Parenting without Fear part 2

PARENTING WITHOUT FEAR PART 2: John 10 (Nov. 2019 Hope Chapel)

Most of the time our fears don’t happen yet fear remains to be a powerful force. This is true in today’s marketing. I saw a ADT security system tv commercial that laid out a dramatic scene of robber entering the house, the alarm system notifying the calm operator who called the police. The intruders were nabbed and the cute little children continued to play on the well vacuumed carpet. Do you have an alarm system? That is who the commercial ended and I felt concerned at the time that I didn’t have an alarm system. Those dudes on the commercial looked mean and my kids are so sweet (even at 15). Today we aren’t talking about marketing but parenting. Fear steps up our parenting game. We are to be responsible parents and have to heed all fears or do we? It becomes confusing for parents to learn how to discern godless fear with healthy concern. Fear projects certain images or scenarios (trailers) on the wall-screen of our mind. Worry has been deemed a form of meditation. Busy lives hinder us from paying attention to fearful ruminating leading to control. Fear leads to control and that is no way to live.

We actually can use the same visual capacity of our thought life that we worry with to imagine the presence and words of Christ. His way with us is real but unseen. Instead of holding “what if” thoughts we actually bring our mind to focus on “what is” true of Christ and his kingdom narrative. Fear is powerful but it is not who we are….  2 Tim. 1:7 “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-control.” Both ideas of using our imagination and life in Christ are mentioned in this quote by  Kevin Vanhoozer (The Romantic Rationalist: CS Lewis): “Contrast the satanic “what if” with the Pauline “what is”. Theology’s task is to say what is in Christ, and it needs the imagination to do so. Paul is not playing make-believe when he says he has been crucified with Christ. He does not say, “It is as if Christ lives in me.” That would be a case of bad pretending and gets us no further than pious fiction. No, Paul says what is in Christ. It requires faith, and imagination, to see it, however, because being in Christ is not evident to the senses. Lewis had the unique gift of writing about what if in order to give us a taste of what was, is, and will be “in Christ.” To be in Christ is to live and move and have our being in a new sphere, “transplanted into a new soil and a new climate, and both soil and climate are Christ” (James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul’s Religion [1975], 157)” We needn’t live by “what if’s” but “what is” already true of our union with Christ. 

A good question last week: If God allows difficult things to happen and the man was born blind so that God would be glorified… then that makes me more scared of what God might do (for his glory). How do I deal with that? That is a great question and I don’t think there is a great answer. However, because we are talking about ruminating and worry it is important to ask another question: Do Jesus want us to wrestle with this question? The point here is, we have some ability to choose the thoughts we dwell on. Is this a debate or question that he would have us revisit?  I would say no. It’s like walking up to a No Trespassing sign and deciding to stop and not go any further. Sometimes this is good to do in our mind. Why does God allow bad things to happen is a question that usually doesn’t lead to a sweet encounter with our friend Jesus. He leads us to hold all of life open handed, even our kids. Whatever we hold too tightly may eventually have a hold on us. If we are gripped by fear then we will be control freaks and wound our kids. 

Dealing with Fear and thoughts on Neuroscience (3 books that I recommend)

Finding True Rest by JP Moreland; Rewiring the Brain by Ski Chilton; Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson

Ski Chilton The Rewired Brain book

Dr. Chilton has a great image to explain how neurons from brain circuits or super highways. The more we use this highway but firing neurons with certain thoughts, then the strong the highway gets. It’s similar to ruts in our thinking. We are triggered and we think the same old thoughts that bring the same negative emotions. We must create new highways, truthful thoughts that lead to emotions of peace, joy, love etc. If we use these highways then the old paths disintegrate. It’s like the state not funding road improvements because the roads are being used. As we fire new neurons (helpful thoughts), our brain creates new highways. Fire = re-wire. Our brain has a powerful ability to change. Chilton writes about the power of plasticity on page 80. We can actually choose to take on new thoughts and creating new pathways that are based on God’s truth and narrative. He cites Romans 12:1-2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Two other quotes from Chilton’s book: “Stop bingeing on fear-based information so you can decrease fear-based circuits in your brain that destroy your happiness and health.” P. 72 “Imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs that are involved in doing it.” Norman Doidge (The Brain that Changes Itself) 

Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, MD

Curt Thompson also writes on the connection between rewiring our brain and walking with Christ as we are attentive to his presence and word.  p. 59 “The body is the temple - would have great significance to a first-century Jew, since the Temple was the centerpiece of his or her life, both socially and politically. This was where God lived, and it was in this place that one met God, spoke with God, and heard God’s voice… Paul was not saying that God is the body but that in order for us to attend to God, we have to attend to the place where he lives. Our brains assist us in doing this. By paying attention to our mind/body experience, we are paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is telling us.” p. 87 “And hearing that voice will change our memories and the way we live our futures. And we have even more reason to hope. While it’s true that established neural networks are most likely to fire, it’s equally true that recent research demonstrates that our brains were created with beautiful and mysterious plasticity. That means our neurons can be redirected in ways that correlate with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Instead of automatically following the wired sequence of our old memory, with reflection, we can choose to create new pathways. There is one requirement: we must pay attention to how our memory is manifesting itself by answering questions like, what are you doing here?” p. 181-2 “From the perspective of neuroscience, Satan was tempting him in ways that encouraged Jesus not to pay attention, to be mindless toward his emotional states and memories, and to essentially live in the way of a dis-integrated prefrontal cortex. He tempted him to pay little attention to his narrative and the times he had heard his Father extol him and lavish his affection on him, revealing to him the true nature of his vocation, that of Messiah. In this encounter with Satan, Jesus was tempted to dis-integrate his prefrontal cortex and head down the low road - to follow the same road we too often end up on…”

JP Morland’s book, Finding True Rest (p.70-75) offers an excellent method of dealing with anxious thoughts. He combines neuroscience, psychotherapy and discipleship in the method of Relabeling and Reframing. 

Relabeling and Reframing is another way to abide in Christ’s love and word (John 15 & 17). Here is a personal and practical application of this method: 1- Relabel- Identify or name the thought that is bringing about your anxiety. Putting a label on your experience of this message is the first step to putting it in its appropriate place. Example: a child come to me with a deep sadness for making a bad grade - “I am so stupid they say”… that comment triggered me because of a lie that I had believed for many years and now my kid was experiencing the same thing. NO! So I reacted, nearly punishing them for believing a lie and creating relational disconnect, they left my presence. This was was not a helpful encounter. I was anxious and fearful that the world was ending because of this some what normal event.  I have a narrative that was framed… I am responsible and they cannot believe those lies. My brain is triggered by this and has it’s own groove that solidifies my emotions of shame and anxiety. But this thought isn’t me. It’s actually a bad habit and it can be broken. The same occurrence can be reframed in my mind.  2- Reframing- As we label the message correctly we are able to put it in its place and move on. We cannot control the thoughts but we can change our reaction to them. Reframing is simple claiming a new (truth) context for your soul. It is to accept the struggle but reframe (open yourself up) to a greater reality. Even if you feel angst coming, don’t fret because you are okay. Don’t buy into false assumptions that thoughts like this bring about. Examples are all or nothing thinking (“if you get anything wrong, you are a total failure,” overgeneralizing (“I always do that”) exaggerations (connect with “what-if” statements, self-blame (“you blame for events outside your control,” or making big conclusions about yourself and God.)   False narratives are often framed in our mind and cause greater distress (big or small).   Months later, the same thing happened. I didn’t know way back then but I exercised relabeling and reframing.  The same conversation happened. I was able to relabel the thought that they would struggle like me, suffer much and have a terrible life.  Instead I identified the thought and put it in it’s place. I therefore was invited to take on a new thought that led to me being calm and empathizing. Attending to Christ’s presence and his narrative allow me to (fire new neurons) and reframe that I am apart of God’s story of love.  Reframing avoids this and any what-if or should statements and invites us to think healthier thoughts about God and what-is true of our life with him. We will not be snatch out of his hand (John 10:29). The practice of relabeling and reframing can be performed as you drive to the gas station or 10 minutes alone before waking up the kids. I truly believe this technique can fall under the category of prayer and allowing Christ to meet us in fearful situations (big and small).

