Posted on

5 reasons it is “not good for man to be alone”

In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” In six days God created dry land, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds, and animals. At the end of each day, “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). But for the first time in the creation account He saw something that was not good—man being alone. God’s statement is even more interesting when we consider that Adam and Eve had not yet disobeyed. We don't typically think of anything being “not good” until after the fall. Since Adam had not sinned yet, it was not Adam himself who was not good. Neither was it anything he had or had not done that was not good. It was simply Adam’s being alone that was not good. Here are five reasons why it isn't good for man to be alone!

In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” In six days God created dry land, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds, and animals. At the end of each day, “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). But for the first time in the creation account He saw something that was not good—man being alone.

God’s statement is even more interesting when we consider that Adam and Eve had not yet disobeyed. We don’t typically think of anything being “not good” until after the fall. Since Adam had not sinned yet, it was not Adam himself who was not good. Neither was it anything he had or had not done that was not good. It was simply Adam’s being alone that was not good. Here are five reasons why it isn’t good for man to be alone:

1. It is not good for man to be alone, because he won’t have the help he needs

Leading and providing for a family is a lot of work, and a wife can help lighten that load. This is why Paul said, “Man was not created for woman, but woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). A lot of discouragement can come a husband’s way, and if he does not receive encouragement from his wife, where will he get it? Yes, there are other resources such as Scripture and relying on the Lord, but if that was all God wanted men to have, He would not have said, “I will make him a helper.”

2. It is not good for man to be alone, because he won’t receive the blessing of fulfilling God’s second command

In Genesis 2:18 God said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Whenever the Bible discusses children they’re always presented very positively. Psalm 127:3-5 says:

Behold, children are a heritage (some translations say “gift”) from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Continue reading 5 reasons it is “not good for man to be alone”

Posted on

Handling Marriage Problems

Marriage problems are part of life on this side of heaven. Here are encouragements for dealing with them, and reasons they should be embraced!

Our marriage “problems” are only symptoms of the actual problem in our relationships with Christ. In my own marriage, for instance, the “problem” looked like I did not have enough time for my wife and children, but that was only a symptom. The problem was that I would not obey the Holy Spirit’s conviction to put my family ahead of the church, make my wife a priority, spend more time with my children, etc. Plus, I was being consumed with anxiety, versus trusting Christ like I should have. In other words, the marriage problems I was experiencing were directly connected to my relationship with Christ.

A couple’s marriage problems can only be fixed by focusing on their relationships with the Lord

This is why any biblical marriage counseling must address the husband and wife’s relationship with Christ. Couples I counsel are often confused when they share marriage problems they are experiencing and I respond by asking:

  • “What does your time in God’s Word look like?”
  • “How is your prayer life?”
  • “Tell me about your involvement in the church?”

A wife will say, “I just told you my husband yells at me. Why are you talking about his time in the Word?” Because the hope is that as a husband reads God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving leader. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there would be no need for counseling). A husband can only become a new man through a relationship with Christ.

Likewise, a husband will respond, “I just told you how my wife humiliates me in front of our friends. Why would you mention joining a small group?” Because other believers can provide accountability, vulnerability, and transparency. You can learn from others and be challenged by their examples. When you are not involved in the body of Christ, you will not receive the encouragement and exhortation God wants you to have. You will feel alone, as though you are the only couple having these problems. You will not have anyone in your life through whom God can regularly speak to you. We are made to have fellowship with other believers, and when we do not have it, that lack manifests itself in other areas, including our marriages.

Two situations I have witnessed a number of times…

A husband and wife are having marriage problems. They submit to Christ, and soon their marriage problems improve. Why? Did their difficulties simply disappear? No, those difficulties had been symptoms of the real problem—Christ was not supreme in their lives. When they put Christ first, the marriage problems were shown only to be symptoms.

