The Most Vulnerable Among Us

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this,” it says: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

If you’ve ever looked closely into the practices and parameters involved in the establishment of ancient Israel, then you know that when the nation was being organized under Mosaic Law, a significant number of their guiding principles had to do with caring for those in “distress”—namely, widows, orphans, and the poor.

One practice, for example, was gleaning, in which farmers would leave the corners of their ripe fields unharvested, so that people in need could happen by and find grain to eat. This practice was not optional. It was required. God was serious about people helping each other out, especially those in need. And who were the neediest among the Israelites in that day?

Widows.

Orphans.

The poor.

When the nation Israel crossed the Jordan River, which runs through the valley between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, each of its tribes was given property. Inside that allotment of property, each family within the tribe was given part of the tribal land, land that was supposed to belong to that particular family forever.

Instead, after a father or both parents died, people with evil agendas would come to the widows and orphans who were left behind and re-boundary the property, essentially stealing the land from defenseless landowners. Dad was dead; what was Mom going to do about it? Or else Dad and Mom both were gone; how were their little children going to stop anything?

The laws that God had handed down were for the purpose of saying, “Don’t even think about touching those boundary stones. I am the Defender of those women and children, and I am telling you to stop.”

And defend those women, he did, making good on what Psalm 68:5-6 has to say. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,” we read there, “is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Now, jump ahead to Jesus’ day and the immediate decades after, when the book of James was written. Again, our attention is drawn to widows … to orphans … and to those who are distressed in our midst.

Back then, in the Greco-Roman culture, there were no “orphanages” and no “retirement homes” or “nursing homes.” It wouldn’t be until the third century that Christians were strongly encouraged to adopt orphans and raise them to fear the Lord. And the first-generation nursing facilities, where elderly people could come and receive dignified care, weren’t established until the fifth century.

Therefore, as a key leader in the New Testament church, one of the primary issues James faced in his leadership role was how to care for the widows and orphans in town. Orphaned infants were tragically being abandoned en masse, while widows who didn’t have a family member to take them in were pushed to the street and told to make do for themselves. Most had no such family member, and so homelessness among widows became a pervasive issue in those days.

Acts 6:1 says this: “In those days [the days when the apostles were preaching daily in the Temple courts and from house to house, according to the end of Acts 5], when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”

In response, James and the other leaders organized a system whereby the widows would no longer be overlooked. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables,” they said. “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word,” (vv. 2-4).

It was a solution that, according to verse 5, “pleased the whole group.”

You may recall an exchange from the scene involving Jesus’ crucifixion, during which he made sure that upon his passing, his mother would be cared for by his beloved disciple John.

Jesus’ father, Joseph, was never mentioned again after Jesus’ birth, causing most historians to believe that by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Joseph had been dead quite some time. And so, in his final moments before that agonizing and tortuous death, we find that what is top of mind for Jesus is one favored widow, his mother. He was determined to find her the care she would need, once Jesus had breathed his last breath.

Leaning into the example of Jesus, the Church followed suit. “Not on our watch,” the Church said of the rampant neglect that women and children faced. For now, they did the only thing they could do: they had women and children come live at the church.

WHEN OUR HEARTS BREAK IN TWO

The irony of James imploring all future generations of Christians to “look after orphans and widows in their distress” was that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was James’s mother too. It was James, not John, who should have stepped forward to care for her. It was James who was her son. Which means that either James was an outright hypocrite, or else he grew in his convictions after Christ had died.

I believe the latter is true.

James did not surrender his life to Jesus until after the resurrection, and it is my belief that once he had spiritual eyes to see things clearly, he experienced deep inner change. Finally, he saw how needy his mother truly was. Finally, he saw how he might help. It’s the same progression any of us must go through, if we ever hope to show up meaningfully in the lives of those in need. We must see the need … really see it … before we can begin to be of help.

I can relate to what James might have gone through emotionally, upon realizing his mother’s need. For me, the aha happened when I learned of a nine-year-old girl who lives in a neighborhood that New Life “adopted” several years ago. By partnering with those living inside this four-square-mile neighborhood, which is positioned in a less-resourced part of town, we as a church agreed to come alongside the members of that community to provide food, shelter, clothing, educational tutoring, spiritual direction, and more.

