Category Archives: Church Family

Patching Cracks Vlog Episode One: Stealing Daddy’s Seat, a Comment on James 4

This is the very first Patching Cracks video blog. It’s new to me, so let me know what you think.

james sermon click

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Principles for Disciplining Children

10362863_10152240653161599_2278280600722933084_n  The day after my daughter’s second birthday, something crazy happened. My sweet little princess almost instantly transformed. She went to bed a cute ball of sugar and cuteness. She woke up the next day a tiny tyrant, complete with temper tantrums, stomping and screaming, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally pulling handfuls of hair out. I haven’t figured out what caused the change, I’m pretty sure there was something in the cake. The terrible twos had begun and there was no going back.

I’ll admit that deep down I wonder if she will grow out of it, or if I will raise her into one of those adults who throws tantrums at the grocery store because the line is too long. This shift has prompted a number of discussions between my wife and I on the matter of proper discipline. We don’t always agree on the right way to discipline, but we agree that correction is important to raising a child who has learned how to live and act properly. Here are some of the basic concepts that come into play in our discipline strategy.

Discipline is an act of love. As tough as it seems, discipline is a loving response to incorrect behaviors. The author of Hebrews points this out.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”   Hebrews 12:5-6

God demonstrates wise parenting by redirecting behaviors to change the direction of those he loves. Discipline turns us from decisions, behaviors, and attitudes that could potentially cause us great harm. Ignoring destructive behavior or responding in a manner that is inadequate to change the behavior may feel nicer than punishment, but it brings more pain when ingrained behaviors need to be relearned later.

IMG_2431Discipline is best when it instructs. One of the clearest memories I have of being disciplined as a child was that it was always followed by my parents sitting with me and explaining the purpose for the correction and basic instruction on how to behave.

Discipline must be proportional. There is a hard balance to manage with children and discipline. Micromanaging a child crushes them. Responding to minor infractions with huge punishments is out of proportion and will only result in either a crushed sense of independence or resentment. The real objective is a chance of direction. Paul presents this idea in the household code he included in his epistle to the Ephesians.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Discipline must be timely. Discipline must be clearly associated with the behavior for it to be effective. The age of a child is important to take into account when determining timely discipline. A 3-year old doesn’t do as well associating consequences with behaviors the further apart they take place. Correcting a toddler for behaviors that took place a week ago simply won’t be effective. They don’t think that way. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a little more mentally advanced and can associate consequences with actions that are a little more removed. Another important component of timeliness is the emotional state of the child at the time of correction. It always makes me scratch my head when I watch a parent trying to reason with a child in the middle of a full tilt tantrum. Tantrums are the point where thinking isn’t going to happen. Period. Instruction at this time will not correct the behavior.

IMG_0912Consistency is key. Children are keenly aware of how you are going to respond. They know if they can get away with things because you aren’t going to respond. Further, sending mixed messages will only confuse them. There is a degree to which discipline is classical conditioning. Inconsistency will undermine the conditioning component. If you make a threat of punishment and don’t follow through, you will have more trouble in the future. If parents are openly divided on discipline issues, the child will recognize it and figure out how to work the division to their advantage. It’s necessary to figure out your approach and stick with it.

Remember that you love your kid. When your child picks the worst possible moment and way to act out, it’s hard to remember that you are responding out of a desire to correct their behavior so they will be successful adults. Kids have an innate skill for driving their parents nuts. The only reason they can do this is because they are so precious to us. When other people’s kids have tantrums, I don’t pull my hair out the same way I do with my own. It’s harder because we love them.

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

When Brush Fires Break Out In the Church

The area of Northern Montana where I reside is largely prairie. Our annual rainfall is measured in inches and the local farms grow wheat and raise cattle. fireatnightDuring the late summer, a persistent Sunday morning prayer request is for no fires and for safety when they do break out. The interesting thing is that it takes very little to start a blaze. The heat from the exhaust of a car parked in tall grass is more than sufficient to light a fire. A thrown cigarette or a lightning strike can destroy hundreds of acres. Dry wheat, chaff, brush, high winds, and farm equipment make for a dangerous combination during the dry season. One of the most impressive things about these fires is the response from the farmers and ranchers. When a fire breaks out in the  hills, the farmers call each other, load into trucks, and put the fire out. The fire department is also called, but with 30 miles of travel to put in before they fight the fire, every set of hands matters. Most farms have water trucks and backpacks for spraying water on fires. There is a perfect model here for the church.