Conversely, I have seen a couple plugged into church. The husband and wife pray and read the Word together. They are doing well spiritually, and their marriage is healthy. Then, for various reasons, they:

  • Get distracted from the Lord and their priorities shift
  • Start wavering in church attendance and spiritual disciplines
  • Fall out of fellowship

Soon their marriage suffers. Why? Their relationship with Christ was suffering.

So remember: Marriage “problems” are really only symptoms—or negative consequences—of not having Christ as the focal point in the marital relationship. If couples want a strong, healthy marriage, they need a strong, healthy relationship with Christ. When a couple’s relationship with Christ is weak and unhealthy, the marriage will be weak and unhealthy.

Handle marriage problems with these three encouragements

If we’re going to have healthy, joyful relationships, we have to learn to handle marriage problems that inevitably arise. These frustrations can actually increase as we become  more familiar with the Bible!  Since the standard set by God’s Word is so high:

  • A husband could easily become frustrated that his wife is not more respectful or submissive as God’s Word commands.
  • A wife could as easily become frustrated that her husband does not cherish her or provide the spiritual leadership God’s Word commands.

This is illustrated by a situation that took place years ago when I was teaching on marriage. While talking about husbands loving their wives, a woman stood up in front of everyone and criticized her husband for the way he mistreated her. I could have interrupted and said, “Can we pray for you two?” or “Why don’t we talk about this after the study?” Instead, I was caught so off guard that I did the worst thing possible—nothing! I simply stood there with my jaw dropped while the angry wife finished berating her husband. After that I decided it was important to give people encouragement for handling marriage problems…

First, handle marriage problems by remembering your own weaknesses.

Instead of keeping a mental account of all that your spouse does wrong, remind yourself of your own struggles. Instead of focusing on your spouse’s failures, focus on your own. We all have plenty of weaknesses to work on without obsessing over the weaknesses of our spouses. When we start to feel frustrated toward our spouse, we should think back about the ways we’ve failed. This will humble us and diffuse the frustration we’re feeling.

Second, handle marriage problems by thinking of ways to help your spouse grow.

The Bible is not split into one section for husbands and another for wives. The passages on marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, contain intertwined exhortations for both spouses. This encourages a husband to be familiar with the instruction for his wife, and a wife to be familiar with the instruction for her husband. If a husband knows what is expected of his wife, and a wife knows what is expected of her husband, they can help each other fulfill their biblical responsibilities. We should ask ourselves:

  • How can I help my spouse be a better husband or wife?
  • How can I encourage my spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her?
  • Is there anything I can do that will make being married to me easier?

If you cannot think of any answers to the last question, you are not thinking hard enough!

Third, handle marriage problems by turning them into prayer.

Take any feelings of hurt, betrayal, or disappointment, and pray that God will help your spouse grow in the area that is upsetting you. Pray also for God to help you be as forgiving and gracious as necessary. When it comes to our spouses, we far more likely to complain, gossip, yell, threaten, pout, or ignore than pray. If we would spend as much time praying for our spouses as we do on these other things, our marriages would be much better. Instead of focusing on:

  • What your spouse does wrong
  • How you shouldn’t be treated the way you’re being treated
  • How you deserve better

Every time you start to feel frustrated, pray for your spouse.

Why you should actually embrace marriage problems!

Have you ever considered that tension in your relationship can be a good thing? Often God is introducing areas that need to be improved. He wants you to embrace these marriage struggles. The best way to do this is by asking each other tough questions:

  • A husband might say, “Outside of the Lord Himself, do you feel like you are taking second place to anything in my life?”
  • A wife might ask, “Do you feel like I respect you?”

Then there are right and wrong ways to respond to these questions:

  • Imagine a wife answers that she does not feel that she is the supreme relationship in her husband’s life. He should not try to talk her out of the way she feels or persuade her to see things differently. This will make her feel even more misunderstood.
  • Imagine a husband answers that his wife makes him feel disrespected. She should not argue with him and try to convince him he is wrong. This will make him feel even more disrespected.

