One Major Solution…

After violence like happened here in Kalamazoo last weekend, we look for answers and consider ‘What must be done’ to change things so that this stops happening. You can read my earlier Blogs about this through the links at the end of this one, but yesterday I talked about the ‘Human’ solution–relationships. Real, deep, genuine and growing relationships. We must invest ourselves in each other if we’re going to change that.

I do think there’s even more, however. An exclusively ‘human’ solution is not all we need.

We need a Spiritual solution, and that is found, I believe, in Jesus Christ.

Some of your are tempted to ‘click’ out of this right now, but I want to ask you to read on….

I’ve already dealt a bit with the theological reason that we need Jesus–because of our sinful nature and our need for Him to change it–earlier this week.

Today, I want to talk about the Church–His ‘body’ in this world.

Note: I am not talking about the Church, as it is. Rather, I’m talking about the Church as it is meant to be.

In the book of Acts, ch. 2 we get a bit of an idea of what this is supposed to be…

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[i]), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity[j] 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The Church–those who believe in Jesus Christ and worship Him as Lord. Those with a personal ‘relationship’ with Him–prioritized being together. They prioritized prayer, fellowship, the Word and meals together. They saw God do amazing things in their fellowship, and as a result, their impact on the world around them continued to grow.

When people who are Christians really ‘get’ this, and realize how revolutionary this form of loving community could be, it changes their lives. They re-prioritize their lives to make ‘fellowship’ and ‘worship’ a driving force.

You’ll note that they met in the ‘Temple’ (like attending church) and in their houses (like ‘Life Groups’ and regular friendships). They enjoyed and prioritized being together.

Let me ask those of you who are Christians: WHY do you think they prioritized this so much?

I think there are 2 main answers:

  1. Because they had experienced the life-changing grace of God, they were learning what ‘life in the Spirit’ meant, and they could not wait to experience and learn more together.
  2. Because they were living within an increasingly hostile culture which did not want them to grow–in fact, it wanted to stop the Church.

These Christians needed each other–for fellowship, for growth, for community, and for survival!

Increasingly, the Church at this point in history is facing the same thing. Especially in America, where opposition to the Biblical Church–the REAL Church–is growing, we need each other. Yet, we are still too ‘comfortable’ to know it yet. We are like a person who is just starting to wake up and is feeling groggy…We Need an ALARM clock to wake us up.

What will it be?

More violence even closer to home?

More laws that target things we believe?

Cultural or Government hostility toward the teachings of the Word of God?

Alarm bells have been ringing…will we finally Wake Up?

Even in the church I pastor–where ‘Community’ is literally our Middle Name–we don’t prioritize it well. People are too busy with their lives, going from here to there, to make more time for real, Biblical fellowship. Even we at Kalamazoo Community Church need to Wake Up!

Here’s the thing: Even in that culture, where opposition to them was much stronger and more deadly than anything we in America have faced to date, what was the solution?

It was The Church simply beingThe Church.

They “continually” met together, learned together, prayed together, and saw God move together. They reveled in what God was doing, and did not hide it. Everywhere they went, they shared the Good News about Jesus…and God “added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47)

We don’t need politicians to ‘save’ us. We don’t need laws to ‘protect’ us, and we don’t need celebrities to ‘endorse’ us. (Those things are nice, but not ‘necessary’.) What we need is the Holy Spirit of God to ignite a fire within us again so that He shows Himself through us!

That is really what much of our culture is looking for! (Although they don’t know this yet, and they’d never admit it!)

The Church needs to BE The Church…and our culture will benefit because of it.

…and we won’t be shaken!

 

 

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What Can We DO?!

After violence such as that which happened here in Kalamazoo this past weekend, we tend to grapple with 1) How do we process it (part 1 of this series), and 2) WHY did it happen (part 2), but then, quite naturally, we get to this question: What can we DO, darn it, to make sure this kind of thing stops happening?

After all, Kalamazoo is not an isolated incident. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora…all of these and many more have become places that many of us had never heard of in the past, but now can name not only the states they’re in, but what happened there.

Sure, Kalamazoo has always had an interesting name, but now people all over the world know it simply as the latest place where ‘senseless’ killings have taken place.

