How Do We Serve God?

How do we serve God?      The question took on a finer point recently when it went to “How will we serve God when we get to Heaven and no one has needs, needs that we can help fill in His name, no one lacks a knowledge of God that we can help fill in His name, and so on.” I like questions that make me go deeper, and answers that help me live better, so I dove into the search. Understanding feels good.

How do we serve? I think of the first and obvious answers. I serve God by the church experience of expression through music, letting that shared expression call me into remembering and learning from adoration. For me, the preaching is part of worship (the biggest part, in fact) as I encounter the pathos of a text from God’s revelation in his word. We serve in other ways at church, teaching, sweeping, giving, decorating, cooking, visiting the sick, encouraging each other, repairing stuff from the light switch to the air conditioning, and in many more ways.

But there is more serving of God outside the church. Whether through a church sponsored event or one we find on our own, we serve God through taking food to the hungry, helping people in need because of failing health, age, catastrophe, being the kind witness for the person struggling with their own internal questions about the purpose of their life, and many other ways.

What does the Bible say?

Perhaps we can find the simple advice helpful about service to God. Be like Jesus, and do what comes naturally. Look at how many times “Love one another” and “Build up one another” appear in scripture. This is serving God.

The most basic service to God is about where it all begins, which is not any of our efforts at all. We are saved by his grace. He came looking for us and found us. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10) He has begun a work in our life that he will finish. (Philippians 1:3-6) Out of this new creaturely-ness (II Corinthians 5:17), our serving of God begins.

Again with the basics, I see Romans 12:1-2, and then Romans 12:3-8, and don’t stop reading even there.

 1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

This phrase often translated “spiritual service” or “reasonable service” can also be translated “logical, philosophically sound, service”.

  3For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

 

One of the challenging stories from the early writings is the story of Rehoboam. In II Chronicles 12:1-16. It is a sad story of how he “Forsook the law of the Lord.” He weakened the nation of Judah spiritually, and also practically, so that Shishak of Egypt marched against the nation. When many leaders of the land humbled themselves, God spared Judah from vast destruction, but the land became subservient to Egypt. God allowed this as the scripture says in verse 8 …“so that they may learn the difference between My service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.”

Yes, serving God is different from serving those people or things that oppress us, or call for us to follow along with them. “The way of the treacherous is hard.” So says Proverbs 13:15. Galatians 6:8 says “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

But, what does it mean to serve God? As stated above, it is being like Jesus and doing what comes naturally. It is bringing others to Christ and his salvation; it is loving each other in our treatment of each other; and building up each other by helping each other be stronger and encouraged, and forgiving each other. It is concern and social action for a world in its paralysis and its shame, it is turning a broken person’s hiding place into a meeting place… thus building this new community and fellowship we call Christ’s church. We call these actions being obedient to The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and The Great Commandment. (Matthew 22:36-40) It is the prayer for God’s Kingdom and Will to become real in this Earth as it is in Heaven.[1]

One passage that I think should be read and re-read every few weeks is John 15:7-17. There in v.15, Jesus says, “I have called you friends.” Is that a glimpse of serving God in heaven… friends sharing each day together, in that place God has prepared for us.

As I read the description of heaven in the book of Revelation, I am struck by all the things that won’t be there. No sorrow, no pain, no sin, and the list goes on. We won’t serve by reform movements or challenging social ills. We won’t serve by growing the church. We will still serve by loving, won’t we? We will have full and complete fellowship with Jesus, with no interference between. Heaven seems to be about relationship, worship, friendship, thanksgiving, freedom, knowing even as we are known. But when we are there, perhaps we will see that these were a large part of what we called service while we were here.

[1] See the excellent writing about this prayer, in Prayer- the Cry for the Kingdom, Revised Edition, by Stanley Grenz.

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Evan, we hardly knew ye…

 

I became a Christian (“got saved” as we called it back then when it was an OK phrase), because someone went off and left a Bible open, and I found it and read it, and called out to God for forgiveness and salvation. It was not because some group of people somewhere sent me a list of the social, political, and cultural or even theological opinions I had to have to be a real Christian.

What Do I Mean?

 

A few days ago, in August 2017, the Nashville Statement was released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood[1]. It presents itself as an affirmation of a Biblical view of sexuality. However, many of us see several traps within it, along with some narrow and abusive judgments of what it takes to be in the Will of God.