Instead, each spouse should listen to the other, apologize the right way, and try to make the appropriate changes. When couples ask each other these difficult questions, they should expect some painful discussions. That’s great.

A helpful way to view marriage struggles…

Some years ago I hurt my lower back. It’s a recurring injury that reminds me I’m getting older, so I returned to the chiropractor. If you have ever been to a chiropractor, you know they can be pretty forceful. There’s pushing, twisting, snapping, and popping. Sometimes you’re left feeling sore, but this is supposed to happen. That is how the chiropractor makes adjustments and straightens things out.

What if you went to the chiropractor and all he did was rub your shoulders, pat your back, and tell you everything looked fine? Maybe after that, he sat next to you and asked how your day was going. How would you react? I know how I would react: “This is not why I came here. I know if you are going to help me, you are going to have to apply some pressure and do some pushing and pulling. There is going to be some tension. There will even be a little soreness afterward.”

Likewise, if we are going to embrace our marriage struggles, there will be some discomfort. There is going to be some struggle and frustration. We should not be alarmed, because this is part of the natural healing and strengthening process as God works in our relationships.

What is the alternative to embracing your marriage struggles?

Be lazy. That’s the simple answer. Choose not to:

  • Ask each other the tough questions
  • Talk about the tough issues
  • Take your marriage seriously
  • Improve as a husband, a wife, or a Christian

If you avoid discussing your marriage struggles, it’s true that you won’t have any tough issues with which to wrestle. But you will not grow either, and your marriage will not be strengthened. Even if you avoid the difficult discussions and the discomfort that accompanies your marriage struggles now, you will more than likely experience even tougher, more painful situations later.

So I want to encourage you to embrace your marriage struggles because of what they can produce. Romans 5:3–4 says:

We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.

Glory in the problems you are having, knowing that they are producing something good as you, your spouse, and your marriage are refined!

Discussion questions for husbands and wives:

  • What marriage problems are “recurring injuries” for your and your spouse? In other words, what problems or conflicts do you continue to experience that need to be embraced so they can be “straightened out”?
  • Why should you expect discomfort as you and your spouse discuss your marriage struggles?
  • In what ways can this discomfort be beneficial?
  • Why do marriage passages, such as Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 3:1–7, intertwine instructions for both spouses? In other words, why should husbands and wives be familiar with Scripture’s commands for their spouses?
  • After looking at the verses above, what things do you struggle with that are preventing you from fulfilling your role in marriage?
  • How can you encourage your spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her? Provide three examples:
  • What can you do to make being married to you easier? Provide three examples:
  • How will you pray for your marriage differently?
  • While remembering to focus on yourself, if a “marriage doctor” were to examine your marriage, what are three “symptoms” he would observe?
  • What does your time in God’s Word look like? If you are unsatisfied with your answer, what changes should you make?
  • Are you involved in a church? Notice the question is not, “Do you go to church?” Or “Are you a member of a church?”
    • If you are involved in a church, in what ways do you share the marital challenges you are experiencing so God can use your church family to help you?
    • If you are not involved in a church, what changes need to be made so you can be active and involved?

Marriage God's Way bundle—1 book and 2 workbooksNOTE: Most of this post is from Marriage God’s Way and the Marriage God’s Way Workbook.  Save %30 and purchase the bundle—one book and two workbooks!

Posted on

The Holy Spirit Will Help Your Marriage

God’s standard for husbands and wives is so high that we ask, “Who is going to help me obey these commands?” The answer is the Holy Spirit will help you!

Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage we often feel alone. God’s standard for husbands and wives is so high that we ask, “Who is going to help me obey these commands?” The answer is the Holy Spirit will help you! Two words that summarize what it is like thinking about being the husbands and wives God commands us to be are “intimidating” and “overwhelming.”

