Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Maybe It's Shouldn't Be All About You!

We live in a pretty self centered world, and sometimes it seems like we live in a pretty self centered church. I see lots of talk about "me" and "I" and the focus on what I need, have or can get. We have a lot of ideas about what we are free to do in Christ, this was made pretty evident to me today. I saw a Facebook post from a prominent Bible teacher today that had a profanity in it. It wasn't a major profanity, it wasn't one of the big ones, but it's something I wouldn't allow my kids to say, I wouldn't say in front of my kids. You wouldn't say it in church, so I'm not sure why it seemed ok to be used in this write up. No one seemed to mind, except for one person who commented, who said that the message of the post was taken away from by what they considered a poor choice of words.

What transpired to the replies to this person gave me chills. It is what I fear that Western Christianity is turning into, and I'm positive that isn't a good thing. The person was rebuked for her statement, called a legalist, told she was uptight and needed to stop being judgmental. A few people agreed with her, but most seemed to rally around the author of the post and support the use of some colorful langauge. What do we do with this?

First let me say that I understand that we live in the time and land of the snowflake that gets offended by everything. We can't speak the name of Jesus without offending, the Bible is offensive the message of the Cross is offensive, the name of God offends. I get that, and we can't stop preaching or proclaiming Jesus. I understand that, and that is not what I'm talking about. What I am talking about is when we begin to marginalize other Christians because our freedom sometimes is harsh and abrasive to their faith. This isn't a new issue. Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 8. The problem in Corinth, among other things, we steak. Most of the steak you bought made the trip to the market from the pagan temple, where is was sacrificed to a pagan god. This made some believers think that maybe meat offered to demons wasn't a good idea. Other's thought it wasn't a big deal, it's not the steak's fault. Who was right? Paul says, "yes, you are both right". He simply said, if you can't eat it with a clear conscience, then don't. If you can, go ahead. Where it gets tricky is when you are eating it with a clear conscience while clouding someone else’s. Our freedom causing someone else to struggle with sin.

In verse 12 Paul says this behavior is sinning against Christ. To do something to violate another person's conscious, to make them stumble is to sin against Christ who died for them. That is a pretty big thing. I know I have been guilty, I have caused others to sin. I have used my freedom to make a mess of things. For those times I have caused others to sin and to stumble, I am sorry. When my pride and my love of self and my own freedom comes before someone else, I am sorry. Sometimes it's a simple as eating a salad, or not having that drink or not saying that word or talking about that movie. We need to not tell that joke or that story so we don't cause others to stumble. It's as simple as sometimes we need to put the other person first. We need to think about them and how we can support them. After all, isn't that what the cross of Christ is all about?  He put us first, we can be more like Jesus. It's not just about me being free, but about us, all of us being whole, clean and unified. We are the bride of Christ, together so let's work together to make sure we all get there together. A steak and a profanity just isn't worth it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do You Take Your Own Advice?

One of the things that I learned early on in ministry is that it's much easier to give advice than to take advice. Everyone will tell you what you should or shouldn't do. No one really want to be on the receiving end. It's always better to be the one giving the answers than the one getting told what to do. The truth is we all need some wisdom sometimes, we all need some help. The first and best place to turn is of course the Bible. Outside of that, where do we go? What do we do?

As a Life Coach, I help people in many of the areas they need help. I don't always give advice, I do more guiding and discovery (call me and I'll show you how it's done). I do give some advice, and I like to think its pretty advice. I try to get most of it from the Bible, which is the best place in the world to get advice.

I give some good advice, but it's not always easy to take that advice. It's easy to tell someone they need to forgive, harder to forgive. It's easy to tell someone to stop sinning, harder to stop yourself. It's easy to tell people o quit eating sugar, drinking coke, eat healthy and exercise, but harder to do yourself. It's easy to tell people to do the right thing, not as easy to follow.

Some days I have to stop and ask myself what would I tell someone else in my shoes. I have to ask myself to coach myself and give myself some advice, then I try to take it. Turns out that I give pretty good advice, as long as I found it in the Bible. Need some advice?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Accountability, Social Media and Drive by Judgement

I received a message from a stranger today who claims to follow me (even though I've never heard of him before) who decided that he knows I've made mistakes. He decided that I have no business acting like a Christian, trying to help people or posting truth on social media because of the mistakes I've made in the past. I was told that he heard that I have messed up in the past and said:

"I’m all for forgiveness and God using people who have been broken of their sins, repent and seek forgiveness and accountability. I believe God uses us in incredible ways, but I have not seen from you any humility in who you portray yourself to be. I am praying for you and hope that you will consider praying this over and really seeking God by allowing him to humble you."

