Getting UnBusy

BECOMING UNBUSY

I hate the word ‘busy’. I hate it with growing fervor. I hate that it is the sacred, unassailable and unquestioned excuse our culture uses to avoid events and people. I hate how it is used to flatter, to express sympathy and to keep relationships on a superficial level.

I also hate how everyone is ‘so busy’ yet little of consequence ever seems to get done. What is really getting accomplished in our frenetic hustle? Have we eliminated poverty or found a cure for cancer? Or have we simply succeeded in maintaining the economic engine of our society – mindless consumption?

I hate the cultural norms that excuse employees for checking Facebook or ESPN at work and then sympathizes with their “heavy workload” that keeps them from riding bikes or playing in the dirt with their kids. I hate that over half of the meals in America are eaten in cars or in front of a TV screen.

I am on a crusade against busyness. I realize that I run the risk of offending a lot of people because I am attacking one of our most cherished idols, the one we sacrifice our lives and families to, but I believe the risk is worth it. There is a better way of living that is more satisfying, more productive and more enjoyable.

MY STORY

Burned out Pastors

The first year I pastored was tumultuous. I had no previous experience pastoring or leading an organization and it was everything I could do to keep from drowning. A whole lot of things went undone that first year because I didn’t yet have the capacity to manage it all.  My days were hectic and scattered. I never felt that I accomplished anything or that I was on top of my workload. In the worst moments I fantasized about quitting and sympathized with the estimated 1,700 pastors who quit the ministry every month. (By the way, that statistic isn’t true – it is urban legend. However, that first year of pastoring made it all too believable.)

On top of it all, that same year, two Pastors whom I highly respect went through terrible health issues and burn out. Each Pastor was a veteran saint who had spent decades building his congregation. Each was lauded by their respective city and denomination as a model Pastor and church, the kind wet-behind-the-ears-whipper-snappers like me were supposed to emulate. However, I had a very privileged view into the lives of these men and their congregations and I saw what pushing for growth cost them personally and professionally.

No Thank You

Because I got to see the terrible effects of burn out first hand, I had absolutely no desire to pursue the kind of ministry they had mastered during my lifetime. If building a “successful” church meant that I had to be a driven, Type A workaholic who demanded much from myself and more from others and resulted in a mental/physical/spiritual/social breakdown then I didn’t want it. I’d rather be happy and healthy instead. Thus, the name of this blog, “The Happy Pastor” was born. My intent at the beginning of this blog was to scour the internet and accumulated wisdom of the ages to see if their was a better model of pastoring. My focus has shifted since then, but that was the genesis of this site.

Lifeline

In one of my darkest times, when my fantasy of quitting was about to become a reality, my friend Marty made me aware of a book by Eugene Peterson called The Contemplative Pastor. I was familiar with Peterson’s name from The Message, but I hadn’t read any of his work. Based on Marty’s recommendation I picked it up.

To say The Contemplative Pastor was life changing wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. It came at a critical time in my life and career and has formed me in more ways than I know. I have yet to put it into practice in all the ways I would like, but I return to it again and again as a model for the kind of Pastor I want to be.

Peterson’s manifesto includes three adjectives he uses to describe pastoring and he develops each in turn. The three adjectives Peterson applies to Pastors are: unbusy (hence the name of this post), subversive and apocalyptic. I’ll only deal with the first here, but the others are worth exploring at another time.

THE UNBUSY PASTOR

There are so many good quotes it is hard to choose, but perhaps the most salient is the following:

“THE ONE piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket basket is the letter addressed to the “busy pastor.”

Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me. I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it’s used to flatter and express sympathy.

“The poor man,” we say. “He’s so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Kindle Edition.

Peterson continues to rail against our “blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him,” but much of the above section can readily apply to all of us, not just pastors.

REASONS FOR BUSYNESS

Peterson also identifies several reasons for busyness. I have drilled down a little deeper and offer you my own take on why it is so easy, even rewarding, to be busy.

Pride

American culture idolizes busyness. Busyness is a status symbol, a way of showing our importance. A full calendar tells us, and all who will take notice, that we are important, vital, highly sought after. Our understanding of economics supports this. A commodity with little supply and huge demand is far more costly than one with a large supply and little demand – therefore, limited time because of endless demands means I am valuable.

We use busyness as a badge of honor, a way of reminding ourselves that we are essential lynchpins in the mechanism of society. I’ve known people who refuse to take vacations because they are so certain they are the only ones who can do their jobs and that the company would fall apart without them. Their job security rests on them being the only one capable of doing certain things. Then they get sick and (horror of horrors!) life goes on without them.

None of us are irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean we are just widgets or cogs in the wheel a la Henry Ford. Rather, it means that the world will adapt to our absence with little to no side effects. We aren’t nearly so important as we think. I find this intensely liberating because it means emails, text messages and voicemails can wait – people really can solve their own problems.

Impotence

I also find myself being busy when I can’t say no. Especially in Christian circles we confuse powerlessness with holiness. The inability to say no, the constant devaluing of our own needs for the sake of others, the lifestyle of being constantly on the go yet never getting anything done – this is not what God intended and it is not a sign of maturity.

One of the most liberating books I have read in the past year is Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk (seriously, go get it) because Silk does an outstanding job of explaining what it means to be a powerful person. It isn’t holy to live without boundaries, it isn’t healthy or God-honoring to never say ‘no’ or to give people unlimited access to your heart, home and time. This was a serious battle for me. I’m a bleeding heart and want to help, but without boundaries I will bleed out.

