Terminally Casual Relationships

It’s been a crazy bad flu season, and this year they have even referred to it as an epidemic. The threshold for an epidemic is that it causes more than 7.2 percent of deaths, and Reuters reported a few weeks back that influenza had officially reached 7.3 percent of deaths caused by pneumonia and the flu. It’s crazy to me how what feels like a stuffy nose, fuzzy head, and hacking cough, though uncomfortable, can kill people. I mean it’s not cancer or HIV.

It actually has a lot of similarities to another epidemic of even greater proportions. And one every local church must battle – Terminally Casual Relationships. When a marriage disintegrates due to adultery or abuse, usually someone jumps in to confront sin, offer support, and pursue healing. When there is a bully in the class, kids are trained to invite a teacher or administrator to intervene. Those situations make sense, after all that stuff is cancer. But rarely does anyone sound the alarm over too many, “I’m fine thank you’s”. And so no Gospel medicine is applied, no encouragement needed, and certainly no admonitions braved. Just smiles exchanged and the back door after the service eyed with a laser-like focus. This is a nasty flu bug, and can reach epidemic proportions in our spiritual communities. So, what medicine can be applied?

1- Ask a Question

I know that sounds so simplistic, but most fail to do it. They talk, they listen to someone else talk, and then they hope to get out of the conversation without too much delay in getting to lunch. Stop, ask a question: Who are you walking with through what you just shared? What is the hardest part of this circumstance for your heart? Or simply how can I pray for you? I have found that the question, What can I do to help? is rarely helpful because most don’t know what they need or find it hard to ask for what they might really need. It’s much better to be insightful, prayerful, and observant … then offer something

2- Make a Commitment

Salesmen often learn the principle of not ending one meeting with a client before setting up the next meeting, it prevents a potential client from falling off the sales radar. Not a bad principle. Before you say goodbye, commit to a phone call, a coffee meeting, or something you can pursue spiritually together (let’s read through this passage this week, lets go to this Bible Study together). Commit to something that will keep your hearts linked together in the fight against the devices of the enemy.

3- Give Your Heart

It can be a delicate balance between self-protection and self-disclosure, both can be rooted in independence, control, and pride. Some have no problem doing the emotional dump on people, and others guard the details of their own heart with militaristic control. Think to yourself: Have I let this person in? Do they know I need help, and the precious remedies of the Gospel as much as they do? Have I given them anything that they would be able to clearly take to God in prayer on my behalf?

Trust God enough to give your heart away rather than contribute to this spiritual epidemic. We have to be people that don’t wait for someone to be admitted to the hospital to care for each others souls. Guess what? We all need it, nobody is immune from this spiritual flu season … and you can’t sanitize your way around it because you have already been exposed. So just jump in and practice soul care together with your brothers and sisters!

Your Spiritual Pharmacist,
Pastor Mark

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Thoughts on the Chardon Shooting: Just Who Is Wicked?

I’m a big fan of the Broadway musical Wicked.  The big question the story muses over is whether someone is born wicked or has wickedness thrust upon them.  It’s the age old question of nature or nurture.  And though it gets asked in different ways, it’s the question our community is musing over right now.  Here in Northeast Ohio, and the local communities of Lake and Geauga county, we have faced a tragedy.  Just 72 hours ago a young man walked into his school cafeteria with a concealed handgun and unloaded 10 rounds on his peers, killing 3, hospitalizing 2 others, and injuring an entire community.  Our first response is compassion and grief … we weep and pray for the great loss of precious young life and the families forever changed.  We fight off fear and the paralyzing effect this could have on thousands of other students heading off to their campuses.  Our hearts break for the permanence of such events and our inability to really fix anything.  And the second response has been to consider this troubled young man who did the shooting.  The media digs and uncovers the dysfunction of his parents, being raised by his grandparents, his isolation, violent tendencies, and on and on.  The natural human conclusions pretty quickly go to ‘how could we have prevented this? If only he had a healthier home life, or we need to hug our kids more’.  And as much as I am for human solutions, preventative strategies in our schools, and the building up of the family … make no mistake – Wickedness was not thrust upon him, he was born into it.  And so am I … and so are you.

James 4:2 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder …” 

As a local pastor in this community I want to inject into this conversation that the same stuff that was in the shooter’s heart is in mine.  It may not result in murder, but it comes from the same place.  I’m wicked!  I was born a sinner to the core, and it is only by the restraining grace of the Spirit of God that my murderous heart doesn’t go to the very same place.  I’m certainly not arguing for justice to be averted or consequences to be avoided.  The Bible  clearly calls for justice, judgment, and punishment for the sinful choices we make.  And this young man will indeed face them.  It will help the victims, the friends, the community to know justice is served … but it won’t change us.  Until every one of us can look inside our own hearts, consider our anger, impatience, harsh words, and selfish behavior as rooted in the very same “stuff” as murder, different only in degree, then we will not truly heal.  Was wickedness thrust upon this young man? Perhaps.  But I guarantee you that for however poor a job his mom and dad did, they didn’t teach him to kill people.  I’m quite sure that grandma and grandpa didn’t give him this plan for acting out his hopelessness.  He got that from much deeper “stuff” that nurture.  He was born in wickedness, born a sinner, and born in need of the work of God in his life.  And so we all are.

