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Leaving Well Means Grieving Well

Sometimes being a pastor is one of the single greatest things I could ever imagine doing. It is immensely rewarding to see what happens when God makes His plan known and the congregation gets behind it. To see people fully engaged in the process of growing in their own faith and spiritual maturity while they engage their circles of influence to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commandment in Matthew 28 brings a feeling of accomplishment and being right in the center of God’s Will.

But… sometimes being a pastor is one of the single most excruciating things I could ever imagine doing. Standing by families as they lose loved ones. Watching individuals and families struggle personally, professionally, and spiritually. Seeing the division within the church body over various items that may or may not have spiritual significance… Each of these and more can leave a pastor mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained, and wondering how all of this can possibly be God’s Will.

Even so, there’s a natural ebb and flow to these things when you’re firmly entrenched in a ministry location and living life with the people you minister to and serve alongside. There are always highs and lows in ministry, but the relationships you’ve built and the teams you work with help to enjoy the good and cushion the bad. Perhaps that’s why the hardest thing a pastor has to do is follow the call of God to another ministry assignment.

When that time comes, I’m sure many of you have heard that a pastor is going to try their best to “leave well.” This means the pastor is working to put things in place, make sure teams and team leaders are well prepared for the transition, and ensure that their departure will have as minimal an impact as possible. If a pastor does this poorly, it has an opportunity to set a church body back in trying to achieve what they believe God has for them to accomplish. If a pastor does this well, the effect can be much the same as shoving your fist in a bucket of water, pulling it out, and looking at the hole that’s left behind.

The hope in every case is that a pastor desires to, and does, leave well. Regardless of the circumstances by which a pastor leaves one ministry assignment for another, people’s eternal lives are at stake. With that in mind, any other issues must be put aside for the sake of God’s kingdom moving forward in that place, which means leaving well must be the intent. However, there’s an interesting and sometimes painful side effect for pastors when they do leave well and watch their former ministry location flourish in their absence. Grief.

This type of grief comes with all the trappings of losing a loved one, and while that may seem strange when looking at it from a corporate business perspective, ministering in the church cannot be viewed as a move from one corporation to another. Rather, it must be thought of as a familial relationship, which is a much more personal connection. There are deep friendships, familiar surroundings, spiritual mentorships, and other strong ties which, while not completely severed, are stretched quite thin in the process of leaving one ministry location for another.

Even though there’s an excitement and a newness to getting involved at the new location, the lasting memories and familiarity of the old location can linger intensely for much longer than one might anticipate. It takes years to build the relational capital and trust to make hard decisions and change ministry culture, while the old location had enough stored up to perhaps make headway more quickly. When you see success and significance happening in the old ministry location without you, there’s a torn feeling inside. You’re happy for them; happy for the ministry teams, the other pastors, and the congregation. Yet, you’re also sad that you weren’t there to experience it with them. The ups and downs of ministry where you are remind you of similar events where you were. And there’s always the “firsts” once you change locations. First major ministry events, first holiday events, first team get-togethers, and even the monthly or weekly meeting times… all of it leads to feelings that are hard to deal with.

And so, to leave well means to grieve well. Ultimately, as time passes, these feelings fade and become fond memories and genuine admiration of what God is doing where you were. It also leads to that much more excitement for where you are. If God did that there, why wouldn’t he do even more here? This is the silver lining in leaving one ministry location for another. God used you in one way or another to prepare that ministry location for what’s happening now, and He’s going to do it again where you’ve been planted anew.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 speaks of God having plans for the nation of Israel. They had been grieving an extended period in exile, and here through the Prophet Jeremiah, God reveals His plan to bring them back and give them a hope and a future. BUT, only if they seek Him with all their hearts.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul speaks of present suffering for future glory. Romans 8:26-28 speaks to the way the Spirit intercedes for us when we are in the midst of grief, and that God is working everything for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Both of these passages can lend some relief in the grieving process for pastors. In our grieving process, we can sometimes feel like we are in exile, and especially so when our former ministry location is experiencing what appears to be great success while our new location may just be setting the stage for forward momentum. Even so, we know God’s plan is a grand one, and we can work through our grief by seeking Him with all our heart. Perhaps the growing pains of our new location cause us to wonder if our decision was the right one. Even in the midst of this grieving process, the Spirit intercedes for us, and we can trust that God is working His plan for not only our benefit, but the benefit of our new ministry location as well.

