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    Elders' Blog - Entries from July 2012

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    FriFridayJulJuly27th2012 Excelling in the school of hard knocks
    byDon Whipple Tagged Faith Suffering 0 comments Add comment

    A phrase reportedly coined by a columnist in the early 1900’s, the school of hard knocks, refers to the education received from life’s difficult, negative, challenging, and sometimes tragic experiences. It is often used to contrast the value of experience with that of a formal education or what can be learned in a classroom.

    This school, it seems, is always open in some form or fashion. In addition to the challenges of everyday life, consider the constant flow of tragic and heartbreaking news that we are exposed to regularly both locally as well as globally. It is absolutely dreadful at times to try to process the shootings, accidents, natural disasters, diseases, and corruption that exist in our community and world. 

    Sue and I ministered to friends and family around a memorial service this week. I was reminded that in the midst of tragic and terrible sadness, we do not have much to say to each other. Genuine tragedy takes wind and words away. That’s not necessarily bad unless it represents a calloused, self-protective heart that refuses to accept and embrace the tragic and terrible as an essential part of trusting God. If we are not careful, our silence or uncertainty regarding something as common as seemingly senseless tragedies will be seen as hopelessness.

    A few directives from the scriptures will encourage us to at least become more conversant with the truth that our God, who is both compassionate and strong, has loving reasons for permitting hard things to happen. When confronted with tragedy both near and far, consider and converse about these principles:

    1. Look for God’s story line. The Bible is direct and clear that God lovingly works all things together for our good and his glory. In my Bible reading last week I read 1 Kings 12:15 which clearly states that God allowed a foolish young and new king to make decisions that would cause significant harm for many people. In your personal experience, fill in the blanks of the following sentence: I never would have known, appreciated or thought ___________ if God had not brought ______________ into my life. Share your sentence with someone.
    2. Keep your heart freshly broken. If Jesus simply looks on a crowd of people and feelings of sorrow and compassion well up within him (Matt.9:35 ff), do the same. That was not the only feeling or response Jesus had toward the harassed and helpless, but compassion is a critical component of kingdom living. Read the whole story or watch the entire clip about the accident, the shooting, the disease, and the abuse; the enemy is not only the operational evil in our world but the deadening effect it has on our hearts. Looking and seeing the pain of our world is the beginning of gospel outreach.
    3. Revisit the greatest and most productive tragedy in history. Can a loving God bring good from evil? Go to the cross. Our hope and humility in tragedy is found in the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. Hard knocks will keep you unsettled, cautious, reserved, quiet and joyless the farther you choose to locate your life from the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:31-39 is a vivid description of the hope of the person for whom God “did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all.”
    In the musical Annie, the orphans sing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” which includes the lyrics, “Empty belly life! Rotten smelly life! Full of sorrow life! No tomorrow life!” While we may not think, talk, or sing these thoughts, let’s continue to grow in our confidence in God to minister the profound hope of the gospel in our world of hard knocks.
    ThuThursdayJulJuly19th2012 Refreshment

    Perhaps you remember the scene from the Western movies where the disheveled guy staggers into town, sage brush bouncing in the background, as he gasps in a barely audible voice: “Water, water, wat…” Miserable and thirsty he is desperate to find a drink of water…only to find that the town is deserted and the wells are dry. If you haven’t seen a scene like this, you might be able to imagine it, especially with the heat and lack of rain we have been experiencing this summer. The drought is the topic of constant conversation and an inescapable focus of observation—from the TV and newspaper talking about it to the diminishing level of the Wabash River to the brown grass in our front yards to a simple chat with a local farmer.

    So why would I be writing about the drought? Because it got me to thinking about the refreshment of water. In the past several weeks, as I have gone out each evening to give the flowers and plants around my house a much needed drink of water, the thought has occurred to me of how refreshing the water pouring from the watering can in my hand must be for these plants which have been out in the scorching temperatures all day. This led me to ponder our God-given privilege of ministering to one another in the community project called the church. When was the last time you went to church thinking to yourself that someone might actually be staggering into the worship service, Adult Bible Fellowship Hour, or Small Group miserable and thirsty, begging for a drink of water (spiritually speaking, of course)? For that matter, have you ever thought of yourself as being like a watering can full of water, with the spiritual capacity to give refreshment to those in need?

    As I have enjoyed listening to the teaching of Paul Tripp during the 10:45 hour on Sunday mornings and engaged in the lively discussion with the groups of which I have been a part, I have gone away refreshed.

    • Refreshed by the presence of those who have chosen to make a priority of being there to learn together with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
    • Refreshed by the willingness of many who have come to make comments and ask questions to spur on the thinking of others.
    • Refreshed by the way the Lord, in ways that only He can, has orchestrated the preaching we heard in the previous hour with what the teacher Paul Tripp on the video series has taught.

    We have several more weeks of the Paul Tripp series: “Your Walk With God is a Community Project.” If it hasn’t been your practice to date, I encourage you to join us for the remaining weeks. Be refreshed by those who come ready to pour out onto someone who is parched and in need of the refreshment that a cool shower of water can be to a growing plant which has experienced the scorching sun of summer.

    Philemon 1:20: Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly12th2012 Hungry Christians are happy Christians

    [Guest post from pastoral intern Drew Humphrey]

    In just four years of being married, my wife has already discovered the secret to marital bliss: Never take your husband shopping without feeding him first.

