Monday, October 31, 2016

500 Years of Reformation

There's a big anniversary coming one year from today. 499 years ago today, 500 next year, an obscure monk and professor named Martin Luther nailed an invitation to debate (composed of 95 Theses) on the theology of indulgences onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. He didn't know what he was starting. We know it as the Protestant Reformation. Here are 10 Things You Should Know About the Reformation  by Tim Chester, coauthor of Why the Reformation Still Matters:
1. The Pope started the Reformation.

The fourteenth century was a bad time for the papacy. For a period, there were two rival popes and the papacy was under pressure from the French monarchy. It wasn’t a good time for the city of Rome either—seven successive popes abandoned Rome in favor of Avignon in France. Rome was sidelined and Saint Peter’s Basilica fell into disrepair. The popes returned to Rome in 1377 and then sorted out their divisions in 1417.

A hundred years on, things were looking up: in 1505, Pope Julius II had decided to knock down the old St Peter’s and start again. He had big plans for his own tomb and wanted a basilica to match. It was time to make Rome magnificent once again. But that didn’t come cheap, so the church embarked on a fundraising campaign. It was this campaign that brought Johann Tetzel to Germany to sell indulgences, promises of time off purgatory in exchange for cash. And so it was that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his protest against indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
2. The Reformation was about sausages.

During Lent 1522, a group of students in Zurich held a sausage-themed party. Traditionally only vegetables and fish were eaten during Lent. But they wanted change and that meant hot dogs. The city council fined the host of the party, albeit only a nominal amount. A few days later, Huldrych Zwingli, the leader of the city’s church, produced a pamphlet in support of the students. The Bible, he argued, didn’t have much to say about sausages—there was certainly nothing about eating sausages during Lent.

The Council convened a debate to decide whether Zwingli’s views matched what was taught in the Bible. Zwingli won the day. But really, he’d won before it started because the terms of the discussion assumed the authority of Scripture. And that, rather than sausages, was the real issue—though it’s reassuring to know that bacon sandwiches get the thumbs up.
3. Luther’s marriage was a bit fishy.

Catholicism's focus was on becoming right with God through the sacraments or monastic life, but the Reformers preached that being right with God is a gift. There’s no need to do works for God’s benefit. It’s already a done deal—achieved by Christ and received by faith. And that frees you up to serve your neighbour in love.

In 1523, a group of nuns contacted Luther. Convent life made no sense, so the nuns wanted Luther to help them escape their cloistered life. Luther enlisted a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. On April 5, the nuns escaped by hiding among the empty fish barrels. Their families refused to take them back, perhaps because what had just happened was still a crime under Church law. So Luther set about marrying them off—no easy matter, perhaps, since they smelled of fish!

Gradually, he found husbands for them all—all except one. No husband could be found for the ringleader, Katharina von Bora. So, somewhat against his wishes, Luther himself married her. He was forty-one and she twenty-six. It turned out to be a good match.
4. There were 97 theses before there were 95 theses.

Luther’s famous ninety-five theses were not his first stab at provoking a debate. A few weeks before, he’d posted ninety-seven theses. They included an attack on the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who’d made something of a comeback in the Medieval period. As it happens, no one took much notice of Luther’s ninety-seven theses. Yet they were much more central to the thought of the Reformation.

So, when Luther was summoned to account for his actions before his Augustinian order, it was to the themes in the ninety-seven theses that he returned. Aristotle said we become righteous by doing right acts—your identity is the result of your actions. It’s something you achieve. Luther said this gets things the wrong way around. In the gospel, our identity is a gift from God. It’s something you receive. And then our actions flow from our new identity. Unbelievers can be constrained by laws and peer pressure, but a life of wholehearted righteous living is only possible if God makes us new people.
5. The Reformation involved a rediscovery of the work of the Spirit.

In 1524, Desiderius Erasmus published an attack on Luther. Erasmus was Europe’s leading celebrity academic. Erasmus thought people already had enough power in themselves to do good. He defined free choice as "a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from them." Luther replied, "You do not realize how much you attribute to it by this pronoun 'itself'—its very own self!—when you say it can 'apply itself'; for this means that you completely exclude the Holy Spirit with all his power, as superfluous and unnecessary."