Healing comes for the human heart and the heart of a community in the new heart only God gives through the glorious work of His Son Jesus Christ.  The cross is no fairytale, as much as this tragic event is no fairytale.  Sin is real, and at times like this we are painfully aware of the brokenness of not just the world, but our own hearts.  It is because of this that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world.  He came for murderous sinners like me.  He came to do what no one else could do … mercifully change me from a murderer to a worshipper of God.  This isn’t a Sunday sermon … this is a real life answer to the healing that must come to our community.  We need grace.  And that grace that can change us all comes only through our wicked hearts being changed by the righteous heart of Jesus.  After all the news stories stop, schools start back up, and we try to heal … will you please take some time to consider your own wicked heart.  This is the only thing that will change our community.

For the healing of our community,

Pastor Mark

A Quick Quote About Expository Preaching

Presenting expository sermons book by book:

1. Allows God and God’s wisdom to set the agenda, not the preacher’s wisdom.

2. Prevents preachers from indulging their hobbyhorses.

3. Allows the preacher to learn along with the congregation, rather than limiting the congregation to what the preacher already knows.

4. Requires a preacher and a congregation to learn about God as God has revealed Himself, not as they want Him to be revealed.

5. Requires a preacher to preach the easy bits and the difficult bits of the Bible.

Jonathan Leeman

Reverberation, Moody Publishers, 2011, p. 118

A Great Act of Love – Not Complaining

I wonder how many people went around the table to say what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving Thursday, and then complained about the lines at the stores on Black Friday. It seems to me that we have become far too okay with grumbling and complaining about things … ok, maybe that just means I HAVE become far too okay with grumbling and complaining. We think it’s wrong to complain, but feel justified when we have a good reason to complain – “The service was poor, they totally offended me, they should be much more professional than that, those words were so hurtful, etc.” What ever happened to grumbling being a sin? I seem to remember a certain group of people wandering in the wilderness and not too happy with the menu that was being provided for them. They grumbled … and it clearly tells us in Exodus 16:8 that their grumbling was against the LORD. In essence they were saying, “You aren’t giving us what we want, You aren’t enough for us, You don’t give good gifts … we’ll take our business somewhere else Mr. Yahweh God.” It’s called idolatry, and we still do it today … every time we grumble. I think I’ve become too comfortable with grumbling in my heart, it’s one of those “acceptable sins” that everyone can identify with so nobody really thinks is a big deal. I’m just saying – It IS a big deal. It’s unbelief, selfishness, and sin! Philippians 2:14 isn’t a suggestion or helpful piece of advice, it’s a command – “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Yikes! A grumbling heart is not a loving heart, which is not a rescued-from-death heart (1 John 3:14), which is not a Spirit-filled heart, which, yes … is not characteristic of a saved heart. I don’t think that means everyone who complains is going to hell, but I do think it means those who have been loved by God with His great love will work hard at practicing loving others … even the ones who annoy us, don’t love us back, and hurt us. If this non-complaining, agape-loving lifestyle isn’t what the child of God is about, then I think the Bible says, “even unbelievers love those who love them back, what good is that?” Anyone (and everyone) can complain and grumble, shouldn’t it be the case that those of us who have been redeemed by His great love (Ephesians 2:4) love others radically and stop our grumbling? Yes is the right answer to the question. Let’s all get ourselves out of the way this Advent season (and forever), to steadfastly love and patiently endure some minor inconveniences and mildly annoying people. After all, I’m sure I’m sometimes that minor inconvenience and mildly annoying person … so thanks for patiently loving me!

Still Learning to Love,
Pastor Mark

Dying to Self

Here’s the pesky quote I read on Sunday that has haunted and challenged me since I first received it back in high school.  Funny how reading it again 25 years later and I still have so many areas I need to DIE in …

 

“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ-that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take all in patient loving silence-that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it-that is dying to self. When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God-that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown-that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances-that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart-that is dying to self.”

Why We Don’t Pray … And Find No Rest

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting anything (for the 2 of you who actually look at my blog, thanks mom and Jill) …

Since my last post, I have discovered the tool of the Life Journal Bible Reading Plan (thanks Wayne Corderio). It’s not some crafty trick to grow a church or bring you instant spiritual growth, which is probably why I love it. It’s just an easy plan for individuals, families, and churches to read the Bible and interact about it. I have always enjoyed my “devotional time”, but found it difficult to involve others in that, not anymore. I do devotions with my kids, wife, friends, and now my whole church family. Check it out (www.life journal.cc). This post is a reflection on a familiar verse found in today’s reading:

Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Do you get the connections the Psalmist ties together here? They aren’t separate concepts just lumped together here to make it easier for the songwriters to come up with cool praise song lyrics. We won’t find God a refuge for us unless we pour out our hearts before him. I mean how much comfort do you find in a friend that you never talk to? Or how safe do you feel with someone you don’t know and doesn’t know you? You won’t find rest in a distant God you don’t know. You will find great rest, refuge, and refreshment in a God who is near to you. He is near as you approach Him on your knees, with a humbled heart, eager to talk to Him. So go cry out to Him!

