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When The Unimaginable Becomes Heartbreaking Reality

Deafening news echoed through the streets of our community and the hallways of our schools. A typical day turned into a memory seared into our minds and hearts.

I awoke to the sound of my phone Thursday morning unaware that the looming experience would change the course of life for so many.  There was no information about what had occurred at the address and no way to prepare my mind and heart for the experiences that would follow.

As I went through the day, the image of a precious little girl lying on the ground and the sounds of a broken mother haunted my memory.  The tears and questions from siblings trying to find understanding seemed inescapable.  As a pastor, these are the moments when words fail.  Just as many struggled with questions, I found myself in the same battle to find resolve – to find answers.

I wish I had answers that could immediately take away the pain and mend the broken hearts, but I do not. For those in our community, struggling with the events of the day, I want to offer the truths that I am holding onto this very moment.

Suffering is Real

I long for the day when sin and death are no more, but that is not today.  I look forward to a time when there are no more tears and pain, but that is not today.  Today, the pain is real, the suffering is real, and death has dealt a blow to our lives, leaving us wanting.  We want the suffering to end, and we want the pain to be relieved.

For some, the only option they see is ending their life.  In the trap of despair, darkness and the world entice us with mirages of hope. In our attempt to soothe the pain we throw ourselves into these fabrications of false hope only to find ourselves in more pain and sorrow.  The thoughts of hopelessness begin to increase and become louder than the truths of our God, our Creator.

As we search for answers, it is easy to become mislead by the false hope of having the answers. What could we have done?  Was there something we missed?  Was it my fault?  Why did this happen?  We think that having the answers to these questions will offer the resolve we need, only to find that we are suffocated by the waterfall of questions that come after them.

Suffering is real.  It is a part of life that we cannot escape this side of heaven.  As Believers, it is not a matter of whether we will face suffering, because we will. Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  This idea sounds pessimistic and hopeless, but it is not.  How do we know?  Because even though the pain is real, the hope of Christ offers something far greater.

God is Greater

In that same verse, Jesus told his disciples to fear not because he has overcome the world.  As we hear the questions, echo in our minds, and as the tears flow in mourning, we must hold on to the truth that in Christ, there is hope no matter the pain in our lives.

God is great enough to handle my questions.  He is not shaken by my questions of doubt.  He is not insulted by my struggles to trust that he is good.  He is great enough to understand that my mind is battling to convince my heart of the truths of Scripture.  He is loving enough to know the count of every tear that falls and hold the pieces of a broken heart in his hands.

God is greater than today. This immediate moment or the memory that is burned into our minds does not limit God’s ability to see me through the circumstances.  He is eternal; he sees the grand scheme of life when I am blinded by the pain of the present.

God is good.  There is no darkness in him, though it seems like the darkness of this world clouds his glory.  I do not understand, but I can trust who he is and how he is at work. He loves us and those that are suffering.  His heart breaks with ours, and he sheds tears over our pain and suffering.

Yes, suffering is real, but my God is greater.  As a pastor, these are the truths that I hold onto in times like these.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Where is God?

Do you ever forget anything?  This happens to me often, and I am thankful I am not the only one that suffers from a lapse of memory.  We have all been in situations where there is something that we have forgotten.  Sometimes, it is nothing life-altering, such as forgetting a few things at the grocery store.  A moment like this will either lead to another trip to the store or living without the item.  Forgotten events might bear a bit more consequence, like birthdays and anniversaries.  However, in the life of a Christian, there is a lapse of memory that bears serious effects — we forget the presence of God.

Think about it for a moment.  One question that is often asked is, “Where is God?”  The biblical answer is everywhere.  The church has affirmed throughout the ages that God is omnipresent, or everywhere at the same time.  This means there is no place we can go and be absent from God’s presence. The psalmist grapples with this in Psalm 139:7, Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (ESV)  There is no place we can escape the presence of God.  We often forget this truth.  In our sinful nature, we act like practical atheists or practical deists.  Let me explain what I mean by these two terms.

First, we understand that an atheist believes there is no God. Honestly, though we say we believe in God, how many times do we act as if God does not exist?  If he is everywhere, then he sees everything; yet, our actions are contrary to his commands and desires.  We neglect them completely.  We are practical atheists when we do not acknowledge God’s existence in our daily activities through obedience to his truths.