As far as Erasmus was concerned, we just need to try harder. But Luther realized our problem was much more fundamental than that. Our problem is not that we’re lazy or ignorant, but that we’re sinners deep down to the very core of our being. So, if we’re ever going to please God, we need a radical inner transformation. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Be Hatched Or Go Bad

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes, and precautions—to Christ.  But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead.  For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.
And that is what Christ warned us you could not do.  As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs.  If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and resown.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.
He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, “Be perfect,” He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Prayers for A Troubled America

From J. Lee Grady - 10 Ways to Pray for a Troubled America
The Old Testament clearly shows that the rise and fall of Israel was determined by its spiritual condition. When the people worshipped God, and their leaders honored His laws, Israel prospered. When the people drifted into sin and idolatry, and Israel's kings forgot the God who delivered them from slavery, the nation went into decline. Foreign armies eventually invaded.

The same principle applies to any nation—and certainly to the United States, which was founded by people of faith who embraced the Bible. We have known seasons of spiritual revival, and in the past we have elected leaders who called on Jesus Christ as the true God. We have also gone through periods of spiritual darkness. When you review our 240-year history, it seems we are facing our darkest hour spiritually.

But I am not discouraged as we head into this uncertain season. God intervenes even in the darkest times. Elijah called down fire from heaven when an evil leader sat on the throne. When Israel faced certain defeat, King Hezekiah prayed and witnessed divine deliverance.

God is always willing to rescue His people if they pray.

As we head into the final days before this crucial 2016 election, I challenge you to do more than vote. Please pray big, God-sized prayers. A president or a political party cannot solve our national crisis. We need urgent help from heaven. Here are 10 things we should include in our petitions:

1. That our leaders will turn to God. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said: "A belief in Jesus Christ is the very fountainhead of everything that is desirable and praiseworthy in our civilization." Yet today political correctness prevents our leaders from barely mentioning faith. It's as if we are ashamed of what made our nation great. Pray that our next president and his or her cabinet will be drawn to love the Lord in a personal way.

2. That our president will rediscover God's forgotten laws. In the days of King Josiah, when the nation's moral compass went missing, the scrolls of the Old Testament were found in a closet. When the king heard the words of the Scriptures, he tore his clothes, repented and called the nation to serve God again (2 Kings 22-23). Pray that our next president will follow the footsteps of Josiah and bravely call for a reformation.

3. That God's prophets will have access to government leaders. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elisha called on the kings of Israel to obey the Lord—and Israel was blessed when leaders heeded their message. Even when Israel went into captivity in Babylon, God put his servant Daniel in a strategic position of influence. Pray that our leaders will open their doors to those God is sending to speak for Him.

4. That we will have righteous judges. John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, did not hide his Christian faith. He wrote: "The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the Word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next." Today, most of our judges have no knowledge of Christian morality; instead they create their own laws in a moral vacuum. Our judges are now responsible for redefining marriage, secularizing the country and taking away the rights of the unborn. Pray that God will raise up judges who honor God's laws.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Times of Transition

