Choosing a Church

Where should I go to church?  In generations past that question was clearer, mainly due to a population that was much less transient.  If you attended a church it was likely to be the church in your community. Most church-going folks would find the community church and get plugged in.  If there were things they didn’t agree with, they would talk about it from a biblical view, work through it, and continue to serve and glorify God through that local church. But that was yesteryear…

Today’s church search tends to be quite different. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a plethora of reasons people attend church; and unfortunately many of them are very man-centered. It’s not uncommon for me to hear phrases like:

I want the music I like; I’m looking for a church where there’s a lot of activities for my children; I want a young pastor; I want an old pastor; I like how hip that church is; I like how traditional the dress is at that church; I want a pastor that tells good stories; I want a church that doesn’t judge; I like my church because they don’t ask much of me; I left that church because they didn’t offer enough… and the list goes on, ad nauseam; one man-centered thought after another…

These man-centered thoughts drive people to change churches like socks; using them until they’ve worn them out or until they desire a different style. If they’ve grown tired or bored with their church, they simply leave… Distance is not a deterrent in our transient society. Some folks will drive to the other end of the county for a good ear tickling.

This mentality raises the question, “What criteria should be used to choose a church?” The Bible is replete with ecclesiological instruction, but I will build my brief argument on Acts 2:42,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The birth of the church was marked by several determining factors, including:

The apostles doctrine: The message of the gospel was delivered to the church through the chosen men of God known as the apostles. They delivered truth, doctrine, instruction, etc., that was vital to the church. They taught the church Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Pneumatology, etc.  They taught the church what the gospel was all about; the ins and outs of what the gospel is and why it is needed. To do this properly, they had to teach the Scriptures in a systematic manner. They were expositors of the Bible. Alistair Begg puts it like this,

“A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is as important as this–not a large congregation, a witty pastor, or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.”

The early church had a steady diet of the meat of the Word of God. This was priority in the church. The church knew who Jesus was, what He did, how to know Him, etc., and the result was a church that was filled with passion, peace, and purpose! The early church knew how to live well and they knew how to die well, because they knew the Bible well! Calvin said,

“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.”

Proper preaching of the Bible is absolutely priority in choosing a church. If the church has everything you want, except exposition of Scripture, it’s the wrong place to be. Without a steady diet of Scripture, you will be a weak believer that’s “Tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine…” You’ll not know how to live as a Christian in a thoroughly secular world; you will be filled with angst and anxiety because of your lack of knowledge of the sovereign, almighty God; you’ll not know how to glorify God, which is your purpose in life; and you’ll not know how to deal with suffering when in manifests itself in your life.

The exposition of the Bible is an absolute priority in the church, and everything else should compliment the preaching of the Word. When the exposition of God’s Word is not priority, people quickly become weak, feeble, scrawny, and simply unhealthy Christians that are more concerned about their fleshly needs than the glory of God. Choose a church that makes exposition of Scripture a priority!

-Fellowship: This “fellowship” is living life with each other, centered in Christ.  It’s not simply getting together and talking about the game, or eating a potluck dinner, etc. It’s living in genuine Christ-centered community together, with the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.

David Paul Tripp rightly said,

Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.

Our Christ-centered fellowship with each other pictures our fellowship with Christ Himself, brings glory to God, and encourages the church. Choose a church that practices and encourages genuine Christ-centered fellowship!

-Breaking of Bread: A biblical church will practice Communion, or what some call “The Lord’s Supper”. The apostles specifically instructed the early church to practice the breaking of bread and drinking the wine to show the gospel and to commune with Christ. This must be priority in the church. A good church will be gospel saturated and a gospel saturated church will practice Communion. Choose a church that understands and practices The Lord’s Supper!

-Prayer: The last thing mentioned in this Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church has the incredibly amazing privilege of prayer. The church is known as “The house of prayer” (Isaiah 56). The church doesn’t grow by the creative ability, charismatic personality, or oratory gymnastics of a pastor. God grows His church. Sure, you can draw a crowd through many ways, but that certainly is not a church. We desire to see large crowds, but only if God is genuinely making people alive through Jesus, not merely because it’s the “best show in town”. Tozer said,

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.“

God’s people should consistently pray, acknowledge their dependence on Him, and rest in His sovereignty. When prayer is priority in the church, His people enjoy Him, He is glorified, and the church grows in a genuinely healthy manner. Choose a church where prayer of a priority!

