Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Can Persevere through Friendly Fire


Of all the posts I've written in regards to the six lessons I've learned (Find it here), this is probably both the hardest and easiest one to write. Hard, because I've learned that good intentions can often be the most painful, and easy because I know that it's something we've all wrestled through to some degree or another.

One of my early coping mechanisms (though I wouldn't have called it that at the time) after the fire was just really dark humor. I'd joke about how I would burn things down, I'd mention “at least you didn't burn your house down...” after a number of other comments, and other jokes that brought temporary relief. As I look back, they were probably more cries for help, saying, “I'm not ok, please engage.” Some did. Others joked back, and I quickly realized that I wasn't ok with that.

A similar experience was when I was overweight. I felt comfortable joking about being fat, but I never appreciated it when someone joined in the joke. Yet, people would see it as an invitation, not a cry for help.

When that happens, it's incredibly easy to villianize people.

“How could they do that? How could they say those hurtful things? They just don't get me. They don't understand. They don't want to understand.”

The problem is, when you're on the other side of the coin, it's hard to know where to start. It's a common issue this side of glory, and one that shouldn't be surprising. Ever since Genesis 11, where God confuses the speech of the peoples, there has been misunderstanding and language barriers, and the language barrier happens even when two people speak the same language. I tell a joke, the person who wants to genuinely help thinks, “Oh, he wants humor, that's what I will give him!” Suddenly, it falls flat, with both parties thinking, “What exactly went wrong here?”

Even Jesus, the greatest communicator, was easily misunderstood.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Jesus was telling them the truth; life-giving news that he had to suffer and die, so that He could be raised from the dead and defeat sin and death forever. But Peter responded poorly. He told God Himself that he was wrong. He fed Jesus one of the most deceptive temptations, one in which Jesus could win the world without suffering. It's so severe, that Jesus calls Peter “Satan”. This is friendly fire from one of the most influential men of human history. Peter, the rock of the church, and Jesus calls him Satan, because he wants to care for Jesus, yet he misunderstands Him and His purposes.

Now we don't know if Jesus was personally offended, but that doesn't matter. What matters is Jesus' posture towards Peter afterwards. He forgives and He entrusts. Peter's mistake doesn't alienate him, but Jesus calls out the mistake, and draws near. What a response of grace! And this is what Jesus does throughout his entire ministry. He's misunderstood, He endures fire both from foes and friends, and He willingly takes it on, and operates with a posture of forgiveness.

What does that teach us?

1. Believe that it's okay to be misunderstood – Many of us (myself included) can view the greatest sin is to not be understood. However, marriage has quickly dashed the illusion that I should be perfectly understood all the time. We must remember that, even when we are suffering, we will be misunderstood. More importantly, we must remember that we have a Savior who understands, because He has been misunderstood by everyone. Including you. (For reference, John 18, the trial of Jesus, is another great example of when Jesus is misunderstood, and it's to the point of his death.)

2. Keep short accounts – Recently, a friend had said a comment that he meant for good, but I took it as offensive. When I couldn't move past it, I brought it up to him. He was gracious, and responded kindly, and our friendship grew because of it.

One note, when you are in deep suffering, the temptation is to expect all people to know how to care for you. While we need to grow and be sensitive to where people are at, we must remember that all people are finite in their capacity and understanding.

3. Be honest – When you are hurting, you need to share and speak openly. First, we must do this with Christ. A good friend of mine reminded me that Psalm 88 is hopeful, not because of its content (it ends by saying “darkness is my closest friend”), but because the psalmist is crying out to the Lord. Second, find a friend or two who you can really trust, and you are willing to fight with. People who you can share deeply your most raw emotions and frustrations (including your struggles with how you've been treated), as well as people who you can fight with and forgive when they don't understand.

4. Tell people how they can help you – A friend of mine recently told me how a comment I made wasn't helpful, and they were longing to be affirmed instead. This completely changed how I thought to care for this person! Good friends want to know how to better care for you.

