The Hidden Strength of Weakness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about strength and weakness, and what actually makes a person strong or weak. The older I get, the less confident I am that I actually know.

Historically, I would have defined strength based on many of my fictional heroes. Stoic and brave men and women (or elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc.) who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and fight their battles by the strength of their will and their ability to kick ass. I was the kid who was obsessed with sword fighting and battles, imagining myself taking on hordes of pirates or orcs with just my sword and my superhuman ability to take on an army single handedly. I channeled heroes like Aragorn, Peter and Edmund Pevensie, Jack Sparrow, and Luke Skywalker. I’m serious, if the character fought well with a sword (or lightsaber), I was obsessed.

Honestly, if it was socially acceptable, I would probably still go outside on a nice summer day and swing a wooden sword around pretending I was slaying an army of Uruk-Hai.

I’ve always loved adventure stories. I still do. I’m pretty sure I was actually convinced that some day I would be the everyman who gets whisked away into a grand adventure of magic, swordplay, and dark evil. Sometimes I still wish that would happen.

Unfortunately, real life has put a bit of a damper on many of those childhood fantasies. And while those tales of heroism are good, and those heroes admirable, they are an ideal. An exaggeration. Analogies for real life with plenty of applicable content, but with far more magic and epic heroism.

As I have grown into adulthood, I have experienced a rude awakening.

I am not a hero.

Really. That may sound surprising to those who know me, but I assure you, I’m really not.

In all seriousness though, I legitimately thought as a child that I would be what I then considered a strong person. I thought for sure that by my mid twenties I’d have mastered swordplay, saved and married a damsel (not that they need saving. Don’t worry, I’m not nearly as sexist now as I was when I was 6), and been a great leader of men. I did not think I’d be single, unsure of where my life is going, and about as coordinated and capable with weaponry as a drunk Jar-Jar Binks.

It’s been much harder to cope with than it should be.

Over the past few years I have found myself so quickly and easily coming to the end of myself. I can’t handle nearly as much as I think I should. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do not have the wisdom of Gandalf, the ability of Aragorn, the resolve of Frodo, or the bravery of Samwise, and I am completely unsatisfied with that truth. I constantly find myself shocked and disappointed with myself, thinking, “really?! This is what is breaking you right now? This is the end of you?”

I have been feeling unqualified, incapable, and just generally sub-par. How can I speak into my friends’ lives when I feel so unstable? How can I lead when I still have so much growing to do? How can I teach when I still have so much to learn?

While it is completely unhealthy to to let these thoughts make me spiral into self-condemnation and fear/anger/sadness, there is truth to it. A truth that with the right perspective can strengthen.

I was recently talking about this with a good friend of mine. I was telling him about how I felt inadequate to speak into others’ lives because I struggle in the same ways they do and don’t have answers for them. He looked at me and said, “that’s good. If you did, they’d look to you as their savior, and not to Jesus.”

Oh. Yeah… He had a point. I have been trying to be Jesus. Not like Jesus, but a replacement for Jesus. Both in my life and in others’.

Charles Spurgeon in his lecture The Minister’s Fainting Fits says, “As for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust… Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness.”

I am not Jesus. I am called to strive to be like him, but the minute I start trying to be him, I have stopped the progress. I cannot be Christ. I have weaknesses. I am insecure. I am incapable. I can’t fight my battles with a sword. I can’t even fight them with my own mental and spiritual prowess.

But that’s actually a good thing! Our weakness and inability are meant to humble us. Not to humiliate and debilitate us, but to make us recognize our dependence on Christ. He who knew no sin. He who is strong and capable. He who saves us. Our lack of emotional, mental, physical strength makes us depend on Christ for emotional, mental, and physical protection.

Spurgeon goes on to say that, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh.” Our calling is not to prove how capable and amazing we are, but to live and love self sacrificially, looking to and pointing others to Jesus, the perfect founder and perfecter of our faith.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

There’s a reason so many of the great stories have a moment where one of the heroes makes the ultimate sacrifice for his or her friends. It’s because, whether intentionally or not, it reflects the greatest act of heroism in history: Christ’s death on the cross to save us from our sins. Only his story has an even happier ending. He rose from the dead, defeating sin and death so that those who believe may one day be with him forever.

I am not a hero and I am not strong. But true heroism is pointing others to Christ, the hero of heroes, and recognizing my weakness makes me depend more on God, and that is true strength.

 

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Being In A Ministry Family During The #churchtoo Age

People believe what they want to believe. And unfortunately, there is a growing group of people that want to believe that all pastors are greedy, power-hungry, reputation-obsessed egomaniacs who don’t care for hurting people.

That, to be perfectly frank, is excrement.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t pastors like that. It’s horrible, but it happens. There are “pastors” who do use their people and abuse their authority for reputation and wealth. It is evil, but it is not the norm. We hear about them far more, but they are not the majority.

No pastor who is living and preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ is going to have a great reputation (insert Joan Jett & The Blackhearts lyrics here). That’s not to say that a good, gospel preaching pastor won’t be tempted to desire a great reputation, but a good, gospel preaching pastor will know that that is not biblical, and is completely impractical.

Unless you are going to completely ignore crucial aspects of the gospel, you are not going to have a great reputation. The truth is divisive. Some will hear and turn toward Christ. Most will hear and continue to run toward self and Hell. Some choosing to slander those that preach the truth as they pass.

How do I know? Story time.

