The Rest of God

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While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

What is Love?

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“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

Does Your Anger Show What You Value?

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I think these past two weekends we have received more snow than all last winter.  Unfortunately I’m also responsible for two driveways as we’re in between houses.  I have a snow blower at one and was shoveling the other when a dear friend offered me a second snowblower.  When the high was -2 degrees I had trouble starting both.  I pulled and pulled on the start cord until a bad word formed in the back of my head.  You know you’re having a hard time when you break a sweat trying to start in -15 wind chill.  I was tempted to take a few swings with a shovel to the snowblower but used better judgement.  Why?  Because that snowblower is worth alot to me so I don’t have to shovel! The showblower’s value to me determined how I would treat it.

When I get together with an accountability friend we both agree we get angry with closest to us the most.  It would be easy for us to blame and think it’s just because they’re annoying, but is that really what’s going on?  But why are the people we’re closest too that ones that make us the most angry?

One explanation may be because they are so close to us they hurt us the most.  Another may be because they know us so well we can’t hide how we really feel from them.  Another may be because we have so much history we get irritated quicker.  I have thought all these.  But then the snowblower pushed me too far and I was aware of how much I value it.

When was the last time I valued my wife and kids?  How about my coworkers?  Those I serve with at church?  The Bible says we should, “Honor one another above ourselves.”  -Ro 12:10. I realize I treat people at restaurants well because I don’t want them to spit in my food!  How much more should I value my family, my coworkers, and those I worship with?  Jesus death and resurrection places great value on every person, whether a believer or not.  I guess the stuff I get mad about shows me I have my values a little mixed up from time to time.  Hopefully you’re not like me!  http://www.choosemercy.org

 

 

Cleave This Christmas

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 “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need.

I don’t care about the presents, underneath the Christmas Tree.

I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know,

make my wish come true, oh all I want for Christmas is you.” -Mariah Carey

In Ephesians 5 the Bible says the relationship between a husband and a wife is a direct representation of the gospel relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church.  Recently my wife and I have asked, “what does Jesus desire for our marriage?”

In Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31 the Bible uses the action word “cleave” as the verb for marriage.  What does it mean for couples to cleave?  The word cleave means to cling to, join closely or glue one thing to another, focusing on interfacing, reciprocal relations.  And how are they to cleave?  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that we are made up of three parts, a spirit, a soul, and a body.  I believe in the marriage relationship we need to cleave spiritually (spirit), cleave relationally (soul), and cleave physically (body).

Cleaving to our spouse’s spirit may be the hardest hurdle.  We need to pray together daily and sit in church together regularly.  In a 1997 Gallup poll by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement, less than 1% of couples that pray together daily experience divorce.  Cleaving to your spouse may look like praying out loud together once a day. And if it is hard for you and your spouse, you’re not alone, I’ve read that 92% of couples that call themselves Christians don’t pray together (FamilyLife Survey, USA)! The old adage is true, a couple that prays together stays together.  Ed Stetzer suggests also that couples who attend church together only have a 10-15% divorce rate.  For those of us in church leadership positions, it’s especially important we’re praying together with our spouse at home and being intentional to sit together in church regularly.  How are we doing cleaving spiritually?

Cleaving to our spouse’s soul, their mind and emotions, may be the first one we notice needs attention.  Spending time enjoying one another is important, and we can alternate doing one another’s favorite things.  Healthy communication is essential.  Carve out time every day to connect together relationally.  This can be asking, “How are you doing today?  Schedule a date once a week to sit across a table from one another and reconnect.  One lost art of soul cleaving in Scripture is to “bless them” verbally, exhort, or give a benediction.  The Bible says to encourage one another daily.  If you would like ideas to encourage your spouse, see www.choosemercy.org and search “Encourage Daily.”  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate, and Satan the accuser.  In order to cleave to one another’s soul’s our communication needs to include blessing, encouraging, and yielding.  We will have a hard time cleaving to accusing, resentment, and contention.  Finally if one of you always has to be right or in control, cleaving to one another relationally will be especially hard.  This is why the Bible asks all of us in Ephesians 5:12 to Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  How are we doing cleaving relationally?

Cleaving to our spouse’s body only protects our marriage from Satan’s attacks.  1 Corinthians 7:5, says to married couples, “Do not deprive one another (physically), except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  That begs the question how long is a limited time?  In Exodus 19:15 Moses asked the people to obey God and consecrate themselves for three days with no marital relations.  In 1 Samuel 21:4-5 David asks the priest for bread for his men to eat and the priest says they can have the consecrated bread if they have kept themselves from women.  And David replies, “Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy.”  While three days may be a biblical suggestion, whatever you and your spouse agree is a “limited time,” please be intentional about cleaving together physically, holding hands, hugging, kissing, and pursuing intimacy.  How are we doing cleaving physically?

