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Monday, January 1, 2018

Best Books from 2017

2017 has been a long year!  It has been year full of ministry, friendships, sorrows, joys, and lots of books!  Especially with Seminary, I get the opportunity to do a lot of reading.  At the end of each year, many ministry posts a "Best Books" list.  I know I'm one of the first to click on these links.

These lists are incredible resources.  It helps us to look through the fog and the overwhelming weight of information to see the best of the best.  Often times though, these books are more for scholars than for the average pastor.  I hope, in the sea of books, that my list will help ministry to see what was helpful to other average pastors and ministry leaders.

These are books which left a mark on me, caused me to think, or have become go to resources for me.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my top books I've read this year! 

The Mestizo Augustine:A Theologian Between Two Cultures
by Justo Gonzalez

This short, accessible biography will give the reader perspective on the context and impact of Augustine's theology.  It was required reading for my "Theology of Augustine" course at SBTS, and take it from personal experience: This will help shed light on Augustine's writings.  Wanting to know about the most influential theologian on the Western Church?  Start with this biography!

When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer
by Chris Sonksen

I rarely receive free books.  When I received this book, I was skeptical.  But, I walked away stunned!  While there are many great books on leadership, and others on church revitalization, few can meld the two together.  Sonksen asks his reader to ask 7 questions that many church leaders cast aside and often assume.  Your leadership, your organization, and/or your church will be better for reading (and doing!) what is within its pages.

Preach: Theology Meets Practice
by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert

I rarely buy books for other people.  If I want someone else to use their time, I want it to be worthwhile.  This, friends, is worthwhile.  I bought it for two buys in my church!  If you are wanting an approachable introduction to what preaching looks like, this is the book for you!  Conversational, simple, yet profound.  Use this book to help train others to preach (or to improve your own!).

The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive
by Mark Dever

What does "Community" mean?  What is biblical community?  Why does Jesus say that it would be attractive to the world?  Mark Dever investigate these issues from a biblical perspective, often leaving conventional wisdom we have come to treasure in churches.  It was a perspective shift in my short ministry on the measure of "success" and the meaning of community.

Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support
by Brad House

Brad House offers a different perspective from Dever in some areas, but his work has in just 6 years become a standard for small group ministry.  No matter your model, you will be provoked to reconsider what community looks like in your church.  Be careful, this is one of the books with the power to change your whole perspective!

Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page
by Larry Osborne

This book is already on my reread list for 2018.  Osborne offers practical, timeless principles for leadership.  Every ministry leader should read this book.  Yes, you read that right.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
by Tim Keller

If the average Christian asked me for the one book they should read, I would suggestion this one.  In fact, this has been my most suggested book to church members this year!  For believers it is deep, yet easy to follow.  Unbelievers, I promise, it is much better and thought-provoking than you're expecting.  Pick it up.

Why Trust the Bible?
by Greg Gilbert

9Marks has three books on this list for a reason: they put out great content!  Gilbert offers a succinct resource for believers and skeptics alike.  This resource will help you understand the historical reliability of the New Testament in an easy to understand guide.  (Side Note: His books "Who is Jesus?" and "What is the Gospel?" from this same series are also fantastic).

Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel
by Mike Cosper

As a preacher, I don't tend to read many books on music ministry (sorry worship pastors!).  But, this one has become a standard.  How can we help bridge the gap between the "worship" time, when we are singing, and the "sermon"?  This book is important for those who see their call as music leader as pastoral and who desire to help form the congregation in the gospel through the music they sing.

Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ
by Richard C. Barcellos

I'll be honest, I'm shocked this book is on this list!  I bought this book on a whim (and for a deal) from Founders Press.  While I do not agree with everything in its pages, Barcellos has both challenged and confirmed me in my understanding of various issues.  It will no doubt be a standard for covenant theologians, and it is an important read regardless of where you stand on the issues of covenant theology and the Sabbath.  I intend to consult it more into the new year.

Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions For Dying and Divided Churches
by Brian Croft

Published in 2016, this book should be a gold standard for those seeking church revitalization.  Brian Croft has been there (he even includes the story of how he was almost fired).  He offers a biblically faithful road map toward health.  Short and accessible.  A must read before taking a pastorate in an established church!

