April 4, 2018

Walking With Others in Grief


In my last post, I shared some thoughts on the difficulty we have allowing ourselves to grieve. If you haven’t read it, might want to start HERE. As I’ve spent the last few days walking through a very close friend passing away, I’ve also noticed that at times we have (possibly even more) difficulty walking with others in grief. 

I very purposefully did not call my wife on Monday to tell her that our lifelong friend Mike had died. She was traveling on business. I did not want her carrying that weight alone. I also didn’t want her driving down the road all by herself with that heartbreak and burden. So I came home as soon as I could to tell her in person. It was hard. We cried. And then we told our kids. My kids knew Mike, but they didn’t KNOW Mike. He wasn’t someone they saw frequently or had a relationship with like we did. As I told the both of them individually, it was apparently clear: I need to teach my kids how to walk with others in grief

My daughter is overflowing with compassion. When my dad passed away, Libby wept. Yes, she was sad that Papa was gone, but she was most broken over the idea of her Nana being alone. There’s a HUGE heart in there! But she didn’t have a filter or context this week for Mom & Dad grieving over their friend. 

My son wants everything and everyone to be right in the world. He wants no one’s feathers to be ruffled and wants peace on earth and in every relationship. When you’re hurt, he wants you to be healed and well. When someone’s upset - especially his momma - he wants things fixed. So when Morgan came in from the back porch, clearly upset and crying, and started trying to cook dinner, he insisted that she “just come sit down on the sofa and relax!” Witnessing all of this, I began to realize: I need to teach my kids how to walk with others in grief.

For a moment, travel back about 6 hours with me on that Monday.

Not long after I got the phone call about Mike, as I was trying to avoid my grief (which I admitted in my last post), I began trying to work on my sermon for this Sunday. I tried to study. I tried to outline. I tried to focus. Honestly, I was just trying to remember what I was doing. I quickly became aware of the fact that I was in shock and there would be no focusing today. Or probably tomorrow. Not long after this I found myself in Chad’s office. I shared with him what had happened. As I did, there were 2 very specific things he said to me:
  1. I am so sorry to hear this.
  2. Is there anything I can do?
These statements may seem very trivial to us. It may feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things to utter these words to someone. But the truth is, if you mean them - if you’re truly burdened for your friend, family member, neighbor, or coworker’s grief AND you truly would physically, tangibly do something if you could to alleviate their burden - then those words mean something. When Chad asked me, “Is there anything I can do?”, without a moment’s hesitation I asked him, “Can you preach for me on Sunday?” He said absolutely. Then he prayed with me. He lifted my burden.

Now, back to the dinner table that night.

As we sat down to eat the meal that my son didn’t want his mother to cook while she was upset, I shared this with my kids: "I need to share something with you guys. You’re not in trouble and I’m not rebuking you or anything like that. But I realized earlier that it’s my job as your Dad to teach you how to respond to other people’s grief. When someone you love is hurting or grieving - when you hear that someone you love has lost someone close to them - there are really only 2 things you need to say to that person: I am so sorry to hear this (&) Is there anything I can do? This doesn’t mean you can bring someone back from the dead or make the hurt go away. But it lets them know that you’re there, you care, and you will carry the burden with them.” I went on to share with them how Chad had responded to me earlier in the day. It was such a beautiful and powerful example. I believe they understood.

Friends, we don’t have all the answers. We can’t bring people back or make the hurt go away. But we can carry the burden with our brothers and sisters. There is an old Jewish practice called Sitting Shiva. I won’t go into it in great detail, but over the seven days of observing grief and mourning in Judaism, there is great value placed on simply being there with the grieving. Just being present. Possibly even just sitting. No talking. No thinking you need to have all the answers. Just being present. Sitting Shiva.

This is very, very hard for us. 

Just being there.

Just sitting.

We want to fix things. We want to make it OK. We want to have all the answers.

We can’t. And most often, we don’t.

That’s not what the grieving need. We don’t need answers or fixing or everything to be OK. What we need is to know that someone else is walking with us through the confusion and the brokenness and the pain. Maybe not talking. Just walking. Just being present. 

Lord, help us to have the wisdom to know how to walk alongside one another through the valley of the shadow of death. Help us to be OK with only being able to offer you and offer ourselves. Let that be enough. Walk with us as we walk with one another in grief. Amen.

April 3, 2018

Jesus Wept. So Why Won't We?

