An Open Letter To Young Clergy In The North Alabama Conference

It has been nearly a month. I have had time to process it, so now I will write.

Well, I have just been to Dante’s 45th Level of Hell. Excuse me, I meant to say my 45th consecutive North Alabama UMC Annual Conference. For those unfamiliar with my Spiritual Tribe, it’s that annual gathering of pastors and laity to “do” the “business” of UMC congregations within the boundaries of the North Alabama Conference. The italics and bold font indicates it’s alleged purpose. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how much we really do and how much of what we do really is the business of the Body of Christ and the Tribe known as United Methodists or the business of our personal opinions and beliefs.

To the young clergy and and young Christians, I want you to know I heard you cries of despair; of your feelings of being neglected because you felt your voice wasn’t important. It is important, but not in the way you may think. I also heard your anger because…well…because you did not obtain the results you wanted.

It appeared that you felt like BECAUSE you are young, your voice and your beliefs are the most important one. You were disappointed that none of you were elected to attend our General and Jurisdictional Conferences…and thus you assumed we weren’t listening. Au contraire, my sisters and brothers. You were heard, and there were many times when your voices did not sound like our Head, Jesus Christ.

With youth comes many advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantages of youth are qualities and virtues we all need to reclaim. We need to reclaim the excitement of the sense of unlimited possibilities. We need to reclaim the excitement of new discoveries. We need the stepping stones of fresh perspectives. These are just a few of the things you youth can teach us old fogies.

But there are also some disadvantages to youth, disadvantages us old fogies also had. The lack of depth of wisdom comes to mind. Wisdom doesn’t come from the surface of information, but from the depths of God’s heart and mind. This takes time…a lot of time. You lack the scars of battle with the Enemy. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I know you have faced and done battle with the Enemy…otherwise you would’t be here.

Allow me to give you the image of my son, now retired from the military. He has been in many literal battles. And when the battle was intense, he did not look to that fresh out of West Point or ROTC second lieutenant for guidance and courage, he looked to the seasoned officers who had more experience in battle. What I want to say is that experience trumps youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience helps steady the ship when the storms are intense.

Young clergy and laity, you bring much to our Table. We need what you offer. But you also need what we old fogies bring to the Table. We bring years of failure and success. We bring hearts and minds deeply rooted in the Truth of Scriptures (well most of us anyway). We also bring a knowledge of our processes.

Do not think you are unimportant because you did not get your way at the North Alabama Annual Conference 2019. The anger many of you manifested at Annual Conference did not serve your purposes at all. Take a moment to breathe, and reflect in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And for a moment, set aside all that your seminary professors told you–and simply seek the Holy Spirit–then listen.

I do not blame you for feeling disappointed. I do blame those who told you that you have the only answer for the problems ad issues of the church in the 21st century. The Body of Christ has many parts, and you are one of those parts. Bring your energy and insights to the body of Christ.

But also listen…listen to the scars of us old fogies…listen to the wisdom from above that we have because we have been on the front lines for a while. The, when it’s time for decisions to be made, contact those delegates elected, and with the spirit of grace and kindness, share your views and opinions. Those will be a part of the mix that helps us ALL, regardless of age, to move forward with the Kingdom of God.

And most of all remember Paul’s words to young Timothy. Study…learn…seek wisdom from Above. Rejoice in your successes but also learn from your failures. The scars we bear are the most fertile ground for spiritual maturity…

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A Prosthetic Grace

Grace without a lifetime of transformation??? It’s not real. It’s not grace.

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This morning, I was “provoked” to write. It was another provocation by the Holy Spirit. And as is His habit, He provoked me through another person. It happened as I was reading the blog See, There’s This Thing Called Biology (click here to read insanitybytes thoughts). It was the one she calls Why Do We Hate Grace?”

It made me think about the Great Debate going on in my Tribe, the United Methodist Church. While some have chosen to make it a debate about human sexuality, I see that it is something much more that this single issue. The real issue is Grace. There are some within our Orthodox Camp who show little grace to those who are struggling with their identity, but I’ll leave their narrow view of grace to another post.

