Devotions

Do You Make The Holy Spirit Cry?

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“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30).
 
The Holy Spirit begs each of us, “don’t make me cry.”
 
What is it that makes the Holy Spirit cry? What breaks His heart?
 
Interpreters of this verse often present a wide array of thoughts on what it means to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” Ideas range anywhere from crediting Satan for the actions of God, living in unrepentant sin, or falling away from faith.
 
However, each of these interpretations break one of the cardinal rules for Biblical interpretation … study the context. Let the context define what an unclear statement might mean.
 
Paul does just that with this verse in Ephesians 4.
 
Take a look at verse 29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
 
Now look at verse 31 and 32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
 
We don’t need to go any further than these verses to guess what Paul means in verse 30! Paul provides matching bookends to verse 30. Sandwiched right between is the plea to not bring the Holy Spirit to tears.
 
The verses, immediately before and after, mentions actions that are destruction to relationships within the body of Christ. In each couplet, a negative action is rejected for a positive option. In both verses, Paul is telling the believers to guard against these negative actions: destructive words; and bitterness and malice. The Ephesians are told to exchange these negative actions for positive relating: words that encourage and strengthen; and tender forgiveness like God.
 
Why does he tuck this verse about grieving the Holy Spirit between these verses? Because Paul’s sandwich is meant to make clear to the reader that it is these very harmful activities that threaten the harmony and unity of the body of Christ that make the Holy Spirit cry?
 
Have you made the Holy Spirit cry? How are your relationships within the body of Christ? Have you conducted yourself in a manner that leaves tears streaming down the face of God? Or have you exchanged the actions that bring the Holy Spirit to tear with the actions that place a smile on His face because they grow and bless the body?


Telling The Lost To Go To Hell

Have you been guilty of telling others to go to Hell?

The very phrase for many Christians sends a bolt of indignation through our gut. We don’t like hearing people tell one another to “Go to Hell”, because it is a defaming and derogatory statement of derision.

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Most believers wouldn’t even consider using that phrase. Yet, I fear that we have so focused on the phrase as “bad language’” that we have forgotten that we may be saying the same thing to people with much more serious consequences.
 
When we treat those outside of a relationship with Christ with ridicule and derision, we in essence are telling them to “go to Hell.” When we fail to demonstrate Christ’s love toward those who are struggling in sin, we are telling them to “go to Hell.” When we fail to exhibit God’s grace to those who are seeking salvation, we repeat the refrain “go to Hell.”
 
Our actions toward the lost, whether they be family, friend or enemy, have very real consequences. These consequences are much more significant than someone having hurt feelings because someone told them to go to H-E- double hockey sticks. The consequences of rejecting lost people, failing to show grace, and judging rather than showing grace to lost people is a sure way to being accomplices with sending them on their way to Hell. Sometimes in our own spiritual arrogance, we are actually pushing them to Hell because we are pushing them away from Jesus.
 
This is not to deny that those who are outside of Christ are going to hell. What the problem is is that many Christians, who are called to be God’s ambassadors of grace to a lost and dying world, are perfectly content with lost people being consigned to Hell. While we may not be throwing them in, we may be fanning the flame.
 
How do you get these lost souls off the highway to Hell? You treat them with the same level of respect that Jesus did. You build friendship with lost people. You pray for their salvation. You engage them in conversations through which you can tell them about Jesus. In short you treat lost people, not as if they deserve Hell, but as people who deserve the grace of Christ, the same grace shown to you.
 
Let’s not be content letting them go to Hell. Let’s do everything that we can in order to change their condition and destiny.

 



Soft Hearts

soft-hearts“Be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
 
Right relationships are not just about the don’ts — don’t hold grudges, don’t speak badly of others, don’t seek harm toward others.
 
Right relations are also built by positive actions. Paul tells us to have soft hearts toward one another. That means be sensitive toward one another, allow your heart to be moved by others. Bitter hearts become calloused. Paul encourages that to be replaced with softness and compassion.
 
