The Holy Love of God

Here are a few examples of what we frequently hear in our culture, and increasingly in our churches today…

“If God is love then there should be tolerance for my lifestyle.”

“If God is love then there can be no such thing as an eternal hell.”

“If God is love then certainly he would want me to do what makes me happy.”

The problem with these, and many other statements like them, is that they are attempts at defining the love of God from a secular perspective. Whether we are aware of it or not we are importing our subjective opinions when it comes to defining what it means when we say ‘God is love.’

The result is that we create a god in our own image. Our wants and desires begin to shape who we believe God to be. It is really no different than when the Israelites got tired of waiting for Moses to return so they made a golden calf and began worshipping it. We do the same thing every time we change God from the way he is described in Scripture.

The consequences for doing this are massive. Desires and lifestyles that were once thought to be sinful are now applauded and celebrated. Christians are thought to be intolerant and unloving.

I began to understand a bit more clearly why all this was happening when I started to read David Wells book, “God in the Whirlwind.” I would say that one of the main points in this excellent book is that what many people are attempting to do is separate the love of God from the holiness of God. Wells writes:

“We want God’s love without his holiness. We want this because we live in our own private, therapeutic worlds that have no absolute moral norms. God’s holiness, therefore, becomes a jarring and unwanted intrusion. His love without his holiness, however, is one of those things in life that we simply cannot have. And, indeed, it will become one of our greatest joys to be able to understand how God is both holy and loving.”

The biblical truth that God is holy is perhaps best seen when we look at the vision of God in Isaiah 6:1-7. In this fascinating passage Isaiah is brought into the majestic presence of God. God is on a throne, his robe fills the house. Above him are the angels who cover their eyes in the presence of their Creator. The angels sing to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

The entire house was filled with smoke and then we discover Isaiah’s response:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

The very first thing that Isaiah realizes when he is in God’s presence is that he is a sinner.  Coming into God’s presence was not a boost for Isaiah’s delicate self-esteem. Isaiah saw God for who he truly is and he was filled with shame regarding his sinful condition. Isaiah was experiencing the holiness of God. Holiness means to be set apart, to be transcendent, to be completely different and above everything else. The holiness of God means that he is absolutely pure in all of his ways. So, when we begin describing the love of God we need to keep his holiness in mind the whole time.

It is easy to see how people in the world might misunderstand the nature of God’s love and holiness. But what about the church today? Has the church been impacted by a faulty view of God’s love and holiness? Again, David wells:

“In the liberalism that has so devastated the mainline denominations in recent decades, for example, God’s love has been universalized and then unhitched from his holiness. The result is a Christianity that is benign, culturally at home, racy, politically correct, and endlessly tolerant. It wants to be on the cutting edge of culture, but it is there only because it has a yearning to catch each new breeze that blows. It loses depth as it loses its hold on biblical truth. It prizes love-but it is love of a cultural kind-and it prizes holiness-but it is holiness only of a political kind. And it ends up with neither in a biblical sense.”

So when we define the love of God we have to keep it balanced with the idea that God is simultaneously holy.  When we hear people talk about the idea that God is love let’s graciously point them towards the biblical truth that God is also holy. Which means that the standards for how we are to live are outside of ourselves. These standards do not originate in our heart or mind. The standards for how we are to live come from a correct understanding of who God is, and God is holy.

There are so many implications that come from remembering the holy love of God. Here are just a few:

  • A spiritual awakening in our churches is dependent on us focusing on the holiness of God and confessing our sins.
  • We will begin to understand that God is not primarily working to make our circumstances more pleasant, instead he is working in such a way that we are being sanctified (becoming holy). If we don’t get this we are going to be incredibly frustrated wondering what God is up to.
  • We, as believers, need to be comfortable with the idea that we will be perceived as flat out weird when it comes to how we live and behave. If we understand the holiness of God, and if we too are pursuing this same holiness, our lives will look much different than most people in our culture. We need to embrace this truth and be at peace with it.