Let’s jump into our passage today with all of these things in mind. Notice fear in this passage and considers ways to think differently about God and life. Ultimately we want to learn how to carry new thoughts that provide new neurological paths leading to emotions of peace and beyond.  Any thoughts or questions before we jump into our text? Jesus taught in parables - throwing two things next to each other. He uses everyday images, why? So that we would understand and remember. The revolution of Jesus spread by people passing on these images, stories and word pictures. He told parables to engage our holy imagination which has access to our intellect and our emotions. Fear is both intellectual and emotional. 

Example of the parables - they are made up and visually rich. We can battle worry with biblical images. Prodigal son story - most impactful story - it didn’t happen but it did lodge itself into the minds and hearts of people for centuries. It revealed God’s heart for the world.  We come to John 10 a powerful image. I hope we don’t sit back in our chairs and say to ourselves - yup I know this one… in light of our conversation and direction this can be a life changing text. Coming out of John 9, Jesus addresses the Pharisees and compares them to the false shepherds who neglect (who are not owners) and cast sheep out the pen. They are shepherds of a fear-based control system of religion. Jesus exposes this by taking the man born blind who was casted out to the green pastures of the new covenant.  The man born blind was a sheep without a shepherd yet he heard the voice of the good shepherd who led him to green pastures of the new covenant.  Fear casts out. Love casts out fear.  Let’s read and process process the Shepherd. Use your visual mind. How did he speak and operate?  What observations we can make that can empower us to be attentive to his ways and voice. Contrast the Shepherd way of the Pharisees with the Good shepherd as we read a couple sections from John chapter ten. (READ)

QUESTION:

What kind of presence is He as Shepherd? How do you discern his Voice? Part of the relabeling journey - hard to name certain thoughts.  Here are some visual thoughts that came to mind as I meditated on this passage:

-attentive presence: eye to eye level - low, sitting as the gate, sheep come up against the back of his head sniffing, trusting, he facing out or in, does Jesus have eyes in the back of his head? yea.  -calming presence not stressed, wolves lurking, he does not have a stressed look on his face, there is the calm of his father as his countenance.  -gathered presence - our soul and our people; strong, settled presence; there is no snatching away, connected to his father 10:15-17,18; staying presence - hired hand runs off, he has ownership; leading presence - goes before us; What scatters? Fear and a controlling system of pharisees; speaking presence - calling us by name (recognize his voice 10:4); sacrificial presence - lays down his life for us; life-giving presence - abundant life (Zoe); Is. 41:11 He will gather the lambs in his arms, He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young (parents)

Jesus returning and remembering:

40 And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there. 41 Many came to Him and were saying, “While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true.” 42 Many believed in Him there.

v. 40 interesting… what was his memory of this place, how might that have refreshed him since he’s been interacting with the Pharisees. He heard his Father’s voice - “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” some thought of it as thunder. It is a reminder that Jesus and the Father are one. This is the great narrative of the Trinity. We are brought into this loving relationship, secure in the “father’s hand” no one shall be snatched out of his hand. (Cross reference “abide in my word” according to John 15).

Thoughts from commentary writer William Barclay (DSB Commentary): -“There were not sheep dogs in Palestine, and, when the shred wished to call back a sheep which was straying away, he fitted a stone into his sling and landed it just in front of the straying sheep’s nose as a warning to turn bak. He had his staff, a short wooden club which had a lump of todd at the end often studded with nails.” P. 55 -“Sometimes he talks to them in a loud sing-song voice, using a weird language unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. The first time I heard this sheep and goat language I was on the hills at the back of Jericho.” p. 56 -“The shepherd calls sharply from time to time, to remind them of his presence. They know his voice, and follow on; but, if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their heads in alarm, and if it is repeated, they turn and flee, because they know not the voice of a stranger.” p. 57 -“What happened was that at night the shepherd himself lay down across the opening and no sheep could get out or in except over his body. In the most literal sense the shepherd was the door.” p. 58 -“Once a person discovers, through Jesus Christ, what God is like, a new sense of safety and of security enters into life. If life is known to be in the hands of God like that, the worries and the fears are gone.” p. 59 -“When Jesus is described as the good shepherd, the word is kilos. In him there is more than efficiency and more than fidelity; there is loveliness.” p. 62

Wrap up John 10: From John 10 we can learn that the old way of fear scatters. Fear rules. A certain set of thoughts follow. This was the way of the Pharisee. The new way of the Spirit gathers. Love rules. A certain set of thoughts follow. We can go in and out through Christ. We can run our thoughts through him. He can direct us according and speak into every situation. Make Him Real in our mind (because He is). Clear a way. Create space to tend to his Christ’s presence. Develop practices to experience him. We use these all the times in everyday life - remember a phone number, sleeping schedule for kids, banister mark. Embrace his With-ness which is our witness to our kids. (Steve Lynam)  We must discern and take thoughts captive that are not of Christ. We have his mind, we must let that be true and consider him as the One guarding our hearts and minds (Phil. 2). The Shepherd Christ is with us. Here are a few thoughts of him that I re-use to think on and prayerfully hold in my visual mind.

This is a great summation by James Houston in Joyful Exiles p. 68-69 “Only God can walk on water, or indeed subdue the storms of life or overcome the cosmic abyss. By accepting him in Christ, we can experience the same freedom as the disciples to overcome every storm of life, every threat of death. But since a mystical experience of Christ is a result of God’s presence, it remains incomprehensible. The only response can be faith and not doubt. As Berger says, suggestively, “Faith is one’s persistent engagement in the efficacious reality of God.” It is imaginative yet carries a prayerful confidence in a trusting relationship that dissolves the sense of “I alone” for “we together.” Faith is also a transformation that takes place in the midst of ordinary life and its domestic affairs. In the New Testament shepherds are tend-ing their flocks in the fields, a wedding is taking place in Cana of Galilee, fisherman are out in their boat, Saul is traveling on the road to Damascus. But translated into another state of being, life can never be the same again. Old perceptions are refocused by new conceptions of life and its relationships. We become alienated from the ordinary, break through barriers and no longer believe a description of God but God himself.”

How might we pull all of this together and leave with some practical steps forward? Relabel - know your triggers, separate as much as you can and see the thought. Reframe - Do not go to the false (big) narratives. Resist the urge to buy into a false narrative. Renew your mind - Tend to the real presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (listen to his voice; walk around biblical images) Offer your mind another way, build another highway in your brain. RE-FIRING YOUR BRAIN REWIRES IT.