Jesus said to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like I need to love myself before I can love my neighbor. If I don’t love myself, care for myself, value myself, nourish myself, shepherd myself, or protect myself then I am simply unable to do that for others. But the Religious Spirit in America says “No! You must give and give. To say ‘no’ to others is selfish. You are a servant, you are supposed to give, you are supposed to be last.” I don’t even try to argue with this anymore, I just douse them with holy water and say “Be gone in Jesus’ Name!” Not really, but I want to. I’ve never found myself able to convince someone to value themselves when this is their mindset. They either have to burn out and learn it the hard way or Holy Spirit has to make it real to them – I can only step aside and pray after I’ve spoken to them.

Fear

Finally, some of us are busy because we are absolutely terrified of being alone. If we ever have a moment of unoccupied time it seems like all of the monsters start crawling out of the closet and from under the bed. In a desperate attempt to keep from thinking or processing at a deeper level, we pursue busyness with a vengeance, even taking our smart phones with us to the bathroom so we can read or play a game. Boredom is the enemy we are determined to conquer.

This has always been the case for humanity. In times past it was movies, newspapers, books or work. We have always been afraid to be with ourselves and run the risk of recognizing how shallow and insignificant our lives really are. Perhaps that is why Christians have so long recommended the Disciplines of Solitude and Silence and means to spiritual growth. Confronting our demons, our insignificance and our impotence is, surprisingly, the only way to actually influence the world and accomplish anything of worth. Solitude and Silence is hard work and strong medicine, but it has helped to make sinners into saints for centuries.

CLARIFICATIONS

Now, before I go on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I am not advocating that you quit your job, cancel all your appointments and activities and go be a monk. I’m also not saying that you can’t have fun, enroll your kids in enrichment activities or have a full schedule.

What I am saying is that busyness is a quality of the soul. Busyness is when our minds are distracted, our energy dispersed and we are unable to be present to the world around us. Busyness is when we cannot listen to another human being because our lunch hour is up or we’re preoccupied with the seven other things on our To Do List. Busyness is being self-consumed, totally cut off from communion with God and fellowship with others. What I am advocating for in my crusade against busyness is primarily a change in mindset that will overflow into a change in our schedules.

THE GOALS OF BECOMING UNBUSY

Being Present

I get having a full schedule, I have my day planned from 5am to 10pm every day of the week. But because I have a plan and have dedicated myself to the hard work of being a powerful person, I am not busy. I certainly have things to do, but I’m not busy. My schedule allows me to be fully present wherever I am and whatever I’m doing because I know everything has a time and a place. I find it difficult to describe how liberating it is to enjoy a nap guilt free because you know your work is going to get done.

Even more valuable, as I go about my day and work I find myself better able to talk with God because my mind isn’t cluttered with multitudes of projects and ideas. When I go shopping I carry a list which frees me from trying to remember things and also frees me to pay more attention to the people around me. I find myself praying more and asking God better questions. It is really quite fascinating to see how taking care of myself allows me to take better care of others.

Living on Mission

And that brings me to the main point of this post. Busyness distracts us from our proper work as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We are called to be salt, light and leaven to the world around us. We are called to give to others the unhindered flow life which flows in to us from God. We are called to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the character and nature of God and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded us. We can’t do that when we are busy.

Seeing people and having compassion on them requires a presence of soul that is rarely found in the world today. The ability to listen is in short supply and those able to speak words of life even more so. Getting unbusy is the first step in making ourselves available to God so that he can use us to advance his Kingdom.

Once again, I’m not saying you need to quit your job or the activities you love. Instead, I’m suggesting that if we are going to truly live into our calling to make disciples then we will need to learn how to be powerful people who take control of our schedules and who fight against the cultural norms imposed upon us. We need to reject the notion that our worth comes from our busyness and we need to learn to be alone with ourselves. In doing so, we open ourselves to the possibility of God speaking to us and moving through us.

So, by all means, take your daughter to dance class or football practice, but while you’re there, please stay off of your phone. Sit by yourself and pray or start asking God to speak to you about the other parents present. Strike up a conversation – invite them to your home group – who knows what will happen?

Good Soil

Last week, Bill taught on the parable of the Good Soil out of Luke 8. I thought it was good enough to revisit this week. Here are my notes from yesterday, including 7 disciplines for keeping your heart soft and receptive towards Jesus.

Preparing My Heart to be Good Soil

Being receptive to God’s Word and bearing fruit are our top priorities as followers of Jesus. We want to be good soil. We do not want to be hard or calloused to God’s word, nor do we want to let the things of this world (anxiety, the love of money) choke out the life of Christ in us.
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” John 15:8

Fruit is:

  • A transformed life that manifests the character attributes of Jesus described in Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
  • Making disciples by proclaiming and demonstrating the Good News of Jesus’s death, resurrection and soon coming Kingdom.
  • Loving God as our top priority and loving others with the same sort of sacrificial love with which Jesus loved us.
  • Cleaning up your messes and Keeping Your Love On

Unless we deliberately choose to cultivate our hearts as good soil, we will default to oneof the other three types Jesus described in the parable:

(1) We will ignore God’s Word because we are hard hearted towards God and/or have no hunger for him.

(2) We will initially respond to the Gospel with joy, but only because we think it is a quick road to health and/or wealth. When persecution and hardship arise, our motivation to follow God quickly diminishes.

(3) We really want to follow God, but we keep getting distracted. Our family, our career, the love of money or other anxieties keep us from being as fully devoted to Jesus as we need to be in order to mature. 

Fighting our natural tendency towards apathy and lethargy requires discipline – which is where the word disciple comes from. The following disciplines have an amazingly disproportionate return for the time they require:

Seven Disciplines for Cultivating Good Soil

(1) Personal Private Worship – Worship God in your home (or office) on your own time, by yourself, being as expressive/creative as necessary. Worshipping together as a community is great, but it won’t have the same transformative effect. Do whatever works for you, but do it with the intent of worshipping God and connecting with him.

