Monthly Archives: September 2014

Marriage and the Art of Automobile Maintenance

Many years ago, when I was in college, I bought my first adult car for $500. As the old saying goes: A $500 car doesn’t go far. This proved true as it generally didn’t get far between breakdowns. Being a poor college kid, I was forced to learn the gentle art of automobile repair and maintenance. Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed fixing things. I love diagnosing a problem and replacing parts. However, over the years I have also discoveredabbey mechanic that I hate doing maintenance work. I will happily replace a water pump, but cringe at the thought of changing oil or doing a tuneup. It’s just easier to not do maintenance. The problem, of course, is that not doing maintenance results in frequent breakdowns, poor fuel economy, and shorter lifespan for the vehicle in general. The same is often true of many men. Solving a problem is more interesting to them than working to maintain things. Unfortunately, this tendency often translates into married life.

Before proceeding further, I’m going to acknowledge that this is a very guy-oriented illustration for understanding marriage, but this is intentional because this post is aimed at men. For many men, dating and courtship go hand in hand and ultimately deliver them to the altar with their new wife. This is a problem to be worked on, a goal to be achieved, or an objective to be reached. Unfortunately, this can represent the end of courtship. The job is completed and now its time to put the tools away. It is not unusual for men to take on new projects after marriage, like career advancement. Its not that he no longer loves or desires his wife. Instead, it is easy to see her as “won.” The relational tools that served him so well when trying to win a wife become increasingly less used. Romance, long conversations, and thoughtful gifts grow increasingly less frequent and sometimes cease altogether. As the years pass by, date nights and gifts of flowers are all too often replaced with nights on the couch watching television and gifts of vacuum cleaners or other practicalities. The trend often accelerates with the arrival of children, which gives both parents a new object of focus that demands their relational energy. The movement away from the courting stage often results in married couples that lack connection and eventually become glorified roommates. In addition, as the “pursuit” phase of the relationship fades, it becomes easier for men to fight without making up; after all, the spouse’s affections have already been won so there is no point in winning them again. There is no job to be done. The relationship still basically works. Why bother fixing it?

The problem with this is that it generally results in unhappiness in the marriage and frequently leads to divorce.  Though the solution sounds simple, it is easy for men to take it for granted. Men must learn to take on their end of the responsibility for regular maintenance of the relationship in the form of courting behaviors. Going on dates, buying romantic gifts, just talking for the sake of talking, and maintaining interests apart from child-rearing are a few suggestions, but anything that results in building up the relationship will do. This is sort of like changing the relationship spark plugs and air filter. It’s not challenging, but it needs to be done, particularly when kids enter the picture. Several years ago, my wife and I realized after our daughter’s first birthday that we had only gone out alone together twice in the previous year. Courtship and routine relationship work had fallen to the wayside. If it had been allowed to stay there, our relationship would eventually stall and leave us stranded with a bigger set of repairs to do. When couples find themselves in this predicament, they often simply opt to sell and find a newer model.

To be fair, this maintenance work is not the responsibility of only one partner. Both spouses ought to look for ways to entice and woo their mate. It is important that this task be taken on with the understanding that open communication about intentions is vital and that your spouse may not respond in the way you want them to. However, if your partner doesn’t simply conform to your relational preferences, it is necessary to recognize that courting is done in order to help build the relationship, not for your immediate gratification. Love is selfless, which means focusing on the other’s needs. Often, effort and time are needed before damage done through ongoing patterns of neglect are repaired. Sometimes, it is necessary for time to go by before courting patterns change the situation. It is also necessary to understand that patterns that develop in relationships over the course of years will not be undone in a matter of days. It may take time and regular intentional maintenance work before things run smoothly, but the payoff is worth it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning About God from a Cranky Baby at 2 AM

It’s 2 AM and I am sitting up with a sick baby. I would much rather be sleeping, but my poor 15-month old has a cold and was fussing. So, I hopped out of bed, fed him, gave him medicine, and am now holding my son until he dozes off. I would rather be sleeping, but I find myself subject to a higher law. I love my boy more than Isick titus love sleep. Perhaps the biggest blessing I have experienced as a parent is the opportunity to see another human being in a similar light to how God sees humanity. As I sit with my cranky child, the verse that keeps running through my head is from Psalm 8.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!

