The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is unbelievable. There is a wide deal of speculation that this may be the worst disaster ever to hit the United States both in terms of human lives and also in terms of property damage. Roughly 20,000 people are missing, and the death toll is already estimated to be in the thousands.
Certainly, in terms of human lives lost, the tsunami that hit southeast Asia last December was a much larger tragedy even than Katrina.
However, I was astounded this morning as I had my Bible Time to read Psalm 29. I was so profoundly impacted by the Psalm, that I’m just going to quote the whole thing here…
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
11 The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.
I have read this passage before, but I have never fully understood it until today. The passage begins with a call to all the mighty ones to give God the glory that he deserves and to worship him with the acknowledgement that his holiness is splendid!
Then, the next major section of the Psalm (vv. 3-9) describe how God’s voice is like thunder that crashes and rolls and breaks trees and makes mountains jump and even shakes the land.
Up until that point, I simply thought that the Psalm was a metaphor for how powerful God is and how much his name is worthy of worship. However, when I got to the end of the Psalm, that all changed!
Verse 10 makes a remarkable shift. It says, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood.”
I thought that David was writing about God’s voice being like thunder, but if that is the case, then where does the “flood” concept come in? Suddenly it hit me. David must have just experienced a dramatic and powerful thunderstorm before writing this Psalm. It was more than a metaphor, it was something he had experienced. He saw a storm and a flood and is using them to make a point.
I was really shocked at the timing of this verse in my life. Just last night, I allowed myself the time to watch a news broadcast about Katrina and the aftermath of the hurricane and how most of New Orleans is under 10 feet of water! Then, this morning I read how God is “enthroned over the flood.” What an amazing thing to think!
Now, at this time, many people are asking that if God is really in charge of the world and he really is King forever as the Psalm says, then why did he allow such a tragedy to happen. I’ve explained elsewhere that even though that question is so personally powerful and even though that question has been thoroughly explored by myself and others more intelligent than I, it still is an inappropriate question. By that I mean that the question misses the point. The question focuses on the tragedy and not to possibility.
David had just encountered a tragedy, and he uses it to teach three important lessons:
God is the power, the force, and the “voice” behind the thunderstorm, and the storm is just a small illustration of his incredible power (vv. 3-10).
God’s name is to be worshiped and honored as we acknowledge his incredible power (vv. 1-2).
Most importantly of all, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
These are the lessons to learn from the storm: The God who reigns supreme and has power greater than Hurricane Katrina, is the God we worship and the one who gives us strength. Knowing about God’s strength, knowing that God is our God, and knowing that he will give us his strength… That brings peace.
Cost of the Tsunami to fisheries in Sri Lanka: > $520 Million
US Government aid promised to victims of Hurricane Katrina: > $10 Billion
Knowing that the Almighty will give us strength: Priceless
For the past few months, I have been a very angry person at least on the inside, and I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what was wrong.
Mad at God
I went to a session during the spring time about getting emotionally healthy as a pastor, and the teacher encouraged us to do an exercise where we explored our feelings toward God. She talked about being angry with God and how the emotion was acceptable, but that we needed to be honest about it and seek God on His perspective.
So I did.
For a couple months, I explored whether I was angry with God or not. I tried thinking about how God had called me to Chicago to experience so much crud and very little in terms of a lasting legacy and then was calling me to another opportunity without ever giving me closure on this one. I might have been angry with God. I shared that with some people and asked them to pray for me
For some time now, I have been wondering exactly what my role should be during this time of transition in our church. My wife and I are planning to move to Lafayette, Indiana to plant a new church, but Northwest Baptist is letting us stay here for some time during our fundraising efforts.
I’m truly grateful for them allowing us the freedom to minister here and do our fundraising too. I think it is providing a great opportunity for this transition to go well.
Therefore, I have been really wondering what God’s will is for us during this transition, and I think I have received an answer from him.
Tonight, I was just taking my 30 minutes in prayer, and as I was praying, I was asking God why I am so drawn to distraction. Really, computer programming has captured my attention in the last year, and I keep coming up with ideas for ways to improve the church’s computer systems. Then, I really want to implement them ASAP.
So I was asking God why it is that I am so drawn to that, and he reminded me that computer stuff is fun for me, and it is an easy way for me to get a sense of accomplishment, but tonight, he revealed something new to me about it. You see, the way it works for me is that I will get a flash of an idea for something that should be done to improve something, and then I will start brainstorming ways to make it happen, and then I will be so interested in it that I will jump into it and put all other responsibilities on hold while I work on that.
However, the real thing is that computer projects like that give me a sense that I have a mission, and so God asked me, what my mission in the church was? Was my mission to improve the technology of the church office?
Instantly, I had a thought in response. My mission is to leave a legacy of spiritual hunger for God.
Now, that is an incredibly bad way of wording it, but the point is that I want to leave this church and the people of this church with a strong sense of hunger for God. They don’t need to feel hungry for my ministry, for sermons, for a particular song, or anything else. They need to feel hungry for God.
I feel energized and ready to tackle this challenge. And knowing that I have this challenge in front of me, I feel empowered to avoid some of the distractions.
To that end, these are some initial thoughts for what I should be doing over the next couple of months.
Invest energy in making sure the Sunday service is a great experience for people—that it leaves a good taste in their mouths for God.
Teach messages that proclaim the greatness of God and our need for him.
Spend personal time giving people individual challenges to evaluate their own need for God.
I may have to add to this list as the weeks progress, but let me ask you to pray for me that I will keep this mission in front of me, strategize it well, and be an agent of people becoming more hungry for God.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled!”
For the past few days, I haven’t been spending the time to do my 30 minutes a day. Oh, sure, I have an excuse or two, but they aren’t really good.
Last Thursday, I was leading the wedding reception for Jonathan Kaushal, and that went from about 6:30 pm until about 11:00 pm! When I got home, it just wasn’t on my mind at all, and I went to bed.
On Friday, I had a rather late night because Jen and I were meeting with Marilyn Moravec that evening. That was rather interesting and there were two things that Marilyn said that really stuck with me.
The first thing that stuck out to me was her claim that one person is never responsible for the feelings of another person. That’s something that I haven’t yet decided upon. I don’t know if I really believe that or not. I mean, if I do something that “causes” another person to feel bad, then am I not responsible for that person’s feelings?
This is something that I really need to deal with to decide about because I have been burdened by this for the past four years here at the church. I really believe that I have made people feel a certain way (mostly because they have told me so) and therefore am somewhat responsible for their emotions, no matter how out of whack they were.
Of course, I can think about it all objectively to see that the different people who have been highly emotional in my ministry have actually been acting out feelings that existed long before I ever came onto the scene, but too many people have blamed me for “not caring enough” about others and causing them pain because I was either naive or something. The bottom line is that people have been telling me for four years that I am responsible for the feelings of others.
That has made me a people-pleaser more than anything else. I’m not really interested in pleasing people except that I have begun to believe that I am responsible for how others feel.
Marilyn says that is never true. She says that I am only ever responsible for my behavior and whether that behavior is right or wrong or good or bad, but not for how that behavior makes other people feel.
The other thing that she said was that I really need to have some healthy people around me to help me keep my objectivity when going through tough situations like I’ve gone through here. I thought that was really interesting, so I asked here what to do if I’m in a situation where all the people surrounding me are “unhealthy” and are not helping me remain objective, and with little or no hesitation, she said, “Leave.”