(2) Prayer – Pray the Lord’s Prayer or any of the Psalms in your own words. Using that as a template, expand or contract your prayers accordingly. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray in the plural – so prayer isn’t just about you; it is also about your family, congregation, city, state and nation. Pray through a list of the people you love. Journal your prayers. Prayer is primarily about finding out what God thinks about something and then agreeing with it. Prayer is secondarily about expressing your feelings and needs and finding God in the midst of them. 

(3) Bible Study – How healthy do you think you would be if you only ate one meal every week? That is how your soul feels if your only time spent in God’s Word is on Sunday morning. The Bible’s primary intent is to reveal the nature of God. Read it with the hope of finding out more of who he is, not as a “To Do” list. 

(4) Fast – Our culture has an unhealthy obsession with food – health food and junk food alike. Your life is about more than food, what you eat or what you don’t. A regular practice of fasting helps free you from the stranglehold food has on many of us. Not eating for a day won’t kill you. Seek medical advice if you are on significant medications or are diabetic. Fasting once a week is a good place to start.

(5) Tithe – The love of money is deceitful and it can quickly become your master. We exert our authority over money by refusing to define our self-worth by our net-worth. We put that intention into action by giving money away and making it serve other people. There really is something special about tithing, giving 10% of your income back to God. Lesser amounts don’t do it. The tithe is supremely effective at freeing us from the love of money. You don’t tithe for God or the Church, you tithe for you. 

(6) Small Group – Most of us are way too busy – our most important commodity is our time. But do the things we are “so busy” with really matter? Often, our schedules are filled up with voluntary commitments and obligations, not vital projects necessary for our survival. Getting together with other believers, people who will likely become dear friends, reminds us that we are a community – a family – and that other things can wait. If your goal is to be good soil, you will need the strength, encouragement and refreshment that being with other Christians brings. 

(7) Rest – Take one day off each week and only do the things you love to do. Sleep in, relax, recreate. This has a way of uncluttering your life and helping you to determine what is really important in life. 

One Way to Put it All Together

Because tithing has been, and continues to be, such a huge part of my life (and because I like round numbers), here are the goals I shoot for:

  • A tenth of my day (2 hours 24 minutes) in worship, prayer and Bible study (I get up at 4am most days of the week to make this happen)
  • A tenth of my week (16.8 hours or roughly one day of being awake) resting, relaxing, recreating or otherwise spending time with my family.
  • A tenth of my month spent with other Christians doing life together (1-2 nights each week)
  • A tenth of my year in fasting (the first 3 days of each month, Lent or some other combination)
  • A tenth of my income to the congregation and another tenth to missions (the missions portion is because Dani and I want to. It isn’t required, it is just fun. :D)

Again, these are my goals. I think they are achievable by almost everyone, but you ultimately need to work out your own goals for yourself.

This plan is intended to war against the common idols of our culture: self-indulgance, the love of money, pride, busyness and self-sufficiency. 

The Heart Behind it All

All of this will just be legalistic nonsense if it isn’t done from the proper heart posture. We don’t embrace these postures hoping to be good soil so that we can earn Father’s approval – we already have it. We embrace this rigorous approach to discipleship because we want to be a home for Holy Spirit and we want to give the life of Jesus inside of us the best possible chance of growing and maturing and, thereby, transforming us and making us new. It all boils down to love – we love God and want to be more like him. We want to bear fruit and share the Good News. Please be careful about picking and choosing from this list, it is about as distilled as it can get. If we are serious about being open and receptive to God’s Word in our lives, we will need a comprehensive plan to war against our default tendency towards apathy, lethargy and distraction. 

Thanks for reading friends. 

Sabbath

I’ve written elsewhere about how Jesus interacted with different aspects of the Law. I’d like to revisit that topic and dig a little deeper into the issue of Sabbath, the day of rest, and how Jesus reinterpreted and revealed it.

A little history

We first encounter the idea of a day of rest in Genesis 2:2. After spending 6 days creating the world, God took a day off. He wasn’t tired, but he decided that a day spent leisurely enjoying his creation would be a good thing. God thought this was such a great idea that he blessed the seventh day, making it holy.

While it was God’s model to rest on the seventh day, we don’t have any indication that anyone observed it from Adam to Moses. The Patriarchs seemed to treat each weekday alike, though they did have a few festivals and holy days they observed. The Sabbath, as we know it, was codified by Moses in Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

After 400 years in slavery, working hard all day every day, God liberated his people. Sabbath was a deliverence of their souls as much as the exodus was a deliverence of their bodies. God commanded his people to celebrate freedom and to trust in his ability to provide. The Israelites were freed from having their identities wrapped up in how hard they worked or how much they could produce. They were forced to reckon with a God who provided for them abundantly – no longer were they living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck. Sabbath was a celebration of freedom and prosperity.

Sabbath is about rest and freedom

Sabbath was a gift God gave to his children and to everyone who was a part of the nation. No one could work on the Sabbath day – wives couldn’t cook or clean, slaves couldn’t serve, even animals had to stay in their stalls. Even foreigners in Israel were required to rest, they couldn’t buy or sell or conduct any business in the nation. 

Sabbath was intended to lead the nation of Israel into increasing freedom. It was supposed to help them enjoy God, his creation and one another. It was supposed to remind them of their captivity and how they had been set free. It was supposed to remind them that there are far more important things than earning a paycheck. Most importantly, Sabbath was supposed to get the people thinking about God — God didn’t need to rest after creating the world, he is Almighty after all, so why did he? Jesus gives us a hint – “sabbath was made for man,” Mark 2:27. Sabbath was God’s gift to humanity, to set us free, to keep our spirits alive and vibrant. But it quickly got turned into a tool to manipulate and control. The true meaning of Sabbath was lost and it became a dead ritual.