Pastor, are you leaving? Do your best to leave well.

Are you experiencing moments of grief after leaving well? Lean on God as you grieve, and allow Him to walk you through.

To Obey is Better than Sacrifice

 

Obedience is hard… I’m a headstrong type-A personality, and I really don’t like being told what to do. Just ask my mom! My kids are the same way, and she just laughs at me… The sad part is that I find myself doing the same thing with God. God tells me to do something, and I rationalize my way out of completing it His way. The Word clearly states how I am to go about my daily life, and I either pick and choose what I want to do and don’t want to do, or I read myself so far into the text that it becomes easy to justify my actions. The problem here is that God’s commands didn’t change, and neither did His character. He expects holiness, submission, and obedience from me in return for His love, mercy, provision, and gift of salvation through Christ.

I am reminded of the story in 1 Samuel where Saul is instructed by the Lord to go and destroy the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them. Saul did indeed attack them, but took their king captive and spared all the “good stuff” from being destroyed as God said. In other words, rather than obeying God completely, he chose to do his own thing and justify it later. Take a look at the conversation between Saul and Samuel:

1 Samuel 15:13-20 – 13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” 16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied. 17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” 20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Notice how Saul tried to rationalize keeping the animals? To me, that sounds just like my children trying to rationalize why they either did I told them not to, or didn’t do something I told them to do. Much in the same way, I constantly hear folks trying to rationalize all kinds of things rather than actually following God’s commands to their actual conclusion. There’s always a reason why they didn’t, and yet they wonder why God didn’t bless them… Take a look at what Samuel says to Saul after he rationalizes his actions:

1 Samuel 15:22-26 – 22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LordTo obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lordhe has rejected you as king.” 24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.” 26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

Ouch… Saul’s refusal to obey cost him the throne of Israel… Now, I am not the king of any nation, nor am I royalty of any earthly type. I’m just a guy who has the honor of leading people in worship out in the beautiful small town of Tonganoxie, KS. BUT… that doesn’t make me any less susceptible to the sin (yes, SIN) of rationalization rather than complete submission and obedience to the Lord. How so you might ask? Simply put, there are times when my humanity sneaks out and ruins my reality.

So many of us fall prey to this on a regular basis. Something doesn’t go our way, so rather than loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22), we choose to gossip and backbite. One of our pastors doesn’t do something the way we think it ought to be done, or they change something that’s been a certain way for as long as we can remember. Even if it may be the best thing in the long run, it raises our ire and causes us to look to our own interests rather than to the interests of others (Philippians 2). Instead of laying ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice (Romans 12), we choose to crawl off the altar and spread vitriol rather than Christ’s love. Why? Lack of obedience to God’s Word.

So, how do we apply this. In a word, OBEY!

Frustrated with a friend, a coworker, your boss, or your spouse? Pray for them. Encourage them. Be a positive influence in their lives as much and as often as you can. Do everything you can to point them to Jesus by representing Him with your obedience to Scripture. Don’t agree with a decision your pastor has made? Don’t like the music picked by your worship leader? Don’t understand what direction the church leaders are taking things? Give them the benefit of the doubt. Honor them as your spiritual leaders. Pray for them. Encourage them publicly.  Believe they have your best interests at heart, and talk about it with them privately so hearts can be shared and understanding can be generated.

Obedience is greater than sacrifice. Follow His lead and see if He won’t bless you more than you’ve ever been before!

 

Love All, Serve All…

“Love All, Serve All.”

For those who are old enough to remember when the Hard Rock Cafe first opened their doors, this was their mantra. A battle cry, if you will, for all who walk through their doors to love everyone they come into contact with and make the world a better place by adding their gifts and talents to the mix for the betterment of all humankind. While the food at HRC can be marginal at times, their mission (including the building of a hospital with the revenue from the sale of the business and subsequent brand licensing in 1989) has always been stellar.