Simply put, if there aren’t any people healthy enough to keep me objective, then I shouldn’t be there at all. (Of course, I don’t know who would be there in that situation, but she said to leave.)
That’s been really great for me because it has given me a sense of release from this ministry that is greater than any other sense I have had so far. Basically, it means that God needs to bring in some kind of specialist to deal with situations like that. I’m not a relationship or emotion specialist, so there you go!
By and large, it was a good conversation with Marilyn which made for my first really positive experience with professional counseling. I still don’t like the whole “neediness” factor of it, but there you go too.
Yesterday was an interesting day at church. I basically shared with the people that we need to confess some sins before God, and I gave a few minutes for people to share publicly at an open microphone in the middle of the room. However, no one said anything.
None of the leaders were there except for Mary Martin.
MANY of the former Vision Team members were not there either.
Attendance was absolutely terrible.
AND, we still had some visitors.
I have been truly amazed at the lack of seriousness that the people in our congregation have when it comes to church. I don’t know if I should criticize them or what, but I’m almost mad about it.
Today was our VBS. God really took care of our needs by bringing a couple kids. It was Charlie, Katie, Jaden and Frankie. Even though there were only four kids, it went really well, the kids had fun, and the rumor is that they will be inviting some other kids to join them tomorrow.
I think the whole thing went really well as a matter of fact, even though I of course have been feeling rather critical about how it is being administered.
Nevertheless, I believe that God will be doing some good things through this program for the kids who come, and that is what makes it all worth it.
Lord, you know all the things that I have been talking about. You know my feelings and frustrations. You know what is right and true and good especially with regard to the advice that Marilyn gave to us. Please help me to be able to clear up in my mind what is the right thing. Help me to know what the line is between my actions and my responsibility and the feelings of others.
I know that my actions do result in your pain and your anger, and I feel that I am therefore responsible for your feelings. Help me to know the difference between what “feelings” people feel and what “feelings” you feel. I do believe that you are completely different from people and that whatever feelings you have are of a completely different kind than the feelings we people have, but I’d still like to have more understanding about all that.
Now, Lord, you know that I would love to get an early start on my message for Sunday. Please help me to identify what should be done this week so that I can keep my priorities straight.
Today God helped me to accomplish a few things for the church plant. The major thing that I was able to do was to set up a dynamic graph that will automatically display our current support level according to two .csv files on our webserver.
It’s something that I had been wanting to do for a while, and I’m really satisfied that it is now done. I think it looks great and I’m really excited about the fact that I have been able to accomplish it.
Another thing that I have been working on is the new little computer that Josh Thomas’s boss gave to me. Today, I installed (excuse the language…) Damn Small Linux on it. It is a tiny little linux distribution that allows you to run a full desktop in a very minimalistic environment. My plan is to use it as a web an file server, so it needs to have mySQL or some database on it, Apache, more ram perhaps, and a bigger hard drive perhaps. I’m planning to get it set up here to be like a personal intranet and file server, but that’s just as a test bed.
On a more direct ministry note, I had a meeting with Ruth and Sunil to talk about a wedding reception for Jonathan Kaushal. I was really flattered that out of all the pastors they know and out of all the frustrations they have had with me, they chose me to do the ceremony. I don’t really understand their reasons, but I’m flattered by it.
For some reason they respect me, and that feels pretty good.
I’m also excited because once I got all the data entered and the information on the chart all updated to track our support level, I clicked the refresh button and it popped up with 35% support!
In just two weeks of real support raising efforts, we are at more than 1/3 of what we need.
Of course, the major gifts have already come in. The major contributors have already made their pledges, and now the real grunt work needs to begin… now, the real prayer needs to begin.
Jen and I haven’t really contacted many people from Northwest Baptist yet, so I don’t know what kind of response we will get from them, and I’m not sure who on our list still needs to be contacted.
I need to do some work on our database system to see who has been contacted and who hasn’t and all that stuff.
I need to track the gifts that have come in and make sure the right people get on my email mailing list and stuff.
So today is the second day of my 30 minutes a day fasting kind of thing, and I’m doing it, but it’s late at night, and I’m not really fasting from anything to get it done. I guess I’m not doing my hobby with the new server, but I’m not really giving anything up to sit here. I should have done that earlier tonight, and maybe the chart thing would have worked out faster than it did.
I just don’t trust God to take care of that stuff.
God, I want to trust you even when I’m right in the middle of doing something. I want to trust you that when I stop for you, I will reap the benefits later. I want to trust you for all the things I face.
So here I am in front of you just sitting and typing and praying and I want to let you know that I’m not going to give up on this this time. I’m not going to quit doing this fasting thing until I know that I’ve heard from you and I know that my relationship with you is stronger. I’m going to stick with it. I want to really connect with you.
These past few days, God has been showing me that I need to take this spiritual renewal thing seriously.
I have been focusing so many of my energies on the practical aspects of ministry. What I’m doing and what the church is doing and what other people are doing and all of that, but I have been failing in just focusing on who God wants me to become and who God wants us to be as people—as spiritual people.
The truth of the matter is that I have been feeling distant and alone spiritually for some time. It has come and gone, and I have had times when it is worse and other times when it isn’t so bad, but I have generally been taking my spiritual life for granted. I know that has been true for me for a long time. The problem is that I have been focusing on discipline as the potential solution, and I don’t think that’s really it. It’s not discipline that I need. It’s an attitude of devotion.
What I need is an attitude that truly does value God first in practical ways, and that means I need to cultivate fasting as a spiritual discipline.
Today, I confessed my failing to the church. In my message today, I shared with the congregation that I thought our church was in a bad place and that the major reason for it was a lack of spiritual vitality in our individual lives. I confessed that I have been taking my spiritual life for granted and that I was going to embark upon a spiritual rebuilding project.
I’m planning to spend some time each day, each week, and each month in fasting. My plan is to take 30 minutes each day to just sit with God. Journal, evaluate, read, pray, and listen. I also plan to take 3 hours each week specifically for spiritual rebuilding and renewal. For me, that means a prayer time on Wednesday evening, and a worship servie that is more reflective and spiritual rather than educational.
I plan to focus on God more and less on the church.
Of course, I’m scared that this is just one more thing that won’t work. I’m afraid that I will lose motivation at this after a few days, but I really think that fasting needs to be a part of my life, and there’s no better time to start than now!
In addition to those two things, Jen and I will be joining with many others in the BGC for a First Tuesday Fast. Each month, we will be fasting on the first Tuesday. Last month, Jen and I did it just during lunch because we were at my parents’ house in California, but I think I want to do it for at least breakfast and lunch during the day. I haven’t talked with Jen yet to see if we should do the whole day or not.
Honestly, I hate the idea of fasting. I really can’t stand the idea of giving up all food for a day. Perhaps that’s why I need to do it. My daily fasts, however, will be media/computer fasts. My weekly times won’t involve fasting really other than giving up my time. But the monthly times will be fasting, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.