The little girl I mention was an elementary school student who had lost both her mother and her father and had no remaining relatives in town to look after her. For quite some time, as the “system” caught up with her, she would head down to the Salvation Army every day after school, where she would receive a meal and clothing. Eventually, staff there asked where her parents were and why she always came in alone. In response, she said, “My parents died. I don’t have a home. I don’t have a family anymore.”

She explained that friends of hers let her stay over at their houses each night, so that at least she’d have a place to sleep. She was an orphan in every sense of the word. Bouncing from place to place a mere fifteen minutes south of my house.

Something about the proximity of this little girl’s situation got to me. I have a daughter. Imagining Callie roaming around a fairly large town as a fourth-grader, having to cobble together outfits and meals hit me at a level that’s tough to explain.

That this girl’s situation had somehow gone unnoticed for so long was a wake-up call. How many others were in desperation in our community that we weren’t seeing? Not only did we as a church redouble our efforts to show up in the lives of both that little girl and all of the residents of that struggling community, but I personally decided to show up, driving the ten miles south to get out of my truck, walk those city blocks, meet as many people as I could meet, and be a tangible presence in their lives.

That nine-year-old girl is my neighbor. And once I knew of her distress, I began to pray, “Father, somehow use me.”

What that 9-year-old orphan must represent in our collective consciousness is anyone who is in distress. Still today, on a global scale the people who are most oppressed, most marginalized, most vulnerable, and most at risk are women and their children. Perhaps because of the stubborn vestiges of the vast patriarchies that have always ruled the earth, it will always be that way. I pray not, but perhaps it will. In any case, when Scripture exhorts us to “care for orphans and widows,” what it is saying is that we must keep our eyes peeled for those who have no one to help them out.

Who is being pushed aside?

Who is being kicked out?

Who has been forsaken?

Who has been left for dead in a ditch?

That person is my neighbor. That person is your neighbor, too.

That is the one we are called to go help … the one whose load we are told to lift.

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The Remarkable Cross

This is an excerpt from my new book, Remarkable, which releases September 3rd. Click here to pre-order. https://www.amazon.com/Remarkable-Living-Faith-Worth-Talking/dp/1982101377/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=brady+boyd&qid=1563219381&s=gateway&sr=8-3

Paul knew that he could blow endless amounts of time chasing down every manifestation of Corinthian waywardness he saw, or else he could labor to demonstrate the gospel, trusting the Spirit to draw tenderized hearts. He chose the latter, which I find instructive for you and me, given the culture we find ourselves in. As you might guess, the people of Corinth were spiritually stubborn. They’d found new freedom, they’d found new resourcefulness, they’d found new opportunities, they’d found new wealth. But Paul knew that even as this new path seemed stimulating and satisfying to Corinthian believers, any path that led to opposition to God was a destructive one. A fatal crash was in their future, he was sure. 

Thus, the level-setting reminders: Believers, remember what you’ve believed, he pleaded with them. Christ came. Christ died. Christ rose again from the dead. By his power, we can live differently now … 

I imagine Paul vying for Corinthian hearts in this way for a full eighteen months and feel exhausted on his behalf. It’s tiring to call people to change! A friend asked me why I was so tired one Monday, and I said, “I’m always tired on Mondays. Mondays come after Sundays, and on Sundays, I’m putting 100 percent of my energies toward pleading with people to change.” 

I can speak at a conference or do an hour-long radio interview or lead back-to-back meetings and go home feeling great. But preaching? It’s a different beast. When you go up against the gods of this age and ask people to imagine a fresh way of living, a wholly different direct object of their faith, the energy tank gets tapped—and fast. I think of Paul coming off of Philippi and setting foot on this eighteen-month journey to compel Corinth back to Christ, and my heart goes out to him. This would be an uphill climb, if ever there were one. And yet he knew it was a climb that had to be made. 

