Growing Old Is Not For Sissies

I turned 60 this year–actually a few months ago now. I think the dust of it all has settled and I’m in a better condition to talk about it. Hitting this mark shook me up more than I anticipated.

So, I have been doing some thinking. I know, that is dangerous, but hang with me. The question I have asked is legitimate, I think. “What do I know now that I didn’t know or maybe was afraid to think about when I was younger?” I think that is a legitimate question for someone my age to ask.

So, I began a list. In no certain order…

Life is rarely as it seems. This comes as a big surprise to a young person. When we are all young, we all have in our minds how life should work out. We may never say or even know how to express it, but we have expectations. However, life is rarely like what we think. In God’s providence for us, He moves in us and through us for His own purposes and it is often so very different. We wouldn’t chose those ways, but looking back, they were perfect for us. We may not have liked it at the time, but God was shaping our hearts in such profound ways. Early in our marriage and ministry, God put us in some of the most confusing and even ungodly places to minister. I say now that through those times, I learned more of what not to do in ministry than what ministry really was. There were some very difficult days, but now, I am so thankful God put us through it all. I now am constantly aware that most likely, what I am seeing now in life and ministry is not what it seems, and I can trust that God can and will put it all together for me for my good and His glory. Age has allowed me to see this and be ok with it and even expect it now.

Genuine friends are few. I guess I had a weird view of what a friend should be and do. Looking back now, my idea of a friend wasn’t very accurate. Over time, I have learned that really, there are concentric circles of acquaintances with really only a very, very few real friends. I’m slow, I guess, but I see it now so I can adjust. I began to understand this when we lived in Germany and the Saudi War broke out. Someone asked me, “If we do get invaded (in Germany) who would you call first?” Immediately, I knew of one name of a friend that I knew if I called him, he was resourceful and concerned enough and between the both of us, we could make an escape. That guy is still someone I could go to and we can pick right up where we left off and enjoy each others company. This is just one example, but there are people that God gives you for long lasting relationships but they are very few and far between. This is not a complaint, just a reality from my perspective. I continue to be thankful for their friendship.

Family is a sweet gift from God – treat it with care. There truly is nothing like family. No matter how dysfunctional your family may seem, it is the core institution that all of us were created to be a part. I now have a clearer sense of how important not just parents are but also how important in-laws can be in a family. I am now an in-law. I have learned much from my mother and father-in-law how to love, care for, and treat family. I have learned how to be a grand-father (or “Pops” as I am now called). But most of all, when it comes right down to it, it is the family that is where I am most at home, where I find some of my greatest joys and where I can count on to get the most honest feedback for my life. My children (all three of them with their spouses) are my greatest friends. I am now exploring the world of grand parenting and finding moments of great and unspeakable joy in learning how God has made them and how God is working His glory out in their lives. I travel this road with great care and find it so rewarding. Family is a sweet gift from God!

Pain hurts. We all know physical pain hurts–boy, does it ever! But I continue to learn that there is other pain in life and it hurts as well. Sin causes pain. The way people respond to other people and circumstances in life can cause excruciating pain. There’s unbearable pain when parents don’t parent with love. There’s inner pain when people walk away from Christ’s church. There’s unspeakable pain when some of life’s expectations don’t live up to what was advertised. Sin causes pain…and it hurts. Sometimes terribly. I don’t think anyone ever told me this in my twenties–or, at least, maybe I wasn’t listening. Probably more of the latter.

I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. The word “depraved” for some sparks all kinds of theological debates. I’m not going there in this piece. But, I will say this, it is true. I am far more depraved than I could ever imagine. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and quite frankly, from time to time, it scares me how much God’s grace and mercy keeps me from my own depravity. I have learned to love the hymn, “He Will Hold Me Fast” mainly because I know in my soul that if Jesus doesn’t hold me fast, I am a goner! But the sweetness to seeing this is the fact that Jesus has set His love on me even though He knows my wickedness. Just amazing, isn’t it?

Jesus is so much more than a ticket to heaven. I was raised to understand that “being saved” meant I would go to heaven. We sang, “I Got A Mansion” and it thus implied heaven and a huge house was the focal point, the apex of salvation. So, Jesus was my ticket there. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Now, that sentiment is not wrong, it just isn’t entirely right. My redemption in Christ is far, far more than this. It is my privilege into the presence of the Father Himself. Christ’s righteousness imputed to me means I have been given life–eternal life. Access to the Father is the sweetest because it is that all important relationship that was forfeited by my sin and willfulness against Him. This is all of grace and all of His magnificent love seen in the perfect work of Christ alone! Once again, it is just amazing, isn’t it?

