are not swimming in dough.  Most of them are making a great sacrifice financially because that choice fits what they are trying to accomplish as a parent.  In any event, if you just want free or cheap, private school is definitely not an option.
At the same time I would warn against going into debt to fund K-12 education.  I see some families dying on the financial vine out of guilt.  Part of discipleship is stewardship.   If paying more fits your educational philosophy and it helps you accomplish your goals for your children, then sacrifice.  But don’t go private school out of guilt or pride.  Financing fear is foolish.  Don't be deceived in thinking that taking out a loan for the 3rd grade will get you a better seat in the Kingdom. 
Currently my wife and I have chosen to pay for our children to attend a private Christian school in our community.  This year will be the first year both of our children are in the school together.  Transitioning financially from public education to private education has not been easy, but we love what we see happening in the school we have chosen.  I am very involved in many of our local public schools and would feel comfortable with my children attending them, but for our goals at this time in the education journey, we do want more than book learning.  We found that if we are willing to pay more, we will receive more from our private school what we are looking for than our local public schools can offer (I will discuss this more in freedom).
As our children enter their teenage years we are looking not only for books, but for philosophical and moral support.  During your child’s elementary years you will probably find it easy to get involved in your child’s school.  Once they enter middle school and high school, the doors seem to come with tighter locks.  In some sense, we are now paying so we can stay involved.  
Academically our goal is to expose our children to the highest degree of challenge possible and we found an affordable (with sacrifice) convergence of these things in the school we have chosen for them.  With this school there are also some people on staff who offer services for our children’s advancement that we could not find anywhere else.  For instance, our school has someone on staff who is incredibly specialized at helping students prepare, apply, and get acceptance in the best universities.  She is not your normal guidance counselor.  I have told my wife often that what she does is worth the price of tuition. 
Look at your wallet and decide.  What is affordable?  Yet in any venue of education you choose, be prepared to pay.  What you have to consider is how much will I pay, and for what am I paying?

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Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article I wrote entitled Before You Bury the Bus on the topic of using sheltering as a strategy for raising our children.  In that post I mentioned the education environment.  In response, Bridgette asked,
“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  Last week I dealt with mistaken assumptions.  It is a mistake to assume, in any educational venue, that one will accomplish a greater degree of sheltering or engagement.  We must separate fear from fact and make good decisions on good information.  Choosing out of fear is often misleading.
With the next few posts, I want to address deciding factors in choosing a path for your child’s education.  Those deciding factors would be: 1) the choices you actually have 2) quality of education 3) affordability 4) freedom 5) curriculum 6) parental involvement 7) your parental commitment.
The choices you actually have.
For a single mom or dad who works long days just to keep the family afloat, homeschooling may not be a viable option.  If both mom and dad are working, plopping the kids down at the kitchen table with a textbook and leaving them for 8 hours to do it on their own is not education; that’s called busy work.  
If you live in an area where there are no private schools, well, that makes it easy to strike one choice from your list. If your child has been expelled from public school, to the dinner table for class he will go unless there is a private school nearby that will accept him.  
Once you see the choices that are before you, sample them.  As I said in my previous post, get real information.  I would not allow the “I heard” story to be considered as fact.  Sample the homeschool curriculum.  Make a visit to the local prep school.  Make an appointment at your local public school.  When we were choosing a school for our daughters when moving to a new community we made a day of visiting our options.  We found most all of the schools were incredibly accommodating and welcomed our investigation.  I would recommend that you call and set up an appointment ahead of time.  It seemed to me that the larger the school the more difficult it was for them to accommodate a walk in visit.  Yet in those same schools, a few days notice made all the difference.
In our previous community both of our attended public school for three simple reasons.  1)  Neither of us were willing to homeschool our children.  2) There was no viable, affordable private option within a reasonable commuting distance for us at the time.  3)  We knew a lot about our community school and felt comfortable with it.  None of this made us any more or less of a Christ follower.  It made no statement about how much or how little we loved our children.  It said nothing about how naive or worldly we were.  
Look at what is there.  That’s really all you have to decide on.  The rest of it is called worry or anxiety, and the Bible never offers a high opinion of either.
Quality of education.
While it is true that there are a myriad of ways schools can be rated according to test scores and student/teacher ratios, all of which is easily accessible online, before you go to greatschools.com you must personally answer a critical question.  What is education?
Test scores are misleading and teacher/student ratios aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  A horrible teacher of 40 is a horrible teacher of 4.  The number of students in a classroom does not determine how qualified for the task a teacher is.  Small class sizes do not make bad teachers great.  Instead of asking how are the ratios, ask rather, how are the teachers?  Also ask, what are they teaching?
These questions will inevitably bring you back to your philosophy of education.  When our children were in elementary school we wanted them to learn math and science.  We wanted them to be able to write sentences.  We expected the school to keep them safe, but we did not expect the school to lead them to Christ.  We wanted a school that would help them become capable academically.  We wanted book learning and our local elementary school was on target.
There was a private Christian school just down the road from our church, but academically it was subpar.  I was involved in that school as well and felt a lot of unrest and instability in the organization.  Although the faculty were sincere followers of Christ who had a heart for children, the school did not offer what we needed to accomplish our educational goals for our children.  Again, we discipled them, we needed someone to help them grow academically.   Eventually the school closed.
That being said, philosophically and practically for our family, there was nothing homeschooling or a private school could offer us that trumped our choice of the public school.  We discipled our children both in and out of the context of their experience in public school and all went well.  
This does not mean that I believe a public school is morally neutral.  No doubt there is a more liberalized climate of content both morally and philosophically in public schools.  Along the way, there were books and films the school wanted to expose our children to which we objected.  The school officials were incredibly accommodating.  They were sensitive to our beliefs and offered our children alternatives. 
I should say that they were not sensitive to us because we barnstormed the office or pitched a sanctified fit; neither of which is Christ honoring.  I believe the school was sensitive to us because we served the school and we were constantly involved.  It actually came to the point that my wife and I were often asked to pray or to offer a devotion at parent sponsored events.  
I will discuss this in a forthcoming post, but the key to education according to Deuteronomy 6, which we are using as our pattern text, is parental involvement, strategy, and intentionality.  This holds true for any venue of education, private, public, or home.  Parents must be involved.  If parents are merely passive onlookers the educational process crumbles at its foundation. 

More to come.
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The "Me" Monster Church Has Become (from David Prince)

David Prince has posted an article to the ERLC website that I think needs to be seriously considered. The longer I am in pastoral ministry the more I feel like an event planner instead of a  minister of the Word (Acts 6:2).  My week looks less and less like that of the apostles and more and more like that of a cruise ship director.  The staff spends more time choosing whether the next fellowship meal will be chicken or burgers than it does in prayer.  I think this is only symptomatic of the mindset of today's consumer driven, Me-centric church.  I am appreciative of David for sharing his thoughts on how this mindset is especially impacting church ministry and preaching.  

____________________

A morally Christianized narcissism has invaded many churches where congregants read the Bible and hear sermons in a pursuit of individualized self-improvement. Corporate worship is often understood as a matter of convenience in assembling individual Christians who seek individualized answers to individualized questions. The result is a malformed expression of Christianity in which the church is seen simply as a tool to help each individual grow spiritually. Thus, the church exists to provide us the support we need for our personal discipleship.

Read the rest at: http://erlc.com/article/the-me-monster-unleashed-in-todays-churches.