From Pete Wilson (Who is undergoing a lot of transition himself this year) Here are 4 Tips To Navigate Life Transitions 
The word “transition”, alone, is enough to make most people run for cover. It insinuates change, which headbutts how most of us are wired; for comfortability and security. While it’s true that there are both good and bad transitions, they still have one thing in common. Both types of transitions are hard. Really hard.
Ready or not, we all go through numerous transitions in our lives – leaving high school to go to college or work, changing jobs, getting married, having children. The list is never-ending and these changes ignite weeks, months, or longer full of awkward emotional spaces where we have to cut ties with what we once knew and own our unfamiliar realities.
In general, I’ve found that there are 3 type of transition in life:
1) Choice transitions: An opportunity comes along that you choose to take. Or maybe you realize it’s time to step away from something you’ve done for a while. This type of transition, one that I’m in right now, is one that you choose and feel like is what is best for your season. However, what I’m discovering is that it doesn’t mean it’s easy. I love my new job at The A Group, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been things that I’ve wrestled with. For example: I miss the team I worked with for years at Cross Point. I miss the buzz of ministry on Sunday mornings. I miss the routine I had for 14 years. I miss the people that trusted me to pastor them. Although it was a choice I weighed for quite some time and knew was right, it is still painful and difficult to endure initially.
2) Natural transitions: These could be anything from graduating from high school or college, having a baby, or getting married. They are often just part of the natural rhythms of life. They feel expected and normal, therefore making these transitions a little more welcomed, emotionally. Most people have gone through one or two of them in their lives, so we have plenty of unsolicited advice and blogs to help us through those.
3) Imposed Transitions: These are probably the most dreaded of the 3 transitions because the season is unwillingly imposed on us – sudden layoff from a job, unwanted and uninitiated breakups in relationships, an illness that threatens the very breath you breathe. They hit you like a brick wall and leave you emotionally stranded and vulnerable.
Whatever the circumstances, navigating through transitions in a healthy way can prove to be challenging. So here’s a few tips that hopefully you’ll find helpful for surviving your current or next transition.
Expect to feel depressed or anxious.
Even though my career transition is a positive and healthy thing for me, change is still change. I’m leaving behind colleagues that I’ve been in the trenches of ministry with for years and grown extremely close to. I’m leaving a job that was familiar and somewhat comforting, even though the weight of it all had become too much to carry.
Whenever we move forward, we leave something behind which creates a psychological state of grief, no matter how small. And if the change is unexpected and unwanted– the sudden job layoff or relationship breakup – the shock and depression are greater and more devastating to the life we all pictured. And with such turmoil as this, comes anxiety. We are out of our comfort zone; our imaginations run wild; we worry about an unknown future. So, don’t feel shame in your emotions. They are normal no matter how isolated they make you feel. Try to avoid the attempt of numbing with distractions. Feel what you’re heart is telling you, grieve the loss, and try to grow from it. It will get better, but we can’t expect an external portrayal of roses and rainbows to heal us.
Realize your past is not your past if it’s still impacting your present.
While you need to acknowledge your loss, you don’t want to get stuck in the past. Someone once told me that acknowledging that a door is closed is healthy; spending your time and energy staring at it is not.
Although it sounds like a cliché, I’ve found it to be true over and over. Often what feels like an ending is actually just a beginning. And just remember this isn’t the first transition you’ve gone through, right? You’ve – changed schools, churches, neighborhoods, relationships, jobs. We often encounter new struggles and think that “this time is different”, or “I can’t get through this one”. You can do this again. And this time even better.
Think positive. Think opportunity.
In the movie Up In the Air, George Clooney played a character whose job was to fire people for companies that were downsizing. If you’ve seen the movie, you know he would always begin his speech to whoever he was firing with “I’m here to talk to you about new opportunities.” Obviously, this was a bit of a spin, but it’s also kind of true.
Whether your transition is by choice or uninvited, my guess is that you’re going to have opportunity that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. You learn a new skill. You find a new appreciation for someone in your life. You begin using your experience to help other people with the same thing. You meet some new people that you would never have met any other way. You start down a path that seems unchartered and uninteresting, but actually ends up leading to a new passion that you didn’t know existed. All of these opportunities are chances to grow and see His goodness amidst challenges, so why not allow God to redeem something once perceived as stagnated.
Lean into God.
The reality is, we often lean and trust in things we never should have in the first place. We lean on our finances, we lean on our spouse or friend, we lean on job titles, and the list could go on and on.
You know I wish God had my full attention all the time but the reality is, I can get easily distracted by a lot of little shiny and enticing things in this world. But the moment I find myself in transition, the moment I feel like the rug has been ripped out from underneath me, is when God gets my full attention.
Transition, by definition, means change. But, we have a God who is unchanging and constant. Sovereign and all-knowing of our future and purpose. Faithful and full of grace through our attempts at navigating the “new”. So, during this time lean into the one thing, the only thing, that’s worthy of our full trust.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What If Hillary Wins?

