BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible)

BYOB-1

The Word…I love the Word of God. When people ask me of my favorite hobbies, I do not spiritually over hype the fact that I absolutely love reading and studying God’s word! I will boast in the Word of God because it changed my life!

As a young preacher but also as a man who has been going to church for a long term, and as just a godly man who loves the Word, one thing has always stood out to me that is quite baffling: People are starting to neglect the beautiful practice of bringing their own bible to Church, a bible study, a conference, or to a simple devotion. We use the technology age as an excuse because why bother if it’s on my phone or on the screen? The more we increase in technology, the more excuses we foster. The less we grow in our faith, the more we are stagnant, and the more we use the way the world is going as a reason to neglect great practices of our faith, the less impact we will see. 

So why am I passionate about this? Growing up in a christian household and going to church most of my life, the bible was the object that I assumed I was supposed to bring. The Bible is the very word of God, it is “Living and active, sharper than any double edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The scriptures is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So yea, as a  preacher of the Word, I want my flock or audience to be a student of God’s word! Why would we want to make excuses to why we don’t bring it to justify the reality that we may just not want too nor trust it is as powerful as we say it is? This is also something you need to evaluate: Are you growing in your relationship with Jesus because of the Word of God? If the Word of God is absolutely significant to your world, then the world should know it. All Saints are to be students of the Word of God. Let’s stop making excuses to why we don’t bring it or value the written book.

Excuses we make and the Objections to Those Excuses: 
1. It’s on my phone: Yea and the Words are the most important part of the Bible. However, what will not pop up on your physical copy of the Word? A text message. A notification of your social media accounts. A phone call. Are you really turning your phone on Airplane mode to get away from distraction? Be honest, you may just don’t feel like bringing it. This is in no way taking away from the huge impact the You-version app has had in our world. Praise God for Life Church and their goal to reach the world with scripture. But don’t allow the accessibility of the Word on your phone from distracting you from diving into the physical book without the constant speed and distractions of the world. 

2. It’s heavy, and get’s in the way: I get that, there are some heavy bibles out there. But there are also some lighter and ones you can carry.  There are smaller compact bibles that you can use specifically for sermons, bibles studies, and note taking. If you cannot afford a small one, I don’t know of a pastor who wouldn’t be privileged to be asked to buy or give you one! Sometimes a sword needs to be heavy so you don’t forget it’s there!

3.  I can see it on the screen at church: So how do you know if ‘IT’ is correct? Yea your Pastor is legit and you don’t see a lot of fault in his teaching, but while he is preaching, your eyes should be IN the Word. A pastor is not perfect. You may see something the Lord reveals in the text that the pastor didn’t say, just by looking at it. Think about the sports world: I’m sure most would agree, that they would rather see a live game, in action, right in front of their face than on a TV screen. I have seen grown men bring stacks of papers to a live fantasy draft ready to stack their team. But when it comes to the Word of God, “Man it’s on the screen.” I call it laziness. NO screen can replace the divine power of God’s word jumping off the page into your heart!

4. I was gone all day, so I couldn’t bring it and/or I just forgot it: My challenge to students to put it in their backpack. If your backpack is too heavy, carry the bible proudly. If you drive, put it in your car. Set a reminder on your phone, “Don’t forget the Word of God today!” Also, if you have a plan daily to dive into the Word, you will take time to get in the book anyways, so just bring it with you wherever! You know you wouldn’t forget your nice outfit to a wedding. You wouldn’t forget your fan gear to a sports outing. You wouldn’t go to a deer stand without a gun. So why be unprepared to go hear the Word?? You won’t forget what you value. 

5. I didn’t know I was supposed to  bring it: It’s hard for me to believe that in America, where Churches are pretty much on every street corner, and there is a nation wide truth that the Bible is the #1 selling book in America that anyone would say “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my bible to Church where we are supposed to learn about it.” That’s one of my favorite excuses. I think sometimes we just think we look cooler without it. Some worship leaders do the same thing. They lead worship, come from back stage, sit in the back of the auditorium, listen to the sermon, and don’t even open the Word to be lead by their pastor through it. But, they expect the Pastor to participate in worship. So worship leader, you participate in the sermon! Open the word! That’s not a slam, that’s the truth.

