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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Helping the Helper - Make sure Caregivers are well Cared for

A woman approached me on Sunday about visiting her rapidly ailing father. I asked about him, but she quickly shifted the conversation to her caregiving mother, who is constantly attending to his every need. She is exhausted. Emotionally spent. As she spoke, tears flowed, not only out of compassion but also from frustration. Is he doing all he can to get better? Why does she have to endure this? How can she support her caregiving mother from so far away?

Four years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The diagnosis confirmed what her children had long suspected (including my doctor brother and doctor sister-in-law) but my father was the last to find out. It has been an uphill battle for him ever since. Just slightly behind to downward trajectory of my mother's condition. Trying to keep up with her ever-growing needs, we adult children would visit her whilst encouraging and consoling him

Early during this journey, I handed my father a little booklet that had caught my eye and resonated with what I felt for my Dad. Caregiver - that is the role that had now been thrust upon my father. And while many prayed and wept for my mother, his adult children knew, "This is going to be so hard on Dad. How can we make sure he seeks and gets help?"

Linked here is the booklet that CCEF has translated into blog form. You can access this for free and perhaps pass it on to someone you love who is giving care to another in need. Remember: They might feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed for looking after themselves, so make sure you help do it for them and affirm your support. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Where Jesus was born tells us even more about the Savior God sent

Did baby Jesus arrive just in the nick of time? And was he born in a stable?  In this excerpt from The Radical Book for Kids, Champ Thornton briefly addresses these questions. 

How do these JC birth tidbits help us more deeply appreciate the God-child? 

Mary, Joseph and Jesus were turned away from not from an ancient hotel room, but from a standard, normal custom of Jewish hospitality and even potentially asked to spend the night in an underground cutout where we would normally store our Christmas ornaments. These details demonstrate further what was predicted about our Savior: 

"He was despised and rejected by men" (Isaiah 53:3).  Perhaps what Jesus experienced wasn't simply bad luck, but cold hostility. Many of us know the feeling. 

Yet "The stone that builders rejected, has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes." (Matthew 21:42; cf. Ps 118:22). 

Thank you Jesus, for arriving in the most humble way possible to reach those lowly in heart and stature!  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A church for those who've wasted life - their own and maybe yours too

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt
Jesus tells a story in Luke 15 about a father and two sons. It's a story I had the pleasure of getting to recount and explain this past Sunday. The youngest son is often described as prodigal, which means recklessly wasteful. This young man tells his father to his face he wishes he (the father) could die so he (the son) could finally live. The son then promptly wastes what the father gives him in the name of freedom and self-indulgence. In the most happy and surprising turn in the story, this recklessly wasteful son is welcomed home and even celebrated by his father (whom the son earlier wished dead!). The older son, who stuck around serving the father, is furious at the celebration...

As are many of us toward people in churches just like yours and mine. Some of those who sit and stand next to you on a Sunday morning cut corners (even commit fraud!) in their workplaces, have slept the night prior with someone who is not their spouse, and have even hurt you or someone you know. Yet sometimes we think in protest, "Others must know who they are and what they are doing and yet they still welcome such as these, they are still greeted, they are made to feel included." Indeed, we expect the welcome, forgiveness, and call of Jesus to be what transforms a person's life (Titus 2:11-15), not a starting line of moral conformity followed by Jesus' stamp of approval. Otherwise, Jesus would be called the "Affirmer" not the "Savior." For some, truly grasping this grace ("activated love") of the Lord Jesus takes a while and in the meantime such people may even call themselves a "Christian." In fact, I may even be describing you. But if I'm not - I want to appeal to the patience shown to you through Jesus Christ and also to consider the alternative - a church full of older brothers. 

