Friday, June 15, 2012


"We're not mad...just disappointed!"

This is one of those statements that cuts deep. Hearing this from the ones we respect and love is like a dagger to the heart. Personally, I'd rather someone be mad at me than disappointed. Their anger will subside given enough time. But the tinge of disappointment lingers. It's as though I've crushed their hopes and dreams by not upholding the expectations they had for me.

Chances are, you have disappointed a few people in your life. The reason being, everyone we surround ourselves with has certain expectations of us. Our parents have expectations about the individual we will become. Our teachers have expectations about the grades we will receive. Our friends have expectations about our loyalty. Our employers have expectations about how well we will perform. With these expectations comes undue pressure. Is it a wonder why many of us have issues with performance and anxiety? No wonder ideas of grace and mercy seem so foreign to us and are so tough to grasp.

I have felt this pressure in my life. And at times the expectations of others have become a weight far too burdensome to bear. For me, this seems to be especially true as a follower of Christ. Add to that the calling I sense God has placed on my life to do ministry and take into account my ministerial degree. Perhaps those factors give you a glimpse of how the expectations can grow exponentially overwhelming. Sometimes I feel as though everyone expects me to be perfect.

There are expectations about my behavior. I won't smoke, drink or chew, or run with girls who do. There are expectations about how I will dress and look. There are expectations about what I will do with my spare time. There are expectations about who is suitable for dating. They need to have these attributes, those attitudes, that demeanor, etc. There are expectations about what jobs I will take. There are expectations about what places I will (and will not) enter and patronize. They are a Christian bookstore. That place is too sinful. That business supports gay marriage. With all of these expectations, how is anyone (let alone leaders within the church) to stand a chance?

Just look at these staggering statistics from leaders of the church:

33% feel burned out within the first five years of ministry.
33% say that being in ministry is a hazard to their family.
50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.

My feeling is that those trying to walk closely with God have felt the pressure to perform on a regular basis. In all honesty, some expectations are understandable and even Biblical. I will admit to you that I do strive to meet many of those expectations for that reason. I will also admit to you that, numerous times a day, I fail at meeting them. In part because I am an imperfect being. And because many of the expectations others place on every one of us is unrealistic. Those expectations are like a pedestal. And if we know anything about pedestals, it should be that they easily come crashing down. We need only turn to the Bible to see this.

Look to some of the greats of our Christian faith and you will see what I mean. I bet the expectations placed on them were far greater than any I have felt the need to meet. Granted, we read the accounts of everyone I am about to mention and see they exceeded those expectations and did do some great things. But we also see every last one of them disappointed people and fell flat on their face. Noah stepped out in faith and built an ark during a drought. Keep reading and you will discover that he also got drunk and exposed himself. Abraham offered his only son Isaac as a sacrifice and was the father of many nations. The rest of the story reveals that he wavered back and forth and lied to cover his own hide. Moses delivered his people from exile. He also argued with God and had quite a temper. David, the king of Israel, the man after God's own heart, part of the lineage of Jesus was part of a major cover-up. Elijah put all the prophets of Baal in their place only to tuck and run eventually throwing a pity party. Lot got drunk and committed incest. Jacob cheated his brother. Jonah was cold-hearted and bitter. Jeremiah had a less than thriving ministry. John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus. James and John, the disciples of Jesus, were nicknamed "Sons of Thunder." Peter denied Jesus three times. I think you get the point.

One of the great things about Scripture is its honesty! The Bible doesn't pull any punches. It gives you the entire story. Not the watered down, fairy-tale version of what happened. Noone's downfalls and shortcomings are glossed over. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. And I take comfort in that. It puts things into perspective knowing that I am not alone.

So, this morning, I was reminded, yet again, those expectations don't matter. My worth and value is not based on fulfilling anyone's expectations--even my own. "If you accept the expectations of others, especially the negative ones, then you will never change the outcome;" turns out Michael Jordan was onto something. The only expectations that are truly significant are those given by my heavenly father. And the great thing about these expectations is that I don't have to meet them by my own doing or in my own power. He will enable me to not only meet, but surpass them! Afterall, God wants to do accomplish more through me than I want to accomplish myself.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

OUR GOD, Part 1

Have you ever bared your soul to someone? Maybe you told them your deepest darkest secret. Perhaps you took a risk and told someone you loved them. Either way, you most likely hoped they would reciprocate. But there is always the possibility they won’t. They may reject it. If you are human, it's likely you have experienced rejection. And let's be candid--rejection sucks!

