Thursday, May 27, 2010

Using our Homes to Reach the Next Generation

Many churches are struggling to reach the next generation. In order to attract young people back into church, mega churches are building Starbucks in their lobbies or erecting health club quality activity buildings on their growing campuses or hiring multiple staff members assigned to lead programs for young people. There are endless piles of curriculum and materials being published by Christian publishing companies aimed at helping churches engage young people in the life of the church. While these programs and materials may have merit and perhaps a church based Starbucks or health club might be an appropriate tool in some contexts, we might be overlooking one of our most valuable assets; our homes. Most of us have a place we call home, no matter how humble it might be. Why not use our homes as outreach tools in reaching the next generation for the Lord? It was one of the classic models used in the New Testament era and has been used effectively in modern times around the globe.

Many young people in the next generation have grown tired of the slick presentations that many churches offer and instead they long for authentic relationships and a real sense of family. Getting together in a home naturally offers that type of environment. This does not mean that we have to abandon our church buildings; obviously it would be a bit difficult for most of us to have a full fledged worship experience for a large crowd in our homes. But a simple get together where we talk about what God is doing in our lives, pray for each other and encourage each can be done in a home of any size. Add in some light refreshments and maybe a fun game or two and suddenly a wonderful Christ-honoring and Christian relationship strengthening evening emerges. The cost is very low, so anyone can afford it. Very little formal training is required, so anyone can host it. And most of all, it helps Christians get real with each other. It may mean that we have to wash a few more dishes and vacuum the carpet a little more frequently, but those seem like minor things to do in our efforts to join God in His work of calling people to Himself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reaching the Next Generation by Learning to Listen

Many churches are struggling to reach the next generation. Churches are using a variety of programs to reach out to the various groups that make up the next generation. But such programs come and go. Perhaps instead of offering another program aimed at attracting the next generation, churches might consider something a little simpler. Here is a low cost easy to implement and surprisingly simple idea; learn to listen.

Young people have a lot of anxieties in their lives. Some of those anxieties come from pressure at school. Some come from family difficulties. Some come from financial pressures that the current economy has created. Some of these stresses are the result of poor choices young people made in the past. Some of them are the result of other people's poor choices that young people are being forced to deal with. Some of them are no one's fault, but simply the result of living in an unfair, unjust world. Even "successful" young people experience significant levels of anxiety because everyone expects the young person to keep succeeding in ever increasing ways. That's a lot of pressure for anyone to deal with, especially when a young person is trying to discover their place in the world.

Though young people will need lots of good advice from parents, teachers and godly church youth workers, young people are more apt to listen to such advice if those people first listen to them. If a church wants to reach out to the next generation, people in the church must master the art of listening. Letting young people share their stories of joy and sadness is important. Letting young people air their opinions and ideas on various subjects is also important. Being a caring person with a listening ear is often more important than having some pat answer for the difficulties of life.

Learning to listen can be hard because we will not always agree with what young people say. We will not always like what they say. But they desperately need us to listen. Listening to the next generation helps us understand them better. When it does come time for us to give them advice, the advice we offer will be better if we have listened first. It will keep us from jumping to wrong conclusions or answering questions they may not even be asking. Sometimes just one sentence, spoken at the right moment in the right way to the right person can change a life. But we won't know when that moment is if we spend all our time talking and not listening.

Churches seeking to reach the next generation may not need to spend a million dollars building a fancy new building with a Starbucks in the lobby or hire a staff of "professional" youth workers. They might just need to learn to listen to what the next generation says and when appropriate, offer the godly wisdom that can help steer young people toward holy living.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reaching the Next Generation by Building a Sense of Community

Many churches are struggling to reach the next generation. A variety of programs might be utilized in such a situation as a way to reach out to young adults. But such programs come and go. Often what works in one context does not work in another. Perhaps instead of offering formal programs aimed at the next generation, churches might consider how they can build a sense of community for that generation.