And so he looked into the eyes of those believers at Corinth and said with the compassion of a loving dad to a son that they’d traded something stunning for something sordid. Their pursuit of pleasure had replaced their pursuit of God. They had valued their own ways above the ways of their Father. They now craved chaos instead of peace. 

Come back, Paul was imploring them, come back to the cross of Christ. 

It wasn’t exactly what his listeners wanted to hear. Who wants to talk about a cross? 

As Christians, we have made the cross palatable. We put flowers around it. We cast it in gold, thread a chain through it, and feel noble about wearing it around our necks. But when Paul was on the earth, the cross represented serious business. This Roman method of execution was so bloody and tortuous and awful that you never would have even alluded to it in polite company, let alone glorified it. For Paul to preach about a Christ, a Messiah, the Son of God, being crucified was an awful way to start a conversation. Crucifixion was a shameful way to die, and nobody wanted to be reminded that the One they were following, the One they’d devoted their lives to, had been murdered on a Roman cross. This was a culture that celebrated the big, the bold, the successful, the strong, the sensual, the popular, the rich. This image of a poor, weak, vulnerable Jesus being put to death in this manner went against everything they esteemed. Which is precisely why Paul started there. The power of entertainment, of sex, and of money gets broken only by the power of the cross. 

It is by the power of the cross that believers can live blamelessly. 

It is by the power of the cross that unity can have its way. 

It is by the power of the cross that churches can operate harmoniously. 

It is by the power of the cross that humility can mark a human heart. 

It is by the power of the cross that deception gets defeated. 

It is by the power of the cross that sin loses its allure. 

It is by the power of the cross that true love is practiced. 

It is by the power of the cross that cultures see genuine change. 

Paul knew that the practical shifts he was asking believers at Corinth to make would happen only by the power of the cross, and so instead of shaking his fist or stomping his feet or disparaging the ones he was hoping to serve, he simply fixed his gaze on the old rugged cross, trusting that there, every wrong would be made right.

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The Gift of a Sabbatical

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16

This is one of my favorite Scriptures describing the leadership rhythms of Jesus. In the middle of a busy and hectic season of healing the sick, preaching to the multitudes and mentoring his core leaders, Jesus would simply disappear. His followers would frantically search for him, only to find him alone, praying, and restoring his own soul. He was putting on his own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.

It’s important we pay careful attention to the lifestyle Jesus modeled, and that’s why sabbaticals are a part of our ethos here at New Life. Every full-time employee receives this gift and we encourage them to take advantage. We believe these times are critical for the health of our team and for our congregation.

This Summer, it’s my turn for a much needed sabbatical. I will be gone for several weeks, but the congregation will be led during my time away by the strong team God has given us. The preaching will be handled, primarily, by Glenn Packiam, Daniel Grothe and Andrew Arndt. I’m thankful for each of them.

The elders and I have been planning for this extended time away for months now, with three primary goals.

1. Rest

I’m grateful I’m not wrestling with burnout as I enter this sabbatical. In fact, I am more energized and encouraged than ever. My family and I have strived to follow the principles of rest, solitude, and Sabbath for many years now. In fact, I talk about these life-giving principles in my book, Addicted to Busy. However, I’m sure I’ve underestimated the physical, emotional and mental toll these past years have taken on my family. I know I need to rest, and so I will.

2. Reflect

A lot has happened in the past few years, both in the church and within my family. I don’t want to miss anything God is showing me, so I need to pause, reflect, and journal all my thoughts from these amazing and challenging years. I want to have unhurried conversations with Pam, my wife of almost 30 years, and with my two adult children, who are racing toward college and careers. I will also spend some much needed time with mentors and close friends to get their wise perspectives.

3. Recharge

The last goal is to simply recharge my batteries for the days, years and decades ahead. New Life is growing and healthy. Our team is amazing and the best days for our congregation are still in front of us. I want to be re-energized to serve alongside all of you with a renewed spiritual vitality. I want to sharpen my spiritual disciplines, lose some middle-aged weight, eat better and exercise regularly so I can finish this race as strong as I started.

