The Most Dangerous Mission Field

whitepicketfenceThere’s a dangerous mission field much closer than you think. Just beyond your white picket fence or down your hall is a very high-risk, high-need culture that you’re suited to reach. Your literal neighbors need Jesus as much as those in far-away lands.

There’s no questioning the need

America is home to 195 million unchurched people. The most Bible-minded city in the United States (Knoxville, TN) has 52 percent self-identified Christians, while the least Bible-minded city (Providence, RI) scored single digits. No matter what city you call home, it’s full of people who don’t know Jesus. Yet many American churches still frame mission work with antiquated third-world imagery. This approach overlooks the mission field in which we live.

Why is it so hard?

Talking about faith with your neighbors is scary. If it goes badly, you can’t hide from them—they’ll always be right next door. There’s a degree of safety in traveling hundreds of miles to do missions in another culture. But when we do that and potentially pass thousands of lost people, we risk communicating that God has also passed them by. Fair or not, a watching world will equate our actions with God’s. We represent him, and we can’t afford to ignore the missions in our own hometowns.

3 practical steps for outreach

Invite them to your house—Start by hosting someone—invite them to your house for a dinner party, barbecue, game night, or televised sporting event. Any occasion will do. The objective is to open your life to them. Let them see that you’re a normal person, just like them.

Plan a community event—Do something that brings people together and makes the neighborhood a better place for everyone. Be an organizer—you’ve shown them that you’re normal, now show them that you care. People will notice.

Wait for the question—Sooner or later, you’re going to get the question: “Why are you doing all this?” That’s your opportunity. Don’t rush it. When your neighbor’s curiosity reaches the asking point, they’ll be primed to hear the Gospel.

Nobody likes living next door to a crusader. Don’t hide your faith—live a faith-filled life, and invite others to join you.

 ***

The Faithlife Study Bible is the most advanced study Bible in the world.  Get it for free today.

5 Ways to Help Hurting People

hope-vs-optimismYou don’t have to look far to find pain. Hurting people are everywhere, and wanting to help is natural. Unfortunately, so is not knowing what to do. Many people avoid those who are hurting because they don’t feel qualified to help. Here are five things you can do to encourage someone who is grieving.

Listen without judging—Many people, especially extroverts, vomit emotions when they are grieving. In their search for someone to blame, they may say hurtful and irrational things that they don’t mean, shout, or throw things. Let them act irrationally for a while and forget about it quickly. You don’t need to participate, but you do need to give them permission to purge their pain.

Speak up without explaining—Part of what makes injustice painful is its ability to defy explanation. Attempts to analyze and explain it often sound cold and trite, but silence can be painful too. Romans 12:15 says to mourn with those who mourn, not to explain their pain to them. Break awkward silences with words of affirmation like, “I’m sorry, this isn’t what God wants.” You don’t need to have answers, but you need to have feelings. Use words to show them.

Fill holes—Don’t get hung up on a specific kind of help. Keep your eyes open, and act to meet the needs you see—not the needs you expected to see.

Do the thinking—Open-ended offers of support rarely get claimed because they require a hurting person to generate ideas of how you can help them. Make specific offers. Don’t add additional burden by forcing administrative duties onto someone else’s full plate. Instead of, “Call me if you need anything,” make a specific offer that you’ve already thought through, like, “I can bring dinner by the house tomorrow if you’d like.”

Read, don’t quote—Scripture is encouraging, but not when twisted to fit your situation. Instead of quoting a single verse out of context, read large passages. Crisis often brings long hours of waiting. Fill them with hope by reading Scripture aloud. Since The Faithlife Study Bible is on your phone or tablet, you can always have it with you. Start with a passage like Psalm 91 or a reading plan like “14 Days on Grief.” As Lauren Chandler mentions in this video, Scripture can be very encouraging for the grieving.


You don’t need a counseling certificate or a degree in psychology to encourage a hurting friend, but you should download the FSB app so you’re ready, and if you’d like to hear more from Lauren Chandler and other women of faith, visit FaithlifeWomen.com.

What have you done to console a grieving person? Tell us in comments.

Principles > Rules

law Rules require obedience. Principles require contemplation.

Rules demand enforcement. Principles demand example.

Rules are for only for the wicked, keeping them in check (1 Timothy 1:9), but principles are universal.

Rules are written for specific situations. Rules are brittle. Outside their original contexts, rules break easily.

Principles are timeless, remaining relevant and providing stability through the centuries.

