You are God’s Beautiful Boys and Girls

beautiful-boy-film-chalamet-carell.pngLast Saturday, my son and I went to see the movie “Beautiful Boy.”  I wasn’t sure what I would experience, though I was pretty sure it was going to be a heavy movie.  It was.  When the movie ended, the place was silent except for a few sniffles here and there.  It is a story of addiction.  And it doesn’t end in a fake, movie-like, happily every after way.  It is based on a true story, written by David Sheff.  It shows the pain and process of loving a kid with addictions.  As I sat there, I found myself feeling pain for those I know who have had children and siblings struggling with the horrors of addiction.

There was one line that stuck out to me.  It was said during a scene at an Narcotics Anonymous (NA) group session.  When the kid said his addiction was a disease, he was corrected by the group as they recited together something like, “Addiction isn’t the disease, but my way of treating the disease.”  In essence they were saying that the path to addiction begins because there is something else wrong on the inside.  This is profound.  As long as we treat the symptom without dealing with the issue, we will miss the cure.

This week I was visiting with a parent who said his 16 year old announced to him that she thinks she is transexual. Like most of us parents would be, he was floored.  His little girl, who he thought he knew was having doubts about the very essence of her identity.  And he didn’t know how to respond, or what to do next.  Is this another case where culture has pointed our kids to a solution that misses the problem altogether?  Is it another way of treating what is the real issue and do we run the danger of missing the cure?

These issues aren’t just for the young.  I’ve spoken to adults that have jumped from one spouse to another, to another.  They repeat the pattern all the while trying to treat their unhappiness, their frustrations, their anger. And they end up taking their unchanged self into the next relationship hoping this time they’ve found the answer.  But again, they’ve been misdiagnosed and the real cure eludes them.

Some of us do this with pills.  Some of us do this with career moves.  Some of us do it with porn.  Some of us do it with sexuality. Some of us do this with out-of-contol emotions.  Some of us do this with a new commitment to a new morality.  This is so engrained in us that pastors can even do this with ministry. It is the common human approach to finding the cure to our ache, our loneliness, our identity questions, our search for belonging and meaning.  We keep buying into the misdiagnosis and the next fake cure.

What is our disease?  Our disease is that we have left the only One (or keep leaving the One) who knows us to our core and loves us.  Our disease is that we keep trying to fabricate lives with things that can’t bear the weight of eternity.  Our disease is a pride that says, “We’ve got this.” when our lives tell a different story.  Our disease is living in independence from the One who made us with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.

If this is our disease, what is our cure?  Hear and embrace this…

  1. We are created in the image of God.  This doesn’t mean that everything in our life, personality, or desires are given or approved by God.  But it means that our existence has an eternal intention to it.  We are no accident.  And we are created with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.
  2. God invites us back to him.  God, like the Dad we all long for, looks past our crap and failed attempts a self-cure to wait for us with eagerness to embrace us and heal us.
  3. His Son, Jesus is the way to healing. He came to carry our pain and show us life.  He restores our call, our purpose, our hope of being changed and having the life we were made for.
  4. Once we’ve recognized our disease, separation from our God; and the cure, God’s rescuing love; we are freed to discover the joy of living in His presence and being changed by His love.

This sounds simple, but it is life-altering.  If accepted, it reshapes everything within us.  It reorients the core of our being around the Being of the seen and unseen universe.

The questions, the pain, the process may remain for a while, or a lifetime, but we find that God walks in the way with us.  Life is still a place a learning.  It’s a path of growth.  It’s not easy.  But Christ’s presence keeps us rooted, sure, secure and hopeful in the middle of it all. And he has provided others who are walking the journey, so we need not do it alone.

I have found that God and His Son, Jesus believe we are beautiful boys and girls.  Accepting that, in the middle of mixed emotions, is the beginning of the cure.  The rest of the cure is to let Him restore us to the lives He made us for.

Comments, Hopes, Needs, Questions??  Thanks for your time in reading, commenting and sharing.

