Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.

On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.

My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”

 

That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.

Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.

58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.

“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”

A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.

“In your light do we see light.”

I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.

This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.

Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

 

In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.

 

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”

Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.

I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.

“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

F.W. Boreham

Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.

Originally posted December 14, 2016


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Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1

Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1

Today, I am going to share the philosophy of ministry I have the privilege of leading.

Preface: This post begins a series intended to help other church leaders understand the way we do ministry within Local Outreach at Christ Chapel Bible Church. This is not the ‘only way’ but ‘one way’ to approach ministry. I’m not stating that there is one right way to do ministry. Context is important.  You will adapt ministry to serve in your context. We’ll get into some of the theology and why I believe every church should have a robust community outreach in later posts.  I have tried many things an failed and I’ve made plenty of mistakes.  My hope is that you will see this as a starting point on a journey.

There must be a philosophy of ministry undergirding mission; in this case, community outreach.

 

A bit of background:

I’ve been on staff at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas for three and a half years. Perviously, I was doing my own thing in the wealth management and insurance industries until I received a call from the executive pastor at my church. He was convinced that I was the next Local Outreach Pastor. After three months of wrestling, one early morning God made it crystal clear, he had called into full-time ministry. That said, I continue to have a deep appreciation for business done well and the entrepreneurial spirit. I love visiting with business owners and entrepreneurs. I believe that ministry could use more business acumen and business could use more ministry acumen.

The Local Outreach Ministry (I also refer to it as ‘Local Missions’) at Christ Chapel existed for decades before I took the helm in 2014. The ministry has grown and evolved as the church has grown from a couple dozen folks to nearly 7,000 attendees, two campuses and over 1500 folks streaming every Sunday.  A solid foundation had been laid by others prior to my arrival.  I am so thankful for their work.  It is a privilege to build upon it.  I pray that I pass the baton well.

We refer to Christ Chapel as a ‘church without walls’. This means we believe we must move out of the confines of church buildings and into the surrounding community to serve and share the love of Jesus Christ.

We believe that church staff exists ‘to equip the the saints for the work of the ministry…’ (Ephesian 4:12a). My role as Local Outreach Pastor is NOT to do everything myself. My role is to equip our people and give away the ministry. Then, I get behind lay-leaders (volunteers) and support them in their work.

One person is limited to he or she can accomplish in a day alone.

But, many ministry leaders work as if everything depends on them.  This form of ministry is exhausting and prideful. Little wonder pastors suffer from burnout and leave ministry. It’s unbiblical for one man or woman to do ALL the work. At the moment Jesus called his first disciple to ‘follow me’, he began giving away the ministry. Jesus provided the New Testament model and philosophy of ministry. We are called to give it away.

I was taught at an early age to surround myself with people who are smarter and have more talent than I have. You don’t have to know everything to lead. It’s a good thing if someone else has more passion for the poor or serving children or single moms than you do. It’s a good thing if someone knows more about homelessness or prison ministry than you do! God has placed those desires in their hearts and they have gifts you don’t have.

It is the pastor’s responsibility to celebrate that passion and talent and then provide opportunities for those people to express it.

In Genesis 2:19, God delegated responsibility and limited authority to man in naming things in the created world. God has been about giving it away since the beginning.

As pastors and leaders, we are not God. So, we can’t do everything ourselves. God has always modeled giving away (or delegating) responsibility and authority. So should we.


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Are you a person of peace?

Are you a person of peace?

There are two kinds of people in this world.

People of Peace and People of Strife.

The question we must ask ourselves is: ‘which one am I?’

Everyday, you have a choice as to which you will be.

Gut check questions:

  • Are you fascinated by strife and discord?
  • Do you become consumed and inflamed by conflict and violence?
  • Do the pattern of your thoughts reflect a thirst for forms of entertainment that portray strife, distrust, envy, violence and conflict?
  • Or, do strive and violence make you sick and sad to your core?

FW Boreham says strife has entered into and permeated every department of life.  It affects society in general. On every hand, in a million different forms- we meet rivalry, suspicion and distrust. We see class contending with class: the rich oppressing the poor; the poor breathing maledictions on the rich. Petty jealousy mars the sweetness of every friendship; it stultifies the efficiency of every organization; and, entering our very churches, it disturbs and destroys that abiding unity that should be their most conspicuous charm.” The seventh Beatitude extends an olive branch…. “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God” One does not need to be a ‘Christian’ to understand Jesus’s teaching here. The peacemaker is a lover of peace and works to preserve peace. “The sounds of strife and discord are an agony to his spirit.” says Boreham. Like a rose exhaling it’s fragrance is an involuntary expression of its nature, the peacemaker exudes a spirit of peace without even realizing.

I challenge you to work to become a peacemaker.

  • Work not to offend others.
  • Work on not taking offense.
  • Work to extend an olive branch of peace to another (this is risky).

In order to change the climate of discourse, we must become people of peace (even when discord is the predominate noise).

God vs. the NSA – The ways of man cannot be hidden

God vs. the NSA – The ways of man cannot be hidden

Last night, I found myself reading about the Edward Snowden. He is the NSA guy who broke the news that the US Government has been gathering massive amounts of electronic data on US citizens. Snowden has currently found asylum in Russia. I find the unfolding story intriguing. Everything from phone calls and emails to text messages and other forms of private communication have been swept into NSA data bases. Suffice to say, the NSA knows a lot about millions of Americans. It got me to thinking this morning after reading Proverbs 8.