He, also, tells us to forgive each other. That is the positive reflection of softening of a heart of resentment and anger. It isn’t enough to discard your bitterness. Bitterness needs replaced by forgiveness. We need to relate to one another as God relates to us because of the sacrifice of Christ.
 
Paul’s very clear implication is that since all of us needed forgiveness at the expense of Christ, we ought to demonstrate forgiveness to one another. How is it possible to hold someone hostage in unforgiveness for the very things Christ has forgiven?
 
Does your heart need some softening?


I Resolve To Release Myself From Bitterness

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“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 ESV
  
We do well to put away the bitterness, resentment, anger, and dreams of payback that haunt us. These are the dark places of the soul that keep us captive to old wounds, old scars, and bind us from experiencing the joy of life in Christ.
 
Yet, I wonder if our putting away is less than Paul was hoping. Rather than relegating bitterness to the trash heap of things that don’t move us toward Christlikeness, do we stow it away in a location where it is easily retrieved for display? Do we get our resentments out ever-so-often so that they can be polished to a bright sheen to make sure they don’t begin to look like something which should be discarded? Do we nurse our anger when we should be starving it? Do we end up cherishing our bitterness more than the joy that would be experienced when we let it go?
 
Paul’s instructions do more than let the other person off the hook. They grant you the room to experience healing yourself. It is up to you to shake off the chains. No one else can set you free. 
 
I resolve to release myself from bitterness, to discontinue blaming others for my resentments, and hold over their head the injustices which I have convinced myself I have suffered at their hands. In setting them free, I choose to set myself free.
 
On the otherhand, picking at my wounds may only lead to infection.

 



We All Have A Story To Tell

WE_ALL_HAVE_A_STORY_TO_TELLRemember these:
Now, let me tell you a story about a man named Jed … a poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed …
It’s a story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls …
Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship …
Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down …
What is it about all of these TV shows that captured our attention. It was the story!
During the month of March at First Christian Church of Chicago, we experienced that sharing our stories stirred emotions and touched hearts and has the potential to change lives. Each Sunday four people shared how God has worked in their lives either to bring them to faith or grow them as believers . Some of the stories brought us to tears. Others gave us cause to celebrate.
Here are some critical points we discovered during this season:
1) People love stories. You might be thinking, “But people don’t read much anymore.” Just because people are less prone to reading has not changed that we love stories. We just don’t prefer to get them from the printed page. Just think for a moment. We engage in storytelling and story hearing on screens big and small, in watercooler conversations, and chats on the bus.
Why do we exchange stories? Because we still love them. They may help us to feel things more deeply, to experience understanding, to take a respite from reality, but the better the story the more we love it.
2) God is writing His story in your life. From the opening pages of the Bible, God has been telling His story. Yet, God’s story didn’t end when John put down his pen at the end of Revelation. He continues to write His story on the pages of our life, through His work in our lives, through the events that lead us to cry out to Him.
Yet, in a way it is even a misnomer to call it our story, our testimony. Actually, as believers, our stories are not all about us. Jesus is the central character in the story of our lives. It is a story about how He has loved us, changed us transformed us, protected and sustained us. It is a story about how we have found someone that we are able to lean into when life gets rough … how we have found someone who is able to help us out of the deepest pit.
3) You have a story to tell. I remember, growing up, reading a number of testimony stories. Testimonies always were the stories about how God saved my life when I was living in the alleys, addicted to heroin … or God delivered me from gang activity when I hid in a church when a turf war broke out. You remember those stories. It always seemed that God was bringing the most vile, the biggest criminals, the most morally corrupt to His throne. It was great.
But what I learned from that was “I’m not that bad. I’m a pretty good kid. I DON’T HAVE A STORY.” I don’t think that message was ever intended, but I heard it loud and clear.
It took years for me to understand that while hearing those amazing stories of transformation of hookers, pimps, drug dealers, and gang bangers was inspirational, most people didn’t really relate to them. But they could relate to my story. I had walked in their shoes, shared their experiences, felt their heartbeat, so when I shared how God out to me it didn’t necessarily topple them over in amazement at the awesome power of God. But it did let them see and feel how God could care for them.
Then i discovered that my story didn’t end with my conversion. I shared my story of growing up in a broken home, without a dad, being told that he denied I was his kid. I shared the story of myself as kid robbed of self-worth because it was assumed I was “mentally-retarded” since my sister has brain damage from being born without a thyroid gland. I shared my struggle with faith when my step-dad, who I saw as a leader in church, left my mom for another women. I shared my struggle with experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex to numb the disappointment. I’ve learned that 30 years of marriage provides stories, and raising five children means the stories keep on getting written.
Our stories are not limited to the events that brought us to Jesus. Our stories include the celebrations, the disasters, and the daily grind of our lives. Our stories may be being written in the delivery room, the waiting room. God may be penning the next chapter as you wait for the doctor to return, or cry at the funeral home. God reaches into all of those events and gives us a story as He teaches us to trust Him.
4) Someone needs to hear your story! The stories and experiences that God have written into your life have been written for someone else to read. Someone is currently going through the struggles, despair, grief, decision-making, joys and hopefulness that God has already brought you through. Your story may be the crucial bridge for them coming to and growing in Christ.
This is where the real difference between those dynamic testimonies and our life stories really matters. While those dynamic stories may make us “OOO” and “Ahhh”, it is these stories over everyday life shared around the table at the coffee shop, during a break at work, or as an example for your children that has the real power to transform.
5) You need to be ready to share it! Peter knowing that we would have a story to tell reminds us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have …” (1 Peter 3:15). When the door opens for you to tell your stories be ready to speak up. Think through your life. How has God been working. Write it down. Practice telling it.
If you don’t prepare in advance, the time may come for your story to make a real difference in the life of a friend, coworker, or family member, and you will miss the opportunity because you’re not prepared to speak. Don’t miss the chance.
Remember this: You are a master storyteller for no one can tell the story of how God is working in your life like you!


