Friday, June 30, 2017

Three sermons still resonating in my soul...

I just read a blog about one person's 5 most impact sermons in their life, so it got me thinking and I could think of 3.

1. First, I remember attending my first or second college meeting of the Iowa State Navigators in the Memorial Union. Ron Shimkus, a mid-50s, staff leader spoke from Revelation chapter 2. The passage included Jesus' direct words to the 1st century church in Ephesus. The entire sermon focused on Jesus' declaration that the church in Ephesus had "lost its first love." A "Christian church" that had quit loving Jesus is a church about to become defunct. It's true of churches and it's true of Christians. I was convicted that Jesus needed to be my first love. I needed to pursue Him in prayer, the Word, and obedience. The temptations of college grew dim in the light of the glory of Jesus.

2. The second "sermon" that stands out is actually a recorded lecture by Tim Keller that he first presented in 2003, but I listened to it sometime in 2008-2009. It's one of the few things I've ever listened to that I immediately relistened to, and then again, and then again. I've told people over the years that I've had 3 or 4 conversions in my Christian life. I believed in Christ Jesus for the first time around age 10-11, when I first heard of God's forgiveness through the Cross of Jesus and my need to personally repent and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. I had "another conversion" when I was 15 or 16 when a preacher helped me totally rest in God's grace for salvation. I didn't need to "do good, Christian things" to be saved; I needed to find my only hope, peace, and joy in the Triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then in college, I was converted again through the various teachings of John Piper and college pastors and ministries in Ames, Iowa, that rightly taught that God is glorified most when I find my deepest satisfaction in Him. Worship was no longer duty, but a delight. My 4th conversion occurred, while jogging on the South Platte River trail in Littleton, CO, while listening to Pastor Tim Keller talk to me about the depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You too can be "reconverted" by listening to this powerful lecture: (After you listen to this lecture, spend some time on the website, taking in all the free sermons available.)

3. The third "sermon" is once again, not a sermon, but a short message from Larry Austin to a leadership training class on a random Thursday evening Spring 2007 at the First Evangelical Free Church in Boone. I don't remember much, but I remember this line, "There is a huge difference between productivity and fruitfulness." That is, Christians and churches and pastors can do a lot of stuff, but it might end up having no eternal or spiritual value. All fruitfulness flows from intimacy with Jesus Christ (cf. John 15). If our souls become disconnected to Jesus, we offer nothing to those under our care. The teachings of Peter Scazzero (a fantastic 2-day event while I was at Denver Seminary plus his books), Dallas Willard (a week long class in seminary and a 2-day encounter in Green Lake, WI, plus his books), and Henri Nouwen (books alone) have helped me believe and practice this more and more.

I listen to 3-10 sermons per week while driving and jogging. Though I can't at the moment think of another sermon that stands out, I am indebted to the preaching ministries of Dan Leman, John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Dever, and so many others (Dick Lucas, Alistair Begg, Paul Tripp, Zack Eswine, Don Carson, and the print sermons of Charles Spurgeon, Charles Simeon, Jonathan Edwards, Alexander Maclaren, John Calvin, John Wesley, and so many others.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Pain of Ministry

The pain of ministry ever lingers,
  As sheep shepherds keep watch,
The Enemy reaches with creeping fingers,
  Condemning all for every botch.

We spy wolves seeking success,
  Attack the fold, they make a mess,
The flock sees not persistent duress,
  They mistake claws for sweet caress.

Oh my finite impotence,
  Oh my inability apparent,
I save none outside the fence,
  Nor bring any into God's tent.

Like all, my weakness I must bring,
  Each transgression's weight too much,
To the bloody cross of suffering,
  I seek healing, a potent touch.

There alone is the soul's content,
  There alone each sheep must flee,
Where the Father commanded Son sent,
  Where life bought for me, for thee.

