CS Lewis on Love

Thanks to Aimee Dryden for sharing this quote with me. It is from the book “The Four Loves.”

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
—C. S. Lewis

I Wish I Could Forget

I do not want this to sound arrogant or conceited. God has blessed me with a tremendous memory. I can recall moments in my life with vivid detail. Sure, some unimportant moments get lost in my brain along with some precise minutia. For example, when I quote scripture from memory, I always seem to flip a few words around to the way I would say them.

My memory coupled with my introverted nature allow me to replay scenes from my life over and over and over. This might sound good at first, who would not want to remember interactions with loved ones who have long since passed? But there is a dark side to my mind; it tends to want to relive the moments of my most fabulous failures. It is as if there were a pull toward those places where I made a mistake so that I can correct them in my mind.

At this point, I realize I may have lost most of you. Honestly, I do not know if anyone else’s brain is wired like mine. I am continually reliving everything I have done wrong in my life and especially my ministry. Why did I do that? Why did I not tell them the truth at that moment? What was I thinking when that happened? What would happen if those people walked back into my life today?

Mentally I have a natural tendency toward regret, remorse, and shame. I honestly wish I could forget those scenes and focus only on the future. I believe this is why I am drawn toward the topic of second chances in Jesus. It is only through the grace of Jesus that I do not run and hide. It is only through God’s mercy that I can continue in ministry.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, last night at 3:00 am I woke up to use the restroom. Suddenly, without warning the brain kicked in and I spent a little over an hour reliving my mistakes. I should have, I could have, I will next time, and similar thoughts filled my mind. I finally fell back asleep, but this morning I woke up feeling shame. What right do I have to be a minister?

On days like this, I am forced to remind myself of grace. I throw myself on God’s mercy. I appeal to Jesus for his forgiveness. Sure, I have already asked for his kindness over these matters a thousand times before, but they are still real to me today.

I want to be a preacher of grace and second chances because of what I find in Jesus myself. People like me are continually reminded that we have been forgiven much. Therefore we love Jesus much.

I preach grace because it is the only way I make it through this life.

Why Do I Feel Alone in the Church?

One of the increasing struggles among people, even in the Church, is loneliness. Let me ask you bluntly, “How many real friends do you have?” I find that younger women have the most, aging adults have a few and men have almost none. Those are “best-case” scenarios. Everywhere I turn there are people who feel lonely and are looking for human connections.

Here are three reasons I have found that many people feel lonely in Church. Test yourself to see if any of these are true of you.

1. You Have a “Come to Me” Attitude. You sit in your house and look out the window asking yourself, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come to visit me?” It is possible to spend your life waiting for people to come to your house while other people are sitting alone waiting for people to go to them. Imagine if everyone is waiting for someone else to invite them into their lives. Then no connections will ever be made.

The other possibility is to pick up the phone and ask someone, “Would you like to come over and visit?” Perhaps you could get out of your house and join in some activity. This might be a Church function, a local social event or even some form of service. If you feel lonely, then maybe you need to reach out to other people.

2. You Have Settled for Shallow Friendships. I define a deep relationship in these terms. The other person knows what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. They know what brings me joy and what hurts me. People in my life who do not know those things about me are only acquaintances. In today’s busy world, many people are willing to settle for that as their only source of connection to the outside world. Then when times get tough, no one is around. Most likely, they do not even know you are struggling or lonely. In order to have deep and meaningful relationships, you are going to have to invest your life in others. You are also going to have to let people invest in you. This may take many hours, but the joy of real friendships will be the result.

3. You Have Listened to the Voice of Evil. This can happen in many ways. One way is fear; you are afraid of bringing people into your life. You might even think, no one would want you as their friend. A second way this happens is when we ignore the words of the Lord. God proclaims, “Never will I leave you or forsake you.” Jesus said, “I am with you always.” Even in life’s darkest hours, you are not alone. Finally, I see people who live in isolation because of some sin. They are afraid of building relationships because they believe they will be rejected because of their sin. This leads to more isolation and usually greater sin. Evil loves to keep us alone and thinking there is no way out.