We Are All Necessary

Big SkyFriday was my birthday. Let’s say that I am old enough now that over half of my kids think I am over the hill.
 
To celebrate the family went to Red Robin so I could get a free birthday burger (yeah, I that kind of tight). I ordered a Big Sky burger, 1/2-pound Black Angus patty with blackened seasoning, topped with crispy bacon, an onion ring drizzled in Sriracha, creamy goat cheese crumbles, arugula and roasted garlic aioli all on a toasted ciabatta bun.
 
Who was most important in getting this burger onto my plate — the rancher that raised the steers, the slaughterhouse that butchered the animal, the transport driver who delivered the meat, the wholesaler who supplied the restaurant, the chef who prepared the burger, or the waitress who brought it to the table?
 
If you are following me, you get it, neither and all of them, it was only as they worked as a team did I have the opportunity to enjoy my birthday sandwich.
 

Paul takes the metaphor of body parts to express what I am attempting to say:

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (1 Cor 12:14-16)

Do you see the picture that Paul is painting? The foot is feeling undervalued because he isn’t a hand. He doesn’t get noticed for what he does. He isn’t used to make grand gestures, or perform meaningful tasks. It even seems that he is treated as an embarrassment because he is hidden away, tied up in a horribly smelly leather contraption.

Or the consider the ear — It doesn’t get noticed like the eye. The eyes have these beautiful colors, which people often complement. The eyes are used to communicate our anger, our excitement, our joy, and our sorrow. The eyes are even lauded as the window to the soul. But no one ever notices the ear, unless, perhaps, they are monstrously large. The only recognition the ear seems to receive is as an appendage upon which one can display spangles and dangles.

