Pastoral Advice

Why Does God Love Us

“Why does God love us?”  This simple question was a part of reading discussion from Kyle Idleman’s book, Gods at War.  In all our rebellion, sinfulness, and apathy why does God love us?   We killed his prophets, crucified His Son, and deny his existence.   We choose promiscuity over holiness, selfishness over serving, and idol worship over worship in Spirit and Truth.   We are disobedient.  Basically we will choose anything and anyone but God, so why does He love us? 

 

Despite all our rebellion and rejection, God pursues us relentlessly and at all costs.  The question, why does God love us?, for some reason focuses us on our character as if there is something in ourselves worthy of God’s love.   The real focus of that question is answered in the character of God – I John 4:16b God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  Love is the character of God.  Love is who God is at the core so much so that God is love.   God’s pursuit of us is not based on how loveable we are – Thank goodness.   God’s pursuit of us is based on how loving God is. 

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The Johari Window

johari

A few weeks ago I was introduced to the Johari Window, a psychological relational tool.  I guess I should say re-introduced, because I found a worksheet on the Johari Window in my seminary folder.    As you can see from the picture above the window has 4 panes.  The top left pane represents what everybody knows about you and you know as well.  The bottom left pane is what you know about yourself but choose not to reveal to others.  The top right pane is what others perceive of you that you don’t know about yourself.  The bottom right pane is your subconscious; nobody knows what’s in the pane, but it still has a bearing on our relationships.

The objective of the Johari Window is to decrease the amount of unknown material that is having an adverse affect on your relationships.   I took a look at this tool from a spiritual filter and have applied its insights to the church (congregationally and individually).   A congregation might think it is friendly but visitors might think it is cold; there is a relational disconnect.   An individual might think that they have a wonderful relationship with Jesus, but his/her co-workers might not even know he/she is a Christian; there is a relational disconnect.   The panes are connected.  What is in one of the panes has an affect on all the panes.   If a person is secretly looking at porn (Hidden Pane) it will have an affect on the Open and Blind and Unknown panes.   If people perceive you as untrustworthy (Blind Pane) whether it is true or not there is an affect on the other panes.

Thinking spiritually not psychologically, for us as the church the goal or directive is for things we do in private to be congruent with the things we do in public.  This is first and foremost about character.   Character is who you are when nobody is looking or in the Johari Window it is what we find in the Hidden Pane.   Secondarily it is about what people perceive is your character; the Blind Pane.   There are some things that are always going to be going to be disconnected; thus the need for both the panes.   The truly important things, Faith, Hope, and Love, are areas we don’t want there to be a disconnect in any of the panes.   Congruency translates to authenticity.   Authenticity in turn minimizes the disconnect between what is true and what is perceived.   In other words, “we are practicing what we preach.”

Authenticity is the crux.   Do our prayer and devotional lives, our confessions, our worship, our closed door and parking lot meetings, our unspoken rules, our Monday-Saturday behavior, our tithes and offerings, our inner thoughts, and our alone time resonate and shadow the mind of Christ – “Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2)?

The test of authenticity is to ask those difficult questions;

–       Do the people in my circle of influence know that I am a Christian?

–       Is my behavior in church the same as my behavior on Friday night?

–       Do people really know that I love Jesus and my faith is solely in Jesus?

–       Do I think life is about me or do I truly live life glorifying God?

–       Do I study the Bible or do I just have a Bible?

–       Am I trusting God with everything including my finances?

–       Are people seeing in my life love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

–       Am I confessing my secret sins and repenting?

–       When controversy arises or circumstances demand you take a stand do people know immediately what side you will be on?

–       Are you a peacemaker?