I’m sure I join everyone in saying that we don’t want this kind of violence to continue!

So, let me ask again…What can we DO?

Some will go right to Gun Control. After all, if we made guns less available, then it would not happen, right?

Well…no, in fact.

Some places in our country and our world in which guns are the most restricted have been visited by this kind of violence…and I think there’s some truth to the ‘bumper sticker slogan’ that “If you outlaw all guns, only outlaws will have guns”. After all, criminals, by definition, don’t respect laws. If we suddenly have ‘gun registration drives’, or ‘gun buyback programs’, or even if we have a heavy-handed government which abolishes the 2nd Amendment and requires all guns to be turned in, No one seriously thinks that criminals will comply. Rather, they’ll keep their guns and use them whenever they want with no threat that their victims can fight back.

Having said that, it needs to be admitted that, if the perpetrator of Kalamazoo’s violence had a knife, instead of a gun, it would be much more likely that he would have been stopped earlier. Guns do enable carnage on a much larger scale than other weapons.

However, I think that this ‘legislative’ approach misses the mark. As one meme I saw recently reminded us: “Cain killed Abel with a rock; It’s a HEART problem!”

So, again…what can we DO?

Others go to Mental Health treatment.

Perhaps the shooter in Kalamazoo had unaddressed ‘Mental Health’ issues. Surely this must be a factor. After all, you don’t go from a family man, and good worker who wants to be a Police Officer to a mass murderer without some kind of ‘breakdown’. Surely something was missed. And certainly, a person who can shoot people, drive for Uber, then shoot more people and drive for Uber again in a detached manor has had some sort of break with reality.

Yet, we have to acknowledge that many of the perpetrators of these violent offenses have been under ‘mental health’ care, and have had medication, and case management services in place. Others have actually been under the eyes of Law Enforcement, but still…no one could foresee this type of behavior.

So, again….What can we DO?

I think the answer is more ‘organic’ than Legislation and Mental Health (although I think both deserve more treatment).

I think the answer is more A) Human and B) Spiritual.

Today, let me speak to The Human solution. Tomorrow I’ll speak to The Spiritual Solution.

From a ‘Human’ perspective, there are some ways in which we are more connected than ever. I currently have 1100 ‘Friends’ on Facebook, and I’m also connected to Linked-In, Instagram, and of course, this Blog. I have been in contact with old friends that I had not heard from in decades–all due to Social Media.

And I’m 53–certainly not one of the ‘most connected’. I’m an ‘old’ guy (old-er, anyway). There are many who have many more ‘friends’ than I do.

Yet, for all the ‘connections’ we have, we have fewer real ‘Connections’ than ever. We know a lot about people, but we don’t really know people. We are in ‘Facebook relationships’, but not in any Real relationships.

In spite of our ‘connected-ness’ via technology, we don’t know how to work through conflict, we have less ability to form deep relationships, (and even less motivation to do so). Our relationships are ‘a mile wide but only an inch deep’. We simply don’t have (or make) time to prioritize ‘Community’.

‘Belonging’ is something we all long for, but fewer and fewer of us experience it. We are more ‘connected’ and more ‘isolated’ at the same time.

We are on the fast track, going from one activity and one connection to the next, we no real time to simply ‘be’ in relationship with one another.

 

The truth is that we all make time for that which is important to us, and UNLESS we start prioritizing RELATIONSHIPS–real, deep, complex, growing and loving Relationships over Pseudo-Community, we may have entered a ‘downward spiral’ in our society with little chance of pulling out of it.

I pray that the Lord wakes us up before it’s too late…and that’s what I’ll talk about tomorrow.

 

WHY?

WHY?

Whenever a tragedy happens, we have a natural desire to search for answers.

We want to know “Why?”.

Especially when there is a tragedy that is man-caused, we want to know…we demand to know…WHY?

In the case of the Kalamazoo shootings this week, many are asking that question: Why?

There is much speculation…was there a relational issue, a financial issue, a job or health issue? Was there a mental health issue or a personal ‘vengeance’ issue? Was there a ‘political’ point to prove?

What made this man—Jason Dalton–a seemingly normal family man, who’d lived and worked in this community all his life—‘go off’?