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How to Talk to Your Kids about Modesty

We live in a society that is quickly losing a sense of decency, modesty, or shame.  The Bible, however, calls for God's people to observe a sense of modesty.  How do you talk to your kids about this subject?  Here are 10 "Do Not" principles that you may find helpful:

  • Do not teach that the body is a bad thing. Gen. 1:31.  Modesty is not because there is a problem with the body, it is because there is a problem with our mind.  Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.  After sin, even though they were married and there is no indication that there was anyone else in the garden, they looked at their nakedness in a different way than they had before.  As a result, they covered themselves.  Let's be honest, we live in a world of perversion and uncovering the body is provocative.  Call it art, call it beauty, naked is naked.  I have read articles that object saying that we should honor the person without objectifying the body.  Ultimately we do want to see people as parts of the body of Christ rather than just seeing people as body parts.  Yet, again, really hard to do when that person is naked.  It's the nature of the way we think.  Modesty is an answer to our situation.  We are sinners.  Sinners are tempted, enticed, and think bad things.  Cover up.
  • Do not teach that the body is their own.  The attitude of the culture is that one can do what one wills to do with their own body.  The Bible calls for us to practice a different ethic.  1 Corinthians 6 and 7 teaches that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that the body is also something that one can surrender to their spouse.  We need to have conversation about modesty in the broader conversation about sexuality and marriage.  In a culture that is undermining marriage, the church needs to be more proactive at teaching marriage and purity.  Modesty is not just covering up, but it is saving up for a grander goal that God has for us.
  • Do not think that if your kids are wearing what you said they could wear that the mission is accomplished.  Legislation is not life change, it is legalism.  However, this does not mean there is not a place for rules.  Even though someone may not understand the heart of a law, laws are necessary to protect us.  Even in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned God made a correction.  They covered themselves with fig leaves, God covered them with animal skin.  There is a broader picture of atonement here, but our Heavenly Father was the first one to say to His children were not going to go out of the house wearing that!  They needed to put more on themselves.  Legalism takes the life out of principles.  Modesty is not about a certain color, length, or texture of anything.  It is about a mindset that is considerate of others.  Interestingly, the Bible never defines modesty, it just uses words like appropriate, modest, respectable. The word modest comes from a Greek Word that talks about a person in a crowded room of excellence; perhaps there are skilled actors on the stage, singers, or musicians.  All the attention in the room is directed toward something beautiful, then in an act of vulgarity you break that attention and draw it towards yourself.  This is the idea modesty is rooted in.  Modesty is a position of humility that realizes life is not about you.  We need to teach the heart of this principle, not simply legislate obedience.
  • Do not make modesty an issue of conviction, but of aspiration.  Modesty is about loving God and loving His body (His people), not magnifying your own. G.K. Chesterson stated that it was a mistake when we moved modesty from the organ of aspiration to the organ of conviction.  Our goal is glory for our Lord, not guilt over what we wear.  Modesty teaches that we want to be pleasing to Him and mindful of His people.  We don't measure our shorts because a Baptist believes it, we wear what we wear because we love the Lord and His church.
  • Do not teach that modesty is a matter of clothing, but rather that it is an issue of the heart.  If it is always a fight about clothing, there probably needs to be some conversation about deeper things.  It may not be an issue of the shirt, it may be an issue of the heart.  The Bible teaches that modesty is a heart issue, not a fashion one. (Luke 6:45, 1 Peter 3:3-4)
  • Do not teach that modesty is about what you wear only, but it is also about the way you wear it.  Interestingly, 1 Timothy 2:9 was about overdressing not underdressing.  Let's be honest, for the ladies, they wear what they wear not for other guys, but for other girls.  Have you ever been sitting in the waiting area of a crowded restaurant?  Next time you do, when a woman walks in, watch the eyes of the other ladies around her.  They check out her shoes, then her clothes, then her purse, then how she got her hair "did."  Watch their face, you can tell what they think :).  It's funny!  Modesty means that I don't dress just to best someone else.  There is an attitude of Christian con tenement that should permeate everything we do (and put on).
  • Do not teach that modesty is an issue for your daughters and leave your sons out of the conversation.  We need to teach our sons to honor the ladies, not victimize them.  Job made a covenant with his eyes.  Jesus taught that to look lustfully on a woman was to commit adultery in the heart.  We need to teach our sons that girls are not giving guys permission based on what they wear.  I read a great statement in an article published by Relevant magazine by Sharon Hodde Miller, "Love your sisters by exercising the fruit of self-control and “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Love your sisters by taking ownership in this resistance, rather than letting the bulk of the burden fall on us."
  • Do not teach modesty without modeling it.  Modesty does not just apply to the way we dress, but it is about a sloppy, vulgar, selfish life.  Modesty is seen in every venue of life from the way one keeps the house, speaks in public, or posts online.  Overly loud and obnoxious can be just as offensive as an outfit that is too short and too tight.  If our kids are to receive the message of modesty it is something that must be modeled at home, in society, and at church.  Titus 2:3-5
  • Do not teach that modesty makes you more beautiful.  There was a popular message that sounded attractive, but was dishonest, "Modest is hottest."  Yet, modesty is not a beauty issue at all, it is about consideration of others.  A person who dresses modest may not be "hot" at all.  In fact, by societies standards, probably not.  At the same time modest doesn't mean I have to look like a potato sack either.  When the Lord sent Samuel to seek out a new king he revealed to us that the issue for the Lord is not outward appearance at all, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  For humans beauty is often a relative issue anyway.  Recently a free lance journalist sent an untouched picture of her natural face to 25 graphic artists in various countries and simply asked, "Make me beautiful."  What she received back was 25 various versions of herself compliments of photoshop.  Check out the project here.
  • Do not give up on teaching modesty just because it modesty is more difficult.  In a culture that seems to value "uncovered" it is not easy to find modest clothing at times.  It is especially difficult in the warmer seasons, and especially true of swimwear for women.  When it comes to our children we cannot trust a sexually addicted culture that does not value censorship and moral protection for our children.  The fashion industry will probably not applaud what you are trying to teach your children.  Furthermore, your children may not get support at school, at the pool, and you may not get any help from other parents.  And there may be some rare occasion of life in which your children don't agree with your values. As shocking as this may be, remember, you are still the parent.  For Christian parents this is where the church should be especially helpful.  In a Christ centered counter-culture there should be support, not undermining of the message.  Parents need to talk to one another as well as to their children about modesty. 
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Public, Private, or Homeschool - Mistaken Assumptions

I received this comment from Bridgette last week in response to my post “Before You Bury the Bus . . .”

