After Doug Connell received our associate pastor position, but before he and his family moved to Woodland, his wife Jessica had the idea for the four of us to meet for breakfast together each week to pray, discuss how things were going, keep our friendship strong, etc. That sounded like a great idea, so we committed to it. We’re approaching their one-year anniversary at WCC and we haven’t met like that…at all. It’s not that we haven’t wanted to or didn’t think it was important, it’s just that twelve children between our families (including two babies), home-schooling, the number of church activities, having others over, etc. it ended up taking a backseat to these other activities and obligations. But last weekend we finally made it a priority!
We (the four of us, plus our babies Chloe and Luke) left Sunday after church for a beach house in Gearhart, OR and we returned Tuesday afternoon. Some wonderful people watched our kids allowing us to accomplish the three purposes we had:
Discuss the past year.
Plan for the future.
Strengthen our relationships with each other. Pastor Doug and I are able to spend quite a bit of time together, and Katie and Jess have been able to spend quite a bit of time together, but I haven’t spent that much time with Jess and Pastor Doug hasn’t spent that much time with Katie…say nothing about the four of us spending time together.
Overall the trip was really fantastic. To give you an idea how much we enjoyed just being able to talk together in the middle of the first night a skunk sprayed the house. The smell was so bad I couldn’t fall back asleep, and the next day every room was filled with the smell. We had to put up with the stench the entire following day AND WE STILL DIDN’T LEAVE THE HOUSE! I don’t want to brag, but THAT is commitment! If our congregation ever wonders about the love “the entire pastoral staff” and our wives have for them, they can picture us sitting in the living room together, continuing to talk and pray even though we could barely breathe! I’m kidding…sort of :).
During each meal we took turns “sharing our stories”, which was nothing more than explaining our lives in detail, especially those parts we thought the others should know to be best familiar with us. Other times we prayed, read articles we wanted to discuss, and just talked…and talked. There were some very, very emotional, vulnerable times. At different points each of us cried sharing some of our most intimate memories, fears and feelings. It was a truly special time that exceeded what I hoped or expected. Although I felt like we were already close prior to the trip, we left even closer with a much better understanding of each other, and most importantly we left better able to serve the Lord and serve our wonderful congregation.
I can’t tell you how often what I’m preaching on is what I need preached to me. Last Sunday’s sermon had a real focus on trials, where the theme could’ve been: God uses trials for our good (Rom 5:3, 4; 2 Cor 4:17; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6, 7). That’s what I need to be hearing. I should probably listen to my own sermon and take notes. Seriously.The trials I’m facing mostly relate to feeling like I’m letting people down, not able to please everyone, not able to keep up with everyone, not able to get everything done, etc. as opposed to physical or financial trials.
Here’s part of an e-mail someone sent me this past week: “I have no doubt you will look back on this season as a time of great learning if you can but learn what the Lord would have you learn.” It was good for me to hear these words. At least part of what I believe God wants me to learn relates to my need to toughen up. I don’t mean that relationally, like being less sensitive to people (I should actually probably be more sensitive). I mean toughening up like…not feeling sorry for myself. Not being a baby. I think that’s what God wants me to learn. There’s a verse I was really meditating on this past week, and I’d like to share it, but first here’s the context…
Jeremiah the prophet had one of the most miserable ministries in Scripture; when you’re known as The Weeping Prophet, you know things are bad. He was regularly mocked, beaten, imprisoned, and rejected. In one candid moment of discouragement after learning the members of his hometown were plotting his murder, Jeremiah poured out his heart to God, questioning what God was doing…and wasn’t doing. What you would EXPECT God to do is encourage the beleaguered prophet with one of those verses like Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous hand. We love verses like this. We cling to them and memorize them. When we’re struggling we picture God saying verses like this to us. That’s not what God told Jeremiah though. Instead he said, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5). Not only did God not comfort him, He actually rebuked him; He said, “If you can’t handle it now, how are you going to handle it when things get even worse?” God doesn’t always want to stroke us and make us feel better. Sometimes He wants to rebuke us and tell us to toughen up, and I think that’s what He wants me to learn.