A Pastor’s Heavy Heart: 7 Things Your Pastor Carries

iu-4

I have a unique role.  I get to be a pastor to pastors.  One of the primary responsibilities in ministry is to care about and care for 42 different pastors.  This is a joy – usually.  Like any pastoral call, there are things that weigh on my heart. There are times when I want to step in but I’ve not been invited. There are times when I lay in bed and wonder how a particular pastor and his wife are doing. There are times when I see a wounded pastor and wish I could carry his pain away.   I feel what they feel deeply because I served as a local church pastor for 29 years before I stepped into this role.

During October, when many in the church are expressing appreciation for their pastors, I thought I might share some of the things that weigh heavy on your pastor.  Most of these burdens are unique to the pastoral role.  While you can’t take most of them away, you can understand and pray.  Your pastor will just be happy that you care enough to consider these things that are his to carry and what you might be able to do to lighten the load.

1. A pastor carries the weight of what his family feels about the church. The church isn’t just his job. It is his family’s church. He wants his kids and his wife to love their church. That can be tough during stressful seasons. I know of pastor’s wives who have sat on certain committees in the church and heard people on the team criticize the pastor’s leadership with her in the room.  The same has happened to pastor’s kids in the hallway of the church.  He wants his kids to some day choose to be involved in church and serve faithfully.

What you can do: If you’re frustrated, first think about who’s in the room. Love the pastor’s family whether or not you like the pastor.  Be tender with them.  Include them in your life if you can. Do what you can do to make them fall in love with the church!

2. A pastor carries the weight of his own failures. I don’t know a pastor who can’t quickly list his latest failures.  Unlike many jobs, a pastor’s job is tied to his spiritual life. If you blow it in your ministry, you know you’ve blown it with God.  You know how it feels when you know you’re not praying enough? Or, you’re struggling with giving?  Now make it your job and it adds another layer of responsibility.  Failure adds another layer of guilt.  It’s personal, and it’s professional.

What you can do: Communicate appreciation for what he’s doing well. Give patience and understanding when he doesn’t seem to get it quite right. In subtle ways let him know you understand his human frailty and you’re okay with it.

3. A pastor carries the weight of the church’s apparent success, or failure. Even when a pastor tries to measure ministry by Jesus’ standards of life transformation and discipleship, he knows that many in his church are measuring him by the budget and bottoms in the seats. Most ministries have seasons of ebb and flow.  There are a lot of reasons for these things. Even if the pastor doesn’t own it all, he still knows that many lay it on him.

What you can do: Remind him often that we are all in this together.  Find ways to celebrate the new life that is happening around your pastor and his ministry.

4. A pastor carries the weight of his own responsibility toward Christ. Have you ever walked away from a conversation with a neighbor and thought with regret, “I should have said…”, or “I shouldn’t have said…”  A pastor feels that nearly every day.  I know I have times I’ve thought about standing in front of Jesus while he goes through my sermons and measures what I said against the truth.  It isn’t a comforting thought.

What you can do: Pray for him to honor Christ and let him know when you think he is.

5. A pastor carries the weight of serving in a confusing time. The same way you see the world changing, the pastor sees the world changing.  For most, the ministry we were trained to do isn’t the same ministry which exists today. It is hard enough for all of us to understand the huge shifts.  Your pastor has to try to help you navigate them with hope and joy of Jesus. He wants to lead people to Jesus when fewer and fewer want to be led.

What you can do: Help him by joining in the mission of Christ in your own neighborhood, workplace and family.  Let him see you engaging your world and discover with your pastor, where God is moving and how we should join him.

6. A pastor carries the weight of caring for Jesus’ flock. Jesus has given your pastor a love for God’s people. He may be tired. He may be worn. But he still cares. It isn’t his job, it’s his vocation, his calling. And most do it 24/7 even when people would rather he not care. When one leaves because they are hurt and angry, it hurts. When people won’t make godly decisions, but are being choked by the world, it crushes his spirit. When people drift away, he still watches for their return, hoping it’s today.