Today's young adults are often lacking a sense of community. With a divorce rate hovering at 50%, the American family has been in trouble for more than a generation. The young people who have grown up in those families have had to shift back and forth from one parent's home to the other. They often have to deal with step families and the families of the boyfriends or girlfriends of their parents. Though some of these relationships last for a lifetime, many of them are in flux and it is hard for a young person to know where they fit in this ever changing family context. That leaves many young people looking for a sense of community outside their nuclear family.

It is not just the fluidness of the American family that has caused the next generation to lose their sense of community, but it is also tendency of American's to move frequently from one place to the next. According to the United States Census Bureau, the average American will move 11.7 times in their lifetime. Each time a young person moves he or she has to make new friends, find a new group to hang out with at school or compete for a spot on a sports team. Even trying to find the "right" table to sit at in the lunch room can be a challenge in some schools! All of this movement from one place to the next weakens a young person's sense of community.

Churches can help overcome this lack of community by trying to create a sense of belonging for young people. Though every church has its own unique personality, churches that roll out the red carpet for young people and help them feel wanted and accepted will soon find their seats filled with the individuals from next generation. Since young people naturally attract other young people through their interpersonal networks, once a church begins to draw in a few people in the next generation, others will follow.

There are numerous ways to create a sense of community, but two of the easiest are food and fellowship. When we share a meal together we share more than just nourishing food. We talk, we laugh, we tell stories, and we share our lives around the table as we eat. The meal itself is less important than the atmosphere of family that we create as we break bread together. Once friendships are formed, then fellowship begins to spill over into other areas of life. Soon we are going to the movies together, watching the Superbowl at each other's homes and playing card games until the wee hours of the morning. All of these types of activities help form a sense of community.

Some readers might be wondering what all this community building has to do with reaching the next generation with the Gospel. The reason building community is important is because most of today's young people want to belong before they believe. That does not necessarily mean they want to join the church organizationally. It means they want to join the church emotionally. They want to fit in and feel like it is a family. Once that happens, then they begin to hear what is being said from the pulpit, in small group Bible studies and in one on one mentoring relationships. When they see the Gospel lived out, then they are ready to hear it spoken out. Churches that build a sense of community earn the right to share their theology with each person in the community. Many members of the next generation will embrace that theology if they feel embraced by the ones who espouse it.

If our church wants to reach the next generation, we must resist the urge to get caught up in the cycle of starting one more program. Instead, we should invite some young adults over to the house for pizza and a game night. The rest will take care of itself as the Holy Spirit begins to do His work of building community.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Biblical Foundation for Reaching the Next Generation for Christ

A sermon written by Dr. Terry Dorsett based on Acts 20:7-12 and preached in various versions at the:
New Mexico Mission Leadership Conference, Albuquerque, NM on April 29, 2010Precision Valley Baptist Church, North Springfield, VT on May 16, 2010
Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on May 23, 2010

Many churches are struggling to reach the next generation. Such churches are rapidly aging and slowly declining. This trend must be reversed, not just for the survival of the church, but because the next generation needs the peace, hope, comfort and joy that faith in Christ brings. Churches seeking to reach the next generation must begin that search by looking into the scriptures and then build their methodology and programs off of that biblical foundation.

