Grieving in the Wrong Direction

Grief is never wrong, but there is a wrong type of grief.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Even with the old adage ringing in our ears, it is still possible to cheat the tax man, but you will never cheat death.

Death embraces all.

And with death comes parting, and with parting comes grief.

If you have not known it, it simply tells me you have not yet lived long enough.

Grief cuts like no other pain. It’s burning sear leaves scars that will last a lifetime.

This will always be so, because the depth of our grief is in direct proportion to the depth of our love. To love someone is to send an invitation to grief, who will one day come knocking at your door.

So in large part, the world runs from grief. It seems that the human soul can bear many pains, but the agony of grief is the one we fear the most. Many would choose their own death over the death of a loved one, primarily because, “I could not bear losing you”.

Yet we must not think that simply because grief is painful that it is inherently wrong. Grief is never wrong. Parting is never easy. Love lost will always ache.

Yet, my Bible tells me that there is a wrong way of grieving. At least, if your life has been found in Christ, if your hope is in the resurrection reality of a Saviour who died for you yet rose again to defeat death, then grief isn’t wrong, but we can have the wrong type of grief.

Grief and hope are strange bedfellows. Yet Paul ties them together in a marriage of tears that we are told to encourage one another with.

If you are a follower of ‘The Way’, ‘The Truth’ and ‘The Life’, you will grieve in a peculiar direction. Your grief is ever upward; tears streaming and heart hurting, but with expectant eyes that are fixed on the coming reality of an eternal reunion.

‘We’ (plural) will be with ‘Him’ (singular).

Jesus will be the Sun of a new constellation, as countless saints are reunited in an eternal orbit of worship around the object of our mutual love.

So Paul says that that reality should underpin our grief.

Don’t grieve in the wrong direction.

There are few things more beautiful than to experience grief-laced worship beside a grave. Nothing exalts the name of Jesus more than when the grief stricken lift their eyes to eternity, and there see a living Saviour, then through their pain genuinely sing:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

To the praise of His glory.

Confessions of a People Pleaser

At heart, I’m a people pleaser.

Not the type that lets popular fashion dictate my wardrobe, or the opinion of my friends to tell me where I should go or what I should do, but nonetheless, I am a people pleaser.

What other people think of me matters, at least, it matters to me. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to fit a stereotype.

I didn’t want to be just another boy, lumped in with all the gross over-generalisations made of the juvenile male species.

I don’t want to be just another man, put in the pigeon-hole of masculine incompetence.

I certainly don’t want to be just another husband or father, perpetuating the general consensus of how inept we are at loving our wives or bringing up our children.

I love it when people say, “But you don’t look like a pastor!”

Yet in all my efforts to break the mould, to not live up to expectations, I have to admit that it still only proves that I’m deeply concerned with other peoples thoughts about who I am.

And I find that disturbing. After all, the term ‘people pleaser’ is akin to a dirty word these days… particularly within church circles.

Yet recently, I’ve been wondering if there’s not a place for a specific type of ‘people pleasing’?

As I’ve been reading through the book of Romans, it seems to me that Paul is advocating a type of deep concern for others opinions and how we live together as God’s people, that I need to pay attention to.

Look at Paul’s rapid-fire list of gospel infused, new kingdom, sermon on the mount sounding, commands.

Romans 12:9–21 (ESV)

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Emphasis mine)

It seems that Paul is advocating a deliberate and strategic lifestyle, thought through in advance, as to how I can live my life honourably in the sight of others. Now I realise that the immediate context here relates to responding to others who may have evil intent toward me, yet it is the ‘in the sight of all’ phrase that caught my attention. We are to consider everyone else before deciding what we should do with the life we’ve been given.

In a gospel informed way, other people’s opinions of us should matter. Not in a way that panders to the whims of our fickle society, but in a way that cuts against the grain of our self-centred culture and shows the world what it looks like to live for something, or someone, else other than ourselves.

Philippians 2:3–4 (ESV)

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

So I am a people pleaser, and you probably are to.

The question is, which type of people pleaser are we?

Abounding In Thanksgiving

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

– Colossians 2:6 –

I’ve recently been enjoying a more detailed study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, using the Bible Arcing Method.

One of the key take-away’s for me was found in Colossians 2:6, and specifically the phrase, “abounding in thanksgiving”.

Now, I consider myself a reasonably ‘thankful’ type of guy, but I had to ask myself, “Am I truly abounding in thanksgiving? Is the overall tone of my life, my words and my conduct, marked prominently by an attitude of thanksgiving?”

The reason why I need to be marked by thanksgiving is, as a Christian, ‘thankfulness’ is all I really have to offer!

