Monthly Archives: September 2010

Reality

imageThere are things that we don’t want to happen,  but have to accept; there are things we don’t want to know, but have to learn; and there are people we don’t want to live without, but have to let go.

Apparently this quote is quite popular but I just came across it. It’s been all over the internet since at least 2008, used on a recent television drama, and might even make it into a sermon someday. For Christians, who believe in a God who superintends, this can be a powerful reminder that reality may be difficult, but its purposes are in the hands of one who can be fully trusted.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20 ESV

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

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Ordinary

When it comes to ministry we sometimes seem to think that we need to be doing “big” things and having “exceptional” conversations. We might feel that we need to be talking about “important” things with our friends and others. While we are often quick to enter into the “crises” of lives (whether real or perceived) we can become a bit less ready to engage when the times are routine. We might even consider them a waste of time.

Quite often when we take time to enter into the “ordinary” of people’s lives that real ministry happens. Eugene Peterson reminds that “people are not always in a crisis of soul” and if we fail to get into mundane talk about the routine things of life we may not see God’s grace at work in their lives … or ours. This doesn’t mean always, or even often, staying in the land of mindless clichés or surface conversation, but rather being authentic and real with one another, while refraining from the temptation to manipulate to get to the BIG SPIRITUAL ISSUES that we consider to be VERY IMPORTANT. While those issues Group-of-seven-artistsdo exist, and they may indeed be significant, most of life is lived in the “ordinary” and is filled with "the dailies” that provide the rich atmosphere for the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst. Times around a simple meal, or a cup of Starbucks, may be some of the most spiritual moments we’ll experience.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:31.

This thought is not new for me. The small things of life are sometimes the big things in God’s eyes. I know that several times this past year while I’ve been in the midst of conversation about the simple, but real, things of life I’ve had profound moments of insight into the graciousness of God for myself and others. 


Pastoral Shortcuts

Quote without comment:

But prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.

Peterson, E. H. (1989). Vol. 17: The contemplative pastor : Returning to the art of spiritual direction. The Leadership library (52). Carol Stream, Ill.; Dallas; Waco, Tex.: Christianity Today; Word Pub.; Distributed by Word Books.


False Measurement

GroceryScaleIt is quite interesting how easily we can get off kilter in our lives just by measuring by the wrong standard. I copied these paragraphs from Larry Crabb in 1989 when I was wrestling with some ministry and life issues. The line about measuring love brought clarity to my thinking on two fronts.

So many Christians report they have trouble believing God really loves them. Others speak glowingly of Christ’s wonderful love, but with more emphasis in their voice than burning in their voice than burning in their soul. Why does God seem uncaring and so far removed from the struggles we endure?

Perhaps part of the problem is that we have definite plans fro achieving happiness, or at least for finding relief. Those plans are rooted in ways of thinking about life that are so inherently imbedded in our makeup that we never think to question them. We tend to measure someone’s love by their degree of cooperation with our plans. God’s refusal to help us pursue our goals (and his insistence that we yield our plans to His) makes Him seem unconcerned about our happiness. The heavens turn into a ceiling, above which our prayers never rise. Our mind invents an image of a God who sits unmoved by our pain and annoyed by our complaining. Our fervent pleas for Him to do what our view of rightness and compassion would require go unheeded. (Larry Crabb, Inside Out, p. 155).

I was judging God’s love for me wrongly. I was also being judged at the time by a few others as being unloving and uncaring because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do for them. Love is the self-sacrificial giving of oneself for the purpose of the highest good of the one loved. And that highest good might not always be what we want. God loved me enough to take me through some difficulties to teach me deeply about his faithfulness (a recurring theme in my life apparently) though it felt like being forgotten or unloved. And the members of my youth group felt I was unloving because I wouldn’t give them something that would lead to a harmful result in their lives.

I needed the reminder again this week. Failure to cooperate with my expectations and plans does not necessarily indicate a lack of love.


Are you Like Me?

People like me hate depending on another person or on circumstances beyond our control. We hate longing for something at we can’t supply or force to happen. We often don’t trust God to be able to deal with life where we are right now. To admit that we are dependent on things outside our control is sometimes a bit terrifying and sometimes we enter into a state of denial to “protect” ourselves from the pain we fear may be coming.

Author Larry Crabb believes that most people are like this. Whether he is correct or not, each one of us must consistently remember that being authentic means admitting the reality that we can’t control things. Being alive (rather than safely ‘protected’) means that we must enter into the fearful places we can’t govern and give up trying to be in control –  even if are control is “avoidance” of something. And it is there in the fearful places and the fearful times that we find our fully sovereign God is sufficient, and plotting our good (as John Piper says). I can’t say that I always enjoy the process, but I’m striving to wait on God. I’d bet that true of you too. Then again, I do get it wrong sometimes.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted; 
      but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles; 
      they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Is 40:30–31; ESV)


Derailed Leaders

Bruce Jones in Ministerial Leadership in a Managerial World mentions that that there are two primary reasons for some, otherwise equal, leaders in the church being derailed in their leadership. The first is that they are marked by an insensitivity to people. The second is that they are cold, aloof, or arrogant in their dealings with others. No one really sets out to be this way, but over time, for various reasons, they begin to change.

DerailedDerailed men tend to be defensive (often out of fear) and they are not vulnerable to others. The result is often a lack of true accountability. They become authoritarian (i.e., strict,  demanding obedience, favoring strict rules and established authority) to a degree that undermines their true desire of being authoritative (i.e., reliable, convincing, backed by evidence, and showing deep knowledge).

I “starred” this in my journal back in 1989 noting that this is not about personality, but character. Both introverts and extroverts can fall prey to insensitivity and arrogance even while using their personality to cover up in some way. I also wrote that I desperately need to depend on the grace of God to overcome that which might create in me either of those quiet sins.


Book Review: Your Money, God’s Way by Amie Streater

Amie Streator’s main purpose is to confront the confused, conflicted, and downright wrong convictions that many Christians have when it comes to finances. As such, this is not a how-to book about practical money management and does not provide specific guidance about many of the everyday financial situations that might be faced. Streater deals forthrightly and bluntly with seven false convictions that take Christians off track financially. There is a final chapter that deals with some rudiments of budgeting.

The strength of the book is in exposing the false convictions and how they are often at the core of financial breakdown and bondage in Christian homes. I’ve encountered all of them in my own ministry (or my own thinking!). I particularly appreciated the balance about giving (“do it” but don’t be legalistic); and what the author calls “The Scarlett Syndrome” (I’ll think about this tomorrow”). Some might find her comments on student loans to be controversial; I found it refreshing to hear someone say that it is not always the prudent way to go, and would have liked to see a bit more on the topic. Then again, it is not the author’s primary purpose to provide specific advice. She leaves that to other resources, such as those by Dave Ramsey.

Your Money God’s Way is easy to read and understand. The author’s use of the Bible is basic, simple, and usually spot on. Her use of real-life examples and anecdotes will help many, but I feel the marketing hype on the back cover is a bit over-stated. If you are looking for an exhaustive study of biblical passages related to what God says about money, this is not the book. I can recommend it as a helpful and convicting introduction to an often neglected area of Christian living.

Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.