I’m talking about the artificial grace from those with a progressive persuasion. They claim that because of grace, sin needs to be redefined. At the core is that the suffering of Jesus was designed to free a person from that nasty thing called sin. Grace gives us the authority to redefine everything. Not so fast, Buckeroo.

The grace that condones and encourages anyone to live outside God’s Intended Design, is not Real Grace, rather a prosthetic grace. I have nothing but deep respect admiration for our Wounded Warriors and others who have lost a limb and then proceed to live their life to the fullest through the use of that prosthetic limb. If you are one of these, know that you inspire me to do better, BE better.

But to insist that there is a form of grace that allows us to live by our desires, our feelings, our understandings–well, it’s not really grace. What I see is a progressive grace that denies people the opportunity to experience God’s Power of Transformation. And thus, their theology ceases to be progressive…it becomes regressive. Perhaps this explains the aggressive behavior of many within the progressive camp.

Listening to the stories of those who have those prosthetic limbs, I hear the difficulties and pain involved in learning to use these marvelous devices. Ask anyone who is required to use a prosthetic limb, “Which would you rather have, the real limb or prosthetic limb?”, and I believe that would answer, “The real one, of course.”

This false grace being promoted is filled with both difficulties and pain. False grace leaves no room for the true purpose of Grace–which is to engage us in a lifelong process of transformation. It is telling people you are a prisoner to your desires and feelings. And to the LBGTQI+ community I say, “God loves you, period. But His GRACE is made to liberate you from your feelings and desires about who you want to have sex with. You are not identified by your sexual desires. You are identified by the person God wants to make you. Because God is good, He will transform you into someone beautiful and wonderful.”

Grace without a lifetime of transformation??? It’s not real. It’s not grace. It’s a prosthetic to replace the real.

And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Surviving Your D-Days of Disillusionment

The Only Way You’ll Be Able To Survive Is If You Have Learned To Put Your Trust And Hope In God Alone.

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Thursday, we marked the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, the day that marked the beginning of the end of WW 2.  Nonetheless, it was a horrible day.  German casualties on D-Day have been estimated between 4,000 to 9,000 men.  Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead on just that first day.  Stories of those from that day were stories about survival—just to get through those initial first hours—and the days that followed.

Today we’re beginning a new series called “Surviving Your Personal D-Day Invasion.”  This series addresses some of the tough issues that many of us have to face from time to time.  These Invasions Are Designed To Enslave You.  There Are No Vaccinations Against These D-Day Invasions, And No One Has Natural Immunity From Them. 

We’ll journey together through God’s word as we talk about these D-Day Invasions.  I want you to know something about this series.  I’m not teaching theory here—I’m teaching from the scars of my experiences.  I’ve learned that everything Jesus promises is absolutely true. 

The invasion may be happening right now, but it is not a battle that you have to lose.  In this series, we’re going to learn that surviving our Personal D-Day Invasion will take complete trust—and it will take complete hope—in God alone.   I want you to discover that through Christ we have overwhelming victory—no matter what we face.  This morning our passage is found in one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible.  Job 1:13-21 (NLT)

13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news:  

“Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 when the Sabeans raided us.  They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news:  “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

17 While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news:  “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

18 While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news:  “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. 19 Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides.  The house collapsed, and all your children are dead.  I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

20 Job stood up and tore his robe in grief.  Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.  The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.  Praise the name of the Lord!”

Today’s topic is Disillusionment.  I’m not talking about disappointment or discouragement.  These emotions are painful, but disillusionment is much, much deeper—and so much darker.

  • Disillusionment comes when what we thought was going to happen seems to be impossible.  It is losing the ability to dream and vision about your future. 
  • Disillusionment is what causes us to feel despair—the feeling that we will not survive. 
  • Disillusionment is what makes us cynical—and cynicism always makes us bitter. 