What you can do:  Show up.  Ask how you can pray for him.  Commit yourself and encourage others in the church to seek the path of peace before heading out the door.

7. A pastor carries the weight of other pastor’s failures.  In our society, pastoral failure seems to be everywhere.  Your pastor carries that.  25 years ago, I sat in front of a bank manager, applying for a mortgage. I thought being a pastor would be an asset, because the bank would know that I was a person of integrity and a good risk. The bank manager said it was a liability because many pastors walk out on their loans and just leave town.  I was horrified when I realized I was carrying that reputation with me.  Today we know the clergy stories are even worse.

What you can do: Affirm your pastor’s love for Christ which is lived in integrity. Let him know when his lifestyle is a positive influence in your life.  And pray for him that he doesn’t become one of those statistics.

I am not asking you to shower him with “atta-boys.” But by your presence, prayer and involvement show you understand and appreciate his unique challenges. Most pastors I know gladly carry this weight and wouldn’t trade their calling for anything. But we should remember that the burdens our leaders carry are our burdens to carry together.  That is the nature of community.  And you are your pastor’s community!  You are his church family.

I would love to hear of your pastor who’s doing it well, or any other comments you may  have!

Note: I use the male pronoun because I come from a complementary tradition. If your pastor is female, I am sure she has many of the same struggles.

4 Suggestions to Get More Life in Your Time

IMG_4892
Flying out of San Francisco at 9:30pm.

Ah yes.  You read that title correctly.  I don’t think any of us need more time!  We really want more life.  I’ve done the time management stuff and while it can be helpful.  I find there is still something missing, especially for some of us who are task-oriented.  I do believe in trying to plan and be efficient with our time, but that alone won’t mean we experience the really important stuff in life.  So, follow along, this is so much better!

There is another kind of time that we should be aware of each day.  And it is this “other” concept of time that really adds life to our time!

TIME, WHAT TIME?

Read these two verses:  Ephesians 5:15-16 “Look carefully then how you walk… as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  And Colossians 4:5 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.”

Paul wasn’t writing about time management here.  He was sharing about another kind of time.  In the Greek New Testament, there are two words for our english word “time.” The first word is chronos.  We get the word chronology from chronos.  Chronos time is measured on watches and calendars.  It is made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years.

In the verses above Paul used the other Greek word for time, kairos.  Kairos is sometimes translated as “opportunity.”  Kairos time is what happens when a door opens and a new space for experiencing life presents itself.  It shows up in-between the seconds and minutes of our day.  It often shows up in what we would call interruptions.  It usually isn’t planned for.  But, when stepped into, these times give life a new dimension of meaning and significance.

OUR TIMES

This last month, my wife Kris and I had a lot of kairos experiences.  We began the month with our 33rd Wedding Anniversary, that was planned, but our conversations over dinner were certainly kairos moments.  Then we headed out to California to see my stepdad, John.  He had entered hospice care and we wanted to make sure he knew how important he was to us.  It was a meaningful time for us.  We returned home to Chicagoland, to hear of the birth of our new grandson.  So we loaded the car and headed for South Dakota for 4 days.  There we met Jacob and spent some wonderful time with our granddaughter, Clara.  After returning home, we now had to plan a trip to California again. This time, we went to mourn with our family and celebrate John’s life.  We flew home last Saturday morning and loaded the car to drive to Iowa, where I preached at one of most joy-filled churches we know.  We returned home on Sunday night.  And on Monday, a dear friend and sister-in-Christ, entered eternity.  At the end of this week, we will have the privilege of celebrating all God had done through her life and trusting Him together for His comforting love.

HOW TO FIND LIFE IN TIME

In it all, Kris and I have found great joy and meaning.  How?  We found life in kairos time.  Here are four tips that might help you find more life in your time.