I know that many of you don't want to consider this possibility, while others consider it a high probability. Either way, we need to consider it. Here's what J. Lee Grady has to say on this: What if Hillary Clinton Wins the White House? 
In three weeks, the baffling 2016 presidential election will be over. The winner will begin assembling a White House cabinet. The loser will most likely disappear for a while. And our polarized nation, weary from all the sound and fury of ugly politics, will recover from the stress of this crazy season.
Many evangelical Christians have supported billionaire Donald Trump, either because he is a Washington outsider or because his policies seem more conservative than Clinton's. Some charismatic leaders, such as Lance Wallnau, have even prophesied that Trump is God's man. But that has been a difficult idea to sell, especially to African-American or Hispanic Christian voters who view Trump as racist and anti-immigrant.
The new revelations of Trump's "locker room" comments about women have not helped his case. Many evangelicals have abandoned him over his insulting sexist language. The result is that the latest polls show Clinton leading Trump by 11 points. Barring some new scandal about Mrs. Clinton's honesty, her clandestine ties to Middle Eastern donors or a new batch of leaked emails, it is very likely she will win on Nov. 8.
Some Christians would like to crucify me for saying that. But even Fox News reported this week that Trump is losing—and some Fox pundits are already throwing in their chips and working on plans for a Republican victory in the 2020 race.
Here's my concern: How is the evangelical church going to respond if Mrs. Clinton wins? Hopefully we will allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, rather than our outrage. I would recommend the following:
1. Make a commitment to pray for your president. Many evangelicals who opposed President Obama's election refused to pray for him—ignoring our scriptural mandate to pray for "all who are in authority" (1 Tim. 2:2). I know white Christians who hate Obama, and that has grieved the Holy Spirit and fueled hostility between the White House and the Christian community. Just because you don't agree with a leader's policies doesn't excuse you from supporting him or her in prayer. If Mrs. Clinton wins, I intend to pray for her daily.
2. Don't demonize people who didn't vote your way. Hopefully voters will remain peaceful if Mr. Trump loses. The last thing America needs is more riots. But I know Christians who display a lawless spirit in their comments on social media. Some have even made threats to people who questioned Trump on issues—as if God expects all Christians to march behind Trump in lockstep with no questions asked. We live in a democracy, and every believer has the freedom to vote according to his or her own conscience. We all need to take a chill pill and calm down. Some people need to take a break from Facebook if they can't control their rage.
3. Stand for religious freedom. Many Christians are legitimately concerned about whether liberal politicians will begin taking our rights away. I'll be the first to say I don't trust the people Mrs. Clinton has around her. Too many of her political cronies are linked to organizations like Planned Parenthood or to groups that want to weaken or abolish the influence of churches. An antichrist spirit is working overtime in Washington. That's why we must elect local and state leaders who will oppose this agenda.
4. Don't be a Chicken Little pessimist. The world will not end if Mrs. Clinton occupies the White House. She may become the president of the most powerful nation on Earth, but God is still on His throne. He is the One who said: "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales" (Is. 40:15). Our God is sovereign, and He only allows people to be in power. He can remove any leader at any time if He wants to. You do not need to head for the hills or build a bunker full of survivalist supplies. View the world from God's big-picture perspective. And remember that the New Testament church thrived at a time when dictators ruled the Roman empire.
5. Work and pray for a spiritual awakening in this country. Ultimately, there is no president or political party that can solve America's problems. Neither Trump nor Clinton can do it. The only thing that will turn our nation around is a heaven-sent revival, and we are long overdue for another one. Intercessors have been filling up heaven's bowls of prayer for many years, and the next Great Awakening could happen during the next four years. I expect to see it soon.
If Mrs. Clinton wins the White House, I pray that her Methodist upbringing will cause her to call on Jesus Christ in the hour of our visitation. She, like all of us, needs His mercy. May God bless America. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Scandal of Election 2016

Beth Moore recently created a stir with some tweets about Christian leaders being dismissive of Donald Trumps quotes on how he treated women, which she equated to sexual assault. Bye the way, I agree with her. Here's her blog post abut The Scandal of Election 2016:
On Tuesday, November 8th, we will elect the next president of the United States. Each one of us who chooses to exercise our right to vote will mark the ballot having weighed not only every option but the realistic consequences of the option we’re choosing.

The gravity of it this go-round is like lead weight in feet of clay. The voting booth is a house of mirrors where we are forced to face ourselves all by ourselves. We have before us the rulers we’ve demanded. And, of course, none of them can save us. None of them can “save our country,” whatever that now means. None will keep all their promises, even if they mean to. Want to. We’re reduced to damage control. It’s a heck of a way to cast a vote but most of us, myself included, will do so nonetheless.

In our uncivil war we are weighing the sins of our candidates like jagged stones stacked on our personal pan-size Scales of Justice. Once we’ve properly reaffirmed everything we already believed, we congratulate ourselves by hurling the stones at anyone who doesn’t see our enemies the same way. We simultaneously demonize and deify those of other opinions, telling them they’re idiots while holding them personally, publicly responsible in advance for all the inevitable transgressions of their candidate. Meanwhile we are collectively committing a sin ultimately more consequential than anything the media can uncover on our candidates between now and Election Day.

