The Greatest in God’s Kingdom

Of all virtues, Jesus elevated meekness above the rest. Why humility? It is the door opener to grace, and no virtue enters our lives except that humility acknowledges our need and requests virtue to come. Without humility, we see no reason to change or appropriate future grace.

Yet, humility not only hosts the other virtues, it is also the life essence that sustains them. It is humility that recognizes when love is growing cold and humility that confesses our need for greater purity. Without humility, our virtues harden into lifeless statues; we are outwardly religious, but inwardly unable to change.

Humility is the taproot of true nobility. For it provides increase to wholeness, and life and maturity to all other virtues. It is the antidote to Phariseeism and the cure for a Jezebelian attitude.

A Child

Consider: when Jesus was asked by His disciples, “Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” He put a child in their midst. He said, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 18:1,4).

What a sublime wonder! In Heaven, the height of greatness is measured by the depth of one’s humility.

Consider Wuest’s Expanded Translation of Jesus’ statement:

“Therefore, he who is of such a nature as to humble himself like this little child, esteeming himself small inasmuch as he is so, thus thinking truly, and because truly, therefore humbly of himself, this person is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus came to establish Heaven in the lives of His followers. Thus, He introduces the realm of God to His disciples with the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 5:3).

Beloved, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the “poor in spirit.” Who are these poor? They are people who “know their need” (Goodspeed Translation). Beloved, there are people in Heaven who were sinners on Earth. The streets of God’s kingdom are filled with people who, at some time or another, failed and fell short. There are adulterers who’ve been washed and cleansed by Christ’s blood, ex-drug dealers and prostitutes whose hearts are filled with praise to God – all who came face to face with their need, repented and found forgiveness of their sins.

But there is not one proud individual in Heaven. There are no self-righteous beings in Heaven.

Here on earth we see the strutting pride – the air of self-importance – manifest in leaders and celebrities. Again, we behold the air of false superiority in our cultural prejudices. We see unrepentant pride in the conflicts that lead to divorce and the offspring of pride – envy and jealousy – in the inordinate desire of men to be glorified before other men.

Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit! Not the perfect, but the poor. Yes, we are called to standards of perfection, and strive we must toward that upward call. Yet, perfection in Heaven is measured, not in degrees of self-sufficiency, but in degrees of dependency and surrender. We can search for an eternity and we will observe truly: there dwells not one proud soul in all of Heaven.

Today, we cry for revival and pray for breakthroughs, and persevere we must. Yet the Lord’s eyes are upon a certain individual. He says,

“For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isa.57:15).

The disciples were arguing about who is greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus placed a child in their midst. This is greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven: to possess a humble heart.

 

A service of Frangipane Ministries, Inc.

Copyright (c) 2012

All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations were taken from the NASB.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer Changed the Mind of God

The visible glory of God descended, then manifested on the top of Mt. Sinai. As many as six million Israelites heard the audible voice of God speaking to them from the majestic fire. The entire nation quaked and trembled in holy fear. In response, Israel’s leaders begged Moses that no further words be spoken to them by God. Moses agreed, then turned and ascended the mountaintop and entered this frightening holy blaze where He remained for forty days. (See Exodus 19:17-20:19; 24:18.)

Incredibly, when Moses delayed his return, the Israelites began to rebel, making for themselves an idol, a golden calf, similar to the idols of Egypt. They did this in full view of the glory of God, defying His glory with their outrageous idolatry. (See Exodus 31:1-8.)

Nothing angers the living God more than man’s idolatry, and this brazen act was enough to have destroyed all Israel, both the sinners and also those who saw their sin and did nothing to stop it. In response, the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exod. 32:9-10).

This is an amazing verse. It reveals something of the inner workings of the divine mind. I am thinking in particular of the Lord’s statement: “Let Me alone.” The implication is that if the Lord is “alone”—that is, without an intercessor to appeal to His mercy—divine wrath can be fully expressed. Conversely, the opposite is also true: wrath can be restrained if we, as intercessors, do not withdraw our entreaty. As long as Moses does not withdraw from prayer, there is a mercy opportunity that is being made possible.

The goal of an intercessor is to remain in prayer; i.e., to “not let God alone.” This is not to imply that we are more merciful or forgiving than God. That would be quite untrue. What is true, though, is that some measure of divine grace and forgiveness – an unreasonable measure – is reserved in God’s heart and only escorted to earth by human intercession. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished; His mercy, however, triumphs over judgment and can be enlisted by prayer.

Our quest is to unite in oneness with the mercy of God. Conversely, the devil’s goal is to create the opposite relationship between us and God where we accuse people for their sins and failures. Satan seeks to embitter us against our loved ones and associates, neighbors and nation so that our desires are not redemptive but accusatory and judgmental.