Yesterday morning - the day after Easter - I woke up still thinking about resurrection. THE Resurrection! It was still fresh on my mind and flooding my thoughts. My heart was truly full. And then my phone rang. My friend Amy called to tell me that her brother, Mike - one of my lifelong friends - had passed away unexpectedly. She was in shock. So was I. In fact, I still am.

You're never ready for these phone calls. We aren't wired to be OK with a young husband and father of 2 suddenly being ripped away. It doesn't make sense; at least not in the way we want the world to make sense. These things never do. As I hung up the phone with Amy I immediately felt a wall going up. As I began making phone calls, letting friends know what had happened, trying to answer people's questions with answers I didn't have, I could already feel it happening within me. I've felt it before, so I knew what it was. My heart began erecting a barrier and building a dam. I have to be strong. I have to be here for others. I have to hold it together so I can tell Morgan. Morgan needs me to be strong. Everyone needs me to be strong. I'm sure sometime later I'll allow it, but right now...under no circumstances...am I going to allow myself to grieve.

I tell myself things like:

Mike's in a better place.

Mike is with the Lord.

Mike is home, for cryin out loud! He's with Jesus! How awesome is that!?

It's incredibly awesome for Mike. But the fact is it really really sucks for the rest of us. It's hard. It's painful. It's like ripping a hook out of your heart and your intestines. It's mind-numbing. Unexplainable. It leaves you wanting answers and placing blame. Grief takes every physical, mental, emotional, chemical, and spiritual fiber and synapse in your body and ignites them all simultaneously. We know this. And yet, we will call upon every stubborn resource within us to attempt to suppress, beat down, and contain this eruption. 

Why?

Why won't we just allow ourselves to grieve? To hurt? To cry?

I really don't know. I actually don't have that answer. 

But I do know we somehow have to get past this. We somehow have to learn to grieve.

In Psalm 56:8, King David describes the depths at which the Lord cares about our grief:
"You have kept count of my wanderings; put my tears in your bottle. 
Are they not in your book?"

There is not one single moment or instance or morsel of grief that I walk through that the Lord does not walk through with me. There is not one single drop of a tear that you or I shed that the Lord does not take notice of and shed with us. He doesn't just take notice; he grieves with me. He knows my pain.

Take note and consideration of this, though:
If I refuse to actually walk through the grief, he can't walk with me.
If I refuse to vulnerably allow those tears to flow, the Lord can't "put my tears" in his bottle.
The Lord can't grieve with me if I don't allow myself to grieve.

In John 11, Jesus returns after his friend Lazarus has died. His sisters are beside themselves. They don't understand why Jesus didn't come and heal Lazarus. [Of course, we know that Jesus winds up bringing Lazarus back from the dead. He allowed a death so that he could bring about a resurrection. We know this. They didn't.] As Jesus is swarmed by the crowd of friends and family, he asks them to take him to the place where they've buried Lazarus. When they arrive, everyone breaks down. Tears are flowing. Grief is there. Fully present. And what did Jesus do?

"Jesus wept."

Friends, if we think Jesus was weeping because Lazarus had died, I think we're wrong. He knows that Lazarus was about to walk out of that grave. Jesus knew that his own death & resurrection would ultimately defeat the grave! Jesus wasn't weeping or broken for Lazarus. He wept for his friends. 

He saw their heartbreak and felt it erupt within him. 

He saw their tears and he could no longer hold his own back.

Right before this, John tells us: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled."

Jesus grieves with those who are willing to grieve.

Jesus wept. So why won't we?

I think something within us has incorrectly connected having peace about death with having a refusal to grieve. Like if I know the Lord and I have great peace about eternity, that this somehow also means I can't be sad or broken when someone I love - who also shares that peace about death - dies and is no longer here with me. This is messed-up thinking. A peace about death DOES NOT EQUAL a refusal to grieve! 

This Friday - and for the immediate forseeable future - I will celebrate my dear friend Mike's life. I will remember our friendship. I will laugh about memories and tell stories and share his legacy. But I will also grieve. I will hurt. I will cry. And my Lord and Savior will be right there with me. He'll put those tears in his bottle. He will bear the weight of my sorrow. He is there. He is always there in our grief. 

March 15, 2018

What Do We Value?

