About that sinking feeling…

You have not been left out.

You have not been left behind.

You have not wasted your life.

You have not failed your calling.

–––

You still matter to God.

You still have much to offer.

You are still valuable to the world around you.

The best is yet to come.

–––

Now get to it!

–Phillip


Image creditunsplash-logoPaul Bulai

Three Acceptances

To accept the world as it is without losing hope; this is the great journey of adulthood and maturity.

To accept people for who they are, not for who you wish them to be; this is the great task of love.

To accept that though disappointment and pain are part of our lot in this life, they are only a piece of the story and need not be the headline; this is the great aim of hope.

If I can fully embrace these three things, I believe the end result for me will be much greater peace and deeper joy.

Perhaps it can be the same for you.

–Pastor Phillip

Worship

Worship is not an event you attend once a week; it’s the lifestyle you practice every day.

In reality, everyone, everywhere, at all times is worshipping someone or something, because worship is simply the act of demonstrating the value (or “worth”) of something by giving it priority.

When you prioritize one person, activity or interest above others in your schedule, that’s a form of worship.

When you spend more money on one thing than another, that’s a facet of worship.

When you devote your highest affection and devotion to a cause or individual or group or passion or pastime, that is an expression of worship.

I know you may push back, thinking that “worship” has an overtly religious sense, and of course it does.  Yet, at its core, the meat of what worship really IS has much less to do with observing a faith and much more to do with demonstrating a pattern priorities.  How you BEHAVE reveals what you really BELIEVE.

Because of this, if you want to know what you really worship, look at where you devote your resources, and more importantly, WHY you do so.

The answers might surprise you.

Just a thought.

–Pastor Phillip

Thoughts on working through a miscarriage

It was a Tuesday night around 9pm.

The doctor strode in to our room at the ER and announced to my wife and me, “I’m sorry, you’ve had a miscarriage.” Heather had already known; she had felt it in her body and her heart. I was holding on to hope, not wanting to believe, but with the matter-of-fact words of the doctor, the case was closed. It was over. We had joined the ranks of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage.

She was ten weeks along, and though we had shared the news with a few people, we were waiting to let people know until we had ultrasound pictures to show. Now, instead of announcing the joyous prospect of new birth, we found ourselves having to share news of death.

In the wake of this shock, we knew we needed time to grieve, to process, to heal, but we didn’t know what to do. We felt we needed to get away, but didn’t have the money to do so. In God’s Providence, one of our congregation provided a Pastor’s Appreciation gift that enabled us to afford to drive to see family in Virginia, where almost the entire clan from my father’s side were visiting.

In the last sermon I preached before that fateful day, I shared this encouragement: “maybe your struggle is helping someone else grow strong.” Who would have guessed that that thought would end up being for me.

I never want to rush through something that God has allowed for a deeper purpose, and as I work through this new chapter in my journey, I wanted to share some thoughts God has put on my heart in the midst of this trial, in the hopes that they will encourage and strengthen you for yours.

– – –
I find myself alternating between strength and sorrow, between holding things together, caring for Heather and Bradley and the other facets of our life, and letting myself go into grief, embracing the ice-cold waves of sorrow as they rush without warning into my soul.

This back-and-forth experience is healthy, but it is hard. It is good, but gut-wrenching, this journey into the deeper layers of human experience in a broken world. For that is what this is, simply our turn on the merry-go-round of loss and pain, and like any merry-go-round, I know this, too, will come full circle in its time and bring us back to joy again.

I find myself frustrated because I know that grief is something you can’t simply rush through, but I have a family to take care of, a job to do, and a church to lead. In my more reflective moments, I have to admit that I don’t want to enter fully into the pain, because I am afraid of what it will do to me.

Yet, I have to face that fear. You have to face that fear.

– – –
I realize that for me, it’s still so early in the grieving process that right now I’m simply falling back on what I know to be true. I am clicking into auto-pilot to try and cope, and to hopefully bring something good out of this tragic moment.

Yet, at the end of the day, we are not the ones who bring light out of darkness, God is, and He will do so in His way, and in His time.