Grace is the 3-in-one oil for the cogs of life. Grace is God’s favor extended to me that has finds no merit in me. It is God’s divine enablement given to me to live out His perfections in a very imperfect world. Grace makes the cogs in life work more effectively. As we have been given this favor from God even though we don’t deserve it, we are given a whole other platform now on which we can serve others. The law pushes us to a merit system for living that honestly, no one can measure up. God’s grace is available to those who humbly need it and is given freely. Grace then becomes like the 3-in-One oil that my father used to use to free up rusty screws or bolts. That particular brand has been replaced by W-D 40 but it still does the same thing–it loosens things and causes them to work and function properly. I praise God for His grace that enables me to function properly in life.

There are no magic wands! Finally, there are no magic wands in life is there? There are no quick fixes. There are no 3-steps to happiness or 5 Easy Lessons for a Happy Marriage – all of that is hype. All there is really is a life that is daily. Every day, all the time and in every way, our only source of contentment, satisfaction, success, joy or happiness or anything else you would give yourself to better your life can only be found in Christ…alone. This is not just a pitch for reformational thinking, it is just how life really is. I’ve watched it now for 60 years and have been in ministry for 37+ years of that 60 and have only begun to learn Christ, love Christ and live Him. Everyday, by grace and through faith, I get to live His perfections as I depend on Him alone. The more I seek anything outside of His grace and glory, the more difficult life gets for me and those around me. Nothing magic here! Just ordinary living filled with repentance and faith in Christ and by His great grace. That is enough! Really.

I’m a perfectionist!

I never really wanted to be. I never thought I could be. But, I am!

I remember well as a young student pianist I would drive my Mom nuts when I practiced. I would take a two-note phrase and go over, and over, and over it until I could perform it perfectly three times in a row. If I made a mistake, I would start all over again. Usually, somewhere in the middle of my striving, I would get so frustrated that I would take both hands and hit the keyboard striking as many notes as possible. By this time, my mother would ever-so-cautiously enter the room, tap me on the shoulder, and softly say, “Why don’t you get yourself a drink of water and come back to this later?” Mom knew what she was doing. While that worked to divert my mind and emotions temporarily, it did nothing to quiet the beast that was forming in me and showing it’s ugly head. I say ugly, because that is exactly what it is. It is ug-ly!

Striving to be perfect is damaging on so many levels. We don’t realize everything that is connected to it at the time, but the evil beast from within is there storming about and seeking who it may devour.

The implications behind my perfectionism

I call them implications because they are not often quite so readily seen.

If I am perfect, I don’t really need a Savior. Now, think on this long and hard. If I can somehow, someway do it right or actually be right, why would I need Jesus. This is perhaps the most difficult truth about my supposed perfectionism. Jesus really didn’t need to die. We don’t need Jesus, really. This is more than just wrong, it is heretically wrong! This is rebellion at its worst. It goes against all that God’s Word teaches. I become the savior and I am my own righteousness. It speaks of ingratitude for Jesus. All that God did for us in Christ is unnecessary. Wow. I don’t want to go down that road at all.

If I am perfect, woe to the people around me! You see, if I am perfect, it is a perfection of my own making. It’s not God’s perfection, it is mine. It’s not really perfection at all and yet I demand that not only I must live up to it (which in itself is a big hoax) but everyone around me must live up to my standard. The problem is they don’t know my standard and so they fail miserably and constantly. But this is good for my perfection because it makes my position of perfection even better because no one else can be perfect like me! I then look down on them and treat them as the failures they are. I let them know about it too! They will never meet up to my standards. Over time, though, because no one meets my standards, people grow weary of not being able to meet up to my standards and they begin to resent me and desire to not to be around me. I am left to wonder why and am often sulking and feeling sorry for myself when I really it brought it on myself because “I have to be right!” I end up treating people in such selfish and unkind ways.

Yah, woe to them!

Well, the Apostle Paul understood this quandary of life. In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a dialogue he had with God. He said that God gave him a “gift of a handicap to keep me in constant awareness of his limitations.” (V7 in the Message). He went on to say that he didn’t quite think of it as a gift at first, but when God showed him that in his weakness, Christ’s strength became visible in his life, he was glad to have his gift! He was glad to have his God-given handicap. His imperfection made him glad! In fact V10 says, “Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer!”