If “we” does not include you, I’m not talking to you. No need to get offended or defensive. If we are not you, this is not about you. It’s about the rest of us.

We have misplaced our faith. Our blood-curdling fear has given us away. And unrelieved, force-fed fear is making us crazy.

Buried beneath our panic is systemic disappointment but it makes us feel weak and pathetic so instead of owning our disappointment – in our country, our candidates, our options, our leaders, in one another and, God help us, in ourselves – we rage. Mad feels better than sad. It’s painful to long, in the words of Hebrews 11:16, for a better country and embrace the hard, cold fact that we are strangers and exiles on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Grieve, mourn, and weep, James 4:9-10 says. Turn your laughter into mourning and your joy into despair. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

But who wants to do any of that? So we rage.

We have become not only like the world but like the world at its social-worst: lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive…ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:2-5 ESV)

Yesterday’s America, in all its honor and shame, is in ashes but, rather than exercise the faith and obedience and earnest prayer to see God raise some beauty from the heap, some gold from the fire, we keep trying to glue ashes back together. And they won’t stick. Yesterday’s America has become an idol to us. It has no more breath in it and the thing about idolaters is that, sooner or later, they become like their idols. (Psalm 135:18)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's Okay

I'm sure somebody needs this today - It's Okay Not To be Okay by Jarrid Wilson:
Sometimes it’s hard to express your feelings to the people around you. Not because you’re afraid of what they’ll say, but because our culture doesn’t seem to be very keen on being honest about their pains. The reality is that way too many people are putting on a facade of perfection in order to keep people from knowing how they are truly hurting. It’s as if everyone feels like showing pain is a sign of weakness. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It’s okay to admit that you’re hurting, broken or even confused about your current spot in life. It’s okay…Remember, even Jesus himself wept.

1. IT’S OKAY TO CRY.

There is nothing wrong with crying and letting out a few tears. Who ever said crying is for babies was a liar, and definitely not ever watched The Notebook. The reality is that even Jesus himself wept and crying can sometimes be the relief you need to move on and regroup. Showing emotion is good for the soul, and crying has been known to help regulate depression, anxiety and even stress.
2. IT’S OKAY TO GET FRUSTRATED.

No one has the answers to everything, and even the smartest of people in the world find themselves frustrated sometimes. It’s ok to not know the answer, solution, or reason for things that have taken place. The light at the end of the tunnel is knowing that God has everything under control, even when we ourselves do not. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong to get frustrated. Sometimes frustration is the breeding ground of change.
3. IT’S OKAY TO GET STRESSED.

Let’s face it, stress is unavoidable. I’m not saying it’s going to consume your entire life, but stress is one of those things that all of us will eventually encounter in one way or another. When you come into areas of your life that are considered stressful, realize that it’s only going to last as long as you allow it to. Stress is unavoidable, but allowing it to control your life is not. It’s ok to be stressed sometimes, just don’t let stress become who you are.
4. IT’S OKAY TO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Not everything is going to have an answer, but that’s where the beauty of faith comes in. There are circumstances and events in your life that you aren’t going to understand, but you have to realize that it’s ok to not know all the answers. There is humility in saying “I don’t know.” And frankly, sometimes admitting that you don’t know is the first step in finding peace and comfort in your situation. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong to admit you don’t understand.

It’s okay to not be okay. Job, Elijah, Jonah and Abraham were all men throughout the Bible who dealt with incredible hard times, but God continued to see them through their pain. It was ok for them to not be ok. Why? Because they were human, and God created us to feel all kinds of emotions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hurt By The Church

