3 Tips for Having Hard Conversations with Your Kids

We’ve all been there. When our child is exposed to something scandalous for the first time, or a teachable moment presents itself, or we suddenly realize just how old our child is these days and it’s past time for them to learn about some more mature subjects.

 

Here are three tips for navigating through these moments well.

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Who Should I Follow?

As a teenager and young adult, the leaders in my life were always limited and clear: parents, coaches, teachers, and pastors. Today, however, I have access to a plethora and diversity of leaders in every aspect of life.

There is an abundance of riches in leadership. And what a gift it is to be able to hear and learn from so many experienced and skilled people in so many areas!

But, this abundance also entails dangerous possibilities when it comes to whom we follow.

We use the term “follow” frequently in today’s world, especially regarding social media, but we often forget the original implications of the word. To follow means that someone is leading us; we are trusting them to inform us, teach us, and shape us, in some way or another, even if we’ve never met.

I’m not only talking about Instagram feeds (although, this definitely applies to social media), but also the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, and the celebrities we desire to emulate—all the different ways we allow, and even invite, others to influence our lives.

Whether considering leaders in the Christian faith or leaders in any field at all, here are three things to consider when deciding who to follow:

1. Character above Charisma

We live in a time of influencers, and Christians certainly have their fair share.

In this atmosphere, personality sometimes matters more than content. Our culture has trained us to value entertainment, so it helps if someone is attractive, witty, and inspiring. However, the goal of the Christian life is not celebrity but Christ-like character. What should matter most is not how persuasive or articulate someone is, but who they are: the narrative of their lives.

Do they love the least of God’s children? Do they speak the truth when it is unpopular? Do they live, and call you to live, submitted to the lordship of Jesus?

Charismatic leaders are exciting and enticing — and certainly you can be charismatic and also a devoted follower of Jesus — but let us remember that physical attractiveness, persuasive speaking skills, and successful ventures are not the most important things about leaders.

What should truly inspire us is a character that is conformed to Christ.

2. Humility above Hubris

Leadership comes with power. But power can be addictive and destructive.

Often, powerful leaders who are self-promoting and prideful are not only tolerated, but celebrated in our culture. Jesus, however, states clearly to his followers, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you, must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

The leaders we follow should seek to look like Jesus, who although he was God, humbled himself even unto death on a cross. The king of the universe was also the suffering servant, washing the feet of his followers.

Does the person you follow spend more time seeking fame and influence than seeking God and his kingdom? Do they spend the majority of their influence for their own ambition?

When choosing who to follow, let us find someone who, like Jesus, uses their power and position to glorify God and serve other people.

3. Truth above Trend

The most challenging and important aspect of determining who to follow is understanding what they really believe.

Do you know if they hold to orthodox Christian beliefs? Are they part of a Christian community that holds them accountable?

Our beliefs about God, the Bible, and salvation affect everything.

Please do not hear me saying that you cannot learn from anyone who believes differently than you do — you can, and you should. We all should be willing to engage with those whom we disagree and learn from them. However, engagement is different from discipleship.

The world is constantly shifting its values and beliefs, and often the most popular speakers and leaders are not committed to biblical truth.

Before you follow someone — ingesting their books, appropriating their worldview, sympathizing with their purposes — make sure you understand their foundational beliefs. It matters.

 

Recently someone asked me for a list: write down the women to avoid and the women worth following.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

What we really need is community, discernment, and wisdom. We need a vibrant and committed personal faith, walking with others, as his Spirit and his people speak to our hearts and minds. We need to study and understand Scripture for ourselves so that we can test the truth pronounced by others through the filter of a biblical lens.

Through our church community, through faithfully listening to God’s voice, through study of his Word, and through our own personal relationship with Jesus, we can develop the discernment to wisely choose which leaders to follow.

When you are following someone, consider where they are leading you. Ultimately, whomever we choose to follow should lead us beyond themselves and to our king.

In the end, in all ways, may we be led, and may we lead, others to submit to, proclaim, and look more like Jesus.


 

4 Ways Christians Can Engage Culture

Picture culture as a river. The waters of the river can either be vibrant and life giving or polluted and dangerous to the ecosystem around it. As the waters of the river go, so go its surroundings. As Christians, we are faced with a dilemma. What is our role in culture?