Principles are more difficult yet more rewarding than rules. They’re all throughout Scripture, but you’ll have to look hard to find them. If you see an imperative repeated, rephrased, and modeled, you’re probably looking at a principle. Let’s use the Sabbath as an example:

  • God set an example in creation, modeling the Sabbath for all generations to come (Genesis 2:2–3).
  • He taught it to Israel through Moses (Exodus 20:8–11).
  • Jesus explained it further (Mark 2:27).

The rule of Sabbath mandated that no work be done on the first day of the week.

The principle of Sabbath invites us to set aside a day to rest and reconnect with God.

Whenever you find an imperative in Scripture, search for the principle that supports it. Ask yourself: Why did God command this? What is he trying to teach me?

What are your favorite scriptural principles, and where do you find them? Let us know in comments.

The Case for Community

Faithlife community

It’s no accident that God’s interactions with mankind always involve a faith community. In the early parts of Genesis, we see God speaking into a family through Abraham, and later a nation through Moses. In the Gospels, we see Jesus himself call out an eclectic group of misfits to lead the early church. The same is true today. God desires to work through communities of faith, but our Western sense of independence can prevent us from experiencing many of the benefits of a faith community. If your faith has become isolated from the influence of others, here’s some of what you’re missing:

Safety: Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 tells us there’s safety in numbers. Two believers encourage and motivate one another; should one fall, the other helps them back up. It will always be more convenient to fly solo, but isolation is dangerous. Little slips quickly become major falls without anyone to help you recover.

Fulfillment: God designed man to live in community. In the creation narrative, God expresses displeasure about his creation only once—when he creates Adam without a companion. He says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” While this verse has been used to underscore the virtue of marriage, Adam was more than single. He was alone. He lived in a community vacuum, and God knew he would not be truly fulfilled while he was alone.

Witness: Jesus explains in John 13:35 that Christians will be identifiable in a world of unbelievers by their unique love for one another. If you shy away from involvement with a faith community, preferring the convenience of isolationism, how will unbelievers know you’re a Christian? Isolated faith is invisible faith. John Wesley said, “Christianity is essentially a social religion . . . To turn it into a solitary religion, is indeed to destroy it.”

We built Faithlife to act as a digital home for your faith community. Collaborate around insights from your devotions, learn together with group reading plans, share prayer requests, and more—join the digital faith community at Faithlife.com.

3 Creative Ideas for Family Prayer

family-prayerIt’s difficult to pray as a family. If you manage to get everyone in the same room, paying attention to something other than a glowing screen, try one of these three methods to lead your family in prayer—and keep even the youngest believers engaged.

Sentence prayers

Young children sometimes need help knowing what to pray, but scripted prayers quickly lose their meaning and become repetitive. Stop just short of a script by starting a sentence and prompting them to finish it. This method provides the combination of structure and freedom that children need.

Use sentences like:

  • “God, thank you for . . .”
  • “God, forgive me for . . .”
  • “God, help me be more . . .”
  • “God, help my friend . . .”
  • “God, give me the courage to . . .”
  • “God, help me let go of . . .”

Highs & lows

Have your children share their daily “highs” and “lows” each night before bed. Share yours, too, and then pray about all of them together. This works with children of all ages. It’s simple enough for pre-K children to understand, and I’ve seen it get even the most stoic teenager talking.

Newspaper prayer

For older children, use a newspaper or a news website to lift their eyes to issues in the world at large. Take turns flipping through newspapers, and have every member of the family highlight one news item to pray about.

What techniques do you use to get your family praying together? Let us know in comments.

How to Ask for Forgiveness

im-sorry

As people grow closer, friction is bound to occur. Both small and not-so-small offenses are inevitable. Nobody likes to apologize, but Scripture tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16), seek reconciliation when we wrong one another (Matthew 5:23), and forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32).

While a heartfelt apology can mend even the most charred relational bridge, a poorly made apology often accomplishes the opposite. When you find yourself in the wrong, make sure your apology includes the following elements.

Express regret | “I’m sorry.”

If you feel bad, say so. Give voice to your regret. This is a necessary first step.

We’ve muddied the waters by overusing the word “sorry.” We say:

  • “I’m sorry your house needs to be fumigated.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re feeling under the weather.”
  • “I’m sorry someone else hurt your feelings.”

None of these instances warrant an apology, but we use the word “sorry” to express solidarity with less-than-ideal circumstances. When you’re in the wrong, “I’m sorry about the circumstances” just doesn’t cut it. You have to go further.

 Accept guilt | “I was wrong.”