In a small section of his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller talks about how during the early years being a Christian was considered abnormal and then helps us consider why we should desire for prodigals to be attending (and sometimes "messing up"!) our churches. I'll quote him at length because what he says is so good for us long-time church goers to hear:
It's hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of the early Christians asking them about their faith. "Where's your temple?" they'd asked. The Christians would reply that they didn't have a temple. "But how can that be? Where do your priests labor?" The Christians would have replied that they do not have priests. "But...but," the neighbors would have sputtered, "where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?" The Christians would have responded that they did not make sacrifices anymore Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, any sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
No one had ever heard anything like this. So the Romans call them "atheists," because with the Christians were saying about spiritual reality was unique and could not be classified with the other religions of the world. This parable explains why they were absolutely right to call them atheists. 
The irony of this should not be lost on us, standing as we do in the midst of the modern culture wars. To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as a tertium quid, something else entirely.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, while those estranged from religious moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person an a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the older-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders "the tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom before you" (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, button-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, it must be more full of older brothers that would like to think.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Oceans declare the Glory of God

Psalm 19 is likely one of David's first psalms- conceived while still shepherding sheep under the starry host of a Palestinian night sky. In the psalm, he goes from wonder and awe (vv.1-2), to the realization that God can be known by anyone across time and borders (vv.3-4), to drawing a specific connection between the nature of created thing and the nature of its Creator (vv.4c-6). David's example is looking up to the sun, it always shows up (v.5) and through its heat helps all upon whom it shines (v.6). His love for God is increased by intentionally making the connection between the sun and the God he worships. Indeed, "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19:1). 

What if we were to look down instead of up? We would discover more reasons to adore and worship the Creator. Here in Cayman we are surrounded by crystal clear seas which "proclaim his handiwork" in abundance and with skillful intricacy. You can look down into the depths also. Just off the southern side of Grand Cayman you can locate the Barlett Deep which plummets 18,000 feet and contains creatures yet undiscovered.

I read an interview last week with Jesus-follower and NASA oceanographer, Jorge Vasquez. Since 1984 he's worked for a group that studies climate change and how it affects local regions like California's coast. The full interview is here. What fascinated me is the following little nugget that connects creation to Creator in a way that further displays the character of our God - in particular, His patience toward sinners.
My colleague Josh [Willis] once said to me, "You know, Jorge, God designed his creation in more ways than one [to account] for our sins." The point that Josh was making was that God designed this planet in light of our sins, including the sin of not taking care of it the way we should. I won't go into all the scientific issues, but the fact that our planet is more ocean than land is a very positive thing in terms of stabilizing the climate. If it were the other way around—more land than ocean—then even right now the planet would be way too hot, and the impacts of global warming would be a lot worse than what we've seen. The fact that this planet is mostly oceans gives us a lot more time to solve this issue of global warming. The oceans are the key. There has to be a Creator behind this because he understood how much we would mess things up in the Fall. The way God designed this planet is a revelation of who he is, his character—it is another example of his grace. 
Every time I look at the complexity and beauty of the universe, I think, You can't create the kind of complexity we have without a creative force behind it. You just see a design behind everything. And everything I'm doing now, in terms of addressing global warming, makes me hopeful, because I think God has designed this planet knowing all our sins from the very beginning, and he's giving us more time to get our act together.
"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some call slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (II Peter 3:9). His creation, the very oceans, mirror His patience toward us. What connection can you make today between something wonderful in creation and the Creator who fashioned it?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

(FREE Audiobook) The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler

There are four more free downloadin' days to get your ears on this gem. As I was away on holiday, I neglected to check the freebee bin and so I was delighted this week to find this here for free and share it with you.

About the author: Matt Chandler serves as the Lead Pastor of the Village Church in the Dallas/Ft Worth area of Texas. He helped organize and cast vision for a replanting effort of the church with the result that it has grown from about 140 to over 10,000 members currently. He is a young pastor with a prophetic voice but unlike some younger, charismatic pastors who've flamed out over the past decade, Matt has been softened and humbled by significant adversity that God has brought his way. When people, especially my American friends, ask me about the flavor of our fellowship, the Village Church is the fellowship that I most often mention as a model and ethos to which we aspire. 