Core values are talked about and heavily thrown around these days. From companies, non-profits, and organizations, to sports teams and churches, everyone supposedly has core values that drive their company's decisions or create the culture of their organization. We once spent an entire staff retreat and the following season attempting to identify, pinpoint, and embrace our core values at The Brook. It’s a lot of work. Let me repeat and even rephrase that: It’s a LOT of very, very hard work! Here’s why:

You have to face the TRUTH.

Core Values don’t begin with the facade of who you say or think you are, but the TRUTH of who you really are and what you actually do.

To make this discovery, you have to walk through the woods of somehow objectively discerning the things you have held to be of most value. To be clear: It begins not by asking what do we want to hold up as most valuable, but what do we actually place the most value on. Only then, in discerning the truth of the past & present can you begin to determine if you want those values to change for the future.

Don’t waste time asking the question: Do we have core values? We all have them; in our homes, our families, our churches… We all place value on something. We all hold some things to be more important and valuable than other things. 

The real question is: Do we KNOW what we value? Are we valuing and elevating those things intentionally? Are we even aware of what we are placing the most value on in our home? Our church? Our company? Our family?

Are you just teaching your kids what to say and do…or what to value?

Are you only leading & telling your people where to go, what to do, and how to do it…or what to value?

If we truly value something, we will always go through the less-traveled road to understanding and explaining WHY. We will start there and end there. We’ll keep going back there along the way because we know that the act or event void of the reason or purpose is not really worth our time, energy and attention. If I tell my kids, “Always take less and go back for more rather than taking too much and throwing it out”, but I don’t teach them why, they may learn to do what I say, but they won’t learn the value of why I do it. 

We all have values. Let’s know what they are and live them out with conviction and purpose. 

March 8, 2018

To Serve Or To Be Served

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served."

He also said, “Those who desire to be first will be last; the last shall be first."



As followers of Jesus Christ, we are constantly lead to surrender ourselves and give of ourselves in order to serve others. The more we seek to know Christ, the more we grow familiar with this. Taking all of this into consideration, it seems almost preposterous to think we might be able to become too familiar with this. Let me explain.

For most of us, we don’t really have a problem or an issue with serving. We’ve grown to enjoy and find pleasure in serving others and giving of ourselves. However, where we do seem to have a greater struggle, in certain circumstances in life when we are the ones in need, is in allowing others to serve us. We have a very hard time being served.

On the surface, this seems right; this seems like we are doing what Jesus directed. But the problem is in the WHY. Why do we have such a tension and struggle with allowing others to serve us when we are the ones in need? Why is there such difficulty in letting someone else serve us?

Here’s why:

It’s humbling.

It makes us vulnerable.

In fact, (on the flip side) in the midst of serving – which seems selfless in and of itself – we can actually at times have self-centered motives. We would never verbalize this, but somewhere in the depths of us there is a voice that whispers: I would much rather someone feel like they owed me then me having to feel like I owed them. As if everyone else is keeping score. Jesus said we’re essentially supposed to lose sight of the scoreboard. There is no score. There’s your heart and their need.

Being served says, "I need you."

Being served acknowledges, "I can’t do all of this on my own."

But think about this in terms of being part of the Body of Christ. If you’re sick, or your loved one just died, or you’ve just had an emergency C-section or appendectomy, or you were just in an accident and still recovering - whatever the case may be - this is now an opportunity for someone else to find joy in serving you. It’s now about their heart and your need. Don't rob them of this. Or yourself.

Because it’s also still about your heart. Your humility.

As a foster family, maybe all of your closest friends are not being called to foster like you. Maybe they are, however, being called to come alongside you, serve you, and love those children.

Maybe you found yourself in the role of caregiver – taking care of an aged parent or grandparent. Perhaps your friends or the members of your small group or missional community are in a different place in life, but at the same time, fully ready, willing, and able to serve you as you give of yourself to take care of the one who raised you. 

At some point, we have to realize that Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians to “bear one another’s burdens” works both ways. Sometimes we have to come alongside. Sometimes someone else needs to come alongside us. Either way, we have to have the humility to serve and to be served.


I encourage you to ask the Lord to prepare your heart to be ready to find great joy in having the opportunity to serve and to know that you’ve been served. This is the way of the people of God. 

February 27, 2018

An Apple A Day

Your friend asked you for an apple once. You gladly obliged. He asked again the next day. You gave another. Assuming his insatiable desire for apples was constant, you just began bringing him an apple every day. 