Finally… Forgive me for my sense of frustration, even exasperation. I’ve grown weary of fair weathered worshippers. God grant us believers who love His church because it’s a manifestation of His grace; because it’s a picture of the god-head; because it’s the vehicle in which the gospel travels to all peoples; because it’s where believers are instructed in the things of the gospel…and so on…  May the day of “cafeteria church”, where people go to pick and choose whatever their favorite style is, be a thing of the past. Love the church for what God made it, not what the world has molded it to be.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.church pic

1 Peter 2:9

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Jesus: God’s gift of love – Guest Blog by Chris Canuel

As the Christmas season is officially upon us, many of us will spend a lot of time over the next several weeks thinking about gifts. Unfortunately, we can spend so much time thinking about Christmas gifts for others, or maybe even ourselves,  and end up forgetting the greatest of all possible gifts. The gift I’m talking about of course, is that gift that God gave the world over 2,000 years ago.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

So, why is Jesus the greatest of all possible gifts?

Jesus is the greatest gift because in giving us Jesus, God shows us how much he loves us. Sometimes we talk so much about God’s love and about how God IS love – which of course is absolutely true – but sometimes we talk about it so much that we start to take it for granted. We often forget what an amazing thing it is that God WOULD love us, that God DOES love us, and in giving us Jesus He is showing us that he always WILL love us.

To be loved by a holy and perfectly righteous God is no small thing. Do any of us deserve this love of God? Absolutely not. The Bible is clear time and time again that all of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Isaiah 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” Some translations there refer to all of our good deeds and “filthy rags”…

So even our best deeds, even at our BEST, we have nothing to offer up to God. God is so far above us, there is such a large chasm or gap between us and God that I don’t even have a word or adjective to describe it. If God didn’t lower himself and come down to our level, then we would all be in big trouble. But in Christ that is precisely what we see God doing.

We have all sinned against a Holy and righteous God. Sadly, we continue to do so. Even our best deeds are polluted by our sin. But God says in Isaiah 1:18, “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool…”

Here is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus is the means by which we become white as snow. Through the shed blood of Jesus we have been cleansed. God in His great love for us, sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth to take our sins upon Himself and to save us, to cleanse us, to give us His righteousness, and to save us.

Because “God so loved…” He didn’t allow us to perish in our sins, but instead God offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, as we kick off this Christmas season, remember that Jesus is the greatest gift of all possible gifts, because in giving us Christ, God shows us just how much He truly loves us…

chris-canuel

Chris Canuel – Author, Pastor

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The Perfect Christmas

As a pastor, the Thanksgiving and Christmas season is extremely busy. The planning for special services, benevolence situations, get-togethers, etc., not to mention the normal activities and functions we still must do… they all keep me in high gear. Ask any pastor and they’ll tell you the same, it’s an extremely busy time of year!

I must preface my thoughts by saying I love Christmas! I love the music, decorations, Christmas plays, concerts, but most of all (of course) the reason for it…celebrating God’s incarnation. But oftentimes I have found myself allowing the things of ministry to cause me to miss the beauty of it all…and I hate that.

There is so much pressure to get things done, to make Christmas perfectr7CwvhW. For me, the very busy time begins just before Thanksgiving. Our church sponsors a community Thanksgiving service where we invite people who have no one to eat a Thanksgiving meal with to come and eat with us. This takes much planning and effort to pull off, and lots of folks to help pull it off, but like so many other Holiday functions, it’s worth the effort. It’s always a wonderful time together, and I can’t imagine not doing it every year. But it can be a bit taxing, so I’ve created a tradition to help me unwind a bit.

Each year, immediately after the Thanksgiving meal, I help tidy up, tear down all my turkey frying equipment, pack my vehicle with my suitcase and banjo, and head for the South Carolina State Bluegrass Festival in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Outside of missing just a year here and there, I’ve been attending this Festival since the early 80’s. I continue this tradition to see old friends, listen to God’s music, and of course to relax for a couple of days.

It doesn’t last long, for before you know it Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday are a memory and I’m on my way back home, getting geared up to preach Sunday morning and hitting the ground running for the Christmas season! And from that moment it never stops…nevertheless it does give me a brief respite between Thanksgiving and Christmas…except this year. Yep…this year would be different.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and I quickly made my way south to Myrtle Beach and began to enjoy my aforementioned enjoyments, when I felt a funny feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t long before I realized I had picked up a stomach virus of some sort. I endured it Friday but was forced to head back home early on Saturday, and I’m very glad I did…it only got worse. I can endure most of the symptoms of a stomach virus, but the weakness that came with this one really frustrated me!! I mean, I HAVE STUFF TO DO!! But this thing wiped me out. I was pretty much useless. I mean, like a sack of reject hammers useless. So much so that I had to miss preaching Sunday morning…which is one of the worst things for me. I’d rather preach than eat. But I couldn’t help it. I was too sick to do either!