About the book: God's design for love and intimacy in the Song of Solomon, featuring attraction, courtship, commitment and conflict. If you are familiar at all with Tommy Nelson's materials on DVD, this is very similar with a more modern feel and a broader handling of the issues for those not-yet-married. In fact, I have a single friend who is currently reading it and he has been immensely blessed. One of the more appreciated aspects of the book is the way Chandler addresses the issue of finding "the One."

"I just see no reason to agree with the worldly romantic notion that every person has just one 'soul mate' out there waiting for him or her. In fact, I find that idea to be anticovenantal, contrary to grace... It turns the search for a godly spouse into an audition to be the one who 'completes' you... No spouse can complete you. Don't look for a spouse to do what only Jesus can." (pg 106-107)

Such good counsel drawn from God's Word abounds. Happy listening!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Lancet Study on Abortion and what it means for Cayman

Psalm 139:13-16
A couple weeks ago the well-respected U.K. medical journal, Lancet, published massive, worldwide, multi-year findings with regard to the practice of abortions. The results had a a surprise or two and some specific implications for Grand Cayman. The journal article itself will cost you $31.50. I was unwilling to shell out that kind of coin and so settled for this very helpful summary by Aaron Hanbury from the Christian magazine Relevant. It is worth reading. 

Here are 5 conclusions I've come to through reflecting on the article itself, and over time:

1. Life in the womb begins very, very early. I do not pretend to be expertly equipped to determine definitively when life begins, though my brilliant and accomplished sister-in-law (Senior OBGYN at the University of Washington) tries to keep me well-informed. The gamut among well-respected scientists runs from fertilization to implantation (when the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the mother's uterus) to gastrulation...and the list goes on. The first three options occur within the first few weeks of the act itself, yet it is after this period that the vast majority of abortions are sought out. So while I know I'm willing to conceded that the details are a bit murky, it does seem clear that life begins somewhere within those first couple weeks. 

2. Sex is a gift not a right. Believing and treating sex as a right tends to absolve us, at least in our own eyes, of the potential consequences. Our eldest child was recently introduced to the reproductive system and general sexual orientation at his school. Yay! The above perspective was not mentioned at the orientation (while I'm guilty of neglecting almost exactly 50% of the email correspondences sent by his school, I checked this one along with the attached educational outline). Thankfully, he and I had that discussion over a weekend guys retreat last year. One of the aspects of sex I tried to bring up during the weekend but need to emphasize further as he gets older is that sex is a gift, not a right. The God of the Bible gives a husband and wife sex as a delight, not simply for reproduction. It is written in God's very Law: "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married" (Deuteronomy 24:5 NIV). It's important to note that "bring happiness" means what you think it means! Sex is a happy gift to be exclusively enjoyed in the context of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). One of the reasons God designed the gift for this purpose was so that when a child is conceived, he or she has two parents ready to raise them (though of course their are exceptions in which the above two-parent-plan proves impossible). When I was twelve my grandmother promised me the gift of a new car when I graduated from college. Happy Gift Accepted! Imagine had she actually given me that gift when she first offered it. I would've wrecked the car and likely ruined my life. The gift of sex is available for any man or woman but the results of seizing it too early can be ruinous.  

3. Cayman isn't an exception. If you read the article above you'll notice who owns the highest abortion rates in the world - the Caribbean (65 per 1000 women at reproductive age). I know some reading this article will point toward other Caribbean neighbors you feel are the likely culprits; however, those who have lived in Cayman for many years or are from here are aware of the secret underbelly of "quick trips to Miami" that, regrettably, are not shopping-related. One local and trustworthy friend of ours estimated she knows of close to a dozen persons who have received abortions, though she surmises their are far more who keep it quiet. Admittedly, this is all restricted to anecdotal evidence as there isn't any empirical research exclusive to Cayman as far as I am aware.