So why don’t you want to go cry out to Him? Because you don’t trust Him. Sorry, it’s harsh and direct, but true. You won’t go talk to that friend and pour your heart out who has burned you or hasn’t really demonstrated faithfulness. But God is, has, and will. He has not never, no never broken one of His promises. He is altogether true! You can trust Him. If you find no rest in Him, find no desire to pour your heart out to Him … start with talking to Him about why you don’t trust Him. Be honest, He can handle it … and ask the Spirit to give you the faith to really truly trust the Father who is greater than all. Then watch your prayer life soar, and heavenly soul-rest fill your soul.

Trusting the Father,
Mark

God is Passionately Committed to Growing His Kids

I love hearing people track with me as we study through the book of Micah and ask the hard questions and do the real heart evaluation required.  Most of the questions and evaluation seem to come around the subject of “the oncoming train.”  I’ve been using the picture of the prophets who walked people through a dark train tunnel with light visible in the distance.  Sometimes the prophets say that light is an oncoming train bringing judgment, and other times they say that is the light of God’s rescue out the other side of the tunnel.  Thus the questions:  Is God judging me?  Bringing me affliction?  Punishing me when hard times come?  Is it Satan trying to tempt me?  Just living in a fallen world?  How do I know?  All good, fair, and thoughtful questions.  Guess what? The prophets didn’t always know the answer to those questions, and that is why sometimes the Lord speaks through them of a near fulfillment of judgment and rescue, and other times a far fulfillment of judgment and rescue.  So, my answers begins with something like – “God is for you!  And He is passionately committed to growing His children.  He wants growth, obedience and faith for those who call Him Lord.  He will let nothing stand between you and intimacy with Him.  And what we don’t always understand is those things that stand in the way of that happening.”  Followed by …

Is this difficult situation just part of living in a fallen world? For sure.  Sin corrupts, disrupts, and messes with all of creation.  There is nothing that is not effected by sin, the world groans waiting for its rescue.  Economies hit the tank, cars break, disease is no respecter of persons, and people fail us.  We know for certain that this isn’t heaven and never will be, so expect stuff to not work right, go right, or make us right.  You and I will always experience the sufferings of this present world … we just need to remember that they are nothing to be compared with what awaits us.

Is Satan tempting me, trying to get me to fail? For sure.  He wants nothing more than to make you bitter, angry, and isolated.  He will use the brokenness of the world to undermine your confidence in a good God.  He wants you to give in to the flesh and mistrust God.  He wants you to make other gods to run to, and to love yourself and your ideas more than God and His plan.  I don’t have to understand everything about spiritual warfare to know that there is indeed an invisible spiritual battle that goes.  I know that we must put on the whole armor of God because we wrestle not against flesh and blood (only), but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Our job is not to claim victory over darkness (Jesus already has).  Our job is not to cast out demons (Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world).  Our job in not to pray formula prayers, or put more confidence in ourselves.  Our job is to hold Dad’s hand as tightly as we can, trust His plan for us, walk through the dark tunnel with great faith, and preach the precious promises of the Gospel to ourselves … and to obey day after day after day!

Is God punishing me, afflicting me, or trying to get me to learn something? Punishing? NO way, not if you are in Christ … the punishment for sin has already been absorbed at the cross.  Afflicting? Possibly, because good parents love their kids enough to discipline them … it proves that they are sons and daughters.  But He never means ultimate harm, has no evil intent, and never rejoices in administering the spanking.  Therefore it’s always right to evaluate your heart and seek His face over those idols in your heart that He may be trying to root out.  He’ll do what must be done to fit us for heaven, even if we call it affliction here on earth.  And make no mistake, He wastes nothing.  That means that He is always using the stuff of life to grow us.  What man means for evil, or what Satan intends for our faltering, God uses as the classroom for greater faith.

And here’s the kicker for me.  What if He wants to walk us through the dark tunnel to show us greater things on the other side?  What if He has new things in store for us that we would never chose on our own?  What if He wants to usher us into a new chapter of Gospel ministry or a new season of fruitfulness, and we miss it because we refuse to walk through the dark tunnel with Him?  I never want my “eyes of sight” to keep me from clearer “eyes of faith” and missing out on the good gifts from my loving Dad.  What gift do you have for me next Father?  I want it!

Always wanting to grow … no matter what,

Mark