We say, “Oh, I’ll never become disillusioned!”  So we turn to motivational speakers and posters.  But they don’t really help.  In fact there is a website called http://www.despair.com operated by a company called Demotivators.  Here’s their mission statement on their website: 

No industry has inflicted more suffering than the Motivational Industry.  Motivational books, speakers and posters have made billions of dollars selling shortcuts to success and tools for unleashing our unlimited potential.  At Despair, we know such products only raise hopes to dash them.  That’s why our products go straight to the dashing.  Enjoy!

The fact is that there will come a day when you will experience the D-Day Invasion Of Disillusionment.  When things start crumbling around you, you will need something to hold onto, something that’s steady and constant.  And what you may have thought you could count on—evaporates before your very eyes. 

So here’s the one thing you need to remember: The Only Way You’ll Be Able To Survive Is If You Have Learned To Put Your Trust And Hope In God Alone.  True survival for now and for eternity comes when you know God personally in a deeply intimate and personal way. 

There is classic story in the Old Testament—nearly everyone is familiar with Job.  It’s the story of a man who suffered much during his Personal Invasion, yet he was able to survive.  We’ll look at his story and others during the course of this series and learn how they did it and how you can do it, too. 

You need to understand that it wasn’t easy for Job nor did his victory come instantly.  Job was a man who loved God deeply and had life going his way.  Then comes Satan, who accuses that Job only loves God because of his blessings.  The eternal conflict between good and evil is revealed once again.

Are you experiencing disillusionment in your life today?  The disillusionment of being in a dead-end life?  Of struggling financially?  Of a crumbling health?  Of rebellious children?  Of broken dreams?  What’s disillusioning you?  Job faced his Personal D-Day Invasion.  Let’s take a look at three survival tactics Job used to survive—these same tactics worked for me and they will work for you.  Here are 3 things that Job did that you need to do in the face of Disillusionment

1.  Be Open And Honest About Your Grief.

Job didn’t try to hide the pain in his life—he grieved openly and admitted his suffering.  In order to get beyond pain and experience healing in our lives, we have to grieve

Too often, we try to mask our pain through denial, through superficial spirituality, through a drink or pill, or some other thrill.  Job doesn’t do this.  And he doesn’t resort to clichés, “Hallelujah; I’m just going to let go and let God.  I’m just going to claim my victory.” Instead, Job Grieved.  He tore his clothes, he put on sackcloth, covered himself with ashes, and he began to mourn. 

This is how grief was expressed in his time and culture.  And in doing this he was telling everyone there that he was grieving—he was being open and honest about his suffering.  It’s normal to grieve

In fact, it’s abnormal not to grieve.  Through grief we can express our feelings about the situation.  This is what Job did—He expressed all his feelings about the situation.  Through grief, we are able to gripe and express our desire for the circumstances not to be true.   

Job was brutally honest with God, and when we go through struggles, we can be brutally honest with God about what is going on in our lives.  Grieving helps us to express the effects that we’ve experienced from the impact of The Invasion.  We can begin to tell God and even other people how we really feel. 

Grieving has a purpose.  It Forces Us To Become Honest With Ourselves So That We Can Begin Making The Necessary Changes In Our Lives.  Grieving gives a chance to ask the hard questions that we need to ask—“Why did this happen?  Is it God’s will?  Did God do this?  Is it my fault?”  As we ask the questions, we can then begin to discover the source of our disillusionment. 

Like Job, sometimes it’s the result of evil, like planes flying into buildings.  Sometimes, it’s the result of wrong choices on our part.  Through either situation, there are lessons to be learned, and we can’t learn them until we Grieve, until we ask the tough questions.  That’s the first tactic to handling disillusionment.  The second is:

2.  Choose To Put Your Complete Trust In God.

We don’t know how long Job grieved, but we do know there was a day when he stopped.  He grieves, but he doesn’t stay in grief

Did you notice verse 21?“Then Job fell to the ground and worshipped God!”  Real trust comes only through a personal relationship with God.  I want to make sure you understand this. 

