Saturday, June 30, 2007

Temptations leaders face

I heard Chuck Swindoll talk about this topic many, many years ago. I don’t know the source. All I know is that it impacted me greatly and I haven’t forgotten it. I’m reminded of this often.

To be an effective leader, you have to have integrity. Psalm 15:1-2 asks a question, “O LORD, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (NASB).

Integrity is defined this way: 1. Uprightness of character, honesty. 2. The condition or quality of being unimpaired or sound. 3. The state of being complete or undivided. John Maxwell commented on the importance of integrity when he said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

To be a man or woman of integrity is to be whole, integrated, undivided. It’s the opposite of being dis-integrated or broken into separate parts. You can be a leader in government, in education, and in business without integrity. But you can never be a spiritual leader without it.

The apostle Paul wrote to Christian leaders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock…” (Acts 20:28, NASB). Pastor Chuck Swindoll once warned Christian leaders about falling into sin in the following four areas.

Four areas of life for spiritual leaders to be on guard against…

1. Sex

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. For what is man’s lot from God above, his heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong? Does He not see my ways and count my every step?” (Job 31:1-4, NIV).

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (I Thessalonians 4:4, 5; (NASB).

“Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love” (Proverbs 5:18, 19; NASB).

2. Self

Thus says the LORD, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me…'” (Jeremiah 29:23, 24a; NASB).

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Thy name give glory because of Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth” (Psalm 115:1, NASB).

“My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11b, NASB).

3. Silver

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (I Timothy 6:9, 10; NASB).

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15, NASB).

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NASB).

4. Sloth

“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4, NASB).

“Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a, NASB).

“He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys”
(Proverbs 18:9, NASB).

* * *

There you have it. Be on guard in these areas: sex, self, silver, and sloth. Leaders walk the talk. Remember: We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Does Jesus lean to the right or to the left?
I have a friend who is asking questions about how Christ-followers ought to view political issues. Should we focus primarily on issues like abortion and intelligent design - issues that historically belong to the right? Or should we focus on the oppressed and the environment - issues that historically belong to the left?

I think we ought to be challenging the ideas, thoughts, positions, and policies of people on both the left and the right. We ought to evaluate everyone to see if they line up with Kingdom values. Let's question both the right as well as the left.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the following at CVC.

"People who truly follow Jesus are radical people. They are revolutionary. Followers of Jesus are always revolutionary no matter what the culture.

"For example, if you think about the attitudes toward women in most Islamic nations, you might say that they are oppressed. In an Islamic culture, what the Bible says about Christian women in a truly Christian marriage seems radically liberal, radically subversive. It’s counter-cultural.

"If you think about the attitudes toward women in the west, you might say that women are more liberated than in many other parts of the world. In our culture, what the Bible says about Christian women in a truly Christian marriage might seem radically reactionary and radically conservative. Again, it’s counter-cultural.

"Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, says, 'The church looks right wing to the left and left wing to the right.' Christianity doesn’t advance from the left or from the right. It’s from above. It doesn’t fit any worldly culture. It’s revolutionary.

"If we read the Bible and ask, 'Is this from the left or from the right?' we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not from down here, it’s from above.

* * *

Just a few more thoughts. I believe that we must work hard in seeking to be good stewards to build the Kingdom of God. For example, we must work to preserve life. And we must work hard to preserve the environment. These, among others, are Kingdom issues, not issues belonging to the republicans or the democrats.

However, as we work, we must realize it is God, not us, who is the ultimate author of History - a story where all things will be restored.

I don't want to dodge my responsibility to effect change. I'm asking God to use me.

Yet the Bible (Isaiah 60, Revelation 21-22) is clear that ultimate renewal is in God's hands.
So, I'm not optimistic about the efforts of either the republicans or the democrats to effect lasting change. That's why we are taught to pray, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

Meanwhile, let's seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. That means we'll stand with Jesus. He won't be boxed in by the right or the left. He alone stands in perfection. Let's pursue Him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ready for Judgment Day

I was reading today's reading in the One Year Bible. And I stopped at Acts 17:31.

[God] has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.

It occurred to me that I don't think enough about The Day - Judgment Day.

Especially when I played pro baseball, there was a sense in which "judgment day" was everyday. Baseball is a game of stats. Every at bat is recorded. Every box score is published. The stats are complied and published throughout the season, at the end of each season, and then at the end of every career.

