Donald Trump is Our Next President - Now, What?

Donald Trump has won the election and will be the 45th president of the United States. His victory culminates one of the most divided election cycles in recent history, with two of the least liked candidates we have seen secure their party's nomination. Trump's unfavorable rating was at about 58% going into election day and Hillary Clinton's was in the same ballpark. Suffice it to say, Trump will take office with more than half the country unhappy about him being their president.

It is very possible you are one of the people who is less than excited about who will soon take over the presidency. You may not only be disappointed, but even in despair. Let me encourage you, all is not lost. A year ago, I wrote that this is election is important, but it isn't "that important." Those words remain true, even today. Even in the wake of our most recent election.

Or you might be thoroughly excited about Trump winning the presidency. You might believe that he is exactly what the country needs right now. And I pray that is true. I was one of the #nevertrump advocates. I was not unwilling to express that opinion, although I was not overly vocal. I have concerns about his character, his competence and some of the cultural threads he was willing to pull in order to motivate his base. I have been told that he is growing - that he has surrounded himself with good and wise people, who will have his ear, who will advise and constrain him when needed.

I hope this is true. I am hopeful that he will rise to the office, and take on a tenor of humility that unifies rather than arrogance which divides. I am hopeful that he will fight for the sanctity of life. I am hopeful that he will be honorable and fight for a peaceful nation. I am hopeful. But I must admit, I am also a bit fearful. I am concerned that some of what has characterized his campaign will be seen in his presidency - a short temper, crude demeanor, disrespect for others, racist overtones and more. I am uneasy about what his victory will mean for the perpetuation of lust for political power among evangelicals, especially white evangelicals.

I am genuinely torn. Because I am hopeful that he will lead well. But I am also fearful that he will not. Let me be clear, I was also not excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency - I could not, in good conscience, vote for either of them. I had actually started this post before the election, and based on all the "experts," I fully expected it would be her victory to which I was responding. Much of the sentiments have remained the same, but with a few differences. 

So, I have been asking myself, what are we to do? What now? I want to encourage you with four important ways God calls us to respond.

Pray for him

In the midst of a highly unfavorable political situation, Paul penned one of his letters to Timothy, which we know today as 1 Timothy. Paul was writing to instruct Timothy on how to lead the church in Ephesus. In this short letter, we read about many practical ways the church is called to live and function. After some introductory and general remarks, Paul begins with some very straight forward instruction at the beginning of the second chapter. And what are the first words he writes?

Pray.

He urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:1)."

Then Paul gets specific. He tells Timothy, and the church in Ephesus, to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions (1 Tim 2:2)."

Do you know who was the emperor of Rome at this time? Nero. He was a nasty dude. Historically, he has a reputation as one of the first and worst persecutors of Christians. And there were likely no Christians in any high political positions at that time. Yet, Paul calls the church to pray for their political leaders. You may love Donald Trump. Or you may not like him at all, but you would be hard-pressed to make an argument that Trump is worse than Nero, or even in the same category. He isn't.

If God called the early church to pray for Nero, we must also take up that command and pray for our leaders. No matter how you feel about Donald Trump being our president, are you going to pray for him? God calls us to pray for him. If you are asking, what now? Pray.

Honor him

As Christians, we are called to honor and respect the ruling authorities which God appoints. "For there is no authority except from God, and those who exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1)." Governments are not perfect, and they do not always do what is right and good. But God instituted them to be a terror to bad conduct, not good (Rom 13:3). God is in charge.

God calls us to honor our ruling authorities (Rom 13:7). This is different than silently watching as our government promotes and approves evil. We are not called to be silent and sit idol. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, whether that be the unborn or underprivileged. We are called to speak for babies in the womb, immigrants in our cities, infants in our homes, elderly in our communities, and anyone else who has a hard time speaking for themselves. We are called to advocate for what is good and right.

But we are called to do it with honor. Do you honor Donald Trump in the way you speak about him? If you are wondering, what now? How do we respond? Honor him as our future president.

Seek the good of the city [nation]

As Jeremiah (and the rest of God's people) are being hauled off to exile in Babylon, God gives them a command that is not intuitive. God says, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7)." Like Jeremiah, we are called to seek the good of our city and nation. Not in a nationalistic way. We are not nation-building. This isn't about power.

We are called to be agents of good in the cities, states, nations and world in which we live. God wants us to care about the communities in which we reside - no matter who our elected officials are, whether you like your president or not. So, if you are wondering, now what? Seek the good of your city. Invest yourself into your community and work for its good.

Have perspective; have hope

In the end, we must always remember who is on the throne. The world has existed for a long time, and our young nation has played a small part in world history. Trump was elected to a four-year term. That is but a vapor in the history of the world, and less when compared to eternity. God remains on the throne, and He will still be there when Trump's term is over. Unless Christ returns first, the sun will rise tomorrow, as it always does. The world will not stop spinning.

Whether you like Trump or not, we need to have perspective. He is not our savior. He cannot fix all your problems. Don't put your trust in him or your government. He is also not pure evil, as some want to suggest. He is but a man. He cannot do anything God does not allow. Just as God used the Babylonian ruler, Cyrus, nearly 3,000 years ago to "subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings (Isaiah 45:1)," Trump cannot do that which God does not allow. God's mission will still be accomplished. He is still on the throne. One day, God will set all things right in the world. He will wipe away all tears. As Sam asked Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" Our God's answer is, "yes, but not yet... someday soon. Be ready." Trump has not changed that plan.

So while we are here on this earth - let's have perspective and let's have hope. Pray for president-elect Donald Trump. Honor president-elect Donald Trump. Seek the good of our cities and nation. And have hope.

Sharing our Faith is like Picking Apples

We hosted some of our missionaries in town recently, and one of them shared an analogy with me and the missions committee. He explained that sharing our faith is a lot like picking apples. When you go apple picking and find an apple that looks tasty, a great way to know if it is ready is by turning the apple slightly. As you turn the apple in your hand, if it easily falls off the tree then it is ripe and ready to be take home. But if you twist the apple and it stays firmly attached to the tree, then you leave it for someone else to enjoy later.

Sharing our faith is a bit like picking apples. God calls us to be faithful to share the message of the gospel, but we are not responsible for the response. It is our job to communicate the good news, not to force someone into conversion. We won't always know if they are ready to respond, so we try, and wait to see. If they are not ready, we don't beat ourselves up, or them, we move on with our days and share it with the next person too.

Like the watchman

The prophet Ezekiel was given the responsibility from God to be like the watchman on the tower. It was said that the watchman's job and was to warn the city's inhabitants about the impending danger that he saw coming. If anyone heard the warning but did not heed the trumpet, it was no longer the watchman's responsibility. It was on them for not listening. But if the watchman failed to give the warning, then they held responsibility for those in the city (Ezekiel 33).

We are meant to be like watchmen to our world. We have the words of life, and we know the impending doom that comes to those who fail to trust in Jesus. It is our job to sound the trumpet, to share the message of salvation. If anyone hears our warning and does not heed the message, it is not our responsibility. But as followers of Jesus, we do bear the responsibility to communicate the good news.

Be my witnesses

Following the resurrection, Jesus exhorted his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We cannot control the response of those around us, but we can be witnesses to the message of the Scriptures and the new life Jesus has created in us. We cannot know whether the apple will be ripe, but we are called to twist the apple none the less. We cannot know whether the hearer will heed our message, but like watchmen, we are called to send out the warning all the same.

Our job is to be faithful; Jesus does the rest

In all this, our job is to be faithful. We are called to be faithful messengers of the good news, witnesses to the coming Kingdom. We are called to communicate the gospel, and leave the rest up to Jesus. We see this happen in Acts. Paul faithfully communicates the gospel repeatedly throughout the book. In Acts 16 we see a story of Paul in Philippi, witnessing to the good news. It says that "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia... The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14)." Paul was faithful, and God opened Lydia's heart.

We don't now which apples are ripe. We are just called to give them a twist. Our job is to be faithful, and then we let Jesus take care of the rest. Be faithful today. Twist some apples.

Jesus must be our Rescuer before he is our Teacher

An accurate view of Jesus?

If you were to ask people how they feel about Jesus, you would get a wide array of answers. I have not done an official study, but my impression is that the overall response would be positive. And if people did not all respond positively, I still think the majority would at least be neutral, with the minority of people having a negative impression of Jesus. It is remarkable that people have maintained such a favorable view of Jesus while the overall impression of Christianity in our culture has become less positive.

Another question is whether those same people have an accurate view of the Jesus we read about in the Scriptures. One of the reasons Jesus has maintained such a positive view, at least in part, is because people like to mold Jesus into whatever form best suites their desires. To some, Jesus is a great teacher or philosopher. To others, Jesus is a social liberator and change agent. And still others, Jesus is our homeboy. But is this the Jesus of the Scriptures? Is this the Jesus that changed the world?

Jesus is certainly a great teacher. The sermon on the mount is one of the single greatest teaching moments in the history of the world.

Jesus is also a social change agent. The Kingdom of God is permeating this world and God's people are called to fight injustice and seek to liberate the oppressed.

Jesus is also our homeboy. He is personal and he is a friend.

But... none of these is the primary characteristic the Bible uses to talk about Jesus. Before any of these other descriptors, Jesus is our rescuer. He is our savior.

The Bible points to Jesus as our Rescuer

When we read Paul's letter to the Colossians, Jesus is described as the one through whom "all things were created (Col 1:16)." He is "before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17)." He is the head of the church (1:18) and firstborn from the dead (1:18). Through Jesus, all things are reconciled to God and through his blood he has made peace with all things (1:20). We were once "alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (1:21)," and Jesus has reconciled us to God. He has rescued us from our former life. In the lengthy description of Jesus from Colossians One, Jesus is not described as a teacher, social liberator or friend. He is described as God and Savior.

In Galatians, as Paul is giving his introductory words, he describes Jesus as the one who "gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:4-5)." Paul did not describe Jesus as a teacher, although he was certainly a teacher. Paul did not describe Jesus as a social change agent, although he was that too. Paul described Jesus as a rescuer. Paul described Jesus as a savior.

There are four gospels in the New Testament that recount the life of Jesus. No single gospel tells the complete story of Jesus' life and even when we combine all four gospels, we still do not have enough material to cover the entirety of Jesus' life. The Gospel authors, under the guidance and inspiration of God's Spirit had to pick and choose what material they would include. As the gospels retell the life of Jesus, each one slows down dramatically for the last week of his life and devote far more time to describing these final events. On average, each of the four gospels commits about 40% of its material to the final week of Jesus' life. This points to the importance of those final moments leading up to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The cross points to Jesus as rescuer, because it was his death and resurrection that secures our salvation.

