How to Break Free From the Clutter

I’m a news addict. My first temptation when I wake up is to grab my smartphone and scroll through all the important news stories that happened in the last eight hours since I checked it before going to bed. Politico, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, Christian Post, you name it, I check it. Before long, I’m inundated, overwhelmed by things I can’t affect and problems I can’t fix. Since I hit some Christian news sites (and since Fox News regularly plays to its evangelical base), I’m constantly told what I should be angry about, who I should be angry at, and what I can to do get involved. I’m pushed, pulled, angered and overwhelmed, all within the comfort of my own smartphone.

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Maybe it’s not news for you. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe that Facebook news feed calls to you during the night. You can be so wrapped up in others stories that you forget to live out your own. Maybe it’s that Sportscenter app that keeps you connected to the heart of your sports world. Whatever it is, we all have things that call to us, that want to captivate our attention and ultimately distract us from what’s truly important.

So what’s the answer? How do we break free from the clutter that keeps us from viewing and living life from God’s perspective? Simple. Just do what Jesus did. Luke 5:16 says this, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Go to a place. Remove your phone (or iPad, or computer, or whatever distracts you) from your sight. Get lonely, where it’s just you and God, and talk to Him. For some that’s a prayer closet. For some that’s an open Bible and a journal. For me, that’s walking around my neighborhood just before sunrise so I can watch God’s beauty unfolding into another day.

If your mind feels too cluttered, then put your phone down and pray.

How Many Words Will You Be Worth Today?

It has been said countless times, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” We repeat this endlessly because it’s true. I can write an essay on the beauty of creation, or I can show you a majestic sunset touching the African savannah. I can verbally tell you about the virtues of commitment and sacrifice, or I can show you a wife caring for her husband as he agonizes through a terminal illness. I can attempt to describe the depths of joy, or I can simply show you a baby’s laugh. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

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So as Almighty God conveys His relentless and boundless love to us, he can and has used words, “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). But I think he’d rather show the world through pictures. And that’s where we come in. Those who call on his name. Those who lay claim to Jesus as our Savior. We’re the living pictures, walking and moving and breathing, all the while conveying to the world (through our words, through our attitudes, and most importantly, through our actions) just how much God loves this world.

The question is: how many words will you be worth today? Will you take the day off simply because it’s Monday? Will you be unintentional because there’s nothing worthwhile on your schedule? Or will you see every encounter as a divine appointment? Will you take advantage of today and make something beautiful out of it? Your audience may be large as you interact with hundreds of people today. Or it may simply be the same eight people you see at work or the same two children you take care of at home.

Today is a day to paint. Today is a day to create a masterpiece. Don’t allow apathy, unintentionally, anger or bitterness to diffuse your palette into dark and obtuse shades that mar the beauty of our Creator. Use the full spectrum of colors. Paint vividly. Laugh, cry, inspire, encourage, share, love. Give someone today a beautiful picture of God’s love in and through you. How many words will you be worth today?

I am Mark Driscoll

mark-driscoll_profile_imgNews just broke of embattled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll resigning from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll has been a very successful yet controversial figure as he’s built Mars Hill into a behemoth, spawning over a dozen satellite locations, a university, a best-selling book and a church planting network, all while battling charges of pride, divisiveness, plagiarism, and deceptive marketing practices for those best-selling books. In past months criticism of his ministry style reached a critical mass, he was put on administrative leave while the elders of his church investigated the charges, leading to his resignation this week.

Now, the easiest thing to do here would be to simply pile on Mark Driscoll. Everyone else is. From the charges it seems like he certainly deserves it. No one would fault my ‘righteous anger’ if I did. But I want to take a different route. Mark Driscoll resigning scares me to death, and it should scare every pastor to death. Why? Because in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll. We all have selfish tendencies which, if not controlled, can poison and destroy our ministry. We all have that seed of pride that just won’t die. We’re all tempted to take the credit when God does something in our church, which can lead to the unhealthy delusion that we’re integral and vital to God’s plans. We all face stresses at home and work, which if we’re not careful can be released in divisive and degrading ways to those who work with us.

