Don’t Let the Enemy Steal Your Focus from Christ this Easter

By Debbie McDaniel

It’s no surprise that the enemy has plotted such great destruction through the evils of terrorism during this very week. Because it’s Holy Week. And you can be assured, he’s well aware of that.

The most significant celebration of the year for believers all around the world, the time for remembering Christ’s journey to the cross, the celebration of his Resurrection, and the gift of new life.

The enemy knows. And he hates it. Since the beginning of time, he’s worked and plotted his evil ways, to lure people away through tactics of fear, anger, grief, and dread. We see him at work more than ever this week, stirring up his evil, distractions, defeat. His main mission is never complete, he’s constantly on the prowl, seeking only to “steal, kill, and destroy,” all that is in his path, all that resembles godliness, and seeks to draw near to Christ.

But we have the power to choose whose voice we listen to, this week and every week. No matter what darkness and turmoil the world seems to face right now, we don’t have to let the enemy win in our lives. We can live aware, stand strong, and believe in the Power of our King. The One who holds the final victory over evil. The One who conquered death.

No matter what goes on around us, God desires that we press in close to him, so close that we can hear his heartbeat, know his voice, and feel the peace of his presence surrounding us.

Yet it’s often a struggle. Many other things, even the good things, can call us away from the most important. Sometimes in the midst of busy lives, the constant headline news, and political banter back and forth, the real significance of this week may get missed. Or we find ourselves constantly distracted, forgetting Who and what we’re even celebrating.

3 things to remember this Holy Week:

1. Live aware – Know that there will be distractions. 

Life can be full of distractions on any given day, but yet this week in particular, the enemy would love nothing more than to pull us away from the most important. He is a deceiver and twister of truth, and if we’re not careful, we may step right into his plans. Here’s a few ways he may try to lure us:

– Through fear – This is one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons he uses against us. This world can be a dark place. And when terrorism and evil strike, it can shake us up, attempting to get us off course.

Be aware of the enemy’s schemes and tactics. Rise above and find steadfast security and confidence in the God who is in control. He knows our way, and we are never alone.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 41:10

 – Through busyness – If he can’t tempt us through fear or falling away from God, he’d be happy to just keep us busy. So busy that we forget about God. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of it all, the busy rush of the week, activities, mad dashing, wheels spinning all directions.

Yet, God’s voice cuts through all the busy, calling us to peace.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

– By distractions of other thingsDistractions surround us in the high tech world. We’re constantly wired to electronic devices and headline news. Life swirls around us. The enemy has a myriad of ways to try to lure us away from what matters most.

God offers wisdom in keeping our priorities in order and staying focused on the most important.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Col. 3:2

– Creating disunity among one another He’s done it since the beginning of time, stirring up trouble, causing hurt feelings, creating division. Don’t fall for it. Be alert and walk wisely.

Stand strong in your love for Christ and one another. Let the love of Christ richly dwell within you. He calls us to do all we can to walk in unity and love.

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Eph. 5:2

– Overly focusing on oneselfIf he can’t divide us in relationships, he’ll taunt us with our own problems. He loves us to focus on the negative and sink right down into his deep pit. He’ll remind us of our troubles. He’ll whisper lies and bring up our past. He’ll drag us down, and leave us defeated.

But here’s the good news – we have the power of Christ dwelling within us. We don’t have to listen or give way to his defeat, he holds no power over us. God has set us free, his truth is the one we can trust. He reminds us that he covers our past, he’s with us in the present, and he holds our future in his hands.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1

 – Through temptations – Satan’s traps are always before us, he knows our weaknesses and would love nothing more than to see us stumble and fall. You can be sure he’s working overtime, especially during this Holy Week, for he’s directly opposed to Truth, forgiveness, and redemption found through Christ.

Stay aware, walk with His wisdom. God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure. He will faithfully guide us in all of his ways if we’re listening to his voice.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor. 10:13

2. Stand Strong – Determine to focus on what’s most important.

In the midst of all we face this week, there remains the amazing story of Christ, who never changes. Without him, we have nothing. He is what it’s all about. And though we may know this in our heads, how we live through our week might tell a different story. It’s a choice each day, to focus in, on the true meaning.

Spend time:

  • By opening up his Word, reading, meditating, especially about the story of Christ’s journey towards the cross and the Resurrection. All 4 Gospels give an account. Dig deep, ask questions, seek to learn all he has to say to your heart.
  • By spending moments with him in prayer.
  • By taking time to be quiet and still before him, just listening for his voice.
  • By reflecting, remembering, thanking him for his gift of sacrifice made on our behalf.
  • By praising God for the power of the Resurrection of Christ, for the promise of new life.
  • By celebrating together with other believers.