Psalm 8:3–5

It’s important to understand that humanity is like one huge collection of sick and cranky children. We are infected with an inclination to rebel against out Creator. At the core of our beings, we are sick, broken, and often hurting as a result. God loves us so immensely that He sent His only begotten Son to take our punishment for us on the cross. We are forgiven because He suffered our deserved punishment. Through this forgiveness, we are adopted as sons of God. Even after being forgiven God, still brings us through the slow process of spiritual healing, though we often fight Him every step of the way. God does this out of the boundless and perfect love of an eternal Father toward his creation. The parental love we witness and experience is a shadow of His perfect love. It is a blessing to experience and understand the Father’s perspective, even if it’s only a pale shadow.

I would suggest that this is a perspective that all creatures are capable of understanding at least in part. All people have parents. Through our relationships with them, we experience the same shadow of His love for us. Even if we do not have a good relationship with our parents, we experience a deep need and yearning for parental affection. This need is built in, and through, our thirst we can understand the magnitude of God’s love for us.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fighting in the Fellowship

In the closing chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul takes the time to address a brewing church fight. Throughout the letter, he seems to touch on the problems that were slowly boiling in the church, while addressing other matters ranging from his experience in prison to dealing with persecution. In the closingfighting remarks of his letter, the apostle bluntly asks for Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony. Apparently, these women had some sort of interpersonal conflict that had been ongoing and created enough trouble that Paul addresses it directly in his letter. It is important to note that Paul isn’t correcting some evil behavior one or the other is engaging in. Rather, it seems that they just couldn’t seem to get along with each other. Though it seems frivolous, this is an issue that stands at the heart of the most church fights I have encountered in my career. Seldom do modern believers come into conflict with each other over theological matters. Rather, the modern church often fights over issues of personal preference and interpersonal conflict. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes fights are over weighty theological issues, though at times theological issues act as a smokescreen to cover more petty reasons for church schism and disharmony in the body. The same holds true of many other relationships believers find themselves participating in.

Paul’s address of the conflict between the two women is no isolated request. It is part of a larger trend in his work, urging believers to seek harmony and unity, even encouraging grace over theological differences in non-essential matters. This is an issue of significant importance to Paul. So much so that he doesn’t simply give an isolated instruction. Instead, he follows up the direction that they learn to live in harmony by offering a handful of practical suggestions. These suggestions include the use of a mediator of sorts, prayer, etc. One particularly interesting direction is found in Philippians 4:8 “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This is not just a direction to think positively. It is an instruction regarding the sorts of things we focus on. Most of us have encountered people who just rub them the wrong way. Irritation and friction are common whenever people are expected to interact with eachSermon Link other. One foolproof way to make it worse is to spend time ruminating over perceived wrongs and slights. This time spent replaying or just thinking about things that have been said or done by others often results in more anger and irritation. It’s a little like adding fuel to a fire to keep it alive. In my time as a minister, I have talked to countless people who have kept a resentment alive for years by simply spending time thinking through past wrongs. I have never met anyone who was happier or better off for spending time and energy keeping a resentment hot. Instead, it usually results in bitterness and further disharmony. Paul’s direction to focus on whatever is honorable, good, etc. involves building our thought life around things that will produce good fruit and move us toward the sort of righteousness that God intended us to exude and the kind of harmonious relationship he desires for his children. The practice of training our thoughts on praiseworthy matters is a mental discipline that can quickly contribute to ending fights in our marriages, families, churches, and community. It is easier to forgive, overlook, and get along with someone if you don’t spend huge amounts of mental and emotional energy keeping the fires of animosity burning hot. Grace is easier to offer if we keep no record of wrongs.  This is not an instant occurrence in our lives.It is much harder to forgive a wound we keep fresh by picking at the scab.There is a natural tendency in people to remember wrongs and develop resentments. Keeping our thought life focused on honorable and good things takes effort and intentionality. It needs to be worked at every day. Further, in a believer’s life it is accomplished through the intervention of the Spirit, in response to prayer. As we grow spiritually, we learn to forgive and focus on those things that Paul listed. Conversely, if we fail to discipline our thought lives, we will not mature spiritually. Resentments will always hinder intimacy with God.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Responding to Folks Who Mistreat You

Perhaps the hardest bit of advice I ever received from a mentor was that I needed to pray more. Normally, being told that you need to pray shouldn’t be an overly difficult suggestion, but this was related to a couple of guys I was working with at the time, who were creating significant difficulty for me. They were making my work harder and undermining me with my supervisor. During the several months I was working with these two individuals, I spent hours every evening fuming and dreaded going to work in the morning. After several months of misery, I approached my mentor and asked him what I could do to deal prayerwith the problem. His response made me angry. He asked me how praying for them was going, also reminding me that Jesus directs his followers to pray for their enemies. I didn’t argue, because I knew I was stuck. This began a process of prayer that changed my life. It was hard to pray for the men in question, largely because I didn’t want to do it. The idea of praying for these guys who had made me miserable for months scalded me. It offended me through and through. Praying for my enemies, and as dramatic as it sounds, they were my enemies, was difficult at first. As time progressed, it became increasingly easier and I learned several important lessons. 

