The History Lesson

History has much to teach us about the past and more to teach us about the future.

You have probably heard the phrase, “Those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.” It’s a common warning, maybe so common that it is cliché, but that does not make it any less true. A few weeks ago, I met two people who endured WWII as children from inside Germany. The first told a story of her town as it wrestled with tensions and the need for conformity. She remembered as a little girl the day that Hitler paraded through their streets. The sides of the roads were crowded with people waving flags and saluting with a loud “Heil!” In my mind, these were only blurry images from an old documentary, but her words brought them to life as she described her childhood scene. Although the sights and sounds of that day were quite clear, as a child she was not aware of what was really happening until many years later.

Our second acquaintance was also born in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party. His family chose to flee the country and head to Guatemala in hopes of a better life as coffee growers. The war eventually found them. They were rounded up like many other Germans and the family was torn apart. The father was placed in a camp in North America and the mother was forced to return to Germany with her four children. When they arrived, they were marked as deserters for leaving Germany years earlier. No one would give them a job or a place of their own to live. This mother of four was left to fend on her own. They did what they could to survive, living off rations and whatever food they could find. A year later they ran into their father who had been exchanged for an Allied POW and returned to Germany. The story of this man’s family and what they went through was captivating and heartbreaking.

As I listened intently to these two sharing memories of days past, it struck me as both concluded with, “You won’t hear that in school.” My wife, a history teacher, nodded in agreement. Such personal stories and details do not often make it into the classroom. Knowing that my wife is a teacher they continued to talk about the ever growing need for students to learn history. Without history we lose stories, we lose a part of who we are, and we lose the lessons that history can teach us.

I recently finished reading through Joshua and Judges. If you ever flip through the pages of Judges you will find a reoccurring phrase, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” The people got themselves stuck in this revolving door of history. They would stray from God and go after idols, as a result another nation would oppress them, they would cry out to God, He would rescue them despite their disobedience, they would obey God for a time and then lust after idols again. When you read the book, you feel like throwing up your hands at Israel yelling “Again? Really? Come on!” It seems so obvious to us that the root of Israel’s suffering is their disobedience and yet they keep putting themselves in the same situation.

Why does this happen? Why did they get stuck in this cycle? I think it’s because Israel forget a pivotal instruction that Moses gave the people.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

The people of Israel failed to pass on the commandments they had been given. Moreover, they failed to pass on the history of their people to their children. They had all these practices that would ensure a recounting of God’s graciousness and love for Israel. How He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and had given them the Promise Land. Yet Israel lusted after other gods and so those practices either no longer held their weight or were forgotten all together. The recounting of Israel’s history and God’s love was ignored and the children were doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents.

The solution seems so clear as we read the book of Judges and we are prone to criticize Israel for their unfaithfulness. That is, until we hold a mirror up to our own lives. How often do we ignore history, only to find ourselves making mistakes that could have been avoided? How often do we read about the shortcomings of others in the Bible only to ignore the lessons and doom ourselves to repeating them? Are we not prone to following in the footsteps of the Israel of the Old Testament?

As Christians, we need to be reminded of God’s love every now and then. We need to refocus from the business of life onto His love which transcends all life. We need to hear the Gospel over and over again, so that we may not forget His grace that rescued a sinner like you and me through a loving sacrifice like none other. His amazing love moves us to joyful faithfulness and we desire all the more to learn how to love the Father in return. Thankfully we don’t have to blindly figure out how to love Him. He has given us His Word and He has given us the experiences of others. Rather than ignoring these lessons from our history, we must seek them and pass them on. We do not want to destine ourselves or others to a habitual cycle of mistakes. We desire God’s love to be passed on to others, not regret. We must learn from history that we might make a better future, for ourselves and future generations.

How Big is Your God?

Show me your goals and I’ll show you how big your God is.