  1. Be willing to let God orchestrate life.  We will only see kairos time when we stop fighting to control our lives. Don’t be obsessed with making life happen, rather be aware of all that is already happening and step into it.
  2. Be with those around you.  We won’t experience kairos if focus on the thing we have to do next!  We can’t let our plans make us blind to the people around us and the opportunity to live life.  Kairos happens in the here and now with THESE people.
  3. Be confident that unplanned by you, doesn’t mean unplanned by God.  Kairos might not be on our calendars, but it is just as much a part of God’s ordained order as the sunrise that can be timed to the second each day.  Just because it comes as a surprise to us, doesn’t mean it’s a surprise to God. Remember that an interruption is merely an event you didn’t foresee.
  4. Be mindful of meaning.  Life isn’t a list of duties we need to accomplish.  People aren’t our projects, nor are they our pawns.  Our purpose in life is to give meaning and value to the people around us.  Meaning happens when we connect, or reconnect with people in a way that draws them toward a deeper love for God and helps them experience His life.

Do you really need more time?  When I look at my calendar, I don’t need more time.  What I really want is more life!  I want to experience the fullness of all God has intended.  I hope that is your desire too.  In the midst of the minutes you count, find the time where life resides.

THANK YOU

As always, thank you for reading and giving your likes, comments and shares.

Remember to check out my book, if you haven’t picked one up!  TRANSFORMED PAIN.  (The Kindle version is free right now – don’t forget to leave a review.)

Little Faith? Not Really

believe

Be encouraged if this is where you are!  It isn’t a lack of faith, but it is real faith!  When we come dependent, needy and seeking what only God can do, we are expressing a faith that pleases God.

A vital element to faith is knowing we can’t marshal our own resources and achieve life, but we trust in the only God – in Christ – who can and is willing to meet our need.

So, the next time you face a challenge, ASK FOR FAITH!  In this, you’re expressing faith that He will supply your need.

People Pleasing VS. People Serving

I confess.  I’ve spent most of my life as a people pleaser.  Oh, it’s not anything to be proud of.  There are times when we people pleasers commiserate about our burden.  “I care too much about what people think.”  This almost sounds like a badge of suffering.  After all, I’m burdened by others.  That’s a good thing, right? It means I care.  Let’s look at that for a moment.

We have to ask, why are there people-pleasers?

  1. People pleasers want to avoid conflict.  If people are happy, they aren’t mad.  If I can make people happy, I don’t have to deal with the pain of conflict.  Without conflict, life is better for all, right?
  2. People pleasers want to be well thought-of.  If I meet others expectations, or even exceed them, they will appreciate me, or believe me to be competent.
  3. People pleasers want to be needed.  If I am not needed, I don’t have value.  My value is increased by the number of people who need me, or by the volume of need I bear.

We may cloak people-pleasing in the cover of just wanting other’s needs to be met, but the truth is that people pleasing is not driven by the needs of others.  It is driven by the need of the people-pleaser.  People pleasing is self-motivated.  People pleasing isn’t people serving, it is self-serving.

 

Peoplepleasing
It’s what we all want!  But why?

Last Sunday I preached from 1 Thessalonians 2.  In verses 4-6, Paul wrote: “4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.5For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.6Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.”

Paul says, he wasn’t in ministry to please people.  His motives were pure.  He wasn’t in it for personal benefit.  “Neither flattery, nor personal profit, nor glory from people” were part of his heart for ministry.  Let’s be honest, these are often the things the people pleaser are driven by.

Instead of pleasing people, we are called to serve people.  People serving is so different.  It transforms our doing from being self-motivated, to being God-motivated.

  1. People serving will create conflict, inward and outward.  We will step into conflict with the reconciling gift of forgiveness.
  2. People serving will be misunderstood by some.  There are some who won’t understand when we have to say no to their wants, so we can step into the needs of others.
  3. People serving rejoices when needs are met, no matter who needs them.  A people server is focused on the wholeness of the other, not the hole in their own heart.