A few years ago, we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Maryanne wanted our sons who were with us, Ryan and Evan, to see my stats. She called the Hall of Fame staff in advance. They were very helpful. When we arrived, they had a folder all ready for us with many of my stats from my five years of pro ball.

Since I never made "the show," you can imagine that some of my stats were not what I would have liked for them to be. See, published baseball stats can work for you... or against you. For Hall of Famers, the stats work for them. For me, well...

But here's my point: The fact that baseball stats measured my productivity as a player served as a motivator for me to play hard. Unfortunately, my ability didn't match my desire.

Think about it. In an infinitely more significant way, the fact that we will one day be judged by God ought to motivate us to live righteously.

The world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire against us to make us forget about Judgment Day. But the word of God is full of reminders. Here are a few.

I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36

The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:27

They will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. I Peter 4:5

If you say, "See, we did not know this, "Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? Proverbs 24:12

Each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:12

Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. I Corinthians 13:3

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. II Corinthians 5:10

Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord. Ephesians 6:8

He who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Colossians 3:25

All the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. Revelation 2:23

I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. Revelation 20:12

Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Revelation 22:12

So, I'm praying that God will remind me often about The Day that is coming. And that I will be ready. There is a sense in which "spiritual stats" are being compiled by God as He watches our lives moment by moment, day after day, year after year. And these "spiritual stats" will either work for us or against us. I want to be found being filled with the Spirit, abiding in Christ, and being busy loving God, loving one another, and loving the world.

I want to be ready. I want you to be ready, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Hope of Heaven

Today, I had the privilege of visiting with the mom of one of the members of our Community Group. She's been coming to church when she's been able to do so over the last few months. She's been diagnosed with a terminal illness and wanted to talk with me.

When I arrived, I saw our group member's dad in the garage and said hi to him. We went in together.

The mom was in the kitchen and we chatted there for a few minutes. Then we went into the living room. The dad asked the mom to take off her TV headphones and asked me to speak loudly. We sat on the couch facing the front window with the dad in the chair to my right.

We talked about the family some. I asked the mom what the doctors are telling her now. The dad said, “They said she has 3-9 months to live. I’m 8 years older. I always thought I would go before her.” I asked how the kids were doing with that news. I asked how the dad was doing with that news. And then I asked the mom how she was doing with that news.

I talked about how death is really good news because of heaven. Regarding heaven, I read Revelation 21:4 and John 11:24-25 to her. And we talked about the blessings of heaven for a few minutes – how, when a person goes to heaven, they make heaven that much more precious for the people who are left behind. She asked, “Does everyone go to heaven?”

That gave me the opportunity to talk with her about the gospel. She seemed really focused on what I was saying. We talked about how we are all sinners and deserve death and hell, but that God loves us anyway and provided Jesus to forgive us. We talked about how our goodness and religion still fall short for the glory of God and that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. I drew the “bridge to life” for her on a CVC note card and explained things as I went along. Then I wrote down a prayer of salvation for her. I shared what I call “The Great Swap-out” – how Jesus takes our dirty clothes (our sin) and dies in our place and how He gives us His clean clothes (His righteousness) so we can stand before God guiltless. In sharing this, I used the dad as the illustration – that he gives his shirt (sin) to Jesus and gets Jesus’ shirt (righteousness).

I asked the mom if the prayer expressed the desire of her heart. She said, “Yes.” I asked her if she wanted to pray the prayer with me – that I would pray it phrase-by-phrase and she could repeat after me. She said, “Yes.” Then we prayed the prayer of salvation together phrase-by-phrase. The last sentence was, “Take me to heaven to be with You.”

Afterwards, she said, “Thank you.” She touched her heart and said, “I feel so good inside. This is exactly what I needed.”

I asked her if she had a Bible. She said, “No.” I said, “We’ll get you one.” Then I wrote down some verses on the back of the card: I John 5:11-13, John 5:24, John 11: 24-25, Revelation 12:4, Psalm 23, I Peter 1:3-5. I encouraged her to look these verses up and read and re-read them to gain a sense of peace. I sense that that’s really what she was looking for – a peace from God about her eternal destiny.

I prayed for her again before I left. And when I opened my eyes, I saw that she had tears in hers. They seemed to be tears of gratitude.

The dad commented that his shirt was a good example to use for “The Great Swap-out” illustration. He was wearing a Las Vegas T-shirt. We had a laugh about that.