Look at Paul’s reasoning in Colossians 2:6: Our walk with Christ should continue and develop on the same basis we received Christ. That is to say, the way you received Christ as Lord of your life is the same way you should continue to walk in him.

So how did we receive Christ? What did you do to earn his redemptive work at the cross and receive salvation?

Nothing! You received him by faith.

You did nothing. Jesus did everything.

Your salvation was everything to do with grace, and nothing to do with works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

So if this is the way we received Christ Jesus the Lord, Paul’s reasoning is that this is the way we continue in him. And that’s why we must abound in thanksgiving. Any growing, any maturing, any deepening, is all a work of grace and not owing to any special ability or spiritual level I attain.

In a way, salvation has robbed me of everything except thanksgiving. All I am truly left with is the opportunity to say 1000 times a day, in a 1000 different ways, “Thank you”.

When I do this, when I proclaim my dependant thankfulness, I magnify the name and worth of Christ; I say to the world, “He has become more, and I have become less. Jesus is worthy of all your honour and praise.”

Not content to leave it at that, the Lord seemingly needed to drive the point home further. I happened to watch a ‘Look at the Book’ episode by John Piper on Psalm 50:8-15, titled, ‘God Does Not Need You’. I’d encourage you to take the time to watch it for yourself.

To the praise of His glory!

Why Evangelism Doesn’t Work

Week after week, study after study, sermon after sermon; “Be better witnesses. Tell your friends about Jesus. Be an evangelist.”

Here’s why it won’t work.

It won’t work until we are captivated by what God has done for us in Christ.

People will not talk about what they do not love.

Psalm 105:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 4 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

What follows is an incredible role-call of God’s wondrous acts:

  • He is the LORD our God
  • He remembers
  • He confirmed
  • He allowed
  • He summoned
  • He sent
  • He made
  • He turned
  • He sent
  • He turned
  • He spoke
  • He gave
  • He struck
  • He spoke
  • He struck
  • He brought
  • He spread
  • He opened
  • He remembered
  • He brought
  • He gave

Fill your heart with the glory of what God has done. Fill your people’s hearts with the glory of what God has done.

Keep filling hearts until “Praise the LORD!” flows out. Then with it will come this:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!

To the praise of His glory!

Monday Throwback 2.0

A number of years ago I wrote a short story to try and capture the human emotions of the very first Passover seen through the eyes of a child. I pray it will be a blessing to you.

Waiting For Akman

This past weekend I had the immense privilege of speaking at Build15, a Men’s Conference held on the Central Coast of NSW. Along with Brad Carr, Lead Pastor of BotanyLife Church in the eastern suburbs of Aukland, New Zealand, we were able to lead the 140 or so men who gathered through the ‘Trial, Death and Resurrection of Jesus’ – events which form the foundation of the gospel and our faith.

On Friday night, Brad set the tone for the whole conference by masterfully leading us though the ‘Last Supper’, stepping us through the cultural and historical background of the Passover meal, framing the events of this famous meal with the frailty of humanity, then pointing us to the true Lamb of God who had come to take the sins of the world. It was a powerful evening of teaching that culminated with the solemn taking of communion.

I would highly recommend keeping a careful watch on the ‘downloads’ page of the CCCAust NSW webpage for when the recording of that session is made available.

Monday Throwback

I have seen men such as these.

Faithful farmers who have tilled the soil for little fruit.

So in honour of those men and women who have gone before, I wrote a short reflection:

There Once Was A Farmer

The Verses Project

I believe that the Word of God is living and active, that it has the power to transform lives, build faith and overcome evil. Yet, wrapped in low-class leather and sitting on your bookshelf, it remains powerless.

Unless.

Unless the living words of God have found a place in your heart.

Unless the pages are worn with regular use.

Unless your barely legible scribbles are found in the margins, telling the story of the Spirit’s whisperings.

Unless the eternal Word echoes in your mind.

Unless it is an arrow in the quiver of your heart, ready for the Spirit to pull in the moment of need.

Unless.

Unlock the ‘unless‘ of the Word of God.

A great place to start is with The Verses Project.

In their own words:

We believe there is no more important book in the world than the Word of God because within it we find the words of God. Do you want to know what God is like and what has He done throughout history? Look to His Word. Wonder who we are and what we were created for? Look to His Word. God’s Word is living and abiding (1 Peter 1:23); by it we are we born again, and by it we grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2)! David teaches us that blessed is that man whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2); that we are to love it, walk in it, and as we store it in our hearts we learn to not sin against God (Psalm 119:1, 11).

We see that God’s Word is not merely information about Him, but that God’s Word must bear a functional authority in our lives! We want God’s words to find a home in us (John 15:7) and to transform us by His Spirit so that we’re equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). How do we do this? Through memorization & meditation.