Every single pastor can have a lifetime of ministry wiped out because of a moral failing or unrepentant sin. The Apostle Paul himself was aware of this danger when he wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I preach to others I myself am not disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Instead of judging him, we should pray for him, and closely examine ourselves. If we do, we’ll discover that in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll.

The Worst Part About Being in a Military Town

When I moved to Columbus, I was told Mt Vernon had a large Air Force community, pulling from Columbus Air Force base nearby. Our base is is a flight training base dominated by student pilots (here for a year and a half) and instructor pilots (here for three to four years).

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They’re an amazing group of people. Student pilots are a bunch of post-college kids and newlyweds fresh into the Air Force. They move in packs of 12, are full of fire and life, and bring down the average age of a church by at least a decade. Love them! The instructor pilots and their families are here for three years and are a force of nature. They show up with a ready made family of at least two kids. Many times we’ll help them add 2 more while they’re here (Columbus is a small town, mind you. No other forms of entertainment). When a pilot tells you he/she can do something, they’re understating it. Pilots aren’t mediocre at anything. Some of our best musicians are pilots. Many of the instructor pilots that come looking for a church are solid Christians, already discipled, just looking for a place to plug in and serve. You take those families all day long! You can tell who their kids are: just look for the well-behaved ones that have a majority of the New Testament memorized. They’re that amazing (especially when you line them up next to preacher’s kids or deacon’s kids)! In short, we love our Air Force family and our church wouldn’t be the same without them.

Now I was duly warned when I got here that it would be tough getting attached to military families only to see them move away. My initial thoughts: “that’s three years away, that’s a lifetime!” Well, next month I’ll have been in Columbus for three years, and we’ve seen more than our share of military families transfer out to their next assignment. That’s the worst part about being in a military town: seeing your friends and family move away. You can’t help but get attached to them and love them as your own. And then they leave. Early this morning I got a Facebook message from an instructor pilot and his family moving out of state, wanting to thank me and Mt Vernon for our role in their lives.

It’s heartbreaking and bittersweet. We trust that for one season in their lives we were able to minster to them and they to us. The rest is in God’s hands.

Is This a Compliment or a Put-Down About Our Church?

Recently the staff at Mt Vernon got together and talked about who we’d met the previous Sunday. It’s a common occurrence for us, trying to keep up with names and faces as they come in. But I got tickled (yes, tickled. I never got tickled before moving to the South but apparently that’s what we do down here) when one of my staff told me about someone they met. After she finished describing the encounter she said:

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“And I could tell that they were new to Mt Vernon.”

My response: “How could you tell they were new?”

She said, “Oh I could tell they were new because they dressed up nice and brought their Bibles!”

At that point I got officially tickled. I love it! How do you know who stands out? Look for the ones dressed up in their Sunday best with their oversized Bibles in their hands! Now, many well meaning Christians might take this as a put-down of our church, but I take it as a compliment. We intentionally dress down, like a family reunion, because for us formality is a barrier to relationships. Informality breeds community. Part of that informality is the fact that when our sermons (which are obviously very biblically-based) are preached, the Scripture is available on the worship guides, on the screen, and on our YouVersion Bible app live event. We don’t care how they get into the Word, as long as they’re in it.

We have over 60 Baptist churches in a thirty mile radius aiming for the dressed up Christians with the Bibles in their hands. Mt Vernon is going for the rest of the population: the dechurched and unchurched who are still seeking God but are burned by and/or skeptical of organized religion. When my staff member made this comment, I realized that for better or for worse, we’d hit our mark. The super-church-looking folks stand out in our crowd. Amen!

QUESTION: What do you think? Is this a compliment or a put-down for our church?

The World Needs More Love Letters

Hannah Brencher is an incredible young lady I met at the Catalyst Conference who’s made a dream a reality. A lonely young professional lost in the urban jungle of New York City, Hannah began writing letters and leaving them around the city as a way to lift herself out of the depression she was struggling with. She wrote one blog about it with the simple note at the end, If you’re discouraged and need someone to write you a letter, please let me know. Before she knew it she had over 400 requests from complete strangers and the rest is history.

