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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hope: When do I keep fighting and when do I rest content?

Resurrection Sunday is drawing nigh. At SCC we'll be presenting the case for why the resurrection from the dead of a man named Jesus is the most defensible, possible and even plausible miracle in the Bible and worthy of one's belief. Please pray the Spirit begins working in the hearts and minds of those who attend (and whom you invite) even now to help them see for the first time to the truth and worth of this resurrected Savior. 

The resurrection from the dead is not only a Christian's but, deep down, any person's ultimate hope - that there is not only life beyond this life, but that life and even that physical body will be far more glorious than the present life and body which is subject to decay and whose end is death (Philippians 3:20-21). 

Equally, Jesus' resurrection from the dead gives us hope for the present life. It means Jesus is who he says He is - both God of the universe and our lives and the mediator between God the Father and mankind. 

So whenever I think of Easter I think of hope, which includes hope in God for the present to do big things in His church and through His will for me and my family. The apostle Paul expressed it this way in the midst of one of his most daunting trials: 

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again (II Corinthians 2:8-10)

Paul's internal calling & external circumstances provided a perfect place from which to ask one of the key real-life question pertaining to Hope: When do we keep hoping and fighting within a calling, for a dream, toward a goal and when do we rest content with circumstances look very much like God's settled will?

In his Nehemiah Notes, former pastor & experienced-bloke-who-has-walked-on-the-road-with-God Blaine Smith writes a very wise, insightful article on this question that's worth a read: CLICK HERE.

[Disclaimer: I do have a couple of small quibbles with the article. (1) Namely, I wish there was an explanatory section on the role of the Holy Spirit using His Word to shape, mold and form God-centered dreams and goals; (2) The frequent use of the word "potential." God absolutely has a full potential in mind for each of us in Jesus Christ and conforming us into His image (Rom 8:29). That word is so closely associated, however, with many self-help books and "Christian TV programs" which are actually quite man-centered. Overall, however, these quibbles don't outweigh the positives - the article is chalked full of wisdom and application from God's Word]

Monday, March 11, 2013

Forgiveness: You heard the sermon, now Sing the Song

Yesterday receiving the Word & responding in Worshipping under the big top, I had the privilege to teach on Step 4 in making relational peace between two persons. Step 4: Go & Be Reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24). My sermon in a nutshell was this: Don't miss your moment to cap-off the peacemaking process by verbally extending forgiveness.

I was searching all week for the perfect song that might complement the message and help us respond in praise and obedience to God's Word. Doh! Found it a day late. Chalk it up to God's will. Thanks to Susan Vivas who posted this song on her Facebook Page. It highlights nearly every point I wanted to make, did so through song, and did so in under 4 1/2 minutes (I know, I know: "If only Pastor Ryan had found this earlier vs. 35 minutes plus spilling Harquail pond water on the stage").

The song is "Forgiveness" by Matthew West.  Posting it here:

  • It's the hardest thing to give me now do the impossible. Check.
  • And the last thing on your mind today. Check. One of the major reasons I showed clip of Mike Steenkamp (Reeva Steenkamp's uncle) extending forgiveness to his niece's killer (runner Oscar Pistorius). Because of the public spotlight & universal scope of the opportunity, it was easier for him not to miss his moment. But for us (and Jesus' audience in Matthew 5), the need to extend forgiveness is often the last thing on our minds and we, thus, so easily miss our moment.
  • It always goes to those who don't deserve. Check. Hey, just like each of us - who are ill-deserving of Jesus' forgiveness.
  • It's the opposite of how you feel. Check. Hence, replace feelings WITH ACTIONS and the story of my friend who mowed that dude's lawn even though his first inclination was to tear him a new one. Act and feelings will often follow. 
  • It takes everything, you just have to say the word. Check. When Jesus talks to his disciples about the power of forgiveness that He is entrusting to them (see John 20:22-23), the application for our lives is to actually speak these particular words: "I forgive you" versus offering a "no worries" - "no big deal" - "we're cool" response.
  • It'll clear the bitterness away, It can even set a prisoner free. Check. "Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping others will die" to quote Ken Sande formerly of Peacemakers Ministries. Letting it go frees us from the poisoning.
  • Help me now to give what You gave to me. Check. Ideally forgiveness comes as a natural response or overflow from considering, meditating on, cherishing, the forgiveness Jesus extends to us through his cross. "Bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Colossians 3:13).     
Awesome stuff. I've already bought the song to remind me of my need to forgive and then re-initiate forgiveness when total recall (the old grudge, desire for judgment) springs up when I least expect it. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

YOU can help someone who is hurting

While Grand Cayman is both remarkably diverse in the six different continents with a strongly represented presence and assuredly contemporary in its features and amenities as compared with other Caribbean islands, we are still but a small-town population of only 55,000 persons...give or take (which is why I like to describe Cayman as an urban nation with a rural population).  