This individual who I have never spoken with, I don't know and who doesn't really know me outside of seeing my posts on social media. Is this what we have come too by iron sharpening iron? Is this what we have descended too to have accountability? These are wise words, and I know that I continue to need to be humbled. I know that I need to continue to seek God, but why would an individual send me this message and then proceed to block me so I can't have a conversation with them? This individual claims they know who I "really" am, yet I have no idea who this person even is.

I will admit, when I was initially unable to respond to this individual, I was angry. I am constantly examining myself, I confess and repent, I share my weaknesses with my wife and some close friends. I share with my wife and some others when I struggle and when I fall. I have people in my life who really know me. When this individual claims they know who I "really" am, I struggled with confusion and frustration. How does a stranger know who I really am?

I wonder if this is what is going on with Christians today? What happens when we say we "pray about confronting someone" but none of it is in love. Are we just concerned with being right? Do we enjoy judging individuals so much that we just make comments on Facebook and then close the dialogue? I am grieved that I have no opportunity to even talk with this individual. They have said they haven't seen any humility in me, but I can't have any sort of relationship with this individual. There is no iron sharpening iron here, just stones being thrown. In the modern church, is the woman who was caught in adultery doomed? Will she be stoned to death while the words of Jesus are drowned out by the shouts of "I've prayed about this"? I hope this isn't what we are becoming.

I invite anyone to confront me in my sin and my error, but I ask that you don't it as a brother and not a drive by Pharisee. That never does anything, and to be honest, is probably just as sinful as the sin you are confronting. Like Paul, I know that I may be the worst of all sinners, but I choose to me forward and focus on Christ, not every mistake I've made. Just  thought.

Monday, June 26, 2017

But I'm Not Perfect...

Have you blown it? Ever in your life have you blown it? If you have said no, then you are lying. Maybe you have never done anything that has been a big mistake, but if you added up your little ones. What is someone could read your mind? What if we knew your heart and your desires? I bet we can all admit we are not perfect. We all have blown it to one degree or another, and many I know believe that God can't or won't use them because they have blown it.

Abraham, had a kid with his wife's servant....and it was her idea. David killed a man to cover up the affair with his wife. Solomon had. . . well a lot of wives. Jeremiah was depressed, Elijah moped for a while, the Old Testament is full of broken people. The New Testament is full of broken people. The 1st century was full of broken people, like Augustine and Anthony. The Reformation, the Great Awakening, they all had lots of broken people. The church today is filled with broken people. The guy writing this blog is broken and flawed and has some major problems.

People say God can't use them because of the mistakes they have made. That's just not true. God uses you in your weakness and through your mistakes. Paul stood and watch Stephen get stoned to death. He still used him. He can use you. He can use me. Even during dark and hard times, I'm reminded that God uses me in the lives of people. Tonight, as I was with a client I was able to answer questions and teach them about the Bible. I shared a little with a atheist and a third individual who I am not aware of where he is in regards to his faith. God used me tonight, even though I am a big failure.

Let God use you. Share what you can, tell people what God is doing for you. Help them by discipling them, encouraging, them being a friend. Even on your worst days, God can do His best.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Has Been Said Shouldn't Define You

I have the series I'm working on about the Devil and Hell, and I'll get back to that. Right now I want to share a life lesson God is teaching me. I'm pretty sensitive to criticism. I don't have the best self image, and the whole depression thing. Top that off with the number of men who have given me the "suck it up, don't complain and be a man" speech, I'm pretty jaded.

There in lies a big issue for me. I've carried around some internal criticism for a long time. The most painful come from a few choice sources. "You're not as smart as you think you are" cut me pretty deep. "You just aren't cut out for Pastoral ministry" still lingers in my head. "We don't think we are interested in your help" was a recent one that stings a little. Words of rejection, sometimes big or just said in passing.

Now I know a bunch of cute sayings, like "criticism is like fried chicken. Eat the meat and don't choke on the bones". Sounds cute, but when we have wrestled with it and feelings of inadequacy your entire life, it's not so easy.

I have to remember and remind myself every day, I'm not the sum of my critics opinion of me. I am not who they say I am, I'm not even who I think I am. I am who God created me to be. I can't be any more or less. I should learn to take comfort in that, and day by day I'll continue to remind myself to live it out.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Experiencing Brokenness

I need to start with a few disclaimers. This is not an attempt to get sympathy. I'm not writing about my problems and issues so you will feel sorry for me, but so I can talk through them and maybe we can reason about them together, or maybe to help you in our own struggles. I don't think Paul wrote his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 to get sympathy. That's not my goal either. Second, I am not looking for advice. I have talked to many wise individuals, please don't post your pop-psychology, self help, introspective counseling on my blog or Facebook or twitter. I get enough of it as it is, so let's fellowship together, pray, rejoice and struggle without trying to fix me.