Take ownership of your fault. Don’t worry about properly assigning partial blame to anyone else. That’s not your job (Deuteronomy 32:35). An apology does not seek justice—it seeks forgiveness. (Click to tweet) Don’t bother with an explanation, unless one will help avoid a repeat offense.

Request forgiveness | “Will you forgive me?”

Asking for forgiveness places the offended party in control. It gives them the next move. They can choose to forgive or hold a grudge, and it won’t matter much to you which option they choose. Your business is to express regret, accept guilt, and request forgiveness. Whatever happens beyond that is someone else’s concern.

Never say “but”

If at any point you hear yourself saying “but” or “that being said,” stop. You’re doing something wrong. An apology should never include a defense or an attempt to share the blame. If the offended party chooses to own their contribution, that’s their business. Your objective is to mend a relationship by confessing a fault. Don’t replace the original fault with a new one by mounting a character defense.

If you’re serious about building a community of faith, you’ll need to master the art of apologizing.

We want to hear from you. Is this how you approach apologies? Do you include other elements? Let us know in comments.

* * *

Faithlife.com provides not only the world’s largest study Bible, but also a digital home for your faith community. Bring your youth group, small group, Sunday school class, or family closer to the Lord and to one another with a Faithlife group.

3 Ways to Cultivate a Healthy Prayer Life

tin-can-phoneHealthy relationships are fueled by dialog—ongoing, honest, two-way conversation. Without open lines of communication, a relationship withers. Nowhere is this more true than in our relationship with God. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, the very words of God preserved for us over many centuries, and he invites us to speak to him through prayer. This is a remarkable invitation. The God of heaven and earth invites us to speak directly to him, and he promises to listen.

Despite all this, most believers seldom pray honestly. Most of us pray regularly, at least bowing our heads while the pastor prays, but it becomes much more difficult to speak honestly with God when no one else is listening.

A. W. Tozer puts it like this: “We cannot seem to get our minds into good working order, and the first thing we have to fight is wandering thoughts. The great battle in private prayer is overcoming this problem of our idle and wandering thinking. We have to learn to discipline our minds and concentrate on willful, deliberate prayer.”

Here are three steps you can take to cultivate a habit of prayer that is both consistent and genuine.

Keep a list

A prayer list will help you stay organized. If you have an affinity for lists, chances are you’re already doing this; if you don’t self-identify as a “list person,” consider keeping just this one. A written list, whether physical or digital, will keep you from making a flippant “I’ll pray for you” promise with intention of following through. We created the prayer widget to help you keep track of your prayer requests. Here’s an explanation of how to use it.

Avoid mimicking what you hear

If you grew up in church, you may be familiar with a particular style or cadence of prayer. There is nothing wrong with this kind of style, but it does miss the point. Prayer is one half of a conversation. It’s your chance to speak directly to God. Speak as yourself, not as someone else. Mimic what you hear others praying and you’ll quickly find yourself making rote prayers, built with snap-together phrases that, though they have a pious ring, have become devoid of meaning. If you hear the prayer of another whom you admire, mimic its spirit, but use your own words. Use words that you would use in conversation.

Write prayers out

This might also feel funny if you’ve never done it before, but writing (or typing) a prayer to God can help overcome many of the challenge that Tozer pointed out. Silent, private prayer can often degrade from prayer to thought, and thinking is not the same as praying. (Click to tweet) Let’s be honest: it’s also easy to get distracted or doze off. A pen or keyboard keeps your mind focused.

Beyond these three suggestions, how do you keep your prayer life vibrant and strong?

Hope for a New Testament Girl

She slumped back into her chair and folded her arms. “I guess I’m just a New Testament girl,” she said, frustrated.

I didn’t have an answer, so I took a pull of my styrofoam-flavored coffee and avoided eye contact. We were on week two of an eight-week study through Genesis and Exodus. Some churches call it Sunday school; we called it adult education (because we’re hip like that). The New Testament girl and her husband were new additions to the class. They may have been new additions to the church and Christianity, for all I knew. We were in Genesis 16, and she was asking good questions, honest questions, insightful questions that made me somewhat ashamed I hadn’t asked myself.

How could God bless Abraham? Look at how sinful he is!

What did Ishmael ever do wrong? He’s cursed before was born! How is that fair?

Having grown up with an ambient knowledge of the New Testament God of love, I struggle with the some of the starker portraits of Yahweh painted across the Old Testament. Of course we know that Old Testament Yahweh and New Testament Jesus are one and the same in spirit, yet distinctly different persons. Jesus was present for all the the wanderings of Israel, and Yahweh is still very active throughout the ministry of Paul. God’s nature is unchanging. He did not get a personality transplant in the last chapter of Malachi, though sometimes it seems that way.