But we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone. From the time the foundation of Earth was laid, man has continually rejected their creator. Even in the midst of our rejection and rebellion, He is still willing to risk it all. God is committed to you and me more than we can ever comprehend. Just listen to a couple of promises God makes to us, even today.

"They will be my people and I will be their God."   (Jeremiah 32:38)
"But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you O Israel, the one who formed you says, 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.'”  (Isaiah 43:1-4)

God has made Himself vulnerable. At the most basic level, He is giving us a proposal. He throws the ball in our court. God says, "I want to enter into an intimate, monogamous relationship with you. I want to be the only God in your life. And I will give myself wholly to you." God risked it all. He steps out and risks that we will reject Him.
Let me put this in some easy to understand, applicable terms. Right here, God says He doesn’t want worthless religion. Following a list of rules and regulations won't cut it. Half-hearted devotion will not suffice. Whoring around with worthless idols is a lose-lose. And guess what, nothing has changed. The same reality holds true today. God has made himself vulnerable.  He made the first move. He says "I’m committed to you and I want to know where you stand. Will you reciprocate in this relationship? Will you love, honor and trust me?"

It's your move!
Before you respond, how about we dig a little deeper? In this very passage I believe God is giving us a glimpse into what it means to be His people. Nowhere in this passage do I see anything about rules or regulations. There is no discussion of sacrifices or burnt offerings. He doesn't even mention any of the 10 Commandments. In all reality, He doesn’t quantify or qualify anything. So, if none of that is what it really means to be the people of God, what does it mean to be the people of God?
First, we must understand what exactly God is saying when He promises to be our God.
Before we get into that we must first understand this. Almost all religions ‘gods’ make the claim that they will be our god. However, it is only Christianity that makes good on that promise. While the 'gods' of other religions remain distant and disconnected. Our God, the God of Christianity, the One, True God is the only one who sacrificed Himself to bridge the gap and ransom us back to himself.  Furthermore, after that, He utters these promises: "I will be with you always. I will dwell within you. I am in the midst of you. I will never leave you nor forsake you." And you should know God can't break these promises--nor does he intend to.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


There is a story tucked away in the ninth chapter of John about a man who was born blind. It offers some insight into one of humanity's most frequently asked questions. If you are a parent, your children ask this question any time you tell them to do something. A majority of teenagers continue to ask this question to anyone in a position of authority. If you are an adult, you ask this question any time things don't go your way. And everyone who has a heart asks this question when evil and injustice are witnessed. If you haven't yet figured out the question, it's "why?"

And we pick up this encounter with the blind man as Jesus and His disciples are walking along the road. It seems the disciples travel this road and see this man on a regular basis. Likely they have stopped and conversed with this man from time to time. Which is probably how they are privy to the fact that he was blind from birth. But this time their Rabbi, Jesus, is with them. And since the question has been bothering them for some time, they finally gather the courage to speak up. They ask the question everyone has been wanting to ask, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples were searching for answers. I sense what they were really getting at is why God allowed this to happen?

We, like the disciples have asked God the very same question. It is our natural inclination to wonder where an all knowing, all loving God is in the midst of pain. We resort, just like the disciples, to asking God "Why?” I can recount numerous times in my life where I thought things were going well. For the most part, I was doing what I thought I needed to do. Lo and behold, everything came crashing down. Ministry was taken from me. The car broke down. Finances didn't come in. My wife left me. At the onset of each of these situations a wrestling match with God ensued.
The two biggest "why's" of my life occurred within about a 2 year span.
To completely understand the first situation you should know that for the majority of my high school career I ran from the ministry calling God had given me a glimpse of. Nearing the end of high school, after rebelling long enough, I gave in. During those years I had finally come to the realization that God had a better plan for my life than I did. So, I spent 4 years in college pursuing my BA in Pastoral Ministry. It was then I found purpose and satisfaction. It was then that I jumped at each and every ministry opportunity. I would spend countless hours immersing myself in Scripture. The idea of ministry was enthralling to me. I was going to do great things for God and change the world.