“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  With this post I want to deal with the mistaken assumptions.  I will follow up tomorrow (hopefully) with deciding factors.  
Mistaken Assumptions:
Most of the time mistakes we make in decision making are driven by fear and lack of information.  This is especially true when it comes to making choices about educating our children.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Homeschool:
I have found that strong proponents for public education often try to demonize homeschooling.  Because public education is the social norm, homeschool usually comes out of the gate with the opinion polls jaded against it.  
We usually hear that one can expect a homeschool child to be socially inept and academically behind.  My opinion is that the strong public school advocates make this their platform of argument because homeschooling inherently lacks what unionized educators believe to be fundamental - standardization, qualification (ie. degreed educators) and expert hierarchal accountability.  
While the homeschool certainly offers an environment in which this can happen, and has, it is statistically not the case to the degree that home school opponents wish to make things seem.  Here is an interesting study published by CBN you may find informative (http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/144135.aspx).    
The truth of the matter is that many home-schools are now connected and offer creative environments in which children flourish under well qualified teachers.  Home schoolers are taking great advantage of the freedom that homeschool offers and are not turning out children that are merely social survivors but leaders.
A mistaken assumption that homeschool parents may make is to assume that by withdrawing their children from the public school option that they are saving their souls from sin.  The word public does not mean it is of the devil.  McDonald’s is public, as is your street, the library many homeschool parents would use, as is the pool where your kids take lessons.  Public school doesn’t send a kid to Hell, failure to shepherd their heart and share the gospel with them will give them a one way ticket.  If the strategy of the home school parent is to save a child’s soul by withdrawal only to offer them an alternative solution of neglect we have not done better, we have done much worse.  If homeschool means you go to work while your kids do a workbook for a few hours and then spend the rest of the day watching television and playing video games - I would even argue that your children may be exposed to much more smut in a few hours than they are going to hear down at Roosevelt High.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Public School
The big mistake with public school is that it is often demonized by strong adherents of private Christian and homeschool education.  Public education is not a moral death sentence.  All of my years from 1st grade - 12th were spent in the Catoosa County Georgia system and I am thankful for all of them.  Until recently my daughters were daily in the public school and we had a great experience all along the way.  The public school is full of dedicated, gifted educators; many of whom are strong followers of Christ.  Our experience was that even when our children’s teachers were not believers that they were morally astute and sympathetic to our beliefs.  Public school often offers a diverse environment in which your children can explore a wide variety of opportunities, each of which can be profitable in the broader conversation of discipleship.  
However I find that Christian parents and teachers sometimes make a mistake by thinking that being in the public school makes them more obedient to the gospel while Christian school and home school are less gospel centered choices.  The assumption is that by being in less sanctified institutions, somehow one is doing more of what Jesus did by entering the world and sharing the gospel.  
While my daughters were in public school we prayed for this everyday.  God honored our prayer and during our last few weeks in Birmingham God used my daughter and her friend to lead two girls to Christ.  Now three years down the road, these girls are in church and being faithfully discipled.  
As incredible as this experience was, I reject this assumption on two grounds:
  1. It assumes that unless YOU are there that people will go to Hell.  I do believe that people need to hear the gospel to be saved, but I don’t think that a change in venue makes one automatically disobedient to the Great Commission.  Choosing an alternative route to public school doesn't mean you love Jesus less.  Had my daughters been home schooled or attended private school, they would have met these same girls through their swim team or some other community activity with which we were engaged.  I have more confidence in the sovereign will of God and His grace than I do in myself.  I think this premise that my absence is a sentence to Hell for anyone is built on theological guilt rather than on Biblical theology.  I am to share the gospel out of obedience, not out of guilt. 
  2. It ignores a Biblical precedent.  Notice in the Bible that Jesus did not send His disciples into the world until they had been with Him and were prepared.  In sending them out on mission, He also debriefed them.  One, we need to remember that our kids are not evangelism tools, they are kids.  They need to be brought up in the way they should go.  Whether they are in public school or not, their presence is useless without preparation and discipleship.  Sadly, a lot of the very people I hear say that they are being salt and light in the public school return week after week to their church fruitless.  I don’t see them leading anyone to Christ.  Evangelism is not a matter of presence but of prepared proclamation.  If this assumption is true, the churches should be full of publicly educated children coming to Christ, but they are not.  This is a matter for a broader conversation of the church and discipleship in the home.  All I am advocating here is that we don’t need to make an irresponsible assumption on this point.
Mistaken Assumptions with Private (Christian School)
The big assumption across the board with the private, especially Christian school is that you get what you pay for.  Parents of the private school, Christian or not, believe that they are turning out scholars for their investment.  For the Christian school parents, the belief is that we are paying for our kids to become Jesus followers.  
As with any institution, private school, church, public school, etc. we have fallen victim in America to believing that we can subsidize an outcome with our children.  Institutions are not replacements, they are partners.  As I will discuss later, private schools often offer a place where parents can be a greater source of influence in their child’s education - they are often more socially, morally, and idealistically agreeable places or you would not be paying the price - but I know that the private school was never intended to replace parental responsibility.
In observing the hubbub surrounding private, especially Christian school, I have also noticed that the most detrimental assumption is the undue pressure put on the kids.  From within parents pressure the child to produce an A every time.  Well, isn’t that what we are paying for, A’s with a reputation?  
Many private schools require a higher degree of academic rigor as opposed to some public schools.  If you send your kid to certain private schools, be prepared that they may not always get an A.  Reputable private schools have a way of exposing what your child would otherwise find out in college, they may be a B or C student.  If so, celebrate who they are rather than try to manipulate with money what they are not.  
From outsiders, especially with Christian schoolers, I almost see a glory in the children’s failure.  If a mistake is made, it is often much more public and the kids are exposed to a greater degree of disgrace.  We often forget that wearing a uniform does not change the heart.  Not all kids in Christian schools know Christ personally.  Not all kids that know Christ are perfect; in fact, none of them are.  A kid who stumbles coming out of the door of the home school, public school, or private school deserves the same opportunity for grace and Biblically rooted discipline as any other child.  
When the kids stumble, I usually hear the following mistaken assumption, “See there, the school says Christian but they are not real.”  I disagree.  The Christian school is just as indicative of reality as is the church, Roosevelt High, and the home school.  Sinners are sinners whether they wear uniforms, do math at the kitchen table, or go to class on the government dollar.  We all need Christ.  Institutions do not change that reality.

Much like the assumption that placing your kids in public school makes you more missional, is the mistaken assumption that placing your kids in Christian school makes you more devoted to Christ.  I knew a pastor who would make statements to the congregation both publicly and in private that made people in the church feel as if they didn't fork out the dough for private Christian school that they were second class citizens of the Kingdom.  There is really no biblical premise for this type of thinking in any form.  It is legalism, not obedience.  It is like saying I am less of a pastor because I am in Georgia instead of in Africa.

So whether you send your child to the living room, private school, or public school for class one needs to sort fear from fact.  Discern opinion from proof.  In moving to a new town two years ago, I said in jest that if I listened to all the parents that there is not a school in town fit for a kid :).  
You can’t make good decisions based on bad information.  Pray through the information you have.  Stay involved as a parent.  I will discuss this more in my next post, but Deuteronomy 6:4-9 shares the key for any educational paradigm - parental involvement!
Sending your child to one avenue of education over another is not a matter of automatic withdrawal, nor is it a recipe for successful engagement.  In any choice there is responsibility.  As a parent we have to own it.

Bridgette, thanks for your question.  I hope this helps.    
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Love Songs (Points from Sunday 6/29/14)

Sermon:  Love Songs
Series: Psalms and Songs
Text:  Psalm 33

Love is arguably the most common theme in music.  With an incredible capacity to love and to receive love it should be no surprise we find love so interesting and inspiring.  At the same time we have a heart that is vulnerable and explosive.  When it comes to love we often experience as much exhilaration as we do confusion.  

In today’s music there are basically four types of love songs.  1) Pure romance.  This is the song that makes the ladies melt.  It is romeo with a beat.  Much like John Legend’s “All of me” it is all about the words.  2)  I’m not like the other guys.  These songs pick up the important theme of rebuilding trust in someone after a broken heart.  Justin Timberlake’s “Not a Bad Thing” is a prime example.  “I know people make promises, all the time, then turn right around and break them.  When someone cuts your heart, open with a knife and you’re bleeding, but I could be that guy, to heal it over time, and I won’t stop until you believe it.”  3)  Lust at first sight.  It’s not really about love as much as it is about immediate attraction and a wild night.  Ed Sheeran’s “Sing” exemplifies this genre.  4)  Finally, we have the break up song.  No one is better at break ups than Taylor Swift.  She doesn’t have anything currently topping the charts, but someone is going to break her heart soon and she will get over it by slicing him open on 12 tracks and sell 10 million copies.   

If you listen to today’s music it is not hard to hear the volatility of our experience in love.  Yet, God puts on display for His people a perfect picture of redeeming love.  In Psalm 33 David writes a song for stringed instruments and he says in verse 21, “For our heart is glad in Him because we trust His holy name.”  In the song David celebrates 4 things about God as a true lover.

A true lover:

  1. Speaks a trustworthy word (Psalm 33:4a, 6-9).  Everything God says comes true.  He does not simply make empty romantic promises, but His Word comes to pass.  The right response is to stand in awe of Him in worship (v. 8).  For those who are married, never underestimate the power of your words.  Especially for the men, we need to be mindful of our words toward our wives.  For those who are single and searching, find someone that can be trusted.  Someone who is always backtracking, covering for themselves, and having to constantly explain why what they said doesn’t match what they did, is not a fit lover - move on.
  2. Does a faithful work (Psalm 33:4b, 10-12).  We will constantly deal with difficulty when it comes to life and love.  Yet even though the nations rage against the Lord, His plans do not fail.  What He has determined to do, He will do.  He is faithful because He is able.  As Timberlake’s song insinuates, it is difficult to trust people.  Yet he croons in a vulgar way that if his lover will go out, do whatever she wants to do with whoever she wants to do it with, that she will find in the end, he is the one.  is that really the way we want to arrive at the truth?  You will never find someone higher by looking lower.  If you want to find truly love, you have to know where to truly look.  In the Lord we find a lover who has not only envisioned a plan for us, but is faithful to perform on His Word.  For the married couples, are you simply coexisting, or is there a dream and a plan for your marriage?  What are your goals.  We need in our marriage to be constantly working and fostering faithfulness for one another.  For the searching singles, find someone like our God in the most basic ways - working!  Find someone with ambition, a plan, goals and who is working toward those ends. 
  3. Goes a righteous way (Psalm 33:5a, 13-17).  David finds in the Lord someone who does right.  Sheeran’s song is the age old story of the one night stand.  Yet we need to realize that our life is not a music video, our life has real consequences.  David writes two Psalms about the misery of the consequences of a night driven by lust (Psalm 32 and 51).  The conviction of the Lord was greatly on him and the guilt of his sin made his body ache in the heaviness of shame.  You can’t get to the right place going the wrong way.  You can’t find the right thing looking in the wrong place.  David says that the Lord looks down from heaven on us and he fashions our hearts and deeds in His hands.  This means He is mindful of all we do, nothing escapes His righteous gaze.  Whether a searching single or married, we need to have a vision for righteous, redeeming love.  We need a love that God honors, that has purity at its heart and Christ and the church as its vision.  God does not trash us in lust, but He redeems us in love.
  4. Extends a lasting love (Psalm 33:5b, 18-22).  There is no breakup song for God.  No lover has been more attested as being faithful and loyal as He.  In the Lord David found for his heart gladness and hope.  He knew the Lord would not fail.  When we realize how we have been loved by God and we celebrate His love it informs us and prepares us to give and receive love to others.  God’s lasting love shows us the boundaries of love.  His love for us shows us where love works and where love is not love at all but unrighteous lust.  God’s love informs us in that it raises our expectations and standards.  Even when we are disappointed in love, we are not looking lower but higher because of the lasting love God extends to us.  God’s lasting love also gives us a place of grace.  The lasting love of God requires grace.  Ultimately we are an unfaithful, unrighteous people, yet God gives steadfast love to His people.  God’s love gives us grace and stability we can extend to others, which will go a long way in repairing relationships.