Verse 7 - On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight.
  • The church had gathered for fellowship, worship and to hear Paul preach.
  • After two thousand years, good fellowship, Spirit filled worship and powerful preaching are still important to a healthy church.
  • Paul knew that the end of his ministry was coming and this would most likely be his last time to see this particular group of believers.
  • Therefore, Paul preached with passion until midnight!
  • Paul's entire ministry was marked by passion.
  • If we want to reach the next generation, we must be passionate about our worship and preaching and about living out our faith.
  • The next generation is not going to sit through boring music and listen to a boring sermon with a bunch of senior adults.
  • We can hire all the youth pastors we want and build all the family life centers we want, but if our worship, fellowship and preaching lack passion, it won't do any good.
Verse 8 - There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled.
  • The room they were in was filled with lots of little lamps that gave light so everyone could see.
  • Though each individual lamp was fairly small, when combined with the light from many other lamps, the light was enough to chase back the darkness.
  • Sometimes we think that only "super Christians" can shine bright for Jesus.
  • We think that some big name Christian musician or well known youth evangelist is what we need to reach the next generation for Christ. While those people might be helpful, once they get back on their bus and drive away, we are the ones that must do the hard work of being lights to a generation lost in darkness.
  • If we want to reach the next generation, each one of us will need to shine brightly for the Lord in our corner of the world.
  • We must stop thinking about how little our light is and start thinking about how bright Jesus is and then shine for Him!
Verse 9 - A young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep he fell down from the third story, and was picked up dead.

  • Eutychus was sitting in a window sill during the worship service.
  • The room grew hot from the heat the lamps produced and the hour grew late as Paul preached until midnight.
  • Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled out of the third story window onto the ground below.
  • The passage says that he was "picked up dead." But the way the verse is constructed in the original language, it actually means that every outward appearance was that he was dead.
  • However, the next verse affirms that life was still in him.
  • Like Eutychus, many of our young people are "sitting on the window sill," already half way out of the church. They begin to be lulled by the things of the world in their teen years and by the time they reach young adulthood; it is easy for them to "fall away" because they are half gone anyway.
  • Like Eutychus, many of our young people are "asleep." This is a euphemism that means many of them have not yet been born again spiritually.
  • "Easy believes" has swept through the modern church. We have allowed too many of our young people to think that because they prayed a 30 second prayer they did not really understand when they were five or six years old in order to make a Sunday school teacher happy that now they are right with God even though there is no evidence of spiritual fruit in their lives.
  • We need to make sure our young people have actually repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. This can only be done by having honest heart to heart talks with them about the pain that sin causes and how turning from that sin help them live a better life.
  • We need to make sure they have done more than "prayed a prayer," we need to make sure they are living for Christ in their daily lives.
Verse 10 - But Paul went down, threw himself on him, embraced him, and said, "Don't be alarmed, for his life is in him!"
  • Paul understood the importance of engaging the next generation with the Gospel.
  • Though Paul could have given Eutychus a lecture for falling asleep during the sermon, instead Paul threw himself at the young man and embraced him.
  • Our mission will not be fulfilled by being judgmental of the next generation.
  • We must "throw" ourselves into reaching them.
  • That will sometimes be frustrating and most likely be costly, but if we are not willing to make the emotional and financial investment, we are unlikely to reach the next generation with the Gospel.
Verses 11-12 - After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, he conversed a considerable time until dawn. They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.

These two verses give us four additional practical things we can do to engage the next generation with the Gospel.

Offer Real Community
  • Verse 11 says they broke bread together. This means they fellowshipped together around a meal.
  • There is something about sharing a meal with someone that makes us feel accepted by whomever we are eating with. It is not so much the meal itself as the fellowship that takes place around the meal.
  • The next generation desperately wants to feel part of a loving community. Too many of their families are falling apart and they have often moved one or more times in their short lives and have few lifelong friends. They are lacking a sense of community and earnestly desire to have one.
  • Sharing meals is not the only way to create community, but it is a great way to start.
Learn to Listen