End with one technique pertaining our kids: One parenting technique that is often overlooked or forgotten. The power of an affirming word. We want to provide words for our kids to live in, remember, think on. We are god to them in a sense. We are a source of encouragement. Just as Jesus related to the Father and shared words with us, so we relate to Jesus and share words with those in our kingdom (family).  We are so prone to point out the corrections (over and over again)- fear tends to lead to over-correction and hinders connection (fear scatters -love gathers)- I bought the domain - a gathered soul .com ?  Think about it - fear breeds control but love leads to connection. Look all the time for ways to affirm. Stop what you are doing and look them in the idea (how we do to correct them during time out) Affirm around the following things: good behavior, their identity, your connection with them, fruit of the spirit, a random something you enjoy about them…  Pray: Isaiah 41:11 “He will gather the lambs in his arms, He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young (parents)”

Parenting without Fear pt. 1

Parenting Without Fear pt. 1 - Hope Chapel Greensboro

THE MAN BORN BLIND PARENT TALK (Jn. 9) Certain fears that fly under the radar of the parent’s soul.  It’s hard to discern thoughts that God  does not want you to carry. Why that is? I think part of it over-responsibility. It is my job to protect, lead and provide. Which is true… we are to have healthy concern and intentionally act out of that concern. Often we react out of fear. What’s the difference?! We will discuss this. Another reason certain fears fly under the radar is because of our life-style. We are so busy we allow ourselves to open to all kinds of fearful thoughts and angst. This effects how we relate and parent.  Gary Thomas the author of Sacred Parenting even said: “our fears can wound our kids.” Ultimately our freedom from fear is for the sake of our kids (young and old). Our freedom is for the sake of others.  My soul has been hurried lately and the other night I left my sunroof open over night. I remember standing at the door observing the might rain fall that night and thought - man, we need the rain. Water got into the seatbelt clicker and shorted it out. It is constantly dinging at me and is malfunctioning. What we open ourselves up to impacts how we function. See the fearful thoughts we have remained open to, name them and become closed off to them. One theme for our time together here: How do we discern between healthy concern and Godless fear. We need community and conversations for this. Interaction and listening. We need truth. God really change how we live (mind) be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We need practical ways to walk with a steadfast mind. A suggested video or reading.  Fear has been a unique journey for me with a past of being a youth pastor - I’ve observed a lot, seen alot. So in my mind I “see” what could come my kids way and sometimes I really suffer. AVA dropped her mouth piece last night and was afraid she would be embarrassed and was about to help her find it in front of her friends :) Experts say 85% of the things we worry about don’t ever happen. Mark Twain said “I have suffered very many things in my life. Most of them never happened.”  Many years ago a mother approached me before leaving on a 8th grade trip to the mountains. She said to me something no youth pastor wants to here… my son isn’t going to go on the trip… last night I had a dream that your van went off a cliff and can’t let him go… but y’all have a great trip… :) she said as I thought - if we don’t drive off the mountain. It’s crazy how fear gripped that mom but honestly as my kids have gotten older, I kind of relate to her.  I don’t blame her in my place of co-fearing. Maybe her crazy son would’ve caused an accident :) We will never know.  Like I said… I (we) can see where paths can go. Sometimes that short circuits the way I relate. 

Being consumed with “What if” thoughts is our dominant theme tonight. What follows that short phrase in our mind generally is a visual thought. (saw a van flying off the road). My imagination was hi jacked and with my visual thoughts were taken to unhelpful and hurtful places. I react because I am see something that has happened. Use of imagination isn’t always child play, artistry or day dreaming… reason why God gave us an imagination and it isn’t to worry. That is a distorted imagination not a sanctified one according to AW Tozer. Christ says, do not worry about what is to come. Worry about today. That has helped me discern between healthy concern and godless fear.  Jesus doesn’t want us to be stifled by anxious imaginings. He doesn’t want that because that shapes us and the person we are becoming and it impacts how we relate.  There is a wide-variety of parenting opinions, strategies that work, they run the gamut but what I have share with you is that fear messes up how you execute these parenting methods. Example: “hey man jump on your homework ok?” vs. “look buddy you are going to fail out of school, you won’t get a good paying job unless you get on your homework” (it’s on my face as I say it). I wear fear on my face.  “Younger kids are great recorders of information but terrible interpreters of information” (Tom Grady). Once again, our fears can wound them. 

Consider these three things as we enter our text: Notice the “what if” thoughts - how powerful fear is. Look at the anxious imagination. How can we discern between healthy concern and fearful reacting?

SCRIPTURE STUDY: John 9:1-41 Consider the perspectives of the young man, parents and Pharisees as we go through this passage. Pay attention to fear’s role and let’s see together the glorious work of Christ revealed. Pay attention to what might be some “what if “thoughts of the people in the story. Tell the story but some sections I want to read (familiar story)…

1- Read v. 3-5 “So that God’s work could be seen in him” - the whole thing right there “Work during the day, night is coming yet I am the light (sight theme).
2- Tell story of healing on the Sabbath - couldn’t help someone unless it was life threatening. You could not pour cold water over a cut or broken bone on the Sabbath. Jesus is breaking the rules of controlling - fear based system of religious rule. “Spit or spittle of a distinguished person was believed to possess certain curative qualities.” W. Barclay Effort is involved walking down to the pool and washing his eyes out, breaking the sabbath - co-rebelling against fear! 3- Read v. 7 again, effort (walking and washing) was involved for the miracle - participation yet Christ did it. Also breaking the rules of the Sabbath - co-rebel against fear. 4- Tell the story of people talking and being curious in v. 8-12 pretty straightforward. It was a clear vision of what Jesus did. It is interesting how simple it is to tell the story of what Jesus has done (pure evangelism) . This is how Jesus influenced the world. The whole point is so that Jesus is in view and a reality. He is who He says He is!  5- Read v. 20-23 “Ask him! He’s grown up. He can speak for himself.” v. 21  Great parenting move, ownership and offering space for their child to be responsible. Right? Look closely at the important details of John describing how fear ruled the parents (“what if…”) and caused them to dodge an outcome and sell out.  Fear imagined… them being escorted out, banned from the local leadership and failures in the sight of “God.” (Cf with John 12:42-43) Fear-based parenting and then we began to see see fear-based leadership with the next few verses. In both cases fear is blinding! 6- Read v. 24-25  “Give God the glory”: intimidation- control mechanism based on Joshua 7:19 (Joshua to Achan) “They (Pharisees) demanded that he forswear himself, and join with them in some formal statement which was a desperate and blasphemous effort of intimidation.” John Barclay  Excommunication was a powerful weapon (2 types) banned for life and temporarily (Ezra 10:8; Luke 6:22; John 16:2; John 12:42). They used intimidation and fear tactics to control the religious and social life of the people. The point here: fear impacts how we relate (control and manipulation flow from a blinded fear) 7- Tell the story v. 26-33 conversation of young man and Pharisees. The young man didn’t back down. He was acquainted with lowly status. In some ways he had nothing to lose because he hand nothing in the first place. He was a co-rebel to fear. He acted against the fear-based system that his parents blindly bought in to.  The worst thing happened in that culture. He was thrown out of the synagogue (v. 34). This prompted Jesus to find him. It is interesting to note how Jesus was drawn to the outcast, ill, weak and lowly.  The young man was blinded to fear because his eyes were open to God (and his creation). He was a rebel to fear and a follower of Christ.  8 - Read v. 35-38 found in the temple God draws near to the broken hearted. He went and looked for the young man. He saw things for what they are.  When Jesus is right in front of you everything else that comes your way looks different. Physical sight intact. Spiritual sight intact.  Psalm 16:9 reference: keep Christ in front of you. “In fact, it’s the person who’s talking to you.” v. 37; reference when Jesus was arrested, “I am he” and the soldiers knees buckled.  “The Jews cast him out of the temple; the Lord of the Temple found him.” 347 by St John Christostome What is worship? Seeing Jesus. Believing and being with him. It is retrieving the memory of what God did through him and his blindness (back to beginning) - He shared that story the rest of his life. RECALLED IT IN HIS VISUAL MIND!  Remembering throughout Scripture is a powerful theme and we are called to lead our kids through remembering what Christ has done and the covenant we have with him. 9- Tell the story of v. 39-41 Jesus came for those who are blind to see - but those that think they can see are actually blind. 