When I was growing up, I had a Christian T-shirt. Come to think of it, I also had a few Christian CD’s, a handful of Christian surf movies, one Christian skateboard, and I think I even had a lone Christian computer game. These “sacred” options were mediums of entertainment and enjoyment for me. I liked them because I felt some type of validation that I could still be “cool” and a Christian. I was seeing and hearing people that believed the same things as me, doing the same things as me, and that felt good.

Are “Christian” T-shirts wrong?

No. In fact, there are a lot of good Gospel conversations that can come from wearing something that proclaims what you believe. However, underneath this so-called subculture that I grew up in, there was a mindset that was forming. A philosophy that I didn’t realize was shaping the way I viewed my involvement in the culture around me.

You see, the more I secluded myself from culture by segregating what was sacred from what was secular, the more I lost my effectiveness as a missionary. I began to combat, criticize, and cower from culture, believing that it would make me a more holy person.

But, in the process, I was becoming less like Jesus.

The Son of God, to everyone’s surprise, had a different approach to engaging the culture in which he lived. Accused of being a drunk, glutton, and “friend of sinners,” Jesus lived in such a way that disgusted the religious elite of his day. These self-righteous members of the community thought they were above the “common people” and decided it was best to keep away from those “less holy” than themselves. This was not at all Jesus’ idea of mission.

Now, for clarity sake, I am not suggesting that Christians should lower their ethical and moral standards to fit it. In fact, that is the farthest thing from what I am saying. I am merely suggesting we take a seat in the school of Jesus and his mission, and think about our roll on this planet. We are here to be on mission with Christ. Our prayer and hope is that we might see his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and this may require a different approach.

It might, in fact, require us to contemplate, conversate, and even create culture ourselves, not simply condemn it or cower from it. This type of approach doesn’t embody the humble, reasonable, accessible picture we see in the Son of man who lifted the head of the prostitute and preached on the hillsides to the poor.

The life of Jesus illustrates a beautiful marriage of holiness and lowliness, humility and purity, transcendence and presence. Jesus exemplified being both God and man. This connection of heaven and earth is the same mission to which we are called 2,000 years later.

Which brings me to the question: How should the Gospel shape our engagement in culture?

As Christians, we are called to a citizenship of heaven. This does not mean that we are trapped here waiting for our eutopia to come. Instead, it means that, as faithful followers of Jesus, we have a mission in the here and now. So, here are four suggested ways to engage culture as a follower of Jesus:

1. Create Culture

Missionary artists are challenged with bringing the Kingdom to light through creativity and beauty instead of cheap counterfeits. This means displaying innovative art, playing original songs, and showing captivating films in the same halls and venues as those of different beliefs, side by side with the unchurched. As well, non-artists are called to create healthy, kingdom culture in their homes, workplaces, and communities.

2. Contemplate Culture

Mission-minded parents are called to walk through life with our kids, providing a place for them to ask hard questions and explore faith. This means getting our hands dirty and having awkward conversations instead of sheltering them from the broken things in this world that Jesus came to redeem.

3. Converse with Culture

Missionary neighbors are led to become competent and strategic at uncovering the Gospel in topics in which our unchurched friends have never seen Jesus at work before. This means sitting down to eat at sinners’ tables and listening deeply to the interests of those we are trying to reach. It means meeting people right where they are.

4. Care for Culture

Believers of all ages, backgrounds, and giftedness are empowered to care for this river called culture. As we tend to the waters, the banks of the river come to life and we begin to see the redemptive work of God unfold before our eyes. This means wading into the filthy parts of the river that will one day be a crystal clear torrent flowing right through the city of God, instead of just sitting on the banks.

 

What about the shirt though? I mean, a shirt that says “Jesus” instead of “Reese’s” isn’t cowering from culture, right? A band that sounds just like Nirvana, with slightly less grunge, and positive, encouraging lyrics isn’t condemning culture, right? Perhaps, but aren’t they counterfeiting it? And for what purpose exactly? To provide an alternative that is “sanctified” and “safe”? To make us feel like, if just for a moment, all the brokenness we experience is gone and heaven is here? Maybe copying culture is just another means of creating our own utopia where we don’t have to engage in the darker places of our world and the murky waters of our culture.