The Bible describes Jesus in many ways, but chief among them is Jesus as rescuer and savior.

A swimming manual is no help to a drowning man

If I were drowning in the middle of the ocean, gasping for air and seeing the light of day begin to fade, I would be desperate for someone to save me. As I was assaulted by the waves, sunlight only visible from beneath the water, my condition would be utterly desperate. In the event that I saw a boat approaching, I would muster all the energy I could in order to get my voice above the water and scream, "Help! Help! Over here!" If that boat were to hear me or see me and begin to turn in my direction, what relief it would bring. As it approached, I would be waiting anxiously for the life preserver to be thrown in my direction. In those moments, would I be well served to have someone throw me a manual on how to swim instead of the life preserver? Would expert coaching on how to properly execute a front crawl help me? Absolutely not. What I would need most is for someone to throw me a rope and pull me to safety.

That is our condition. We "were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1; 4-5)."

Before Jesus rescued us we were dead. We were hopeless in our sin and Jesus has brought us life. Jesus is our rescuer and savior. Before we need Jesus as a teacher, social liberator or friend, we need him to rescue us. And the good news of the gospel is that is exactly what he does.

Back to me as a drowning man. If I were tossed a life preserver and dragged onto the boat, I would be filled with deep emotions of gratitude, relief and the hope of a second chance. If my wife were standing on that boat, I would hug her with a passionate embrace. When we got to dry land, I may even kiss the ground. I was sure as dead out in that ocean, but I had been saved.

We sometimes live as though following Jesus is like being thrown a swimming manual. Once we have read it and received proper instruction, we can swim our way to shore and essentially save ourselves. This is simply not the picture the Scriptures paint. In fact, an even more appropriate analogy would not be of a person on top of the water screaming for help, but of someone who is dead at the bottom of the ocean. Jesus reaches through the depths of the sea and revives our dead hearts. He gives us new life.

This reality brings pure joy to the revived soul. It may even cause us to weep at the thought of the life we have been given. Even now, take a moment to worship God because of the new life he brings through Jesus and may it overflow into every crevice of your new life.

We cannot, but Jesus Did

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

We can sometimes forget the most basic realities of the Christian faith. We might assume that a time comes when we move onto bigger and better things or we get distracted by the cares of this world and forget to value what is meant to be most central to our hearts. The gospel is like that. We hear it, we accept it, and then we move on. But we were never meant to "move on" from the realities of the gospel. Treasuring Jesus in the gospel is not something we graduate from. It is like the foundation of our house of faith. We may build upon it, but we never get rid of it and we always rest upon it.

When I want to remind myself of the gospel and rejoice in its goodness, one of my go to passages is 2 Corinthians 5:21. In just a few short phrases it communicates the magnitude of the gospel. In particular, it tells us about the realities of what has become known as the "great exchange." It tells us about the glorious truth that on the cross Jesus exchanged his righteousness for our sin, and through faith in Jesus we are given Christ's righteousness in place of our sin. Incredible! Jesus gives up his righteousness and takes our sin, so that we can shed our sin and take on his righteousness. Let's unpack this even more.

He did what we could not

Jesus did what we could not. He "knew no sin." The Bible tell us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet he did not sin (Heb 4:15). In our society, which prizes self-esteem, even at the cost of honesty, we do not like to talk about our sin. Everyone knows they have sin, but no one wants to admit it for themselves or speak honestly about it for others. Many know they have sin, but they don't want anyone else to think they do.

Jesus was not like that. He did not cover his sin by making excuses or putting on a mask. He did not white-wash a tomb, pretending to make pure and alive what contained dead and rotting corpses. Jesus is the real deal. He lived his entire life without sin. He was tempted in every way that we are, and resisted sin on each and every occasion. When he was murdered upon a cross he was not just legally innocent of the crimes put forward by his Jewish and Roman accusers, he was also innocent of the sin he bore for humanity.

Jesus did what we could not. He was sinless.

And became what he was not

Jesus lived without sin, but he died with the weight of all humanity's sin resting upon him. Jesus became sin, so that he could ransom us through his blood. In Jesus, God cancels our record of debt - which stands against us and rightly claims we are condemned. Jesus became sin, nailing it to the cross, so that our rightly-condemning debt could be paid.

In order to do that, Jesus became sin. "For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin." We naturally think that the physical suffering was the worst part of the cross. In no way do I want to minimize the physical agony the cross must have caused Jesus. It is a pain I will likely never come close to experiencing. But, often forgotten in it all, is that becoming sin must have been worse.

Consider the guilt you feel when you are confronted with your sin. It is heavy and weighs on you. Imagine for a second that weight is like the dripping of a faucet, annoying but tolerable. Now consider what it might feel like to experience the weight of all your sin (past, present and future) all at once. Personally, I think it would be unbearable. I think my body would shut down and I would die from the spiritual, emotional and psychological agony I would experience. If one sin is like a dripping faucet, this might be like a flooded river. Now consider what it might be like to take on the weight of all sin, from all time, for all humanity, all at once. It would be crushing. Like the most powerful waters of the worst hurricane. This is what Jesus did. He became sin, for all humanity, throughout all time. It is impossible for us to fully grasp the immensity of what Jesus did on the cross.

Jesus did what we could not. And became what he was not.

So we could become what we are not

Why did Jesus do all this? He did it so that "in him we might become the righteousness of God." When we treasure Jesus as our savior - when, by grace through faith, we trust in Jesus as our lord, not only does he take our sin from us, but he gives us his righteousness. Jesus didn't just live without sin, but he also healed the sick, proclaimed the gospel and loved everyone around him perfectly. When we place our faith in Jesus, all that righteousness is attributed to us.

In our standing before God, he doesn't look at us as sinners, but as righteous, blood-bought saints. He doesn't see our sin, because Jesus took our sin. He sees us as righteous because Jesus is fully righteous. The implications of this are vast. We are adopted and become co-heirs with Christ. We are made alive together with Jesus. We have God's Spirit living inside us, working on our hearts to transform us increasingly more into the likeness of Jesus. We are sent as God's ambassadors, invited into the privilege of participating in God's mission in the world. We could go on and on.

This message is not something we move past. It is something we come back to day after day, reminding ourselves of the goodness of the gospel, so that the rest of our lives are shaped by this remarkable reality.

That Jesus did what we could not, and became what he was not, so that we could become what we are not.

What my Kids' Bedtimes Taught me About my Heart

Bedtimes. When they come, my kids’ room can feel like a battlefield and the victory of sleep is not easily won. I would like to say bedtimes are the most peaceful moments of our family’s day. I would like to say we have a perfect routine and each night we sing our songs, say our prayers, get the kids tucked into bed, give them a kiss on their foreheads and they snuggle in for a deep sleep, not to be heard from until the morning.

That is simply not the reality in our home. We do have a routine, but it does not always go as planned and it nearly always has interruptions. And once the lights are turned off and we leave the room, the kids have perfectly timed and flawlessly executed stall tactics.

Lest I leave you disappointed, I need to tell you now, I have not discovered the perfect strategy to consistently leave your bedtime battles with a peaceful and simple victory. This is not so much about bedtimes, but what they have taught me about the battleground of my own heart. Bedtimes, and parenting in general, has helped me see what deeper idols lie beneath the surface. Peeling back the layers of sin can be ugly and parenting has a way chipping through the layers pretty quickly. My kids' bedtimes have taught me that I love control and comfort too much.

"But dad, I want what I want"

My son's transparency about his desires has helped me see my own more clearly. Earlier this year, when he would not get his way, he began to tell me, "but Dad, I want what I want." He was brutally honest, not knowing his statement betrayed his own selfishness. I began to realize I often feel the same way. Like my son, I really just want what I want.

What I have begun to see is that my experience at bedtime is highly influenced by my own heart idols – by my desire to get what I want. My frustrations can be disproportionate to the good and right motivation I have for my children's obedience and need for sleep. At some point, I am not so much motivated by what is good for them, but I am motivated by my own comfort and control. I just want them to listen, because my idol for control wants to be listened to. I want them to listen, because my idol of comfort wants to move on with the rest of my night.

Their behavior and my heart

Sleep is good and necessary for kids. Learning obedience is good and necessary for kids. Therefore, I stick in the battle for bedtimes, for their good. All the while, I wage war on my own heart idols. It’s important that we distinguish between their behavior and our hearts.

My heart issues do not give my kids the freedom to do whatever they want. We might be inclined to give up on some aspects of parenting, because at times we find ourselves having selfish motives. But we should not give up. We must pray. Repent. And trust in the gospel. Don’t allow your heart idols to stop you from following through on what you know is right and good for your kids.

Not just at bedtime

Bedtime shines a spotlight on my heart, but I have begun to see that my idols of comfort and control are present all over my home. When I walk through the door at the end of a long day at work, my idol of comfort tells me that I deserve to sit down and rest for a bit. When I am bombarded with requests to change a diaper, read a book, play with cars, set the table, take out the garbage, or build a tower, I can feel my idol of comfort fighting to say no, I just got home, I need to sit down for a bit.

My idol of control goes wild when my daughter is taking her brother’s toy… again… In that moment, I don’t want to patiently give her correction and instruction again, my idol of control wants, no demands, that she listen. In those moments, I am not as concerned about helping her understand the impact of her decisions, because I am too preoccupied with my idol of control.

Fighting our Idols

Bedtimes have illuminated some of the ugly that still wages war against my soul. I am not content to allow these patterns to continue, so when I am fighting on the battleground of bedtime, I am reminded there is also a war raging on the battleground of my heart. I cannot ignore what parenting is revealing about my idols, so I continue the lifelong habit of repentance and faith.

When sin is revealed, no matter where or when, even during the daily routine of bedtimes, I am called to repent. I am called to recognize my sin, admit my wrongs and turn away. Sometimes, this will require me to humbly ask for my kids’ forgiveness. In faith, I also remind myself of the beauty of the cross and the grace Jesus offers. As I model this for my children, they get a taste of God’s goodness – which is more important than an extra thirty minutes of sleep anyway.