In the meantime, I cling to three things that give me hope. To share them with you doesn’t mean that I have it all together and figured out, but simply that I’m choosing to hang on to what I know is true, even as I realize that I’ve still only weathered the first few waves of grief in the onslaught of emotion to come.

– – –
First, Heather and I don’t blame God for visiting this pain upon us, nor do we believe He had nothing to do with it at all. Both of these extremes lead only to despair, and neither have any claim on the God of the Bible.

No, God did not cause our loss, but neither was He powerless to stop it. Instead, He stood by us and stands by us still in the midst of the pain. He has allowed us to go through this trial not because He doesn’t love us, but because He loves us enough to let us be tried and forged in the fire so that we might come out stronger and brighter than before.

Today we choose to not blame God.

– – –
Second, we don’t blame ourselves, because we know in the long history of a world marred by sin and marked by its repercussions, the day of heartache will come to us all.

In this world of death and loss and tragedy and pain, each of us is allotted a cup of suffering. Though we would nearly all choose to let it pass without partaking, that is not our decision to make. Rather, our choice is how we will drink it: with bitterness and resentment that God would dare allow pain into our lives, or with the strength and courage of Jesus, whose prayer in His hour of trial was, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Today we choose to not blame ourselves.

– – –
Third, we remember the Gospel, because moments like these are precisely where the glorious light of the Good News shines through!

If Jesus has indeed conquered the grave, then though our hearts may hear its bitter laugh in this moment, we choose to weather the pain in hope because we know death will never have the last word, and we will get to meet our unborn child someday.

If Jesus has indeed completely atoned for the penalty of sin, then though the weight of grief is strong, we choose not add to it the weight of guilt that this is in any way our fault. This is not God’s punishment for some failure; it is His providence for our future, a gift wrapped in darkness that still contains a seed of light.

If Jesus has indeed secured our position of favor with the Father, then not only can we take courage in knowing that “this too shall pass,” but we can also take heart in the truth that the Almighty God of the universe is not only with us in the storm, but is working it into a grander story than we can possibly imagine, a story with a sweeter and more glorious happy ending than our mortal minds can conceive.

Today we choose to believe the Gospel.

– – –
So there they are. Three truths and three choices that help us cope with loss and suffering and pain. Three truths and three choices that are Biblically correct and spiritually sound.

And it’s really, really hard to actually live them out.

Please don’t think that because I share these things, I’ve fully figured them out and am doing just fine. I’m not. We’re not. We are angry and hurt and confused and knocked down – but not destroyed.

This is hard and painful and disorienting and just plain bad – but it is not the end.

Today we choose to trust Jesus and take it one day at a time, and so can you.

– – –
What does this mean practically? It means we take time away to heal. We do not rush through the hallways of the house of mourning, or else we may find ourselves circling back though them longer and later than we would like or need.

No, we take them at their own pace, each turn at whatever angle and speed it requires to truly move past it to the next. We write. We cry. We pray. We cry some more. We talk. We listen. We cry again.

We remember our past dreams and by faith begin slowly to build new ones, starting simply with the dream that someday, somehow, this blood-red thread in our life’s tapestry won’t be so prominent in our view, and will simply be folded in to the background as our life begins to feel normal again.

–Pastor Phillip

Entitlement, gratitude, and marketing

Entitlement is the mortal enemy of gratitude.

The more we feel we deserve something, the less likely we are to feel grateful when it comes.

So, the great and tragic irony of modern marketing is this: the more advertisers tell us we deserve whatever product or service or lifestyle they are selling, the more they strip us of our ability to truly enjoy and appreciate it when we finally cave in.

Don’t let politics derail your perspective

An Encouraging Word

DON’T LET POLITICS DERAIL YOUR PERSPECTIVE

Today my friend texted me in despair.

“I’ve given up on everything political,” he said.  “If things are going to change for the better, it’s going to happen by changing the hearts of men.”

How right he was.

Today’s landmark Supreme Court decision will forever alter the fabric of our society.  It will have far-reaching effects in our families, businesses, schools, churches and beyond.  It will impact our lives in ways we can’t see yet, affecting issues we haven’t even begun to imagine.