4. Law doesn't change behavior. The Lancet findings also reveal that countries with laws making abortion illegal do not have lower abortion rates. These results can be misleading, but they at least suggest that illegality plays a relatively minor factor in the performing an abortion. In other words, law doesn't mitigate a person's desire or behavior. This is not a shocker for those who know Jesus and read their Bible. Scripture attests to the law's impotency and that it is only grace that trains us to say "no" (Titus 2:11-12). This is not to suggest that Christians shouldn't strive to make their voices heard with regard to their respective national laws. We are called to "do justice" (Micah 6:8), especially on behalf of the most vulnerable (Jeremiah 22:3). Rather, we are naive to think that the legal solution will change the hearts and minds of those who are thinking, desiring, planning toward terminating a pregnancy as their best option. 

5. Adopted people Adopt. Adoption as a specifically religious truth is unique to Christianity. The Bible outlines adoption as God's choice of me as his son irrespective of my behavior or merits. The choice occurs before we were born: "He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Ephesians 1:5). The choice is experienced when we trust and receive Jesus: "Yet to all who received [Jesus], to those who believe in his name, He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). You who were otherwise abandoned now trust Christ neither because you willed it nor because you were well-behaved, but because the Father picked you. So when I hear about or consider a child being willfully abandoned to death, my heart wants to repeat what has been done for me. I am not saying that everyone is called to adopt, but local families of God who are actively reminding one another of what's been done for them through Jesus, should be readily inclined to plead: "Please ask us for help before you terminate your pregnancy!"

If you or someone you know is contemplating such a decision, please talk with myself or Katie. We would be interested in gently respecting your privacy and gladly working with you in a nonjudgmental manner to either adopt the child ourselves or find someone like-minded who will. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Out of the overflow of the heart a man posts: Social Media Etiquette

During Sunday's worship Service we applied some Proverbs to the use of etiquette toward strangers and acquaintances. 

I'm going to share something that you might not think a big deal but I remember it and am still slightly embarrassed by it. It was a Facebook comment I made about four years ago. A couple was posting love-grams back and forth on their Facebook walls. I didn't quite say, "Get a room" (after all it was later in the evening, they were sitting next to each other and so did, in fact, "have a room"), but instead typed out: "Isn't he sitting right next to you? Post-it-Note instead?" I was trying to be witty and cute, or was I? The next morning I looked into my heart and thought: I'm probably a little jealous, my marriage isn't right now full of "sweet-nothings" like notes and posts and that's my issue not theirsThis is a couple whom I love dearly, serve the church faithfully, and are just people we really enjoy being around. A few days later I would apologize face-to-face. 

Cat posts are still care-free, all other posts require care
Social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter are now firmly entrenched among the go-to venues of modern communication, long since supplanting even the phone call. Just last year I bought a phone second hand and was told by others they have a hard time hearing me if I'm not using the speaker or an earpiece - but it didn't cause me to run back for a refund. I always keep an earpiece nearby because some communications require hearing a person's voice but the reality is I'm going to be using WhatsApp, text or email far more often. The entrenchment of social media and text in our lives and the degree to which it occupies a high percentage of our communications requires, then, that we cease treating what we communicate as if its "secondary" communication. What you post is not just another "throwaway" online comment, it must be taken seriously because now many of us use these modes of communication primarily. Cat photos still don't require much, but all the comments following require at least some level of care. It matters - not only to show respect and concern for others but for yourself as a reflection of what's in your heart. 

Here are some tips for displaying Social Media Etiquette
1. Don't go online to feel better, only go online to feel even better. This tip is a combination of words of wisdom I once heard about consuming alcohol and what Jesus said in Matthew 12:34-37 - a strange combination to be sure. I once heard some secular advice about the consumption of alcohol: Don't drink to feel better, only drink to feel even better. The point being that using alcohol as a "refuge" or "comfort" to give you the lift you need is dangerous indeed! So is social media. You may be feeling down or just in need of a lift, so it's tempting to tap that Facebook or Instagram App and get your fix but your heart and fingers remain unstable, craving something that another's "best-of" life or their response to your comments cannot give you. So how then might we feel better? Jesus says the trouble really starts in the heart (Matthew 12:34-37). When we cheer our hearts with the good news - Jesus' unshakeable love for us and who we are as a result - the overflow will be a celebration of God and neighbor online with stable fingers that type nothing short of celebratory and encouraging words. Don't go online to feel better, first apply the good news to your heart and then communication will prove even better. 