I know these descriptions do not fit every lonely person, but I believe they describe the majority. Whenever a Christian tells me how alone they feel, I start asking questions. What initiative are you taking to develop deep relationships?

When You Are Feeling Down

It never seems to happen at a regular time, but there is always a day each week or at least monthly where I feel down. Often it is the result of a lack of sleep coupled with events that produce an emotional mood swing. For whatever reason, there are days when I lack energy and motivation making the world seem like a sad and lonely place.

Have you ever felt this way? So what do you do when you are feeling down? Here a couple of things I do.

1. Count Your Blessings. Days like this reveal the pessimist in me. I can only see the negative side of the world, and it reaffirms the dark emotions I feel. The remedy for me is to look on the bright side of things. What has God done in my life over the past day or week or month? Take the time to focus on the good things in your life, and suddenly you feel more blessed than discouraged.

2. Serve Someone. Nothing changes your mood faster than being a blessing to another person. This can be as simple as making a cup of coffee or as complex as planning a party for someone else. If you have no place to serve, then be creative. Buy a snack for a coworker without them asking for it. Tell a person how great they look today or ask them if they have lost weight. Their smile will infect you.

3. Pray. I know this is a pat answer for everything, but that makes it no less accurate. Ask God to open your eyes, change your heart and alter your attitude. I find it often helps to pray for other people too. This will take your mind off your problems and focus your thoughts on other people.

4. Do Something That Brings You Joy.
Take a few minutes to refocus yourself. Sometimes this can be as easy as walking outside and letting the warm sun shine on my face. Other times I stop for a drink or possibly a chocolate snack. Nothing makes me feel blessed more than chocolate. If possible, spend this evening re-energizing yourself. Shut off all media and do something that will fill your life with joy.

Everyone has down days, even Christians. Our moods can swing with the day of the week, how busy we have been lately, the amount of sleep we get or memories that pull us down. It happens to everyone. The good news for us, even when you feel down, you do not have to stay down.

Unexpected Benefits of Attending a Church Worship Program

When most people think about Church, two primary aspects come to mind. This first is the sermon. Even the most unbelieving person knows that a Church has a preacher who talks every week. The second piece of Church would be musical worship. All Churches have some form of music from acapella singing to a band to a piano or organ. These two items are a part of every Christian gathering around the world.

These two parts of a Church meeting are well-known and are seemingly becoming less relevant. You can now access hundreds of thousands of sermons online from the best speakers around the world on any topic you desire. It is also true that you have the best of Christian music at your fingertips as well. You can listen to Hillsong and Elevation perform their original songs at a quality level the local Church cannot produce. The Church is now competing against the best speakers and singers in the world, and it is losing, so why would anyone want to attend?

This was the thought going through my head yesterday while I sat in my chair at Church. Why would anyone come here? Then I began to look around, and I noticed a few things you might never have thought about as benefits to attending worship.

1. The People Connection. Our world is moving toward greater and greater isolation. You can spend your life staring at a screen and never leaving your house. Entertainment can be done at home, but also shopping and banking. People are developing less and less real relationships. The Church is about people coming together before God and being pushed out of seclusion.

2. Diversity. The natural tendency of most individuals is to stay with people like themselves. The Church breaks all the rules of our normal relationships. It brings together young and old, rich and poor, along with the smart and people like me. While there are days in which I wonder about the wisdom of bringing such a diverse group of people together, there are numerous incredible people. I am continually amazed at the individuals I connect with at Church by merely being in the same place.

3. Godly Mentors. Through the years I have come to appreciate the senior citizens in the Churches I have served. It is especially encouraging to hear the stories of people who have followed Jesus for more years than I have been alive. It inspires me as I listen to their stories of overcoming adversity in their life, marriage, and parenting. I find people to look up to at Church.