My dad is a pastor. Has been for 18 years now. I’m 22 years old, so I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t a pastor’s kid. My dad has pastored the same church for all 18 years of his ministry. Membership has always been less than 400 people. We lived in a small city house with lots of problems for most of my childhood. My parents and younger siblings currently live in a small house in the suburbs. My dad has taken salary and benefits cuts. He only has one day a week off, and even then sometimes has to deal with pressing issues on those days off. My mom works two part time jobs. My dad serves our church faithfully as the primary preacher. He meets with members, often after hours. Answers emails. Teaches pastoring classes to guys wanting to pursue ministry. Visits other churches in our denomination to lead other pastors.

None of that sounds like it describes a greedy egomaniac.

Now, I don’t say all of this for sympathy, or to prop up my dad. But I want people to be aware of how unglamorous an average pastor’s life is. This isn’t uncommon. This is most pastors. Living humble lives of service.

Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that everyone sees it that way.

Recently, there has been an online movement trying to raise awareness of abuse in churches. They rally with a hashtag. #churchtoo. What started as a movement to attempt to raise awareness of sexual abuse that unfortunately can and does happen in churches, has quickly become a platform for bitter people to accuse pastors of spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is an ill-defined concept that seems to have a wide range.

Recently, our denomination has been accused (again) of conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse of children. These accusations are completely false. The civil suit was thrown out. However, it has marred the reputations of many leaders, and our denomination as a whole.

And now my dad specifically.

In recent months my dad has had to put out fires as he tries to walk people through what is going on. Sometimes it doesn’t go over well. Sometimes people think they know what’s what, and if the pastors don’t agree, well, then they are bad pastors. People have left our church because of these baseless accusations. And now, people are slandering my church on social media, all under the banner of #churchtoo and “spiritual abuse.”

Unless you have experienced it, you can’t comprehend how it feels to see your dad slandered all over Facebook and Twitter. It hurts. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It shakes my faith. Seeing anyone you love lied about is tough. To see a close family member lied about is indescribable.

It’s tough. Really tough.

That probably reveals my weakness. Pastor’s families have been through hell far worse than what my family is going through. However, that shouldn’t discount the hurt my family is going through.

Being in a pastor’s family has its ups and downs. Being a pastor’s family during the #churchtoo age is frightening and lonely. People are out to get pastors. They use the fact that some pastors have failed as an excuse to accuse innocent and faithful pastors.

My dad has served his church day in and day out for almost two decades. My family has had to sacrifice time with him so he can serve hurting people. And now, he’s being accused of being unloving.

Over my nearly 20 years being a pastor’s kid, I have seen this many times. A pastor disagreeing with someone becomes, “the pastor wouldn’t hear me.” A shift in a friendship becomes, “the pastor pulled away from me.” Defending themselves from a false accusation becomes, “he is defensive and wouldn’t humbly take criticism.” I have noticed that sometimes when a church member accuses a pastor of being unloving, it’s because they are either uncomfortably convicted by something the pastor said, or the pastor disagreed with them about something. Of course, that isn’t always true, and therefore shouldn’t be the assumption. But we should check our own hearts before we assume someone wasn’t loving us well.

In Ray Ortlund’s book The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ Ortlund says this: “People might accuse faithful gospel ministries of being unloving, which is an easy charge to make but nearly impossible to prove or disprove. We who lead must discern what is really going on by applying biblical categories of assessment… In an age when personal unhappiness is often regarded as someone else’s fault, some people walk into church looking for a scapegoat. The leaders of the church are easy prey. The people’s angry perception of those leaders is… logically confused but psychologically compelling within their own thought world, and they readily spread that perception to other people. Then, in the name of ‘reconciliation,’ those leaders might feel pressure to confess as sin aspects of their ministry that are, in fact, true to the gospel and loving to the people.”

Just because a leader doesn’t do what a particular individual wants, it doesn’t make him a bad leader.

I realize a lot of this might sound defensive and biased. And granted, I am merely a brainwashed pastor’s kid. But I want people to see. To see that being a pastor is hard. Being a pastor’s wife is hard. Being a pastor’s kid is hard.

But it is good! There is so much joy. People have rallied around my family and the other pastor’s families and shown their support. I have seen the worst the church can be, but also the best. People who love God and the truth of the gospel worshipping, praying, serving, and loving each other. Disciples making disciples. It is beautiful.

Even when things are difficult, when there is so much hurt, when Satan tries to destroy the church, Christ is still victorious. Security may be torn away and reputation destroyed. The ground may feel shaky. But the gospel cannot be taken away! Angry and bitter people can’t stop the gospel. Truth prevails, even when it isn’t believed. God will build his church, even when it’s messy. We are called to continue to follow God’s lead, preaching the gospel as we go.

My family and I are scarred and hurting, but in Christ is comfort and healing. He is doing good things.

What’s A Man To Do?

What’s a man to do?

What’s a man to do when he sees injustice?

When he sees a video of a child sobbing because of how other children have been treating him?

When a man and a woman have chained up, abused physically and sexually, and underfed their children?

When people’s livelihood, or even their lives, are in jeopardy because of their religion?

When people’s livelihood, or even their lives, are in jeopardy because they are gay?

When racism still goes strong?

When a young man goes into a school with the intent to kill as many children as he can find?

When children are sold every day for sex?

When the world promotes sexual freedom, then acts surprised when men abuse that “freedom?”

When men assault women?

When a man down the street overdoses in the bushes?

When trusted men fall into horrific sin?