  • As a husband, it is intimidating to think of being to your wife what Christ is to the church. If you are not intimidated by it, you do not understand what is expected of you.
  • As a wife, it is overwhelming to think of submitting to your husband as you should to the Lord. If we had to obey God’s commands on our own, we should feel not only overwhelmed or intimidated but completely hopeless. Because of a promise Jesus made us, though, we can feel hopeful.

Jesus told His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). If you have embraced the gospel, then the Holy Spirit lives in you. You are not alone! The Holy Spirit will help you do what God has commanded you to do.

Be filled with the Spirit…so the Holy Spirit will help you!

The first half of Ephesians 5 is about living in the Spirit, and the second half is about marriage. This is fitting because if there is any area of the Christian life in which the Holy Spirit’s help is necessary, it is marriage. In Ephesians 5:18, the apostle Paul states:

Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.

It might sound odd to compare drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, but we can sum up Paul’s point with the word “influence.” People who are driving drunk are “driving under the influence.” Just as alcohol has the potential to influence, so does the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word for “be filled” is pleroo, which means “keep on being filled” or “stay filled” with the Spirit. Paul is talking about something that should be ongoing in the lives of believers. Christians need to allow—and trust—the Holy Spirit to influence them as husbands and wives. The following verses are promises from God’s Word. As you read them, consider how they apply to your marriage:

  • 2 Corinthians 9:8—God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
  • Philippians 2:13—It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
  • Ephesians 1:19–20—The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.
  • Hebrews 13:20–21—May the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.

Wouldn’t God want us to have strong marriages?

God gives us what we need to obey His commands. He is the One working in and through us to accomplish every good work. He makes this possible through the incomparably great power that raised Jesus from the dead. God wants us to be equipped to do what He has called us to do, and of all God wants from us, what could be more important than our relationships with our spouses?

Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. Does God want Christ and the church to have a great relationship? Absolutely! Does God want the world to witness Christian marriages that wonderfully represent Christ’s relationship with the church? Without a doubt! God has given us His indwelling Spirit to help make that happen.

When we become discouraged in our marriages, these are the truths that we need to remember. It is as if God has said, “The standard I have set for husbands and wives is high, but you do not have to do this alone. My Holy Spirit will help you. I would not command you to do something without also giving you what is necessary to obey.”

Help the Holy Spirit while He helps you!

Some balance is needed. “I will help you” is very different from “I will do everything.” The Holy Spirit helps us, but we still have responsibilities. The Holy Spirit is not going to supernaturally take control of a marriage when the individuals involved are not committed to putting forth the necessary effort. So help the Holy Spirit while he helps you!

The apostle Paul reveals the relationship in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us, but we have to “walk in them.” We do not want to miss out on what God wants to do in our marriage because we are being lazy or selfish. Consider the responsibilities placed on our shoulders elsewhere in the New Testament:

  • Romans 13:13–14—Let us walk properly . . . Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
  • Colossians 3:12–14—Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; [bear] with one another, and [forgive] one another . . . Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

Note the calling we are given to walk, put on, make no provision for, bear with, and forgive.

How do we help the Holy Spirit while He helps us?

What does this look like in practical terms? How does the Holy Spirit’s help work with our free will? Here are some examples.

  • Husband, you normally plop yourself down on the couch next to your wife, but the Holy Spirit has been compelling you to be more affectionate. So the next time you sit next to your wife, you put your arm around her. The Holy Spirit has also been leading you to be a better listener. Instead of simply hearing your wife speak, this time you nod and verbally affirm what she says. Perhaps even paraphrase her words to validate her sentiments. Since she is not used to this, your wife will notice and appreciate the extra effort.
  • Wife, you are riding in the car with your husband when you notice the low fuel light come on. Normally you point this out and “remind” him until he pulls into a gas station. Though he does not like this, you think it beats running out of gas. Lately, however, the Holy Spirit has been directing you to trust your husband, so this time you simply mention it and let it go. He pulls into a station, and since you have had a habit of telling him what to do, he notices the difference and is pleasantly surprised. Maybe at the pump he even says, “Thank you for not repeatedly telling me to pull over!”

