Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Community Participation

I’ll start with the exceptions: fever, vomiting, Ebola, surgery, heart attack, travel, ox in the ditch, etc. I could add to this list, but you’ve got the idea. These are legitimate reasons for not participating in a church event.  I’m tired, the ball game is on, Aunt Susie is visiting from out of town, one of our three kids has a runny nose, I have nothing to wear, I’ll skip Sunday School and go to Worship, Wednesdays are busy, that particular activity (fill in your own) is not my thing, etc. I could add to this list, but you’ve got the idea. These are illegitimate excuses for not participating in the family’s (i.e., the church’s) activities. (NOTE: Some people apparently want to open a full-time Ox Retrieval Service.)

One of the glories of being a part of the Body of Christ is that we receive benefits from all the other people; from the whole Body. However, there is a reciprocal duty, which is that each of us must contribute to the Body (Eph. 4:16). It’s one of the great lessons that every real grown-up must learn: it’s not all about me and what I want. Moreover, since parents are raising grownups (not children); the parents have to set the example and insist that their children participate as well―and not just participate―they have to get happy about it. There are many things we need to do that we don’t want to do. Nevertheless, having done our duty, and having loved our neighbors as ourselves, we do reap benefits from having sacrificed for others.

One of the questions we should ask ourselves as we make participation decisions is: “Is this a legitimate reason (see above), or is this a selfish reason?”  “I don’t want to” is a sentiment that needs to be probed a bit deeper. Sometimes, the fact that a person doesn't want to participate points to a more serious problem than does their simple absence from an activity. You don’t want to be with other believers? You don’t want to get to know them and serve them? Why don’t you want to? Why are you more comfortable with a remote control, a game console, a keyboard and a mouse than you are with real people? The answer, of course, is that real people are hard and we don’t like to do hard things. But doing hard things turns us into better people. Denying ourselves for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ makes us more like Christ.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Christin's Quote Book

  • Every now and then you meet a man whose ignorance is encyclopedic. ―Stainislaw J. Lec
  • If at first you don’t succeed you may be at your level of incompetence already. ―Laurence J. Peter
  • Intuition: that strange instinct that tells a woman she is right, whether she is or not. ―anonymous
  • The less you know about a subject the longer it takes you to explain it. ―anonymous
  • Why is it that when you need a lawyer, you can always find one? ―anonymous

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Turn the Temperature Down

Any meaningful relationship has some conflicts; it’s inevitable. Two or more selfish sinners are not always going to see eye-to-eye. Sometimes that conflict escalates, tempers flare, emotions run high, and resolution can become elusive. Our natural (i.e., fallen) tendency is defend ourselves, speak our mind, retaliate, and to add a little gas to the fire. We might be sorry later, but the heated moment seems to call for adding our own fuel to the situation. Of course, this is a bad idea.

This is the natural way of dealing with conflict. As followers of Jesus we are called to supernatural ways. Everything is new in Christ, including how we approach and resolve conflict. Instead of selfishness, we’re going to learn the mature approach; denying ourselves for the sake of others, pursuing peace, and loving our neighbors and enemies. No one said following Jesus would be easy, but it is good. So, we will work and being Christian grownups and seek the good of those around us. Here are five things to remember:

1. Turn the Temperature Down
Say things that will help the situation and not inflame it. This might mean saying nothing at all. Not everything that can be said should be said. Your tone of voice and body language matter. You can be gentle in manner while also being resolute in your purpose.
  • “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).  
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness” (Pr. 15:1-2).

2. Turn the Other Cheek
Jesus has a habit of asking us to do hard things. He doesn’t ask us to do what we cannot do, but in order to do it we will have to be committed to listening to Him and obeying Him even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. It’s easy when it it’s easy.
  • Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:27-31).
  • “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:17-19).

3. Use Edifying Words
Words are powerful; they created and sustain the world. They can bless or curse. We have all been hurt by words, encouraged by word, comforted by words. Choose your words wisely. Use all your words for good. Never use a filthy word, but wholesome words that are full of grace.
  • “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit…7 The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the fool does not do so… 28 The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Pr. 15:4, 7, 28).
  • “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:29-32)
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6).