First, I learned that praying for folks that I disliked had a profound effect on me. I increasingly learned to love the folks who mistreated me. My resentments slowly ebbed away. I began to rejoice when God brought blessing into their lives. Ultimately, prayer accomplished something amazing in me, it changed my heart. Through prayer, I became more like Jesus, a gain that makes all of the discomfort more than worthwhile.

The second major lesson I learned happened in the months and years that followed. One of the guys I was praying for received a huge blessing in his life that resulted in his moving to another job. I celebrated an answer to prayer in the form of God blessing him and also in his departure. The other guy I was praying for changed slowly over time and eventually became a very different person. The changes God made in his heart were evident and a reason for celebration. Prayer changes things. In this case, it changed the guys I was praying for. This is important because God is capable of accomplishing great things in our world.

Sermon LinkA final lesson I learned from praying for my enemies happened years later, when I began praying for another fellow I found myself in conflict with. During my first sit down to pray for him, I was suddenly convicted of the various actions I had taken in response to the unpleasantness I was encountering. A simple question came to mind: Is he seeing Jesus in my responses? I will admit that I knew I hadn’t been turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile. I didn’t want to. I wanted to exact my pound of flesh. I began to employ Christ’s other teachings for dealing with my enemy and my relationship with the individual changed. In fact, within a short period I had become friends with him. The product of prayer in this case was conviction of my own sins. That conviction resulted in new action that resulted in a change in the situation. Through prayer, God brought to light my own failure to imitate Christ in my reactions to mistreatment. 

At the most basic level, the direction to pray for our enemies is one that is prominent in the teachings of Christ. This is the single best reason for doing it. I can testify as to the various benefits that have resulted from my prayer experiences, but the reason we ought to do it is because Jesus commands it. If He is Lord in our lives, we must do it. Fortunately, it is a teaching that, though counterintuitive, has some clear benefits to believers. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fellowship Like a Punch in the Face

My first ministry job was as a youth pastor. When I started, the church had over 200 members and was growing. 9 years and 5 church fights later, we left a congregation of 20, swearing that we would never work in a church again. During my tenure, I had seen folks act poorly, gossip, mistreat each other (and me), and all manner of other unpleasantness. When I left the church, I took a job as a chaplain at a mental health facility for children with emotional disorders. It was volatile, frequently violent, and a breath of fresh air. I used to joke that evechurch fightn though the kids sometimes tried to punch you, at least they were attacking you out in the open and to your face. It took my wife and I years to decide to agree to take on ministry employment in a church again. There is a terrible truth about churches that has to be faced by anyone who is (or was) ever a part of one. The people who are meant to become like Jesus through their lives together in the church community, often bear little resemblance to Jesus or what He taught. Over the years, I have spoken with and visited with all sorts of folks who have shared tough stories, ones that I can relate to all too well. Folks were burned by people that were supposed to love and support them. It’s a tragedy that such experiences are so common. While talking with a friend earlier this afternoon, I realized how blessed I was to have been surrounded and supported by some awesome believers who helped my wife and I find rest and healing after a tumultuous time in our lives and relationship with God. The basic lessons and realizations we came to were powerful and important.

One of the major lessoverly_manly_manons I learned was from the Apostle Paul. While studying the second letter to Corinth, I realized that Paul had come to visit the church there and been humiliated and run out of town. A group of preachers, who were more concerned with making money than preaching the gospel, had made a fool of Paul in a debate. Paul then sent Titus to salvage his relationship with the church. He was eventually reconciled with them and the false teachers run off. The thing that’s worth observing here is that Paul was stabbed in the back, mocked, and mistreated by folks who were supposed to be his brothers in Christ. His response was stern, but loving. He did not back down off of the truth, but throughout the whole ordeal he pointed to Jesus as the truth. He did not want payback. He wanted the church to be reconciled. Ultimately, he was just following the example of Christ, who reinstated Peter after he denied even knowing Christ. The lesson to be learned here isn’t that we should jump back into the mess after walking away from those who abused us. Rather, it is a model of forgiveness and grace. It is very easy to fall into bitterness after we are hurt. It is easy to attack and judge. In the end, we need to forgive in order to heal. Nothing keeps a wound fresh more effectively than picking at it forever. I do not believe that Paul simply forget when individuals proved themselves to be untrustworthy. Rather, I’d suggest that he acted “as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.” Love and grace need to rule our attitude and decisions, particularly when dealing with fellow believers. 