Thank you for giving me this gift of a sabbatical. I promise to steward this time well. Have a great summer!

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The God of Springtime

A few years ago, I sustained a tough relational injury.  A friend of several years and I were suddenly and dramatically on the outs. I had tried everything I could think of to reconcile the situation, but my attempts were all in vain. Eighteen months passed with no words between us … such a strong connection we’d enjoyed, and then poof—it was gone. I still loved this person. I still cared for this person. I still longed to call this person my friend. And yet it had become clear to me that by continuing to reach out when he clearly didn’t wish to engage might make an already tenuous situation far worse.

At about month nineteen, I was standing in my flower garden in front of my house, picking weeds and watering plants, when my phone rang. Gardening is cheap therapy for me, and I find that the neater my yard looks, the neater my inner world tends to be. I answered the call and heard my friend’s voice on the other end of the line.

As we exchanged benign greetings in that awkward way you do, when silence has distanced you for so long, I happened to be watering a mound of dead foliage. In Colorado, you can stick a perennial in the ground and expect it to do well for about a year, even as it probably will not come back. Our soil is terrible, our winters can be long and harsh, and outdoor miracles are rarely seen. I remember thinking, “Why am I wasting precious water on this pile of shriveled-up leaves and stubs? This flower is not coming back …” I was having this conversation with myself when my phone began to buzz.

Twenty minutes into the restorative, forgiveness-drenched conversation that had been nineteen months coming, while I was still resting on a rake in my front yard, I absentmindedly kicked over some mulch on that plant I just knew was dead, and that’s when I saw it: the tiniest of tiny green shoots. It felt like a nod from God: “What you thought was dead isn’t dead, Brady. I’m Master of all-things-new …”

Even as a young boy, I remember being fascinated with nature, with how trees could go to sleep and then, a season later, wake again. When I ended that call with my friend, I thought about winter, and spring. “I’m so glad I didn’t discard that relationship in wintertime, when everything’s cold and bleak,” I told Pam. “I’m so glad I waited on springtime, when things always come back to life.”

God is a God of springtime, the Bible promises. Behold, he is doing new things.

 

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Remarkable, which releases in the Fall of 2019.

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The Home and the Church – The Great Partnership

Recently, I was in a meeting with some church leaders, talking about complex social concerns like suicide, depression, porn addiction, and sexual brokenness. These issues are complicated and nuanced, for sure. During the conversation, which lasted for several hours, one of the leaders said the reason these issues have not been solved was because the church had not taught enough on the topics.

I know it’s easy to blame our societal ills on failures from the pulpit, but it deflects the blame from the real culprit. The church should certainly tackle all these issues – consistently, purposely and graciously. However, the family has always been the best place to educate and inform. Discipleship, teaching and training should always begin at home and be reinforced at church. Too many people are wanting the church to do heavy lifting that should be happening around our dinner tables.

When family life is robust and centered on holy conversations, kids are taught by their parents. Good parents refuse to wait for others to have healthy conversations with their own kids. Right now, pastors are feeling enormous pressures to fill the gaps left by broken families. I know most of my sermons contain information that’s being heard for the first time and most people in my church don’t have mature mentors to further process what I’m teaching them.

For most people, this creates a huge gulf in the discipleship journey. The home has no answers for them, the world is telling them lies, the church is trying, but failing to tackle all their concerns, therefore, people are left immature and discouraged. To make matters worse, these same people are attending church less than ever, which means they’re missing most of what’s actually being taught. Right now, the most committed people in our churches attend less than 2 1/2 Sundays per month and there’s no margin in their calendars for advanced classes and discipleship courses.

Believe me, most pastors want to make disciples. This is our sacred duty. We want people to grow up, be strong,  get well, and find the truth. At times, it seems the church is overwhelmed with pressures to preach on a myriad of complex issues, like violence, politics, immigration, sexuality, abuse, mental health, and so many others. All are critical topics, but a 30-minute message on Sunday will not suffice.

