What I Wish Every Parent Would Read

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I’m a high school pastor, but for once, they weren’t talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church’s youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers’ ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn’t strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries?

It’s hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

1. They are converted.

The apostle Paul, interestingly enough, doesn’t use phrases like “nominal Christian” or “pretty good kid.” The Bible doesn’t seem to mess around with platitudes like: “Yeah, it’s a shame he did that, but he’s got a good heart.” When we listen to the witness of Scripture, particularly on the topic of conversion, we find that there is very little wiggle room. Listen to these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them. In short, we need to get back to a focus on conversion. How many of us are preaching to “unconverted evangelicals”? Youth pastors, we need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students by the power of the Holy Spirit! When that happens—when the “old goes” and the “new comes”—it will not be iffy. We will not be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. It is converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.

2. They have been equipped, not entertained.

Recently we had “man day” with some of the guys in our youth group. We began with an hour of basketball at the local park, moved to an intense game of 16” (“Chicago Style”) softball, and finished the afternoon by gorging ourselves on meaty pizzas and 2-liters of soda. I am not against fun (or gross, depending on your opinion of the afternoon I just described) things in youth ministry. But youth pastors especially need to keep repeating the words of Ephesians 4:11-12 to themselves: “[Christ] gave . . . the teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Christ gives us—teachers—to the church, not for entertainment, encouragement, examples, or even friendship primarily. He gives us to the church to “equip” the saints to do gospel ministry, in order that the church of Christ may be built up.

If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them . . . and it may indeed be time to panic!

Forget your youth programs for a second. Are we sending out from our ministries the kind of students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry there without ever being asked? Are we equipping them to that end, or are we merely giving them a good time while they’re with us? We don’t need youth group junkies; we need to be growing churchmen and churchwomen who are equipped to teach, lead, and serve. Put your youth ministry strategies aside as you look at that 16-year-old young man and ask: “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes. The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough, but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.

This is not a formula! Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church. The words of Proverbs 22:6 do not constitute a formula that is true 100 percent of the time, but they do provide us with a principle that comes from the gracious plan of God, the God who delights to see his gracious Word passed from generation to generation: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Youth pastors, pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.

Michael Hogg, Ed.S.

Pastor Brownstown Christian Church

"Transforming lives through Christ, one life at a time"

Angels over Indiana

If you’ve never believed in angels before, this may change your tune. At least it did for one Henryville, Ind., family of five.

With a tornado bearing down on their home, Darrell and Tricia gathered their three children—ages 11, 10 and 8—stuffing everyone into an interior closet just like the safety videos would suggest.

But the EF-4 twister with winds estimated at 175 mph lifted the framed home some 50 feet off the ground—with all five still inside the closet—and carried it about 400 yards before it exploded into pieces.

Had it carried the home just 40 more feet, it would have landed in a nearby pond and Darrell is convinced his family would not have survived.

He is convinced the Lord was watching over his family.

"I need to tell you," Darrell told Rapid Response Team chaplain Ginger Sanders. "It wasn’t just one or two angels, it was a whole team."

As Darrell opened his eyes, he saw his children lying face down on the ground and he feared the worst. But all three were still alive and spared severe injury.

His 11-year-old son suffered the worst with two broken vertebra, while his 10-year-old daughter was admitted to the hospital for observation but shortly released. His 8-year-old son was fine.

Darrell and Trisha were not so lucky. Darrell’s injuries included a broken jaw, broken shoulder blade, broken clavicle, broken sternum, as well as all 14 ribs broken. Trisha suffered a broken pelvis, two broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

What remained of their house was in a nearby field, right next to the pond.

"We would have all died," Darrell told Ginger. "I was broken to pieces. My wife was broken to pieces. My kids were face down in the dirt. There’s no way we would’ve survived."

In the week after the March 2 storm, Ginger had the privilege of praying with Darrell and Trisha, who were able to get beds in the same hospital room. It was just the encouragement the Christian couple needed.

"As I prayed, tears just rolled out of Trisha’s eyes," Ginger said. "I just told her to relax and take deep breaths. It’s almost like breathing in the Holy Spirit.

"There was just a sweet spirit in that room. Her family was praying with them too."

Both Darrell and Trisha have been released from University of Louisville Hospital while their oldest son has been released from nearby Kosair Children’s Hospital with a back brace. The three children are currently with their grandparents.

Healing is taking place all over Henryville as different chaplains have had the opportunity to pray with more than 500 people with several dozen accepting Christ as their Savior or rededicating their lives to Him. The Henryville deployment will likely wrap up at the end of next week.

"It’s been an amazing walk," Ginger said. "God is doing great things here."

As the chaplains ministered, Joe and Martha said they were Christians but not completely sure what would have happened to them had they not survived the storm.

The chaplains led the couple in a prayer of assurance and just as they wrapped up, the three grandsons walked over and the chaplains started talking to them about spiritual things and all three prayed to receive Christ.