  • Verse 11 says they conversed a considerable time together.
  • A conversation is not a lecture where one person talks and the other person listens.
  • A conversation is when two or more people share their ideas and discuss something together as equals with everyone having a chance to talk and the others really listen.
  • We need to learn to listen to our young people. We will not always agree with what they say. They need our advice, but will seldom listen to it until we have first listened to them.
Welcome Young People Into Our Homes
  • Verse 12 says that they brought the boy home.
  • Just as sharing a meal with someone communicates a message to them; likewise inviting a person into our homes makes a powerful statement about how we feel about them.
  • If we want to reach young adults, we must invite them over to our houses to watch a ball game, play cards, bake cookies or just hang out.
  • We must make our homes "safe havens" for young people.
Offer Comfort Through Christ and Through our Faithful Friendship
  • Verse 12 says that they were greatly comforted.
  • Our young people are growing up in a very painful world.
  • 50% of them are living in broken homes without both parents.
  • 1 out 3 young ladies and 1 out 7 young men in America have been sexually abused.
  • This is the first generation in American history that will be less well off than their parents.
  • How would we like to grow up in a world like that!
  • Young people don't need our lectures, they need our comfort.
  • They need to know that Christ can help them change from being victims to becoming victors.
  • They need to know that we will be there for them even though others have let them down.
  • A church that LOVES the next generation will reach the next generation.
We can reach the next generation with the Gospel if we will:
  • Be passionate about our worship, our preaching and our living out of the faith.
  • Let our spiritual light shine brightly instead of waiting for the "super Christians" to do it all.
  • Offer a sense of real community to young people seeking community.
  • Learn to listen to young people even when we don't agree with them.
  • Welcome young people into our homes.
  • Offer comfort through Christ and through our faithful friendship.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Healthy Postmodern Young Adults

Anyone who knows young adults realizes that their lives are often filled with brokenness. Because of the general sense of brokenness that exists in the next generation, it is easy to think that ALL young adults are messed up. Recently I was teaching a seminar on how to reach postmodern young adults with the Gospel of Christ. During the presentation I made some generalized statements regarding the brokenness of many postmodern young adults. When the seminar was over, a young woman came up to talk to me. We had a great conversation about what God was doing in the postmodern sub-culture. She followed up the conversation with a thoughtful Facebook message. One of the points she wanted to make was that not all postmodern young adults are messed up.

While many young adults with a postmodern world view may indeed have issues, there are also many who have managed to make the journey to adulthood by avoiding the major landmines that have destroyed many of their peers. They have found a deeply personal faith in Christ that helped them avoid the barriers placed in their path by the Enemy. Such healthy young adults are a reminder that God is at work in the next generation and that God has a plan for their future.

While we need to continue to be sensitive to young adults whose lives are filled with brokenness, we also need to make sure we don't lump ALL young adults together into one messed up demographic. We should recognize young adults who are healthy and have found a deep and meaningful faith in Jesus Christ. They may express their faith differently than older generations but they love the Lord and are seeking to serve Him. Instead of lumping them in with their broken peers and labeling them negatively, we should celebrate what God is doing in their lives. We should encourage them to take leadership in our congregations and help us reach other people in their sub-culture with the Gospel. Such healthy young adults are the future of our nation and of the church.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Membership Matters: Helping the Next Generation Understand the Purpose and Value of Being a Member of the Church

