This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What to Do When You Get Bad News

Yesterday, I prepared a blog post with some thoughts on preaching that were prompted by a book the staff is reading entitled A Guide to Expository Ministry. The book promises to be an encouragement to our staff as we talk through how scripture impacts every aspect of our church’s life.

But I won’t be getting to that post today.

As I wrote the post, I received a rather disappointing email from my dad. At this point, it appears the stem cell transplant he underwent in January did not have any affect on the cancer.

This is quite shocking. We knew that the treatment could harm his body. We knew that it might only be effective for a few years. What we did not anticipate is that it would have no impact.

Even in this, we praise God. I’d encourage you to read my dad’s thoughts because I believe they may prove helpful to you as God brings difficult circumstances into your own life: 

We don't fully know that this means for my dad's long-term health. I’m still processing what all this means, emotionally, but here’s just a quick thought, and a hard truth for me to grasp: How my dad responds to cancer is far more important than whether or not he is cured of cancer.

Dad’s response is already an instrument God is using to minister to people. No matter our current physical circumstances, the end of our life is not far, far away. To see someone struggle with something like cancer reminds us that the physical bodies our souls inhabit have a finite shelf-life.

In college, some of the Christianity I was exposed to seemed very trite. I struggled with an expression of Christianity that was well-meaning but seemed unable to account for the complexities of life and the reality of suffering. The God popular Christianity proclaimed offered platitudes but didn't "fill the universe" the way the God of Scripture did. 

The God of Scripture, the one that my parents exposed me to, is infinite and yet cares for the finite. Our sufferings are not greater than His glory. A God that is man-centered is comforting for a moment but in the long-term unsatisfying. Men that are God-centered struggle for a moment but in the long-term find a joy that is all satisfying.

I’m grateful for my dad’s blogpost, which I think may encourage you toward a Biblical, satisfying vision of God. And, by the way, if my dad's journey does cause you to ask questions about your relationship with God and the concept of eternity, I encourage you to check out his other post on "the most important question":


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Inviting Others In by Pastor Ritch Boerckel

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  
John 13:35
I have been thinking much lately about the essential quality of genuine love among believers in the church.  In John 13, Jesus did not say that all people would know we are His disciples by the way we love them.  He said that all people would know we are His disciples by the way we love one another as disciples of Jesus.  Of course, it is right to love the people of this world too, but Jesus places priority upon our giving love to others in the body of Christ.
Paul echoes Jesus’ remarks to the church in Corinth who seemed to be full of conflict and division: If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT).  Paul is saying that nothing good can happen in a church where members are distant from each other and not moving closer in deep relationship with each other.  A church that gathers together for instruction, mission and service, but not for loving fellowship, is a church that cannot glorify God. 
If this is true (and it is!), each one of us carries a great responsibility to both give love to and receive love from others in Jesus’ church.  For the glory of God, we must move toward one another in loving friendship.  For the glory of God, we cannot allow ourselves to simply be smiling acquaintances with one another.  The world will not recognize us as unique disciples of Jesus if we become content with superficial relationships in our local church. 
What keeps us from deep friendships within the church?  A library of books could be written on this subject.  But one hindrance to deep relationships has become a recent conviction for me:  I am hesitant about opening my life to truly reveal myself to others.  I like to listen to others relate the inner workings of their life, but I am not very keen on opening my soul to others.  I inwardly resist inviting others into my inner world.  Until recently, I chalked this trait up to my reserved personality or my German heritage.  But it really is not those things that keep me from sharing my life with others . . . it is fear, it is pride, it is a lack of love. 
Our small group is reading through J. I. Packer’s classic book entitled, “Knowing God.”  As we were discussing chapter 3 this past week, Packer made the observation that knowing God is possible only because God humbles Himself in love to reveal Himself to us.  He opens the door and invites us to see Him for who He truly is.  He relates this truth to human relationships.  Packer writes, “Our knowing them [another person] is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them.  When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them good-will and to open up in a friendly way from our side.  From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.”  Packer’s words helped me to see that my reticence to open my life to others is a lack of love for them.  I am not being unselfish when I content myself with listening to others share their life with me, but not reciprocate.  Instead, I am building walls that impede love from flowing freely in Jesus’ church.  If I do not reveal myself to others, I am refusing them entrance into deep relationship with me. 
God in love communicates Himself to us so that we can know Him.  He generously opens the door of His world and invites in to know Him.  Then, He calls us to love one another as He has loved us!  For the Christian, keeping the doors of our life closed from others in the body of Christ is not an option!  Opening our lives to others is risky.  Our lives are not always neat and ordered.  Our lives are often messy and not pretty.  Others may hurt us when we do.  Yet the alternative to opening our lives to others robs God of His honor within the church and robs us of the joy God intends for us to experience in the context of His church.  God calls us to invite others in.
No one can open the doors of our heart for us.  Love is voluntary.  Love requires our willingness to be personally involved with others through listening to them and revealing ourselves to them.  Love does require that we desire to listen to others as they reveal themselves to us.  But love does not stop there.  Love gives self-revelation to others. 
I am praying that God would work to make deep loving relationships a dominant quality of our experience together at Bethany.  Will you pray for this with me?  Also, I am praying that God would give me grace to love others by opening myself more freely to them.  Will you pray this for me and for yourself too?  It excites me to think of the sweet fruit God will bring to our church as we pursue love together.