    She learned this lesson quickly, and it’s a good thing she did. If my stomach is full, I can be a pretty decent shopping companion. I can look with you at women’s jeans and baby clothes and picture frames, and do it all with a genuinely pleasant smile on my face. But if my stomach is empty, watch out. I don’t care what kind of stupid wallflower scent from Bath & Body Works you get, please for the love of all that is good just buy one already so I can take my over-stimulated nose and get out of this forsaken wasteland of commercialized, over-priced smells! I just want a hamburger!

    As goes my stomach, so goes my mood. That’s why I have to scratch my head in confusion when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed (or, happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” What on earth is Jesus talking about? Is he crazy? He doesn’t say that those who hunger and thirst will be happy once they get satisfied; he says that they are happy, even before they’re satisfied. How can these things be? How could being hungry possibly make me happy?

    My wife knows the answer to this, too. As it turns out, not only is it unwise to go to the mall with a hungry husband, it is equally unwise to go to the grocery store with a hungry husband. (We’ve done this before, and our monthly grocery budget doesn’t like it.) The principle is simple: when you’re hungry, your desires are heightened (so much so that even pre-packaged White Castle hamburgers in the store’s freezer section can start to look appetizing). Hunger grabs your attention and stirs your affections. It makes you uncomfortable. It jolts you from indifference and awakens you to sights and smells that seem to consume you.

    When you’re hungering for food, this state of longing is miserable. It makes you grumpy and a jerk to go shopping with. But when you’re hungering for righteousness, it’s glorious. You see, hunger for righteousness takes you from your sleepy fascination with worldly comforts and fixes your attention on eternal joys. It makes you salivate at glimpses of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. It gives you a one-track mind that pursues Christ—the perfect righteousness of God—above all else. It gives you gospel-centered desires that you never knew were possible. It drives you to lift up your hands in song and fall to your knees in prayer. It makes you voracious for Scripture. It gives you strength to persevere through suffering.

    Peter tells us that we Christians are a people defined by waiting—waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). And as we pant for this day when all things are finally put right and Christ has gathered his people and crushed his enemies, we find that the wait itself is strangely enjoyable. Longing for righteousness somehow makes us righteous. Thirsting for holiness somehow makes us holy. Seeking the kingdom somehow makes us delight in the King. It's strange and bizarre and upside-down. But in the kingdom of God, this is the way of things.

    Hunger may be a bad thing for shopping. But it turns out to be a vital part of our new life in Christ.

    MonMondayJulJuly2nd2012 Intentionality in discipleship

    [Guest post from pastoral intern Abraham Cremeens]
    God saved me early in my college career at Illinois State University. As a young college student with a newly given faith, I was young and green and clueless. I remember looking around me at more mature Christians and wanting the vibrant, fruitful relationship with Christ that they had. So I began to ask around.

    I called Jim. “Hey, Jim, what is this whole Scripture memory thing I keep hearing about?” And Jim came over and showed me how to memorize Scripture. I called Jim again. “Hey, Jim, what is this whole devotional time thing about?” And Jim came over again and showed me how he spends time with God.

    Soon after that I met Jeremy. He began to meet with me weekly and help me in my walk with God and also how to discuss my faith with friends on my dorm floor.

    After Jeremy moved away, I met Kent, after which I met Kevin…and you see the pattern. God has been so good to me in placing men in my life, even up to this present day, who have intentionally helped me grow spiritually. And God has given me numerous opportunities to help others with the same.

    The word “intentionality” is one we use a lot in SLCF. And yet it is a word that can often be found missing in the pursuit of discipleship. Most Christians agree that discipleship is part of any biblical church. Most Christians understand that we need one another for fruitful, God-glorifying spiritual growth. But in my experience intentionality often lacks in discipleship.

    Intentionality is the opportunity for you to ask how you can better help someone grow to be more like Christ to God’s glory. It is thinking ahead of time about spiritual needs and ways to help those around you that you care about. It may be your children as you disciple them. It may be a younger believer in your life. It may even be a spiritual peer, someone you meet with regularly who is similar in spiritual maturity as you.

    To help us be more intentional in discipleship, Kari (my wife) and I often ask three questions.*
    1. Where is he/she now (needs)?
    2. Where am I taking him/her?
    3. What is the next step?
    Let’s say small group leader Bob sees a pattern of criticism in small group member Justin. Bob sees his opportunity of helping Justin grow in this area of his life and wants to take a step forward in helping Justin become more like Christ. Bob sits down one evening and begins writing down some thoughts. 

    “Where is Justin now?” Justin is regularly critical toward others and other small group members are beginning to avoid him. “Where am I taking Justin?”  I’m going to walk with Justin out of criticism and into a lifestyle that builds others up. “What is my next step?” I will initiate a coffee with Justin in the next week.  During that time I will lovingly bring his pattern of criticism to Justin’s attention, using Eph 4:29 to make it clear what his end goal should be. If Justin is repentant, I will encourage him toward an arrangement where I regularly interact with him when I note either a critical comment (to further challenge him) or a comment that builds someone up (to encourage him as I see progress).

    That is at least one picture of what intentionality looks like in discipleship. Let’s grow in our love for one another as a church family by asking how we can specifically journey with others through spiritual growth to God’s glory.

    *These questions came out of Kari's time on staff with Campus Outreach Gulf Coast.
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