Long ago, the word “evangelical” was a good word. This is where the article title comes from. “Evan”, short for Evangelical, we hardly knew ye (you). There was a time when evangelical simply meant that we enjoyed, experienced, and told the good news for all to hear. But, many younger and middle-aged adults of today have not been able to see Evangelical Christianity without a social and political agenda, stitched on poorly, with the coarsest of threads. Secondly, as has been a problem since the early church, Moralism is still being substituted for the Gospel. The idea that we have got to get people to behave in certain ways is Pharisee-ism, not the Gospel. Let’s let the indwelling Christ within the believer be the true “hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I was converted in my teen years, and had a church around me and welcoming me in wonderful ways. Little did I know then that this church was one of the best, and not all churches or religious leaders would be so kind, and Christ-like. It was not a church in the Reformed Tradition (another term popularized these days), but rather was a church (denomination) with a history of autonomy, with a high view of scripture, with a strong belief that each believer has a relationship with Christ in which they are discipled primarily by the Jesus who lives within us[2]. Wow!

Every now and then we would hear that things like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed, did have some good things to say, but we were reminded that these were not inspired scripture, and we had developed as a denomination without “official creeds”. With the 20th century arising and tightening of Fundamentalism it seems that more and more groups want to add to the definition of Christian. This is one of several reasons why I am troubled by, and why I reject the Nashville Statement.

Let me say it like this… I became a Christian (“got saved” as we called it back then when it was an OK phrase), because someone went off and left a Bible open, and I found it and read it, and called out to God for forgiveness and salvation. It was not because some group of people somewhere sent me a list of the social, political, and cultural or even theological opinions I had to have to be a real Christian.

The Nashville Statement has some truth within it, but the presence of truth doesn’t guarantee accuracy throughout, nor does it guarantee that this truth is spoken in love, or spoken with a good motive in mind. There are many places within the statement where no scriptural reference is made, none at all.

What is stated in those spots is a religious label or concept, which may have come out of someone’s well meaning interpretation at some time in the past. These general phrases have become popular in many circles, but, but, but they have not become scripture. I speak of phrases such as… divinely ordained differences, creation order, creation design, God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption,

When people use these phrases, it is often assumed that there is a scriptural definition of what they mean, and that there is a scriptural list of qualifiers which define what they mean. An honest and unbiased look at the scripture shows that these assumptions are just not so. There is no such thing in scripture as a “creation order” which links certain roles to males or females. Nowhere in scripture is anyone ever called the “priest of the family”.

Yet, people often use these phrases to keep people, especially women, “in their place”. (A goal of both racism and sexism.) While the Nashville Statement on the surface is about LGBT issues, between the lines there is traditional sexism.

I particularly noted one review of the Statement, which points out a problem at the core of both sexism and the role rigidity of the anti-feminist agenda. Retha Faurie, a writer in South Africa (where she has seen lots of social change), and a person I consider to be a good theologian, says this about the problem[3]

“Some feminists argue…  We should stop expecting of men/ women/ boys/ girls to fit into certain looks-and-behavior boxes. This would help youth who are not fitting the boxes to still accept their own biology, while embracing their non-gender-stereotypical personalities.”

The suggestion here is that “role rigidity” is in fact forcing some people into developing a third, or fourth, sexual group. …not the only factor behind the numerous LGBT issues, but it may certainly be one of them.

May I also suggest a blog article by Tim Fall,  “The “Nashville Statement” Fails to Understand God’s Plan for Women and Men[4]. Look for this article at timfall.wordpress.com There are many other great articles on his delightful blog… “Just One Train Wreck After Another.

 

 

One Last Statement

I Cor. 15: 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

This is the only “statement” I need.

 

 

 

[1] CBMW was founded in 1987, largely in opposition to the organization, Christians for Biblical Equality, which had arisen in the 1980’s. CBE states that rightly interpreted, the Bible teaches the basic equality of male and female, in church, society, and marriage. See http://www.cbeinternational.org

[2] We heard terms like Priesthood of the Believer, and Soul Competency, and learned to grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ, as individuals as well as within the fellowship of other believers…

[3] Biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com

[4] timfall.wordpress.com

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The “Nashville Statement” Fails to Understand God’s Plan for Women and Men

I will soon write my own post about the Nashville Statement, but I must also share Tim’s post with you. It is an alert most necessary…

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

Most people reading theNashville Statementrecently published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) will notice the repeated uses of the words “homosexual” and “transgender” in its fourteen articles, which might cause the reader to skip past the importance of Article 4:

We affirm that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

We deny that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

What are these “divinely ordained differences”? The statement doesn’t say. Other CBMW writings, though, show the difference is that women are subordinate to men in all things: home, work, play, education. If a man and woman are involved, the man takes the lead and the woman follows. Always.

I disagree.

