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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.

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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.

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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.

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Self-perception or the perception of others? Whose do YOU trust?

Self-perception.  Is it ever accurate?  Jere 17:9

More than 25 years ago I had a conversation with a senior pastor that provoked my thinking and prodded me to do a completely informal survey with about a dozen other senior pastors that I considered friends.  The survey took place over a span of about 5 or 6 years and the fact that all of the senior pastors I spoke with had the same perspective has embedded what I discovered into my mind, never to be forgotten.  A few conversations that I’ve had recently, along with some things that I’ve seen written on a few blogs by other senior  pastors over the past few months have stirred up one of those discoveries that I made all those years ago.

Although I don’t remember most of the specifics of that original conversation, the point of ignition for my further thinking on the subject was a comment from my friend, the senior pastor, that ended with him making a statement similar to this, “…..I’m not really sure why things unfolded the way they did, but I do know that I’m a ‘people-person’.”

When I heard this brother describe himself that way—as a “people-person”, I was more than a bit surprised.  To be sure that I had actually understood what he meant, I asked him to repeat the point that he had just made.  And he did so.  He was convinced in his own mind that he was a “people-person”.   I now knew that he genuinely believed that about himself.  He had just given me his honest perception of himself.

Apparently, because of the look on my face at that moment and because we’d always had a very transparent relationship with each other, he told me that he could tell I wasn’t buying what he was saying and he asked me whether I agreed with his description of himself as a “people-person”.

And so, being the personality-type that I am, I told him that although I would describe him to others in many positive ways, his being a “people-person” would never be one of them.  And not only that, but I also told him that if I went around to the people who he interacted with on a regular basis and asked them to describe him to me, more than likely, none of them would him as a “people-person” either.

Now it was his turn to be surprised.  He asked me if I was serious and I reminded him that he knew better than that.  And this is where the conversation got even more interesting.

I then told him that through my experiences in management in the secular world, the graceful honesty of my wife and immediate family members who loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself,  and many principles that I had I learned from God’s word since becoming a follower of Jesus, I had learned to exercise extreme caution when it came to trusting that my perception of myself was actually accurate.

I said that I had learned that I if really want to know the type of person I am, the most accurate way to do that is to ask a close friend to go around and do a mini-survey of the 8-10 people that I interact with at least once or more per week.  I would give my close friend, the surveyor, very simple instructions.  He should ask each of these people individually, to describe ME in five or six different ways using a few words or phrases for each description.  And when my close friend gave me the responses,  I would accept that these people’s descriptions are more than likely the way that I actually am.  Even if those descriptions might not even be close to the way I perceive myself.

At this point, my conversation with my senior pastor friend turned even more interesting.  He told me that if those who know him best really wouldn’t describe him as a “people-person” it was either because they hadn’t gotten to know him well enough or because they had expectations of him that he could never live up to.

He really said these things to me.

That conversation ended with me challenging him to consider a few things, including the possibility of having a close friend doing something like the mini-survey that I told him about.

And then, as I said above, over the next few years I asked 5 or 6 other senior pastors some questions based on what I had learned from the original conversation with my senior pastor friend.  The questions and a summary of their answers went like this:

1.  Do you believe that you’re a “people-person”?  (All of them said “yes”)

2.  Would those who interact with you on a regular basis describe you as a “people-person”?  (Most of them said “yes”)

3.  But if someone other than you asked them to describe you to someone else, would they describe you to someone else as a “people-person”?

(All of them said, “probably not”)

4.  Whose perception is most accurate, yours or theirs?  (All of them said their own perception of themselves was more accurate)

5.  If your perception is the accurate one, what is the source of the mis-perception of others?  (In one way or another, they all said it wasn’t anything to do with them, it had something to do with the other people)

Although I believe that a fairly reasonable case can be made that a senior pastor should be a “people-person” along with quite a few other character traits, that’s never been what really bothered me.  What bothered me then and what has cropped up to bother me again today is the core issue of conflicting perceptions.

When self-perception is contradictory to, or the opposite of the perception of a group of other people who know us and love us, what should be provoked within us?

–Should we throw the burden on others to figure out what we already know about ourselves?

–Or, should we move forward humbly recognizing that our own self-perception hasn’t been accurate and that if we desire to be perceived in a different way, we might need to repent and be willing to change a few things in our own lives, and have those that love us help us make those changes?

And finally, referring to someone as a “people-person” is probably not taking place these days among the age groups under 40.  My guess is that rather than describing someone as a “people-person”, this younger group would more than likely describe that type of person as “relational”.

Either way, here’s a brief summary of what a “relational” or “people-person” does:

–Makes you not only feel comfortable in their presence, but makes your being with them so totally enjoyable that you can’t wait to hang out with them again.

–Demonstrates a genuine interest in you that shows itself through the questions they ask, the diligence with which they listen to your responses, and then the next few questions they ask you that are based on your previous answers to the questions they asked you.

–At just the right times, reveals their own thoughts, experiences, struggles, or victories in a way that makes them real to you and gives you confidence that they have a real connection with you.

–Never gives you the impression or the “vibe” that they are spending time with you for any other reason than a sincere desire to know you more so that your relationship with them can deepen and you can be a greater blessing to one another.

–Even when your relationship with them has a “task accomplishing” angle to it, you never feel like if you stopped accomplishing the task for them that they would no longer have an interest in spending time with you or caring about how you’re doing.

 

 

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?

 

 

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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.”