We can do a lot of different things to feel good once in a while—but true faith, true trust comes only through a personal relationship with God.  When we trust or value anything more than God, guess what happens?  We’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment

You can’t trust in your money; money can be lost.  You can’t trust in your skills; there are some things your skills can’t get you through.  You can’t trust in your relationships; relationships can unravel.  Where do you put your trust and hope?  If you put it anywhere else than God for here now and for eternity later, you will become a disillusioned person.

I Have Learned That I Can Trust In God Because He Loves Me Unconditionally.  It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’m doing, or what I will do.  God loves me unconditionally and I cling to this truth.  And so can you!  I discovered that I can cling to this truth and I can trust God because He’s always in control.  In your D-Day Invasion, you need to know who’s in control.  God is—and you can trust in God. 

Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but God is still in control.  I can trust God because He loves me unconditionally.  He is in total control.  He knows what’s going to happen.  Most importantly—He promises to never leave me and to always be there.  Here’s a third tactic to help you through the invasion of disillusionment:

3.  Restate Your Eternal Hope In Jesus.

We all need to believe in dreams—to believe that we have a purpose and can achieve great things.  We should desire to be effective and successful.  We should want to be the best that we can be and drive hard towards it.  However, when these positive thinking traits are not balanced with the real world and real life and the sovereignty of God, we can become Disillusioned

When we develop unrealistic expectations, we’re setting ourselves up for Disillusionment.  There’s a hard truth we have to face—The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You And It Doesn’t Revolve Around Me.  Sometimes we have a hard time believing that, but it’s true. 

Believing that the world revolves around you is a sword that cuts you down.  We have these expectations that we should shoot for but when we don’t balance it with reality we become Disillusioned.  It’s great to dream, and we need to work toward those dreams.  Just remember:

Jesus said that life would be hard sometimes.  But he also promised to help us overcome.  We can walk around angry and disillusioned and wish things could be different, or We Could Stop And Take Responsibility For Our Own Stuff.  We Can Stop And Re-Evaluate Our PrioritiesAnd Focus On What’s Really Important

Really, what’s more important to you—to have a big house and a new car, or to play catch with a child?  It’s your choice.  It’s perspective, isn’t it?  This sword cuts us down when we’re not honest with ourselves about our passions, our purpose in life, and about our time constraints.  Re-Evaluate Your Expectations.  Prioritize Your Life.  Set Your Face, Values And Priorities With God And Continue To Move Forward.

The economy can crash, relationships fall apart, health declines, but God is always the same.  Our hope is in Jesus.  It’s the confident expectation that God is willing and able to fulfill the promises that He has made.  Christian hope is based on Who He Is And What He Can Do, not on you and me.  It’s not based on our circumstances. 

With Christ, we are able to rise above our circumstance no matter what they are because of who God is.  Do you need that kind of hope?  That firm foundation of trust?   Are you wondering where your hope can be found? 

It can only be found in the one who knows your past and loves you anyway.  He Promises To Hold Your Hand In The Present And Has Your Eternal Security In His Heart And It’s Secure In Him.  Hope and trust in God alone is the backbone of this whole series.  It’s how we can survive and even learn to thrive in our D-Day invasions. 

Next Steps

  1. If You Are Hiding Your True Feelings, Be Honest With God.  You need not be afraid of telling God how you really feel.  He already knows and He’s so full of grace and love for you, He can handle whatever it is you are feeling.
  • When Your Life Is Invaded By Disillusionment, Talk It Out!  I am always available to you.  But find someone who will listen as you grieve, and at the right moment, offer you hope.  Make it someone who won’t say “Let go and let God” or some other cute phrase.  Make it someone who will listen to you, AND the Holy Spirit.

We Are More Than Our Feelings

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This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

Give It Up: Frustration!

(Note:  This is from my Lent Sermon Series Give It Up.  Each week I am speaking into the things that we need to give up for more than 40 Days, but for the rest of our lives.)

