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Don’t Waste Your Life.

Seven Minutes That Moved a Generation

I was 18 years old, had just finished high school and vaguely knew the name John Piper, but somehow this sermon found its way to me. Still to this day, this is one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard. Pastor John Piper is just a man, but for some reason God has chosen to use him to speak to my generation about the authority of scripture, the sovereignty of God and the beauty there is in living your life for God and for no other reason. I am so grateful for great preachers and the internet which allows us to be encouraged and challenged by men far away.

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife

I think its safe to say that 100% of marriages are hard work. If you disagree with that statement, please take me out for coffee and teach me your tips and tricks. I know better than to think that difficult marriages is a new trend, but it sure feels like things are rough right now in the Christian marriage world. Men, we must fight for our marriages instead of just venting about our marriages. This blog post was very encouraging to me.

4 Books That Made a Priest Leave the Church

This blog post title is definitely click bait-y, and I definitely took the bait, but I'm so glad I did. I love Martin Luther. I love reading about his life, reading what he wrote and studying the impact he made. So, when I clicked on this link I was expecting amazing books written by his contemporaries, instead what was in the blog was even better than that!

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My Sunday School Teacher

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I vividly remember all of those Sunday mornings almost thirty years ago. The paint in the room was forever being touched up, leaving me with a perpetual sting in my nose. The linoleum was chipped in more places than not, and my big Sunday School room could easily be partitioned into several smaller rooms with the rickety accordion divider. Didn’t all churches in the eighties use accordion dividers?

My classmates were the same boys and girls I had grown up with through nursery. The boy who always answered every question first. The super blonde kid who was picked up by the church bus every Sunday morning and dropped off at home every Sunday afternoon. I never met his parents. The brunette girl who never let me have the markers I wanted to use to color in the shepherd staff or Jesus’ beard. My best friend in Sunday School, the girl who I sat next to in class every week. We were all there.

Our teacher was a woman in her early thirties. Back then, perms were the way to wear your hair and she was no exception. She often wore a long cotton skirt and some kind of sleeveless shirt. Our old church building didn’t have air conditioning and our upstairs Sunday School rooms could be sweltering. Hot to the point of summoning ancient smells from the water damaged ceiling tiles.

I remember how strong her arms were as she led us in games and held high the weekly teaching picture. Every week she would gather us in a circle and read to us from the Bible. I learned about how God created the Earth and everything in it. I listened about Noah and how his family had to board that huge boat in order to survive the flood. I remember being baffled when she explained the Tower of Babel to us. Did those people really think they could build a tower to reach God? As years went on, she revealed more to me about Jesus and His word.

My Sunday School teacher always explained things to us at our level. It wasn’t complicated or overly drawn out. I never learned about great theologians, historical controversies or latin root words. I learned about a man named Jesus and how wonderful He was. I heard about what He did for me on the cross. I put my faith in Him and a seed was planted that, over the years, has continued to grow.

My Sunday School teacher wasn’t magical. As a matter of fact, I found out years later that she had only become a Christian a few years before beginning to teach our class. What she taught us about the Bible was all she knew. It wasn’t profoundly deep, but the impact was.

Her life, much like mine today, was busy. She had several children at home, a part-time job, other commitments, and ample reasons to not help with my Sunday School class. I believe her one reason to say yes far outweighed all of the reasons to say no. My Sunday School teacher was my mom.

Even as a new Believer, she understood how critical, imperative, vital, essential, and necessary it was to plant the seed of the gospel in the hearts of her children and her children’s friends.

Was it convenient? I doubt it.

Was it exhausting? Most likely.

Was it difficult? No more so than any other task we’re asked to step up to as adults.

Was it rewarding? I say yes. Eternally yes.

I was once the little girl in Sunday School who cried when the boy behind me yanked my ponytail... again. I was the girl in Sunday School who had to go to the bathroom five minutes after entering the room. I was the girl in Sunday School who asked my teacher to tie my shoes multiple times in one class period. But most importantly, I was the girl in Sunday School who received a gift. A gift of time, a gift of patience, a gift of deliberate dedication. My mom, as busy as she was, said yes and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Pslam 127:3

Posted by Marti Skow with
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Trending Reads | January

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How to Respond to the Refugee Crisis

The scope of today’s refugee crisis is truly unprecedented, affecting nearly 60 million people. Never before have so many been displaced, put in danger, and forced from their homes. In Syria alone, more than half of 22 million people have either been displaced or killed. More than 4 million have fled to neighboring countries. I share these numbers to remind us of the sheer enormity of this crisis...