Spiritual Vision: dealing with the what if thoughts 

What were the set of thoughts and mental pictures for the parents? Mind’s eye? The what-ifs of the parents and the Pharisees? Picture them - what do you see? Look closely at the: What if of the Pharisees; What if of the Parents; What is of the young man. If we use the imagination to picture fear why can’t we use it to picture theological realities? Use it well!  Kevin Vanhoozer (book on CS Lewis): “Contrast the satanic what if with the Pauline what is. Theology’s task is to say what is in Christ, and it needs the imagination to do so. Paul is not playing make-believe when he says he has been crucified with Christ. He does not say, “It is as if Christ lives in me.” That would be a case of bad pretending and gets us no further than pious fiction. No, Paul says what is in Christ. It requires faith, and imagination, to see it, however, because being in Christ is not evident to the senses. Lewis had the unique gift of writing about what if in order to give us a taste of what was, is, and will be “in Christ.” To be in Christ is to live and move and have our being in a new sphere, “transplanted into a new soil and a new climate, and both soil and climate are Christ” (James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul’s Religion [1975], 157)”

MAIN POINTS FROM THE PASSAGE: 1 Discern your unique “what ifs” Unnamed fears move on with our soul with great power. “spirit” of fear - wind blowing pushes you. Discern your triggers (takes effort). Spins you out with emotion. Triggers lead to feelings which creates ruts in your brain.  Pay attention to where your mind goes and how your kids respond to you. Unnamed fears can be blinding. Pharisees couldn’t see Jesus, Parents were also blinded to who he is. 2 Be a rebel to fear - Jesus stands with you. You can face fear and Him simultaneously. Notice when you give in to it - how it impacts your kids. Mad against its system and trickery.  “In order to cast out anxiety in our children, we must first cast it out in ourselves…. We must commit to managing our anxiety in order to protect our connections.” – Danny Silk One parent said it this way - the “importance of connection before correction.” The once blind man casted the pharisees out :). 3 Let Jesus find you - slow down your life. Mental Pictures slow you down (Aaron Stewart) - take pictures with you from your Scripture study.  “Prayer is Jesus walking right up to you and listening to you” (Dallas Willard).  This image has helped me so much to pray through my days, fears and life. 4 See him in your holy imagination (that’s weird) - worry is a form of meditation  My friend Fred May talks about using your imagination to meditate on Scripture can rewire your brain. That’s weird… Why does worry get access to your imagination and not the word of God? Carry with you images… “what was, is, and will be “in Christ” - replace what if with what is!

QUESTIONS:  How does this passage help you deal with the “what ifs” that are introduced to our everyday mind? Be thou my vision… what image or moment from this passage might God want to take with you? How might these take away’s be practiced?

PRACTICES: (effort to walk down to the pool and wash out your eyes) 1- Start a fear-discernment conversation (thread) with a trusted friend. 2- Ask your spouse (a friend) for time to journal or pray through ways to face fear and Jesus simultaneously.  3 - Pray in this way… Jesus walking right up to and listening to you… his countenance toward you… he love toward you… his direction for you. 4- Listen to Max Lucado’s fearless parenting video?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gs805PApcg&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR0VdxgKQL3JbXk4epmjyY5LHeHZGrZ8f_pT46Pj3Kj5xhQSBEgbrc5JWHY

PRAYER AS WE LEAVE: Hope Chapel Corporate Confession of Sin Worship Guide Jan. 28, 2018 p. 2 “Empty us now of gnawing dissatisfactions, of anxious imaginings, of fretful preoccupations, of nagging prejudices, of old scores to settle, and of the arrogance of being right.”


Easter and an REI sticker

I drive a 2007 Toyota Highlander. It is a mid-sized, base model SUV. 

When I say "base model" what I mean is cloth seats, smaller engine with less power, factory rims, and a standard dashboard. Base models have no bells or whistles.

Unlike our other car that is a bit nicer, this one is very normal and common. 

Not so long ago as I was leaving REI, a really cool sticker caught my eye and decided to buy it.  I imagined this REI sticker fashionably placed on the corner of the Highlander’s rear glass.

I got a little too excited to dress up my cloudy-day gray Toyota with a $2 sticker. 

When I got to my car, I went straight to the back of it, lined up the sticker, and pressed it in place. Beautiful, I thought as I took a step back then around to enter the car. 

Just before grabbing the door handle I pushed the unlock button on my key chain but something wasn't right. It didn't unlock.

I hit the button again and heard the car respond with a beep-beep but it sounded faint. 

All of a sudden it dawned on me that this was not my car. The beep-beep was faint because my car was three spaces down from this one. 

That’s right, friends. I put the sticker on the wrong car.

I slapped my $2 REI sticker (in the shape of NC) on someone else’s 2007 gray, base model Toyota Highlander.

Looking around like a thief, I began the 5 minute process of peeling the sticker off the back of John Doe’s back window. 

Since no one (hopefully) saw this, I sauntered back into REI and bought myself another sticker. 

Here’s a verse that has always lingered next to that funny memory.

“And the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no person may boast before God.” 1 Cor. 1:28-29

The Greek word base literally means lowly. The word constructed as the opposite of anything noble or esteemed. 

It means not a special edition, no extra horse power and no sunroof

And yet God calls the base, lowly or despised to Himself and invites them do his most important work.

The kingdom Jesus proclaimed has always been upside down.

His way is reverse from the kingdom of this world.  In His Presence, the weak are made strong, the lowly are esteemed, the poor in spirit are rich, and the hungry are deeply satisfied. With Christ the foolish will be wise, the loss will become gain, and the dead will come alive. 

Yet the world we live in says be incredible, seek the grandiose. Honestly, I struggle with entertaining grandiose thoughts. 

Perhaps the disciples struggled with this too as they argued over who might be the greatest, the most noble in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus pivots from their argument by washing their feet, becoming a servant who ultimately gave his life for them.

As we move toward Easter I cannot help but wonder how I might shed grandiose thoughts.

It’s a tricky process because often we want to move toward goals and do things with excellence. But if we are moving toward such things without Christ, then our kingdom is what comes. 

Eugene Peterson insisted that “for Christ’s Kingdom to come, our kingdom must go!”

As time opens up to us this holiday, may we consider our calling (1 Cor. 1:26). Here are a few reflective questions I hope to prayerfully ask this weekend:
 

  • What grandiose thoughts might Christ want to peel away from my daily thoughts?

  • What freedoms come with having a humility of mind?

  • How might Christ in us be a unique expression through us this resurrection week?


I hope Easter is a sweet, restful, and redemptive time for you.

Love to you,

John 

Frustration and Joy

In the past few days, I snapped at my kids. Twice. While it was necessary to respond to them in some way, their crimes didn’t match the punishment. I was overly frustrated and didn’t know why.

But God has met me in this frustration and gently revealed a way of joy. 

As God transforms my heart, a verse lingers. It's the last phrase of Luke 2:7:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Not much is said about the inn keeper who turned Joseph and Mary away.

But I can’t help but wonder how it all unfolded. Perhaps the inn keeper noticed a young family with a baby on the way. Maybe the keeper said, "my domain is too full for your situation."  

If I am in charge of my small kingdom then I must maintain it and manage it in order to receive affirmation from it.

I think my frustrating outbursts reflect my small-kingdom management. The normal issues teenagers have conflicted with my idea of how they should act. Correcting kids is fine when in the context of wisdom and grace.

But over-reacting to manage family outcomes isn’t my best parenting move.

With a closer look, I see a connection between managing outcomes and managing pain. 

My kids are growing up and slowly moving out from under our domain as parents. That is painful. I'm not as cool as I once was. As funny as that sounds, it feels like a loss.

Instead of managing pain in my small kingdom, I want to make room and let Jesus sit with me. His Kingdom is at hand. He is here and with me in loss.