The Bible shows a lot of men and women working and living together…

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If you abide in Me…

 

“What does it mean to abide in Christ?” I have learned a lot of things from a lot of teachers, from elementary school to graduate school, but I have never had an invitation from any of them to abide with them. No doubt I would have learned a lot more if I had but, of course, that would be so very impractical. But, throughout scripture we find the call to abide, or, to remain in relationship and in fellowship with God. To make it all happen, God has come to us in the person of Jesus. Let’s look at what he says about it.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

The Greek word for “abide” is not an unusual or special word. It simply means, “to remain”. Jesus describes this in John 15 when he says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

“However strong the branch becomes, however far away it reaches round the home, out of sight of the vine, all its beauty and all its fruitfulness ever depend upon that one point of contact where it grows out of the vine. So be it with us too.”
Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ

While the word for “abide” is simple, the invitation and the urging of Jesus to remain in this fellowship with him is life changing, day after day. Our relationship with the Savior cannot be ended (John 10:27-29), but the quality of our daily fellowship is a product of our daily walk with him.

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,… Colossians 2:6

Look back at John 15:7. There is something else to learn here. Jesus tells of a crucial factor of abiding… that of his words abiding in us. Jesus uses an unusual Greek word here for his “words”. I hesitate to talk about this different word, because many religious groups have exploited this word, and have misinterpreted it. They have turned it into a cultic and almost magic but mythical concept. (If you don’t know about the misuse, you are better off. Suffice it to say, that I do not hold to that idea.) While the common word for “word”, Logos, and this different word, Rhema, are often used interchangeably, there is a truth to be found in Jesus’ use of the word. Logos can mean a person’s words, but it can also mean wider concepts, philosophies, systematic teachings, and more. Rhema, simply, is the word that means one’s own personal words, spoken or written in time. One of the most tender moments of a friendship comes when we say to the friend, “I remember when you said to me…” We are often referring to some words we shared, words that we now cherish, words which continue to change our lives. I believe this is the sound and meaning that Jesus brings to John 15:7. It was the same sound and meaning found in Psalm 119:11.

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.”

Abiding is about remaining in active fellowship, communicating genuinely with Jesus, and taking in his words, letting them change us. This is a walking and praying life, in fellowship with Jesus. John talked about it later when he wrote to the early church.

“As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. …….Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”  I John 2:24, 28

We often hear the question, “What would Jesus Do?” The truth found in this concept of abiding is that the answer is, “Ask Him.” We learn what he would do from studying his Word, and we learn what he would do from communicating with him, praying, walking in fellowship, and growing in his grace.

The purpose is His, He will carry it out; the fruit is His, He will bring it forth; the abiding is His, He will maintain it.”
Andrew Murray, The True Vine

[See John 8:31; John 15; I John 2:6; I John 4:13; Colossians 1:27; 2:6; 3:16]

 

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Teach us to Pray, and to be a Love Group

 

We have been looking at the instances of Jesus praying, and those passages where Jesus taught us more about praying. I am looking at the shorter passages, because the larger passages of Matthew 6, and John 17 need longer development. We looked at Matthew and Mark. Now, let’s look at Luke and John.

(Lk 6:27-28)    27“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

(Lk 11:1-13)
1It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” 2And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 3‘Give us each day our daily bread.  4‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.’”

5Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.8“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

9“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10“For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12“Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

(Jn 14:13-14, see also the fuller context of 8-20)    13“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

(Jn 15:7-8, 16) 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

16“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

(Jn 16:22-24) 22“Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.  23“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.

 

The words of Jesus speak for themselves. Permit me a brief summary.

There are so many truths that can be studied here, but let’s look at key words. Like the passages in Matthew and Mark, I see Love your enemies, Bless the curser, and Pray for the mistreater, as well as Forgive, Abide, and the call for persistent prayer. Without repeating myself too much, let me focus in on what John reports in chapter 15. If we abide in Jesus… then all he says about prayer comes together, and so do the passages about the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. Abiding in Jesus makes it all possible, for us to love even our enemies. In these days when we hear so much about “hate groups”, I could wish the church stood out more as a “love group”.

 

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Learning to Pray, from Jesus

Besides looking at the instances of Jesus praying, there are several challenging passages where Jesus taught us more about praying. I will look at the shorter passages, and not deal with the larger passages of Matthew 6, and John 17, since they can take up more than a few blogs all by themselves. First, here are some from Matthew and Mark.