In the third chapter of James, he speaks at length regarding the tongue and the danger that accompanies words that are far too loosely spoken.
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  James 3:5-6
I have worked in professional church ministry for over a decade and have watched as gossip, envy, angry talk, and other words started fights that ruined friendships and split fellowships. All it ever was, was a small spark; a few words and the fire was lit. Gossip, boasting, and judgement preceded the forming of  factions and alliances, which led into hostilities and splits. It’s astounding to me the sorts of things folks would say and do in the name of their opinion regarding what was right for the church. Once these fires started, they were extremely difficult to put out. I once met a stranger at work who grew up in a different town than the church I worked for. He told me all about what he heard of my actions in a church fight that had happened years before. A few sparks spread to another field and the fire continued. The tragedy of the whole situation was that believers in Christ got burned. I know folks who walked away from church membership entirely over the shoddy behavior of the folks who decided it was their job to burn the wheat and the tares in the name of their petty issues. (Matthew 13:24-30)

Ideally, the church should resemble the farming community in which I live. When a fire breaks out, instead of running to pour08252013FourAlarm99YeaOldChurchPhiladelphiaFire_001 gas on the blaze, every member should leap into action to put out the fire before the harvest is set ablaze. Friends, family, and neighbors wouldn’t sit around and listen to the newest juicy gossip. Instead, they would recognize the danger of a fire catching and respond by lovingly correcting the behavior and stopping the fire before it spreads. When a fire catches and begins to spread, members of the church community would charge in and make peace, throwing water on the situation. They would respond to the fire alarm with a sense of urgency that is in harmony with the danger that is presented to the body of Christ.

They would respond by working to put out the fire. This does not mean that they will drive the fighters out of the church, but rather they will call those involved to Christlike behavior, love, and to be peacemakers. Believers do not step on each other to create harmony. Rather, they call each other to repentance, speaking the truth in love.

A final component of preventing fires from spreading in the church is for the preacher and teachers to teach members about the dangerjames 3s of speaking too loosely and the sin of gossip. Believers need to be taught about the dangers of loose talk and the sins associated with sowing seeds of dissension in the body.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Faith Like a Broken Record Player

I am an avid record collector. I own a couple of record players, broken record logobut do not have a decent player for my stereo in the living room. Last week I was volunteering at a community rummage sale and I came across an older, but fairly high end turntable. I was giddy as a school kid when I plugged it in and hit the play button. My heart sank when the turntable remained still. I quickly dismantled it and discovered the belt was broken. Further investigation revealed that the motor worked. The record player worked, but the turntable didn’t spin. No matter how well the motor ran, it didn’t matter, because the power didn’t transfer to meaningful motion. This record player sat on my desk all week while I was studying the book of James for last Sunday’s message. I believe that this is why that broken record player came to mind when I read James 2:14-17.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
If I believe in God and believe that Jesus died for my sins, but do not live as though it is true, then I am not all that different from the record player sitting on my desk. Part of me is working right, but there is no transmission of that belief into lifestyle. Mere belief isn’t saving faith. James explains that belief is good, but even the demons believe and they do not have faith. Faith is belief that shapes how we live our lives. In the example that James offers, a member of the body of Christ is in need. This is a person that Christ bled and died for. If we see them and our possessions are of greater value to us than our brother in need, then our worldview isn’t adequately shaped by our beliefs. If we aren’t moved to compassion by our family member’s need, then our faith may be little more than belief.
This passage has fueled centuries of debate as to whether or not we must work in order to be saved. The assumption that we need to work to be saved misses the point. We are saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus. Faith is more than belief. It is a life commitment. Faith is belief with a working drive belt, that brings the music of God’s kingdom to the world through the actions and words of his people.
Sermon LinkWe are not to look at our own actions and try to guess if we are saved. Rather, we are to look at the world around us through the lens of the teachings and grace of Jesus. It shapes our perception of our possessions, the temporary nature of this life, what is really of value, what our life goals are, and every other part of who we are. We begin to see the world as redeemed possessions of the almighty God and as brothers of Christ. This new view of the world will necessarily change our behavior. Saving faith acts because it is alive. Dead faith is mere intellectual acknowledgment.
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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,