Honorable Mentions:

MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of MultiSite
by Brad House and Greg Ailison

Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change In the Church?
by Thom Rainer

Planting Church Cross-Culturally North America and Beyond (Reread of the Year)
by David Hesslgrave

Greek for Life Strategies for Learning Retaining and Reviving New Testament Greek
by Bejamin L, Merkle and Robert L. Plummer

Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again
by Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick

Saturday, November 11, 2017

My Review of "Calvinist"

 produced by Les Lanphere, founder of the Reformed Pubcast and the Reformed Pub Facebook group, is a resource which helps to capture the theological revolution taking place in our day.  Lanphere documents the history of Reformed Theology (also called Calvinism).  What exactly is TULIP?  How does Calvinism compare to many other religious movements within Christian history?  Lanphere gives a concise answer.  He uniquely provides a modern history of how Evangelislicalism got here.  He highlights the profound influence of Banner of Truth, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper in shaping this generation of young Calvinists. This, I believe, will be the film's lasting influence.

But, he does not do this with rose colored glasses.

He is honest about some of the mistakes within the movement.  The fall of Mark Driscoll, the plague of "Celebrity Pastor," and the uncharitable spirit of many Calvinists act as protagonists to this revival.  But, Lanphere is hopeful.  He exhorts the audience to continued reformation, to continued confessional fidelity, and to continued commitment to God's mission to the world.

This film features a variety of pastors and theologians within the Reformed stream.  So, it is perfect for Calvinists looking to rejoice in the Doctrines of Grace!  It is also a perfect film for those looking to explore exactly what Calvinism is.  You get to hear about it from those who profess it the loudest.

I highly recommend you pick up this film today.  Rent it or buy it on Vimeo here.

May God raise up many more film makers to exalt in His sovereign grace and to spread His Word across the globe!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Give the Knife to Jesus

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.

Betrayal.  Infidelity.  Dishonesty. 

We call this being “stabbed in the back.”  As far as clichés go, it provides an accurate picture.  Betrayal feels like a knife in the back and just like being stabbed, it affects so much more than the heart.  The whole person is drowned in a flood of shock, pain, and confusion.

The Scripture puts perfect language to this.

My heart is in anguish within me;

    the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,

    and horror overwhelms me. – Psalm 55:4-5

Betrayal is not just a heart pain, but a horror which “overwhelms.”  There is something about this sort of pain different from the suffering caused by strangers.  In fact, Psalm 55 continues and articulates this same reality,

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

    my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God's house we walked in the throng.” - Psalm 55:12-14

David, the human author of this Psalm, had experienced betrayal by his son Absolam and his counselor Ahithophel (you can read more about this in 2 Samuel 15-18).  God chose for David’s experience to be written down for us (see 1 Corinthians 10:6).  We are meant to gain something from this.  But, when we get to David’s crescendo, we are left wanting more:

Cast your burden on the 
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.
– Psalm 55:22

As I read that, I hope I’m not the only one who thinks, “Really God?  You’re going to conclude this Psalm with a cliché like that!  Yes, I hadn’t thought of that option yet!”  If we were honest, we’d recognize that these sorts of verses often put a bad taste in our mouth (which is something we may need to bring before the Lord in repentance, but that is a point for another blog).  These sorts of verses are expected to give us instant comfort (and often don’t).  It often seems the one trying to encourage us is trying to pacify us.

“Cast your burdens on the Lord.”  I’m left asking, “What does that mean?”  I mean, I know what the words mean, and even the picture it paints.  But, how exactly do I do that?  Fortunately, God offers us the whole Psalm to help guide us.

What does it look like to “cast my burdens” on the Lord?  How do I place my betrayal in His hands?  How do I give Jesus the knife that was left in my back? 

Psalm 55 offers 3 considerations.