Even so, this thought gives me peace:
God is still on His throne.An-Encouraging-Word-WP-Logo-2015

“Of course He is,” you may say, “that’s why we need to __________.”  But maybe, just maybe, what we need to do most is simply breathe.

Government is neither a Messiah nor the Anti-Christ.  It never has been, and it never will be.  Both great and evil things can and do happen through political process.  It’s always been that way.  It will stay that way as long as humans are involved in the process.

But God is still on His throne.

If you rejoice in this decision and expect it to usher in a golden age of tolerance and diversity, it won’t.  If you mourn this decision and see it as the end of morality in America, it’s not.

This is simply a step.

For some it’s a step forward, to others, a step back, but it’s only a step.  It’s a big step, to be sure, but it’s only a step.

Don’t hear me saying this is not a big deal, because it is.  Don’t hear me saying there won’t likely be hard times ahead for the Church, because there will be.  I’m simply saying this…

God is still on His throne.

This decision changes everything for our country, but changes nothing for Christians.  Why?  Because the Christ we follow never commanded us to seek political solutions to spiritual problems.  Nor did He tell us to be disengaged, but rather to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Mark 12:17)

This means that all of us, whether we agree or disagree with the decision, have both an opportunity and an obligation to do what Jesus has always commanded us to do: deal kindly with those on “the other side” of our position.

It means as the sticky situations and uncomfortable conversations begin to increase, we must respond with wise and thoughtful dialogue, not foolish fear-mongering, name-calling, and doom-saying.

So, whether you feel elated or defeated by today’s ruling, take a deep breath today, and remember this:

God is still on His throne, so don’t let politics derail your perspective.

 

–Pastor Phillip

PowerPoint-Title-Card-[Counter-Culture]p.s. Do you want to engage helpfully on issues like these but aren’t sure how?  Join me starting tomorrow night at 6:00pm for an all-new outpostChurch teaching series called, “CounterCulture: navigating the war zone between culture and Christianity.”  We’ll explore what the Bible says about many hot issues of our day, and how Christians can respond well as we engage with the world around us.  (Can’t make it tomorrow night?  Listen or watch online at outpostChurch.org!)

What Christmas Means to Me

I have no presents to open today.

Don’t take that the wrong way.  Our family exchanged gifts a few nights ago when my brothers and sisters-in-law were in town, so it’s not like I lost my ticket for the goodie train this year.  But, since the gift-giving is done, this morning will bring no fantastic trove of presents, no festive tearing of paper, no scrambling for batteries or saving of bows for next year.

What Christmas Means to MeThis morning I will work out with my friend Steve, carrying on our regular Tuesday/Thursday routine.

This morning I will visit my parents for some breakfast and chit-chat about the weekend and our plans for the new year.

This morning I will check Facebook a time or two, do a little reading , and ponder the significance of words I read this morning about what this day is supposed to mean.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
-Luke 2:10b-12

A newborn baby: The littlest thing turns out to be the greatest gift of all.

Two poor first-time parents: The most unlikely people in the most unlikely place turn out to be the ones God chooses to steward His greatest treasure.

An unkempt, ragtag group of shepherds: The most unqualified ears turn out to be the ones that first hear the news of the Savior’s birth.

This Christmas, no matter what things are or aren’t under the tree, no matter who is or isn’t nearby for the celebration or whether or not there is a celebration at all, may you remember this simple truth.  God loves to take the small things and turn them into big blessings, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

May you be blessed to be a blessing, both on this special day and in the days to come.

Merry Christmas,
-Pastor Phillip

 

Why Hope and Truth Must Always Coexist

Truth without hope is like light without heat.

It may show you the way, but it will not provide the strength to walk in it.

Hope without truth is like a cloud without rain.

It may look promising for a while, but it will never provide the nourishment you need.

Churches and sermons and Christians in conversation must be faithful to do what God’s Word does: provide both truth AND hope.

Every time.

How are you doing?

 

How to Not be Overwhelmed at Christmas

Do you ever feel overwhelmed during the Christmas season?