In each case, the spouse would do well to verbalize his or her appreciation for the changed behavior.

These are only simple examples of how the Holy Spirit works with us. Look for other ways in your daily life with your spouse! Be submissive and receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Consider this encouraging verse that ties these thoughts together: “To this end I labor, according to [God’s] working which works mightily in me” (Colossians 1:29).

The apostle Paul was discussing working side by side with God to accomplish His work. Similarly, we should see ourselves working side by side with God in our marriages. Yes, we labor to be the husbands and wives He wants us to be. But what an encouragement that while we are laboring, He also “works mightily in” us.

Discussion questions and activities for husbands and wives

  • Read John 14:16, 26, and 16:7. What three areas of your marriage most need the Holy Spirit’s help?
  • Read 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Philippians 2:13:
    • What “good works” do you recognize in your marriage?
    • Which works are you more naturally inclined toward, and therefore they are easier for you?
    • Which works, or areas of your marriage, do you find to be more difficult, and therefore they:
      • Require more of God’s grace to abound toward you as 2 Corinthians 9:8 says?
      • Require more of God’s work in you as Philippians 2:13 says?
  • Read Ephesians 1:18–20 and Hebrews 13:20–21:
    • Using the language of these verses, what parts of your marriage seem dead and in need of resurrection? These could be your financial situation, intimacy, communication, or unity in parenting.
    • When considering the power discussed in these verses, what encouragement can you take away for these “dead” areas of your relationship?
  • Read Romans 13:13-14. List three ways you are “making provision” for your flesh.
  • Write down the above verses on index cards or sticky notes. Post them in places where you will see them frequently, such as a mirror, dashboard, a lampstand beside your bed, the hood over your stove, or inside your iPad cover. When you see them, pray for God to show you how you can change your marriage, through changing yourself—enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Provide three practical examples of how the Holy Spirit might compel you to treat your spouse better.
  • Since it’s so important to verbalize your appreciation for your spouse’s changed behavior, provide three examples of ways your spouse has tried to change.

Marriage God's Way bundle—1 book and 2 workbooksNOTE: Most of this post is from Marriage God’s Way and the Marriage God’s Way Workbook.  Save %30 and purchase the bundle—one book and two workbooks!

Posted on

3 Encouragements for Homeschooling Families

I was recently invited to speak at the Annual Home Educators’ Day at the Capitol, and a few people asked for my message. Following are the three encouragements I passed along to homeschooling families…

Homeschooling Encouragement 1: The responsibility to teach and train children is on the parents’ shoulders.

Encouragements for homeschooling families
At the Capitol with former WA State Representative Jason Overstreet, who is now president of Christian Homeschool Network. I’m thankful for his ministry and heart for Christ.It’s not on the shoulders of the government, public school, or even the church.

Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 

The “You” is parents, and this teaching is supposed to go on all the time, when you:

  • Sit in your house…
  • Walk by the way…
  • Lie down…
  • Rise up. 

When I taught elementary school as soon as the bell rang I sent students home for the day, but as homeschooling parents educating is never done. God wants us teaching and discipling our children around the clock, every day, all day.

Continue reading 3 Encouragements for Homeschooling Families

Posted on

Barry Branaman: a great friend and mentor

Barry Branaman
Barry with his wonderful wife Kathy on the day of his graduation from seminary in 2009.

When people discuss their blessings, they’ll usually mention spouses, children, friends, health, finances, etc. If you asked me to discuss my blessings I hope I would mention the godly men God has put in my life. One of the most important is Barry Branaman.

He was a mutual friend of Elwyn and me when I taught in Marysville, CA. I met Barry through his two daughters who attended a young adults’ Bible study I started attending. He became my mentor soon after I became a Christian. The first Bible study I ever led took place in his living room under his supervision. He rarely said anything, but it was a constant source of encouragement and comfort to have him present. I knew he could answer any questions that I couldn’t.

Barry taught me to make time for people.