Friends, we must be wise about who or what will influence our formative minds and hearts. We need to guard our hearts well and seek to help others navigate these waters, too. But, you can’t navigate a river by standing on the bank.

We need to wade into the waters with our children, our neighbors, and our friends and family who are new believers, and embark on this mission of engaging culture with a Gospel perspective.


 

Spheres of Influence Activity

This activity will help you identify your circles of accountability, also known as our Spheres of Influence. Take note of the non-believers with whom you can build intentional relationships. Get to know them, pray for them, serve them, and find opportunities to share your grace story and the gospel.

 

Of these relationships with non-believers, choose the five biggest priorities for prayer.

This is your Top 5:

  1. _______________
  2. _______________
  3. _______________
  4. _______________
  5. _______________

Nothing to Lose

Telling people about Jesus can be weird and awkward.

No one wants to be approached by that person in line, or that guy with a pamphlet at your door, or that neighbor who, on the very first conversation, blasts you with “Have you accepted Jesus?”  Even if we have, we cringe. No one likes being blasted.

Perhaps that is why we are sensitive to being the blaster.

Those of us who are committed to Christ are called to share the love of Christ. We believe the gospel. We know the freedom, joy, peace, and hope that it gives. We think eternally, and this makes evangelism one of the most important parts of our existence on earth. But we still don’t want to be “that” person. The topic of Jesus and the gospel is difficult to broach, and in many situations we don’t know how the recipient will respond. So, sometimes we steer so clear of blasting that we don’t approach the topic of Christ at all.

There must be an alternative to blasting and not speaking of Christ at all. 

My small group leader recently observed that evangelism is a two-part process: creating opportunities for Christ, and then seizing those opportunities. The creating aspect is developing relationships with neighbors, friends, or family that don’t know Jesus.

Instead of blasting, we are truly making efforts to know them, invest time with them, and making an effort to love them. When we are in relationship with others, opportunities are naturally created to share the gospel. Then, when the name of Jesus comes out of our mouth, because it eventually will, it is not blasting. We are simply seizing the moment to share an important part of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, it may still feel weird. 

Our small group acquired a relationship with a man named Greg, who is homebound with health issues. Greg needed help getting groceries, but more importantly, he needed love. We began sharing costs for groceries and delivering them to him every other week, but the groceries were incidental – they really created an opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Greg had recently undergone intensive surgery on his foot and was having to work through a long rehab in the hospital. One of our small group ladies suggested we write him some cards of encouragement for his hospital stay. So, I sat there, pen in hand, knowing I should seize this opportunity to write Greg a note of encouragement.

It felt weird. I had not even met the man!  And, in light of what I said earlier, I did not want to be “that” Christian chick. I was ready to write but unsure what to say.

I thought for a minute, prayed, and wrote down a few words of encouragement. It took a grand total of 5 minutes. I thought, There. I did it. That was weird and he may find it weird. But, I knew I was seizing this opportunity to share love and hope, maybe even creating an opportunity to eventually share the gospel.

To my surprise, Greg did not find it weird. In fact, he was quite encouraged and excited to get a blessing like this from someone he didn’t even know. He received another card from someone else in the group, and he called our two cards “fan mail.” I loved it and immediately wanted to write to him again. I had no idea the card would mean so much. It had cost me so little – 5 minutes and a little weirdness.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

Romans 1:16

We must all learn to do what we are called to do: love people with the intent of sharing Christ, and then trust God with the rest.

If we try to talk about Christ with someone and it doesn’t go well, we really have lost nothing. But if we follow our fear of losing respect, it can inhibit the opportunities we have to share the gospel.

Respect is worth losing, but the message of Christ is not. Are you willing to risk feeling a little weird, for the amazing reward of being used by God in changing someone’s entire life and eternal trajectory?

If we believe the gospel, the answer should be clear.

Let us take heart, be courageous and learn how to create and seize opportunities for Jesus.


 

 

056: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Life

Does the idea of bringing up your faith at work, at the ball fields, or in your neighbor’s driveway make you anxious? What if they get turned off or ask you a question you can’t answer? Evangelism (or sharing the good news of the gospel) doesn’t have to be scary or uncomfortable. It can be a joyful experience to be used by God and it can happen naturally, anytime, anywhere. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aaron Chester about sharing the gospel in everyday life.

