How to Talk to Your Children About Death

My local community is mourning the loss of a young boy named Kobe who was in a tragic motorcycle accident several days ago and was taken off of life support last night. This morning I’ll be at our local middle school to counsel with students trying to grapple with the loss of a friend and classmate.

12.17.14

 

Death is always hard, but it’s especially difficult for children to process. If you’re a parent trying to help your kids process death, here are a few things to remember:

1. Don’t avoid it. In today’s digitally connected world, your child will unfortunately encounter death far earlier than you’re comfortable with. If you avoid the subject, your child will simply get information from somewhere else. Be proactive and have the conversation, as difficult as it will be, as unprepared as you might feel.

2. Be honest. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. Answer what you know, clearly. This isn’t like the time your goldfish died and you got away with “He went to the fish doctor and he’ll be back later,” waiting for them to forget about it and move on. Euphemisms won’t do it justice. Use clear terms. “Kobe died last night.”

3. Let them see you grieve. You don’t have to hold it all together. It’s okay if your child cries. It’s okay if you cry. Death is always tragic. Mourning is a natural and healthy part of the grieving process. By them seeing you grieve, you’re showing them the proper way to grieve themselves.

4. Talk about the afterlife. As Christians, we believe that this world is not the end. If you’re secure in the deceased’s salvation, talk about your lost loved one in the present tense, not the past. They’re not gone forever, they’ve just gone ahead of us to heaven. They’re waiting there for us.

5. Always point to the hope we have in Jesus. Any time we talk about big issues like life and death, it’s an opportunity to talk about the most important things in life. Talk about Jesus. Talk about God. Talk about heaven. Always point your child to the hope we have in Jesus. He will walk with us through the darkest valleys, no matter what age we are. Jesus can help your child grieve a loss in a way even you as a parent never could. Point your child to Jesus.

Thanks to Focus on the Family for posting an article that gave me several tips for this article.

7 Margins That Have Given Me Rest

God has placed margins (limits, boundaries) all around us. When we respect the margins around us, things tend to go well for us and we experience rest. When we push against the margins, life starts going sideways and we make ourselves miserable. Sunday I shared seven margins that have helped me experience rest and contentment on a regular basis.

12.16.14

 

1. Have a Quiet Time everyday. This helps me develop spiritual margin. You may call it something else. I grew up calling it a Quiet Time. It’s a time when you get away from everything else and spend time with Jesus. ‘Quiet’ means that there’s no distractions. ‘Time’ means it’s meaningful, not just a quick prayer on the way to work or school. Once again, this isn’t some rigid rule that if you break God is mad at you. It’s for your benefit. If you spend time with Jesus everyday by reading his Word, praying, singing songs, meditating on Scripture, it helps you. It gets your mind right. It gets your heart right. It gets your soul right. And remember, everything builds off of your relationship with God. Build margin here, and everything else benefits.

2. Just say ‘no.’ This helps me develop personal margin. If you don’t know how to say ‘no’ when you need to, all your other margins get messed up. Jesus even points to this as a deeply spiritual issue.  Here’s what he says: You are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God. John 5:44 (VOICE)

Some people can’t say ‘no’ to others. That’s a problem. Our inability to say ‘no’ to others impedes our ability to say ‘yes’ to God. Now obviously I’m not saying be a brute, I’m saying establish margins. No one else will establish margins for us. We have to do it. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to be willing to disappoint others and say ‘no’ when necessary.

3. Sleep and exercise. This creates physical margin. We need this. Eight hours a day we need to sleep. Those are some pretty big margins. I think God was trying to make a point. A third of your life devoted to rest. It’s a constant, daily reminder that we need rest. We were created to live within the margins. It’s when we disregard margins that life starts going sideways on us.

Exercise is just as important. If our bodies aren’t healthy, everything else suffers. We need to stay in shape. Some jobs require physical effort. Mine doesn’t. I sit behind a desk. I need to exercise to stay healthy. If we don’t have time to exercise, go back to number 2. Say ‘no’ to something else. Your physical health is that important. If you don’t have energy to exercise, exercise anyways. If you wait until you ‘feel’ like exercising, you’ll be waiting awhile. Good exercise and good sleep gives you the energy you need for the day. Your body needs that physical margin.

4. Fall out of love with social media. This may seem weird but it’s something we struggle with today. Our parents and grandparents didn’t struggle with it. We need technological margin. There have been several studies that have shown that social media can be just as addictive as smoking, drugs and alcohol. If you’re on social media all the time, that’s a problem. It’s stealing you from what’s important and replacing it with what’s useless. A study in 2012 actually showed that the more social networks you’re linked to, the more likely the social media will be a source of stress by trying to keep up with it all.

