A blessing that provokes a curse…

Open Bible 1“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” Proverbs 27:14

Blessing a friend is good. Blessing a friend first thing in the morning is good. Blessing a friend in a loud voice is often good. Put them together and you may become the subject of your friend’s disdain.

There is a right time and a right context for everything. Standing to shout out your school’s “fight song” is good in the stadium after winning the game. It is generally frowned upon in class during a midterm exam.

Many “good” messages have been lost because the messenger did not consider the context from the recipient’s perspective. As one who speaks to groups multiple times per week and without a manuscript, I can tell you that I miss the mark here far too often. Sometimes my “filter” doesn’t catch a thought before it crosses my lips. (That’s not an excuse…just a fact of my present reality).

I wonder how many times we have a “good word” for a person’s situation but it is missed because our timing was off. For instance, a friend’s child is overdue to get home from school and hasn’t answered the phone. Is this a time to comfort your friend or recite recent statistics on child abductions? The answer seems obvious.

Christians mess this up too. “Hey brother, I didn’t tell them anything that wasn’t true! I’m just speaking the truth!” Sure friend, but aren’t we called to speak the truth in love? How is it loving to say what you said, in the way you said it at the time you said it? Did the hearer see your anguish in delivering such a message due to the inherent implications?

Jesus instructed us to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Serpents are not powerful but they are hypersensitive to their surroundings. Rarely will a snake dart out from under a bush to attack a person walking by.(Back them into a corner and you may have a different story.) Doves are harmless and pleasant.

So how do I do this? Here are six considerations:

  • Be clean. Check your heart motive. Are you compelled to speak “the truth” because you are aggravated with a person or jealous for God’s glory?
  • Be aware. Play the conversation through as if you were hearing it as the person you are speaking to. How did you receive it?
  • Be humble. You’re not “all that.” But for the grace of God…there go I.
  • Be empathetic. Listen. hear. empathize.
  • Be gracious. If someone says they “get it” and apologize, taken them at their word.
  • Be encouraging. They should feel more emboldened in God’s love after you leave than when you got there.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Plowing the field

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tilling-rapeseed-2“The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” Proverbs 20:4.

Agrarians debate the value of Spring vs. Fall plowing, but certain variables notwithstanding, most agree that it is best to plow a field after the fall harvest so that the soil is most fertile for the spring planting.

My mom and dad were always proud of their garden. Sometimes, when people came by the house, my folks would show them how good the corn, beans, and tomato plants looked. I never recall them, though, taking anyone out back to look at the tilled dirt in the cold of winter.

The writer of Proverbs strikes an important chord with the verse today. There isn’t much fun about plowing a field. It is cold, hard work and it will be months before the field can even be planted. However, it is necessary as doing so gives an advantage to the Spring planter. The remaining vegetation will be turned under to decompose. The temperature of the soil will aid in this process. Insects and other parasites below the surface will be uprooted and diminished in the Spring. Still, the work isn’t easy…and it doesn’t feel “pressing” at the moment.

Cultivating spiritual lives requires the same diligence and discipline as good farming. There are seasons of harvest but the greater efforts are put in where the work is less “glorious.” The field of evangelism is plowed in private seasons of prayer. The fields of patience, gentleness, and kindness (grace) are plowed in times of reflection on our own sin and God’s magnificent grace toward us in Salvation. The fields of obedience in discipling others are plowed long before in ones own submission, accountability, and discipleship by others.

The step of plowing may not seem glorious but it is necessary to experience an abundant harvest. The man or woman with no evangelistic fruit bear witness to the lack of diligence in prayer and preparation. A lack of patience demonstrates a lack of preparation by soaking in the meditative moments of reflection on God’s gracious kindness toward us.

Plowing is hard work. It is not glamorous. It does not bear immediate fruit; however, if one omits the step or procrastinates too long, he will be left begging at the time of harvest.

Choose today to plow the fields. Do the hard work now and trust in the harvest to come. God will bring a harvest because the harvest brings Him glory. John 15:8.

 

Just Kill the Snake

grass-snake-379025_960_720Two nights ago I woke up at around 330AM in one of those heart-racing states! A snake was after me! For days I had dealt with the snake. It made its way into a room (presumably in my house) and I had swatted at it. I locked it in the room. I knew where it was and it could not get to me…except for every time I had to go into the room. At some point I tried to kill it…but in true snake fashion, it survived to fight another day. It was still there. Then (fast-forward a few scenes), it escaped from the room and made its way to my bedroom. I saw it but was tired so I tried to forget it was there and just go back to sleep. But I was too focused on what the snake might be up to in order to really rest…so I laid there for a while thinking about the snake.