First, giving the knife to Jesus means recognizing you’re bleeding.
  This may seem unusual, but I know I am tempted to put on the “fake it till I make it” face, especially around people who can see right through it.  I am not suggesting you air all your dirty laundry for the world to see (please, don’t put it on Facebook!).  It does mean that you should pursue confession.  Don’t pretend that the pain isn’t there.  Stop pretending.  Miranda Lambert sings the song “Tin Man.”  She sings,

"Hey there, Mr. Tin Man

You don't know how lucky you are
You shouldn't spend your whole life wishin'
For something bound to fall apart
Every time you're feeling empty
Better thank your lucky stars
If you ever felt one breaking
You'd never want a heart"

I fear many us try to live like a Tin Man.  No heart, no emotions.  That is not how God made us!
Many of us try to hide behind an image we have created (we often display this image through social media).  But God sees through it.  In fact, so does the world.  The shirt of the image we project cannot hide the handle of the blade in our backs.  Others see you’re hurting.  God sees you’re hurting.  Confess, to God and others.  See the way David confesses throughout the Psalm?  His opening words are the sort of confession we may need to model,

Attend to me, and answer me;

    I am restless in my complaint and I moan,”-
Psalm 55:2

Honesty is the beginning of healing.  Don’t worry, God loves embracing messy people.  In fact, messy people are the only kind of people God loves- because messy people is all there is!  Casting your burden begins with confessing your burden.

Second, giving the knife to Jesus means letting Him be the Judge.  
I said this in the last point and I’ll say it again- broadcasting your betrayal on Facebook will heal the wound.  Declaring to the world, “I have a knife in my back!” does not take the knife out.  Throughout Psalm 55, we see David letting God be God.

We are so tempted to try to do God’s job.  We want to be in the judge’s chair.  But, we must recognize that no matter what we do, God already has that role.  Throughout the Psalm he trusts that the Lord is aware and will judge accordingly.  Instead of retaliating, his response is simple, “But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.”  God is the one who will destroy, humble, and cast down (v. 9, 19, 23).

Paul picks up this idea in the book of Romans when he writes, “Beloved, 
never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (12:19).  Many people find the idea of God punishing evil abhorrent until something evil happens to them.  God has a day when He will set the record straight.  God will vindicate those who have been mistreated.  We do not need revenge, let Him do His job!  Casting our burdens on the Lord means letting God be God. 

Third, giving the knife to Jesus means standing firm.  It is amazing how the Bible never tells us to “move on.”  The Bible’s exhortation is to stand firm in faith.  Be righteous, regardless of the circumstance.  Ultimately, casting our burdens on the Lord means staying the course and continuing in faithfulness.

How often do we let the hurts of life take us off course?  We get so consumed with our suffering that we forget our Savior.  But, God’s call is not to waver, to stand firm.  If we do this, He promises that we will stand firm and will not be moved.  See the last half of verse 22 that we have been talking about?  The narrow way is often covered in thorns and walked without shoes.  But, its destination is life (Matthew 7:13-14).  Do we trust the promises of our Savior?
In fact, no one understands our pain more than Jesus!  He endured betrayal, even died to forgive those who turned their back on Him (see Romans 5:8)!  Jesus understands.  Jesus forgives.  Jesus transforms.  Your burden is not too heavy, your darkness is not without hope.  Casting our burdens on the Lord means trusting that His way is right, even if life is hard.

While I do not come with all the answers, I come with a Word from the One who does.  He never tells David why He experienced what He did.  But, He proves to be enough for Him through the questions.  He offers to take the knife and heal the bleeding.  Behind the clichés, will we find hope?  Will we hear the voice of God to us?  Will we hand the knife to the One with nail pierced hands?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Daddy Issues

A Notification?  This early?

“I’m praying for you.” 

Huh?  Certainly, I appreciate as much prayer as I can get, but generally I can pinpoint a purpose for it.  I wasn’t sick.  I wasn’t having any major crisis. 

I reply “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

“I know this day is hard for you.” 

This day?  It’s Sunday?  What could be the….

Oh.  It’s Father’s Day.

Father’s Day has always carried with it a variety of feelings.  Typically, it is not until someone else points out the elephant in the room that the weight comes crashing down.  I have no one to celebrate today.

But I have stop letting it be a day of mourning.  Father's Day is a day of remembrance.
Whether your father was completely absent or was less than a model example, I would encourage you to not make today a day of mourning, but a day to remember.

Father's Day is a reminder to three realities: identity, forgiveness, and the strength to forge ahead.

Reminder 1: Fatherlessness is not my identity.

