Hope For Hopeless Christians

sad-adultA bunch of hopeless people. This is what you will find as you make eye contact with the people sitting in your church pews. You will be greeted by smile after smile that is nothing more than a cheap movie set façade. Turn the corner and you will realize there is no firm foundation of joy. All that exists is some thin piece of painted plywood held up by two supports of flimsy church culture.

The hearts around you and me are hurting, struggling, and hopeless.

Many of us Christians gave up on the idea of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. We took up God’s script with interest when we first heard about the king of heaven. We eagerly followed every divine word of Scripture up to the base of the cross.

But as we left the cross and began the next scene of our life, we felt that the script was inadequate. The lines mentioned nothing about anorexia, ADHD, and our many other problems. Perhaps the script was no longer useful.

joseph-gonzalez-273526We addressed our concerns to local co-director. He heard our complaints and empathized with us, but agreed that the God’s script was actually kind of lacking. He patted us on the back and ushered us out of his office offering a few trite words encouraging designed to keep us reading and praying.

And so we conclude that the gospel that saves us essentially ends at salvation and will only pick up again at heaven. In the meantime, we improve things as best we can, trying to determine God’s will for our life by asking our heart, “what do you think is best?”

Quite naturally the heart that has put down the Scriptures and devoted itself to the study of itself, pop-culture, and modern thought, finds only cultural wisdom.

Our culture’s mindset is one of hopelessness. There is no hope for the sex addict, for the far too thing teenage girl, and for the out-of-control kid. Sure, we can toss some medicine and therapy their way. But at the end of the day, we can only medicate them. We cannot cure them.

And Christians who are more defined by their sin than their savior are going to be helpless. They cannot hope to be anything else. If God cannot help us with our problems, then we really are hopeless.

This is where all the lonely people come from.

Thankfully, we do not have to remain in this state of hopelessness. God does not call us to be facades. He calls us to build full and vibrant lives on his Word. The script does not end at conversion. That is the point when the plot gets really good. At conversion, we get the power of Christ to overcome our sins. The story of our life goes from being one of failure to one of success, because the hero Christ has arrived and empowered us with his helper, the Holy Spirit. Paul said it this way,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provided the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.

– 1 Corinthians 10:13.

The message of the Bible is that you are sinners redeemed by grace. If you are stressed to the point of panic attacks, cannot handle you porn addiction, and cannot control your body weight, the Bible is for you. Dive into it, find a biblical counselor or a godly pastor, and you will see that there is a way of escape. God rescues his people.

Your ultimate problem and my ultimate problem when I think life is hopeless is our theology. The divine script is not wrong. We simply misread the text with our modern, sinful eyes.

To overcome our stress, worries, and depressions, we need to dive into God’s script. As Paul told the Corinthians,

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come – 1 Corinthians 10:11.

We like the New Testament believers live in the last age. Living in the last age does not imply the Bible is outdated. Rather, Paul says the Bible is full. We have all the stories of the Old and New Testament precisely because they are relevant to our lives today. The show us how to repent of sinful idols and how to refocus on Christ. The Scriptures are never more, relevant, important, and helpful than now.

All those fake smiles in our church by the power of Christ could one day be real and meaningful.

If you have more questions about how the Bible applies to your life or about how you or your church could start practicing the disciplines of grace, please reach out to me. I would love to help.

3 Ways To Prevent Ministry Collisions

conflict pictureI wobbled around the yard with the ball in my glove. My older brother was lying on the ground with a bloodied nose. We were both a little fuzzy (a complication of being knocked silly) on how we got to this point. We think the general story went like this: In an effort to work on catching pop-flies my brother and I would toss a ball as high as possible and then run underneath it to catch. On this occasion, I had tossed the ball and doggedly charged after it. My brother did the same. And seconds later, the ground shook as two skyward gazing grade-schoolers ran into each other at full speed.

Often church people do exactly the same thing. With eyes fixated on expanding the church, people smash into each other seeking resources for their specific ministry, projects, or ideas. And when they do collide over how the budget will be spent and on who gets to reserve the fellowship hall, things can get messy in a hurry. People in the church start complaining, start rooting for programs to fail, and start stressing how much more important X Ministry is than B Ministry. I.e. the same team starts competing against itself. When this happens, the ministry game comes to the stretching halt.

When I was playing high school baseball, my team was blessed with enough talent to thoroughly thrash a couple of our lower quality opponents. During one such thrashing, we geared up to start of the 4th inning. As we slide on our gloves, the other team decided that they had had enough. They had enough of the errors, the poor pitch selections, and the bad calls. Their gloves came off and a full out brawl began…in their dugout. We watched passively in amazement as a tornado of gloves, hats, and punches whipped around the visitors’ dugout. Needless to say, the team forfeited that game and the rest of their season. They were done.

And when the church turns in on itself, it is done.  Once we exchange the liberating hope of the gospel for the despair of personal opinions, we become bring all real ministry to a halt. Humility evaporates. Relationships break down. And, God is forgotten. What’s left? A bunch of squabbling teammates that can’t even live up to the world’s standards of friendship.