We Fight Sin by Loving God

Sin is attractive. It is alluring. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be drawn to it so often. Through personal experience and conversations with others, I know sin can feel overwhelming powerful at times. In response, we often enter our battles with sin carrying a pea shooter for a weapon, while sin crouches like a powerful lion. The deeply entrenched idols of our hearts, which drive our sinful behaviors, can not be fought through a few well-devised strategies.

Two Ways we Try to Fight Sin

Sin can take on many forms. Whether it is an addiction to pornography, struggles with anger, persistent laziness, engaging in gossip or a pursuit of our own glory, sin can pounce on us when we least expect it. I have seen two common tactics to fight sin, which can be helpful, but are woefully insufficient alone. The first is that we develop strategies to induce behavior modification. For example, we might install monitoring software on our computers, so that when we are tempted to look at pornography, we don't because we know someone will see the report and hold us accountable. This is a good and helpful strategy. I think of this strategy as "building fences" and I wrote about it in another post titled, Fighting Sin by Building Fences. It is necessary, but alone, it is insufficient to battle the deeper idols which drive sin.

The second common strategy is to demonize whatever is leading us to sin. If I don't want to be lazy anymore, I remind myself over and over that slothfulness is sin. I remind myself that "a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich (Proverbs 10:4)." This can be a helpful strategy, but it does have two problems. First, it can lead us to respond in extreme ways and walk off the road into the opposite ditch. As we demonize laziness, we can make an idol out of ambition and neglect the type of intentional rest God also wants for us. The second problem with this strategy is that we often end up calling evil that which God has given us as good. As we remind ourselves about the dangers of laziness, we often loop in all forms of rest. Even those God has given to us for our good, and call it all evil. For another example, when we demonize pornography (as we should), we can often make all sexuality to be evil in our minds, even though God has given it to be enjoyed in the right ways.

Why is Sin so Appealing?

In our battle with sin, we need to ask ourselves why sin is so appealing. What makes us drawn to it? One of the primary answers is that sin promises to satisfy our desires. It offers solutions to our deepest longings. If we long to be accepted and included, we may engage in gossip, because it makes us feel included. If we have a juicy piece of information to share, then we get to have an audience. We get to feel important, even if only for a couple minutes. Or if we want to be listened to and respected, we might respond in anger. Stern glances and loud voices seem to demand other's attention. Our anger gets us what we want and fulfills the desire we have for respect.

Sin offers us fulfillment, but it can never ultimately deliver on its promise. Gossip might gain us some acceptance immediately, but in the long run, it undermines our relationships with others and erodes the sort of relationships we seek. Anger might gain some initial respect, but it will never develop the sort of relationship that produces long-term respect from others. Sin is appealing at first, but cannot deliver on its promise.

Fighting Sin at its Roots

In the end, we need a much deeper solution to our sin. We cannot simply modify our behavior because that does not deal with the deeper longings that sin promises to fulfill. Behavioral sin is the result of heart idols. Sin has layers, and as we peel them back, we uncover those hidden motivations and desires that drive our sin. If we want to fight sin, we need to address them at their source. Otherwise, we are just mowing over weeds. At first, it looks good, but eventually the weeds will grow back. Another pass with the lawnmower is another temporary solution. Like weeds, we need to deal with the root cause of our sin. (see post, Understanding the 3-Layers of Sin)

At its most basic level, sin pursues something that only God can offer. The longing for significance that drives the pursuit of our own glory, is ultimately found in relationship with God. The desire for love that leads us to pursue acceptance through gossip or our need for respect which we seek in our angry outbursts are ultimately found only in the cross. The significance we want is found in our identity as God's children. Love is found in the unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. Respect is established in the humble service that Jesus models for us and then calls us to as his followers.

A Surpassing Love for God

In the end, our battle with sin is fought by loving God. A surpassing love for God is the great remedy for our sin. As we experience the goodness of God, it will reveal the insufficient offer of sin. Matthew Henry once wrote, "The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks." As our affections increase for our savior, sin become less attractive because we see it for the folly that it is. Like good literature - once you learn to appreciate quality writing, you can no longer waste your time on drivel. When you gain a surpassing love for God, sin loses its appeal. In the battle with our sin, we need to fight it on all fronts. We must employ multiple strategies, but we absolutely cannot neglect our need for a robust love for God. You will never win the battle against sin without it.

What is Missing in Most of our Discipleship?

We cannot disciple people en mass. It simply doesn't work. It might appear to work, but it doesn't consistently produce the maturity and multiplication necessary for sustainable Kingdom impact. We cannot get an auditorium full of people to experience ongoing transformation without intentional relationships as well. You cannot disciple people without knowing them.

Jesus often drew a crowd and the masses were enthralled with him, but he chose only twelve to be his closest companions. He preached to the masses and fed the multitudes, but he chose only twelve to be his apostles. Jesus healed the sick and loved the unlovable, but he entrusted the stewardship of his message to only twelve. Jesus' example shows us that even if we can draw a crowd, we cannot ignore the necessity of intentionally investing in a few strategic relationships.

Mass discipleship is appealing. It feels like a quicker pathway and in the short-term, it probably is. If we can fine tune our systems and environment on Sunday mornings, we can draw a crowd. And that isn't such a bad thing, but it becomes a problem if we pursue it at the expense of the discipleship that happens through intentional relationships. As we saw with Jesus, there are many in the crowds who loved to simply be part of the crowd. But when the pressure of life came, they happily deserted the celebrity they followed to join the new trend.

We need to get into relationships

We like to drift toward isolation rather than relationship. Our preference is to remain hidden, not needing to reveal the deepest parts of us, because it is scary to be vulnerable. Exposing our fears, sins and struggles with requires intentionality with others, because it is more natural to stay hidden than it is to step into the light. It can be easy to hide in the crowd - often it's the easiest place to hide.

We all need to take on the responsibility of investing in our relationships with others. Don't wait for someone else to invite you out to lunch or ask you if you need prayer. Don't wait for someone else to suggest going to a baseball game or meeting to study the Bible. Feel the weight of that responsibility and find ways to initiate and invest in disciple-making relationships.

This is for everyone

No matter your stage of life or maturity as a Christian, this is for you. Whether you are discipling others in the role of a mentor, or you initiate a relationship of mutual discipleship with a peer, or whether you seek out an older and more mature believer to invest in you and your growth, discipleship requires relational investment. And no matter where you are in your own life, you can initiate this sort of relationship.

Church leaders must also consider this dynamic as we create systems and structures in our congregations. Have we given enough thought to how our models and programs are helping our people to invest in relationships? It can be easy to develop strategies and systems to reach the masses, with the hope that it will accelerate growth. But there is no shortcut to developing mature Christians, and it will always require life-on-life, getting into the weeds, laughing, crying, transparent and sacrificial relationships. Are your church structures helping to facilitate this sort of relational investment in your people?

It's about multiplication

Jesus was not necessarily concerned with the crowds of his day, but he did have a disciple-making movement in mind. He was most particularly concerned with his closest twelve, because he knew they would multiply into a massive movement of people. What started as twelve is now a worldwide movement of billions.

The vision is that our relationships would lead to the multiplication of many more disciples. This strategy won't fill stadiums, and it won't lead to your own celebrity status, but it will have an immeasurable impact on the Kingdom.

There are men who have invested in me over the years, who were once upon a time invested in by others. Their work has lead toward my own growth and re-investment into other men, who are now scattered around the world. The men whom I have invested in are now doing the same for others. It truly is immeasurable, because it would be impossible to know the full impact of those relational networks.

It's never too late to start

Whether you are an individual and you are thinking about your own life, or whether you are a church leader and you are thinking about your congregation's systems and structures, it is never too late to start. You may feel like the 35-year old who has saved no money, and you have lost out on many years of the powerful effect of compound interest. It is never too late to start. Better to begin now than at age 55.

Like a 401k, discipleship through relational investment, leading to multiplication, also takes advantage of the powerful principle of compound interest. It isn't about your ability to fill pews on the following Sunday, but about the ongoing discipleship possibilities in the decades to come. You may have missed out on some of your past opportunities to invest in discipleship like this, but it is not too late to start. Better now than never.

Meek Does Not Equal Weak

Jesus tells us that there is this type of person in the world who is "blessed." He says, "Blessed are the meek... (Mt. 5:5)," and we are confronted with this small, four-letter word. Our tendency is to conflate meek with weak. To assume that meekness equates passivity. This is not what I see in the Bible, or more specifically, in the life of Jesus. He was meek, but he was not weak. Interestingly, his accusers may have assumed weakness on his part at times. They mocked Jesus, suggesting that if he was truly God, he could come down from the cross and save himself. They mistook Jesus' meekness for weakness. 

Like those who crucified Jesus, our culture doesn't have much of a category for a meek person. This is a problem, because it is a character quality the Bible advocates as a virtue. There is a controlled and very intentional element to meekness. It is not an apathetic. It is not weak. It is not passive. It requires a significant amount of humility and self-control. Meekness requires a significant amount of strength.

What does it mean to be meek?

Meekness is the inward attitude that finds its counterpart in the outward behavior of gentleness. They are related, and a deficiency in one will naturally point to a deficiency in the other. If you are looking for the outward evidence of meekness, it would be gentleness. Gentleness has to do with the way we conduct ourselves toward others and the manner in which we treat them. This is seen most prominently in the life of Jesus, when he stood before his mockers as they shared their false testimony, offering no response or justification. Responding with gentleness toward those who are brash and rude requires strength. It is not weak. It is strong.

A meek person possesses an inward contentment that is intentionally and patiently submissive to the adversity of life, without needing to seek justification or retribution. They do not resent God in the face of the difficulties they experience, whether at the hand of another human or the result of natural disasters. They trust God and the goodness He wants to bring through His wise and loving purposes.

Meekness is not passive or weak. This sort of trust and confidence in God requires a great deal of strength.

Why do people perceive meekness and ambition to be at odds?

Every virtue has a corresponding vice and if left unchecked can lead to character problems that are inconsistent with the gospel. In the same way that meekness can be associated with weakness, ambition and strength can often be associated with pride. Misguided ambition leads to an inflated view of ourselves and the pursuit of selfish gain. But that does not need to be the case.

In the end, the reason people assume meekness and ambition are at odds is because of a misunderstanding of a Biblical and gospel-saturated definition of these words. When we understand that ambition for the things of God leads to self-denial rather than self-promotion, and that Biblical meekness requires great strength rather than passive weakness, we begin to see how they can fit together.

How do we balance gospel-centered ambition and meekness?

