Category: FEATURES

Written by R.A. Goodnight

Before His ascension into Heaven Jesus spoke these words to the small group of followers that had gathered with Him, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19,20). In these final words he gave three directives: Make disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey his commandments. Especially in today’s times, we should not downplay the importance of the responsibilities Christ put upon as – not as individual Christians nor as the collective Church.  This concept especially holds true for the Christians’ commission to make disciples. Let’s unpack these statements further.

Pew Research statistics indicate that the overall Church is in decline.  The number of the Baby Boomer generation in the church is decreasing due to age.  So much that the population of Gen X has now caught up (and surpassed in some polls) the number of Boomers.  This isn’t due to large growth in the Gen X age range.  It’s simply that some of the Boomer population have graduated on to Heaven.  While growth in the Gen X range is slowing, we are simultaneously seeing a decline in numbers from the newest generation – the Millennials.  

Here is a direct quote from the study: 

One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.

The study attempted to dig a little deeper to identify why we see decreasing numbers in Millennials.  The highest sighted reason (49%) for a new one to stop pursuing their relationship with Christ was that they no longer believed.  When asked why, many stated it was due to “doubts and questions about The Bible that are going unanswered.”  I pray that the previous statement resonates inside each of us.  How are their questions going unanswered if each of us have a commission to answer their questions in the disciple making process?  Yes, this data helps demonstrate the importance of Christ’s commission to make new disciples. There is an implication that the body of Christ is potentially not as focused on living out the Great Commission. 

AtheistAgnosticNothing In Particular
I question a lot of religious
teaching
77%71%51%
I don’t believe in God89%37%21%
Religion is irrelevant to me63%40%28%
I don’t like the position
churches take on social/
political issues
54%48%47%
I don’t like religious
organizations
49%51%34%
I don’t like religious leaders37%42%31%

This trend has not gone unnoticed by the main stream media either. On September 9th, Fox News did an article sighting the same research study I have above. Recognizing the potential gap, what can each of us do to help bring others to Christ? For this article let’s focus on two ways. The first is to simply get involved. Secondly, we need to be effective teachers.  How can we do this though?

Let’s look at a less-studied disciple maker from the New Testament, Philip.  Philip was so effective he has been known as ‘Philip the Evangelizer.’ In Acts 8:30 we see Philip beginning a conversation with a new believer.  The scriptures tell us, “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.”  As a first step Philip simply takes a personal interest and proactively approaches the man.  This simple approach can be effective for us as well.  Do you remember when you first came to Christ?  It can be hard to ask questions or identify ourselves as new disciples.  It can be more difficult for a new Christian to know what questions they even need to ask.  If we take the initiative and approach them not only could it help the new follower overcome any feelings of anxiety, but it also reinforces that we are invested in their success as a Christian.  It’s important for a new believer to know we care about them personally and are there to help them.  If you care first, it many times opens doors to people’s hearts and minds.  This also emulates God’s attitude toward all of us. (Rom. 5:8)

What does Philip do next?  He asks of the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  This individual responds, “How can I…unless someone explains it to me?” (vs. 31). By using an effective question Philip now knows the direction he needs to move the conversation in.  Questions can help us determine what this person might be thinking or how well they are understanding what they are being taught.  It can help us identify concerns or doubts they might have.  Questions are so powerful that Jesus would ask his disciples questions over lecturing as a form of teaching.  Notice some of the questions Jesus used to draw his followers out: 

• Who do the crowds say that I am? (Luke 9:18)

• Who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)

• Why are you anxious? (Matt. 6:27,28)

• Do you believe? (Matt.9:28)

• Why did you doubt? (Matt. 14:31)

• What do you want me to do for you? (Matt. 20:32)

• And many, many more

By asking questions Christ could determine their internal motives, level of comprehension, as well as what was on their minds.  Questions are a powerful tool to draw people out and get them involved in the conversation.  Questions and genuine personal interest go hand in hand with being effective in sharing Christ with someone else.

In the story, the Ethiopian basically explains he knows the prophesy, but he didn’t understand it.  Now that Philip understands his audience, he continues to share. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35). As his third tactic, Philip took it upon himself to help teach this individual the good news about Jesus.  Yes, he personally got involved.  He did not leave it up to the local congregation of believers or the next Christian that the man might encounter.  He started sharing the good news himself.