Slowly releasing my inn keeper mentality is inviting Christ to be born in me. 

Making room for me means providing space to grieve. It opens me up to experience the reality of God's kingdom. 

The kingdom of God is unshakeable, immovable, and not in trouble. King Jesus is not worried or flustered. He is overflowing with a joy that is available to me in the mundane.

Frustration can be a gift. When my small kingdom gets cluttered and tight then frustration can lead me to open the doors, set the table, and ready the guest room. 

Several weeks ago Emily's podcast provided a practical step that solidified this pre-holiday move of my soul. Her simple challenge:  

“Make room on purpose.”

The answer for my soul isn’t the act of making room but it does hold the answer. Make room to invite Christ into the intimate places of our soul.

I love what she said:
 

"Like Rahab, whose name means broad, large, a vast space of land, who betrayed her own people to assist the people of God, who made room for spies to find protection from capture, danger, and death, we, too, make room for righteousness and goodness to come take up residency within us. 

Like Mary, the mother of God, who had never known a man, who had other plans for her life, who never asked for the choosing, we make room for the Holy interruption to come and weave life in unexpected ways at unplanned times for the sake of an unknown people." 

Make room.

This little phrase has help me move from frustration to joy. If my soul is occupied with the Kingdom of Christ, there’s lightness, laughter, and a bit more smiling.

This soulful movement from frustration to joy could be helpful for your holiday preparations. Here are the steps that aided my move from frustration to joy.
 

  • Listen to Emily's podcast The Next Right Thing Episode 63

  • Slowly read and meditate on these passages about preparedness 

    • Mark 1:1-4; 14:13-16

    • Ps. 31:3-5

  • Plan moments of silence or a walk around the block without your phone

  • Carry the questions into your time of prayer:  What might be cluttering up your heart? What loss might you need to grieve? What newness might God be bringing into your life?


Again, making room isn't the solution but can lead to the solution. This shift from frustration to joy is a gift to those around you. 

Thank you for reading and your support of this soul care work here in Greensboro.

John 

listening to their first-day-of-school soul

This morning I dropped off my twins for their first day of high school. I can't wait to hear how it goes. But if I'm not careful, my curiosity or nervous excitement could curve my ability to listen. 

Lately, I've researched the power of listening within the areas of family and discipleship. Jesus listened and his way of asking questions fostered spiritual progress.

Without reducing listening to a formula, I've jotted down some reminders as I approach the question:

"How was your first day?" 

- Invite conversation without insisting. They are coming home to a safe harbor. There is no need to force them to talk and create waves.

- Listen without fixing or advising. If you feel led to advise just remember doing that in the moment can shut them down. I'm bad about reacting which short circuits the listening process. 

- Feed them before you ask them. Emily's cookies alongside a well-lit house and soft music are great ways to welcome our kids home. 

- Be an under-stimulated parent in the evening hours. In other words, try to be available and not pre-occupied with a project. Lingering with presence keeps the door open for a possible chat.

- If it's a terrible first day, stay calm. Embody being a safe harbor. Your peace in the midst of a crazy day is always a gift. Listen with a sturdy ear.  

- Know when enough is enough. Sometimes too many questions can be stressful. This has been a blind-spot for me with one of our kids.

- Younger kids may need more specific questions. "How was your day?" may not be as effective as "Did you make a new friend today?"

- Circle back around before bedtime and offer an affirming word. Review your conversation from earlier and ask God to help you notice something that can translate into an affirmation.

Please let me know what you would add to this list.

Blessings as you listen to your child's first-day-of-school soul.

Love,

John Freeman
 

 

Beyond "good job": How to affirm your kids at the end of the school year

Thursday night I will be attending my daughter's last band concert of the year. She has excelled and has been apart of a fabulous middle school band program. 

Family will attend the concert, she will do great, we will all cheer, and then it will be over. We will meet her in the hallway and with hugs congratulate her. Friends and family will say words like: 

"Good job,"

 "Well done" or 

"Beautiful performance."

This end will be closure and a relief for everyone.

Then, if I'm honest, I'll look to the next ceremony, party or program to attend.

Is there a deeper opportunity I'm missing with affirming my daughter? Instead of moving on to the next program could something else be said that might stay with her for a long time?

I think so.

I've stumbled upon a meaningful way to borrow moments like this for a greater cause: the affirmation of my daughter's identity in Christ

The secret is not the short phrase you say right after the concert or report card but the one you say coming back around two hours later with more words than "good job." 

Who comes back around an hour later in the month of May!?

Coming back around communicates that you have been thinking about your person. Time passed indicates you've carried them within your heart and have slowed down to notice them. It says you've been reflecting on not just their performance but their personhood.

And that is what you are to do. Affirm who they are not just what they've done.

Maybe it sounds something like this:

"You know I have been thinking about tonight and I really enjoyed watching you. As you played, it struck me the person you are becoming. You are a hard worker, very kind and exceptional young lady. I can see why Jesus loves living in you. You show off his character and love so well."

Whatever you are led to share or write, here are some possible elements to consider:

-Affirm the person that they are becoming

-Notice God's delight over their life 

-Indicate they are becoming who they already are in Christ

-Bless their unconditional identity that is underneath their conditional achievement 

-Your parental enjoyment of their presence

Wait for the right time to share these words when they would be best received. 

 In my opinion, nothing compares to eye contact and the spoken word of a parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent or friend of the family.

Sometimes a written note connects better depending on your child. 

My Dad wrote a letter to me as I was close to finishing up seminary. Here is a portion of what he said (I was 27 when he wrote it):

"I am certain that you will impact many lives personally in very positive ways and that your life and career will have huge significance! Believe it or not, I just prayed; out here in the garage for you and for your new victories and as well, I thanked the Lord for allowing me the privilege of being your Father. Love, Dad"

His letter is a timeless affirmation that goes way beyond: "good job."

The challenge is to resist the hurry of this month of May. Don't quickly move on to the next event without sharing this incredible gift of affirmation.

Whether it be a report card, end of year ceremony, final tournament, concert or program, let this be an opportunity to clearly speak Gospel-like affirmation to your young person. There is no greater gift than blessing the identity of another.

May it be so.

Off to go save seats!

John Freeman

Budder's spiritual legacy

Dear Friends, 

Many of you already know that on January 12, my sweet grandmother went home to be with the Lord.

She was 104. 

Her name was Sarah, but she got the nickname "Budder" from a grandchild who once tried to say "grand-mother" but it came out "grand budder" instead.

One of the last meals we shared with her over the summer was at a steakhouse near Memphis where she lived. We prayed for the food and ended with a word of thankfulness for our dear Budder.

After we said amen, the waiter, who was standing nearby, said, "I noticed you prayed for your butter and was wondering if you wanted more?" 

Noticing the pile of butter already on the table, we laughed and said, "No thank you, we have plenty." 

Budder pointed me and many others to make Christ our everything.

She married a godly man in 1938. They loved each other deeply and lived a Christ-centered marriage. 

He wrote Budder a note prior to their wedding day and said this: 

"Goodnight my lovely one and may all our clouds have gold linings encrusted with diamonds…you have all the love capable of my being."

Whoa! Love your spouse heartily. Legacy point number one. 

Unfortunately, in the early 1960s, my grandfather died suddenly from a stroke. My dad in his early twenties was the oldest of the four sons and returned from the Navy to help with the family. 

This was a tragic loss because Mr. Freeman held such a loving presence for Budder and their boys.

Budder was a widow for over 57 years. 

My mom says this about Budder: "Jesus Christ was everything to Budder. He was even her husband."

Budder lived a simple life that drew from God. She always mentioned to me that Christ was her keeper, her protector, and he met all of her deepest needs. 

That's legacy number two.