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see a confluence of these two qualities. Jesus was very ambitious. He came to save the world. What could be more ambition than that? He came to do the impossible - to make guilty sinners into righteous men and women. He came and brought the Kingdom of God with him. Jesus calls us to continue His mission of making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). When our ambition is directed toward the things of God - the advancement of His Kingdom, the love of others and the worship of Him, then our ambition is pointed in the right direction.

Jesus also maintained meekness and humility while on earth. Based on the example of Christ, Paul gave the Philippians this exhortation:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Jesus joyfully submitted to the will of the Father. Even through deep anguish, he was meek and humble in the face of suffering (Mt 26:38-44). Jesus was meek, but he was far from weak. We are called to exhibit these same qualities. Jesus frees us to do so, both in his example and his work on the cross. Through the gospel, Jesus gives our ambition a God-oriented purpose, and through the gospel, Jesus gives us the confidence and strength we need to face our adversity with meekness.

Asking for Forgiveness Before Grace

Creating genuine reconciliation with others is not very easy and with some relationships, it can feel impossible. When we hurt another person or commit a sin against them, it is important that we do what we can to reconcile that relationship. Even when we do, we cannot control another person's actions. We cannot force them to forgive us, but we can do our best to seek genuine reconciliation.

There are a number of steps along the path of repairing a relationship, and some of the steps really must be in the right order. One common mistake is that we jump to the step of asking for grace before we have done the hard work of asking for forgiveness. What I mean to say, is that we ask the other person to overlook our offense without taking any responsibility for what we did.

I am prone to do this in my marriage. If I have sinned against Megan or failed to follow through on something I had committed to doing, I so often want to dismiss my faults and ask Megan to just overlook my offense. Now, sometimes the ability to overlook an offense and graciously move on is a virtue (Proverbs 19:11). But the advice of that proverb is for the one being offended, not the offender. If I have done the wrong, when I am being confronted, it is not my job to point out the virtue that would be found in them overlooking that offense. My job is to take responsibility for my sinful actions and then ask for forgiveness. If you have committed a wrong and need to pursue reconciliation with someone, here are four steps that might help.

Ask God to help

Before you start to talk with the other person, talk with God. Ask him to help you. Ask him to change your heart and ask him to soften the other person's heart. It doesn't need to be a long prayer, but can be quite simple. We can follow the example of Nehemiah, in which he is asked a question by the king. Before he responds, it says that he "prayed to the God of heaven (Nehemiah 2:4)." In the brief moments between the question being asked and a response given, he takes a moment to pray. We can pray like that.

A short prayer might be all you have time for, and it is a helpful habit to get into for any circumstance. Take a moment to pray for God's strength. In some cases, you may need a longer time of prayer. It might include some time of journaling, reading our Bibles or meditating on Scripture. 

There are times when I know I am in the wrong, but I can't bring myself to take ownership for what I have done. These are the times I need to take a bit longer to pray. Eventually, God convicts my heart and I am willing and able to honestly take responsibility for my actions and begin the process of reconciliation.

Ask for forgiveness first

Once you have prayed, you need to take the hard step of taking responsibility for your actions. Part of asking for forgiveness is admitting your failures. If you are unwilling to own your mistakes, then you are not truly asking for forgiveness. This is not easy. I have sometimes said to my wife, "I am sorry for the way you feel about what I did." That is not a genuinely repentant statement. It is subtly manipulative. When I say something like that, I am not apologizing for what I did, but the fact that the other person is mad at me for what I did.

In the process of reconciliation, we need to take the hard step of being honest about what we have done and taking responsibility for it. No, it isn't easy, but it is necessary. Own what you have done. Take responsibility. Sincerely repent. State your sin clearly and then ask for forgiveness.

Ask for grace second

We so often want to demand grace from the other person without taking responsibility first. I spent six years working in higher education, and sometimes I would meet with students who had broken school policies (ie. drinking alcohol, stealing copyright music, breaking visitation hours, etc.). When I worked at a state school, the students generally just took the consequence and moved on. When I worked at a Christian school, I was disappointed with the way some students would respond. It was not uncommon for a student to ignore their responsibility and say, "Aren't we all Christians? Shouldn't there be grace?" This was a misunderstanding of the gospel and its application to our lives.

God wants us to take responsibility for our sin through repentance and asking for forgiveness. Grace is always available, but we need to take responsibility first. Taking responsibility sometimes even means incurring consequences. Other adults don't hand out consequences to one another like parents to a child, but there are natural and sometimes even formal consequences for our actions. We need to take responsibility first and ask for grace second.

Remember the Gospel

You can own your mistakes and sin, regardless of how the other person responds because you can be confident that when you are repentant, God has forgiven you through Jesus. Even when people around us respond with condemnation, withholding forgiveness and grace, we can know that Jesus does not. "There is therefore now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)." This doesn't change the pain you might experience from a broken relationship or the sorrow you feel when others don't offer to you the grace Jesus has freely given them, but you are still called to own your sin and failures.

You can do it, knowing that you have been made right before the God of the universe. He pardons you. He offers forgiveness and grace. He does not withhold reconciliation. You are still a blood-bought child of the King. You are still righteous in Christ. Remember the gospel. Speak its truth to over yourself. Recall your identity in Christ.

You can own your mistakes. You can own your sin. You can name it and take responsibility for it, all the while knowing that God still loves you. The gospel frees us to be real and honest about our failures. Own it first by asking for forgiveness. And then, being found in Christ, you can confidently ask for grace. But don't ask for grace without owning your sin first.

Four Reasons God Gave us Marriage

The present cultural narrative concerning marriage has been written, and in some ways, biblically committed Christians have been cast as the villain. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. To change the narrative, we need a compelling alternative to the current trajectory our culture is on regarding marriage.

Unfortunately, we have become typecast as only caring about one issue – albeit an extremely important one. In reality though, there is more than one issue to worry about. The average marrying age is getting older and older, divorce rates are far too high and many have chosen to simply not marry at all – just to name a few.

We lament that the narrative around marriage has been written, and along the way we got booted from the author’s desk. If we were given back the pen, what would we say? If we want to provide the redirection our culture needs, we must have a clear vision. An important place to start is by answering the question, “why did God give us marriage?” Here are four reasons.

Overflow of God’s love

God is love (1 John 4:8). He possesses full and complete love within Himself and that love overflows into his image bearers. We have been created as relational beings, after the image of God, because God is a relational being Himself. When God was in the process of creating in Genesis 1-2, the common refrain, "And God saw that it was good" is repeated multiple times. Until He created man, and He said, "it is not good..." The shift in this phrase should catch our attention, and lead us to ask, "what was not good?" The answer, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18)."

God exists in Trinitarian community, and He has created us to exist in community as well. The relationship God forms between Adam and Eve points to one of marriage's most basic purposes. He saw that it was not good for man to be alone, because God's first image bearer could not fully express the image alone. This is a good reminder that relational connection is important for our marriages. Do not neglect your spouse, because you were brought together to mutually express the divine love of God through intentionally investing in your loving union.

Filling the earth with God's image

The first command God gives to His new image bearers is to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… (Gen 1:28)." The mission of God (Missio Dei) is linked with the image of God (Imago Dei), because we are called to fill the earth with God's image and glory. Jesus gave the command to his disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... (Mt. 28:19)." We are sent to make disciples, to turn people's gaze toward Christ.

We are called to make disciples of all nations, and we are also called to make disciples of the little image bearers in our home. We are called to bring the gospel to the far reaches of the world, and also make it shine before the eyes of our kids. The chief aim of missions is to see God's original intention fulfilled. This is also one of the primary purposes of marriage, the multiplication of God-worshipping image bearers. One of the reasons God has given us marriage is so He can multiply His image and fill the earth with His glory, and the way we disciple are children is integral to that vision.

Human flourishing

Christian marriage is not about me, but about us. It is an essential institution for human flourishing. A culture and society that gives up on God's design for marriage will inevitably see the ripple effect through the breakdown of other essential institutions.

We have made marriage more about individual fulfillment, which undermines one of God's initial reasons for giving it to us. In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller writes, "Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me."

When we see that marriage is about more than simply our own fulfillment, it tells a compelling story about the way God designed marriage to work. When marriage is not about the individual, they are ready to serve and sacrifice for their spouse. When marriage is not only for the couple, but for the good of their church, their neighborhood, their school district, their children and for all of society, then one of God’s purposes for marriage is fulfilled.

Picture of Christ and the Church

One of the central Scripture passages about marriage is found in Ephesians. As Paul is working his way through the practical implications of the gospel, he comes to marriage. He explains, among other exhortations, that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. Paul calls men to "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)." He goes on to say, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph 5:32)." Our marriages help us further understand the gospel message, because marriage paints a picture of Christ's love for the church.

Our marriages provide us with an opportunity to deepen our own understanding of the gospel, and further reveal the gospel to those around us. God gave us marriage to be a living picture of His relationship with His people, and His love for them in the gospel.

As we pick up the pen, I pray we give voice to God’s purpose in marriage - in word and deed, that our marriages would be fiercely committed to loving relationship, the discipleship of our children, the good of our cities and the message of the gospel.

Should our Good Deeds be Seen? Or not?

What do you do when Jesus makes two statements that seem to contradict one another? At one point, Jesus tells us we are like a city on a hill, and that we should "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:6)." Not too much later, during the same speech, in fact, Jesus warns us about doing things so that we will be seen by others (Mt. 6:5; 6:16). So which is it? Do we let our light shine? Do we let our good deeds be seen? Or do we keep them hidden?

Often, what seems like a contradiction at first, can be worked out by taking the time to ask some questions and consider the intent of each statement. When we take the time, we can gain increased clarity and Jesus' words can bring transformation to our lives.

The key difference between Jesus' two statements is the outcome of each. One results in glory to the Father, and the other in glory for the one doing the good deed. In the first, we let our light shine because it radiates the good of the Father. In the second, we make our good deeds known so we can personally gain the praise of others. You cannot control the response of others, so the more pressing question for you and me is: "what is our motivation for doing the good deed?" Are we aiming at praise for the Father? Or are we aiming at praise for ourselves?

Here are three questions that can help you discern whether your good deeds should be seen by others. Or whether you are falling into the trap of the hypocrites that Jesus confronts.

What do I want people to do when they see my good deed?

This question gets at our motivation. When people see my good deed, what do I want them to do in response? Am I craving their praise and affirmation? Or am I wanting them to give praise to the Father?