Peter tells husbands to not be embittered against their wives so that their “prayers will not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). Underline this truth: bitterness hinders intercession. The Lord desires we climb into His very thought-processes in extending mercy to earth. In this, the mercy-oriented intercessor attracts the full attention of God.

“Let Me alone,” the Lord said. Yet Moses refused. Instead, he reminds the Lord of His promises for Israel as well as His relationship with Israel’s forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 32:11-13). Too many intercessors misinterpret the Lord’s initial pushback and report, erroneously, that God has exhausted His mercy. He has not. In fact, His mercies are new every morning. Moses’ response to the pushback was to prevail upon God’s love. He reminds the Lord of His purpose, repeats the Lord’s promise, and he does not stop praying for Israel.

Moses became a mature intercessor. He stayed close to God, prevailing in prayer. Even though the Lord said He would make of Moses a great nation, Moses ignored the prospect. He knew all people would have times of sin and failure. Moses had come too far to start over. This journey was about a covenant that was made with Israel’s forefathers.

Remember, the assignment is to bring an imperfect people with a promise from God into fulfillment. The intercessor’s role is to pray from the beginning of that journey, through the valleys of sin and setbacks, and continue praying until the promise from God is obtained.

You may be a pastor of a church or an intercessor or a parent. Regardless, whoever you are praying for, you must have this attitude: “Lord, I am not letting You alone concerning my loved one.”

When I pray, I never pray for divine wrath to fall; I always pray for mercy and grace. I agree with God that wrath is justified because of man’s sin, yet I plead with God for mercy and correction.

The Result

The result of Moses’ intercession is utterly amazing: “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exod. 32:14).

May this be a revelation to us all! Moses’ prayer changed God’s mind!

Much of how God relates to the future of a nation is based upon how the people in that society pray. The Spirit has made one truth plain to me: The future of a society does not belong to sinners; it belongs to those who pray. Thus, Jesus tells His disciples that whatever two of them agree on “about anything that they may ask” (Matt. 18:19), it will be granted by the heavenly Father. Two or three servants of God who refuse to abandon their faithfulness in prayer can release the mercy of God into their world.

For Moses and the Israelites, the outcome was profound: “the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exod. 32:14).

Think of it: prayer changed the mind of God.

Lord, thank You for always remaining open to our cries. Help me to persevere, to give You no rest, until You fulfill Your highest purposes with my family, church and nation. Thank You that one voice is not too feeble that You cannot hear it. Master, I stand in the gap for those I love. Reveal Your mercy to them.

 

—adapted from a chapter in Francis’ book,

The Power of One Christlike Life

 

 A service of Frangipane Ministries, Inc.

Copyright (c) 2012

All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations were taken from the NASB.

 www.frangipane.org

Where a Desolate Soul Finds God

In spite of breakthroughs in several regions, many Christians have grown weary. Their love is growing cold; their passions, lukewarm. The prophet Daniel warned of a time when the enemy would “…wear down the saints of the Highest One” (Dan. 7:25). To emerge victorious in this day, we must climb into the reality given to us by God in Psalm 91. There is a place of replenishing life, a fountain of light, wherein we can abide. The Bible calls this place the shelter of the Most High.

 Elijah: A Man Like Us

Elijah was a man with passions like ours, and he fought in a spiritual war similar to ours. In his battle for the soul of Israel, he stood against the wiles of Jezebel and her husband, King Ahab. Yet his most intense battle was not against visible foes but against personal discouragement.

 As bold as Elijah was, he lived as a fugitive moving in and out of caves and places of hiding. Jezebel had murdered nearly all of the Lord’s prophets, replacing their godly influence with the dark, satanic oppression accompanying the priests of Baal and the Asherah. A new initiative, however, had come from the Lord: Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal were to build altars, each to the deity they each served. The God who answered with fire would be acknowledged as Lord over the nation.

 King Ahab and all Israel came to the confrontation. Try as they may, the priests of Baal could draw no response from their demonic idol, Baal. In dramatic contrast, at Elijah’s prayer, fire immediately fell from heaven and consumed his sacrifice. This was Elijah’s greatest victory. And when the Israelites saw the display of God’s power, they bowed to the ground saying, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39).

 But the Lord was not finished. After Elijah had the priests of Baal executed, he went to the top of Mount Carmel and, kneeling face down, he prayed seven times for rain until the Lord brought a great downpour that ended a devastating three-year drought. On this one day, both fire and rain miraculously fell from heaven!

