Choose What Matters

As a parent and as a pastor, I frequently find myself in discussions about the busyness of life – when my wife and I try to pick a date to have friends over and can’t find an opening for weeks; when counseling appointments are continuously moved; when meetings have to be rescheduled; when church programs seem to be competing with sports and entertainment. Over and over again, the conclusion is reached: “man, life is just busy.”

When life is this busy, we are faced with an almost constant need to make choices as to how we will spend the little time we have. How will we fill our day? What will we do with our “free time”? What activities will the kids participate in? Which invitations should we accept? What obligations will we take on? These are legitimate and realistic questions that I would estimate each of us face on a very regular basis – more than likely multiple times a day.

The temptation is to simply field each of these questions as they come. Here I decide to do what is easiest and there I decide to do what feels good. Convenience, feelings, urgency, preference – each becomes a standard of decision making in the busy family. While it may feel like it cannot be helped, I think this style of decision making can lead to inconsistency, frustration and even the promotion of values that are not our own. What we need is one standard for decision making that always trumps all other standards.

Fortunately, God has given us the standard in His Word in Matthew 6:20. Jesus says, “… store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” We often think of this verse in relation to money, but I would suggest that the point of this verse is of larger scope than that. Far from merely being instruction on how to spend money, Jesus’ words were an admonition to make the kingdom a priority in your life. Later in the same chapter he supports this understanding by admonishing his followers to “… seek first the kingdom of God.” What does all of this have to do with making decisions amidst the busyness of life? Everything! Our quest for a singular standard against which to weigh all of our decisions ends here at this verse. When we are sorting through all of the options for our time and energy and even finances, we must choose the things that matter for the kingdom – for eternity.

It may seem innocent enough to skip church to play sports or to go to a movie rather than serving in a ministry. Perhaps it isn’t wrong to chill out and watch tv rather than put the effort into conversation and family devotions. And that is exactly the point! So many of the decisions we face are not necessarily between right and wrong, but between things that matter and things that don’t. I challenge you today to choose the things that matter. As you parent your children and lead your family, consider the lesson you are teaching with every decision you make. Consider the values you are instilling and the priorities you are strengthening. Toward those considerations, here are some choices you should make to ensure you are choosing the things that matter.

  • Choose important over urgent. One of the most common barriers to making decisions that matter for eternity is the myriad urgent matters that materialize over the course of a day. Urgent and important aren’t the same thing, yet urgent generally trumps important for most of us. Especially in a family, there seems to always be something that has to be done “right now.” Take the time to step back and ask the question “Is all of this urgent stuff demanding my attention actually important?” Important tasks contribute to long term mission and goals, so make sure that what you are spending time on is something you would consider important to your family health and priorities.
  • Choose productivity over entertainment. One of the constant complaints in my house is that “this isn’t fun.” This always leads to the never-too-soon-to-be-learned life lesson that “life’s not all about fun.” Unfortunately, this expectation is not restricted to children only. Our society seems addicted to entertainment. Though I am certainly not anti-fun, we should be cautious about over prioritizing it. I believe that the majority of what we do should have some productive value. It should contribute to our overall life priority of pleasing and following God. This does not eliminate fun, it merely requires that we think more strategically about the kind of fun we have. It’s tempting to sign our kids up for every sport, camp and activity that they might enjoy, but enjoyment doesn’t make something necessary or even beneficial. Again, each of these decisions must go back to your over all priority to put the kingdom of God first. We must consider what value all of this endless entertainment truly has for the follower of Jesus. I am not at all saying that all entertainment is wrong, but I think we should choose productivity over empty entertainment and choose entertainment that adds value to our families.
  • Choose relationships over amusement. Though very similar to the previous point, this choice is primarily regarding wasted time. We spend countless hours watching tv, scrolling through Facebook, playing video games, and wasting time in a wide variety of ways. I challenge you to choose to spend your time building relationships rather than merely amusing yourself. I know that we greatly value our downtime, but I would challenge you to limit this wasted time so that you can intentionally invest in relationships within your family. Ask questions, read and study the Bible together, enjoy each other’s company. I certainly can relate to the desire to “just relax,” but we should make the choice to prioritize activities that build and strengthen relationships.
  • Choose service over selfishness. Our children are growing up in a culture that is increasingly self-centered. Despite our desire that our children not be selfish, we regularly make decisions that instill in them the belief that the world revolves around them. We give them everything they ask for, shower them with toys and treats, drive them from practice to game to class without regard for the impact on the family, provide endless entertainment with little responsibility and spare them the consequences of bad decisions. We must stop choosing to conduct our families in a way that promotes selfishness. Instead, choose to model, promote and prioritize service. Choose to deliberately allow your children to sacrifice for the well-being of others. Choose to serve together as a family. Choose to prioritize serving in church and the community. Consider the lessons you are teaching when you insist your child make their soccer game, but skip your turn to serve in your church ministry. If you want to make choices that matter for God’s Kingdom, start by choosing service over selfishness.
  • Choose character over convenience. With the busyness of life and the hectic pace that many of us face, it is quite easy to make decisions based merely on convenience. While there are certainly times that convenience is an appropriate standard for decision making, it cannot become our primary method. We cannot expect to always take the easy way through life and arrive at God’s intended destination for us. It might be easier to give in to the demands of our children, or to let them do whatever they want; it is often easier to do things for our children rather than have them do for themselves. It might be easiest to park them in front of tv or video games to keep them occupied. It may be easiest to stay home from church to sleep or study. Unfortunately, easy is not always best and it is through intentionally choosing to do what is difficult that we can actually choose to develop character. As you sort out your life and schedule, I encourage you to evaluate whether or not you are simply choosing convenience. You might be doing so at the expense of character development.
  • Choose eternal over material. In the interest of choosing things that matter for the Kingdom, you will of necessity need to reject the countless opportunities to make material things the priority in your life. Even for professing followers of Jesus, material possessions are often a never-ending pursuit. It is hard to defend the claim that God’s interests are our greatest priority when we make decisions based solely on accumulating finances and possessions. Consider what values you are teaching when you choose to buy that new car or boat; when you have to have the newest and nicest of everything. I urge you to make choices to live on less; to avoid excess and extravagance. Choose to live and give sacrificially. Deliberately choose to go without certain conveniences for the sake of being able to be generous to others. You should look for ways to invest in the kingdom even if it seems to negatively affect your own wallet. Jesus’ followers must intentionally and passionately pursue eternal interests rather than material ones.