I’m not saying get off of social media forever. I’m just saying develop some margins. Fall out of love with it. I did several years ago. I have a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account. I never get on Twitter or Instagram, and I get on Facebook an average of less than 10 minutes a day. Now I’m active online because that’s where people are, but I schedule all my posts through Hootsuite and then forget about it. Social media is not the end all. It’s not the answer. We need to develop margins here.

5. Give ‘presence’ more than ‘presents’. This is connected to Christmas. We’re in the season of the year where we everyone starts focusing on getting gifts for each other. Gifts are fine and good, but what your kids, your family wants more than gifts is you. They want you to be present. This plays off of the last one. Once we fall out of love with social media and don’t need to be connected all the time, we remember what’s really important. Parents, your kids would love gifts, sure. But what they really want is you, present. Not just you at home with your face stuck in your phone or watching tv. When you practice presence with those you care for, being there, being attentive, removing distractions, you actually create the emotional and relational margin needed for healthy relationships to thrive. So, put your phone down.

6. Go ‘off the grid’ regularly. That means periodically, removing yourself from everything and just giving yourself time to think. This develops mental margin. One of the greatest downsides of technology today is that we’re always connected. Our brains never get a chance to rest and just be. Research shows that our brains are wired to need rest. If we never unplug and go off the grid, we may experience negative self-esteem, depression, worry, anxiety and health issues, all the opposite of rest. It’s why I’ve talked to a lot of folks who love to hunt and they say what they love isn’t just the hunting, it’s the unplugging, giving your mind a chance to rest. It’s how we’re designed.

It’s why years ago Robin and I made the decision to take the TV out of our bedroom. We were finding that with the tv in the room, we’d watch tv rather than talk with each other, we’d get less sleep because we’d be up late watching useless shows. Our minds would never get the chance to rest. However you need to, find a way to get off the grid regularly. Your mind is designed to need rest, just like the rest of you. If you never disconnect, your mind won’t find rest.

7. Downsize your life. This is financial margin. Quit buying stuff you don’t need. Quit over-leveraging yourself and making yourself miserable. Develop a budget and stick to it. Find your worth in God, not in stuff. Learn to say ‘no.’ Here’s what Paul tells Timothy in the New Testament: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10

When we don’t have financial margins, we make ourselves miserable. When we are content with what we have, we find rest. And it means some hard decisions. Two years ago Robin and I decided to cut the cord and drop Directv. It was a tough decision. We were a platinum member. We’d been with them for 12 years. We weren’t sure we could survive without cable television. But the cost kept going up and we kept having babies so our priorities were elsewhere. We decided to go with Netflix instead. $7.99 a month. Can’t beat it. Here’s what we’ve found. Yes, we miss some shows, but we’ve survived. Now we have more financial margin in our lives and more time with them. Even more importantly, our kids are growing up without being bombarded with advertisements all day. The tv isn’t there all the time, so they play more.

When we begin to develop margins, everything benefits, and we begin to experience rest. Build margins in your life!

Pawn Shop Evangelism

Yesterday at the end of church services I met a new young couple. Been in town for several years, first time at Mt Vernon (and church in general in quite some time). Married for three days. The husband came up to say that he enjoyed the services and that they were planning on coming back. Always fascinated with where people come from and how they connected with our church, I asked him how they heard about our church. And that’s when I heard about the pawn shop.

12.15.14

 

The other day this new husband was at a local pawn shop buying bullets. (I’m not from the South but apparently this is a normal occurrence). While he was there he started talking with an older gentleman who happened to go to our church. Both are veterans. At the end of the conversation the older vet invited the younger vet to our church and told him he’d be looking for him. And here they came.

Simple. Easy. Life changing. Think about the simplicity of it all. You’re at a store buying something. Instead of just focusing on the purchase your eyes are opened to the opportunities around you. God brings someone into your path with whom you have a connection. Rather than just talk about the similarities you pivot the conversation and invite them to church. That’s all this older veteran did.

Now here’s where it gets fun. Let’s play this scenario out: the couple is married now for a total of four days. A brand new marriage. They love Mt Vernon and decide to plug in. They are surrounded by healthy mentoring couples who help them build a marriage that stands the test of time. This young couple will most likely have kids, who will now grow up surrounded by the truth in church. Generations potentially will be affected by one simple conversation while buying bullets at a pawn shop.

Today isn’t an ordinary Monday. God has a divine appointment for you to change the spiritual trajectory of someone you’ll come into contact with. Don’t miss it!

When You Talk to the Man Upstairs, Mention My Name

12.8.14“Kevin” comes once or twice a month to church. Always nice and affable, a little on the stoic side. Doesn’t say much. Kevin first started coming with a family member months ago (this family member told me that it was a BIG deal that Kevin was back in church). Years of wild living. Years of mistakes. Years of running. But now he’s been coming to Mt Vernon.