I was pretty frustrated, knowing all the things I needed to be doing, people I needed to be seeing, etc.… but I also know that God is sovereign. There’s a reason for it. I’ve learned over the years, through experience, and immersing myself into God’s word that He is working in every situation. For instance, a verse we all tend to know very well, Romans 8:28 says,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is the word of God. It’s true…it’s alive…it’s active…it’s life changing…and I trust what it says. I know there’s a reason that I came down with a virus and I’m actually thankful to God for it, for His word also says,

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
(Philippians 4:6)

I can thank God for a virus because He has a reason/purpose for it. I certainly cannot imagine the fullness of His plan, but by His grace I can clearly see some evidences of of it. For one, it’s made me slow down and realize the Christmas season will go on with or without me. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His will this season or any other season. He may or may not choose to use me in it, but He certainly doesn’t have to!

While I incredibly missed preaching Sunday, I have enjoyed slowing down and simply thinking about the beauty of Christmas… Jesus came to earth to “tabernacle” among us, live a sinless life, pay the penalty of sin on a cross, died and rose again… this is Christmas! Christmas is not the things we do, it’s what Jesus did.

My encouragement to you is,

Don’t miss the perfect Christmas while trying to make Christmas perfect.

Relax, enjoy, focus on the main thing…Jesus, the Perfect Christmas.

Come, let us adore Him…

 

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Some Thoughts on Preaching

I’ll begin by acknowledging that I am certainly no expert in the art of preaching. There are wonderful books written on the subject by people who are much more qualified, but after having labored in preaching since 1993 I’ve developed a philosophy of preaching that I think may be helpful. I’ll share a few thoughts for you to consider…

  1. Preaching is proclamation

Preaching is not contemplating, considering, or even conversation; it’s proclamation! In preaching, you are not merely a facilitator for people to determine what they like or dislike about the biblical text; rather you’re a herald, proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord!”

Throughout the Old Testament God ordained prophets to proclaim His word. These men were not assigned to poll the masses or politicize the message, they were assigned to herald the perfect message God had given them.

In the New Testament Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to “Preach the word…!” It literally means to herald or proclaim the word.

In teaching the word you may be more conversational, even getting your audience involved while explaining the point of a passage or discussing a doctrine. But in preaching, God has spoken and you are simply relaying what God has said, in a way that is compassionate, yet bold and unapologetic. Don’t ponder in the pulpit, proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.

  1. Preaching is PowerfulIMG_6455

I am a weak and frail vessel, but when I simply proclaim God’s word, supernatural things happen. God uses the proclamation of His word to make people alive, convict people of sins, make broken hearts new, restore relationships, and much more. I am living proof that the faithful proclamation of the word of God is far greater than the efforts of man, regardless of your perceived abilities or disabilities.

The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God said,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

I have learned to depend on the message, not the messenger. Let’s face it, why on earth would any preacher think he can out-power the breath of God?!?  Preaching is powerful…open the cage, let the Lion out, and let it do what only it can do.

  1. Preaching is Priority

I believe preaching is central to the ministry of the local church. I’ve witnessed churches slowly, whether purposely or not, allow the preaching of the word to become secondary or even tertiary. When that happens it’s like trying to breathe polluted air; your body will become poisoned and finally succumb to heart failure.  It may be a slow process, but without preaching as priority there will be a steady decline from a biblical church. When a church permits music, skits, games, etc. to take priority over preaching, they have opened the door to the morgue. I enthusiastically agree with Al Mohler when he said,

Indeed, such techniques will not produce maturing and faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only the preaching of the Word yields that sort of fruit.

When you simply preach the word, people will be genuinely changed, the church will be unified, and God will be glorified. Nothing else can do what “Thus saith the Lord” can do, therefore preaching must be priority in the church.

  1. Preaching is preparation

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, “Just get up there in that pulpit and preach from your heart!” But there are a plethora of problems with that… To mention a few, one has no idea what the bible says unless he practices good hermeneutics; and good hermeneutics requires work! The Bible is a mine filled with exquisite and priceless gems that the preacher must laboriously dig for. It takes great effort, discipline, and time but the payoff if eternal.

  1. Preaching is Painful

Charles Spurgeon said,

If any man will preach as he should preach, his work will take more out of him than any other labor under heaven.