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Mr. Manipulation

We had a big Jacob meeting this past Monday.  The meeting started out with a critical situation that happened at school and then went to a “revelation” Jacob had given to his social worker.   The social worker was prying as to why jacob doesn’t want to come home to be a part of the family and why his behavior has been so bad.  Jacob’s revelation, “My dad makes me rake leaves every time I go home.”  Let me pause for a moment . . . the fact that comment was brought up in a meeting with other people without me being in the loop still upsets me.   Yes Jacob raked leaves the past 2 times he has been home.   The reason for raking leaves was that he has stole money from a classmate and was making money to pay the boy back.  In other words the raking was a response to the behavior not the other way around.   Jacob had manipulated the social worker and really put the social worker and myself at odds with one another.  We had been manipulated and triangulated.

I’m still angry.  I’m still wondering if Jacob has the ability to plan that sort of stuff out or whether it just happens.  If you are familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean movies, there is a great line that is repeated a few times during the movie as Jack Sparrow escapes yet again, “Do you think he plans it all out or makes it up as he goes?”   Is it pre-meditated or does it just happen?   I would like to know.   So there I was, set up; mr. slavedriver.  Jacob’s revelation is that his behavior is all due to the fact that somehow I can make him rake leaves and do chores the whole time he is at my house.   I wonder if making him ride his bike, go bowling, eat out at Andy’s, watch movies, and watch a football game is causing all the problems.  The answer is YES.

What?  YES all Jacob’s behaviors are caused by those very things.  In fact raking the yard is the least of his burdens.  You see being in relationship, in a family is hard.   That’s why there is divorce.  That why we have words like dysfunctional, irreconcilable, and alimony.   Being part of family is tough.  Just being in a relationship is tough.   I think Jacob has decided the relationship with his family isn’t worth the effort and manipulation is the key to getting out.

If I think about it he is right.   It takes work to be married.  It takes work to be involved in your kids lives.  it takes work to maintain a decent friendship.   It takes work to keep up with the easy relationships.  It’s hard to even think about the the ones that require a spirit of forbearance and long suffering.   I john 4: 19-20 “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”  How can we who cannot even maintain a relationship with those we are supposed to love actually have a relationship with God Almighty?    I’m with Jacob on this thing; being in a relationship is hard work, there are expectations, rules, requirements, costs, and dangers.  It is much easier to manipulate and justify my behaviors than it is to have a deep relationship especially with God who brings things like confession and repentance into a real relationship.

The I John passage is clear if we can’t love the ones we are supposed to love how can we love God.   I believe there are a lot of people trying to manipulate a relationship with God instead of being in one with God.   It is easier to justify our behaviors and claim it is God’s fault.  God makes His Word hard to read and I don’t find it relevant .  God made me this way so…this behavior is justified.  If God is so loving why did He let this happen?  And we justify not praying, reading our Bibles, or doing ministry or even worse still we justify our behaviors by allowing culture to be rule and authority of healthy relationships over the Bible.   We manipulate rather than put the work in to enjoy the deep relationships.   I’m with Jacob on this relationship thing, it is much easier to manipulate the people around you than it is to relate, be honest and truthful, forbearing, and love.   But if you won’t do that with the people you’re supposed to love how can we say we love God?

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5#’s

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday with eating at both sets of parents, travel meals, and snacks I have acquired an extra 5lbs on top of the 20lbs surplus I already have.   I’m sluggish and lethargic with this extra weight.  My pants aren’t fitting in the waist and because of the extra need in the waist the length is not right either.  My shirts are bloused out a bit more.  I can’t button my sports coats comfortably.   Everything was OK until this extra 5#s.  Even though I was already overweight the consequences were minimal until this extra 5#’s.

It seems that we deal with a lot of things that are on that brink of being consequential.  You know the “up in the air” things of life; the “one more straw to break the camel’s back” sort of burdens we carry.  I’m able to manage 20lbs of extra weight, but 5 more #’s makes my blood pressure unsafe, clothes not fit, and my energy level bottom out.   I used to be an advocate of creating “margin” in life so that when the unexpected happens or a new consequence of life pops up there is room for it.  Sometimes the margin we can create is not enough.  So what do you do when your margin has been used up for quite some time, the pain is no longer manageable, your juggling skills can’t handle one more thing, and your camel’s back is bending?

