That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of too!
My 17 year old son Nate (www.nateedmondson.com) works with our church’s youth group. Recently a 6th grader came to him with some questions. He was struggling to understand two main questions. 1) How can God hear everyone’s prayers at one time? And; 2) Why does God allow the suffering that has happened in his family? My son asked me how he should address the boy’s questions.
Of course, these are simple questions when you are as mature and experienced as a pastor as I am, so I quickly laid out for him the proper, convicting, easy answers for this 6th grade juvenile.
If I had easy answers to those questions I’d write my book and retire! Those questions are just as relevant today if you are a 6th grader or a 60 year old. God is big and I can’t fully comprehend all His ways.
The dilemma of the ages is this:
If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He stop all suffering?
If God is all loving, doesn’t He care enough to intervene on our behalf?
If God is all knowing, then why doesn’t He stop the trials before they come into our life?
Yet the Psalmist David writes, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. (Psalms 62:11-12 NIV)
John writes, “Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions.” (John 16:30 NIV)
I don’t have answers to those questions. I have some, but as soon as I attempt to answer them something else will happen that I don’t understand and I will be faced with a new dilemma. No, in order to make peace with questions like this my only option is to believe in what I cannot see. I must have a faith that’s larger than my experience. I must choose to trust a God who is the answer to all the questions that I have.
I close with the “answer” God gave Job when he was asking similar questions.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. (Job 38:1-3 NIV) You can read God’s complete answer HERE.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask the tough questions. I’m glad this 6th grader is asking them. Just know that God holds the answers and there are many questions in this life you and I may never fully comprehend.
“announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.”" so twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. Judges 7:3 NIV
I can almost hear Gideon now, approaching the people with this one:
” Okay now, listen up men, if any of you are just too afraid to do this, let it be known now or forever hold your peace. If you’re scared, now’s your chance to opt out of this deal.”
Over two-thirds of the men volunteer to let someone else do it! Isn’t that the way it is today! Actually, I think now the statistic is much worse. (Don’t “they” say that 10% of the people do 90% of the work?)
I know serving God isn’t always easy. We can think of dozens of excuses to keep us from fully being obedient to God’s call on our life. The economy is struggling. You have a busy schedule. You are afraid you don’t have what it takes. You have a past that embarrasses you. You have been hurt before. I have had all those concerns at times before too!
Thankfully, there were 10,000 who said yes! (God would later reduce that number, but 10,000 were willing to go.) These were the faithful. These were the ones willing to put God’s agenda ahead of their own. These were also the ones whom God can reward! They were setting themselves up to see God’s strength and glory displayed through their life!
Thankfully there are those men and women today, who though they may still have fear, or think they don’t have what it takes to get the job done, are still willing to commit to work for Christ; regardless of the cost. They realize the reward is worth it in the end!
Are you among this elite group?
Has a divorce in your past kept you out of church?
“Not one person from that church has ever called me in three years.” That was the response from the man I ran into at a store recently. “I’ll never set foot in that church again”, the man concluded. Sadly I’m not sure he’s setting foot in any church these days.
Little would need to be said to convince people that divorce is a major problem in our society. There are now more people in families that have experienced divorce than there are families never touched by divorce. If the church today wants to reach families for Christ it must learn how to minister to divorced people.
There are no easy answers. As a pastor who has experienced the pain of divorce personally, I feel it is imperative that we continue to teach Biblical truths and never allow our culture to dictate our teachings. (I realize there are plenty who feel a divorced person can’t be a pastor, and for that I would just say we disagree.) On the other hand, we must live within our culture and find ways to reach the people within the context of that culture. In my counseling of people who have experienced divorce, I have learned there are a few things which are imperative for people who want to be accepted into the church following divorce.
Don’t Be Plagued by Divorce. Most divorced people feel that they are no longer welcome in the church. Many times this feeling is self-induced, but often it is a result of attitudes within the church. Divorced people tell me they are often made to feel dirty in the church, rather than being ministered to with God’s grace as any other person would be. The Bible is clear that God hates divorce, not because He hates divorced people, but because divorce hurts the people God loves. Church is the place where hurting people belong! You should feel welcomed into the church following divorce. Don’t allow bad representations of who Christ is by other Christians to keep you from worshipping God.
Find a Church of Grace. I would never encourage someone to attend a church that doesn’t teach God’s Truth. God’s Truth, however, is that His grace is available for all. There are churches that apply God’s grace to divorced people, while maintaining their allegiance to the truth of God’s Word. Don’t be scared away from church by the legalistic and unloving attitudes of a few misguided Christians.