I can relate. More times than not, after preaching a sermon I simply want to nap. I’m drained, exhausted, wasted, and so on… Preaching, if done with power and passion, is grueling. I once heard preaching described like this, “You’ve labored all week, gave birth on Sunday, and pregnant again on Monday”. It’s a never-ending task that is grueling…but the result is eternally evident.

  1. Preaching is a Privilege

The apostle Paul said,

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ
(Ephesians 3:8)

I agree. To think that I can stand before people and proclaim Jesus simply amazes me. I seriously cannot begin to fathom the fact that I am a servant of the most high God and He has assigned me to the task of preaching His word. There are some very high-profile positions in this world that people hold in high regards, but to proclaim the word of God to people out-privileges them all! This should be remembered every time one steps in a pulpit. It is nothing short of a privilege…treat it as one.

This could be an endless topic, but I must end…and what better way to end than with another quote from Spurgeon,

“The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

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Making the most of Mentors: Some brief thoughts on how to have a proper mentoring relationship

Mentoring is 20620796_10212740897253354_8047508259673876878_nextremely important in Christian ministry, but it’s worth is not appreciated as it should be. To have a mentor is to be blessed, and any mentoree (what I call someone who is being mentored) should work diligently to make the mentoring relationship viable. It’s important to handle mentoring relationships properly to get the most out of them and to bring glory to God. Here are some things I think will help…

  1. Listen, listen, listen

There is nothing more important in a mentoring relationship than the mentoree simply closing his mouth and opening his ears. Not listening in a mentoring setting is akin to a car with no tires; it’s pretty much useless.  The objective in a mentoring setting is for the mentoree to learn as much as possible from his mentor, and use what you learn for the glory of God in the ministry God has assigned you to.  But if you talk more than listen, you nor the people you will minister to in the future will profit from years of knowledge and experience of your mentor.

Often mentorees want to impress their mentors with their knowledge.  Don’t let that be you! Let your mentor be a mentor; don’t use him as an ego builder for yourself. Remember, this relationship is not about you, it’s about you being equipped better to make much of Jesus and to point people to him.

If your mentor is equipped to be a mentor, let him do the talking; if he’s not, find another one who is and listen.

  1. If you must talk, ask questions

If you can’t resist the urge to talk, then at least let your talk be in the form of questions.  Ask your mentor questions often and listen intently to his answers. Questions are a wonderful way to find out who people are, where they have been, what they have done, and the why to all the former. Questions get people talking and lets the person know you genuinely care about what they think.

In a ministry mentorship you should ask questions in the following areas:

Call to ministry, Family, Gifts, Theology, The Church, Conflict, Burnout, Humbleness, Etc.…

Asking your mentor questions in these areas is like opening a treasure cove of ministry knowledge… don’t allow it to go untapped. Even if you already know what the answers to your questions will be, it’s incredible discipline to ask and simply listen.

  1. Observe

Observing your mentor in everyday ministry is priceless. You must observe him as he interacts with his family, friends, public, and church family. The wealth of knowledge and insight you will gain from these interactions can save you from a plethora of mistakes and missteps, and help you gain trust with the people you minister to.

Observe him as he deals with an irritated or frustrated church member in a business meeting or someone who drops by his office and asks for money. Observe him as he engages a server as you eat lunch together and as he stops to chat with a group of seniors. Observe him as he kneels down to spend time with a little child to show them they are important.

Again, the lessons you can learn from this observation is beyond priceless and simply cannot be learned in seminary. Never overlook the little things that a mentor does; everything he does is a lesson in how to do ministry.

  1. Respect their years of ministry and life

You may be super duper over the top brilliant and the greatest theological mind since the apostle Paul himself, but that is not the end all.  You must know how to use that knowledge in a manner that brings glory to God, not yourself, and doesn’t make much of yourself but points people to Jesus.

Unfortunately I’ve seen young men in ministry abuse their God given intellect by thinking they’ve got it all figured out and the old guys are just, well…old. While that may be true, every old guy has seen a lot, and often forgotten more than you will ever know. DO NOT BE A “KNOW IT ALL”! Be humble, listen, ask questions, observe, and respect the years of experience that God has providentially blessed your mentor with.

You can learn something from everyone, even if they’re not on the same theological level you are on. A good theological mind is a must in ministry, but do not overlook the experience of someone who has loved God and served Him in the trenches for years.