Some months back when Elwyn was considering whether to take the kindergarten teaching position here, I remember walking in the house telling Katie, “He’s not going to move to Washington.” He had been offered the job, but before we got off the phone he told me he was staying in Marysville, CA. The whole situation was so sudden, and involved so much change, and required so much to be done in such a short period of time that for anyone it would seem almost impossible. Plus you factor in Elwyn had been in Marysville for almost twenty years: he had a routine, he was very well-respected by a school and community that knew and loved him, he told me he could walk into his classroom each day without preparing anything because he had been doing it so long, his job was completely secure, he was making good money, etc. Plus, he had a wife and two small children who would be seriously affected by the decision if it didn’t go well. It was a huge decisions to consider, BUT God had opened all the doors. A number of “fleeces” had been laid out, and God had answered in the positive regarding all of them. Still, what was being required of Elwyn and his family was so much that I could understand why he was waiting to come for the following school year. I was very disappointed, but it made perfect sense.
Then something happened that I’ll never forget. Forty-five minutes after telling me he wasn’t coming, Elwyn called me and told me he was coming. It was a wonderful, emotional moment. When your best friend tells you he’s bringing his family to be part of your family (and church), and you consider all it’s expecting of him…and he happened to be the person God used to see you become a Christian…and now you’re going to be his family’s pastor, it’s hard not to get emotional…even for a guy like me who never gets emotional :).
Elwyn said he had one requirement though. It wasn’t, “Be a great pastor to me and my family” or “Let’s make sure our families hang out once per week” or “Please introduce us to some other families so we have some friends” or “Can you get some people to help us move in?” it was, “I’ll move there if the two of us coach our sons together in T-Ball.” I have coached football, wrestling and girls’ basketball, and as of Saturday afternoon at 10:30am, Elwyn and I became the proud co-coaches of a Woodland T-Ball team, with Brooks, Ricky and Rhea as three of our players. Do we have any idea what we’re doing? Not at all!
I think we all know people who seem to know a lot about a lot of different things. I’m not one of those people. There were a number of years I was really into working out, and if you’re going to be even remotely successful when it comes to fitness you have to know as much about nutrition as you know about working out; you could say you have to know as much about what you do in the kitchen as what you do in the gym. As a result, nutrition became one of those areas of my life where I invested a lot of time learning. If you walk through the supplement section in stores, you can see the huge number of products. While there’s some disagreement about which supplements are best, there’s virtually no disagreement about one supplement that everyone should take and that’s a multivitamin. If you talk to the most hardcore bodybuilder or the most committed health enthusiast you’ll be told, “Make sure you take a multivitamin!”
Now you probably see where I’m going. No, I wasn’t primarily wanting to talk about health; I wanted to discuss one of the many reasons I’m so thankful for God’s Word: it doesn’t change. I know I’ll never find out I believed something wrong. I know I’ll never build my marriage, family, life, etc. on something and have regrets later. There’s a tremendous safety for pastors in God’s Word: I’ll never look back with frustration about what I taught…as long as I’m teaching God’s Word. One of the most sobering aspects of being a pastor is giving people counsel…because people might actually do what you say, but if the counsel you’re giving people is from God’s Word (whether you’re a pastor or anyone else for that matter), you can always have peace that it’s true, correct and unchangeable.
The last two weeks I’ve been studying the cleansing of the leper and the healing of the paralytic. While doing so I couldn’t help finding myself contrasting Jesus’ miracles with the supposed healings of self-declared miracle workers, such as Benny Hinn. The differences between them seem so obvious, it begs the question, why are thousands of people in attendance at his events? Why do so many people give him millions of dollars? These people should consider…
First, Jesus’ healings were complete and immediate.
When Peter’s mother-in-law was healed Luke 4:39 says, “Immediately she arose and served them.” In Luke 5:13 when Jesus cleansed the leper it says, “Immediately the leprosy left him.” In Luke 5:25 when Jesus healed the paralyzed man it says, “Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house.” But if you ever watch some of today’s “miracle workers” people are practically lifted out of their wheelchairs and held up as they take their first steps. Other times some part of the body is healed, while the rest of the body is left unhealed. That’s nothing like how Jesus healed: He healed immediately and He healed completely.
Second, Jesus’ healings were testable.
The leper had leprosy, and then he didn’t; there was no wondering about whether he was cleansed. The paralytic couldn’t move, then he picked up his bed and walked away. Blind people couldn’t see; then they could see. My personal favorite: people were dead, but then they were alive. These are nothing like the healings of the “miracle workers” where you’re left wondering, “Was his heart…or back…or knees really healed? Were his headaches really taken away?”
Third, Jesus WANTED His miracles verified.