Sabbath is about setting other people free

In Luke 6, we see Jesus beautifully reinterpret Sabbath law in two instances.

First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a wheat field and the disciples, presumably hungry, pick some of the grains of wheat and eat them. This greatly offended the religious elite, for harvesting grain was forbidden on the sabbath. In turn, Jesus tells a story from 1 Samuel, when David was on the run and took the Bread of the Presence off of the altar and ate it. His point in sharing this story was to say that, if ever human need and religious observance collide, human need comes out on top. It doesn’t rightly represent God to let someone go hungry so that you can “follow the rules.” Jewish rabbis have often asked the question: If someone is drowning at the time of prayer, what do you do? You go and help that person – they need your help, God does not. Jesus stands in this tradition.

The second instance is when Jesus comes to synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand sitting there. Since it is illegal to do work on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders were watching Jesus to see what he would do. If he healed the man, he would be breaking the law and, therefore, could not possibly be from God.

Knowing their hearts, Jesus calls the man to the front of the room and asks the congregation a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus looks each person straight in the eye and proceeds to heal the man. The religious leaders are furious and begin to plot Jesus’s death.

Jesus says that doing good is lawful on the Sabbath. He also implies that not helping someone, when it is well within your power to do so, is evil. The reason for this is simple: Sabbath is about setting other people free – free from hurt, hunger, homelessness, oppression and injustice. Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah 58, reinterpretting Sabbath to mean freedom just as Isaiah reinterpreted fasting to mean justice. 

“Us” and “Our”

Jesus taught his disciples a radical understanding of community in the Disciple’s Prayer, he taught them to pray in the plural. “Our Father… give us today our daily bread…” In community, I can’t truly be full if someone else is hungry, I can’t really be warm if someone else is without clothing or shelter and I certainly can’t rest when  someone else is oppressed or enslaved. There is no “me/my” in Jesus’s model prayer, there is only “us/our” and the yearning to see God’s Kingdom manifest on the earth. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live with this wonderfully reinterpreted understanding of Sabbath. Should we each take a day off each week for leisure and enjoyment? Absolutely! We should also understand that Sabbath, setting people free from the tyranny of sin, sickness, demons, death and worldly systems of oppression, is a lifestyle to be engaged in every day, not just talked about once a week.

Jesus, our Lord, is Lord over the Sabbath. He is our Jubilee, the cancelation of our debts, the restoration of our inheritance and the power we need to overcome every work of the enemy. May God bless you with good success in your efforts to set people free this week.

Thanks for reading friends.

Kindness Leading to Repentance

Luke 5

I love the story in Luke 5 of Jesus, Peter and the miraculous catch of fish. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, please allow me to recap:

Jesus has become quite a popular teacher, so much so that crowds of people press around him, making it difficult for him to teach and for others to hear. One day, Jesus is walking by the lake and sees two fishing boats. He walks up to Simon Peter and asks him to row out a little from shore so that Jesus can teach the people without being crowded. Peter agrees, and after he is done teaching, Jesus says to Peter, “Row out a little further and put down your fishing net, you’re going to catch a great number of fish.” Now, Peter and his companions have been fishing all night and they were just cleaning up for the day when Jesus came up to them. A tired, cranky, mildly irritated Peter responds, “Look, your obviously not a fisherman. If you were, you’d know that the fish only come up to where we can catch them during the night. During the day they are too far down for our nets to reach. But I see that you are a teacher, a holy man, so because you say so, I will… again.” Sure enough, Peter catches enough fish that the net starts to break and the boat starts to sink. Peter’s response is absolutely priceless – “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Peter’s Response

Jesus doesn’t say anything about Peter’s character or behavior, Jesus doesn’t do anything but bless Peter with extravagent abundance. Jesus turned a fruitless evening into a bounteous affair. It is estimated that the number of fish they caught that day would have been the equivilent of two weeks worth of hard work. And here it is, almost jumping into their boat.

Peter could have expressed any number of emotions: elation, gratitude, joy. Instead, Peter is suddenly aware that he is in God’s crosshairs. He is moved to confess his sin, how he has fallen short.  God Almighty has turned his full attention onto Peter in order to bless him and he does so in the midst of Peter’s grumpiness. I think this is a timeless principle for evangelism and a beautiful representation of Father’s heart for his kids. 

God Delights in Showing Kindness and Compassion

Jesus chose to reveal to Peter our Father’s nature. He chose to show Peter how kind, gracious and good God was towards him. He chose to not call Peter out for his grumpiness and unbelief – instead, he chose to bless Peter in an extravagent and tangible way. And Peter, confronted with the goodness, kindness, and compassion of God, comes to a place of repentance. He realizes how far away he is from God and feels unworthy of this kind of Love. He understands that his life has not been lived in a way that honors God or responds to the Goodness he has been shown. Like Adam in the Garden, he wants to hide in guilt and shame from the Lover of his soul.

Kindness is part of who God is. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is something that we as Christians should exhibit in growing measure as we go from glory to glory, being conformed and transformed into the character of Christ. Showing kindness to people, genuine and extravagent kindness, is a powerful way of re-presenting our Father to this orphaned planet. The kindness I’m speaking of goes far beyond generic good deeds – they are inspired acts of love. They are extravagent and they are specific. They might looks like roses or prophetic words. They might pop into your head or they might take awhile to plan. Whatever they are, intentional and extravagent acts of love carry with them the power of God to open up hearts to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

I don’t want the kindness of God to be a secret we keep from the world. I want everyone, especially the people of my city, to understand that God is kind, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. I want them to know what is feels like to have God’s full attention fixed on them and to know that God isn’t angry with  them or disappointed in them. Instead, I want them to understand that He knows them AND loves them. I want them to know that they can’t escape from God’s goodness and mercy. I want them to be confronted with the outrageous extravagence of a God who loves them so much He was willing to die for them. That is the truth of who God is. It is Good News. They really should hear about it.