When men he loves are falsely accused of horrific sin?

When trustworthy men are distrusted because of others’ sin?

When bloodthirsty Christians on the internet are determined to bring down men and churches that he respects and admires?

When people read a biased article and form an opinion based on that, and cannot be convinced no matter how much evidence they are presented to the contrary?

When opinions are no longer opinions, they are objective moral truth, and if you disagree, you are immoral?

When friends and family are slandered?

When friends drift away?

When petty squabbles kill gospel partnerships?

When Christians turn on Christians?

When righteous anger ceases to be righteous?

When he can’t seem to bolster the faith to make it to the end in this broken world?

When there is so much horror and injustice in the world, but he is just one man?

When he doesn’t know what to do?

What’s a man to do?

When Things Don’t Come Naturally

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop. I usually can get a lot of writing done a lot easier at a coffee shop. The relaxed atmosphere. The smell and taste of coffee. Caffeine. It’s all very conducive to creativity.

Today, however, I’ve been finding it a lot harder to write than usual. I had one new idea, but no inspiration on anything I’ve already been working on. And I really wanted to get a blog post written tonight, but was struggling to think of anything. The stuff that’s been on my mind this week is the same stuff I wrote about in my last post. I don’t want this blog to become as repetitive as my thought cycle.

Then, as I was sitting here waiting for inspiration, waiting for something to come naturally, I realized something: I can write about how hard it is to write. That’s super meta of me.

But actually, I didn’t want to write on this for the sake of humorous meta-ness. It’s because I tend to wait for things to come naturally in every aspect of my life, not just writing. I find myself constantly waiting for “the right moment.”

Whether it be writing, decisions regarding school and work, or even talking to girls, I want things to feel right. To be natural. Inspired even.

In case this doesn’t make sense to you (it barely does to me), I’ll try to clarify further.

I don’t like to take risks. I don’t like to work at things. I like things to be easy.

I wait to write until I feel inspired. Until I feel like I have something really good. And once I do, I want immediate results.

I think and think and think about my job and about pursuing further schooling all day every day. But I never want to make a decision. I want to be sure it will be the right thing for me. That there won’t be risk. That I’m following God’s plan for my life.

I don’t want to ask a girl out unless I’m absolutely sure she’ll say yes. And I better be sure that I’d be willing to marry her before I ask her out in order to get to know her (you see the irony there?). I don’t want to risk rejection. I don’t want to be hurt, and I don’t want to hurt someone else. Been there, done that.

What this comes down to is laziness and lack of faith.

Laziness because I’d rather stay complacent that make a decision. Especially a big decision that will have repercussions in my future.

Lack of faith because I’m not believing that God has a plan for my life. That I can make decisions without knowing how everything will turn out, because God knows how it will turn out.

The thing is, nothing good comes without risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the saying goes. If I always act out of inspiration and the feeling that it’s right I will almost never make decisions, and when I do they will be made in the heat of a moment, and when that moment ends, work will still need to be done. Inspiration is not everlasting. Even right things do not always feel right, because our feeling are incredibly deceptive.

Granted, inspiration is good, and there are “right moments.” However, one has to work to get to them. I won’t make a decision on school if I am simply waiting for clarity, instead of looking into schools and programs to gather information so I can make an informed decision. An informed decision is much more likely to be the right decision. In order to have the “right moment” to ask a girl out, I need to make opportunities to be around her first. A moment can’t come if I can’t even talk to a girl at all.

Sometimes it’s necessary to make a leap of faith. Or even a hop of faith. Or sometimes just a slight bounce of faith.

Big decisions and small take faith. We don’t know the outcomes of what we choose. But that’s ok. God does. He has a plan in the good choices and the bad. A plan for the ultimate good of his people.

So I can make decisions knowing that even if I make the wrong choice, God has something in it. I’ve learned from negative school experiences and bad relationships. Either my choice will be good and I can thank God for his good gifts; or my choice will be bad, but God will grow and change me through it.

Either way, the risk is much smaller when I realize how big God is.

Hopefully the same will be true for you.

Look Up and Look Out; Or, The Arrogance of Cowardice

I am a coward.

Seriously. An unrelenting cowardice plagues my soul.

There is a wart on my life, and it is called worry. (See what I did there?)

Historically, I would never have considered myself a worrier.

Historically, I’ve been wrong.

I am a worrier. I realized recently just how worrisome I can be when certain anxieties were relieved. Isn’t it funny how that works? I realized just how much I worry once I stopped worrying about something.

I worry about my future. I worry about whether or not I’ll make good choices regarding school and career. I worry that I’ll get stuck in a mind-numbingly boring office job. I worry that I’ll spend thousands of dollars on a degree I’ll never use. I worry about pursuing people. I worry that people won’t like me. I worry that I won’t like people. I worry that I’ll like people and lose them. I worry that I’ll like people and be betrayed. I worry that I’m too big of a sinner to be a true Christian. I worry that God doesn’t have for me anything that I want. I worry about why I don’t have clarity in life right now. I worry that I’ll never have clarity. I worry that I’m wasting time. I worry that I won’t be fulfilled. I worry that I won’t be happy.

And that’s not even all of my worry.

Godly conviction is such a good thing, but it can sure be overwhelming.

Here’s the thing:

While planning, preparation, and thinking through things is good, worry is not. Worry is lack of faith. Worry is me saying to God, “Look, I know you say you have a plan for my life. One for my ultimate good. But honestly, I don’t believe that. I don’t trust that it will be for my good. In fact, I’m not even sure you do have a plan. I have to figure everything out right now on my own because I am god of my life.”