I’m pretty pumped about what Jesus did in that house today. I was thinking what a great plan of salvation God has given. Other religions require works. To get any assurance of heaven, you have to earn it. And when a person is in failing health like this mom, it can be too late to accumulate enough religious good deeds to earn the credits required to get into heaven. Since our salvation is all about Jesus and His work for us to forgive us, then we can have peace and hope no matter when we put our faith and trust in Him. What a great Savior we have! What a great Savior this mother now has!

I'm asking the son who's in our Community Group to get her a Bible – maybe the New Living Translation – and write down the verses I wrote on the note card for her and show her how to find the verses in her Bible. I think she needs to read and re-read these verse (and others like them) to keep the peace that Jesus alone can give. I also am encouraging her to read John – one chapter a day for the next 21 days.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to see this mom. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being used by God.

I know that emotionally and spiritually, the son who is in our Community Group was there with me in that room. His spiritual investment in his mom's life has paid off huge dividends.

I was reminded that this is really what we want to be about at CVC: Going to heaven and taking as many people with us as we can.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Let's go

Yesterday, one of our youth staff members sent me an email about a new series we are beginning at CVC called “let’s go.”

He wrote, “I think it is going to be cool. I just wanted to share a quick bit about what God has been doing in my heart, and I think something that has been on the hearts of the youth ministry. It may apply to one of your weeks.

“God has been showing me the reality of his commandment of us to GO. So often we, as an American church, are asking people go come (to our church, or to come and listen to what we have to say, or to come to our event.) instead of going like the Lord commands us. What can we do to make Brecksville/Broadview Heights know that we love them with no strings attached?

“We have been wondering how we can show the students of this area that we are here, available, and care about them without trying to pitch impact to them.

“One of our answers is that we are going to spend Wednesday mornings in the summer at the Independence park just shooting hoops, playing baseball and the like with students. So as we go into this new series, is there something that we can do to show this city that we care, without trying to get them here? Is there something we can do so that when we do get opportunities to share our faith, we have something to build on. How can we GO instead of asking people to come?”
* * *

“What can we do to make Brecksville/Broadview Heights know that we love them with no strings attached?” Good question. I’m not sure how to answer it. Maybe the Lord will give us specifics as we go along in the series. Do you have ideas for us as a whole church family?

We are looking for service projects in our Jerusalem. Recently, I helped a team of guys from our church paint an old man’s house about ¼ mile from our church on Wallings Road. And we are looking for other “Jerusalem” projects to do. Gus Supan went by the guys’ house a few days later and shared the gospel with the guy. He didn’t respond. But the man sure is grateful that we painted his house. He keeps saying, “I don’t know how to thank you.”

As you know, we are to be the church 24/7/365… always on mission. As Acts 1:8 says, we are to love the world – be witnesses in our Jerusalem, in our Judea, in our Samaria, and to the uttermost… I think that means that each believer has to go 4 for 4 when it comes to being witnesses in all the arenas – local, regional, national, global. So, I’m all about going.
(In fact, Maryanne and I have given our lives up to “going.” When I was 30 or so and in seminary, I asked God to show me if He wanted me to “go” overseas. He made it clear to me that global missions wasn’t His plan for us, but that national missions was His plan for us. That’s why we ended up in Cleveland. Given where Maryanne and I grew up and where our families live, reaching as many people as possible in NE Ohio has been and continues to be a “national” mission effort for us. Even though we’ve been here for over 20 years and we feel “at home” and love our church family, NE Ohio is still not “home” to us as much as the South, where our families live, is “home” to us.)

What God is putting on my heart and what I think we really, really need to remember as a church family is that the neighborhoods and the offices we are already in – the places we are already “going” to – need Jesus’ love.
In fact, the Greek in Matthew 28:19 is properly translated this way: “As you are going…” Yes, in this context, the participle “going” does contain the force of a command. But it is a participle just like “teaching” and “baptizing” are participles in the verse. Strictly speaking, the only command in the verse is “make disciples.”

So, I take “as you are going…” to mean this: As CVCers are “going” about their daily lives, we are to make disciples – to show off the love of Jesus in practical ways in order to create, by God’s grace, in people an appetite for the Truth. If you think about it, God has already placed each of us in mission contexts. The lost live and play and work and go to school all around us. We just don’t see them as lost. We’ve lost our “missionary eyes.” We aren’t as concerned about the eternal destiny of souls as we ought to be. We aren’t passionately praying for them and seeking direction from the Lord about how to love them to Jesus.
So, I’m wanting our people to start asking, “How can we as individuals show off Jesus’ love in our own circle of influence that God has already placed us in?” Not necessarily (as you say) to get the lost to come to a service or event, but to simply love them and, perhaps, create in them, by God’s grace, a curiosity. Then I Peter 3:15 will come into play.