So, now I go and bring my sorrows,
  To a King crucified, not dead,
The one who holds all the morrows,
  I, a member, He, the Head.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A fascinating USA Today Article that questions "Born This Way"

On about page 4, one researcher (labeled as an "activist-academic in sex") argues that sexuality is biopsychosocial (related to biology, psychology and the social world). That's one of the best descriptions I've ever heard from someone in the scientific community regarding the dynamic of human personality, preferences, orientation, etc. 

One key difference in the scientific community and Christianity is that science studies what "is," and has no category for what "should be." Christianity believes in ethics and norms. Genesis chapters 1-3 reveal that the world is not as it "is" supposed to be. We've lost our connection to God, the earth, and one another (we see these explained in Genesis 3). There's been a breakdown within our selves. The term for this is "original sin." There's also a breakdown in the world; it is "fallen." It doesn't function as it is supposed to (think natural disasters, climate change, disease). Likewise, relationships are corrupted by shame, pride, and abuse.

So, let's go back to this term biopsychosocial, which I think is a useful label for the make-up of a human person. Christians would be ok with this term, but put it in the context of original sin and a fallen world. Thus, our biology is corrupt; our minds are corrupt; and our social world is fallen. Thus, we should question the summation of our biopsychosocial make-up. Every aspect of our world and lives and minds is "off" at some level (including our gender and sexuality--whether LGTBAQ, Straight, or something else). 

This is why we all need Holy Scripture to detail what is right, good, true, and beautiful (because we need an accurate scale to judge our world and souls). Likewise, we need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and unrighteousness and then empower us by His grace to turn away from all that is "off" from God's Word and turn toward the path that leads to life, beauty, holiness, and love. We see life, beauty, holiness, and love most preeminently in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a perfect human who honored the commands and teachings of God and then offered His life for the sins of others. He lived the life we were supposed to live, and then He took the death we deserved.

Heal us Jesus. We're all off at multiple levels, prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love...take our hearts and seal them, O Lord, seal them for the courts above. Praise God, His grace is big enough to save and sanctify anyone.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Nine real solutions to feeling tired all the time

One of the recurring things I hear from my own soul and from people both within my church and among friends and family is they feel persistently tired, never fully rested, and always out of sorts.

So, I see a recurring pattern of people being asked at work, church, or a community organization to give up a few more hours to serve or help or participate. The person feels overwhelmed and says, "I can't," and that they need a night, a week, or a month to recover from this sense of fatigue.

But it turns out this person is always tired, always out of sorts, always needing more hours, more nights off, more personal time, more "me time," and the like. Clearly, the solutions they have taken haven't really dealt with the fatigue. Where might they turn?

Here are some collected thoughts from someone who has read a lot on health, rest, the Sabbath, spiritual growth, and maintaining a healthy balance on life:

#1: Make choices for the good of others. One of the most draining, life-sucking, soul-destroying things we can do is live for ourselves. Jesus warned that if we attempt to gain the whole world (think personal happiness and peace) we will lose our soul. The only way to truly save our soul (the greatest peace and rest imaginable) is to lay our lives down. I believe many people are exhausted because they spend an exorbitant amount of their lives trying to satisfy their soul. They keep saying they're tired and need to rest, but it's only feeding the me-monster that will only get more hungry for more personal pleasure and happiness. Contrast this way of living with Jesus. He sacrificially died for you and me and the sins of the world. He did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). This is why Jesus can give peace and rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:27-28). If you want deep rest, you'll probably be physically tired. Mother Teresa was tired. Every good, young mom is tired. Great Presidents are tired. Great humans are tired. But, they know a deeper rest, something sweeter than sleeping in, a day-off, or a Chinese buffet.

#2: Avoid screens at least 1 hour before a predetermined bedtime, if not entirely. The light of screens and the suspense of TV shows and sports all work against actually going to bed and resting peacefully. The guy who says, "I can't fall asleep until midnight," is the guy who keeps watching shows until his eyelids droop, well beyond when they would droop if the lights and TV were off. Maybe you thought this additional Netflix show would make you happy, but it turns out, it just made you tired.