I’ll be preaching on this topic this coming Sunday (Mother’s Day)!

holy love of God

Your Understanding Of God’s Goodness Is Making You Miserable

We have this tendency to evaluate God’s goodness based on the circumstances of life. If life is going fairly well then we conclude that God is good. If we are going through a difficult time then we might begin doubting the goodness of God. I want to strongly encourage you to watch this 5 minute video clip from Sam Allberry as he preaches from Romans 5:8, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In this sermon, Sam is telling us an incredibly important truth. The very best thing that God can do for us is to help us become more like his Son Jesus Christ. God’s goodness is not demonstrated primarily through success, health, happiness, etc. God’s goodness is revealed by the fact that he is using the good and bad stuff of life to transform us into the image of Christ.

  • Do you believe that God is being good to you during the difficult times of life? If not, you need to know that it will be nearly impossible for you to experience joy and contentment. And if you have a hard time seeing God in the hard times you might be believing in a soft version of the prosperity gospel and are not even aware of it.
  • What do you desire most in life? Is it for your circumstances to get better or is it for God to transform you into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ? We know the right answer. But what does your heart want the most?

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas! Feel free to leave a comment.

A plea to students, parents, teachers and school faculty

There was a recent tragedy involving a young female student here at Watertown High School. I won’t go into details out of respect for her family. The whole sad scenario causes me to flash back to my high school days.

I have tried and tried but I can not figure out why I was so miserable and lonely in high school. It’s true, I was a fairly shy kid and it did not help that my high school in Phoenix at the time had about 4500 students. I was one of those kids who just got lost in the crowd. It led me to absolutely hate school. One of my clearest memories is the way I dealt with lunch time at school. The idea of going into the cafeteria was overwhelming to me because I had no one to sit by or to talk to. No one. So, for about two years, every lunch period, I would simply hide in different bathrooms until the bell rang. Many years have passed since high school and these memories still make me emotional.

I recall all the school assemblies felt the same way. One time there was some kind of pep rally at the football field during the day. Of course, I knew that I would be sitting by myself and that felt like more than I could bear. On this particular occasion I was caught for not being at the rally. I was taken to the principal’s office and was given some kind of punishment. The principal never asked me why I was off on my own. Maybe he was too busy. Maybe he forgot why he wanted to work with students in the first place. I do know that he looked right past me.

You may wonder, I know I do, why didn’t I ever tell anyone? Why didn’t I open up to anyone? My best guess is that I was embarrassed. Who wants to be the kid that is hiding in bathrooms while everyone else is carrying on with life? It was not until many years had passed that I felt the freedom to share some of these memories with others.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because during these years I was not a bad kid. I was shy. I was scared. I did not fit in with the crowd (or with anyone for that matter). You know what would have made all the difference to me during high school? If someone, student, teacher, faculty, had reached out to me and asked me how I was doing. Someone who would look beyond my aloof behavior and try to connect with me on a relational level. I honestly believe that if I had one good friend during high school that it would have made all the difference.

My encouragement to students, parents and school faculty is to look for those who are on the fringe. Look for those who don’t seem to have many friends. Don’t be quick to judge. You don’t know how tough their family life is. You don’t know the personal demons they are dealing with. You don’t know their fears, worries or concerns. Once you start looking I believe you will see them all around you. Then, take some small steps to reach out to them. Start asking them how they are doing. Share a meal with them. You never know when you are going to step into the life of a student who desperately needs someone that cares about them and will be a friend to them.

A Mighty Weapon In The Devil’s Arsenal (A False Sense Of Security)

If you know me, or read my blog occasionally, you know that I am a huge C.S. Lewis fan. One of the books that C.S. Lewis wrote is called the Screwtape Letters. It is a fictional account of a high ranking demon, Screwtape, communicating with a junior ranking demon, wormwood. The gist of their conversation is all about how they can get Christians to give into temptation and to become ineffective in the service of God. Or, how they can keep people from ever becoming Christians in the first place. I have written a piece before about how Satan tries to get Christians distracted by politics. You can see that post HERE.