“He must increase but I must decrease.” John 3:30

“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death…” Phil. 3:10

3. Remember the Power of Redemption – He gives us beauty for ashes.

Those ashes that marked the foreheads of millions of believers on Ash Wednesdayheld a reminder for us. We are but dust. Gen. 3:19

Yet his story reminds us of more – we are redeemed. We have been given new life, an open door, through Jesus Christ.

The ashes are a clear picture of the frailty of human existence. And though many times we may somehow think we’re invincible in this life, or even led to believe that we are not “needy” of a Savior, when hit with life’s struggles or face to face with painful events, we quickly remember, we need help. We need a Savior.

We have One, who also was broken, in ways we could never fully comprehend, yet he remained strong, and chose to endure it all – for us.

He extends grace to remind us we don’t have to stay stuck in our struggle and pain. He holds good in store through it all, able to bring greater purpose, greater beauty, greater strength. He never intends for us to remain in the pit of our despair. For he breathes fresh life.

God brought beauty out of the brokenness of the cross, he gives beauty for our ashes. His sacrifice offers forgiveness for our sin. The power of the Resurrection gives hope for our future.

He will…“provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…” Is. 61:3

There’s such power there.

Grace. Love. Freedom. The focus of this Holy Week. May God help us to live aware and stand strong in Him…

“Behold, I am making all things new…” Rev. 21:5

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15

Who’s Getting the Glory?

By: Crisman Koechig

Recently, I read a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks. The quote said this:

Too often we ask God to glorify His name with ours.

After reading it, I went back and read it again, and again. I could not stop thinking about that quote.  Then I read Psalm 115:1 which says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name goes ALL the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness.”

Then I began thinking of all the times in my life where I was guilty of asking God to glorify His name with mine. I thought of the times when I have been teaching a group of teenagers about the truths of God’s word and I want them to tell me they liked my teaching. I thought of when I put together a worship service and I nearly expected people to compliment my creativity. I thought of when I’ve desired to go on mission trips to 3rd world countries and make a difference, when deep down inside what I really wanted was for people back home to comment on my “boldness” and “willingness” to follow God. The list could go on and on. Sadly, I began to realize how often I’ve attempted to stick my name in the limelight.  I realize that doing that casts a shadow on God’s glory.

Now, I have a feeling that I am not the only one that struggles with this. One of the reasons is because our culture is full of opportunities to capture some glory…

Sports companies like Nike, Reebok, and others are willing to pay professional athletes ridiculous amounts of money to promote their line of shoes, clothing, etc.  In music/media we spend money on iTunes and other similar downloading programs which give a portion of the money to the writing artist and keep a portion for themselves. Our culture is obsessed with sharing dividends, or for lack of better terms-glory.  Now, I want to clarify: I am not trying to criticize our culture’s way of promoting products for business. What I am saying is, that’s not the way that God works.

God clearly deserves ALL the glory in our lives. It is HE who has the power to save us not the other way around! But, instead of giving God all the glory, we have been mentally programmed to try and take some ourselves. The Church is not exempt, in fact, we must be very aware of this temptation because this mentality could easily rise up within the Church. When the people of God attempt to steal God’s glory it points others in the opposite direction of God.

Is this something you’ve struggled with? Unfortunately, I have. What areas of your life do you need to re-evaluate to make sure that God is getting ALL, not just some of the glory?

Pastors Can Make the Worst Friends

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Most pastors are nice people, they just don’t make good friends.

That may seem harsh to say, but as a pastor, I think it is true.

Hear me out.

Pastoral ministry is an all encompassing job. It is highly relational, emotional, mental and spiritual. It can be draining physically and overwhelming. It isn’t harder than other jobs, it is just different.

Because you can get a call at any moment with something that needs attention, many pastors burnout and struggle to have boundaries so they can rest and recharge.

Pastors spend so much time counseling people, helping people work through issues or sitting in meetings that when they meet someone, they often see them as a project instead of a person. They see them as someone who will need something, someone who will need advice or need to be fixed instead of a person to simply spend time with.

For most pastors, church is something they are always thinking about. The next capital campaign, new ministry year, next sermon series, next issue, hiring a new person. It never stops. They spend all their time with people talking about church. They sit with their wife on date night and talk about church. It is not just a job, it is their life. It is who they are and this becomes unhealthy.

Then, they meet someone new and they can’t stop talking about church. They can’t shut it off.