I spent many hours in Barry’s living room talking to him about the Bible. People have told me that I ask a lot of questions, and I would agree; however, Barry was the person God put in my life at that time to answer all the questions I had as a new Christian…and there were a lot. If I had to single out the one person who helped me understand the Old Testament it was Barry.

Barry taught me about stewardship.

I told a story in a sermon about Barry helping me see our possessions as a stewardship. When I thanked Barry for letting us use their home for our bible study, his simple response was, “That’s what it’s for.” With Barry everything he had was for serving God’s Kingdom. When Katie and I visited California in December 2012, we stayed with Barry and his wife Kathy. From the moment Barry and I saw each other I felt like no time had passed. He was as gracious answering my questions then, as he had been eight years earlier.

When I moved to Lemoore, CA in 2004 I remember standing in Barry’s kitchen telling him goodbye and that I really loved him. In return he gave me A Harmony of the Gospels, which I just took off the bookshelf behind my desk to read the note he wrote inside:

“To Scott,

May the Good News ever grace your heart and lips, thoughts and life. may the love of God always surround you and keep you in all ways. May your service in Christ be ever for His glory. May the Holy Spirit be your continued guide and Comforter, “empowerer” and keep.

Your brother forever,

Barry”

Barry still speaks.

On Thursday I received the news that Barry Branaman passed away at the age of 59. Last week’s sermon was about finishing strong, and Barry is an example of a man who did that wonderfully. I’m very thankful God blessed me with such a great friend, mentor, and brother in Christ. I’m much better for having known Barry, and by “better” I mean I have a deeper love for God and His Word because of him.

Hebrews 11:4 says, “Abel still speaks even though he is dead” and that could be said of Barry. I learned so much from him that when I’m teaching the Bible, often I’m passing along what he taught me.

If you knew Barry Branaman and would like to share a memory about him, I’m sure it would be a blessing to anyone who reads this post.

Posted on

Quit Being A Baby

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.

cry-baby

Posted on

Building Walls During VBS

Whenever people come together to accomplish something for the Lord but face opposition, if there’s a book of the Bible they should read for encouragement it’s Nehemiah. You’ve got the Jews returning from exile trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem but facing resistance on all sides. That’s sort of what it felt like this week, but instead of rebuilding walls, WCC was conducting VBS, and instead of facing Sanballat and Tobiah it was sewage. Tuesday is when it all started…

I was sitting in my office feeling thankful VBS was going so well when someone burst in: “You have to come to the nursery…it’s flooded!” While I’m in the nursery trying to figure out where the water is coming from someone else says, “The boys’ bathroom is flooded.” A third person arrives, “There’s water all over the floor of the girls’ bathroom” and finally to make the parallel with Job 1:13-19 complete a fourth person arrives, “The floor in the kitchen is flooded…and I alone have escaped to tell you!” I know you’re on the edge of your seats wondering how I’d handle such a disastrous situation, but I’m not a pastor for nothing…I knew what to do: call Dave Zumstein. He came over and in about three seconds said, “The sewer is backed up.” It took all Tuesday night, but we fixed the problem….until Wednesday evening, when we fixed the problem again…and then Thursday night we fixed it again.

Last Sunday I preached on the spiritual battle that takes place around us and that’s basically what the kids learned throughout VBS (the theme was Kingdom Chronicles). I’m not going to lie about this week: digging up a parking lot every night until a few hours within kids arriving for VBS isn’t how I wanted things to go; however, there was something cool about the whole situation: it really felt like there was a battle being fought to keep VBS from happening. When the kids left each day it was like we were in the middle of a fight to make sure they were able to return the next day. Nehemiah said, “When Sanballat, Tobiah and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks in it…they thought to do me harm” (Neh 6:1-2). They heard the work was going well…they heard it wasn’t interrupted…they heard there were no breaks in the wall, so they tried to mess it up. Nehemiah had a fantastic response for them: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it because of you?” (Neh 6:3). Don’t let the opposition make you cease.

nehemiah-building-jerusalem

Posted on

Supporting Those Serving

 

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
  • Don’t complain
  • 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.