As much as we hear on the radio about love, we need to see what redeemed love looks like.  God has given us an incredible capacity for love and passion, yet in a sinful world much of what we hear is merely a perversion of truth.  The love God has for His people is a perfect love.  When we seek Him first, it helps us to be more discerning with the messages we hear, but it also helps us to be more loving toward those around us.  Paul said in Phil. 1:9 that our love needs to abound, grow more and more with knowledge and all discernment.  


If you are heart broken and looking for true love.  Repent of sin and receive the love of God He has given to us in His son Jesus Christ.  Receive Him as Lord and Savior and follow Him as a disciple.  Only by experiencing redeeming love can we sort though the chaos of love in this life and know what true love is (Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9-10, 13).  
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Why Parents Don't Talk to Their Kids

We are discussing the topics that you should be talking to your kids about instead of someone else.  In these first few posts I am dealing with some foundational issues that I think are critical to these otherwise difficult conversations.  With this post I want to discuss why parents don’t talk to their kids.
According to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 the home is the primary vehicle of modeling and teaching Biblical values to our children.  Sadly the home is becoming little more than a shelter for a couple of adults with a couple of kids.  A lot of people talk about their marriage is like two ships passing in the night.  If this is true of marriages, when it comes to parenting the house has become a harbor at shift change.  Why don’t parents talk to their children?
  1. Parents have farmed out their time to coaches. 

    While the days have not gotten longer, the demands on our time have certainly increased.  It is hard to tell whether this is out of necessity or choice, but we have no doubt become a culture that values busyness.  In the bygone agrarian era everything from school schedules to daylight savings time was determined by the demands on the family farm.  Now the demands are due to the farm leagues.  Farm leagues?  Yes, we once called it rec. ball, but the city league has long been cashed in for round the clock developmental leagues, clinics, and personal coaching.  When I was a kid I played baseball, basketball, and soccer in the rec league.  We practiced once or twice a week and had a game on Saturday morning.  Now the season never ends, the coaching never stops, and what was once a minor part of our lives has become a verifiable industry.  Family time is spent in the car going from one practice to another.  Momma is not a nurturer, she is a carrier. 

    A generation ago the goal we had for our kids was for them to be godly, well adjusted, hard working, and respectful.  Now our goals are less centered on morality and more centered on achievement.  Now we want our kids to be piano virtuosoes that can jump higher and run faster.  We want our daughters to be beauty queens with great curve balls.  The time we once spent with our kids as parents has now been farmed out to coaches.  Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our values.  Your coach may be a great guy, but only you can be a great mom or dad to your kids.  Coaches are replaceable.  Your role in your kid’s lives is invaluable.  Don’t farm it out that easily.     
  2. Underestimating what it means to talk. 

    Most people think they have talked to their kids about certain topics merely because they have been mentioned.  “Don’t ever let me catch you ________________.”  Glad we could talk. 

    Mentioning something is not communication. Expecting something is not communication.  Communication in the technical sense is sending a message and making sure that message is received.  Where we fail with our children is that we send the message, but we do not do the hard work of reinforcement, explanation, modeling, and questioning that is necessary for message reception.  It takes time and attention to talk.  Conversations about the difficult topics are not mentionables we mark off of a list.  Conversations about the difficult topics start early and are ongoing.  You were introduced to simple addition in the first grade.  By your senior year of high school you may have been in pre-cal or calculus.  Each year that conversation grew and was constantly reinforced. The strategic nature of developing math skills is much the same way we must talk to our kids about the difficult topics.  Start early.  Talk often.  Allow the conversation to grow.  
  3. Technologically interrupted. 

    When a family does find time at the table to talk, most of their time is spent looking at their phones.  The living room no longer has anything to do with life, the living room has become little more than a family sized theater.  Families do not share stories, they watch them.  One of the most effective things you can do as a family is technologically detox.  Turn the television off.  Put the phones away.  Talk about the day.    
  4. Culturally incapable. 

    The world my father grew up in was different than the world his parent’s grew up in, but not that much different.  The world I grew up in, was very different than my father’s childhood environment.  The world my kids are growing up in, doesn’t even resemble the world of my childhood. 

    You and I are digital immigrants.  Our kids are digital natives.  Information sharing and social connection through devices developed in my lifetime.  I remember the world without connectivity.  Your kids have never known a world without constant digital connections.  You and I made friends with the kids down the street.  Our kids make friends while they sleep.  They wake up every morning, grab their phones only to find who is new to their network.  Your kids will never roll down a window, rewind a tape, or borrow a quarter to make a phone call.  If you want to reminisce but realize how foreign you and I are to our children’s world, check out Steve Cichon’s article on the Huffington Post website.  He found an ad from Radio Shack, 1991.  Of the 15 things listed for sale in the ad, 13 of them you can now do with your phone.

    While we may be digital immigrants we should not be digital exiles.  Technology has changed.  People haven’t.  The common refrain of Ecclesiastes holds ever true, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV).”  At their heart, your kids are struggling with nothing different than your grandma did when she was 12.  The only difference is speed and access.  Parent’s are not called to tame technology.  Parents are called to shepherd their child’s heart.
  5. Culturally overwhelmed.

    A lot of parents don’t talk to their kids about the difficult topics because they feel as if it will do no good.  Our kids see and hear way too much.  While this may be true, realize that the Bible was written to a minority people (1 Peter 1:1).  The kids of 1st century Christians saw persecution, but they were still expected to be raised godly.  In the midst of the cultural chaos the first Christians encountered on a  daily basis, Peter assured them of his confidence in the power of God, the gospel, and of His Word operating in their lives (2 Peter 1:3-11).  The church is not called to deal with the culture, but to counter it.  Our kids need to see in our homes that the way we are called to live as Christ followers may not be the same as the surrounding culture they see around them, but it is certainly not subpar.  Think about what you are competing with - kids who are neglected, kids who want boundaries, marriages that are miserable, homes in chaos - is it really that hard to point out the differences and say to our children, “look at the fruits of following Christ?”
  6. Culturally ill-equipped. 

    Many parents do not talk to their children about the difficult topics for one simple reason, their parents didn’t talk to them.  We are the latch-key kids.  Our parents gave us instruction manuals and told us to figure it out for ourselves.  You may be a new Christian and it is not so much that your parents didn’t talk to you, it is that the content for your new way of life is foreign to you.  You have some serious catching up to do.

    Either way, never underestimate how much your kids want to hear from you.  Break the cycle, don’t repeat it.  Invest time and talk to your kids.  A recent survey of teens shows that 85% of kids say they would turn down a night with their friends for a night to eat dinner with their parents at home.  Dust off the table in your house - that convenient collection apparatus is actually a powerful tool to foster critical conversations.  

