Relational Pain of Ministry, Part 1

I take a lot of comfort from the fact that the apostle Paul was no stranger to the relational pain of ministry. Things didn’t always go well for him. Paul often felt alone, abandoned, rejected, and hurt by the people he felt called to love and serve. Look at how honest he is about the relational pain of ministry is 2 Timothy.

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth  (2 Timothy 2:16-18) 

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  (2 Timothy 4:10) 

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.  (2 Timothy 4:14-15) 

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:16) 

That’s a lot of hurt in one letter!

In the next post, we’ll talk about how Paul was able to keep going despite all of the relational pain of ministry. But, for today, I want to make one simple observation – Paul is able to talk about the relational pain of ministry without any shame. He isn’t trying to sweep this under the rug, gloss over it, deny his emotions, or explain it all away. He’s starkly realistic and at times shockingly willing to use real names. He doesn’t hide behind generalities and spiritual platitudes. Demas deserted him. Alexander did him a lot of harm. Hymenaeus and Philetus allowed gossip to morph into heresy. Phygelus and Hermogenes were out (and they obviously took a lot of people with them!). He was on trial for the gospel and no one showed up to offer encouragement.

While Paul no doubt felt sadness and hurt over these losses and woundings, he didn’t feel shame. He didn’t make the automatic assumption that he did something wrong, that he was a failure, that he never should have become an apostle, that he’s the problem, that he should just quit. In other words, he didn’t interpret the actions of others exclusively through the lens of his personal failure. He was aware that there’s always more to the story and he was aware of his weaknesses and shortcomings as a leader. He was able to bring his sin and the sin of others to God in a way that liberated his soul from shame.

Do I think we need to be careful not to abuse this idea as leaders? Yes, when people leave our churches, community groups, and ministry teams, we should be willing to ask questions about how we could have done better, about ways we could have served them better, about ways we need to grow. The point of what Paul is sharing here is not to give pastors, elders, and leaders in the church license to constantly blame others.

The point is to remind us that relational pain is part of ministry and we can talk about it without shame. We can talk about it in ways that are honest, specific, and ultimately redemptive. We’ll do more of that in the next post. But for today, here are a few questions that might be helpful to process in your journal or with a close friend:

  • When have you felt the relational pain of ministry? Describe the hurt you felt.
  • What story did you tell yourself to make sense of the pain you were feeling?
  • Was your sense of pain also accompanied by a sense of shame or guilt? How so?
  • Who are you able to process the relational pain of ministry with on a regular basis? Who are some of the people that could become these kinds of friends?

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Where Is Your God?

This Sunday, we’re starting a new series of messages at Restoration City dealing with the topic of anxiety. Matthew 6:25-34 is up next in our study of the Sermon on the Mount but it didn’t feel right to spend only one week discussing Jesus’ teaching on worry and anxiety. One, doing so would run the risk of oversimplifying the issue. I think we all need more than, “Jesus tells us not to worry so you should really stop worrying.” Two, doing so would run the risk of ignoring what a massive issue anxiety is for so many of us. I know this is one of the biggest challenges people in our church struggle with on a daily basis. I also know what a massive issue this is for so many in our city who are not yet following Jesus.

So, we’re going to slow down and devote the next four weeks to understanding how Jesus leads us out of anxiety. Here’s what I can tell you about the series:

  • We’re going to talk about anxiety as a physical, psychological, and spiritual issue. Too often the church ignores the physical and psychological. That’s not helpful. At the same time, our anxiety has deep spiritual roots and lasting change requires bringing God into the conversation. We’re going to take a holistic approach.
  • We’re going to talk about anxiety in a way that doesn’t provoke guilt or shame. There isn’t going to be a hint of, “If you were a better Christian, you wouldn’t be so anxious.” We can talk about deepening our faith in Jesus and the gospel without heaping on a bunch of shame, which only makes the problem worse.
  • The goal is to move together as a community on a path that actually reduces our anxiety. We don’t just want to learn more; we want to trust God for real growth and change.
  • These are a great four weeks to invite family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We have a chance to help a lot of people. Let’s not miss it.