2. Resist engaging in social media counseling. Jesus clear pattern was to go to a brother and talk with him alone (Matthew 18:15-17). If they are far away, choose a private message or email. Even then it might be wiser to either let it go or ask if you can have a video/audio chat over Facebook or WhatsApp. When people can hear and/or see you, they can also hear your empathy and see on your face an expression of genuine concern.

3. Use Emojis. Speaking of facial expressions, communication through online media along with email can be  because you can't see a persons facial expressions and intonations. I can't believe I'm saying this publicly for all three of you to read, but I would heartily recommend the use of emojis. For example, someone asks you to do something with them and you just type back "Later" that can be construed as abrupt, putting me off, no intention to actually get back with me but if you say "Later" and include a smiley face and party popper it communicates - I need to hold off but I want to talk about this, do
something with you, and "it's going to be awesome." People overdo it for certain. I'm not sure why I get emoji'd a Looney Tunes Bomb and a Spanish Dancing Girl, but at least I know the person's mood as they write it and it's not: Annoyed, Disinterested, or Put off. So some men (and women too) are going to find my counsel vile because they feel emojis are beneath them. Let me exhort you: Be released to use an emoji! They may help prevent one person a week from misunderstanding your communication. If you don't like the ones out there, you can submit one to the Official Unicode Consortium (yes, the official keepers of the emoji).

4. Take a moment to Evaluate your posts & heart. Pastor Jarrid (that's not misspelled) Wilson suggests that 1 Timothy 3 paints an picture of godly leadership as it pertains to the life of the Christian. He says, "If any of us aspire to lead others (which we all should), we must take the contents of 1 Timothy to heart and evaluate our lives from the inside our. I think we should do the same for our social media posts."  What do your posts say about your heart?

  • Are your posts above reproach? (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • Are your posts nonviolent and non-confrontational? (1 Timothy 3:3)
  • Are your posts managed well and full of respect?  (1 Timothy 3:4)
  • Are your posts put above time with God, or family? (1 Timothy 3:5)
  • Are your posts humble? (1 Timothy 3:6)
  • Are your posts respected, and do they portray a good name for Christians? (1 Timothy 3:7)
  • Are your posts sincere? (1 Timothy 3:8)
  • Are your posts reflecting your trust in God's truth?  (1 Timothy 3:9).

Out of the overflow of the heart a man posts (Luke 6:45).  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rest with Integrity : Work with Integrity

Mmm...I do remember this happening to me once.
There is a correlation between resting well and working well. It's a topic I've covered a few times during my time as the primary preaching pastor of SCC. However, over the past couple weeks preaching about work from Proverbs, I didn't bring it up (except to say: "I'm skipping over this topic."). Rest got the proverbial (pun!) axe primarily because the importance of rest doesn't really show up in Proverbs - other than the foolishness of indulging in too much of it (ie. the Sluggard - Prov. 6:9-11). So I'm reviving it here over the interwebs because last Sunday our case study in Proverbs was about Working with Integrity. Furthermore, rest has a direct correlation upon our ability to work with integrity. Let's look at this correlation and consider its effect on us. 

Created to Rest. God designed us to rest - 1 full day per 7. He Himself "blazed the trail" for this practice prior even to the sin and frustration of work that drives us to need rest. He had just spent 6 full days creating and it wasn't mindless data-entry at a Dell laptop: Day #1: Light & Darkness; Day #2: Sky; Day #3: Land, vegetation, bodies of water; Day #4: Planets & Stars; Day #5: Animals; Day #6: Mankind - all of which, when done, He called "very good" (Gen. 1:31). 