We still don’t know. He does. God does. Maybe a few others have a clue…but most of us do not.

Therefore, we’re left with maddening questions for which we search in vain for answers.

However, there are some things we do ‘know’ about this situation…and all other kinds of ‘evil’ in this world.

We know this: This is not the way it was created to be!

The Scriptures can clue us in on ‘why’ these kinds of things happen.

God, in His goodness, established this world as a beautiful place where peace reigned.

When Adam and Eve, our first ancestors, were created, they lived in a perfect environment in real ‘communion’ with each other and with God The Creator (See Genesis 1:28-31). We learn that Adam and Eve had an unhindered relationship with God and even enjoyed their fellowship with Him in Eden (see Genesis 3:8), but that they chose to follow their own way—with the encouragement of satan, their spiritual enemy—and they sinned.

From that moment, sin entered the world, and their ‘unhindered fellowship with God’ was broken.

Adam and Eve had now corrupted their very nature, and from that moment forward, all of their offspring—including you and I—were corrupted.

We are born in sin, with a propensity to go our own way and put ourselves and our own desires before anyone or anything else—including God, and including other human beings.

As the prophet Jeremiah recalled, “The human heart is deceitful above all things, and wicked beyond cure; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In addition to that, our spiritual enemy—satan—is still active and is seeking to destroy everything good. (“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…” (John 10:10)

Therefore, we can say that it is ‘natural’ in a sense, that we are selfish, self-centered and in many ways, evil.

This should not really surprise us.

Now, I do not know Jason Dalton. I do not know what ‘triggered’ him, and I am not suggesting that everyone is one bad decision away from extreme violence like this.

However, we all have that tendency toward ‘self’ within…and the more we give in to that, the more likely we are to justify and rationalize rudeness, selfishness, and evil.

As the Scriptures say, we are all–each and every one of us–sinners. “All have sinned, all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23)

So, in a very real sense, the tendency we each have toward ‘self’ is evil…and unless something controls that, and ultimately changes that…we have a tendency toward ever-increasing expressions of it. As Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” (Matthew 6:45)

That is part of the reason we seem to be seeing more frequent, more deadly, more violent and extreme expressions of evil in this world–including right here in Kalamazoo.

For many of us, our desire to make our culture a good place and to see goodness triumph helps us to overcome our selfishness–at least in the ‘extreme’ cases. In an increasing number of cases, however, this is not enough. Our society–and the individuals within it–seem to be increasingly bent on self-focused expression of my wants, even if it means taking advantage of others, hurting others’ feelings, and even violence toward others.

We need a change…a deep, internal and abiding change.

I believe that change is found in Jesus Christ, and His ability to change our hearts and minds as we open ourselves up to Him by faith and obedience. That’s the Good News–the Gospel–of Jesus Christ!

We all have sin and selfishness within. We are corrupted in our very nature by it…but Jesus came to pay for our sin, and to give us New Life–spiritually whole LIFE! “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they might have Life–to the FULL!” (John 10:10)

As we move forward from the events of this weekend, my hope and prayer is that Kalamazoo…and everywhere…would open up to the love, grace, forgiveness of God–as found in Jesus, and that we would allow Him to change us within.

As we do that, one person and one heart at a time, I am confident that this kind of evil can be lessened in this world.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about ‘What we can DO’ in the here-and-now to change things.

In the meantime, my hope is that we’d all have the courage to pray, as King David did, “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my mind. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me to everlasting life!’ (Psalm 139:23-24)

Blessings,

Dave

A Terrible Series of Events…

Well, if you’re from Kalamazoo or Southwest Michigan you know what our community has been going through since this Saturday evening.

A gunman shot people in 3 different, apparently random areas on Saturday evening/night, wounding 2 and killing 6. It was a terrible series of events that will impact our community, and the communities of Mattawan, Battle Creek, and Baroda for some time. The families of the victims have been, and will be, dramatically and tragically impacted for the rest of their lives. The family of the shooter–from all accounts, innocent and unaware–will be impacted for the rest of their lives.

Kalamazoo is not a small town…there are events that go on in this city and region that never effect us, personally.

This one, however, does.