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6 Attributes of Churches That Make Disciples

IMB exists to partner with churches to empower limitless missionary teams that are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God. But we know that discipleship does not happen by chance...

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False Teachers and Deadly Doctrines

For the past few years, lists of Christian bestsellers have been topped by a book claiming fresh revelation from Jesus Christ. Before that, they were overrun by books describing people’s purported visits to heaven. And before the heaven tourism fad, there was the best-selling novel that reframed the doctrine of the Trinity. Meanwhile, the largest church in America is led by a man whose platitudes are indistinguishable from fortune cookies. But it’s not just authors and church leaders who are swerving away from the truth. Theologians and laypersons alike are abandoning traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, of marriage and sexuality. Never has it been more important for Christians to commit themselves to rejecting false doctrine and pursuing sound doctrine, to ensure they are following teachers of truth, not peddlers of error...

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13-Year-Old Napkin Notes

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It was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it was still a reason to raise the eyebrows a bit. 

That was my reaction to an email from Pastor Chris, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. The letter was to the elders at Grace West Church, and the napkin notes? Broad vision strokes for First Family Church. It seemed like just yesterday that I was jotting down those thoughts, yet here it was 13 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions are woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one indicating pleasant surprise—God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, a few chuckles accompanied the raised eyebrows as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible. For instance, 

  • We started with seven Lighthouses. Could we recruit and train enough leaders year by year to keep up with our growth? Would our church respond well to this form of community and care?
  • We bought land, but then tabled our construction plans. Would we ever find a permanent place we could afford? 
  • We noticed a core group in Bondurant as well as an excellent opportunity. Would 40 people really answer the call to go to Bondurant?
  • An open door existed in central Asia. And God gave us a potential planter. Would both merge in the right way? Could we really plant a church halfway around the world?
  • Cross-cultural missions continues to gain traction, and multiple people sense God leading them to live overseas as gospel “partners.” Can we send and support them appropriately? Can we mobilize everybody else for God’s passion here as well?

But little by little, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was—and still is—actually accomplishing His will right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts are becoming a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness. 

By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to keep on keepin’ on is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Not our sin nor our success has thwarted His sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.  

I’m probably not alone. Raised eyebrows and under-the breath chuckles are things you’ve experienced as well, right? That’s often our reaction when we spot God’s sure but admittedly slow hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see His sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly.   

That’s why it’s always too early to quit. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured God is working. He’s faithful to his Word, committed to seeing us—you—all the way through to the end. Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful, and makes visual sense! But turn it around, and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does—to the designer!

So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world. God is weaving His purposes and accomplishing His plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control. And sometimes all it takes is a 13-year old email to help us see it.

 

The Gospel Spreading in Central Asia

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In June of this past summer, I moved back to Central Asia to do gospel work among my dear people who Christ purchased with His precious blood. Many of them do not know about the glorious good news of the cross. So, that is why I am here: to serve and help make Him known in this nation.

This summer was super busy for me. When I got back from the states, I met my new team that God had already provided for me to serve with here. I got to know them pretty quickly, and we began to pray, fast, dream and envision our future ministry in Central Asia. God opened so many doors for us to begin to do what we love: preaching and teaching the gospel and doctrine.

In the middle of the summer, we started five weeks of membership classes. After those classes, we collected around fifteen members that were interested in being part of our local congregation. We praise the Lord for these men and women who want to be a part of what the Lord is doing here.

Then, early in the fall of this year, we launched our first congregation. Over 70 people showed up to worship and hear the word preached at our launch! After the service, we had a big celebration of thanksgiving to our Sovereign God for His faithfulness and for everything He provided for us to launch this local congregation in Central Asia.

Just three weeks later, we moved to a physical building. Now, we have a place to meet on Sundays for worship and hearing the preaching of the Word.

We are very excited that God did all this in such a short period of time. 

I want to thank my God and Savoir, Jesus Christ for His mercy, grace, and strength to do all this with His sovereign power. I thank all of you, my prayer warriors and partners in the gospel. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. I couldn't do all this without your help. Please continue to support and lift me up for His glory and our joy. 

 


Timur Nesbitt lives in Central Asia and seeks to win the his native country to Christ.

 

Lessons We Can Learn From the Mormon Church

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As I write this blog post, I am with our Utah Mission Team as we conclude our 2016 trip to Manti, Utah. Our team this year consisted of 37 folks; 26 from First Family Church, and 11 from Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin, where John and Jenny Andrus are members. Keith and Nikki Ryan and their two oldest daughters also joined us from their new home in Reno, NV.