However, there is one last reason that some don’t bring their bibles because maybe…

6. My Pastor doesn’t use the bible in his sermons: Let me keep it real with you: You need to find a new pastor then! There is no message without Scripture and the counsel of God being proclaimed.

One of the things we also need to realize is that bringing a bible is also being a witness. You are shouting “I value you the living, breathing, active word of God!” Sitting in a Church service with your arms folded at some level shouts to people around you, “This book is not that important to have in my hands. I just see it on the screen, and I believe my Pastor’s interpretation.” Yea you might be an auditory or visual learner. Great. But you can still look in the Word and look back at your pastor. I am not saying your Pastor is dangerous, nor am I saying he is not bringing a good message. But it is the Word that does the work, not the Pastor. Your authority is the very Word’s of God, not the authority of the Pastor. 

So I challenge you: When you come to a Worship or Church Service Party, BYOB! Bring your own bible!

FOR…What Is It Good For?

Start Here

Last month, our son Asa fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams and stepped onto a football field as a player for the first time.   Sure, he may only be five years old, and it may only be flag football (to his slight dismay), but in his mind, when he puts on his orange-and-black Bengals uniform and steps between those white lines, he has made it big.  As a parent, his unhindered, little boy joy out there really is a joy to watch.

Now as you can imagine, one of the greatest challenges of preparing a group of five- and six-year-old, mostly first-time football players is teaching them how to organize and play together as a team.  The basic skills aren’t all that complex or challenging- running, throwing, catching, blocking, pulling flags (with the occasional “accidental” tackle thrown in there), and the like.

But what is incredibly difficult- but inescapably important- is coaching them to line up together in the right places and combine all of those skills together in a reasonably coherent way to actually play the game.  Needless to say, football doesn’t work very well when your quarterback lines up on the defensive line and your offensive linemen think they are playing linebacker!

As I’ve observed and reflected on this honestly hilarious phenomenon, it’s made me think about our current series FOR- and specifically, about why it is so critically important for us as followers of Jesus to identify and operate out of a posture of FOR instead of a posture of AGAINST.  Here’s why- The right start sets the stage for success, while the wrong start can set us up to lose in our God-given mission before we’ve even had an opportunity to “play the game.”

This principle is quite obvious in the game of football.  What happens when a player lines up in the wrong starting position?  Usually nothing good!  This can result in an ineffective play (at best), a penalty for the player’s team, or the complete inability to run any play at all.  On the flip side, though, when everyone knows where they need to be, understands what they need to do, and executes according to the plan given to them by their coach, good things most often result!

Now let’s apply this same principle to the conversation we’re having right now at Fellowship Church about what we are FOR.  As followers of Jesus, we don’t merely have a “coach”; we have a Creator and Lord, an absolute and sovereign authority over our lives and over the entire world.  As the One who spoke this world into being and set it into motion, He has a very specific design and desire for how it ought to operate.  This is based on His unchanging, eternal nature and character.  He doesn’t begin by being against certain things, but rather by being for that which reflects and honors Him.  Among those things, as we’re discovering in this series, are justice, life, family, and freedom.  These are four primary examples of the “divine design” by which our Creator has made this world to operate.

So what is sin, then?  It is anything that deviates from, or falls short, of this “divine design.”  All that God is against, He is against because it somehow “misses the mark” of what He is for.  To use our examples, because God is for justice, He is against any and all forms of injustice; because God is for life, He is against anything that devalues or destroys life; because God is for family (as He defines it), He is against anything that undermines its flourishing; and because God is for freedom, He is against anything that robs His image bearers of the ability to freely relate to Him and to one another in love.

Now what does this have to do with us as God’s church, His representatives and ambassadors in the “here and now” of this world?  Very much!  Often, we start to engage the world around us from a posture of AGAINST- e.g. “We are AGAINST abortion,” “we are AGAINST racism,” “we are AGAINST homosexual marriage,” “we are AGAINST the exploitation of the poor.”  It isn’t that these practices aren’t worth saying “no” to, or standing up to.  But when we choose an AGAINST starting point in the conversation with those who may not share our convictions, we miss a prime opportunity to communicate a richer, more compelling vision of life in this world- life according to our Creator’s design.  To use the football analogy, when we “line up” in the wrong place, we tend to set ourselves up for ineffectiveness before we’ve even begun to play.