Wait! Who really does that? Who really is glad and with good cheer in their limitations? Not a perfectionist! You see, my faux perfectionist heart is full of self-glory that keeps me from the two greatest commands of all Scripture: Love God, and love people (Luke 10:27). It’s damaging to the glory of Christ around me and it takes away an opportunity to love my neighbor. Why then am I even in this world then? No wonder I am discouraged!

But because of the Gospel of Jesus, I get to be a repenting faux perfectionist! And, I’m glad!

For more reading on this subject read here.

A life…now a legacy.

You know that’s how it goes, don’t you? God gives you your life, you live, and then all is left is your legacy.  A legacy is what you hand down to the next generation.

Last night, our world lost a life, but certainly not a legacy.  Major Ron Brooks passed away due to a stroke he suffered earlier in the day. God took him home. thumb_12417920_10205776196781100_4652109840460545980_n_1024

He was my high school principal and a man I had the privilege of serving along side a church plant in Heidelberg, Germany. The generation he served and the impact of his life is today still being felt.  Thousands of teens sat under his preaching/teaching and many, many were rescued out of the grasp of sin and turned to Christ because of his influence. Countless numbers of men today stand in pulpits across the world because of his faithful influence.  Many today sit at home or at work and quietly live their lives for Christ because Ron at one point in their lives courageously risked his own relationship with them to enter their world and speak the Word of God into it. Many many more young people even today are continuing to be influenced because they are being reared by parents who sat under his influence for Christ and the Gospel.  The legacy is real. The legacy cannot be missed.

His time in the military had an indellible influence upon him.  It showed up in his preaching. There was always a sense of urgency that worked its way out of the text. There was a commanding way to him that spoke with authority.  It was what that generation needed.  There was clarity in his preaching that very often found its way to the heart where like it or not, he addressed your need. His time with his Savior had an indelible influence perhaps even more. It too came out in his preaching. You knew you were loved. You knew you were served with truth. Your life was greatly affected, even changed. Christ was exalted and God was glorified.

He was God’s chosen servant for a particular generation. Good servants of God are like that. They are “wired” and placed in an environment to do a specific task for a specific purpose.  He tended to his purpose with great zeal and tireless effort to bring the truths of God’s Word to bear in lives. It was his passion.  It was his delight.  It was his heart.  Lives were changed. My life was changed.

Thank you, sir!  Thank you principal!  Thank you co-worker and mentor. Thank you servant! Thank you lover of Jesus.

Your legacy is real. Your legacy continues and will do so to the 1000th generation (Deut 5:10).

May God’s sweet grace rest on you, Barbara, Ron Jr., Jeff, Leslie, and Stephen and may in the days ahead you find Christ as rich and satisfying as Ron taught us all that He is!

A life…now a legacy.

“Only one life.  Twill soon be passed.  Only what is done for Christ will last.”

5 Reasons why the Great Commission is, well, great!

Many people know the passage in Matthew 28:19,20 as the Great Commission. It is Christ’s final words to his own disciples to make disciples of Christ by going, teaching, and baptizing. That was their one job! He had chosen these men, trained them, and now he was sending them out to repeat the process.

But what is meant by “great?” The word great denotes the element of something that is the most important or the most worthy of consideration. By using the word “most” one implies there would be other considerations, but this consideration is great because it is so important, it deserves the highest priority.

Here are 5 reasons I think it is the “Great” Commission.