Whether or not you are family and friends with the victims, or the shooter, or whether you’re simply a member of this community, you have been impacted. There is a ‘heaviness’ around town. Conversations all over are taking place, with people shaking their heads in disbelief. It’s hard to take, and much harder still to try to make sense of any of it. It leaves you feeling like you need to take a deep breath, but can’t–like the ‘wind has been knocked out’ of you and you can’t get enough air.

What can we do in this time?

How can we help each other?

How can we heal, and move forward?

I do think there are things to consider, maybe even some things to learn. Over the next few days I’ll be blogging about this, and my sincere hope is that you find it helpful. If you do, feel free to share it with others.

For today, I just think it’s important to say this: It’s ok to mourn. It’s ok–good, even–to feel down. Obviously, the closer you are to the victims, the more tough this is, but even those who had no actual ‘connection’ have felt the loss.

The shooter took lives, but he also took any semblance of normalcy and any illusion of safety and security from our community. We have tended to go through life in a matter-of-fact way in which we assumed ‘everything’s under control’. This weekend reminds us that this is not the case, and that’s a tough reminder. This weekend also reminds us of our own mortality, and the brevity of life, and that is a lesson no one likes to be reminded of.

The people who were victims of this violence were embracing life together…playing on a playground, shopping for new cars and enjoying a family night out. This killer stole all that life, for reasons known only to him for now, and there is immense grief as a result.

I just want to offer a word of encouragement to all: Grieve!

Admit that it’s hit you–even in surprising ways, and feel it. Express your feelings–to a loved one, a friend, a minister, a counselor…express your feelings to God! Pray, journal…but don’t just try to ‘go on’ and pretend it didn’t hit you like a sucker-punch-to-the-gut.

As you do express your feelings and struggles, I encourage you to cry out to Jesus. He certainly knows the pain and injustice, the violence and evil in this world. He is with us in our pain!

He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Elsewhere in the Scriptures we are reminded of the compassion of God:

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.                                                 The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:8-9)

and

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Therefore, let me encourage you to comfort one another. Be there for one another.

Go to the Lord and cry out to Him. He will comfort you and help you to move on.

In that spirit, I offer this song…

The Secret?

I heard on the radio (WCSG) this morning about Maury and Helen Goosenberg, the longest-married couple in the US! They are 102 and 100, respectively, and have been married 80 years!

When Helen was asked what the secret to their marriage was, she simply answered: Humor.

The radio hosts challenged listeners to think about how we would answer the question, ‘What’s the secret to a healthy marriage, in 5 words or less’?

Lori and I have been married 28 years, and although we’d never say ‘we’ve arrived’, and we always have room to grow, we have learned some things. So, in 5 words, how would I answer that question?

  1. FAITH                                                                                         I think it is absolutely crucial that couples share the same faith.  Our ‘faith’ is foundational to who we are, how we live, and what we view as important. To come from differing perspectives on this is unwise. That’s one application to Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” When husband and wife share the same faith, they are building on the same faith in Jesus Christ, they are building on the same morals, beliefs, and guidelines. For a believer in Jesus, it is also based on the same understanding that we are all in need of God’s grace, and husband and wife should show each other that grace too. This motivates us to stay in the Word, to Pray together, to attend Church together…

2. SACRIFICE

Another crucial aspect to a good, healthy, Biblical marriage is the willingness of husband and wife to sacrifice themselves for each other. Many ‘voices’ in our culture shout that we should ‘look out for #1’, but in marriage that is simply not the case. We need to be putting our spouse’s interests and needs before our own (ideally, they’re doing the same–and each of you are serving the other). This ‘sacrificial love’ is the very same kind of love that Jesus showed us by laying His life down for us, and He calls His followers to live similarly–in all relationships, but especially in the marriage relationship.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

3. INVESTMENT

Anything that is important in life needs to be a priority. Marriage is no different. We must continue to INVEST in our marriage–whether through walks together, dates, Bible studies, Marriage Retreats…it is crucial that we continually communicate to our spouses that our love is a top priority in our lives (husbands…take it from me–this is so crucial–if your wife sees you investing in your relationship and putting her first in your order of priorities (humanly speaking), she will flourish–and you will benefit)! 