The motivation for this blog comes specifically from Romans 2:17-29 (which I will be preaching from this coming Sunday). Romans 2:17-29 is a passage that is primarily about how easy it is for people to have a false sense of security when it comes to being a Christian. So here we go…

Screwtape: I have been working on a new spiritual weapon that is showing signs of keeping the lost sons and daughters of our adversary from converting to the other side. In fact, it is so successful that I am getting more of our personnel, like you, involved in this mission.

Wormwood: Tell me more.

Screwtape: To be honest, which I hate to do, this strategy is really is not new at all. Back in the days when the son of the adversary walked the earth we tried this tactic with tremendous success. The cursed Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans, in part, to stop our conspiracy against the king. This strategy has many names, but it has to do with giving people a false sense of spiritual security. Imagine this for a moment. People live most of their lives falsely believing that they have left our kingdom and are in the kingdom of light. I’m not sure how well educated you are, but approximately two thousand years ago years we were able to get large segments of the Jewish people to believe that their salvation was secure if they obeyed the law and were circumcised.

Wormwood: I have heard many stories about how this cost millions of people their eternal lives.

Screwtape: You are correct. We have been working hard in America to roll out a new version of this strategy. Of course keeping the law and circumcision mean nothing to religious people in the States. So we need to give them something else, besides the son of the adversary, to put their trust in.

Wormwood: So, what will we give to people that will give them a false sense of security?

Screwtape: I was just getting to that. The first one is to give them the idea that if they are good enough, or better than other people they know, that they are actual Christians. Humans have this wonderful habit of thinking that their good works are sufficient merit for entering the into the enemy’s kingdom.

The second one is religion. Yes, religion. If we can get people to think that church attendance and going through the religious motions is enough our battle is nearly won. A part of the religious strategy is get them to think that because they said a prayer when they were young that they are spiritually secure. Another tactic is to get them to think that because they were baptized that their name has therefore been written in the Book of Life. You and I know the Scriptures quite well and the enemy never indicates that a person is converted by baptism, yet they fall for this time after time. We have kids growing up watching their parents live compromised lives and concluding that Christianity is something they can leave behind once they get to college or out of the house.

Wormwood: I love it. I am more than happy to enlist my services for this mission. What will the result be if we are effective?

Screwtape: Great question. There are three primary devastating results that come from getting people to buy into these lies.

One, apathy. These people live lives with very little passion for the enemy. Sure, they go to church twice a month, but they love the same things that the world loves. They try to do some good things. They stay out of trouble for the most part. But there is very little zeal and excitement about the adversary’s son and the work he is doing on earth.

Two, the church is powerless. We are slowly filling up churches with goats, not sheep. The result is that churches in America are happy just doing the same old thing. They don’t want to hear about sacrifice. They don’t want to hear about living as missionaries. Instead, they have become ripe for the prosperity gospel and living a life of comfort and ease.

Three, the world looks at the church as irrelevant and hypocritical. The world sees that the people who go to church and claim the name of the enemy live just like them. The world is concluding that there is no meaningful difference between a Christian and anyone else in their culture.

Seven Signs You Might Be A Legalist

I am currently preaching through the book of Romans and came to this passage…

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. -Romans 2:1-5 (ESV)

Paul is communicating a number of important truths in this passage. But one takeaway (as seen in verse 4) is that Christians who have genuinely experienced the glorious truths of the gospel should not be harsh, judgmental, or unkind to others. Put it like this. If we really knew how gracious, patient, and kind God has been to us we would repent of our sin and stop being so harsh toward others.

When we fail to understand the gospel we run the risk of becoming highly legalistic in how we relate to the world and to other people.