Center Set Thinking

In recent weeks I’ve stumbled back upon the notion of “Center Set Thinking.” It came as I was reading an article on the Blue Oceans website, you can find it here. The information I found pertinent is below:

Bounded Set VS Center Set Models

IMG_0135

Bounded sets are best pictured as circles. You’re either inside of them or outside of them. Centered sets are best pictured with a big dot on a page with lots of smaller dots. The issue there isn’t being inside or outside of anything. It’s motion. The big dot represents what holds the set together and the little dots are you, me, and everyone else. Are we moving towards the big dot or away from it?

As applied to following Jesus, the Bounded Set model is very dogmatic. You are in or out based on a certain set of behaviors. For instance, you become a Christian and are saved when you believe, say the Sinners Pray, and are baptized. Once you perform those behaviors, you cross over the line and are “in”. This certainty of being “in” is amazing comforting and stablizing. The downside is that it can lead to complacency because you are no longer concern with following Jesus because you assume he hasn’t moved.

In the Center Set Model, the only thing that matters is motion – are you moving towards Jesus or away from him? If you have attended a congregation for any length of time you have encountered people who are Christians according to the Bounded Set Model, but whose lives indicate that the direction of their hearts are pointed away from God. This is why repentance is such a huge deal. We must be constantly repenting, making course corrections, so that Jesus remains our goal.

I love the Center Set Model because it allows me to love and pastor people (without an agenda) who aren’t “Christians” but ARE Christ followers. The Center Set Model allows me to walk with impunity into the messiest circumstances and bring the Light and Love of Christ to bear. It doesn’t matter what sin is currently dominating someone’s life, if they turn their heart to follow Jesus then they are closer to him than someone sitting in church, but whose heart is disengaged or disinterested.

We have a few people who worship with us regularly who freely confess that they are not Christians and that they have doubts. I love that! I pray more people like that will join us, because even though they haven’t yet submitted their lives to Christ, they ARE following him. They want to know. They want to connect. And they are. God is working in each of their lives in tremendous ways, in large part, I think, because of their honesty.

Center Set thinking allows people to be in process. It allows people to be human, fragile, bold and courageous. It allows for freedom, doubt and miracles. A Center Set environment allows Holy Spirit to take a gangly group of sinners and transform them into little Christs, sons and daughters of God, through the power of Love. For the Word of the Lord is clear – He will wash us, He will cleanse us, He will present us to Himself radiant and spotless. Our job is to keep pursuing Him so that He can do His work and not keep running away because we think we’ve “made it.”

A word on belief and baptism
In no way to I mean to imply that belief and baptism are unimportant in our lives – they are essential ingredients in salvation. They are also just steps along the way of following Jesus, not hoops to jump through to get in the club. Getting baptized, confessing Jesus as Lord, and then living a life of rebellion will not save you, even though you fulfilled the “requirements”.

The idea of being “once saved, always saved” has done untold damage in the Church. It is totally possible to lose your salvation. It is totally possible to walk away from Jesus, even after having tasted of the Age to Come. For the Center Set mindset, this is no problem, because the issue isn’t “being in” so much as it is “getting close to Jesus”. Bounded Set people have real issues with the idea of losing salvation because they are looking for works to save them, not Jesus. If your aim is to passionately follow Jesus every day of your life you are in no danger of Hell, but if your aim is to do as little as possible and still make the cut, you are lost already, for you haven’t understood what Jesus came to do.

Being a Christian (following Christ) is about giving up everything that hinders us from loving Jesus fully and obeying him completely. It is about loving him and trusting that HE is the One who will save us, not our works or our theology. Amen.

Captives, Prisoners and the Year of Jubliee

God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.

I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,

“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.

Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.

Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.

Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.

Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.

We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.

I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.

In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.

More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’

I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.

It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.

Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.

It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.

Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.

Theology and Doxology

At a recent men’s retreat, my friend Adam said something that struck me in a powerful way. It has provided me with days of contemplation, serious conviction and a desire to live differently. His statement?

“When your theology exceeds your doxology you know you are in trouble.”

Now, since I haven’t been to seminary, I had to put it into plain-speak so I could understand it. Here is my best attempt at paraphrasing:

“When the depth of your knowledge exceeds the extravagance of your worship unbelief has taken root and you are on the verge of idolatry.”

Even the simplest and most basic truths of Christianity are glorious – the all-powerful God who created the Heavens and the Earth knows me, loves me and is interested in my life; where I was once destined for eternal torment I am now destined for eternal life because God took on flesh and died in my place; God Himself dwells inside of me and wants me to learn how to co-operate with Him to establish His rule and reign on the Earth… and I could go on and on.

Pick any one of those truths and really think about what it means – it is almost beyond our comprehension, yet it is absolutely true. But I rarely live with any present awareness of those truths, most of the time those Realities roll off my heart without any discernible impact. If that isn’t sin, I don’t know what is.

You see, to know these truths and NOT worship reveals unbelief at some level. Somewhere along the line I have taken a truth, “God loves me” for instance, and built a case of unbelief against it. I have a whole case file of hurts, unanswered prayers and scenarios that could have played out better and I blame God for them. I listen more closely to the voice of the Accuser than the voice of my Lord and conclude that God is liar and He doesn’t really love me – for if He really loved me, then such and such wouldn’t have happened. By partnering with the Enemy through unbelief I allow him to rob me of knowing God’s love and the security that brings and I allow him to rob God of my worship of Him. In essence, I worship my past experiences rather than God. I believe they are more potent and more real than He is. That is called idolatry.