Some of you fear that you are a foot or an ear. You have been relegated to the backstage, and feel that your talents because they do not shine like the talents of others are needless and irrelevant. Perhaps, you have even wondered at times if God overlooked you in the distribution of gifts for ministry. If that is you, listen to what Paul has to say as he continues …

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor 12:17-20)

We are all necessary parts of the whole. God didn’t overlook you. The Holy Spirit has placed a gifting inside of you that is necessary to the functioning of the whole. You are valuable. You are important. You are a 10 in some area of ministry. Without your involvement and engagement, the church is incomplete.



I Am A Church Member

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Groucho Marx once lamented: I would not belong to any club that would have me as a member.
 
 Church membership has become passe. Why need I be a member of the local church? Can’t I worship God just as effectively at home listening to Charles Stanley or T. D. Jakes? Isn’t God honored by my worship of Him through the enjoyment of nature? Why should I bother be part of church when I can go it alone spiritually?
  
Yet, at this point I do think we need to ask ourselves, “Is membership within a local church body even Biblical?”
  
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
 
Here in this verse Paul puts a premium on church membership.
 
 However, someone might reply: Isn’t the real church the universal body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, and not some localized expression of that body? After all, I became a part of the universal body of Christ the moment I came into faith.
 
 Those who reject formalized church membership rightly emphasize belonging to the universal body of Christ. They are also right in their concern that some forms of membership can become simply a formality and empty ritual without any true transformation. Indeed the size of a church’s membership says nothing about the spiritual vitality of its members. They could be on the cusp of flat-lining.
 
 Yet, the consistent biblical narrative insists that God loves formalized commitment. He is a God of covenant … a God of commitment … and if that is true is it really a stretch to say that formalizing our commitment within a localized expression of the body of Christ is in line with the heart of God? If we can admit we are a part of the universal body of Christ, then should it not have a localized and geographical expression? It is important to live out our commitment to Christ every day in our local contexts. To simply say we belong to the universal body is not enough because it inevitably remains an abstract concept. It’s too easy, flimsy and ethereal. It can lead to inaction. It’s in the local church that we’ll actually have to begin the ongoing work of living out our commitment in a real and tangible way.
 
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a leading preacher of the last century, has said, “We must grasp once again, the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.”
  
Yet, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s not just that we’re against church membership. That’s not the true issue at all. I want to suggest that we’re afraid of commitment and the restriction commitment brings upon our lives.
  
For example, if I commit to a church does that mean I have to stick it out with that church even when leadership changes? Even if the vision shifts over time? Does that mean I actually have to be accountable to others and let people speak into my life … even when it’s uncomfortable? Does that mean I actually have to consult with others in my community before making major life decisions such as moving to another city or moving in with this person?
  
Perhaps the actual problem is that we don’t want to commit to a bunch of broken people who will inevitably hurt us and let us down. So we settle for tarnished intimacy and feigned vulnerability. What we’re really saying is we’ll take Jesus’ willingness to love us and meet us in our mess, but we don’t want to extend that in a committed and consistent way to others. Hence, it’s more convenient to belong to the universal body as a concept. I can pray for faceless and nameless Christians around the globe (which of course is a good thing), but it doesn’t inconvenience me like when a single mom in my community calls me because her babysitter bailed at the last minute and she needs my help.
  
Commitment to a church community is a healthy corrective to our hyper-individualistic (and let’s confess, narcissistic) tendencies. Yet the commitment is not only communal. It is also personal. There isn’t true belonging if it is only a dead formality. If we make a commitment to a community of faith it means we are committing to following Jesus together, which also means you are committing to follow Jesus.


Storms & Stillness: Is It Us Or Is God’s Presence Confusing?

I have to admit, it confuses me? What is it that confuses me? God’s presence, or is it our recognition of His presence?

You have probably heard yourself, or maybe even made the statement – “The Spirit was present today in worship!” Usually, I hear that statement from those who tend toward a more expressive demonstration of worship … the music was energizing and inspirational, the prayers were moving shouts and cries to God, or the preacher was much more excitable and expressive than usual. Hands get clapping. Feet start moving. Voices raise.