So, I hope you’ll join us in person or online for all four weeks of this series.

But I want to ask you to do much more than just show up. I want to ask you to pray with me that God will do a powerful work through our church in the next four weeks. I’m praying we see people come to faith in Jesus, embrace vulnerability in community, take risks on the journey towards healing, and experience real freedom from anxiety. I know God is able to do it but let’s not trust in our power – let’s lean in to Him and His grace and see what He can do in His power!

Mission Requires Community

I can’t wait for this Sunday at Restoration City. We’re going to do something really simple and really meaningful. After our weekly gathering is over, as many of us as possible are going to stick around to serve Gunston, the middle school we meet in every Sunday. They need some help getting the front entrance ready to welcome students for a new year and we’re going to do what we can – pull weeds, trim shrubs, etc… We’ll order lunch, have fun, and make a difference in the lives of the students who will show up next week. And, we’re going to be done by 1pm. It’s like a quick serving blitz.

Not only is this the kind of thing we should be doing as the church but it also helps illustrate a deeper point – community accelerates mission. Here’s what I mean: I think we’re all going to be shocked by just how much we can get done in 90 minutes! Because we’re all going to lean into this opportunity, we’re going to make a significant impact in a relatively short period of time. I pray we don’t miss the significance of that insight. Community accelerates mission.

Maybe even more accurately – mission requires community. When you read the pages of the New Testament, particularly the Book of Acts, you realize just how much the early church saw community as essential to God’s mission. Some people funded things, some preached, some waited tables, some cared for the sick, but everyone was involved. Nobody was foolish enough (or arrogant enough) to think they could make a major dent in the lostness and brokenness of the world by themselves. They knew that God’s mission required all of God’s people working together with the enabling power of God’s Spirit.

So, to be as specific and practical as possible, if you aren’t engaged in biblical community you aren’t as engaged in God’s mission as you could be. You’re missing out, the church is missing out, and the world is missing out.

Masks @ Church

This coming Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will return to Gunston Middle School for the first time in a year and half. I honestly can’t wait to be back for our Sunday morning gathering – it’s a beautiful theater with easy parking and all the room we need to offer a proper kids ministry. In a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like one significant part of life is getting back to normal. Except for the fact that we will all be wearing masks.

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, masks have become a little bit of a cultural lightening rod, to say the least. Add church into the mix and you have everything you need for your very own online controversy. So I thought it would be helpful to offer two quick observations as we all grab our masks and head to Gunston on Sunday.

Keep Masks In The Proper Perspective

For us, the decision to wear masks is far more pragmatic than it is theological or philosophical. Yes, we want to be guided by the Spirit, the Word, and the gospel in all things. But that doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to practical considerations. For example, Gunston is not only our best option for a Sunday morning gathering but it is also an Arlington County Public School and they require us to wear masks if we want to use the space. So, guess what, we wear masks!

That may seem like an obvious point but it’s important because it should defuse a lot of the tension around this issue. It also enables us to be generous in our interactions with other churches that handle the mask question differently. No church has it easy right now and we’re all doing our best in light of the unique constraints and opportunities in front of each one of us. So, let’s not make a big deal out of something that really isn’t. That kind of foolishness plays great on social media but it’s toxic within the body of Christ.

I’m Glad We’re Wearing Masks

Having said all of that, I am glad that we’re wearing masks. Think about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 

1 Corinthians 9:19-20 (ESV)

I totally get it – Paul isn’t talking about masks. But he is talking about a willingness to meet people where they are and do whatever he can to remove barriers that would prevent people from hearing the gospel. Paul was willing to sacrifice his preferences and comfort in pursuit of a larger and more significant goal. Let’s just be real – there are a lot of people in our city who are appropriately cautious about indoor gatherings due to the delta variant. That’s the cultural landscape of the city God has called us to love and serve. For me, that makes wearing a mask an easy call. If my mask makes it more comfortable for someone to join us, then I’m all for it! It’s a small price to pay for seeing my church family and seeing someone discover the beauty of the gospel.