So my challenge, our challenge, is to set aside the case file and really enter in to belief. It is to trust God – who He is and what He says – and to understand that He is the only thing that is Really Real, Eternally Constant and Unshakable. Our challenge is to let God’s Word weigh most heavily on our hearts and allow it to propel us into worship. And, interestingly enough, worshiping God leads to new understanding of who He is and we get caught up in the virtuous cycle of delight – constantly worshipping and finding new reasons to worship.

I think all of us have room to grow in the expression and extravagance of our worship. There are something like 10 distinct words for ‘worship’ in the Bible. They span the range of falling prostrate on the ground, spinning in circles while shouting, raising up one’s hands, dancing wildly, and sitting in humble reverance. I was raised among the “frozen chosen”, so every one of those expressions sound terrifying to me except for the last one. Not terrifying because I don’t think God is worthy, terrifying because I wonder what people will think. Here again is idolatry. I value my reputation, my sense of propriety and my fear of man more than I value worshipping God to the extent He deserves. Damn it – I didn’t know my idolatry, unbelief and rebellion ran so deep.

There is part of me that fears what my congregation would look like if everyone cut loose in worship like I am proposing here. What would newcomers think? Does that even matter? Would people be so distracted by others that they wouldn’t be able to engage in worshipping God? Do I cater to anemic hearts or do I throw everyone in the deep end trusting that God will teach them how to walk on water in the midst of the storm? I don’t really have good answers to these questions, so if anyone reading this has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

What I do know is that it is time to dethrone my idol of self. My unbelief, my idolatry, my rebellion and my fear of man have to go. I have sworn my allegiance to Jesus, He is the only King I shall have. Dear Lord, please help me.

Theological Designations

“The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

My friend Marty recently blogged his way through Eugene Peterson’s (must read) book The Contemplative Pastor. In the course of his blogging, Marty posted an extended version of the quote above and offered his thoughts. Today, I thought I’d do the same because that quote has stuck in my brain for weeks and something that tenacious is a good indicator of Holy Spirit’s involvement.

Peterson articulates something I have known intuitively for a long time, but never had language for. “Sin” and “sinner” are theological terms, not moral ones. For that matter, “saint” is also a theological term and not a moral one. But we are so used to thinking in moral terms (sinner = bad and saint = good) that it requires a considerable amount of conscious effort to rid ourselves of the habit and think correctly about these ideas.

Peterson says, “‘Sinner’ means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgement.”

In the town where I live I encounter an overwhelming number of virtuous sinners. They live decent lives. They pay taxes and vote. They love their families and work hard. They are civically minded and engaged. And… they are sinners, because they refuse to submit to Jesus as their Lord (ultimate authority) and Savior (the only way to the Father – aka salvation). These very virtuous sinners aren’t falling apart at the seams – in fact, they are doing quite well by any moral, ethical or economic standard you choose. But they are spiritually impoverished for they live as enemies of God, His Kingdom and His Christ.

I’m really done with the evangelistic model of trying to convince people they are no-good, dirty, rotten sinners. I’m not convinced it is effective and it isn’t something I’ve been able to make myself do, so how can I expect the people I pastor to do it? So the question I have been asking myself is this – Is there a better way?

I believe there is.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he begins with a call, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Jesus then proceeds to demonstrate God’s power, rule and reign over all the created order – over sickness, disease and death, over natural elements and over demons. Each and every demonstration of God’s power was to drive home the message that God’s Kingdom was breaking in all around them and people had better decide whether to be for God and His King or against them. The decision to “be on God’s side” was shown by a transformed life – living as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and abiding by the laws of that land.

Much of Jesus’s message and ministry bypassed moral objections. His proclamation and demonstration showed (a) that God was very real and very powerful, (b) that God’s Kingdom was invading the sovereign territory of their experience and (c) that to submit to God and His Christ was life and to continue to remain in rebellion to God was death. Jesus’s evangelistic model didn’t rely on convincing people they were sinners or on convincing people how much their Father loved them – He simply modeled that God existed and was Good. After modeling the character of God and explaining what life in the Kingdom was like, Jesus let people make their own decisions.

I think we are called to do the same.

I think we are called to let people know what life in the Kingdom is like, according to the Bible. I think we are called to display and declare the character of our King. I think we are called to proclaim and demonstrate that God is and that God is Good.

I know of no better way to do that than what we in the Vineyard call “Power Evangelism,” that is – using the gifts of the Spirit to provide an unbeliever with a God encounter. It might be prophecy, healing or a supernaturally empowered act of compassion – but whatever it is, it lets that person know that God sees them, knows them, loves them and wants them.

Once people have encountered God, their hearts are open to receiving the Gospel message. It is at this point that a clear, concise and rational presentation of the Gospel is in order. Power evangelism is never anti-rational, it is super-rational, that is, it is rational and experiential and appeals to much more than the mind, but the spirit, soul and body as well. The reason we need to present an accurate Scriptural portrayal of the Kingdom is simple – that person needs to decide wether or not they want to follow Jesus as their King and live by His laws. Some people do. Some people don’t. Either way, that isn’t for us to decide. We are called to present the Gospel, make disciples and teach those disciples to obey what Jesus commanded. It is Holy Spirit’s job to convert. It is our job to make converts into disciples.

For me, this process is what addresses the theological component of “sin,” “sinner” and “saint.” This type of evangelism deals with the issues of allegience, loyalty and the kingliness of Jesus. In the course of this God encounter people might also get a glimpse of their moral short comings, much like Peter did when Jesus provided him with the miraculous catch of fish – that is good, but it isn’t the goal. Our goal is to accurately display the Reality of the Kingdom and the heart of our King and to invite them to “come and see” or “follow Me.”