Why do we run from risk? Why do we consider things risks rather than opportunities? Reflecting on personal experience, I think it’s because we’re afraid. In the times that I have labeled risks and sought to avoid them, it has been because I was afraid of failure, afraid of the unknown, and afraid of what others might think of me. I will honestly admit that I have avoided conversations, confrontations, and setting “too big” of goals in the past, because I was afraid of the risks. Yet as I think about those moments, I am stunned to find how these towering walls of risk that I fearfully avoided were actually built out of weak toothpicks. I created a façade of risk in my own mind that I imagined would have been destructive had I attempted them. But they weren’t the detrimental risks I made them out to be, they were opportunities. More than that, each instance reflected how big I believed God was.

If I have a small God and believe that His reach is only as far as my own, then my goals and risks will reflect that. I will only venture out as far as my comfort zone and only support “safe” goals. If I have a big God, then nothing is outside of His reach. The impossible becomes possible and I begin to believe that impacting the world with the Gospel is obtainable. My view of failure begins to change as well. A small God view only sees failure as a set back and as a sign never to try it again. A big God view sees failure as a lesson to learn from. We can adjust with discernment and strive forward.

I absolutely believe that there is a need for considering risk and that sometimes the answer in pursuing certain ideas will be ‘No’. Jesus even talked about considering the cost for discipleship in Luke 14 because considering the cost is a crucial step before diving into any endeavor. But considering the cost and discerning the risks should not be crippling. If we run away every time risk appears or goals seem “too big”, then we will never know the life that God meant us to live. We will pass by opportunities to experience love and share love. We will miss out on writing some of the greatest and most exciting chapters of our life because we avoided risk. Why do we love good books and movies? Its because they involve some element of risk. There’s a problem that needs a solution and the main character is going to be the hero that will storm in to save the day. Without that element of risk, we become bored. As I’ve said before, when I stand before God someday I want to be able to hand Him the book of my life that He can be excited to read. I don’t want it to be full of missed and avoided opportunities. I want to put God at the edge of His seat.

When He reads my story I also want Him to see that I believed in Him. I want Him to read about how I truly believe that He is who He says He is. That He really is a big God. If I’m going to quote Philippians 4:13, then I’m going to live Philippians 4:13. If God can part waters, move mountains, and save us from the destruction of our own sin, then why would I act as though He can only bless my dinner. He wants to do so much more for us and through us. I need my faith to be stretched at times so that I learn to trust in a big God. Sometimes the goals and opportunities that are outside my comfort zone are the ones that I need to jump on. And when failure comes, I won’t run and I won’t blame. I will learn and push forward. I believe in a big God and so I want my life to reflect that. What do your goals and risks look like? How big is your God?

Dating god

How did you read that title? Maybe you read it as ‘Dating God’ thinking this would be about having a relationship with the King of kings while dating someone. Maybe you read it as ‘Dating a god’ thinking this would be about what it’s like to date an exceptional person. Or maybe you read it as ‘The Dating god’ thinking this would be about the way we treat dating as an idol. This is about none of those and it is about all of those. This is about that crippling mistake we can make in both dating and marriage.

Has anyone ever failed to meet your expectations? You thought they would do something or they even promised to do it, but it never happened. Welcome to an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. Now, expectations can be a good thing. You should expect your employees to fulfill the responsibilities they agreed to by signing their contract. You should expect a certain quality of food and service depending on the price you’re paying at a restaurant. But when it comes to dating and marriage, expectations can take on a different tone. Certainly, its good for my wife to have healthy, biblical expectations of me. She expects me to hold to our wedding vows. She has expectations that I regularly take out the trash and who’s house we go to for Thanksgiving, because we have discussed those expectations. But in dating and marriage it’s the unspoken and unrealistic expectations that get us into trouble.

We can heap too many unspoken and unrealistic expectation on an individual. It wasn’t uncommon in middle school to hear of students writing long lists of what kind of guy or girl they wanted. Someone who was funny, good looking, strong, athletic, smart, etc. What kind of list do you have today? Maybe you haven’t written it out, but you probably have at least a few things that you’d look for. What our lists boil down to is someone who will meet our needs and desires. We can put so much weight into these lists and expectations, that we either don’t stay in a relationship very long or we just avoid such relationships all together. We can convince ourselves that we’ll never find “the one”.