Do you daydream? Do you ever imagine future scenarios in your mind and how they will play out? If so, how do you imagine people responding to your good deeds? Do you imagine them giving glory to the Father in response? Or do you imagine them giving praise to you for all the good things you have done?

Let's be honest. This is actually something we are all prone to do at times. I am not immune to this motivation. And neither are you. Jesus is calling us to be mindful about whose praise we are after and pursue the glory of the Father when we engage in good deeds.

Does my good deed necessitate a public act?

One question you can ask yourself is if the good deed you are doing necessitates someone else knowing about it. Certain good deeds, by their very nature, will be seen. Certain good deeds are done in the public arena, and cannot be done in a private way. If you are going to have a clothing drive for the homeless in your community, you will need to tell someone about it or you will not have a very successful clothing drive. The nature of that good deed requires that others know.

In the gospels, Jesus is critical of people who are fasting and giving money in a very public way. Fasting does not require that others know you are fasting. Giving money does not require that others know you have given money.

You can ask yourself. Does this good deed, by its very nature, require that other see it? If the good deed does not require that others know you are doing it, then that good deed doesn't need to be seen. Allow the deed itself to determine whether it is seen.

Am I going out of my way, so that I can be seen?

This question has some overlap with the previous one but brings another angle to test whether our good deed should be seen. Another way of asking the question might be, "in order for my good deed to be seen, have I gone out of my way to ensure that it is noticed by others?"

We want God to be glorified in our good deeds, so it might follow that we want our good deeds to be seen. We may genuinely have the motivation of other seeing our good deeds so they can give glory to God, but when we begin to go out of our way in order to ensure they are seen, then I think it is a good indication we are crossing a line.

Even if we believe our motivations are pure, if we are going out of our way to be seen, I think we have stepped outside of being the "city on a hill" Jesus describes. When a city is seen in the distance, the light shines on the horizon and is a relief to the weary travelers who approach. But the lights were not made so that travelers can see them. The light of a city serves a purpose for the city. It helps the residents walk from place to place and go about their business. The purpose of a city's light is not to be seen by those outside the city, but for those living in the city.

In the same way, the good of our good deeds is found in the very reason we are doing them. If we are raising money to fight human trafficking, the good of that deed is found in the fight against injustice. The light shines in the good deed itself. The fact that someone might observe this good deed and then praise God is not our responsibility. We are responsible for doing the good, and if asked, to give a reason for the good we do. People might see that good deed on the horizon, like a weary traveler seeing the light of a city, and praise God as a result. But whether others see it or not, whether they praise God or not, there is still good in the deed. And so we do it anyway.

 

Cindy Adelman: In honor of my mom

My mother passed away late on Monday, July 18th due to complications related to cancer. She battled cancer for nearly three years before it finally took her life. In honor of her, I wanted to write this short post. She was a wonderful woman, and I am grateful for the years I got to spend with her, even though it feels like they were too few. She died young, at the age of 53.

Cynthia Lou Adelman was a tenacious woman, with a competitive spirit and compassionate heart. She would challenge a 235-pound man to a leg wrestling competition (and win...), but she would also cry watching the atrocities she might see on the evening news. She was at times quiet and stoic, but she had a soft spot for animals of all kinds. Especially dogs. If my dad had not limited the number of animals in the home, she may have ended up on the news for being an animal hoarder... We took in more than one stray animal in my years growing up at home.

My mom raised three boys, and as my dad said earlier this week, "She was the perfect mom for boys." She was not afraid to put on a glove and throw the baseball around the yard or insert herself into the middle of some teenage roughhousing. At my high school wrestling matches, she would cheer loudly, as though she was right in the middle of the mat with me. But no matter the outcome of my sporting events or other competitions, she loved me the same. Win or lose, she was my mom, and that was not the least bit affected by my performance. She helped to raise three men - not an easy task.

An honest portrayal of my mom must also include what some might regard as a lack of propriety. She was honest, and she was not hindered by pretense. Some might say she was blunt - and I think that would be an accurate description. She might offend you one minute and then be your buddy the next. She didn't give a lot of concern to doing things just to keep up appearances and she wasn't interested in impressing others for the sake of their approval. It might have turned people off at times, but if you spent enough time with her, you were pretty sure to find out what she thought. Good, bad or otherwise, she made her opinion known.

She was a wonderful woman, who sacrificed for her family and those she loved. I am grateful for her strong will and soft heart. There is much to celebrate, but her life was not without its challenges. Getting cancer in her early fifties and having to leave behind so many loved ones was hard on her. Knowing that she would have grandkids who might barely remember her, and others whom she may never meet. Leaving behind my dad, her husband of nearly 34 years was a struggle. Adding to her cancer, my sister Jessica's death was always heavy on her heart. It was almost 20 years ago now, but the memory of Jessica was often on my mom's mind. Further, adding the death of her own mom to cancer, my mom's life was not without its trials.

My mom had her internal demons. She had difficulties and challenges. If you knew her well, she may have shared some of them with you. She, like many of us, struggled to embrace the forgiveness and grace of God. She knew her faults. She knew her pains. "How could a good God love her?" she might ask. She and I had many conversations about God and His love. Like the main character in Bunyan's classic, she was a pilgrim in this world. She was on a journey, one which took twists and turns, with struggles and joys. It came with its pains and also its pleasures. I am glad that the suffering of the cancer is over now, and that she can see clearly the love and grace of God, which she always struggled to believe for herself.

We will miss her here on earth, and we will not forget her. We will tell stories of her and celebrate the years we had with her. I will always remember the time she, James and I were out on Lake of the Woods, catching our limit of walleyes. They were coming into the fish house so fast, we had to call my older brother to come join us. Once Joe got there, we had to deliver the news that we had already caught his limit too, but that we would be grateful to ride home with him, so we could keep the legal ratio between humans and fish. We will tell of the time she got hit by someone driving a 4-wheeler and how she took it like a champ. We will tell of the dogs she owned, her love for her grandchildren and her tenacious attitude toward life. We will tell of the hard times too because they are also part of my mom's life. My mom will be missed by many. I am grateful for the 31 years we got to spend together on earth. We love you, mom

A Week Later: Reflections on #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasShootings

It has been a difficult week. Less for me than for the families that have been directly impacted by this past week's events (although I have had some personal and ministry related challenges that were added to last week's events). It might be a hard few days or weeks for some of us, but it will be a hard few years or more for the families impacted by the deaths of the past week. My heart grieves for the four year old girl who watched as Philando Castile bled out in front of her. Or for the 12 year old boy who had to bury his father after the Dallas shootings.

Beyond the families that were impacted, you can add entire cities and neighborhoods. My small city of Lauderdale borders Falcon Heights, and the Saint Anthony Police Department helps to serve and protect my little suburb. The Philando Castile shooting occurred a mile and a half from my home, and I was driving along a parallel street about the time he was shot. The proximity of that particular shooting has made this so much more personal for me. And I know that I am not alone. The people of Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul are experiencing this in a far more personal way. Those who have been impacted by similar events in the past, are being reminded in fresh ways of their own previous loss.

This is my experience. I write this post as my reflections. I recognize that I am a white male, whose experience in life has been largely privileged. I know that as a member of the majority culture, certain advantages have been given to me, and as a result, I cannot fully understand what the black community is experiencing in the wake of these events. But I know they are hurting, and the pain is real. My heart grieves for them as well. I cannot imagine what it is like to walk around in the country you call home, and feel oppressed.

I generally write as a pastor, helping to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." I write as a mentor, helping you along your journey as a follower of Jesus. In this post, I do not assume a voice of authority on this subject. These are simply my reflections. My thoughts. I am watching as so much hatred, injustice and vitriol is flying around me, and I felt compelled to speak. Not as one who knows the way, but as one who is walking the journey with you.

As I said, these are just my reflections. In the wake of these events, I have been asking, "What am I to do?" I don't want to do nothing, but what am I called to do in response to last week? So, here are five actions I want to take:

Pray

I believe that God can change hearts and minds. Some have found the statement, "My thoughts and prayers go out to... [insert affected party here]," to be a weak and pithy response. I disagree. At a minimum, it is an expression of support, but far more than that, it is a statement about where our trust lies. My thoughts and my prayers have been given to these events and the racial reconciliation I believe God wants - and I trust God with it far more than myself.

I don't know what else to do sometimes. Prayer seems like the only response I can muster. The first action I want to take in the midst of this tumultuous time is to pray. And so that is what I will continue to do.

Listen

I want to be someone who is humble and willing to listen. As I mentioned earlier, I experience a great deal of privilege in this country. And as a result, I believe it is my responsibility to listen well. Whether I agree with someone's perspective on these matters or not, I want to make sure I hear them well enough to understand what they are saying.

I think everyone could do a little better job of listening. I have seen way too much hatred spoken and unfounded statements made over the past week. I don't want to add another voice to the conversation unless I have taken the time to hear another well.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”

Listening also involves hearing more than one side. I have tried to read and listen to voices from all sides of these issues. I want to hear the pain that is real. I want to listen the proposed solutions. I want to use my ears before I use my mouth.

Speak

I don't want to be silent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who as murdered by the Nazis for his rebellion in Germany, once said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." I do not want to keep silent when I see injustice in the world. I don't always know what to say and I want to use my words wisely. The tongue is a powerful tool, so I want to wield it well.

I have a voice and I have a small measure of influence. It might be small, but I feel responsible to use my influence well. I don't have a clear vision of how, but I know that I don't want to stay silent.

Do

Speaking is not the only way to affect change. And I know that I cannot do all things, but I am reminded of Gandalf's statement in The Lord of the Rings,

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

I may not be able to do much. But I have seen that inequity exists, and so I want to do something. I believe that God wants to redeem and restore broken relationships and broken systems. Jesus, "went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

Jesus came to fulfill what was written in Isaiah. Until the day Jesus returns, we will still see the impact of sin on broken relationships and broken race relations. But God still wants his people to work toward the reconciliation he brings, and will fully bring in a time yet to come. I don't know that I can do much, but I want to do something.

Hope

It can feel perilous. The complexity of the issue is massive. But there is hope. One day, God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).” Or you may think of it the way Sam does, when he asks Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" The answer is yes. Yes, it will.

Even now, I believe there is hope. I remind myself that God is good and in the middle of our pain, we can end in praise (Psalm 13). I have seen some reasons to continue hoping that God will restore relationships. There is a video on CNN's website of opposing protesters who come together in Dallas and pray. It is powerful to watch.

I believe there is hope. There is always hope to be found in God.