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A Wineskin in the Smoke

Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your statutes”, Psalm 119:83

I have been preaching through Psalm 119 over recent weeks.  I love the Psalms and the refreshment they bring to my soul.  I don’t think I could preach straight through them as a whole, but I love covering them in random order in between breaks of other books.  A couple of weeks ago the above verse gripped me with its imagery.

A wineskin in smoke would become brittle and unusable for in practical purposes.  This is how the psalmist describes  his condition.  I love being a preaching pastor.  It is what I have been called to do.  I cannot imagine not preaching the Word of God on a week-by-week basis.  With this being said, I have to admit preaching every week and leading a church can be draining as it demands much from the individual.

I’m not in this for the short-term.  As I have studied other pastors that are many years ahead of me, I have discovered that it takes a lot of P.M.S. (I couldn’t resist but to through a Navy term in here…”Preventative Maintenance Service” for you you non-sailors out there) to insure that we do not dry out spiritually and loose our passion for the ministry.

What can we do to keep our freshness and passion for serving in this capacity?

Take time off each day.

I read a book somewhere where the pastor understood each day to have only three parts–morning, afternoon, and evening.  He attempted to only work two of the three parts each day.  I don’t always succeed at this, but the thought has been very helpful to me in governing my days.

Take a Day off.

Once a week…if you can.  Well, you can see that this is a tough one for me.  It is just so hard to disengage.  I know it is good for me, for my family, and for the church.  I shoot for Thursdays, but I don’t always make the mark.  In my short coming in this area, my family and I adopted a new strategy about three years ago.  My grandfather-in-law lives outside of San Luis Obisbo on a 40-acre ranch.  We head up there once a month for a two-day (Sunday evening through Tuesday) getaway.  I love this time and has been very fruitful for my family.

Vacation.

Take an extended period of time of each year.  I am learning to open up this time more and more.  I think taking 3-4 Sundays off is ideal.  This year we had a baby and didn’t go anywhere so I don’t feel like I relaxed as much as I could have, but I did manage to read about 3 books that had nothing to do with the ministry which was very rewarding!  That being said, I am already looking forward to a vacation next year.

Read Biographies and non-studying type books.

I was recently reminded of the importance of reading books outside of our field of study.  We should be reading a ton in preparation for our preaching.  I believe in digging deep.  There is no way to short cut study time for good preaching.  That being said, reading on top of that can be difficult, but it is good for us to read “non-study” books and biographies.  It is okay, and beneficial, to read books for fun.  They will have a greater impact on you that you realize.

Exercise.

Pastors and exercise shouldn’t be an oxymoron.  Getting your blood-flowing won’t kill you, go on…give it a shot!  Some of my best sermon prep happens on runs, in the gym, or during a soccer match!  I refer you to my previous blog Spiritually Fit, Spiritually Flabby if you want to know more of my thoughts on this subject.

Pick up a hobby.

I’m not much of a “hobby guy.”  But in many respects I think my wife and kids are sort of a hobby for me during this time of my life.  I love spending time in the pool, going to the zoo, watching ballet, practicing Spanish, going for walks, or simply hanging out.  Probably the closest thing I have to a hobby is being a chaplain to law enforcement…yes, ministry you’d say, but the reality is that it is fun for me and helps me do things like shoot and blow up stuff which is hobbyish!  This being said, I do think having something fun that is not ministry related is great for your soul over the long-haul.

How do you stay fresh?

 

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How to react when you’re wronged

I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit over the last several weeks; not necessarily because I’ve recently been wronged, but in response to my current meditations in 2 Corinthians.

There is no doubt that Paul had been wrongly treated by some within the Corinthian Church, and his response to such wrongs is both challenging and instructive. Furthermore, following Jesus through His passion, as exhibited in the Gospels, can be outright unnerving. In fact, every time I read the Gospel accounts I find a certain part of my heart that desires a different response from Jesus, one I know He’d never had allowed, and would certainly not have accomplished the salvific work. The word’s of the Apostle James strike so deep in my heart…

For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

— James 1:20

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10 have been especially challenging.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
(For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The Greek root translated “war” is related to the [Greek] word from which we get our English cognate “strategy” or “strategize.” It is so easy to “war after the flesh.” That is certainly my default. In thinking much on these verses I’ve found myself far more aware of just how quickly I revert to warring/strategizing with earthly wisdom and weapons when confronted with opposition. Thus I started to ask, “How should I react when I am wronged?

  1. Remember the admonition to turn the other cheek. (Matt. 5:39)
  2. Remember that the trial you now face is ultimately for your sanctification. (James 1:2-4)
  3. Remember that if God does not grant your repeated requests “let this cup pass from me” or “remove this thorn in my flesh,” then that which you face is allowed of Him for your good. (Matt 26:39-44, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
  4. Remember that it is always better to find God as your defender than to provide your own ineffectively feeble defense. (Psalm 89:18, Psalm 94:22)
  5. Remember to bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)
  6. Remember, you’re blessed. (Matt. 5:11)
  7. Remember to rejoice in your heavenly reward. (Matt. 5:12)
  8. Remember Matthew 18:15

I could certainly go on, but these are the ones that have been swirling about my mind. Somewhere in the process of this lies the all important task of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

One last thought. One of my favorite [non-biblical] stories/books is The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie that was done about 12 years ago is pretty good too. There’s a great quote in the movie; just before Abbe Faria dies he says to Edmond Dantes…

Here is your final lesson – do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, “Vengeance is mine.”

 

 

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?