Let's read what happens next in Genesis 2: 

I want to point out two things. First the pattern: Finished-work-done; Rested-work-done; (SABBATH); Rested-work-done. Notice: There is satisfaction at the end of work ("done": "very good") and there is rest preceding the next round of work ("rest"). Both suggest that the time set aside after/before work has a two-fold function:

Rest allows us to both celebrate backward and recharge forward.

This leads to the second thing I wish to point out: There is a full day set apart ("God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" - lit. set it apart) to hammer home the importance of celebrating work done and recharging for work ahead. The author even uses the ordinary word for human work (as opposed for the Hebrew word typically used for divine activity) - suggesting this full day isn't only for God but for all mankind. 

Such a day also helps us celebrate/recharge with respect to the greatest work ever done. The greatest work we can celebrate is the work Jesus Christ did on our behalf - living the perfect life we couldn't and dying the death we deserve. And Christ's work helps us recharge - we can keep going and work freely because His work on the cross has already freed us from trying to justify ourselves through our work. 

When integrity is lacking in our Rest. Integrity isn't about perfection but consistency. We lack integrity then when some part of our life is inconsistent (or consistently different) than the rest of it (eg., how one treats a boss vs. a helper; giving charitably yet finding loopholes to avoid paying government; valuing some people's time but not others who will either 'understand' or are 'aren't quite as important'.). 

Our rest can also lack integrity in two ways: Either not resting at all or overindulging in certain kinds of rest. We easily relate to the former so let me talk more about the latter. Here are some "rests" or "escapes" in which we tend to overindulge during a much needed day off. Staying up too late to Sleep in, Overeating, Over-surfing the internet, Over-watching tv, Overdrinking of alcohol. God hasn't designed us to get the rest we need by overindulgence. And it's more than just a little interesting that scientific research confirms just this - namely, that sleeping in on weekends leads to persistent "jet-lag" like symptoms during the week. The National Sleep Foundation points to overeating at night and the indigestion that results as a major inhibitor to good rest - as does watching tv or scrolling through a mobile device. Arguably the greatest disrupter of getting good rest is overindulgence in alcohol (check out here, here, or here). Alcohol at night consistently prevents a person from getting the REM or deep sleep their body needs. 

A former professor at my seminary, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr., once called REST one of God's most ignored goals for His people, (see also, for example, Hebrews 4). Because we are designed to get rest, we will find ways to get it if we don't get it in the evening or during our day of rest. That's when a failure to rest well begins to effect integrity in our work place. We begin to use work to locate rest.  

Some responses to a failure to rest well: I'll go in late to work. I'll let my work suffer. I'll cut out lunch and all efforts to be social (cutting out opportunities to love neighbor). I'll just copy and paste someone else's work (plagiarism). Since I don't have the time to make all necessary connections and do all the work, I'll find loopholes that will help me maximize my profit for minimal time (steal). I'll overwork with longer hours (others in your life suffer). I'll seek ultimate rest/satisfaction in my work (idolatry - disappointment - frustration). There are probably dozens more examples you can imagine or have even experienced. 

When we don't rest with integrity, we cannot work with integrity.

That means we must rest consistently well. We can't just skip the rest for which we were designed and expect to function as God designed. God anticipates this temptation to skip rest during even our "busy season":  
Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest (Exodus 34:21 - emphasis mine).
Restoring Integrity to our Rest. Here are some suggestions that can help you restore integrity to your rest:

1. Structure your rest. Rev. Tim Keller calls this "avocational rest." An avocation is "something that brings you joy but requires some intentionality and structure to your rest." He suggests planning a day off with these three types of rest.

  • Contemplative Rest. Grab your Bible and journal, write and reflect. Look back on past entries. What is God doing? What is a theme or pattern He is working through your life?
  • Recreational Rest. This means refreshing recreational activities not necessary tough mudder training.  
  • Aesthetic Rest - exposing yourself to works of God's creation you find beautiful. This will likely include outdoor fresh air and beauty (especially in Cayman), but also might include artistic expressions like music, drama, or a visit to our National Gallery.