HERE ARE SEVEN SIGNS  YOU MIGHT BE A LEGALIST

  1. You lack humility. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11–12).
  2. You turn gray issues into black and white issues. Music, books, movies, modes of schooling, are not just something you have a personal opinion about. You impose your personal convictions on others. It’s really hard for you to believe that others can honestly love the Lord and disagree with you about what is wrong or right.
  3. You have a strong desire to make sure that other people know you are right.
  4. You lack grace, compassion and patience with others. 
  5. You think if it is “secular” it is wrong. Oddly enough, this idea that secular is bad can not be sustained if we think about it for very long. Is the news you listen to Christian? Do you shop at Christian stores? Do you only read books and articles that are written by Christians? Abraham Kuyper put it like this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  6. You have a really hard time dealing with the fact that Jesus was called “a friend of sinners.” Something about that does not sit well with you. You inwardly wonder how Jesus avoided becoming contaminated by the world. Jesus was called a friend of sinners because he was filled with grace, compassion and mercy.
  7. You have a critical spirit but think it is a discerning spirit.

THREE SUGGESTIONS FOR THE POSSIBLE LEGALIST

Take this issue to the Lord in prayer. Ask God to reveal to you if you are failing to show the same grace and patience that he has poured out upon you.

Another idea. Take a few people out (at different times) for coffee and ask them their honest opinion. I don’t mean the people who think just like you. Ask them if they can sense a spirit of legalism in your life. Give them permission to speak their mind.

If you come to the conclusion that you are a legalist ask God to forgive you and to soften your heart so that you love others the same way that he loves you.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. -Matthew 23:23

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. -John 1:17

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. -Romans 14:1

You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. -Galatians 4:10-11

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. -Colossians 2:20-23

 

 

Interview with Aubrey Sampson, Author of “The Louder Song” (NEW POST)

I believe one of the most important things we can have as believers is a biblical theology of suffering. No matter who we are we are going to experience pain, trials, and difficulties in this life. This is the reason why I was delighted to interview Aubrey Sampson. She recently wrote a great book called “The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament.” I hope you enjoy the interview…

Hi Aubrey! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Aubrey SampsonMy husband, Kevin, and I are church planters in the Chicagoland area. We have three hilarious sons, ages 12, 9, and 7. We love our city, our neighborhood, and love praying through what it means to “gospel” in our city. I am a graduate student at Wheaton College and an author/speaker- so we are usually balancing a lot. But we are so grateful for the opportunities.

In your book you mention how you are struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. How are you feeling these days?

Thank you for asking. I am feeling very good and I am praising God for that, as it’s been a very difficult last three years. Although, as most people with autoimmune diseases experience, I still have daily pain and sometimes odd issues now and again (sometimes I randomly can’t open a door because turning a doorknob is too painful). But overall, my disease is at bay. As one of my friends said, “I am in the process of experiencing healing.” I’ll take it.

I loved the story in chapter one of going to a concert and how you discovered the power of a louder song. Would you mind explaining what happened at the concert and how God was using it to teach you a valuable lesson about suffering?

That is actually my favorite story in the book! I won’t explain too much because it will spoil the book. But here is a little peek:

During a very difficult few years which I write about in The Louder Song, my gnawing questions about suffering and God’s goodness became too much to handle. My usual spiritual disciplines were no longer helping me to feel connected to God. And honestly, for the first time in 30 years as a Christian I began to wonder if I was praying to the ceiling fan…is God even real? Does God even hear me? I asked the questions we all ask in times of crisis, right?

I know God is not the author of evil but I couldn’t’ make sense of God not stopping evil form hitting my life and the lives of those I loved. My relationship with God—which was at once thriving, and beautiful and lovely, became this small, unrecognizable thing. Ultimately God no longer fit into the box I had designated for him and I had no idea what to do about it. What I didn’t realize is that God was about to blow the box wide open and reveal more of himself to me.

One night, in God’s perfect timing, a friend invited me to a concert—and I needed a night out, so I went with her….to this little theater in the round….we walked in, grabbed our seats, the lights dimmed and a screen descended from the ceiling with a trigger warning—the screen began to show disturbing images of pain, starvation, poverty, oppression. And I was thinking, “What is happening? Why are we here?” Then this choir in dark robes walked on stage and started singing this ancient funeral dirge–low, slow, and depressing. And as you can image, the mood- in the audience shifted. We were initially excited for the concert to start, but this moment kind of took the wind from our sails. I turned to my friend- and was about to suggest we leave–this was just too much emotion for me to handle at the time.