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. I Peter 3:15 (NASB)

Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement and prayers. I’m glad that you guys are thinking strategically and biblically about outreach. You are an example to the flock and to me. Awesome.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The "B" of the ABCs of disappointment

In my post on Thursday, June 14, 2007, we looked at the ABCs of disappointment. My friend John Turner gave me the ABC tool to help me think through issues related to disappointment.

I encouraged you to label your disappointment “A.” “A” can stand for the "Activity" in your life – the "Activating" event, the stuff that has happened to you to cause you pain. Or “A” can stand for the "Actions" of others that have hurt you. These are circumstances and situations that come to all of us and are often beyond our control.

Then I asked you to label your response “C.” “C” can stand for the "Condition" of your heart after “A” happens to you. “C” can stand for the "Conduct" of your life after “A” takes place. What’s the emotional "Consequence" of “A” for you?

Then we thought about how two people can go through the exact same "A" and end up at a very different "C". If two people have a car wreck (“A”), one person might think. “God must be punishing me” (“C”) while the other person thinks, “God sure was gracious in sparing my life” (a very different “C”). One person knows despair. The other has hope. What’s the difference? What's between "A" and "C"? You got it! “B.” The difference is in their"Beliefs" about the character and nature of God.

Now, let's think a little more deeply about “B” – about faith. If "Belief" is so important, you have to ask yourself, “What kind of "Belief" do I have? What kind of faith do I have?”

My friend Randy Shafer used to be on staff at CVC. He’s now a pastor in Michigan. I was reading some of his thoughts on his blog the other day and saw that he was talking about two kinds of faith.

faith for...

“Faith for” is believing that God can change your disappointing “A.” If you are single, you have “faith for” God to give you a spouse. If your spouse won’t pray with you or your kids, you have “faith for” God to change things. If your kids are on the run from God, you have “faith for” God to bring them home to Him. That’s “faith for.” “Faith for” God to heal, to help, to intervene, to take away the thorn in the flesh. And there is…

faith in…

“Faith in” is believing that even if the disappointing circumstances don’t change, God will sustain me – that He will be my hope and help even with the disappointment, that He will be enough for me. I have “faith in” God even when the sun isn’t shining, even when I’m in the hospital bed, even when I’m facing death or divorce or disability or disappointment with my family.

If all you have is a “faith for” kind of faith rather than a “faith in” kind of faith, then maybe what you are all about is using God, not loving Him. There are some flavors of Christianity that present God as the big “Fix-it-guy-in-the-sky.” He’s there to give you your best life now. But what do you do if your mom dies and your dad abandons you?

At some point you may be forced to let go of that disappointing thing you’re having faith for God to do. Sometimes, it can become clear that God isn't going to change things. At that point “reality” meets “faith for” and one has to bow to the other.

But when you also have a “faith in” kind of faith, reality never has to override it. “Faith in” God allows you to rise above your disappointments without denying them.

So, what are your disappointments in your family? Have “faith for” God to fix things! Ask Him! Be bold! There’s no question that God can change things. But you don’t know if He will. You don’t know if He will do what you want Him to do. But go ahead and ask. “Faith for!”

As my friend Randy says, “The hard thing is to keep asking without slipping into ‘demanding faith’ or ‘angry faith’ or ‘frustrated faith’ or ‘formula faith’ or ‘this-verse-says-You-have-to faith’ or ‘I-know-better-than-You faith.’”

Remember: You can’t manipulate God. He won’t be used to build your kingdom. You’re supposed to be building His.

But keep on asking even if things look bleak. Faith for.” But hold extra tight onto your “faith in” God – “faith in” His love and wisdom and sovereignty even if you are frustrated that He doesn't seem to be doing what you want Him to do... or He's not doing it fast enough... or the way you would do it!

We need both “faith for” God and “faith in” God.

My friend Randy is fighting cancer. Here's what he says about that.

Every week, my situation looks bleaker... at least from a medical perspective. If you've looked at any stats about melanoma, you quickly find that the survival rate for my type and stage of cancer is pretty low. Not that survival is unheard of. It’s just not likely. And the longer things go... the worse they look.

Now, that’s disappointment. How is Randy going to handle this disappointing news? A devastating “A” has happened. How do you handle your disappointments? How would you handle that one?

Listen to Randy’s “B” – his beliefs about God.

