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Pastoral No Man’s Land

When I entered ministry almost twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Attractional or Seeker Sensitive movement. There was a lot out there on how to program you ministry right down to the very last detail. Being fresh out of college without any ministry training or education I kind of got swept into it, except for one small detail, I wasn’t very good at it. It threw me into quite the quandary because that is what success was being measured by. For a long time I felt like I was in pastoral no man’s land.

No man’s land is a metaphor that has been used to describe a lot of situations but to me it comes from the Tennis world. I played in high school and college and no man’s land was the area between the baseline and service line. You didn’t want to get caught in that area because that is where the ball usually bounces and it is hard to return a ball that is bouncing right at your feet. You needed to be behind the baseline where you can hit the ball at the apex or up at the net putting away a volley. If you got caught in no man’s land you usually didn’t win the point.

The problem is that many pastors find themselves in pastoral no man’s land. They are somewhere in between in a lot of areas. You can be in pastoral no man’s land when comes to being attractional or missional, being outgoing or an introvert, or being a visionary or academic. If you read popular books they tell you that you must commit to one or the other to be successful. The problem is that it is the Type A personalities who write these books and they are geared towards that style. From their perspective being in no man’s land is ineffective.

The fact is that I enjoy doing a lot of things as a pastor. I love studying the Bible and teaching but I don’t want to spend my whole day doing it. I enjoy counseling people but after too many appointments I am drained and think everyone is whacked. In secret, which I never admit at any pastor’s conference, I love spreadsheets, profit and loss statements, and numbers. I like variety but if I listened to other people, which I used to, I would think I am in Pastoral no man’s land. They tell you that you have to do one thing really well and delegate the rest and if you focus on too many areas you aren’t doing anything well.

To be honest God doesn’t look for us to do even one thing well. One lesson I have to learn over and over is that “Where I am weak He is strong.” The older I get the weaker I realize am in all areas. I have taken too much credit for any success in my life. It’s when I give up from exhaustion God usually takes over and accomplishes in seconds what I tried for weeks to do.

The fact is that we have three callings as a Pastor: Prophet, Priest, and King. Most of us specialize in one of these and struggle in the other two. Neglecting one or more of these areas will eventually take its toll on us or on the ministry God has blessed us with. If you feel like you are in pastoral no man’s land take heart. God may have you there to show His glory through our weaknesses. Stop trying to measure up to other pastors and books. Instead decide to be content where God has you and start seeking Him more for the increase.

pass-the-baton

Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

images-5

You’re on a Need to Know Basis

Do you ever just wish you knew exactly how God was going to accomplish everything He’s promised to do in your life? Do you ever wish that in addition to the big picture of where He’s leading you He’d also show you each twist and turn in the stream which will take you to that ultimate destination? I definitely do! I find myself banging my head, getting discouraged, getting frustrated, and even scared at times over the things I DON’T know and understand, instead of enjoying what I DO know and understand. In times like these what God uses to minister to me is the subjective work of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of the Scriptures. The Scriptures remind me that I am on a need to know basis when it comes to God’s plans and direction for my days. He tells me what I need to know to follow Him and enjoy what He’s doing today, and He calls me to trust Him with the other details. Check out some verses that have blown my mind and also comforted me lately.

 

“The secret [things belong] to the LORD our God, but those [things which are] revealed [belong] to us and to our children forever, that [we] may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“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)

“Look among the nations and watch–Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him [are] all things, to whom [be] glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth is there are sections in the Bible we just don’t want to think about. As I read I see God doing things like telling Abraham to sacrifice his son through which God brings a portrait of redemption. I see God telling Hosea to marry a pagan prostitute and have children and deal with all of the hardship of such a situation, and yet God brought through that uncommon (dare I say sinful in the normative sense) to paint a picture of redemption, turn many people to Himself, and grant encouragement to us. We see God call Abraham in Genesis 12 to leave his father, mother, and family to go to a land “I WILL” show you.

Most of us don’t want to think too deeply on passages like this. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand how they vibe with the normal ways God does thing.s Or maybe we aren’t interested in experiencing extraordinary kinds of assignments from Him because we like our comfort or rhythm of life. But these kinds of things remain staring at us in the Bible.

So I conclude God is loving enough and has the freedom to call me to do things that are totally out of the box. He can call me to do things that make me scratch my head. He may call me into seasons in which the only thing He can tell me is “if it were told you, you wouldn’t believe” how I’m going to do what I’ve promised. And my part is simply to trust, walk forward, and see what He does. I am on a need to know basis. The rest belongs to Him. I can rest in that because I know He is good, and that even if His plan leads me through hard situations and suffering, He will restore one hundred fold any loss accrued.

