My Heart is a Sponge (Proverbs 4:23)

By Mack Fowler, III

“Blog-iversary:” One Year of this Blog site “The Samuel Generation.”

 

I’ve had this verse stirring on my heart lately, so I would like to share a few of my insights on it. In Proverbs 4:23, the Bible commissions us to “Guard our hearts above all else for it determines the course of our life.” I’ve read that verse hundreds of times, but I feel like God has given me some clarity on this verse. So, I want to go in-depth on this verse for this blog.

For starters, it’s not talking about our beating heart in our chest. God gave us ribs to guard that heart naturally. So what does the Bible mean when it is talking about our heart?

The heart, the Bible is talking about, is a combination of our personality, inner desires, and spirit. So, in this article, that will be what I am referring to. Now, why is our heart so important to guard?

Our hearts are like sponges. The contents of a sponge Are entirely based on what it has absorbed and the environment it’s in. A sponge can soak up clean water or filthy water, soap or grease; it depends on what it is used for. It’s the same with our heart. Are our hearts exposed to evil things by putting ourselves in perilous situations? Years ago, I knew some people who had trouble with a few different addictions, and they got saved. After not walking with The Lord very long, they felt like they could go back to the same places they hung out before Christ and share Him with their old friends. They stayed strong for a while and didn’t allow that addiction to take back control of their life, but the constant exposure to that scene eventually wore them down. They found themselves spending more time in that environment than with the Lord, with Christians, or with other good influences. And all it took was slipping up just once and after that, they fell right back into that (those) addictions. What happened? They were constantly exposing their hearts to this negative environment, and over time it wore down their defenses. The sin started to take seed in their hearts. Does it have to be some addiction? No, it can be any sin or thing that tangles us up.

Now, it also works with good things! If I continue to expose my heart to things of the Kingdom, they will be absorbed into my heart. The Bible says in

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one last thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Paul realized that what we set our thoughts on Godly things that it will translate to what is in our hearts. Then, the Bible goes even further to say, that what is in our hearts will come out in our speech: “What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45.

What do we allow our heart to soak up and absorb: dirty water or clean water, sins and things of this world or the Holy Spirit and things of God? We ultimately control what we allow into our hearts. Even offenses from another person, we control whether or not to continue to hold on to that hurt. We control whether or not to forgive or hold bitterness. We choose whether to love, hate, or hold back our love. The Holy Spirit gives us this self-control (Galatians 5:23.)

We control what is allowed through the gates of our hearts, and what takes residence in our hearts. In biblical times and even to some extent now, a city or country normally didn’t know when an enemy army was going to attack. So instead, they would prepare. They would build walls and keep them maintained. They would place guards and watchers on the walls. They would only allow the citizens in and out of the gates. And they would have a military force always ready for battle. If your city was not ready for potential conquest, when an attacking army did come, you would be quickly overwhelmed and defeated. You would not be able to prepare all these things in time. It would be too late. It’s the same with our hearts. If we proactively take steps to protect our heart and guard it from things we know could trap us, we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed. When the enemy attacks, we are ready.

Now, let’s not take this to the extreme of avoiding all sin, people in sin, and situations that can potentially lead to sin. Jesus hung out with sinners, but we do however, use wisdom. I believe the main reason Christians fall back into their previous sins and sin-habits is failing to use Godly wisdom and sense.

Taking the illustration of a sponge even further, if a sponge isn’t soaked in anything, it dries out and becomes hard. We have to soak our heart with something. We can’t isolate ourselves from all things—it just doesn’t work. If we don’t have direction, our hearts will eventually find something to dwell on, something to ponder, and something to resonate on. We have to be ahead of the game and decide where we will lead our heart.

Recently, I have learned that this is possibly the most important thing I can do for me in my relationship with the Lord—to guard my heart. It’s not easy. I have to consciously choose what I allow in my life and think ahead of time, “What could this lead to?” “Do I want to go there?” “Will this benefit me and make me a stronger Christian and person of Godly character?” I ask those questions when I can. And when things just come up and try to stir bitterness, hatred, anger, un-forgiveness, and hurt in my heart, I am better prepared because I guarded my heart in the small things, so the big things don’t seem so big.

Prophetic Ministry 101

mackfowler3:

Here is this week’s guest blog from my Father, “Mack Fowler,” on Hearing God and the Prophetic Ministry. It’s an in-depth look at I Corinthians 14:3–the mandate on how all prophecy and prophetic revelation should be handled in the Church. My Father was trained at MorningStar Fellowship in Charlotte, N.C. and has served in and taught on prophetic ministry for over 15 years! Check it out!