Because I believe God to be completely wise, I believe He knows what is best in even the most complex situations. [That’s the wisdom of God.] Because I believe God to be infinitely loving, I believe he treats me with respect and dignity and compassion. [That’s the love of God.] Because I believe God is transcendent, I believe His ways are ultimately above our ability to completely understand. [That’s the sovereignty of God.]

Randy knows God. So, even though his “A” is disappointing, his belief about who God is – his “B” – is right and true and stable. So, where does this leave Randy? What’s his “C”?

Even though I'm primarily a “faith in” kind of guy, I still have “faith for” God to do some amazing things. One is a faith built on my confidence in God’s character. The other is a faith born out of desire. A child jumps off the edge of the pool and into the water because she is confident her dad is strong enough to catch her. Faith in. A child keeps asking for a pony because she is convinced she really really needs it and that her dad loves her. Faith for.

So, I keep asking God to heal me because I think I really really should stick around a bit longer. Faith for. But beneath my asking is a thicker layer that reminds me to rest in the wisdom and love of God to ultimately do what He decides to do. Faith in.

But don't be confused. God invites us into both a “faith in” and “faith for” relationship. Leave one or the other out... and you don't really have a relationship.

So, in all of our life circumstances... we trust... and we ask... and we trust... and we ask... and we trust... the two must go hand in hand for those who follow Jesus.

There’s power here in Randy’s weakness. He’s tapped into that grace – the grace of Jesus that’s sufficient for him, even in the face of disappointment. I don’t see fatalism here. What I see is a contentment in light of God’s sovereignty.

I think the hardest part... at least for me at times and especially now... may be in trusting and asking until I can see the answer. Sometimes He shows his hand. Usually He doesn't. For too many years I fought the dark... the waiting... the fog.

But in the "both/and"... in the waiting... lies the sweetness of intimacy with the Almighty. There the music plays that quickens my feet for the dance. There the party begins.

There in His lap He holds me in my uncertainty... and the pounding in His chest reminds me that He is excited to be with me... and for the future that lies ahead for us both.

He delights in my requests.

I rest in the beat of His heart... ...and wait.

Would you do that with the disappointment in your family? Rest in the beat of His heart… and wait. You know why you can do that? It’s because God’s grace is enough for you... and me.

Maybe the following prayer can help express the desire of your heart.

Dear Jesus,

I admit that life in my family is sometimes disappointing for me. And I confess that the condition of my heart and the conduct of my life too often betray a lack of joy and peace.

But in spite of the disappointments in my life, Your grace is enough for me. Jesus, I embrace Your death on the cross for my forgiveness and Your resurrection for my eternal hope.

I believe. I have “faith for” You to change the disappointing circumstances in my family. But if You choose not to change things for me, I have “faith in” You to sustain me through the difficulties.

You know best. I know You are loving and wise and sovereign.

In the moment of my weakness, give me grace to do Your will. No matter what, help me to live with gladness and contentment in my family.

Change my heart, O Christ, to be like Yours.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The ABCs of Disappointment
Last week, I swapped emails with a guest speaker who came to CVC, John Turner, about how God’s people ought to handle disappointments. What follows are some of his ideas intermingled with some of mine. Hopefully, the result is God-saturated, Bible-based, Christ-exalting help for you.

Label your disappointment. Call it “A.” “A” can stand for the "Activity" in your life – the "Activating" event, the stuff that has happened to you to cause you pain. Or “A” can stand for the "Actions" of others that have hurt you. These are circumstances and situations that come to all of us and are often beyond our control.

Maybe someone in your family has rejected you somehow. Maybe you want kids but haven’t been able to have them. Maybe you’re in a marriage with a difficult person. Maybe you are single and you’re not meeting anyone. Or maybe the one you’re interested in isn’t interested in you. Maybe you’ve had a miscarriage. Life isn’t playing out the way you hoped.

What’s your “A?”

Now, how do you respond to “A?” Let’s label your response “C.” “C” can stand for the "Condition" of your heart after “A” happens to you. “C” can stand for the "Conduct" of your life after “A” takes place. What’s the emotional "Consequence" of “A” for you? For a lot of us, it’s defeat, depression, and discouragement.

John asked me, "Have you ever noticed how two people can go through the exact same 'A' and end up at a very different 'C'?"