In today’s culture the importance of teaching about Christ and handing down the information we have been taught has slowly been overlooked.  Part of your being a disciple is your personal participation in the making of new disciples.  Disciple making is an effort that each of us should be playing a part in.  The responsibility of individuals in the disciple making process is further highlighted in the scriptures.  The writer of the letters to the Corinthians states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it…For we are co-workers in God’s service.” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). The scriptures effectively point out that individuals are employed by God to go and make disciples.  And in this case two of them working together made an effective disciple making team.  Because of their attention to this important assignment the scripture tells us that their efforts were blessed as God made the seeds they planted in others grow.  

Once these spiritual seeds have grown and the new follower accepts Christ our work needs to continue.  New followers need help to develop into mature Christians.  They need someone to explain The Bible, as the Ethiopian stated to Philip.  Many of us grew up in the church and the lessons make sense because we’ve been taught them from an early age.  For a new believer, it’s not as easy to wrap your mind around many truths contained in scripture.  For example, why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  What is a ransom and why did Christ have to die for our sins?  A critical part in the spiritual maturing process is to understand why we believe what we believe and how to (eventually) teach this to others.   

Let’s reflect on Christ’s example again and see how he developed his new followers.  We know he made disciples as he chose the Twelve.  The scriptures specifically mention 72 others he developed into followers as well (Luke 10:1, 2). Beyond this it is reasonable to believe that more became His disciples than only the 84 just mentioned.  But what did Jesus do with these once they became his disciples?  He furthered their training and then sent them forth to make more disciples themselves (Mark 6:7). In order for them to go and make disciples, they had to be well taught. They had to be capable of defending their faith and sharing it with others.  Yes, Christ did not just make disciples.  He made well trained disciple makers.  Had He not trained them on how to go, to share, to teach – the first century Christian church might not have seen the rapid expansion that it experienced.  What if Peter had been unable to speak to the crowd at Pentecost?  Because of the training he received as a disciple the scriptures tell us “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts. 2:14-40).

Each of us likely enjoy that moment in Church when we see the hands go up of people accepting Christ.  But what happens to them after that moment is over, after they walk out the door that Sunday and back into their lives?  Are we helping them, developing them into the fullness of Christ?  The success of a new follower of Christ depends upon a teaching regimen focused on the new believer.  It helps them become firm in the foundations of Christ.  We must take an active interest in these individuals we celebrate so happily the day they raise their hands.  As Philip and Christ did, we must welcome them and get them paired with a mature Christian or into a small study group of believers.  This method is the best way to help ensure that their questions and concerns are being answered.  Additionally, by pairing them with established disciples they can be shown how to do personal study as well as the importance of prayer.  All of this will help encourage and strengthen them as they progress toward the next step of baptism.  Some of us have been Christians so long we have long forgotten the complexity of this seemingly simple path.

We are at a point in history where we established believers need to take personal responsibility in explaining to new followers what it means to be a Christian.  We need to show them from scripture why we believe and why it’s true.  Faith may be the confidence in realties unseen, but this does not mean that faith is blind (Heb. 11:1). How did Christ help build people’s faith?  He pointed people to The Bible, showing them from scripture why they should believe.  In many of his answers he would say “for it is written” or “have you not read”.  By effectively using scripture we can provide new believers with forensic reasons to have faith in what they are being taught (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Each of us can play a part in providing them with satisfying answers to relive any doubt.  Remember this, if we do not answer new believers questions the world will try to fill them with their ‘answers’.

All of us, individuals and as Churches, have a place in the disciple making process. Christ told his followers that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt.9:37). How true this is.  Today more than ever we need workers in God’s harvest field helping bring disciples to Christ.  What a privilege to be living at this time when there are so many to still come to Christ!  Get involved! Come be a fellow disciple maker alongside Christ.  It is an important part of your personal growth as well as the growth of those we teach.

References: Pew Research Center Poll 

Fox News https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/young-christians-are-leaving-the-church-heres-why


The beginning of the new year is traditionally thought of as the perfect time to start fresh and set new goals for the year. But most New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. What if this year, instead of making a resolution that you’ll give up on within a few weeks, you resolve to change how you think? What if you worked to change the physical structure of your brain? It just might help you make long-lasting, positive changes in your life. This year, resolve to go beyond the typical resolution.

Winning the Battle in Your Mind

Most of life’s battles are won or lost in the mind. No matter if your thoughts are positive or negative, your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts. It’s like what Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

With each thought and decision, we are creating neural pathways in our brains. The more we think the same thoughts and make the same decisions, the deeper our neural pathways get and the stronger those habits become. If you don’t like the direction your thoughts are taking you, there’s good news! You have the power to retrain your brain.