Be willing to learn from your mistakes. Ask for help in discovering the mistakes you made in your marriage and the things that led to its breakup. In every situation, each spouse contributed some part to the breakup. Be willing to humble yourself and admit your part.
Allow your hurts to help others. One of the greatest needs in the church today is for people who are willing to be real and vulnerable before other people. All of us can learn from the mistakes of others. If you have been hurt by the pains of divorce, your experiences are valuable to others and to the church. My divorce has “scarred” me in some people’s eyes permanently, but I know God has used my experience to minister to hundreds of others.
Prepare for future marriages. When my sons each turned 16 years old they spent about 40 hours in driver’s training. In most churches today they will be blessed if he gets ten percent of that time in counseling before marriage. Before you consider remarrying, invest some time in premarital counseling. If free counseling isn’t available, be willing to invest financially in professional counseling. A great marriage is worth the investment.
Find your strength in God: Divorce is hard on everyone involved, but the recovery is much faster if the person is growing spiritually. Even though you have been hurt by divorce, God still has a plan for your life. It is with His strength that you will be able to recover from the pain of divorce.
As a person who watches statistics, I have wondered if one of the reasons church attendance nationally is declining is that we aren’t reaching the divorced people of society; one of the largest segments of the American population. If you have been hurt by words and actions of people in the church because of your divorce, or if you feel unwelcome in the church, as a pastor speaking on behalf of the church, please accept my apology. The Jesus I know from the Bible would surely not want you to be further wounded by the church He gave His life for and would welcome you to His church!
The church should not embrace divorce, but it should certainly love and embrace the people who are being hurt by divorce and offer solutions to hopefully change the culture away from divorce. That will never occur if the subject of divorce is taboo in our churches. Certainly Jesus would have hated divorce. His father does. I have often told people that I understand God’s Word when He says “I hate divorce” better than most people. Divorce injures the people God loves so much. I have the idea, however, that if Jesus lived in our culture He would have contacted the man who had been missing from church these past three years. My question for the church today is this: Shouldn’t we do likewise?
Please accept my invitation today to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ!
I’m a dreamer. I always want to do more with life. I believe dreams are a healthy way to stretch the mind, keep a person growing, and even stay emotionally healthy. (“Where there is not vision, the people perish.”) On a recent plane ride I jotted down ten goals that I still have for my life. God willing, I’m going to spend my life dreaming they come true!
1. Train young leaders to be “giant killers” for the Kingdom of God.
2. Help hurting pastors be restored to vibrant ministry.
3. See dying churches revitalized.
4. Help Cheryl fulfill her dreams; and help her dream bigger dreams for herself!
5. Watch more boys marry godly women.
6. Become a granddad! (I’ll take number 5 first, but I’ll be ready!)
7. Travel to Africa and Asia.
8. See patriotism restored as a personal value for all Americans.
9. Accept fully Christ’s love and forgiveness (with no regrets from the past).
10. Hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”
What dreams do you have for your life? What are your current goals? Feel free to share them here.
After a break to do another study centered on our church’s desire to serve others, my community group went back to reading “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren this week. In Session Three we offered some challenging questions to supplement the reading. I think these questions are worth all of our consideration as followers of Christ. (The quotations are from the “Purpose Driven” book.)
1. What do you think of when you hear the term “you were created to become like Christ”?
2. How does the statement “God’s ultimate Goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development” strike you?
3. How do you interpret “abundant life”? What does that mean in your life?
4. If “God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do” are you better or worse off if the opposite is true? Is your heart better than your actions?
5. What is the deepest desire of your heart in a spiritual sense?
6. What are some markers of spiritual growth from your own life?
7. How much control of your life does God have? What areas do you need most to yield to Him?
8. How faithful are you at reading God’s Word? What keeps you from reading it more?
9. “What has God already told you in his Word that you haven’t started doing yet?”
10. “What is one dark area of your life that you can now look back upon and see spiritual growth?”
11. Are you currently closer to the calm or closer to the storm?
12. How do you resist temptation?
13. Do you need someone to hold you accountable in an area of temptation?
14. Are you old enough to realize you can’t do it on your own and you won’t get there overnight?
15. “In what area of my spiritual life do I need to be more patient and more persistent?”
Kudos go out today to fellow church planter Freddy T. Wyatt. May he and Susan’s example of faith be an encouragement to us all. The bags and truck are packed and they are on their way to the Big Apple.