And we never will. We will never find “the one” because the one that will perfectly meet all our expectations does not exist. We have unrealistic expectations on people, and dating in general, that cannot be lived up to. As Timothy Keller puts it in “The Meaning of Marriage”, “People are seeking a low-to-no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you.” This individual does not exist. We cannot make dating or the person we’re dating out to be a god, they will fail our expectations.

As I’ve said before on this blog, when it comes to marriage, two imperfect people coming together doesn’t make either one perfect. Marriage will not fulfill our spiritual needs through a spouse. We do not live “happily ever after.” Our flaws do not vanish. If anything, our flaws our amplified as we realize how selfish our spouse is and they realize how selfish we are. When our expectations are not met, we can become pessimistic toward dating and marriage because we’re too idealistic about what we want. Our gods deceive us into thinking they’re helping us when the reality is they hinder us. We must come to terms with our expectations, we must expose our gods so that we may walk more freely in dating and marriage.

What unrealistic and unspoken expectations do you have in dating and marriage? Do you expect your significant other to have a certain body type or a certain income? Do you expect them to never want to change you? Do you expect them to fulfill your spiritual and emotional needs 100% of the time? Take time to consider your expectations. You might need to let go of these gods and replace them with realistic and biblical expectations. Take time to talk these through with your spouse. You might even need to ask forgiveness for heaping unrealistic and unspoken expectations on them. It’s tough, but our relationship will be that much stronger and happier when we remove gods from dating and marriage.

It will take time, but we can remove those gods and replace them with the God. We can give those expectations up to God and let Him replace them with healthy and biblical ones. God can truly fulfill our needs. He knit us together and thus knows us better than we know ourselves. His love for us will never change. I’m not going to say that He’ll meet our expectations, because an imperfect being’s expectations of a perfect being don’t work. Since He knows us to our core, He’ll give us what we don’t even know that we need. He’ll bring that individual into our lives that will love us and will also challenge us to change so that we are more like Christ tomorrow than we are today. Don’t allow unrealistic and unspoken expectations to be deceiving gods in your relationship. Allow the One God to be your guide and give you holy desires for another.

The Message You Don’t Want to Hear

Who is the church for? I’m not asking about the building. I’m asking about the body of believers that gathers regularly for worship and fellowship. Who is the church for?

Sometimes I don’t think we as Christians even know who the church is for. Sure, we have the Sunday School answer down and quickly shout out ‘Jesus!’ But when it comes to practice, is that really what we believe? If the motives of our heart were projected onto a giant screen for all to see, would Christ clearly be at the heart?

I ask these to be honest and real with you. I am not sure that our heart always agrees with our mouth. While we may say that the church is for Jesus, our actions betray our words, as we actually believe that the church is for us. This is no secret. We show up to a worship service looking for a message or a new program that will benefit us. We are quick to criticize the pastor when we cannot follow the message or did not find it personally relevant. We have few reservations in complaining about the youth program as if they have the ultimate responsibility of spiritually raising up our children. And if the worship music is too loud, too fast, or too different, then we know exactly who to tell.

We may say that church is for Jesus, but we act as if church is solely for us. It’s like the radio. If we don’t like a particular song, we turn the dial until we find something that suits us. As Christians, we regularly do this with church, even to the point of leaving a congregation because it does not meet our desires. Christians ridicule people like Thomas Jefferson who cut out pieces of the Bible that he disagreed with and pasted together his own. That seems ridiculous and maybe even heretical to us. Yet when it comes to cutting up the church and pasting together the pieces that we like, we have no hesitations.

Brothers and sisters, we are shooting ourselves in both feet. When the church solely becomes about us, we subtract from giving Christ glory and we weaken the potential of the body. The church is for Christ. It is to glorify and honor Him. When we treat the church as a place to consume rather than give, we shift the focus of glory from God to ourselves. We also take God’s right to speak into our lives away from Him. We only listen to the sermons that sound interesting or make us feel good. If we get bored or disinterested we can simply leave. As Christians, we need to take a step down and allow for God to teach us what He wants to (Isaiah 48:17). We need to make church about Christ.