Although their business and philanthropic practices are built on the five Vedic Values of Hinduism, there is something the church needs to hear in this: the mantra of “Love All, Serve All” is not just a Hindu value… it is a Godly value as well.

Matthew 22:34-40 [NIV] – Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

As we love God with all we have and all we are, we are also commanded to love our neighbors. Loving our neighbors also means loving those with whom we have heartburn.

Matthew 5:43-47 [NIV] – “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Luke 6:27-31 [NIV] – “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If the words of Jesus weren’t already enough, Paul goes on to state this in a different way.

Romans 12:16-18 [NIV] – Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Hebrews 12:14 [NIV] – Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Ephesians 4:1-3 [NIV] – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

In other words, if we want to truly show the miraculous change God makes in our lives to the world, we “Love All, Serve All” in a way that allows that change to be seen. Problem is, that’s really hard to do when the world only sees what we are against and who we dislike.

Brennan Manning stated it quite eloquently when he said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Church, if we spend our time continuously railing against gay marriage, Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner, President Obama… if we keep calling for boycotts of newspapers, magazines and theme parks… if we continue to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, their financial disposition, their past mistakes… all people will know is what we are against when what they REALLY need to know is who we live for.

All of us have been made in the image of God. All of us are loved by Him. All of us have the same opportunity to embrace salvation or to reject it. The question is, will the Church follow Jesus’ command to love and serve, or will the Church deny that command for the sake of trying to fill the pews with people who look exactly like we do?  The Word doesn’t say they will know we are Christians by our t-shirts, buildings, bumper stickers, bullhorns, signs, bracelets, concerts, revivals, or movies.  It says they will know we are His followers by how we love one another.

John 13:34-35 [NIV] – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

May we love as Christ loved us, and as He has called us to love the world. “Love All, Serve All.” Amen.

An Open Letter to the “Done”

A few weeks back, a member of our local church body posted an article that caught my attention. It has to do with a group of people being called “Dones,” as in folks who haven’t walked away from faith in God, but have decided to no longer associate with the church. Not just the church they were part of before this decision, but any church at all. To get some perspective on the rest of this post, you might want to go read that article here.

In a nutshell, the article speaks of folks who were very active and participatory in their communities of faith prior to making the decision to leave the body, and gives church leadership some questions to ask in order to try and keep folks plugged in rather than affording them reason and/or opportunity to step away. While some of these questions can and should be asked as a common sense way to continue the process of edifying the body and growing people into a more mature faith, I have real trouble with the premise of having to ask them in order to keep folks from leaving the body with no real reason for doing so.  To that end, I choose to speak to the “Dones” directly.

Dear “Dones,”

I get it. You’ve served tirelessly for years. Perhaps decades of your life have been given to the local church body, only to be asked to serve a little more, give a little more, change a little more… You’ve heard messages on almost every topic ever thought of, and have read the Bible cover to cover several times. You’ve participated in almost every all-church event, fundraiser, work day, building project, children’s musical, worship night, and potluck dinner. You’ve also heard all the junk “behind the curtain” as you’ve worked alongside other leaders and team members. Perhaps you know some of the struggles your leadership has just to get things moving at a snail’s pace, much less a pace that generates excitement and energy for the congregation. You’ve been the 20 in the 80-20 rule for years, and you’re just… well… DONE with it all.

I’m guessing the Billy Sunday quote that “going to church doesn’t make me any more a Christian than standing in my garage makes me a car” resonates with you deeply. Trust me when I say as a pastor that it resonates with me too from time to time. I have moments where I would much rather stay home and spend time doing something else instead of serving the body if it were not my profession. That’s the luxury you have as a volunteer, and I can completely understand why you might choose to exercise that opportunity.

Even so, there’s one glaring issue in your decision: It goes against Scripture.