What do you do then? How can you become a better friend if you are a pastor? Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Have friends who don’t attend church (or your church). This is crucial. If you don’t have any friends who don’t attend church, that’s a great clue that you aren’t good at friendships. Churched people will tolerate a pastor who don’t stop talking about church or is a poor friend because they want to be close to a pastor. An unchurched person won’t take that.
  2. Have a no church talk zone. There should be a time of day, a day each week where you stop talking about church stuff. Stop thinking about, stop checking your email. Don’t talk about it at least once a week. For many pastors this will be so hard to do, but incredibly healthy.
  3. Take a day off. If you aren’t taking your day off as a pastor, you are sinning. I’m blown away by how many pastors are killing themselves working 6 or 7 days a week. Stop it. Rest, recharge, take some down time.
  4. Get in a small group. I’m blown away by how many pastors are not in a small group or missional community at their church. They’ll often say that the elders are their small group. This line of thinking attempts to make a pastor untouchable and that’s a sin. In a small group, people see who you are, you can’t hide any longer. You start to see how people see you and if you are any good at community. This might feel like it goes against #1 but it doesn’t because many pastors don’t have friends in their church. Now, you need to be careful here. You don’t just share everything with someone in your church, you must show discretion on the information and with the person. There have been times Katie and I have shared everything about a situation with our MC, and sometimes not. Each situation is different, but you should be in community with some people in your church who are not in leadership.
  5. Get a hobby. I was talking with some pastors the other day I am coaching out of burnout and I asked them, “What do you do for fun? What recharges you? What is fun?” Blank stares. Many pastors do not have a hobby. Things like fixing a car, working with wood, hiking, playing sports, knitting or cooking. Nothing. If that’s you, sit down and answer that question, what do I find fun? If you don’t have a hobby, you won’t have anything that lets off steam, anything that is fun, anything to do with others.

Helping the homeless this winter

“Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than this.” Mark 12:31

This is my buddy Darrell.

15492404_618696227434_8033870148020166669_nHe has been homeless for years. I met him a few years ago and we struck up a friendship. I’ve come to learn that this is not where he thought his life would end up.  Today, as we shared a Wendy’s meal sitting on a bench outside of Bass Pro in East Ridge he talked of his childhood and growing up in the Highland Park area. He talked about his mom and dad and all the fun times they had together. He talked about how he made some bad decisions and lost touch with reality. We talked about how his mother died in his arms and what that did to him. He said “I just shut off. I shut off for so long I found myself with literally nothing” Darrell is a great guy, who loves to laugh. I think our friendship went to another level today as he invited me to his “home,” a patch of woods near a popular shopping center. It’s a ways back there, but you know when you are at “his place” by the plastic bags hanging in the trees. His “bed,” as he says, is a 6 foot long piece of plastic he puts his sleeping bag on… I tried to get him to go to a hotel for a couple nights because the temp is suppose to be in the 20’s, but he wouldn’t. So, got him a tent, portable propane heater and a big bag of Cheetos! As we were sitting there talking our guitar player from church Dakota and his girlfriend Bailea came walking up, they joined us in the woods to get the tent set up. As I was leaving he opened up the Cheetos and said “Wanna have my birthday meal with me today” His 50th birthday was Saturday. So we sat there on the ground and celebrated his 50th birthday together and took a birthday selfie… He said “Man I’m looking rough” ha ha!fullsizerender

It literally hurts my heart that I can’t do more for him and the hundreds of others who were scattered throughout those woods. Maybe you are like me and you are asking “How can I help?” Here are a few things that you can do that can help our neighbors.

You can help immediately by giving to our Blanket Drive at Rock Bridge Ringgold. The months of December, January and February we are collecting new and gently used blankets to give to those who need an extra layer of warmth this winter.  You can drop them off at the church any time by putting them in the specified container in between the front doors or at any one of our services (Thursday 6:30 Sunday 9:00, 10:30 or 11:59) 

As the temperatures keep getting colder, North GA and the TN Valley homelessness problem becomes a more strikingly apparent situation than at any other time of the year.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that you can do to help out our Homeless neighbors.  

1) Acknowledge them

It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but it can make a world of difference to somebody’s day. It’s been days, months, maybe even years since the last time one of them had a actual conversation with someone. Everytime they open their mouth we tend to think they are just going to ask for money that they will use to “buy booze or drugs”.

Darrell said “A smile and a hello can make a world of difference,”  “That can actually set someone up for the day, especially when they’ve had no one to talk to for a long time.”

2) Buy them something WARM. A coffee, meal, tent etc…

Stopping by Starbucks? Why not buy an extra hot drink, even if it’s just a small one? Not only will this keep a homeless person hydrated but it will give them a chance to warm their hands up.

A tent or sleeping bag might actually save their life!

These are only $30 at BassPro http://www.basspro.com/Bass-Pro-Shops-Eclipse-Hiker/Biker-1Person-Tent/product/9992256648/

3) Donate.

Find a charity, church or individual that is legit and donate! Money, Blankets, Gloves, Coats etc..

4) Serve.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Find an opportunity to serve them.

4) Buy them a gift. 

Buy them a good book, or pre loaded old ipod you got laying around that you never use.

We don’t think about it, but homeless people do like to read to pass the time, it gives them something to take their mind away for a bit.