4. Resolve Conflicts Swiftly
Don’t blow-up or clam-up, rather, speak up. Be a grownup and have an adult conversation that is respectful of the one you love. Pray first. Pray together. Pray often. With true humility get it done. Now!
  • “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).
  • “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26).

5. Win Your Brother
In any conflict the goal is to “gain your brother.” It’s not about winning an argument; it’s about restoring fellowship and communion. Everything we do, including confronting one another about sin, must be done in love, for the good of the person we’re engaging, and ultimately for the glory of God. It’s not about bringing a railing accusation; rather it’s about genuine reconciliation.
  • “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).
  • “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).
You can do this if you want to and if your work at it. Start by memorized a few of these verse.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Get Out the Dip Stick

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. ―Hebrews 12:14-15

Get out the dip stick. This is my annual call for us all to check our bitterness/gratitude level. Few things cause more trouble than the sin of bitterness.  Bitterness is a poison that corrodes from within, doing its damage on us physically and spiritually. Left to grow, it spills over and defiles everyone who is nearby. Since it is a sin that virtually everyone has to deal with―a sin that is our own sin―recognizing it, confessing it, turning from it and seeking forgiveness for it, provides the only remedy for us and the only relief for those around us who are defiled by our bitter overflow.  Like weeds in the garden, bitterness has to be attended to regularly or else it will take over. There are many ways to look at ourselves and others; many ways to classify. One way is to see that people fall into the two basic categories of bitter or grateful. They sometimes move from one category to the other and sometimes move back again.

The first category is filled with people who are bitter, unforgiving and ungrateful. These three qualities go together, since a lack of forgiveness and ingratitude are ingredients for bitterness. Bitter people see themselves as victims. They feel sorry for themselves and blame others for their own pain and failures. Deep down they are unhappy people, though some do work to try and cover their unhappiness (never as well as they might think). They will likely resent anyone suggesting that they have a problem. Their bitterness is nursed and cultivated to maintain their “victim” status. The one thing they will not do is “pursue peace with all people.” We are all sinned against by others, and there are good, biblical things for us to do to remedy this in order to pursue reconciliation, peace and communion. This is part of what it means to be holy: to see the Lord and His grace―i.e., His ill-deserved favor toward us―and to make sure that we are extending that same grace toward those who have sinned against us. When we forget this grace we fall short.

The second category of people is made up of those who can let go of other people’s offenses against them. They hold no grudges, seek no revenge or retaliation, and they don’t keep score. They have learned to “turn the other cheek,” (Matt. 5:39); “to bless those who curse them,” (Luke 6:28); and to not “return evil for evil, but a blessing instead” (1 Peter 3:9). In addition, forgiveness is freely granted to those who ask even as Christ has forgiven them (Eph. 4:32). As far as they are able, they are at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). As a result, they are fill with gratitude and thanksgiving for the good gifts God has given them and that gratitude (like its bitter counterpart), not only fills them, it overflows to all those who are around them. You know who the grateful people are. They are a joy to be around.

You can’t be filled with gratitude and bitterness at the same time; one will push out the other. I have given out hundreds of copies of Jim Wilson’s excellent essay on: How to Be Free from Bitterness. You can download your own copy HERE.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Four Rules of Counseling

It is remarkable how much we already know, or think we know. I can’t count the number of times I've studied a subject for weeks, prepared lessons, and taught or preached a series on the subject only to have some young man tell something like, “Yea, that was pretty good. I've heard most of it before but thanks for reminding me.” So, let’s presume he’s correct in his assessment (it’s only an assumption). Perhaps 80% of counseling is telling people what they already know but now need to be reminded of. It’s apparent that they need the reminder because it’s also apparent that they’re not doing it. We all need to be taught things we don’t already know and we all need to be reminded of the things we do know. As a minster of the Word of God I can help you with this aspect of counseling.

Sometimes we know what to do but we don’t know how to do it. Perhaps we've never seen it done in the households we grew up in or maybe there’s a technique that would get us started in the right direction. For example, memorizing Scripture (hiding God’s Word in our hearts) is something we might know we should be doing but we might also benefit from some know-how. The Navigator’s Topical Memory System helped me learn how to do this and I might be able to pass such counsel along to someone else. As an under-shepherd of Christ I can help you with this aspect of counseling.