Faith is Corporate

Hebrews 10:23-25 – Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Colossians 3:15-16 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Acts 2:46-47 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

These are but a few of the verses devoted to the corporate nature of faith in Christ. The passage in Acts 2 is right after Pentecost, when the Church was founded! It doesn’t say they accepted the gift of faith and then went home. It says they continued to meet together and God added to their number daily! How are we to teach and admonish one another if we are not meeting together corporately? How can we possibly spur one another on to love and good deeds if we have given up the habit of meeting together? The truth is, we can’t.

Being done goes against Christ’s character and example

Philippians 2:3-8 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Being a “Done” is not an option if those who claim the name of Christ are to exude His character and actions. Is the Church a messy place? YES! Do pastors get it right all the time? NO! Does that give one a valid reason to leave it all behind and go it alone? NO! Even so, our obedience to Christ means we follow His lead. He had every opportunity to stay in Heaven and leave humanity to rot in sin, but chose instead to live among humanity and sacrifice Himself for us. He had countless moments where He could have simply slipped away from the disciples and done it all by Himself, but it is precisely His love, compassion, encouragement, rebuke, and presence with the disciples through which God turned the world upside-down. After Jesus ascended, those men were the ones who caused the ripple effect we still feel today. Think about how many lives you might miss touching… how many men and women who might go on to change the world if you stick and stay… 

Being done harms the body

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Romans 12:3-5 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Anyone who has dealt with the loss of a limb will tell you that it changes how everything works. Normal tasks that take mere moments for a fully capable person end up taking much longer for someone who is less than whole. This is not a knock by any means on those who have disabilities, but rather, an object lesson for those who claim Christ. When you’re “Done,” it is effectively like amputating a part of the body and expecting it to function properly without that part. The Church is an organism, not an organization. No organism functions correctly when one or more parts is missing. Every one of us is uniquely designed to perform a specific function within the local church setting, and when we are missing, it becomes that much harder for the body to function and complete the task of going, making disciples, baptizing, teaching, and witnessing.

The bottom line

Being “Done” is selfish. Not only that, it is unscriptural, which makes it a sinful act. It stunts the growth of the Church, the growth of the Kingdom, and even more so the growth of the individual that has unplugged from the body.

I understand some will see this as a pastor who is worried about his job security. If you’re one of those, I would say that’s an unfortunate point of view to hold. The God I serve owns the cattle on 1000 hills, so I’m not concerned with where my next meal is coming from. What I AM concerned with is your spiritual growth and maturity. Unplugging from the local body of Christ only serves to allow less opportunity for spiritual accountability, maturity, & growth, and more opportunity for the evil one to get a foothold in your life. Christians can be some of the most difficult people to work with and serve with, but the Church is God’s Gospel distribution plan, and He has called every one who claims His name to serve and work together. There’s a spot on the rope for you to grab hold and pull together. The question is, will you take it?

A Word from Watson

Anyone who is around me long enough figures out I’m a huge sports fan. As a Northeast Kansas guy, the Royals, Chiefs, Sporting KC, and Kansas State are among the teams I root for. After being planted in South Central Kansas for a few years, Wichita State basketball and baseball are also on my list. Even as much as I cheer my heart out for these teams, one thing that will cause me to become unsupportive is cheating in any way.

The subject of cheating in sports isn’t a new one. Pete Rose has been trying to get reinstated from a lifetime MLB ban for betting on baseball while he was involved with the sport. Alex Rodriguez just came back this year from a 215 game suspension for using P.E.D.’s. Members of the New Orleans Saints football team were fined and suspended for putting dollar amounts on the table for taking out opposing team’s players, and the latest infraction is the wonderment of “Deflategate” with the New England Patriots.

Benjamin Watson is a wonderful man of God who also happens to play football as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints. Being part of the NFL, he is in the midst of this latest round of cheating. While he chose to address the issue on his Facebook page, he also spoke to something bigger. Here’s what he had to say:

My father once told me that sin takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. I seemed to learn this the hard way over the course of my life. Even the most “innocent” diversion can have lasting and devastating consequences that not only effect the transgressor but those he or she is in relationship with. 