When church becomes about us we also weaken the potential of the body. God places us in a church community to build it up through the gifts and talents that He has given us. When we only look to benefit ourselves, we withhold those gifts. We complain about not being filled by the message or not feeling supported by a church, but how are we filling up or supporting others? Are we gossiping about the ministry’s leaders? Are we complaining about the programs? Are we judgingly comparing churches? These actions only weaken the body, they do not build it up.

We point fingers at church leaders and at programs, asking ‘Why aren’t you taking care of me?’ Pastors are amazingly gifted people, but pastors are not perfect and they’re not superheroes. Personally I am neither. They cannot carry that weight we put on them to meet every personality or every need in the church. Nor can the programs. We must play our role, we must step up and be the church. We must be the body that take responsibility to love God and love others as Christ has loved us. If we believe that the church is for Jesus then it will be reflected in how we worship Him and serve others. We will move from a First Church of Me to the Body of Christ.

 

Who is the church for? Our answer is in our actions. What are you going to do?

Letters to Leader (part V)

Dear Leader,

I am overjoyed to hear of your recent achievements. This is certainly a milestone worth remembering. Even more than your accomplishments, I am delighted to hear how your relationship with God grows daily. It is one thing to be equipped in skills and another to be equipped spiritually for this new chapter of life you’re entering. I know God has prepared you well as you take a new step toward God’s calling on your life.

Knowing that you are leaving soon, I have one last letter to write you. As the weeks you have left slowly fade away, remember to finish well. Time is a gift that should not be squandered. How you spend your time will determine how you finish. I suggest that you make people your priority. People come before programs and property; they are cherished most by God and so we would do well to do the same. Therefore, be intentional with how you spend your time with people. You have made an impact on those around you. But what kind of impact will you leave? It may be wise to ask yourself now, how will I leave these people better than I found them?

Those who finish a race well, run completely through the finish line without slowing down until they have crossed. Others make the mistake of slowing down when they see the end, failing to finish with full force. The people you’re impacting and influencing do not deserve someone who is going to slow down in the final 100 meters of the race. They do not deserve someone who takes a passive back seat in the last few weeks of their time together. They are looking to you, to see how you finish. How you finish will determine how others begin. Finish strong. Finish well.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-7, Paul writes Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Whether God is calling us into new chapters in life or He is calling us home, I pray that when we reflect on the lives we’ve had the opportunity to impact, we can confidently echo Paul’s words. I pray this for you Leader. I pray consistently that God would use you in mighty ways not only in the future but even now in the lives of those around you. May God’s Name and His Kingdom be glorified through you. I pray that you would finish well.

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part IV)

Dear Leader,

I must confess that a fear has been stirred in me this week. As you know, Easter is this weekend. We have the great blessing of remembering what Christ has done for us and looking ahead to when He will return. For most Christians, this is a very joyous occasion to celebrate the reason for our salvation. I say, ‘for most’ because this week I heard one Christian say otherwise. They do not feel a need to attend a service because they know the story by heart.

Now, certainly there is no requirement that one must celebrate Easter by attending a service. There are definitely great benefits and Scriptural support for worshiping in fellowship, but no demand that on Easter you attend church. One could very well choose to enjoy worshiping God by enjoying His creation, taking a walk, serving, and many other ways. It is my hope that this is the intention of the Christian; to still purposefully and thoughtfully worship the Savior on Easter although they will not go to a church. However, my fear was not provoked by an absence in the pew but by their reason for not going.

How do we get to a point where we feel that our knowledge and experiences excuse us from worship? Is Easter only for some but not others? The short answer is no. If someone truly knows the story of Christ’s death and resurrection by heart, then they have even more reason to worship with others. They have all the more reason to praise God with believers and invite unbelievers that they may know in His unfailing love.