We must take individual responsibility for our homes and for our friends. Turn off the devices, and have real conversations. Do this regularly. Make it a habit. Each week, we must put ourselves in a small circle of trusted friends and talk deeply about the complexities of life. We must listen well, pray sincerely and not relent until truth is found.  Then come to the church and help your pastor lead those who are abandoned and distraught.

Don’t show up on Sunday wanting all your questions answered. Show up on Sundays and get involved with the people sitting around you. Most of them do not have homes and families that are safe for vulnerable conversations. Offer them your friendship, your empathy and your prayers. Go make disciples in partnership with your church and pastor. He needs you. I need you.

 

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Five Questions I Ask About New Life

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Some thoughts on marriage …

If you long to experience the kind of marital relationship that God envisioned from the start, you can begin by first taking an honest look at what’s captivating you right now in life. What or who has captured your imagination? What are you fascinated by these days? What is enamoring you and exciting you? And how does your spouse fit into that scene?

If you’re unsure how to answer these questions, let me give you a shortcut. The next time your spouse enters the room, pay attention to how you react. Do your eyes follow him across the room? Do you get up from where you’re sitting so she doesn’t have to come to you? Do you greet each other with a hug and a kiss—is there a little peck at least? Or do you barely look up from what you’re doing, mumble a “hey,” and wonder why you couldn’t have married someone who doesn’t breathe so loud.

Now, if your spouse just left to go to the restroom, the fanfare I describe might be a bit much. But when you’ve been separated for a block of several hours or an entire workday, wouldn’t a little intention serve you both well? Assess whether you’re interested in your husband. Assess whether you’re fascinated by your wife. Assess whether your spouse excites you any longer. Assess where you’re pointing your attention these days.

Next, once you’ve made your assessment, bring those honest findings to God. Before blaming your spouse for any distance you feel with them, talk about this distance with God. Before blaming your spouse for any distance you feel with God, work on bridging that gap yourself. The best marriages I know are made up of two people who are diligent to get their deepest needs met by their heavenly Father so that they don’t come to their spouse insecure, needy, and filled with doubt. They work out those issues in quiet times of solo reflection and prayer, thus bringing fulfilled hearts and lives to their spouse. Renowned physician and marriage and family therapist Ed Wheat used to always say, “Anyone who believes that marriage is a 50/50 proposition is kidding themselves. The best marriages are always 100/100.”

So: Look to God for the contentment, fulfillment, and peace that God, alone, can provide. And also: Don’t ask your spouse to be him.

On to our third point, which is this: Remember that you were made for covenant. Our God is a covenant God, which means that his followers are covenant people. The “I’m not cut out for marriage” claim that presently married ones make? Complete. Utter. Bunk.

Fourth, regardless where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or whom you’ve done it with, you simply must come around to believing that healing is yours to be had. Paul reminded the church of Corinth of this very truth: “He will keep you strong to the end,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:8, “so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.”

God can strengthen you.

God can strengthen your spouse.

God can strengthen your marriage.

God can strengthen your bond.

The weakening you’ve known can be reversed. God longs to keep you strong ‘til the end. Thoughts can change. Attitudes can change. Brains can change. Habits can change. Cravings can change. Patterns can change. Everything can be changed.

Communication styles can improve. Sexual brokenness can be made whole. Financial mismanagement can be redeemed. Sorrows can be worked through. I’m telling you, everything can change in an instant, when God is given room to run.

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A Tale of Two Teachers and How I Found Grace

WHEN I WAS a freshman in high school, my English teacher was a crotchety killjoy named Mrs. Bright. She always wore bulky double-knit dresses and a scowl on her face, but the glower was understandable. In those days and in our neck of the woods, most classes were segregated by gender, and having a room full of hungry teenage boys during the hour just before lunch would have made even Mother Teresa mean.

While school cafeterias never have been known for stellar cuisine, ours was staffed by East Texas women who knew how to fatten up kids. Mashed potatoes and gravy, juicy slices of meatloaf, homemade apple pie—you can’t imagine my caloric intake during the first year of high school. The lunchroom happened to be just down the hall from my English class, which meant I could always smell homemade butter rolls rising to perfection, even as Mrs. Bright hassled me about properly conjugating verbs.

