"he won’t be angry with you"

“Not too long ago I conducted a funeral for the spouse of a very dear friend of mine. The spouse died of AIDS. My friend moved in a very fast crowd, and the funeral service in the home was quite informal. There was a keyboard artist playing jazz and plenty of booze and balloons. The people who came to the service were not the kind of people who are generally found sitting on the front row at the the First Church by the Gas Station. In fact most of the folks who were at the service had long since given up on religion. I could understand that. I’ve almost given up myself on several occasions. I went to the keyboard artist and said to him, “Son, when you finish this piece bring it to an end because I’m going to say something religious.” When he stopped playing and there was silence, I decided to follow Jesus’ example. He would probably (judging the report of the gospel writers who chronicled his life) be more comfortable with people like this than with the normal folks who attend normal funeral services. So, after saying a quick silent prayer, I said to the folks there: 

“I don’t do many funerals with balloons and booze. But it’s okay because that’s the way [my friend] would have wanted it. The balloons are appropriate because this is not a funeral service, it’s a graduation service. Our friend isn’t here. She’s in another place where there isn’t any more pain. She’s in heaven, and I’m going to tell you why.” 

I told them about the people Jesus loved. I told them that their friend wasn’t in heaven because she was a ‘good’ person (they knew better than that) but because she knew she wasn’t and had turned to One who loved her enough to die on a cross in her place. 

“I’m here. I went on, “for only one reason. You needed someone to tell you the truth. I’m just one bad person telling other bad people the most important thing you will ever hear: God is God, and you should remember that. But if you go to him, he won’t be angry with you. In fact, he’ll love you. Our friend found that out, and we wanted to make sure you knew.”

As I looked around the room, there was hardly a dry eye. I didn’t have to tell them they were guilty. At least they had that right. They needed someone to tell them about a God who would love them and forgive them if they would only go to him.

Steve Brown, Approaching God

Is the Church Reaching Generation OMG?

Kenda Creasy Dean’s lecture begins at about the 7:20 minute mark. If you have youth or are working with them in the church, pay attention.

Is the Church Reaching Generation OMG?

Kenda Creasy Dean’s lecture begins at about the 7:20 minute mark. If you have youth or are working with them in the church, pay attention.

Is the Church Reaching Generation OMG? was originally published on Grace Presbyterian Church

Blessed are the Peacemakers

This article will be posted in Thursday’s Kernersville News under the Words to Live By Column.

Recently, I’ve been attending a weekly seminar on conflict resolution and mediation or as the Bible would call it, peacemaking. I know you’re thinking, “Why would a pastor need training on that? The church is full of peace-loving congregants and wholesome marriages.” Indeed, study after study show that the church fares no better than the world in scandal, conflict, and divorce. For many this is confirming evidence that Christianity is no different than any other religion and that being a Christian doesn’t work. I know it looks discouraging, but in reality we shouldn’t be surprised. We know full well that the church is full of sinners—the same may be said of most of her pulpits. As I’ve sat through this class there are three things that have jumped out at me which I’d like to share.

Firstly, conflict offers us an opportunity. Relational conflict provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the power of the gospel and to glorify God. As the offended and injured forgive and as the offender and sinner repents the categorical distinction between those who believe and those who don’t is delineated. In the humility of obedience as we engage with those with whom we have conflict or as we step in to mediate, we exemplify the ministry of Jesus Christ who has given us this ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking. Jesus himself says that peacemakers will be called the sons of God. In making peace, not in avoiding conflict, do we show ourselves to be His children.

Secondly, our ability to forgive is directly proportional to our apprehension of the forgiveness we have received. Jesus himself taught us this when he said to Simon the Pharisee, “He who has been forgiven much loves much”. The conclusion we may draw from this is that unforgiving people do not believe they have been forgiven. And that may be in two ways: either the unforgiving person is proud and self-righteous or the unforgiving person is ashamed and self-contemptuous. In both cases contempt is present. As one pastor has said, “Either it’s I hate thee, or I hate me”. The presence of contempt in any relationship is the most common indicator that the relationship will not last. Surprising enough, we don’t stick it out with people we perceive hate us. However, when a person who has offended sees love and compassion in the face of the person they have offended, a wall of hardness and fear crumbles and a breakthrough happens. Regardless of what situation you face, do you have full-confidence that if you look to Jesus, you will see compassion, love, and forgiveness? Sadly many of us don’t, and many of us profess to be Christian.

Lastly, if we bear the grudge and or allow the bitter root to grow in our hearts, it will destroy us. Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, notes, that “unforgiveness is the poison we drink in hope that others die”. Sadly, too many people are in bondage to the compounded effects of shame, contempt, resentment, and regret. Though the road to reconciliation and restitution may be a long journey, the way out of the maze of despair begins first with looking to and trusting the One who paid our debt – who stood in our place before the judge and bore the condemnation we should have received. In His face, we see mercy and love, and the wealth of that resource is sufficient for every need.

10 Things I always seem to see while counseling couples

I always seem to end up sharing these ideas with couples I am counseling whether they have been married a long time and have gotten into a difficult spot or they are an engaged couple preparing for marriage. These are simple propositions without qualification. Though they are not laws, they do seem to be reasonable generalizations.