  1.  Making disciples is Christ’s only method left with us.  It’s pretty simple and he modeled it for everyone to see.  Find people who will believe in Christ (you could even be used by God to lead them to Jesus), walk with them and instruct them in all that Christ has taught you, and then see them identify with the body of believers called the church through baptism. It’s the perfect design!
  2. Making disciples fits best with the two Great Commandments.  Christ gave two great commandments (Matt 22:37-39) “Love God” and “Love People.” This identifies the heart of the true disciple.  He is one who passionately and purposefully loves God and this love for God spills out in a very intentional and relational love for people!  This pattern is reflected all through Scripture and Christ lived it out perfectly here on earth. We go because of our love for God; we teach because of our love for people; we identify with his church because we love God and his people. Our love for God shows up best in our love for people.  Our love for people is the main indicator of our love for God! John 13:35
  3. Making disciples is God’s tool for sanctification. God is good to bring people into our lives for the purpose of change in our lives. Often we think we are “helping” them, but in reality God’s design is to use their stubbornness, or their lack of self control as a mirror into our own lives. So often the issue we see in others is really our own problem which is why we see it. When was the last time you intentionally sat for coffee with someone who just annoys you?
  4. Making disciples is God’s cleansing agent for the church. Matthew 7:4,5 shows us just how important discipleship is. When we seek to help a brother take a tiny speck out of their eye, it is an opportunity to get a log out of our own eye.  Discipleship causes the church to get into the logging business. It’s very painful to remove anything from our eyes so helping someone else get a speck out will cause us to be very cautious, gracious, and full of mercy! This kind of caring church is a contagious church! Repentance takes on a whole new place within the body of believers.
  5. Making disciples is God’s method of growing leadership from within the church. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were among a number of men chosen to help start churches.These two were among a small number of men who were prophets and teachers who were fasting and worshipping together (Vv1-3). They were recognized by the Holy Spirit as men who were gifted and able to do the work of ministry and thus were sent out. The apex of any discipleship ministry is the privilege of singling out men who are gifted and prepared for ministry. This should be celebrated over and over in the life of a healthy church. Remember, you duplicate what you celebrate! A good barometer of the discipleship in your church is a list of people who are singled out and sent out to do ministry.

The Great Commission is just that–great! So, who in your world will be more like Christ and less like themselves because you invested Gospel filled time with them? Making disciples deserves our top priority in all of life.  It’s our one job and there really is nothing like it!

 

 

Questions for Discipleship

It’s a startling thing to grasp that the most important task God has given us, to make disciples, is perhaps the most ignored part of the Christian life. For many it is simply fear. They just do not know where to begin.

Love has to be the starting point.  Simply begin pursuing loving God with your whole heart.  Then, allow that love spill over on to people as you live your life. God loves people and when His love is in you, it is very natural for you to begin to just care for people.

A friend of mine asked me recently to give him some questions that help me begin conversations that can lead to discipling opportunities. Maybe these questions will stimulate your thinking and give you tools for this important task of making disciples. These are questions given to someone who is already a member of God’s family but is perhaps seeking to grow further.discipleship

  • What is God doing in your life and how is He changing you to become more like Christ and less like yourself?
  • What are some of the fruits of the Spirit that you are struggling to demonstrate in your life?
  • What areas of life is God’s grace becoming more important/more precious to you?
  • Tell me about what you pray when do pray.
  • How has your life demonstrated God’s glory more accurately today than last week at this time?
  • What three things have you repented of in the last 2 days?
  • What do you see are the steps toward spiritual maturity that you need to take? (I am constantly seeking to help them map out their own growth strategies.)

It’s not hard. Love God and then love people.

Words of Truth

Every once in a while, we all need a re-boot! For PC people, that means you do the ol’ crtl-alt-delete that starts the computer over again. I’m a Mac guy and don’t do that kinda thing anymore 🙂
But today, spiritually, I needed to.sunrise
So here are 10 thoughts that I reminded myself.

1. Whatever happens today, by grace, I get to find my greatest satisfaction in Christ alone.
2. Make the Gospel sweet and filling through intentional confession and repentance.
3. By God’s grace, I get to serve Him and serve every person God brings into my life. I am but a servant and sacrificially give of myself to others.
4. I will be tested in every way imaginable. I get to take a breath and remember where it came from before I respond to every single step.
5. I will feel overwhelmed in an almost breath-taking way. Remember that God’s kindness is behind every pain, sorrow, and joy.
6. There is nothing in life like knowing God and being known by Him.
7. Life is rarely as it looks – I should not be deceived.
8. God’s grace is far greater than my evil, wicked heart.
9. God’s glory is the ultimate in every single part of life.
10. Everything I need is already mine by the kindness of Christ’s perfect righteousness. He is my Shepherd – I shall not want!

How Does One Leave His Church?