Resources: 

Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed by Clear Creek Resources

The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs

Gospel 101: Learning, Living, and Sharing the Gospel by Jeff Dodge

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

 

050: What Makes Biblical Community Unique?

Biblical Community is one of the core values of Clear Creek Community Church. On this episode, Ryan talks with Bruce Wesley and Karl Garcia about what “Biblical Community” means, how it became a core value, and how it influences every aspect of the church.

RESOURCES:

Side by Side by Ed Welch

Life Together Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Lost Art of Disciple Making by LeRoy Eims

Small Groups, Big Impact by Jim Egli and Dwight Marble

Transformational Groups by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger

10 Things to Consider When Talking to Someone Who is Struggling

Even the most well-meaning person can hurt someone who is struggling more than help them if they aren’t careful.

We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to find solutions to every problem. Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply show up for someone who’s hurting.

Here are ten things to keep in mind when you do:

 

  1. Engage them as a helper, not as a fixer. You are only a partial knower, you can only ever be a partial fixer. Jesus is the only perfect fixer.Remember it is possible God providentially arranged for your involvement with the suffering person to grow you as you watch someone else go through suffering.

 

  1. Remember, God is in control. But very often a person who is struggling needs time and space to remember and accept that he is. Gently and patiently point people to Jesus.

 

  1. Be careful not to assume you fully understand what they are going through. You don’t. If you think you fully understand you will tell them what worked for you and when it doesn’t help, you will blame them. Remember the impact of tragedy is different for everyone and so is the process of grieving.

 

  1. Don’t minimize the suffering and difficulty a person is experiencing. Tragedy and suffering are about more than the source event. Tragedy destroys normal expectations and experiences for life and changes a person’s worldview. The best gift you can give is to take time to understand their story and talk about the roots of the emotions they express.

 

  1. Be very careful about identifying specific purposes for the evil and suffering someone is experiencing. Too often we say things in an effort to help someone feel better but what we actually communicate is that they shouldn’t be as upset as they are.

 

  1. “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean you unload all the truth you know in the moment. Context matters. What is the most gracious and appropriate truth right now? Give them that one.

 

  1. Understand that suffering people often speak “felt truth” as if it is true. In other words, hurting people often say heretical things. Don’t feel like you have to correct their theology in the middle of their pain. Weep with those who weep.

 

  1. Be careful not to offer false hope by saying what the Bible doesn’t say. Often suffering people need to loosen their grip on promises God never gave. Too often they have a grip because some well-meaning person told them an untruth trying to make them feel better in the beginning of the situation.

 

  1. Trust God’s character and the hope he has given. A person’s willingness to trust God is anchored to what they believe about his character. Give appropriate truth and appropriate time and space.

 

  1. Presence is powerful. Words are dangerous. Engage them, pray for them and with them, use words with care to “give grace to those who hear.”

 

**Adapted from a seminar hosted by Andrew Dealy and Jason Kovacs at Austin Stone Church


 

027: Who’s In The Bible? Introducing a New Podcast for Kids

In this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Lance Lawson and Aric Harding about the joys and challenges of discipling their children. They share some helpful tips and stories of failures that will encourage anyone in a position to impact the life of a young person. They also talk about their new project, “Who’s In The Bible? A Podcast for Kids,” launching March 6 with weekly episodes.

 

The Parent as Primary Disciplemaker


At every park and backyard in America, parents mill around jungle gyms, monkey bars, and swing sets in order to keep an eye on their kids at the playground. But, invariably, accidents happen and kids get hurt. Maybe one skins his knee on the ground, bumps heads with another child, or has some other misadventure. What is the first thing he does? Instinctively he looks to a parent to see what reaction the mishap provokes. And, inevitably, there is the parent who looks horrified and shouts in a shrill voice, “Oh my goodness, sweetie, what have you done?” To which the child, now assuming he has five minutes left to live, begins screaming at the top of his lungs.

But, there are also the parents who, when given the same scenario at the playground, immediately, confidently, and calmly say to their children, “You are okay. Shake it off and keep playing.” What happens next? My sense is you already know the answer. You likely witnessed it time and again at the playground yourself. Most kids, as a result of a parent’s confident and assuring counsel, move beyond the irritation and discomfort of a minor injury and continue their fun day at the playground without shedding a tear.