“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings.” (Proverbs 8:18 KJV)

Not only are the actions and deeds of a man (or woman) known by God but, God knows a man’s thoughts and motives. Nothing can be hidden from God.

We are prone to hide anyway. Whether it is the tantalizing lustful fantasy or desire of a sexual nature or pride wrapped in the robes of radiant humility, ALL is known by God.

Perhaps its the good deed done in hopes of recognition by the world? ALL is known by God.

Only the regenerate, reborn, remade, redeemed heart can be pricked by the blade of the Holy Spirit; capturing and dragging the motivation in chains to the cross. This is where Christ puts it to death and renews a man’s spirit with His Grace and love.

The rebellious unregenerate heart will be ruled by passions and motivations.

In the final analysis, a man has a choice. He can remain in bondage to a cycle of base impulses like sex and self. Alternatively, he can capture his thoughts and put them to death and freedom is achieved.

What are the characteristics of the thoughts running through your mind?
The answer will reveal whether you are in bondage or freedom.

While you may be able to hide from the NSA, the ways of man cannot be hidden from God.  ALL is known by God.

By This We Know Love

By This We Know Love

When someone says, ‘I’m a Christian’ the first thing I look for is evidence of love. Let’s talk about what we mean when we use the word ‘Love’.

‘Love’ is a blanket term describing a variety of things spanning from sexual love to commitment to pleasure in someone or something. I ‘love’ ice cream and I also ‘love’ my wife… What’s the difference?

In Greek, there are four words used to describe what we call ‘love’. I appreciate the Greek because the words are rich in meaning and contain dimensions our English word ‘love’ simply does not contain.

Love rendered in Greek… simply.

  • Storge means the love or affection of family (parent and children)
  • Philia means affection between friends or equals. Think brotherly love (Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love)
  • Eros means sexual or romantic love. This is where we get the word, ‘erotic.’

‘Agape’ love is the highest form of love. Agape love is a sacrificial love and is an act of the will. Meaning, this love is a choice and has a cost. This love delights in its object and is sacrificial in its essence. Let me clarify. Agape love does not mean total acceptance of acceptance of bad behavior or choices. I can love you and absolutely disagree with you at the same time.

So how do we recognize ‘agape’ love?

Look for the sacrifice. Which means humility and an act of the will will be involved. It will be an abiding affection, delight and commitment by the one expressing it.  The value I place on the object of my love is directly linked to what I’m willing to sacrifice.  The higher the cost, the greater the love.  How can I find delight in sacrificing ourselves? Great question!

Here is the hard part of understanding ‘agape’ love. Agape love must come from outside one’s self. Other affections are self-manufactured and may have self-gratification undergirding them. Meaning that other ‘lower’ forms of love can have selfish motivations driving them. Only agape is completely SELFLESS.

The Evidence of abiding faith in Jesus Christ is love ‘in deed and in truth.”

This love is the pinnacle of love expressed as ‘agape’ love – sacrificial love.

With this love there is a cost involved.

With this love there is a choice – an act of the will.

This ‘agape’ love must come from outside ourselves.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down out lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16).

There will be a cost…. there will be a sacrifice with this love.

Humility Matters

Humility Matters

If you could listen to others describe you, do you think they would say that you are ‘humble’?

I’m certain people would not describe me as ‘humble’. I’m a lot of things but ‘humble’ is not on of them. However, that does not mean I give up on humility. By no means!  Humility is something we can strive for and cultivate.

We live in a culture that places a higher value on personality over humility. As a whole, the leaders we look to demonstrate strong personality traits over strong character traits like humility. I think we’ve lost our way. Perhaps its time for us to recalibrate and course correct as a people.

Humility matters because it truly puts others before one’s self. True humility crosses all dividing lines of race, sex, nationality, etc.

Where do we find this model of humility? Who is the humble hero of our age? We’ve fallen for the lure of big personalities and they let us down. Jim Collins describes humility as a major factor in successful leadership in his book ‘Good to Great’. Conversely, Collins describes ‘Hubris’ (pride) as a major factor in failure in his book, ‘How the Mighty Fall.

Like most things in life, we learn through the demonstration of others. I learned to open doors for others by seeing my dad open doors for others. I learned how to add and subtract by watching my teacher. At some point we must take what we have learned and apply it.

In his book, ‘Humility: True Greatness’, C.L. Mahaney describes humility “as an honest assessment of ourselves in light of God’s Holiness and our sinfulness”. We must have a point of reference on which to base and measure humility. God is the reference point. Jesus Christ is the map that shows us the way to humility.

What does true humility look like?
It looks like Jesus.

Read the passage below.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Read it again and focus on the bold.

Humility Matters because true humility stands champion over personality and other ‘character’ traits! If you and I are constantly putting our own interests and rights aside for one another there is no room for hatred or divisiveness. How can I hate someone who I’m willing to set my life aside for or who has set their life aside for me?

We’ve tried following personality. It doesn’t work! Maybe its time to follow humility.

Let’s look at the my original question but one month down the road.

ONE month from now, If you could listen to others describe you, do you think they would say that you are ‘humble’?

The truth is, #HumilityMatters and deep in your heart you know it.