The most exciting aspect of our Utah Mission Trip is seeing our young people engaging in ministry and in street evangelism. What else can top seeing a 14 or 15-year-old student sharing their faith and the gospel with an LDS student of the same age? This is the cherry on top of all of the hard training and preparation for the trip!

Nothing can help cement the gospel into the heart of a young person like being forced to defend their faith in conversation with a person with a very different belief system.

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Utah is a changing landscape when it comes to the LDS church. Not unlike the evangelical church, the leadership team in Utah sees a massive shift towards secularism within the younger generation of Latter Day Saints. Because of the Internet and the influence of television and movies, the Mormon church is struggling against a tide of secularism that is invading their ranks.

One Manti veteran who is on his 17th annual trip to Utah told our team he has seen a seismic shift in the last 10 years. There was a time when he knew what answers to expect when in conversation with a Mormon regardless of the age. Now, he sees a distinct difference between the older generations (35 years and up) and the younger generations. The younger generation sounds more "Christian" in their conversation, but they are just as lost. This makes witnessing to them even more difficult, because their doctrine is a blend of Mormonism and Christianity, yet they are missing the essential elements of the gospel, and are therefore unbelievers.

There is still a tremendous need for solid, Christian churches in Utah. Those who live in Utah tell of news reports that suggest as many as two-thirds of Utah Mormons are not active in the church and are transitioning out of Mormonism, but instead of turning to a healthy church, they simply fade into agnosticism or even atheism. One Utah resident, who is active on a weekly basis ministering to Mormons, told our team there is a tremendous need for churches that would simply focus on reaching families who are transitioning out of Mormonism.

Our Church Is Not Immune to the Influence of Secularism

For those of us who are comfortable and secure in our Christian homes and churches, we need to observe what is happening to the Mormon Church and how it is being impacted by the secular society in which we live. Sometimes it is easier to see how trends like secularism are impacting someone else than to see how the same trends are impacting us.

As I watch the shifting landscape within the American Church, I see several trends that suggest to me we are approaching a tipping point within the Church. Each generation must struggle with new dynamics within the culture and how they impact the church. The last major shift within the Protestant church happened in the 1960s. Visit with our grandparents, who were Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or any of the other mainline denominations, and we would learn how orthodox and doctrinally sound these churches were in the mid-20th Century. Yet, we would also see liberalism invading the church and destroying the institutions of the church, starting with the seminaries.

In response to the shift to liberalism, we saw the the rise of the Evangelical Megachurch movement. By the mid-1970s, churches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church were starting to form, and by the mid-to-late 1980s, these churches were transforming the model and philosophy of the church. They were no longer strongly tied to a denomination, and essentially began to serve as their own denomination in areas of missions and church partnerships.

Today, I believe we are seeing a shift away from the Megachurch model. Many of these churches are becoming murky in their doctrine and beliefs and continue to follow the impulses of culture in an effort to grow their church. These multi-million dollar corporations continue to expand their influence through franchises and largely human-driven efforts, but their impact is diminishing. In 10 years, I believe we will see many of these Megachurches following the way of the mainline churches--physically large an impressive, but spiritually dead.

Over and over again, starting with the Tower of Babel, we see God frustrate and ultimately abandon movements by man that begin to build upon the strength and wisdom of man. God desires a faithful people who have one desire––to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. It is His Kingdom and His dominion, but man is often motivated by building his own kingdom and spreading his own dominion. Even when we do so in the Name of God, our motives can easily become infected with pride.

For me, this has been one of the lessons we need to take away from our time in Utah. It is a blessing to see our young people growing in their faith and striving to share the gospel with others, but at the same time, we are not immune to the disease that is impacting the LDS Church. The world and its ways are attractive, and each generation must make the choice whether to go the broad, inviting way of the world or follow God along a narrow, ancient path.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"

Why Youth Group?

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I’ve been a part of FFC’s children and youth programs since Wednesday nights meant Gamemo and Sunday mornings meant helping fold curtains at the Nevele Center, and it’s been awesome. I’ve experienced the growth and progression of our ministries, from activities to Awanas, through different leadership, even through different types of snacks (I miss the gummy worm days).

These days, I still hang out with the kids (it’s funny to hear them call me “Miss Zoe”, because I’m sixteen and I have no authority. I just sing Veggie Tales), but I spend most of my time in the youth ministry, hanging out and sharing with my fellow high schoolers and singing and talking with the middle schoolers.