Think about your front lawn. If you walk through the grass, taking the same shortcut to your car every day, eventually you’ll wear a path in the grass. But if you decide to stop walking in the grass and choose to take the sidewalk, over time, it will become your new default. The grass will grow back, and it will become easier and more desirable to continue taking the new path. In the same way, you can change the physical structure of your brain by choosing to think positive thoughts. Neuroscientists call it neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity was substantiated in the 1970s, and there have been numerous scientific studies since then that support the brain’s ability to be rewired. But it wasn’t a radically new concept. The idea also appeared in the Bible. In a letter to the ancient Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Regardless of the terminology—rewiring your brain or renewing your mind—scientists and people of faith agree that the practice can help people lead more positive, fulfilling lives. 

How to Retrain Your Brain

The first step in the process of retraining your brain is to commit to doing the work. You can’t learn any new skill or create any new habit overnight. It takes hard work and consistency. On average, it takes at least three weeks to create a new habit, and research shows it may take more than two months for a new behavior to become automatic. Creating new neural pathways will take time, but be encouraged that once you’ve created the new pathway, it becomes easier to stay the course. Promise yourself you’ll make every effort to be consistent.

Next, identify the number one thing holding you back. While it may be tempting to try to tackle multiple areas, you’ll have more success if you choose to focus on just one. Give it some serious thought. Put in the effort to dig below the surface and discover the root of what’s causing you to struggle. For example, your relationship problems, job performance, or poor health may all be caused by low self-esteem, and by changing that one thought pattern, you could see improvements in several areas of your life.

So, what are the negative or empty things you say to yourself over and over? Maybe it’s, “I’m an idiot,” “I’m too busy,” or “There’s never enough.” What are the hurtful things you tell yourself that you’d never say to another person? Maybe something like, “I’m not good enough,” “Because of my past, I don’t deserve anything good,” or “Things will never change. I’ll always struggle with this.” Identify one recurring phrase that keeps you from living a positive life.

Once you know which thought needs to change, replace it with a positive affirmation. If you struggle with feeling inadequate, your positive phrase might be, “I am smart, resourceful, and capable.” And if you’re a Christian, look at what God says about His creation in the Bible and use that as inspiration for your daily declarations. For example, if you’re often worried and afraid, consider what the Apostle Paul shared with Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Kickstart the renewal of your mind by writing down the positive thought and placing it where you’ll see it regularly—on your mirror, on your desk, or on your phone’s background. When the negative thought enters your mind, proactively pause in the moment to replace it with your positive statement, both in your mind and out loud. Refuse to give voice to the negativity. Only allow yourself to say the positive affirmation aloud. Repeat it as often as you need to so that you believe it.

A Year of Cultivating Consistency

Knowing that you can change the trajectory of your life by changing your thought patterns, focus your resolutions on addressing that number one area holding you back. Ensure your life looks different one year from now by following these tips: 

Start with 1-2 small, specific actions. 

Choose something so small that you can’t help but succeed. If you want to be healthier and have more self-confidence, try cutting out just one guilty pleasure food item from your diet instead of every unhealthy food all at once. If you want to learn a new skill, resolve to read one professional development article per week instead of setting the goal to be an expert by the end of the year. If you conquer your small resolutions, you can always add more mid-year. You just don’t want to bite off more than you can chew and end up discouraged in a matter of weeks.

Plan to be consistent.

Set yourself up for success by scheduling time to make progress with your resolution. Leave yourself reminders so you can’t forget, and give yourself a deadline so you don’t put it off. Make it part of your weekly or even daily routine. Something for you to remember is that successful people do consistently what normal people do occasionally. 

Keep training your mind toward truth.

As the year continues, you’re bound to hit some speed bumps or even the occasional roadblock. Don’t allow the lies that have held you down in the past to resurface and distract or discourage you. Continue repeating your positive affirmations, even developing new affirmations to combat new negative thoughts as they arise. You might consider hiding encouraging notes around the house that you’ll find throughout the year or giving them to friends who’ll mail one to you when they feel prompted. Find the method that works best for you, and hold on to the truth. Renew your mind by writing it, thinking it, and speaking it until you believe it.

Know your triggers and prepare your response. 