What bothers me with the statement, “The Spirit was present today in worship!”, is not what is said, but what remains unsaid. You see the emphasis is – God’s presence visited that particular worship service because some, or all, of the conditions were met. Here is where the problem arises. Let me phrase it as a question: Does that mean that God must be visiting some other church on Sundays when the energy level is sagging, when the excitement is missing, or when the music, prayers and message seem to fall flat?

Here is the problem with that observation – it can cut both ways. People inclined toward a more conservative expression of worship, might feel God just blessed the gathering with His presence at precisely the point when others feel “God has left the building”. They are accustomed to God revealing His presence in the songs that inspire through soft meditative melodies, a thought-provoking word from the speaker, the solemnness of partaking of Communion, or a simple softly-spoken prayer … no tears, no cheers – just God quietly working on their hearts.

While some people recognize God’s presence when the energy of worship is high, others may feel like God’s presence evacuates the premises because the music, prayers, or preaching get too loud. Screams and shouts, driving drums and shredding the guitar, not to mention yelling preachers, may interrupt their worship and leave them feeling like they missed their time with God.

This is what gets me so confused. Do you see the problem? Both feelings can’t be right. They are mutually exclusive. What about when others feel His presence and I don’t – are one of us wrong? The problem can quickly devolve into accusations that the expressive worshipers are just showing off, and the reserved worshipers are not even worshiping.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah had just experienced the most exhilarating time with God. God answered His simple prayer to make His presence known during the showdown at the Mt. Carmel corral. Four hundred and fifty of the nastiest hombres on this side of the Jordan faced down “the lone prophet”, and when the smoke cleared one man of God was left standing.

The thrill of victory soon gave way to the agony of defeat. Once Jezebel heard the goin’s on, it didn’t take her long to print up a slew of wanted posters – “Prophet Elijah wanted dead or alive, preferably dead.” Needless to say, Elijah high-tailed it from them there parts liken a hog after slop.

When Elijah held up in cave, God came a callin’. God told Elijah to go out and stand at the mouth of the cave because He would soon be passin’ by. First, a cyclone came by a bustin’ up rocks, but God couldn’t be found there. An earthquake a got to rattlin’; and finally, the prairie was set ablaze. Yet God wasn’t to be found in them either. But then Elijah picked up on the voice of God in the whisper of a gentle breeze.

Does God’s Spirit only show up when I am feeling it? Is His presence there only when He arrives in the manner that I assume He should?

I fear that sometimes we attempt to put God into a box, expecting that the Spirit should operate in the way we dictate … that God is somehow confined by the silliness of our expectations of how and when and why he should act. But the story of Elijah tells us that sometimes God will surprise us, and show up in the most unexpected ways and places.

Here he was kicked off the mountaintop high that he had just been on, licking his wounds, feeling sorry for himself. He expected that God was going to show Himself in a mighty way. The King of the universe was going to put his power and majesty on full display. God’s going to show who’s boss. But God wanted to be heard, so He whispered.

God is not subject to my feelings. He doesn’t have to work by my rules. He is not confined by my expectations.
So what does this have to do with Worship services?

God is not there sometimes and absent on others. God is speaking through various voices and various times, and I need to learn to hear him in the gale of the storm and in the gentle touch of the breeze. When I wrap myself too tightly in a certain manner of worship, be it expressive or reserved, I just might miss what a tremendous opportunity to see what God is doing, and to celebrate Him in it. If I am listening for God’s voice to be heard only in the manner to which I have become accustomed, I might miss out on the message He has for me. Is it possible that God most wants me to hear Him in what I would most likely miss His voice?

But it is also that God is calling me to sensitivity and understanding of those whose worship manner is different from my own. You see, when we talk about ministry, we recognize that God has wired each of us differently, with differing personalities, emotional makeups, experiences, etc. Yet, when we talk of worship we often seem to forget to allow for these differences.

Expressives shouldn’t cast aspersions on authenticity of the conservative worshiper because what God is doing in their heart is not being shown in a demonstrative manner. Join them in that time of solice, quietness, and peace, letting them hear God’s gentle whisper. As an expressive, you might just hear from Him yourself.