Lent is traditionally a season when we give up something for 40 days.  And nearly all people take it back up at Easter.  That’s the rules, right?  How many times have you said, or heard it said, “I can’t wait until Easter then I can eat chocolate, eat ice cream, get fast food, get back on Facebook.”  The list goes on and on and on.

Something I either read or heard had this take on giving up something for Lent:  “Have we really given that up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  To be truthful I cannot remember the source.  While it may seem pious and holy to “give that up” for Lent, truth is if we take it back, then we really have not given it up.

As I was thinking about the series of messages for Lent I could not shake that question:  “Have we really given something up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  As I prayed this verse came to me from John 15:2—“He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

So, what if instead of giving up something we like as a temporary sacrifice we decided to give up the things that are really harmful to us as Disciples of Jesus?  Not just for the 40 Days Of Lent, but maybe we could give up those harmful things forever.  So this is what we are going to do.  Knowing that God is going to cut off the dead branches and prune the fruitful branches, we going to look at this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  Let’s look at the first thing we can give up for Lent and beyond:  Give Up Your Frustrations.  Let’s look at Luke 9:38-42 (NLT)

38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream.  It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth.  It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people!  How long must I be with you and put up with you?”  Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.”

42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion.  But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father.

Frustration, as defined by the dictionary is:  the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something.  A deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. 

How many of you ever get frustrated?  That’s a silly question!  Here is a better  one:  What gets you frustrated?  When people don’t keep commitments?  (Here in Sheffield we have a major train route and often those trains block 2 or more major crossing points and is a hot button topic here.)  The trains blocking Douglas Ave. and Montgomery Avenue?  Forgetting things?  That shopper checking out and she is just talking to the cashier rather than paying and going on?  Why do things like these frustrate you?

Frustration often leads to this question:  How Long?  How long is asked 53 times in the Bible.  Sometimes it is people who asks, “How long?”  Sometimes it is God who asks, “How long?”  Even Jesus asked that question twice when dealing with people.

But there is a deeper and darker side to frustration when left unchecked.  When things don’t change, when people don’t change it makes us angry at first.  Unchecked anger leads to bitterness.  And when bitterness is unchecked it leads to something far worse than frustration—it leads to the Deadly D—Desperation.  Who among you loves allowing Desperation to drive your life?  And if you can remember only one thing from today’s message, this is it:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life.

Let’s think about Frustration as more than waiting at the railroad crossing.  Think about the spiritual frustration you feel deep in your heart.  What if, mind you I’m only asking “What If”—What If for the season of Lent we give up living in frustration?  After all, we have that unlimited supply of God’s Love, Grace and Mercy.  So what causes us to be spiritually frustrated?  Let’s list a few causes:

Trying To Live By The Rules Of Others.

There will always be people who want to tell you how to live your life.  There will always be those who want to prescribe appropriate Christian conduct.  We are told that we can’t be a true Christian unless we dress the right way, sing the right kinds of music, read the right kind of Bible, belong to the right brand of church, abstain from a carefully selected list of vices, become baptized in a certain fashion, read our Bible for a certain length of time, and be willing to criticize others who don’t believe such things. Number 2

Trying To Copy The Experience Of Others.

We Get Spiritually frustrated when we spend our time comparing our experience to the experience of others.  The problem with experiences is that they are unreliable.  People have different experiences because they have different personalities.   When our focus is on experience we have become disconnected from the head.  In other words we are no longer under the control of God; we are controlled by the things and people around us.

Being Unhappy With Your Circumstances.

When you think life is unfair—guess what?  Life is unfair.  When you permit that sense of unfairness to remain in your mind and heart, you can find lots of reasons to verify and justify that thought.  When you think that life has dealt you a bad hand, when you believe that God has forgotten or is mad at you—life becomes frustrating because nothing really changes inside us.

Refusal To Deal With Sin In Your Life.

Sin is what gets in the way of our connection with God.  Even though “sin” is not a popular subject in our culture it still exists, and it exists in all of us.  When there is sin that you haven’t repented of and given up, it denies you the life that your heart wants, and that creates frustration.