As a professional football player I’ve been monitoring the developments of what we have come to know as Deflategate. The secret, intentional deflation of footballs below regulation for an NFL playoff game has the American sports world in a frenzy, as it should. While the collective response is strong the individual responses differ tremendously, varying on their opinion of the competitive advantage created to the severity of punishment that has been given. One thing is certain though, this recent report is the latest chapter in a series of reported infractions committed by the New England Patriots Organization, leading to an even greater disdain from some, and conversely an even greater loyalty from others, for the team that has enjoyed overwhelming success while seeming to habitually skirt the rules. While, according to investigator Ted Wells, it’s “more probable than not” that quarterback Tom Brady knew about or encouraged this violation he has not admitted guilt and until he does or evidence is conclusive I will withhold judgment. It is quite clear, however, that members of the organization blatantly cheated and have subsequently been punished. And IF Tom was one of them he is rightfully included with the rest. What seemed like no big deal at the time has taken them further than they wanted to go, kept them longer than they wanted to stay and cost them more than they wanted to pay. What was done in secret was been brought to light, and what was a thrill at the time has brought shame on the innocent, whose hard work, dedication and accomplishments are once again shadowed in doubt. 

Current and former Patriots aren’t the only ones whose hard work on the field is in question either. We are all facing similar scrutiny. The questions abound. I mean, EVERY athlete bends and breaks the rules for competitive advantage right? 
The comparisons are made. Was this punishment in line with all the others? The New Orleans Saints endured multiple lengthy suspensions for allegations that were undoubtedly more egregious, but had no more hard evidence that they ever occurred then Deflategate. Ignorance of infractions was even declared by the NFL to be “no excuse”. How is that fair? And since we are on this subject, doesn’t EVERY team in the league break rules until they get caught? What a tangled web, of finger pointing and rationalizing, our disobedience weaves for us and others!

I tell my children daily, that their disobedience removes them from my protection. When they “innocently” jump on the couch, when they’ve been told not to, falling and bumping their head is a natural consequence that they must endure because they have stepped out from under my covering of protection for them. This is true for all of us. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death”. Any infraction, any word thought attitude or deed that is contrary to the heart of a just God invokes natural consequences in our lives. Broken relationships, physical pain, lost wages, unreceived blessing, unmet potential, wounded children, guilt, fear, restlessness, can all be direct consequences of our sin. Spiritually our sin severs us from His life giving spirit and deafens our ears to His voice. Eternally, our transgressions condemn us to eternal punishment and eternal separation from God. BUT…”the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 6:23

Unfortunately we can’t choose the natural consequences for our sins. Once we disobey, we are beyond the security of the harbor, out to sea in dangerous waters on our own. Like league discipline it sometimes seems unfair, but unlike league discipline our sin carries with it eternal ramifications. Because of their actions, the Patriots have brought upon themselves a storm of controversy and repercussions that will make the next several months more challenging. 

Closer to home, though, we must all deal with our own rule infractions and the storms they have created in our personal lives. No matter how small they seem to us, they make us fall short of His glory. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “entry level” to rule breaking that makes it acceptable. Either you’re a cheater or you aren’t. If we break even one law we are lawbreakers. Scripture says,
“For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” James 2:10

Sometimes I rank my transgressions in tiers, comparing them to the perceived “curve” in my sphere of relationships. And while its true that certain tiers warrant more costly consequences, it is also true that even the most minor infraction qualifies one as a lawbreaker worthy of punishment. WE are not each other’s moral standard. Only God and His word have that distinction. 

When situations like this happen in sports we love to speculate about the long term health of the football legacies involved. I have no doubt that over time, the Patriots will continue to be regarded as one of the all time great dynasties of American football led by one of, if not THE greatest quarterback and coach of all time. As well they should. While this is important, the legacy we are creating with our children, marriages, and friendships is far more precious than that of an NFL team or player and when it takes a hit, it is no less resilient and reparable if confronted with repentance, forgiveness and most importantly God’s grace. 

