A Valentine’s Question

valentines-heart

On this day that is all about love and relationships, I want to ask Christian husbands a question. Do you know how your wives are doing spiritually? Before you jump the gun, I’m asking if you know how she’s doing and not if you think you know because you have assumed how she’s doing. Has she told you recently how her walk with the Lord is going or, more to the point, have you asked?

In a culture with a growing fascination with the insignificant and mundane, even conversations among believers has so centered on the likes of sports, work, and movies that turning the focus to spiritual matters can be awkward and difficult. In God’s design, the family is the foundational building block of society, and as the family goes, so goes the church, culture, and so on.

If you are a believing husband married to a believing wife, you would both agree that Jesus Christ is the most important person in your universe. You strive to make Him more important than even each other. With that being the case, our conversations with our spouses should be saturated with the spiritual. And I’m not talking about merely theology or general doctrinal topics (though both are highly beneficial), but deep, personal, Valentines-ish spiritual conversations that divulge how you are both doing. This not only makes the focus of your relationship that which it ought to be but also makes your spouse who he or she is supposed to be, namely your primary disciple, discipler, accountability, encourager, and confronter of sin.

I want my kids to grow up in a  household in which we model spiritual conversations as the norm, but, more importantly, I want my life and words to prioritize that which is the most significant part of my life (God) with those who are the most significant part of this life (my family) and thereby being the husband, father, leader, and shepherd the Scriptures call me to be. The beautiful simplicity of all of this is that it begins with a simple question.

So, along with all the sugary treats, longing gazes, flowers, and romance of this special day, make it all the more special by looking your wife in the eyes and asking, “How are you doing spiritually?”

The Volleyball Tournament and the Case of the Missing Shepherd

Back in seminary, I was in charge of an annual volleyball tournament for our church’s college department that was held to raise money for summer missions.  This was no small undertaking as the college ministry spanned around a dozen campuses and had a weekly Sunday attendance of over 800.  The tournament, in turn, raised tens of thousands of dollars for dozens of short-term trips.

With each representative campus having its own Bible Study led by a “shepherd,” my first course of action in organizing the tournament was to have each shepherd pick team captains from within their studies thus giving me specific contacts to communicate with as the planning progressed.  With each passing day and gentle nudging, I received the lists from successive shepherds except for one.  I was running out of time and the stress was building.

So I emailed him.  Nothing.

I called.  No answer.

I left messages.  Crickets.

With each attempt to get this final list, I became increasingly frustrated.  It was clear to me in harassing the other shepherds for their lists that this was far down on their list of priorities (if it was on it at all), but this was ridiculous.

Finally, I tracked down his under-shepherds on a Sunday morning and, trying to control my anger, asked where the shepherd had been and if they could get him to get me the list.  They smiled wryly, patted me on the shoulder, and told me that it will be taken care of.  It wasn’t.

I just about gave up when I finally heard.  Not from the shepherd who had mysteriously dropped off the face of the earth but from our pastor when he announced that this shepherd, due to gross sin, had been disqualified and removed from his position.  I later got more details privately, but I can only imagine the grief, anguish, and scrambling to find a new shepherd as well as dealing with the fallout from his other position as the chaplain of a very prominent organization.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  You see, I was so caught up in what was most important to me that I didn’t even consider that there was something much more significant going on elsewhere.  To this day, I strive to give the benefit of the doubt and make sure everyone is okay if there is any change in a normal routine rather than demanding or even seeing only what I think or desire.  Though it is challenging at times when, for example, deadlines are looming and tens of thousands of dollars are involved, but it is dangerous to demand that what is important to you must be important to others.

You can’t see others if you’re only looking at yourself.

What If?

What if your pastor treated you the way you treat him?

What if your pastor scrutinized your every word and visibly chuckled whenever you made a grammatical error or verbal slip?

What if  your pastor dozed off every time you spoke to him?

What if  your pastor got upset and blamed you whenever someone in your large extended family did anything remotely close to offending him?

What if  your pastor felt he was justified in being angry at you for passing along your boss’s messages?

What if your pastor made sure you got paid very little and expected you to be happy about it?

What if  your pastor expected you to make every idea he had a priority in your life and hounded you the moment he felt that it wasn’t so?

What if, after you had prepared all week for his visit,  your pastor decides not to come because he was up late Saturday night hanging out with friends?

What if your pastor expected your kids to never disobey?

What if your pastor demanded that you be perfect?

What if your pastor felt he had the right to make decisions about how you should decorate your office?

What if your pastor got angry because you didn’t say “Hi” to him at church or spent more time with someone else?

What if  your pastor wrote you a harsh email every time you said something he deemed offensive?

What if your pastor expected you to never be discouraged or need to be served?

What if your pastor never served you despite you giving your life to him?

What if, after all that, your pastor sincerely asked you why it’s so difficult being you?

Pity Parties are Anything But

My posts are often birthed from thoughts I have that are whittled down to Tweets/Facebook posts that are then rehydrated into a blog post.  This post is one such example stemming from this Tweet:

One of the best ways to fight discouragement is to encourage others. Pity parties are a paralyzing manifestation of pride. #others

We all face discouragement at different times, on different levels, and spurred by different circumstances.  Trust me, I know.  I’m a pastor.  There is no other profession in which discouragement is so embedded in the job description and inseparable from the vocation.  So, as I write this, know that I speak not merely from the understanding of biblical truth but also the reality of human life.