The final thing I will end with in my rambling reflections is a video. Jenny and Tyler, who have a heart for fighting injustice in the world have a great song called Faint Not. It is a call to endure, even when you feel like your efforts to affect change are not helping. I believe there is hope, so this is a reminder for me to Faint Not.

Four Ways Words Impact the World

When words pass the threshold of our mouths, they can never be put back, no matter how much we wish they could. Once spoken, the things we say enter into existence, and with them comes the impact of those words. Sometimes they enter the world and offer a helping hand to someone in need, other times, our words enter the world like a right hook, landing on the cheek of a loved one. Have you ever said something you immediately wished you could have back? Have your words ever exited your mouth like a fist rather than a hand of help?

Our words are powerful. They are something we ought to consider more intentionally, and speak more thoughtfully. It must be said that we are imperfect, and will say things we regret. In those instances, we must be ready to repent and seek reconciliation. Even so, by the power of God's Spirit, we must also seek to gain control over our tongue and give it direction.

James exhorts his readers to give consideration to their tongue (James 3:1-12, and in view of his reminder, here are four ways our words impact the world.

Speak words with humility

James starts with a reminder that we should seek to teach with humility. This is less about the way words impact the world, and more about the manner in which we speak them into the world. He says that "not many of you should become teachers," because those "who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Js.3:1)." When we choose to speak, especially as one with authority to teach, we must approach that role with humility. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that will be judged with greater strictness. We must enter into that role with humble hearts.

Every week, as I send a new article out into the world wide web, I do it with a bit of timidity. I am on a journey of sanctification myself, and like each of you reading this, I am imperfect in my actions. I write as someone who is still in process, and yet, when I write an article, I step into a role of teaching. It is weighty, and I feel the burden. My prayer for myself, and for anyone who aspires to teach and write, is that we would do so with great humility and a sense of the responsibility for the task.

Ideas can change the world

This doesn't necessarily come from the text in James, but something I have thought about a lot recently. Two connections from this passage warrant me mentioning it here. First, the reference to teachers. Words are a primary medium for teaching. Words are powerful, and teachers must use them well. Second, the mention of the disproportionate power of words relative to the size of the tongue. Words are powerful and God uses them to change the world.

I have recently gotten into listening to audio books when I am driving, running, cleaning or working on house projects. Through audio books, I have been able to listen to numerous biographies and history books. One theme I have noticed is that people who have had a significant impact on the world nearly always know how to use the power of ideas and words. Whether for evil, like Adolf Hitler or pro-slavery advocates in American history, or for good, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther.

As pastors, church leaders and Christ-followers, we have the most powerful message in the world. The good news of Jesus Christ, which permeates ever area of life. I have been challenged to consider more deeply what God teaches and how I can communicate these truths in clear and compelling ways. Words are a powerful medium to shape our world and culture. God spoke the world into being, Jesus came as the word made flesh, God's primary way of communicating with us is through His Word, and as his people, we are called to use words to serve God's mission in the world.

The tongue is more powerful than its size

It can be easy to take our words for granted, because they flow from our mouths so readily and originate from such a small part of our body. What James' letter so masterfully communicates is that the tongue has disproportionate power given its size. He utilizes some analogies to help us get a picture - the relatively small bit in a horse's mouth, which allows a rider to direct the powerful animal's movements, or the small rudder that enables a captain to steer large sea vessels, or the small fire that can set a forest ablaze. Each of these images are meant to remind us that even though our tongue is small, it can give rise to powerful words.

Further, the tongue is not easy to control. We can so quickly let something slip from our mouths that is like poison to another. Words can take on the form of many different weapons - the poisonous spread of rumor and gossip, the blunt force of vulgar yelling, the arrow like precision of a well timed smear or the suffocating force of an onslaught of insult. These weapons of verbal war flow from us, often without thinking twice. Sometimes we regret what we have said, and other times we don't even realize the pain we inflict.

Consider the words you use and the way you speak to those around you, often to the ones you love the most. First, recognize the power of the things you say. Do not take lightly the impact your words can have on the people around you. Second, ask God to help you gain control over your tongue. It is a powerful instrument, and one which cannot be easily mastered. You need God's help, so don't hesitate to ask.

The tongue has disproportionate power given its size.

Words can bless or curse

The final way our words impact the world is through the dichotomous ends of blessing or cursing. James comments on the fact that with the same mouth we "bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (Js 3:9)." We use the same mouth to sing worship songs on Sunday and fling words of insult that afternoon. We praise God with our lips and then use them to defame people made in His image. Our words can either speak life or death. They can bring blessing or cursing.

James is calling his audience to fight this inconsistent behavior when he writes, "these things ought not be so (3:10)." The mouths we use to praise God, for such a good and glorious purpose, should not be used to also degrade His people. Our words have the power to heal or hurt. With our mouths, we have the ability to extend a helping hand or swing a fist. Ask God to help you master your tongue this week, and use it as a means of blessing to those around you.

How Can You Be Involved in Missions? [6 Ways Video Series]

There is a small people group a northeastern province of Cambodia known as the Broa people. A family from the Midwest lives among them, with the goal of teaching them about Jesus and helping to establish a sustainable church with indigenous leadership. Across the world, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, there is a small ministry dedicated to reaching out to the Chinese students who have come to the United States to study. And in Iowa, a small church has dedicated itself to a new vision regarding missions and have chosen to partner with a young couple who are committed to work among an unreached people group in Papua New Guinea.

These are all true stories, and all ways for a person to engage in missions. We often hear about missions, whether it be an announcement from the missions committee, a prayer request in the bulletin, a missionary in town for a visit or a request for financial support. It can feel intimidating and overwhelming at times, because missions can feel big and distant and far removed from our daily lives. That is why I am thankful for the video series, 6 Ways to Reach God's World. If you have been wondering about how you can be involved in missions, then this video series is perfect for you.

Who made the video series?

The video series was created by OMF International, in partnership with The Traveling Team and Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. All three are organizations that are doing really good work and whom I really appreciate. OMF (Overseas Mission Fellowship) was originally known as China Inland Mission and is committed to helping missionaries get to the field and serve among unreached people groups. The Traveling Team is a mobilizing ministry that travels to campuses and works with ministries like Cru, to help inform college students about world missions. And Perspectives is a 15-week course, created by the US Center for World Missions. There is no better way to learn about missions than taking this course.

Three organizations, all of whom are serving God faithfully to help God's people engage in God's mission to see the gospel spread to every tribe, tongue and nation.

What are the 6 Ways to Reach?

The video series is designed around 6 Ways that people can be involved in missions. There is an intro video, which I have included below. And there six more videos, one for each way. Each video is about five or six minutes long, and you can download study guides at the bottom of the page. Watch them on your own, or watch them with a small group of people, and use the study guides to help you reflect on the content and prompt discussion.

Briefly, here are the six ways:

Learn

Learning means that we invest time and energy into gaining a better understanding of world missions. This might mean, for example, taking the Perspectives course or reading a biography of a missionary.

Pray

Praying for missions is an easy way to get involved. Whether it is praying for an unreached people group, for a missionary or for the persecuted church, we can always pray.

Go

Going is one of the more commonly known ways of being involved with missions. For some, this means taking part in a short-term missions trip, or for others God may call them to long-term missions work.

Send

Sending is a crucial way for us to be involved in missions. For every missionary on the field, there is a whole team of people who help to send them. Whether through financial giving or intentional care, sending is a great way to be involved.

Welcome

Welcoming is an often overlooked way to be involved. God is bringing the nations to us in the form of international students, immigrants and refugees. Sometimes they come from countries we cannot access, or locations we do not feel called to go. But we can be hospitable to the sojourner who is now among us. We can lovingly welcome them here and share the gospel with them along the way.

Mobilize

Mobilizing means that you help to get others involved. Through mobilizing, you have the ability to multiply your efforts by getting more people trained, knowledgeable, praying and sent. Among the other ways to be involved, I feel called to be a mobilizer.

Here is a short video that summarizes each of these six ways, and if you want to watch all of the videos, you can click here:

My recommended next steps

This may feel somewhat overwhelming. Before you read this post, you may have felt like you barely knew how to be involved. Now, you might feel like there are way too many ways, and you can not decide where to begin. Allow me to suggest two next steps for you.. By all means, you can choose different next steps, but here are a couple to consider.

Pray for the nations

Begin to pray for unreached people groups on a regular basis. You can start by visiting Joshuaproject.net. It is a great resource, with profiles about nearly every people group in the world. It shares about their primary religion, progress of the gospel and ways you can pray for them. They have a tab that says "pray" along the top, and that is a great place to start. They also have an app that you can download here. If you have a smartphone, download the app and begin praying for the nations today.

Take the Perspectives Course

Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a 15-week, college level course that is designed to teach you about the Biblical, Historical, Cultural and Strategic perspectives on missions. Taking the course does require a fair amount of work, so you need to be prepared. But if you are able and willing to make the investment, it will be a significant help in your understanding of God's global mission to reach the nations. Look for a course near you, and sign up to take it this fall.

Our role is participation

One final reminder is that that our role in God's mission is participation. I wrote an entire post on this, which you can read here. But briefly, it is important to remember that it is not our job to save the whole world. When you begin reading about unreached people groups, you may feel overwhelmed. When you think about the billions of people who have not heard the gospel, the task will feel daunting. But we must remember that it is not our job alone to complete. This is God's mission, and one which He will complete. We have the privilege of participating. God does not need us, but he has invited us to be part of spreading a passion for His glory to the ends of the earth. Pray and consider how God is calling you to participate this week

Three Reasons Jesus was "Made Lower than the Angels"

What did it mean for Jesus to become human? Among the primary passages that discuss the implications of the incarnation, one is found at the beginning of the book of Hebrews. It may be somewhat complicated to fully unravel, but enlightening when we take the time. There is a little phrase that should give us a moment of pause, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus (Heb. 2:9).” What does that short phrase, “lower than the angels” mean? If Jesus is God, then why, and how, could he have ever been lower than anything?

Even more, in the context of this passage, the author is making an argument for why Jesus is superior to angels. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author will explain why Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, other priests, the Old Covenant and previous “heroes of the faith.” Why in the midst of his argument for the superiority of Christ, does he say that Jesus was “made lower than the angels?"

What we see in the second chapter of Hebrews is that Jesus being made lower than the angels is one of the very reasons he is in fact superior to them. The first argument is that Jesus is superior to angels in his sovereignty (Heb 1:5-14), and the second is that Jesus is superior to them in his suffering (Heb 2:5-18). Here, we will focus on the suffering side of the equation and look at three reasons Jesus was “made lower than the angels."

