Friday, November 17, 2017

Challenged Accepted:

I was recently challenged by a fellow Pastor to see if I could combine all of my beliefs in theology into one easy to read paragraph. I wrote, re-wrote, deleted and shortened everything I believe into one paragraph. Here it is...

I am a follower of King Jesus. I believe in the Triune God of the Bible. I believe that God the Father sent God the Son to live a perfect life and die a justice-satisfying death in my place. I believe that the Son rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. I long for the day when he returns to judge the living and the dead, casting his enemies into hell and ushering his people into his kingdom. I believe the Spirit of God is poured out and into all who are born again. I believe that all people must repent of their sins and turn towards God through faith in Jesus. In other words, we are justified by grace through faith, having our sins charged to the account of Jesus and his righteousness charged to ours. In short, we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And I believe that Spirit-filled followers of the King bow to the authoritative Word of the King as they seek to carry out the Great Commission of the King. Finally, the mission of the King has a church. The church, tangibly expressed in local congregations, seeks the joy of all peoples and the fame of the name through the proclamation of the gospel and in loving service to their neighbors. And we do this until Christ returns or calls us home.

Do you agree? Disagree? Parts you would change? I challenge you to write down everything you believe about theology into one paragraph.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Elephant In The Room: Depression

Last week I had the opportunity to talk with teenagers in a local high school… the topic of my choice. So I chose to address the elephant in the room: depression.

It seems counterintuitive: the economy is strong, drop out rates are down, teen pregnancy is down, more kids wear seatbelts, less kids smoke, kids have unprecedented knowledge and entertainment at their fingertips, YouTube is still free… and McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are now actually made of chicken!

So why is it that kids are by far the most depressed they’ve been in literally decades?

If you’ve even glanced at a newspaper in the last few months, you’ve seen countless articles about the rise in teen anxiety, depression and suicide. In fact, the suicide rate for teen girls just hit a 40-year high.

The question everyone is wondering is why?

Experts are speculating, and most of their theories have one “device” in common: the smartphone.

I can’t say I disagree. In fact, I see three ingredients catalyzing this unprecedented increase in teen anxiety and depression, and all flow from that device young people carry around in their pocket.

Let’s take a quick peek at these three factors, and then a few practices that can counter these precarious influences:

Social Media: 
Who doesn’t want to be LIKED? 

Today every student struggles with, “How come they didn’t like my post?” and, “Why don’t I have as many friends or followers as Jake?”

I’m definitely not alone in this theory. Experts consistently cite social media as the culprit to this increase in unhappiness, some even naming specific apps like Instagram (which, ironically, can also reflect if someone is depressed). Social media tends to display other people looking their best and having oodles of fun, which can make our own life look rather pathetic.

“I wish I had her body, hair, lips… her boyfriend…and her French Bulldog!”

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and author of iGen agrees, particularly noticing the increase in feelings of “loneliness” around 2012, which happens to be the year smartphone-ownership crossed the 50% mark in the United States (now over 80%).

Experts also point to cyberbullying, and conflict with friends as a source of depression. Guess where all this cyberbullying and conflict occurs? Social Media.

But Social Media isn’t alone contributing to depression…

Digital Absorption 
Screens are killing relationships. It’s not just social media—it’s texting, YouTube, Netflix and every other diversion our devices offer that distract us from the very people we care about the most sitting right next to us! Our culture has even named this phenomenon: partner phubbing.

It’s really not that surprising people are spending more time with screens than the people they love.

Screen interaction is way easier for most people.

People have always struggled with insecurity. But now they have a new tool… or vice… that allows them to take some of the fear out of face-to-face communication. Digital communication allows two conveniences: the ability to hide behind a user name or avatar, and ability to groom or edit our communication. Let that sink in for a moment. Consider the ramifications for someone who is insecure: it provides an escape from the struggles of real life communication; and the more they use digital communication, the less equipped they are for face-to-face communication.

But our mobile devices also offer an escape from interpersonal venues. Now if a person feels awkward in a social situation, they simply bury their head in their phone. If three or more young people are in a conversation and one person isn’t really contributing, it’s now socially acceptable for them to pull out their phone (“the rule of three”). This creates a downward spiral. Fleeing interpersonal communication only makes people more antisocial.

Here’s where it becomes really damaging: the more we retreat to our mobile devices, the less we take an interest in those around us.

There’s another word for this: self-absorbed.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation, calls this the Empathy Gap. The more we become absorbed in our own digital world, the less we empathize with the people around us. We actually hinder our ability to recognize facial cues. We don’t notice our friend sitting next to us feeling tense.

“Chris… you look sad. Are you okay?”

One colossal problem: self-absorbed people are miserable.