This is what I have become convinced of and what I intend to put to the test over the next few months. I’ll be sure to write about my encounters and let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading friends.

Reclaiming Outrage and Indignation

I’ll admit that outraged and indignant aren’t usually the first words that come to mind when I think of Jesus – not even the second, third or fourth. Though I know it isn’t accurate, I still tend to think of Jesus as the long-haired hippy of my youth, sitting with children in a field of flowers and teaching everyone to be nice. And then I read the Bible and see that Jesus is a multifaceted and complex person, not so easily written off by sentimental Hallmark cards.

Indignation is defined as “anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment.” Outrage is indignation on Red Bull. It is a little easier to see Jesus’s indignation with that definition in mind.

Remember the man with leprosy who said to Jesus, “If you’re willing, you can make me clean”? Jesus was indignant and said, “I am willing! Be clean!” Some translations says that Jesus was moved with compassion. I’d like to suggest that the two ought to be the same thing of a Christian. Perceiving injustice and unfair treatment ought to provoke something within us, fill us with compassion and cause us to take action.

I could go on. There was a man with a shriveled hand, a women whose back was bent in half, the money changers perpetuating a system of religious slavery… Jesus very impolitely upset the apple cart in each instance. He was not overly concerned with public opinion or what would be good for business. He was zealous and passionate, outraged by man’s injustice to man.

How many Christian men do you know that could walk into, say, a football stadium and drive out all the vendors and instill such fear into the security guards that they do nothing but stand on the sideline? That is what Jesus did in the Temple. I used to think that was a shabby illustration, until I learned how many children are sold or traded in the sex slave industry at sporting events, and Iowa is at the crossroads of the nation, smack dab in the middle of it.

My intent isn’t to stir up a lot of machismo within the Church. My hope is to elevate us to a greater level of awareness and action. I’m tired of being in the camp of limp and powerless Christianity. I want to burn for something… and that something is the Kingdom of God.

I’ve been reading a lot about vaccinations lately. As many of you know, the idea behind vaccines is to administer a sub-clinical dose of something so that the body will build a resistance and immunity, a process known as hormesis. I fear that the Western Church has been vaccinated against agape, love in action. We’ve built up such immunity to the Gospel message of a God of Justice that we’ve settled for a definition of agape as loving inaction. James would be pissed.

We suffer from chronic, low grade outrage in the West. Taxes, bills, road rage, email, and hectic schedules all contribute to our sense of entitelment. We’re “outraged” when there isn’t a parking spot close to the door, “so mad” that our neighbor’s dog pooped in our yard – come on folks, can we care about something important?

What about the fact that 1.2 million children are aborted in the U.S. alone every year? That is the equivilent of 333 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings happening every day of the school year. What about the fact that there are now more slaves in the world today than ever before in history? What about the fact that the most prosperous nation in history is also the most indebted, has the most incarcerated citizens and has hungry and homeless people dying in its streets every day?

And we’re concerned there might not be enough Tickle Me Elmos to go around?

I realize that some people might misconstrue my ideas of outrage and indignation for self-righteousness, a ‘savior of the world’ mentality. I assure you, I have no such delusions of grandeur. This world is a sinking ship, no matter what I do, or we do, we aren’t going to create the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth through our own efforts – only Jesus can do that.

I love the idea of transforming cities and discipling nations – that energizes me and gets my blood pumping. But it is naive and unbiblical to think that we are going to make the world a progressively better place until Jesus says “I guess they did it without me, might as well go back.” Not very “saviorish”. But that doesn’t mean we give up, huddle up and let the enemy continue to ravage the world around us. We fight, we make a difference one by one.

I think the Starfish Story illustrates this perfectly:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

“It made a difference to that one.” In the case of evangelism and salvation, it makes an eternal difference. Do we give up and call it vanity knowing we can’t save everyone and that this world is going to turn to ash? Not at all. The Kingdom we inherit is eternal, unshakable and only going to be revealed in its fullness at the end of the Age. Then we will see the impact of all the hours we spent throwing starfish back into the sea.

We can’t lose – the cross, death and resurrection of Christ assures us victory. Our task now is to prove our faithfulness and the quality of our character, not to God, but to ourselves. Will we hold on to our integrity when no one else is watching? Will we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of the Kingdom since we’ve accepted the promise of so great a reward?

I hope so. I want us to be the miraculous burning bush for all the world to see. It isn’t surprising to see trees spontaneously combust in the dry and brittle climate of the desert. But it is surprising to see one burn and burn and burn, longer than is right or that naturally makes sense. Anyone can burn with love for Jesus, passion for Justice or righteous indignation for a couple weeks or months, but I want to burn for decades. I want to more vigorously follow Christ at the end of my life than I do right now. I am hungry for my inheritance.

John Wesley is attributed with saying, “Set yourself on fire and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” That may be true, but I’d rather spark something in them. I don’t want spectators, I want a community of torches.

Will you burn with me?

When People Aren’t Healed

As our community continues to come to terms with Beverly’s death, there are inevitable questions that arise around the topics of sickness, healing and death. This post is my attempt to steer our culture and community into dealing with these questions vulnerably, honestly and scripturally. By no means are my answers the final say on the matter – they simply represent what I believe to be true about God’s character and the topic of healing at this present time. For the purpose of clearly communicating to our community, I will address Beverly by name. If you are reading this and aren’t a part of our congregation, please insert the name of your loved one.

Was it God’s will that Beverly should die?

No, I don’t believe so. There are many issues surrounding death that we don’t understand, but here are what the Scriptures say:

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” Psalm 139:16.

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him,” Hebrews 9:27-28.