Second, a deist believes in a supreme being but believes it does not personally interact with his creation.  Again, we say that we believe in God, but how often do we act as though he does not care about what we are doing and that he does not want to communicate with us.  We go about our day without spending time in prayer, and our actions suggest that he does not want to be intimately involved in our lives.

These two ideas are difficult to hear, but they lead us to an underlying principle  in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)

God is everywhere; therefore, he is to be acknowledged in every activity and at every moment.  When we neglect the presence of God in our lives, it leads to sin and distress.    I challenge you to strive for mindfulness of God’s presence throughout your day.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2019 in Just a Thought, Practical Theology

 

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The Perfect Church

It usually happens about the time someone finds out that I am a pastor.  What is the “it” to which I am referring?  “It” is when someone tells me everything they think is wrong with the church.  Sometimes it is the church they attend, but other times it is a list of reasons they no longer attend church.  Most of the time, these are deep seeded feelings.  I know this because in the impromptu conversation they are quite detailed in their explanation and there is no hesitation while they gather their thoughts.  Is the church as bad as some of them think?

Countless theological truths probably need clarity at this point.  Some want to know a definition of the church, whether I am speaking of the visible or invisible church (if this confuses you, ignore it and keep reading), if I am speaking of the local church, or if I am speaking of the global church.  Let’s set all that aside for a minute.  I am writing about the local church;  the one you and I attend each Sunday, and maybe the one that fueled the critics’ thoughts.  Whether it is the largest church you know, the smallest church you know, denominational, or non-denominational, I am talking about the local church. Moreover, I am talking about a church that holds to the authority of Scripture, the message of the Gospel (by grace through faith, only through Jesus Christ), and an orthodox view of the Trinity.  (Yes, I could probably make the list longer by giving more details, but you would eventually stop reading.)

Churches Struggle

So now, let me give you a word of caution. I am about to talk about a section of Scripture in a book that has more opinions about it than there are options for coffee from your local barista – the Book of Revelation. (Cue the surprising yet troubling music: Dun-dun-duuuun!)

As I sat a read the portion to the seven churches, I thought about the many critical feelings that people share with me about churches.  If you go back and read Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, you will find the following list, and I have tried to summarize the main focus of each message.

Ephesus: The Loveless Church
Smyrna:  The Persecuted Church
Pergamum: The Compromising Church
Thyatira: The Corrupt Church
Sardis: The Dead Church
Philadelphia: The Faithful Church
Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church

Six out of the seven churches had some pretty serious issues at hand.  In fact, only one received a favorable report.  I am not going to thoroughly explain every problem, though I do encourage you to read Christ’s evaluation of each church.  I desire to bring one thing to your attention – Christ called each group of gathered people a church.

The church at Philadelphia was not perfect, though Christ gave it commendation. However, Christ called it a church just like the gathered group in the city of Thyatira.  These churches consisted of people who struggled with sin on a daily basis.  Though in sin, Christ calls them a church and desires repentance and restoration from them. Churches struggle because they are composed of people who struggle.  Some churches handle these struggles well, and some do not.  Some churches deal with an individual’s struggles well, and some do not.  There is no perfect church.  With this in mind, we go back to the complaints, the lists of wrongs, and the voices of condemnation.

Your Church Struggles

The music may not be the greatest.  The preacher may struggle to be a pastor; the pastor may struggle with preaching well. Some people are not friendly,  the church may not have a large children’s program, and the youth program may not have the activities you desire.  The church may have Sunday School instead of small groups, or they may have small groups instead of Sunday School.  Do you see that none of these are even close to the problems that Christ saw in the seven churches addressed in Revelation?

Let’s consider that the church you attend has problems similar to those faced by the churches in Revelation.  Those issues certainly need to be addressed, and there is a biblical means for doing so in Matthew 18:15-20.  In some cases, if there is no repentance or corrective measure taken, it may be time to leave. (When to leave a church would require an entirely separate post.) However, I want you to know that the things people share we me often fall within the group of problems listed in the previous paragraph.  Rarely do they involve the issues contained in Revelation.

