Godly Grief vs. Regret

The Devil and God both talk about sin, but in different ways with dramatic impact. While the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, never is the Holy Spirit identified as a accuser. God’s way of confronting His people in their sin Paul calls “godly grief” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).

First, godly grief produces not just tears or new resolutions. It actually produces repentance–which means a real turning point. The change is new and incomplete, but real.

Second, the grief from God leads the person back to a fresh acquaintance with the provision of salvation–the merit and mercy of Jesus.

Third, grief from God purposes to send regret away: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (7:10).

In contrast, there is a kind of sorrow for sin that has nothing to do with God. Over the years I have found that those caught in the sin of lying, for example, require the most active energy and time–particularly if lying has been a way of life.

Why is this so? On the one hand, a long life of this sin gives a person a strong skill set with manipulation. Such a person is adept at tears, quoting the right verses, giving meaningful looks of the eyes, and saying what the person in front of them wants to hear. It is easy to conclude that someone has godly grief when actually he is feeling sorrow because he got caught and is simply trying to do what he needs to in order to get everyone off his case and to get back to normal.

A grief that is self-generated and made mischief with the Devil “produces death,” Paul says (vs. 10). That is, it sheds tears but does not turn; it makes resolutions and quotes verses. But it neither rests upon Jesus alone nor surrenders to God.

Regret still tells the story in the first person present, as if we are still in the moment. It happened years agao, but we who listen get the idea from you that it happened recently.

Regret can also keep secrets. We put the lid on it and tell no one to preserve our image. It gradually eats away at us. But godly grief will eventually turn our sinful secrets into testimonies of grace.

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

The seven closing words of James 4:2 (“you have not because you ask not”) contain the secret of the powerlessness of the average Christian, of the average minister, and of the average church. We ask, “Why is it that I make such poor progress in my Christian life?  Why do I influence others for Christ so weakly?” God answers in the words of the text: “Neglect of prayer. You have not because you ask not.”

Many ministries ask, “Why is it that I see so little fruit from my ministry? Why are there so few conversions?” And again God replies, “You have not because you ask not.”

Guess what I’m asking for this morning?

Can You Trust God, Right Where You Are?

In Jeremiah 29, two different kinds of preachers are giving sermons to the Israelites in exile. The one is Jeremiah who speaks from God. He tells the exiles that they will have to reimagaine life where they are. They aren’t going anywhere for 70 years. This means that all but the babies born at the time will have passed away and finished their lives in exile, away from the Promised Land. The babies will have lived most of their lives by the time a chance to go back “home” arrives. The message is hard to take.

Another group of preachers is saying the opposite. “Don’t put down roots!” they are saying. “God wouldn’t keep you in exile like this!” “He is going to get you out of here!” “This place is temporary; get ready to move!”

Which church would you prefer to attend while in exile? I think I’d prefer not to listen to Jeremiah. In fact, a verse from this passage is quoted to cast a vision for the future. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiahs 29:11).”

What I failed to realize as I take up this wonderful promise is that almost everyone who originally heard it knew that they would never experience its fulfillment in Jerusalem, where they wanted to be. They had to grapple instead with the truth that the future and the hope for them with God would take place right where they were in exile–where they would live and die. Their great grandchildren would experience the fullness of the future and the hope back in Jerusalem. The next generation would get to move but not them.

What does it mean for us if the future and the hope that God has for our welfare means that we will have to trust Him right where we are?

Three Reasons We Don’t Care Enough for the World

Jesus called us to care and serve the world. Like the Priest and the Levite, we find it much easier to cross the road and avoid those hurting around us. Why are we so apathetic to those needs?

The volume of information we’re exposed to is overwhelming. For example, if you’re going through your social media feed at any given time, you might read about an earthquake in Asia, a cat in Iowa fell into a hole, a car bombing in the Middle East, your friend is doing a gofundme fundraiser for a 12-year-old that needs surgery, and somebody saw the face of Jesus in their French Toast. It’s difficult to care when there are so many things to care about. We’re exposed to tragedies all the time. It’s just another tragedy, another thing to be outraged about, another tornado, another bombing, and it’s so difficult to care.

We feel helpless to make a difference. The truth is many of us do care about what we see and we’d like to do something but we’re thinking, “Who am I? I’m only one person. How can I make a difference? Besides, I’m just trying to pass the class. I’m just trying to pay the bills and keep my job. I’m just trying to get my 2-year-old potty trained. Whatever it is, I really do care but I don’t think I can make that big of a difference.”