Originally posted on mack's moment:

By Mack Fowler

But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. NIV

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. KJV

We read this scripture but what does it really mean? I still hear prophecy sometimes that has a ring of judgment and lacks love. We must always prophecy in love. This is the New Covenant model for prophetic ministry. This is where our text comes into play. The words that we speak should always fall under this guideline. When I lead prophetic teams, I always tell people that we prophecy according to 1 Corinthians 14:3 and that we aren’t there to judge them or point out their sins. This introduction is to set people at ease so they know we are there to love and help and not hurt them. But with that being said, what does this…

View original 923 more words

Practical Ways to Teach Children to Hear God’s Voice PART II

kids with JesusIt’s time for another installment of, “Practical Ways to Teach Children to Hear the Voice of God.” This time I want to share on probably my favorite way to engage children in hearing God: Prophetic Art.

As we look at the children around us in our families or ministries, you will probably notice that all children do not learn the same way. Some children are visual. Some learn best by simply hearing. But many children and really people in general learn best by hearing and/or seeing and then immediately doing. Some statistics say you will remember up to 90% of what you were taught if you actually get involved in what was taught. Like in sports, the best coaches don’t simply just tell you what to do and not do; they actually give you an opportunity to practice what they taught you on the field and in the game. Prophetic Art does exactly that with children (and adults too.) It does not simply tell them, “Try to hear God.” It gives them an opportunity to practice what God is showing and revealing to them, and it also gives them an opportunity to be creative.

It’s really simple. Here’s how it works: simply have blank paper (white, colored, or lined) and some writing utensils available (markers, crayons, pencils, or paint—if you’re willing.) Open with prayer and simply ask God to show us something or put something on our minds to draw. Encourage the children to draw whatever comes to mind and whatever you think God wants you to draw. Some of the children may feel that they are not a good enough “drawer.” Encourage them. It’s not about how good you can draw; it’s just about hearing God and tapping into what He has to say today.

After a few minutes of drawing, encourage the children to think of a bible verse or little catch phrase to with their Bible verse i.e. if a child drew an eagle soaring in the air maybe the verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles…” Or maybe they drew a big house and the “catchphrase” is “God has a big house and wants everyone to come.” I find that many of the children I work with love to draw Jesus on the cross. I love to ask them questions. Why did you draw Jesus on the cross? Is he dead or alive? Why is the cross so important? Did you draw this as a reminder of what he did for you? Ask lots of questions. Never assume you know exactly what they drew. Always ask them first, “What did you draw today?” You may find what they were drawing isn’t what you thought it looked like. If they don’t have a verse or “catchphrase,” simply ask good questions and help steer them in the right direction.

Now sometimes, you may see a child drawing something that isn’t “Biblically accurate.” I had a child draw Jesus and the devil battling and the devil was winning. Should we discourage that? No, simply steer them in the right direction. I said, “Oh yeah, Jesus died on the cross and it looked like the devil had won, but what happened after three days? Jesus won, and now he is forever the winner!” The reaction I got was, “Yeah, I know that Mr. Mack. I was drawing the devil winning here, but the next will be when Jesus defeated him.” That really made me smile! But I always ask questions and find out if they need help going in the right direction.

This is a really great activity to engage children to hear God, and you can take it even further and have they make prophetic encouragement cards to give to people who need encouragement. It can be used as evangelism, and teaching the children to reach out and encourage those who God wants to encourage. Now, do they always draw what God is showing them, and something that can encourage someone else? No, sometimes they just draw random things. But I look at it this way: if they are drawing what God shows them, they are exercising their prophetic muscles. If they are drawing simply to draw, they are exercising their creative muscles, so either way it is a win-win.
Ultimately, I hope this was encouraging and this gives all you parents and children’s leaders out there some really great tools and some new things to think about in helping your children hear the voice of God.

If you have any questions, comments, praise reports, or prayer requests, please feel free to comment or send me a private message. To subscribe to this blog, click here.

Thank you & Be blessed!

Mack Fowler, III Children's Pastor Destiny in Christ Fellowship

Mack Fowler, III
Children’s Pastor
http://www.littlechildrenofhope.com


 

Is Your Environment Holding you Back? (by John C. Maxwell)

“When I was much younger, I found myself in a job situation where the environment wasn’t conducive to growth. This frustrated and discouraged me. I had always been focused on growth and improvement. From basketball as a kid to speaking professionally, I was always looking for ways to get better at what I was doing. I might not have always had an official plan for growth, but I was continually pursuing growth. Now I found myself in a place where growth was not just ignored; the environment discouraged it. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. Back then, I could see clearly all around me what a growth environment didn’t look like. But one day, I realized that I had never really thought about what a growth environment did look like. What were the characteristics of that environment? I was eager to figure it out, so I could go in search of one. So I created a list of characteristics to look for in any environment, so that I could be sure it was a place where I could grow. This is what I wrote: In a growth environment,

1. Others are ahead of you. Is it possible to grow in isolation? Sure, but not as fast as you can grow with others. And growth happens even more when at least some of the people are ahead of you on the journey. In a growth environment, the accomplishments of those ahead of you encourage and challenge you to do more than you thought you could.