The Scriptures say that our days are ordained, written out before time began. The Scriptures say that every person is appointed to die once in their life. The Scriptures do not say that a certain sickness or disease is your appointed end.

2 Kings 20 tells the story of King Hezekiah who became ill and was at the point of death. A prophet (!) of The Lord came and told him to get his house in order because he was soon going to die. Hezekiah wept bitterly and prayed, asking God for more time. God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and extended his life another 15 years.

Was this illness Hezekiah’s appointed end? Apparently not, even though a prophet of The Lord prophesied that it was — oops! Same with Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus’s sickness didn’t end in death (permanently), he apparently had more life to live to God’s glory.

Does God know when we are going to die? Yes, absolutely. But He doesn’t cause it and we don’t know if a certain illness is someone’s appointed end — not even super prophetic people! So we contend in prayer for healing, asking God to extend life to our loved ones and heal them from every disease.

We prayed so long and so hard for Beverly – we even fasted! Didn’t God hear us?

Yes, God hears our prayers (1 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 20:5; Psalm 66:19; Acts 10:31) and I believe they were particularly pleasing to Him. You see, praying in faith for someone’s healing is a declaration of faith in God’s character — that He is Good, gracious, kind and merciful. Praying for healing means we believe God is a healer, redeemer and savior. It means we believe He is more powerful than sin, sickness, disease or even death itself.

Fasting and prayer is not a formula. God isn’t a vending machine where we put in a certain quantity of time praying or fasting and out pops a healing. Formulas and recipes would be magic, reducing God to some impersonal force to be manipulated through our efforts. God is a Person who works through relationship and mystery. I don’t know how healing works, but I believe it is God’s desire to see His people come to Him in their distress because they believe He can help.

Additionally, God isn’t holding out on us. It isn’t as though He is holding healing or Holy Spirit up in Heaven and stingily dispensing Grace to those who grovel most effectively. I believe God wants people to be healed more than we do. I believe He is a lavish Lover who love to give exceedingly extravagant gifts to those He loves (which is everyone).

So, if God wanted to see Beverly healed even more than we did, why wasn’t she healed?

I don’t know.

I don’t know, I don’t think anyone does, but I’m not going to say stupid things or create false doctrines to try and bridge the gap between my expectation and my experience. God has enough “roses in His garden”, enough “angels in the choir”, He didn’t need to take someone we love for that purpose. I know we try to take comfort in those kinds of statements, but they betray a twisted understanding of God’s character, please don’t use them with those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Jesus healed everyone who came to him. So did the apostles in the book of Acts, except for Paul, who was a slacker. (Kidding, just checking if you’re still paying attention.) I believe Jesus lived an intentionally average life in the Spirit, just par for the course; he expected us to surpass him in every way — number of miracles, quality of miracles, number of people able to perform miracles, etc. Obviously, we aren’t there, we lost something along the way — is anyone else outraged by that? I know I am.

Back to the point, we can’t create false doctrines out of our experiences that misrepresent the heart of God. Jesus healed all who came to him. He never taught the Disciples a theology of unanswered prayer; that challenges me! [begin rant] I can’t bring the Word of God down to my experience, I have to press into the lifestyle it says I should have. How much are we willing to fight for? The enemy has taken territory that rightfully belongs to the children of God and it is time to take it back! Healing, miracles, signs and wonders – these are our birthright and we’ve been content to trade it away for the soup of a middle class lifestyle! [/end rant]

The truth is, Beverly is healed. Beverly is in glory, exactly where she wants to be. She is no longer struggling with sickness or pain. There is only a resurrected body and eternal reward in her future. Her faith has become sight and that is an amazing Reality.

Could we have done more?

This is a losing question, there is no fruit at the end of this road. The truth is, we could always do more, but no one was intentionally slacking because they wished Beverly ill. We acted as best with could with the understanding we had.

And the Gospel isn’t about how hard we work anyway. It is about living by faith, acting in accordance with the heart of God and being obedient to what He asks us to do. The Gospel is the Good News of God’s actions on our behalf, not the other way around. Don’t torture yourself rehearing what you could have said or done differently. It won’t produce anything worth while. You did good church, you did good.

Tips for caring for those who have lost someone dear

1) Don’t say stupid things. 🙂 Sometimes it is best to not say anything at all. Nothing you can say is going to make it feel better, but a compassionate presence is always welcome.

2) Listen. Grief brings up all sorts of memories, be there to listen.

3) Take thoughtful initiative. “Call me if you need anything” is a platitude that is never acted upon. They aren’t thinking of what they need and people hate to be a burden, so think for them. Lawns need to be mowed, dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to get folded. Politely, lovingly and firmly insert yourself into their business.

4) Be sensitive to their needs. Losing a loved one is overwhelming. Not only are people struggling with the emotions of loss, they are making tons of decisions and talking with outrageous amounts of people. They might not want to answer another “How ya doin'” question. They might not want company. They might just want some quiet and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

5) Use technology to help you remember. Everyone else goes back to normal after the funeral and the family is left with the difficult task of creating a new normal. It is human nature to forget the things that don’t directly impact your life, but remember anyway. Put a reminder in your phone to give the family a call or to invite them over for game night. Send them a card on some random Tuesday just to let them know you’re thinking of them.

There isn’t a “right” or “perfect” way to care for someone in their loss, so don’t worry about it. Concern yourself with loving them well, praying for them and being thoughtful on their behalf. Trust that they will be able to communicate with you when they need something other than what you are offering.

Love, but don’t smother. Care, but don’t pity.

Thanks for reading this beast of a post. I hope this helps answer some questions and gives you some concrete actions steps to care for those in mourning. If you have any additional questions, comments or viewpoints, please comment below or shoot me an email at vineyardcommunitychurch319@gmail.com

Thanks again for reading!