I hope that we masks not only in terms of our own health but also in terms of aligning with the missional heart of God. That’s what the church and church planting are all about – seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Don’t just bring a mask on Sunday, bring a friend! It’s what we’re here to do. Let’s embrace the mission God has given us.

So, RCC, we’re not totally back to normal yet. But we’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see you on Sunday!

Leaky Tires & Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

tired

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking one of our kids to school when I noticed one of the tires on the van was a little flat.  So, I took it to the gas station, filled it up and went on with my day.  Well, by noon the same tire was close to flat again and I knew we had a leak.  So, I brought it to another gas station, they sprayed some kind of liquid on the tire, found the leak, patched it and inflated the tire.  Problem solved, back to life.

None of that is a big deal when it comes to a tire but when we approach our relationship with Jesus the same way, it’s a very big deal.  Over the course of the week, we become aware that our lives are leaking a bit – we see flashes of anger, hints of selfishness and bursts of lust.  We know something’s off but we aren’t quite sure what, so we go to church on Sunday and I spray a little liquid on the tire of your life during the sermon and help find the leak.  “Oh, I’m angry because I’m struggling to trust that God is using His sovereign power for my good.”  Then we patch the leak with a little forgiveness, some fresh inspiration and a whole lot of determination.  But over the course of the week, we see a leak so we go back to square one and start the process all over again.

It’s a totally reactive way of living the Christian life.  You’re always fighting to get back to neutral and never growing into a stronger disciple of Jesus.  It’s settling for sin management when Jesus has called you to Kingdom impact.  There’s no growth, just damage control.

And it will stay that way until we learn to address the deeper issues that are causing the tire to leak in the first place.  That’s why I’m so thrilled to be offering Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course this spring at Restoration City.  It’s an in depth discipleship course designed to help us explore what’s going on under the surface of our lives – where the leaks are coming from and why we struggle with some of the things we do.  The course combines a robust understanding of emotional health, a biblical understanding of spirituality, and the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that will be tremendously beneficial to your soul and life.

All of this fits perfectly with our deep commitment to the centrality of the gospel in all things.  At the end of the day, the gospel is not only the patch on the tire but also the way to stop the leak at it’s source.  EHS isn’t presenting an alternative to the gospel – it’s helping us see where and how to apply the gospel in our souls and lives.

I believe this course is so foundational to where God is leading us as a church that I’m  teaching all 8 weeks.  We’ll be meeting from 12.30 – 2.30 at our WeWork offices on Sunday afternoons starting on April 22nd and going through June 17th with the exception of Memorial Day weekend.  If you’re willing to take the journey with me, get registered today at rcc.church/ehs.

Matt, Savannah, You, Me & The Hope Of Grace

Today Show

I can’t remember exactly when but at some point during high school, I started watching The Today Show.  That was back before Katie Couric said goodbye to Bryant Gumble and started breaking in this young upstart named Matt Lauer.  And, when I say I watched The Today Show, I mean, I watched it every single day.  “But, first this is Today on NBC” anchored my morning routine as much as anything else for years.  Maybe that’s why I was so shocked to hear that Matt Lauer has joined the long list of cultural figures to fall in the two months since The New York Times’ first reports on Harvey Weinstein.

To be honest, I’m usually skeptical of Christian authors, bloggers and pastors who use the controversy or news of the day as fodder for a quick blog post.  I’m always concerned those who write such posts are silently grateful for a topic that could generate a lot of interest.  The last thing I want to do is be that guy but I do want to respond to a massive question Savannah Guthrie asked as she shared the new about her friend Matt Lauer, “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”  It’s such a significant question because most of our culture’s attempts to reconcile those two thoughts leave our souls deeply unsatisfied.