Nevertheless, I really hope that God would be speaking to me through this time…
Lord, you know that I really want to hear you. Mostly, I want to hear you for selfish reasons. I want to be more confident that you exist, but I mostly want to be more confident in my leadership. I want to hear you so that I can stand in front of people and say that you spoke to me. I want that kind of confidence, and perhaps I want that kind of prestige, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I want to hear from you.
Now, perhaps I’m not ready to hear from you just yet. I don’t really know about all that either, but I want to hear you, and I am planning to carve out some serious time in my life to hear from you.
I’m not doing this fasting thing to somehow prove to you that I’m ready or worthy to hear from you. I’m doing it just because I think I need to clear out some of the clutter in my mind and heart and life, and I think this might be just the way to do it.
Now, I’ve also got some really big desires in my life. I have some big hobbies that I’m still playing around with. I just got a new computer from Josh Thomas that I want to get set up to be a web, file, and mail server for our new church venture. Of course, I don’t know how to do that, so I will be spending a good amount of time learning that stuff, but I want to not waste my time.
I know it’s going to be really interesting, and I’m getting excited about it, but I don’t want it to completely monopolize my time. I don’t want to obsess about it. Would you please help me to be able to shut myself off to it when I need to? Please help me simply to say “no” when I should. Help me to know how much time to put into it all, and help me to know what other things I should be doing so that I keep everything in proper perspective.
Lord, I love you, and I want you to know it. I want everyone around me to know it. I want my love for you to grow deeper and fuller with each day.
Things have gone pretty well for me today. Since it was a day off, I didn’t do that much, but I actually felt like today was just the same as any other day. In fact, I have begun to worry that I don’t have enough separation between my hobby life and family life and work life. They are all seeming to merge together.
Mostly, it’s because I have a big list of things that I want to do, and most of them have hobby potential built right in to them because many of them are related to computer stuff.
This morning, I wanted to sit down and work on our family finances spreadsheet so that we could get all that stuff taken care of, but I couldn’t really do it, because when I sat down with the computer, I realized that I hadn’t put anything on my blog site in like forever, so I copied my journal notes to the computer thinking I might turn them into some blog posts. However, I decided against that in favor of posting the text that I had been working on for last week’s sermon. Since I had written the text up in a kind of manuscript format, I thought I would just post that.
Well, as I posted it, I realized that it wasn’t really complete and if I left it until later, I would likely never come back to it again. So, I just completed it. That took me about an hour to write all the stuff that I wanted to say (and did say in my last sermon), then formatting it took a little bit of time, and then I realized a couple weaknesses in the theme for my site, so that I had to spend some time fixing that.
All in all, it took me most of the morning, and the twenty minutes not given to that were spent on the Lego Star Wars video game with Charlie and some lightsaber duels with both the kids.
And, I don’t know if anyone ever reads it! That’s the thing that makes me wonder if it is really worth it. I know I enjoy it, but I don’t know if anyone actually reads it and that’s something that kinda bothers me. It’s great to have an archive of personal notes and all that, but I’m really doing it to benefit others.
Which reminds me of the book I’d like to write and haven’t even started… It’s the book on “one step closer” which would be a motivational and fund-raising effort for the new church plant. Basically, it’s a book sharing my vision for the way the Christian life should be lived. Of course, I don’t know if I’m living that life or not, so maybe the book wouldn’t be that good of an idea anyway.
So, here I am thinking that perhaps the blog is really just something for myself. Someday, it might become something more, but until then, I don’t know. Perhaps it really is a good exercise to be writing on a regular basis. Perhaps, God will use it. Perhaps if I don’t let it all waste my time, it will be good.
I think I need to get into the GTD system, but I don’t want to have a system that I’m tinkering with to distract me from what I should be doing. However, I’ve never been focused on what I should be doing, so maybe tinkering with a system like that would be a good thing.
I don’t know about that either.
I guess the bottom line is that I want to be more effective with my life. It’s not that I want to be more famous or anything specific. I just want to be more effective. If my effectiveness is with online ministry, then I want to have the guts to emphasize that and capitalize on my gifts in that area. If my effectiveness is with preaching, then I want to have the persistence to stick to that and really get better at it.
Lord, ultimately, you are the only one who can make my life effective or not. you are the only source of true effectiveness. I don’t even know why I spend so much time trying to be effective without you.
It’s silly isn’t it? I mean, it’s silly to spend so much time trying to accomplish something or to feel important or to be effective when the reality is that you are the only one who can really make it happen. You are the only one who can give me perspective on what is really the most important thing and what I should be spending my time on. You are the one who will give me clarity and focus when I need it. I believe that, but I don’t live like that, because I really enjoy living out of focus. I really enjoy living with a nearsighted perspective on life that says I will deal with whatever I want to whenever it comes my way. That just isn’t a very wise way to live, though.
Wisdom. Perhaps it’s time for me to get back to the book of Proverbs. There really is so much in there that we should live out. Perhaps that is the book I should publish. Perhaps it isn’t something of my own creation, but something commenting on God’s word that should be the first thing I focus my energies on.
That might really be the answer. God if that is true, then I pray you would bring a confirmation of that to me over the next couple of days. Have someone else mention the book of proverbs to me in any context over the next week, and I will take that as confirmation of this focus. Otherwise, give me a different idea of what to focus on.
Of course, I would also like wisdom to know how I should write it and whether using a blog tool or a wiki or something would be better for me. I don’t like having so much in so many different places, but it is just sometimes too inconvenient to force myself to accept one mold when another seems so available. That really is a problem for me!
Well, Lord, I ask you one more thing for tonight. Would you give me clarity on which angle I should take on my message for Sunday? I’m really wondering if I should hit Nehemiah, Ecclesiastes or move on into something else. Most of all, I really want us to focus on you and get a word from you.
Yesterday, God met me during my evening prayer time. I was over at the church at 7:30 like I had said for prayer, and a couple of other people showed up—Paul and Leah Witte came, and Eric Wilson (a new fellow) also was there.
It was a really good time for me. I had been really skeptical about who would come, and I don’t even know if I should be disappointed or not, but none of my Leadership Team members were there. Now, I know that Jason was meeting with his small group, and I imagine that Betty and Doug were at their small group, but Mary Martin wasn’t there for any reason at all. She told me today that she didn’t have an excuse.
I’m not going to let that bother me, though, because I was there for myself and not for anyone else or for any kind of church program. Oh, I hope that we can become a Spirit-led church that really is empowered by prayer, but that’s not what last night’s meeting was about. I wanted to pray.
The first half of the meeting went pretty well as I just had everyone go off privately for some alone time with God. We prayed privately for about 30 minutes before getting back together to pray with each other.
It was pretty good for me because I sat down with the passages of Scripture that Mary had given me for Sunday’s worship service, and I just read through them. However, I also read a little from Isaiah 55, and it’s in that chapter where God says…
“My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts, for my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
That verse resonated with me because it was one of the verses from last Sunday morning’s worship service.
However, the verse right after it was a great encouragement to me. The verse right after it was “My word will not return to me empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.”
That was a GREAT encouragement to me. Even though I of course knew that passage by heart, it was a refreshing thing to read it again because I could once again just hand everything over to God to trust him with it all. His word is still His word and it isn’t mine. He is the one who sends it. He has a purpose for it, and he will make sure his purpose comes to fruition.