So not only am I a coward, I’m an arrogant coward…

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone except me that I am not god of anything, but because I am so obsessed with looking down at my own navel, me and my desires quickly become god to me.

And that, my friends, is what I’ve realized recently: my eyes are constantly on myself. I think about myself all the time. I talk about myself all the time. I worry about myself all the time. I’m who matters most to me. I am enthralled with myself. I don’t even always like myself, but even in those moments I’m still thinking only about myself.

Me. Me. Me.

It’s rather ridiculous.

However, there is a very practical way to cultivate humility: look up and look out. My focus should be on Christ and on the people around me, not on myself.

Remembering what Christ did on the cross is so very humbling. I, being the arrogant worrier I am, am a weak and pathetic sinner. On my own, I am a sniveling worm, concerned only with myself and my desires. I could never save myself. I would never be able to pull myself out of sin. I know because I’ve tried. Christ paid the penalty that I could not. I was so weak and sinful, someone had to come and pull me out of the pit. That certainly doesn’t make me look very good.

Also, looking at others, looking to their needs and serving them will get my eyes off myself. It’s hard to be proud when you are washing your brothers’ feet.

Philippians 2:1-11 has been an encouraging verse to me in realizing how arrogant I am:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition and conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Wow…

I don’t think much more needs to be said, but I’m going to say more (there’s that arrogance again).

To bring this back full circle, where do I get off being an arrogant, faithless worrier?

Worry comes from my selfish ambition and conceit. Ambition and conceit that I worry will be unfulfilled. How can I make myself god of my life when Christ, who is God, humbled himself by becoming man and taking on the punishment for sin?

Sin, illness, weakness, lack of surety, difficult relationships; they are all part of this fallen world. They are reminders that we are not God. That we need God. They are meant to make us humble.

My arrogant worry is a sign of my need for God which should in turn make me humbly submit to him.

And I can submit to him knowing that he is the founder and perfecter of my faith. That he has a plan for my life. A plan that will probably include hardship and uncertainty, but even in the midst of trials and tribulation God is still sovereign, and he is still good.

He is God. I am not. That is good. That is humbling. That is faith-building.

The unrelenting grace of Christ through his gospel saved this undeserving coward.

When I look to Christ it’s pretty hard to be worried.

Serving as Mission

Last week my church had a training meeting regarding some changes that are going into effect this year in our children’s ministry, Sovereign Grace Kids.

The deacon in charge of children’s ministry asked me to give a talk at the meeting. I have received some good feedback, and while the talk is pretty specific to children’s ministry, a lot of the points can be applied to serving in any ministry, and honestly, the Christian mission as a whole. I figured I’d share the manuscript here. Hopefully it encourages and challenges you.

 

Good evening.
I believe most of you know me, but for those who don’t, my name is Thaxton Gamache.
As some of you may remember at the kickoff meeting a couple months ago, Roger shared a summary of our churches mission statement in kid friendly terms. As a reminder, the mission statement is as follows: “We [Sovereign Grace Church] exist to make disciples who delight in, display, and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Roger has reworked it slightly to make it more accessible to the kids so that they can better understand and apply it. And it goes, “enjoy, show, tell.” As Roger and I have been talking I’ve been thinking more and more about how important it is going to be for us as a team of volunteers to personally be grasping and applying the mission statement in our own lives and as we serve in SGK this year and in the future. If each one of us is personally delighting, displaying, and declaring, it will profoundly impact the way we serve and lead the kids as we help them learn to enjoy, show, and tell.
Now, I brought this to Roger as something that maybe he could implement into training, or address to everyone at some point. But he, being the good leader [read, delegator] said to me, “this sounds great, why don’t you put something together and present it at the meeting next week.”
So I want to take the next several minutes to exhort us to come together as mission minded servants, so we can better bring up the next generation to be mission minded!
My outline for this exhortation is simply the three D’s of the mission statement, delight, display, declare, but I’m going to go through them in reverse order. I’m going to start with declare, move on to display, and end with delight, because as far as children’s ministry is concerned, that tends to be the order of easiest to hardest. So, let’s dive in.
In order to make little disciples who enjoy, show, and tell, we need to…

 

Declare:
This one is obviously pretty straightforward. Declaring is kind of in the job description for teachers. Every Sunday we as volunteers will be declaring the gospel to the kids. And we even have a prewritten curriculum given to us to give us a guide. It will tell us what to say, and what themes to draw out of the story in a way that is accessible to kids.
However, it is important to remember that we aren’t just telling them cute little Bible stories. We are called throughout the new testament to preach the gospel. When we serve in SGK on Sunday mornings, we will be teaching the children what is of first importance: that Christ came as a man, lived a perfect life, died in our place, and rose again to conquer sin and death. Teaching the kids in SGK is part of fulfilling the great commission. That is no small thing. It may not feel like the Paul and Timothy type of discipleship relationship that most of us idealize, and we may not see a lot of radical conversions, but we are planting seeds when we declare, and many of those seeds will grow. There will be fruit. We might not get to see it, but it’ll be there, and it starts with them hearing the gospel.
It’s not all about being eloquent. About being the best speaker. About having the best words. (Although those things are good, and obviously can help your message come across with much more strength.) It’s mainly about setting a Christ-like example and preaching truth with conviction and love. I have seen a lot of kids enter the teen years with a shaky foundation, and they falter. But if we come alongside these parents and help cultivate in their children a love for the gospel and for the church, to build a solid foundation, they will be far less likely to falter. But that won’t happen if we don’t declare.
And our declaring will be much more effective if we are properly…