What I didn’t realize was that another choir was actually planted in the audience, surrounding the entire theater, posing as audience members. Suddenly they stood up and started singing over us this hopeful, joyful, triumphant song. It was startling but not scary; they sang over us like they were performing life saving surgery. The dirge was still being sung. The suffering images still being displayed. But the hopeful song was growing louder….and that song began to overpower the dark heavy song in front of us…and suddenly, from within the deep places of my soul that had been so grieving, so hurt, feeling so betrayed by God, avoiding hiding…, I felt God say, “Aubrey, this is what I do. I don’t pretend like evil and pain and suffering don’t exist and you don’t have to either. But I sing a louder song over them – a song of hope and joy and renewal and restoration and healing.”

I sat there and bawled like a baby–finally releasing my fears and worries and sadness to God.What I didn’t realize at the time is that concert was a LAMENT concert and it was the first time I was exposed to the spiritual discipline and biblical language of lament. And from that night on- for the next three years, really, lament became the language, the disciple, the experience that God used to move my heavy heart back to a place of hope.

And now- three years later- I don’t have many clear cut answers- but I understand that there is a mystery to suffering- that if we allow it, can actually draw us deeper into intimacy with our God.

In your book you talk about the tendency we have to act as if everything is OK and hide what is really going on in our hearts. What can churches do to create a safe environment where people know it is OK to admit that they don’t have it all together?

That’s such a great question. I think, especially in the west, we tend to want to see the VICTORY! The MOUNTAIN TOP! The TRIUMPH, The SERMON APPLICATION! We want to get to Easter and skip over Good Friday. And of course, it’s a good instinct to live into our hope in Christ. But sometimes we do this at the expense of acknowledging and honoring our pain and the world’s pain. I’m totally guilty of wanting to slap a Band Aid on and pretending like everything is okay. For real transformation and healing to take place, church leaders need to model vulnerability. We certainly don’t have to share our whole messes with the whole world, but we can practice authentic vulnerability in the midst of struggle, so that our folks can learn what it means to endure in the messy middle—not just on the other side.

I also think it’s important not to try to “balance the scales” for people’s suffering. What I mean by that is, sometimes we want to say to our people, “Yes, you’re suffering this incredible thing, BUT, look at all of the wonderful things that will happen because of it. Look at the testimony it will be! Look at how many people will be encouraged!” I think that is a super kindhearted instinct, but when folks are truly grieving, it’s often more loving to simply sit with them on their mourning benches, or climb down into the pit with them and grieve with them. We have to be less awkward around other people’s pain—we can declare hope without invalidating or “fixing.”

You point out that in the bible there are more lament songs than there are praise songs. Why do you think it is so important that Christians learn the power of lament in everyday life?

When Christians lament, we do so to a God who lets us. Our cries—even our cries of doubt and despair—fall on his loving, listening ears. In fact, what’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and Friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament. We have a God who desires and deserves our wholehearted praise. But he is also a God who wants an authentic, meaningful, intimate love relationship with us. We have a groom who gives his bride a voice.

I actually believe lament is a powerful evangelistic tool- because even if our lament is impolite, raw, or bitter, even if we express sorrow or verbalize anger, even if we make demands, as we lament, we actually preach to the world (and to ourselves) that it is possible to have a fearless, deeply intimate relationship with God. A God who not only is worthy of our thanksgiving and our joyful worship but also wants every part of us—not just our “pretty” selves, but our sharp edges, our sin struggles, our suffering, and our sadness.

On top of that, if we never acknowledge our pain to God, we will never truly know what it means to praise him on the other side of suffering. It is in our honest crying out to God about our pain that our worship of God grows more authentic. It is in this kind of relationship, this kind of honesty with God that our walks with him become real. Lament is part of the rhythm of a deepening relationship with him.