I don’t have to worry that perhaps I’ve failed in this place. I just have to reevaluate myself to see if I have stayed faithful to God’s call on my life to preach the Word. If I have done that, then I can trust God to accomplish what he wants with it. It’s his word after all, and he promises to do with it what he wants to. That is a great encouragement to me.
I wrote down some other ideas too, but that was the major thing that impacted me. I know it was God speaking to me. I claim that.
Lord, if it really is true that you will always accomplish your word, then would you please reveal it more to us here at NWBC? Would you please help us to see you more clearly? Would you please help us to be more aware of your word?
In the next couple of days, I just pray you would shape into my heart some big truths from your word that I should share with the people on Sunday.
My big problem right now is that I’m once again stuck in the Linux Research mode at home and the Leadership Team Infrastructure development mode at my office.
I feel really good about the system that you’ve helped me to put in place, and I think it will be something that will be really useful in the future not just at NWBC but also at whatever church I’m leading down the road. I’m also glad that I don’t feel I have to do so much tweaking at it anymore.
Today, I spent a good amount of time working on the dokuwiki site so that I could add some functionality that I thought would be beneficial, and it felt so good to be able to do it. It gives me such a sense of accomplishment when I do something like that. I have so many computer projects that I would like to do…
Make the NWBC giving program cross-platform by removing the ActiveX code like the GTD TiddlyWikki and removing the AutoIt helper scripts in favor of python. I’d love to be able to make it work from within a web server too, but I don’t know if that would work.
Set up the conference computer to run Linux and have our development website hosted on that machine.
oh, and I keep thinking of more things to do with all that.
The problem is that all my thought energy is being devoted to ways I can improve the church computing infrastructure and not to ways I can be more effective in preaching or in ministry. I have to start filling my mind with some other stuff so that I regain that focus! But of course, it is so hard to stop doing what I’m doing now.
I need to find some closure.
So Lord, I don’t have any real motivation for closure. I see so much potential and opportunity in the computer stuff, but I don’t see any potential in anything else. Would you please open my eyes to see the greater potential in the people in our church and neighborhood?
Some time ago, I was asked to do an exercise where I would write out a letter to God and then imagine he would write a letter back to me. The letters below are the result of that experience. You know, I just read it all again, and I can’t believe how true I think it is. The exercise was back in April, but it really seems true and appropriate for today.
I do want to thank you for all the things you have been doing in my life over the past few months. You really have found ways to lead my family into something that I think is going to be great. You have spoken to Jen and you have spoken to others about me, and in some ways I think you have spoken to me, but I’m still going through this time of — I don’t even know what to call it — doubt or something.
You see what I want more than anything is just to have that undeniable supernatural experience that is just me and you. I hear your voice in your word and in other people, but I don’t hear it from you. You are my third-person God and not really Thou as much.
I don’t spend time with you because I have better things to do. I don’t spend time with you because I just don’t think you will really be there. Oh, I know if I read the Bible, I will get some insight, and I know that if I spend time studying in other ways, I will get some insight and maybe have a serendipity moment, but I really don’t think I’m going to hear from you.
I’ve been trying to hear your “voice” in my thouhts, and I’ve been trying to just assume that every thought I have that is in line with your revealed will is a thought that you gave to me, but ultimately it’s still a THOUGHT you gave me to think on my own and not your VOICE. That’s what I want. I’m afraid of that, of course, because I don’t want to go crazy nor do I want to have epilepsy, and I really don’t believe that I will believe it if you do speak to me. I’ll find a way to chalk it up to electromagnetic fields or something scientific like that. But if you send me an angel, if you give me a dream, if you whisper audibly in my ear, I will believe that, I think.
The bottom line is that I thought you would be leading me in this church planting thing much more clearly than I’m feeling it now. I know I haven’t given you much of a chance, but I still just want to hear you. I just want to hear you.
You know what it is? I just want to be confident again. I want to be Mr. Superconfident able to leap tall obstacles with a little persistence, but I’m not. You’ve let me realize inadequacy. You’ve let me experience such frustration, and now you are letting me sit in it all by myself. How am I supposed to tell people they need to give their lives over to a God they cannot see or touch or hear, and I can’t promise them that they ever will this side of heaven? How can I tell people to give themselves completely to you when I’m not completely convinced of you? I’m not turning back on my faith, although I have given it some thought, but why should I ever tell anyone else to do it.
I’m afraid that my evangelism depends on my confidence. I’m afraid that my ministry depends on my confidence. I’m afraid that someone will think less of me if I’m not Mr. Superconfident. What will I do when someone questions me? What will I do when someone asks me the personal question of testing, like “how do you know this is true?” Oh, I know how I will answer all the possible questions, but I’m just afraid that I will talk to someone and you won’t move and it will be up to me.
I need to see you move in someone’s life. I saw M—. I saw J—, I saw B—, but I want to see you work on a regular basis. God if you don’t work every single week in those around me in this new church plant, I am afraid I will dry up. What will I do if you don’t bring fruit? Will I give up on your call on my life? I don’t know. Maybe playing around with Linux all day long is a worthwhile occupation. I’m really addicted to it because it’s my way of escaping the fact that I don’t have to hear the silence of you not doing anything.
Why haven’t you done more in NWBC? Why have you left me on my own to get people angry with me and running away, to get others angry with me and staying, to get others hooked on my messages and nothing else? Why have you allowed this church to be about people and not about You? Why have you been silent?
Is it because I have refused you? Is it because I didn’t “do the spiritual disciplines” well enough? Is it because I didn’t pray enough? Is it because other people had hard hearts to what you wanted to do in their lives? Why don’t you have control of this church? That’s something that really bothers me. I can blame myself and feel like a failure, but your Word doesn’t indicate that I am solely responsible. After all, Jesus, You claim to be the one to build your church. So why haven’t you done it at NWBC? It’s a — little group of people who don’t really have a passion for you. I’m even ashamed at my desire to criticize them thusly.
But that’s really it. I just can’t understand why you would leave me hanging or why you would abandon this church or why you would be present and not act. All I know is that nothing much has happened in the church and you are the only one to really blame. What difference would more “prayer” have made. You are in charge anyway. You can do what you want. You don’t need my pitiful little attempts at fasting. And why would you deny spiritual growth to the people in the neighborhood because of a few weak minded Christians anyway? Or are you just sending them to other churches?
Why haven’t you spoken to me? Why haven’t you revealed yourself in power? Why haven’t you moved in our church? … What’s my fault and will you hold me responsible?
Oh, please forgive me if that’s the case. If I have failed you in this church, then reveal it to me so that I can be clean. I don’t want to be a hindrance to your work at building your church. That’s something that REALLY scares me. It’s something that makes me want to quit right there. The thought that I in some way have been hindering your church is exactly what makes me want to quit, but I also know that is exactly the kind of thinking Satan would want me to have, and so I don’t want to listen to that either.
Well, I’ve gone on long enough, and I want to give you some time to talk to me, so I’ll just leave it at that right now.
What would you have to say to me?
I love you anyway,
You were expecting some perfectly appropriate verse, weren’t you. But you didn’t get it. You got a randomly selected Psalm that touches on all the things I do for you, but doesn’t really get at the heart of your question.
First, I want you to know that I understand. I’ve been where you are. I’ve been there in the dirt of the earth—which isn’t so bad, by the way, a kind of dry pungent smell—but I’ve been there. I’ve been lonely, I’ve been hurt, and most of all I’ve wondered what in the world is going on.