Let me say it to you this way- Being AGAINST one thing doesn’t automatically make you FOR something better, but being FOR one thing naturally leads you to be AGAINST anything worse.  If anything, an adversarial or oppositional posture often, in the long term, undermines an individual’s or group’s ability to accomplish much more than just being theatrically offended.  This is true in business (i.e. “we’re not like that company”), in politics (i.e. “I’m not as sorry as that candidate”), and even in the church (i.e. “we’re different than all those other churches”).  To be successful over time, we have to understand who we are and execute what we’re called and designed to do.

Here’s my practical encouragement to you as we continue to walk through the remainder of this series and beyond- If you want to be more effective at engaging our culture with the message of Jesus, get to know the God of the Bible, and get to know Him well.  Saturate your heart and mind in His Word, and align yourself more and more each day with His thoughts and ways.  Do more than just rail against everything and everyone that you don’t like; tell the world a better story of God’s vision for a restored life in Him.

Become a man or woman who begins, biblically, with FOR.  This will invariably impact not only what you have to say to the world, but also how you say it and how others hear it.  Remember- The right start sets the stage for success. 

Just Justice

Just Justice

Justice makes for great drama.  It is the centerpiece of many tv shows, movies, and books because the search for justice is epic and dramatic.  In the movie A Time to Kill a lawyer’s closing arguments are a truly enlightening thought about the dramatic difficulties of seeing and finding justice in our world.

In all this legal maneuvering something got lost.  That something is the truth.  It is incumbent upon us lawyers not to just talk about the truth but to actually seek it to find it, to live it. My teacher taught me that. 
What in us seeks truth?  Our minds or is it our hearts?  I tried to prove a black man could get a fair trial in the South that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. That’s not the truth.  The eyes of the law are human eyes yours and mine, and until we can see each other as equals justice is never going to be evenhanded.  It will only be a reflection of our own prejudices.  So until that day we have a duty under God to seek the truth not with our minds where fear and hate turn commonality into prejudice but with our hearts…

This is one of the most powerful cinematic scenes I have ever seen.  The lawyer went on to describe the horrors committed against a young black girl in graphic detail and concluded by asking the jury to imagine the girl was white.  Justice immediately looked different.

Whether we want to admit it or not justice is dramatic because it is difficult.  The difficulty of justice is often not the case, the situation, or the decision.  Often what makes justice difficult is us.  It is our own hearts, our own prejudices, our own thought patterns, or simply our own selfishness.

Justice is a topic the Christian must consider.  Justice is something a follower of Christ must be FOR.  Too often we as, the followers of Christ, are known for the things we are against and not the things we are for.  (We are currently addressing some of these issues in our current sermon series – FOR.)

We must always remember, however, that ultimately we, as the followers of Christ, are for the glory and Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These other issues are not ultimately what we are for; they are consequently what we are for.  Justice, Life, Family, and Freedom are not ultimately what we stand for; they are consequently what we stand for.  These are the consequences of the Gospel and salvation not the cause nor the substance of salvation.  Being for justice will not save a soul; but saved souls ought to be for justice.

Justice is not the Gospel; Jesus is.  When you speak justice but you fail to speak Jesus, you do not do Jesus, nor justice, justice.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8)

Micah was a farmer – as best we know.  He came from a place that only farmers came from because that was the only thing to do there – farm.  He had no particular power or position to speak to the people of God, yet God gave him a calling and clear message.  He spoke into the life of Israel at a time that they were guilty of grave injustices.  They were especially guilty of injustice toward, as Timothy Keller describes in his book Generous Justice, the quartet of the vulnerable – the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor.  It is in this situation that Micah speaks the words above.

If you want to do good then you need to DO justice, LOVE kindness, and walk HUMBLY with God.

Justice is something you believe in when it is something you act upon.  Justice is not sentiment nor nice thought.  Justice is action and work.  The word here from the Hebrew being used for justice means more than the righting of a wrong.  It means the doing of right toward the wronged (and the vulnerable).