2. You are continually challenged. It’s one thing to be challenged by the growth of others. That will certainly help you grow. But it’s even better when the job or task itself is challenging. When’s the last time a boring job made you want to grow?

3. Your focus is forward. “Yesterday ended last night.” This is what leaders of growth environments believe. They’re more interested in conquering the next challenge than worrying about the past.

4. The atmosphere is affirming. My parents used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” In other words, in a growth environment, the leader understands that being positive yields better results than negativity. Being affirmed feels good, and it gives you the courage to stretch and grow more.

5. You are often out of your comfort zone. I’ve often said that you should stay in your strength zone, but get out of your comfort zone. The skills that you focus on growing should be areas where you have some natural ability, as opposed to trying to shore up weaknesses. But that doesn’t mean you should be comfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone happens when you’ve taken on a challenge that’s bigger than you. And that bigger challenge yields bigger rewards.

6. You wake up excited. No, not every day. Everyone has a bad day sometimes. But overall, in a growth environment, you feel so positively challenged and affirmed that you are eager to get up every day because you expect to keep growing and learning.

7. Failure is not your enemy. By focusing on solutions rather than blame, a growth environment gives you permission to make mistakes, admit them, and learn from them. Failure is such a big part of growth, that people don’t fear it.

8. Others are growing. In addition to those who are ahead of you, are the people around you growing? Moving together toward a common goal can be exhilarating, like being on a winning team. In a growth environment, people almost can’t help growing because it’s emphasized and affirmed.

9. People desire change. Growth equals change. If the people around you don’t desire it, or worse, if they resist it, then your environment is not one of growth. In a growth environment, change is encouraged and celebrated.

10. Growth is modeled and expected. In a growth environment, the willingness to grow is demonstrated at all levels. Leaders expect it of themselves as well as their people. They hold themselves and others accountable when it’s not occurring. And they celebrate growth when it happens. Writing my list had a great effect on me. It gave me clarity on my then-current situation, as I became more aware of how it was slowing down my personal growth. It also showed me what kind of situation I needed to look for in the future. Soon afterward, I made a difficult change, getting out of my comfort zone and stepping into a new environment where I could thrive and grow again.

What kind of environment are you in? Is it help you grow or holding you back? Are you a leader? If so, you can make your organization into a growth environment. Use this list to check your progress.

Are you a team member? If so, you may not have much input into your environment. Use this list to see what kind of environment you might want to be in. If you’re in a bad environment, it may be time to move. If you are not able to move as easily as I did, here’s some good news: you can grow in a non-growth environment. It’s just harder.

Are you a parent? It wasn’t until after I wrote my list that I realized that I had basically described my home environment growing up. My parents did a phenomenal job of nurturing and encouraging our personal growth and learning. Use this list to create a growth environment in your home. You’ll give your children a gift that they’ll use the rest of their lives, as I have.

Personal growth is challenging. It involves mistakes and failure. A good environment certainly makes it easier to grow. But whether you’re in a good environment or not, you can learn and improve where you are.”

–John C. Maxwell

 

I hope you enjoyed this blog and were challenged by it. These principles can apply to just about all aspects of our lives. Please, take the wisdom in this, and ask God to search your heart. I saw areas in my life where I’m keeping myself and others around me from growing. I hope you can take as much out of it as I did! –Mack, III

5 Common Misconceptions about Children’s Ministry

Here’s a re-blog for the day. There is some very good information and points in this blog. Enjoy!

 

doubt-2I have been on staff in the church world for quite some time now.  It always amazes me how many church leaders put a ton of energy into things that don’t really matter and they skip what does matter.  Children’s Ministry is one of the MOST integral parts of a church.  If you show me a healthy Children’s Ministry, I will show you a church that is functioning at their max potential…Show me an unhealthy Children’s Ministry and I will show you a church that is struggling.  Here is a list of the top 5 misconceptions church leaders have about Children’s Ministry:

1) Kids don’t give much money, so we shouldn’t give the program much money.  WRONG!  Kids might not give a lot of money but they have parents and grandparents who do.  Plus there are all those volunteers that love kids that give in your church.  Besides that, the kid that gives 25 cents in the offering probably gave way more than 10% of what they made…what’s that say about their faith and their heart (which is what Jesus says really matters when you give…not the amount)

2) Kids are smaller, so they don’t need as much space as adults.  WRONG!  Kids are moving and active.  When adults come to church they sit in one seat during the majority of the service.  Kids move around, they play games; they go to different stations and groups.  In my estimation, kids need double to even triple the amount of space as an adult needs.