#3: Find your sleep rhythm. Most people sleep best if they go to bed and rise at the same hours every night (including weekends!). Adults should find their best pattern, and that usually falls in the 7-9 hour window. Less than 7 or 8 is normally a killer, but more than 9 is more likely to cause lethargy than a sense of restfulness. Know thyself, and then accept the hand God's dealt you.

#4: Take a full Sabbath every week, on the same day (if at all possible). God designed the human body for 6 days of work and one day of Sabbath. Sabbath is a day to remember God's good gifts. Sabbath is a day for play, enjoying creation, getting outside, eating good food, and avoiding work-for-pay activities. Sabbath is always a day to pray, to worship God in community, to worship God individually, to worship God with your family, and to remember His grace and mercy. Feel free to be creative. Our family goes from 5PM Friday to 5PM Saturday (I work Sundays). Others go 5PM Saturday to 5PM Sunday, or from 7AM Sunday to 7AM Monday. If you work on the weekend, see if you can find an employer who will give you a consistent day for a Sabbath.

#5: Work hard the other 6 days. Generally speaking, humans were made to work during all the daylight hours. So when the sun is out, we should keep working. If we work hard when we're supposed to, our body will go to bed when we want it too. Some experts speculate we don't rest well because we aren't working well. We play or doddle when we should work, and then when we should be resting and relaxing, we have to catch up on the work we missed earlier.

#6: Take strategic breaks during the day. The reason most of us never feel rested is we are actually in a constant state of motion, attention, or work every minute of every day of every week. We go from work, to home, to projects, to housework, to kids' activities, to long trips, to church meetings. But since it is humanly impossible to not rest and recuperate, we accept poor substitutes to break up our day that never satisfy our body or soul. For example:
  1. The internet: We feel overwhelmed, so we check our email or social media or the news. Such things are never restful. We replace one unrestful activity (our actual responsibilities) with another unrestful activity (internet). Sure, we got a mental break from our actual responsibilities, but we never rested truly. It would have been better to go for a fifteen minute walk outside or a 5 minute prayer break, but since those things don't look like work, we avoid them.
  2. Eating: Our bodies get run down and so we want to appease that feeling with food, but too often we stuff our bodies with bad fuel. We need vitamins and nutrients, but those don't taste as good or have as quick of a reaction as sugar, fat, and caffeine. As a result, we eat foods that cause drastic highs and lows (which tax the body on both ends), and now we don't have enough energy to fuel a good day, nor the kind of health that allows for good sleep.

#7: If you are feeling tired, today, eat supper and then go to bed. Many studies suggest that "sleeping in" has limited to no value on getting caught up on sleep (for instance click here).  Take a night or two and just go to bed after supper. If you wake up in the middle of the night, stay off your phone, computer, or TV, and keep the lights off. Breathe easy, don't panic, and just wait till your body goes back to sleep.

#8: Exercise regularly. You can walk, run, life weights, swim, or play a sport, but you probably should do something (for longevity sake, jogging is the hands-down winner). Especially, if you work in the white collar world, odds are your body hasn't used enough energy. And just in case you haven't heard, sitting IS the new smoking. So move, your body everyday, and 75 minutes a week at a vigorous level. You'll sleep and feel better, and you'll probably live longer too.

#9: Embrace your humanity. This is really the point to all the eight solutions that proceed it, but just in case you haven't picked up what I'm putting down, let me get specific. You are a finite, human person who has limits. You can believe the lie that Adam and Eve believed in the Garden that you can go your own way and do your own thing and still feel happy and restful. Or you can confess your humanity, your selfishness, and your unwillingness to submit to God. You can confess that you've blamed God for feeling tired or unhealthy or unrestful, and look in the mirror and see your own pride, presumption, and unwillingness to live based on reality. Your demands for happiness and control expose a sinful heart, a desire to take God's place. So confess this as sin, nonsense, and death. Cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. Ask the Holy Spirit to come and rule in your life, and then live according to your finite position. Obey God; follow His commandments; honor the body He's giving you; use it to serve others; and don't worship at the gods of television, entertainment, and self. Let God be God, and yourself an undeserving recipient of His grace.