Why does He call us to such times? One reason is that the life of faith is all that pleases Him (Hebrews 11:1 and 6). So is God leading you through perplexing times? Strange times? Out of the box times? Don’t panic. That’s just what God does. Focus on what He HAS shown you, and trust Him to work out the rest.

sermon prep

On Sermon Preparation

I’ve been asked to do a workshop on sermon preparation at the NorCal pastors and leaders conference. I’m sure there are plenty of men more suited to the task, but I accepted the invitation anyway.

In this blog I’m simply going to share my notes with you. In the actual workshop, I’ll fill in the blanks. Also, in the part about the necessity of being clear, near the beginning of the talk, I’m going to play a YouTube video entitled the Turbo Encabulator. It’s hilarious, a spoof … but illustrates (using exaggeration) how NOT to speak. I include the URL here for your enjoyment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLDgQg6bq7o

Blessings to all of you who regularly address God’s people by opening up God’s Word. May He gift and enable us to do this task well.


On Sermon Preparation

Sermon Preparation. Suggestions concerning more effective communication of Biblical truth, especially in verse by verse Bible teaching.

NOTE: it’s vital that we do this well, but it is NOT vital that it be pleasing to everyone. We don’t cater the message for our audience, although we may adjust it to meet present needs. Yet, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will set people free. The truth, understood and applied, will change people’s lives. We begin with the truth, and let it works its way to the people, by the Spirit. We DO NOT begin with the people, with their needs (felt or otherwise), and then organize scripture to satisfy them.

NOTE: we must be clear… clarity is of utmost importance in sharing the truth of God.

Thoughts on Hermeneutics

Assumption

  • Hermeneutics is the art and science of the interpretation of texts.
  • Biblical hermeneutics is the science of the interpretation of the text of the Bible.
  • Basic principle: for each and every passage of scripture, there is one primary and intended meaning of the text.
  • THEREFORE, it is the work of the interpreter to discover what that meaning is, and then make application of that meaning.

 TO DO THIS, we must not only understand the passage and its application, but also work hard at making it clear. If the interpreter does not understand the message, clarity will be impossible.

The Introduction

  • Like a takeoff in an airplane ride (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s introducing the passage. Tell them about the theme. Let them in on what they’re about to hear.

The Body 

  • Like the actual flight of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s teaching the passage, working through its flow of thought, and working through its meaning and application.

The Conclusion

  • Like the landing of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’ve told them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s summing up, making the final point, it’s extending the invitation, it’s exhortation to do the application, etc. The conclusion can be many things.

OVERALL: we must give the people confidence that we know where we’re going, that we’ll get there, that they’ll be able to catch your drift, follow you in their thoughts, etc. If they lack this confidence, we’ll lose them. Their minds will drift off, or they’ll tune us out. The devil is ever ready to snatch the word out of their minds if they don’t understand it (Matthew 13:19).

WE STRIVE FOR CLARITY. I want the people to understand what is being said in the text, and how I am interpreting it. If someone tells me afterwards that the message was clear, I’m stoked.

Today’s Method 

  • I understand that sermon preparation is somewhat subjective, but I’m going to give you a summary of how I generally do things. At best, what I’ll share will spark a new approach for you and help you … at the least, it will provide a mirror at which to look at your own methods. When I was coaching, I often reflected on the good and bad traits of the coaches I played under. Their strengths and weaknesses taught me much.
  • Reading through the entire Bible. (Recommend: 30 Days to Understanding the Bible in 15 Minutes a Day)
  • Get your theology from the teaching of the books of the Bible. Soteriology: Romans, for example.
  • I read the text out loud, in prayer.
  • I outline the passage.
  • I study the passage, using O,I,A (inductive method: observation, interpretation, application).
  • I read commentaries. During the week I’ll listen to studies as I’m walking, driving, working out … I tend not to listen to studies and take notes while I’m listening.
  • I learn the movement of the passage, the theme of the passage. Sheri will ask me what it’s going to be about. I want to be able to answer her with one crisp and succinct sentence.
  • I give it a title. Even if it’s a midweek Bible study, going through a couple of chapters, I give it a title. The title grows out of the passage, not the other way around.
  • I type it out.
  • For a Sunday AM message, I usually sit on it, let it germinate, let it percolate. Then early on Sunday morning I’ll cut stuff out, insert illustrations, try to see the message in the big picture.
  • I pray, get up in front of God’s people, and let it rip. I don’t care how I feel, how frustrated I am with myself, how depressed I am about how things are going … I am not going to cheat the people, I’m going to give them the best I have, with God’s help.

 NOTE:  we cannot … we must not … underestimate the value of what we do. Lives do change, and hopefully, disciples are made. Self-feeders, believers who grow into mature saints.