  1. Every woman I have counseled longs to rest in the arms of a strong man. This is a longing for security. In this longing are deep issues of identity and meaning.
  2. No man I have counseled wants to rest in the arms of a strong woman. Rather he wants to have the sort of arms in which a woman might rest. This is a longing for significance. In this longing are deep issues of identity and meaning.
  3. The wife does not feel secure because her husband has a good job and provides lots of stuff. She feels most secure when her husband is present, direct, and engaged.
  4. The husband feels most significant by what he sacrifices for his family and provides for his family.
  5. When relational intimacy (emotional and physical) breaks down because of conflict, the conflict is confounded by the fact that the wife does not feel secure (You don’t seem to cherish me; I don’t think you love me) and the husband does not feel significant (What do you mean I don’t love you? I work a job I hate everyday for you). The conflict escalates because each partner’s longing for either security or significance is threatened. Oftentimes each is asking questions about their own issues rather than addressing the other’s longing. The husband is distant and aloof. The wife feels disconnected and unsafe. The husband senses her distance and caution, and his longing for significance is threatened. The argument escalates when the husband grows angry that the wife doesn’t see his sacrifice or doesn’t feel safe. As anger escalates, the wife increasingly does not feel safe and pulls away. The husband gets angrier. On and on this cycle escalates until someone pushes the “thermonuclear self-destruct button”. Couples should work to see the other’s longing and address the question each is asking. The wife is asking, “Do you love me? Do you cherish me?” The husband is asking, “Do you see my sacrifice for you? Do you feel safe?”
  6. The husband’s fear that he is insignificant is oftentimes lurking behind arguments about money and sex.
  7. The wife’s fear that she is unsafe is oftentimes lurking behind arguments about sex and money.
  8. The wife should recognize and acknowledge the sacrifice the husband makes without expecting less from him.
  9. The husband should recognize that his ability to provide is not what his wife wants most, but rather this is what he wants to be for her. He should continue to sacrifice but not at the expense of being present with his wife.
  10. Husbands, it is not enough for you to have told your wife you loved her when you married her. When you vowed to love, honor, and cherish, you promised to continually be telling her you love her. USE. YOUR. WORDS. She needs to hear you tell her love her and why you love her. Set your heart on her by telling her and talking with her.

The Agenda of Seminary

Dr. Richard Pratt was asked to comment on what he would change about seminary by the Gospel Coalition. You can read the whole article here. Incidentally, I had another friend who was told by his mentor who, upon hearing that he was going to seminary warned: You’ll loose all your courage, and It takes ten years to get over seminary. Here’s what Richard had to say…

If I were king and could wave my magical scepter, I would radically change the basic agenda of seminary.

After 22 years of teaching in a seminary, I slowly began to realize something. We were not preparing the kinds of leaders that evangelical churches in North America need. Let’s face it; evangelicalism has seen better days. God is at work in many places and in many ways, but on the whole, the news is not good. Our numbers are dwindling; our theology is unraveling; our zeal for Christ is dissipating. Now more than ever, we need seminaries to give the church leaders who are empowered by the Spirit for radical, sacrificial devotion to Christ and his kingdom. And they’d better do it quickly.

I was recently in China, talking with the president of a house church network of more than 1 million people. He asked me for advice on preparing the next generation of pastors. I looked at him and said, “The only thing I know is what you should not do.” He smiled and asked, “What’s that?” My reply surprised him. “You should not do what we have done in the West. The results of that approach have become clear.”

The agenda of evangelical seminaries is set primarily by scholars. Professors decide how students will spend their time; they determine students’ priorities; they set the pace. And guess what. Scholars’ agenda seldom match the needs of the church.

Can you imagine what kind of soldiers our nation would have if basic training amounted to reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers, and taking exams? We’d have dead soldiers. The first time a bullet wizzed past their heads on the battlefield, they’d panic. The first explosion they saw would send them running. So, what is basic training for the military? Recruits learn the information they need to know, but this is a relatively small part of their preparation. Most of basic training is devoted to supervised battle simulation. Recruits are put through harrowing emotional and physical stress. They crawl under live bullet fire. They practice hand to hand combat.

If I could wave a magic scepter and change seminary today, I’d turn it into a grueling physical and spiritual experience. I’d find ways to reach academic goals more quickly and effectively and then devote most of the curriculum to supervised battle simulation. I’d put students through endless hours of hands-on service to the sick and dying, physically dangerous evangelism, frequent preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and days on end of fasting and prayer. Seminary would either make them or break them.

Do you know what would happen? Very few young men would want to attend. Only those who had been called by God would subject themselves to this kind of seminary. Yet they would be recruits for kingdom service, not mere students. They would be ready for the battle of gospel ministry.

A Shrinking Condundrum

An Associated Press article which came out this week entitled, 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s the conundrum Protestant denominations with declining memberships and shrinking budgets are desperate to solve: How to stem the decades-long losses and attract new worshippers.
The United Methodist Church, the third largest denomination in the country, thinks it could be closer to finding the answer. It commissioned an ambitious survey of nearly all its 33,000 U.S. churches to find out what its growing memberships are doing to keep congregations thriving.
Of those churches, the four key factors of vitality stood out as “crystal clear findings that are actionable,” according to the survey:
_ Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.
_ An active lay leadership.
_ Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.
_ A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.