So he could be like us

In the incarnation, Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect (Heb 2:17).” Jesus took on human flesh, and did not reject the many implications that came with this new form. Jesus got hungry and tired, and he needed to eat and rest. Later in Hebrews, it says that Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).” Jesus experienced temptation. He can relate with us in our temptation. Yet, he was without sin, so he can show us the way, and he can make atonement of our imperfections. Jesus "had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:17-18).”

Jesus becoming like us means that God has not kept himself from the suffering of his people. Jesus experienced what it means to be human. He can fully relate. He is not removed and far off. He had to be made like us, so he could make full propitiation for our sins. One aspect of the completion of Jesus’ saving work was his being made like us, so he could suffer and die on our behalf.

So he could taste death for us

At present, we can not see the fully glory of Jesus. Nothing has been left outside the control of Jesus, however we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (Heb 2:8-9). “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).”

Jesus was made lower than the angels, so he could die for us, tasting death for everyone. Jesus was not kept from even the harshest of suffering, death itself. So that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Heb 2:14-15).”

In becoming like us, Jesus was able to taste death for us. He was able to die as a human and experience all of what that means. In so doing, Jesus tasted death for us, so that through his death he could conquer the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Through his dying we can have life. 

So he could be made perfect through suffering

Jesus was perfect when he came to earth. He did not need to die in order to become perfect, but Hebrews 2:10 says “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect though suffering.” How do we reconcile Jesus’ perfect divinity with the statement that he was “made perfect?” In commenting on this verse, Craig Blomberg writes, “The Son of God was ontologically perfect already, but he had not fully experienced all stages of human life until he died. So now he acquired an additional kind of perfection as well, one that some understand as fulfillment, completing of consecration."

The suffering that Jesus experienced in his death fulfilled and completed the work he came to do. While it did not make him any more perfect in his essence, he did perfect the work he came to do. The process of his innocent death and eventual resurrection, was the final stage in his perfect life. He become human, he experienced the limitations of a human body, he was tempted, he suffered and he ultimately died. All this works toward his glory and perfect work.

What are the implications?

Being made lower than angels, for a time, actually contributes to Jesus being superior to angels for all time. In his suffering, Jesus is glorified and made perfect. Jesus became like his brothers, so he could perfect his brothers and taste death on their behalf. This should cause us to marvel at the good and glorious God we serve.

Second, there is a warning at the beginning of this chapter (Heb 2:1-4). If the message delivered by angels, which in Jewish tradition the Mosaic Law was believed to have been mediated by angels, if that message required retribution for disobedience, how much more now that we have a more sure testimony. Jesus has brought a new message of hope and deliverance. We must not reject it, but take notice of our need for him. We must "pay much closer attention,” and fully embrace the message of Jesus, reminding ourselves often of the work he accomplished and our need for him. 

Do you Really Believe Christ should get ALL the Glory?

It is easy to say, much harder to do. To give ALL the glory to Christ. It is hard to believe in our heart of hearts, because we are prone to want our own glory and our own gain. But the Bible is clear, it all goes to Christ. We want to give it to Jesus, or more accurately, we want, to want to give it to Jesus. The question I am posing today, is do you really believe Christ should get ALL the glory? Not a just portion. Not 95%. But ALL the glory.

If the vast oceans of the world were the glory of God, we are happy to give him most if it, but we have a hard time letting it all go. We want to at least keep a portion. We want the Gulf of Mexico sized glory for our selves. After all, its small in comparison to the expansive oceans of the world. Or maybe, if we are "really holy," we are okay with just having San Francisco Bay sized glory.

The Christian life is one of ambition, but not for our own gain. Our aim and ambition is the glory of God in Christ Jesus. We strive to enjoy God, bring him glory and do good to others. It is paradoxical, because in seeking glory for Christ, we actually get the most enjoyment ourselves. Seeking our own glory will leave us disappointed and distraught. We may be able to float in the sea of our own glory for a time, but eventually our boat will sink. We cannot paddle our little row boat of glory in the vast ocean for long before we are capsized. Whether in this life or the next, we will understand our folly. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”

God deserves the glory. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).” And our joy is found in giving it to Him.

BUT, the problem remains. We still want to keep some glory for ourselves. We don’t want to give it all to Jesus. Here are a few helpful reminders in our fight to give Jesus ALL the glory.

Remember our finitude

The magnitude of God and His glory is unknowable by human standards, or really any standard other than His own. The image of the world’s oceans as a picture of God’s glory is useful in helping us see that we so often want too keep glory for ourselves. But it is entirely inadequate in helping us actually understand the infinite glory that God deserves. We have measured the oceans. We know their coastlines and how many miles they span. People have charted courses around the world, entirely by water, and have completed their journey safely. But we cannot measure or contain the glory of God.

There is still much to be discovered about oceans, but we have learned quite a bit. On the other hand, there is far more to God than the oceans. We feel finite in comparison to the ocean, and we should. How much more in comparison with God.

When you want to keep glory for yourself, just remember that next to God, you simply don’t deserve it. And that is a good thing. If God was not worthy of all the glory, would you want to worship him anyway?

We may be able to float in the sea of our own glory for a time, but eventually our boat will sink.

Remember God’s wisdom

It was God’s wisdom that sent Christ to the cross. Seeing our need, Jesus came to save sinners. It is foolishness to the world. Why would a perfect and innocent man die the brutal death meant for the guilty? Jesus tasted death for us. That is foolishness to the world, but it is wisdom to God.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

God chose us. We didn’t do that for ourselves. God made it possible through Jesus. We don't do that ourselves. Humanity wanted to try and fix the problem on their own, and our wisest answers have always led to more religion, more work and more self-righteousness. God’s answer was to do it for us, through the humbling of Jesus in human form and the eventual death of Jesus on the cross. That is foolishness to the world, but it is the wisdom of God. God did it for us. And as a result “no human being [ought to] boast in the presence of God.” We did not save ourselves. God did. The glory belongs to him. We are the glad recipients of grace, and we should be the glad offerers of glory back to Him. So “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

On our own, we labor in vain

We must be careful to not try to do it on our own. If we want the glory, it will lead to us doing it on our own. If we believe we have done it on our own, we will be prone to seek the glory. Resist that dangerous cycle.

Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2 ESV)

It is foolish and worthless to attempt to do it on our own. Don’t fall into that trap. It will either fail in the short term, or worse, it will succeed and you will turn into a habitual glory seeker. Eventually you will be wanting not just the San Francisco Bay or Gulf of Mexico, you will be looking for the Atlantic Ocean of glory for yourself. But God does not share His glory, nor should He. It will not end well for you. Resist the urge now, and pursue God’s glory, not your own.

ALL Glory be to Christ

This is a great song by King’s Kaleidoscope, and the lyrics are a beautiful reminder that all glory belongs to Christ:

Three Reasons Churches Need Seasons of Intentional Corporate Prayer

Churches go through seasons when they need intentional corporate prayer. It can be prompted by a variety of circumstances, some which grieve the hearts of the congregation and others which enliven the vision of its members. I have observed churches go through a season of prayer when they are in the midst of senior pastor transitions. Following the significant moral failure of a pastor, churches may initiate a season of prayer for healing and direction, or when a church senses God leading them to a new vision and are ready to see God begin a movement among them, they may go through a season of intentional corporate prayer.

At First Baptist Church, we are entering a season of intentional corporate prayer over the summer. Over the past couple years, we have sensed God leading us to be more purposeful in the way we love, care and reach our downtown neighbors. There are over 20,000 people that live within a half-mile of our building, most of whom do not know the life saving message of Jesus Christ. The majority of people that live near our building are young urban professionals, but many others are at or below the poverty line and need to receive love, care and a message of hope. Collectively, the members of our congregation have thousands of neighbors, co-workers, family, friends and other relationships in our spheres of influence that we desperately desire to know and follow Jesus. Not to mention that we all, the people of our church, need the continual revival of God's Spirit within our own hearts.

As we continue to pursue a vision for God to move in our own hearts, among our downtown neighbors and among the many people whom we come into contact with on a daily basis - people whom we love and care for deeply - we have recognized our need to enter a season of intentional corporate prayer this summer. A primary avenue for this is to meet in five prayer meetings throughout the week, and pray through the book of Acts. As we hear from God through His Word, and as we speak back to Him in our prayers, we are asking that God would do something remarkable in our church family and in the lives of our neighbors.

As you read this, whether you are part of the church family at First Baptist or part of another congregation, here are three reasons why churches need seasons of intentional corporate prayer.

God Loves when His People Pray

Prayer can be a bit of a mystery. We have a God who is fully and entirely sovereign. A God who has complete foreknowledge and has chosen us in Christ before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). But yet, a God who invites His people to pray. In the Scriptures, we see God respond to the prayers of His people, specifically when they pray in ways that are consistent with His will and desires.

For example, in Exodus 32, after the Israelites had acted with great dishonor toward God in making the golden calf, God tells Moses that He is going to consume them, and begin afresh with Moses (v. 10). In response Moses petitions God to relent from his wrath, and argues back to God in prayer, using God's words and desires as a buttress for his prayer. It says that God "relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (v. 14)."

Space does not allow for a full exploration of the relationship between our prayers and God's sovereignty and foreknowledge. But from a human perspective, God responds as Moses petitions Him on behalf of the Israelites. Moses prays in a way that is consistent with God's will and desire, and God responds. God loves when his people pray, and He responds to our prayers. When we want to see God do something in our congregation, something we believe is consistent with His will and desires as revealed in the Scriptures, then we ought to pray and ask God. Like a father who delights in the opportunity to provide good gifts to his children (Mt. 7:9-11), God loves when His people pray and ask.

Prayer is an Acknowledgment that We Cannot do it on Our Own

When we bow our knee before God, we recognize that we cannot do it on our own. We need God's help. Whether we are needing to select a new pastor, heal from a broken situation or see a new vision come into reality, we cannot do it on our own, and it is important for us to recognize our insufficiency. God's grace is sufficient, but on our own, we are not. In Peter's exhortation to the churches, he wrote:

[6] Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. [8] Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [9] Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. [10] And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. [11] To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11)."