I have seen this scenario many times in ministry; someone is saved as a teenager; goes to Bible college immediately after high school; then directly to seminary, and begins pastoring a church. Oftentimes they have never had a job that required a lot of physical labor or much of what many church members must face on a daily basis. Then they get frustrated at church members because they simply do not understand what people endure. This is where a good, experienced mentor can help. Most have been around and understand what people bear day in and day out, and if you listen, ask, observe, and respect their ministries it will make things much easier for you and keep you from many ministry calamities!

  1. Pray for them/thank God for them

Finally, the greatest thing you can do as a mentoree is to pray for your mentor and thank God for them. I have been immensely blessed with men who have poured  their lives into me and have invested countless hours mentoring me and teaching me about biblical ministry. I am indescribably indebted to them. Anyone who has a mentor is blessed and should show they’re gratefulness by praying for them and thanking God for them.

May God continue to raise up godly mentors, as well as wise mentorees who will use the mentoring relationship for the glory of God and the good of His church.

One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

Psalm 145:4

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Fit for Heaven

Allow me to be real for a bit…

“A lot of things change for a man when he turns 50…” I recently made that statement to my 24 year old son.  I think most men around the age of 50 would agree. I call it the “Reckoning Stage”; a stage where reality becomes real and we must reckon with the changes that have taken place in our lives.  If I had to list some changes I have experienced since I turned 50 nearly three years ago, they would include:

  • Talking less
  • Listening more
  • Having more compassion
  • Empathizing with people more
  • Being patient with people
  • Having less control
  • My body slowly failing
  • Being much more emotional than in years past
  • Appreciating life and people more
  • Periods of isolation
  • Regrets

That’s just to name a few… These changes are prompted by life.  By “life” I mean the things that happen in life; the natural flow of life, brought on by the fall of man.  Disappointments, failures (yours and people you love), crime, suffering, etc.… all of which are a result of sin.

I was channel surfing the other night and landed on a Sit-Com called “The Middle”; a show based on the life of an average middle class family.  By in large it’s a comedy, but from time to time the show has moments of sentimentalism, like this clip that shows the Dad summing up his “Reckoning Stage” stage of life well…

This stage of life is a natural.  The question that arises is “how do we handle it?”  If you’re a passionate person, this stage could wreck you.  It can twist you, choke you, depress you, and break you. 50 years of “life” can breed melancholy in you before you even realize it.  But it doesn’t have to…

Here’s the good news; if you’ve trusted in Jesus, 50 years of “life” is simply a tool to fit you for Heaven.  In other words, the more you see the pain and suffering in this life, the more you simply want to be with Jesus.  That’s the point and purpose…and that’s where I am. Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much here that I love and want to experience more, like family, church, etc., but it certainly doesn’t trump my desire to be with Jesus.  Even as life changes, God’s grace is at work, preparing me, molding me, fitting me for Heaven, for His glory and my good.

So when you see this middle aged man growing older, being more emotional than he probably should, know that it’s all being used by the King of glory to get my eyes off of earthly things and on to heavenly things… Jesus.

As always, Scripture sums it up perfectly:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 2:1-5

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Unmet Expectations

“Unmet expectations”. These are not words that we may not voice frequently, but most of us certainly think it.  If you’ve been in a relationship for more than a minute, you have probably experienced unmet expectations. You may have even experienced a severed relationship because of unmet expectations. As a pastor, I’ve seen the nastiness of unmet expectations wreak havoc in many relationships; but it doesn’t have to happen. Here are some thing I ask you to consider…

  1. Many people begin relationships with lofty expectations.

Don’t deny it… You most likely have had lofty expectations of someone when you began a relationship; maybe even before you met the person.  Oftentimes these lofty expectations begin in our minds when we’re young, when the idea of romance initially takes root in your mind. It’s nearly impossible not to let lofty expectations begin, and even more difficult to keep them in check once they take root.  The question arises, “Where do these lofty expectations originate?”

The seeds of Lofty Expectations in relationships have a plethora of origins; such as:

Parental Influence.  You watch, sometimes subconsciously, the way your parents interact. This may cause you to mimic their relationship, expecting the same thing from your future husband or wife that you see in your Father and Mother.  From one perspective, if you’re a female, you may have watched your Dad being very romantic, often buying your Mom flowers, opening the door for her, calling her charming names, doing well financially, taking out the trash, mowing the yard, doing “man stuff”, etc., chances are you will have the same expectations of the male in your relationships. On the other hand, if you’re a male, you may have watched your Mom have great respect for your Dad, working hard, being frugal, preparing meals, making herself look nice, all while having a career, etc. Again, chances are you will have the same expectations of the female in your relationship.  Or you may have experienced things vastly opposite of what I just described and you expect your spouse to be opposite of what you grew up watching.  Regardless, you have expectations from watching your parents.