Freddy T. and Susan Wyatt recently left a great job at an established church they truly love to help plant churches in New York City. They left a good salary and benefit package to have to raise tens of thousands of dollars of their own support. They leave an area of the Bible Belt where people are usually at least open to hearing a faith story to enter a land where they may face as much rejection as they find friendliness. Their step of faith comes while they have a young, preschool son and Susan is pregnant with twins about to enter this world in a few months. It’s truly a modern day Hebrews 11 faith example. You can read more about their story here by checking out their blog NYCMission.
Their faith challenges me to be even bolder in my own faith, but also reminds me that there are hundreds and thousands of followers of Christ willing to do whatever God calls them to do to advance the Gospel and bring God glory with their lives. If we want to see a lost world come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, more believers must be willing to take huge leaps of faith.
Do you know people whose faith story has challenged or encouraged you? (Feel free to pay tribute to them here.)
Today some 800 people at Grace Community Church celebrated God’s love by sharing it with the community of Clarksville. It’s wonderful to see people get the vision of Operation Serve each year. It really is about sharing God’s love with others. Nothing less. Nothing more. Lots of people will be sharing their stories over the next few weeks. Here’s a few links to help you understand what God is up to.
The Leaf Chronicle did an article. Read it HERE.
Buddy Bartels took some great pictures as usual. See them HERE.
Nate, our 17 year old, did a great job of capturing the day. Read his thoughts HERE.
Hope to hear your stories too!
Today I was asked for advice on dealing with parents from someone close to the age of my children. I also gained insight into my staff from someone much older than me. Both were valuable encounters.
I need wisdom from those who have previously walked where I am walking now. It has become apparent to me as I have reached the middle days of life that there are those who can learn some things from my experiences. Somehow I think this is a missing component in today’s culture. In the age of constant change and instant information we seldom simply learn from experience, because we are always inventing something new. There will always be experiences which can help us avoid pain, plan more efficiently and improve the overall quality of our life.
I’m considering ways the church can help the older generation connect with the younger generation and vice-versa. Surely there are ways to bridge the generational gap that exists between young and old and help us learn from each other and exchange wisdom, even when our generations seem so far apart. I’m open to suggestions.
Right now, until something better comes along, I think I will continue to glean from those who have experience I don’t have, personally seeking their input into my life. At the same time, I will purposively attempt to invest in those who do not have the life experience I have as they invite me to participate in their life. Perhaps a more “novel” way will come along someday.
There is a king in the Bible who when I have thought of or studied prayer, I have often come back to him. The king is a man named Hezekiah. Hezekiah ruled over Judah and he was a good king. He tried to honor God in everything he did and because of his faithfulness, God honored Hezekiah greatly.
Hezekiah became the target of warring nations. The king of a rival nation to God’s people, Assyria, decided he was going to try and take over Hezekiah’s kingdom. Yet throughout it all, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan. He went before the Lord in prayer and followed the Lord’s commands. Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This man knew how to pray and pray in a way that got results.
Some time ago, in a message at Grace Community Church we looked at one of the recorded prayers of Hezekiah to see what we can pull from it. To understand the prayer we should know that the Assyrian nation was stronger than Hezekiah’s nation. They would have easily been favored in a war. The Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared all Hezekiah’s people to death.
Hezekiah heard about it and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be ok, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up. They kept taunting and taunting, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. They sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah that basically said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”
What do you do when you are backed into a corner about to face something bigger than your ability to handle? Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.
Now find a Bible and read 2 Kings 19:14-19 (Or click on the passage to read it online.)
What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?
First, Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.
Second Hezekiah’s prayer was Immediate. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we get backed into a corner and have no choice, but as a habit we need to make God the first place we turn in our lives.
Third, Hezekiah’s prayer was Open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord. I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter…laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next?”
Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards right down all the things you are struggling with….lay them out on a table…then say, “Okay God, here are my struggles…I can’t do anything about them. What now?”
Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.
a. It helps you remember to pray for them.
b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.
Hezekiah’s prayer was Honoring, humble and respectful of who God is. Hezekiah knew his place as king….and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.
Hezekiah’s prayer was Bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.
The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.
Hezekiah’s prayer was Dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle Hezekiah was going to depend on God.
Finally, Hezekiah’s prayer was certain…Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God. In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”
Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do…some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship.
(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.
Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.
What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?
Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him, honestly, humbly and boldly and dependently on God; and then allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.