2. Prepare for your Day of Rest with Mini-Sabbaths.

  • Walk to lunch as much as possible to grab a moment for thanksgiving.
  • Refuse the "working lunch" unless absolutely necessary.
  • I know a friend who incorporates into their workday 2-3 rooftop trips to review something inspirational they read that morning.
  • Turn on a 22 minute episode of Aquanauts (or whatever) not only to finish your checklist but so you can grab a glass of water and sit outside with your Bible. 
  • Have dinner with your family and use it to reflect on back on your day with satisfaction (our family has kept an answered prayer jar at our dinner table).

3. Treat vacations, holidays, and trips as longer Sabbaths - not vacations from Jesus.

4. Take time to do nothing productive but be with Jesus.

  • Jesus did the greatest work to give us maximum rest. 
  • When confronted about what rest should look like, Jesus famously calls himself "the Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).  Do you remember how that story began, what gave rise to the controversy? The disciples of Jesus walking with their Savior through the grain fields to nowhere in particular and casually picking grains and fruits along the way. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow"

It was a rare moment of vulnerability under less than ideal circumstances. My friend's behavior and ongoing consumption were troubling and not a little awkward to observe. I had not intended to run into him that night. Now I felt I couldn't leave, could I? Not at least until he gets home safely. He then said something that was refreshingly raw and honest if not surprising because, hey, I'm his pastor and I'd be preaching again in a couple days: 
"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow."
He's right by the way. 

Those who trust in Jesus are relentlessly and continually forgiven by the Father who has accepted them. You may remember when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive and offending brother: "Seven times?," he asks. To which Jesus replies, "I do not say to you seven times but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter is asking: Is there a limit to forgiveness?  Jesus' uses a concrete number in response (I believe to indicate the concrete substance of divine forgiveness) but his overall point is that forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is limitless. 

Two Paths
There are other deterrents to self-destructive choices - what it does to the individual, the fuller life that the individual misses out on, the effect those choices have upon those we love. Much can and should be written on all of these - my purpose for writing is God's forgiveness. Even one destructive choice sets us down a path in which we are prone miss out on God's forgiveness. The objection: "But I thought forgiveness was relentless and continual (see above!)." True, but even just a few self-destructive choices may block the way for forgiveness. It may appear like I'm contradicting myself, but let me explain. 

The book of Proverbs envisions life as the choice between two paths - the path of wisdom and the path of folly (often under different names). Once you set foot on one of those paths, especially the path of folly, you tend to choose what you previously chose - only to a greater degree. 

So Proverbs 4:14-19. You'll notice how quickly any foolish choice escalates. One moment Wisdom is pleading with us: "Don't even think about setting a casual foot or an adventurous, one-night indescretion down the path of wickedness" (vv.14-15). Just like that (cue snap of fingers): A person's very food and drink are the destructive choices they make (v.17). Their rest is no longer sleep but they can only rest by bringing company down to their misery (v.16).

In other words, Proverbs says: Don't even mess with the idea that "it's just one night" or "it's okay to get crazy every once in a while." More quickly than you know: Such behavior becomes your lifeline.

Then the next step quickly follows: "A hardened heart" (Hebrews 3:13) or a "seared conscience" (1 Timothy 4:2). Proverbs 4:19 calls it "deep darkness." This compound Hebrew word is a rare one that Solomon seems to use rather intentionally - it is the same compound word used in Exodus 10:22 of the 9th plague ("pitch darkness in all the land").  That 9th plague - the last one preceding death itself. Solomon is describing a conscience that is no longer able to see through the darkness to tell right from wrong. According to the Wisdom of God, what starts as a casual flirtation, a rare but wild weekend, indulging in something that stokes your curiosity, turning to comfort food to numb some other pain turns more quickly than you would dare believe into a nearly deadened will. One choice, two choices, three choices, and suddenly you find yourself enslaved to keep on choosing what you previously chose.  