My honeymoon period with the Church has ended.
Did I idolize the Church when I first discovered the beauty of it? Probably a little bit. But more so, I like to think that, with my big new faith, I was seeing the Church for all it was meant to be. It was a place to see God’s love and grace in action.
Fast forward five years and I’ve ended up jaded and hurt. I’ve experienced a lot of Christian talk and not a lot of Christian action. When articles would pop up in my newsfeed about people being hurt and walking away from the Church, the general idea in each would be “The Church is full of broken people, you should expect to get hurt” and “Of course people in the Church are hypocrites—we’re all sinners.”
That’s all true. We are all broken. We are all trying and failing miserably at many things. We will all inevitably hurt others—myself included. I will admit to being a certified expert in doing the wrong things.
My frustration with all of this lies in the fact that everyone seems okay with it. It’s treated as if this is the fact and we can’t change it. But are we really trying? What are we, as a part of the body of Christ, doing differently than we did last year to improve our relationships? How are we loving our brothers and sisters better than we were last month?
The Church is made up of us all—each individual one of us. I’m confronted with the fact that, if I don’t try to change the hurt and hypocrisy, I’m setting a pretty low bar for the Church. Instead I desire for the Church to be people that the world can look at and see Christ.
In an effort to create my own small bit of change, three things I’ve decided to do differently are:
Be vocal.
Sometimes when I’m hurt by someone I’ll keep it to myself. At first it can appear that I’m being a good Christian by not making an issue out of something small. If I am truly hurt or offended by someone, though, it can be healthier to have a conversation about it. By avoiding the issue, unresolved feelings can turn into bitterness. And that leads to more things to confess.
I’m most interested in open, honest connection with people. The more we pretend things are okay, the more lies will build up. That can only lead to disconnection and hurt.
Don't just ask about people, love people.
When I was going through a dark spiritual valley, I kept getting told that so many people love me and that person after person was asking about me. The funny thing was that no one was actually telling me directly that they loved me nor were they coming to me and asking me how I was doing. That caused me to stop and reflect on how often I “ask about” people.
Asking a friend about another friend is quick and easy. It allows me to get a baseline on how that person is doing from a distance without commitment. It also gives a false sense of connection that the person in question never actually feels. When everything in life is good that might not be a big deal, but when your friend is hurting, an honest connection could be the encouragement they need.
Assume less.
Most people know the adage that when you assume, you make something not so good out of you and me. When we assume what a person needs, it can make situations worse. I’m not talking about surprising someone with something nice, I’m talking about truly supporting or encouraging others. One of the most caring things said to me by a friend when I was hurting was, “Even though I don't know how to act or what to say when you're struggling, I do want to be there for you. Let me know if you think of ways I can do that better.”
Even though she was telling me she had no clue how to help, it was an honest, heartfelt expression of care. She didn’t try to fix my problem or assume that I needed anything. She offered her friendship and the space for me to express what I needed. That’s a model I want to follow. I want to stop assuming I know best and allow those around me the space to express their needs and to feel loved through it.
Loving one another sacrificially is hard. We can maintain our status quo and be okay with the fact that people are getting hurt, or we can challenge ourselves to act differently. It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but I believe in the Church and the broken people within it. My baby Christian ideals about the Church may be a little hardened around the edges, but I still hold hope in God’s plans to use those in the Church for His glory.