Lastly, lament, especially communal lament, helps open our eyes to the sufferers around the world. We have brothers and sisters experiencing persecution and oppression everyday. We can and should be lamenting with and for them.

In chapter 11 you talk about “the end of all laments.” Can you explain what you mean by this?

For this question, I’ll leave you with a direct quote from the book, if you don’t mind:

“Here’s the hope of all laments: Generations after the events of Lamentations, Jesus left the comfort of heaven and entered Jerusalem’s long years of suffering. He willingly, voluntarily became both the object and subject of lament. In taking upon himself the consequences for all of our sin, the penalty for the world’s idolatry, the power of death—and in taking on the principalities and forces of darkness—Jesus didn’t hesitate to expose himself to the worst any person could face. Instead, he willingly bore the full weight of it all on the cross. After years of longing, after generations of lament—through the suffering of their very own King—the Israelites were, as we are, healed.

The War On Christmas

I just want to quickly ask and answer two questions.

Is There A War On Christmas?

To some degree I believe the answer to this question is yes. Christmas is all about Jesus Christ coming to this dangerous world to rescue men and women from their sins. Biblically we know there is an adversary, Satan, who is hell-bent on stopping the work of Jesus and his church. So I think there can be little doubt that there is a spiritual battle to keep the true meaning of Christmas from being displayed and communicated in all its beauty and glory.

If you want some evidence that there is a spiritual battle going on against Christmas consider this overlooked story in Matthew 2:16-18. Jesus had been born and we see how Herod reacts to this news:

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be comforted, because they care no more.”

Part of the Christmas story is the tragic fact that there was a massacre of innocent children for the specific purpose of killing Jesus. Satan wanted, and would still like, to kill Christmas.

Are We Responding To The War On Christmas The Right Way?

OK, so from Scripture we see that the battle is real. But are we responding the right way? Unfortunately, I believe many times the answer to this question is no. When our primary weapons include anger, rage, venting, and arguing then we know that we have adopted man’s weapons for battle. Might I make a few suggestions?

  • We don’t need to complain about the X in Christmas.
  • We don’t need to post mean things online because a greeter at Walmart said “happy holidays” to us.
  • We don’t need to keep reminding people that it wasn’t like this in the good ole days.
  • We need to be aware that heavy doses of the daily news can make us angry at our culture instead of living as people of compassion and mercy.
  • We don’t need to lose our mind when coffee cups, department stores, and our culture in general has lost sight of what Christmas is all about.

The apostle Paul reminds us that we don’t use the world’s weapons for this spiritual battle. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 10:3) As followers of Jesus Christ we must keep our eyes on him and how he responded to this war. Think about this, as Jesus was being nailed to the cross he uttered these amazing words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  Jesus loved, served, and ultimately was willing to die on the cross for this world. How should we then live?

The gospel reminds us that our greatest weapon is love. So this Christmas if we have a desire to see our culture more accurately reflect the true meaning of Christmas let’s lay down the world’s weapons and begin loving people in everyday life the same way that Jesus has demonstrated his love to us.

I Feel Disconnected From Meaningful Relationships In The Church

One of the things I deeply desire is to see people build meaningful relationships within the church where I pastor. Hopefully by now we all realize that church is much more than a Sunday morning event. Church consists of people who are deeply committed to Christ and to one another. So what are some practical steps you can take to build deep relationships in the church?

You Must Recognize Your Need For Relationships

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 we read this from the apostle Paul, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul knew that being a part of the church involved sharing his life with others. It does not matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. The bottom-line is that we all need brothers and sisters in the church to love, challenge, and encourage us.

You Will Need To Re-prioritize Your Busy Life

“Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.” -Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem

Busyness is one of the main barriers when it comes to building deep relationships in the church. What we can’t do is keep the status quo, running at full speed with no margin, and then expect to add in meaningful relationships. Most likely you are going to have to stop doing something you are currently doing so that you have time to build relationships.

Why not stop right now and ask the question, what do I need to stop doing so that I can get to know people in my church on a deeper level?