Another vital lesson I learned was that not every Christian is the same. In fact, not every member of any denomination, sect, or movement is the same. While one church handled us roughly, the next church we attended was supportive and loving. We watched our senior pastor being mistreated in one setting, but have experienced significant appreciation and support in our current ministry situation. It is easy to resort to this: all Christians are the same. Or to insert any of the following groups into that sentence: all pastors, all Presbyterians, all Baptists, all men, all elders, all Calvinists, etc. The truth is that it’s just not true. The people that brought hurt into your life are not the same people as all the other members of the larger group. It is easy to blame everyone for the actions of a few, and it can be quite comforting. It’s comforting to have someone to aim your anger at. It’s easy to transfer hurt feelings to everyone. However, as comforting as it is, aiming hurt at others doesn’t produce healing. It is a false comfort, like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. You can drink as much as you like, it’ll only make you thirstier. 

A final lesson I learned in the process of overcoming the hurt that I experienced was regarding the importance of moving on. For my wife and I, it was easy to get mired in remembering some of the particularly ugly behaviors we encountered. I personally spent a lot of time living in response to various actions and things that had been said to me. It’s easy to get stuck. I have met people who walked away from church for life over the actions of a few individuals. I have met those who abandoned their faith in response to un-Christlike Christians. I have met all sorts of people who have let the root of bitterness take hold in their souls and simply live to attack, bite, fight, and hurt because they have hurt that they cannot help but share. Getting stuck in a response to hurt inflicted upon you is simply allowing the people who hurt you to control your life. Whether it’s spending forever ignoring God or trying to take a pound of flesh from someone, anyone. Overcoming this sort of thing once it is entrenched in your life begins with a conscious effort to choose a different response to our past. This isn’t easy, but it is necessary in order to find healing and become whole again.

James’ epistle features a terrific line: 

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

As we evaluate our response to past ill treatment, it is important that we ask ourselves regularly if the anger we are carrying is bringing God glory. Are we loving the lost and our brothers in Christ? Are we acting in a way that draws others closer to Christ? Is our anger a product of resentment and bitterness? Do we love the least lovable people we encounter? If we find ourselves answering any of these questions in a way that indicates we are not glorifying God, even in the most painful parts of our lives, then we must heal and overcome. James offers an interesting bit of advice for accomplishing this. He calls us to pray for wisdom, which is applied knowledge. This is a difficult act of submission, but is necessary for spiritual growth to take place in the lives of those who have been broken by the careless acts of misguided believers. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Watching Exercise Videos & Eating Oreos

“If you read the book of James, once a day, for 40 days it’ll change your life.” I first heard this statement years ago while on a mission trip with a group of kids from my church. It was also a challenge issued by one of the project leaders. 2 weeks ago I shared the samjunk-food-junk-exercise1e challenge as part of our James sermons series. Since then I have had several members approach me to tell me that they are reading James daily. This has sparked some interesting conversations about how the book has pushed them to reflect on their own lives. It has also prompted me to consider the whole idea of the challenge, particularly as I prepare the 3rd sermon, dealing with James 1:19-27. Several things have come to mind and I hope to explain them in this essay.

Reading the scriptures is sort of like watching an exercise video. My wife owns a handful of workout videos and routinely spends time lifting weights or doing aerobics with an overly chipper spandex clad individual shouting encouragement at her. The video is only effective if she hops up and actually does the exercise. If she sits and enjoys the show while eating Oreos, the video is unlikely to make any impact on her. The same can be said of James. Simply reading it is a good start. However, reading the book of James, in and of itself, will not change you. Real chSermon Linkange that takes place in any person happens as a result of the Holy Spirit convicting you and prompting change. Further still, we are made new and changed as the Spirit aids us in overcoming our sinful behaviors and habits. This change is a process that is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s action in us. God’s actions aside, we cannot read as a passive audience. We must act in response to what we read.