 

Display(ing):
Declaring Christ will mean nothing if we are not displaying Christ-likeness. It would be hypocritical to teach the kids to be like Jesus, yet not be trying to imitate him ourselves. Philippians 1:27 is a passage we are all familiar with. In it Paul gives the charge to, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” Our manner of life must be worthy of the gospel if we are to expect the gospel to go forth. And a life that is worthy of the gospel is a life lived like Jesus’. We won’t be perfect, but we should set out to be Godly examples.
We are called to be like Christ, but Paul also tells others to imitate him as he is of Christ. Throughout the new testament, the word imitation is used frequently in regard to Christ-likeness.
1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6 “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”
This language is important when it comes to displaying. If we are imitating Christ well, if our manner of life is worthy of the gospel, the kids will notice. They notice how people they like and respect act, and they want to be like those people, and they will imitate. And while imitating Christ is the goal, imitating believers who are imitating Christ well is the next best thing. If we are displaying well, we will be setting an example for the kids, not only in what we are saying, but also how we are acting.
And honestly, serving is displaying. In being here tonight, and in being willing to serve in the coming months, you are displaying, and it is very encouraging to me! “Christ came, not to be served, but to serve.” A massive part of Christ-likeness is serving. Serving is displaying. Let us continue to display.
The thing is though, we will not display well if we do not…

 

Delight:
We must delight in the gospel. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but I often find that to be a lot more difficult than it would seem. The gospel is amazing. It is good news of great joy for all people. In theory, Christians should be the happiest people in the world. For some of us, that’s hard. I am extremely predisposed toward negativity and cynicism. But we must make an effort to delight.
1 Corinthians 13 talks about how, without love, a Christian and his message is essentially pointless. I think that can apply here. If we teach these stories to these children, but do not have love for the gospel, for Christ, for the church, for the kids, for serving, and do not have joy, we are a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. We won’t be heard. Our message will fall flat. But if we are are delighting, if we are displaying and declaring with joy and love, our message will be all the more enticing.
We must not only delight in the gospel (although that is most important), we must also delight in the act of serving. We are going to make much more of a difference to these kids if we are excited to be there. If we want to be there, and if we want to serve, it will make the serving easier, and will benefit the kids far more. They will notice if you don’t want to be there, and so will the other volunteers. It can be very difficult early on a Sunday morning to be excited to deal with a bunch of unruly small children, but it is possible. God will grant you the strength. Be joyful servants. We must delight so that we can bring up a new generation of gospel delighters. (A word I coined while writing this.)
I’m not saying that serving in SGK is a terrible thing that we have to force ourselves to be joyful to do. But serving can be stressful. From no one person’s fault, the past few years have been difficult and at times chaotic. And honestly, there will be stressful days ahead. But we must delight. It will be so much easier and God-Glorifying if we are delighting in the gospel as we serve. And if we delight in the gospel as we serve, we are far more likely to delight in the actual act of serving. And we should, for serving is a delight. It is building the church, it is obedience to God, and it is Christ-likeness. I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty excited to get serving.
As I was sitting at the coffee shop, preparing this exhortation, I wanted to find a text that I could use that would bring all my points together really well. I was coming up short. I searched a couple buzzwords such as “preach” and “proclaim” in my Bible app. I found a couple good ones for individual points, but nothing that got the big picture.
Eventually I came upon 2 Corinthians 4. In particular verses 5-7. It didn’t perfectly fit the as a text to structure the entire exhortation around, but I think it can apply to serving in children’s ministry, so I’d like to read it now:

“5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

The chapter goes on to address striving in suffering, which I thought applied well when discussing dealing with children, but for the sake of time, I won’t read it. What I want to draw from this text is recognizing that this isn’t about us. Surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are proclaiming Christ crucified, but not on our own strength, and not for our individual reputations. It is by the strength of Christ, for the glory of God.
Sovereign Grace Kids doesn’t exist as an end in itself. It exists to build and unify the church. And the church exists to spread the gospel. We are called to make disciples, and our young brothers and sisters are little disciples. The best way to ensure that these little disciples enjoy, show, and tell the gospel of Jesus Christ is, as volunteers, to set the example by delighting in, displaying, and declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ with such joy, love, and passion that even toddlers notice and want what we have.
So, brothers and sisters, let us delight in the glory of the gospel, and from that delight let us overflow in a display of the grace we have been given, that we may declare with fervor the good news of great joy to all people.
Thank you.

Fighting Fire With Fire

Being humble is hard.

Finding yourself incapable of denying your faults and being left with no choice but to be humble, essentially being humiliated, is even harder.

I find myself in this place far more often than I would like.

Recently I found myself in this place because of one particular sin. A sin that has made me increasingly angry when I see or hear of others doing it, especially other Christians. ‘How could you possibly do that? You are a Christian. You are above that. You are a coward, and a fool.’

Then I proceed to tell people I’m close to about what an awful person so-and-so is because of what they did.

This is incredibly ironic given that the sin I’m referring to is gossip.

Well, gossip and slander. They all go hand in hand. It is almost like they are a pair of maniacal lovers, often intertwined, and in their union they are bent toward causing division.

That was my attempt at eloquence. I’ll stop trying now and defer to one of my favorite authors for that.