In Judges 2:6-14 we have the disturbing story of a lost generation.  There arose a generation after Joshua that did not know God.  Why?  They didn’t talk.  What God charged them to do in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, to model and teach in the home, was neglected.  The culture may not change, but you can change the amount of time you spend talking to your kids.  The Bible doesn’t blame the churches, schools, coaches, or any other institutions.  The failure was in the home.  It is time to talk to our kids.
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Before You Bury the Bus to Shelter Your Kids

As a Christian parent we skate on a razor’s edge between protecting and sheltering our children from certain topics or talking to them about these things before someone else does.  Our children’s bodies, minds, values, and futures seem to be laid bare on an altar of cultural vulnerability everyday.  When is it too early to talk to them about sex, substances, and other societal ills?  We don’t want to be early, but we sure don’t want to be late.
In a media saturated culture the issue is not beating someone else to the punch.  Truth is, we don’t have to wonder if someone else is talking to our children, someone already is.  Unless you and your family live in a buried bus in the Mojave desert your sheltering techniques are probably sub par.  If you do live in a buried bus in the Mojave desert, I’m sure there is a reality show that would love to talk to you.  You are must see TV.
One would think that Disney Channel is kid island in a sea of un-family friendly TV.  Yet Walt’s vision has become little more than a presentation of fabricated, unrealistic worlds of superstardom and popularity replete with an primo environment ripe for teenage romance without parental guidance.  But please understand, the people watching Austin and Ally are not their teen peers.  The average age of Austin and Ally’s #1 demographic is 9.  Sure, you can wait until your child is 12 to start talking about dating, but remember, Disney has already been modeling a version of physical attraction and affection to your tike for at least 3 years.
Off your kids go to school.  The social environment of adolescent academia hasn’t changed much.  Kids talk.  But if you were raised in a Christian family in the 80’s, there were plenty of families that shared your values, even if they didn’t go to church.  Now if your family has only nominal Christian convictions you are a unicorn at a petting zoo.  And if you think that sending your children to a Christian school is your solution, the percentages of shared family values may increase somewhat, but a buried bus in the Mojave your Jesus school is not!  It is startling to know how many students attend the weekend’s raunchiest movies either with parental consent or with parent’s in tow.  And if they didn’t go to the theater, they probably sat on the couch with their daddy and saw it Saturday night on HBO.  Your baby may not have seen the movie, but he heard all about it at school.
So what’s the solution?  Bury the bus?
The church tried the ascetic, desert, withdrawal thing in the 3rd century.  When martyrdom came to an end, some felt that the ultimate expression of devotion to Jesus would be withdrawal.  The end result was a desert sideshow of a monk sitting on a pole with deep thoughts but no viable applications of the gospel to culture.  Again, bury a bus, people will come to see you.  Ironically, the Desert Fathers sought a place of solitude but, even “ the desert became a city” according to Athanasius of Alexandria.        
As Christian parents there is no sufficient place to send our kids for societal shelter.  As a matter of fact, the Bible has never endorsed withdrawal.  Instead, the Bible has always been a manual for Christ centered morality for a minority people.  Following Christ is not about where a family is, following Christ is about what a family is.  Christian families are households of topics.  They are pools of counter-cultural teaching, modeling, and molding.  They are places where a father and a mother watches people with their sons and daughters and points out the freaks and the fools, much like we see happening in the Book of Proverbs (Prov. 1:8).  They are places where Christian parents share histories and stories, much like the original audiences 1 and 2 Kings who were living in Babylon.  These stories served to instruct a new generation.  This is why we are as we are and this is how we overcome.  
Christian families are to be places where Sunday sermons find their next breath.  As odd as Isaiah and Jeremiah may appear to us now, these prophecies were at one time table talk.  An astute Christian parent can find numerous ways Biblical preaching has crept into the week a dozen ways by Thursday and talk about it with their kids.  Christian homes are places were the arts are not banished, but places where excellent arts are fostered.  After all, the Bible’s longest book is a collection of songs. 
Before you bury the bus, let’s talk.  

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing short snippets from a series that is going on in our church (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) on Sunday nights entitled Topics: things your kids need to hear from you, not someone else.  I hope in doing this we can not only glean wisdom from one another, but foster a profitable conversation.  I will moderate comments, but I will also post profitable ones as quickly as possible.  Share your stories, concerns, and Scriptural gleanings with me and other parents who read FeelMyFaith.  It is not easy to raise godly children in an ungodly world, but it must be done.  Check back often and follow this important conversation.     
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The Fault in our Discernment

Today I want to teach on a word that seems to be sorely lacking in the Christian walk. Discernment. 

When it comes to making decisions we basically use two facets of our God given faculties; the thinking part and the feeling part. Generally we refer to these as the head and the heart.  

A person who is all head and no heart makes intelligent choices, but they are about as personally intriguing as a slug. Head without heart decisions come across cold, perhaps even selfish. They generally lack empathy.  Head statements are extremely factual, but they come across as bazookas to the souls of people who actually have a heart.

The alternative extreme is heart with no head.  Here I give you a range of characters from the daredevil to the hopeless romantic.  I know it is hard to think of Romeo and Evel Kenievel as being closely related, but on either side of the scale, heart people usually end up with lots of broken things or perhaps even emotionally dead.  Heart decisions are not very smart ones, but they felt great.  It seems SO right, but there is little investigation of the facts or thought of the consequences.  

Enter discernment.  Discernment is the wondrous merger of these decision making faculties.  Discernment is allowing something to play the strings of your heart, but then stepping away to think about it before you make a judgment call.  Discernment is the ability to see the facts, but to think about a way to phrase things so that the Romeos in the room are not left breathless, flopping around in the floor at your statement.  

Add to discernment the Bible and we have an even more powerful equation, Biblical discernment.  Biblical discernment is to do what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 and “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  I challenged my readers to exercise this capacity when it came to the recent backlash over the movie Noah.  I was intrigued by much of the Christian community protest of the film, so I asked a simple question, “How Biblical are your other movies?”

Case in point, here we are with A Fault in Our Stars and as an onlooker I am seeing also a fault in our discernment.  It seems that we are throwing our heart into this film, but leaving our heads, and most importantly our Bibles, behind.

I have not seen the film, but from the previews I can pretty much give you the plot.  Two terminally ill teenagers fall in love in the last days of their lives.  As they struggle with the idea of fate and the question of “why” love trumps all and I’m sure sex is a major part of the equation.  Right?

Admittedly, in seeing the preview I too was intrigued that this is a film with an interesting premise.  Will I watch it?  Probably not.  There is an element that seems to rise above traditional chick flick that is interesting to me, but I do tend to enjoy a little more muscle in my movies.  

Whether or not I see the film, I can tell you something I will not be doing.  I will not be taking my daughters to see it (at least not without some serious conversation for which I need to be majorly, Biblically prepared).  I certainly will not be uncritically celebrating it.  Why?  1) Because I am a Christian parent and 2) because it is what I thought it was.  It is a film that has some redemptive ideas, but in the end is a distortion of Biblical truth (what we believe) and Biblical ethics (how we behave).

If you are not familiar with this tool, allow me to introduce you to a valuable one.  It is PluggedIn.com.  It is a movie review site offered by Focus on the Family.  Before I take anyone in my family to a movie, myself, my wife, or my daughters, to PluggedIn.com first we will go.  The site offers a fair review of films with solid Biblical discernment - head, heart, and Bible in hand.  Each review is broken down into the succinct categories, Positive Elements, Spiritual Content, Sexual Content, Violent Content, Crude or Profane Language, Drug and Alcohol Content, Other Negative Elements, and then a very insightful, Biblically discerning Conclusion. 

Here are the concluding remarks from PluggedIn’s review of Fault in Our Stars.  Notice the involvement of the head, the heart, and the Bible.

"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world," Hazel says. "but you do get to choose who hurts you." That's a strangely powerful statement, I think.

Sadly, one fault Hazel and Gus share is that they don't always make the wisest of choices. They sleep together. And they prefer to see themselves as pawns of the stars, not beloved by those stars' Creator.
This isn't an anti-Christian film, exactly—just spiritually uncertain. Nor is it saturated in sex or depravity. This isn't a bad movie, really. In many ways, it's quite good.
But here's the thing: Because it is quite good—a persuasive, emotional story with strong, positive messages about sacrifice, hard truths and true love—the bad stuff can come off as more persuasive than usual. It's harder to see a loving God yourself when the characters you grow to care about can't, or won't. It's harder to object to premarital sex while weepily watching Hazel and Gus—teens who might never get the chance to ever have sex again—get so much pleasure and fulfillment from it.