Job defends himself as just not by saying I have not oppressed the widow and orphan, but I have done good toward them.  I have been just towards them.  Often in western thought we have a very short-sighted view of justice.  For us, when a wrong is punished justice is served.

I have been convicted of one crime in my life – criminal mischief.  My 4 friends and I that got busted pulling a stupid prank had to pay a collective of around $2000 in fines and fees.  The interesting issue to me is that we stole some decorations from yards and destroyed a few things owned by people in the process.  Those people – who we took property from and damaged the property of – did not get a dime.  Justice was served when we were punished; but we were not required to make anything right toward those we wronged.  Often this is how we see justice.  But justice is much more than that.

Ridding an injustice does not right an injustice.

The young child experiencing molestation does not receive justice simply because some adults find and out and make sure it stops.  That is not justice.  Justice is punishment of the perpetrator AND work to nurture the child physically, emotionally, and spiritually so they know are of value and worth.  This child needs to know that they worthy of justice.  When full justice is not brought they often grow up and struggle to see that they are worth justice and have full value.

When we as a nation ruled slavery illegal we ridded ourselves of a practice of terrible injustice but we did not make right the injustice suffered.  We simply stopped it from being continued.  When we gave to minorities equal rights and banned Jim Crow laws we ridded ourselves of many injustices but we did not make right those injustices.  Ridding an injustice is not righting an injustice.

And this is why justice is dramatic and difficult.

If we, as humans, are going to do justice we must LOVE kindness.  Jesus was capable of anger without sin, but we struggle with it.  When Jesus walked into the temple and courts of the Gentiles was being used as a marketplace but the court of the Jews was a place of worship, the discrimination infuriated him and drove people out with a whip saying, “you have made this a den of thieves.”  Jesus did this and did not sin.  We struggle to do that.

Doing justice requires loving kindness.  Justice is more than punishing wrong; it is also giving to the vulnerable and the wronged their rights and what is right.  This requires kindness as much as it requires justice.  This loving kindness is an unconditional view for good toward others.

We must understand that forgiveness is never an act of injustice.  It is never wrong for the one who has been wronged to forgive the one who has wronged them.  It is, however, injustice for someone to have the ability to hold someone accountable for their wrong actions taken from them.  It is always a good thing to forgive, but it is an unjust thing to force a false forgiveness by robbing someone of their right to hold account a wrong suffered.

Loving kindness creates the space for grace.  We all live in spaces for grace.  In every relationship.  Any person that you have a right relationship with after more than a few hours or days of knowing them is providing you a space for grace.  Why?  Because we all wrong one another – even if in little ways.  We live with a certain level of loving kindness towards others every day – unfortunately just not with everyone.

When we walk humbly with our God we have the capacity to do justice and love kindness.  God Himself is the source of such capacity.  It is by His Spirit that we learn to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us.  It is by the Spirit of God that we learn how to go the second mile and to speak truth in love.

Humility gives us the capacity to see injustice – including our own.  We will never bring justice to injustices we refuse to see, to causes we refuse to hear, or to people we refuse to value.

The justified are just.  We, the followers of Christ, have been justified by and in Christ.  This means we who were in wrong standing with God are now in right standing with God even though we had no capacity to make ourselves right.

When God made him who knew no sin to become sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)– he brought justice in Christ on our behalf.  Jesus suffered – not our injustice.  Jesus suffered what was our just punishment for sin – but he did so much more than that.

Ye,s justification means that all of our sins have been put on Jesus; but it also means all of his righteousness has been put on us.  Jesus has been fully treated as if he fully did everything we have done wrong.  We, therefore, can now be treated as if we have fully done everything Jesus has done right.  We have the capacity and the command to do justice because justice has not been avoided nor abolished.  Justice has been fulfilled.

I encourage you to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  But remember – ultimately the world does not need justice.  Ultimately our world needs Jesus.  Yet, if we are going to give the world Jesus – we need to give them justice.  Be wise though, your greatest injustice in the world could be giving the world justice without giving Jesus justice.  Give them Jesus for he is just.

A second blog will post tomorrow addressing how to view justice when you are the one that has suffered the injustice.  