"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow." Is grace available for the person who has made and continues to make choices to walk down that self-destructive path? Yes. However, by going down that path, I leave myself utterly in the hands of a merciful God. Why risk it?! The deepest and most practical problem with hardened heart, the seared conscience, the blinded spirit is that it can no longer tell it is in need of forgiveness. Justifying, rationalizing, procrastinating - such posturing can rarely again recognize the need for grace. 

Because of the Holy Spirit's quickening what was dead, God has made me alive together with Christ! (Ephesians 2:5). I pray that this gracious resucitation of my dead conscience applies only to my past. Avoid that path, Ryan! Avoid that path, dear reader!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Resolution: Grow into a Wiser Person

I want to be someone who not only makes good decisions but consistently great decisions, which will bless my wife, my kids, my neighbor, my church and will bring maximum glory to God. So I thought I'd pass on this resolution for 2016 and then point you to a couple of sources to help if you'd like to resolve to join me. I just spent the last three days on a prayer and planning retreat - primarily meditating on the Book of Proverbs. Talk about humbling. 

My main takeaway was this: I barely know anything about life. I checked this conclusion against some old journals and notes I'd jotted down. My twenties were full of more self-assurance than I'm happy to admit. When I turned 30, I started to doubt how much I really know. Now, as I get closer to 40, I'm much more confident in my ignorance (By 50 I hope to be fully convinced!). No matter your age, perhaps you feel similarly. What God showed me is that a heavy dose of humility accompanied by a full admission of ignorance is indeed good preparation (Proverbs 28:26), but I need to keep going. What's the next step? 

According to, Solomon, the wisest person who ever lived outside of Jesus himself:  
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom (Proverbs 4:5).
No one is going to spoon feed us wisdom nor does it typically just fall into our laps (nor our inboxes or Facebook feeds). We have to go out and get it. Seek after it, pay attention, ask good questions - and do this everyday. 

Proverbs recommends two consistent and reliable sources of wisdom - a wise God and wise people.

1. So make a Bible reading plan today before the clock strikes midnight. We average 35,000 conscious decisions per day - relying primarily on our own common sense (at best!) to make them (though Proverbs suggests this isn't a reliable source of wisdom - Prov. 3:5, Prov 28:26). Rather, with the feeding and renewing of our mind with the Word of God comes a better ability to test and approve God's will with everyday decisions (Romans 12:2). Get wisdom by getting in His Word every day.

Proverbs 28:9 - "If one turns his ear away from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination." Consider both the wisdom and warning of this statement. Such a person considers his/her own words to God as more valuable than His Words to us. Imagine telling God: "I don't really want to hear what You say but will you please listen to me." Yet those of us who regularly move our lips upward but never crack the Book open are effectively saying just that. 

The very real God assigns perhaps His harshest warning for that person's next prayer: abomination. Perhaps it's not healthy to ponder too long on the harshness of that assessment but rather recognize God is lovingly trying to warn you about something He feels very strongly about - your growth, your flourishing, your becoming the person you've always wanted to be. 

2. Consistently get around people who possess and are seeking godly wisdom like you (a.k.a. Join a Community Group). Here's the link. Sign up before you talk yourself out it (and for those of you with children but short on funds, the church has set aside funds specifically to help with childcare for CG participation - simply let myself or Pastor Brett know).

Proverbs 14:7 - "Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge."
Proverbs 27:9 - "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel."

Whom are you around most consistently? A fool or a friend. From which kind of persons are consistently trying to get wisdom? A fool or a friend. The weight of Proverbs suggests it is sometimes appropriate to stick it out and love someone making foolish decisions - but our relational priority ought to be getting around brothers and sisters seeking wisdom (Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:10). 

Wishing you a happy 2016!  Auld Lang Syne.