The Fault in Our Stars is, I suppose, a little like its title. For all its sparkly power, it has scratches and splits. We know immediately when a movie like Noah drifts away from its moorings. But it's hard to see a film with crystal-clear eyes when you're always dabbing them with a Kleenex. 


Do you see it?  I see here a film that reaches for the head, but finds no satisfactory answers and then goes straight for the heart.  According to what I have seen of the response to the film, mission accomplished.    

OK preacher, it's just a movie.  Am I advocating some sort of stale, legalism that will eventually lead us to trash every movie except for the ones a church in south Georgia makes?  Will we have to hand over every Christian Oscar to Kirk Cameron?  I am certainly not condoning sanctified stupidity, but I am trying to slow the cart on the uncritical celebration by God’s people of something that appears to be at odds with the ethics of Biblical faith.  

If thirty-somethings don’t discern the message in this film, what do you think our 13 year old daughters glean as a take away?  Let’s face it, sex feels really, really good.  Is it true then that if we cannot reconcile the stars that it's game on?  What if the “stars” are not cancer at your home, but a boyfriend you can’t stand?  What if it is dad’s rule that his kids don’t date?  What if your baby finds “true love” (which is ironic in that “true” is a total head word) but you, the parent is screwing up the alignment of the stars?  

Here is the truth (head).  At its core, the film seems to say that the Biblical ethic of sex doesn't work in the real world of disappointing variables.  For a Christian parent, this poses a serious problem for the Biblically based message we teach and model for our children.

We need to be careful.  If we use our heart at movies but suddenly find that we need our head at home, the result is catastrophic.  What if one day we awaken and try to lead our children down discerning paths when there has been no prior precedent of head, heart, and Bible?  We may end up less like Christ and more like Romeo on a moral motorcycle attempting to jump Snake River Canyon.  When you do try to enforce a Biblical ethic in your home, your children will see the hypocrisy of it and reject your lead.  As believers we do not advocate situational ethics, but Biblical ones - in every situation.  We take every thought, even the hopelessly romantic ones on film, captive to Christ.  


Use your head, your heart, and your Bible.  Think! 
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Provision: The Story in Your Stuff

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Presence - You Only Need 1 "Like" Video (#TheWalk)


">Presence - You Only Need One Like (#TheWalk) from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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You Only Need 1 "Like"

A news story surfaced last week about a 19 year old man in Great Britain who became addicted to selfies.  He would spend 10 hours a day taking as many as 200 pictures of himself until he could find the perfect one to post.  Ultimately, when he realized he could not take the perfect selfie, he tried to kill himself.
In a widely circulated article “Parents, A Word About Instagram”, blogger Sarah Brooks helps parents understand a potential pitfall of the social media phenomenon by saying,
“Have you considered that your child is given numerical values on which to base his or her social standing? For the first time ever your children can determine their “worth” using actual numbers provided by their peers!”
“Let me explain…”
“Your daughter has 139 followers which is 23 less than Jessica, but 56 more than Beau. Your son’s photo had 38 likes which was 14 less than Travis’ photo, but 22 more than Spencer’s.”
“See what I mean? There’s a number attached to them. A ranking.”
Brooks goes on to say
“They’re definitely paying attention. And it’s definitely affecting them.”
“It’s not just about assumed popularity anymore. It’s explicit. It’s quantifiable.”
“At arguably the most awkward time in their lives, a crucial time of development when they are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong, this is what they’re up against. A quantifiable popularity ranking.”
If we lay the worth of our soul upon the altar of public opinion we will find ourselves empty, confused, and eventually destroyed.  The young man who was addicted to selfies explains the highs and lows of what Brooks calls “quantifiable popularity.”
“People would comment on them, but children can be cruel. One told me my nose was too big for my face and another picked on my skin. I started taking more and more to try to get the approval of my friends.
“I would be so high when someone wrote something nice but gutted when they wrote something unkind.”
Truth is, you only need one “like.” 
In Psalm 16:11 David says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word usually translated “presence” is actually the word “face.”  
We don’t need a perfect picture of ourselves.  We need a perfect picture of God.  Before His face is everything our selfie fails to deliver: a trending future “you make known to me the path of life”, satisfaction “in your presence is fullness of joy”, and something eternally pleasing, “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  
There is something powerful about taking the focus off of ourselves.  Negatively, it disarms the false value and potential pain of “quantifiable popularity.”  Positively it changes the question.  Does God like it?  Changing the question changes everything.
The question could be asked of every area of our existence.  My attitude, does God like it?  The way I act as a student, a parent, a worker, a neighbor . . . does God like it?  Is God pleased with the way I act, think, and talk?  Ironically, you can’t please people, but believe it or not, there is a way you can become pleasing to God (1 Thess. 4:1).  
If we find what God likes, according to Psalm 16:11, something incredible begins to happen.  “You make known to me the path of life.”  A God who perfectly knows you and the future begins to unleash trends and blessings that could become viral in your life.  Instead of trying to please followers and friends, which leads to never ending waves of tossing confusion (Eph. 4:14), we have only one path to consider.  We need to please the Lord.  
“In your presence there is fullness of joy.”  The Bible teaches that God loves for His people to be overjoyed.  He is the originator of paradise, the architect of the Promised Land.  If you learn to like what God likes you can have your fill of it.  
“In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  There is no version of the selfie that can bring eternal pleasure.  This is the truth at which the young man from Great Britain crashed.  But we have a God who offers His people everlasting pleasure.  If we live to please people we enter into a black hole that will empty the soul.  When it comes to “everlasting” there is only one like that ultimately matters.  
You only need one like.

If you do not know the Lord as your Savior, repent of the rat race of the sin of quantifiable popularity.  Take your soul off of the altar of public opinion and find grace in the God who offered His son for your sin.  Be born again today (John 3).  You only need one like.   
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The Mistake of Making Easter Ultimate

Easter presents the church with a natural attendance spike.  There will be a lot of effort put into extending invitations and even offering incentives for people to come to your church.  For the most part it will work.  There will be  a huge swell in attendance.  There will be people who hear the gospel for the first time.  There will be people who will be saved Easter Sunday and it will be a huge turning point in their life.  There will be those who reconnect to church who have been away for years.  The Lord will bless the day and the efforts of a people who truly exalt His Son, but there will be some things that happen after Easter Sunday that will not meet your expectations.

Some people will show up and leave never to be seen or heard from again.  Some of us will work hard to get a friend to attend church with us.  They will come.  Eventually though, the conversation about returning may grow stale, perhaps even awkward as we drift off into the summer months.  Why is this often the case?

For some people we make a huge mistake when it comes to Easter.  We make Easter ultimate.  What I mean by making Easter ultimate is that the entire conversation and invitation has been about attending church with you on Easter Sunday.  Been there.  Done that.  Now leave me alone.

For those that do everything we dreamed they would on Easter Sunday; loved it, coming back, saved, changed, connected . . .however you want to quantify success, those people are like low hanging fruit.  For whatever reason they were ready for a change.  There was something the Lord was doing in them that made them ready to respond.  Yet for those that are thinking only in terms of kindly responding to your invitation to Easter, of whom responding to Christ or coming back to church is not even on the radar, what do we do so that Easter is not the ultimate end of their exposure to the gospel?

Easter as third space.

For that seemingly unresponsive friend you invite to Easter service, you might as well be inviting him or her to outer space.  The technical term for Planet Easter Service is 3rd space.  

The concept of 3rd space, or 3rd place, was first introduced in the early 90’s to describe a place outside of home (1st place) or work (2nd place) in which people meet and interact.  Evangelicals extended this concept, inspired by a talk given by Erwin McManus, to describe a strategy for Christian cultural influence.  1st space is a place where everyone is familiar.  2nd space describes a broader group of working relationships.  These people are less immediate in your life.  They are less like you, but they are the people you interact with everyday.  In 3rd space you are an alien, a complete foreigner.  You don’t know the lingo.  You don’t know how it works.  3rd space is a realm in which you have no relationships, a place you will only go by invitation.

Think about it, for church goers, your church is a 1st space.  It may be a 2nd space at worst.  You are familiar with the surroundings, the customs, the lingo, and the people.  But for those you invite to Easter, church is 3rd space.  It is unfamiliar and strange.  