5. Remember, not everyone is meant to help you through this specific season – There are some people that I've stayed away from during this season. That's not because I don't love them, nor will I avoid them forever. But without humility and grace on both sides, sometimes space is what is needed. And that's ok. Not everyone needed to know how I was struggling with things. Jesus all ready knows. And He will provide exactly who you need to help walk alongside you.

Monday, June 26, 2017

We can find Joy in God Alone


All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...” – Jesus (Matthew 28:18a)

The above quote is the verse that our ministry's name comes from. We are DiscipleMakers because Jesus commanded us to make disciples. I'm passionate to see young men and women give up everything to follow Jesus, because that's what he calls every Christian to do. But what happens when you give that call, but distractions get in the way? Or a certain lesson isn't sinking in? Or someone really struggles with a particular passage of scripture?

For me, the answer was simple: “Work harder.”

I went to campus more, spent more time thinking about ways to help students grow, considered all sorts of different strategies. Even when I was spending time with family, I was checking my phone, thinking about how I could reach students differently. I would watch movies feeling guilty, thinking 'maybe I should be on campus right now.'

For the record, the guilt was produced on my own. It's easy in this day and age to blame others for how people make us feel. It's the cultural norm. But no one in DiscipleMakers told me to think and act this way. No one expected me to work 24/7 on campus. No one expected me to eat, breathe, and sleep campus ministry to the detriment of myself and my family. The problem was far more internal. I wanted people to think I was good at my 'job.' I wanted to be recognized as a good campus minister to my students, to my teammates, to my supporters.

God was gracious to me to give me a wake up call.

After we moved back into our home, I found myself unable to sleep. Part of it was I kept imagining the fire. But there was something else keeping me awake at night. It was the dread of a new semester coming. Dread, not of the students, or the preaching and teaching of the Word, but of failure.

What if it all falls apart?” I thought. “What if all I am is just some fraud, who was never really cut out for ministry? What if I'm just the black sheep who will always be a failure?'

It was that thinking that led me all the way to a panic attack the first day of classes. I was so underprepared for the beginning of the semester, that the normal fears and anxieties were amplified to the point where I couldn't push them to the side any longer. And I landed in the hospital.

I wondered for a while what had happened. How could I have let this happen?

For one, I failed to realize the first part of Jesus' call to make disciples. “All authority has been given to me...” Who has authority? Jesus. Who's mission is this? Jesus. Who calls me to this mission? Jesus. Exactly when did the mission become all about my personal success and failure? And when was my personal success defined by results? When was ministry defined by what I produced?

It's through this whole thing that I re-learned an important lesson. Ministry is an outflow of the one who has all authority. The more I am in awe and wonder of Christ, the more I'm compelled to do ministry. The more I love God, the more joy I have regardless of the state of our ministry. And the more I love God, the more I want to see Him move in the lives of others, and the more I trust Him to move in the lives of others.

This past Fall was a great example. I was more limited than I had ever been. I was on campus less, recovering more, and wondering, “what is going to happen?” What happened was student leaders had more ownership, more young students were excited, and disciples were made. We had our largest first-year class ever, more investment in the bible, and more and more people clamoring for discipleship.

And as I got back on my feet, I realized how much I wanted these people to find joy in God. Not in their progress. Not in their discipling. Not in their bible study skills. In God. His character. His majesty. His holiness. His power. His mercy and grace.

If God is our joy, the pressure of results seems to fade away. We trust God when He says to take sabbath rest. We trust Him in our rest, knowing that He is working in our waiting. And when it's time to work, we work by faith, believing that He is Lord of the Harvest.

Have you believed Jesus' words, “It is finished?” (John 19:30). Have you believed that Jesus' “yoke is easy, and his burden is light?” (Matthew 11:30) Have you believed when God says,I am the Lord. I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 37:14). Have you believed “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold?” (Psalm 18:2) Have you believed that He, “has put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound?” (Psalm 4:7)

We can rejoice when we have positive results. But it is greater still to find joy in our great God, who can be our joy even when our results are lackluster. He will always allow us to find joy in Him, if we seek it. Despite our circumstances, our results, and our condition.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We Can Find Rest in God's Scriptures


We all sat in the dining room, primed for a weekend of fun. To confirm our geekdom, me and six other men travelled to Bethany Beach for a board game trip. That's right. We went to the beach, so we could play board games. One of my friends suggested we do a short devotion each day, and I was up to lead first. And I was nervous. “We're here to play board games,” I thought to myself. “Are the rest of the guys really going to want to be in the Word?”