For some of us; our non-existent prayer lives come to life, we make decisions that we aren’t proud of, and/or we suck it up and deal with it to put a façade on in public. Please don’t start quoting I Corinthians 10:13 it doesn’t apply here (it’s about temptation).   I’m asking this, because there are times in our lives when all the forethought and planning could not have preempted all that life has thrown us.  There are times when we could not have possibly foreseen and prepared for all things we are going to have up in the air in this season of life.   What do you do with the proverbial extra 5#’s?

A diet is in order.   A recalibration of priorities is needed.  A focus on what is really important is called for.  Someone might say to you, “give it to God,” but I don’t know what that looks like.  I prefer to

  1. Cut the fat.   Remove from your day, your life that which is non-essential.   Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 to not worry about tomorrow each day has enough trouble of it’s own.   Drop what isn’t important.
  2. Prioritize the essentials, make important what is really important – Luke 10:38-42 Martha and Mary.   Time with God is utmost important and after that get an index card and write down the three most important things.  When they are done call it a day or take on three more things.
  3. Focus on the goal, which is our relationship with Jesus, I Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1.   It is the relationship with Jesus that will help us surrender the things that aren’t really important and deal directly with the things that are.   It is the relationship with Jesus that will prioritize your life in a godly way.
  4. Lastly put fear into perspective.  Worry is a result of fear.   Fear only those things that put your relationship with God in jeopardy – Matthew 10:28 and Philippians 2:12.

The Holidays are upon us.  There is always too much to do.  There is always something else to juggle, one more activity to load onto the calendar, one more notch in the belt to punch.  And then life steps in with some sort of crisis.  When it gets overwhelming stop and get back to what’s really important – Jesus!  Don’t let the extra 5#’s rob you of the joy God has for you.

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Sick Day

Image

I’ve got a couple of prompts from people to get back on my blog.  I’m sick today, yet still in the office and  for some reason this blog thing is all I can get my congested brain wrapped around.  It’s been over a year since my last post so an update is in order.

My cycling hobby has slowed down on the building end of things and has increased on the riding side.    I think I’ve got all the bikes I need and in fact need to get rid of a few.  Been on the Mountains to Sea ride across NC (450+ miles) and had a couple of rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

My three daughters continue to grow in the grace of Christ Jesus.   Rachel is looking at ECU for college next year.  Kaleigh seems to be getting things together after some BIG problems this summer.  Lauren is finishing up a great year in marching band.   jacob is still distant.  We have him closer to home, but we have come to the conclusion the therapy at Thompson’s was not effective.  He is up to his normal manipulations and is still hurting people physically.  Our hopes were to bring him home soon if he was safe, thinking we could deal with all of his social quirks and detachment.  The problem is he is not safe and thank God everyone in Jacob’s life has witnessed that and is on the same page.

I continue to think about the ebb and flow of life and how we go through seasons that teach us more and more to trust in God; the times of trials and tribulations and the times of joy and peace.  I’m not quite sure how people who do not have the hope of Jesus Christ get through the trials and tribulations of life.  I’m not sure how you get through a head cold without God.  I’m not sure how to put a day of joy and peace in perspective with out Jesus.  So on a day like today I am getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids, taking decongestion products, using a Nettie pot, and leaning into God.   It’s days like my sick day that remind me to lean into God.  Perhaps that’s why there is still no cure for the common cold – to remind us that everyday is a day to lean into God.

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Biking and Fasting – Lent

I road 43 miles yesterday (pedaling).  It was a beautiful day and I must say DLT is not that bad considering I was able to go later and ride longer.  Due to doctor’s recommendation to lose weight, I am currently in phase 1 of the South Beach diet.  This phase has practically no carbs and can be energy draining.  I do feel a lot better, but I think that’s because I am eating extremely healthy.

About mile 40 everything I had was gone.  My legs started to cramp and I was spent.    When I got home it was work to get into the shower and get a snack (fat free cottage cheese).   It took me about an hour before I decided I could manage putting together a meal (guacamole and turkey wrapped in low fat cheese).    This diet is not the kind of thing you want to be on when training to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Phase 2, scheduled to start in a week has more carbs.  Since lent is the season of fasting I started to think about some parallels with this dieting thing.