Now, for the first big "why." It came at the end of my tenure as Assistant Pastor at a church in Wyoming. Remember that I felt I was finally doing what I was created to do. Almost two years into that position, I was discouraged and burnt out. Due to unforeseen circumstances I left the church and walked away from ministry. That first year I spent countless hours asking “why?” Why didn't my ministry thrive? Why hadn't things gone better? Why did I now despise the one thing I loved just a few years before? You know what? The answers never came. Then, in bitterness, I began to wrestle with God and keep Him at a safe distance. For a short time, I was even on the brink of walking away from the Church completely.
Jump ahead two years in my life for the big "why" number two. I seem to be living out a sitcom. You know what I'm talking about; life is going as planned and every problem can be solved in 30 minutes. My wife and I had just bought a house. We had started trying to have children. I was established at my job and getting raises on a regular basis. I found a church that felt like home. I was beginning to plug back into ministry. Then a wrench gets thrown into the equation. I find out my marriage is eroding and my wife is leaving me. You better believe the "why's" came pouring from my heart. Why did God allow this to happen? Why didn’t He change her heart? Why didn’t He save my marriage? Why did I have to go through this? Why am I being punished? As you might guess, again, the answers didn't come.
In both instances, for the longest time, I lived in limbo thinking God would provide some specific answer. That God would tell me exactly what he was doing and why these seemingly bad things were happening (this sounds an awful lot like the disciples question in John chapter 9). Finally, after months without answers, I eventually came to a point where I gave up. The realization I came to was that the "why's" didn't matter. Knowing why wasn't going to change anything. It wouldn't make the problem more bearable. It wasn't going to alter my past. Having the answers wouldn't drastically change my future. Knowing the "why's" would only give me a false sense of control and contribute to the delusional thoughts that I could change things. That I could make things better. That I could make ministry work. That I could make her love me. And here, we jump back into John chapter 9.

Jesus answers the disciples question. He does not leave us with some mysterious purpose for the man’s blindness. Instead, Jesus offers hope. He rejects the disciples' desire to point fingers at who is to blame by clarifying that God isn't to blame for everything. Furthermore, Jesus shows us the proper response to evil by fighting for this man's healing.

Is it possible this man’s blindness had nothing to do with his or his parents action or inaction. Could it be that, in a sense, they were all innocent bystanders. Perhaps it was part of some master plan in order that the work of God may be manifest in his life. If we believe that, we have to ask why God would make someone blind for the sole purpose of healing him someday? To prove that He could? To bring Himself glory? Surely God, who is love, could find a less harmful way to glorify Himself. Afflicting someone to gain glory by stopping their affliction sounds more like the work of the devil than God. I choose to view this in a different way. Rather than painting a picture of a capricious God who makes a man blind for the purpose of healing his blindness, this passage reveals a loving God who sent His Son to manifest His works by healing a man oppressed by evil.

Jesus instructed the disciples, and us, as to the proper response when such evil prevails. He then modeled what he came to do—to put an end to injustice and to comfort and heal the oppressed. He said, “Let the works of God be manifest in him,” showing compassion for the man. Then he turned to his disciples and reminded them that they must do the same.

Jesus never really gave the disciples the answer they were looking for. Instead he showed them the importance of moving from "why," to "what now?" Seeing the importance of this paradigm shift moved me from fear and trepidation to action. I quit dwelling on the past and began focusing on the future. I took responsibility for the part I had to play in the outcome and started changing the things I could. And I came to the realization the disciples came to...more often than not, the "why's" don't get answered. Because we don't need to understand--to understand doesn't require faith. Following God doesn't mean we get to know everything. It requires we have faith that He knows what He is doing and will, one day, work things out for good.

The conclusion I drew from those times of doubt were priceless. No matter what, I have to choice to push ahead and see how God will make His glory known through any given situation. I continue to move forward trusting that God has bigger and better things in store for me (and you)...some day.