How do I become a people server, rather than a people pleaser?  I’m still working on that.  But I know it has to begin with having my needs met by my Savior.  (1) I must get my value from the One who reached out of heaven for me.  He did this not because of what I could do for Him, but because of what He had to give to me.  And then, (2) I must see my serving as part of his work.  I need to follow His lead in meeting the need He wants to meet.  If I am serving others with Him, under His leadership, then it is His work, not mine.

Father, I know that I am loved by you by your choice, not my performance.  Let me live today for your glory!  Let me be in step with you today.  Help me serve you by serving others.  Give me wisdom to know where and what to give.  Give me strength to be uncomfortable and yet, at peace.  Amen.

Thanks for listening in on my own process of personal growth.  I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and experiences.

 

What Difference Does the Old Testament Make?

deadseascroll

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament again. I just started the book of Joshua. That means I’ve gotten through the toughies, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  As I read, there are many questions that run through my mind, but they aren’t about the text so much. I’ve read it and studied it enough that I don’t need each story explained.  I am looking for an explanation and reason for THE story. I mean, if Christ is the pinnacle of the story of God, why not just start with him?

Picture it this way, Adam and Eve sin, Jesus shows up the next day and says, “Look, I’m here to fix this thing.” And he does whatever needs done. Finito, terminado, fertig, fini! Off to life with him!

I am discovering the power of the Old Testament in that the Old Testament gives Christ context. The Old Testament is Christ’s story. It is his story because it is God’s story. And Christ is God. The context of the Old Testament creates a place for the story of Christ.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God fighting against enemies foreign and domestic, for the survival of the people he loves. We see the tenacity and passion of a scorned spouse, who will do whatever must be done to win back the wayward love of his life.

He shows up again and again, as men and angels. He brings messages of warning, instruction and comfort, all in an attempt to woo his love back into his arms of protection and promise. He breaks the rules of the universe to rescue his covenant partner, again and again from her own bad choices. He demands worship, because he knows that this love relationship with him is her only hope. And so, he gives and fights and wins, only seemingly to lose again.

There are times of frustration, but its not the anger of an opposer. It is the frustration of a parent who knows the better way and sees his daughter, or son walk headlong into danger again and again.

In this story, Jesus makes sense. This God finally comes himself. No more depending on prophets and law to mediate. He is the intermediary. He is the message. He is the kingdom they’ve been looking for. He is the final sacrifice of love. He is the victor in a final battle with the cosmic enemies of death and disobedience. He is the life of renewal and restoration.

Now as I’m reading the story of the OT, I’m reading the story of Christ. Just as, if you read the story of Darrel and Richie – or the story of Marvin and Betty – you are reading the stories of Kris and Jim. Their stories are our story. Who our parents are and what they experienced help our lives make sense. In the context, we see the fulness of meaning.

Now, as I’m reading the OT, I’m seeing Christ. I see the self-sacrificing, tenacious love that drives Him to the cross. I can now envision a fuller picture of redemption. I also see my need, my weakness, my proclivity to run from and fight against the One who loves me, for the sake of other gods who make empty promises. Lastly, I see the world I’m born into. It’s a world of hope, love and promise. But it is filled with enemies like despair, hatred, fear and death. I need a redeemer, a rescuer. I long for a king who will remake this world and my life and will place me in a new community. And that, my friend is Jesus; the Christ of God.

I hope, as you read the Old Testament scriptures, you will grab hold of the story that is Christ’s story. And I hope that this story will grab hold of you. My prayer is that through these words that God has breathed for us, you will discover him and his love for us all. And that we will know that Jesus as the fullness and perfection of that love.

 

God smiled.

happy-holidaysOn this day, generations ago…

… shepherds worked on the hills watching their sheep.

… angels waited.

… a prophetess hoped.

… an old man longed.

… a young man stressed.

… a young woman wondered.

… relatives questioned.

… Satan schemed.

… The world sat in darkness.

… God smiled, because he knew tomorrow would be different!

May the coming of Christ make tomorrow different for you too!

 

Thanks for reading… and Merry Christmas!