Prayer is an act of humility before God. When we pray, we intentionally position ourselves under his authority, and cast our anxieties upon Him. God restores, not us. When broken relationships need restoration and healing, we cannot do that on our own, but God can. God strengthens. Youths grow tired, and young man stumble, but "those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31)." When we get tired, and fear we do not have the energy for the task, God gives the strength. God is the one who heals broken hearts and gives strength. But most of all, God is the one who draws people to Himself and saves forevermore those who were once perishing. God gives new life to those who once walked in darkness. We cannot bring that sort of life transformation, but God can. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot, but God can.

Prayer Helps us Give all the Glory to God

Early in the book of Acts, Peter and John were on their way to the temple and along the way healed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10). All the people were "utterly astounded" at what had happened. When Peter addressed the crowd he said:

[12b] “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? [13] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. [14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, [15] and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. [16] And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all (Acts 3:12b-16)."

I love their answer. And it is so helpful for me to hear. It was not by their power or piety that this man was able to walk again. Peter is quick to point out to those listening that it was the power of Jesus that made this man strong. When we go through seasons of prayer, it can help us to remember to give God the glory for the work He does. To say with confidence that Jesus is the one who did the miraculous. God is not limited by our lack of prayer and He can do something extraordinary among us whenever he chooses, but when we go through a season of intentional corporate prayer, it helps us give God the glory when he does chose to act on our behalf.

"But Dad, I want what I want!"

Four Ways to be Less Selfish

My son has learned a new phrase. When he is frustrated and not getting his way, he says, "But Dad, I want what I want." In some ways, it is an important developmental step for his little four year old mind. Recognizing that he gets frustrated because he isn't getting what he wants can be good. Learning how to respond appropriately to that desire is something we are still working on...

But his phrase has also been illuminating for me. Hearing him say "I want what I want" has shined a spotlight on my own selfish tendencies. I have been reminded that my heart is prone toward selfishness. And it has been very clear that the most common reason behind my anger or frustration is that I am not getting what I want.

When I get frustrated with the other drivers on the road, it is usually because I am not getting what I want on the roadway. Wouldn't life be so much easier if everyone knew what I wanted and made it happen... When I get angry at my children, it is often because I feel personally wronged, because they have not done what I wanted. In conflict with my wife, a barrier for my own repentance and reconciliation is often that I don't want to give up what I want.

My son's own revelation has led me to recognize I am far too often motivated by my own selfish desires. At my core, God is still working on my heart and still changing my desires. It has been a helpful reminder as I fight my sin of selfishness. Here are four ways I think we can be less selfish.

Remember that Jesus was unselfish toward us

One way to disarm our selfish hearts is to remind ourselves that Jesus was unselfish toward us. There is truly no greater example of selfless and sacrificial love than Jesus dying on the cross to redeem us from our helpless plight. Jesus was innocent. Rather than selfishly keeping his innocence, he gave it away to us. In fact, I would argue that keeping his own innocence wouldn't have been selfish at all, because it was rightly his. But rather than keep what was his, he gave it to us. And in return he got our sin. He took our shame and our guilt, nailing it to the cross.

Jesus even prayed in the garden that this cup would pass, but ultimately he wanted to do the will of the Father. Jesus was entirely selfless toward us. When we feel a desire to be selfish, and to "get what we want," it can be helpful to remember how Jesus acted toward us, and respond in the same way toward others.

Get enough sleep (and other healthy habits)

I had a couple late nights last week, because I stayed up to watch the finale of one of my favorite shows. I noticed pretty quickly the next morning that I was going to have to battle my own crabby and selfish heart, which seems to have more power when I am tired. Michael Hyatt has done a lot of writing on the impact of sleep, and its effects on your life. Lack of sleep can have a very negative impact, so we must fight to be well rested.

Additionally, healthy eating and exercise can help us grow in our patience and grace. John Piper, in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, talks about the importance of making wise choices with our health, ultimately in the service of a greater purpose.

"My aim for pastors is not your maximum physical health. Nor is it to help you find ways to get the best buzz for your brain. My aim is that you will find a way of life that enables you to use your mind and your five sense as effective partners in seeing the glory for God and that you be so satisfied in Him that you are willing to risk your health and your life to make Him known." (pg. 185, Brothers we are Not Professionals)

Here is how I see this working out practically. We need to pursue rest and physical health, so that when the time comes for us to sacrifice those things in the service of selfless acts (ultimately in the service of God's glory and the good of others), we are equipped to do so. When my child is up in the middle of the night scared because of a night-terror, I want to be well rested enough to sacrifice my sleep in the moment to care for them well. Or when I need to give up my meal for someone who needs it more, I want to have cared for myself well, so I am in a right frame of mind to sacrifice my food for the good of another.

Caring for myself is extremely important, but always in the service of a greater purpose. If I tell my child in the middle of the night that I can't help them deal with their nightmare because I really need to get some rest, so that I can be less selfish tomorrow, that would be crazy.

Care for yourself now, SO THAT you can sacrifice yourself later.

Choose intentionally selfless acts

One way we can fight our propensity toward selfishness is to intentionally and consistently choose selfless actions. When we purposefully choose selfless acts, we train ourselves to choose them again in the future. Like the muscle memory of an athlete or musician who practices the same simple action over and over again, so that they can repeat the action flawlessly under the pressure of performance or competition, we can train ourselves to move in the direction of selflessness rather than selfishness.

When we know we will be entering a situation that will require self-sacrificing choices, we can plan ahead and prepare ourselves. Or when we have the opportunity to be selfless when it is "easy," we can prepare ourselves to fight selfishness when it is hard. Think about ways you can make the intentional choice to be selfless, and plan ahead to act in that direction. Choose intentionally selfless acts and thereby train yourself to be sacrificially loving toward others.

Care for yourself now, SO THAT you can sacrifice yourself later.

Remind yourself of God's love for you

One of the key drivers for selfishness is the fear of losing out on what we so badly desire. We are often selfish out of a desire to protect ourselves and what is ours. Selfishness is heightened when we feel insecure and afraid. We fight to gather and retain what is ours. But when we remind ourselves of God's love for us, and the security He brings to our lives, we are more prepared to fight the temptation to be selfish.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)"

This passage in Romans 8 is a great reminder of who we are in Christ. Who can separate us from God? Can famine, nakedness, danger or sword? No! We are more than conquerors through Christ. What in this world is worth our selfish desires when we have the love of God? The God, "who did not spare is own Son, but gave him up for us." That is the kind of love the Father has for us. When we are confident in God's love for us, we have less need to seek our security in the world, which leads to less desire to "have what I want," which leads to sacrificial love toward others. Fight selfishness by reminding yourself of God's love for you in Christ.

Personal Reflections on the Moral Failing of Pastors

The moral failing of pastors has been heavy on my mind lately. Why now, more than points in the past? I cannot say for sure, but it might have something to do with my recent awareness of numerous men who have left the ministry as a result of sinful patterns in their life. Some of them were recently made public, others occurred a couple years ago, but I have only now become aware of the situations. Each time, it grieves my heart. Each time, it gives me reason to pause and consider the implications.

I write this post with a bit of timidity. I do not want to comment on the lives of other men lightly, especially those I do not know personally. I do not want to heap shame upon others when it is not needed. My goal is not to comment on them, so much as share the reflections I have had in light of my growing awareness of this issue.

I am not immune

Whenever a new situation surfaces, it causes me to take an account of my own life. Am I growing in gospel awareness? Are there areas of sin lurking in the shadows - unaddressed and increasing in strength? Do I have channels in my life to confess sin and seek support? Am I preaching the gospel to myself on a regular basis? Is my marriage healthy and growing?

I do not walk through life expecting that I will engage in ministry-disqualifying sin, but I do need to be aware that I am not immune to sin's power in my life. Through Jesus, I have the power to fight sin, but when I am not abiding in Christ, sin has the power to fight back. And hard! Sin is not weak, but because of Jesus, it does not have an overwhelming strength in my life.

Each time I hear about the moral failing of another pastor, I am reminded that I am not immune from this problem. I cannot coast through life or ministry.

Need for character development

I recently had a great conversation with a fellow pastor about church-based ministry training. As we discussed necessary elements in how churches help develop future pastors and lay leaders, he made a strong appeal to the importance of character development. He reminded me that pastors don't often get removed from ministry because of theological distinctions or leadership styles, it is often the result of deep and pervasive sin. Sin that is often hidden and then surfaces through any number of different channels, which makes it extremely messy and very painful for the pastor's family and church.

As I reflect on the moral failing of pastors, and their disqualification from ministry, it has been a great reminder of the importance of character development as part of ministry preparation. We are going to be hiring five ministry interns this fall at First Baptist Church, and we will be intentional to give considerable time to this important aspect of their development.

Creating a culture where its okay to not be okay

As I have been reflecting on the moral failing of pastors, it has been a reminder that often we do not create a culture where it is okay to not be okay. Our actions don't line up with our theology. We don't believe the Bible teaches we need to be perfect, but we do not make room for the imperfection we know is present. As a result, we hide even the smallest of sins. These unaddressed, hidden sins, grow stronger in the shadows, and eventually turn into massive sin patterns.

We do not create a culture or space to talk about our sin. When we hide our sin, we feed it like we would a tiger cub. It feels harmless to start, but we never address the growing sin, until we are finally consumed by the massive feline that has grown inside of us. Helping pastors and ministry leaders find avenues to confess sin, so that sin does not have a chance to grow is a necessary step.

Even if sin has grown to a point of disqualification, keeping it hidden will only result in more pain and destruction. We need to create a culture that can handle sin and help to address sin. Where it is okay to not be okay.

We never stop seeking gospel transformation

The gospel never stops changing us. So even though we need a culture where we can be honest about sin, we must also create a culture that constantly pursues gospel transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, even in the life of the most seasoned pastor. God wants to continue bringing our hearts and our lives into increasing alignment with our status as fully righteous in Christ. We have already been made perfect, by grace, through faith in Jesus. Now God wants our hearts and lives to reflect that more and more each day.

So, while it is important that we create space for the honest confession of sin, we are not content to stay in that sin. We pursue the gospel and the change God wants to bring in our lives.

God is in the business of changing lives, even in the life of the most seasoned pastor.

Be proactive, not reactive

The final point of reflection I been having is that we must be proactive to create healthy patterns and relationships, so that when we need to confess sin or seek help, it is available to us. Don't wait until you are knee deep in the water (or some other less desirable substance) to begin looking for waders. Develop deep relationships that allow you to confess sin. Get monitoring software on your computer. Create rhythms that help you grow in your relationship with Jesus. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Be proactive, no reactive to fight sin in your life.