There is danger in making such excuses that goes beyond choosing not to worship on such a significant occasion. Behind such excuses that are wrapped up in one’s personal knowledge and experience, is an attitude of arrival. An attitude of arrival is expressed anytime someone believes that they are too good for something. That their experiences place them above others. They do not feel the need to take advice from others because they already know what the best and only choice is. They do not need to participate because they have ‘been there, done that’ and now it is below them. They do not feel like they can learn anything more, because they know it already. They have arrived.

The irony, however, is this. When leaders feel that they have arrived and are at the top of the mountain, the only place left to go is down. Proverbs 16:18 is a well-known verse and yet not always realized when we think we’re at the top. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV).

Avoid an attitude of arrival. We must humble ourselves if we ever wish to lead people well. Adopt a spirit of lifelong learning and be open to the advice of others. I hope to always be changing, I hope to always be growing. I do not want to be the same person that I am today in ten years, let alone a year from now. I hope that I am a better person for God, for others, and for myself. If we set ourselves on a mountain above others, we will miss out on so many wonderful and exciting things that this life has to offer. Our knowledge and experiences should never be used as a prideful excuse that elevates us above people and participation. And it absolutely should never be an excuse to neglect worshiping God.

Leader, may you pursue a humble spirit of lifelong learning and avoid an attitude of arrival. May we both be humbled this weekend as we worship the One who has rescued us from destruction and rejoice in His love and grace. He deserves nothing less from us. Happy Easter Leader!

 

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part III)

Dear Leader,

To build a house, you must first dig. You must clear out the rocks, roots, and any obstacles to create an even ground. Then, after you’ve dug a footprint of the house into the earth, the foundation is laid. Building leadership requires a similar process. It requires a foundation of character. Obstacles must be cleared at the base to avoid a compromised structure. We unfortunately see examples of this all the time as CEOs rise to the top of corporations only to fall because greed, dishonesty, and lust were not dealt with sooner. As hindrances are removed, the foundation of character is laid in its place. You cannot create anything lasting, without character. Having a character is absolutely essential to everything else.

When I talk about character, I think  about integrity. It’s a valuable trait and even more valuable when you find it in someone else. Integrity is about truthfulness and having convictions. You have a set of standards that you live by that remain the same in both the public and private life. They are far from being two-faced. Men and women of integrity can be trusted to do the right thing and to follow through on tasks. These people stand apart from the rest and they are the kind of people that every team, ministry, and corporation want. This is the kind of person you want to be, a person of character.

Bill Lear, founder of Lear Jet, was a man of character and integrity. When two of his jets crashed without cause, He grounded all fifty-five jets he had sold. He was not going to risk lives until he determined the issue. Many companies and CEOs would not even consider this an option. Some car manufactures continue to allow their customers to drive around in compromised vehicles, rather than losing millions on a recall. But character was more important to Bill Lear than money. To determine the problem, Bill hopped into one of the planes himself, almost meeting the same fate as the previous pilots. He discovered the cause of the problem and replaced the defected part in all fifty-five planes. Bill lost a lot of money and almost his own life, but he didn’t compromise his character and he never regretted it.

Leader, I pray that you continuously pursue a foundation of character. Welcome the Master Builder to examine your foundation. Are there any lingering obstacles that need to be removed? Are t pride, dishonesty, anger, lust, greed, or selfishness compromising the life you’re trying to build? Allow Him to remove what is not of Him. It may be painful and it may not happen overnight, but if these go unchecked or we cut corners on character, we will pay the heavy price down the road.

Rather, be one of integrity. Be trustful and convicted. May the standards that you have for your life, be the same that God calls us all to. Live above reproach, that no one may question your character or more importantly, that no one may question the God whom you serve. May the fruit of your life be a testament to Him and reflection of His character. So, practice the fruit of the Spirit, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32).

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3-4).

If you wish to build something that lasts, you must start with yourself, you must start with character. Make every effort to lay a solid foundation of Christ-like character. It is absolutely essential for everything in life.

 

In Him,

Your Servant