The danger of discouragement is the temptation to dwell and feel sorry for oneself.  Pity parties are paralyzing in that the focus becomes self and not others, me and not Christ.  Hence, it is a valid definition of pride.  However, to allow a pity party to continue can lead to even greater devastation.  The hellish tentacles of that pity party soon engulf others in a sinful way.  One easily begins to start blaming others, criticizing, and judging.  Assumptions are conveniently made to feed your sinful thinking.  What is forged in pride will not soon depart from that original sin, so the pride begins to convince you that you deserve better.  The unbiblical sense of entitlement convinces you that others should have treated you better, served you more, or simply been a better friend.  Your attitude that began with only thinking of yourself now thinks of others but in a horrible, godless way:  as the enemy.  You harbor bitterness and hold grudges all the while that chip on your shoulder gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

All from a simple pity party.

Friends, when you are discouraged, that’s okay.  How you respond is what is most crucial.  Take your eyes off yourself and put them on someone else.  Upset that nobody liked your Facebook comment?  Go like someone else’s.  Sad that nobody called you on your special day?  Pick up the phone and encourage someone else.  Upset that nobody notices?  Notice.

Skip the bath, keep the ice cream in the freezer, ditch the pity party and serve!

How Dare You?

You’re stressing out all day about making sure your son gets a well-balanced diet.  Trips to the grocery store leading to frustration in finding that supposedly key ingredient combined with fear over the rise of food allergies and the stress of budget constraints connected to the high prices of organics.  Then comes the prep.  You slave away in the kitchen, making it just right because you want to make your special little guy happy.  You sigh a breath of relief as you put it on the table, bow your head in prayer, and your precious adorable son literally picks up the food, screams “Yuck” and throws it on your blouse.  Hours of anxiety and preparation decimated in 3 seconds.

“How…dare…you!!!”  It’s grammatically a question but comes out like an accusation.  There’s no appreciation for your hard work. No understanding of what went into that majestic meal.  Just selfish ingratitude that you’ve just about had enough of.

Thank God for His patience with US.

Ever complained that your cell phone is too slow?  Ever mumbled Christian swear words under  your breath while stuck in traffic?  Ever complained that a meal was too salty?

Ever complained about the ingratitude of sinners while you hung on a cross?  No?  Neither did He.

Like children, we focus on what we want and think we deserve because we have forgotten mercy.  We have forgotten that by our own hard, strategic, exhausting effort we have earned eternal hell and spiritual death.  Yes, you earned it.  Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.”

You have also forgotten grace.  Not only that salvation is a gift but every blessing, every taste, every breath, every gadget, and every modern convenience is something God has gifted you not because you earned it but because He did.

Somewhere along the road, the church has bought into the secular culture’s attitude of entitlement.  And when that sinful thinking comes to fruition in the minds and hearts of the children of God, there is something seriously wrong and repentance is  desperately needed.  Our desire for attention and personal satisfaction have trained us to quickly find the negative in even the most positive of things.  Complaints and negativity are grandfathered by pride and judgments.

Focus on that which comes from of God (Phil 4:8) and not your own sinful heart.  Because every time your complain, your Creator has every right to demand, “How dare you?”

Hypocritical Election Prayer

The passage most consuming my mind as the presidential election dawns is 1 Timothy 2:1-2:  First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

A hypocritical prayer is often described as praying for something while not acting upon it.  Praying, for example, for good grades then refusing to study would be hypocritical.  This is not so much a “God helps those who help themselves” issue but an issue of actions speaking louder than words especially as it relates to one’s heart’s desires.

When it comes to my vote in the presidential election, I want to vote in line with the prayer that is commanded in 1 Timothy 2:2.  The end goal of the prayer is believers being able to practice their faith in tranquility and peace while living out the fullness of their beliefs (all godliness) without being being mocked, afraid, or socially outcast (dignity).  So, my vote will go to the candidate who’s platform will not make it harder to be a Christian in America.

Spending some time looking at the state of Christianity around the globe (for some, this means focusing less on politics and more on your international brethren) will reveal that this is already happening elsewhere.  Pastors in 1st world countries who have constitutional freedom of speech and freedom of religion are being imprisoned for preaching God’s Word; simply publicly agreeing with statements from the Bible on issues such as homosexuality and life are considered hate speech warranting jail time or worse.

If praying for something you are not willing to act upon is hypocritical, then so is praying “for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” and then voting for a candidate whose policies will do the opposite.

Voting Falls Under “All”

If believers are to do “all to the glory of God” then the decision we make on November 6th is part of that “all.”

When you decide on which candidate you are voting for, is your decision biblically based and Kingdom motivated?  Regardless of whom you vote for, make sure you don’t compartmentalize your life when it comes to the presidential election.  In 2008, I heard very compelling biblical arguments from strong Christian friends on both sides of the debate.  But that’s the point:  their vote was based on their God-centered convictions.  They were not based on their emotions, personal experience, anger, economic status, or other issues the world tries desperately (often successfully) to make us value above Christ.

You may have biblical support for whom you are planning to vote for, but was that support an afterthought?  In other words, is your primary motivation based on Scripture, or is it based on secular reasons followed by tagging on Christian sounding reasoning because you feel obligated to so?  You wouldn’t accept that kind of thinking in any other aspect of your Christian life, so why is it acceptable here?

You have to make the right, informed, God-honoring, biblical decision.  I’m thankful for the separation of church and state but, for the believer, there is no separation between God and politics because, for the believer, there is no separation between God and anything.