But this gravitation towards “self” isn’t only from digital communication, it’s from the entertainment young people are soaking in at an average of 9 hours a day. Entertainment that often preaches…

The “DGAF” Mindset 
Now that the overwhelming majority of young people have smartphones in their pockets, they carry a vast library of entertainment media with them; and much of this entertainment has a common theme:

“Who cares!”

Or as many of today’s young people say it…

“I Don’t Give a F**k!” (DGAF)

This “do whatever you want” mindset doesn’t pause to consider consequences; it only thinks about the immediate thrill.

What else do we expect when we tell our kids that truth is only what we make for ourselves. “Do what feels right at the moment.” “Don’t let anyone else tell you what to do.”

Sadly, there are two costs to this kind of living:
Consequences actually do happen, and a life of consequences leads to unhappiness.

Living a life of “who cares” and “what’s good for me” is selfish and puts others’ needs secondary to your own. This is an archetypal recipe for unhappiness. Call it counterintuitive if you must, but selfish living breeds unhappiness.

Take a peek at entertainment media for yourselves. Music alone tells the story. Today, as I write this, you’ll hear Cardi B bragging explicitly what she’s going to do with your boyfriend, or Post Malone threatening to grab and Uzi and use it if you “mess” with him (he words it a little differently). Demi Lovato isn’t as violent, but don’t mistake that for forgiveness. She makes it clear that she’s not sorry, and “it'd be nice of me to take it easy on ya, but nah.”

But French Montana and Swae Lee probably say it best, in the chorus they repeat in their song Unforgettable: 
And you are unforgettable 
I need to get you alone 
Why not? 
A f**king good time, never hurt nobody…

Sadly, most young people are discovering that “a f**king good time” often has its consequences (also in the headlines right now).

So in a world where social media, digital absorption and self-focused-entertainment all lead to feeling lonely, regretful and depressed, how are caring adults to react?

The common overreaction would be to ban technology completely. One problem with this response: our kids are sure to encounter technology sooner or later, and who is going to equip them to be responsible with these devices?

Moms, dads, grandparents and mentors can make a huge difference, and research is there to back you up. Here’s a few simple practices that truly make an impact on our kids’ self esteem.

Helping Our Kids’ Self Esteem: 

Empathetic listening 
Is it really surprising that the cure to a lack of empathy is empathy?

In a world where an increasing amount of people are ignoring those around them, simply take notice of your kids.

A brand new study reveals that if parents “acknowledge the perspective” of their kids and allow them to express themselves, then these kids are less likely to be depressed, engage with others easily, and have an overall stronger sense of self-worth.

Whodathunkit? Simply listening to someone makes them feel more valued.

And here’s the cool part. When you take the time to notice your kids, this paves the way to…

And in a void of face-to-face communication, is it surprising that good ol’ fashioned interpersonal conversation makes a difference?

Talk with your kids about their self worth. .

Engaging in healthy dialogue is the one parenting practice that every researcher out there actually agrees on. Parents should constantly be dialoguing with their kids about their thoughts and feelings… even their digital habits.

Share Truth in a World Potent with Lies 
Sometimes today’s believers get so distracted trying to block lies that they forget to point towards truth. Help your kids’ discover what it looks like to practice wise posting in an insecure world. Help them navigate encouraging entertainment media. And most of all, help them understand that they are worth so much more than the number of LIKES they receive.

I am here to chat further about depression in students if you would like. 

Wednesday Christmas Music:

Wednesday Christmas Music:

Wednesday Christmas Music:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

SHOW ME THE RICHES: A Thanksgiving Post:

Or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you.-1 Corinthians 3:22b

We are blessed.
We are blessed.
We are blessed.

As believers we are "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). We have even inherited Christ's glory, bequeathed to us by our Lord Himself (John 17:22). "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

The world or life or death or things present or things to come is totally inclusive. Paul begins and ends this declaration with all things belong to you. In Christ, all things are for our sakes and for God's glory.

Specifically, the world is ours, even now His main point is that, in the millenial kingdom and throughout eternity in the new heavens and new earth, we will possess the earth in a richer way. But even now the universe is a possession of God's people. It is ours. Our heavenly Father made it for us. It is still in the grip of the evil one, but it will someday and forever belong to us, not to him. 

When we fully inherit the world, with Jesus on the throne, it will be perfect and even more ours. In the meanwhile, this present world already belongs to us, with its wonders and glories, imperfections and disappointments. The believer can appreciate the world as no unbeliever can. We know where it came from, why it was made, why we are on it, and what its final destiny will be. We can sing with certainty as well as joy, "This is my Father's world." And we are His heirs.

All lie is ours; but from the context it is clear that Paul is primarily referring to spiritual life, eternal life. In Christ we have new life, a quality of life that will never tarnish, diminish, or be lost. God's own life is in us now. Through Christ, God abides in us, and we share His nature and His life.