But things were different for me. The Holy Spirit and I had such a tight bond that I never had the sense of loneliness until the cross. You deal with it so much more often, and you know what, it breaks my heart to see you lonely. You have to realize that I want to abide with you and I want you to abide with me, and I want that for you personally as much as I want it for the church. You also have to realize that it’s just not time for anything you are pushing for. I’ve told you already that you will hear me, but not yet. I also want you to know that my time for NWBC is not now. You won’t recognize what I will do with it.
I like your dream for that church, but you can see that the community is changing. I’m going to let that Target get built there. I’m going to let that neighborhood gentrify like you wouldn’t believe. It’s going to be something how much money moves into that neighborhood, and that church building is going to be just overshadowed. It’s going to become something of a landmark, but what happens inside is really dependent on the willingness of the people to trust me and follow me. I’m not going to force them to do anything. I’ll bring them another good leader at the right time, and I’ll give them chance after chance after chance because they are still my church, but I’m not promising that those people will become what you dream of that church becoming.
I will let you know one thing. I won’t lose a single one of those that the Father gives to me. You see that neighborhood and you want to reach them all. Would that they all would respond to me. But I know who are mine, I will call them, they will hear, and they will follow. I don’t need that church to build my church. And I’m not going to tell the future for that church.
I will tell you the future for you. If you continue to remain faithful to me, if you continue to proclaim the good news to people, if you show love to the hurting, you will have succeeded. At this point, I won’t promise anything more.
Stay faithful, follow me, and leave the rest to me.
I shared this story with my congregation yesterday to encourage them to think about how to hear God’s voice…
Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved her mother very much. She and her mom used to pick flowers together when they would visit the park. They would roll around in the grass and have tickle fights with each other. After all, it was only the two of them, but they didn’t mind so much because they loved each other so much.
One Summer, the two of them went swimming in the city pool, and the daughter got some water in her ear that eventually developed into a rather serious ear infection. It was so bad that by the time they got her to the doctor, she couldn’t hear very well. The cotton balls they made her wear in her ears didn’t help the situation either.
That didn’t stop them from having fun, though. The next Saturday, with ear medicine and cotton balls in place, they went back to the park. They rolled around tickling each other. They picked flowers and stuck them in each other’s hair, and then the mom sat down for a moment to rest while the little girl went to play in the sandbox.
A few minutes later though, the girl was startled by the shadow of a person standing behind her. She quickly looked up, but couldn’t tell who it was because of the glare of the sun.
She immediately jumped up and ran back to where her mother had been resting, but her mom wasn’t there, and to make matters worse, the shadow was chasing after her.
The little girl began to panic. Running all around the park, she began to scream and yell for her mom. Where are you, mom!? But with the cotton in her ears, she couldn’t hear if her mom was calling back.
Tears began streaming down her face as she ran—the wind pushing them back to her ears. Screaming, crying, and scared, she wasn’t fast enough to outrun the stranger who finally caught her, but this time, when she turned her head, she saw that it wasn’t a stranger at all. It was her mom who had been chasing after her the whole time, yelling at the top of her lungs, tears streaming down her face.
They embraced and collapsed on the grass together in a heap.
But sure enough, it wasn’t long before one of them poked the other in the side, and without delay, they were tickling each other again.
This morning, we woke up pretty early to take the kids to go see Bob and Larry from the Veggie Tales show. They were making a guest appearance at the NBC news show downtown. So, not only did we get to see the two characters, but Jen, Charlie, and Katie were on TV. Somehow, the cameraman never got more than a small portion of my side each. Not that I was trying for anything more, though.
Charlie even had his first TV interview when the anchorwoman asked him what he liked most about the Veggie Tales shows and he said the silly songs. We got it all recorded on our computer.
This is my third day to do this journalling/praying/fasting thing, and it hasn’t been too bad. I’m debating whether or not I should use any of these articles for my blog…
Well, God has been good today. Nothing really earth shattering took place, but I was able to configure the Leadership Team Wiki to be a little more user friendly and a lot more secure, so I got that done. I was able to write up a pastor’s report, even though I did put that off until about 5:30!
I also met with Mary for lunch at Moody. That was pretty good because she is dealing with a lot of fears and questions about what’s going to happen with the church when Jen and I leave and what will happen when the next pastor comes.
Of course, she is very afraid of all that, but I had the chance to show her that her fears are based on not trusting God to be in charge of her spiritual growth and believing the lie from Satan that the church somehow belongs to her—that whole ownership thing.
In the conversation with her, I realized that that is a major way Satan tempts leaders. Satan will tempt leaders by taking their natural and desirable sense of responsibility and turning it into a sense of ownership.
I know that’s what I experienced in this church. For a while, I had allowed the sense that I was responsible for what happened in the church to make me believe that I had to somehow take control and be in charge of everything that happened. Of course, the big problem was that I am not that good of a manager or delegater to actually maintain that kind of control.
Now, I don’t believe that is really the big problem or even really a big problem. I still think the main problem in our church is a lack of spiritual vitality, and I’m still seeking God on that one. I’m not going to give up on this thing.
God, you have been so good to me all the time. I want to thank you also for helping Jen and Charlie and Katie to find the lightsaber toys they did so they could wish me a happy Father’s day today (in July!). Charlie was really excited about finally being able to give them to me. That was pretty cool, and Katie did a really good job with them too. Neither of them was too violent or anything.
Thank you for our kids.
I continue to pray for Charlie. Lord, please help him to grow up to be strong in you. Help him to develop a sense of confidence in you that can’t be shaken by anything the world throws at him. Of course, I would want him to become a physically strong boy who competes well at athletics and such, but really, I just want him to be strong in you and to find a great deal of confidence in you.
Please help him to find his niche and his passions. Develop his musical ability and his creativity, and even his speech patterns. More than anything, take charge of his life and help me to trust you in that.
Lord, I also pray for Katie. You know that she is a very strong-willed girl. I pray that you would claim that for your own. Grab her heart at a very early age and help her to grow up loving you more than herself. Help her to develop a strong will that is strongly connected to you, that finds its strength in you and in you alone. Help her to become just what you want her to be.
Lord, I also pray for Jen. Thank you so much that you are enabling her to find more and more of her ministry niche in our church and in our conference of churches. You are giving her the opportunity to be an assessor at the Assessment Center this August. Continue to bring growth to her life, and continue to help me see all the beauty that you have placed in her.
Lord, I pray for Lafayette and the people of Lafayette. You know their needs better than I do. You know what they really want in the depth of their hearts. I pray that you would begin to open them up to you. I pray that you would begin to reveal to them their needs and mostly their need for you. Help them to see all the ways they are hurting and broken, but help them to see those things not to discourage them, but to motivate them to seek you more fully with their lives. You know what they need, and you know that they need you more than anything.
Touch their lives and prepare the way for us to move down there.
Finally, Lord, I do pray that you would enable us to finish the support raising quickly so that we could be on our way to Lafayette as soon as possible. You have quickly brought us to 35%, but there is a long way left to go. Please take us the rest of the way soon, and give us the wisdom we need to do the work we should do for the fundraising efforts.