Every. Single. Day.

At some point early on in the apple-giving, he began thinking, “This is awesome! All the apples I could ever want!“ Eventually, he just stopped asking you for apples. He began to expect it.

Monday. Apple.

Tuesday. Apple.

Wednesday. Apple.

The longer your apple supply lasted, the more he began to think: "He must have an entire apple orchard of his own! Where in the world does he get all these amazing apples? Is there no end to this apply supply?"

As the daily delivery of apples continued though, not only would your friend probably never ask you for one again, at some point he might even grow tired of apples. Like, “I don’t ever want to see another apple again!” kind of tired. Then one day, you brought him an apple and he said, “No thanks. I can’t handle any more apples.” 

Wait a minute. What!? 

Your feelings were crushed. "What’s the matter with my apples?” you thought. Are they sour? Rotten? Mealy? Too sweet? Not crisp enough? Why in the world did he not want an apple? MY apple?

Opinions are a lot like apples.

Think about it. 

February 26, 2018

Boundaries

Boundary (n.) - a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line

Everywhere you go, there are boundaries. Driving down the road, walking on a trail, running down the football field. You get my drift. Boundaries keep us safe. They bring definition. They determine what’s in or out; permissible or inappropriate. The problem and difficulty with some boundaries though, is that they’re invisible. 

You have to have wisdom and discernment to know that they’re there.

And then, you have to have the respect and the humility to honor them.

There are boundaries and limits to how fully and effectively we can invest ourselves. I can only give so much of my time and energy and focus and attention to so many things in a given day. I have to learn to say, “No." "No" is a boundary in and of itself.

The scriptures are full of boundaries. The Book of Proverbs is a heartfelt plea from King Solomon to his sons to pay attention to the boundaries that the Lord has made clear. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took the legal boundaries of the Law and explained that God intended for them to go even deeper and deeper. Paul told Timothy to “flee from sin” and temptation. Don’t see how close you can get. See how far away you can run from it!

You need boundaries in your relationships as well. Every relationship. [Except the one between you & God. But that’s a whole separate blogpost for another day!] There are conversations we’ve been invited into. Others we have not. There are other relationships where our presence is welcomed in the middle. There are others where this is not the case. There are things we should and should not say to, do with, or even expect from others. There are boundaries. Do you know that they’re there? Are you looking for them? 

One of the best books I have ever read - and I’ve read a few books - is Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud. This book is a goldmine, packed with valuable treasure that will sharpen how you look at other people, converse and relate with them, and what you expect from them (&) your understanding of what they should expect from you. I want to share with you a few things Dr. Cloud says in Boundaries that will shed some light on the subject:

“We can't manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a "litmus test" for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. "I only like it when you do what I want.” 

“When we can’t hold back, or set boundaries, on what comes from our lips, our words are in charge—not us. But we are still responsible for those words. Our words do not come from somewhere outside of us, as if we were a ventriloquist’s dummy. They are the product of our hearts. Our saying, “I didn’t mean that,” is probably better translated, “I didn’t want you to know I thought that about you.” We need to take responsibility for our words. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matt. 12:36).” 

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking.” 


If there is currently tension in a relationship in your life, it could very well be the result of hazy, undefined, or even nonexistent boundaries. Is there someone who needs to hear you say, “No”? Is there someone who needs to know that their expectations over you are unrealistic? Or - harder yet - are there boundaries that you’re crossing over in your relationship with someone else? If so, are you willing to step back, take a realistic look, lower your defenses, and love them enough to honor that invisible fence?

Other than the Lord, is there anyone else who's controlling your life?

February 20, 2018

The Bible Question

In Acts 2:42, Luke tells us that as the very first New Testament church is beginning and growing. As this happens, he says that the people "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching..." Literally, they devoted themselves to the Word of God. A couple of weeks ago, as I was preaching through this text, I brought up an issue and question that I've harped on before. I expressed my confusion and perplexion at how and why so many Christians come to "church" without their Bible. If we are (at least in part) gathering to "devote ourselves to the Word of God", it begs the question, "Why would you show up without your Bible?" Is this not like going to class without your textbook - except maybe a bit more important? It opens up a big can of worms that is worth addressing and raises some questions that are definitely worth asking and answering. I hope you'll prayerfully consider these things and add to the conversation.

Let's readdress what I'll call The Bible Question:
Why would a Christian come to study the Bible without their Bible?