All too often, we resolve the tension by cutting the person who has behaved badly out of our lives.  Maybe it’s because we don’t know what to say and saying nothing seems easier and safer.  Maybe it’s because we feel so hurt and betrayed that a friend let us down.  Whatever our motivation, cutting someone out always reveals that we never really loved them, only what they could do for us.  Love doesn’t see friends as assets or liabilities but so much of what we call friendship does.

At other times, we careen off in the other direction and ignore, excuse, minimize or laugh off their behavior.  We don’t love our friends enough to tell them they were wrong, instead we help them rationalize their failings.  We pretend what they did doesn’t matter, we defend what is indefensible, and in so doing we tarnish our integrity and betray our own expectations for ourselves.

We’ve lost the ability to say, “I love you even though you’ve behaved very badly.”  It’s an ability we desperately need if we’re every going to have healthy, enduring relationships.  And it’s an ability we’ll only develop when we realize that’s exactly what God has already said to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It’s an ability that calls on us to embrace three complementary truths:

Uncompromising Standards

Nobody wins when we lower our moral standards to the basest levels of human depravity.  Sexual harassment is wrong; it violates the dignity of a person who is made in the image and likeness of God.  And to sexual harassment we can add a long list of other things that our culture has become far too permissive of in an attempt to answer Savannah’s question.  But mornings like today reveal that we all really do know better; some things are just wrong.  Sex is a sacred gift from God, not a weapon to be used in exerting power over someone else.

Deep Humility

In our assessment of others, we would do well to consider the words of 19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.”  As much as I want to fight that conclusion for myself, I know it’s true.  Apart from God’s grace, I’m capable of doing whatever Lauer did and even worse.  It’s dangerously prideful to live without that kind of self awareness and it reflects a willful ignorance of our own failures.  What if your biggest regret, greatest sin and deepest source of shame was being thrown all over the internet today?  How would you be feeling if that moment was the topic of conversation all over the country today?  That thought alone should be enough to lead us into deep levels of humility.

Radical Grace

It’s only humble souls that can deal in the economy of grace.  Grace is the unique contribution of Christianity to the human experience – the ability to say that my love for you isn’t based on what you do but on who you are.  It’s the ability to stand with both the sinner and the sinned against.  It’s the ability to separate love from performance.

It’s what God has done for us in Jesus.  On the cross, we see the fury of God’s hatred for sin but we also see God’s deep love for sinners.  The fury of God’s wrath fell on His Son so that it could pass over us.  God made a way for sinners to become sons and for rebels to find peace.  God doesn’t love us because we deserve it.  He loves us because it’s who He is.

And that’s how he calls us to love one another.  Not sweeping sin or sinners under the carpet but showing a grace that melts the hardest of hearts and gives life in the most hopeless situations.

Oh, how I long to love people the way Jesus has loved me.  Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could all take a step closer to that this Christmas?  A baby Boy was born to show us that grace and truth flow together and change everything they touch.

The Path Of Grace

Path Of Grace

Earlier this month, I was headed out to run some errands on a Saturday morning when I realized things were getting a little chaotic at home and the best thing I could do for Laura was to bring the boys with me.  As soon as I suggested that, the look on her face confirmed that I had read the situation correctly!  So, the boys and I headed to the underground parking garage in our building to jump in the minivan and knock out a few errands.

Unfortunately, in my zeal to move quickly, I managed to sideswipe a very inflexible concrete pillar as I was backing out of our space.  Just like that, I had a caved in door, a dangling side view mirror and two freaked out little boys who kept asking, “Daddy, why did you do that?!?”  As soon as I was able to convince them that it was an accident and not a sign that Daddy was having a break down, they calmed down.  And, by calmed down I mean they spent the rest of the day telling everyone they could that Daddy had broken the car.  To this day, I still can’t back in or out of a space without one of them condescendingly (yes, toddlers can do condescending…I promise!) reminding me to be really careful not to hit anything.  And every time they do, I’m reminded of the beauty and power of grace.