We all have weak spots, especially when trying to change a well-established habit. Do your best to identify the things that could derail, distract, or discourage you before you begin. Draw up a battle plan that will help you fight against your natural inclinations until you’re able to rewire your brain to follow the new neural pathway. If you can identify the things that may trigger you to respond negatively and decide in advance how you will respond with positivity, you’ll be more likely to succeed in the moment. 

Give yourself grace.

Perfection is not a realistic expectation. When you get derailed, be kind to yourself. Don’t let it give you an excuse to give up, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. What’s incredible about grace is there’s always enough. That’s something God made sure of. So, pause to consider what went wrong, make adjustments, and start again.

Find accountability.

You don’t have to tell everybody what you’re struggling with, but you should find a small group of trusted friends with whom you can share. Choose people you can be honest with and feel safe around. Be sure they will not just agree with you at every turn but will challenge you when you need it. You should also try to surround yourself with people who are succeeding in the areas you want to grow in. It will be difficult to learn about patience from impatient people or humility from the prideful. And if you want to grow in faith, add someone to your inner circle whose faith is strong. Surrounding yourself with a solid support system can be the thing that tips the balance in your favor.

Find your source of strength.

Determine what motivates you, and keep your eyes fixed on it. Maybe you have children who you want to set a good example for, or maybe you’re determined to outlive the age at which your parents died. If you’re a Christian, you’re motivated by your relationship with Jesus and your desire to be more like Him. Whatever inspires you to be better, keep it top of mind and don’t lose sight of it.

So many people feel “stuck” in today’s world, like they’re going nowhere fast. But there is hope for a better tomorrow. We have the ability to press into the uncomfortable and make changes that will have a lasting impact in our lives and in the lives of future generations. 

While his people were exiled from their homeland, the prophet Zechariah said, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10). Be encouraged by this passage, and today, take your first, small step toward the future you want. 

To get started with ideas for creating your own positive affirmations, visit www.life.church/declarations. 


Resources:

“Mastermind” Sermon Series by Craig Groeschel, Life.Church

Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind by Joyce Meyer

Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health by Caroline Leaf

We wanted to highlight just one way students make a difference. More than that, we wanted their story to IMPACT others!

Individuals or groups may submit their work here. We have a guaranteed minimum $250 prize for the winner’s cause. However, we will also be accepting donations here from readers for the fund-raising efforts/causes online to help further the impact. Donations will be tracked/accepted online. Deadline for submission is 2/15/19. Winner will be announced in the March issue of Community Spirit Magazine. 

The contest will look at 3 main areas:

1 – IMPACT to the recipient(s).
How will/did your efforts directly IMPACT the targeted recipients? What was the need? What did you (your group) plan/do to help? 

2 – IMPACT to the community. How will/did your efforts IMPACT the community? This can entail many sides.  Can/did your efforts touch a community?  Can/did they motivate your community to come alongside of you? Could others use your idea or be challenged by the idea to motivate more people to action?

3 – IMPACT to you. How will/did your effort IMPACT you? What will/did your involvement teach/instill/inspire in you?

This contest isn’t a numbers game, although we fully support mass efforts. Those coming together to help one family are every bit as worthy as those helping a city block. We all know Jesus taught us that the one matters. Jesus said, “…truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine…” (Matthew 18:14.) So, Go. Do. Be. Wherever God might lead you. And, tell us about it!  Students, we are in awe of your hearts, your ability to mobilize, and your desire to make an #IMPACT4Christ.

The winner will get $250 FOR YOUR CAUSE + A FREE OIL CHANGE from Christian Brothers Automotive!

Submit your work!

Make a donation!

By Randy C. Cowell, ACT Financial

Now that I have your attention, let’s start by shedding light on the grim future of taxation in America.  

Hop in the De Lorean and let’s go to 1980.  Seymore Durst, a New York Real Estate magnate, did a few infamous things pointing to our rising national debt. Frustrated politicians were unwilling to take action, in 1989 he built a National Debt Clock near Times Square trying to jolt the country to action.  Still ticking 30 years later, the National debt eclipsed the 21 trillion-dollar mark.  That’s a 21 followed by twelve zeros! 

Hop back in and let’s stop in 2004.  Allow me to introduce you to David M. Walker.  Walker served under Bush 41 as one of two trustees for Social Security and Medicare. He also was the Comptroller General and CEO of the Government Accountability office under Clinton.  In other words, he was the CPA of the USA under two presidents from opposite sides of the political tracks, noted as a well-respected nonpartisan and apolitical public servant.  