 Perhaps if this tremendous day had occurred at any other time in Israel’s history, the nation would have repented, but it did not. Baal worship should have ended, but it continued. In fact, nothing changed. Instead of the revival that Elijah envisioned, the opposite occurred: an enraged Jezebel vowed to kill the Lord’s prophet, spurring Elijah to flee into the wilderness. There Elijah collapsed, exhausted and despondent, beneath a juniper tree. “It is enough; now O Lord,” the weary prophet prayed, “take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

 Elijah had offered the Lord his very best effort. This day had been the culminating event of his life. Elijah had prayed that Israel would know the Lord was their God and that, in response, the Lord would turn Israel’s “heart back again” (1 Kings 18:37). Yet, like the prophets before him, Elijah could not trigger revival for Israel.

 Discouragement overwhelmed him. He had had enough.

 Have you been to the point of spiritual or emotional exhaustion where you too have said, “It is enough”? Perhaps you were frustrated by your own inability to effect positive change in your family; or, you’ve fasted and prayed for your church or society but no visible change occurred. You gave your all but found little success. Disheartened and weary like Elijah, all your resources were spent.

 Elijah lay down and slept. As he did, an angel touched him and said, “Arise, eat” (1 Kings 19:5). At his head were bread and water. Elijah, weary with life itself, ate and withdrew back into sleep.

 Once more the angel touched him. “Arise,” he said. “Eat, because the journey is too great for you” (v. 7). For all our visions, plans, and programs, the journey before each of us is also “too great.” Indeed our journey will always, at various points, be too great for us. For life is so constructed to drive us closer to God.

 Back to Our Foundations

“So [Elijah] arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8).

 The Lord gave Elijah strength, not to send him back to battle but to bring him back to basics. If we become more consumed with our task than we are with our love for God, our lives will eventually become brittle and desolate. To restore our souls, the Lord brings us back to the essentials of our faith. Indeed, He might even stop our labors completely and direct us to the simpler realities of prayer, time in the Word, and worship. He reminds us that, of all He calls us to accomplish, His greatest commandment is to love Him with “all our heart” (Mark 12:30). Without this focus, we lose touch with God’s presence; we are outside the shelter of the Most High.

 The Lord brought Elijah to “Horeb, the mountain of God.” In Hebrew, Horeb means “desolation.” The barren environment mirrored Elijah’s soul. Yet to God, Horeb was actually a place where the issues of a man’s heart were flushed to the surface. There is no theater at Horeb, no acting. It is the place of unembellished honesty and core-to-surface transparency.

 How Did You Get Here?

Perhaps Elijah’s greatest virtue was his zeal. Indeed, twice in his communication with God, Elijah speaks of having been “very zealous” for the Lord. But zeal unattended by wisdom eventually becomes its own god. It compels us toward expectations that are unrealistic and outside the timing and anointing of God.

 To remain balanced, zeal must be reined in and harnessed by strategic encounters with the living God. Otherwise we become frustrated with people and discouraged with delays. We step outside our place of strength and spiritual protection.

 Elijah had come to Horeb and lodged there in a cave. Soon the Word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 9). This is one of the most important questions God will ever ask us. His question probes the reality of our spiritual state: “How did your service to Me become dry and desolate?” God wants us to know that when we fail to esteem Him as our first love, we will always find a desert awaiting us.

 Our primary purpose in life must be to abide in Christ. Otherwise we can become so consumed with the deteriorating condition of the world that we fail to see the deteriorating condition of our own soul. In His love, the Lord stops us and forces us to look honestly at our heart: Is this existence that I now live the abundant life promised me from Christ?

 Let’s speak candidly. We have nothing to prove and no need to pretend. We can abandon the internal mechanisms of defensiveness and pride. If we are disappointed, we are free to express it; if frustrated, we can admit it. We must simply and truthfully evaluate, without rationalization, our true spiritual condition.

 Transparency is the outer garment of humility; and, humility draws the grace of God to our hearts. Is not intimacy with God the very thing we most neglect? And is not the Lord alone our source of strength in battle? If the enemy can distract us from our time alone with God, he will isolate us from the help that comes from God alone.

 Let us approach the living God without any garment, but with transparency.

 A Fresh Anointing

As the pressures of this age escalate, we will soon discover that yesterday’s anointing will not suffice for today’s battles. The Lord brought a new beginning to Elijah’s life at Horeb—one that would ultimately release a “double portion” of power to Elijah’s successor, Elisha. Under this new anointing, Jezebel would be destroyed, Baal worship abolished, and the only period of revival the northern tribes ever experienced would begin.

 To reach a similar place of breakthrough, it will take more than the momentum of our own zeal. We should not be surprised if God calls us to pass through our own Horeb.

 How will we recognize this place? Horeb is the voice of personal desolation; it is the desperate compelling of our heart to possess more of God. We must now listen carefully to the voice of God. For it is at Horeb that He brings us deeper into Himself. It is here, under the canopy of His compassion, that we discover the purpose of our brokenness: our desolation is in fact a time of preparation.