Budder told Emily recently that every morning she'd wake up, turn on her little bedside lamp and read Philippines 4:19, "And my God shall supply all you need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

It is such a contrast to me that Elvis Presley lived a mile down the road from her house in Memphis and practiced complexity by satisfying his deepest needs with stuff. Elvis had everything but really nothing. He desired fullness of love like the rest of us.

Budder lived a simple life and didn't really have much yet in Christ she had everything! 

A final thing (of so many!) I've learned from Budder is captured in the chorus of her favorite hymn (He Keeps Me Singing):


"Fear not I am with thee,
Peace, be still
In all of life's ebb and flow. 
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, 
Sweetest Name I know, 
Fills my every longing, 
Keeps me singing as I go."

The joy of Christ filled every longing of Budder's and overflowed to her family, her church, and her community. 

I can only imagine that as Budder transitioned to heaven she heard the words of the sweetest Name she knew saying: "Come now my love, my lovely one come."

May we all know this same love of God. 

May Christ be our everything.

May he fill every longing and overflow with a joy that keeps us singing as we go. 

May life's ebb and flow carve out space in our soul for the riches of His glory. 

May our actions point people to the reality that Christ's love is plenty for us today and forever.  

Amen. 

My fourth year of Grace Discipleship has started well. Budder's legacy continues as I help people factor in the fullness of Christ in everyday life.  


Love,

John 

the two more questions of soul care

I remember a time when Emily was standing in line at Starbucks and bumped into an acquaintance.

The conversation was typical chit-chat for a minute but sensing something more, Emily decided to ask two more questions.

The quality of these questions reflected a willingness to understand what was beneath the surface. She attempted to understand where this person was and to witness what was happening in that woman's soul.

There's too much pain and frustration in our world to keep avoiding deeper conversations.

Ours souls are not made to outrun our pain but embrace it. And we can't do that alone.

We have to be willing to ask those around us two more questions. These are two questions that don't add to small talk but open a door tolarger talk.

It takes the conversation to a deeper place.

The truth is, it's more efficient to avoid curious questions. And sometimes it's not the right time to go deeper. Chit chat serves a good surface purpose but true community can't live there.

In asking two more questions, we move from friendly curiosity to a loving presence. This is soul care at it's best.

Ask how she is holding up under the pressure of her current circumstance.

Find out what's bothering him beneath all his hectic activity.

Be curious about how she feels about her new normal or her difficult transition.

Seek to understand why he is feeling insecure.

Ask what Scriptures are quietly lingering in the back of her mind.

In asking two more questions, you just might find a glitch in the matrix.

Curious questions can disrupt the false rhythm of our busy, lonely, and hurting lives. Together we can wake up to what God may have for us.

A conversation like this can become an encounter with God. Soul care has been described as following Jesus into the everyday life of another. It means joining Christ in uncovering His presence in the midst of a difficult, tiresome or mundane day.

The reason I may not ask two more questions is because I fear stirring something up I can't handle. "If I ask this question and they answer, then what?!"

I often shy away from moving into someone's difficulties because I fear it will expose my inadequacy.

But there is too much private pain around for us to be self-protective. Enough is enough. Our communities must be pushed toward authenticity and vulnerability with a raw movement toward Christ.

The exercise of asking two more questions is a process that helps people feel seen, known and invited into true spiritual community.

My work is described as both soul care and discipleship. Spirit-led questions enable a person to discover truths that free the soul and stir up Christ in them.

My passion is to help people experience Christ in the everyday, to provide spiritual answers to life's difficulties, and opportunities for people to grow in their freedom in Christ.

As I approach the end of my third year in this ministry, here are the primary groups of people I work with:

    •    Young men (ages 12-35)
    •    Young couples (relational and premarital pastoral counseling)
    •    Families (parents of of K-12th graders)
    •    Ministry workers and pastors
    •    Communities who invite me to teach on our everyday walk with Christ

Please pray for this work here in Greensboro.

I leave you with these words from Jesus as he encountered the lonely, paralyzed man stuck by the so-called healing waters:

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" (John 5:6)

Love to you,

John
 

a disappearing identity?

Recently I sat down to watch a interview with Dr. James Houston.
I resonate with his books and familiar with the school of Spiritual Theology he began at Regent College alongside of scholars like JI Packer and Eugene Peterson.

I first heard of Dr. Houston through Larry Crabb whom he mentored for many years.
What initially impressed me most about Dr. Houston was that he was a personal friend of CS Lewis.

I began this video hoping to hear stories about the spiritual giant: Clive Staples Lewis.
What I heard in the first 2 minutes of the video really surprised me.

The interviewer asked: "Have you talked much about CS Lewis? Have you made a career teaching about him?"

Now I am thinking… Of course he would. What a great ministry that would be. I mean who else could share personal stories and insights like that?
If someone personally knew CS Lewis and studied with him, people would flock to hear.
Just think of the respect he would gain, the opportunities and the speaking requests!

Dr. Houston's answer: "No. I rarely speak publicly about about Lewis."

What?!

Not the answer I was thinking.

Why not?!

He continues by telling a story of having a guest speaker at the college many years ago.
"Eberhard Bethge spoke on being a personal friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He actually built a whole ministry around Bonhoeffer."

Dr. Houston shared how honorable Bethge's intentions were to carry on Bonhoeffer's legacy but also saw something "tragic".

"Bethge had lost his identity… he was Bonhoeffer's friend… Bethge disappeared."

"That is why I never really wanted to talk about Lewis. So I didn't."

Then Dr. Houston said this: "God's kindness to us is giving us space to be ourselves."

Dr. Houston continued to share about how discovering our true identity in Christ frees us to be unique expressions of God.
We are not our vocation, we are not who we know and we are not what we know. Our truest identity is in Christ alone.

This is where ministry starts and flows. It's tempting to have ministry start and flow from whom something other than Christ in us.

After watching that first few minutes, I was encouraged to come out from my preoccupation with work. To leave the thought: "I am what I do."
It gave me a sense of unexplainable rest. Value in Christ became more real for me.

I don't know about you but when I transition into a vacation often times my mind is still thinking and processing vocation. I can't stop and rest.

What I hope to learn is how a slow gaze at Christ and who we are in Him brings rest to my soul. This restful abiding in Christ frees me to be myself.

"Christians are never more our true selves than when they are in Christ." James Houston Joyful Exiles p. 18

As you forge ahead in your vocation or transition to a nice vacation may you rest in your friendship with Christ.
May your identity in Christ free you to be you.

Thank you for supporting this work of soul care and discipleship.

Love,
John Freeman

 

measuring weight against Christ's strength

When we moved into our house, we had several giant, heavy rocks in our backyard. They were nice rocks, more like small boulders but they were oddly placed. We wanted to move them from the backyard to the front.

The only problem was I couldn't lift them. Not even close.

These obnoxious, decorative rocks were here to stay because I wasn't be able to move them. They were stuck and so was I.

I measured the weight of those rocks against my own strength and lost.

I was reminded of something a mentor once told me when I was facing some obstacles in my life. Measure the weight of what is before you against God's strength, not your own.

Trying to lift those rocks in my yard was impossible because I was measuring their weight against my strength. But what if I brought in a small tractor? And what if that tractor was rigged with a lift that was perfectly designed to carry and relocate heavy objects?

Measuring the weight of the rocks against the strength of the tractor evened the scales, even flipped them. This is doable!

My mindset shifted. Rest and relief would fall upon me and my lower back.

If we're not careful, looking at what's ahead -- treatments, difficult conversations, business travels, or ministry opportunities -- we'll measure what is before us according to our strength. No wonder despair, fatigue, and worry fall upon on our soul.

But if we measure what is before us according to the strength of Christ and His power within, well that changes things.

Sometimes we need to have faith way before the day we draw on God's strength.