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More Love Letters is the movement that grew around her to use this simple medium of letter writing as a way to spread love and hope to others. Each week several people will be nominated to receive love letters, and then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of strangers will write, pouring in love and affirmation when a person needs it most. If you go on the website, you’ll see that right now Janice is nominated. Here’s her story (nominated by her daughter):

“My dad is 62 and has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers and my mom is the sole caregiver. She is a pillar of strength, courage, and love. Even through this disease they never stop laughing with one another. My parents celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary this past July. Losing her husband slowly has been very hard on her but she manages to put a smile on everyday and is still quite the optimist! Even with the best support system I sometimes think she feels very alone.”

If you’re interested in writing a letter and joining a movement, go to More Love Letters. (https://moreloveletters.squarespace.com)

Why I Love Hanging Around Addicts

You’d never think that a “good church kid” from a staunch Southern Baptist background would willingly hang out with a bunch of addicts, but I do and I love it! More than that, it’s one of the favorite ministry things I get to do each month. Mt Vernon church works together with Recovery House (a local in-residence treatment facility) to help ladies battle drug and alcohol (and more and more prescription drug) addictions that are ruining their lives.

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Every Sunday a dozen of the ladies from phase one march into church two by two. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in church in years, if not decades. Once a month I get to go out to Recovery House and spend two hours with these ladies, getting to know them and answering any spiritual questions they might have. Yesterday was my day to go to Recovery House, and I walked away (as always) reminding myself that it was for afternoons like this that I got into ministry.

Like most months, the current group of clients for Recovery House is a motley crue of broken and damaged lives: we had an exotic dancer, a preacher’s kid, and a mousy-faced, harmless-looking lady who was actually a murderer (she sat right next to me!). I learned about their stories, their hurts, their broken homes growing up (four of them grew up with parents who were addicts), their children, their divorces, their abuse. Being insulated for so long in the antiseptically clean environment of a Baptist church (not saying that hurt like this doesn’t go on in the church, just that we weren’t supposed to talk about it), it’s shocking to realize just how much brokenness exists in the world.

Here’s what I love about hanging out with a bunch of (recovering) addicts: the gospel shines so brilliantly against the backdrop of their broken lives. They are all hungry for religion, for someone or something greater. So I get to tell them about the Jesus of the New Testament, and there’s none of the arm-chair theologians, stiff-necked traditionalism that can sometimes obscure the beauty of Jesus. They are broken and hurting. Jesus is grace and truth. And they embrace him like the woman at the well or the blind man receiving his sight.

It’s fresh. It’s refreshing. It’s free from any church politics. It’s a group of sinners encountering and embracing Jesus. That will never get old!

5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith

Several years ago Andy Stanley preached a sermon series that has always stuck with me for its simplicity and practicality. Titled “Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith,” Stanley taught from his years of experience as a pastor, noting that when people told their story of faith and how God had grown their faith over the years, the things they shared all fell into one of five categories. Looking back over my own journey and talking with hundreds of others about their own, I see these same five things popping up all over the place. Here are the five things God uses to grow our faith:

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Practical Teaching – When you sit under someone who explains the Bible in practical ways, your faith grows. It could be a Bible study leader, a Christian professor, or a pastor. But a good and gifted teacher can help the Word come alive practically in your life.

Private Disciplines – When you begin to practice the private disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, tithing, etc., your faith will begin to grow. As you trust God and develop strong habits, your faith strengthens.

Personal Ministry – When you begin to serve others, whether it’s working at a homeless shelter, leading a small group or working on the host team, you’ll see your faith grow as God meets you at your point of service.

Pivotal Circumstances – There are moments, forks in the road, valleys of decision. Moments when you have to choose whether to trust God or go your own way. When you choose to trust God in those pivotal circumstances, your faith in God will skyrocket.