The last 3 miles of my ride yesterday I considered calling Fran for a ride.  I didn’t and instead dug a little deeper and depended a little more on my cycling skills.   Fasting is a lot like that.  There are points where you want to quit.  You begin to wonder is this really worth it?  Does God really honor fasting?  That’s when you have to dig a little deeper and ask yourself is my physical hunger outweighing my hunger for God?  The reality is unless you have truly been fasting for at least 3 days and have health issues God is the greater need.  The reality is that God is the One who sustains us and yes God does honor fasting with answers, intimacy, and power.

I was able to switch my riding style and use a different set of muscles to avoid pressuring the ones that were cramping.  Between backpacking and cycling I have a keen awareness when my muscles are on the verge of cramping beyond being able to continue.  I also know how to change stride, position, and pedal stroke to use different muscles.   I believe fasting is one of those things that take a certain level of faith maturity to be effective and it is one of those things that mature Christians see as a needed discipline.  I can remember fasting for the first time and thinking the real advantage here is that I will probably lose a few pounds.   The real advantage to fasting is that you are intently seeking God and saying to God I want you more than food.   Fasting takes maturity in faith.   Maturity keeps you focused on God.   This should not discourage anyone from fasting, but realize first that fasting is a discipline.

If I had had a flat tire or my muscle had truly cramped up, I would not have hesitated to call for a ride home.  I think there are times to break your fast:

  1. The fast becomes about you either drawing attention to yourself with pride or complaining
  2. You aren’t finding the time to spend in prayer or seeking God in His Word
  3. Your planning was incomplete – you failed to look ahead at your schedule and you didn’t sacrifice certain activities

Don’t beat yourself up if you have to break your fast.  Fasting isn’t meant to be a burden.  The important thing is that you learn from why you had to break the fast and start over next time with strengthened fervor and focus.

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Christmas Everyday!!!

First of all I want to give credit where credit is due – this idea came from Jerry a friend and church member.   He was leading a Bible Study and began by asking, “How much time we had created last month for shopping, Christmas parties, and Christmas festivities.”  The answer, “a lot!”  In our so called busy schedules we found time, no we made time to take part in the holiday frivolities.    Not just some time, but a lot of time.  Then he told a story about a Christmas present.

Jerry’s son, Nick has been married for a little over six months.  Jerry thinking he was going to get to sleep in on Christmas morning was woken up by his 25ish year old son early.  Nick was excited about a gift he had bought his new bride and could not wait any longer for her to open it.   The present was a digital camera.  Nick new everything about this camera and had gone to great lengths to research and purchase this camera.  Jerry described the scene with joy and then flipped it around on us asking, asking us about the gift of Christ and our drive to present others with the gift of Christ.  The silence that followed witnessed to the clarity of the illustrations.

We can and will make time for the things we want to do.  We can create time out of thin air during the Holidays.  Where is this creative spirit the rest of the year when God asks us to teach Sunday school, go to a Bible study, or participate in a ministry?  Time is the great equalizer; everybody has the same amount – 24 hours a day or 1440 minutes a day or 86,400 seconds a day.  That does not change during the holiday season and there is no time altering continuum that mystically appears.     In fact, as a minister the Christmas season is extremely busy for me, but I create time to do the things I want.   That time creating spirit matched with priorities and loyalties can really result in Kingdom impact if we would practice it all year long.

It was the gift illustration that hit home.  We call it evangelism, but really it is participating with God as he offers His gift of Jesus.  I’m right there with Nick getting up early to see the joy on my family’s faces as they open their gifts.   How much more joy is there in our Father’s offering of Jesus?   Luke 15:7 – I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  We are invited to participate in that joy!  It could be Christmas morning every day if we get up anticipating and participating with our Father as He offers His gift of salvation – Jesus.

Categories: Missional, Pastoral Advice, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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