In the moments before David and Goliath squared off, we can see our everyday lesson played out.

"Then Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth (1 Sam 17:33)."  

Those rocks are too heavy to lift.

"David replied, 'The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (v. 37)

Three little rocks will do.

Of course when Goliath sees David he looks at him and taunts him (v. 42).

I feel like I hear taunts all the time.

And then what I love most is David weighing the greatness of Goliath against the armies of the Living God. "You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the Name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have taunted."

That phrase, In the Name, speaks of covenant union. David came in that name. He entered that situation weighing the obstacle not according to himself but according to the God to whom he was joined.

The beauty here is that we believers are in His great Name. We humbly come into every and any situation interconnected with the mighty power of God. Claiming and anticipating Christ's power casts a shadow on the opportunities and obstacles before you and me.

If you are coming before some heavy opportunities or obstacles, what might it look like to weigh those things against our union with the Living God?

What might happen if we allow just a little more time and margin to consider these things in light of Christ's loving, strong presence?

My prayer is to come upon every situation, conversation, opportunity, or obstacle in the Name of Christ.

Silence in May

Much of what I do is listen, teach deeper Gospel truths and help people experience in their heart what they know in their head.

Then, of course, we pray together.

Last year I met with a dear friend who brought a struggle with addiction to our conversation. We had a life-giving talk and then it was time to close in prayer. 

Something happened that I won't forget.

I asked my friend in closing out our time, "Do you want to pray?"

Upon reflection, there is something unclear about my question.

Am I asking: "Do you want to lead the prayer?" He being the one who prays.

Or am I asking: "Do you want to pray?" with the assumption that I will be the one praying.

My friend said yes but thought I was going to pray.
I thought my friend was going to pray.

We both closed our eyes and sat in complete silence, waiting for the other to pray.

The silence continued for 25 minutes.

I didn't realize what was happening. I thought he was going to pray and chose silence instead. Turns out, he was thinking the same thing. So we sat together in silence.

Yes, the first couple minutes were awkward, confusing, but after a bit of time, something in me began to settle down. It was as if we were silently sitting down with Jesus.

We rested in His presence and thought on our Christ-centered conversation.

I ended up closing the time. We both looked at each other in the midst of busy weeks and both agreed we needed that time.

We didn't figure all of this out until a week later. We laughed hard. But we also saw a need for companionship in silence, resting our soul and quietly receiving truth into our everyday hearts.

That was the most productive 25 minutes that whole week and was such a gift to my soul. I am reminded that life with Christ becomes a reality when we let truth sink from head to heart. Silence helps with this.

This story came to mind as our family heads into this first week of May.

With its busyness, the month of May has been considered the new December. Families are on the go, school is wrapping up, and summer is approaching. Tournaments, recitals, concerts, and award ceremonies are coming.

My friend and I stumbled upon something beautiful. But I am learning that the gift of silence is more available than I think and provides Christ-strength in the midst of busyness.

"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you were unwilling, and you said, "No! We will flee upon horses…"   Isaiah 30:15-16

May we return and rest in the Gospel provision of Himself.

May the realities of our union with Christ become real for the everyday heart.

May quietness and trust be our strength. Amen!

 

obsession with how


"If you really want to know Christ, you must crucify the how."

When I heard the conference speaker say those words it really bothered me.

What if he's right? If all we focus on is how-to the live the Christian life, are we in danger of missing the deeper knowing of Jesus Christ?

I confess, in most areas of life my goal is to figure out how to do something. Doing something correct leads to success. Right?

In 2017 I want to learn how to cook and make my house more energy efficient.

I plan to organize thoughts toward discipleship for K-5th graders and write about the how-to's of soul care.

How-to's keeps the world turning. It solves problems and creates opportunities.

So, why do we need to beware the how?

The danger comes when I obsess over principles forgetting the Person.

My soul needs a greater Someone more than something.

Thomas in his confused excitement said to Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Heck, I want to know the way. Tell me and that's where I'll go!

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (John 14:5-7).

Thomas asked how do we move on? Show us the way. What's the next step?
How, how, how. Jesus answered: "I AM."

He turned Thomas' HOW into WHO. The same letters just in a different order.

Re-ordering is what I am talking about, it is shifting my life around the WHO to put HOW in its correct place.

Who is Jesus to me on this confusing and difficult day? The Way, the Truth and the Life.

I'm challenged to move from wondering how to the wonderment of who.

Time is needed to reorder my perspective.

It requires regular powering down and retrieving the command from Psalm 46:10:  "Be still and know that I am God."

Re-ordering is placing the who before the how. It is claiming Christ as my life and letting the how-to's tag along.

I have no idea how this may change my goals or resolutions this year but maybe that's the point.

Thank you for your partnership in my life and work.

John Freeman

 

Hope for the over-achievers

I'm feeling pretty sentimental this week. Five years ago I began Larry Crabb's school of soul care. Sweet memories and great content flowed from that healing week in Colorado Springs.

During one lecture Dr. Crabb stopped speaking, turned to me, and asked a question:  "John, you constantly take notes. Why are you writing so much?"

My pencil stopped and so did my heart.

A bit embarrassed I answered, "I don't want to miss anything."

His response: "I'm so curious as to why? Try not to write for a few minutes and see what happens."

I only lasted 10 minutes.

Something still resonates with me about his observation. In short, I tend to over-do things.

I over-swing the tennis racket, over-plan the family trip, over-shoot the basketball, over-fertilized the yard (killed parts of it this year) and over-prepare sermons.

It's like I am over-compensating or over-reaching for some greater purpose.

I'm wondering if there is a connection between over-achieving and under-affirmation?

I think working hard is important to life and existence. Successful businesses and countries are often the product of over-achievement.

Over-achievement can build a civilization but I am not so sure it can build a human identity. We are made for something bigger than that.

We are made to live from God's affirmation and blessing.

I wonder what it would look like to achieve great things from a place of full affirmation in Christ?

Before Jesus did a lick of ministry he rose from the waters of the Jordan and a voice from heaven boomed over him: "This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Mt. 3)."

 Of course we know that Satan himself challenged that in Matthew 4: show off your stuff, if you are who you say you are over-achieve, reveal your power. Jesus combated the temptation with His Father's words and humility. This is when his ministry began.

In Christ we can claim those affirming words spoken to our tired soul.

My soul is free to achieve not for affirmation but from it.

I am freely released to participate with the bigger work of Christ.

When I fertilize lightly, I participate with bigger elements: the sun and the rain.

When I plan a family trip, I can participate with bigger-than-me circumstances that sets up memorable spontaneity.

When I loosen the sermon outline, I am allowing thoughts to enter my mind through the indwelling Spirit.

When I sit and listen instead of feverishly taking notes, I am allowing the Spirit to burn truth in my mind and heart.

There is a lightness to my over-achievement. I like that. Work hard but from a place of already having the full affirmation in Christ.

May we be restful and thankful for this deep place of blessing in Christ.

 

Grace and the Next Generation

I couldn't do it alone.

My life radically changed in college. I accepted Christ and began this journey of walking with Him. During my college years, I was trying to figure out who I was and the big things of life. Maybe not much has changed. I often see my struggles replayed out in students.

That life stage brings out deep questions:

How do I live?
What will I end up doing?
Who are my true friends?
What is life about?

I believe with my whole heart these are discipleship questions.

I felt those same questions in college and wondered how to factor God and Gospel. But I needed help. I walked around with so many unanswered questions and unaddressed struggles.

In the late nineties I would often return to Greensboro between semesters at App State. I remember asking my family and friends who might be good to walk with me in a spiritually way.