You call it worship.  But for a person unfamiliar with church, the words on the screen look like Christian karaoke.  The sermon is a sales pitch.  The invitation appears to be the walk of shame.  The offering is probably offensive.  You may love church, but your friend is alien to the whole thing - and perhaps extremely uncomfortable during the experience.  Don't let the smile on their face fool you.  They are being polite. 

Allow me to wax prophetic about your post-Easter conversation with your friend, which may take place as soon as the parking lot or perhaps the next day at work. 

“So what did you think?”

“It was good, I enjoyed it.”

“So would you like to go back with me sometime?”

“Sure.”

To the alien mind the word “sure” means, no chance.  Weeks will go by.  Your friend will not return.  At some point they may even communicate to you the not so subtle hint that they would like for you to quit asking.  Because you made Easter the ultimate end, your Easter service was the unfortunate end.  

Your friend was kind to you.  He or she came to the service.  They felt foreign to the whole thing.  Who in their right mind wants to continue subjecting themselves to an alien experience?

Here is the key.  The conversation about the gospel can’t find its ultimate end in 3rd space, it has to work its way into something more familiar.  How can you accomplish this?  Below are some suggestions on how to change the space:

  1. Extend the Easter experience into a more familiar space.  After Easter service, have a plan to move from 3rd space back to a 1st or 2nd space where the two of you have common ground.  Go on a bike ride.  Plan on sharing Easter lunch with your friend at your home.  Don’t just digest the meal, somehow digest the message.  Talk though the experience.  The more immediate you are with this the more effective.
  2. Don’t be offended by criticisms.  If your friend talks about parts of the service or the message that made him or her feel uncomfortable, or perhaps even points they disagreed with, don’t freak out.  The gospel is offensive.  Sympathize with the comment and work through it.  Humor is a great way to disarm tension.  Don’t laugh at your friend by laughing at their objections, but don’t shy away from laughing at yourself.  If you don’t think Christians are funny, visit John Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like.”
  3. Don’t belittle questions.  Your friend may ask questions that seem elementary to you, but if you make them feel stupid Easter will be the end.  For instance, not everyone understands that the Bible is broken down into books.  When your pastor says, “Go to John” that could be taken several different ways.  Never assume anyone knows the most basic stories of the Bible.  When your friend asks questions, it is an invitation from them to you to reduce the alien nature of the church as a 3rd space.      
  4. Make mental clips into conversation pieces.  If your church has an app, webpage, or you pastor writes a blog, use that content to share with your friend and keep the conversation moving forward.  You can do this in a not so awkward way by sharing thoughts from past sermons or articles that pertain to the natural course of conversation.  “My pastor said . . .”  “I read the other day . . .”  Instead of, “O.K. so now I want you to sit here and watch this 30 minute message from last week and let’s talk about it tomorrow.”  Make your own mental clips into conversation pieces.  Your friends are like you.  They need answers to life.  Surely something your church is saying is meaningful to that conversation.  
  5. They came to your 3rd space, accept an invitation to come into their space.  McManus’s talk on 3rd spaces was really focused more on this concept.  The reason most of us make very little cultural impact is because we will receive very few invitations into 3rd spaces.  If you do make it into 3rd space, you may be every bit as uncomfortable with that experience as your friend was with their Easter experience.  Recently I have accepted several invitations to speak to groups that were galaxies away from my normal Sunday context.  Don’t be afraid to venture into a galaxy far, far away from Easter.
  6. Don’t farm out follow up.  I mentioned this in my post about making Easter effective, and I want to reiterate this point again.  Your pastor is a comeback killer.  If all your friend gets from Easter is a call or a visit from your pastor, they will never come back and they may want to kill you :).  The pastor is the master alien.  The visitation team is merely his minions.  Your friend probably won’t appreciate an alien invasion from 3rd space.  If you wait on the pastor and his minions, you have immediately moved the gospel conversation back into outer space!  You keep the conversation going in 1st and 2nd space.  
  7. Help your church get over Easter.  To be successful at reaching people, your church needs to ultimately become less of a 3rd space.  Sometimes churches become calloused environments focused only on meeting the needs of the people already there.  Eventually the church becomes a closed group that becomes more and more difficult for you to invite friends.  We need an honest answer to this question.  How many people do you see each Sunday inviting their friends?  If people are not inviting people to your church, something needs to change.  People will bring people to a place that is meaningful and exciting. 

    Look around.  Does the nursery look like a kennel for Christian babies?  Does the seating look KJV?  Do the Sunday School or small group spaces look like a visit to the principal’s office circa 1953?  If the bathroom at the rec. field has more going for it than the stalls at God’s house, oh my!  You see the needs before your friends do.  Help your church get over Easter by getting involved in the daily process.  If you are prone only to serve at your church on clean-up day or at the egg hunt Easter week, Easter has become your ultimate end.  Be a servant all year long. 


Easter can be an ultimate experience or the ultimate end.  Think of how you can use this incredible holy-day to keep the conversation about Christ going with your friends.
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Pace, Doing Life at Godspeed (#TheWalk)


">Pace, Doing Life at Godspeed #TheWalk from Brian Branam on Vimeo.

You can also view this video on our App, LBCEngage.
 http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/app
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Blood Moon #1

Here is a great video explaining the science behind tonight's first blood moon.  I'll lend my thoughts to the Biblical significance of this event later this week. 

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You Only Need 1 "Like"

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Random Thoughts on Friday 4/11/14

Now there's an app - LBC Engage

If you haven't downloaded the new app for my church family (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) get it this weekend.  Three great things you can do with this app:
  1. You can stay current with what is going on at Liberty through social media and immediate access to announcements.
  2. You can keep the conversation going all week long.  At Liberty Engage you can listen to any sermon you might have missed or one you want to hear again.  Something I am really excited about, in a few weeks we will be posting 2 minute video clips from the weekend's sermons that will help you continue to digest truths from God's Word.  There is also a link to this blog where you can read articles and share stories, connecting sermon content and Biblical truth to culture.
  3. Get in the Word.  At LBC Engage you will find multiple versions of the Bible as well as a place to journal your thoughts.  LBC Engage also interacts, in real time, with Sunday's sermon by cuing you to display Bible verses or content on the screens on your device.
Get LBC Engage for iPhone:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lbc-engage/id845296250?mt=8
Get LBC Engage for Android:  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bibleandjournalapp.liberty2go

The Selfie of God

This Sunday I will be continuing The Walk series (#TheWalk) by talking about Presence.  Did you know most of the time the Bible mentions God's presence in the Old Testament the word is actually "face?"  For example, Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Here are some things I am working on for Sunday:
  • God has a selfie.
  • God's image gives a whole new meaning to Selfie Sunday.
  • We need to be less self-interested and more God interested.
  • God knew the dangers of us becoming image driven (Ex. 20:4-6).   He knew we would recede into a plastic world full of color but lacking redemptive conversation.
  • In God's face there is providential care, fullness of joy, convicting comparison, and everlasting pleasure.  We desire all of these things to be true of our selfies, but we can't deliver.  This is why most of the motivations behind our "selfie" driven culture are the height of idolatry.
  • When we sinned against God we fled from His selfie and became more infatuated with our own.
  • God's selfie is ultimately expressed in Scripture, His Son, and His Holy Spirit.
Here are a couple of great resources I am consulting while preparing this message:

When I Don't Desire God - How to Fight for Joy by John Piper
 Selfies, Self-Deception, Self Worship by Josh Philpot
Parents, A Word About Instagram by Sarah Brooks

G-Day

Moving back to Georgia gave my family and I a better opportunity to attend UGA's annual spring football game, G-DAY.  We went for the first time last year and it was a blast.  We are going back this Saturday and it looks like the weather is going to be perfect.  I can't wait to watch a glorified football practice again this Saturday.  Go Dawgs!

Easter Music

Our choir will be sharing this Sunday night at 6:00 p.m.  It is amazing how many great songs the resurrection has inspired.  I can't wait to hear them.  (and the director is a hottie! aka, my wife!)

Eggstravaganza at North Murray

In case you've missed the announcement.  We will be having an incredible event, Good Friday at North Murray High School.  You could win a Harley!  No joke, no catch, requires no cash.  Just come and be ready to have a great time.  Here is the info.