4. Prayer. At some point on Sunday morning the group will stop to pray, often it happens several times during worship. Nowhere else am I forced to go before God in my heart and mind. Not only am I pushed toward prayer, but I am also made aware of the needs of other people so that I may pray for them. This forces me to look beyond my own life into the concerns of others and to become less selfish.

5. Significant Impact. You never know what a comment or conversation will do in the life of another person. Several of the people who gather each Sunday have sins and struggles that are tearing them up inside. Each one of us has the chance to make an impact on their life for eternity. My life has been blessed more than once by a casual encounter where another believer said something that encouraged me. I have been blessed over and over through the lives of the people I randomly bump into on Sunday morning.

Sure, the Church still has songs and sermons every week, but it is so much more. There are parts of it you will not completely understand until you become engrained in the weekly meetings of the group. Personally, today I am thankful for the ways God has blessed my life through the Church. I am especially grateful for the community of believers made up of people like you.

Three Ways to Hear a Sermon

This Sunday I will preach another sermon. That comes as no surprise from a professional preacher. I usually speak at least 48 sermons a year not counting small group lessons, membership classes and special occasions.

With all the sermons that I deliver, I often feel like “these people have heard this all before.” Whenever I get that feeling, I remind myself that there is more than one way to hear a sermon.

1. Some sermons are designed for you. Some addresses are designed to teach, to encourage, to challenge, to remind and to reveal something new. Obviously one of the best types of sermons is those where you feel like you have grown as a Christian.

2. Some sermons say what you want to say. Several years ago, I learned that many people have the same thoughts, but only a few can articulate them well. This is one of the things I love about comedians. Many times they do not reveal any new truth, what they do is put into words the feelings I have held without saying them. Quite often a wonderful senior saint will tell me how good my sermon was that Sunday and I know they have heard all of that information before then, possibly many times. What they loved was that I said the words on their behalf to everyone.

3. Some sermons are for you to repeat. There are weeks that I teach the basics of the faith not just so that new people will hear it for the first time. It is also designed so that you will be able to turn around and effectively communicate it to your friends. I want to give you stories and explanations that you can use throughout your life to teach, encourage, challenge, and reveal truth to other people.

This week as you sit in the chair at whatever Church you attend I want you to ask yourself, “How should I hear this message?”

Each way requires a different set of ears. If you go only to listen for yourself, then you will have some very disappointing sermons. If you open yourself up to hearing the sermon in a new way, you may never be bored again. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. 😊

The Coming Moral Storm (and Applications for the Church)

I am not a prophet, but I am a student of the world around me. There are two pressure systems headed toward each other in our culture. The storm clouds are beginning to form, and I fear people do not see it happen. As a Church leader, I am primarily concerned about the shock waves that are about to be sent through the Church as some of the fallout has already started to happen.

We live in a world in which two polar opposites movements are happening.

First – we now have a generation of young men being raised immersed in pornography. The statistics say that over 90% have viewed the material and over 50% are doing it regularly. Those numbers are low by most surveys, and that is only of young people are telling the truth.

Second – we are also living at a time where men are being held accountable for actions concerning the sexual exploitation of women. Men everywhere, from politicians to preachers, are being called to account for their actions and words that are sexually degrading to women.

Do you see the problem with these two issues happening at the same time?

Men, especially young men, are going to be called into judgment for actions and words that they have been trained through pornography are okay. They think women are made to be exploited for their sexual desires and are shocked when they are rejected. This is going to have a significant impact on men of all walks of life, especially in the Church.

So is there anything Christians can do?

1. Teach young people about being made in the image of God. I do not have the time to touch on the significance of the Genesis stories, but there is a clear message about the value of humanity in those early chapters. We are all created in the image of God. Men need to know that women are not objects for their pleasure and women need to know that their life has value above their sexuality. Each person has value, just by being human.

2. Stand Again Pornography. I have been helping to lead youth groups for almost 25 years. This year I taught a series on sexuality and the evils of porn. It will now be a regular part of my yearly agenda. Be clear: most young people see nothing wrong with pornography. They need to be taught differently.