Praying with more than 200 people on the nine-day deployment to the West Liberty/Malone area, the two chaplains had the opportunity to talk with 82-year-old Ella Mae, who had been baptized before but had never made a decision for Christ..

Six chaplains prayed with nearly 150 people over an eight-day deployment in Harrisburg, including Jack, who lost the roof of his mobile home during the Feb. 29 EF-4 tornado.

Jack, who was inside his mobile home when the storm hit, said he felt God spared his life just like He did two years ago when Jack survived a heart attack. But each time the chaplains gave Jack an opportunity to enter a relationship with God, Jack would quickly change the subject.

Focusing on the message, the chaplains steered Jack back to the gospel and Jack said he would like to give his life to the Lord.

Used with permission of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The Finger of God

As the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18) Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai as God laid out his laws for Israel. When he was finished, God wrote his Commandments on tablets of stone for Moses to carry back with him. The stone tablets were “written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). This was the law by which men would be judged by God. It was this same law that the Pharisees quoted in the Temple courts when they brought an adulterous woman before Jesus. “‘Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’” (John 8:4-5). The question was an attempt to discredit Jesus.

The woman was irrelevant to their agenda—just a pawn used to try and corner the elusive King. You can almost hear them taunting Jesus. “You know the law, don’t you Jesus? The one that God gave to us—the law that he wrote in stone with his own finger?” And what is Jesus’ response?

He bends down and begins to write in the sand. Scripture doesn’t tell us what he wrote, only that he wrote with his finger. The inscription was irrelevant, but the act was as significant as Jesus himself. God has come in the flesh, and now he stands before an angry mob. A mob that is bent on wrath and “justice.” And once again God begins to write. Only this time the message is not one of judgment and condemnation but mercy. “He stood up again and said, ‘All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!’” (John 8:7). The crowds are silenced, and again Jesus bends to write in the sand.

In one single act of symbolism God takes his finger and rewrites the fate of humanity. The Law that was once written in stone will now be written on our heart. The God who laid out the punishment for sin has now come to earth to take our punishment upon himself. The finger that once condemned now pardons. “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” Jesus asked the woman. “‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more’” (John 8:10-11)

Jesus has spoken to you today. He does not condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Michael Hogg, Ed.S.

Pastor Brownstown Christian Church

"Transforming lives through Christ, one life at a time"

Thinking about His Return

I have a mixed response to heaven. I want to focus on the here and now. I don’t want to be accused of being “so heavenly minded that I am no earthly good.” This phrase is a distortion, of course. However, it has been worked into my heart by a culture that has lost touch with the spiritual. I constantly seek to get it out of my head and heart.

When I am thinking most clearly, the promise of heaven sounds pretty good to me. As I embrace heaven, I am relieved to know that there is a place where God’s glory is unveiled and I will see him face to face. I look forward to a place where there is no sin, no pain, no death, no tears. I want to be in a place where life is the way that God intended it to be. In those times when my mind is clearest, I find heaven brings all of life into focus. The more I see of life on earth from God’s perspective, the more fully I live it here.

A friend of mine described his father-in-law at the time of his death. He was “so heavenly minded that he traveled through this life with great zeal!”

Think About It

Imagine that God will allow you to be with him for the next fifteen minutes in heaven. You have no more earthly responsibilities. Sit and enjoy being with him. Write down your impressions. How does spending time with God change your perspective on your concerns and tasks of today and tomorrow?

Study It

Read John 14:1-4. Jesus tells the disciples to trust him. How would trust help the disciples as they cope with his impending departure?


"If I don’t see you here again, I will see you there!"

More Ways to Praise

Some of you asked for more ways to focus on praising God and increasing our Praise Vocabulary. Here are some scriptures to focus upon:

1. “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead!"

–I Peter 1:6

2. “Be content with what you have, for God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’”

–Hebrews 13:5,6

3. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence.”

–Jeremiah 17:7

4. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

–Psalms 119:105

5. “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.”

–Job 37:14

6. “God has poured out his love into our hearts.”

–Romans 5:5

7. “In the Lord, put your trust.”

–Psalms 11:1

8. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.”

–Proverbs 3:5,6

9. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.”

–Proverbs 17:22

10. “O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.”

–I Chronicles 16:34

11. “I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, and sing praises unto thy name.”

–Psalms 18.49

12. “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”

–Psalms 30.12

13. “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay your vows unto the most High.”

–Psalms 50.14

14. “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.”

–Psalms 75.1

15. “Let us thank God for his priceless gift!”

–2 Corinthians 9.15

16. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

–Ephesians 5.4

17. “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and songs; sing and make music from your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God.”

–Ephesians 5.19-20

18. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

–Colossians 3.17

19. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God.”