Have a great weekend.  I hope to see you at Liberty this Sunday.
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An Effective Easter

Easter presents the church with its greatest natural opportunity on the calendar to share the gospel.  Here is a short list of ways you can help your church have an effective Easter.

1) The Lord wants to bless your Easter services, make sure He can.

God has proven that for those who will exalt His Son, obey the commands, love Him, and love people that He will bless with bountiful growth (John 12:32, Acts 2:42-47).  If God can see that a local church is serious about obeying the commands, preaching the gospel and discipling people He will send people their way.  Make sure you do nothing in attitude or action that God would say, “I can’t bless that.”  Let there be no apathy, selfishness, or self-righteousness.  Make sure the sermon is faithful to the Biblical text, the music is Scriptural, and the teaching in every group is doctrinally sound.  Make sure that the building is uncluttered and reflects that it is owned and operated by the redeemed people of a Holy God.  Be a people God can bless and you will be blessed with people!

2)  The invitation begins in the parking lot.

The parable of the sower and the seed shows us that the battle for fruitful response begins early, not late (Matthew 13).  Many people who come to your church campus for Easter services have been fighting battles for years.  Don’t make them struggle even more to find parking, nurseries, or comfortable places to sit.  If they feel uncomfortable at the front door they sure won’t feel comfortable in the altar.  Remove every obstacle, fear, and feeling of awkwardness.  Make sure they know their kids are safe.  Help them understand what is about to happen in the service.  Use the bulletin.  Use sermon notes.  Make a friend, sit with them and explain to them what is about to happen.  Communicate clearly from the stage what you want people to do, sit, stand, pray - give them cues don’t leave them guessing.  Also remember, if you are not willing to fill out a card, no one else will.  If you are not willing to give, no one else will.  If you are not willing to sing, no one else will.  If you are not willing to listen, no one else will.  And most importantly, if you are not willing to respond to the invitation, not one else will.  Lead people to the altar, don’t think they will awkwardly walk the plank alone!  It is hard to be new.  People want to respond, but they are looking for cues from you that what they are doing is OK.

3)  Everyone is a greeter.

Melanie Smollen from Faith Perceptions says that guests at your church want to know:  Do you see me?  Do you hear me?  Do you know that I am here?  Do you care?  People expect to be greeted by the pastor and the greeters.  People will determine if they are seen, heard, acknowledged and cared for by a church if they experience those things from people who are not expected to do so.  Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  That word was for everyone at your church, not just the greeters! 

4) People will come if you ask them.

Thom Rainer shares some startling statistics from his insightful book The Unchurched Next Door.  82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.  This means most people are just waiting on you to ask.  However, only 2% of church members will actually invite an unchurched person to church.  In a given year, 98% of church-goers never extend an invitation.   

5) Don’t farm out follow up.

Don’t expect someone else to follow up.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if a person is going to be birthed into the Kingdom that they must go through the church office.  Meet someone this Easter at your church.  Get their name.  Find out how to contact them and you follow up.  They expect a letter from your pastor.  If you want to leave a lasting impression, let them hear from you; not because it is your business, but because you care.

6)  People will be talking about your church when they leave, it’s up to you to determine what they will be talking about.

What do we want them to say about the nursery?  What do you want them to say about the music?  If you are the pastor who will be delivering the sermon, will you say something so impactful, simple, and memorable that people will be talking about it for several days?  What will people be saying about your building?  People will talk, positively or negatively.  Give them something great to say about their experience at your church this Easter.
7)  Tell people what’s next.  

Church folks are notorious about complaining about people only coming to church Christmas and Easter.  If you want to remedy that, tell them what’s next.  Otherwise, in many people’s minds, Christmas is next.  What’s your next event?  What is the sermon next Sunday?  What will the children, students, or small groups be doing next?  Are you playing softball this Spring, going to lunch this afternoon?  The leaving is just as important as the greeting.  If you don’t have anything worth coming to within a week after Easter, you might as well wish your guests a Merry Christmas as they walk out the door.  

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Rooney and Pinette, Funny Men, A Fitting Reminder

Early on Monday morning I was driving in the darkness listening to the news on the radio.  Two very talented and funny men had died.  Mickey Rooney who was revered to have a unique career that has "spanned almost the entire history of motion pictures" passed away at the age of 93.  It would be difficult to find a person alive, of any age, in our country who has not seen something in which Mickey Rooney was an actor.  From his appearances in The Muppet movies, to the short but mighty security guard who declared that Ben Stein's character, "He looks like a wierdy!", to the classic Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and even dating back to appearances in silent films, you, your kids, your grandmother, and your great grandaddy have all at one time or another laughed at Mickey Rooney.

The second was John Pinette who passed at age 50.  Pinette was the portly fellow who was car jacked in a small town in the final episode of Seinfeld.  Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer crassly looked on as desensitized New Yorkers who were merely witnesses to something that goes on all the time.   By failing to help, the Seinfeld crew landed in jail becoming an example case for the conveniently new "Good Samaritan" law.  The final demise of the main characters on a show "all about nothing" was humorously ironic as they did nothing for John Pinette.

I grew familiar with Pinette while living in Birmingham, AL listening to the Rick and Bubba Show.  My wife and I recite his classic punchline to his fast food routine everytime we get behind "that guy" who can't make up his mind.  "Get in the back of the line!"  No one can do justice to the classic way Pinette delivered that line.  The brilliance of Pinette is that the guy could make food funny.

The news of death has a strange way of bringing to the human soul a mixture of nostalgic memories and sobering thoughts.  We appreciate the contribution great people make to our lives.  Those involved in entertainment, especially for someone like Rooney, become definers of culture.  There are markers, movies, one-liners, and images at different moments of our lives that we cannot separate from them.  We are saddened to hear that they are gone, but we can't help hearing the news and laughing a little as the memories of them begin immediately coursing across our minds.  

There is also a sobriety these moments bring.  None of us are going to survive life.  The actors, comedians, athletes . . . time has a way of humbling all of us and death is cruel in that no matter how great we are, eventually our lives are taken away.  93 or 50, we are always too young and death is never convenient. 

These types of stories always remind me of a strange passage in Genesis 6.  There the Bible says that the sons of God went to the daughters of man and to them were born these legendary figures the Bible only refers to as mighty men of old, men of renown.  I'm not here to offer my theory on what exactly these mighty men may have been, but I don't think that they were the earth covered, fallen angels Aronofsky gave us in the recent film Noah.  What I do know is this.  They were legendary.  Every early reader of the Gen. 6 story would have known exactly who they were.  But no matter how great they were, they did not survive the flood.  Only one man and his family found a way to survive the judgment.  Legendary or not, Noah and his family were the only ones on the ark God designed for them.

Death has no regard for legends.  Legend is no merit for salvation.

The news of death has a way of reminding us that the point of life is not merely to be entertained or enjoyed.  There is an all important decision we are all faced with, legends and non-legends alike.  Death levels the playing field for all of us.  What's next?  How do we survive what is to come?

The Bible teaches clearly that after death comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).  Like Noah's flood, the reckoning for sin brought by a holy God is a deluge faced by all of us.  We have only one way of escape.  Actors, athletes, legends and non-legends alike are offered only one means of salvation, Jesus Christ.  Like the ark became God's ordained way of escape for Noah and his family, so Christ has become God's chosen one, a vessel of salvation for me, you, and your family (1 Peter 3:18-22).

When we stand before God we will not be measured by how funny we were, how many points we scored, or even by how many people knew our name.  Our opinion of ourselves will not stand, no matter how good we think we are.  Even a well versed eulogy offered by a family member or a close friend will not suffice.  Your eulogy may make the rest of us smile at your funeral, but smiles carry no merit when it comes to the salvation of souls.  What people think of us does not agree with how God measures us.  All we are given as merit for salvation is the Son of God.  As sinners we have forfeited any hope that any mark of acclaim or accomplishment will be enough.

If you do not know Christ as your Savior, please take the opportunity offered to you today (2 Cor. 6:2).  Repent of sin and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).

I would not even begin to know the eternal fate of Rooney and Pinette.  But I do know that you and I have been extended grace.  Let's believe upon Jesus for our salvation and receive His gift of eternal life before our lives are wrapped up in a news report or an obituary, another one has passed. 
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