So when tragedy hits our small community, it often hits hard. A young man, just 15 years old, took his own life just a few days ago. And, as if that fact wasn't tragic enough, it seems that bullying directly precipitated this tragedy, as footage of the bullying act was posted and went viral. 

This has especially affected the Oelschlager family as we were afforded a small window into this young man's life. His best friend used to live across the street from us. Both were avid basketball players. And as a dear family had recently donated to us a basketball goal, they were over in our driveway a lot playing with Mason, Gage, and myself. The young man of whom I speak was especially and unusually kind, for a 15 year old male, to our boys. He would remember their names and even shoot hoops with them while I had to work on something in my adjacent office. We saw him last this past December at a basketball clinic. He bent down on one knee to say hi to Gage, whom he always called "Gabe" (understandably). Tears were shed, young questions were asked, & prayers were prayed at the Oelschlager dinner table this past Tuesday.

One of the local schools asked me to come in today to assist some particular students through grief counseling. There is never a time, even for a so-called "trained" pastor, when this is not a daunting challenge. But God's Spirit was sweetly present and ever gracious as I met back-to-back-to-back with a handful of young men.

Here's what I wish to share with you: Helping someone who is hurting isn't rocket-science. Just a little preparation, a tentative plan, and I lot of reliance on God. That's what it took today. Allow me to walk you through:

Preparation. Pretty simple prep. Two things. First, I remembered that in the midst of suffering, the goal is to point the person toward the only God of human history (and only purported God of any major religion) who became human and opened himself up to the worst that human suffering had to offer. Point the person to the God who has suffered - Jesus Christ. Second, I called to mind and prayed one of Jesus' precious promises to his disciples: "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say" (Luke 12:11-12). It's good to think through a couple things but even more so to remember that the Holy Spirit wants to use us in these pressure-packed moments as we rely on Him.

Tentative Plan meets Holy-Spirit-helped Execution. Here's a basic outline of how I handled the conversations with teenage boys most of whom I had never really met.

1. To the hurting person: (a) Share with me a little of how you knew this person; (b) what are some memories of him that stick out to you?
>> I find this allows the hurting person opportunity to affirm out-loud the value and impact of the person's life. That their life was not in vain. 
>> This also helped me to share a little of my responses to these two questions.

2. Share a little yourself about valuing a life lost.
>> In this case, I had opportunity to share about how I valued the same person whom they loved. 
>> Especially in cases where you might not know the hurting person very well, the Spirit can use this I think to help earn the person's trust. They know you care and have a certain genuine depth of feeling also.

3. To hurting person: (a) Describe for me some of the feelings you are feeling. (b) Have you spoken with anyone else about these feelings?
>> Affirm the health of doing so if and when they have spoken to others.  

4. To hurting person: Everyone does something with their hurt, sadness or anger. Some bury it but it will cause them to harden, maybe become bitter. Some look for an escape: Perhaps partying; a hobby/activity/sport they can pour themselves into; or their work. What would you say are you doing with your hurt?

>> Bring Jesus into equation. 

5. To hurting person: You know if you haven't or feel like you can't talk with anyone else about how you are feeling or what you want to do about it, you can always talk to God. Especially the God of the Bible. Can I tell you why? The God described in the Bible is the only God who claims to have come down from his lofty throne in heaven to earth and suffered the worst pains of being human.  [I don't quote Scripture per say but give a few Bible facts in plain terms]

  • He's a God who was born into a people defined historically not by power nor by royalty but by their suffering (Hebrews/Israelites/Jews).
  • He's a God who was born into questionable circumstances - who's the father? (no human father, "illegitimate" birth).
  • He's a God who was immediately born into an assassination attempt upon his life (see Herod's killing off of all children in Bethlehem Jesus' age - Matthew 2).
  • He's a God who was betrayed by his friends, cursed by his enemies, and suffered the most painful and humiliating form of capital punishment known up to that point in history.
  • None of that equaled the punishment of suffering He took on for us. The just punishment each of us deserves for living life his/her own way not God's way. That's why Jesus died on a cross - he died in our place, the death we deserved.

6. PRAYER: Would you mind if we talked to Him now?
>> In prayer, I keep pointing to the God of suffering - whether it's the need know & trust Him as the person in front of me suffers, the reality that He understands what other loved ones not present are going through, or the forgiveness He offers even to those who caused His suffering (should there be persons involved in the matter at hand who bear some degree of blame and, thus, need forgiveness).

7. To hurting person: Is there anything else you feel you need to say or get off your chest?
>> So often God uses the prayer to soften the person to the point where now they wish to offer something more that they need to express. 
>> That certainly occurred today - and, through the prayer and the Holy Spirit urging me to follow-up with the above question, He may just have saved an angry young man from going down the path of becoming a bitter old man.

YOU too can be used by God to help someone who is hurting.