Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Not To Say...

Three Things Grieving People Don't Want to Hear
I want to tell you three things that grieving people wish no one would ever say to them again.
One of them is, "I know exactly how you feel." We tend to say that to someone when we’ve had a grief experience of our own, some kind of loss. We’ve had a taste of it, and there are aspects of what they’re going through that we might be familiar with. But when we say, "I know exactly how you feel," it’s like we’re elevating ourselves to their level. It’s like we’re trying to steal the spotlight from them. But we don’t know exactly how they feel. We know how we felt, and we know what our experience was like when we lost someone, but we don’t know what their experience is like. They are a unique person—their loss was unique.
A second thing they never want to hear is, "You’ll be fine." We say that because they seem so devastated and we want to assure them that the day is going to come when the sun is going to come out again and it won’t hurt quite as much as it does today. But, once again, saying "You’ll be fine" makes it sound as if this loss that they have experienced is just another bump along the way of life—that it’s really not all that significant, that it shouldn’t trouble them too much. What it really does is diminish the worth of the person who died. It says that the person who died is not really worthy of being all that troubled about. So don’t say, "You’ll be fine."
The third one is the biggest. Any sentence that begins with, "Well, at least . . ." Whatever you’re going to put after that—just forget it. Things like, "Well, at least you can have more children," "Well, at least you can get married again," "Well, at least they didn’t have to suffer," "Well, at least . . ." The reason we’re saying these things is that we’re trying to help them have perspective. We’re wanting them to look on the bright side. What we’re saying might actually be a good perspective, and it might be true, but the question is: is it helpful in this moment?
Maybe the grieving person says, "Well, at least . . ." If they do that, you can agree. But don’t be the first one to say it. Don’t, in your desire to give them perspective about their loss, actually diminish their loss in the process.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Grieving the Holy Spirit By Politics

Looking back on the 2016 election,  I've been thinking on the message of this article - How We Grieved the Holy Spirit in This Election by J. Lee Grady. Note that this was written beforee Election Day.
We have just endured the most bitter and divisive presidential contest in a lifetime. The whole nation is shell-shocked. Our ears are ringing and our heads are pounding after being bombarded for more than a year and a half with noisy rhetoric.
Imagine if an alien spaceship tried to decipher the jumbled message that has been transmitted from the United States for the past 19 months. "Trump is a racist! Hillary is a nasty woman! Trump gropes women! Send Hillary to prison! The election is rigged! Remember Benghazi! Trump hates Megyn Kelly! Megyn Kelly hates Newt Gingrich! Blah blah blah blah blah!"
I have loathed every minute of it. I'm looking for a T-shirt that says: "Thank God it's over."
My struggle wasn't caused by the bickering about Obamacare, Hillary's email server, Donald Trump's insults or Bernie Sander's liberal lectures. I don't mind the arguments and put-downs on the news, because I can turn off the television when I want to. And I believe there is a place for legitimate political debate. What grieved me most was seeing the hatefulness Christians threw at each other during this election cycle.
I've heard Christians swear at each other, verbally assault each other, and dissect each other in self-righteous Facebook posts. I've watched one Christian demonize another Christian simply because they have different views on a public policy issue. And I've seen how the racial divisions in the church grew deeper when a pastor decided to politicize a sermon or tell people they had to vote a certain way to please God.
About half of our population will be celebrating the winner of this election next Tuesday, while the other half will be licking their wounds. I don't believe the Holy Spirit will be taking sides. I believe He is grieved by the way the church behaved.
What exactly does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? The clue is found in Ephesians 4:30, which says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Then the apostle Paul goes on to explain how to avoid grieving the Spirit.
He writes: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you" (v. 31-32).
The point here is that the Holy Spirit is quenched when we mistreat each other. Our relationship with God is not just about how we act individually. Christianity is not a Lone Ranger religion. If we don't treat each other with love and respect, the Spirit is not happy. He withdraws His blessing and waits for us to repent. He calls us to community.
It's interesting that one of the behaviors mentioned in this verse is "clamor." This is the Greek word kraugē, which means "to shout or cry loud or insistently." It refers to the volume level of an argument. Yes, you can grieve the Holy Spirit with your tone of voice.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But when our disagreements become shouting matches, and our tone becomes harsh or vindictive, the Holy Spirit tunes out. He does not like it when we shout, scream, rant and spew venom at each other.
Yet many Christians today defend this behavior. We have been trained well by the sharp-witted commentators on Fox News and CNN. We have the idea that standing for truth requires us to blast our opponents out of the water. We wield our verbal swords and skewer our enemies like Roman gladiators in the coliseum. And the crowds cheer when we slay our political opponents with snappy one-liners. Touché!
God, forgive us. We have called what is evil good. We thought we were exhibiting moral courage when we brashly attacked a brother who had a different opinion about immigrants or health care policy. We thought God was pleased when we shouted down the woman who disagreed with us about transgender bathrooms. We thought God was on our side when we angrily quoted the Bible and waved our fists in the air.
We didn't have a clue that the Holy Spirit had withdrawn from us. He was grieved. We didn't realize that just because a person is right about something does not mean they have God's blessing. Moses was a great man of God, but when he struck the rock in anger he forfeited his chance to enter the Promised Land.
If you have allowed anger to take control of your life during this crazy political season, pull away from the ruckus and let the Holy Spirit adjust your attitude. Go on a fast from ranting and raving. Stop being outraged and encourage somebody. Forgive those who disagree with you. Love those who voted differently from you. Set politics aside and act like a Christian.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Strength in Lamentation