As soon as I hit the pillar, I knew it wasn’t going to be good.  But, for a fleeting second, I held onto the hope that somehow that loud noise hadn’t resulted in any damage to the van.  As soon as I got out to check, I realized that wasn’t going to be the case.  There was damage.  And it was my fault.  There was no excuse to make, no one else to blame, no way out of it.  I messed up.

In that moment, I really didn’t need someone to berate me.  I didn’t need someone to point out that we had better things to spend our money on than the insurance deductible.  I didn’t need someone to spell out how this was going to disrupt our plans for the day and our schedules for the week.  I didn’t need a lecture on safe driving, not rushing and paying attention.  All of that would have only made me angry.

What I needed was grace.  Someone to say they were sorry that had happened.  Someone to reassure me that it wasn’t going to bankrupt our family.  Someone to point out this is why we have insurance.  Someone to treat me in a way that showed they weren’t mad and that I wasn’t going to be punished.

Praise God, that’s the kind of woman I married.  The grace Laura showed me in that moment was exactly what I needed.  No condemnation, no guilt, no exasperation, no lecture.  Just a willingness to jump in, coordinate a rental car and get the van to the body shop.  It was exactly what I needed!

I think her grace to me was so compelling because I so often struggle to show that same grace to her and others.  I can be so quick to judge, condemn, point out faults and failures.  It can be so important to me to make sure people understand just how bad their mistake really was.  I often want people to feel enough pain as a result of their sin that they won’t do it again.  I buy the lie that if I can make someone feel bad enough, they’ll change.

But it never works.  I’ve yet to guilt or condemn someone into genuine repentance and I’ve yet to see long term improvement in someone because of how strongly I denounced their inadequacy.  It just doesn’t work.  You can spend your life hammering away on people but don’t kid yourself, you aren’t helping them.  You’re only making them more angry.

This all should be ingrained in our hearts as Jesus followers because of how God treats us.  He answers the horror of our sin with the grace of the cross.  He answers our rebellion with His peace.  He covers our sin and shame and cancels our debt of sin.  He shows kindness and mercy.  And we change as a result.  We grow to be more like the One who loves us when we are least lovable.

Imagine how much better our families, friendships and workplaces would be if we were so captured by the grace God has shown us that we show that same grace to others.  What if we walked the path of grace?

It’s what I’m praying for me, for you and for all of us this week.

Overcoming Trauma Fatigue

Trauma Fatigue.jpg

I went to bed feeling pretty good about life on Sunday evening.  It had been a good morning at church, a productive afternoon at the office and a relaxing evening at home with Laura and the kids.  Mondays are my day off and I was looking forward to taking the kids to the zoo the next day.  Little did I know that we were about to set yet another record for the worst mass shooting in US history.  But on Monday, I turned my phone on only to learn that 59 people had been killed and more than 527 had been injured at a Las Vegas music festival.

And I felt numb.  Maybe even indifferent.

Sad, appalled, and horrified, yes.  But also somehow unable to summon those emotions with the intensity this kind of carnage deserves.  It felt like I was suffering from some kind of trauma fatigue.  There’s just been too many bad things happening too quickly to keep up with it at all.  Charlottesville, Houston, The Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas.  North Korean nukes, fake Russian Facebook ads and ongoing debate over kneeling during the national anthem.    It’s just too much to process.

And then Romans 12 helped me understand exactly was was happening in my soul – I was being overcome by evil.  The full verse reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rm. 12:2)  I was allowing my spirit to succumb to wave after wave of evil.  I was allowing those waves to lap away at my joy, my hope, my compassion and even my calling as a Christian.  Yes, Jesus is “our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  But He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who fights for His people and the One who calls us to overcome evil with good.  He calls us to push back against the tide of hate, division, and fear that is ravaging our country.  He calls us to fight with the weapons of truth, of love, and of grace.