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Helping the Hurting

3 Mistakes To Avoid When Helping Hurting People (excerpt from Dave Furman’s new book, Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting )
No one wants to be like Job’s friends. We have hurting people in our lives, and we want to help them, but how do we manage to not make fools of ourselves? And how can we actually help hurting people without discouraging them even more?
Just like Job’s friends, we may think we have the right approach and goal in caring for our friend who lost his job, or for our sick elderly mother, or for our friends struggling through miscarriage. I’ve experienced many well-meaning individuals with good intentions who, at the end of the day, only exacerbated my hurt (I have a nerve disorder in my arms). And these experiences don’t make me immune to doing or saying the wrong thing—sometimes I’ve thought I was doing good when I was actually causing more pain. We need God’s help to care for our distressed friends.
Here are three mistakes we tend to make when we’re genuinely trying to help the hurting, and some suggestions for how to redirect our efforts: 
Mistake 1: Be the Fix-It Person
First, we try to be the Fix-It Person. But the truth is no one wants another treatment, ointment, acupuncture reference, or diet that’s 100 percent guaranteed to heal them. When you guarantee healing, you may be highlighting the fact that you actually have no idea what kind of issues they’re dealing with. It’s possible that God could miraculously heal me through a smelling salt or a tea, but that’s not the normal prescription for mangled nerves that don’t work. 
The truth is, struggling people have probably already seen numerous doctors, done hours of research, and undergone different treatments. Our desire to help is good and necessary, but sometimes one of the best things you can do is simply be there for them. Listen. Sit and comfort them with a ministry of presence.
Instead of handing down your guaranteed solutions, ask specific questions to learn more about what they’re going through. Sometimes the best thing you can do is ask, “I’m sorry, can you help me better understand what you’re going through?” And then listen.
Mistake 2: Explain Their Suffering
A second way we often think we’re helping is to explain why a hurting person is suffering. Because we live in a world broken by sin, we live with the uncomfortable reality that things aren’t the way they ought to be. Living in this tension is hard, and sometimes we try to cope by explaining the mind of God to others. Watching someone suffer—as they bury their child, pick up the rubble from a house fire, or weep over a unfaithful spouse—is always uncomfortable. But we needn’t feel our hurting friends are waiting for us to explain God’s intentions in order to finally ease their pain. 
It’s amazing how wonderful Job’s friends were to him the first seven days. They put on sackcloth and ashes and wept with him after he lost his family, his livelihood, and his health. But then all of the sudden they started trying to fix it, telling him that his suffering was his fault and making other false accusations. But they really had no idea why their friend was suffering. 
It’s been said Job’s friends were great until they opened their mouths. I think that’s true. We should take time to understand how our hurting friend is doing spiritually. We could simply say, “I’m so sorry,” and then listen to hear what’s going on in his heart. 
You might help the person explore his spiritual health—and not start with the assumption his sin has brought about certain consequences. Brokenness in this world isn’t always (or even often) a direct result of an individual’s sin. We live in fallen world. There will be pain and death regardless of how we live. 
Mistake 3: Promise Deliverance
A third way we think we’re helping is by promising deliverance.
Over the past decade or so, various well-meaning people have kindly told me God was going to heal me. They’ve tried to encourage me that since I’m a man of faith and I love God, I’ll be healed. Some have even said that because I’m a pastor doing the Lord’s work, I’ll be healed.
Now, they’re right and they’re wrong. God will one day heal me, but it might not happen in this life. I may never get to pick up one of my kids. However, when Jesus’s kingdom comes in full, I’ll not shed another tear over my pain or struggle with doubt. In this life I may not be able to button my shirt and put on my shoes, but in the age to come I’ll be perfectly dressed in Christ’s righteousness. 
When we 100 percent guarantee God will deliver our friends from their suffering in this life, we make God out to be a cosmic vending machine. None of us wants to unwittingly encourage their friend to worship a cosmic vending machine. We want to point our friends to the sovereign King who is near to the brokenhearted and who will one day make all things new.
Channel His Comfort
Hearing these things might make you nervous to try and help the hurting. In your pursuit of the hurting, remember the One who cares for them as well. Jesus is the one who has gone through everything both you and your hurting friend have experienced. He faced death and rejection and the wrath of God as he sacrificed himself for the sins of his people. He’s faced pain and rejection, and he provides comfort for those who do.
As Paul wrote to one local church:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:3–4)
When you don’t know what to do, trust Christ and serve your friends out of the comfort he has given you. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Attend To Truth

If the Church is going to meet and master the forces which are shaping the secular world of our time, she needs to put a far greater proportion of her strength behind the work of the theologians; she needs a theology which is not the mere product of changing moods and fashions but deeply based on Scripture, stated in terms in which the world lives, relevant to the forces which are actually shaping the lives of men. It is not sufficient for the Church to attend to tactics: she must attend first to truth.

      - Lesslie Newbigin

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Screwtape on 2016 Election

Oh, so pertinent for the 2016 election cycle!   From The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (Imaginary letters from a senior demon - Screwtape -to a protege tempter - Wormwood)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Marvelous and Mighty Paradox


“He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior,did not arrange the manner of his own deathlest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind.No. He accepted and bore upon the crossa death inflicted by others,and those other His special enemies,a death which to them was supremely terribleand by no means to be faced;and He did this in order that,by destroying even this death,He might Himself be believed to be the Life,and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled.A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred,for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgracehas become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”

– Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Measure

When a candidate becomes the measure of our values, rather than our values the measure of a candidate ...

We lose our witness.

       ~Jim Wright at  Plumbline Faith

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Louder and Bigger

"I don’t care if your music is loud, as long as your theology is louder. I don’t care if your church is big, as long as your view of God is bigger. I don’t care if your stage has bright lights, as long as your love for Christ is brighter. I don’t care if you make a joke or two, as long as you’re serious about the gospel. Don’t get upset about peripheral things; get upset that the gospel isn’t being preached."

- Steven Morales