What’s Your Story? Four Questions To Help You Bring People To Jesus

Book

Sunday was quite an interesting day at Fellowship Church On Airline.  Over our four plus years of gathering, we have learned a lot about how to be adaptable, and this week we got another lesson in our ongoing “master class” of ministry flexibility.

The latest lesson?  What to do when you arrive on a ninety degree Sunday to find that your entire children’s building has no air conditioning!  We pulled our kids into our Worship Gatherings with us and a great- albeit different- day together in worship.  As a pastor, that meant making some last minute adjustments to the message to make it as broadly accessible and understandable as possible.  I think we did that effectively, but that left me with some helpful content that I wasn’t able to share in the moment.

Enter today’s blog.  As we wrap up our Be A Bringer series this week, I want to provide you with another tool to help become the “bringer” that God has called each of us to be.  Remember that bringing people to Jesus is all about applying the unchanging story of God to the unique stories of people.  It requires a willingness to humbly, patiently, and genuinely listen to and learn about others, in an effort to most sensitively and appropriately apply the Gospel to their life.

What follows are four simple questions to help you better discern someone’s story- the framework through which they see themselves and their life in this world, and specifically how God fits into that story (if He does at all).  Let this be a useful tool to you this week and beyond as you seek to be found faithful to God’s Great Commission…

1- What is your greatest need?
What is the greatest problem you face in your life?  Beyond the “crises of the moment” that arise in different forms and fashions, what is the fundamental obstacle that stands between you and the life that you desire?

2- What is your greatest hope?
What are you living for?  In the face of the very real problems that exist in this world, and in each of our lives, what motivates you to keep on keeping on?  What do you think would make you happy, satisfied, and fulfilled for good?

3- Who or what is able to help you?
What can help you move away from your needs and problems and move toward your hopes and dreams?  Can you do it yourself, in your own strength and by your own effort, or is it going to require the assistance of someone or something else?

4- What do you have to do to get that help?
What is it going to cost you to make that move from your needs and problems toward your hopes and dreams?  Do you have what it takes to make that move?

Now let’s take a look at the contrast between someone representing what we might call the “spirit of our age” (i.e. some have called it secular humanism) and someone living with a biblical, Christ centered worldview…

Greatest Need- Change of circumstances VS change of heart
Those holding to a secular worldview commonly see their greatest problems as existing outside of them, in the form of another person or group of people, an unjust system set against them, or simply an unpleasant circumstance robbing them of the ability to be happy.

Those holding to a biblical worldview rightly understand while legitimate problems do exist outside of them,
all of those challenges are symptomatic of the root issue of sin, which has wrecked God’s good world, and most significantly separated them from a right relationship with their Creator God.

Greatest Hope- Temporary happiness VS eternal life
Those holding to a secular worldview commonly see their greatest hope as external circumstances which bring about temporary happiness, e.g. more money and possessions, improved relationships, a more fulfilling career.

Those holding to a biblical worldview understand that temporary circumstances are just that- temporary.  The only thing that can truly satisfy is something that can never be taken away- a right and restored relationship with God, both in their life in this world and in the life to come in heaven.

Greatest Help- Self VS God
Those holding to a secular worldview often believe that if their life is going to take a turn in the right direction, it’s going to be on them to make it happen.  They need to ‘believe in themselves’ and ‘be true to themselves’ if they are going to shake their restlessness and truly be happy.

Those holding to a biblical worldview, while not denying the reality of personal responsibility, recognize that the fundamental problem of sin against God is beyond our ability to change by our own strength, wisdom, or effort.  Instead of looking in for help, they look up to God, and specifically to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Greatest Cost- Striving VS Surrender
Those holding to a secular worldview fundamentally set their hope in themselves.  Many will spend their lives “selling their souls” to would-be “savior’ after would-be “savior” (e.g. money, relationships, careers, pleasure, etc), only to find that all of those things are necessarily limited in their ability to bring about lasting hope.  It is important to note that there is a viciously deceptive religious version of this too- “If I try really hard to be a good person, then I will be accepted by God.”  This is the same old “self-salvation” project wrapped up in religious clothes- and it is just as empty and futile.