Reconciling the two sides of God is difficult work, made somewhat easier by Connect the Testaments, the daily devotional that we’ve built into the Faithlife app. Written by our own John Barry and Rebecca KruyswijkConnect the Testaments comments on a different passage of Scripture each day, alternating between the Old and New Testaments.

If you’ve grown up fearing the God of Abraham, this devotional can help you come to know his love.

If you have trouble making sense of the Old Testament narrative, this tool can help you see its harmony.

Had I known about Connect the Testaments that day in my adult-ed class, I would have shared with New Testament girl the passage from January 9.

When God’s promises are lavished on Abram in Genesis, we can’t help but feel a bit surprised. It seems undeserved . . . The greater context of the Genesis narrative shows that God’s blessing is certainly not just about Abram . . . He presents Abram with a promise and a gift—a plan of salvation for humanity. God re-establishes relationship on His terms.

 

Where can I find it?

Great question.

On the home screen of your Faithlife Bible Study app, click the gray “plus” sign in the Daily Readings pane, and find it in the list of Daily Devotionals.
faithlife.devotional

I think you’re going to love it.

***

The Faithlife Study Bible links Scripture passages that address the same topic, so you can make connections with just a click. Download the Faithlife Study Bible for free from your favorite app store, and take your Bible study to the next level.

 

 

Marriage, Sex, and Questions Kids Ask

Farrel_394 b p hugBestselling authors and relationship experts Bill and Pam Farrel have teamed up with Faithlife to host a book group centered on their new devotional, A Couple’s Journey with God. To better connect the book group with the authors, we sat down with Bill and Pam. Here’s what they told us.

Q: Is it true you have a formula in Red-Hot Monogamy that calculates how much time it takes for a couple to create a love that lasts a lifetime?

Yes, we explain how much T.I.M.E. investment it takes to keep a red-hot love life with a simple acrostic:

  1. Ten to twenty minutes a day of talk time to stay emotionally connected.
  2. Invest in a weekly date night to keep fanning the flame.
  3. Monthly all-day getaway to be sure that your needs for romance and sex are met.
  4. Escape yearly—or better yet, twice a year: once for a marriage conference, and once for some rest and romance, like on your anniversary.

Q: What are a few ways couples can keep the Bible central to their relationship?

Bill and I see Bible study like one wonderful adventure! Anytime we learn something about biblical history, context, or words, we run and share it with the other! We also encourage couples to do the simple basics so they can feel successful with the Bible:

  • Attend a Bible-teaching church together weekly.
  • Be involved in a Bible study group together.

Have a five-minute time in the Word, like we encourage in A Couple’s Journey with God.

Farrel--FB

30% off the Marriage, Sex, and Questions Kids Ask book bundle:

Save 30% on three of Bill and Pam’s most popular books on Vyrso.com. The book bundle includes the authors’ latest release: 10 Questions Kids Ask about Sex. Sale ends May 14.

  1. Red-Hot Monogamy: Making Your Marriage Sizzle
  2. With their trademark insight, humor, and candid personal perspectives, Bill and Pam reveal the truth about sexual relationships in marriage and what husbands and wives need to know to keep the embers burning.

    • Sex is like fireworks!—why a little skill turns marriage into red-hot monogamy
    • How sex works best emotionally, physically, and physiologically
    • How to avoid the pleasure thieves that steal your chance for fulfillment
  3. 52 Ways to Wow Your Husband: How to Put a Smile on His Face
  4. With humor and creativity, Pam delivers humor and wisdom in a fun woman-to-woman style through inspirational stories, godly advice, and easy-to-read offerings that include:

    • Wow assignments: simple ways to support, love, and encourage husbands
    • Wow wisdom: Bible verses and wisdom to help women cover their spouse with prayer
    • Wow dates: creative ideas for everything from shared meals to weekend getaways
  5. 10 Questions Kids Ask about Sex
  6. Every parent wants to help their children make wise choices. Now Bill and Pam bring their trademark humor and characteristic wisdom to one of the scariest topics of all: teaching kids about sex.

    • Lay a foundation for healthy conversation.
    • Articulate God’s view of sex.
    • Protect your children by giving them the right information at the right time.

Sale ends May 14.

Want more from Bill and Pam? Check out the Vyrso blog for more posts by the Farrels, or join the Faithlife book group!