I recently read the book A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. A Great Reckoning is one of the Chief Inspector Gamache novels (yes, the main character shares my last name!). I love this series so much, and would highly recommend it to pretty much anyone. Louise Penny is one of the most insightful and wise authors I’ve ever read. Throughout A Great Reckoning, she draws attention to the violence of rumors, and the danger in believing the first story you hear.

Two excerpts in particular stood out to me. In the first, one of the characters was recalling an excerpt from a poem, written by one of the main recurring characters in the series, Ruth Zardo. The excerpt went as follows:

Rumor was loose in the air,
Hunting for some neck to land on.

Wow. What an image. Likening a rumor to a bird of prey, looking for a victim to attack is the best metaphor for a rumor since Veggie Tales’ Rumor Weed.

I recently saw that bird of prey land on a friend of mine. It was brutal and hard to watch. The easy thing to do in light of hearing about gossip and slander, is to gossip and slander in response, and I’m sorry to say I did that. I’m afraid that in many ways even as I tried to douse the flames, I merely fanned them. I fought fire with fire, and as usual, it did nothing to solve the problem.

I realized then my hypocrisy. How was my “venting” about these people who were hurting my friend any better than those people spreading a rumor about my friend?

It wasn’t.

We can excuse ourselves by claiming that we are venting, or merely making observations, or even that we are seeking justice. Or, my least favorite, that we are humbly asking others for prayer, simply so we can gossip about someone who is pissing us off. I have done all of these, and I was wrong every time.

Friends, please, let us stop talking to each other about others in a sinful and unhealthy way. All it does is cause disunity in the church. It is easy, but it is evil, and we must stop. We are called to build one another up, not tear each other down behind one another’s back. No one is helped by someone talking about them instead of talking to them. Yes, that can be awkward, but it’s better than turning everyone against someone else. And guess what! The person will almost always find out who said what about them, and believe me, that hurts like hell. I have seen it countless times, and experienced it once or twice myself.

Please, stop talking so much!

Now, this brings me to the second part that stood out to me in A Great Reckoning. There was a character with a dangerous criminal background, and Gamache and he knew each other, and obviously did not get along well at all. One character, a cadet at the police academy, was explaining to another, a police inspector, how Gamache and this man hated each other. The inspector asked how the cadet knew this, and she replied that the man had told her. The inspector asked what Gamache had said, and the cadet could not answer, for Gamache had never expressed any hate toward the man.

This excellently shows the danger of listening to and believing the first (and often only) story you hear.

Why is this dangerous? Because the slanderer is often the first to speak. More often than not, the first story you will hear is the false, or at least over exaggerated rumor. Not always, but very often. There are two sides to every story. Try to get both.

This is also dangerous because listeners are also guilty in the spread of gossip and slander. If you are listening and believing; or listening, not believing, but not shutting it down; or listening, not being sure, but not going to the person of whom the rumor is about to get clarity, you are fanning the flames. Listening is enabling.

This is a very personal issue to me, because I have seen the pain slander can cause. I have seen it affect friends, family, and even myself. It is a tool the devil uses to cause division where there could be strong Christian unity. Please, be mature. Be loving. Build the church, don’t tear it down.

Take this as it is meant to be. Humble. I am guilty of all of the above to some extent. I am not dealing harsh, proud judgement, but am humbly imploring that we all make an effort to stop gossip and slander. Don’t speak if that’s what is likely to come out of your mouth. Shut it down when you hear it. Let’s kill this snakelike couple, who’s venom poisons the church, that we may grow stronger, despite the devil’s best efforts.

Instead of fighting fire with the fire of anger and slander, let us fight fire with the water of encouragement and selfless love. Ya know, like Christ would do.

Vile Hands

I could smell a thick pestilence. A putrid stench was wafting through the air. It was worse than anything I had ever smelled. It stunk of death. The fetor was overpowering, and it was all I could do not to retch as it made its assault on my senses. I thought there might be an animal carcass nearby. Perhaps the mouse that had been running around the house had finally died. However, the vile stink didn’t seem to have a specific source in the room. It was everywhere, following me wherever I went. I soon realized that it was not, in fact, following me, and it definitely was not a dead animal. It was me.

I tried to discover why I was producing such a stench. I wondered if my clothes needed to be cleaned. I had just done laundry the other day, but I might have spilled something on them. It was also possible that I had sat in something, or stepped in some animal’s not so courteous gift. I checked myself all over, but my clothing was immaculate, and as far as I was aware, my bodily functions had not gotten the better of me. It had to be something else. The more I investigated the stronger the smell became, and the more obvious it became that it was coming from me. From my skin.

One after another, I tore off articles of clothing until I stood naked. I threw the clothes from the room and closed the door. Still the odor persisted. I gripped my hair in frustration, unable to locate the source of the smell. I appeared clean, yet I reeked as though I were a corpse, dead and rotting.

It wasn’t until I lowered my hands from my head that I noticed something strange. My hands were filthy. I hadn’t seen it before, but they were disgusting. Unrecognizable. Covered with indiscernible forms of dirt and grime. I was confused and frightened. There was no reason my hands should be so unclean. They were clean mere minutes ago, and I hadn’t done any dirty jobs. And yet, the dirt was there.

As I looked closer there was more than just filth covering my hands, my hands appeared to be rotting. There was blood, sores, and pestilence. Then the pain started. There was a stinging in my hands that I could hardly stand. But it wasn’t just my hands. My mouth suddenly felt sore, and a sharp pain shooting through my eyes. A warm liquid started streaming down my face.