Living By The Standard Of Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is trying to be in control of your life, the lives of others, and your circumstances.  Ever dealt with a perfectionist?  Here’s a great definition of a perfectionist:  someone who takes great pains, and gives them to others.  Nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever enough, when we try to get everything, or everyone, perfect.  The result is that your goals always going to be out of reach and it ends in frustration.

This is just a small sampling of things that cause frustration.  Frustration becomes just another thing that controls our lives rather than the Heart and Mind of God.  So how do we give up our frustrations and not take them back up after Easter?  5 Precise Steps:

  1. Ask Yourself, “Did I Cause It?”

Galatians 6:7—“ You will always harvest what you plant.”  We are frustrated by many things in life because we bring them on ourselves.  I wrote an article once on this—Seeds Live Truthfully.  You can’t plant beans and expect strawberries.  If your frustration is the result of your choices and/or actions, the stop looking for someone else to blame and take the blame yourself.

  1. Ask Yourself, “What Can I Learn From It?”

Romans 8:28–“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  There are many bad things in the world, but God will cause all things work together for our good if we love and follow Him.  Remember it isn’t automatic that God makes something Good out of something bad.  Sitting in that pew this morning does not mean that The Good God promises is automatic.  This promise is for those who unconditionally love God and are willing to do what He wants.  God can even take the negative and turn it into a positive if we let him.  Use irritations as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

  1. In The Situation, Thank God. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18–“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  You don’t have to be thankful FOR a bad situation, but you can be thankful IN a bad situation. That situation may be a blessing in disguise.  God is at work.  God does not waste moments, like we do.  Instead of whining and complaining, Thank God IN the moment, if for no other reason, His past faithfulness to you—and it will remind you of His faithfulness now.  If you can only stop and see what God could be doing for you in that frustrating moment, it changes everything.

  1. Ask God To Fill You With His Love

1 Corinthians 13:5–“Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable…”  I love how The Message translates this:  “Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle.” We get irritated because we think everyone and everything must revolve around us.  News Update:  The universe does not revolve around you!  Love concentrates on the other person.  Inward focus promotes selfish attitudes and behaviors.  And selfishness produces the attitude that others exist to serve you—and when they don’t, Frustration!  You will stop your frustrations by experiencing love for that person and see God’s love in that situation.

  1. Make It A Point To See The Big Picture.

Romans 12:1–“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”  Listen again to how The Message translates the last part of this verse:  “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from the Word of God, not the preferences of people.  The Big Picture is that God invites us in to the most unimaginable adventure—that of restoring His creation and ushering in The Kingdom.  We need to see the big picture.  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from God, not human preferences.

Living in frustration gives the power to direct our lives to other things and people rather than to Christ.  We focus in the wrong place.  We put our focus on external behavior rather than the heart.  What we permit in our minds we promote with our life.

It is much easier to not play cards than it is to deal with bitterness in the heart.  It’s much easier to blame banning prayer in schools than it is to invest time with the stranger in our own gates.  It is easier to tell someone “You don’t need to drink” than it is to admit we have chosen the Old Wine rather than the New Wine of the Spirit.  It is easier to give money than to have a servant heart.  It is easier to have an experience than it is to be submissive before the Lord.

When we get frustrated we need to remember how Jesus responded to frustration.  He expressed it.  He didn’t deny it.  Frustration is part of the human experience Jesus shared with us. Moses got frustrated. The prophets had times of frustration.  Even God feels frustrated.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy. I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.  But we need to admit we are frustrated.   Frustration and anger are not inherently sinful. It all depends on what we do with those emotions.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy.  I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.

So, what are your Next Steps that will be healthy for you?

  1. Make Sure You Are Trusting Jesus For Your Salvation.
  2. Stop Measuring People By Your Expectations And Preferences.
  3. Look Beyond systems and experiences of this world and focus on Jesus.