Societal Influence:

Like with parents, you form presuppositions from society.  We are bombarded by what I call societal agendas.  Every society has a standard, good or bad, and societies will push their standard through television, social media, etc.… People in these settings sometimes don’t’ even realize that these constant influences begin to form lofty expectations that we will impose on our future relationships.  In other words, we will expect our future spouse to act like the characters we’ve seen on our favorite TV shows or in our favorite book.

There are many other influences that help create lofty expectations… the point is, most of us bring lofty expectations into relationships.  But is this ok?  Do problems arise with lofty expectations?  Well, of course.  If not, I wouldn’t be blogging about it.

  1. Lofty expectations become unmet expectations.

Let’s make this as simple as possible; if you go into a relationship with lofty expectations, be prepared for lofty letdowns.  Lofty expectations, sooner or later become unmet expectations, and unmet expectations sooner or later lead to major problems within relationships, especially marriage. Your spouse may do well for a period, meeting your expectations, and you have a sense of accomplishment; “I did well picking this mate”, etc. But as soon as your spouse fails to do what you expect he or she to do, you’re let down. Lofty expectations have become unmet expectations, and the temporary happiness you had from your spouse doing what you expected has disappeared. Now what?!? The slippery slope of unmet expectations begins to do enormous harm.

  1. Unmet expectations become relationship killers.

Once lofty expectations become unmet expectations, and remain unchecked, relationship damage is imminent. You need to understand this; you CANNOT expect unmet expectations to not harm your relationships. This is true in friendships, work relationships, etc., but mostly in marriage. It’s imperative that you know your spouse will let you down, as you will your spouse. It’s not difficult to understand that none of us are without sin; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). That includes you… and me… and your co-worker… and your friend… and your spouse… and your pastor… ad infinitum.

When you get upset because someone has not met your expectations, the very core of your relationship begins to crack, and if actions are not taken to repair it, those unmet expectations will cause irreparable damage and ultimately kill your relationship. Make no mistake about it, the more you are disappointed from unmet expectations in your relationship, the more your relationship is doomed.

  1. We have no right to have expectations of others.

The question arises, “Don’t I have the right to expect certain things from people in my relationships?” No… no we don’t. You have no more right to have expectations of others in your relationships than they have the right to have expectations of you. Bottom line; only Jesus has that right…He’s earned it, you haven’t, and never will.

When we expect others to act certain ways, do certain things, don’t do certain things, etc., we are acting as if we are the standard bearers; an attitude of, “you must live up to my expectations, and if you do I will reward you with a relationship, but if you don’t, you don’t deserve me.” In other words, arrogance raises its ugly head. This attitude and actions in a relationship stem from a fallen humanity, not from God. This idea is found in Galatians 6:1-5,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

(Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)

So how do we approach relationships in a godly manner?

  1. Take your emphasis off others and focus on your relationship with Jesus.

There it is… it’s that simple. If you take your focus off the other person in your relationship and, “take the log out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:5), your relationship will improve radically. In relationships, it is tremendously important to use the energy you’re exerting on others through unmet expectations, and use that energy to, “examine yourself…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). When this is done, relationships improve. Find your fulfillment in Jesus, not the person in your relationship.

Ted Cunningham rightly said,

Remember, people are not your source of life. Jesus is your source. Don’t ask others to take His place and fill you up. Jesus is an unlimited supply. The people in your life are limited supplies.

Yes, it’s healthy to search for a mate that is like mindeddsc_0100 theologically, and other areas, but the more important matter is, does he or she have a desire for God? If they do, they will improve over time, just as you will. You will never find the perfect person to be in a relationship, so don’t try. Seek someone who loves Jesus, someone whose desires are Godward, and encourage them, don’t have expectations of them. A Christ-centered relationship is sanctifying, each person in the relationship is being set apart by the Holy Spirit; this takes time.

Per Scripture, love is an act of the will; it doesn’t depend on how the other person acts. We are told to love…period. You can love the person in your relationship, regardless of how they act… this is what Jesus did. Marriage models the relationship of Jesus and the church; He willingly loved, even while we were sinners, and gave His life for us. We are to do the same in relationships. When we do, God is glorified and we are satisfied. If your relationship hinges on whether a person acts the way you expect them to, you are not modeling Jesus or pointing people to Him. On the other hand, when you love others, even when they don’t meet your expectations, Jesus is modeled and we are content.