 

All of these choices can really be summed up in one ultimate choice we must make: choose God over everything else. As a believer, it is your responsibility to raise your children to love and serve God. I believe that most Christian parents want this for their kids, yet regularly make decisions that instill and encourage values contrary to this end.  I urge you right now to evaluate your busy schedule against the standard Jesus set for us and choose the things that matter!

 

Photo by Jagbirlehl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Characteristics of a Healthy Church

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Frequently at my house I am accosted by a sobbing child demanding a band-aid. To my children, a band-aid is pretty much a cure-all for any physical pain they experience. They usually end up with their band-aid, but during that process it is my job to assess the reality of their overall health. Is it a minor cut that a hug, kiss and band-aid will take care of? Or, are we headed to the emergency room (again)? Usually, I can make that assessment very quickly because I know what a healthy child looks like. The more I understand health, the more quickly and accurately I can evaluate the health of my children.

The same principle is true of the church. While most of us are faithful and careful in evaluating our own health and the health of our children, I’m afraid that we’ve adopted a “just wing it” mentality when it comes to the health of our churches. I recently posted some Thoughts on the Healthy Church because I believe the biggest reason for this is that we do not understand what a healthy church looks like in a very practical way. To help remedy that, I’ve compiled some characteristics of a healthy church.

  • Authority of God’s Word – a healthy church holds to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. The issue here is really two-fold. First, God’s Word absolutely must be the final authority for faith and practice. Secondly is that this fact of Biblical authority must be clearly communicated and demonstrated in the church. Saying that the Bible is authoritative is not enough – it must be demonstrated in the actions of the church.
  • Love – as the Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” No church will do anything perfectly, but I think it is critical that a church demonstrates Christ’s love. This includes showing love to those outside the church and not just to those inside the church. We certainly don’t want to be a part of a church that is fighting among itself, but we also don’t want to associate ourselves with a local church that is known as hateful and antagonistic toward outsiders (whether that be unbelievers or Christians who are different than us). Healthy churches live the love of Jesus.
  • Great commission driven – A healthy church takes seriously the call to reach the nations. Some obvious indicators in this regard would be the missions budget, personal involvement of congregation in missions through trips or various means and evangelistic emphasis. However, some other key factors would be attitudes toward change, innovation in worship, awareness and accommodation of target audience, involvement in the community and interaction with culture.  Healthy churches are not driven by their preferences, desires or traditions, but by a desire to reach the community and the world with the message of the gospel.
  • Biblical decision making – This can be easy to miss, but it is critical. Here’s why – one cannot know every detail about a church before joining. It also isn’t possible to know everything they might do in the future. However, you can discover the process for making decisions and that will reveal a great deal. Churches should use the Bible for practical guidance in making decisions and beyond that should have a clearly spelled out vision or purpose to which they hold themselves accountable.

Remember that no church is perfect, but a healthy church will exhibit these characteristic as a normative part of their identity. As believers we must first recognize these characteristic principles and then we must prioritize and practice them. Let’s look past the band-aids and make an honest assessment of first our own hearts and then our churches.