Lord, you are Awesome and Mighty and Powerful beyond compare. Take charge of your world. Take charge of my life. Take charge of your church, and do the miraculous wonders that are needed to reveal the God of the Universe to a world that desperately needs to know you.
Four years ago, I was teaching through a series of messages that I entitled, Under Construction. It was a series that covered my vision for what a church really should be. We discussed the core values that should be present in every church and also in the life and heart of every believer.
I shared how Worship had to be the starting point for everything that we do. Life is not about us, it is about God and God alone. Everything else either derives from God or it is worthless.
I shared how Community needed to be the second major value present in our church and in our lives. God himself lives in the community of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit living in perfect love with each other. Likewise, we should be living in community with each other. God has built us together into a family, and his will is for us to love each other like family.
I shared how Growth needed to be constant for our church and also for our personal lives. None of us has attained perfection, which, I’m sorry to say, is obvious to anyone who knows us. (Turn to your neighbor and say, “I’ve known for a long time that you aren’t perfect.”) But if we haven’t reached perfection, that means we have room to grow, and since God’s will for us is to become like Jesus, we have a LOT of growing to do, and since God’s will is for the whole world to come to know him, we have a LOT of growing to do as a church.
I shared how Ministry needed to be the final core value for us. I shared that each one of us has gifts and talents that God has given to us for the express purpose of positively impacting the lives of others with the love of Christ.
My congregation has heard me talk about these four things time and time again in the years I have been here, and honestly, we aren’t all that different as a church from where we were four years ago. There are many different faces, but as a church, we aren’t that different. I think I know why, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Anyway, as a church, we are at a major crossroads right now. Jen and I are raising support to plant a church in Indiana, and we will be leaving in six to nine months. We have just adopted a new set of Bylaws and a new governing structure complete with a new leadership team that is set to discuss what the transition of the church will look like.
I’m convinced that it’s time for us to do a little re-evaluating and rebuilding as a church, and the good news is that there is a book in the Bible that directly addresses the issue of rebuilding. Nehemiah tells us the story of a man named Nehemiah who got a passion and a vision to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. By considering that book, we will get a better sense of the kind of rebuilding that God might want to do in our midst.
Things Are a Mess
This is how the book of Nehemiah starts out.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Let me give you a little background on what’s happening at the point this book is written. In order to understand this book, you only really have to know that Israel had originally been the people God chose for himself to be a holy nation worshipping him, blessed by him, and blessing others as a result. The problem was that Israel consistently rejected God. The people continued to play around with the religious systems of their neighbors and didn’t ever really take God seriously.
Eventually, the northern part of the country split off from the southern part and went completely off the religious deep end, while the southern part stayed partially committed to God. There came a time, though, when God decided he wouldn’t put up with it all anymore. He had the Assyrians come and conquer the northern half of the nation and then later had the Babylonians come and conquer the southern half. The northerners were wiped out, but many of the southerners were taken into exile to live in the land of the Babylonians.
Many years passed, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, and we now find ourselves listening to Nehemiah in Susa, the capital city of the Persian empire.
So here’s this fellow Nehemiah, and at this point in the book, we don’t know anything about him other than his dad’s name, his city, and the name of one of his brothers.
Now, we don’t know how this came about, but somehow Nehemiah’s brother was given the freedom to go back to Judah, the name of the southern part of Israel. When he got back, Nehemiah asked him how things were.
The report wasn’t good: The people were dealing with trouble and disgrace, and the walls of the city were burned down.
The walls were burned down! This wasn’t any city. This was Jerusalem! This was God’s chosen city. In the whole earth, God had chosen only one location for a temple to His name, and that location was Jerusalem. To think that the walls were broken down was a completely demoralizing thing for any Jew. It was the ultimate symbol that God had given up on his people. What a terrible thing to realize.
Now, I want to take a little break here to ask you a question. If the report given were not about Jerusalem but about our church, what would it be like?
Over it’s past 60 years, this church has gone through some really interesting times. I still don’t know the entire history, but I’ll share just a couple things that I do know.
The church started with over 400 people in attendance and had vibrant ministries for many years, however, as the neighborhood continued to change, as the environment of the city began to change, and as people began to move to the suburbs, the membership of this church declined gradually and steadily.
One pastor, Ralph Gade, went to great lengths to reach out to the Jewish people in the area and to open the eyes of the congregation to the spiritual needs of Jewish people, even leading trips to Israel. However, some people got so frustrated with the amount of time that pastor was spending on things outside the church that he eventually resigned and a number of people left the church. Some still don’t talk to each other even today.
Two pastors ago, during the leadership of Duwayne Lee, the church restructured itself to have a small leadership team called the elder board and composed of men only. However, that team was given so much responsibility that there soon began to be tensions between them and the other ministries of the church. The ministry leaders would complain that they were being micro-managed by the elder board. There was also a lack of trust between the ministry leaders and the elder board. At times, the elder board was even accused of being a “good old boys club.”
There was one man who repeatedly got on the elder board and was consistently made the chairman of the board even though a number of people realized that his gifts were not in line with such a level of leadership. That man, however, continued to pursue greater levels of responsibility and when pastor Lee left, he attempted to get the church to start paying him for all the work he was doing as the chairman of the elder board. In response to that, he wasn’t reelected, and he left the church.
Then, during the leadership of Dave Clark, the church restructured itself to remove the elder board and put the leaders of individual ministries in collective leadership of the church with a separate board to concern itself with pastoral matters.
By the time Dave Clark retired, the regular Sunday attendance was below 100.
The first three years of my ministry here (2001-2004) were a mix of great things happening in our church and also the sadness of a number of people leaving out of frustration. Attendance was growing steadily each year so that during 2004, we had 170 in attendance for Easter and 144 as our non-Easter high. Our financial situation was soaring. We had a budget surplus for both 2002 and 2003.
However, things sort of crashed last summer when our summer attendance dropped all the way to 45 on one Sunday, our financial situation plummetted, and a key leadership family was asked to step out of leadership.
This past year, the leadership of the church concluded that great changes are needed. A new governing document was adopted, a new leadership team was formed, and God has led us to believe that his future for this church includes a new pastor as well.
So now, we exist as a church that has big financial issues, some big concerns about leadership, a struggle with attendance, very few ministries, discouraged and tired volunteers, and a questionable future.
Times are Tough
Things are not going so well. I want to be honest with you about this.
Now, I have a reason for sharing all this stuff with you. I’m not complaining. I’m not whining. I’m not trying to get you all depressed and sad about our church. In fact, I’m really optomistic. Of course, I’m almost always optomistic, but I mean it that I really believe with my whole heart that God has great things in store for this church. I think that if we could just look around the corner, we would see the that the glory days for this church are not in the past but in the future.
It’s Not All Bad
Nevertheless, we need a fresh move of God.
Today, there are big issues to deal with. Today, something’s wrong. So, what is it? What’s wrong and what are we going to do about it?
Well, you know, I don’t think we can really answer that question yet. Just for a moment, I want to ask you to deal with another question. If the report given were not about Jerusalem or our church but about your heart, what would it be like?
Let me ask you to just take a moment to ask yourself and reflect upon the state of your heart. If someone were to ask you for a report on your heart, what would you say?
Seriously, now. Take a few minutes in silence and write down on your note sheet the report on your heart.