This was a dumb question. Yet, it's a question we ask ourselves all the time, whether it's in private or public.

What astounded me, however, was how these short devotion times became hour-long bible studies that deeply rocked us to the core. After our trip, there was no denying that there was one highlight for each of us during the trip: exploring the riches of God's Word, and growing more in awe of Him and His character.

Though I was surprised, I really shouldn't have been. God had been confirming both the beauty of His Word and the therapy it brings throughout one of the most difficult seasons of my life. Yet, how often do we forget this? God's Word routinely speaks to how it is the source of life, and how it confirms God's authority and reputation:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

I Am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 36:36b, 37:14b)

And not only is it the source of life, but all of it trains us in righteousness:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The scriptures bring rest because they make promises that are kept. They reveal to us a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-just. They reveal to us a God who is big enough to hope in, and a God who is big enough to deliver on His promises. They help us discover a God who is so complex that we could never fully understand Him, yet a God who is willing to reveal Himself enough to know Him personally, enjoying that we can discover Him for all eternity. They help us live in tune with God's desires, they give us wisdom when we feel lost, and they give hope when it seems like the world is burning down around us.

The scriptures are not just wise writings, they are the words of God, and they reveal who God is. And that God is the one we hope in. We hope in Him when things are bleak. We hope in Him when life is good. How do we know this? Because God's Word shows us how people praise Him in those seasons, and in every season in between!

On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” (Psalm 138:3)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty heavens!” (Psalm 150:1)

O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.” (Psalm 88:1)

Whether we have full happiness, we see answered prayer, or when we see our hearts mired in sin or when it seems all hope is lost, we see the scriptures dictate that our minds, our hearts, our prayers, our hope should be pointed towards God. And the only way that we can even do that, is because the scriptures reveal to us Jesus.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

Why can we rest deeply in God's Word? Because His Word is what points us to God Himself. He is the object of our faith, and our hope. Whether you're on vacation, or at work. In peace time, or during war. During deep trauma, or times of refreshment. Rest deeply in God's Scriptures.

Monday, June 5, 2017

We can Flourish in God's Church


Marry the church.” – Brian Seay (DiscipleMakers Staff)

My heart sank as I looked over my lawn. It had grown for nearly three months without much maintenance, and resembled more of a wild field than a lawn of a homeowner. It was one of what seemed like an endless list of things I had to get done, without an end in sight. Yet, the day we moved back into our home, a number of people rushed to our home to help. In fact, with the yard alone, we had three people who took shifts to mow it. After numerous hours, we finished, and it, along with nearly every other task, was done.

“It's amazing how belonging to the church brings much help, I can't imagine what it's like for someone who isn't in it,” one of the people remarked. It was a staggering comment, and one I haven't forgotten. It reminded me that there are benefits to being an active member of the local church, and it's this: you're a part of a family. And healthy families involve each member seeking to love each other.

That's not to say that church members shouldn't love non-church members, rather, there is a different love that can only exist within the church, and that's for many reasons. One, we are unified by the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. Two, our love for Jesus trumps all other objects of worship. That includes people, possessions, and more. That's why Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The church is a family. And not just any family, it's the family of God. And the family of God loves one another.

Now, you might be asking, “why don't I feel the love?”

It's a good question, and one I've asked often. As I've gone through the past year, let me give five reasons why you may not feel the love of the church.

1. You expect more from the church than Christ himself: I often expect that people should know how to care for me, and when they don't, I distance myself. I too often believe that I should be perfectly understood, and if I'm not, they don't care. This is not only untrue, it's not fair. The church, while meant to care for one another, is not meant to be Jesus. Jesus understands perfectly. Jesus cares perfectly. And Jesus is sufficient in his care. Part of that care is him working through the church. The church, however, is not Jesus. We must not put our hope that people will care for us perfectly, because people are both sinners and limited in their abilities.