Friend, the accuser will look at you on this day and declare many lies.  "You are not loved."  "You will never not hurt."  "If he could leave, so could God."

Satan's method is always to make us identify by something other than the Word of God.  When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, he went after Jesus identity by saying, "If you are the Son of God..."  Satan would tempt us by having us question all we are in Christ.

Don't believe his accusations.

Satan's song is loud.  But our Savior's song is louder.

The people of God overcome the accuser by embracing their blood-bought identity.

"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."
 - Revelation 12:11

Our value, our worth, our identity, is not grounded in the love of an earthly father, but in the love of our Heavenly Father.  God loves you!  The Son of God displayed it in his blood and by our testimony we declare it.  In the gospel, we find new life no longer defined by fatherlessness, but new life founded upon faithfulness.

God loves you, whether your father did or not.  God is healing your broken heart, no matter how real the pain is.  God will never leave you or forsake you, regardless of how far they fled.

God loved you before the foundation of the world, He sought you out by entering into this world in flesh.  He lived the perfect life none of us could not.  He willingly faced separation from the Father through his death on the cross that we might be adopted by God the Father.  He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" But, He did not stay dead- God raised Him from the dead!  By trusting in His death on the cross and Resurrection from the dead we have the promise that we will never be forsaken.  Over believers God sings,

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;he will exult over you with loud singing."
- Zeph. 3:16

This new identity transform how we relate to our past.

Reminder 2: Forgiveness is today's theme song.

As fully forgiven people, we can forgive.  In fact, as fully forgive people, we have no option but to forgive.

"How could I forgive a monster like him!"

But that is where the gospel becomes so much sweeter.  No one has offended you more than we have offended the Father by our sin.  Sin is not simply a mistake, sin is divine treason against our God and King.  Sin is less the son's misunderstanding and rather the son who stole his Father's wealth and wasted it on wild women.  Sin is dishonor to ourselves and to God who created us to reflect Him.  When we sin we are saying, whether we recognize it full or not, "This is what God is like."

But, God is willing and able to fully forgive.  But, not without pain.  He bore divine wrath and separation in order to bring divine forgiveness and reconciliation.

As the parable goes, the Father pursued the prodigal, even when far off and ran to him.  He did not wait to get the money back, he did not wait to even get an apology or explanation.  He responded in forgiveness at the return of the son.

If God can forgive you, you can forgive your father today.

I know he hurt you.  It may take time.  It may take your whole life.  But we must let go of our bitterness and place it on the cross of Christ, where it already is.  We need to recognize that our pasts no longer have a hold on us.  Bitterness is caused by the strain of a disappointed hopes continuing to be hoped in.

Yes, he let you down.  He broke your heart.  But, holding onto it is simply destroying you.

Forgiveness means freedom.  Forgive today.

Reminder 3: Forge ahead knowing all the wrong things to do.

With a new identity and the fruit of forgiveness, we can now forge ahead.

We may not know what being a father, or living with a father, is in experience.  But, we do know what it is not.  We have the opportunity to offer something better.   From darkness can come light.

But where the ideal is lacking, grace abounds.  God will help you to forge ahead.  This does not mean all your questions will be answered.  They won't.  It doesn't mean you don't have a long journey ahead of you.  You do.  It doesn't mean you are alone though- because you are not.

God has given you His presence but also His people.  God has given us His church to help us along our journey.  The church will help "bear our burdens" and "weep" and "rejoice" along with us (Galatians 6:1, Romans 12:15)

You've got a Father to guide you.  You've got a Father to mold you.  This Father's Day, you've got hope that will sustain you.  You are no longer defined by what happened to you.  You are not a victim.

Through Christ, all suffering that inflicts us is a means for our good (Romans 8:28-39).  The Fatherless are not victims, in Christ, they are victors!

If you have not come home to your Heavenly Father, you can turn and trust Him today.  You can find out more about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by watching this video.

If you have a relationship with God today, you must choose today how we must live.  Don't put off another day in anger and bitterness.  Will you forgive and forge ahead into all the good works which "God has prepared for you?" (Eph. 2:8-9)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Am I Taking a Risk or Being Reckless?