It has become popular for Christians to attend a church they like but to not actually join that church.
  • Many feel that the current generation wants all the benefits but not the responsibilities of life.
  • It seems that the next generation is a group of non-joiners.
  • Older generations were "joiners" but younger generations are less willing to join.
  • This is true in the church, but also in community groups and civic organizations as well. Those groups are also struggling to attract younger members.
  • Author Joshua Harris calls people who like to come to church but not join "church daters."
  • While any age person can be a "church dater," it is especially common among adults under 50 years of age.
Church Daters tend to:
  • Be self-centered. We go to church for what we get out of it.
  • Be independent. We go to church because that is what Christians are supposed to do, but don't expect us to invest ourselves in the church.
  • Be critical. We are quick to find fault with our church and don't mind talking about it.
The problem with being a church dater is:
  • We cheat ourselves out of the blessing of being a real part of the church.
  • We cheat the church out of being able to use our gifts, talents and skills.
  • We cheat the world out of hearing the Gospel in the most effective way, which is through the church.
Some church daters say they are loyal to the universal church instead of the local church.
  • Almost every time the word church appears in the New Testament, it refers to a particular group of Christians that we would call a local church.
  • Though the universal church is important, the New Testament emphasizes the local church more than the universal church.
  • While the local church may have issues, we should still love the church because Jesus loved the church.
  • We cannot use the excuse that the local church has messed up too many times or that we have become disillusioned.
  • Jesus is the only person who has the right to disown the church, and He never has and He never will.
Why Do We Need the Local Church?
  • We are often completely blind when it comes to our own weaknesses. The local church helps point them out.
  • We also have an obligation to help others overcome their weaknesses. The local church is the place we can do that.
  • We need the power that comes from corporate worship. Private worship is great, but corporate worship does something that private worship just can't replace.
Why Should We Become a Member of a Church?
  • Becoming a member gives us specific accountability, care, encouragement and leadership.
  • Becoming a member means we are making the church a key priority instead of a secondary commitment.
  • Becoming a member means we try to make our pastor's job easier.
  • Becoming a member means we find ways to serve. Serving is the fastest way to feel a sense of ownership in our church.
  • Becoming a member means we give. When we tithe (10%), we are telling God that we trust Him to provide for us.
  • Becoming a member helps us connect with people so we can share life with them. 
Compiled by Dr. Terry Dorsett from Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ten Important Questions to Ask When Looking For a Church

When people begin to look for a church they often make a list of things that are important to them. Perhaps it is a good Sunday School, or a clean nursery or adequate parking or a certain style of music in the worship service. While those issues are valid concerns, they are actually secondary issues. Instead of focusing on those types of things, people looking for a church should ask themselves ten important questions to guide them in their search.

1.     Is this a church where God's Word is faithfully taught? Some teachers start their message with the Bible, but it's only a jumping-off point to share their own opinions. Good churches build a message on the teaching of a particular passage of Scripture. The driving principle of good churches is that God's Word has the authority, not man's opinions or church traditions.

2.    Is this a church where sound doctrine matters? Doctrine simply means what the Bible teaches about any given subject. A church in which doctrine matters is one that values biblical truth, knows what it believes, and is guided by these beliefs in the way it functions.

3.    Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed? The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ's perfect life, sacrificial death for sinners, and glorious resurrection and ascension.

4.    Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the gospel? Without an emphasis on evangelism, a church becomes selfish and ingrown.

5.    Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity? No amount of skill, leadership ability, or communication skills can replace godly character.

6.    Is this a church where people strive to live by God's word? Look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly, but also to live rightly.

7.    Is this a church where we can find and cultivate godly relationships? We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement, accountability, and care.

8.    Is this a church where members are challenged to serve? Look for a church that equips its members to serve and minister, and then challenges them to do so. Caution: some people want to serve in very self-centered ways and if this opportunity is not available, they leave in a huff. This is not true service.

9.    Is this a church that is willing to kick us out? When a person who claims to be a Christian lives in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple of Christ, a faithful church's responsibility is to begin the process of removing that person from membership in the hope that he or she will repent and be restored.

10.     Is this a church we are willing to join "as is"? We should not join a church because we think God has called us to "fix" it! Humbly recognize that we have our own issues to deal with and that we won't succeed anywhere as a self-appointed leader.

Compiled by Dr. Terry Dorsett from pages 83-96 of Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to Get the Most Out of Sunday Morning Worship