We’re blessed and cursed with comfort. We’re blessed with comfort in that most of us can order a pizza from our mobile device and have it delivered within thirty minutes. I talked to Alexa last week and ordered a pair of shoes. “Alexa, send me new dress shows.” She replied, “Based on your ordering preference, you might like these.” “Yes, Alexa.” Within two days, Amazon Prime will deliver them to my door. That’s amazing! You can binge watch your favorite show on Netflix but get grumpy when your wi-fi buffers. We’re blessed and cursed with comfort because what’s so difficult is the more comfortable our lives become, the more life tends to be about us. The more self-centered we are, the more self-focused we are. Comfort is like a drug. When we get a little bit of it, we want a little bit more of it and a little bit more of it. Befpore long, as Christians, we’re actually trying to leverage God as the god who gets us what we want. “I want to go to a church that makes me feel comfortable, where I don’t have to do too much, where they don’t make me feel guilty. I want a god who makes my headaches go away and makes my bank account go up. I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to suffer. God, I want you to do whatever it takes to make me more comfortable because we’re blessed and cursed with comfort. Life is all about me.”

How do we overcome this incredibly repulsive attitude of apathy? My two quick ideas are #1, Find something to be passionate about. One way to eliminate a general apathy in life is to be passionate about something, anything, a hobby, a pursuit, something that is bigger than just you and your own wants and your own stuff.

#2, a much bigger idea, think through the reality of what Jesus did and your identity in Christ. The realization of exactly how much Jesus loves us and the extent to which He demonstrated that, should shake any apathy out of us.

Five Ways Jesus was a Hospitable Leader at the Last Supper

Jesus intentionally created a space that was physically, spiritually, emotionally, attitudinally, and communicatively hospitable.

  1. The Last Supper was physically hospitable. He paid special attention to the physical space. Prior to the Supper, He sent Peter and John to get the space read for the passover feast. They had to find and purchase a lamb and secure enough wine for dinner. Jesus was very specific about the physical environment.
  2. The Last Supper was spiritually hospitable. John tells us that Jesus knew he came from the Father, had authority from the Father, and would eventually go back to the Father. The fact that He was at home with the Father created a spiritual climate that allowed everyone in the room to also feel at home.
  3. The Last Supper was emotionally hospitable. John says that Jesus “showed the full extent of His love.” That”s the greatest key to being a hospitable leader. If we want to warm hearts, we have to figure out appropriate ways to convey love in the teams and organizations we lead.
  4. The Last Supper was attitudinally hospitable. Jesus demonstrated the attitude of a servant by wrapping Himself in a towel and washing his disciples’ feet. he wasn’t an authoritarian but someone who met the needs of His followers. He was a servant-leader.
  5. The Last Supper was communicatively hospitable. This wasn’t just another passover supper. It was a leadership talk for the ages. During the meal, Jesus made a new covenant agreement, cast a vision for His disciples’ future, engaged in extreme team-building, and prayed passionately for His followers.

He intentionally created an environment to make His disciple feel welcome and comfortable because He knew what they were about to hear would change the world. There is so much to learn about the leadership of Jesus.

Only One…

There is only one kind of person: sinner (Romans 3:23). All people–Jew and Gentile, old and young, rich and poor, male and female, black, white, brown–ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

There is only one way of salvation: “The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction (Romans 3:22).”

And there is only one God who justifies both the religious and irreligious through the same means: faith (Romans 3:30).

The gospel, Paul says, creates a new, inclusive humanity that overcomes the divisions created by the pride that comes from distinguishing ourselves from others.

Men: Keep Dating Your Wives

There are many reasons a marriage can slowly die. One of the fatal flaws for most husbands is that we fail to continue dating and pursuing our wives after we marry them. Going to fancy restaurants, taking romantic walks, or driving aimlessly for hours in the car just doesn’t seem as important after we have won the prize. If we were to look at why we don’t continue dating our wives, most of us would have similar excuses:

  • “I am worn out.” You work hard all week and when the weekend arrives you just want to watch the ballgame or go watch your kids play in their multiple games!
  • “I have too much to do.” With little free time between work, children, and home responsibilities you never seem to have time to do what you want or need to do.
  • “I really don’t want to argue.” You don’t want to discuss money, hear about your kids’ problems, make a list about what needs fixing around the house, or talk about what the “Joneses” just purchased.
  • “We’re broke.” A night out can be somewhat expensive and there never seems to be enough money.
  • “I just don’t want to go.” She knows you love her; you don’t have to prove it again, right?

A date night once every week or two can be a marriage saver. Here are some ground rules that will help your “date” be one to remember and not just another “couples’ staff meeting.”

  1. We will not talk about the kids, in-laws, bills, or next week’s to-do list.
  2. We will not talk about all the things we don’t have time to do or how we can’t afford this night out.
  3. We will not intentionally bring up subjects that lead to arguments.
  4. We will talk about ways God is working in our lives and marriage.
  5. We will talk about, and plan, the things we may do together in the future.
  6. We will talk about ways we can be a blessing to the neighborhood, the kids’ schools, or our church.