You Might Be Part of the Solution

Here is my question: What are you doing to be part of the solution?  We read in Ephesians 5:25-32 that Christ loves the church.  Christ showed his love to the seven churches by giving them a message to produce repentance and restoration.  Christ desires the church to be blameless and spotless.  He wanted this for the churches in Revelation, and he desires that for our local churches.  Your church with all of its problems is still a church, a group of people loved by Christ.

Let me give you three questions to ask yourself regarding your complaints:

  • Is the issue at hand a sin problem or a preference problem?

The music not being the kind of music you like to listen to is not a sin problem, it just means that your preference is not being satisfied.  If the problem is a matter of preference, it is probably an issue within your heart.  If the issue is a sin problem, then it needs to be addressed: first to the person in sin, and then possibly the leaders of the church.

  • Are you willing to help be a part of the solution?

Let’s say for a moment that you have a legitimate concern:  youth in the church have no teacher, and there are no activities. Are you willing to set up the events or are you willing to learn how to teach the youth?  Maybe your desire for something godly to happen in the church is God placing a task on your heart!

  • Do you love the church?

This last question is the most crucial one to answer.  We should love the things our Savior loves – including the church.  If you love the church, then be an edifying voice in the midst of criticism.  The world deals enough blows to the church.  Don’t join in on the condemnation.  Show grace and mercy in your speech; show love in your willingness to serve; show your dedication to Christ by your desire to walk with your church through its struggles.  If you love the church, let your words and actions give evidence.  If you do not love the church, then there is an issue in your heart that needs attention.

No church is perfect, and I may have created more questions than answers.  Do you pursue the church in love and service they way God pursues you? My prayer is that God would give you a passion for his church that would manifest itself in the way you speak and serve.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2019 in Church Life

 

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The Delight of the Eyes and the Desire of the Heart

It sneaks into our vision and traps our eyes as if they are held captive. The characters remind us of people we know, and we awkwardly relate to their situations. Perhaps we even find a sense of community as we laugh at the same time as the “studio audience.” How does this happen? How can we so quickly be pulled into a place where we weep and laugh over the lives of people that do not exist? True, the actors are real, but our minds and emotions are held captive by fictitious characters in fictitious situations. So much so that we will express heartbreak when the season ends, our favorite character is killed, or the show gets canceled.

It is no secret that we are a society of entertainment and amusement. Movies on demand, amusement parks, hobbies, social media, and video games offer us a means of escape. We find comfort in being distracted from reality and being able to elude the problems of the world, if even for only an hour or two. Most find it amazing how quickly time passes as they scroll through a newsfeed.

As a believer, husband, father, and pastor I often find myself asking why I find certain activities entertaining. Accosted by endless mediums of amusement, we effortlessly lax the mind, forgetting there is a battle for our thoughts. Peter writes to the church and urges the believers to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Is it possible that our entertainment is affecting us more than we know?

A State of Mind

Peter’s call to the church is for them to stay alert. There is a sense of urgency and awareness because of the presence of an enemy that is prowling for destruction. Therefore, we are to be mindful of our present circumstances. That seems to stand opposed to the idea of amusement. We need to look no further than the meaning of this word to understand why.

One author explained it this way: To muse, means to be absorbed in thought. It is a verb that involves the engagement of the mind in an activity. The suffix -ment means “to be in the state of.” Putting these two things together means that “musement” is to be in the state of thinking. (No, musement is not a word, as I sit here and type, the spell check is notifying me that I have again misspelled another word.) What begins to make sense is that when we add the prefix a- to the beginning of the word it negates the word. For instance, if we said someone was amoral, it would mean they have no morals or seem to be unconcerned with morality. When we place a- and -musement together we learn that we are in the state of not thinking.

If Peter calls us to be mindful, it seems that a state of amusement stands in opposition to the urging of Apostle. My purpose is not to make sure you never ride a rollercoaster again or are never entertained. Instead, I want you to realize the danger of letting our guard down. It is no secret our entertainment often involves actions we publicly profess as being immoral and wrong.