Reading James, or any part of the scriptures, puts God’s word in our minds and provides an entry point for the Spirit to prompt us. For example, James contains all sorts of material regarding how we talk and the effects of our words. For example, as a believer reads James, the passages about language provide opportunity to reflect on how we talk and whether or not it conforms to the standard set forth in scripture. If I read the book and never reflect on myself. If I pour over James and never pray for the Spirit to open my eyes to where I need to grow, or worse yet if I read it and think about how all sorts of other people I know are falling short of the standard, then I will not see any change. It’s roughly similar to sitting and watching an aerobics instructor and thinking about how your neighbor really needs to exercise more. It simply doesn’t have any impact on your life. James puts it better than I do:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22-25

For reading the scriptures or listening to messages to make an impact on you, it is necessary to look at them, like a person looking in the mirror, and reflect on the state of ourselves in comparison to what ought to be. The scriptures will show us perfection and in doing so give us a standard to strive for. For a believer, who is already forgiven for sins through the blood of Christ, our job is to pursue holiness. We look at the law, not as a list of do’s and don’t’s, but rather as a standard to strive for out of love for God and gratitude to Christ. 

It doesn’t make sense to get out of bed in the morning, look at the messy state of my hair and instead of combing it, consider how terrible our spouse’s hair is. We look to know God and to know where we need to grow in Christlikeness. 

Real change that results from reading the book of James for 40 days is a result of studying, praying, reflecting, and applying. The scriptures aren’t magic. They can change you, but they do so through the lens of your relationship with Christ. 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

What You See When You Look in the Mirror

A friend of mine, who will likely be a regular contributor, emailed me this essay. I was pretty impressed by it and it relates well to the current sermon series (and this week’s sermon in particular), so I decided to add it. He has asked to remain anonymous. I am planning on respecting that request.– Erik

Through Alcoholics Anonymous, God has taught me some difficult lessons that I desperately needed to learn. One of the most important happemirror.image_ned without me realizing it. I started out as a balled up fist of anger, bitterness, and pain. In the name of my addiction, I had hurt those around me and acted despicably. Over time, I got healthier. Then one day I was sitting in a meeting listening to another person talk. I don’t even remember what they were talking about, but I remember hearing them say words that I had said to myself on many occasions. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was as if I was listening to myself talk about my own addiction. Over the years, I have listened to others in recovery talk about the destruction they brought to those around them, stealing, degrading themselves, and almost every other conceivable sin. I don’t feel sickened by their sins. I feel empathy and I see myself. I hear my own thoughts. I see my own loneliness. I hear the lies I tell myself. Sometimes that’s in the past and other times its today. It is difficult to look at sometimes, but seeing my own sickness in the mirror that is others who are struggling for freedom from the slavery of addiction reminds me of what I am capable of. Remembering where I came from helps keep me free. A friend of mine often tells me that the darker the darkness of the world, the brighter the light of the cross of Jesus. 

The 12th step is spending the rest of your life helping others get out of the living hell of addiction. One of the best reasons I’ve found for doing this, beyond helping other addicts and serving God, is that the more time I spend with addicts the more I am able to see the junk I don’t want to go back to. I need to remember my powerlessness and flee to His strength. This is not to say that I am judging them. Rather, all I ever see is myself, like in a mirror. Perhaps the biggest blessings that came from finding “the bottom”, and I don’t say this lightly because it wasn’t pleasant, is that it becomes difficult to judge others for their sins. It’s hard to be the pharisee bragging before God and pointing to the tax collector for contrast, when you were the guy the tax collector probably looked down on. Looking in the mirror reminds me that I can always go back if I stop leaning on God to keep me out of sin. Any believer that is blessed enough to come to grips with the depth of their own crumminess has a treasure beyond words. I see it in Paul when he talks about himself being the least of apostles, literally referring to himself as a spiritual abortion. This is a blessing that allows you to brag about God’s greatness because you know how wicked you are. Every time you encounter those who don’t know Christ and are still mired in their sin, you get a chance to see your own sin and reflect on the marvel that is grace. 

