Tag Archives: Family

Living in the “Afters” of Life

It is difficult living in the “after.” Those most common moments that punctuate our lives seem to dominate our story-telling. We remember the moments and seldom revel in the “after.” Sometimes its tragedy like a death, sometimes it’s a climax like a championship, and sometimes it is a simple moment like a realization on a Tuesday over coffee. We remember the moments. We remember peaks and valleys. It is why men and women speak so openly about days gone by. There is something comforting in the nostalgia of history. A soft blanket of remembrance that allows us to push off whatever troubles we may persist in at this moment. We can be paralyzed by the weight of the past. We can revel in victories of yesteryear. Or, we can push forward and learn to live in the “after.” It is more difficult to learn to live in the after.

Some of our “afters” are filled with despair. Perhaps that is the reason many of us do not strive to live in the after of tragedy? I can remember the months that followed my own father’s passing. I was in high school and I struggled to process. Each day I’d wake with the anticipation that perhaps it was all just a bad dream. Reality would set in quickly and I’d be left again missing my dad. I’d slowly come to grips with the reality that he was gone. Living in the after meant living without the man who had taught me how to live well. It meant accepting the loss, no… it meant embracing the loss. Acceptance merely means that I understood what had happened as a real event. I needed to embrace that event. To move past simple acknowledgment. I needed to learn to live. It took some time to learn to live in the after of death. I accepted it pretty quickly, but it has taken years to learn to embrace it – to derive some semblance of definition from the tragedy. The loss of my dad needed to shape me into something more than I once was… indeed, it has. Living well in the after requires that we embrace the change that has been wrought.

Some of our “afters” come in the wake of success. We win a contest, or graduate a program, or reach a milestone of some sort. Then we stand in the after. The applause has died down, we have a sense of accomplishment, and we return to the mundane. Only now, something has changed. We have become something else, yet we remain the same as we once were. In this “after” we must learn to keep going. No greater picture of this exists than middle-aged men talking about high school sports. That championship they won back in their youth. They remember it like it was yesterday! The sad truth is, often these men have not learned to live in the after. Living in the after means embracing what has happened and then moving on to something greater. The people who live well move on from their successes. Each day presents a new opportunity to grow and learn. Living in the after means we strive to do that. We celebrate successes passed and press forward to future goals. Living in the after means we acknowledge our success, give sufficient time for celebration, then move on to other things.

There will be times when the after seems like too much. Recognizing the truth is difficult and sometimes unbearable. Still, we must learn to live well in the after and that takes legitimate emotional and psychological effort. To live in the after does not mean that you forget the past. Rather, having embraced what has occurred and moved forward, living well requires us to process what has happened and that sometimes takes a great deal more work. In order to accomplish this, we need to seek help in three ways. First, we need a confidant – someone who can listen to us. A person who can offer an ear to our meandering with the occasional comment. Second, we need a community that knows our past and will walk with us into our future. This needs to be a community that will overlook failures and celebrate success. Third, we need someone to push us. No one likes to be pushed, though everyone likes the result. We all need someone who can encourage us to run further or faster and, in the afters of life, we need just that. Living well in the after is accomplished best in community.

At my church, we are a congregation striving to live in afters. We struggle together and press forward. It is difficult but worth it. If you don’t have a community that will walk through your afters with you, come join us as we all struggle together. For more information about the church go here: sgfbrazoria.org

Walking with Pain, part 1

(This blog is in two parts. The first, below, makes three observations about pain in the life of a believer. The second will comment on how my community encourages me to live and worship well in the midst of my pain. Spoiler, they’re awesome at it!)