 The Lord is about to bring a new beginning to you. When you return to the battle, you shall war from the shelter of the Most High.

 Lord Jesus, apart from You, my life is dry and desolate. Forgive me for trying to do Your will without abiding in Your presence. I desperately need You, Lord. This day, I commit my heart to return to my first love. Teach me, Lord, to consider intimacy with You the greatest measure of my success. Let me see Your glory; reveal to me Your goodness. Guide me, Oh Holy Spirit, into the spiritual fortress of the presence of God. Amen.

 

—adapted from a chapter in Francis’ book, The Shelter of the Most High

published by Charisma House

A service of Frangipane Ministries, Inc.

Copyright (c) 2012

All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations were taken from the NASB

www.frangipane.org

 

Where are you placing your trust?

Twice in the last few months, the Lord has brought to my attention, two different verses but they have the very same message, Be careful where you put your trust!

Isaiah 31:1

 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD. 

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 

In our modern society it is so easy to be self- reliant, we get to choose where we live, what we eat, how we spend our finances, what jobs we take, whom we marry and the list goes on and on. It is very easy to fall into the thinking of “I need to take care of my own needs, I need to see to my own finances, work myself out of a mess, I need to….”

As Christians though, God wants us, his children to learn to put our whole trust in him, when a situation arises, we are to bring it to him in prayer and then listen and be ready to act and  see how he works it out.

My first response has always been unfortunately, to try and figure out how to solve my own problems, instead of asking for help. This is a pride issue I realize that, and I do struggle not to go there, but so often it is so much easier to trust in my own resourcefulness than to wait on someone else to help me through it.

A great example of my own resourcefulness would be:

 I would like to buy a new TV, but instead of saving for it, and waiting for God to show me the right timing and best deal, I run ahead and get a credit loan and buy it. Circumventing anything that God could have done for me in the process. I would have lost out on the satisfaction of saving diligently, I would have forgone any blessing that might have come had I waited for God’s perfect timing, instead of relying on myself and the almighty credit card.

 I believe that the lord wants me to write a new story in my life, one of dependence on him, for everything, not trusting in myself or relying on others, but truly trusting that he has my best interest at heart and because of that He will help me through everything that I am walking through.

This is easier said than done, but I decided a long time ago that I wanted to surrender my whole heart to the lord and that meant no matter how uncomfortable the journey was I would say yes lord. I think that this is one of those uncomfortable times.

 Personal story:

I once knew a lady, who would always try to work deals for everything, she would sacrifice and go without, in order to achieve her desired result. It was always hard work for her, trying to figure out the fix for the next crisis that happened in her path. I am not sure it ever dawned on her that she did not have to try to manipulate circumstances and people and finances in order to achieve her desired goals.

God says that when we have concerns, needs or anything else to bring it to him,

Philippians 4:6

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

So as I walk this journey of dependence upon God, to work out all things for my good, and not try to fix and manipulate circumstances I am sure that there will be some triumphs and failures, but I do know that God loves me and will teach me along the way how to walk diligently and trustfully with Him.

I also know that He has blessings on the path of trusting in Him.

If you find yourself relying on your own strength, mental  abilities and other people to rescue you, or give you what you need, my prayer for you is that you will recognize it and repent asking the lord to help you to put your trust where it belongs, completely in him.

Remember, He knows and sees the future, He knows what is best for you always, so therefore he is the most qualified to help you navigate through life.

Trusting in God is essential and it will bring you the most joy and satisfaction in your life.

 

 

Is My Teen Using Drugs?

In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically.  In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their   middle school age years.  Yes, times are changing.  The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.

 Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash.  So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs?  And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?

 In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions.  Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues.  We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.

 Take the Initiative

 If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out.  At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe.  We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places.  But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.

 Signs of Drug Use

 You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing.  Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game.  They may also be feeling shame over their drug use.  Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.

 One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things.  For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs.  Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell.  Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes?  All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.

 You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine.  Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed?  Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns.  Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation.  He’s become lazy.  Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.

 Teens are created to be relational beings.  Most kids don’t do things because of their friends.  They do things with their friends.  So if friends are using, they may give it a shot.  It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house.  If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.

 If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using.  Or it could just be a shift in attitude.  Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings.  If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.

 Here’s the point.  Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you  follow your instincts.  If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen.  Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer.  Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable.  If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive.  Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs.  That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.

 Not My Kids!

 Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure.  Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up.  Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery.  Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize.  Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel.  It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.

 If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem.  Or you discover their secret.  When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse.  Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different.  If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact.  If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess.  If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard.  This is when you reinforce the relationship.  You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you.  If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.

 Obviously, every situation is different.  And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored.  But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.

 As a parent, you want good things for your teen.  We all do.  Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs.  You still want the very best for him or her.  Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen.  No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org , or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com

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Is Your Teen Living a Double Life?