I don’t want to be overcome.  I want to be an overcomer.  Specifically, I’m praying my life and our church would be characterized by the following:

Resist The Temptation Of Self-Righteousness

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of telling the story of the world in terms of good people and bad people, the right and the wrong.  It’s how the world operates; we just can’t agree on who belongs in which category most of the time.  It’s also part of why we rally together during times of national crisis – at least we can all agree that mass murderers are bad.  And they are.  Unthinkably so.  But so are you.  And so am I.

The thing that makes you want to fight back against that conclusion is called self-righteousness.  It’s why we all define good people and bad people in terms that put us squarely in the middle of good.  Bad is always someone else.

But all of us are deeply broken, tragically flawed  and capable of more evil than we are comfortable admitting.  A century ago, a British newspaper asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?”  The writer G.K. Chesterson wrote a famous reply to the editors:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterson

If only we could learn to replace our finger pointing with humble self-awareness.  If such spiritual poverty seems off putting to you, remember Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  Those words were spoken by the One who would go to a cross so that we would inherit a Kingdom.  It’s His love poured out for us that makes it safe to admit that we don’t have it all together.  It’s His goodness that enables us to confront our brokenness.

There are no good people.  And there are no bad people.  Only people simultaneously made in the image of God and in need of the grace of God.

Cling To The Hope Of Eternity

There is a day coming when God Himself will make all things new.  He will dwell among us and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  In that day, all the promises of the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled and, as Tim Keller says, every sad thing will become untrue.

That doesn’t mean the pain of this world doesn’t matter.  But it does mean we don’t lose hope in the midst of our pain.  The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

So we do 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 brokenness of this world only intensifies our hunger and thirst for the one to come.

Talk About Jesus

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  I’m 39 years old and I can’t remember a time when the world needed the church more than it does right now.  But not a cowering, fearful, disengaged church.  Not a church that runs from the world.  Not a church that’s afraid people will laugh at us because of our faith.  Not a church afraid of upsetting people with the truth of the gospel.  Not a church marked by indifference.  And, most of all, not a church that perpetuates the self-righteous lie of good people versus bad people.

No, our world needs a church that is confident, hopeful and willing to engage the deep questions of our time with the eternal hope of Jesus.  The world is dying for the hope we’re afraid to share.  It’s time to get the lamp out from under the basket. (Matthew 5:15)   Time for the people of God to rise.  Time for the people of God to love, to serve and to believe that He who is in us really is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

The more I ponder the gospel, the more I find my trauma fatigue morphing into determination.  Determination to mourn with those who mourn.  Determination not to turn a blind eye.  Determination to fight back.  Determination to overcome evil.  Determination that only be sustained by the grace and power of God.

Singing In A Cave

Cave

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Psalm 57:7-11

Those words were written by David, the great King of Israel.  But he didn’t write them from his throne.  He didn’t write them after he defeated Goliath, got married, brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem or entered into a covenant with God.  He wrote them from a cave.  He was there because Saul, the then King of Israel, wanted him dead.

I’ll be honest – caves creep me out.  I hate caves.  They’re dark, wet and you have absolutely no idea what else is in there with you.  Bats are a given and then the horror just spirals out of control from there.  Being in a cave is like being locked in a dark basement as a kid but with actual reason to be afraid.  So, when a cave is the safe option, you know you’re having a bad day.  And David was having a pretty bad day – he was being hunted like an animal with no help in sight.

Yet, David holds a worship service.

That should stop us in our tracks.  We so often struggle to worship on a Sunday morning when everything is going well, never mind a Thursday morning when nothing is going right.  What had David found in God that we overlook?