In a panic I sprinted naked to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. What I saw horrified me. Looking back at me was a face I did not recognize. It was bald, with sores all over it’s head. Blood streamed from black eyes, as though this thing staring at me were crying. The mouth was dark, and most of the teeth were gone, and those that were left were hanging on by a thread.

I tried to convince myself that what I was looking at wasn’t me, That it couldn’t possibly be me, but then I heard something. A voice in my head, like my own, but not quite my own.

“Of course this is who you are. Who you truly are underneath the facade you put up. The real you is disgusting. You are full of disease and rotting.”

“Why?” I thought in return, “what made me like this?”

“You did.” the voice replied, “This is the man you have chosen to be. You know it’s true. Look at yourself. Your hands, infected and bloody from the angry violence committed by them. Your eyes, dark and bleeding from the lustful second glances. And your mouth, rotten and stinking from the spiteful slander you have spoken. And that is merely what you see now, but there is so much more. This is who you are.”

“No. No, this isn’t who I am. I’m not like that. This can’t be real.”

“Stop trying to deny it, you white washed tomb! You put on airs and appear righteous, but inside you are are filled with death. Just look.”

I then had a sudden compulsion to look inside. To physically search inside myself. I began clawing at my flesh. Tearing it apart to find the inevitable truth. I fought through the pain, hardly feeling it through the manic anger. I tore the left side of my chest wide open and looked. Instead of a vibrant red, beating heart, there was a withered, dry, black mass in my chest cavity.

“See? Don’t you see?” said the voice. “This is all you are. Empty and worthless. You have committed the most egregious of sins, and your vile depravity disgusts me. You have dug yourself into your grave. You are hopeless, and now all you can do is wallow in your anguish.”

The voice was right. I could no longer deny that this was who I was. A putrid, hollow carcass. I was repulsed by my own abysmal character, and wondered why I was not better.

I had tried. I made an effort to be a good man. It was hard, but I tried. Yet now it seemed that my effort was pointless. I could attempt humility, respect, love, and self-control, but I would always fail. I could appear to be doing everything right, and could feel like I was on the right path, but now I saw just how wrong I truly was and I lost all hope.

I immediately fell into a depression. It was all I could do to not cut myself to pieces in response to the agony of how I now saw myself. I dropped to the floor and lay curled in a fetal position, crying out to the emptiness around me. My misery was overwhelming and exhausting. Soon I could no longer cry out and took to a pitiful moaning. I was exhausted, miserable, angry, depressed, and worst of all, I was alone.

I soon became numb, no longer even noticing the smell. I do not recall how long I laid there in my pathetic state, but I was prepared to stay there, neglecting my bodily needs until death took me. Life no longer seemed worth it. I was too far gone and couldn’t fix myself. I certainly couldn’t endure another several decades of trying and failing to be something I could never be. I simply couldn’t do it.

“No, you can’t.” I suddenly heard. This time it was nothing like my own voice. In fact, it was hardly a voice. It was more of an awareness coming from outside of myself, yet understood within my own mind.

“You can’t fix yourself. You know that. You will never be able to fix yourself.”

“So there is no hope! Just leave me alone. I’m better off dead, and the world is better off without me.” I replied in my frustrated pride.

“Listen to me. Listen, and do not speak until I am finished.” The gentle, yet stern command silenced me.

“Yes, you have failed. You have committed deplorable sins, and you likely will again. You are naked and exposed, and you will have to give an account, but simply repent and turn away and your sins will not be held against you. Yes, you must keep striving, and even though you will fail again and again, you must press through. Strive that you may enter rest.

“The word is living and active! Use it, for it is like a sword. Remember that there is one, whom you know, who can sympathize with your weakness. He has been where you have been. He has felt the agony you have felt, and so much more. He knows what it is like to be you. He was tempted in every respect as you are, but he never sinned. And because of that, he was able to take these horrible acts of yours upon himself. He was smitten and afflicted. He was pierced, he was crushed, and he was chastised. Your iniquity was laid on him that you may be brought peace.

“Therefore, you no longer need fear condemnation! Sin has been condemned in order that the righteous requirement of the law could be fulfilled in you. And not only has sin been condemned, but death has been defeated. In his resurrection, you may now live!

“So strive! Do not walk in the flesh, for you are not in the flesh. Yes, you will fail, but strive. Although your body is dead in sin, your soul has life in him! A heart of flesh has been given to you. Continue to repent and turn. Run the race with endurance, looking to the founder and perfecter of your faith, that you may gain the prize. Fight, not because you will achieve victory, but because victory has already been achieved. And when you come to the end of your fight, that victory will be shared with you.

“It will be difficult. Today is not the last time you will feel hopeless. But fight, for he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. That is a promise that will be kept.

“Rise and walk. Strive to sin no more. You are loved. You are in the hand of one who will never let you go. Be comforted.”

The voice stopped. I could not find words to respond, and nothing more followed. I stood, though I do not know how. It certainly was not on my own strength. I looked in the mirror. Much of the decay was still there. I was still in a failing, weak, sinful body, yet something was different. My heart. My chest was closing back up, but as it did I saw not the withered black mass, but a beating red heart.

It had been there. I knew it had, yet I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see beyond my failings to the work that was being done in me. Work that I had not initiated. Work that I would not complete. But work I would join in.