Nearly all the seasons of my life I have experienced the blessing of a spiritual mentor walking with me. God has allowed me to have a long list of men who have influenced me over the years. Honestly, I tear up as I think of these men. No blessing exceeds a trusted mentor in Christ.

I somehow connected with a man from Westover Church named Gary. He had helped with the discipleship classes there in the mid-nineties. He was a radio DJ, had a mustache and a huge heart for Christ. I reached out to him and we met a few times. He helped me sort through the daily implications of God's amazing, staying grace.

I think we met at Shoney's on Wendover. Great time.

Another was Mike and he had started a ministry that had ties with a ministry my mom and sister were influenced by in Charlotte. He helped people understand how they were trying to make life work without God, leading them to discover their identity in Christ. My college-aged, transient soul ate up what these men put before me. Those were important, formidable years.

Being in youth ministry for 12 years has amazing perks. I developed relationships with so many people who are not necessarily "youth" anymore. Many of my recent students are still in college and this time of year they return to Greensboro and often touch base with me. I love this!

Many college students who return to Greensboro don't have community or even spiritual mentors to connect with. It can be a bummer for them especially if they aren't traveling much or not doing more than working.

Over the years, this has stirred me to step out in faith and try to connect with these students. Sometimes that means having coffee and other times, like last summer, it means huddling with a small group and talking about a deeper walk with Christ. I love being with this age group and consider it a big part of my work.

I feel called to care for the soul of the next generation and re-introduce deeper truths of God's grace.

Meeting with students during the summer is full circle kind of thing for me. I hope to be a blessing to students I cross paths with in the same way mature Christian men where to me.

By the way… the man named Gary who I met at Westover those many years ago? He is now my father-in-law. Yup, I met with Gary before even knowing my wife, Emily. Can you believe it?! He is truly my spiritual father!

And as many of you know, the Mike I mentioned before was Mike Moses who graciously allowed me to take over this non-profit ministry, Grace Discipleship: a soul care ministry teaching God's grace and the believer's union with Christ.

That is why our ministry's logo has "Established in 1995" - though I've only been at it about a year and a half, this ministry has been alive through Mike for decades. I am so proud to be apart of Mike's legacy.

So cool right?!
Thanks for your support and encouragement,

Love,
John

 

contentment

During the past couple months God has stirred in me a desire to be content. I've wondered why I have a frequent restlessness and need to sit down on the inside.

I remember when Evander Holyfield fought Mike Tyson a number of years ago. I recall Evander walking out in his red boxer robe with the Bible verse on the back: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That seemed funny to me. I mean all things are all things. If Christ is to strengthen Evander to beat up Mike Tyson then awesome. But what was on Paul's mind when he penned those words found in Philippians 4?

Christ's strength according to the context of this verse was for contentment. When Paul abounded circumstantially or when Paul experienced "suffering need" he leaned into Christ's strength to be content. Maybe that verse is relevant for a boxer who wants to win. But maybe the verse is especially relevant for the box who loses. Or the boxer who is knocked out early, embarrassed or even has his ear bitten off.

The power of Christ's strength is everything we need for contentment. When we trust Christ in this deeper way then He will impact how we live and relate.

Larry Crabb said this: "the deepest desire of the human heart matches perfectly with the provision of the divine heart." That is good news! Christ in you is the hope in any circumstance and therefore you can sit down on the inside.

So, may your busy new year be anchored by your contented heart.  May you discover that God's provision frees you to be present to those around you. May you rest in the one thing that couldn't be taken from Mary as she sat at Jesus' feet. And may you enjoy Christ more than anything this world offers.

 

Coming Alongside of Students and Families Part 3

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the third Q & A.

What are a few encouraging words for weary souls?

  • Hebrews 4:9,10 says there’s a Sabbath rest for the people of God. We’re meant to rest. We’re meant to enter into His rest. What does that mean? We think if I just rest and let God handle it (let go and let God) that nothing will get done; that’s believing that God is passive. God is full of divine activity. We’re like the glove and He’s the hand; the glove is animated by the hand. If we’re willing to be clothed in the activity of God, He’ll work through us. But we if we’re trying to do something for God, it becomes performance based.
  • Spend time in the Word and stay centered in Jesus and living in union life. We sometimes think we’re independent operators, but we should offer everything to Him. His yolk is easy and the burden is light; there’s still a yolk, but it’s light. How do you rest your soul with God? Jesus said that the man would save his life/soul will lose it. If we try and manage the outcome of every situation, we’ll wear ourselves out. But if we lose our life/soul by giving it and surrendering it to the Lord for His sake, we’ll find it. We’re not asking God to bless our works but to do His works through us. The work of God is to believe in the one He sent. Cooperate with Him; we’re not independent operators. We’re either operating under the influence of the flesh which is the stage for the devil and the world, or you’re operating under the influence of the Spirit – thinking His thoughts, feeling what He’s feeling, choosing what He chooses.
  • Our soul is always asking two things: Do I have worth and value or am I loved? Will I get my needs met or am I secure? If the flesh is involved, it will tell us to get busy and drive us by our fears. But we can turn our souls towards the Spirit and rest. He will come and will deliver and will bring rest.

Coming Alongside Students and Families Part 2

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the second Q & A.

What do you think teenagers really need… spiritually and beyond?

The obvious answer is that they need Jesus. Kids need people around them who help point them to Jesus. Teens at that stage of development, they’re struggling trying on different identities. They want to know they have a purpose in life and have a destiny. In Christ, we know they have an identity and a self-worth that’s beyond what they can imagine. They have a destiny in Christ. Parents are the ones, specifically fathers, who need to come alongside and be a voice of affirmation that kids have an identity. A lot of adults see teens as a problem. If you see kids as a problem, then you react to them and live in reaction to the problem and not in response to God toward the person. We need to develop a vision for their purpose. How do we do that? Ask God. Train up a child in the way they should go as a specific person; what did He have in mind when He created them? If we don’t ask God ourselves about who we are and who He has created us to be, we can begin to have God’s eyes to see others. 2 Cor.5:16 – We regard no one the way we used to see them; we are starting to see with the Spirit’s eyes and see people the way God sees them. Kids need to have a vision and have people who see them the way God does. Learning who they are in Christ and who they are to Jesus and because of Jesus is crucial. Kids are a unique expression of Jesus. We all are. If kids know that Christ is with them and in them, they know they have His mind, not their own. You notice people differently. You’re not thinking about what people are thinking about you but listening to what God is thinking about them. Think about God has in mind, and those thoughts changes things as simple as how to walk into a room. See kids according to how God sees them. Help them stand up in what God has in mind for them. It’s not about comparisons or appearances even though that’s what the world says. Live with the settled knowledge of who we are in Christ as unique expressions of God. They need to be loved, to be disciplined, to see a model of how their parents interact, to see how adults deal with struggles. Teens need to know what we need to know. Gal.5:6 – The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. That’s what counts with kids.

Coming Alongside of Students and Families (Steve pt. 1)

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the first Q & A.

What is the best thing we can do in difficult situations to come alongside students and families?

  • Christ in you that is the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27) It’s not your knowledge but the reliance on Jesus. You can overcome because He has overcome; we count on the presence of Christ. When you wonder what to do, start praying. The problem is that we don’t believe He’ll say anything.
  • What did Jesus do in overwhelming situations? In the story of feeding the crowds, we learn from Jesus. First, He exposed the situation to the Father. Offer the situation to God in prayer and in the moment; factor God in. Second, He gave thanks. He thanked God for what He did, what He is doing, and what He will do. Remember that He is good. Third, He does the next thing in obedience and by faith. Each step is in obedience. Count God in. Sometimes we live as practical atheists and don’t believe that God will respond, but He will respond and will use us as we obey. Paul said “I know whom I believe,” not what. As we make ourselves available to God, He’ll make Himself available to us.