Posted on

Frustration in Ministry

Frustration in ministryRhea recently got the training wheels off her bike. She loves to come over to my office and have me watch her ride around in the parking lot. When I was growing up we always looked for exciting places to ride like hills, valleys, puddles, etc. For a while the leadership has been discussing fixing the church parking lots, but I found a great benefit to its current condition: it provides great terrain for kids’ bike riding!

I was watching Rhea race around – because in her mind the faster she goes the more impressed I’ll be – and she wrecked and scraped her knee. The rest of the day she dramatically limped around and when she overheard us talking about Beach Camp over a month away she said, “I hope I’ll be okay by then.” To her it was a pretty serious accident! We told her the only way she’d be able to completely avoid getting hurt in the future would be to completely stop riding her bike.

My counsel to Rhea made me think the same could be said of ministry: the only way to make sure you never get hurt is to make sure you never serve. Sadly this is the approach some people have taken. Whenever you’re involved in ministry whether it’s VBS, camp, a Bible study, party, play, home fellowship, etc. there’s potential for frustration and hurt usually from…

  1. People letting you down: they don’t do what they say they’re going to do…or they don’t do what you ask them to do…or they don’t show up on time…or maybe they don’t show up at all…or they don’t pay on time…or they cancel last minute…or they do things their way instead of the way you want…and the list goes on…and on.
  2. People criticizing: they don’t like the time, place, music, length, schedule, activities, and if you’d done it the way they wanted others would be unhappy.

Here’s what we need to focus on to prevent frustration:

  1. For every person that lets you down or criticizes, there are a number of others serving and working hard to see the ministry go well, being blessed by your effort, appreciating what you’re doing, growing as a result of your service.
  2. Most importantly: Colossians 3:17 & 23 Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. If we’re honest, when we’re frustrated it comes from having taken our focus off the Lord and putting it on the people around us. The reality is if our service is done for the Lord, His approval, and the blessing of serving Him, that should be enough to turn any amount of frustration into encouragement.
Posted on

Serving Where We're Gifted

Katie and I made it safely to CA and are enjoying our time with her family. Thanks for your prayers for a safe trip! Tonight we have a big potluck with a lot of friends from northern California, and tomorrow we’ll be heading to Lemoore, where we used to live before moving to Washington.

I wanted to share something with you related to this past week. Soon after I became a Christian I attended a young adults’ Bible study. The leader was transitioning out and it fell on me to teach the group each week, but I didn’t want to look controlling so I came up with the idea of encouraging a number of other young men to rotate with me. A few of the guys were reluctant, not really feeling called to teach, but upon my encouragement they agreed. Some of the studies didn’t go well, but one in particular really stands out in my mind. A very close Christian friend of mine, who didn’t really want to teach in the first place, led it. I could tell it was uncomfortable for him teaching and it was equally uncomfortable for all of us listening. I felt terrible for my friend because I could tell how awkward it was for him, and the entire time I remember thinking one thing: this is all my fault. I told myself I would be very careful in the future encouraging people to “step out.” On one hand, encouragement can be good, because sometimes all people need is a little encouragement. On the other hand, encouraging people to do things they’re not called to do can be a disaster…as I learned the hard way, unfortunately hurting a good friend of mine in the process.

This past week I contacted a number of men about being involved in communion. My fear (because of the situation I just discussed) was having someone agree to be in the rotation without really being comfortable with it. I’m glad a few men declined.

In the church, I think certain gifts can be viewed as being more spiritual than others, usually the visible gifts like teaching. This is very unfortunate, because it gives the impression people are more spiritual if they have certain gifts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually repeatedly applauded the work that’s done for Him in secret, so in a sense, it’s probably the service that takes place behind the scene that’s more spiritual than the visible ministry.