Granted, Mrs. Bright had no choice but to be militaristic. She knew that she couldn’t afford to smile, relax, or tolerate misbehavior of any kind, because if given even an inch of leeway, my friends and I always took a mile. As a result, on more than a few occasions, I found myself in Mr. Lowry’s grip, awaiting a well-deserved paddling.

Mr. Lowry was our school’s assistant principal, and he had a special paddle that he would use on disruptive freshman boys. It had a series of holes drilled in it to give the blows a little more force, and about once a week, I’d see one of my buddies get dragged out into the hallway and then hear three steady swipes—pow! pow! pow! You’d think I would have learned from the pain of my pals, but you’d be giving me far too much credit. On more than a few occasions, Mrs. Bright would spear me with her gaze and point that thick index finger toward the hallway. I knew perfectly well what that meant.

Eventually, thankfully, I was rescued from my plight. Dad’s boss, as well as a little divine intervention, saved the day.

A few weeks before I began my sophomore year of high school, my father received a job transfer, which meant my family got to pack our belongings and head to Simsboro, Louisiana. I enrolled in a brand-new school, and my English teacher was a man named Mr. Burt. Perhaps the most creative, energetic, passionate teacher I’d ever had, Mr. Burt singlehandedly inspired me to welcome grammar as a friend and, later, to work toward a minor in English literature.

Mr. Burt was classically handsome and athletic—the kind of guy every teenage girl swooned over and every teenage boy idolized. He was the spitting image of Tom Selleck, back when Tom Selleck was the coolest of cool. He was also Robin Williams in “Dead Poets’ Society,” long before the movie came out, and he made studying Shakespeare the most entertaining part of my day.

Looking back, switching from one teacher to another seems so inconsequential—but sometimes a simple shift is all it takes to reinvent a life.

Many years after those beloved high school days, I came across a verse of Scripture that spread Turf Builder on my budding spiritual life. Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (NIV).

So that’s what the Law was for, I remember thinking. The Law—God’s Law—was a necessary “locking-up” in anticipation of freedom later on. It was a way to show us that without some sort of rescue, we’d stay locked up forever in our futile attempts to follow the rules, measure up, and make the grade with God.

Before we know God through Christ, we are “in custody” under the Law in the same way that a child who is orphaned today will be appointed a custodian who will help that child grow into a responsible adult. That custodian has all the rights of a parent. He or she has rights over any assets the child possesses, over the child’s training, and over the child’s protection, which is exactly the role of the Law in the lives of those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ.

If you’re not a believer in Christ, then the Law is holding you and keeping you until you surrender your life to him. Day by day, that Law will be an irritating reminder to you that you simply cannot measure up to God’s standard by relying on your own wit, wisdom, and strength. Mirroring the method used by Mrs. Bright, the Law intends to bear down on you, put restrictions on you, and remind you that you will never measure up. So, yes, it can frustrate you and indict you, but it can also serve to point you to Christ.

This is the reason Jesus came to planet Earth—to fulfill the requirements of the Law for derelicts like you and me. Now that his work is complete, you and I and every other human being alive have a choice to make. We can either insist on trying to keep the Law—spending our days racking up more good deeds for God—or else we can trust in the sacrifice Christ made, and in doing so, get transferred to his love-fueled, life-giving class. Whereas the Law said, “You’ll never measure up,” Jesus says, “You will fall and you will fail, but my sacrifice will cover your sins. Accept my love and live redeemed. I am your teacher now.”

Ahhh. Sweet relief. Farewell, Mrs. Bright.

Here’s the interesting thing: When I was in Mr. Burt’s class, I proved myself far more diligent than I ever did for Mrs. Bright. Rules and regulations only served to oppress me, while freedom compelled me to serve. Satisfying a worthy master is infinitely more exciting than slaving away to placate a master who in the end can never be pleased.