The statistics are staggering.  An estimated 9,000 texts are sent by the average teen every month.  You can find 80-billion videos on YouTube.  And a whopping 4.2-million porn sites are accessible online.

 These opportunities open the door for our teens to develop a double life.  There’s one life that’s a performance for mom and dad at home.  And there’s a secret insidious life online.  The two are quite different.

 As a parent, you may feels suspect of your child’s online behavior.  Perhaps you’ve wondered, What if my teen’s gone down this path? 

 The Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives.  It’s a fabulous tool.  You don’t need me to tell you that.  Most likely you have a slew of devices at your disposal to access the web.  In fact, as you’re reading right now, it’s likely you’re looking at a high-tech color screen on a computer, phone or tablet.  And that isn’t a bad thing!  But these good tools can become dangerous when in the hands of a curious unsupervised teen.

 As you know, the Internet has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years.  And part of a parent’s role is to stay on top of the advances.  You should know about chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else is out there.  These destination sites are actually where your teen finds community, acceptance and belonging.

 One of the dangerous trends involves lying about your identity online.  A son or daughter may be tempted to present a fictional self.  After a while, they can have a hard time differentiating between their real self and the one they have imagined.  A wall forms between their real relationships and the fake ones they’ve developed online.  Once this wall takes shape, it’s very difficult to break down.  Every interaction that is reinforced by the fantasy world makes the wall larger.

 This trend makes bullying easier to engage in, as well.  If people don’t know who you truly are, then a teen feels at liberty to speak without a filter.  Bullying becomes nothing than playful sport in this fantasy world.  But the effects are just as bad, if not worse.  Because of the impact of the connections people have online and how easily communication becomes widespread, one negative comment can have hundreds or thousands of readers.  If the weight of one negative comment in the schoolyard is difficult to bear, then a digital cut-down that’s spread to the worldwide web is excruciating.

 Sexting is another major problem.  Teens entice one another into sending inappropriate photos back and forth over their cell phones or computers.  Studies show that 13% of teen girls have sent an inappropriate picture of themselves to someone else.  Most of these girls would never consider handing a printed photo to someone, but somehow the intoxication of their online personality makes sexting acceptable.  And once those photos are sent out, the recipient can easily pass them around to others.

 The fantasy world, bullying and sexting all come out of a kid’s desire to find acceptance.  He or she can portray themselves one way online—no matter what imperfections are going on outside the computer.

 So, when do you step in?  How do you monitor your child’s online behavior?  First of all, make sure your teenage son or daughter understands that you reserve the right to look over their shoulder at any time to see what they’re doing online.  Also, make them aware that you might check on their email communication from time to time.  Second, keep their computer access limited to certain times of day.  And it’s always helpful to have the computer in a place in your home where they are not surfing the web and communicating with friends behind a closed door or in secret.  In monitoring your kids, your intention is to keep them safe.  But there’s a risk, as well, because you do not want to smother your child nor fracture your relationship.

 As they grow older, you need to begin to back off from your supervision.  Obviously, you cannot monitor their online habits into their adult years.  Our role as parents is to help our children grow up and become adults.  It’s a process, and there’s a balance in how much we intervene and how much we allow our children to have independence.

 We can help our children grow through supporting them in making choices and assuming responsibility in their life.  Over time, we need to wean them from our intervention.  This can be tough.  There will be times when you may see things that you would completely disagree with.  Even when this happens, you can let your teen make the decision, but be sure to support him and give him the counsel that he needs in order to make that wise decision.  It’s risky, and not easy to do, but it helps your child learn discernment.  If you take away your teen’s opportunity to exercise discernment, they may lose the opportunity to learn that skill, and they may also distance themselves from you.  If you don’t have a relationship with your teen, you won’t be able to influence their decisions.

 Your teen needs you.  There’s nothing that can take the place of a face-to-face relationship.  Turn off your phone when you talk to your child.  Take time together.  Occasionally mention when you see something on their Facebook page.  Teach discernment when your teen gets older.  And the best way to teach discernment is to be discerning yourself.  You are the most powerful role model that your teen will have.  It’s up to you to role model the power and value of relationship.

 There are differences between how girls and guys react to this issue.  Rachel, a counselor who works alongside me at the residential counseling program, Heartlight, shares how she has seen teens struggle with their perception of what is real and what isn’t during the teen years.  During our weekend broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll talk with Rachel about practical ways that you can help your child maintain his identity throughout his life, especially when faced with the opportunity to develop dual identities through an online persona.

 The digital e-book My Teen and the Internet is available online at www.parentingtodaysteens.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org , or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

 

 

Faith without action is dead!