I lost a good hour of “real time” thinking about the snake in my dream. I never turned on the light. I never looked on the floor or under the covers. I simply thought about what might be. I should have just killed the snake!

Procrastination is a major hindrance for a lot of people. We have a difficult phone call to make. We have a tough meeting to schedule. Those tax receipts need to be gathered. So we push it aside and try not to think about it…knowing that the snake simply looms out there. The snake is still in the room!

Hey…go to the shed, grab the shovel open the door to the room where your snake is hiding. Kill it!

What’s true is that most things do not simply “go away” by ignoring them. They become harder to do. The more difficult they are to do or the more important they are, the more we think about them and the fact that they are left undone.

For me, that list of items can become LONG from time to time. Other days, I prioritize the items on a task list by significance and due date and simply churn through them. Today…identify what the snake is and where you left it. Grab a shovel and go to work. You’ll sleep better tonight.

 

The Christian Faith and Welcomed Conflict

open-bible 2“Since I became a believer, it seems I have struggles and conflicts like never before,” said a six-month believer to her pastor. She seemed surprised. The question is, “Why?”

Popular Christian “sales pitches” position a new life in Christ as the elixir that corrects all of life’s ailments. Struggling with ________? Give your life to Christ!

Dear friend, Jesus is the ANSWER to your QUESTION and He does provide a cure for your struggles; however, the cure may not look like what you imagined and your newfound faith will create far more conflict BY DESIGN than you ever imagined. Jesus told us that our connection to Him would incite conflict and division (Matt 10:34). How? Because our faith is at enmity with everything that by nature is opposed to God…including the fallen nature we continue to wrestle with in us! Paul spoke of it this way in Romans 7 when he acknowledged that the Law of God, now written on our hearts conflicts with the old nature (our allegiance to self) and thus a struggle ensues that only Jesus can settle. Our new nature illuminates the deficiencies and rebellion of our old nature. This brings CONFLICT rather than PEACE. Peace occurs as we lean into Jesus, forsaking our prior allegiance to self.

If one doesn’t struggle over rebellion toward God, the reason is that there is no new nature. The presence of conflict is an indication of the new nature and it is a clarion call to fight for holiness. This conflict extends beyond the internal battle of the will; it will affect personal relationships. As we embrace the disciplines that are necessary to honor our new nature, we will illuminate the deficiencies in those closest to us simply by our presence in their lives. Our responsibility is to do so with grace and without a spirit of judgmentalism while faithfully and humbly demonstrating and speaking truth.

The life of faith is one of war against our old nature and a battle for God’s fame which is seen when you and I help others experience a new life in Christ. We are not called to put a coat of paint on a lost person’s life but to tell them that Jesus lovingly desires for them to get a new life in Him.

At a point in our not so distant future, we will experience a resolve to the conflict of natures. When we are in His presence, all conflict will cease. Until then, embrace the conflict as part of God’s gracious plan for our holiness and His glory.

Why I will not see “The Shack.”

the-shack-182x300Many will invest fifteen or twenty dollars this weekend and over the weeks to come to go see Hollywood’s rendition of the best-selling novel, “The Shack.” Most things that happen in the culture at large pass by me without comment but the nature of this offering on the big screen has forced me into the discussion. My interest is “pastoral.” I do not hate books, movies, or believe that Christians should boycott everything not affirmed by some denominational headquarters. In fact, I generally recommend “critical exposure” to cultural phenomenon like “The Shack” so that believers can have an honest and meaningful dialogue with seekers who have questions.

Many in Christian circles have sought to position evangelistic campaigns around this movie. They see it as a conversation starter. For these, the movie will surface the problem with human pain and the benevolent nature of God who brings healing to human pain. So…what’s my “resistance” to such a benign offering?

A few people have asked me if I planned to see the movie. I do not. When the book was first published, I purchased a copy and read it critically, which is to say that I looked for the theological landmines to see if they outweighed the potential good in such a fictional work as this book. In my estimation, the latent theological assertions render this book (and I suspect, the movie) “dangerous” for the average reader or moviegoer.

WHAT? How can I make such a sweeping assertion? Three reasons:

  • Most readers lack theological discernment when it comes to such works. A 2010 article by the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler addresses this concern.
  • Many readers lack the theological foundation to even begin discerning truth from error. I am not speaking of a “Sunday School” knowledge here but am suggesting that if you have not taken time to understand Orthodox Christian Doctrines and why the church has consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed them, then you are highly susceptible to accepting the unorthodox suggestions in this book as foundational.
  • Many readers open the gateway of their minds by assuming the harmless nature of “fiction.” They do so, often times, to their detriment. There is an entire subculture of conspiracy theorists in our world. These are the folks who are convinced of the government’s involvement with Kennedy’s assassination, argue that helicopters and satellites observe and record everything, and have seen Nicolas Cage in”National Treasure” a dozen times and now believe in a secret society of knights that run the government as a shadow team working for the President. Though the suggestions in this movie, for instance, are baseless…they are accepted by those who like to say…”Well, maybe…who knows.”