If two people have a car wreck (“A”), one person might think. “God must be punishing me” (“C”) while the other person thinks, “God sure was gracious in sparing my life” (a very different “C”). One person knows despair. The other has hope. What’s the difference? What's between "A" and "C"? You got it! “B.” The difference is in their"Beliefs" about the character and nature of God.
Most of the time, we can’t change the “As,” the disappointments that come our way. Most of us think that disappointments actually make us respond a certain way. “Well, I should be ticked off or depressed or withdrawn. Look at how she’s treating me!” But Jesus has come into our lives to transform our “Cs” – the emotional "Consequences." Our “Cs” can change if we start believing what is true about God.

And you’ll be a much better person to live with in your family. You won’t be loading down everyone with your baggage.

Think with me. What was the “A” in Paul’s life In II Corinthians 12? It was the "thorn in the flesh" – the thing that he had prayed for God to remove. God said, “It’s staying.” Paul wanted it to be gone. It was some kind of disappointing "Activity" going on in his life.

What was the “C” in Paul’s life – the "Condition" of his heart, the "Conduct" of his life? Three words jump off the page for me in II Corinthians 12. Contentment. Gladness. Boasting. Not bad.

Someone else could have had the same “A” – the same disappointing thorn in the flesh. They could have prayed for God to take it away. God could say, “It’s staying.” But the “C” for them – the "Condition" of their heart, the "Conduct" of their life can become the other “C.” Complaints. Depression. Discouragement.

Translate that into family life. Who would you like to live with? Paul’s “C”? Contentment / gladness / boasting? Or the other “C”? Complaints / depression / discouragement? Who would you like to have in your family?

What’s the difference? “B.” What you "Believe" about God.

Why did Paul end up with contentment, gladness, and boasting in spite of his disappointment? He believed the truth about God.

Here’s what he says about what he believes.

He believed that God is love.

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 8:38-39 (ESV)

Paul knew that God is too loving to ever be unkind.

Maybe as you read this, you are thinking about your mother wounds or father wounds. What you needed were parents who could give you guidance and direction with gentle wisdom. What you got were parents who either distant and uninvolved or who tried to live their lives through you. Or maybe they hurt you with their words. That’s your “A.” And there’s a sadness and a hurt that you carry with you. That’s your “C.” And maybe it’s hurting the people in your home. God has you reading this to ask you, “Do you really really believe that I love you… even in spite of your “A”?

Paul believed that God is not only loving, but wise.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways.
Romans 11:30 (ESV)

Paul knew that God is too wise to ever make a mistake.

Maybe you can think back to your wedding day. You had such high hopes about having a great marriage. But now there’s a lack of intimacy in your relationship: Your wife is cold toward you. Your husband is locked in on his career, not you. And you’re needs aren’t being met. That’s your “A.” And you’ve been thinking about divorce. Your kids feel the distance between you. You don’t have energy, the passion to serve your family well. That’s your “C.” God has you reading this to ask you, “Do you really really believe that what I’ve allowed in your life is wise?”

Paul believed that God is not only loving and wise, but sovereign.

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Paul knew that God is too sovereign to ever allow things in our lives that He can’t use them for our good.

Maybe you prayed and asked God for kids who would leave your nest and make good choices. Now, you just shake your head at who they are dating or married to. Their career path doesn’t seem wise. How they spend their money and what they do with their time seems crazy to you. That’s your “A.” And you are putting all kinds of pressure on your kids to change, to meet your expectations. That’s your “C.” And they are running further and further away from God and from you. God has you reading this to ask you, “Do you really really believe that I am sovereign and that I am going to be working all things together for good?”

See, as a result of how you handle the disappointments in your family, you’re either going to be a draining person to live with or you’re going to be an energizing person to live with. And the difference lies in your beliefs about God.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Family life can be disappointing.

When I sit down to talk with my mom, I can see and sense her disappointment. Her dream was for my dad to retire and for them to take these long walks on the beach together. Her dreams didn’t come true. My dad died almost 18 years ago, so those long walks on the beach after his retirement never happened. And this is disappointing in our family, especially to my mom. What will she do with that disappointment?

I know our family is alone. What’s disappointing to you about your family? Lock in on something that is disappointing to you about your family. Maybe it’s financial struggle or health problems. Maybe your kids aren’t doing so well in school. Maybe for you it’s sexual un-fulfillment. Maybe you've experienced the death of someone you love.

Disappointments are sure to come. So, think about the biggest disappointment for you when it comes to your family.

Now, what do you do with that disappointment?