I have been under the false assumption for most of my Christian life that faith is something that I believe about God, or a situation and the work is done. As long as I did not waiver on that faith and stood firm in that then I would be ok. When thoughts of doubt would come, I would quickly push them away believing that I was being a good strong Christian. I did not realize that there was a bit more to faith than that.

I was given a great example of true faith and actions that accompanied it this past week.

I had gone with a friend to visit her mom in hospital, and before I had gone I had asked the lord to prepare my heart for what I was to see, and what he said about the situation. He had led me to various scriptures about faith, and how by people believing him, they were healed from their diseases.

He showed me through scripture that there were various kinds of requests that came to him from the people that he ministered to, some came from people who had the ailment, then others were for a friend or family member with the ailment, and others were out of pure desperation, knowing that if Jesus did not intervene then all hope was lost. The bible says, that Jesus responded, like this, “By your faith you will be healed, he had compassion on the people seeing that they were harassed like sheep without a Shepard.” He responded to the faith of the people who approached him, begging for his intervention in their lives.

All of these people had to act on their faith, they had to make themselves heard over the noise of the crowd, they had to come to him and ask, they had to brave the social stigma’s and believe and ask anyways.  That is what God desires of us, that we will believe and push through and act as if what we have asked for has been given. Just like these people, and Jesus gladly gave them their requests because their actions, of pushing through despite all of the social issues involved.

So with my faith bolstered I went with my friend. While there we encountered some opposition to the faith that we came with but without knowing it, my friend showed me the principle of faith and action put together, will produce a good result.

In the book of James, he is teaching the people that faith and deeds need to go together, now to be honest I have read this many times, and agreed for it to be true, but I guess I never really understood what the lord was trying to get through to us. Read the following scripture and let’s discover together this great treasure that he has for us.

James 2:14-26

 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?   Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.   If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.   You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 

 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. 

I would like to take a moment and concentrate on Abraham, God had asked Abraham to take his son Isaac up to the mountain and sacrifice him, he did not give him a reason, but just asked him to do it. Now you have to remember that Abraham and God had history together at this point, Abraham knew that God was true to his word, he knew that God could be trusted and so if he asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise that God had given him, Abraham believed that God could raise him from the dead.

Hebrews 11:17-19

 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. 

Abraham believed that God would deliver his son from harm, so therefore he set off to do what God had told him to do, he took his son to the mountain, had his son carry the fire wood and the flaming stick to burn the sacrifice and when they reached the place wanted the sacrifice made, Abraham built the alter. All the while believing that God had a plan and purpose for it.

For those of you who are familiar with the rest of the story, God did indeed have a plan, and just before he was about to kill his son, they heard a noise in the bush and found a ram, stuck there. They knew that that is what was needed for the sacrifice.

Scripture tells us that God was pleased that Abraham put his faith and his actions together, he believed God would deliver them, so he acted as if that deliverance was already a fact even though it was not yet seen.

That is where the next verse of scripture that God gave my friend and I came in very handy this past week,

Hebrews 11:1-2

 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.   This is what the ancients were commended for. 

The lord had us repeat this verse over and over this weekend as the evidence before our eyes, says that there is no hope for my friend’s mother, but God tells us to have faith for what we do not see and act on that faith.

This is exactly what my friend did, she could see the evidence, but her faith being stronger than the evidence, kept her from crumbling, and she would speak to her mother with the assurance of life being brought back into her frail body.

That is how we prayed to, with the assurance that God is at work in her mother’s body, raising her up and bringing healing and hope to her.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, the thoughts of “are you nuts, can’t you see what is going on before your eyes” were right there alongside us, but my friend taught me a very valuable lesson, one that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my days;

That even though the evidence in front of you says one thing, our faith and our actions need to speak a different thing if we are to see God’s hand at work.

God honors our faith, when we show him through our actions that we believe him over the reports of man.

This was such a valuable lesson for me, as I discovered that Faith is all about, us seeing through God’s eyes, and believing for his power to work in our situation.  

My prayer for you, is that you too will begin to ask the lord to give you his eyes to see your situation as he sees it.

 

Helping our Teens Make the Grade

I didn’t excel in academics while in high school.  Academics just didn’t mean anything to me because I was more preoccupied by social interacting and my sport of choice, swimming.  Posting good scores on my report card was for others to do; I was too busy.

 After flunking out of a semester in college, I finally began to grow up and take school seriously.  In fact, I actually began to flourish in college.

 Then I became a dad.  And when Jan and I had our two children, my whole perspective shifted.  We want nothing more than to see our kids excel in school.  We want them to succeed.  And when they’re in grade school, middle school and high school, the only gauge for objectively measuring their success is in academics.  We take their report cards very seriously, don’t we?