I understand this may be a strange concept, it was to me at one time; but if we chew on it and adhere to it, it will radically change our relationships for the better…

Categories: bible, brokenness, Christians, Friend, Friendship, Glory, God, Gospel, Jesus, mercy, Uncategorized, unmet expectations | Leave a comment

Heavenly Affections

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

(Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

I’ve grown so weary of bad news.  Day after day thousands of news outlets pour all their efforts into reporting tragic happenings; from images of flag-draped caskets to flooded streets and water rescues.  Video footage from drought stricken countries, war-torn nations, community violence, and school shootings have become commonplace and we’re barely even moved by the reports. It seems as if it never ends and certainly never gets better…especially if you’re a pastor.

Pastors often hear the worst things.  In counseling sessions, people pour out their hearts.  I will say this, nothing surprises me any more…nothing.  In nearly 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned that people endure horrendous and tumultuous events; and many on a regular basis.  I hear of financial failure, ruined relationships, bizarre addictions, and the list goes on… It never ceases.

Then there’s the video I saw today, of the little boy in Syria whose home was destroyed by a bomb.  He sits in the back of an ambulance, dirty, disoriented, and wiping blood off his forehead.  It was such a sad and sickening sight.

Sin is everywhere, and like a snail that leaves a slimy trial, or a tornado that leaves utter destruction in its path, sin devastates.  I’m sick of the result of sin.  I’m sick of it in my life, the life of my family, the life of the people I shepherd, and it’s far reaching effect throughout the whole of humanity.  In one sense, sin is the mother of disaster; where sin abounds, disaster thrives.  I am simply tired of it all.  The more suffering I see, the more I can be identified with Romans 8:19…

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

In other words, I long to see Jesus.  I long for the day when creation will be restored.  I long for the day that is described in the book of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Sure, there’s a lot I want to do, a lot of gospel I want to preach, but the more I see this world, the more I want to see Jesus.  David felt the same many years ago when he wrote,

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

(Psalm 63:1, ESV)

A “dry and weary land” gives you great thirst.  For those who are alive in Christ, he is consistently and perfectly creating a disdain in us for the things of this world and ever increasing our desire for him, to be realized ultimately in his presence.  Come Lord Jesus…

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Categories: bible, biblical, Brother, Christians, cross, Glory, God, Gospel, grace, Jesus, king David, sin, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Mist of Life

IMG_0200I remember it like it was yesterday; sitting in the Band room of Hoggard High School on the last day of school in 1980, talking to Mike B.  Mike was a clarinet player and a senior; I was a lowly sophomore.  He had completed all the requirements to graduate High School and he was simply passing time, waiting for the bell to ring, signifying the last day of school was finally over.  On the Band Room wall hung a clock.  It was one of those classic, large, gold rimmed school clocks that had the second hand which made a distinctive “tick” each time it moved from number to number.  Although in the grand scheme of things the second hand was less important than the hour or minute hand, it seemed to make up for its lack of importance with its persistent, metronome like trek around the face of the clock.  As we sat there I directed Mike’s attention to the second hand and sarcastically said, “Mike… You see those seconds ticking by? Just think about it, those are seconds that you can never get back! Your High School years are over, you will never get them back…and those seconds will just keep on ticking by!  Just listen to them…tick…tick…tick…tick…”  As you can imagine, Mike was not amused with my sophomoric shenanigans, and responded with, “Can you possibly be more depressing?!?”

Thinking back on that moment over 35 years ago, what was meant to be silly teasing on my part, turned out to be a very true testimonial which plays out in everyone’s life! Since that day in 198o, if it had functioned properly, that second hand on that clock in the Band Room would have ticked between 1,103,760,000 and 1,106,764,000 times!  When I think about that fact, I am nothing short of amazed that so much time has gone by in what seems to be the blink of an eye. Over a billion seconds in the blink of an eye?!? As the saying goes, “That’s life!”

Yes, life flies by so quickly.  This is what the biblical writer, James was relaying when he said, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”, (James 4:14, ESV).  In the grand scheme of things, our lives are like a mist that appears vibrant for a period, but then, seemingly before we realize it, is over, never to be recaptured. Just like those billions of seconds that seemed like they would last forever…tick…tick…tick…tick…gone.  Far too often we live as if our earthly lives will never end.  James tells us that our lives are very short and that Jesus should be the center of our lives. Let’s not waste even one of those seconds.  Live the precious seconds, those grace seconds, centered in Christ, for His glory and our good.  May that little “dash” between our birth year and death year on our Tombstone represent a life that wasn’t wasted.  May it represent a life that was surrendered to Jesus.