If you never learn how to deal with disappointment in your family, you’ll drag your family down. You’ll be throwing pity parties that will drain the joy out of every family function. You’ll live a defeated, depressed, discouraged life that will cause the people you live with want to run away from you. You’ll put an unrealistic pressure on your kids or your spouse to make you happy. And the burden of that responsibility will eat away at their health. You’ll be a VDP – a very draining person.

So, we need to learn how to deal with disappointments in our families. The joy and the peace of the people in your family is at stake. Jesus came to help us deal with disappointment. If we don’t handle it well, then the glory of Christ is at stake.

We all struggle with disappointment. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it talks about spiritual people who share our struggles. One of the most spiritual leaders in the Bible struggled with disappointment, too.

II Corinthians is a letter to a church in an ancient city named Corinth. It was written by their leader, a man named Paul.

Paul experienced great closeness to God in his life. He had been given glimpses into heaven that were mind-blowing. He was a guy with deep spiritual insight. So, to keep him from becoming cocky about his spiritual life, God allowed trouble to come.

A thorn was given me in the flesh… II Corinthians 12:7

We don’t really know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Bible teachers have their theories. Persecution? Epilepsy? Chronic eye problems? A speech impediment? A recurrent illness like malaria? No one knows. I think it’s good that we don’t know. Because more of us can identify with his trouble.

We don't know what Paul’s thorn was, but we can say that a thorn is something that makes us feel incomplete, unfulfilled, and causes chronic pain. Has God given you a “thorn” in your family? Are there some things in your family that are challenges for you?

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. II Corinthians 12:8

Three times, Paul asked the Jesus to take the thorn away. But the answer wasn’t what Paul expected. Jesus didn't take the thorn away. And He didn’t give Paul an explanation for why he had the thorn.

Maybe you’ve prayed and prayed that things would change in your family. If you prayed about it, you’re like Paul.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12:9a

Paul wants the thorn to go away. Jesus says, “No. I’m going to give you grace instead.” My grace is enough for you. I’m going to give you power to live with this thorn, this weakness in your life.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9b

Do you see what Paul is doing here? He’s changing his expectations of God. Instead of arguing with God and bargaining with God and begging God, he’s accepting this weakness. He’s even decided to be glad and even brag about the weakness. The weakness is a backdrop for the display of the power of Christ. “Paul, how are you handling this disappointment?” “Jesus helps me.”

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:10

Think about that disappointment in your family. Can you say, “I’m glad; I’m boasting; and I’m content?” That's the goal, the vision, the dream. Is that you? Would you ask God to give you gladness and boasting and contentment in spite of your disappointment?

There's no doubt about it. How you handle the disappointments in your family will determine whether or not you are a VDP - a very draining person - or a VEP - a very energizing person. Which are you?

Keep looking for future posts to learn more about accessing God's power to be a VEP even in the face of great disappointment.

Friday, June 08, 2007

How will I fit in?

On Wednesday night, I was asked to speak at Evan's graduation from 8th grade at Royal Redeemer Lutheran School. Evan has been going there since first grade. So, of course, we know lots of the parents and kids. I am friends with the pastor there, Jim Martin - a great man of God who is very visionary about ministry. What an honor for me, a Baptist pastor to speak at a Lutheran School.

I started by remembering that when I went to High School I wondered how I would fit in. Would I find the right friends? Would I make the team? Would I be considered cool? It didn’t help that my dad made me wear a haircut that was 10 years out-of-date.

I mentioned that these 8th graders were probably thinking the same thing. When I go to Padua High School or North Royalton High or Lutheran West or Strongsville High, will I fit in? Will I have the right clothes, shoes, haircut? Will I find the right friends?

I suggested that these might not be the right questions – not for followers of Christ. We are in a Kingdom - a Kingdom of love. He would not have us ask, “Will I fit in?” but “Will I stand out?” Not “Will I find a good friend?” but “Will I be a good friend?”

The theme of the 8th grade class for the year was I Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind, etc…” A tall order. And hard, sometimes, for us to get a handle on how to do all that. I mentioned that sometimes, it’s helpful to see what Jesus had to say about a topic. He addressed what this Kingdom of love looks like in Luke 10:30-36.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

I took a few minutes and talked through the passage trying to answer the question, "What does love look like?" The least likely guy - the Samaritan - did the loving thing. He wasn't too busy, too preoccupied, or too focused on his own agenda.

Love has open eyes. He saw.
Love has an open heart. He had compassion.
Love has open hands. He helped the victim and even gave up some of his money.