Focus On His Soul & Savior, Not Circumstances

Yes, David asks God for mercy (v.1,2) but he’s not obsessed with his circumstances.  I would have made sure God understood just how bad my situation was, how unjust it was and how much I really, really wanted Him to do something about it.

But not David. He seems most focused on the condition of his own soul.  Five times in the psalm He makes a reference to His own soul or heart.  It’s his soul that takes refuge (v.1), is in the midst of lions (v.4) and is bowed down (v.6) in addition to being steadfast.  Which leads me to ask, are we more focused on our souls or our circumstances?  I know that when it comes to my soul, I tend to take more of a “we’ll deal with all of that once you get me out of this cave, God” approach.

David’s focus on his soul is so essential because it leads him to focus on his Savior.  David’s hope is in God’s steadfast love (v.10).  He’s not praying that God will bless his plan in some way.  He’s confessing that his only plan is to take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings and trust God to rescue him.  God’s grace is plan A and there is no plan B.

Confidence In The Promises Of God

Even though life is falling apart, David is totally confident that God will be faithful to all of His promises.  He knows that God’s promises aren’t dependent on our circumstances but on His character.  So, David is sure that God will send from heaven and save him (v.3).  It’s not a question for David.

We get so concerned when God deviates from the script we’ve written for Him.  If only we could learn that God’s deviations aren’t because He doesn’t love us but because He does.  He’s going to fulfill every single one of His promises to you.  Don’t look to your circumstances to figure out if you believe that – look to the cross of Jesus and be sure of it!  You can trust a God who’s already died for you.

Caves aren’t a reason to forget the promises of God.  They’re a reason to cling to them even more fiercely.

Desire For The Glory Of God Above All Else

We become brave when we find something bigger to live for than our own lives.  That was David’s story.  Even in his cave, his desire was constant, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth.” (v. 5,11).  He’s so focused on God’s glory that he prays the same thing twice!

If all we care about in life is our own comfort, the inevitable caves of life will kill our joy and crush our spirits every single time.  But if we find something bigger, something that can’t be touched even in the darkest cave, something that spans all of eternity, caves loose their power.  No, we’ll never enjoy them.  But we will trust that God can use them.

Songs of hope are most powerful when they echo out of caves of despair.  When praise erupts in the middle of affliction, the world notices.  When thanksgiving comes in the same breath as a plea for mercy, people listen.

Your cave isn’t a sign that God doesn’t love you.  It’s an invitation to put all of your life in His hands and trust that He will be faithful in using you in a story that spans all of eternity.  Caves aren’t comfortable.  But they aren’t catastrophic either.

We really can learn to sing in a cave.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListWell, it’s unofficially summer.  Pools are open, cold brew coffee is a must and we’re all dreaming of vacation.  I hope you’re also building a summer reading list of books that will stir your affection for Jesus and make you more effective in the local church.  If you are, I wanted to share five relatively easy reads that have impacted me significantly over the last 12 months.  They’re the kind of books you’ll get a lot out of and enjoy reading:

Saving The Saved, Bryan Loritts.  Bryan shows how the performance free love of Jesus frees us from the meritocracy of religion and invites us into the freedom of the gospel.

Goliath Must Fall, Louie Giglio.  Using the story of David and Goliath, Louie paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our Giant Slayer and shows us how the gospel topples some of the most common giants in our lives.

Befriend, Scott Sauls.  One of the best explorations of friendship, community and the gospel I’ve read in a long time.  Scott examines what real friendship looks like and all of the ways we form them in our lives.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith.  James explores how our hearts shape our lives and how our habits shape our hearts.  I may not agree with all the specific liturgical practices in this book but it’s well worth your time.

Designed To Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Geiger and Peck challenge us to see the church as a leadership development locus for the whole community.  This is easily the most influential leadership book I’ve read this year.

I’m praying you’re able to enjoy one or more of these books over the summer.  I’m also curious what suggestions you have for me.  Leave a comment with your must read recommendation for the summer.