I told a group of people recently that someone needs to write a book on “How To Leave Their Church.” I think for the most part leaving a church should almost never happen. I have watched people come and go in churches now for most of my life. Sometimes, for very good reasons, people leave one church and go to another. I had to do this just once in my life as a church member (not for ministry reasons) and it was torture. As a shepherd, I have watched over and over people leave one church and go to another or just drop out of church altogether and in my experience many of the reasons people have left are certainly avoidable while very, very few are unavoidable and understandable according to the Word.
The question I pose without going into the question of whether one should leave or not is, “Just how should one leave the church?” Let me offer a few suggestions coming from one who shepherds the heart of people and will stand some day and given an account. church1

1. Be honest with yourself about why you are leaving. Luke 8:15 speaks of the good soil that truly receives the seed is a heart that is honest and good. True believers are constantly being warned about “deceiving ourselves” in Scripture (Jam 1:22). Because sin is so deceptive, we have to be honest with ourselves and leave open the reality that we may not be seeing things correctly.  God gives us many good ways to do this without violating other truths in Scripture. Gather people around you who will fearlessly speak truth into your life.  Read the Word and again I say “Read the Word.” Usually if we are not seeing things correctly in one area, you can pretty well take it to the bank that you are not seeing things truthfully in other areas.  Sin is very blinding.  Check your ambitions, your motives, your reasonings but most of all your adherence to the Word itself. Is your reason a genuine biblical reason or is there something going on in the church that is simply a preference issue? Do you have Scripture to back up your reason or are you just uncomfortable? Ask yourself, “How is God using this in my life to change me?” Be brutally honest!

2.  Humbly speak to the leadership. Understand what is being said here. God puts leadership in place for many reasons–but all of them have something to do with His great glory. It really isn’t that leadership can do no wrong (although, honestly, leadership can give that impression all too often). However imperfect they are, God has allowed them their existence in that position. If leadership is unqualified biblically and you can biblically prove it (two witnesses 1Tim 5:19) and if your objection is truly church-wide, then you have a bigger problem than this one article can handle.  The fact that God allows leadership to exist speaks to God’s design that is intentional and with purpose.  So, as you approach leadership, do so asking questions with a heart that earnestly and humbly wants to know God’s will and not to seek proof of your suspicions.  Questions always help the leadership speak to your concern which in turn, makes the path to resolution accessible.

3. Be honest with leadership. Many will go to leadership with their concerns but it often is covered with words like, “I have had some people come to me with these concerns.” It very well may be that one or two people have talked to you, but be careful that it isn’t also true that you went to them seeking to find out if they would agree with you on your “concern.” It may also be true that others do have those concerns, but that is not why you are meeting with leadership.  You are meeting with leadership because you have the concerns.  The fact that others have similar concerns does not necessarily validate your concern and really shouldn’t play into it.  It may well they are blind or prejudiced in the same areas you are and thus are not really helping you see things honestly. An honest heart is not concerned about “who” is right; it is much more concerned about “what” is right.

4.  Give time to your decision. Make sure you are not merely reacting. Give yourself room to be wrong. Time has a good way of revealing things.  Give leadership time for God to use your humble word to work in their lives. Give time on your knees. Give time to the Word. Give time for God to work His grace in your life. Remember, God is eternal which helps Him to be long-suffering, and forbear, and deal gently.  Time has away of tearing the curtain back so truth is exposed. God calls each of us to forbear with one another (Eph 4:2).

5.  Don’t burn bridges. If you must leave, be very careful to not let issues drive you away from caring and loving people.  Relationships are very important. Your walking away from a church will have impact on people, finances, and most importantly the gifts that God has given you to properly serve the church. These relationships are important ultimately for what God may be doing in their lives.  Burning bridges in relationships often can come back on bite you as you have no entrance back into the very lives God may want you to minister to later.

6.  Give proper notice graciously. Don’t just walk out. If you have obligations, finish them. Serve God’s Kingdom by serving the people you have obligated yourself to. Give leadership a chance to adjust to your absence ahead of time.  Be courageously gracious. Remember, people are not the enemy – we struggle not with flesh and blood (Eph 6:12).

7.  Immediately align yourself with another body of believers.  So many walk away from the church simply because they had a bad experience. It is in these transitional times when Satan can get his foot into a heart to stir up strife, pride, self-righteous thoughts, and a root of bitterness begins to grow. This is dangerous as the accountability of the body and the soul-searching ministry of the Spirit and Word will wane because of the absence from the body. This then becomes a situation that is worse than the original problem itself. Run to the Gospel! Run to Christ and the church He gave His life for. Be warned, though!  The next church will be imperfect to. The greener grass on the other side…needs mowing too.