Ephesians 5:21-26:

“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” 

4. HUMOR

The ability to laugh at yourself is crucial in a marriage. Do not take yourself (or the other) too seriously! We all do silly, even funny, ridiculous things at times. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen–laugh about it! If I can laugh at myself, and I allow my spouse to do the same, it shows that I ‘get’ this. I am showing humility in doing so, and thereby creating a ‘free’ environment. However…I’ll know our marriage is really ‘secure’ when I can laugh at something my spouse has done, and they laugh with me, rather than get defensive. 

Chill about it. You’re funny at times!

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8, the Message)

5. FRESHNESS

Do your best to keep things new, growing and fresh in your marriage. There are ‘seasons’ of a marriage, and you should try to ‘breathe life’ into them. At first, when you’re getting to know each other, that’s easy…but as kids come (and you’re just trying to survive each day) it becomes more challenging. Later, when things calm down, it will be easy to sit back and avoid talking. When the ‘nest’ gets empty, you may stare at each other and wonder ‘Why did I marry you?’. 

That’s part of the reason it’s important to continue trying new things together. Take up a new hobby together. Develop an interest together. Let your spouse teach you about their interest. Learn together, and learn from each other. This can keep things ‘fresh’ and growing forever.

The Scriptures tell us to continually ‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Why do we think that our most significant human relationship–our marriage–should be any different? 

 

If we can show our spouse these 5 things by What we say, How we live, and What we prioritize, our marriage will be happy, healthy, and vibrant!

The Last Marriage Blog You Need To Read

Great perspective here!

Limitless

As I have personally worked to become the best ‘Me’ that I can be in regards to Christ-likeness, I have spent a considerable amount of time in prayer over the many character flaws that I find in myself. At the heart of the prayers over many of these characteristics is the desire to become the best future husband that I can be. On many occasions I have asked God to help guide my ways towards becoming a good man of God with the specific purpose of satisfying an even greater woman of God. You may have prayed similar prayers before.

However, as I have spent time praying over and pursuing a steadiness of this desired integrity, I cant help but feel some conviction over one looming thought: am I asking God to bless an area that I am putting before Him?

***

If you’re like most middle aged single people…

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Be Still!

“Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)

How hard it is to simply ‘Be Still’!

Maybe your world seems to be crumbling around you–your job, your family, your marriage, your health, your money…there are no shortage of things that can stress us out, keep us up at night and lead to anxiety and worry.

Is there anything that can give us victory over these things? Anything that we, who are believers in Jesus Christ can do to respond differently–more ‘peacefully’–than the majority of the world around us?

Yes, there is!

We can ‘Be Still’.

We can chill.

But first, we have to consider this very important question: WHERE does our Peace come from?

If it comes from ‘peaceful’ circumstances, then any time our circumstances go crazy, then we have no hope of peace. Zero.

If, on the other hand, our ‘peace’ comes from somewhere…or some ONE…who does not change, then maybe we’re on to something!

What does Psalm 46:10 say? To be still and KNOW…this is a statement of faith. This is a declaration we make.

What are we to ‘Know’?

That He…IS…GOD!

This means that we REFUSE to believe our circumstances and instead we make a decision of our will to know and declare that we believe that He Is God!

HE is personal. He is loving and merciful. He knows us, He loves us and He cares for us. He has the perfect plan for us, and we can know Him, even as we are known by Him.

In addition to all that, we’re saying that He IS God–there is no other. He is the One and Only TRUE God, and therefore, we can trust in Him.

Finally, we say confidently that He Is GOD–wise, loving, powerful and gracious. He is merciful, right and just. He is patient, holy and true. He is, in fact ALL Knowing, ALL-Powerful and EVER-Present.

All of this means that we can trust in Him, even when our circumstances seem completely out of control. He has not abandoned us. He is faithful, and will give us strength to endure, and He will lead us into victory.

This is why the Apostle Paul could write Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The ‘peace that passes understanding’ doesn’t come from our circumstances, nor does it come from a desire to have it. We can’t experience if our prayers are simply ‘God, change my circumstances’, or ‘God, give me peace’.

That Peace is a byproduct of TRUST.

We Trust in Him, because HE IS GOD!

…and because He Is God, and He loves us, we can rest…and we can have peace!