A State of Heart

We know our heart better than anyone else. As a believer, we are often keenly aware of the cesspool of sin that our heart and mind fall victim to as the fleshly desires of the world ooze up from depths we would like to keep hidden from everyone. We work hard to tame our actions so that no one knows the wickedness that creeps out on occasion. Yes, the heart is deceitful, and our salvation does not change the struggle, it makes us aware of it. As we are brought into the holiness of God by the work of Christ, the light of glory shines in the hideous parts of our lives – that place is where the entrapment lies.

When the state of our mind is lackadaisical, our depravity pours forth. Could it be that the focus of our amusement is the sinfulness of the heart finding a safe place of refuge? Is it possible that the lessening of our guard not only allows the lion to attack freely but shows us that within the clenches of his jaws are parts of our heart that we gladly surrender?

Sobering the Mind

Not all entertainment is spiritual poison, but we would be foolish to deny that poison lies within some of its forms that we enjoy. How do we stay on guard? How do we watch for the footprints of sin and listen for the footsteps of the one that desires to steal, kill, and destroy? I want to give you three questions to ask as you delight in entertainment:

        Is this the delight of the Lord?

The fictitious characters and fictitious circumstances are intended to portray something that is real. If it was real, would it be something in which the Lord delights? Do actions of the characters resonate with the glory we are saved to or the sin we were saved from? When we are scrolling through our newsfeed enticed by the “click-bait” that pervades the pictures of our friends, it is often pretty easy to tell if God delights in the content of the link from the image and the title.

Am I asking people to participate in things that lead to death?

Often, we are delighting in the actions of the unregenerate. They are fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and we are enjoying their journey. Two people entertain us in a sexual encounter, and we applaud the love story that we know dishonors the beauty of marriage, as given to us by our heavenly Father. We know the wages of sin is death, but it is not us; therefore, we treat it as no consequence. The characters and circumstances may be fictitious, but the actors are real people. Even their “pretend” actions are having an eternal impact on their souls – and ours.

Is there something better?

No, I am not telling you to turn off your Netflix and read your Bible. (Though that might not be a bad idea!) We know that as we participate in these forms of entertainment we are feeding the fleshly desire found in Galatians 5:19-21: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I am challenging you to see if there is something that helps you exercise the holiness to which God calls you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Is there something you can be doing that will help you in your journey, becoming more like Christ.

Cultivating a Desire

I do not expect the questions I have given to be a solution for keeping our eyes and hearts from sin – that is an impossible task this side of glory, yet one to which we should still strive. However, I do hope that it allows you to join with me in staying sober-minded in moments of entertainment – to be entertained with our minds in a state of “musement.” As believers, we should delight in the things of God, which also means we delight in the things which he delights. May God grant us the desire to align our desires with his.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Christian Living

 

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The End of Me

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .”  Charles Dickens penned these words in the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities.  Do you feel like you are in the “worst of times?”  Adopting a pessimistic view of the world is easy.  Anyone that watches the news for more than a moment may feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  It seems as though bad things are happening all around us.  What do we do in the worst times of our lives?  Is there something that keeps us going?  Maybe you are in one of those situations right now.  There is hope.

During these hardest times, God is with us, and he has something for us.  If you feel like you are ready to give up, I want you to know that you are in good company.  Even Paul had a moment when everything seemed to come crashing in, and he felt like giving up.  He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”  Did you catch that?  Even Paul, the Apostle that penned 13 letters in the New Testament was in despair.  Paul came to the end of himself.

Some of you have used the words, “I can’t go on . . .” or “I just can’t take this anymore . . .”  You feel as though you have nothing left in you to keep going.  In the midst of Paul’s struggle, he found a great truth.  Verse 9 says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”  When Paul came to the end of his own strength, he realized that he needed to rely on God.  Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song that contained these words, “His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.  He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on.”  This is the same message that Paul shares with the Corinthians.

If you find yourself in this situation, maybe it is time to lean into God.  Paul set his eyes on Christ and saw the hope that he had.  This made his despair disappear.  His problems didn’t go away, but they faded in the glory of God.  Paul learned to rely on God during the hardest times of his life.  Are you relying on God?  His strength is perfect.  Lean into him, and he will see you through.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Just a Thought