But the more conservative worshipers need to understand that an expressive might be experiencing a unique touch of God that is setting them free and renewing their hope in ways that they might not realize. Unless you have taken the time to walk in their shoes, you may never understand what victory God is shaping in them, so take the time to battle for them and celebrate with them.

So, I guess it is not God’s presence that it is the problem. It just might be us. But we can learn to appreciate the manner in which the other encounters God without, intentionally or unintentionally, expressing that the other’s worship is unacceptable to God. And as we do, we might feel God’s presence as He shouts to us in the storm, or experience He is there through His gentle whisper in ways that would otherwise surprise us!



You Are A Long Distance Runner

All of today’s major sports miss the spiritual point — In baseball, you run 90 feet at a time. In basketball, you run back and forth on a 75′ court. In football, you may be pushed for 100 yards.

We are stirred by the moment … by the spectacular demonstration of an instance of athleticism. A dunk or a block in basketball, an acrobatic catch in football, a hard hit in hockey, and an amazing catch or long home run in baseball.

Quadrennially, the summer Olympics is spotlighted by the track and field events. The largest attention is given in America to the shortest races – the 100 meter and the 110 meter hurdles. It seems that as the distances increase, the interest in the race by the American media decreases proportionately. Historically, that was not always true.

In the 5th century B.C., the Persians invaded Greece, landing at Marathon, a small town about 26 miles from the city of Athens. The Athenian army was seriously outnumbered by the Persian army, so the Athenians sent messengers to cities all over Greece asking for help.

The traditional origin of the marathon comes from the story how a herald named Phidippides ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory and died on the spot. Phidippides was sent by the Athenians to Sparta to ask for help; a man named Eukles announced the victory to the Athenians and then died. Later sources confused the story of Phidippides, also called “Philippides,” with that of Eukles. Although most ancient authors do not support this legend, the story has persisted and is the basis for the modern-day marathon.

It is this kind of marathon that is in the mind of the writer of Hebrews when he pens: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1. Or later, as he add: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (12:12).

The Christian life is more like the Boston Marathon, than a 40-yard sprint. Annually, thousands leave the starting line exhilarated at having begun the race, but as the miles added up the course would take its toll. Just as these runners would begin hitting the wall at the 20.5 mile mark, they would face their most menacing challenge, Heartbreak Hill. The next half mile, an incline that would be hard enough to run on its own, but after 20 miles is a battle. They would either determine that they would keep moving forward, or the hill would win. Many a runner has found themselves quitting, defeated by the Hill. 

While some Christians may act as if the Christian life is a leisurely walk in the park. It is not a even 40-yard sprint. It is a grinding marathon that tests the endurance of our faith. As he continues on with the chapter he draws out the implications of the perseverance that must be necessary to complete such a race. It is a race fraught with challenge, pain and suffering.

Jesus is elevated as the model for our running. He pioneered the faith trail that we run, and ran it to completion. What does that mean? He never quit. When he reached his Heartbreak Hill it was called by another name, the hill of Golgotha. Even when reaching the finish line meant running through the most demeaning form of execution of his time, his pace never flagged. He continued to pick them up and put them down.

But we can find it easy to shift our focus off of Jesus, and onto other believers. We exchange the excellence of Jesus completed race for settling for beating out others, or even worse, just aspiring to run with the pack. I can come out looking pretty good, if I compare my spiritual fitness to those around me. But in comparison to Jesus, I am reminded of the training that I still need to complete.

That is why the author wrote, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3). Here he is talking about “hitting the wall.”