You Should Join A Life Group

Maybe your church calls it something else (Small Groups, Missional Communities, Gospel Communities, Cell Groups, Home Groups, etc.). Life Groups are geared to help people develop relationships with the express purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. You might argue by saying that you can build relationships without joining a Life Group. My question for you is this, how is that working for you? I believe it is helpful to make the commitment to being a part of a group on a regular basis.

You Must Be Willing To Deal With The Discomfort Of Getting To Know People That Are Different Than You

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience(s) when it comes to building relationships in the church. Perhaps you joined a Life Group before and it did not go the way you hoped. When you think about Jesus’ Life Group (his disciples) you are quickly reminded of how incredibly dysfunctional they were. Think about how many times Peter said something that offended Thomas (or one of the other disciples). Think about the Sons of Zebedee asking to be the greatest and granted the privilege of sitting at the right hand of Jesus in heaven. Talk about hurting the feelings of others. It was their love for God and for each other that kept them together even in the middle of disagreements and relational challenges.

You Should Invite People Over For Meals

Here is something I have noticed over my many years of leading Life Groups. It’s possible for the Life Group to begin to feel like just another weekly meeting. You get together to study, pray and eat some food and then live life on your own for the rest of the week. To keep your Life Group from feeling like a meeting I would suggest you begin having people over for meals, or meet them for breakfast or lunch. These little steps will go along way when it comes to helping us develop meaningful relationships in the church.

Finding Holy In The Suburbs by Ashley Hales

February 22-23, 2019, we are going to have Ashley Hales come out and teach at our Women’s Retreat. One of the moms, Jenna Moffatt, who attends New Life Church, knows Ashley fairly well. So I asked Jenna if she would be willing to share a little bit about “Finding Holy” via my blog. So here you go! BTW-Great job Jenna!

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My third child will be six months old in a few days. I had expected our son’s birth to usher in the highest amount of stress, since research shows (of course) that three children are more stressful than any other number—higher or lower. In many ways, having three has been harder, my husband and I are outnumbered, more time spent nursing than attending to my two daughters or cleaning the house. But, in other ways, number three has ushered in an easier season. I no longer feel the need to strive for perfection around the house, socially, in parenting; rather, three has shown me that these lofty goals are impossible.  I cannot fix myself or parent in such a way that my children will turn out to be the cutest little moral beings that you ever did see. In many ways, Ashley Hales’ book came at a pivotal time for me as a new mother trying to find my place in the craziness of new life.

As I’m feeling temptation of “keeping it all together” slip through my fingertips and combating the guilt of a disheveled stay-at-home mom with discolored grout creeping up my all-white bathroom tile, I wonder what higher calling God has for me in this time. Have you also wondered how the gospel is relevant for where and how you live? In her new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, Ashley wrestles with temptations of everyday living in America and graciously orients us toward the story we ultimately were created for. I found that one reviewer stated it best, “[Ashley] only cuts where it can bring healing.” Throughout her beautifully written words, most often with first being vulnerable herself, she consistently points us back to our redeemer, Jesus.

If you’re not from the suburbs, don’t stop here. Her words are relevant for anyone who lives in any community with at least a modest income in America (including in rural communities like my own). The book consists of three sections: common idols that suburban Americans face, living in repentance and belovedness, and then counter steps to take when pursuing holiness.

Idols of the Suburbs

Through these chapters, I discovered that I had fallen victim to idols I had previously fought to identify. Ashley writes in a way that puts words to and holds up a mirror to clearly reflect our sinful desires. In four chapters, she highlights the idols of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety, all as means we use to fill healthy hungers like, “having good work to do, to be significant or safe.” Each is a counter-narrative to finding our identity in Christ, who wants us to come home to Him like the prodigal son and celebrate grace from the Father, rather than trying to earn our way like the elder brother.  