I love Tom Brady, and consider him a friend. I feel for him at this time for many different reasons. We may never know for certain the extant to which he was involved in this illicit behavior, but unfortunately even the appearance of evil is something scripture warns us to be mindful of because it damages our reputation and our witness. At our best we aren’t very good teammates, co workers, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, leaders or followers. But in our weakest spiritual, physical, emotional, or vocational hour, His strength proves the greatest! His grace is forever and always sufficient! 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m not one for predictions but I do expect that ashes will turn to beauty for the Patriots, and next season will bring yet another playoff run as this punishment is masterfully retooled as coal to fuel their desire to prove their invincibility. Though not undoing the immediate consequences of our wrongs, how much greater will God’s grace and love remove our guilt and shame, give us a new heart, a new vision and lift us to new heights if we, through the blood of his Son, turn from our wickedness and follow Him!

War and Peace

My wife and I are at an interesting time in life with our kids. With one in the pre-teen stages, another almost in double digits, and a third that’s half the age of the first, things can get sideways really quickly. Each of them has similar traits originally belonging to their mother and I, and yet each of them is distinctly different. Combine all of us together, and you’ve got 5 unique personalities trying to coexist in an 850 square foot 2 1/2 bedroom house. That makes for some “fun” on occasion!

In all honesty, we do pretty well with each other most of the time, but there are “those moments” when stuff happens: something is done or said, someone gets emotionally or physically hurt (with two of my kids being boys, rough play is going to happen!), and it spirals down from there. My wife and I are also not immune to this. We get on each others’ nerves, get in each others’ way, and have moments of miscommunication that cause strife between us.

With this in mind, we’ve been working on how to function more cohesively as a family unit, and what better way to do that than to look into what God’s Word says! Now, we could have gone to the whole “children obey your parents” section, but that’s been overused in many homes on many occasions. Plus, it doesn’t tell adults how to act, other than not exasperating their children… and let’s be honest here… exasperation happens on both ends of the deal! No, rather than sticking with the old faithful (and most likely tuned-out) message, we looked elsewhere and found a word that spoke to all of us regardless of age or household status.

Ephesians 4:1-3 – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Colossians 3:12-15 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Both of these verses cut deeply into our “right” to be angry over the actions of another. My wife and I are committed Christ-followers, and therefore, called to be examples of Christ-likeness to our children. Our two oldest children have accepted Christ into their lives and are learning how to follow His example. How will they learn? By watching their mother and I. Our youngest is beginning to ask questions about what it means to accept Jesus and be baptized. How will he learn? By watching his parents, his brother, and his sister. We must “clothe ourselves” with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We must bear with each other, forgive quickly, and love deeply. Does that mean there won’t be consequences for actions? By no means. Part of loving our kids is allowing them to learn from their mistakes. BUT… it does mean that we extend grace and make the effort to live at peace with each other.

What would it look like if the Church could live this way? Far too often the wants, thoughts, desires, agendas, and personal preferences of individuals (be they pastors, lay leaders, or congregation members) become stumbling blocks for others. A word is said, an action takes place, a decision gets made, a direction is taken, etc… and it causes division among the members of the body whether it was intended to or not. Our western American culture tells us it is our right and duty to become offended… to shout angrily in public… to degrade the character of another… to do whatever it takes to get the offending party to capitulate to our way of thinking… and if they don’t, then we take our toys and go home. Dirty laundry gets aired in public forum, reputations get blasted in private, people get un-friended and blocked on social media sites, and on and on…

This behavior is not just childish or rash. It is damaging to all parties involved. It is dangerous and long-lasting. Not only that, it is un-scriptural and degrading to the Bride of Christ, His Church. The world is watching us to see what we will do, and they are ready to pounce on anything that doesn’t look or sound like what the Good Book says Christ’s followers are supposed to look and sound like.

Are we human? Yes. Will we fail from time to time? Yes. Should those failures define us? No. A single incident should not. BUT… if a pattern of wrong behavior emerges, then what recourse do we have to come against their judgment? I can only pray we are able to live out the words found in Ephesians 5:1-2 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

My prayer for my wife and I is that we will live in a way that honors and worships Christ all day, every day, in every way. My prayer for my children is that they will see our example and do the same.