(Mt 5:44) “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

(Mt 7:7-11)  7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10“Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Mt 18:19-20)  19“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

(Mt 21:22) “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

(Mark 11:24-26) 24“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. 25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]

 

These speak for themselves, of course, but at first look some key words jump out at me… words like- ask, seek, find, knock, believe, forgive, and a startling phrase, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

The verse, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt 21:22), sure looks like a blank check for the person who wants God to be a heavenly gift dispenser. But, what did Jesus mean when he says to “ask, believing”? I need to understand that more fully, and I need to understand it in the context of all these other words, like ask, seek, find, knock, forgive, and love.

To ask believing, suggests commitment and a trusting heart. The Greek word for believing is the same word translated in other places as commitment or trust. This “believing” part of Matthew 21:22 connects it, as I see it, with all those other words, the asking, as well as the forgiving and the loving, and the seeking and finding that shows these promises are not for the shallow free gift collector, but rather, they belong to the true disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus, the one who showed, more than any other, the wonder of committed love.

Next… a look at similar passages in Luke and John.

 

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Like Jesus Prayed…

Recently, while studying for a class I am teaching about the Lord’s Prayer, I came across a simple and beautiful observation about Jesus and his prayer life. I’ll share it with you.

Now, I will tell you something about my experience in preaching, teaching, or studying the Life of Jesus in the four gospels. This circumstance alone has always made me feel a sense of walking on holy ground. Then particularly, when I look into the discussion of prayer, and when I look at the scriptures about the crucifixion of Jesus, I am peculiarly aware of the need to walk humbly here, and let my soul look up in worship.

But, I often discover that simplicity and beauty go together, and this insight was certainly that kind of insight. While thinking of how to discuss the prayer life of Jesus, I came upon something obvious. There are not many places where the prayers of Jesus are recorded.

There are prayers around mealtime (Matthew 26:26; Mark 8:6; Luke 24:30; John 6:11), and there are those before or after major events such as the calling of the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16), or his Baptism (Luke 3:21). We read prayers of Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34; Father, forgive them; Matthew 27:46; My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me… quoting Psalm 22; Luke 23:46; Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;) I see 12 places where he taught wonderful things about prayer.

But, I say again, there are not many places where the prayers of Jesus are recorded. John 17, a passage known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, is the only lengthy prayer recorded in the Bible, a chapter of 26 verses.

 

 

Then came the insight I am talking about; the beautiful and simple insight. Of course there are not many examples of the prayer times of Jesus. Of course there are so many references to Jesus slipping away to a quiet place alone where he prayed for a time, perhaps all night (Luke 6:12, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”)

 

 

Yes, of course we don’t have many verbatim recordings in scripture of Jesus’ prayers. He was doing the very thing he had prescribed to us about our prayer life.

  • To pray genuinely and not for show… Many religious leaders in the day of Jesus would have their servants sound trumpets in the streets to announce that the leader would soon be praying there, and that all should come to hear the epic prayer. But Jesus told his followers to pray privately, trusting that the Father would hear and reward them openly. (Matthew 6:1-15)
  • To pray honestly and free of phony religious phrases. (Matthew 6:7) Many shallow religious habits existed in the world of the first century, and still do today. Jesus warned against believing that we will be heard just because we talk a lot.
  • To pray for the kingdom and its coming. As Stan Grenz said in his book, Prayer… The Cry for The Kingdom,

 

“The initial requests —  ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.’, form one overarching petition that is then elaborated in the subsequent supplications. The requests for sustenance, forgiveness, and deliverance are the marks of the presence of the kingdom among us. In this manner, the entire prayer becomes a single petition for the in-breaking of the kingdom into the present.”

When I pray privately, with all the openness and honesty required of a follower speaking with the Lord, Himself… wonder of wonders… I am praying like Jesus prayed in private, and He lovingly hears me.  “Thank You, Lord.”

 

Next… more of Jesus’ words about our prayers.

 

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What Do You Say, Then?

Gerald Ford

There comes that moment when someone we know suffers a loss. A loved one dies, or there is a diagnosis of an awful disease … perhaps there is a loss of a career, or a loss of relationships (divorce, or estrangement in a family). When we find ourselves not knowing what to say, maybe that is just the thing. Maybe we should start with listening. Yes, we begin with an expression of empathy, but then we listen. We find our way to engage and we let the person who is grieving be the main voice. Behind those many things that a person really shouldn’t say, there are some errors, not the least of which is an error about the purpose of these moments.
I may want to tell this person many things, but I am not here to teach. They may need to learn some things, but I am not here to teach. Grief is the result of a loss. It is not a spiritual problem, nor is it a lapse of faith.

When I am experiencing my own grief, the person who helps me the most is the person who is trying to sit with me, and hear me, and encourage me. But the person who helps me the least, and may hurt me, is the person who believes they are the stronger brother or sister trying to “restore” the weaker brother or sister. To that, I have to say that grief is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of a loss… an experience that will become a part of who I am, but not a foreign object which must be cut away. No, don’t take my grief away, and don’t tell me I am a weaker brother. My sadness, when I feel it, is just as “Christian” as is my happiness.