In Sunday’s sermon in Luke 5:15 Jesus tells the leper, “Go and show yourself to the priest…as a testimony to them” (something He also told the lepers in Luke 17:14). If today’s “miracle workers” wanted their healings validated like Jesus did, things would look WAY different!
Too much of what passes for the miraculous today receive no healthy evaluation and it makes the whole church look bad. Antony Thomas produced a documentary called A Question of Miracles that followed people like Benny Hinn, and in an interview with the New York Times, Antony said, “they do more damage to Christianity than the most committed atheist.” The solution is for their healings to face some scrutiny. If they were really doing what they claim to be doing they should say, “Go and show yourself to doctors and others who can verify it, and so it can be a testimony to them.”
Elwyn, my friend I’ve discussed in sermons and bulletin letters and is attending camp with us (and is here today!), sent me a message this past week that started with, “We checked your weather and saw it was 81. Nice! Today it is 104 in Yuba City. We are thankful…that it is not 105!!!” A few days later he sent another e-mail that said, “111 degrees today. Yes, I said 111.” This made me think of something: I’ve been complaining lately to myself about the heat: What’s going on? Thought we got away from this when we left California? When I read Elwyn’s message two things came to mind…
First, 80’s don’t seem too bad compared to 100’s…or 110’s. Many times the struggles we’re facing wouldn’t seem as bad if we considered what other people are experiencing. Many times we feel sorry for ourselves because we’re thinking about ourselves too much and not enough about others. One of the benefits of praying for others is it takes our minds off ourselves and helps us to think about what others are going through. Our struggles start looking a lot smaller. If we think about ourselves all the time…and all we’re going through…and how tough our lives are…and how we’ve got it so bad, then we’re going to be miserable. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Paul lists all the suffering he experienced and I’d say second only to Job or Jesus (Isa 53:3) Paul might be the man most acquainted with suffering in the entire Bible. Amazingly though, he could write an entire book (Philippians) about all the joy he experienced. At least part of that must have come from how much he thought about other believers. In 2 Cor 11:28 he said, “what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” His beatings and shipwrecks weren’t upsetting him so much, because he was so burned for other believers…and non-believers.
The second thing I thought of is I’m not thankful enough. There are always reasons to be thankful. Elwyn was thankful it was 104 instead of 105…then, although he didn’t say it, maybe he was thankful it was 111 instead of 112. I’m not sure how hot it’d have to get before he’d finally complain. If we’re believers, just the thought of what Jesus has done for us as well as what awaits us should fill us with unspeakable joy (1 Pet 1:8) and thankfulness.
The other day I saw something on Facebook that initially encouraged me…and then discouraged me. It was the picture of a famous celebrity with a quote about being a Christian and reading the Bible every day. Here’s how my thinking went that sort of reveals the transition…
“I guess I didn’t know he was a Christian because of the movies he makes…”
“If people think he’s a Christian, are they going to think it’s okay to watch his movies?”
“Hmm…if people think it’s okay to watch his movies, will they also think it’s okay to do the things he does in his movies since he says he’s a Christian?”
“Hmmm…maybe he shouldn’t have said he’s a Christian…”
Final discouraging thought: “Man, this is discouraging.”
When I used to teach, I told my students, “You’re part of a team now. Whatever you do reflects on everyone else that’s part of our team. If you do something bad, you’re making everyone else on this team look bad.” When I used to coach I’d say, “Your name might be on the back of the jersey, but there’s another name on the front and whatever you do reflects on everyone else wearing that name.”
In the early church, believers were initially called followers of The Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 14, 24:22, perhaps because of Jesus’ claim to be The Way in John 14:6). Acts 11:26 says disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. That’s one of only three places the word Christian occurs used in the Bible (the other two being Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16). All the word Christian means is “follower of Christ.” That’s it. There’s no lengthy definition explaining what they look like, how they behave, etc. The world develops their opinions of Christians and Christ by what they see from Christians. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul said, “You are our letters of Christ known and read by all men, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” If for no other reason it would be better if people didn’t call themselves Christians when they’re poorly representing Christ and the rest of the team, because of what it says to the rest of the world.
I really, REALLY appreciate the people who serve in the church. There’s VBS, choir, nursery, the Wednesday night children’s program, Friday School, retreats, camp, the 100-yr anniversary, conferences, workdays, church cleaning, and the list goes on. We want to remember the time and effort these people are investing and make a conscious effort to be a help and encouragement to them. So let’s discuss the right and wrong way to do that. Here’s what you don’t say…
Why are you doing it that way?