I went on from there knowing that I would very likely find myself in that position of hopeless agony again. And I have. I still have this weak body, and there are days where all I can see is my own weakness. There are still days where my guilt and condemnation makes me want to tear myself to pieces. But I know that is not how I am seen. I am justified. Declared to be what I am not yet. And because of that, I have hope. Hope that I can continue to run the race with endurance. And beyond that, I know that this body, so dirty and smelly, can still be used well. Used to fight. Used to build people up. Used to proclaim what I know to be true.

These vile hands will do God’s work.

Investment Opportunity!

Here it is. The inaugural post on my brand new blog. Unless you count the introductory post, which I don’t, and since it’s my blog, I get to make the rules, and I say it doesn’t count. Anyway, shall we begin?

 

My very old and dear friend John was in town this past weekend. He and I were best friends during some of the most formative years of our lives. I was absolutely wrecked when he and his family moved to Colorado back in 2008. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years, and continue to do so even though the states of South Dakota and Nebraska separate us now. I even learned a lot from him the short time he was here this weekend. Not the least of which was that he thought I was really annoying when we first met and our parents forced us to spend time together. What was most surprising to me about that confession was the fact that it changed at some point. I remember what I was like as a kid, and if I met Kid Thaxton now, I would want to kick that twerp across the room.

But it did change, and John and I became such good friends that now, almost a full nine years after he moved to Colorado, we can still meet up and it feels like no time has past. We are thick as thieves again. Only now we don’t run around pretending we’re knights or pirates. We are more sophisticated than that. We drink craft beer and play video games.

He and I had a really good conversation on Sunday afternoon. It was essentially an in-depth catch up session, but it was very fruitful. One main thing that I talked about was how difficult I find it to make friends at church. In fact, I haven’t had a close friend of my own age at church since John moved in ’08.

There are many reasons why I have a hard time connecting to people at church. I can find it really hard to relate to people. I often find groups of people to be overwhelming. My dad is the pastor of my church, which brings its own set of larger issues and can make relationships more difficult. These are all very legitimate reasons for struggling to connect at times, but they are not legitimate reasons for struggling to connect all the time. I’ve realized recently that it is very easy for me to start using these things as an excuse not to connect when I simply don’t want to.

Cue the conviction.

As I talked to John about this, he very wisely pointed out that part of my problem is that I am waiting for others to take initiative.

That got my gears turning. As we continued talking, and as I’ve continued thinking since then, I realized that he was, of course, absolutely right. I do tend to want others to take initiative and invest in me, and show interest in my life. That is a fine desire, but the trouble is, I often don’t want to do the same for others.

Conviction continues.

So what’s my point here? So far this just seems like a long-winded story about how I have a good friend in Colorado and am bad at church relationships. I’m getting to the point, just be patient.

John also told me that, although he initially found me annoying, he appreciated that I pursued the friendship. He said that if I hadn’t taken initiative, we probably would never have become friends.

A guy from my small group and I had talked last month about getting breakfast sometime, but we both got busy and it didn’t happen. When he initially suggested it, I felt so good that he took initiative and suggested meeting. In light of my conversation with John, I decided to text him and ask if he wanted to actually try and get breakfast some time. He was so appreciative that I in turn took initiative to try to make breakfast happen. We are going out next week.

The point is, I know I’m not the only one who deals with this. Connecting with people can be really difficult a lot of the time. But we shouldn’t stop trying. And we certainly shouldn’t wait around for others to try to connect with us. Sitting around waiting and complaining is not how we live life together. God doesn’t just invest in us when it’s easy. He takes initiative with rebellious sinners. He calls people who hated him into relationship with him. I think I can get past my insecurities and invest in the people in my church even when it’s awkward.

I have recently realized that I dropped the ball a bit. I definitely have had a legitimately difficult time relating to people in church, and I will continue to do so. I don’t think I will get exactly what I’m looking for, but I think I have been looking for the wrong thing. Or, at least, looking in the wrong places with the wrong perspective. I have neglected investing in small group and in the single’s ministry at my church recently. If any of you are reading this and feel like I have not invested in you the way I should, I am sorry, and I will try to do better.

All of this is to say that I am going to change my perspective. Or at least work on changing my perspective. It is on me just as much as it is on anyone else to pursue those around me. I need to stop selfishly waiting around for others to invest in me, and I need to start investing in others. Because once I start investing in someone, odds are they’ll start investing in me too, and I’ll get what I was looking for all along. People want to feel invested in, but someone has to start the investing. I’m challenging myself to be the one to invest.

God help me…

The Result of My Self-Importance

This is a new blog.

I had an old blog, but frankly, it was not that great. At least, I don’t think it was. It was a visually unappealing Blogspot site that I made several years ago as an outlet to write out whatever was plaguing my mind at any given time. I was unfortunately unaware how outdated Blogspot was even then. Also, my writing has come a long way since then (well, anyway, I hope it has), so I find that old blog rather embarrassing.

This new blog should be better.

This will be a blog of thoughts and opinions. A lot of it will probably be similar to my old blog. I’m just going to write about the stuff that’s on my mind and heart. However, I’d like to branch out a bit with the genres within the blog. I’ll write random thoughts and experiences, but I’d also like to do book, movie, and TV reviews, and maybe even delve into short fiction here and there. The possibilities are (insert preferred hyperbole here).

So, that’s the plan. In my hubris I will be publishing my thoughts and opinions. Hopefully someone will enjoy it.

My mom definitely will.

This is a new blog. Hopefully it will be less embarrassing than my last one…