So think back to the last time you experienced frustration, and be honest:

Did that situation change as the result of your frustration?

Didn’t think so…..

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

A Yo-Yo Without String Living

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Pray tell, what good is a yo-yo without string?  I mean, really?  What’s its purpose?  Maybe it will make for a good late, late night infomercial?  “That’s right folks, a stringless yo-yo.  It’s available in 4 stunning colors and for a limited time you can get it for only 4 easy payments of $16.43, plus a reasonable processing fee.  But that’s not all, call in the next 17 minutes 14 seconds, we will send you another one in the color of our choice absolutely free, you only pay a separate processing fee.  And for just a very limited time, because you know we can’t do this forever, we will reduce it by 1 payment.  That’s right, only 3, you heard correctly, 3 payments instead of 4.  Call 888-2ABSURD, operators are standing by.  Batteries are not included.”

Can anyone out there in Blogland tell me what good is a yo-yo without string?  The only thing I can think of is maybe a paper weight or something to throw at somebody who is really annoying you.  (If you think of any other purpose, please share in the comments section below.)  Right now I hear some of you readers thinking, “Where is he going with this?”  (Be forewarned, I do have ESPN).  As ridiculous as it is to think of a stringless yo-yo, there is something happening in our culture that is even more than ridiculous, it is disheartening.

Many people have chosen to build their life upon how they feel.  They have chosen a purpose based on feelings, but wait, there’s more.  They have chosen to identify themselves based on how they feel.  A friend was sharing with me that his daughter who was, if I remember correctly, either a kindergarten or first grade teacher who had a parent that came to her at the first of the school year with important information about her child.  She told this teacher that one day “he” may come to school as a “she” or may come as a “he”.  It just depended on how he was feeling that morning.  Not based on biology and plumbing, just on those feelings of the day.

And living this “stringless yo-yo” life is not only being promoted in the arena of human sexuality, it is being lived out in so many, too many human lives.  Someone calls you worthless, a failure.  That feeling creeps, even comes like a tsunami over you and you live each day believing you are just that and nothing more.  You see others have success and lots of “stuff” and you “feel” like you are entitled to it.  Feelings!

Let’s say you have a medical condition and you need a specialist.  You don’t know one so you find one and make an appointment.  You’re first question should be, “Where did you go to school and what special training have you had?”  What if their answer was, “Oh, I only graduated high school.  But today I feel like a neurologist.  Oh wait, now I feel like a proctologist.  Where are those gloves?”  What would be your response?  I’m sure it would be to exit that room like the Roadrunner in those old cartoons.

1So why do people make the choice to live their lives based on feelings, either those feelings that have come from deep within or those feelings created by someone’s opinion of them?  Living by feelings is like a yo-yo with a string.  Up and down, up and down, over here, over there.  It’s a roller coaster ride that never ends.  And when you accept those “feelings” as your identity or even your purpose in life, the string is removed.  You are that stringless yo-yo.  But that is not the life you were created and designed for.  Your life is much more than a feeling.  The song is right, it’s “feelings, nothing more than feelings.”

There is a beauty, strength and design that exceeds those feelings.    Solomon shared in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  God has a unique design for you that reflects His image.  Go back to the very beginning of the Bible and we can clearly see it.  Relationship–Perfect Relationship.  Perfect Relationship with Him, self and others.  This life is never based on a feeling, but on The Truth, Truth as God defines it.

And if you are living by and through your feelings, I want to take this moment to encourage you to take the time to really know God–His heart and purpose for your life.  It’s found in the Bible.  Take the time to read it for yourself, without add the interpretations and opinions of others, even mine.  Ask the Holy Spirit to join you in this journey to help you understand the big picture, not isolated bits and pieces that will be used to confirm those feelings.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading, and trust–trust in the God who loves you right where you are.  And loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to stay where you are, but to become all the HE sees in you.  Even if others don’t see it in you, and especially if you can’t see it in you.

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And don’t forget that God’s love is not a feeling, but His whole heart, a heart for you.