I have never run a marathon. The most I ever worked up to was 6 miles when I was a freshman in college. But I remember as I was beginning to stretch it out, I would hit the first wall at 3 miles. My legs would begin to ache, and my breathing would get labored. The thought would hit me, “Just stop”. But I would keep on running. At about 5 miles I would be confronted with wall number 2, my legs would begin feeling like jelly, and my steps would be a bit less sure. I was feeling the Hebrews writers “weak knees.” Again, I would hear that voice whisper, “You’ve gone far enough. Walk the rest of the way.” But I would keeping pushing on. And the more I ran, the softer the whisper became, until it was completely hushed.

Some of us have run through our Christian life as if it were a series of sprints. We run for a bit. Get off the track. Grab something to drink. Catch our breath. Work out the aches, or let them have time to heal … and if we get around to it we might take another jog around the track.

The Christian life is about perseverance. It is about pushing past “the wall.” It is about continuing to step forward in faith when every voice around us is screaming, “Just give up.”

Our “walls” are different. Our walls may be the emotional pain of a past that haunts us. They can be the opposition that we receive to our faith by our family. It may be the ridicule heaped on by fellow students or co-workers. It may be the struggle to leave behind some sins that have dug themselves deeply into our soul. It may be trusting God is faithful when circumstances don’t seem to give you any evidence that he can be trusted.

What is your wall? When you seem to be running well, what is it that pops up in your way … that presents a challenge that drains you and batters your faith leaving you fighting for the energy to take one more step? What is it that pulls you off course, and out of the race?

You can run the course. You can finish the race. It will not be easy. It will take hard work. Sometimes you will feel like quitting, or wonder whether it is worth it. But keep on going … no hill can defeat you if you chose to persevere.

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Blind Spots

I was surprised last week at the push back that I received when I reposted “An Open Letter (from a non-mother) to Pastors” on a FACEBOOK page dedicated to those serving in vocational ministry. The letter is a plea for Pastors to be sensitive to the pain that some women can experience related to the celebration of Mother’s Day. This woman was taken to be a self-centered, malcontent who was envious of the attention and praise that was being given to other women. Comments were made that being sensitive to those who find Mother’s Day a painful day would be tantamount to failing to observe the Lord’s Supper or baptism, or preaching about sin. Others expressed that these women “need to grow up and get over themselves.” One comment even suggested that women like that “need to meet Jesus.”

What surprised me so much wasn’t comments that were made. I was not even surprised that the comments came from Christians. Let’s face it – some professed Christians can be the most heartless and blood-thirsty people out there. Non-Christians will vouch for that, but also many Christians who have fallen victim to the sharp claws and vicious bite of other believers.

What surprised me was that these comments were made people who are or have served as the senior staff in churches, those who Christians see as lead shepherds of the flock.

It was interesting that this non-mother, and any woman that she might speak for, was branded one of those people looking to be “offended” (a term she never used in the letter). Any possibility that the existence of real pain existed was summarily dismissed.

blind-spot

I’m wondering if we’re looking at a blind spot.

Now, I am well aware that we are living in an era when many people are seeking to be offended … that some people are more than willing to be put off by nearly anything that somebody can say. Living in the location I do, I am especially aware of the likelihood of someone being offended by what could largely be construed as an innocuous statement that is misunderstood due to the assortment of cultural lenses through which it must pass in order to be received.

I am, also, well aware that the “offended” can be found within any church. They can be a minister’s worst nightmare, especially when they are given the ear of some of the Elders within the church. Single-handedly these “offended” can hijack, and even halt, ministry progress. I have even had one of those “offended” serving as an Elder.

But the more I thought it through I had to wonder, “Is this more about a blind spot?”

A blind spot is the spot of vision in our cars which you are not able to see without additional effort when you are driving. When not noticed, you hit the car coming up beside you when you change lanes. Or worse, you could hit the person walking through the parking lot as you back up.

People with limited peripheral vision are plagued with dealing with the problem of blind spots.

But blind spots can also be a mental phenomenon. It is that thought that never dawns on you. It is the need that you never perceive.

Just like when I have begun to pull over into the next lane to be greeted with the honk from the driver who is feeling threatened by my maneuver, I have also found occasions when I have encountered blind spots in ministry. Those places where I didn’t adequately percieve all of the dynamics that were playing on what I did observe.