3) Kids only represent 25% of our church or less.  WRONG AGAIN!  What you do for kids in your church has a much greater reach than only 25% (depending on your church).  figure a church of 400 that has 100 kids in it…studies show an average family of 4 or so right?  So 100 kids represents approximately 50 parents.  Now you are up to a reach of 150.  Add your volunteers into that mix (every other week serving is average in most churches)  at a 1:2 ratio you just added another 100 people…now you are up to 250.  That’s 50% of your attendance directly connected to kids.  Interesting huh?  Many churches this percentage is even higher depending on your culture and demographic.

4) Children’s Ministry is childcare.  If you believe this then you shouldn’t be in ministry… Children are the most mold-able, easy to develop and willing group in your church.  If you aren’t taking time to invest in them then you are missing one of the greatest opportunities God has given you.

5) Children are the church of tomorrow.  You may make a statement like this to encourage your church to invest in children but your statement is incorrect…Children are the church of TODAY.  Saying that they are the church of tomorrow insinuates that there are things we should be investing in before we take on the needs of our children.

There is no department in your church that will draw more people than your Children’s Ministry.  There is also no department in your church that will cause people to leave or sue than your children’s ministry.  If kids haven’t been a priority in your churches space, budget, and staffing then you need to seriously rethink your strategy because kids are one of the most important assets to society today.  If you don’t reach them, someone else will.

-Joe McAlpine

http://www.joemcalpine.com/

 

Practical Ways to Teach Children to Hear God’s Voice Part I

Practical Ways p1This time, I want to go into some very practical ways to teach children to hear God’s Voice (of course adults can do these things, too.) I am only going to write about one or two of my ideas at a time, so I will try to get these out pretty fast. Over the past few months, I wrote a few different blogs on hearing God’s voice through our prophetic/spiritual senses and even going pretty deep on some of the ways God speaks. You can check out the Does God Speak series Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. Now, I want to give you some practical ways to carry out this information. Here’s my first activation:

Prophetic Groups

This is probably one of the most used ways to help children in the prophetic. You can do this idea two different ways. The first way, ask your class for someone who would like to get prayed over. After you have chosen a child, lead the rest of the class into some prayer, encourage them to close their eyes, and ask God to speak to them and show them something through one of their senses. (Having the children close their eyes helps them focus on what God may be saying to them.) After you are done with the opening prayer, just simply ask them what God told them. You’ll probably get responses like, “I saw the color blue,” or “I saw a rainbow” or “I saw a dog” etc. These are all good, so begin to write them down on a white board for everyone to see. Gradually over time as they continue to exercise their prophetic muscles, you will see deeper and deeper revelation that will just make your mouth drop! Stick to about 15-20 minutes per person this way. Remind them of 1 Corinthians 14:3 which tells us that we hear God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort other people. Ask good questions about what they are receiving. Like: “What did it look like,” ‘How did that make your spirit feel/ what emotion did you feel when you received that,” “What does that mean?” Asking them what it looks like can help tell what it means, and it also encourages them to focus on all that God is saying. Asking them how your spirit felt when you saw it can tell us whether this is a good thing or bad thing. It can sometimes tell us God’s emotions for this person, too. Asking them what it means takes it from being a distant revelation from God to something practical that can apply to another person’s life. Jesus spoke in parables and many times revelation from God can be like a parable or something symbolic and not literal.

The other variation of this, if you have enough leaders and/or adults who have a basis in the prophetic, is to break the kids up into small heavengender-based groups with one of your leaders to preside over. Take turns praying and prophesying for the kids in the group while the leader guides them, keeps them on track, asks the good questions, and writes it all down for that child. In this version, running about 10 minutes per child will be more than enough time! This allows just about every kid to get some prophetic words and share some prophetic words. One of the coolest things for me when I was experiencing these things when I was in children’s church was the leaders writing them down for me, and now I can look back at the notes years later, and it still encourages me.

This is a great way to help children hear God! I have also found this as a great way to help develop your leaders in hearing God. I have used this more times than I can count, and I have always walked away more blown away and encouraged than anyone actually receiving the words. I’ll share one of my favorites in my next blog entry.

If you have any questions, comments, praise reports, or prayer requests, please feel free to comment or send me a private message. To subscribe to this blog, click here.