These are the highlights of my week.

I don’t know how much of adult-kind knows this, but First Family Church has the best youth group in Ankeny. I listen to my friends from other churches describe their youth groups, and they make it sound like dragging themselves to youth group is a ten thousand mile run they slog through just so they can flop down in a chair, be yelled at for being a terrible person, maybe play dodgeball, and go home. I don’t know how accurate that is, but that’s how it comes across to me. Sometimes, these friends learn I volunteer not just with little kids, but also with middle schoolers. Gasp! The horror! Like I’m herding rabid squirrels or something. Then, when these friends visit my youth group, they’re like, “Hey, you’re right, your church is pretty cool.” Well, yeah, we have the best youth group in Ankeny (in my opinion, at least). And to think, these people haven’t even gotten the full experience yet!

The full FFC Youth experience is an amazing thing.

It’s when you walk into the youth room and all these people are hanging out together in the back, and when you walk over, it feels comfortable, like you’ve known them forever, even if it’s onlyyour first week.

It’s when you play stupid games and don’t have to feel awkward because you know nobody cares how gross you look trying to sing while gargling. It’s a regular opportunity to praise God with your friends.

It’s when you sit down and listen to Travis preach the Gospel every week, and even though you accidentally choose the seat where the air conditioning would chill a penguin, and who knows what’s wrong with the projection screens this time. That doesn’t matter because the message cuts through. It reverberates through us.

Any baggage is checked at the cross, any prayers are pored over in small groups. Any question can be answered, every ear open.

Our youth group is great because it doesn’t matter where we are, what we’re doing, or what we’re talking about. We’re going to have a great time and walk away encouraged even if we’ve just spent a half hour reading and talking through Ecclesiastes 7 (which is great for providing perspective but not so much for breeding joy).

Our youth group is great because we’re great at being all for each other and all for Jesus.

That’s why we have the best youth group. That’s why I spend as much time as I can there. That’s why I want my friends to come. We support each other and we lift up our saving Creator, all while playing ping-pong and eating junk food.

And come on, if that’s not good community and fellowship, I don’t know what is.

Posted by Zoe Noble with

Unity in Community

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Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.

Jesus prayed in John 17 for us—his Church, his Bride—that we may be one. When I look at our small church plant in France, I marvel at how God put us together. After all, it is God who builds the Church, and we rely on him for unity.

Some church bodies in the U.S. are formed with people of the same type of socio-economic status, some with the majority falling in the same age group, and sometimes with those who dress practically the same way. Only after looking deeper into the matter would we find that the location of a meeting place or the doctrinal alignment with one’s beliefs were considered in someone choosing a church. In our new church, most of the above considerations, as important as some are, seem to be discarded.

How would you react and how could you pursue unity in a church where…

  • 22% of the married women in your church have gotten divorced this year alone?
  • Only 2 of 7 families come regularly with all their children (under age 18)?
  • 10% of your couples live together outside of marriage?
  • 5 distinct cultures are present and many affect the way our services are run?

As far as divorce, it happens when reconciliation is not possible. The response of the church in terms of community is to see that each person is loved, and each person is accompanied in spiritual growth. We praise God that even with our small number we are able to accompany each divorced person so that they are one with us.

As far as children who don’t come to church with their parents, there would seem to be a clear lack of unity. However, when I or others on the leadership team conduct family visits, we actually see the “missing” children in their homes. They know us, and we can have at least a limited relationship with them. Yes, we would love to have them participate in our community and in our classes and programs for their age. Surprisingly enough, our small church does have something regular for all age groups, and many of our leaders are involved in a teen ministry and in a children’s group. I also have college student ministry ties for the young adults. Family ministry is critical for us, and we really do need God’s help for there to be unity in the community.

As far as unmarried couples living together, we work with them towards marriage or living apart, despite heavy economic burdens that may result (yes, also from marriage; no time to explain that here). Purity inside and outside of the boundaries of marriage will help us towards unity, in accordance with God’s will.

As far as our distinct active cultures present in our community, we praise God for diversity, which actually brings us to unity. We hear prayers in other known languages, and we rejoice that God hears them. We have Bibles present in different languages, and we praise God for Bibles in English, French, Arabic, Kabyle, and Spanish, so that God can speak directly to the hearts of each one.

Unity is not possible in our church context if we try to base it on similar clothing styles or economic background, or even age. It is only based on God unifying us in Him, in the blood of Christ, and in love, that which Jesus said is the distinguishing mark of his disciple (John 13:35), of unified Christians everywhere.