So, again, I wonder if I stumbled into a blind spot.

Jesus when talking to that Samaritan woman, made the disciples raise an eyebrow. They didn’t get why Jesus was talking with her.

Jesus spoke of blind spots when he said, “They say three more months until the harvest. But look, I tell you, the fields are white unto harvest.” I bet the disciples looked at Jesus, turned to the fields, and back at Jesus, with puzzled looks on their faces, and thought, “It is a good thing Jesus isn’t a farmer.” You think they have a blind spot?

Peter had a dream of spare ribs and pork chops, calamari and jumbo shrimp, and said, “Nah. Do you still serve from the kosher menu?” Three times God prepared Peter by sending that dream before He finally spoke up, and said, “Nothing I have made is unclean.” Blind spot?

But did he get it? Later on, when he was at Cornelius’ house, he finished his message, and was at a loss on how to close it out. Usually, he would have extended an invitation, but Cornelius was a Gentile. Blind spot! God had to reverse the normal order of conversion (baptism then Holy Spirit) to give Peter a sign that it was alright for a Gentile to be converted.

I wonder if “needs, hurts, and pain” could be a blind spot for many ministry professionals. Because so many people are inclined to be offended, are we too inclined to relegate the pain that people may experience to a trash heap of offense? Could we as ministry professionals become so calloused that we mistake a cry for a complaint? Do we get so busy getting our job done that we forget that the people are the job? Do we get involved with doing things a certain way, and responding to certain issues and needs that we fail to see and respond to the hurting before our eyes?

Does that blind spot get manifested by a promise to pray when someone asks for a moment to share the crisis they are experiencing, rather than taking the time to pray with them right then and there?

Are we more prone to passing someone in need to shuffle off to a meeting than passing on a meeting to shuffle off to meeting a person’s need? Or worse yet, do we even notice? I sure hope that we care.

When it came to Mother’s Day, I had to think through the assortment of women with the vast diversity of their experiences that I have come to rub shoulders with in ministry, and view the day through the lenses of their life experiences.

  • I thought of the couple of women who early in life had abortions, one of which resulted in sterilization, still battling the guilt of their decisions.
  • My heart broke again for the family who were unsuccessful in attempting to bear children, and after adopting a child from foster care had the child die in her sleep, and another foster child removed as the parents struggled with depression and grief.
  • I wondered at the grace of the ladies who chose to value the life of their child that was conceived in violence over the option of ending that life as a painful reminder.
  • I thought of the several adults that as children were abused by their mother, through physical and emotional abuse, or just plain neglect.
  • I spent a moment thinking about the faithful unmarried, those who desired to get married and have children, but never had their lives unfold that way.
  • I paused a moment to think of the blended families where the step parent has generously poured themselves into the lives of their non-biological children, only to be reminded that they weren’t their parent.
  • I shed a tear for the mother who would be celebrating the day on the third anniversary of the death of her first born.
  • I grieved for the family that shared during the previous week that their mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Taking the time to turn my head, in order to get a good vision of that blind spot, helped me to grow in compassion for the flock to which God gave me charge.

I have not always been so good at checking my blind spots. Not taking the time to adjust my vision, I have missed numerous opportunities for ministry. I have caused more than a few accidents by not looking good enough at the traffic around me to get a good look at what is going on in the life of the other drivers on the fast lane of ministry. I am not aware that I have ever forced someone off the road by carelessly cutting them off. But more than once, somebody has had to “lay on the horn” in order to beep me back into observation (and just in case you missed it — I’m not really talking about driving).

But may I never grow blind to the real pain that other experience.

Responses:

Chuck Thompson:

As an elder I think your point should be drummed into all who serve the church.

I have counseled with many mature Christians who simply opted out of attending on mothers day because they don’t want be marked as “the offended” simply because the day is spiritually and emotionally to painful for them.

Thank you for validating the Pain of many believers.

 

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