Some years ago when my wife and I were in a difficult time of unemployment, a dear mentor couple gave us great advice.  They told us that in the dark seasons of life when you have no money and you don’t know what God’s plan is, you can still cleave to one another.  It’s free.  And it’s biblical.  May we be intentional about obeying God’s call for married couples to cleave together.  Let’s Cleave this Christmas!

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

The Success of Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel

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I was recently asked what defines ministry success for me?  Is success being liked by everyone?  Having everyone get along?  Everyone saved?  Everyone’s needs met?  Having a lot of money?  So I have spent time thinking about what the Bible says about success and I think there are three “F”s of success to consider… Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

Years ago I had the privilege of working on a farm.  Whether we were planting or harvesting, ultimately everything we did all year was to have a good crop.  The same is true in our organization.  The Bible says, “Every tree is recognized by it’s fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers”  Luke 6:44.  People do not seek out prickly, upset, or hurtful people.  The Bible says we can grow in the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, full of the goodness of God, faithful, gentle, and long suffering.  We will be successful if we communicate the FRUIT of the Spirit.

When we were harvesting we would have to stop to unload when the combine was full. We were receiving feedback from the machine.  Some farms have a grain cart so they unload while moving.  The combine driver and the driver of the grain cart have to be able to communicate and listen to each other, and the cart has to be perfectly positioned under the combine spout or there will be grain all over the ground.  The cart driver can be confident he’s doing well, but if the combine stops for a rock and the cart driver doesn’t listen, grain will be spilled.  Often times in a position of leadership, we feel really sure we know which way to go which leaves no room to listen to others.  However God never meant for this to be a one man show.  He intended it to be a body with many parts.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “ I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Co 12:21We will be successful if we listen to FEEDBACK.

If the weather is good and we can unload on the go, the only thing that stops the harvest are the needs of the machinery.  While Air Force One can fuel on the go, our tractors and trucks have to stop for fuel.  Each morning we would spend an hour greasing and fueling the equipment.  Often late in the day we would have to take a break and refuel.  Sometimes we would have to stop to attend to a breakdown.  I’m so thankful the farmer doesn’t have to pick each piece of grain or carry it all to the elevator by himself. So he’s willing to stop and make sure the equipment has what it needs.  The Bible says God gave (church leaders) to prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith Eph 4:12  We will be successful if we take time to FUEL others, preparing, equipping, and supporting those who serve with us.

May we experience ministry success as we grow in Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Joggling Pastoral Transitions

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Recently I saw a commercial featuring marathon joggler Michal Kapral, who set a world record in running a full marathon while juggling, otherwise known as joggling.  While in a pastoral transition I could relate to the high pace of life while trying to keep multiple balls in the air.  See Michal talk about this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDd07tyMwzA

Pastoral ministry is much like juggling while running a marathon.  There are certainly times of fatigue and endurance.  There is as much mental stamina required as physical, oh, and spiritual stamina too!  What most people may not realize is that every pastor I know, whether serving in a one pastor church, or those serving in a multiple staff churches, every pastor is running and juggling multiple things while trying not to let one of those balls drop.  And when a ball does drop, there’s the grief of people focusing on the one ball bouncing alongside rather than the successful juggling and running act being performed right in front of their eyes!  This criticizing the imperfect circus act can feel very isolating.

I find the same is true in my walk with Jesus.  Why is it that before becoming a Christian, I didn’t feel good enough for God apart from Jesus, but now that I’m in Christ, I don’t feel good enough for God with Jesus?  I’m also focused on the one ball bouncing alongside this miraculous event of the Holy Spirit functioning within me?  The Holy Spirit’s ministry in me makes me look like I’m running and juggling at the same time!

While in a pastoral transition we often find ourselves juggling a few new balls on top of the usual.  There’s the ball of insecurity that comes with a new position or the lack of one.  There’s the ball of new problems and/or new responsibilities to face.  And then there’s that big medicine ball of fear that comes with a transition.  Ever tried to juggle a medicine ball and two tennis balls?!  We have to learn to administrate new things to get this ship back to safe harbor!

When life is moving too fast and there’s too many balls to juggle, I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus says Martha is worried and upset about many things, including her project partner.  But Mary is at peace and enjoying what is most important, a forever friend.

So in joggling pastoral transitions, may we overcome the tendency to be discouraged, worried, or upset about things like our project partners, and may we enjoy the forever friends that He provides along the way.

Oh, and way to go, you juggle and run really well!