 The Balancing Act

 Our teens are faced with a balancing act every day.  Every day is a performance.  Not just in the classroom, but in the hallways, too.  Adolescence is the season when our kids learn to build healthy relationships.  Have you ever seen your son or daughter’s calendar or the number of “friends” they have on Facebook?  They are hard-wired for relationship.  But the balancing act gets difficult because as kids become more connected socially, they tend to become disconnected academically.

 Parents, this is often where we make our biggest mistakes.  When relationships overpower a child’s focus on schoolwork, we sometimes see the grades begin to slip.  Incomplete assignments, poor exams, missed deadlines … these are all red flags.  And for some of us, we tend to overreact.

 If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your teen, then stepping in and helping your teen get back on course can help.  But if the relationship has become weakened, or if it seems like your relationship with your teen is more about his academic performance than who he is—it’s a recipe for conflict.  Lots of kids find themselves pushed into this corner and they decide to push away from academics altogether.  The harder you push, the less your teen wants to have anything to do with you.

 Once a teen loses ground in their studies, it gets harder and harder to catch up.  With every grade that goes down, the student loses the knowledge that they will need to raise those grades later on.  And at that point, it becomes a downward spiral.

 Finding Connection

 Parents, I understand that you want to engage with your teen.  When you feel like there isn’t a hobby or extracurricular activity that you can use to connect with your teen, many parents turn to academics.  But academics is a risky place to have as a sole connection.

 Schools are designed to value academic achievement.  Families are designed to value people.  If these roles are switched, then we may see our teens looking to their peers to find their value as human beings.

 Any encouragement for academic growth should be couched in the arena of relationship.  Parents, it’s healthy to allow your teen to assume responsibility for his or her grades.  It’s not up to you whether your teen graduates.  It’s up to your teen.  You can support them as much as you can, whether that’s through providing tutors, study materials, or just being available for questions when they come up.  But, if you put too much pressure on your teen to get good grades, they can respond by becoming an underachiever (ignoring school or just getting by), or an overachiever (spending too much time on schoolwork and overemphasizing their quest to get good grades).

 Our teens are already facing a lot of pressure.  School puts pressure on our kids.  They face pressures to fit in with other kids.  They are transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  They are in a heavy season for defining their identity.  And they are continually assaulted with images of what our culture says is perfection.

 It’s hard to be a teen right now.  And our kids want to take advantage of this time to discover who they are and to be guided and molded.  But sometimes, our encouragement and guidance may sound like just another pressure.  As a mom or dad of a teen, we need to be very careful on how much pressure we apply to their academic performance because it might be our pressure that pushes our kids right over the edge.

 So, how should we cope with their failures?  This is the hard part.  We naturally want to step in and rescue a child from academic failure.

 Try not to shame them or chastise them if they fail.  Instead, encourage them in the things they are doing well.  Our role as parents is to help our kids know their role in their own life and to help them become acquainted with their God-ordained personality.  We know that we have succeeded as parents if we have helped our children grow up and become independent.  As hard as that is, that means breaking away from us.

 On the upcoming broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens, we’ll be talking about this subject in-depth.  And from another perspective, I’ll talk to a high school guidance counselor, Wendy Mattner of Harvest Christian Academy, to hear her thoughts for moms and dads.

 Healthy parents give their kids a chance to live, to succeed, to fail, in a safe environment.  We provide a safety net for our kids, so that they know that they can turn to us when they fear failing.  We can encourage them to do well, but if they fail we need to be ready to rely on the relationship we’ve built.  A relationship built not on scores, but on each person’s inherent value.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com

 

 

Setting Aside Traditional Parenting

Ever catch yourself using the same phrases your parents did?  In the heat of the moment, when your son or daughter is giving you fits, you find yourself mimicking the same stuff your parents used with you?  It sounds like this …

 “It’s my way or the highway!” … or …

 “Read my lips!  Are you listening to me?” … or …

 “As long as you’re livin’ under my roof, you’ll obey my rules!”

 Oh, man, you can hardly believe it when these clichés spill out of your mouth!

 There’s a reason why these parental edicts have become clichés.  Parents have used them for decades.  But in today’s culture, forced authority doesn’t get the results we want.  When we pull these tricks, our teens sometimes roll their eyes, sigh heavily and shrug us off.  Wielding our position of authority rarely impresses this generation.

 And what’s true in the home is also true at church.  Tragically, statistics reveal that 85% of our kids are leaving church upon graduating high school.  They’re not engaging in structured relationships as we once did.  Something’s not working.  They’re not buying into our ideals and it hurts deeply when our sons and daughters walk away from the things we hold dear.

 So, what’s the answer?  What are we to do?  Well, let me suggest that some of the traditional tools for parenting need to be retired.  We need to recalibrate our perspective and engage with our teens in a language, a tone, and a manner they can receive.