I feel pretty broken, we will discuss in a minute if that is a good or bad thing, but I want to start with what got me to this point. I struggled a lot as a young man with depression, something that has continued. I lost my parents to cancer when I was in college, I made it through. I had a dream to work in church ministry, I dream that came true and then went away, and for now my dream is lost. I have had more losses than wins in most areas of my life, and now at the age of 40, I have gone through numerous surgeries for my GI system and back. I am currently experiencing some unexplained hypoglycemia and physical problems that can't seem to be explained.

Now not all of life is bad, I still have my wife and kids and I love my family. I have struggled to support them with the back surgeries and being down. My academic focus was always ministry, and with that gone, it's been a struggle to provide. I attempt to take hold of various opportunities, but I'm often rejected. Books and articles unpublished, the letter in the mail that says "we have gone with another candidate, you are just not what we are looking for right now".

I am willing to accept the possibility that the problem is me. The health issues may be I didn't take care of myself, the loss of dream and the inability to get back into a good position may be that I'm pretty horrible. I may lack the appropriate amounts of intelligence, grace, strength and ability to achieve anything close to what I'm attempting. I may stink as a writer, teacher, theologian, coach, pastor, and I may generally be a worthless individual. I am willing to accept that as a possibility.

My real struggle comes, if this is who I am, if I am just not good enough for my dreams, why can't I give them up? Ministry has been my life goal since I had a life goal. It wasn't my plan B, it wasn't something I would do after I did these other things. I don't have another goal or hope or plan or dream or calling. I didn't decide later in life to pursue this path, I started on this path and it's gone. It's more than I just am not in vocational ministry either, I can't even give my service away. Maybe my views are too archaic or radically. Maybe my theology is too out there, or maybe I'm so bad and worth so little, people don't want me messing up their stuff. I do admit I have some strong opinions. I believe a church should be reaching people, planting churches and doing ministry. I believe a church should be connected and people should value and invest in one another. Maybe I am too opinionated.

Here are my questions, feel free to share your thoughts. What am I doing wrong? What are my blind spots that are causing me to be so undesired and unusable? I know I shouldn't seek happiness, that I need to seek God, but I'm really tired of being unhappy. I want to be happy. I have expressed that before and been condemned, that I just need to be happy with where I am and what I have. How can I do that? How can I make the dreams and desires of my heart go away so I don't long for them anymore and can just be happy with where I am and what I'm doing? With all the tensions pulling, making sure I do what is right, what is best for my wife and kids, making an income so we can afford to live, doing the things I have to do, need to do and I'm suppose to do, how can I just let go of everything that I long for and just live with what I've got?

I'm starting in Matthew 5:3-11. Specifically 3 and 4. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. I'm looking at Psalms 51:17, a broken spirit and broken and contrite heart. I am guessing that since I cannot seem to be unbroken, that maybe I need to be broken. Maybe I am in this season for a purpose. I will admit, I don't like it. I feel rejected, I feel empty and I hurt in lots of ways. I struggle with anger and discouragement and sometimes I feel hopeless. I ask my soul "why are you cast down (Psalms 43:5) and I tell myself to Hope in God. It's a struggle, I don't like being broken, I want to be happy and feel like I am serving. I pray it's just a season. If you are in the same season, I'd love to hear from you. If you would like to give me an honest answer to my questions, I would love to hear from you. If you want to fix me and tell me how to be better, well you can share it. Know I probably won't give it much thought, I believe that you have to walk with someone to be able to speak truth in their lives. If we don't want together, you probably won't be much help. Thanks everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When They Need Help

Let's be honest for a second, the world stinks at helping. It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing when you need someone to come alongside you and help you out, you get crickets. People don't line up to help, especially when it's not something interesting.  I'm not explaining this well, so let's back up. If you suffer from depression, from anxiety, from a physical disability or have pain, it's hard to get people to really understand where you are and how you feel. We live in such a performance-driven world, driven by the bottom line that often we get too busy, we don't have time or energy to help out those who need a leg up. It's a sad state of affairs, and I'm writing today so maybe we can all get a better perspective.

Has someone ever disappointed you by not getting things done? Something fell through, they missed the boat, dropped the ball? Did you ask if they needed help? Did you ask if everything is alright? I know, if they needed help, they should have asked for it, but how easy is it in this culture and this environment to ask for help? How often do you ask for help when you need it? It can be hard and we are expected to perform at our highest levels all the time.

Now I'm not advocating that we let people get lazy and slide by, I'm not saying we don't expect greatness from people. What I am saying is, maybe it's time we put the person before the task. Maybe it's time we take care of each other. We ask if we can help, we come along side of people, we stop getting angry and offended and upset and we start getting personal. We become helpful. We live in a society, in a world where everyone is damaged, everyone has been hurt. You have been hurt and you have felt like you weren't important at some point. Take that memory and use it to help others, not abuse your own authority.

The only thing in this world that will last for eternity are the souls of each person. If we cast aside the eternal for the things that fade away, we are acting foolishly.