No more daydreaming

They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” – Acts 1:11

photo credit: Creation Swap user Jared Rarick

I don’t know what your situation looks like right now. Maybe it’s bleak. Maybe it’s tough. Maybe there’s no hope, and you don’t know what your next step needs to be. Maybe your plans, and where you want to be in life, haven’t panned out.

Maybe you are undervalued, overworked, and underpaid. Maybe you aren’t appreciated at home. Maybe your “best” still isn’t good enough.

In these moments, it’s easy to wish our life away. It’s easy to complain, sulk, and be angry that life’s not how we want it to be.

And if you find yourself wishing your life away, do you know what’ll happen? You’ll wish it away. Life will pass you by, and you’ll be caught for years just staring into outer space, going nowhere.

That’s what the men in Acts 1:11 were doing. They were staring up into the sky, frozen and ready to wait right there until Jesus returned. They were completely unproductive and unmotivated. They had watched Jesus teach and heal, then be crucified on a cross. He died, was buried, then resurrected and ascended to heaven. They had placed their hopes on Jesus, and he’d left them. I can expect that they were frustrated, confused, and worried. Their Hope and their Promise was gone.

And the problem was that before Jesus would return there was still work to do.

Don’t get caught daydreaming your way out of where you are. Don’t want things to just be over. God’s got work for you to do now. People to invest in and gifts to give. Missions to fulfill and communities to transform. Relationships to heal and hope to give.

There Ain’t No Easy Way Out

Quit looking for the easy way out. Maybe there’s not one. Maybe God’s not going to swoop in and supernaturally make life easy for you. Maybe His plan isn’t to heal you of that disease. Maybe His plan isn’t to reconcile that relationship. Maybe His plan isn’t to make you financially secure.

Maybe, though, just maybe…His plan is to comfort you through it. And give you hope and mercy and grace. And use you to breath life and hope into someone else. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Question: Ever been caught daydreaming?

*Photo credit: Creation Swap user Jared Rarick

 

7 Steps to Prepare & Deliver a Funeral Sermon

Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams

I realize that some of you have never delivered a funeral sermon, and perhaps you never will.

But I also know that, at just the thought of delivering a funeral sermon, others of you will begin to get the sweaty-palm. Your heart beats a little faster at the thought of having to stand in front of a casket to deliver words that convey hope and life in a room full of death. And though you may not be able to envision ever having to preach a funeral sermon, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll have the opportunity at some point in your life.

In my short tenure as a pastor, I’ve unfortunately been asked to preach many funeral sermons. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t thoroughly enjoy the heaviness. Even so,through meeting with families, weeping with them, getting to know somebody that I will never physically know, and communicating hope in the midst of pain, I’ve learned a lot about preparing and delivering a funeral sermon.

Having a system in place is incredibly important. Without a system, you won’t know the next step to take when you get the call that says, “____ has just passed away, and I want you to preach at the funeral…”

 

Preparing and Delivering a Funeral Sermon

Meet with the family.

Weep with them. Ask questions that help them recall the good memories. In the process, take note of stories and defining marks in their lives. Try this question:

If you could describe _____ in one word, what would it be?

Capture stories.

As the family is describing their loved one, feverishly take notes. Capture details from stories so you can better understand the life and legacy of the loved one.

Use this as a guiding question: What did _____ do as a hobby/for fun?

Find humor.

Listen for funny stories. If the family doesn’t offer any, ask for some. Likely, the family is sitting on them, not sure if they really have the freedom to share something funny in a setting like this. Humor (that maintains dignity and honor for the deceased) helps break the heavy tension of the service.

Try these guiding questions: Do you have any funny stories from ______’s life? What were some of _______’s nicknames?

As much as you can, incorporate the family’s wishes into the service.

I say “as much as you can,” because it could be that the family asks you to do something that contradicts your value system. But consider asking this:

Is there a verse, a quote, or a song that you would like incorporated into the service?

During the service, connect positive characteristics with a story from the person’s life.

Pick three or four defining positive characteristics of the loved one that you gathered from your conversation with the family and present them each with a story (or two). This helps paint a picture of a person’s life for those who didn’t know them as well, and it reminds family and friends of the good times.

Be honest, but not hard. 

It’s okay to be honest in your sermon, but don’t use it as a time to bash the deceased, even if the family relationships were difficult or the person was an unbeliever. First of all, it’s not your place. Secondly, it’s not becoming. Ever.

Give hope. 

Everybody in the room is focused on death, so utilize this as a time to connect people with the truth that this life is short, and the Gospel is the only hope of eternity with Jesus. If you don’t land here, you’ll leave people dry and miss out on a great opportunity to share true hope with hurting people.

Question: Have you ever had to give a funeral sermon? What did I leave out?

*I’ve also mapped out how I go about laying out a marriage sermon HERE.

* Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams 

 

 

 

Love & Fire

Creative Commons: Will G

 

Love is a lot like fire.

The more you give, the more it grows.

Come to think of it, so is

  • grace
  • hope
  • mercy
  • generosity
  • acceptance
  • joy
  • peace
  • truth

Try to hoard any of these, and the flame goes out.  For you and for others.

Share them copiously, and you’ll see the blaze take over your life.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? – James 2:14

 

 

 

The sound of hope

What does hope sound like?