I mentioned that the kids will likely be seeing wounded people at high school - people who have been left bleeding emotionally and relationally by all the cliques and clubs and teams. They don't have the right stuff - the right clothes or the best athletic abilities or the cool car or the big house. So, they don't fit in. Instead, they get beat up. Their dignity as people created in the image of God has been defaced. And they are left for dead. It happens all the time in high school... and out.

But followers of Jesus who live in the kingdom of love have open eyes to see, open hearts to help, and open hands to serve.

I asked the kids who they were in the story. "Are you a robber - stealing dignity from others by keeping them out of you little clique? Are you the priest or the Levite - too busy with your own agenda to see or help or serve? Or are you the Samaritan - the ones with open eyes and hearts and hands?"

If you want to love like I Corinthians 13 teaches then you can't be asking, "How will I fit in?" The robber fit into his gang. And the priest and the Levite fit into their club. No, the question must not be, "How can I fit in?" but "How can I stand out?" Not "Will I find a friend?" but "Will I be a friend?"

That's love. And that's what we expect from these 8th grade graduates.

Imagine. What might be the impact of those 18 kids over the next four years in high school if they really lived out what it means to be in this kingdom of love.

I can see Jesus smiling about that.

Monday, June 04, 2007

When coaches call it quits

Mark Price was the best free throw shooter in the history of the NBA. All the people who coached him did amazing work. And he was teachable. Look at all the guys in the NBA who shoot less than 70% from the free throw line and it's obvious that not everyone in the NBA is as coachable as Mark Price. Question: Should a coach ever call it quits when it comes to an unteachable player?

Today, a friend from Florida wrote to me about some conflict he's experiencing. He's basically wondering, "Is it ever OK to not answer concerns from people that flow from jealousy and past hurts?"

His question echoes one I've been wrestling with: When should you engage in discussion with someone and when do you withdraw? One night, I spent 2 hours just reading Proverbs 10-31 with that question in mind.

Proverbs indicates that we should refuse to argue with an unteachable person. "If a wise man has an argument with a fool (ewil), the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet" (Proverbs 29:9). Ewil is a word characterizing a long-standing fool – a nagging, whining, “my way or no way” person, a person who is crusty and unbendable. (From “Fool-proofing your Life, by Jan Silvious, p. 32)

Proverbs also teaches us to take into account past efforts to confront. "A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool (kesil)" (Proverbs 17:10). Kesil describes someone with a closed mind. This kind of individual is stubborn and rejects information and feedback from others. (From “Fool-proofing your Life, by Jan Silvious, p. 30)

Proverbs also tells us that there are times to leave the presence of a difficult person. "Leave the presence of a fool (kesil), for there you do not meet words of knowledge" (Proverbs 14:7).

Imagine that you are a coach. A coach can only work with teachable people. If you are a basketball coach and you have a player on your team who struggles with free throw shooting, you’d likely encourage him to point the shooting elbow toward the target. If, over an extended period of time, he insists on aiming the elbow out and away from the target, then at some point, you just have to say, “Well, this guy doesn’t really want to hear from me. I’m for him. I hope the percentage of his free throw shots made increases. But I’m done trying to coach him. Maybe I can coach others, but not him. I’m done.” Then, you move on to work with a teachable player. If things are divisive enough, if he’s undermining your authority, you may have to become comfortable with the fact that he’s not a good fit for your team.

It's easy to see this in the world of sports. It's tougher to see this in ministry. After all, we are supposed to live in unity, right? But sometimes, it's not possible. Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Like everyone, I have found myself in challenging relationships with people. I've tried lots of strategies to deal with the challenges over a lengthy period of time. I’ve laughed with them. I’ve cried with them. I’ve admonished them. I’ve encouraged them. I’ve begged them. I’ve tried subtle tactics with them. I’ve been straightforward with them. I've tried my best to work things out with them.

But sometimes people just don’t agree with me. They simply aren’t responding well to me. In my mind, they just don’t get it. And I’m sure that in their mind, I just don’t get it. They want to play the game their way. A basketball coach might say, "They don’t want to use my system."

I have found that sometimes people are truly unwilling to hear from us. In those cases, the verses above that I've sited from Proverbs teach that we may not be responsible to keep trying to build a bridge into that person’s life. They are free to go their way. And we are free to work with players who want to be a part of our team’s system.

In those cases, we can support them and pray for them and wish them well. We can forgive them for past hurts. We can ask for forgiveness about any hurts that we may have caused. But having further discussions about ministry is likely unnecessary, fruitless, and, perhaps even harmful.

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