This Sunday I will be preaching on “Risk” from Numbers 13 and 14.  Hope you will be blessed by this sermon excerpt.
John Piper in his book Risk is Right defines risk this way, “risk is an action that exposes someone to the possibility of loss or injury.”  God expects His people to step out in faith and to embrace discomfort- for His glory.
When we start to talk about risk, one of the first questions that people ask is, “How can I tell the difference between risk and recklessness?”  Is there a way to tell the difference between godly risk and sinful risk?
I believe the Scripture is clear.  The difference between Godly risk and sinful risk can be summed up in one question: Are you trusting the Lord or are you testing the Lord?
This manifests itself in several ways:
1) People who are trusting adore God’s grace, those who test the Lord assume God’s grace. 
People who are reckless carry an attitude that says, “Whatever I do does not matter.”  “Shall we go on sinning that grace will abound?”  That is far from God’s perspective.  Paul would respond to these people in Romans 6, “By no means!”
Assuming that we can do whatever we want is ultimately abuse of God’s grace and defaming of His name.  The attitude of risk is one of adoration for God’s grace which propels us to recognize that we are freed from prideful attitudes to step forward in faith.  The attitude of recklessness is one that says, “God doesn’t care.”  The attitude of risk says, “God cares profoundly.”
2) People who are trusting the Lord accept God’s Word, while people who test the Lord Abuse God’s Word.
Consider Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Satan brings Jesus to the top of a building and claims a promise in the Word of God in order to get Jesus to jump off the building.  Jesus responds back with the Word, “I shall not put God to the test.”  Jesus, of course, believed the Word of God.  He claimed and accepted God’s Word.  But, He also understood that recklessness came out of abusing God’s promises. Yes, God promises to protect us, but we cannot use God’s Word as a license for craziness.
3) People who are trusting the Lord have “Yes” hearts, people who are testing the Lord have “Unless” hearts.
Habakkuk is a fascinating prophet.  He argues with God throughout His book.  But, ultimately God uses His words to teach us about faith and by extension risk.  See how the book closes:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
 – Habakkuk 3:17-18
An attitude that tests the Word will hinge their worship on His “Yes.”  If God does not come through, they will not worship Him.  Their hearts say, “Unless.”  But, a hear that trusts is one that recognizes that even if they lose everything, God remains good and He remains worthy of praise.  Do we have hearts that say, “Yes” or hearts that say, “Unless”?
4) People who are trusting the Lord are Humble and Confidence, those who are testing the Lord are Haughty and Cocky.
Trusting the Lord produces humility and confidence (which are not opposed).  Testing the Lord is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency.
At the end of Numbers 14 the people were proud.  They thought they could go forward without God with them.  They thought God would give them a second chance, and when He said no, they thought they could do it by themselves. God brings judgement and makes it clear: He opposes the proud!
5) People who are trusting the Lord act out of calculation, those who are testing the Lord act out of compulsion.
One thing that stands out in Numbers 13-14 is the difference between the two actions of the people.  When they intend to initially enter the land (before chickening out) they were planned.  They sent spies.  They were careful and calculated.  God’s promise to them led them to be careful stewards.  Certainty led to care not carelessness.
Whereas after they chicken out and God sends them back into the wilderness for many more years, they decide to try again.  They do so out of compulsion.
Taking risks does not mean having no fear.  In fact, in the first scenario (which God commanded), they feared God.  In the second (which God condemned), they had no fear.  Taking risks for God requires a proper fear of God.
Let me give an example.  I rarely, if ever, use a fake news story as a sermon illustration, but in a sermon on risk, what do I have to lose?  This past week a fake news story appeared telling of a pastor who was eaten by an alligator because he and his congregation thought that through enough faith, through fasting and praying, they could walk on water like Jesus did.  This pastor tried to walk on water, and the alligator got lunch.
This story provides a perfect illustration of testing the Lord.  They assumed God would be gracious, they abused passages in God’s Word, they put all their hope on results instead of having an attitude of “yes”.  Their perceived humility was actually pride in their own abilities.  They did not fear God truly.  They were not calculated (for they may have prayed, but they did not pick a body of water without crocodiles in it!).  This fake story illustrates a very real truth.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that the whole Old Testament is written for our instruction, that we might learn from them.  God judged His people for not taking risks for His glory and God will do the same for us.  Church, may we take risks for His glory!
May we not confused risk and recklessness and may we step forward in faith, pursuing God’s mission for His glory!
Join us this Sunday at 11am at Garden Green Baptist Church for more.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Personal Reflection & Repentance: Bitterness

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. - Proverbs 14:10

In the Scripture bitterness is almost always connected with suffering. It is a sign of not suffering well. Great suffering lead Naomi to declare rename herself Mara (Bitter).