2. Your local church is struggling in the areas that you need to flourish: Speaking of limitations, it's very possible the local church you are a part of struggles in areas that you need care in. That's hard. The temptation is to blame, to grow bitter, or to abandon. Depending on the care you need, it might mean leaving that local body to go to another that can better fit your needs. Or, it might mean stepping up to help it flourish in its areas of weakness. If it's a matter of care where you are in deep depression or anxiety, it might be good to find help in a place that might be better suited to help at that current time.

3. You're fearful to let people walk with you based on past experience: I'll speak more on this in a future post, but people make mistakes in caring for people. This cultivates fear and bitterness if it goes unaddressed and, for many of us, leads to isolation. Don't fall into that trap. Isolation is a great way for the flesh, the world, and Satan to bring more destruction. Open up to one or two people, and then more over time. And have grace for people when they make mistakes in caring for you.

4. You're there to be fed, not to serve: Too often, I think of the church as an institution to meet all my needs. But that's not what the church is. The church is a family, not an institution. And families serve one another. Ask yourself, “am I here to be solely a consumer?If the answer is yes, then there's an opportunity to repent, and move towards your spiritual family with the heart of a servant. (As an aside, sometimes there are seasons where you might need more care, and you're not in much of a position to serve. That's ok. You can serve by helping people know how to better care for you, which in turn will strengthen you for future service.)

5. You're there to serve, not to be fed: On the other side, it's easy to become the savior. I'll do all the ministry, and all the work, and I'll meet with all these people. But we forget that this family has one savior, and it's not me, nor is it you. Remember that as we serve, we also must allow Christ to serve us through the church. If you are in need of love and care, it's not bad or wrong to ask. In fact, it's good and right for us to share our weakness, so that we can bear one another's burdens.

As the quote above states, we should be compelled to “marry the church.” To marry means that we enter into a covenant. It's not a contractual agreement, but rather a commitment. We commit to being part of the body of Christ, both in it's joys and sorrows, in its strengths and its weaknesses. We are to be a part of it, to serve in it, and to rejoice in it's building through the work and power of the Gospel. And as we do that, not only do we see its beauty, but we, and the church, will flourish. We see that God is wise to bring unique people, with unique gifts, with unique passions, together to band as one family serving one another in hopes that we might bring more in the fold, and bring God glory. Do you see it? Do you see its beauty? Are you in awe of what God is building?

Before you critique or distance yourself from the church, ask yourself this question: am I missing out on how God is establishing and building his church because I'm over-focused on its faults?

Don't miss the messy flourishing of God's church.  Don't miss the opportunity to flourish within it. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

We can Trust God's Faithfulness

On August 22nd, I sat in a hospital bed wondering what was happening to me.  I woke up at 3:30 AM with chest pains, panicked that I might be suffering a heart attack, and drove myself to the hospital (in hind sight... if I were actually suffering a heart attack, this was probably a bad idea.).  The ten days prior I couldn't sleep, flashbacks continued to invade my mind as we moved back in to our home.  While our house, and our once-torched kitchen, looked like new, it couldn't erase the memories.     Details continued to pile up, between getting the house organized, starting a new semester, connecting with our team, I felt trapped.  And as I sat in that hospital bed, even though the doctors reassured me that I was ok, I knew something was wrong.  I felt like I was in real danger.

When we think of God's faithfulness, we tend to think of how He has helped us.  He brings resolution.  For three months, I saw God's faithfulness.  I saw it in four families offering their homes to our family.  I saw it in my mom and dad, grandparents, friends, and even the Red Cross offering us financial gifts.  I saw it in our premium insurance coverage which, when first purchased, I had to be talked into buying.  We were brought meals, we got all new furniture and our kitchen looks better than ever.  We traded in amateur paint jobs for professional ones, new carpeting and appliances that we didn't have to pay for to upgrade. 

It was clear through all the blessing, God was faithful to us. 