Even death is ours. The great enemy of mankind has been overcome. Christ has conquered death, and through Him we have conquered death. Unless we are raptured, we will have to pass through death; but we will pass through it as its master not its slave. All death can do to the believer is deliver him to Jesus. It brings us into the eternal presence of our Savior. That is why Paul could say with such joy, "for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain". Whether he remained on earth for a while longer or went to be with the Lord, he could not lose. For Christians, death can only make things better. To stay here and finish the work Christ has given us to do may be "more necessary" but "to depart and be with Christ... is very much better". For God's people, this present life is good, but death-which users us into eternal life-is better.

Things present are ours. That encompasses everything we have or experience in this life. It is, in fact, a synonym for this life. It includes the good and the bad, the pleasant and the painful, the joys and the disappointments, the health and the sickness, the contentment and the grief. In God's hands it all serves us and makes us spiritually richer. "In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us"; and because nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," nothing can cause us any real harm. God causes all things to be working together for our good.

Things to come are ours. The reference here is not primarily, if at all, to the future of our present lives. That is included under things present, meaning everything we will experience on earth. The things that are to come are heavenly blessings, of which we now have only a glimpse. Yet they will be the greatest blessings of all.

This Thanksgiving, take time to remember how blessed you truly are. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 2017 Parent Newsletter:

For Parents on the Go:
1. This Sunday, the high school guys will have an opportunity to interact with the Crusader Men’s Sunday school class and learn about life from a spiritual giants at FBC Stanleyville. Everyone should come to Sunday school first and I will take the high school guys down to the Crusader Men’s SS class.

2. Ridgecrest, November 17-19th. I have attached a packing/information list at the bottom of this email. We will be leaving the church around 5:00 pm on Friday, November 17th and will be returning around 3:00 pm on Sunday, November 19th. Students will need money for dinner on Friday, 17th.

3. Ugly Sweater Christmas Party, December 2nd  6:00 pm-8:00 pm. Pastor T and Julia’s house. Cost: FREE.

4. During the month of December your son or daughter will be receiving a 25 day Christmas devotional to help them focus their heart and mind on the reason for the season. We will be going through the devotion on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.

5. On Wednesday, December 6th at 7:00 pm the church will be holding a meeting to discuss the changes which were introduced in June. I value your opinion and the opinion of your son or daughter. Please talk to me if you feel like I am doing a good job balancing everything and please talk to me if you feel I am doing a poor job balancing everything. I highly value your opinion as well as the opinion of your son/daughter and I am taking everything into consideration.

Dear Parents,

I love fall. As I sit on my back patio writing these wods, the air makes me want to breathe deeply and enjoy life purposefully. Sure, part of it may have to do with the crisp, humid-less air, the anticipation for holidays with my family, and the pure giddiness that comes from stepping on the crunchiest leaf. But my love for fall is much deeper than the pumpkin spice, bonfires, and football games. This season speaks to my soul.

For a season that brings so much death to creation (including a hunter's prize), there seems to be quite a bit of joy. More than that, there seems to be a deep-rooted peace. No matter the cold that is coming for certain, I know it will not last. Spring will come. In approximately six months, the flowers will bloom and vibrant colors will return to the land. No matter how frigid the winter, life will be restored. Just think, if we did not have this certain hope, we would plead with God like the animals of Narnia for winter not to come, for all it brings is death and bitter cold. The promise of spring brings hope to my heart and a sweet reminder to my soul.

This is the gospel. Jesus Christ turns back the timetable to bring life to the dying. This is my state without Him. Just like Isaiah 40:6-7 says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.” The lushest tree in the summer cannot withstand the slightest autumn breeze that blows its coat away. On my own, I know I am living in an endless cycle of coming winter and death (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Praise God that this is not how Isaiah 40 ends. Peter comforts persecuted Christians with these words in Ahis first letter: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). My first birth led me to death, but praise the Lord He allowed that I was born again to a living hope through His Son Jesus Christ. This hope promises to never fade but is instead an evergreen of life and eternity with my Savior. That, my friends, is good news.

Christians are promised seasons of cold. Just like the believers to whom Peter wrote, life will be hard and suffering will come. What is even more certain than the chill that causes the leaves to fall is the hope of the Son returning in glory to bring eternal life and reward to his people.

Therefore, I do not live as one chaffed by the bitter cold of this world. I live with my eyes set on eternity, looking to the certain return of my Savior. The creatures of Narnia understood this living hope as well. As they awaited the return of their king, they sang:

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe)

So enjoy this beautiful season. Take a stroll. Drink some apple cider. I’m convinced that conversation is just better around a fire pit. But more than all these things, in this season, praise God for the gospel that brings direction to the lost, rejoicing to the sorrowful, and life to the dead.

Reaching, Teaching, Releasing,

Pastor T Welch