If worship is really important to us, we will prepare ourselves properly so we can get the most out of it. Preparing for Sunday involves making both spiritual and practical decisions. Follow these simple steps in order to be ready for worship.
  1. Go to bed at a decent hour on Saturday night so we can be well rested the next morning.
  2. Wake up early enough on Sunday morning to get ready for church.
  3. Before church, spend some time reading the Bible and praying so our hearts can be in an attitude of worship.
  4. Do whatever it takes to protect the day. Too many of us have let other things crowd out God.
  5. Help our family and friends have a worshipful attitude by speaking kind words to them in the parking lot or in the lobby at church. Save the closest parking spots for the elderly, the handicapped or young moms with small children. Hold the door open for others.
  6. Before the service starts, try to find people who are new to the church or who don't appear to know others and befriend them.
  7. Attend to our personal needs before the service starts so that we do not have to get up and disturb the worship service.
  8. Focus our minds on the truth of what we sing during the music portion of the service. Think about the Person we are singing to. Remember that we are not at church to be entertained; we are there to focus on the risen King.
  9. Express our commitment to listen to the sermon by bringing both our Bible and something to take notes with. Taking notes will help us remember more of what was said.
  10. Ask ourselves what we will do with the truth we hear in the sermon. Hearing the truth obligates us to respond to it. 
This material was developed by Dr. Terry Dorsett based on ideas from Joshua Harris's book, Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God, published by Multnomah Books.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Technology Requires Changes in Communication Methods

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that I enjoy encouraging churches and ministry leaders to be more effective in reaching the next generation for Christ. A couple of weeks ago Baptist Press picked up on one of my blogs and published it. It was then re-published by various Baptist newspapers, church newsletters and websites of all sorts. The same week Associated Baptist Press (the competition!) picked up on a second blog and quoted a significant portion of it in an article that eventually found its way into a newspaper in Dallas, Texas.

When I consider that a missionary in a relatively small out of the way corner of the Kingdom of God, such as Vermont, is impacting people across our denomination through something he wrote on a blog, I am reminded of just how powerful technology can be in our ministry. Technology is no longer just a "convenient" tool for communication, it is fast becoming one of the "primary" tools through which we communicate. 

Emails, text messages, web sites, Facebook pages, and blogs have now become regular ministry tools for many pastors and missionaries, especially those serving the next generation. Pastors and churches that fail to grasp the power of such technology will quickly find themselves outside the loop. Though using such technologies can sometimes be frustrating, we must overcome our frustration and learn to use them. They are no longer optional. 

Recently I was teaching these concepts to a group of leaders in New Mexico and a number expressed appreciation to me for pointing out what they already knew deep inside but had not found a way to vocalize. Effective communication in our culture is changing, and we must change with it if we want to continue to share the Gospel with the next generation.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hannah’s Heart: Learning to Deal with the Pain of Life

A sermon based on 1 Samuel 1:10-20 and preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Faith Community Church, Barre, Vermont on Mother's Day, May 9, 2010.

Background on this passage:

  • Hannah was married to Elkanah, who was both wealthy and deeply spiritual.
  • Elkanah also had a second wife, which was a source of ongoing tension in the home.
  • The other wife had children, but Hannah had no children. In their culture, this was considered a negative mark against the Hannah.
  • This story takes place when the family went to the tabernacle to worship.
Verse 10 - Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears.
  • Hannah had a strong faith, yet she still had deep hurts.
  • Our faith does not erase our pain; it gives us strength to endure it.
  • Hannah dealt with her hurt through prayer and tears.
  • Prayer has the power to change our attitudes, our actions and our circumstances.
  • Tears at appropriate times are actually good for us.
The Miracle of Tears

  • Biochemist William Frey spent 15 years studying tears and found that stress-induced tears actually remove toxic substances from the body.
  • Crying reduces the body's manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood.
  • Crying also reduces the endorphin leucine-enkephalin, which controls pain.
Verse 11 - Making a vow, she pleaded, LORD of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant's affliction and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life.
  • Hannah did not just spend all her time crying. She made a commitment (vow) to the Lord.
  • When we are under stress, sometimes we make bad decisions that only make the situation worse.
  • What commitments do we need to make regardless of what our future may hold?
  • Do we pray for specific things or just general prayers?
  • Are we willing to commit to specific things or does that scare us?
  • Specific commitments keep us focused during difficult times in our lives.
Verse 12 - While she was praying in the LORD's presence, Eli watched her lips.
  • Eli was watching her pray, though she probably did not realize it.
  • We may not realize it, but others are watching how we pray through our troubles.
  • They want to know if our prayers work.
  • What do others see about the power of God in our lives?
Verse 13 - Hannah was speaking to herself, and although her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk

  • Eli did not understand what she was doing.
  • People will not always understand how faith helps us in times of difficulty.
  • Eli thought she was drunk.
  • Sometimes people will think we are acting crazy in regards to our faith.
Verse 15 - Hannah replied "I am a woman with a broken heart. I've been pouring out my heart before the LORD."
  • Hannah may not have been understood by others, but she understood herself. She knew she had a broken heart.
  • Pain has a way of messing up our thinking. But when we pray and seek God in the midst of our pain, we find clarity in our own thinking.
  • Through prayer, we can understand ourselves better than ever before.
  • Hannah needed to get her frustrations off her chest and air her feelings.
  • As a believer, Hannah realized the first person to share her heart with was the Lord.
  • We tend to go talk to a person first. While there is an appropriate time to share our burdens with other people, we need to first learn the importance of pouring out our heart to God.
Verse 17 - Eli responded, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you've requested from Him."
  • At first Eli did not understand Hannah, but in the end, he did finally realize the depth of her pain, becoming a prayer partner with her in her time of need.
  • People can seldom understand the depth of our pain unless they have experienced the same thing in their own lives. But Christian friends will eventually see our deep need and join us in prayer.
  • Having a prayer partner is one key to finding peace in the midst of pain.
  • Therefore, we must not write off those who do not understand our pain the first time we share it. They will eventually realize our deep need and join us in praying through it.
Verse 18 - . . . Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer appeared downcast.
  • Hannah worshipped, she prayed, she poured out her heart and it really helped!
  • Hannah then had to go on with her life.
  • Though her problem was not solved she did find peace and strength and was able to continue on with life.
  • Prayer can do the same thing for us.
Verse 19 - . . . Then Elkanah was intimate with his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her.
  • Hannah was loved by her husband, which helped her find a great deal of peace.
  • Having people in our lives who love us is very important for our emotional health.
  • Hannah was also remembered by God.
  • Realizing that God has not forgotten us is also very important for our emotional health.
Verse 20 - After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son.
  • It took time for Hannah's problem to be solved.
  • It takes time to find real solutions to the problems of life.
  • God gave Hannah a son, which was an answer to her specific prayer.
  • God will give us answers to our specific prayers if we give God time.
Verse 20 - . . . She named him Samuel, because she said, "I requested him from the LORD."
  • The name Samuel has two interpretations. "God has heard" or "a son of God."
  • However we want to interpret it, God heard Hannah's prayer and gave her a son.
  • Hannah gave the glory to God by the name she gave her son.
  • Will we give God the glory when He answers our prayer & meets our need?
  • Our faith does not erase our pain; it gives us strength to endure.
  • Prayer and commitment to God changes our attitudes, our actions and our circumstances.
  • Talk to God about problems first, and then find a godly prayer partner.
  • Remember the love of others and of God.
  • Give difficult situations time and give God the glory every step along the way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Victims or Reapers?

The other day I was catching up on reading Facebook status updates. It was clear that many people on my friends list were going through hard times in life. Some of them were victims of other people's meanness. Some of them were victims of usual negative situations that they had no control over. Both of those scenarios were sad and brought great hurt to my heart as I read about all the pain my friends were going through. But if I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit that some of my friends were simply reaping what they had sown. The pain that some of them were feeling was the result of the poor choices they had made. I had to wonder what they really expected to happen as they continued doing what they knew was wrong.

I was reminded of what God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, "If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." This verse reminds us that as human beings we have a sinful nature that is always lurking just under the surface. If we do not stay focused on living right, then our actions will not be acceptable to God, to our friends, to our culture or even to ourselves.

I had to wonder why my friends who didn't do their homework or study for a test and then failed were mad at the teacher. They were the ones who made the choice not to study and now had to live with the results.