The discussion on busyness was particularly convicting. Ashley writes, “instead of trusting in a God who is with us even in the wilderness, in the suburbs we use our busyness to stiff-arm God.” We fall into the belief that our actions will save us, even if they are true and good. When the world is racing madly on, how do we as Christians take a step back and find true rest? The anecdote to all of these temptations is to turn to Christ’s work on the cross: the Gospel.

Now What?

Weaving in Biblical stories of exile of God’s people and then provision for their every need, Ashley points us to the true One who will quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. At the end of each chapter, she shares practical ways to orient our hearts back to Christ.  She also shares how we can partake in God’s great adventure even if we aren’t called to missions overseas but rather a middle-class cul-de-sac. In the second section of her book, the first steps forward to finding holy are redemption and belovedness. First, to participate in God’s beautiful story and find his kingdom on Earth, we are called to repent. This, “is both a turning from [sin] and a turning toward [God]”. These are the first small steps to being embraced by your Beloved and, consequently, having the ability to extend forgiveness to others in community.  We are also called to quit chasing belonging through what we look like, buy, or do, rather resting solely in being beloved by God. Here, our greatest failures fall away and we find true rest, beauty, joy, and hope.

In the last portion of the book, Ashley presents the practices of hospitality, generosity, vulnerability, and shalom that train our hearts to be fed by God wherever He has us. We must begin small, finding ourselves content in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to propel us outward, bringing glimpses of the kingdom to our neighborhoods. It requires that we switch the narrative from my story to God’s story. As Ashley states,

The work of beloved is a constant returning to the story of creation, sin, redemption, and glorification. It is in remembering and embodying the story together in our local churches. It is in starting daily liturgies that draw us in to a beauty that overwhelms and is even present through pain.

Only then can we practice true hospitality, give of our time, money, and resources generously, be vulnerable in a way that brings healing to both people and the place we live in, and bring shalom or God’s “faithful presence within” our communities. These exercises give us a taste of the glory of the ultimate Kingdom we await: God coming down to live among us, with no more tears or pain. It is the culmination of joy and beauty and love.

If you, like me, struggle to find the plan God has for you in the trenches of early motherhood, or question why God has brought you to your hometown, rather than the inner-city or abroad, there is hope. You can find Holy in the Suburbs.

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If you are interested in attending the retreat with Ashley please be watching for more details coming soon on our Facebook page.

Do You Want To Be Filled With The Spirit?

Longing to See the Holy Spirit Work in a New Way

I meet on a weekly basis with my Life Transformation Group. It consists of three other men who are committed to making disciples who make disciples. Just this morning we were talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. One of the questions I asked was, “do you think there is more of the Christian life that you could be experiencing?”

I think this is a good question for all of us to ask. Do we genuinely desire for the Holy Spirit to change us, grow us, and empower us? Or, have we grown rather comfortable spiritually and would have to admit that it has been far too long since we really pleaded with God to reveal more of himself to us?

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

During our Life Transformation Group discussion we talked about the difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

John said this in Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is what happens when a person first places their faith in Jesus Christ and repents of their sin. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is immediate upon being saved and it is permanent. It is also not something that can be repeated.

The Filling of the Holy Spirit

In Ephesians 5:18 the apostle Paul writes this, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is different than being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Paul commands us to continually seek after the power and filling of the Holy Spirit in our every day lives.

Making Room for the Holy Spirit

So, what can we do to be filled with the Holy Spirit? I believe there are a number of biblical answers to that question. But one of the more important things we can do to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to ask God to reveal to us what there is in our life that we need to surrender or repent of. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit.”  So we know, as frightening as it sounds, that it is possible to diminish or stifle the work the Spirit longs to do in our lives.

This morning, our Life Transformation Group, took time just to quietly pray and ask God to reveal to us anything in our life that we need to change in order for the Holy Spirit to fill us with his power. We only took a few minutes of quiet prayer and each one of us came up with something that we sensed the Spirit telling us that we need to do or surrender.

What about you? Would you be willing, right now, to take some time and ask the Spirit to reveal to you anything in your life that is keeping the Holy Spirit from filling and empowering you?