Every once in awhile Kevin will come up to me after the service and say a few kind words. Something I preached on spoke to him. He did so again yesterday and spoke this phrase again to me, “When you talk to the man upstairs, mention my name.” He’s said it maybe two or three times over the months.

My first reaction is that it sounds almost Catholic in nature, him requesting that I be a priest or intercessor for him. But I know that he doesn’t have any Catholicism in his background. I think he asks me to mention him to God because Kevin doesn’t feel worthy enough to pray himself. He spent years living hard and has accumulated regrets that are weighing him down. In his mind he’s convinced he’s blown it with God. Kevin doesn’t think he deserves another chance. He’s thinks God thinks the same way.

My heart breaks for Kevin and the regrets that weigh him down, and yet my heart rejoices that he’s in a place where he can hear about and hopefully experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of a loving God. God loves Kevin. God’s not done with Kevin yet. He hasn’t given up on Kevin, and neither should we.

If you’re reading this and don’t mind praying, pray for Kevin (that’s not his real name but God will know whom you’re referencing). Pray that Kevin would experience grace and mercy. Pray that Kevin could lay his burdens down at the foot of the cross. Pray that Mt Vernon can be the hands and feet of Jesus tangibly in Kevin’s life. Let’s all mention his name to the man upstairs.

Creating Contagious Communities of Hope

Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today. If you have hope, you can endure the greatest trial, walk through the deepest valley, hold on in the depths of despair. If you take away hope you’re finished, doomed to wander aimlessly through the arid wasteland that life can sometimes be. Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today.

CCCOH

The driving vision of Mt Vernon is creating contagious communities of hope. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His work on the cross, and more importantly his resurrection from the dead, gives us hope. Through Jesus we have hope for a home. We can belong. We are not orphaned in this universe. Our Heavenly Father calls us his own and adopts us into his family through the sacrifice of his son Jesus. We belong.

Through Jesus we have hope to overcome. We can change. We don’t have to remain mired in our current circumstances. We have the power of Almighty God living inside of us, breathing new life and new power into us. We are transformed. We can overcome. We can change. Through Jesus we have hope for a purpose. We matter. We were created on purpose for a purpose. Our lives are infused with meaning simply because we exist. In the eyes of our Creator, we are beautiful, purpose-filled, majestic souls worth the sacrifice of his only Son. We matter.

And through Jesus we have hope for eternity. This world is not the end. This life is not all that there is. By conquering death and the grave, Jesus ransomed us from death and secured for us a future glory that will make this world pale in comparison. In Jesus our future is bright. In Jesus our eternity is secured. Because of Jesus we have hope, therefore we do not lose heart.

If you strip everything else away, it’s the hope we have in Jesus that drives everything we do. And that’s why our unifying vision is creating contagious communities of hope.

Creating Contagious Communities

The battlecry of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Over the past two days we’ve looked at what it means to create and what it means to live in community. Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be contagious.

CCCOH

The definition of contagious is: (of an emotion, feeling, or attitude) likely to spread to and affect others. That should be an obvious adjective for the church, but many times it’s not. Growing up I was a part of churches that had drawn the circle around a group of people and said in effect, “This is enough; this is all we are going to reach.” I’ve had the heartbreaking experience of seeing friends come to Christ but then be rejected by the church because they didn’t fit the ‘church mold.’ They were good enough for Jesus; they just weren’t good enough for the church.

At Mt Vernon, we never want to draw the circle around those in the room and say, “this is enough.” We want to be contagious. This passion drives the way we present ourselves, the language we use, the songs we sing, and the sermons I preach. We approach church with the mindset every week that God is actively drawing people to himself. He’s actively working in our community, and so should we.

So we invite, we bring our friends and loved ones and even those we’ve just met. We have medically-trained doctors sitting next to recovering alcoholics, and just about everyone in between. We go overboard with our Host Team (guest services) to ensure that everyone knows they’re welcome here. You can’t walk through our doors without being greeted six times. We’re a bunch of saved people that have been transformed by the love of Jesus. It’s a love we can’t keep to ourselves. We’re contagious.

Creating Communities

The unifying vision of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Yesterday I talked about what it means to create. Today I want to talk about community.

CCCOH

Culture today is overwhelmed with an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The digital revolution of the past two decades was intended to bring people together in new and exciting ways. Email, Instant Messenger, Text Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. In one sense, we are more connected than ever before. And yet, technological connectivity is a poor facade for true community. We were created to do life together. We were wired to live in community. God models that in his own being with the trinity. It’s why humans have always been intrinsically drawn together in relationships. It’s why the worst form of punishment given out to criminals is solitary confinement. We were created for community.