It happened again. Another dear friend or family member asked if I was in pain. It always perplexes me how to respond to this. You see, I have a disease (scleroderma) that comes with some odd side-effects. The side-effects are not debilitating, just mildly painful and irritating. They’re simple. A lack of mobility in my limbs, pretty regular sinus blisters on the inside of my nose and sinuses, and a pretty constant sense of dry, tight, and cracked skin on my left foot. So… in one sense, I’m always in pain… but that’s normal. Is that what this compassionate friend is asking? Maybe. Then there are days when a sinus blister pops and bleeds, or my foot flares up in severe pain and I can’t walk without a limp, or I can’t grip anything in my hands and keep dropping things, or I’m laid up with a massive migraine and feel as though I can’t move. Those days are painful and the answer would most certainly be, “wha? Can you turn off the lights? Can I just cease to exist until this passes?” Typically, people don’t ask if you’re in pain when they see you writhing on the floor or wincing in pain. They ask if you’re in pain when your left eye doesn’t open quite as far as your right one. They ask if you’re in pain when you struggle to keep up in a conversation. They ask when they feel as though you’re not yourself… I am often not myself.

Having dealt with a kind of chronic pain for the last 8 years, I’ve come to some simple realizations I’d like to share. These are by no means exhaustive. They are generalizations and might not ALWAYS fit the circumstantial suffering of everyone. But, here goes:

  1. For the believer, pain is good.
  2. For the cripple, pain is normal.
  3. Pain is annoying, but not defeating.

1. For the believer, pain is a good thing. I have heard many preachers cry out that God does not intend for believers to go through pain or painful circumstances. These declarations seem grounded in Scripture as they often follow a verse like Jeremiah 29:11. However, verses such as this can be misconstrued as saying that there will be no suffering for those who live right or those who simply have enough faith. Yet, this interpretation rips these powerful statements from their context and avoids the equally prevalent promises of Jesus such as John 16:33, which promises “tribulation” or “suffering.” The reality is not that we are removed from pain and suffering. Rather, we are placed above it. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 explains that though we suffer, we are not overcome by that suffering. Indeed, pain is natural and Christians are to use it to our benefit. There are many benefits to suffering/pain… below are three of them.

  1. Suffering drives us to community. In Galatians, Paul reminds us to cling to community during our suffering (Gal. 6:2).
  2. Suffering makes us long for glory. (Romans 8:18-25)
  3. Suffering matures us. (Romans 5:3-5)

2. For the Cripple, pain is normal. I once sat with a godly man who has cerebral palsy. He told me about how often people will apologize to him for his condition and attempt to sympathize with his struggle. He tilted his head and said, “I don’t understand, this is just normal for me.” People who struggle with chronic pain and disease often are simply living in a new normal. While they may occasionally lament the pain, they are existing in a new normal. For the cripple, this is just life. Thus, it is a difficult question to answer when someone asks about pain. Do we say that we are always in pain? Do we suggest that we are not in pain? Are they asking if we are normal right now, or are we especially different at this moment or are they asking about our normal state?

3. Pain is annoying, but not defeating. Chronic pain is annoying but it does not defeat the Christian. While the first point in suffering may lead to our maturity, do not assume that all pain is somehow purposeful. We live in a sin-filled world and sometimes pain just is. Pain is simply a reality of life. It does not require a purpose to exist… It needs no permission from you… Sin exists and therefore suffering exists. Annoying and present, but not victorious. One of the most profound sentiments about suffering was articulated best when a man said, “God does not always take you out of suffering. Often, He places you on a rock ABOVE it!” You see, the suffering is still present. The circumstances are still there, but you have been made to live above the circumstances. Consider Job, who sat in ashes suffering for a great deal of time while waiting on the Lord. Consider the New Testament saints who endured suffering with much rejoicing in the “sharing of Christ’s suffering” (2 Cor. 1:5). Consider further the saints who came after the New Testament, the faithful martyrs of the faith and even the pastors in your own life experience. Pain is not ALWAYS purposeful, but the Christian will always strive to grow through pain.