But, while I am at it, let me recall that I am the person with whom I talk the most. I help myself the least when I treat my grief like it is something I am doing wrong, and have got to stop. I help myself the most when I can sit with myself, hear myself, and find encouragement in the truth I know. So, some of my grief is private, some of it can only be done by and for myself. That’s why we call it “sitting with our grief”.

That’s why we should listen with love to our own inner selves. That is also why we need to be mostly a listener when sitting with someone in grief, for while we are doing this, they are talking both with us and with themselves. How can I, or anyone else, fully process anything that I do not first fully experience.

For those who fear that my grief will take over and consume who I am, let me relieve your fear. When I grieve with the kind of grief I am discussing, grief does not consume me… rather, who I am, fully am, consumes the grief, and it becomes an enriching part of who I am.

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Don’t Say It… Don’t Say It…

I am no expert at this, thankfully, but I think I must have picked up some difficult to understand things about grief. I hear it called “sitting with grief”, and maybe we can share our various definitions of it. I get a mental glimpse of it when I am listening to a client talk about their grief, and I am “just sitting there”, but inside myself I am praying with all of my might, and with all of my strength, “Please give me something good to say, and don’t let me say something wrong or insensitive.” Provided I don’t say something insensitive, I will usually hear something about someone who did. It is often about a Bible study group concerning grief. There are many wonderful ones in which people get a lot of help. Yet, my client is highly distressed over what they heard. They heard someone say to them that God will repay them for their grief some “doublefold”, “fourfold”, or even “hundredfold”. But what does that mean? Does it mean they will get two children back for the child they lost, or does it mean they will get one hundred times the “value” of the health they have lost? No, there is no payback that makes grief become acceptable or somehow quick to go away. Comfort, resolution, deep peace; none of these are about payback.

Acceptance may be the first thing to define. Acceptance doesn’t mean we approve of something, or that we no longer feel pain from it. It means that we take it on and experience it with our full mind and spirit. It means we don’t resist it with anger, or avoidance, or demands that the truths change. We sit with it. We experience it and look inside ourselves and then to God to grow in wisdom and in peace. Grief changes over time, as we sit with it, changes into a memorial for our loved ones (or our lost dreams). We feel peace made, and we see a long story, not a short story, of life and love being told.

Explaining God can be a pretty formidable job. If I really was smart, I probably would not try, but my soul has these questions and I have to look into them. Other people ask them, too, and I just can’t leave them with an “I don’t know.” Of course, I know I don’t explain God, but I must grapple with the questions. That’s one way I grow. We live around no end of easy answers, and people who want quick solutions to difficult pains. Maybe people think they have to justify God or make him look good to all, with an assurance that all sorrow will be turned inside out and into something happy. But, I have never seen God work that way. In fact, and here comes a shocking statement… I have come to realize that not even God gets the big things he wants in little periods of time. He wants holiness from us, and that job isn’t through as yet. No, God’s plan of redemption is a long, long plan. One day there will be the fulfillment of his promises to do for our bodies what he has already done for our souls. But, in the meantime, there is grief.

Yes, we grieve not as those who have no hope. But we do grieve as those who do have hope. Hope doesn’t blind us, nor does it show up in clichés or a salve that makes us stop hurting by the end of the day. We sit with grief, with God, and with one another, but not always with answers or quick relief. We heal because of gracious love, because we accept grief, and because we hand compassion back and forth between ourselves as grief does its perfect work. Sometimes we just outgrow the questions. Sometimes we find the search more rewarding than the answers.
More to come…

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Women, Men, and Language: Four Easy Steps to Better Church Leadership

May I share an especially good article by one of the best writers and theologians I know. He says this important information so simply, yet so completely. It is useful for everyone who walks through a church door.

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Naming Rights – what’s in it for women and men?

Which of these sounds most natural to you:

  • Women and men.
  • Girls and boys.
  • Ladies and gentlemen.

If you say the last one, you are probably in the majority of English speaking people. The other two are written in the reverse order of their usual appearance, in that we usually hear or read Men and Women or – perhaps not quite as consistently but still predominantly – Boys and Girls. (Don’t get me started on Ladies and Gentlemen; that phrase carries its own baggage we should dump at every opportunity.)

For the sake of God’s people – women and men both – it’s worth coming out of your comfort zone with language about men and women.

language on women and men.jpg

Tips for doing that well in church are coming up a bit later in this post. First let’s take a look…

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