We’re freed from spiritual slavery to become bond slaves to the living Christ. In other words, once we embrace our identity as God’s daughters and sons, it’s our joy to adhere to his ways. Sometimes a simple shift is all it takes to reinvent a life.

 

 

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All Life Is Sacred

Recently, our church family gathered to worship and pray on a Wednesday night. At the end of the service, I felt compelled to receive a spontaneous offering to purchase tactical safety gear for our local county deputies. The response was extraordinary as over $81,000 was given in just a few minutes, enough to fully outfit 58 officers with state of the art equipment designed to keep them safe during dangerous encounters.

We’re a pro-life congregation, meaning we believe all life is given to us by God and therefore, sacred. We support ministries that help the unborn, we operate a ministry empowering single moms to overcome poverty and homelessness and we help serve the poorest women in our city with professional and free healthcare. Because we’re pro-life, we also responded to the opportunity to help protect our deputies who don’t have proper equipment.

All life is sacred, therefore, any time we have the ability to preserve, defend or celebrate life, we heartily step into those opportunities. Our law enforcement community has the unenviable task of maintaining order in a world gone mad with violence. Just a few weeks ago, a young deputy, who has attended our church since he was teenager, lost his life needlessly after pulling over a suspect driving a stolen car. In an instant, Micah Flick lost his life and his wife and twins lost a husband and dad.

At his funeral, the County Sheriff told me over 150 of his deputies didn’t have the necessary gear to protect them from the most dangerous weapons. Our church heard and responded with the offering. Soon, we hope all the officers on our streets are protected.

I realize not everyone will agree with me about this issue. Many believe the church in America needs to be more vocal about gun violence and the easy access of military-grade weapons, especially those sold to people with mental health concerns. I agree that our voice and vote will matter profoundly on these issues. Let’s make every decision based on the right questions. What gives us life? What saves lives? What honors life? Does every life matter, regardless of citizenship, skin color or party affiliation?

Some of the choices ahead will be tough for our culture to embrace, but it’s time for life. Violence, racism, partisan hatred, and tribal fears are not bringing us life. The Holy Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life. The church is a gathered force filled with the Holy Spirit, so let’s breathe life on a culture that’s dying. Every time there’s a choice, let’s speak life, defend life and give our money for life.

That’s what happened at the end of a Wednesday night prayer meeting not long ago at New Life. We chose hope and life over fear. We’re not naive. We know the world is evil, but we’re now hopeful more deputies can go home at night after doing really dangerous work. We believe life has come to our city, if only in a small way.

 

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The Troubled and Glorious World of Pastors Who Preach

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 

Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, men and women have had the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their gathered congregations. Some rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating. Sometimes, all this happens on the same day.

Most weekends, I’m satisfied that I gave my best effort, meaning I prayed, prepared and presented the Scriptures with absolute joy. On a handful of weekends, however, I’ve wrestled with self-doubt and wished that I never had to preach again. But, alas, I repent, pray some more and saddle back up for another weekend.

Over the years I’ve stumbled upon on some misunderstandings about my oratorial calling. I’ve spent many hours with discouraged pastors and frustrated congregants. There are four things I end up sharing to both groups.

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we’re invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we’ve poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be alone. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you’re not tired after preaching, you’re not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy lost isn’t easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

Our Western culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors, “If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That’s a dangerous trap. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it’s ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble. Be wary of preaching that divests itself from the full breadth of human emotions and fails to jar us free from apathy or deception. If you’re not regularly challenged or even convicted by preaching, you’re probably just being entertained. 

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has something they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. “Preach more on the Holy Spirit.”  “Don’t talk about money.”  “Speak more on politics.” “Please do not speak on politics.” “Today is National ___________ Day and you need to preach about it.” By the way, do all of this is in less than 30 minutes. Sigh.

Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the Scriptural path compelling us to study more. Preaching primes the pump, but seldom fills the tank. Each Sunday, I want people to take one more step, to keep following Jesus and not give up. I want saints to be strengthened, the cynics to be convinced and the prodigal to find their way home. Those are weighty tasks and will probably take a month of Sundays to accomplish, or even a lifetime.

 

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