Those holding to a biblical worldview are appropriately pessimistic about their own abilities, but at the same time supremely confident in the promises of God found in the Bible.  Rather than striving, they recognize that the key to hope is trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and total surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.  It is this “upside down” way of seeing the world that ultimately brings about the hope that can face down any challenge or obstacle in this world.

Here’s what I believe- God’s story, which we call the Gospel, is the only story that makes sense of how we all experience the world on a day in, day out basis.  It defines the problem; it identifies the hope; it offers the help; and it makes provision for the cost.  No other competing story in this world can do that!  This is why it is, fundamentally, “Good News” for each of us!  And while that “news” never changes, the way in which it intersects with others’ stories and invades their hearts is quite unique.

Are you willing to humble yourself to listen and learn this week so that you might most effectively bring people to Jesus?  That’s the prayer, the hope, and the challenge.  I’m praying for you- and for myself too- as we seek to meet it in God’s grace and strength!

The Encouragement Challenge

Discouragement happens.  It comes into all of our lives.  Discouragement steals our joy.  It robs us of peace.  Discouragement is not always defeat; but the fear of it.  The sense that things not only are not going well, but will not go well.

Discouragement is the loss or lack of confidence.  It is the losing of courage.  When confidence and courage are lost they can be very difficult to find.  For the Christ-follower, the idea of courage is closely related to that of faith.  Faith is something that leads us to do the extraordinary – like move mountains or walk on water or see people healed.  Faith is the courage to believe God – not in word but in deed.

Encouragement, unfortunately, does not happen often enough.  Did you know, follower of Jesus, that you are commanded to encourage?  “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  (Hebrews 3:13)

Yet, encouragement is something I believe is lacking too often from and in the life of the believer.  I wonder what would your church would look like a year from now if everyone in your church took seriously the command to encourage one another?  What would your marriage look like if you and your spouse became each other’s greatest encouragers?  How differently would your children live out their faith if you became their greatest encourager?

Encouragement, Biblically, is much more than a pat on the back and an “atta boy.”  Encouragement means to exhort – to give instructive encouragement.  We are called to speak the “truth in love” to one another to build one another up toward maturity in Christ.

What would happen if the believers around you began to speak courage into your life about doing anything and everything God gifted you and commanded you to do?  What would happen if you did this for others?

6 Tips for becoming an encourager:
1.  Say what you need to say.
When you feel lead to share something with someone, speak up.
2.  Say things with a right spirit.
Sarcasm has become an unfortunate enemy of encouragement.  Use it sparingly and wisely.
3.  Say things that are true.
You will never encourage faithfulness from a place of faithlessness.
4.  Encourage with what you encourage to.
Truth encourages truth.  Hope encourages hope.  Joy encourages joy.  You get the picture.
5.  Put your trust in God that is working in people, not just in the people.
Considering one another God’s workmanship helps us not give up on His work.
6.  Encouragement is best face to face.

Who needs you to encourage them today? Who do you need to speak some truth in love to today? Who needs you to show up in person today?

THE ENCOURAGEMENT CHALLENGE –
Will you commit to a week of encouragement?  A month?  A year?
Here is the challenge – choose one person you will encourage this week.
If they need to be brought back to truth bring truth in love to them.
If they need faithfulness appreciated, appreciate them.
Be personal…Be specific…Be encouraging.
If you do it for one week, why not try a month?
If for a month, why not a year?
If a year, why not for life?

Four Signs You’re Not Ready For That Hard Conversation (And What You Can Do About It)

Prepared

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV)

We’ve all been there before.  There is a difficult conversation- perhaps we’d even call it an outright confrontation– that needs to be had.  Someone is in the wrong, and it has to be addressed.  We know it, and perhaps have known it for some time.  But for all that knowing, we just can’t bring ourselves to start talking; the thought alone is enough to make us sick with awkward discomfort.  And the closer our relationship with the other party in question, the more intense our aversion becomes.

Much like you, I’ve been here before- in marriage, in friendship, in work relationships, and even in relationships within the local church.  And keeping it real, I often haven’t handled such situations very well.  I typically fall into one of two “ditches”- one, the ditch of chronic procrastination, followed by the release of an explosive flood of emotion (i.e. a fancy description for a temper tantrum), and two, the ditch of cowardly equivocation, the proverbial “halfway conversation” that seems easier in the moment, but in the end represented a massively wasted opportunity.  Can you relate?

