April 30, 2012

Affliction & Affluence

Psalm 119: 71 says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." (ESV) This is just after the author writing, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." (Ps.119:67) We talked about these scriptures in our Men's Group last night, following up from the sermon yesterday, which addressed our need for God's Word to be ingrained in our hearts to prepare us to walk through trials. As the discussion grew, someone in our group asked the question: 

WHY do most of us need to walk through trials to finally be pushed toward God?
WHY does it take a trial to lead us there? WHY don't we keep walking, seeking, and pursuing Him even when everything seems to be great?

No one had a patented answer for this. I don't think there is one. Everyone's different. That said, I think there is a pattern. I don't think we just do this with God, with time in the Word, or "spiritual" things. We seem to follow this course often in life. The question is, WHY?

[To give you more context of our conversation, yesterday's sermon and time of corporate worship included our church family intentionally recognizing that a year ago our whole community walked through trial together as our state was ravaged by tornadoes. That will give you more insight into my thoughts on this issue.]

The 5-6 days that followed April 27th, 2011, were strange days. Strange, but good days. At my house - in my neighborhood - we had no power or water for 5 days. There was no TV, no internet, no refrigerator, no ice maker, no shower - nothing. It was a house. We were all forced outside; forced to meet neighbors we hadn't met before. People were bringing their grills into the driveway and neighbors were bringing out all the food that was going to spoil and cooking it up on the fire. We were eating burgers together. We were sitting on our porches. We were actually "neighbors", forced into "community". And then, it happened. The power came back on. The water was restored. And we all went back into our comfortable cocoons. Garage doors closed. Food frozen. TV on. All the while (in some bazaar, twisted way) knowing that what we had for those 5 days was somehow better. And a year later I still sit here wondering, "Why did we do that?" WHY do we need to be "afflicted" to be forced toward the greater things? Here's my thought:


And as much as we don't want to admit it (or even acknowledge it) this becomes our end-all goal in life. COMFORT. And when that comfort is stripped away from us like a tornado rips the leaves and limbs off a tree, we are always either hurled rapidly toward what our hearts know to be of foundational utmost importance...or...we are lured away in despair, anger, fear, or bitterness. When someone you love finds out they have cancer, you are propelled toward the Sovereign God who holds healing in His hands. When creature comforts are stripped away, you find yourself caring more about food and fellowship - things we were actually created for - to have our stomachs, hearts, souls, and need for relationships nurtured. We turn from subconscious attitudes of greed to gratitude - selfishness to generosity. And we start to love our neighbors. We sleep in peace. Even in the midst of trial. This is TRUE affluence! Leading me to believe that Godly affliction leads to spiritual affluence.

Here's my thought: We have to intentionally pray against apathy, selfishness, materialism, and the trappings of living for our own comfort. And as we PRAY for this, we have to take deliberate steps to guard our hearts and our families from these mirages. They seduce us. They lure and lead us away from pursuing the Lord and pursuing each other. We have to wake up each day and determine WHAT (or WHO) it is we're pursuing. What are we living for?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

April 26, 2012

Their Sin & Our Feelings

I recently preached a sermon on the issue of confronting sin in other's lives - being willing and courageous enough to go to someone and honestly and vulnerably let them know that they have sinned against you. We all have these instances in our lives, when someone close to us says or does something that pierces our hearts. Yes, those who love us actually sin against us. Sometimes we wound each other out of pride. Other times it's out of carelessly and thoughtlessly placing ourselves in a place of more importance than those we love. Regardless of the means or the motive, it happens. That said, I think it's important to point out what this does and does NOT mean. In order to do that, I it's essential to identify something else that we fall victim to that comes disguised as sin.

It all starts with us being willing to recognize and acknowledge a flaw that most of us carry as humans. You can look at it as a chink in the armor, part of our fleshly nature, or just being human. The truth is, many of us very easily get our feelings hurt. Someone says something - someone leaves us out - someone makes a decision - we hear, see, feel, or perceive - and we're left standing there, with what feels like an arrow sticking out of our chest. We allow our "feelings" to be discarded and trampled on like a cigarette butt. And because we're already wounded, and we just can't bear to think about it anymore or dare trouble someone else with, we let it take root, sink it's teeth into our heart, and just like we're promised in scripture, the seeds of bitterness are planted.

BOOM! That's all it takes. The seed is planted. The bitter root takes hold.

And this is where we have to be incredibly discerning and understanding of scripture. This is the junction of spiritual maturity. Will we have the humility and wisdom to seek the heart of God, to be filled by the Spirit, and to beg for the mind of Christ and realize that there is a difference between your brother or sister in Christ SINNING against you...and you having your feelings hurt. This doesn't change the need and mandate to go to the person and work toward reconciliation. This doesn't change the fact that you feel wounded and possibly betrayed. What it does change - what it HAS to change - is the heart and judgment that we hold over the other person's head. In our hearts, we have this tendency to instantly brand someone GUILTY! Somehow forgetting that we so often ourselves carelessly wound, hurt, and offend. (Maybe we just do it behind close doors or behind backs. Maybe we do it in such a way that it doesn't make such a public ruckus. Maybe that doesn't matter an ounce.)

My flesh is so quick to judge and so quick to hand down GUILTY verdicts.
The Spirit says, "Even though you wronged me, I love you. As my brother or sister in Christ, I forgive you. I release you. NOT GUILTY!"

Is there an instance or circumstance or relationship in your life where you've confused this? Is there someone you need to release from the penalty of their mistake? If there is - and you don't - you will be the one imprisoned, in bondage, and perpetually wounded. 

April 16, 2012

Turn To Jesus...First.