 Sermon Notes—The Outline (example from a recent message)

“When Faith is Tested”

Matthew 15:21-39

CC Santa Cruz

August 26, 2012

I.  The Story of a Woman with Great Faith (15:21-28)

II.  The Story of the Faith of Desperate and Hopeful Crowds (15:29-31)

III.  A Story of Unexpected Blessing upon Unlikely People (15:32-39)

 

Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?

 

 

How Do I

For Me, a Real Game-Changer

Ten days ago I was really struggling. That Wednesday night Bible study had been a real chore, a heavy task. Emotionally, I can say that I was a real mess.

Background: my wife and I are taking a step of faith that for me is probably the biggest step I’ve taken since I left Southern California 34½ years ago for the Monterey Peninsula (with two Volkswagen Bugs, some clothes, furniture, and $125 in the bank;  no job and no certainty about where we’d be living beyond the first few weeks.)

This current step is in that same category, albeit the circumstances differ.

In my August 18 journal entry I wrote: “I’ve been hugely busy/preoccupied/worried about all the changes—the new house, all the work involved, the transition, provision for the future… yet, I have strongly sensed that this next season is of the Lord.”

In view of my calling, the Lord then began to remind me that I need to draw near to Him, that I need to be more a man of prayer and meditation (upon His word). My “doing” must and will proceed from my “being.”

Then I read and prayed through Jeremiah 32, part of that morning’s reading. This passage was a game-changer for me. As He always has whenever big things are in the works, He spoke to me through His word.

Perhaps you may need a bit of re-familiarization with its story line … but basically the story of Jeremiah 32 concerns the last days of Judah before the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem. The armies of Babylon had been laying siege against the holy city, and things were desperate. Jeremiah himself was held under guard by the wicked king Zedekiah.

It was at that time that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, telling him to purchase a field from his cousin Hanamel, a field which Jeremiah had the right to redeem. The message of this purchase was that once again, even though Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive, the Israelites would purchase properties and vineyards in the land.

Jeremiah was perplexed by this prophecy. He didn’t understand how this would happen, though he didn’t doubt God’s power to make it happen.

In his prayer, the prophet acknowledged that the LORD:

  • Created everything and is omnipotent.
  • Is merciful and gracious and just (the meaning of God’s name, Exodus 34:6-7).
  • Did great things in the past (reviewing their history coming out of Egypt and into the land).

Yet, the people had sinned greatly, and thus the Babylonians had surrounded the city. The inevitable was happening! So Jeremiah says to the LORD as he concludes his prayer “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. {25} And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’”

Again, Jeremiah was stumped by the “how.” How will these things happen? How will it work out that Israel will once again be in the land to buy, sell, and live? Graciously, the LORD answered Jeremiah’s concerns.

As I realized the depth of Jeremiah’s implied question, peace began to flood my soul. I was able to let go of all my “how are You going to do this?” questions, and leave the how to the Lord. I was able to rid my very busy mind of things that are too wonderful for me.

The words of one of David’s psalms came into my mind: “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. {2} But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalms 131:1-2).

Now I’ve got my work cut out for me, but now it’s a work of faith, springing forth from faith. It’s no longer the work of self-effort or independence. It’s the work of a child trusting in His Father.

I’m not so naïve as to think that what I’ve re-realized will not be tested, but I’m sure happy that the Lord has spoken!

God bless you. May He direct you into His peace and hope (Romans 15:13).

contentment

Contentment

The droplet said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a puddle.”  So the droplet tried real hard to make himself more than he was, spread himself too thin, and evaporated.

The puddle said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a pool.”  So the puddle lifted itself from the confines of its boundaries and went here and there and drained away.

The pool said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a lake.”  So the pool spread itself wide and became so shallow that no one came to swim anymore.

The lake said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a river.”  So the lake stirred up its waters to go this way and that.  Its motion became commotion and many were afraid to go to the lake anymore.

The river said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was an ocean.”  So the river stopped its mighty flow and the waters of the river widened and destroyed many lives.

Tim said: “I am not happy with who I am.”

Where_Rubber_Meets_The_Road_Web

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Some days I just need a reality check! A million things happen in life (and in the work of the Lord) and sometimes I find my heart sitting a bit off kilter. Oftentimes a Sunday afternoon can be that for me. Having just preached two services and prayed/encouraged/spoke to people before, in-between and after the services, eight hours later, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon I can feel like I am dragging my head and heart around. Many folks who devote their Sundays to serving can feel this way. On top of that, there is the inevitable (for some of us) Sunday afternoon feelings of uselessness, fear, apprehension and “what did I just say?” moments.

Last Sunday was one of those days for me. But God…

I received an email from someone in the fellowship. They were in the hospital with their newborn daughter (who was born 5 weeks early by emergency C-section). But they weren’t emailing for themselves. Instead they were emailing for their closest friends, who were actually in the next room. This couple and I had prayed for their friends almost 7 months ago. Right away, this couple’s pregnancy was at risk as the baby had a chromosomal abnormality. The child was not growing at the normal rate and pregnancy went to full term. I was emailed to see if I can come and visit the couple. They were in the hospital and the doctors had given the couple a 99% chance that the baby would be stillborn.