We can all use a helping hand from time to time; people to come along side of us with encouragement and accountability; someone to show us how it’s done. We live in our church communities for a reason and that reason is that there are people put there by God to help us. They have experiences, gifts and maturity, and they have been called to serve others. They’re put there to help. What do you need help with? Do you need a mentor? Another couple? Someone who loves you enough to hold you accountable? Well, as a pastor I can help you with this aspect of counseling as well. As a pastor I know my congregation and can get you connected with the people who can help you do what you need to do.

It’s not uncommon for folks to say that they “tried counseling and it didn't work.” The truth is (most of the time), they tried counseling and they didn't work. Of course that doesn't stop them from blaming the counselor for their failure, but that’s a separate problem that’s as old as the Garden. Did you do the things I asked you to do? Did you read the book? Read your Bible? Pray? Show hospitality? Make the list?  Make your bed? Write the letter? Come to Sunday School, Worship, and Bible Study? Did you memorize the verse? Have the conversations? Apply for the job? Check on school? This list of things the counselor asked you to do is critical for success in overcoming whatever problem you’re dealing with. Did you not know how to do these things? Did you ask for some help in doing them? Help is always available if you want it.

This last point deserves a second paragraph. Being a victim is cultivated by many. “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am. I've been mistreated. I’m depressed. Poor me. I want to wallow in my misery. I love being bitter. I don’t want to forgive. I’m ungrateful. I really don’t want help. I want everyone to feel sorry for me.” Now this would at least be honest for some. But, alas, such honesty is as rare as hen’s teeth. As a pastor I really do want to help you. Nevertheless, as a counselor I can’t help those who refuse to help themselves. Jesus gave the wisest words of counsel when He said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Don't Like That

“I don’t like that,” is a common childhood phrase, a phrase that some parents think is a sufficient reason for them to give in to the child. It’s not that such a thing can’t be considered, but it’s important to see deeper and look further down the road. There are many things in life that we might not like that are actually good for us. Take vegetables for example. One of first great lessons we all need to learn concerning those kinds of good things is that we don’t have to like them but we still need to eat them. If we eat them they will do their good. If we also like to eat them, that’s a great bonus.

A second fundamental less is that we often don’t like what we don’t know. Keeping with the vegetable illustration, many five-year-olds believe they can look at something and declare: “I don’t like that.” Wise parents recognize that since their child has never tried “that,” therefore the child could not possibly know whether they like it or not and so we insist that they try a few bites. In time their range of things they like grows and they’re actually able to go to other people’s homes and enjoy a meal with the family without a scene. Not swallowing the “I don’t like that” argument turns out to be good for everyone, not just the child. When we make excuses for our child’s self-centeredness (e.g., “Oh, he’s a picky eater”), then our child has just learned that he’s the boss and that you work for him.

“I don’t like that.” “I don’t want to do that.” “I don’t want to go there.” “I don’t want to participate.” These, and similar contentions, have one thing in common and that’s the letter “I.” Selfishness is really the central argument in all of these. It’s all about me and what I want or like, and after all, I am the center of the universe. When parents give into these protests they’re often being shortsighted by failing to see the long-term consequences of such ideas. Indulging your child’s self-centeredness is generally a bad idea. Indulged children become addicted to the indulgence. They will grow up expecting the whole world to cater to their likes and dislikes. And don’t we all love to be around adults who have such expectations?

Self-sacrifice is one the most important lessons a child needs to learn. It’s important because it’s the essence of love: putting others ahead of ourselves. In order to acquire the skills necessary to live in community with others: families, churches, schools, workplaces, and broader communities; we all need to do many things we don’t necessarily like in order to love our neighbors as ourselves. Parents must learn to make holy insistence a part of their vocabulary: “You are going to take a few bites; I insist.” “Yes, you’re going to go, and you’re going to participate.” “You don’t have to like it but you’re going to act like you like it.” “You are not the center of the universe.” “You have an obligation to the group,” etc.