Bitterness is called a "poisonous root." Another reality the Scripture shows us is that bitterness leads to self-reliance. The author of the Hebrews pairs together the root of bitterness with the rebellion of Esau.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. - Hebrews 12:15-17

But, it doesn't stop there. Bitterness has effects on this around us as well. Proverbs 14:10 talks about others not sharing in the heart's joys due to bitterness. Hebrews warns of it defiling "many." Moses warned the congregation of Israel to avoid it (Deut. 29:18-19).

God's answer to those caught in the tangle of the poisonous root? Christ is the Gardener!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. - John 15:1-2

First, bitterness may be rooted suffering, but suffering may also be it's cure
. Pruning is not a pleasant process, but Jesus promises to prune us so that we might produce fruit. All of our suffering is working to conform us into the image of Jesus. In fact, according to Romans 8:28-30, all things are.

Second, bitterness is a worship problem.
Over and over the Bible points the bitter, through Christ, to worship the Lord.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel... Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire
 - Hebrews 12:23-25, 28-29

Third, bitterness is a forgiveness problem.
We are called to forgive as God has forgiven us. This requires a proper recognition of our condition and Christ's kindness.

The cross and Resurrection is the greatest example of kindness mankind has ever experienced.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. - Ephesians 4:31-32

Kindness softens the bitter heart. Paul writes that the "kindness of God leads us to repentance" (Romans 2:4-5).

Fourth, bitterness has bitter results. We are warned that those who persist in bitterness are met with separation from God! Recall Moses warning to the Israelites,

Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit...The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. - Deut. 29:18, 20

Bitterness has been a besetting sin in my life for the past 2 years or so.

But, in God's kindness, He is breaking the hold of bitterness on me.  One day at a time.

This breaking involves repentance. I repent to all who are reading this of my bitterness. First and foremost, my repentance is toward God (Psalm 51), but I also recognize that healing comes from confessing out sins to one another (James 5:13-18). I come to say I'm sorry. I come to find healing.

Pray for me in these things. That God would continue to break me and that I would keep my eyes on his kindness toward me. Psalm 130:7 describes the kindness of the Lord this way,

"For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption."

That kind of kindness shatters the hold of bitterness. Praise God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Some Advice for the Heartbroken

Let me be transparent: Heartbreak sucks.  When people leave you, whether due to conflict, differences, or death; the aftermath can be total disaster.  As a Christian and a pastor, I have felt heart break. I have felt the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, flat-on-my-face-begging-God-to-please-end-my-life kind of heart break (that is a lot of dashes). I have also set across the table from people who have experienced great trial and pain. 

What can we say?  What encouragement can we give?  So often our answers are correct (read your Bible, pray, etc..)  These answers are right in so many ways.  If it were not for abiding with Jesus through the means of the Word and prayer I would not be alive today.  But, is that really all there is?  So often it seems we offer these things as a magic pill, when they are less like a drug and more like physical therapy.  Overtime they shape, they mold- and not without pain.  Alongside the Word of God and prayer, what can we do (or advice) hurting hearts to do?  

Here are three things that have helped me.  But, I want to again emphasize that healing from any sort of pain is a process.  True heartbreak will (rarely) pass away over night.  These three suggestions will not make the lonely nights disappear tomorrow.  These suggestions will not bring satisfaction to your soul.  Those are things only Jesus can do.  But, these suggestions are natural means that, alongside the Word of God and prayer, will bring healing.

1. Cry.  A lot.
Jesus wept.  The ink of the Psalmist's paper was drenched with tears.  Psalm 42:3 says, "My tears have been my food day and night."

Emotions are not the enemy of healing.  In fact, built up emotion is truly a dangerous thing.  God created us with emotions- to react properly to the things around us. 