When I got to the hospital, I met the brother who emailed me. We spoke for a bit about his wife and new daughter who was in the Neo-natal intensive care. He shared the entire story about his daughter and wife. And about their friends who we were about to see. He was without sleep and had yet to hold his daughter. His wife was recovering from surgery and there were concerns about his own family. Yet his wanted to serve and bless his friends.

I entered the hospital room and began to talk with this couple. They shared about their journey and what was ahead of them. The reality of the possibility of giving birth to a stillborn child. The unknown. The fears. Yet, in all of the discussion, the tears and sadness, there was that precious hope in the God who can do anything. As we spoke about the reality of Jesus, the reality that God knew all of this and was there for them, the strength that is available by the Spirit, I thought to myself, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” This couple was heart-broken and scared yet so rooted in the unwavering love of God. We prayed. We cried. We laughed. We spoke of life, death, heaven, eternity and homesickness. We read Psalms and spoke of Jesus preparing mansions. We spoke of anger, faith and loss. Yet in all of it, there was a simple faith and an awareness of God’s grace at work in all of this.

I think that sometimes, in all of the rumblings and ruminations of a million voices, controversies, ideas and internet arguments, it is so easy to lose focus on the simplicity and awesomeness of the reality of God in Jesus. I was blessed with a return look at why I wanted to follow Jesus in the first place. Simply because He is and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Not a reward of getting everything we want, but the reward of Himself in whatever transpires. That is where the rubber meets the road. This is what was sustaining a young couple in the face of the most horrific of circumstances. This is where I want to spend much more time than I do. In that simple place of the reality of God. A place where there is no arguments, no bickering, no frustration, no question marks. It is the place where there is only grace, love and peace. Resting in the arms of God in the midst of a beautiful mess.

To close out the story, little Jonathan was born at 6 am on Monday morning and his parents got to take him home today. A total miracle. Although there are many complications and the prognosis is still dire (the doctors said some children can fight death of a few weeks), this precious family has been able to spend time with their son until he is goes home to be with the Lord. The couple who first contacted me’s daughter (Mackenzie) is completely off of all her tubes and Lord willing will be heading home in the next day or so. The testimony of these two families has touched the hearts of the hospital staff in profound ways. We are hoping and praying (if the Lord wills) to do a joint baby dedication at church on Sunday! Where the rubber meets the road, God is God. He finished the work on Calvary’s cross and will be faithful to complete the work He began in us.

Depressed

Hope for the Guilty

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench, until He brings forth justice to victory.” Matthew 12:20 ESV

 

Something that I’ve been deeply struck with afresh lately is compassion for the broken. Lately I’ve had the privilege of walking with some people who’ve seen the dark side of sin from the side of the victim. Sexual abuse, rape, verbal abuse, and the like are, unfortunately, far too common occurrences in the lives of people I know and serve.

Interestingly, the state of Utah is always in the top two or three percent in the nation of states with the most amount of cases of clinical depression and suicide. The county in which I live is the county with the highest depression and suicide rates in our state. People around here know they are guilty. And I believe one reason this is true is because we live under the overarching shadow of a religious system that is heavily performance oriented- the LDS church.

Like all religion outside biblical christianity, Mormonism is all about doing all you can, as much as you can, so that perhaps God might save you by his grace at the end of your life, after all that you can contribute to your self-salvation project. And in our culture many people live under this system knowing they just don’t quite measure up to the expectations laid on their shoulders by “the church” the community, or by the status quo. As a result they feel guilty and self-medicate prescription drug abuse, or they end the pain by committing suicide.

The guilt-conscious culture I live in has really caused me to think hard about how we communicate the gospel in such a context. What I’ve come to believe at this point is that I don’t have to spend much time convincing people they’re sinners who don’t measure up because they know. Instead, while I use the law enough in preaching and talking with people to make sure they’re aware of their guilt, I usually spend most of my time in sermons and conversations emphasizing the hope of Christ for broken, hurting, guilty people. And that message of hope tends to be the drink of water to the soul that depressed, guilty, and broken people need to hear. In a way I think people in my context need more of the Jesus of the gospels who heals, teaches, and touches rather than the Jesus of Revelation who opens a can on His enemies, though both are appropriate and glorious images of Christ.

If you live in a culture that has no conscience such as a liberal culture, you may need to bring the law a bunch so as to help people see their sin. But if you live in a culture crippled by guilt and already aware of their sin, I’d encourage you to emphasize the hope of Jesus in light of the guilt they already feel. But what do you think?