My prayer for the Church is that every member of her body across the globe would live in a way that honors and worships Christ all day, every day, in every way. My prayer for the world is that they would see our example and do the same.

Let it be so if that is Your Will, Lord. Amen.

Good Friday

As a follow up to the Maundy Thursday post yesterday, I felt it was important to take a look at Good Friday as well. Interesting that the Church calls it “Good Friday,” when at the outset, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it at all. Thursday night, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Friday he was accused, wrongly convicted, beaten, whipped, humiliated, hung on a cross, died, and was buried. Why in the world would we call this “good?”

It is good because it was God’s plan of salvation.

God used Christ’s sacrifice to bridge the gap created between Himself and His sinful, broken, lost creation – Humanity.

Oh, God tried to live in harmony with His creation in other ways. He walked in the cool of the day with Adam in the garden of Eden… that is… until Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lies and transgressed God’s command.

God set up the nation of Israel through Abraham to be a light and an example unto the rest of the world as to how they should live in harmony with their Creator… but time and time again, Israel willfully walked away from the covenant promises of God.

He rescued Israel from captivity in Egypt. He led them across the sea on dry land, with walls of water on either side! He fed them from the heavens. He showed His presence with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night… and yet, when Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law, the Israelites got tired of waiting and made a god of their own out of gold…

He granted their request to appoint a king as His vessel of presence with prophets to guide, but Israel fell into disarray, eventually leading to two separate kingdoms, and finally, captivity once again.

Judges were used to rescue Israel when there were no kings to govern, and yet the people still fell back into their selfish ways…

So, God was silent for 400 years… and then, a baby that grew into a man who shook the entire world to its foundations with God’s revolutionary love, grace, mercy, and justice in the flesh. Jesus was God’s final play in the plan of salvation. In the sacrifcial system, only the blood of a spotless and blameless animal could cover or roll away one’s sins for a year. Christ’s act as the spotless and blameless sacrifice for all humankind didn’t just roll away our sin… it washed it clean.

The Apostle Paul told us as much in Romans 5:6-11 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 
10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 
11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Through Christ’s death, we now have the opportunity to experience reconciliation and eternal life with our Creator! Christ’s death, while mournful, provided a “light at the end of the tunnel” for all believers: Hope of a complete restoration of our relationship with the Father.

So, how do we claim this light and hope as our own?

Do do so, first we must trade our disbelief for belief.

Jesus, when comforting the Disciples during their final meal together, spoke these words in John 14:1-7 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus also spoke of God’s love for all humanity during His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:14-18 – Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

It takes belief in Christ to obtain the hope God gives on Good Friday. Without belief in Jesus, the rest of the story is simply an interesting fictional account, barely worthy of a glance from Hollywood. Christ’s sacrifice opened the door for any and all to be reconciled to their creator and spend eternity with Him.

Secondly, we must trade our disobedience for joy.

Titus 3:3-7 – At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Adam and Eve’s disobedience is what allowed sin to enter God’s world. The Israelite’s disobedience is what caused Christ’s entrance into the world and subsequent death. Our disobedience keeps us at arm’s length from the very One who sent Christ to die for our transgressions. We must believe and accept that we are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and trade our disobedience for joy in the good news of salvation.

Third, we must trade our betrayal for love.

Lest we think we have not betrayed Christ in the same manner as Judas or Peter, Paul brings a sobering word.

Romans 3:9-18 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Sounds pretty bleak, right? It would be, were it not for God’s unfailing love for us. Though our earthly manner is one of selfish ambition, God’s Word gives us the antidote.

Deuteronomy 6:5-6 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

Jesus Himself quoted this Old Testament passage when asked by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was.

Matthew 22:34-40 – Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Good Friday is indeed a somber time as Christians all over the world take time to intentionally consider the sacrifice God made through Christ. However, it is indeed a “good” time as well, for through Christ’s substitutional atonement for our sin, we have the opportunity to trade our unbelief for belief, our disobedience for joy, and our betrayal for undying love.

The best news? In the words of acapella group Take 6, it may seem bad on Friday night, but Sunday’s on the way… Amen.