What are we going to do?
Now, let’s get back to Nehemiah. Check out how he responded.
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven…”
Based on his example, there are a few things that I think are important for us to do as a prerequisite for any rebuilding that God might want to do in our midst. Primarily, the rebuilding will be a spiritual process and we need to do some spiritual preparation. Here’s what we need to do.
We Need to Mourn
For the past year, I have been really struggling with how to talk about our church with people. When talking with other people, I am regularly tempted toward one of two extremes. Either I want to talk about the frustrations that we as a church are dealing with so to win the sympathy of others, or I want to talk about the great things God is doing so to give God the praise he deserves for our church.
I have been struggling with those two things for more than a year now. However, there is one thing that I haven’t yet struggled through and this passage is teaching me about it. I haven’t personally mourned. Now, I’m not talking about wallowing in pity or discouragement. I’m talking about a holy mourning.
Nehemiah was mourning because he knew that God’s will for the city of Jerusalem was a city that reflected his name and glory, a city that was a central point for the gathering of his worshippers, and a city that would welcome the poor and broken with open arms of blessing. But the city was anything but that in Nehemiah’s day. The city was a broken down relic of its former glory.
What does mourning mean for us then?
This is my assessment of what Christian mourning should look like and how to do it.
Recognize the distance between God’s will and our reality.
The truth of the matter is that God’s will for his church is something far greater than anything we have experienced. Jesus tells us that his church is to be the kind of place where people’s hearts are captured with the truth of his love, and the kind of place where the power of hell can never take root. Jesus speaks in Revelation 1-3 of a church populated with people who are known as overcomers.
However, as I look around the congregation on Sunday mornings, I see a church building that is four or five times larger than the number of people who actually come. I see a church building that is in the most strategic location of any church on the North Side of Chicago, but has failed to reach any of those in its neighborhood. Most of all, I see a group of people who are discouraged, disappointed, and frustrated both with life and for some, with the church itself.
That is not the way God wants it to be. He wants the church to overcome. He wants people to live abundant lives. He wants the neighborhood to be transformed with the love of Christ, but we aren’t experiencing that.
That’s a reason to mourn.
Feel what God must feel.
Once you realize the distance between reality and God’s will, try to enter in to the way God must feel about that. He is certainly not pleased, but more than likely, he is not angry either. His language in the Bible is consistently more along the lines of a Father or Mother aching for the wayward child than it is like an angry judge who must work justice. God mourns the fact that we are not where we should be, and it’s okay for us to enter into that emotion too.
We don’t need to put on some kind of show or act like things are all perfectly swell around here. It’s okay for us to mourn. In fact, we need it. We need to realize that we aren’t where we should be and that’s a bad thing.
It’s not just us one church either. It’s pretty much the church in all of the Western Industrialized World. North American churches are declining faster than ever, and Europe isn’t doing much better. Is Christianity suddenly irrelevant or is something else going on? Truthfully, it’s something else.
We Need to Repent
I have recently come to realize something, and the truth is that I need to apologize to my congregation. In fact, that’s what I did last Sunday. I stood up in front of them and told them I was sorry.
You see, I was taking some things for granted when I first came to my church. I addressed the four core values of Worship, Community, Growth, and Ministry, as the building blocks of the church, but I was taking some things for granted in my own life and I was taking some things for granted in the life of the church. In fact, for four years, I have been taking these things for granted in my life and in the life of the church. I was taking for granted that we all had vibrant and healthy spiritual lives.
I have allowed my emphasis to largely be on what we were doing as a church and not who we are as believers.
The truth is that if we keep focusing on the things of the world like marketing tactics, leadership structures, and whatnot, then the church will cease to be anything more than a social club with a unique set of guiding principles. The problem is that the kind of guiding principles the church tends to follow make for a social club that is irrelevant. The only way the church becomes relevant is if it speaks to a universal human need to find connection with the God who Created us. If the church loses its connection with God, if the church loses its spirituality then the church is irrelevant and will die.
Our focus has been on the wrong things for too long, and we need to repent.
We Need to Pray
In light of this, and realizing this church is at the beginning stages of a pastoral transition, I see it as my primary responsibility for the remainder of my time at my church to be an advocate for passionate spirituality in our hearts.
On Sunday, I shared with my congregation a challenge to join me on a journey of passionate spiritual rebuilding. Now, the problem is that I can’t do anything to rebuild my own spirit, and neither can you. The truth of the matter is that the only one who can rebuild our spirits is the one who built them in the first place—God himself. In other words, to do some spiritual rebuilding, a person needs to simply give God the time to do it.
Therefore, I challenged my congregation, and I’d like to challenge you too, to join me in a process of spiritual fasting and prayer to let God begin the work of rebuilding us. This is what I’ll be doing:
30 minutes a day
For 30 minutes each day, I will engage in mini-fast by giving up something that I’m doing and devoting a special 30 minutes to prayer and reflection. I don’t plan for this to be my “quiet time” or my time for daily Bible Study and devotional reading. This is a special time for me to just journal and reflect on my day. I’ve been doing it for the whole week so far, and I’m still not sure if I should add my journal entries as entries to this blog. I’m leaning toward doing it, but I don’t want the blog to be my motivation for doing so.
3 hours a week
I will be devoting 3 hours each week to prayerful relationships on this topic. Our Sunday morning service is going to be shortened some to just about 60 minutes, I am inviting people to join me at 7:30 pm on Wednesdays at the church for an hour of prayer, and I’ve encouraged people to come 15 minutes before and leave 15 minutes after each gathering. That would be 3 hours of fellowship centered on prayer for the church and for God to renew us.
1 day a month
My wife and I both have committed to join the rest of our denomination in a First Tuesdays Fast. Basically it means that we will set aside the first Tuesday of each month to be a day of fasting and prayer. A person might fast for just one meal or the whole day. It doesn’t matter so much as devoting the whole day to a time of prayerfulness.
Now, I know that not everyone can do all this stuff (although I’m not really sure why), but I want to ask you to join me. Take the time to mourn, repent, and pray. Pray for yourself, and seek for God to reveal himself freshly to you, and if you think of it, would you please pray for Northwest Baptist Church in Chicago, pray for me and my family, and pray for our new church planting efforts in Lafayette, Indiana.
I just completed my series of messages on the Bible (see sermon series Shhhh! God’s Talking) and during the series I spent a good amount of time dealing with tough questions of the Bible and tough questions about the faith, but one of the toughest questions that I had to deal with is God’s take on homosexuality.
Actually, I wasn’t able to give it the time it deserves in the brief message or two I was able to address it, so I thought I would go into a little more detail here on my blog.
During my senior year of college, one of my best friends sat me down to talk with me one night. I listened to him tell me how that he had struggled his whole life with a strange desire to be with other men. He flirted with girls and dated a lot, but never wanted to get close to any of them. Instead, he always wanted to be close with another guy. He confessed to me that night that he was a homosexual.
Within the next five years of my life, four other friends of mine shared the same basic story with me. I was regularly heartbroken to hear the stories about the struggles my friends had with their feelings, their desires to do what is right, and in one case a strong belief that God hated him.
I’ve spoken with men dealing with homosexuality. I’ve cried with them. I’ve engaged them on deeply spiritual issues.