God Will Provide

When God asked/tested Abraham to sacrifice his only son and then provided a ram at the last minute as a replacement for Isaac, Abraham celebrated and called that place, “Yahweh Yireh,” “The Lord will provide.”

Abraham proved faithful to the test. Yet the place of his testing is not called, “Abraham will be faithful.” No, it is called, “God will provide.” For this story ultimately is about the faithfulness of God. The God who makes covenant with Abraham can be trusted, even if God cannot be understood at times. For God both tests and provides.

Faith in a Pandemic (part 2)

We live in uncertain times. The coronavirus. A plunging stock market. Cancelled flights. Closed borders. Schools and workplaces shutting down. Empty grocery shelves. It can feel like this is a new thing, but it is not. The truth is, life in a broken world is always uncertain and disruptive. While most of us have never experienced these dynamics before, the fact is that unexpected and upending disasters have been a constant of human history. I was talking to Doris Green on the phone and she reminded me of some of the things her generation has faced. We get frustrated about low supplies of toilet paper. She remembers rationing food as a child to survive during WWII.

When his disciples asked him what the future held, Jesus warned them of sudden and calamitous events to come: “wars and rumors of wars,” “nations will rise against nations,” “famines and earthquakes,” “tribulations,” “lawlessness,” and “false prophets.” It didn’t take long for Jesus’ followers to experience these very things.

Some sixteen years after Jesus said this there was a massive famine that hit Judea and so affected the early Christian community that Paul carried out an extensive relief effort among the new Gentile churches to help the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28). Forty years later rebellion against Rome broke out among the Jews which resulted in Roman legions destroying Jerusalem and slaughtering large swaths of the population, just as Jesus predicted. Sixty-two years after that a second Jewish revolt resulted in all the Jews, including the followers of Jesus, being driven out of Jerusalem by the Romans.

While Jesus warned his disciples that these kinds of experiences were coming, he repeatedly told them that there is no way to predict exactly how and when disaster will strike. What he did tell them is to prepare for these challenging times by being focused on doing the Father’s will no matter what is happening in the world around us. Here’s what that needs to look like:

1. We are a “non-anxious” people: Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. (Matthew 5:25) The followers of Jesus are by definition people of faith which means we are certain of things we cannot yet see. Although we don’t know what specific events will happen or when they will come to pass, we do know our future destiny and that the One who will bring it about is incredibly good. This means, in the face of unexpected challenges, we can live in peace and hope as fruit of the Spirit, even if we feel fear or dread in our flesh.

2. We are a gathered and scattered people: From the very beginning believers followed Jesus’ pattern of gathering and scattering. The first church in Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts to hear the teaching of the Apostles and then scattered to extended family homes to share life and carry out the mission of Jesus. When persecution hit, the followers of Jesus were scattered out of Jerusalem to Samaria, Cyprus, Antioch, and north Africa just as Jesus had foretold before he ascended into heaven. This is how the movement of Jesus began to spread. For many of the first three centuries Christians were not able to gather in places larger than an extended family home and yet the movement was unstoppable! Why should it be different in our time? Maybe the current restrictions on large group gatherings will help us to recapture this healthy and fruitful rhythm of a decentralized church that knows how to function in both large gatherings and in extended spiritual families that we have begun calling Missional Communities (MCs).

3. We are an abiding and fruitful people: Jesus was very clear that good and lasting fruit comes from intentional connection to him. He also explained that those branches on his vine that bear fruit will get pruned in order that they might bear more and better fruit. The frenetic pace of our modern western culture often keeps us from the consistent abiding that would dramatically increase our fruitfulness. As public institutions shut down and we practice physical distancing it is clear that this is a season of pruning meant to give us an opportunity to slow down, rest, and take more time to connect with God and the people closest to us. We will squander this opportunity if we simply isolate ourselves, nurture fearful stress, and try to escape by binging streaming and social media.

4. An “others-first” people: When we are subjected to threats, our natural survival instinct turns our focus on ourselves and our own needs. When Jesus was on the cross, his moment of greatest crisis and disorientation, he comforted a dying criminal and ensured his mother would be recognized as part of the spiritual family. The Antonine Plague of the second century and the Cyprian Plague of the third century wiped out a huge part of the Roman empire, but the followers of Jesus became known as those who courageously cared for and ministered to the sick and dying. What are the opportunities for us to love our neighbors in this pandemic even as we exercise wise discernment?

I believe with all of my heart that times of challenge and suffering are when the true church of Jesus shines! I am so grateful that we don’t have to live in fear even when we feel anxious and don’t know exactly how or when challenges are going to come. I am so glad we don’t have to face it alone when the crisis hits.