–I Thessalonians 5.16-18

20. “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

–I Timothy 4.4-5

Soft Hearts

Luke 5:33-39

Then Jesus used this illustration: “No one tears off a piece of a new garment to make a patch for an old one. Not only will the new garment be ruined, but the old garment will look worse with a new patch on it! And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, for the new wine bursts the old skins, ruining the skins and spilling the wine. New wine must be put into new wineskins.

“Wineskins” were goatskins sewed together at the edges to form watertight bags. Because new wine expands as it ages, it had to be put in new, pliable wineskins. A used skin, having become more rigid, would burst and spill the wine. Like old wineskins, the Pharisees were too rigid to accept Jesus, who could not be contained in their traditions or rules.

Christianity required new approaches, new traditions, new structures. Our church programs and ministries should not be so structured that they have no room for a fresh touch of the Spirit, a new method, or a new idea. We, too, must be careful that our hearts do not become so hard that they prevent us from accepting the new way of thinking that Christ brings. We need to keep our hearts pliable so we can accept Jesus’ life-changing message.

Michael Hogg, Ed.S.

Pastor Brownstown Christian Church

"Transforming lives through Christ, one life at a time"

The Healing Touch

Mark 1:40-45

Once a leper came and knelt in front of him and begged to be healed. “If you want to, you can make me well again,” he pled. And Jesus, moved with pity, touched him and said, “I want to! Be healed!” Immediately the leprosy was gone.

According to the Old Testament laws about leprosy (Leviticus 13–14), when a leper was cured, he or she had to go to a priest to be examined. Then the leper was to give an offering of thanks at the Temple. Jesus adhered to these laws by sending the man to the priest. This demonstrated Jesus’ complete regard for God’s Law. Sending a healed leper to a priest was also a way to verify Jesus’ great miracle to the community.

Leprosy was a feared disease because it had no known cure, and some forms of it were highly contagious. Leprosy had an emotional impact and terror associated with it as AIDS does today. (Sometimes called Hansen’s disease, leprosy still exists in a less contagious form that can be treated.) The priests monitored the disease, banishing lepers who were in a contagious stage to prevent the spread of infection and readmitting lepers whose disease was in remission.

Because leprosy destroys the nerve endings, lepers often would unknowingly damage their fingers, toes, and noses. This man with leprosy had an advanced case, so he undoubtedly had lost much bodily tissue. Lepers were considered untouchable because people feared contracting their disease. Yet Jesus reached out and touched the leper to heal him.

The real value of a person is inside, not outside. Although a person’s body may be diseased or deformed, the person inside is no less valuable to God. No person is too disgusting for God’s touch. In a sense, we are all people with leprosy because we have all been deformed by the ugliness of sin. But by sending his Son Jesus, God has touched us, giving us the opportunity to be healed. When you feel repulsed by someone, remember how God feels about that person—and about you

Michael Hogg, Ed.S.

Pastor Brownstown Christian Church

"Transforming lives through Christ, one life at a time"

Jesus In Galilee

Mark 1:35-39 (also in Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 4:42-44) (Harmony 36) The next morning he was up long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray. Later, Simon and the others went out to find him, and told him, “Everyone is asking for you.” But he replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and give my message to them too, for that is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the province of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and releasing many from the power of demons. The Romans divided the land of Israel into three separate regions: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Galilee was the northernmost region, an area about sixty miles long and thirty miles wide. Jesus did much of his ministry in this area, an ideal place for him to teach because there were more than 250 towns concentrated there, with many synagogues.

Time to Pray Jesus took time to pray. Finding time to pray is not easy, but prayer is the vital link between us and God. Like Jesus, we must break away from others to talk with God, even if we have to get up very early in the morning to do it! If Jesus needed solitude for prayer and refreshment, how much more is this true for us? Don’t become so busy that life turns into a flurry of activity, leaving no room for quiet fellowship alone with God. No matter how much you have to do, you should always have time for prayer

Can You Slow Down?

I speak to God: I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done – yesterday.

In a world with cows to buy and fields to see and work to do, in the beep and blink of the twenty-first century, with its "live in the moment" buzz phrase that none of the whirl-weary seem to know how to do, who actually knows how to take time and live with soul and body and God all in sync? … I just want to do my one life well…

This is the only way to slow time: What I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. And when I’m always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention…

This is where God is. In the present. I am – His very name. I want to take shoes off. I am, so full of the weight of the present, that time’s river slows to a still … and God himself is timeless. This is supreme gift, time, God Himself framed in moment…

When I’m present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God. In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and … holy.

I am a hunter of beauty and I move slow and keep the eyes wide, every fiber of every muscle sensing all wonder and this is the thrill of the hunt. I hunger to taste life. To taste God.

Selections from One Thousand Gifts: Finding Joy in What Really Matters by Ann Voskamp

Michael Hogg, Ed.S.

Pastor Brownstown Christian Church

"Transforming lives through Christ, one life at a time"

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