Now the reason it’s so important for children to learn these lessons about denying themselves is because it’s critical to mature Christian living. Children become adults who will carry these lessons with them, or else they will continue to live like they’re still the center of the universe. Either way, some kind of lesson has been learned and the fruit of the lesson will be manifest in marriages, families, churches and other communities. “I don’t want to go to church today.” “I don’t like to __________” “I don’t feel like ___________” Well, get over it. Take a bite. Get up, get dressed, get going. Do your duty. Discover the joy of self-sacrifice. Learn to love.

Friday, August 22, 2014


From Elisabeth Elliot, The Mark of a Man
  •  “Stand true to your calling to be a man. Real women will always be relieved and grateful when men are willing to be men” 
  • “The world cries for men who are strong; strong in conviction, strong to lead, to stand, to suffer.” 
  • “Jesus never pussyfooted.” 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All that Glitters is Not Gold

Richard Cory
By Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Perspective from the Pitt

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1999, Brad Pitt shared candidly about the shortcomings of the world’s definition of success. He lamented the rise in secularism, saying, “We are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being.”

Chris Heath, reporter for Rolling Stone, followed up and asked Pitt, “So if we’re heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen?” Pitt replied:

“Hey, man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. [Smiles] I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it. . . . I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know. But I’m telling you, once you get everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it. Now, no one’s going to want to hear that. I understand it. I’m sorry I’m the guy who’s got to say it. But I’m telling you."

Cited in: Greer, Peter; Horst, Chris, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches

Friday, August 15, 2014

Odd Jobs and Even Jobs

Learning to work means learning discipline, sacrifice, self-denial, provision and service. Work develops skills and provides experience. Work teaches us how to live in community, how to adjust and how to get along. Lessons for life are gained from our labor. 

There are different kinds of work. Some involve our routine contribution to the family, like picking up after ourselves, making our bed, and a variety of household chores. If your children are not doing these things daily, and doing them cheerfully, and doing them well, then life is going to be difficult for them and those around them. Start by making sure they see you doing these daily  things cheerfully and well. School work is the job of a student and the goal of that labor is ultimately joy. A job well done always results in joy even if some tears were involved along the way. Knowledge, understanding and wisdom are the pay checks that will enable us to accomplish great things for our good, ours neighbors' good and for the Glory of God. Related to this kind of work is the labor and discipline of things like music and sports which, when well done, also bring pleasure and beauty to our lives and our communities. Volunteer work teaches us and our children about self-sacrifice and also that money is not the only kind of payment we receive for our labor. "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). 

Odd jobs, like mowing grass, babysitting, pulling weed, raking leaves, washing cars, etc. open up other opportunities to learn some important lessons for life. Odd jobs provide a little money with which we learn to tithe, save, give and spend. We learn to carry a little of our own weight. We learn the value of a dollar. We can pay for our own summer camp, a bit of entertainment, or some special object of our desire. We learn that money doesn't grow on trees and that other things we have received in our lives as gifts from others meant that their labor was expended for our sakes. Every child should learned to do odd jobs early and often and then taught how to wisely use the money they earn from those odd jobs. All of these kinds of work are essential for us and our children if we are to have any hope of loving God and our neighbors the way we are called as members of one another.

This leads to one other kind of work that I think is missing from the lives of many young people and, as a result, there is a large deficit in their lives which leaves them ill equipped for adulthood. For the sake of symmetry I will call this kind of work "even jobs," which is another way of saying "a regular job." This is about more than simply earning a paycheck, though a paycheck is part of it. Summer jobs, after school jobs, Saturday jobs bring some other things to the table. These jobs involve bosses, co-workers, and schedules, which teach us about authority, how to work together, how to work with difficult people, how to be the low man on the totem pole, repetitious labor, conflict resolution, and that we can't do everything we want to do when we want to do it. Having an even job means I can't hang out as much with my friends and it makes me physically tired, both of which are good for me. Of course there is the paycheck, which provides opportunities of all sorts, and the experience gained, which will open up other doors in the future. Kids who have had these kinds of jobs learn to pay there own way, are not overly indulged, have less or no debt, and they grow up much sooner. Remember, the real job is not to raise children, but to raise adults. Get a job!