The first possible answer to this question is APATHY. While we would love for it to be true that everyone who calls himself a Christian is indeed a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, we know that this is just not the case here in North America. It's still actually cultural for many people to "go to church" on a Sunday morning, mindlessly ignoring WHY they are even going. To be clear with the words from Acts, they have not really given much thought to "devoting themselves" to the Word of God. They ultimately don't care.

That said, I refuse to believe that the first explanation is an accurate description of most worship service attenders, much less Christians. So what else could it be? Another possibility is that we've been swayed and enabled by TECHNOLOGY. Let me be very specific with what I mean by this. I know that there are quite a few people who have transitioned to using a digital Bible - like the YouVersion app. (While I cannot personally make that transition - nor do I want to - I'm not going to hold that over someone else's head if they have.) That's not what I'm aiming at when I say technology. Several years ago, as we moved to using screens in our worship services, we put up lyrics to songs and scriptures. Over time, I think a lot of people just became dependent on this. Now it's not just a dependency, but an expectation. To me, this moves into an argument that bridges countless subjects. The debate rages on: Just because we can do something, does that mean we should? Just because we've invented and created the means (technology) to do something, does that automatically make it beneficial? I don't think so. Is it possible that we've been enabling and fostering biblical ignorance and even illiteracy? I ask this because I sadly believe there are many people sitting in our congregations today - men and women who have been "Christians" for several years - who don't even know where certain books of the Bible are or where many scriptures they've known all their lives are even located. Has technology enabled this? It's quite possible.

Then of course there are those who (for whatever reason) have either not been given or been able to purchase a Bible of their own. All I can say to that is, at The Brook, if we know anyone in that position, we will put a Bible in their hands that day. It's theirs! We can fix that problem really quickly.

So the first question was mine:
Why would a Christian come to study the Bible without their Bible?

Now allow me, on behalf of others, to turn the question sideways:
Why should a Christian come to study the Bible with their Bible?

Let's make it even plainer in North American, Western Church terms:
Why should I bring my Bible to church?

Great question. I'm glad someone asked it.
To begin with, responding to some of what I was alluding to about technology, if you are a child of God - a follower of Christ - then you are by nature of your new spiritual life, a student of the Word of God. You are also a messenger of the Good News of the gospel. Not only that, as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19), your life has ultimately become an altar for the Word of God to be revered and adored. And as Paul declares that the Word of God is "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), we understand that the Bible is the tool by which the Holy Spirit comforts, convicts, guides, leads, and instructs us. Taking all of that into account, every time the body of Christ gathers to "devote themselves" to the Word of God, it's an opportunity for you & me to do just that: redevote and recommit myself to the scriptures - to the life-giving, life-changing words of the Living Word of God. It furthers my discipline to be in the Word. DISCIPLINE

I was reminded by a friend in conversation the other day that another consideration in this matter of having my Bible in my hands and in front of my eyes while someone is preaching from it is the opportunity for the Spirit to bring to mind and memory something He has already taught me. For instance, my friend mentioned how there have been numerous times I was preaching, and while I was reading a scripture, the Holy Spirit brought to his mind something he had read or learned earlier in the week. Or maybe even much earlier in life. The Lord reaffirmed for him something that he needed to hear, read, and be reminded of that, quite honestly, had nothing to do with what I was preaching. Don't underestimate for a second the life-changing, mind-transforming possibilities of what the Spirit can do when we have the Word in front of our eyes and our hearts and open. AFFIRMATION

There are probably many more arguments, points, and reasons why this is important. I just want to give attention to one more.

When I see a United States Marine or Green Beret or Army Ranger in full uniform, I have no question about what they're devoted to. They have given their life to the service of their country and to the cause of freedom. They are fully committed and all in.

When your son, daughter, neice, nephew, grandchild, next door neighbor, or whoever it is sees the Word of God open on your kitchen table, on your nightstand, out on the bed, or (naturally) in your hands as you are on your way to gather with the people of God, it will make a very clear statement as to what your life is devoted to. It's a nonverbal declaration of why you're headed to gather as the Body of Christ. Our reasons are the same as the church in Acts:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings..." DEVOTION

Here at The Brook, we are challenging our people over the next weeks to tangibly, intentionally, and expectantly to come to gather as the Body of Christ with the Word of God in their hands. We are praying that as a result, it will be embedded into our hearts!