Heartbreak hurts.  We should weep.  Our command is not, "Tell the weeping to suck it up!" but to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).  Weeping well was something Jesus did, and it is something we must learn to do.  

In fact, someone who is unafraid to show emotion is very unlike Jesus.  What makes Jesus sanctified is that He knew how to experience emotion without sinning.  He could grieve, laugh, cry, be angry, and celebrate without sin.  This sort of emotional self-control is a sure sign that the Spirit of God is at work in our emotion (Galatians 5:22-23).  Sanctified emotions produce fruits of the Spirit, sinful emotions produce works of the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23).

To have sanctified emotions we must, therefore, experience these emotions.  God is using good and bad times to conform us more into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30).  He is after our good- our conformity to Jesus in this life and the next.

We cannot learn to weep well until we weep deeply.

Cry.  Encourage others to cry.  Cry with others.

2. Remember, but don't recline.  
The Scriptures give examples of the faithful setting up memorials (Joshua 4).  While these examples were often of victories, many of these reminders were of victories that at the time seemed to be defeats.  Consider Noah, looking at the rainbow.  Consider the disciples taking the last supper with Jesus.

Our lives are filled with such memorials.  There are places and things that will always bring back memories for us.

Go eat at the places that were dear to you.  Go walk at that park with all the memories.  Go to the last place you saw them.  Visit their grave.

I can remember where I would sit with my uncle before he died.  I remembered the spot in the lunch room where I would set with old high school friends.  I remembered where I first told a girl I loved her and where I had my first kiss.

Now, this may not happen right away.  Going back to some of these places will be painful, but climbing this hill will help bring solace in an unimaginable way.  Take time to go there and remember, alongside what happened, where God was during it.  The good and the bad.  The Psalmist remembered his past times of worship in the midst of his suffering, "
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival."

(This verse is also a reminder of the importance of the local church to those who are suffering, but that is for another post).

It's alright to sit in these places and remember, but it is not okay to never get up.  Or to put it another way:

But, don't let remembrance turn into reclining.  

Sitting in old chairs can be an enjoyable experience, but once you recline, you'll never be able to get up and press on.  Much like the post Thanksgiving dinner crash, it makes the joy of a past meal turn into regret.  Don't recline into regret, recall for remedy. All memorials were given to a people meant to move on.  Noah was to repopulate.  The disciples would be given a mission.  As we remember, we are healed and God enables us to move forward.

Hearts remedy through remembrance.

3. Forgive.  Them and yourself.
Here it is.  One of the hurtles of God's remedy to a broken heart.  Forgiveness.  I know what you're thinking, "You don't know what they did to me!"  I may not, but I know what Jesus did for you and that is all I need to know.

Jesus forgave the worst in you.  Extend the same to others.  The beautiful thing about Jesus' forgiveness is that He provides full reconciliation, without restraint, to all those who turn to Him.  Sadly, this side of Heaven, our forgiveness will never look like that.

You may not be able to have what you once had.  That isn't biblical forgiveness anyhow.  What you once had is just that- what once was.  Forgiveness is a present action that is forward facing.  As far as it depends on you, seek peace (Romans 12:18).  You don't need what was, you need a present peace.

Peter's restoration meant taking a new role (John 21:15-19) and sometimes ours will as well.  They may not trust you again, and you don't have to trust them again.  but, you cannot forsake peace.

Restoration is not about setting a relationship back, restoration is about making a relationship right.

Don't forget that this also means forgiving yourself.  Forgive yourself for things said (or unsaid), things done (or not done).  Those things are dead with Jesus and new life is an ever-present reality.  Resurrection from the dead is in many ways a lifetime project.

Jesus has raised us with Him, and yet we are growing into all that we will be (1 John 3:1-3).  We are being raised more and more from our deadness- and forgiveness is a massive piece of that.

Forgiveness is about peace to move forward, not the ability to go back.

Alongside abiding with Jesus, God uses ordinary things to shape us and heal us.  Tears, memorials, forgiveness: these are ways God, through suffering, conforms us more into the image of His Son.

We can go forward knowing that God has promised to complete this mission (Phil. 1:6).  Even in our pain, we can worship alongside the words of Jude:  
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. - Jude 24-25