  A short, “mist” of a life surrendered to Christ translates into an eternity in His presence.

Categories: bible, biblical, God, Gospel, grace, Jesus, mercy | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Cleveland’s Messiah

If you’re a sports fan, and not from Cleveland, Ohio, be thankful. The following quote from Wikipedia is reason why, “The Cleveland sports curse is an ongoing sports superstition involving the city of Cleveland, and all of its professional sports teams.  Cleveland has three major sports teams: The Browns of the National Football League (NFL), the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Indians. The city’s teams have endured an unprecedented combined 156-season championship drought, having not won a title since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL Championship Game, two seasons prior to the first Super Bowl.”

That is the sad state of sports in Cleveland, but they had a ray of hope when, in 2003 their professional basketball team, the Cavaliers drafted the first overall draft pick Lebron James straight out of High School.  Lebron was a highly talented Shooting Guard in High School and was predicted to be an NBA super-star by many experts.  Their predictions came to fruition; by 2007 the Cavaliers were in the finals of the NBA Championship, but ultimately lost the series to the San Antonio Spurs.  It seemed as if the “Cleveland curse” was alive and well.  To make things worse, in 2010 Lebron left the Cavaliers to seek a championship ring with the Miami Heat.  He played four seasons for the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

Life was great for Lebron but Cleveland was still reeling over his departure, and for all intents and purposes were nursing a root of bitterness from his perceived betrayal.  But then, in 2014, in an unexpected and surprising decision Lebron announced his return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers!

It didn’t take long for the basketball prowess of “King James” to make an impact; the Cavaliers were back in the NBA Championship series in 2015, but in the end lost to the Golden State Warriors.  Yet again, the Cleveland curse was alive and well!

Fast forward to early December of 2015.  Lebron and his Cavaliers had just suffered an overtime defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.  Lebron had played well himself, scoring a season high 37 points, but his team seemed lethargic at best.  After being asked about the difference the return of two team mates may have, many were surprised by Lebron’s response,

“It’s only one guy in the world, ever, where everything will be all right when he comes back, and that’s Jesus Christ. Other than that, you can’t bank on nobody being OK.”

Who’d a thunk it?? I mean, we’re used to hearing these obligatory postgame interviews with oftentimes pithy quips from players who would rather be in the locker room showering, but Lebron’s statement was completely out of left field, and somewhat surprising!  Many may have ignored his response and urged him on to a more secular and SportsCenter worthy quote, but I was fascinated by what he said!  It’s as if this quote from Lebron James makes the entire “Cleveland Curse” make sense, at least from my perspective.

Think about it this way, the whole “Lebron era” in Cleveland has been a source of hope for Cleveland sports fans; hope that the curse would finally be over; hope that this special player in the story would bring light to a dark state.  Some even referred to James as “The Messiah”!  But contrary to what many wanted him to do, he deflected the title and duty of “Messiahship” away from himself and on to the one who truly deserves the title of Messiahship and the only one who can do the work of the true Messiah!  In one brief, concise statement, poor grammar and all, Lebron James put it all in perspective.

Sports is fun, but in the grand scheme of things it’s nothing but temporary, and we would all benefit if we would back up a bit and observe a view of the “big picture” of life.  Sometimes sports can be a snapshot of the bigger picture; Cleveland sports most definitely falls into that category.  The “Cleveland curse” surely serves as a metaphor for the sin curse that all mankind is infected with.  We live in darkness because of the curse of sin.  There’s nothing, regardless of how hard we try, that we can do to remedy the curse ourselves.  We must look for someone who can break the curse, someone who is capable and willing to do the work of redeeming man from the curse of sin; someone who can meet the requirements and pay the penalty for the curse; someone who can truly win the championship for us!  Lebron clearly told the world who that person is, and he did not point to himself.  At that one moment Lebron was a modern day John the Baptist who, when some were calling him the Messiah said, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:21), but pointed them to the true Messiah, the one that could genuinely save them from the curse, and pointed them to Jesus. Kudos for Lebron!

Could it be that the entire Cleveland curse is indeed a metaphor for the gospel?  It certainly can be.  If we are wise we will use it as such and take the timely advice of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Lebron “King” James, by getting our eyes off of temporary things and fallible people and fix our eyes on the genuine Messiah, Jesus Christ, because no one will be “OK” without Him! Look unto Jesus!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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