Greatness!

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By Jeff Foerster

True greatness is not about accomplishing great works, achieving great positions or “success,” or fulfilling one’s destiny or “calling.”

I challenge you to go back and read again the above sentence. Several times. Do you believe these words are true, or have you already begun to explain them away saying, “Yeah, except …” or, “I agree, but …”? Granted, on the surface it sounds counterintuitive. It may come across like the opening lines from a suspect motivational speech ending in, “That’s why I’m living in a van, down by the river!” So what then? Do I suggest shunning hard work and making a name for oneself?

Now, before you run off and vote socialist in upcoming elections and live off government largess (made available by China, Japan, and your hardworking neighbor), consider that the above statement is not a call to inaction. Rather, it is an invitation to shake off the malaise of discontent induced by a life lived off target. Being “driven,” “working hard,” “going the extra mile,” and “striving for excellence” can each be positive characteristics. The problem comes not from the degree of effort exerted, but the expected outcome. It is when we hold tightly to our vision, our calculated plan, that we set aside the purposes of God and relegate ourselves to lesser positions, though they might seem more desirable to human eyes.

Finding one’s strength in outcomes is alluring, precisely because it appeals to our sinful flesh. It does not require faith, which is what God desires, but relies on what can be seen, felt, experienced. Yet faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval (Hebrews 11:1-2). God has a grand plan, conceived in perfect wisdom and born of perfect love. Jesus tells us not to work for food that perishes, nor gather treasures upon the earth (John 6:27; Matthew 6:19). He also warns us concerning seeking the approval of men rather than that of God (Matthew 6:1-2, 5).

So what of this “making a name for oneself”? The truth is, God already has a name for you: son, daughter, and fellow heir with Christ. The question is not whether to trade a life spent pursuing significance for one of insignificance. Rather, it is a question of determining who decides what is significant—you, or the Lord? Are you willing to submit to His plans and His purposes? Will you trust that He knows what He is doing and where He is leading you, though you know not the details? Are you willing to trust God in the routine, in the “small things?” Are you willing to let God organize the priorities of the life He wants to live through you? You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Rest assured, “significance” is exactly what God has planned for you, though it may not look as you imagined, and it certainly will not be within your control. Unwittingly, a musical ensemble by the name of Pink Floyd illustrates in their song, “Wish You Were Here,” a choice and a warning for us: “Did you exchange, a walk-on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?”

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Good Sufferings

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By Nate Champneys

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you spend any time around the Church, you will hear this verse often quoted. Honestly, it has always been one of my personal favorites; however, I often think we take it and make it into something that it’s not.

As human beings, our emphasis is almost always on doing. One of the first things we ask someone when we meet them is, “What do you do for a living?” We evaluate others by what they do. We tend to find our worth as a person by what we ourselves do or don’t do. So with a verse like Romans 8:28, we hear it and we immediately want to go apply this to our “doings.” We want to say, This means that whatever I am doing in my life, God is for me and is going to help me accomplish it. God will make all my “doings” prosper.

Then the trials come. We fail at the project we are working on. Our car breaks down. We lose our house. A loved one falls deathly ill. How do we reconcile the trials in our lives with Romans 8:28? “I thought God was for me. He must not care. He must not even be there. He must not exist.” Yet Romans 8:28 was spoken by the apostle Paul, a man who was very familiar with suffering. How is suffering good?

When you look at chapter 8 as a whole, though, this verse starts to become clear. In chapter 8 the focus is on our identity as God’s children, and as His children we have been given right standing with God. We have a Daddy who loves us. Let’s read one verse further, into verse 29. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Ahhhh! That is the good. Here Paul clarifies what he means. The “good” that he speaks about is not that everything in our lives is going to go perfectly. The good is that through it all we can trust that it is part of the process of Him conforming us into the image of Christ.

So God may not make all your “doings” prosper. Your project may fail. Your car may break down. You may lose your house. Your loved one may die. But in all these things and more, you can take the promise to the bank that your Father in Heaven is using those very difficult things to conform you into the image of His Son.

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Recovering Grump

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By Brian Sharpe

I can be grumpy. It is frustrating for me to admit that. I don’t want to be, but it comes so easily. This summer, when I was with students and leaders at a four-day Christian music festival where we were tent camping in 100 degree weather, I took off for the morning to go shopping. A couple of the students wanted to go with me, but I said no. I just needed some time alone. When I returned after a couple hours, I was refreshed. I started unloading the groceries from the truck, and one of my leaders said, “You needed to go by yourself, you were grumpy.” I was okay with that statement because I know that about myself.