3. Parents must lead the way. Teach your children. Men you especially need to have difficult conversations with both your sons and daughters. Put restrictions on their electronics. Monitor their usage. Invest as much energy in their lives teaching morality as you do sports and academics. And never forget to pray for them.

4. Elevate the value of community. It is no secret that people are attending church less and less. I was told, right now the average person attends Church 1.7 times a month. We can now access religion 24/7, and we do not feel a need to make time to go to a Church meeting. The problem no one seems to see is that we are moving toward greater isolation. People are spending more time alone, and solitude is where sin grows the best. Believers need a community to change them, to hold them accountable and sometimes too merely draw people out of the rooms and into the presence of real people. Spiritual health is found only in community.

5. Continue to preach forgiveness and healing. Get yourself ready to be shocked. There are going to be revelations about men and their private lives coming that are going to be nearly unbelievable. Men are going to confess it addictions that led them to despicable behavior. Women are going to go public with stories of abuse that are going to be appalling. The Church is going to work toward those men and women finding healing and the grace of God. Forgiveness is going to be tested by the ugliness of sin.

6. Pray. Pray against the forces of evil. Pray for the power of good. Pray for our young people. Pray for your children and grandchildren. Pray for your church leaders. Pray for all those in positions of authority from schools to government. Pray, pray, pray.

There are so many more implications for believers and the Church. I am developing a list in my notebook of thoughts on this one single topic. I see a storm coming, and I hope the power of God will divert the impact, and some good will come out of these two movements. You are going to need to process this information in your family, your career and your Church.

One thing I do, I refuse to bury my head in the sand and act like nothing is happening. Each day I chose to work for good and to work against evil. I pray you will decide to join me as we head into the future together.

Four Lessons From My Marriage Small Group

My wife and I are participating in a six-week long marriage small group through our Church. The group that we are involved with contains eight couples of varying lengths of marital commitment. The is the second marriage group with which we have connected in the past two years, and both have been both fun and educational. With each passing week, everyone begins to open up a little more and the bonds of friendship begin to form.

Throughout our time together I have noticed four traits of these couples with whom I am sharing my life.

1. Everyone Has Struggles. Don’t believe what your friends tell you or what social media portrays. No one has a great marriage. Everyone struggles, even Christian couples, some are just better at hiding it. I am honestly encouraged by this truth. The difference between couples that make it and those that don’t are not the struggles, but how they handle them.

2. Don’t Let Little Problems Derail You. Last night was perhaps the most important one for me. As we talked about the conflict in our marriages, it was clear that most of our struggles come from petty differences. People leave cabinets open, don’t pick up their clothes, put their junk on the table and a host of other things that annoy their mate. If left untended, these small problems become significant issues that can destroy a marriage. Remember that termites do more damage in America than tornadoes.

3. Keep Working On Your Marriage. It is such a joy to see a couple who have been married for over 50 years still attending a class to improve. Don’t ever stop working on your marriage. Talk, pray, read, participate, connect and do whatever it takes to keep your love alive.

4. Let Grace Infiltrate Your Home. I think the biggest difference between a Christian home and non-Christian one is the presence of grace and forgiveness. We all make mistakes, and we all have annoying little habits, but do we have the mercy to let them go in our spouse. Love in a home is important but equally significant is the kindness to let go of the bad and hang onto the good.

Each year I plan on being a part of a marriage group with members of my Church. These classes both challenge and refresh me. I think everyone needs to surround themselves with believers who can help them on their marital journey. If you cannot attend one, I hope these lessons will encourage you today.

The Spiritual Growth No One Wants

I am always looking for ways to help people grow as disciples of Jesus. This quest has led me to conferences, books, and stacks of material to review. If there is a resource out there that will actually help people grow in their relationship with God, I want to use it. If someone has found a set of tools that work better than what I am using, then I want to know about it.

There are some ways in which this quest has been productive. I have learned about small groups and many of the dynamics needed to make them work. I have learned about studying and serving as means of growth. I have utilized numerous resources to help people, and other people have told me of material that has helped them.