At Mt Vernon, we’re intentional about creating community. Community isn’t something that happens when we sit in rows. Simply occupying the same space together for an hour on Sundays isn’t enough. True, deep-rooted, face-to-face community happens over time through conversations. Community happens as relationships build equity and trust together. That can’t be done sitting in rows. It has to be done sitting in circles. LifeGroups (our moniker for small groups) are the lifeblood of our church. It’s the foundation of our community. Small groups of believers, gathering together in rooms and homes, sharing meals together, opening the Word together, doing life together, creating contagious communities of hope.

Community is where church happens. It’s where we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s where we can practically show Christ’s love to those in need. Community isn’t flashy; it’s more mundane than spectacular, more marathon than sprint. But when life (and church) is lived in community, we fulfill the vision of the New Testament church and bring glory to the One who created us for community.

Creating

The unifying vision of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Over the next week or so I want to flesh out that vision so that more can grab onto it.

CCCOH

 

The very first word is “creating.” Creating is about intentionality. It’s about us recognizing that our world is broken and sin-infested. Left on it’s own, it’s doomed to despair and destruction. People are walking around in darkness, in ignorance, in hopelessness. As followers of Jesus, we have the answer. We follow God in a world that has forsaken Him.

Creating” is simply the choice to run back into a burning building to see how many more we can save before the whole thing comes down. It’s not comfortable, it’s definitely safer on the outside, but there are still people needing salvation. And so we “create.” We’re intentional about stepping into the void and declaring the truth of Jesus to a dying world.

Creating” is intentionality. Not to simply do church out of a sense of history or tradition, but to tap into our God-given creativity to create irresistible environments that draw people in from all walks of life. It’s the intentionality of teaching timeless truths in creative ways. To give that left hook that no one is expecting to better communicate a truth.

God created. We are made in His image. We have the power to create. We create families, educational systems, forms of government, television shows and the latest technological gadgets. We also create churches, gatherings of local believers committed to doing life together. At Mt Vernon, our local gathering of believers doesn’t meet out of mere habit, tradition or convenience. We meet with a purpose. Why? Because we are creating.

Why Aren’t There More Demonic Manifestations Today?

The scene from the Exorcist is forever etched in our brains: levitation, a head spinning around, cursing and demonic manifestations. Interestingly enough in today’s Christian-influenced culture, demonic manifestations are found mostly in fictitious movies and television shows. It’s nothing to see a horror movie with a demon or a television show with a demon (those tend to be of the more PG variety). But we don’t see or hear about real life manifestations that often. Why is that? Do demons still exist today? If so, why are they choosing to remain hidden?

10.23.14

 

I think Acts 19:13-20 explains it for us. First, the demonic manifestation:

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. Acts 19:13-16

A couple of preacher’s kids try to mess around with the demonic world and get their butts whooped in the process. The demon clearly and demonstratively revealed itself in the ancient city of Ephesus. After this manifestation, what was the response? Did the people cower in fear? Or did the wake-up call to the reality of a spiritual world galvanize the power of the gospel?

17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in powerActs 19:17-20

The demonic manifestation backfired on the devil and his minions. The reality of the demonic only shed a brighter light on the reality of the Lord Jesus who had power over the demonic, leading to a full blown revival. And that (I believe), is why we don’t see more demonic manifestations today. Demons prefer to stay hidden, operating in the shadows, lulling us into a false sense of ignorance to their existence and their schemes.

QUESTION: Why do you think there aren’t more demonic manifestations today?

How to Break Free From the Clutter

I’m a news addict. My first temptation when I wake up is to grab my smartphone and scroll through all the important news stories that happened in the last eight hours since I checked it before going to bed. Politico, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, Christian Post, you name it, I check it. Before long, I’m inundated, overwhelmed by things I can’t affect and problems I can’t fix. Since I hit some Christian news sites (and since Fox News regularly plays to its evangelical base), I’m constantly told what I should be angry about, who I should be angry at, and what I can to do get involved. I’m pushed, pulled, angered and overwhelmed, all within the comfort of my own smartphone.

10.21.14

Maybe it’s not news for you. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe that Facebook news feed calls to you during the night. You can be so wrapped up in others stories that you forget to live out your own. Maybe it’s that Sportscenter app that keeps you connected to the heart of your sports world. Whatever it is, we all have things that call to us, that want to captivate our attention and ultimately distract us from what’s truly important.

So what’s the answer? How do we break free from the clutter that keeps us from viewing and living life from God’s perspective? Simple. Just do what Jesus did. Luke 5:16 says this, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Go to a place. Remove your phone (or iPad, or computer, or whatever distracts you) from your sight. Get lonely, where it’s just you and God, and talk to Him. For some that’s a prayer closet. For some that’s an open Bible and a journal. For me, that’s walking around my neighborhood just before sunrise so I can watch God’s beauty unfolding into another day.

If your mind feels too cluttered, then put your phone down and pray.