5) Help them keep warm

When it’s in the 30’s and below, keeping warm at night is impossible if you’re living without shelter.

Again…offering a homeless person a thick sleeping bag, tent or blanket might save their life!!!

*Note: Don’t donate summer sleeping bags. Get a thick winter cold weather rated sleeping bag* 

Winter sleeping bags are thicker and they’re waterproof so they’re more useful at this time of the year.

Other warm clothes can also be donated, like gloves, hats and thermal undergarment. etc.

Let me beg you here. PLEASE DO NOT give a homeless person a gospel track by itself. That is shameful and not christ like at all! I’m all for you giving them a track if that’s what you want, but that track had better be with a tent, coat, meal(s). 

Darrell is a stronger christian than most of the people that would hand him a track and think they are doing a good thing because he is “that way” 

6) Do the Backpack Challenge

Fill up a old backpack with anything that might be useful really – blankets, thermals, snacks or a paperback…

If you see a homeless person I don’t advise giving them money directly, because they may have addiction issues or other problems. If they are really in need they will NEVER turn away a warm meal, blanket, etc…

We can’t solve the homeless problem overnight. We can’t help every homeless person but we CAN help one at a time. 

Be the good and see the need around you! It will shock you how much you can do right here in our community for people who need it the most!

If you would like to donate anything that could help keep my friends warm please email me at JC@rockbridge.cc or text/call me at 423-280-9101

Thanks and God bless

JC

When You Want to Quit Student Ministry (Leneita Fix)

when you want to quit youth ministry

One of the most frustrating conversations I have with friends is the “You should quit ministry” conversation. Sure, there are days when I want to quit, more than I care to admit.

You know those days. They are filled with church politics, angry parents, mess-ups, complacent students, bad youth nights, and heartache. These are the moments in which tragedy occurs or the moments when a student we have discipled for six years decides following the Lord is just too hard. They are the moments you need someone to say, “What you do matters.” The last thing you need to hear is, “You know you can serve God anywhere, have you thought about being a barista at Starbucks?” Yes, you have thought about that too, but every time you almost press “send” on the internet application the Holy Spirit whispers you should stay. So what I do not need to hear on my wretched days is that I could walk away. I suspect those statements are not helpful to you either.

When your own “I QUIT” moments occur, consider these five things:

Is this where God placed you?

I think it is healthy to assess on a regular basis if you are where God wants you. This can apply to the church you are at, the job you hold, or if you should even stay in youth ministry at all. However, whenever someone says to me, “Have you considered another vocation?” I feel like I hear the Lord ringing in my ears, “NO!” As long as I know this is exactly where God wants me, then I need to stay put. If I doubt, then it’s good to get flat on my face before Jesus.

You are allowed to have a bad day (Or 15).

It’s alright to have a crummy day. Feel all the feelings that go with that. It is certainly more healthy to share it all with the Lord. We have great Biblical examples in Elijah, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, David, and even Paul of those who didn’t handle every day perfectly. The God who created everything (even our emotions) can handle those same feelings. There are seasons when one bad day melds into the next. When frustrations begin to mount, it is really easy to put all of our energy into what is going wrong. This is the place where trouble occurs. Have your bad day, scream it out, then refocus and put your energy on Christ.

Write down some God moments.

I have heard stories about a folder we should all keep filled with thank you notes from students and parents. Well, fact is the “thank you’s” haven’t been huge for me over the years. YET, that doesn’t mean God hasn’t shown up and worked in the lives of the families I serve. On those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, cry yourself to sleep. Then wake up the next day and take some time to intentionally reminisce on ways you have seen God move in the lives you interact with. Write down a few. Start a journal, or maybe even a jar of papers with memories on them. Then the next time this happens, read a few and write down a few more.

What fills you up?

It can be easy to get worn down because we are stuck on the hamster wheel of doing. When is the last time you stopped and did something that you just like to do? Play a game, go for a run, read a book, binge watch something on the internet, crochet booties for your dog, have coffee with a friend. Spend some time with the Lord, just because you like Him, not because you have to prepare for the next program. On the bad days, sometimes we realize they hit us extra hard because we are empty.

Find “safe” people.

If I know there are people who will always tell me to quit. They are probably not the people I should turn to when I am raw. Instead, there are safe people who pray with me, love me, encourage me that I am not a failure, and point me back to Christ. One close friend encourages me most when she says, “I don’t know what to say, but I can support you.” The people who get you, and get why you don’t quit, these are the people we call who remind us that God lead us to this ministry and will get us through it.

Sometimes the Lord calls us out, and there may come a time when I do leave this place or this ministry. However, it won’t be because I am giving up on a bad day when I want to quit. My hope is that when I move to the next step, it will be because this is where God has called me to next. I know there will be days I want to quit in the next phase of life, too.