But what about when things don't resolve?  What do you do when everything seems covered, but your soul is downcast?  What about when it's fractured? 

Before our first large group meeting (when we lead students in a time of worship and preaching of God's Word) I was printing outlines for the students, and the printer wouldn't work, and something in me snapped, and I wept for nearly 15 minutes straight.  This was after my episode in the ER.

"What is wrong with me?" I thought.  "God... where are you?" 

Was God unfaithful by leaving me in a spiritual desert?  Or was He faithful to bring me there?

"And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan..."  (Mark 1:11-13a)

This passage is about Jesus.  Jesus, who was confirmed to be God's beloved Son, is propelled into the wilderness one verse later.  He's there for forty days, tempted by Satan.  Now, in other gospel accounts, we know that part of the reason He's there is to be the better Israel.   

But there's still a reaction to how these verses go.  On one hand, he's called beloved and Son.  The other, He's propelled out.  What?  If God is faithful, how could He do that to His own Son?  How is that faithfulness?  Isn't faithfulness about protection and safety?

Later in Mark we see that's not the case, as Jesus is unjustly tried, and then crucified.  How was God faithful there?

The obvious answer is the resurrection.  The salvation of humanity from sin and eternal damnation by grace through faith in Christ.  And God is glorified through it. 

How is God faithful in bringing us in the desert?  By making us see Him as more beautiful.  More precious than gold, greater than any treasure we think we have. 

Consider Job.  He lost his wealth, health, possessions, and children.  His wife told him to abandon God, his friends falsely told him that his calamity was his fault.  And as Job demands an answer from God, God responds not by answering his plea, but reminding him who He is.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
(Job 38:4-7)

Now, before we forget, God loved Job.  Job was a righteous man in God's sight.  And He let Satan take everything from him to prove he wouldn't renounce God!  In other words, Job was a faithful, righteous man.  And God knew that!  That's why he was selected for torment.  And as Job cries out for 37 chapters, God comes and responds, and He doesn't say, "wow, Satan put you through a lot.  Maybe that was harsh."  No!  He challenges Job.  He asks him, "where were you...?"  The point obviously being "Job, you weren't there when I created the world, when I created its very foundation, when I put the stars in the sky, but I most assuredly was, because I was the one who did it."

The miracle of Job is not that Job's fortunes are restored.  It's that Job's sight is elevated to see the grace and mercy of God in that He would take away everything so that He might hold fast to the greatest treasure, God Himself.

"Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ 
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you; 
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” 
(Job 42:1-6)

Look at Job's response.  It's one of awe, awe of God's character, His wisdom, and His holiness.  And in v. 6, we see the beauty of what God does.  If you have a bible, there's a footnote over the word repent.  And the word could be also translated as "am comforted."  While he despises himself, he is comforted.  Why?  It's because he has seen God, convicted of his narrow-sighted view, and now sees God more appropriately.  He's no longer concerned with what he's lost, but with his view of the God of the universe.  

This is why God was so faithful to put me through this journey.

"God, what about my home?"  

"God, what about my reputation?"

"God, what about my ministry?"  

"God, what about my friends that I seem to be losing?"

"God, what about my family, are they disappointed?"

"God, what about my emotions, my sleep, my comfort?"  

"God, why won't you answer me and deliver me?!"  

"Because I am the Lord, and I don't answer to anyone.  Your hope is in earthly things, I'll strip them away.  Your hope is in how great your ministry is, I'll make you see the crushing weight of it.  Your hope is in sleep, I won't let you.  Your hope is in what people think, I'll show you how futile it is.  Why?  Because I am the Lord, and I am what you need."  

Obviously, that isn't from the bible.  It's not a prophetic word that I received from God.  It's my application from the hard season.  God has been deeply faithful to me.  Why?  Because my joy has become far more rooted in knowing Him.  Knowing His wisdom, His glory, His beauty.  
It's why we can trust God's Faithfulness.  Even when our circumstances are in the tank.  Because God is always moving us to see Him as our greatest need.  Our greatest desire.  Our greatest hope.   And He's willing to do whatever it takes to get us there, even if it means putting us in the desert.