I had to wonder why my friends who cheated on their boyfriends or girlfriends (especially those that cheated more than once) got mad when their significant other broke up with them. We must learn from our mistakes and move on.

I had to wonder why my friends who were still living at home with their parents but ignored clear rules set by their parents got upset when their parents enforced the consequences for disobeying the rules. Why were they angry with their parents when they had made the choice knowing what would happen. Parents were not the "bad" guys. Parents gave warnings so we wouldn't have to experience pain from the consequences. That's what parents do!

I had to wonder why people who had legal issues which required them to have certain restrictions placed on them by the court would violate those restrictions knowing full well that the law would be brought to bear on them in full force. It just did not make sense to violate those court orders, yet some of my friends did.

I had to wonder why people who did not pay their bills were surprised when whatever they did not pay for was finally taken away or they were evicted. That is what happens when we don't pay our bills.

It is baffling to me that people do not understand that if we want life to get better, then we must act better. Bad actions will never produce good results. We can blame others for our problems, or we can get our act together and start doing right. This is a hard lesson to learn, but one of the most important to grasp for a better life.

As I was thinking about the difficulties so many of us bring upon themselves, I was reminded of what Jesus said to Simon Peter in Luke 22: 31-32, "Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." When we do make mistakes in our lives, God has a plan for our lives that leads to forgiveness and restoration. Thank God there is a way out; we can find forgiveness through Jesus. Then we can begin to live right so we can avoid future pain. Living right is not always easy, but it can be done. God can help us as we keep our eyes on Him.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How Technology Impacts Personal Relationships

Anyone who knows a young adult realizes that technology is an important aspect of that young adult's life. Recently I had a humorous discussion on Facebook with a young adult friend of mine. He had recently updated his "relationship status" and had a new girlfriend. But he had not yet listed the young lady's name on Facebook because she had not yet "accepted" the relationship change on Facebook. I was giving him a friendly ribbing about how he couldn't even get a girlfriend without Facebook. He thought it was funny, but agreed that technology has definitely changed how personal relationships are created, perceived, and shared with others.

But it is not just young adults' relationships that have been changed by technology. I must admit that my wife and I often "talk" online throughout the day, or send each other text messages, or use some other means of technological communication. It keeps us connected to each other during the day though we are physically on opposite ends of the city in which we live.

I also communicate to my three young adult children through technology. The other day my wife had prepared a fine dinner and when it came time to "call" them for dinner, I sent them a text message even though they were just in the other room. Wow, technology really has become a part of our lives!

As a pastor who is concerned about helping the next generation discover a meaningful faith in Christ, I use technology a lot in my ministry. It helps me connect with a larger number of young adults than I could do in person. It is also provides a "safe" way for young adults to ask me questions or discuss things with me that might be uncomfortable in a face to face conversation. These are good aspects of using technology in our personal relationships.

But there is an inherent difficulty in using too much technology in our personal relationships. The danger of all of this technological communication is that we can use it as a way to isolate ourselves from actual interaction from others. We are designed by God to need each other, especially in times of difficulty or stress. There are times when we need a hug, and a cute symbol for a hug in a text message just won't do. There is something about a firm handshake or a pat on the shoulder that still means something important to us that just can't be communicated through technology.

There is also the issue of honesty. When people only connect through technology, it is easy to bend the truth and get away with it. After all, if we have never met the person we are talking to, we don't know if what is said is even true. Even if we have met the person, but only on rare occasions, there is much less accountability in a face to face relationship. People say and do things on a computer screen or cell phone that they would not do in person. This is another reason why we need to actually spend time with each other in face to face encounters. It keeps us honest and more authentic in what we say and do.

Technology is a great tool. It can be used to help us communicate with others. It can give us a sense of safety when we need to discuss complicated issues. But no amount of technology can replace the value of human interaction. We must learn to use technology as an effective tool, but resist the temptation to use it in unhealthy ways.