From Saturday to Sunday, I experienced one of those 24-hour periods of being ambushed by discouragement. I'm sure you've been there. It was definitely one of those "When it rains, it pours" kind of consecutive moments. Going to my Men's Group last night was an enormous shot of encouragement - which I knew it would be. I'm so thankful that I have this group of guys who are there for me, who are very well aware that I'm a flawed human being, and who tirelessly pray for me and with me. You can't replace that with something counterfeit. There's no store brand sorry substitute for biblical community. If you haven't found that, I'm praying that you don't stop searching until you find it. That is "church".

This morning, as I was coming home from the gym, the Lord laid something further on my heart. Out of nowhere, I was reminded of Jesus's very transparent, vulnerable, and humble words to his disciples as many of the masses were walking away and deserting him: "Are you going to leave me, too?" 

Take a moment and think about that question. Does GOD ask that question?

Scripture clearly tells us (Hebrews 4:15) that Jesus experienced what we experience - he faced the temptations we face - he wrestled with anger, frustration, and suffering - he grieved and mourned and comforted. We have a Savior that understands! And while I BELIEVE this - I really, actually, fully believe that this is the case - often I don't live or act like I do. Because when I faced discouragement - when it was whispering in my ear, weighing on my back, and breathing down my neck - the first person I turned was not Jesus. Why is this?

The Son of Man - the Savior of the Universe - the Redeemer of all mankind turned to His disciples, and with loneliness and despair and hurt flooding his heart (and probably his voice) he asked them, "Are you going to walk out on me, too? Are you deserting me? Are you going to turn you backs and walk away?" Is there a more open window into the humanity of Jesus? Do I need anything further than this to fully expose to me that my Savior understands my hurt and my pain and my discouragement? 

Does God ask this question? Well, when God the Son has "humbled himself - made himself nothing" - and "surrendered his rights as God" so that he could fully understand our struggles and our weakness - Yes. Absolutely, God asks this question. And so for me, knowing that my Savior lived with this exposed humility, and knowing that discouragement had to waiting to ambush him at every turn, I can turn to him. First. Before anyone else. He understands.

If you're facing discouragement, you can turn to Jesus.

April 4, 2012

Joy In Insignificance

This Guest Post is from Malia Shipe. Malia is not only a member of The Brook and a licensed family counselor, she is also a friend. I hope you're encouraged by her insight.

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Today, when I think of  Peter or John, I think of these great men of God:  Peter, 'upon this rock I will build my church' and John, the beloved. It is easy to forget that in their time, they were not the big names of the Gospel. Peter and John were two dudes that spent much of their day just trying to survive. They had to gather food, find water, walk from place to place. They talked with other men about politics, religion, and the Law. The people around them for the most part probably found them interesting, possibly annoying, maybe even exesperating in their persistence that Jesus was the Christ. There was nothing special about them.

These men were not unique, with no special talents or gifts and because they were insignificant on their own, the SIGNIFICANCE of their time with Christ was transparent. What would have been different had they spent energy and effort trying to show off their own special talents. What if Peter who was such a social clutz had tried to use big words or if John had boned up on some debating skills.  Imagine if they had been "schooled" or known as super smart, how would that have changed or impeded the ability of the others to see Christ. It was in Peter's rough exterior that Jesus was able to show His beauty. It was because of John's humility that Christ's glory was viewed with clarity. 

Peter and John were completely unaware of their legacy. They did not consider themselves significant. They went about their daily work free from the burden of trying to be remembered. They moved between interactions unshackled by the chains of pride, ego, or achievement. 

It is the same today. I do not have to work at being special or useful, I only have to be available. My efforts to make myself special only clutter His ability to use me.

There is joy in insignificance. There is freedom in being nothing special.  I can be one of the ordinary. And maybe, someone will take note that I have been with Jesus.

April 2, 2012

The Benefit of the Doubt

All of us are most likely familiar with the old idiom of giving someone "The Benefit of the Doubt" - to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either; a favorable judgment granted in the absence of full evidence. Again, while we're all probably familiar with it, it seems more and more every day that we're practicing it less and less. And please note my use of the word "we". I'm guilty of this as well. Whether it's in traffic - fully believing that every person who's cut us off, slowed us down, or stolen our parking spot most assuredly left their house that morning with the sole mission of infuriating us - or in our gossip - which is cloaked and disguised as "concern" or "conversation". We automatically assume the worst. And typically, our assumption of the worst is usually reported to someone other than the individual it concerns. And many, many times, if we'd just taken the time to check the facts - if we'd given someone the "Benefit of the Doubt" - we could have spared ourselves and others a lot of unnecessary agony and pain.

In Proverbs 18:17, Solomon writes, "Any story sounds true until someone sets the record straight." Hearing this wisdom, isn't it good practice - biblical practice and principle - to "set the record straight", get the facts, go straight to the source before we believe anything? Isn't this a courtesy that we want others to extend to us? We don't even to think about the answer to that question. Of course it is. We WANT the benefit of the doubt! But for some reason, we often seem to be a whole lot slower to extend it to everyone else. 

Why is this? Is it laziness? Is it a lack of self control? Is it really as simple - yet as monumental - as the war going on in our hearts between the Spirit and the flesh? I'm not sure, but I want to know the answer. I want to get to the root of this poison in my heart, dig it up, and burn it! It has no place in my heart or in my life. Because in my estimation, assuming the worst judges and renders verdict without testimony. But benefit of the doubt says things like, "Go and sin no more" and "If you only love those who love you, what good is that?" 

The "Benefit of the Doubt".
Why does this rapidly seem like it's becoming a lost art?
And more importantly, what can we do to make it a practice in our own lives?