Why I Love Children in Worship

I was editing the church podcast this morning and I heard the joyful coo of a baby in the background of the sermon. (If you’re a regular listener, sorry I’m a bit behind on getting those uploaded). I laughed, remembering another time when this sweet boy threw his arms in the air and shouted “tough-down!” while another baby screeched at a pivotally emotional moment in the sermon. It was a sweet, albeit distracting, moment. I love it! (Someday I’ll compile a book of “children in church” moments.)

I love the sound of children in the service! When they cry, I’ve tried to incorporate it into illustrations. I’ve held children that were walking around the front during the service. I’ve simply pressed through and ignored the cries. I often try to remind everyone, “it’s ok, we all love children here.” Sometimes they distract, sometimes they don’t. Always, they are a joy! Here are a few reasons why I love children in the service.

  1. They make me a better worshiper. Worship is a skill that is developed with practice. I want to learn to do it well! As a fellow worshiper, the cries and grunts of little ones push me to work harder to worship well. Just as when standing next to someone who can’t seem to sing on key or keep the rhythm, I am pressed to focus on Christ and press through distraction. Similar to sitting next to one who can’t stop fidgeting, so a child squirming forces me to work harder to focus. Often I’m convicted that the little one that is laughing or crying and the person who cannot seem to stay on key are both worshiping with greater abandon than I am able to muster. So, I have to press harder into Christ and I am grateful for the “joyful noise” that I must learn to worship through.
  2. Children remind me that worship is a corporate activity. Their sweet noises inspire me to love God with greater abandon and remind me that worship is corporate, not simply individual. We are a body of believers gathered together to worship. We are to work for the good of one another. So children are part of that body. I have an obligation to figure out how to worship with the hand and the feet of Christ! I cannot simply expect the feet to not dance while I am exercising the mouth. We are a body together, we worship together. Sometimes that worship looks like a peaceful pasture, sometimes it looks like a thunderstorm, always it is worship. So my goal must be to work in worship WITH the entire body.
  3. A child’s need to cry reminds me of my own need to cry out to God! I can often be too intellectual. I forget that my heart and Spirit groan with words un-utterable. A baby has a way of jarring me from my emotionally detached state and reminding me of my need. As a pastor, their cries remind me that Jesus answers my own cries. Their laughter delights my soul and I see the delight of God in the joy of children. It’s no wonder that Jesus says, “let the little children come to me!” When I hear the cry of a child, I am reminded of the gospel given to me, a child. I am held in my Father’s arms as His greatness is proclaimed!
  4. Children remind me that I am only one voice in the body. Their noises challenge me to remember that I am not the most important person in the room and the voice of the Lord extends to all ages! Preachers get this twisted on occasion. We start to think that what we have to say is more important than anything else. But, the Spirit sometimes wants to work in the voice of the baby, not the scholar. My voice is not the only voice proclaiming the greatness of God today. If a church begins to think that the pastor is the sole voice proclaiming worship, then that church needs to learn more about worship.
  5. Finally, children inspire admiration in me for the parents. What a joy it is for me to preach and worship with parents who work so hard to train their children in the Lord! If you struggle with children being in worship, I get it… it’s hard and it is OK for you to have difficulty. If you are a parent striving to raise even your babies in the corporate worship setting, you’re amazing! Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to see your struggle and help when I am able. Thank you for pressing into the community despite the awkwardness. Thank you for coming, even though it is hard to manage. I appreciate you. We know it is difficult. We know you are tired. We want to help and lift you up.

Full disclosure: At SGF we have a nursery for 3 and under during the sermon only. We ask that parents keep their kids in the service for the music, scripture reading, and prayer. We recognize this is difficult for some, but at SGF we are all in this together. So, if you come to visit, we will embrace your children being in the service. Occasionally we will not have nursery and just press through the difficulties children sometimes present, because we love them and we love you. We all love children… we’ll help as best we can… Thanks for reading.

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

We Hide From Conflict; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy, Part 2

The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.

As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.

This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.

Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:

1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.

2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.

3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.

4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.

Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.

1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)

2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.

3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.

Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!

See part 1 of this post here