Each passage is presented with high class graphics that you are able to download to your desktop or phone, along with original songs composed with the sole goal of bedding the words of Scripture into your heart.

Unlock the ‘unless‘ – don’t leave the greatest transforming power you have available to you sitting on the shelf: The Verses Project

Cling To Christ

As a young teen, one of my favourite pastimes when the wind blew strong from the north was head to the jagged shoreline near my house and cling to a rock.

Don’t judge – there wasn’t a lot to do in my sleepy coastal town!

Anyway, my mates and I would head down to the beach, find a spot where the wind-whipped waves were crashing over the rocks, malign each others manliness until we all climbed out into a precarious position and waited for the onslaught.

It was stupid.

But it was still kinda fun, and I have good memories associated with this juvenile past-time. The worst that ever happened was when my mate Nigel was tumbled over the rocks and emerged somewhat ‘debarked’.

The waves were never that big. Our lives were never really in danger. But I can remember clinging on with grim resolve lest I be the one washed off first.

Of course, if the stakes were higher – if the waves were bigger, if the drop-off greater, well, things would have been different.

My ‘clinging’ would have shifted to another gear altogether. No longer fighting for childish bragging rights, I would have been clinging on for life itself.

Sometimes ‘holding fast’ is a life and death experience.

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (ESV)

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

I’m reminded to cling to Christ – yet more specifically, to cling to the good news of Christ; the gospel.

It’s life and death. The wind is howling, the waves are building and life is coming at me with all it’s fury.

What have I to cling to?

Hold fast to the gospel. Cling to Christ.

I have no other stand, and as the old hymn reminds me, ‘all other ground is sinking sand‘.

Cling to the rock of ages. Find your security and comfort in him.

He will not fail you. He will not lose you.

And though you cling to him, it is actually he who holds you.

Christ has no need to cling, his hold is secure, there is no fear of him losing his grip.

To the praise of his glory!

Labour To Be Affected By The Cross

I don’t know Bob well, in fact, I don’t know him at all.

I did have a brief conversation with him once, standing in line waiting for a coffee at Oxygen14, but I don’t think that counts. What I was impressed with though, was his humble and approachable demeanour, along with his taste in coffee!

I recently read through an article (you can find it here) where Bob was interviewed on a number of factors that have influenced his development as a worship leader in the church. The whole interview was great, but one particular response caught my attention.

When asked, “If you could only give one piece of advice to a growing worship leader, what would it be?”, Bob’s replied with startling clarity…

There is nothing more amazing, more transforming, more clarifying, more motivating, than understanding what Jesus accomplished on Calvary and how God revealed himself to us through Christ.  Glorying in the gospel is a never ending source of comfort, security, power, wonder, joy, hope, and faith.

And while his response was right on the mark for worship leaders, it occurred to me, that far more people than our church’s worship leaders need to grasp this truth.

Preachers who worship over the Word. Ushers who worship in serving the church. Cleaners, seat packers, sound engineers, children ministry workers, the old lady who volunteers to come in and mind the kids while young Mum’s meet for Bible study. We all need to hear this, no, not just hear this, grab hold of this. This is the one piece of advice we all desperately need, because we are all worshipers.

So no matter who you are, pursue the gospel, grab a hold of it, cling to it, treasure it, glory in it.

To the praise of His glory.

Fighting Apathy with Awe

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – Robert Robinson

Because my heart is frail and weak, still suffering from the effects of life in the flesh, I cannot help but stand amazed at Robinson’s profound insight within this verse. It’s raw honesty is beautiful, yet unsettling.

Unsettling, because I know it to be true.

I am prone to wander. I feel it every day.

Like the unrelenting influence of gravity, the flesh tears at my heart, calling me to abandon the God I love.

I need a fetter. Something to bind me, chain me, restrain me to the God who rescued me from darkness and despair.

How should I continue to abide in the Vine when the hurricane of my flesh rails against me?

Robinson gives us a clue.

“Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

I have found that in my moments of deepest apathy, the only truth that binds me to God’s presence, is the foundation shaking truth of his absolute goodness.

I must fight apathy in my life with awe.

Awe of God’s goodness, awe of his character, awe of his works, awe of his mercy and grace.

Apathy is a path that leads to destruction; wage war against it.

Our churches need men and women who actively fight apathy with awe.

See afresh the wonder of your God; be lost in it. Then, as your life celebrates the majesty of your King, draw others into this Spiritual worship. Call others to fight apathy with awe.

May we see a new generation, people of the cross, caught up in the awe of God.

To the praise of His glory.