Very few of us enjoy hard conversations (if you do, you may have your own set of issues to deal with!), but the reality is, sometimes they are necessary.  Sometimes they are even better than necessary; they represent incredible opportunities for healing and growth in maturity.  According to God’s Word, we must make the most of our opportunities to engage them, especially when God’s glory, the health of relationships, and the effectiveness of the church’s mission are at stake.  But what are the signs that you may not be fully prepared to initiate such a conversation- and what you can do about it, presuming that an indefinite delay is neither healthy nor possible?  Read on, and allow the words of Ephesians 4:31-32 guide you…

1- You aren’t ready to forgive.  I’ve long contended that forgiveness- particularly the extreme variety modeled by God in the Gospel, and commanded for His followers- is among the most difficult things that God demands in His Word.  It’s a process, no doubt- and often one that must be repeated over and over (and over) again.  It is, however, a non-negotiable if we’re going to handle confrontation in a God-exalting, life-giving away.  So first step, before we go to someone else, is to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger” from our hearts, positioning ourselves to offer others the gift which God has lavished on us- undeserved grace.

2- You aren’t ready to be kind.  Just speaking from personal experience, I can’t think of a single instance when someone yelling at me, demeaning me, or humiliating me gave birth to deep, long lasting, Jesus honoring transformation.  Especially in difficult conversations, basic kindness goes a long, long way.  So as you put away that first set of barriers to forgiveness, take a cue from Paul’s words in Ephesians and set aside “clamor and slander and all malice” as well.

3- You’re not certain of your convictions.  To use a sports analogy, confrontation is an offensive– not defensive– action.  In other words, it isn’t reactive, but is instead strategic and well planned.  Often, I think our unrestrained emotionalism in tough conversations is a result of a lack of clarity in our own convictions.  The firmer we are in what we want to communicate- and the more that communication is anchored in the timeless, authoritative Word of God- the less prone we will be to slipping into counterproductive, insecurity driven words and actions.

4- You don’t have a clear end game.  Before engaging someone in a hard conversation, always ask yourself this- What’s the point of this?  What do I hope to accomplish here?  Like, if this thing went perfectly, what would be the result?  If the answer to that question isn’t more glory for Jesus, more maturity for the party in question, more healing in relationships, and more health for the church, then settle those things in your heart before opening your mouth.  Obviously you can’t control, or make yourself responsible for, others’ responses to you, but you sure can set everyone up to win by having a well-defined plan for success on the front end.

So let’s say one or more of these “four signs” describe you right now.  You’re not unusual; I’ve found myself in all four of these places before.  But what can we do about it when we do?  Paul answers that question as well, by pointing us back to our “roots” in Jesus Christ.  Look again at the end of Ephesians 4:32, into 5:1-2-

“…Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2, ESV)

Notice what Paul is doing here?  He is tying our relationships with others to our relationship with God in the Gospel.  The New Testament does this all the time, communicating to us constantly, “Remember how God has treated you in Christ?  That’s how you’re to treat one another, even (especially!) when they struggle and stumble and fail and fall.”  That being the case, the single best thing you can do to get ready for a hard conversation is to reflect deeply on the Gospel of God’s amazing grace.  When is that last time you did that?  I challenge you to search the Scriptures this week for all of the (many) texts which address this very thing.

Remember this one thing- God gave you His best, even when you gave Him your worst.  That truth should impact and transform us to the core of our being, and color every single other relationship we have.  How is it impacting you today, and how will it inform the hard conversation that you need to have?

Eye Damage

Yesterday was a solar eclipse.  Experts put much time and effort into warning people about viewing the eclipse.  Yet, last night at 8:20 PM google saw a peak in the search for “my eyes hurt.”  People began seeking google to help the figure out if they had unwisely damaged their eyes.  Experts say it may take several days or up to a week before you would know if you damaged your eyes.  In the end, the only way to really know is to have an examination by an expert.  No matter how many times you google the question you will be unable to truly examine the health of your own eye.