Do you find yourself frustrated by the commercialism, by the long lines and busy schedules, by the financial burden and the family hassles?  Here is your solution.

Selah.

Who is this Jesus?

In Scripture, to “selah” means to stop and consider, to step back and ponder something of great importance.  Naturally, then, we must have something of great importance to consider.

A couple of years ago I was part of a home-based Bible study community.  One night around Christmas time, a friend of mine shared this piece, and it was such a beautiful way to draw our focus to Jesus that I wanted to share it here.

Read it slowly.  Read it deliberately.  Don’t rush through it, but take the time to ponder the significance of what is said.

If you would seek to not be overwhelmed AT Christmas, join me in being overwhelmed BY the Christ whose birth we celebrate.  Indeed, as we ponder, He will be faithful to send His peace.

He always is.

—Pastor Phillip

 


The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Scriptural Tapestry of Jesus as Man and God by Gregory of Nazianzus

“He was baptized (Matt. 3:13) as man, but he destroyed sins (Matt. 9:6) as God; he himself was not in need of purifying rites, but [he was baptized/he came] that he might sanctify the waters.

He was tempted (Matt. 4:1) as man, but he conquered as God; not only this but he even encouraged [us] to be courageous, since he had conquered the world (John 16:33).

He was hungry, but he fed thousands (John 6:10); not only this but he is indeed life-giving and heavenly bread (John 6:51).  He was thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28), but he shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); not only this but he also promised that those who believe would gush forth [with water] (John 7:38).

He was tired (John 4:6), but for those who are tired and heavy laden he is rest (Matt. 11:28).  He was heavy with sleep (Matt. 8:24), but he is light upon the sea; not only this but he even rebukes winds; not only this but he even makes Peter light when he is sinking (Matt. 14:25, 29; Matt. 8:26).

He pays tax, but [he does so] from a fish (Matt. 17:24-27); not only this but he is even king of those demanding [the tax].

He hears himself called a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), but he saves the one who went down from Jerusalem and fell among robbers (Luke 10:30); not only this but he is even recognized by demons (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) and drives out demons (Matt. 8:16), and he sinks a legion of spirits (Luke 8:33) and sees the ruler of demons falling like lightning (Luke 10:18).

He is stoned, but he is not caught (John 8:59).

He prays (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Heb. 5:7), but he hears [prayers] (Acts 7:59).

He weeps (John 11:35), but he causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus [is laid] (John 11:34), for he was man, but he raises Lazarus (John 11:43), for he was God.

He is sold, and very cheaply, for [it was] for thirty silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but he buys back the world, and [it was] for a great price, for [it was] with his own blood (1 Pet 1:18-19).

He was led as a sheep to slaughter (Isa 53:7), but he shepherds Israel, and now, indeed, the whole inhabited world (John 10:11).  [He is] silent like a lamb (Isa 53:7; Matt. 26:63), but he is the Word (John 1:1), being proclaimed by a voice of one shouting in the desert (John 1:23).

He has been weakened, wounded, but he heals every disease and every infirmity (Isa. 53:5).  He is lifted up upon the tree (John 12:32), he is fixed [to it] (Acts 2:23), but he restores by the tree of life (John 6:51); not only this but he saves even a robber crucified with [him] (Luke 23:43); not only this but he darkens everything that is seen (Luke 23:44).

He is given cheap wine to drink (Luke 23:36), he is fed bile (Matt. 27:34).  Who?  The one who changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11), the destroyer of the bitter taste (Heb. 2:9), the [one who is] sweetness and all desire (Song 5:16).

He hands over his life, but he has authority to take it again (John 10:18); not only this but the curtain is torn apart (Matt. 27:51); for the things above are exhibited (Cf. Rev. 11:19; 15:5) not only this but rocks are split; not only this but dead are raised beforehand (Matt. 27:51-52).  He dies, but he makes alive, and by death he destroys death.

He is buried, but he rises. He goes down into Hades (1 Peter 3:18-19), but he brings up souls; not only this but he goes up into heaven; not only this but he will come to judge the living and the dead . . . ”

(Gregory of Nazianzus Oration 29.20, translation by Rodney A. Whitacre)