A faith that does not know how to lament and still believe may turn out to be no faith at all. True faith discovers that Lament  Helps Us to Hold On To Him (By Vaneetha Rendell Risner)
When pain almost strangles us, and darkness is our closest friend, what should we do?
For years, I thought the best response was cheerful acceptance. Since God uses everything for our good and his glory, I felt the most God-honoring attitude was to appear joyful all the time. Even when I was confused and angry. Even when my heart was breaking. And especially when I was around people who didn’t know Christ.
But I have since learned the beauty of lament in my suffering. Lament highlights the gospel more than stoicism ever could. Hearing our authentic, God-honoring lament can draw others to God in unexpected ways. I first noticed the power of lament in the book of Ruth.
Naomi’s Trust in God
I had long seen Ruth as the undisputed hero of the book that bears her name, and Naomi as the grumbling character with weak faith and a negative attitude. But having walked myself in similar shoes now for a fraction of her journey, I have a new respect for the depth of Naomi’s trust in God. Ruth was an eyewitness to Naomi’s faith. She saw her faith hold fast, even in horrific circumstances. And behind Naomi’s faith, she saw the God who heard Naomi’s lament and didn’t condemn her for it, even as Naomi spoke frankly about her disappointment with God.
Lamenting to a god would have been foreign to Ruth. Ruth’s first god, the god of Moab, was Chemosh. No one would have dared lament or complain to him. Pagan gods were to be appeased; there was no personal relationship with any of them, especially not with Chemosh, who demanded child sacrifices.
But Ruth sees a completely different God as she watches Naomi. Naomi trusts God enough to tell him how she feels. Though she says, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13), Naomi doesn’t walk away from God in anger. She stays close to him and continues to use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, asking him to bless her daughters-in-law. Naomi doesn’t stop praying; she believes God hears her prayers.
Naomi’s trust is further evidenced by her determination to travel to Bethlehem alone. If Naomi felt that God had truly abandoned her, she never would have begun that journey. She would have stayed in bed, pulled the covers over her head, and died in Moab, bitter and angry at God. But she doesn’t do that. She acts in faith, trusting that God will provide for her.
Naomi’s trust is extraordinary given the tragedies she has endured. She and her husband had left Israel for Moab with their two sons in search of food. While they were there, her sons and husband died, and she was left alone. A widow. A grieving mother. A foreigner. With no means to support herself.
I understand why she felt that the Lord’s hand had gone out against her. In my own pain, I have cried out to God, “Why do you hate me?” I have retraced my life, wondering why God had turned against me.
Naomi’s Honesty with God
But to my regret, I’ve always been very private about my pain. I have hesitated to voice my anger and fears, concerned about what others might think. Lament can be messy, and I want my life to look neat. And I foolishly think my bleached prayers somehow make God look better.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Cliff's Notes Bible

The "Cliff's notes" version of the entire Bible:

God: "All right, you two, don't do the one thing. Other than that, have fun."
Adam & Eve: "Okay."
Satan: "You ssssssshould do the thing."
Adam & Eve: "Okay."
God: "What happened!?"
Adam & Eve: "We did the thing."
God: "Guys..."

God: "You are my people, and you should not do the things."
People: "We won't do the things."
God: "Good."
People: "We did the things."
God: "Guys..."

Jesus: "I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don't do the things anymore."
Healed people:" Okay! Thank you!"
Other people: "We've never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking."
Jesus: "I have never done the things."
Other people: "We're going to put you on trial for doing the things."
Pilate: "Did you do the things?"
Jesus: No.
Pilate: "He didn't do the things."
Other people: "Kill him anyway."
Pilate: "Okay."
Jesus: "Guys..."

People: "We did the things."
Paul: "Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things."
People: "Okay."

People: "We did the things again."
Paul: "Guys..."

John: "When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime....STOP DOING THE THINGS!!!"


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father Prompts

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

    - J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Living With Integrity

“There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy, To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity.”

    - Erik Thoennes, quoted in Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?

BTW - This is a very good article which I highly recommend.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Honoring the Wisdom of Age

Let’s be a church that has a counter culture that says we respect people in old age. We don’t say, “Well, you’re retired and you don’t have much left to do.” or “You’re in your eighties, it’s time to get a bingo card or something.” But, “What can we learn from you?” and “How might we be able to benefit from the wisdom that God has given you?”

  - Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Are We Too Busy To Hear?

"A question that must guide all organizing activity in a church is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence."

     - Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart