Odd Transitions


Yesterday morning I officiated a funeral. That is something that most people would expect a pastor to do. After I was done with that, I spent the rest of the day working at a cigar bar. That is something most people would not think a pastor would do. The change in mindset from one job to the next today is certainly odd to me.

I think Jesus knows how I felt. After all, He often had weird transitions too. For instance, John 2 starts with Jesus attending a wedding and ends with Jesus clearing the Temple courts. In Chapter 3 Jesus teaches the Pharisee Nicodemus. In Chapter 4 He is teaching a Samaritan woman at a well in Samaria, a person and place no self-respecting Pharisee would go and talk to. John 7:35-50 shows both these worlds colliding, being at a Pharisee’s house for dinner, and then having a “sinful woman” make a scene crying at Jesus’ feet.

Do you see what I mean? Jesus hung out with some very godly people and He spent significant time with and investing in people who were nothing like that.

I suspect many people know what I am talking about. For most of us, our work looks very different from church. But I have been learning that the main thing stays the same. The goal—be we at home or at church or at work or out with friends—is to be learning to love God and love our neighbors better and better and to help the people we are with (in big and small ways) to love God and love others better.

So, while I may feel transitions like today are anything but complimentary, I am learning that they are not at all unlike what Jesus experienced. And if I am to be growing to be more and more like Jesus, I should expect that these seemingly opposite circumstances will continue.

Personal Confessions (Special Graces in Common Places, part 2)


In light of these things I have been learning in my last post, I have some confessions to make:

While I have had some great insights, discussions, and breakthroughs in church, my most meaningful insights, discussions, and breakthroughs have happened outside the church. God is speaking to us and teaching us all the time. The question is: are we listening?

I need to confess that we Christians can get so wrapped up in wanting to learn about Jesus that we spend precious little time actually listening to Jesus. You are not going to be able to discern His voice and direction in your life if you don’t know about Him, but the whole point of knowing about Him is to recognize His voice so you can follow Him. The point of knowing your Bible well is so you can love God and love others well. But you don’t learn to love God and love others well by reading your Bible, listening to sermons, coming to church every Sunday, and going to seminars.

If it was all about what we hear, we’d all be a whole lot better than we are because we have all heard a lot of good stuff right? But it isn’t about what you hear. It’s about what you think and do as a result of what you hear isn’t it! Listening to the greatest preacher in the world week after week won’t transform you into a person who loves God and loves others well any more than spending your life in a chicken coup will transform you into a chicken!

The magic doesn’t happen in the church building. It happens outside the church. You don’t get good at golf by reading about golf; you get good at golf by playing golf! The magic happens in your kitchen, your bathroom, at the grocery store, and the place where you get your coffee. You learn to love God and love others by learning what it means to incarnate Jesus’ love wherever you are at, to whomever you are with, in everything you do.

Let me give you an example.

On Father’s Day 2 years ago, I was in the hospital with my daughter Anna. It was about 1:00am. I was sitting on one of those plastic-leather couches in the emergency room. You know the kind of couches I am talking about, the ones where the comfortableness wears off after an hour or so. The ER was busy that evening. From what I gathered from the staff, Father’s Day is usually an eventful day. The room we were in was a waiting room in the ER itself, not the waiting room outside. It was a small room just big enough for the little two-seater couch I was sitting on, and a couple of matching chairs.

My daughter Anna was sitting in a chair across from me fidgeting. Understandable. We had been there since about 7:00pm. I was there for her. She had made it clear that she was not feeling safe, that she was feeling like she would not be able to control the thoughts to hurt herself if we did not go to the hospital. We had been seen by the medical and psych staff, and all of us came to the conclusion that she needed that help. We were just waiting for all the arrangements to be made at this point, and had been told that we would most likely be waiting here till morning.

After I took the last sip of my iced-coffee, Anna looked up at me with sad, anxious, blue eyes and exclaimed, “I’m sorry I ruined your Father’s Day daddy.” Now, we had had company over that afternoon, and that ended up having to be cut short to focus on her. She was sure that I was not happy about that or having to spend all night with her at the hospital when I should have been enjoying Father’s Day, even though I had not said so.

I straightened up, shook my head, smiled at her and said, “No honey. You have not wrecked my Father’s Day. You have given me another opportunity to show you that I love being your dad, and what better day for that to be than Father’s Day? It is not possible for you to wreck it. I suppose I could wreck it if I had a bad attitude about it, but I don’t. I love you because God made you and gave you to me. Being here does not change those things. You can’t change those things. The way I look at it, God must really love me a lot to entrust me with being the dad to someone as special and awesome as you. I am not mad, or angry, or upset. I am glad to be here with you when you need me. You did not wreck my Father’s Day, by asking for my help you made my Father’s Day. Do you believe me?”

She nodded. Her eyes were not so anxious any more.

“I’m serious, now. I mean what I said. You did not wreck my Father’s Day. Do you believe me?”

She smiled back, “Yes daddy, I believe you.”

“Good,” I said. “Want to see if we can watch an episode of Flash on my tablet?” She nodded, and came over and sat with me.

Now, what’s the point? The point is that I have been learning how important it is to reinforce the fact that the love I have for her and my other two daughters is not based on what they do or on how they perform, but is based solely in who they are. That is the kind of love that God wants us to have for everyone.

But that is not often how people understand love is it? We seem hardwired for believing that we are loved, or are worthy of love, or are able to love, based on what other people think of us and on our own performance.

Let me tell you, if God’s love for me was based on my performance or on what other people think of me, He would have kicked me to the curb a long time ago! My heavenly Father loves me because He wants to, not because I earned it. We need to mirror that love to one another. We need to love people because God made them, because we see His fingerprints on their hearts and souls. The more we love like that, the more we understand the love God has for us in Jesus. The more we understand that, the better we love God. The better we love God, the better we are able to love other people.

Now that is not to say I did not have a hard time with that. It was painful to be there. It is painful to see your kid hurt so much in her soul. It hurts to not be enough. It hurt to know that for the time being she needed to be away to get the help she needed. It is very hard, and my heart is very heavy. But she did make my day by trusting her mom and me enough to let us know she needed help. I was glad for the opportunity to tell her that sitting with her that night was just what I wanted to do for her on Father’s Day.

Be Like Mom


For Mother’s Day I thought I would share this message I gave a few years ago on Mother’s Day. I posted it back then in parts, here it is presented in full.

To all you mothers out there (especially mine) have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Grace,

Dan

Paul the Mother

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Introduction

Mothers…

You can’t come into this world without one (even Jesus couldn’t come into this world without a mother). They are necessary.

Mothers, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their child on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Mothering is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that makes any fulltime job seem trite.

Mothering is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon that will not slow down for two decades or so.

Mothering takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because kids have none and seemingly live eternally in the “now.”

Mothering takes one way love. If you have been a mother for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a mother you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate you!” “I wish you weren’t my mother!” “I am so done with you!” Many mothers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then motherhood is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good mother.

Mothering requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for physical needs, but social, mental, and spiritual needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet mothers do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their kids. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that mothers don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of motherhood outweighs the pain. And so they keep going.

Moms do this so well in fact that very often when their girls grow up they have a longing to be mothers themselves.

I know some women who just can’t wait for it.

I know others who would give all they had just to be one.

I know others who struggle with the pain of losing their child, and they feel that with that loss and the loss of motherhood part of them died too. They would give anything to get them back.

Exegesis

Our text this morning is an interesting one and a good one to think about on Mother’s Day. Paul was only in Thessalonica for a short time a two or three months at best. But notice how he describes who he and his fellow workers lived, worked, and related to them: Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.

It is very interesting to me that Paul here uses the image of a nursing mother to describe his love and care for the Thessalonians. Paul often used the image of fatherhood to describe his leadership. In fact, just a few verses down in verse 11 he shifts his analogy to fatherhood. While Paul certainly knows he is not a woman and cannot be a mother, he was still led by the Spirit to use the analogy of motherhood in his description of how he related to the Thessalonians. The second half of verse 8 through verse 10 Paul explains what he means.

Verse 8b, Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Like a mother loves her child even before they are born, Paul loved the people of Thessalonica before they had been spiritually born. Love came first. Love was the motivation for going to them, for sharing the Gospel with them, and for sharing their lives with them. Love was not something that came later, or was given after there was proof that the gospel had been accepted but before.

Verse 9, Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. This is also very motherly isn’t it? Mothers work constantly day and night so that their children have all that they need and do not need to worry about caring for them. And as mothers work day and night to care for their children, Paul did the same for his spiritual children.

Verse 10, You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. A good mother shows by her example what is good and right by how she conducts herself in the truth and by how she responds in grace. In like fashion Paul and his companions did the same, not only teaching them the knowledge and idea of what it means to be holy, righteous, and blameless, but setting the example of it, showing them the practice of it, and mentoring them in the living of it.

Doctrine

The Church is called the family of God and the household of God. So it is no accident that the most often used picture to describe spiritual leadership, discipleship, and how we are supposed to relate to one another is that of family. What is the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers if not to nurture, mature, and equip their children so that they grow into adults who are able to do the same for their own children? So it should come as no surprise that motherhood and fatherhood were helpful analogies to understand how Christians are to nurture, mature, and equip one another.

We need to reach out to and share our faith with a mothers love. Mothers don’t wait to see their children grow up before they love them. Paul compared his initial coming to them as that of a nursing mother. Love comes first. It is not earned. It does not have to be asked for. It is just given. His nurturing of them started before there were believers and continued after. You cannot nurture a person without first loving them. We see this over and over in how Jesus related to people. He was very gentle with them. He was very compassionate. He healed them. Ate with them. Freed them from demons. He feed them. His doing so showed that He loved them and cared for them and drew them in to hear who He was and why He was here. He showed them He was the Messiah as He told them He was the Messiah. If we attempt to teach about Christ or witness to Christ without showing them Christ’s love and care we will have little fruit to show for our efforts. I have never witnessed anyone sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a person who had any success who did not love them first. Especially with people we are witnessing to and to new Christians we need to be like nursing mothers caring for their children.

That motherly love that Paul had for the Thessalonians drove him to give himself completely to their needs. A mother’s day is not really organized around her needs so much as it is around the needs of her children. In the same way, Paul ministered in such a way that the new believers saw that they were his first priority. We see the same in Jesus’ relating to the crowds. For instance in Matthew 14:13-14 we are told that when Jesus was given the news that His cousin had been executed by Herod He took the disciples away so they could be by themselves and rest and grieve. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (13b-14). This was the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with a few loaves and fish. He wanted to get away. He wanted to have time alone with His disciples. But His instead He met their needs. The work of nurturing, maturing, and equipping one another works best when we do it with that same attitude.

That leads right to the third truth this passage illustrates for us: that believers, especially new believers need spiritual mothering no less than children do in the home. Love and grace are understood in experience before they are fully understood in thought. So like a mother Paul shared his life with the Thessalonians. You’ve heard the saying, “seeing is believing.” If the people we share our faith with don’t see and experience the love of Christ why should they believe what we are saying is true? The only way that is going to happen is if we share our life with them.

Application

You can learn a lot from a good mother. And it is not only helpful for being a mother or for understanding mothers, it is helpful for understanding the kind of work it takes to nurture, mature, and equip one another in the church. I want to try and show this by taking that description of mothers I began with and putting it in the context of discipleship.

Christians…

You can’t come into the kingdom of God without one sharing the Gospel with you. They are necessary. The agents through whom God brings people into the new life of His kingdom.

Christians, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their spiritual children on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Discipleship is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that can make any fulltime job seem trite.

Discipleship is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon.

Discipleship takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because believers are tempted to understand heavenly realities through their present circumstances instead of the other way around, they often live in the “now.”

Discipleship takes one way love. If you have been a discipler for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a discipler you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate God!” “I wish God would just stop!” “I am so done with God!” Many disciplers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then discipleship is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good discipler.

Discipleship requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for spiritual needs, but physical, social, and even mental needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet in Christ, through Christ Christians do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that Christians don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so they keep discipling.

Do you see what I mean? Now I am not at all saying that this describes all Christians, or even most Christians. I’m not even saying that it describes me! But it should, shouldn’t it?

What if it did? What if we could all say,

In Christ, through Christ I do all this without a second thought. I gladly do it, because I love my spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to me a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when I despair. I do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so I keep discipling.

What effects would that have?

How would things change?

How would I see things differently? How would I see people differently? How would it effect how I see myself?

Might I see God differently?

What impact would that have on the kingdom of God?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find out. What do you say?