The problem is that I can be grumpy with my family way too much. They are hard to get away from when I am tired and feeling the need to get away. When I am on a trip with students, men, or ministry leaders, I can keep the perspective that this time will come to an end. I need to love well. I need to push through, even if I am tired. I know I can go home at the end of the trip and just get my downtime. The problem is that when I go home, my family is there. They weren’t on the trip. They were home without me. When I come home, they want my time. I also want my time, and that leads to grumpiness.

I had an epiphany this last vacation. The reason I get grumpy is because I get selfish and don’t keep the perspective of loving others to Christ. I know I need to do that as a pastor to others, but when I come home I am still required by love to point my family to Jesus, not away because of my grumpiness. My perspective had to change. I had to go from focusing on what I need to focusing on how to love my family well. How do I not keep a record of wrongs or be easily irritated? My perspective needed to be much less about what I need, and much more about what my family needs in order for me to be the husband and father that leads his family toward Jesus.

I am constantly convicted by my selfishness. God is teaching me over and over again that loving others includes my family, and that loving others is a constant choice of living out 1 Corinthians 13. I need to be patient and kind always, not just when I am refreshed or in a good place, but also when things aren’t going my way. The only way I can do that is when I am focusing on Jesus and the love He has for me. That is what can get me through. That is what can help me love my family and others well. The hard part is being self-aware enough to realize when you are not loving well. That is why we need others, such as my youth leader, who say, “You needed to get away, you were grumpy.”

The other part of the epiphany that I got was that, a lot of time, our families get the shaft. Our families are whom we let our guard down with, and we treat them differently than anyone else because of that. Which brings me back to keeping the perspective that my family deserves me staying focused on loving God and others well. They don’t deserve the shaft; they deserve our best, just like anyone else. We need to allow God to help us love Him and others well. We need Him to help us recover from our grumpiness. Well, I need Him to help me recover from it … because I am probably the only one who struggles with this!

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ASHLEY MADISON: What’s Really Being Exposed?

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By Martin Schlomer

I have been keeping up on the Ashley Madison revelations, and I am very sad.[1] These revelations expose not only our own adulterous desires but also marriages whose dark closets are filled with unresolved issues and disconnected, lonely individuals. An outsider may not see this relational cancer by simply looking, but too often these issues are there nonetheless.

Like people, every marriage has a story, and it’s not the one that’s being told (Donald Miller). Too many spouses starve for affection, nurturing, acknowledgement, and encouragement (and a host of other essential ingredients) while they choke on hidden anger, self-pity, and personal sense of failure. Too often the spouse doesn’t even realize it. As a result, husbands and wives are frequently sent out into an oversexed and overexposed culture, in a perpetual state of weakness and vulnerability, to try to compete and succeed as human beings created for intimate relationship. How is this working for us? Obviously, not well.

I’m not relieving of responsibility those who have fallen, nor am I willing to throw rocks and declare that no one can be trusted (not even Christian leaders). I understand all too well the power of temptation and my own vulnerabilities in an oversexed and overexposed world. I want to passionately advocate something very different. In my dream world, every spouse would lay aside his or her own disappointments and choose daily to send his/her spouse into the world from a position of strength, not weakness. Every day, look for ways to fill your spouse with intimate touch, words of encouragement, and relational nurturing. Make him/her anticipate with eagerness coming home that evening. Stop focusing on how he/she can be a better spouse, and celebrate what you have. (While I have always been an advocate for talking about how one can improve, an overemphasis on this catalyzes a sense of failure.) As we celebrate what we have, we can cultivate spouses who want to grow and become the men or women we need and long for them to be.

I understand that some who read this may be thinking: “You don’t understand my husband/wife.” You’re right, I don’t. However, I do have a pretty good understanding of human nature. You cannot take responsibility for your spouse. You can only be responsible for the kind of spouse/person you choose to bring to the table of your marriage. Too many have tried demanding change and blaming him/her for the failure when he/she fell short. This has only weakened and crippled our marriages and us as human beings. How about if we try something different? If you have a well-intentioned spouse, I believe you have every reason to give this a shot. Let’s toast to giving strength!

[1] If you’re unaware of what I’m referring to, you can learn more here: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/07/20/hackers-target-online-affair-site-ashley-madison-threaten-to-leak-millions/

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