Thank you & Be blessed!

Mack Fowler, III Children's Pastor Destiny in Christ Fellowship

Mack Fowler, III
Children’s Pastor
http://www.littlechildrenofhope.com

A Bad Experience at Chick-Fil-A

Here’s a Blog I found from Perry Noble, Senior Pastor of New Spring Church in S.C. It really challenged and encouraged me! It’s a good read!

 

I love Chick-Fil-A!  (AND love Tim Hawkins song about it…you should watch it here!)

We eat there at least two or three times a week (not kidding…we’ve actually pushed that number up to 6-7 a few times.)

The food is ALWAYS good, they get the order right nearly every time and their customer service is second to none.  It is always clean and no matter how long the line seems to be people are always served as quickly and efficiently as possible.

So, imagine my surprise when my wife came home the other day and, as we were catching each other up on the things that had taken place while we had been apart all morning and afternoon she told me about a bad experience she had at Chick-Fil-A.

I was immediately frustrated!  (Any husband would be!)  AND…before I knew it I had literally told myself in my mind, “Well, if that’s the way things are going to be then I guess we just won’t be going to Chick-Fil-A anymore, they’ve lost my business.”

TIME OUT!!!  How stupid was THAT thought?  Seriously, let’s review…

  • #1 – They ALWAYS deliver great food!
  • #2 – They ALWAYS have friendly people!
  • #3 – They ALWAYS have a clean environment!
  • #4 – What my wife had experienced was not in line with what normally happens.

(AND…I want to be completely fair to Lucretia, she was NOT saying she would not go back, nor was she angry…she was just telling me about her day and I am the one who became irrational!)  :-)

I lost my mind!  I was literally going to allow one bad experience with one employee ruin a reputation of excellence that had been consistent for years!  (AND…no one knows what was going on in that employees life…she could have had one of the worst days of her life and was trying her best to just hold it together until she could clock out!)

Before you agree with me too quickly…I think there are people who have done the same thing to the church!

It has become quite popular, even in some “Christian” circles, to bash the church for all of the dumb things that she has done.

I have met people since being in ministry for over 20 years that have the same attitude with the church that I almost had with Chick-Fil-A!  They will attend, serve, be devoted to a local church for months or even years…and then, all of a sudden…

  • Someone didn’t call them when they were out for two weeks.
  • Someone said something hurtful to or about them.
  • They didn’t like what the preacher said.
  • They didn’t like what the youth group was doing.

I could go on and on…but you get the point.  There are times when people will allow one thing in the church to trump the decades of ministry and impact that have taken place through that body of believers, and that’s a bit insane.

  • Yes, if you stay in a church long enough I promise you that you will see hypocrisy.
  • Someone will say something to you or about you that will hurt you.
  • Decisions will be made that you do not like.
  • There are going to be sermons that make you mad.

When that happens the enemy is going to try his best to convince you to just walk away…because he knows that the first step away from God is usually getting people to step away from the people of God.

Yes, the church, EVERY church, has made some unwise decisions and, in the process have hurt or disappointed people along the way…but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater…

  • She’s STILL being built by Jesus—that makes her important!
  • She’s STILL reaching out to the broken, the forgotten and the poor.
  • She’s STILL making a difference that’s going to be seen for eternity.
  • She’s STILL GOD’S PLAN for reaching the world.
  • She’s STILL necessary for believers!  (If church is not necessary then why did Jesus say He would build it, died for it, will one day redeem it and spends so much time in the NT talking to it and about it?”

No, the church is NOT perfect…but neither are you (or me!)  So, when we’re tempted to walk away because of the one thing that seems to hurt us or trip us up we should simply ask, “is this consistent with this churches character?”

Stay in a church long enough and you will have a bad experience…but let that push you closer to Jesus as you recognize that HE uses imperfect people in His plan, which means sometimes they get it wrong, and then beg the Lord to teach both them and yourself how to best deal with the situation…because, she’s STILL the church and STILL His bride.

Now…anyone want to go to Chick-Fil-A with me?  :-)

 

 

Perry Noble is the founding and senior pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina. The church averages 32,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses throughout the state.

Perry is a gifted communicator and teacher, convicted about speaking the truth as plainly as possible. God has given him a vision and a passion for helping people meet Jesus, and each week he shares God’s word and its practical application in our daily lives.

Perry, his wife Lucretia and their daughter, Charisse, live in Anderson, South Carolina. You can read all of Perry’s unfiltered thoughts about life and leadership here on the site. Don’t worry, he holds nothing back.

http://perrynoble.com/blog/my-wife-had-a-bad-experience-at-chic-fil-a