Providential Relationships – There are relationships that come into your life that, looking back, you would say were providential. That guy at work, that lady down the street, that grandmother who showed you what it meant to follow Christ. God regularly uses providential relationships to help grow our faith.

QUESTION: How has God used these five things to help grow your faith?

How to Deal When Life’s Not Fair

How do you deal when life’s not fair? When decisions outside of your control are negatively influencing your life? That was the question asked of me recently by a friend. Since it’s an issue that many people face, I wanted to share my thoughts (and conversation) with you. If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully it will help you as well.

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Her question: People always ask the question why do bad things happen to good people. What I’m struggling with is the other side of that why does it seem like good things are happening to bad people? Not even necessarily bad people but people who continuously make poor choices or selfish choices, yet they always seem to come out on top. 

Right now the main thing is I’m dealing with a situation with my husband and his son and ex-wife and her family and I feel like I have no say in the matter yet it’s affecting my life. And I’m trying to let things go and have compassion but I feel like it’s the same thing over and over and it’s taking its toll on me and I’m being bitter and resentful and angry. Those are not characteristics I want in my life. Every time I feel like I’ve let go of the situation something else comes up. I pray daily about it, but as much as I hate to say this at times I feel like my prayers are hitting the ceiling and nothing changes.I feel like as much as we try and do what’s right we are either taken advantage of or mistreated.

 

My response: So sorry to hear that! I completely understand the question (and frustration) of why bad things happen to good people, and just as importantly, why good things happen to bad people. From your perspective, it doesn’t seem fair. And you’re right, it’s not fair.

One of the consequences of The Fall (Genesis 3) in the Garden of Eden and sin entering the world is that sin screwed everything up. Sin is like a bomb that went off in the world, and we all suffer the collateral damage. When a bomb goes off, someone standing 10 feet away can walk away unharmed but someone 100 feet away could be killed by shrapnel. It’s not fair. Sin is like a bomb that went off. From a ‘fairness’ perspective, life stopped being fair in the Garden of Eden. It hasn’t been fair since.

So, your situation, although unfortunate, isn’t surprising. As you’ve obviously figured out by now, life sucks sometimes. But how can you get through this without bitterness and resentment taking root? That’s the real question.

Getting in the Bible is important because it connects us to God and ensures that we don’t have to carry our weights on our own. Here’s a great Psalm that speaks directly to where you are. Read Psalm 73. In fact, I would read it again and again, every time those feelings of bitterness come up. In Psalm 73, the writer is expressing the same frustrations that you expressed: why do the wicked prosper? why do the righteous suffer? why do people make poor choices but still seem to get everything they want? That’s right where you are.

The key verses are 16-17: 16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Psalm 73:16-17

When the writer of this Psalm spent time in God’s presence, he got the perspective he needed. He realized that even though it seemed like the wicked weren’t suffering for their choices, God knows all things, and everyone will answer for their actions, either in this life or the next.

The toughest thing for you is the lack of control. You have no say in decisions that affect your life. When you spend time with God (and especially when you read Psalm 73), it will remind you that God is in control. He is on his throne. Even though it may not seem like it, he knows the actions of your husband’s ex-wife and she will be held ultimately responsible for them.

While that may not change the outcome of her actions, it should help keep you from becoming bitter and resentful. God is in control. He’s got this thing. Another great passage is Romans 12:17-21:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

When the subject of your husband’s ex comes up, by being kind and good (instead of mean and spiteful), you’re actually leaving room for God’s wrath (v. 19). If you try and take matters into your own hands, it leaves no room for God to work. So, go with the old saying, “Kill them with kindness.” Show her grace and kindness that she does not deserve. That allows God to repay her for the hurt she has caused you.

One of the other things that’s very important (if you’re not already) is to be involved in a good Christian community. You need to be involved in a good church and in a good small group, so that other strong Christians can help you “bear your burdens” and so that you don’t have to carry the weight yourself.

I know this is a lengthy reply but I hope it helps!