For the viewer or reader with theological discernment…I find no real harm in the book. Just be critical. If you hear something that sounds foreign to your doctrinal foundation…find out WHY before you simply accept the proposition that “maybe” the Trinity is eternally submissive to One Another and to humanity. Listen carefully before merely accepting that God does not punish sin and merely allows sin to be its own punishment. Ask yourself, “Where is the author coming from? Why even undertake such a work? (This information is well-documented if you look for it.)

As for me, I’ll save my nickels for a movie with more substance and content…like the next release of the StarWars saga :). If you go and hear something that stretches your mind and want to know how it fits with Orthodox Christianity…give a shout. I’d enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to offer a perspective that may help bring clarity.

Light, The Cross, and Renewed Purpose

Light, The Cross, and Renewed Purpose

Symbols have served the church as powerful teaching tools for hundreds of years. Whether it was the Stations of the Cross, or the Gospel depicted in stained glass, pictures and symbols provide rich imagery that helps the gospel come alive in the minds of the parishioner.

This past week, several men in the church I serve put in the sweat equity to make such a symbol come alive for us. For a number of years, we have discussed how to get a new cross as a focal point in our church services. With limited budgets and no shortage of ideas, we set out to prayerfully consider how to best do so. We wanted to tie in our baptistry space. We wanted the cross to be prominent. We wanted to have something new but that reminded us of the free-standing cross we displayed in our worship space at many points of the year.

We discussed accent walls with stone, tile, murals…you name it. Then we landed on the current design. It seemed only fitting to explain a bit of what the different parts mean to us.

img_3480First is the cross. While we don’t worship the cross, it does bear theological prominence. We recognize that the cross is, by design, an instrument of death, but it is on the cross that our Lord and Savior bled and died to provide us eternal life (John 3:16). He completely satisfied the just penalty for our sins (1 John 2:2) when he died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago.

Furthermore, our cross is empty. It is empty because Jesus completed the substitutionary atonement and no longer has need to occupy the cross. We know that in some church traditions, Jesus is still visible on the cross. We reject this understanding because we believe that Christ’s atoning work has already been accomplished and does not need repeating.

In addition, our cross is stained, meaning that we did not wish to cover over the wood with paint to make it more attractive. The color one sees comes as wet stain soaked into the wooden cross, much the same way that the Lord’s blood stained the cross he was crucified on.

Additionally, there is a light behind the cross which reminds us that Christ came as light into the world (John 1:9). Light is powerful and enlightens man to see Christ through the darkness. Light always triumphs over darkness.

Finally, the cross is set against a backdrop of wood. This wood was created for a purpose and was then discarded. It is reclaimed “pallet wood.” The wood is imperfect.  No two pieces are exactly alike. Some still have splinters. Some still bear the holes where nails had previously been driven. Each piece was reclaimed from its discarded state to be fashioned to fit together with other discarded pieces until there was perfect coverage on the wall. Part of what made the wood useful again was the application of stain, just as with the cross.

In these pieces of reclaimed wood, we find a picture of ourselves as the church. We are all different. We were created for a purpose but due to our sin, we were suitable only to be discarded; that is, until Christ and the cross shone forth light into the darkness of our existence. Each of us were reclaimed and covered with stain that penetrated into us and revealed our character. Then, in the hands of a master craftsman, we were fashioned and placed back into service.

When you see the cross above our baptistry at Calvary, do not think that it is just another accent wall and religious decoration. It is, instead, a symbolic representation of reclaimed lives with renewed purpose because of a loving Savior, a Cross, and light shining into darkness.

I See You, But Do You See ME?

An incredible post by my precious wife. Read this today! If you love it, drop by her site http://www.jodiaiken.com and tell her!

Jodi Aiken

i-see-you-but-can-you-see-meHave you ever had life circumstances hit you hard? I have. A while back I was blindsided by some circumstances causing me to become emotionally unstable, stressed, and weary. My thoughts were confusing and irrational. The more I tried to think clearly, the more deeply I fell into despair. I prayed, journaled, spoke with others, cried, and exercised hoping for a reprieve. I believed Isaiah 26:3 to be true so I pressed in and rolled the words over and over in my mind, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” But instead, my thoughts were inconsistent. I felt like my world was falling apart.

Can you relate?

Have you ever been desperate for God to speak, “Peace, be still,” so that your circumstances would miraculously change for the better?

During one of those trying days, God used a simple penny and a…

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