The other bit of good news that comes to bear after realizing that your fellow man acts as a mirror to help keep you clean, is that God provides an even better mirror to gaze into. In the book of James, we are told that believers are to look into The Word, like gazing into a mirror. Afterward, we are to change based on the reflection we see. For the sinner who recognizes the amazingness of grace, The Word provides an image of what we ought to look like. In the person of Christ, we see perfect sacrificial love, obedience unto death, holiness in the midst of terrible challenges, and our model for all attitudes and behaviors. We are directed by Paul to imitate Christ in our pursuit of holiness. The mirror that The Word provides shows us what we can be as the Spirit sanctifies us. The danger in this is seen when we gaze into the mirror without stark and painful awareness of our sin. We can be tempted to see ourselves in the good parts and our neighbor in the bad. It is easy to become the pharisee proclaiming the goodness of our work and judging the tax collector. Usually, we have such a large plank in our eye at this point that we cannot see any different. None is so blind as those who refuse to see. I have lived there. It is awful believing that your own goodness will carry you, needing to rage at anyone who defies this opinion. In Christ, I was freed. 

When we look at the lost and feel only contempt, failing to see our own fallen selves and refusing to see the amazing depth of the well that is God’s grace for sinners, we stand in the temple and boast that we are better than sinners. The scripture is our mirror. It is never our club to beat others with. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Patching Cracks

When I first got out of college I worked as an exterminator in North Houston. During one of my calls, I visited a house, where I saw the biggest wall crack I had ever seen. The plasCracked Foudnationter was separated by nearly an inch. The crack ran from the floor to the ceiling and across the room. I asked the owner about the fracture. He responded by pulling up the rug and revealing a large crack in the slab of the home. As the crack worsened, the walls began to come apart. This was a problem that could not be solved with simple patchwork, because filling the cracks with plaster wouldn’t address the real issue of a broken foundation. Without repairing the foundation on which the walls are built, the problems would only get worse and eventually, the whole structure will come crashing down. Often, folks develop problems in their lives. These problems appear like cracks in the walls of their family life or careers. Sometimes, they attempt to patch up the fractures with quick solutions. Other times, they try to ignore issues as long as possible, hoping that it doesn’t get worse. Regardless of the response we choose, the condition of the foundation on which our lives are built will determine how effective our solutions are.

I write a weekly marriage and family advice column entitled “Patching Cracks,” which is published in the local paper. The good people who run the local paper have blessed me enormously by allowing me to write for them. The endeavor has been a huge blessing in my life and has prompted me to spend time considering the difficult dynamic that exists in the world of church work as it relates to the issue of helping folks deal with their personal problems, serving the needs of the world, and the gospel message of Jesus. As Christians, it’s important to consider this dynamic and keep it at the forefront of our minds because it is easy for preachers and teachers to lose their way in this area. In addition, offering help with personal problems may meet their immediate felt needs, but knowing Jesus is a far more important need that everyone has. 

The toughest part of the balance is keeping in mind that the Bible is not a “self-help” book. It was not written as instructions for helping you achieve your best life now. It’s easy for pastors to mine through the scriptures and present life tips to help people overcome their depression or believe in themselves enough to accomplish their dreams because the Bible is a book that is imbued with divine wisdom. Many pastors have made a great living and built ministry empires by simply serving congregations milk shake teachings skimmed from the surface of the Biblical texts, and all too often, taken out of context with unintended meanings attached to them. Dealing with problems in our lives by simply using the scriptures as a guide for sticking bandaids on cracked walls may be effective in the short run, but it can never solve the larger problem of a cracked foundation.

The Bible’s actual purpose is stated pretty clearly by Jesus: You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39) Plainly put, the scriptures exist to tell us about Jesus. The Old Testament points forward to His coming. The Gospels tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament tells of the growth of the church and instructs believers how to live as new creations in Christ, basically pointing back to Him. This isn’t to say that the Bible doesn’t include some very useful information for managing conflict, financial advice, or parenting suggestions. However, any implementable advice that can be gleaned from the Bible needs to be handled in context of Jesus’ saving work. Otherwise, forgiving my enemies, praying for those that wrong me, learning to give my wife grace, or any other life tip is like plaster slathered into a wall crack that is caused by a disintegrating foundation. Effective and lasting life change is the result of being made new in Jesus, not simply picking and choosing the teachings that seem like they will work for us. This is the message of the gospel. Jesus, who is God, came to us as a man and was punished for our sins by dying on the cross. We are forgiven for our sins and spared from their eternal consequences by making Him our Lord. This means that we live for Him. When this happens, we die to our old selves and are made into new creations. We are spiritually brand new. The rest of life is then building our lives on Him and His teachings. In this sense, the scriptures were never intended to be self-help. They tell us how God helps us.

Coming to a place in our lives where we submit to God’s remaking our lives is no small thing. Most people would rather work on solving their own problems than consider submitting to God to solve them for us. The first step to managing our life problems is learning to submit to God.

Tagged , , , , , , ,