Let me tell you what we used to do…
You should do it this way instead…
Make sure you don’t have me…
Why did you choose this time?
Why did you choose this place?
This is what you should say instead…
Thank you so much for all you’re doing!
Put me where you want me!
Wow, you’re doing a lot of work. What can I do?
You sure are blessing a lot of people.
You’re doing a great job.
And here are a few other things you can do…
Be on time
Respond to e-mails
Sign up and/or pay on time
Do things without having to be reminded
Whatever you’re responsible for, do it well
Be on time (I know I put that twice)
I had a really good mentor who told me (and this applies to marriage, parenting, etc) we should make a number of deposits for every withdrawal. There are some people in the church and when you see them coming you’re like, “Great. Time to listen to another complaint!” and there are other people you see coming and you’re like, “Wonderful. Some help.” When people have taken the time to serve sacrificially, let’s try to make sure we’re making more deposits than withdrawals. Let’s try to make sure we’re helping them with the loads they’re carrying.
Sunday’s sermon, Luke 3:10-14 Fruit Worthy of Repentance – Part II, can be found here.
Thursday I went skiing. I can’t wait until I can move again. When I was growing up my friends and I had cheap snowboards and we used to climb local mountains and pretend like we actually had talent. At the mountain I was trying to remember – as I had lots of time to think lying on the snow looking up at the stars, wondering whether I wanted to get up and fall again – and I think I only went one time to a real park and snowboarded. I brought my cheap snowboard, but the bindings broke. I took it to the repair place on the grounds and they fixed it, but then I broke it again and had to rent a board. That summarizes my previous snowboarding/skiing experience; therefore, Thursday constituted my first time ever skiing. I hope that’s the case anyway, because I don’t think it’s possible to be as bad as I was on your second time.
You’re thinking, “You couldn’t have been THAT bad.” Let me put it in perspective: I fell getting off the lift. My ski came off. They had to stop the machine. Malyna was nice enough to get my ski for me so I could put it back on. I thought, “Maybe nobody from our church saw me.” Then I looked over and saw all the youth were waiting for me so we could go down together. That was cool. There are a lot of words I could use to describe my experience on Thursday, but the word I’d choose is humbling.
Humbling experiences are great for us. They destroy our pride and flesh, and they give us wonderful memories to help us in the future when we start to look down on others, become self-righteous, think more of ourselves than we should, etc. All we need to do then is think back about the time we fell off the ski lift, or the time we got pinned in wrestling in front of the whole school, or the time we forgot to print all our notes for the sermon and didn’t realize it until we were in front of the whole church, and the list goes on. These humbling and even painful situations allow us to sympathize with others and extend grace to them when they go through things. Paul said something along these lines that God comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor 1:4). In other words, painful and humbling situations helps us treat others as wonderfully as God has treated us.
I’d like to share something with you that I find very interesting about Christmas. To the month, we know when some events happened in the Old Testament. For example, the first Passover took place on the tenth of Abib, which is our March/April. Artaxerxes, the King of Persia released the third wave of Jews under the leadership of Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall March 14, 445BC. We even know Jesus’ triumphal entry took place on the sixth of April, 32AD.
Now I don’t think it would be too much to say Christ’s birth is the most important event in history, second only to His crucifixion. Now here’s what’s weird: we don’t know when He was born. Not only do we not know the month, we don’t even know the year.
The Gospel of Luke, which we’ll spend the next few years covering, gives very specific details about Christ’s birth down to what He was wearing and where He slept (Luke 2:12 swaddling clothes in a manger). Why would God give us those details and allow us to know the dates of other events that – while important – pale in comparison to Christ’s birth, but keep that date from us? God could have very easily let us know when His Son was born, which leads me to believe two things:
The exact date of Christ’s birth has no significance whatsoever.
The fact that Jesus came is infinitely more important than when He came. The fact that He came into the world to die for our sins, be resurrected to eternal life, and that He lives today making intercession for us in heaven is what we should be celebrating.
When Christmas rolls around, let’s make sure we’re not distracted by all the things the world wants to make the holidays about, and let’s keep our focus on the Lord. Rom 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to sound like a downer, because I’m all for the food, family and fellowship, but let’s remember it’s really about Christ. To be more specific, it’s all about the Incarnation, that God became a man and provided forgiveness for our many sins so we could spend eternity with Him. Hallelujah!!!