THE POWER OF A PARENT
Ponder that scenario for a moment. How great an influence must a parent possess that a child will emotionally interpret what has happened to him or her merely by gazing at a parent’s response? Parents are their children’s biggest influences. Often our work ethic, emotional patterns, or even the way we talk are just a sampling of the innumerable attitudes and actions we display in adulthood that echo our parents’ example we witnessed in our childhood.

The reason this influence is so pronounced is not only because of the emotional attachment between kids and their parents, but also the sheer amount of time children spend with their families. The late seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, says that children in Christian families spend about one percent of time at church, 16 percent at school, and 83 percent at home. Even assuming these percentages shift as children move into adolescence, the message is clear: parents are the most influential human beings in the lives of their kids.

A parent’s influence not only helps kids with bumps and bruises, but, more importantly, in leading their spiritual development. Indeed, the home is the discipleship strategy God ordained, and why, from the very beginning, fathers and mothers are central to the spiritual formation of their children. Contrary to what some may assume, when it comes to role and responsibility of imparting the gospel to our children’s hearts, minds, and lives, Scripture focuses the spotlight, not on the church and its programs, but squarely upon parents and the home.

DISCIPLESHIP AND DEUTERONOMY 6
One of the foundational passages for this truth is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Did you see the strategy? According to this passage, Hebrew fathers and mothers are indisputably their children’s primary disciple makers. They are to teach [these truths about God] diligently to [their] children, and shall talk of them when [they] sit in your house, and when [they] walk by the way, and when [they] lie down, and when [they] rise.

THE NEW TESTAMENT STRATEGY FOR DISCIPLING KIDS
This home-centered strategy for discipleship continues in the New Covenant with the church. God’s plan for children’s spiritual formation continues in (not deviates from) the original discipleship path established in the Old Covenant. For example, Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When looking at the entire span of biblical revelation, the apostle Paul affirms the continuity of the parent as primary disciple maker in the days where the church has now become the people of God (cf., Heb. 12:9, 2 Tim. 1:5).

It is also worth noting that believers during both covenants had either priests, prophets, pastors, or someone whose primary designation within the community of faith involved spiritual guidance and teaching the Scripture. Yet, it is striking to see that even with these necessary, and God-ordained, individuals helping shape the spiritual formation of the people, the burden for a child’s discipleship remained primarily upon the parents. This only serves to highlight the truth that God’s plan has always been, and will always be, parents acting as the primary disciplers of their children.

This foundational biblical truth should also resonate with our experience, not only as parents, but as those who have been parented. Our personal patterns and habits that echo our parents’ influence on us merely confirm why there is no one better to impart to a child a love for Jesus. It is also why the parent as primary disciple maker is one conviction we must firmly hold. Unfortunately, many parents often leave the responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth with the church staff who lead children’s ministries on any given Sunday.

At first blush this church-only strategy seems natural because, like a teacher for educational development or a coach for athletic development, specialists often play a central role in the growth of our children. Therefore, it would seem the obvious strategy for our child’s spiritual growth would fall in bulk upon the pastor’s shoulders and the ministries of the local church. But we have clearly seen in Scripture that both Old and New Testaments testify this is not the case. The parent operates as their child’s first pastor, minister, and teacher. This does not mean our children should refrain from involving themselves with age-graded ministries of a local church. Far from it! However, it does mean those ministries are not a replacement for the parents’ critical position as primary disciple maker.

If this was the type of legacy you personally received as a child, make a break as a parent. If this is the legacy you are presently giving your kids, repent and give them something worth passing down. Remind yourself that, for better or worse, you are your kids’ primary children’s minister and their foremost student pastor. If that feels overwhelming, then welcome to the club. I have been in ministry for three decades, hold a couple seminary degrees, teach the Bible on a regular basis, and still feel overwhelmed as I look into the eyes of my three sons and wonder what their future holds. But being overwhelmed does not mean parents get a free pass from the Bible’s calling on us to disciple our children. Be encouraged! If God calls you to this role, it means you really can do it.

So, give it a try.

Let the church come along side you. And watch what God can do in you and your kids for his glory and your good!