I’ve also read books about it, done research, and cried some on my own. I’m not fully qualified to give the world’s best answer to this issue. But it is on my heart, and I think I have something worthwhile to say anyway.
What’s the authority?
When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, we have to realize that apart from some spiritual authority, there is almost no practical way that any discussion can be anything more than the sharing of opinions. However, we also have to realize that among those who accept the Bible as their spiritual authority, there are differing points of view. What I want to do is approach the issue from two sides to do justice to both arguments.
Before I do, though, I want to say that I will not be wasting my time trying to refute the extremists. I completely disagree with the fellow who runs the “God Hates Fags” website and “ministry.” However, I also completely disagree with the majority of the homosexual lobby. There are clearly extremes on both sides of the issue, but there are also people who are really trying to find some middle ground. Those are the people I want to address.
Two Approaches to the Bible
On the one side of the argument, you have people who believe that the Bible clearly teaches a prohibition against homosexuality. Not only is this the most traditional view of the teaching of the Bible, but it is also the one that seems to take the Bible with the more “literal” of interpretations. Here are the key points they generally make:
The Bible clearly outlaws all forms of sexual interaction except for that between a husband and a wife.
The key passages relating to this are Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27 where sexual relationships between men and men are put in parallel to sexual relationships between women and animals.
However, there are those who argue that the Bible makes room for those who practice homosexual monogamy akin to heterosexual monogamy. Usually, their reasons are these:
There is no passage in the Bible that talks about wholesome, loving, monogamous homosexuality.
Sexual orientation is not chosen. Your sexual orientation is just who you are. Therefore, homosexuals are “naturally” homosexual. When Paul mentions homosexuality, he was talking about either temple prostitution or pedophilia or perhaps heterosexual men having sexual relations with other heterosexual men. Two heterosexual men engaging in sexual activity would be acting “against their nature” but two homosexual men doing so would be acting in accord with their nature.
Now, I can understand the approach of those who believe homosexuality should be accepted; but I cannot agree with their conclusions. In fact, I feel that their arguments in support of the acceptance of modern day homosexuality are weak for the following reasons.
Homosexual monogamy is not discussed in the Bible because God never addressed homosexual love from a “relationship” or “commitment” aspect. God only addressed the physical sexual act. In fact, there is never any prohibition in the Bible about men loving other men. The prohibition is focused on the physical act.
Homosexuality, however powerful of an innate feeling it may be, is not natural according to either God’s design in Creation or God’s revealed will for human beings.
Loving, homosexual monogamy is largely a myth. There are exceptions to this, but the majority of homosexuality is practiced with high levels of promiscuity.
What is love?
Homosexuality is not an easy issue to deal with today because there is no doubt that the people who call themselves homosexual have strong internal feelings that they have experienced in most cases “all their lives.” Additionally, they often have discovered those feelings most profoundly in the relationship with one key individual who has sparked a real sense of love within them. There can be no denying their sexual urges or their feelings of love. Therefore, if God is love, and if “that’s the way he made them,” shouldn’t they be allowed to live out that love? Why would God be so cruel as to give them desires that can never be lived out? As a result of that kind of thinking, a large number of people who believe in the Bible want to warmly accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, and those are the people who seem to be showing the most love—those are the people who seem to be “acting Christianly.”
Is that really love, though? Let me give an extreme example to illustrate my point. Every individual on earth has extremely powerful urges within them to drink. The infant’s first experience of love comes from drinking her mother’s milk. Thirst is more powerful than hunger. There can be no denying that the urge to drink is powerful and universal.
However, there are some people in this world who have extremely powerful urges within them to consume alcohol as that drink. There are powerful biological forces that are driving them to pursue the buzz brought on by alcohol. They have great friendships that have developed around alcohol. However, it is ruining their lives. Take a person like that, and it isn’t hard to imagine that those who love that person the most are also the ones who will confront him with the inappropriateness of his behavior and maybe even stage an “intervention.” Through counseling and support, that person may be able to defeat the biological urges and even the memory of past experiences for the sake of greater good.
Likewise, one might say that all human beings have a powerful internal drive to experience sex. The problem is that while most people have their sexual drive attuned to members of the opposite gender, there are some who feel that attraction toward members of the same gender. If the analogy with alcoholism holds, then those who most love the homosexual will be the ones to confront the homosexual with the inappropriateness of his behavior.
So then, does the analogy with alcoholism hold? In order for the analogy to hold, two things must be true:
Homosexuality must be an unnatural and damaging behavior.
Homosexuality must be a mindset that can be controlled or at least managed.
Homosexuality is unnatural and damaging
Regarding #1, the clearest teaching of the Bible is that homosexual behavior is both unnatural and damaging—Romans 1:26-27 & 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul argues that those who engage in homosexual activity (again note that it is not those who are tempted with homosexual feelings, but those who become “offenders” by indulging those feelings) will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s a pretty strong claim. Of course, those who use this verse to point fingers at homosexuals should be sure to read the context where Paul also says that greed, slander, and drunkenness are also things that will disqualify a person from heaven!
Now, there are those who will say that homosexuality as practiced today is “natural” and “wholesome;” however, if the Creator calls it unnatural, then it’s unnatural, and if it might land someone in eternal punishment, that seems to be damaging. If nothing else, doing something that is outside of God’s will is clearly going to be something that causes spiritual damage to a person’s soul.
Homosexuality can be controlled or modified
Regarding #2, all sexual behavior can be controlled. Ascetic monks, of course have been doing it for centuries, but throughout human history, there are countless examples of men and women who have restrained themselves from indulging their sexual desires until their wedding dates or in fact for their whole lives. Controlling sexual behavior is clearly possible. This does not guarantee that the desires can ever be changed although there is a significant body of evidence developing that supports both the claim that homosexuality is not based in biology alone but also in environmental and social aspects of a person’s early childhood and also the claim that homosexual tendencies can actually be lessened or even reversed through sensitive psychological counseling! There are a number of well-documented cases where just such a reversal has taken place.
If I had the time, I would review my old research and do new research to grab some of the best cases and make them available here, but a quick Google search should reveal a number. Try looking up “testimony of a former homosexual” and see what that gets you. You might also want to check out Focus on the Family to see the research they have on the topic.
As it stands now, these are just my thoughts on the matter. I don’t have an academic paper to which I can refer you, but I do have the Bible and my own logical thinking. I’d love to interact with you about this more. Just post a comment below, and let’s start the conversation.
I just have to quickly respond to that. First of all, if you don’t know what open theism is, you can go to www.gregboyd.com and find out. I’m not really endorsing his site, so you’ll notice there is no link to it.
Anyway, as a pastor in the BGC and a friend to many members of the national leadership including the President and his wife, I want to say a quick comment as well. The Open Theism “debate” and the tolerance of it is in practical terms limited to one individual who used to be a professor at Bethel Seminary. In fact, Greg Boyd no longer teaches at Bethel.
The BGC as a whole, however, has openly rejected the openness view of God…
“Be it resolved that we, the delegates of the Baptist General Conference (who are also the delegates of Bethel College and Seminary) affirm that God’s knowledge of all past, present and future events is exhaustive; and, we also believe that the “openness” view of God’s foreknowledge is contrary to our fellowship’s historic understanding of God’s omniscience.”