 Perfection is Impossible

 For starters, let’s resign some of our preconceived convictions and consider a new way.  For instance, we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we employ certain tactics, our kids will emerge as responsible adults.  We can’t rely on that notion anymore.

 The first thing that needs to be debunked is the fairytale that families can attain perfection.  Where did that come from?  No family is perfect.  So quit trying.  It flies in the face of reality, and yet I find so many families working overtime to look, act, and be the perfect family.  Relax.  Deal with failures as opportunities to learn.  But don’t freak out every time your teenager makes a mistake.

 When we set expectations in our home too high, it’s not long before our children figure out they can’t reach our standard.  Our good intentions for sinless perfection will surely backfire.  When things get tough or seem outside of their ability to attain, teens will eventually withdraw, rebel, or even run away.  They tap out.

 Our pristine standards and our spirit of excellence may be genuine, but teens may see these ideals as an impossible goal.

 If your child concludes they cannot possibly live up to your expectations, they have the option to turn to you as a resource and a source of relationship, or to turn away from you as a cause of their frustration.  This is the proverbial fork in the road.  They can turn toward you.  Or away from you.  The home can be a place of refuge or a place where impossible judgments are held against them.  If the latter is the case, they will turn to an arena that is less judgmental.  They usually take the road of least resistance.  Typically, this arena is the prevailing culture.  This could be their sympathetic friends, classmates, or even the input they get from the cynical media.  When our teens turn to these communities for relief, we lose the opportunity to speak into their lives.

 In children’s early years, we create a perfect world for them.  Our kids respond to what we have to say.  We insulate them from consequences.  This would be okay, but then reality hits in middle school and high school when they realize that the world isn’t perfect.  Mom, dad, you won’t always be able to insulate your kids from pain, or even from the natural consequences of their actions.  Nor should you.  The role of a parent is to help your child grow up.  If their world is easy, they won’t need to grow up, and if they are perfect, then they don’t need a Savior.

 Ultimately, it’s not what you do as a parent that counts.  It’s who you are that will help guide your teen.  At this critical juncture in a teen’s life, your relationship will be tested as never before.  Maybe you’re right at this crossroad today.  You feel like your teen is teetering on the brink of turning away or turning toward you.

 Authority Can’t Be Forced

 Today our teens have immediate access to information through television, social media sources and the Internet.  These avenues have unquestionably tainted their perspective on authority.  This is the game-changer in our culture, and parents need to accept the fact that we cannot control the barrage of influence coming from these sources into the hearts and minds of our teens.

 Our teens have more information and faster ways of keeping up with what’s going on in the world than ever before, so they feel like there’s less for parents to teach them.  Their reality is entirely skewed and they react to this lopsided reality through their relationship with you.  Yes, you’re bearing the brunt of information overload from all these sources!  As a result, children think less of the authority figures in their lives, because they believe that they know better and that their understanding of the world through the media is truer than what their parent is saying.

 Again, this is why it’s imperative to persist on developing an authentic relationship with our teens built on trust.  It requires time.  Patience.  Forbearance.

 If you’re looking for creative ways to shift your parenting style toward a more productive outcome, or would just like to learn more about the changing culture and how it affects your teen, be sure to listen to a conversation we had with family coach, Tim Smith.  He’s one of our guests on the next edition of Parenting Today’s Teens.  The broadcast is a half-hour long, and you can find a station near you or simply download the podcast.  You can also find help by getting the Parent Survival Kit from Heartlight.  It’s a box that’s filled with time-tested resources for moms and dads, and it’s available at our web site:  www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight Ministries, located in Hallsville, Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark at www.markgregston.com.

 

 

Heaven’s on My Mind

Do not fear for my fate

Because I’m knocking on heaven’s gate.

It’s time to leave this old world behind

with its tears, sorrows and crimes.

Cause I’ve got heaven on my mind.

 Chorus

The thrills of this world are fading

For the joy of Him who’s waiting

To call me to his throne

I’ve got heaven on my mind.

 My eyes see a better place

Where all is forgiven and I’m in his grace

Walking in a city of jewels and gold

The light of his radiance I’ll behold

And with him I’ll discover marvels untold.

 Chorus

Mysteries of this world will unfold

And I’ll finally know the reason why

For all the hidden things in my life.

As I sit at the feet of the Son

By whose life my soul was won.

 Chorus

I’ll know all the stars by name

And where from whence they came

I’ll know where the universe begins

And if it ever ends

Time and space will have no meaning

For in Him I live and move and have my being

 Chorus

Then one day I’ll see you again

And we will sing together in joyous refrain

Honor, glory and praise

To the one whose words are trustworthy and true

And we’ll explore together the heavens and earth made new

 

Written & read Jan 15, 2012                  

 Written by:

Lorraine Jacyszyn