I love what Jason Roy, of Building 429 (and of Grace Community Church…Jason’s one of the worship leaders at my church) has to say.

‘”I forgive you.  Daddy, I love you!” Isn’t that the sound of hope?’

‘We have this huge God who loves us, who says over and over to us, in the moment of our sin, where we need Him most desperately, He says, ‘I love you!  You’re forgiven!’  That’s the sound of hope to me.”

We all need hope.  We’re sinners living in a broken world.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness is free.

but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more – Romans 5:20

* While you’re at it, pick up Jason’s new album on iTunes HERE.

 

The quest for the perfect cup of coffee

If you’re in the business of leading people, you must also be in the business of building relationships.

If you’re not, you can forget about having any significant level of influence.

Yesterday, I had a cup of coffee from a Chemex.  You know how long it took between the time I ordered it and the time I took my first sip?

Nearly 12 minutes.

Was I frustrated?

Not a bit.

It was a perfect cup of coffee.  Perfect.  It was clean, smooth, and a bit chocolatey.  Its roasty-ness wasn’t overwhelming, but its flavors deep and rich.

With the Chemex, you don’t just hit a button and watch the magic happen.  You have to stand beside it the whole time it’s brewing, continuing to add more water at just the right time.  Then wait for the percolation to happen.  Then add more water (with a very specific type of kettle) to the areas that are dry, starting with the center and moving out towards the edge.  Until finally, after all of the water has percolated through and the brewing process is complete, you get a decanter full of perfection.  The cup of coffee that comes from the Chemex is truly a work of art.

And relationships are no different.

We’d like to think that relationships are microwavable.  Quick, easy, and cheap.  But they’re far from it.

Truths about Significant Relationships

Relationships take time, effort, and expense.

They take constant care and attention.  Don’t walk away, or you’ll miss that key opportunity, that key moment that the next step forward is contingent upon.

Each relationship is different.

Building relationships is not a one-size-fits-all model.  Just as each Chemex cup takes a slightly different amount of time to brew, depending on the grind of the coffee, the speed at which you pour the water, and the temperature of the water, so each relationship takes a different amount of effort, time, and care.

You can’t have significant relationships with a vast number of people.

There’s just too much expense involved.  It’s not possible to give of yourself enough to have deep, significant relationships with significant numbers of people.

Relational investments take cultivation to grow.

Don’t expect to hit a button, wave your magic wand, and voila!  Cultivating important relationships is hard work.  You’ll have to let other things slide.  Other commitments, responsibilities, emails, phone calls, and things less important.

It is worth the wait.

If you’ll give a relationship the time and effort it needs, you’ll be surprised the mutual benefits that will follow.

If you lose sight of the end goal, you’ll get frustrated.

You’ll get burned, feel like it’s too big an investment, and feel the tension to just move on.  Like this is a hopeless cause that’s benefiting nobody.  Offering grace, mercy, love, and hope isn’t something you do because you are looking for immediate results.

“Love is patient…Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7)

 

 

Don’t make it worse

Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart
is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound (Proverbs 25:20)

Sometimes, our counsel can make things worse.

We feel like we’re being helpful, but in reality, we make life more painful and difficult to bear.

So next time someone you know is dealing with a lot of life, and isn’t sure how to handle it, don’t try singing a happy song.  Don’t sugar coat things and tell them that it’s not that bad.  Because maybe it is that bad.

Instead, try weeping with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Or just being quiet. (Job 2:13)

Or pointing them to the unchanging hope of life with Christ.  Not to the quickly fading hope of a good and easy life on earth. (2 Corinthians 1:5)


 

Rejoice!

When life falls apart, we tend to lose hope.  Whether that’s getting a flat tire (I just had one!), getting a headache, hearing tragic news, or losing your job, our response is often to recoil and lose hope.

When life falls apart, do you run to God or from Him?  Those are the only two options.  The biblical ideal is this: “we rejoice in our sufferings.” (Romans 5:3)  What?!?  Rejoice in our sufferings?  Isn’t that counter-intuitive?  How could somebody ever be joyful in the midst of pain?  Emotions aren’t something you can control, right?  They’re just a reaction, aren’t they?

Being joyful in the face of difficulties is a work that God must do in you.  It’s a process, and doesn’t happen overnight.

“Suffering produces endurance.” (Romans 5:3)  “Produce” implies that there is time between suffering and endurance.  No runner will tell you that they built up endurance in one week, or even in one year.  It takes a lot of time.  The same holds true for:

“Endurance produces character.” (Romans 5:4)  Former Princeton basketball coach, Pete Carril said, “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”  Hardships have a way of revealing the worst in us, but endurance in the face of them produces character.  This passage in Romans finishes with:

“Character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)  What is that hope in?  That our sufferings are not in vain, but that they bring glory to God (Romans 5:2).  We rejoice because we are being made into the image of Christ, the One who died for us.  We don’t rejoice because we enjoy suffering.  We don’t hope because we think that life on earth will some day be rosy and easy.  We have hope because Christ died the death we deserve, and is shaping us into his image so that, when this life is over, we will be ready for an eternity with God.

In your suffering may you “not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The next time that life falls apart, turn to God, and let Him do a work in you.  May your suffering ultimately produce hope in Christ.