What the solution?

1.      Be Thankful

We begin with thankfulness. Instead of being angry, instead of clinging to our own ideas as if they descended from heaven, we stop and thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Notice what Paul say in Philippians 1:3-4,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.

Paul is thankful because they are all on the same team. They are all servants of Christ united together through the gospel. The next time we are tempted to get upset, to lash out at a fellow believer over some program, we need to stop and pray for that person. We need to be thankful that the same God working in us in working in them. We need to praise God that he saved both of us.  We need to teach our hearts to love others. We may have different ideas. But we have the same God and savior. Instead of attacking our fellow teammates, let’s be thankful for them and for their ministries.

1.      Be Thankful Again

Ok, now some of you may be thinking that I can be thankful for most people. But then there is that special class of people who always get on our nerves, who do things out of spite, or who do things to advance themselves. Surely we can fight against those people. And if these people are getting the gospel wrong, then yes would should address them in love. We should speak truth. But if they are preaching truth from wrong motives, Paul says rejoice. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” I.E. if the ministry you deem to be most important is being trampled by another ministry that’s growing (even with bad leadership) we should rejoice. Why? Why is Paul rejoicing? We can rejoice with Paul because ministry is not about making much of us and our ideas. It’s about making much of Jesus and his church. Let’s rejoice and praise everything that moves the gospel forward!

2.      Check Your Heart

In addition to being thankful, we also need to be honest with ourselves. Ultimately, the reason we turn on other church members is that we have messed up hearts. We are worshiping our ideas and programs. When we don’t get them, we sin. Notice in Philippians 2:3-4 Paul says,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The reason we get mad, the reason we attack ministries, and the reason we complain about our fellow church members is that we are motivated by ambition and conceit. If our main complaints about programs and the church are focused around the pronouns “I” and “me,” we have a problem. We are not looking to the interest of others. We are being selfish. We need to stop and start putting others first. Why? Because this is what Jesus does. He humbled himself to save us. If we are going to be like Christ, we must humble ourselves so that Christ and his church can flourish. Friends, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are fighting with people in our church, if we are always critical, if we have competing ministries, we have hearts out of line. Before we fix or change any program of ministry focus, we need to repent.

It’s natural for there to be competition, complaints, and attacks in the church. After all it is a hospital for the spiritual sick. But instead of blooding each other, let’s humbly put others first. Let’s keep our gaze on Christ. Let’s be thankful for our fellow Christians, and let’s be honest with each other. Together, we can keep the church moving forward!

5 Ways To Pray For Your Church

Nothing in ministry happens by chance. God works. He builds his church. If we want to see our church grow, we must be humbly dependent on God. We must pray. Below, I our 5 great ways to pray for our church and ministries.

1. Pray For Unity:

Friends, unity is supernatural. Churches are made up of people like you and like me. old man prayingI.e, Churches are made up of sinners. This means that every day we worship together, we teach Sunday school, and lead a bible study there is an opportunity for conflict. “Did you see what she was wearing; why didn’t Bob talk to me; do you think is upset about my Facebook post; how dare you correct my child?” It’s easy to let these thoughts fester. It’s easy to get offended and then to have fights in the church. It’s easy to destroy God’s house from within. This is why so much of the new testament is focused on relationships, on loving one another. We have to work at it. Notice what Paul says in Philippians 1:27

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

When the gospel takes hold of our lives it should produce unity and peace. Pray for God to work. Pray for God to give us humble hearts that are quick to ask for forgiveness and that are quick to defer to others. Pray for God to give us unity.

2. Pray For your Pastor and leaders:

Hebrews 13:18 says, “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all thing.” Paul regularly asked for prayer. We need to pray for our leaders’ holiness, for their relationships with their families and for them to have opportunity to reach the lost.

3. Pray for Wisdom:

Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” To fully understand the word of the God, we have to apply it to our lives. Sure, we can understand the Bible on our by going to school and getting a degree. We can know what it says. But we can’t live it out on our own. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. We can’t be changed by ourselves. Pray for God to open our eyes to his word. To fully understand it and to apply it, we need God’s help.

4. Pray For Salvation:

John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” If we want to see someone “get saved,” then we need to invite God to work. We can’t save anybody. I don’t care how cool your games were, how fun your lock-ins are, or how techy your service will be. We will save no one. Rather, we need to apply to the God from whom nothing is impossible.

5. Pray For God To Work:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” (Eph. 3:20). The reason I get stressed when kids’ ministry workers quit, when events flop, and when new programs take forever to launch is that I miss this truth. I often think it’s up to me. For a ministry to grow, I have to be smart, creative, and cool. But that’s not the case. God’s working. He can do way more than we expect. God is not a little idol in a closet somewhere. He is the ruler of the universe. He moves planets and starts. And he can do more than all our tiny brains could ever imagine. I can’t tell you how many times God has provided, blessed events, and grown new programs simply through prayer. Time and time again, God has gone ahead of my phone calls and has already begun drawing people to teach, lead and serve.  Let’s pray to the God of the universe. And then let’s expect him to work.