Jesus taught us a pointed and practical truth about ourselves when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:1-5

Currently, we are teaching on the Biblical command of encouragement.  Encouragement is the great privilege that followers of Christ have to “put courage into” others.  We have the command to speak life into others in the name of and in the power of the One who gives life – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Encouragement is a command – not a suggestion.  We are called to encourage one another.

The hard part about encouragement is that it requires truth speaking.  We are admonished in Scripture to “speak truth in love.”  Many excuse themselves from such commands in the idea “well, it’s the truth.”  And it is the truth, or at least, their version of it.  I believe one of the most important elements to be a truth speaker is being willing to be a truth hearer.  Not just a hearer, but a doer of the truth.  To hear how truth applies to you first before you ever have the audacity to speak how it applies to someone else.

According to the teachings of Jesus recorded Matthew 7, we are completely incapable of being used by the Lord to help a brother or sister deal with a problem in their life until we have been willing to deal with that problem in our own life. I do not believe this means we have completely overcome a sin or a struggle.  I believe these words mean that we must live in humble and open honesty about those issues.  We must be willing to deal with the truth of our own sin before God can use us to speak into someone else’s.

Often this passage is grossly and horribly misused to mean that you should never have opinion about right and wrong in another’s life.  No, Jesus teaches you – START WITH YOU.  As we experience God’s gracious work in our own lives we can be used by God to be a part of that work of grace in the lives of others.  These two realities work in cooperation not in opposition to each other.

If we are not careful we sell the love of God very short.  It can end up simply mean being nice and accepted towards people no matter wrong and sin.  We should be kind.  We should be able to accept others as they are, but if we think kindness and acceptance means that we should not speak truth into sin, then we dishonor everything about the death and resurrection of Christ and forfeit the very Gospel itself.  Love is not that easy.  God’s love was not that he said – you are all good.  He said “none of you are good” but there is “One who is good.”  The “One who is good” will himself take upon himself your bad (or unrighteousness) so that you can become good (or righteous).  That righteous is not of you, it is the righteousness of the Good One – Jesus Christ.  That is good news.  But it is news that you will never share if all you think you should do is accept everyone and everything as good.

Yet, we must always START WITH SELF.  Always.  If you do not, God cannot and will not use you in the life of others.  Be like Paul and never see anyone else as the chief of sinners.  For you, that must always be you.

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I want to share a very practical application of this spiritual reality that is currently needs to be heard in our country and culture.

The issue is racism.

Racism is sin.  Racism is real from all sides and all races – in some way from almost all people.  I am not only guilty of racism in my lifetime – both intentional and unintentional – I am also the recipient of racism in my life – both intentional and unintentional.

My call to the Christian is stop saying everyone needs to point out everything or nothing.  It is right for me – as a white man – to speak into white racism.  I am calling me out.  I am dealing with the speck in my eye and in our collective eye.  It is right for a denomination such as the Southern Baptist Convention – that is historically and predominantly white -to call out white nationalism and the alt-right.

This is us admitting and dealing with the speck in our eye.  If God is ever going to use any of us in this great work that should be the automatic result of the Gospel – that there is no race in Christ but that Christ is one and we are all one in Christ – then we have to start with self.

God has to start with you.  When you reject this what you reject is the very truth you need to deal with so that you can be changed by the Holy Spirit.  You are literally saying leaving my speck alone until you acknowledge the plank in others’ eyes.  I can’t do that and obey Jesus.  I would literally have to disobey the Lord to address this issue in that order and with that priority.

This summer the SBC wrote a wonderful resolution concerning racism.  In it they clearly state that all forms of racism are wrong and sin.  Then they call out what is the predominate form of in their own midst.  This sounds very much like what Jesus commanded of us.  It is dealing with this speck.

I realize that means that Christians of every race ought to call out racism in their midst (and some do), but guess what, until I have fully dealt within my own – that is not my job to do.  Now, the further I move into allowing God to fully change me and change His church the more we can be that voice.

If you are rejecting the call to face racism in your own race, be aware you have speck in your eye problem – no matter your race.  Allow God to convict you and change you – then see how he will use you to change others.

Pray for God to bring a unity that has never existed in this country.  Pray that God would start in the Church – the church of all races.  Pray that God would start in your church.  Pray that God would start in you – because you should never expect your church to become collectively what you are not becoming individually.

God move…and move me first.