Armed with statistics and the fact that the first of 78 million baby boomers would be ready to tap into Social Security in a few years, Walker sounded the alarm where he could.  For Walker, the writing was on the wall. In 2005, with the assistance of several financial heavy weights, such as, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, they began crisscrossing our nation on a campaign called the “Fiscal Wake-up” tour.  Their mantra: “Taxes could and most likely will have to double in the future to keep our country solvent.”  In 2008, David Walker resigned from public service to continue his crusade.  In 2010, he wrote Comeback America-Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility.  It’s an easy read and you won’t want to put it down. 

Now that everyone is in a good mood, let’s jolt our baffled selves back to 2019, where we can discuss some strategies to potentially buffer/insulate you and your family from the oncoming taxation freight train headed our way.

Provisional Income 

Not familiar with the term?  Don’t feel bad. Most Americans do not understand how the Internal Revenue Service uses provisional income to calculate the taxation on their Social Security income. What is considered provisional income?  All 1099 income and all ordinary income. That’s code-speak for pretty much everything not “qualified.”  In addition to that, income is anything from your pension and any withdrawals from your retirement plans. 

So, if you don’t want to pay taxes AND you don’t want 85% of your Social Security benefit to be taxed, what can you do now to get to a lower, dare I say it, maybe even a zero tax bracket?  I believe the first step is recognizing what a truly tax-free investment* looks like.  

Here are the four rules that must be met to truly qualify for tax free status: 

  • It must not be taxable at the Federal level.
  • It must not be taxable at the state level
  • There cannot be capital gains taxation associated with distributions 
  • Income from the investment CANNOT be included as provisional income. 

Even a municipal bond, if purchased out of state, can fail three out of four requirements.  Would it surprise you to know there are only two truly tax-free investments?*  

Roth IRA’s** and specially designed life insurance***.  Whether it is a muni bond, mutual fund, rental property, or the thousands of other investments* available, these four rules must apply to qualify as a truly tax-free investment*.  

  •  If David Walker is right and tax rates must double in the future to pay for our debt and all the unfunded entitlements, how prepared are you and your portfolio to weather that storm? 
  • Knowing that unless congress changes things, at the exact stroke of midnight, January 1, 2026, tax rates are going up– are you going to take advantage?  (i.e. taxes are on sale for the next 8 years)
  • If you could receive your Social Security tax free and perhaps your qualified retirement income tax free, would that be a conversation worth having?  

The concepts and strategies mentioned in this article are guidelines and it is always recommended that the reader(s) seek wise legal, accounting, and investment advice.  It goes without saying that the tax code we are dealing with today could change.  True, but there is a history of legislative changes that over the years have “grandfathered” certain investment products.  Life insurance is one of those investments that historically has been grandfathered.   

Future tax code changes are inevitable.  The treatment of products and the applications surrounding them are subject to legislative change. Until these things change, wise strategic planning is a necessity.

For additional information on how to get to the 0% tax bracket in retirement, please call our office at (918) 664-0081. 


RANDY C. COWELL, MS, LUTCF, CFP®, CRPC®, ACT FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC.

Randy is President and Senior Strategist of ACT Financial Services, Inc in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He is a Certified Financial Planner®, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor®, Investment Advisor Representative of HTK, Inc. and recognized as a Fellow by the Underwriters Training Council (LUTCF).  His expertise combined with a unique “Biblically-based” philosophy, has served his clients well for over three decades.  Randy can be reached at (918) 664-0081 or by email at rcowell@htk.com.


 *“Investment” as used in this article is a blanket term for any vehicle in which you can save money.  Examples would be saving accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.  You get the idea.  

**There are income restrictions that could prevent one from participating in a Roth IRA.  There are strategies that could be implemented to take advantage of the Roth and Roth conversion so speak to your financial adviser, tax adviser, and group benefits coordinator about whether you qualify for a Roth IRA or Roth rollover. 

***Life insurance that is characterized as a Modified Endowment contract does not receive the same tax treatment as a Non-MEC version.  Please consult your tax adviser for further details on Modified Endowment life insurance.  Registered Representative of and Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc. (HTK), Registered Investment Advisor, member FINRA/SIPC, 4111 S. Darlington Ave., Suite 800, Tulsa, OK 74135, (918) 664-6511. ACT Financial Services, Inc. is unaffiliated with Hornor, Townsend, & Kent, Inc. HTK does not provide tax or legal advice.  2247317RM-Sep20