Unfortunately, through the years I have noticed that many people grow through adverse conditions. There are ugly periods in our lives that might prove more valuable to us than any other tool we use.

1. Silence. Have you ever prayed and prayed only for seemingly no response? Daily you lay out your requests before God and nothing appears to change? Sometimes this lasts for a week and other times for a month and sometimes for a year or more. It is a difficult situation when your prayers do not see any immediate results. But I have watched people change through these silent seasons. They learn to trust when things are not working out the way they had hoped. Patience and endurance of faith are developed. Hope grows, and a more profound commitment forms in the heart of a person when God is silent.

2. Disappointment. There are times in life when things do not go the way we planned. You expected good things during this phase of your life, and the reality was less than excellent. The job didn’t work out as you planned. Your marriage is struggling, and your kids are not superstars in any way. You thought life would be so much more by now and it just is not. In seasons like these, I see people readjust their expectations. They find joy in the moment or in the little blessing God gives them. They look for lessons that God might be teaching them and then apply them to their life in new and exciting ways.

3. Pain. This can come in many forms. It can be physical or emotional pain. It can be something you are going through or something someone you love is experiencing. No matter what the situation these painful moments force us to rely on God. They remind us how little control we have in this world. Pain can underline our need for God and the hope we find in him. It can point us to things of eternal significance in a way we never expected. I have seen people grow through pain when nothing else seems to work.

Nobody wants these situations to help them grow. Nobody wants silence or disappointment or pain in their life. Honestly, we want growth to be easy and fun. We want smiles and joy all the way to Jesus. I hope you have those things, but when you find yourself in these difficult times of life, God is not abandoning you, I think he might be stretching your faith.

It is possible that moments in life like these can push you away from God. You can see the glass as half empty and God as mean for not giving you want you want. These can be seasons when you shrink instead of growing in faith.

There is a choice in every phase of life. The difficult thing you are experiencing right now, might not be as bad as you think. In fact, it might be the time that brings you closer to God. The choice is up to you.

The Day After the Resurrection of Jesus

Yesterday the Church celebrated Resurrection Sunday, also called Easter. It is a big day for believers as we focus our attention on the work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection on Sunday morning. There are special programs, and even many non-believers will show an interest in spiritual things for one day.

The stories found in the gospel accounts give us lengthy reports of that Sunday. The grave is empty, and angels appear. Jesus speaks with Mary Magdalene in the garden by the tomb. Two travelers on the road to Emmaus have an encounter that takes most of the afternoon. Jesus himself appears to the disciples that night minus Thomas and Judas. That Sunday is full of people spending time with the resurrected Jesus in amazement and disbelief.

Then comes Monday morning. Do you realize we have no account of Jesus doing anything on Monday? In fact, the next story we are told in the writing of John is one week later when Jesus appears to the disciples with Thomas present this time. For the next six days after the original account, we have no stories of anything happening. We have no idea where Jesus went for those days or what he did while he was there.

I sometimes wonder if this is a strategic move by Jesus. He knows people will be caught up in the excitement of the resurrection, but they will need a week to process the implications. There must be time for questions to develop and ideas to solidify in their minds.

1. If the resurrection of Jesus is real, is this the most significant event in history?

2. If Jesus is alive and death is defeated, what does that mean for us?

3. If Jesus defeated death, how are we to approach death as his follower? Maybe a better question is about how we should approach life.

4. If Jesus death paid for our sins, how should our forgiveness change us?

5. If Jesus is alive, nothing can defeat his work and mission, so maybe I should join his cause.

Maybe the thoughts get real practical. If Jesus is alive again, then how are we supposed to approach our work, parents, spouse, children, and even our free time? If Jesus was indeed dead and now is alive again, then everything in the world has changed. As a follower of Jesus, I have numerous things to process about my life and actions.

Perhaps Jesus gives people space to work out the meaning of his resurrection for their own life. Maybe that is where you find yourself today, or quite possibly you should be there. Today is a good day to ask yourself a fundamental question. How should my life be different if Jesus was raised from the dead?