Smiling in a graveyard

July 22, 2015 — 2 Comments

GraveyardA couple of months ago I discovered an old graveyard off a bike trail. The markings on the gravestones gave evidence some of the deceased were Christians. It’s surreal to think that on the recorded date of their deaths all of their questions were answered. Never again will they have bruises, backaches, or broken hearts. And they finally know who authored Hebrews.

While at the graveyard I thought about the resurrection. Paul declared, “And the dead in Christ shall rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16b-17).

(A side note: If I’m in a graveyard when the dead in Christ are raised, I hope a clean pair of underwear gets raptured with me.)

The gravestone of Ruth Graham, the late wife of Billy Graham, reads, “End of construction… thank you for your patience.” And in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, author Phillip Yancey tells of a woman whose grandmother is buried under 150 year old oak trees in a church cemetery in rural Lousiana.  In agreement with her grandmother’s instructions, on the gravestone is carved a single word: “Waiting.”

God gave His Son Jesus to the grave to show the depth of His love. God raised His Son Jesus from the grave to show the power of His love. Resurrection depth and power of God’s love—one day we will experience both…forever.

The resurrected Jesus is why I believe the weeping Christian husband can fall on his old knees at his wife’s grave, blink through the tears, and smile.

Her construction is complete. 

And they shall meet again.

Below is a draft-post I wrote in March, 2013. After writing it, I decided against posting it. In fact, I nearly deleted it.

When the Supreme Court ruling regarding gay marriage was handed down yesterday, I thought of this post. It’s as timely as ever. I hope you find it helpful.

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imagesOn March 26 & 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding two specific cases of same-sex marriage. According to USA TODAY, Attorney David Boies, all who oppose gay marriage do so “from a reservoir of ignorance.” Likewise, he is confident that “the high court may very well present a united front in favor of gay and lesbian rights” (USA TODAY).

I fear that Mr. Boies just may be right. Barring a supernatural move of God it’s very likely that homosexual marriage is here to stay. So we must prepare ourselves, our families, and our churches (I speak here as a husband, dad, and pastor), on how to move forward with it as a cultural norm. But how?

I read a post by David Murray back in February entitled, “Prepare for Gay Marriage.”  It was an an excellent post. I highly recommend it. You can read it HERE.  Below is an outline of his post and thoughts to wet your appetite.

Murray asks, “How [can] we prepare for the collision [of gay marriage] in such a way that minimizes the carnage [to our lives, families, and churches]”? He answers that we need to do the following:

1. Prepare our children.
“[Due to the] normalization and display of homosexuality in the media, in schools, and in the malls…[w]e will have to teach our children much earlier and about much more than we would ordinarily choose.”

2. Prepare to love.
“[H]omosexuals harbor far more hate for Christians than vice versa. … We must gently good-news them and good-deed them, while be unflinching in our moral convictions. … Keep the focus on the saving love of Christ, no matter how tempting it is to get into constant condemnation mode.”

3. Prepare for jail.
“[Prepare for U.S. homosexual campaigners] to pass ‘hate-crime’ legislation, press charges against us, shame us in the media, stigmatize our businesses and churches, threaten us with loss of our children, and impose substantial fines, all in the hope to scare us into silence. But when none of these things move us, the legal penalties will intensify until some…maybe many…go to prison for it. We’d better get ready for that inevitable possibility.”

4. Prepare for betrayal.
“This is going to be sifting time. Some Christians will cave. Prominent preachers will compromise. Famous Christians will distance themselves from believers who have fallen foul of homosexual campaigners.”

5. Prepare a refuge.
As this new religious persecution unfolds, Murray asks, “Where can we flee to?” 

6. Prepare for eternity.
“The Bible makes clear, and history backs it up, that when a people goes down this route, its close to it’s end. It has run out of moral ground, it’s already over the cliff, and falling into the holy wrath of God. … If the USA falls, how far behind will God’s judgement be?”

Read Murray’s entire post HERE.

In the meantime, let us stand for truth unwaveringly. Yet let us love scandalously those who call us “ignorant” and declare themselves our enemies. Furthermore, let us pray desperately for our nation, our families, our churches, and the souls of those far from God’s Truth and salvation.

brad-pitt_2673230bI dig Brad Pitt. In my opinion, he’s a great actor. From what I’ve learned about him, I think he’s good dude. He’s down to earth. He pranks and can take a prank. He loves his wife and kids. He drinks untainted black coffee and rides a motorcycle (fitting well into my definition of “dude”). Nevermind that our culture worships him as a “beautiful” man, and a “cinema god.”

IN 2009, he appeared on the cover of W Magazine. He did the photo shoot on one condition—that artist Chuck Close, known for his super detailed portraits that reveal every skin flaw, do the shots. Pitt would wear no make-up and there would be no airbrushing of the years of wear on his face.

I saw the magazine in the airport years ago. I’ve never forgotten it. Sure enough you could see lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and all. He looked more like his then 45 years of age rather than how the magazines and movies usually portray him. And he wanted it that way. (Go here for picture and article.)

I must admit that I felt pretty good about myself when I saw that photo. I just wish Pitt had a bald spot too. A pooch in his mid-section would be nice. But I’ll take what I can get.

“Beauty and Bodies” are worshiped in our culture. And we just can’t help but compare ourselves. We can always find something wrong with us—too tall, or short, chubby, skinny, acne, acne scars, thin lips, thick ankles, mid-section spare tire, hump-shouldered, stretch marks, crooked teeth, yellow teeth, big feet, hairy back, flat butt, big butt, no butt, unibrow, bushy brows, bad nails, frizzy hair, oily hair, thin hair, flat hair, missing hair, skinny calves, white skin, leather skin, chalky skin, wrinkled face, and on and on and on and on.

Yet, God is opposite in His attraction to us. He woos our hearts in Christ. And our hearts woo Him. Not our bodies.

Could it be that God let’s our bodies droop so that our hearts might find their identity and joy in Him? Does he allow the sagging to remind us of what He finds truly beautiful? Self-worth and self-peace are found in the God who dotes over our hearts, not our beauty or body.

So today, I am thankful for my balding head. I’m thankful for my ever-growing crows-feet. I’m thankful for the hair growing in places it shouldn’t be. How can that be? Because God loves me from the inside out. What a relief. And what a joy. God dotes over my heart, and yours. How much more ought we to dote over His.

A Pastor’s guilt…

March 10, 2015 — 50 Comments

guilt2I think all pastors live with low-grade guilt. I know I do. I’ve searched in vain for a fellow pastor who has written on this sort of thing. So, I figured I’d take a swing at it.

I have low-grade guilt because I want to always be there for all people—especially all the people in the church I pastor. But I can’t. I want to attend every event, reply to every e-mail, return every call, visit every hospital, do every funeral, officiate every wedding, counsel all who struggle, meet with all who want to meet… but I can’t. Funny thing is, no one is pressuring me to do so (okay, maybe a few). It’s almost purely self-inflicted guilt.

Of course, I’ve encountered some who don’t understand. I received a letter a while back from a couple who let me know in no uncertain terms that I was an “unapproachable pastor” that was hurting the church. So they were bidding Grace adieu and moving on to find another church home where they could have a relationship with the senior pastor. Then there was the guy who cornered me after a service, basically demanding a counseling meeting with me. When I pointed him to our campus pastor, he declared, “Oh, so you’re like the Pope!” And he let everybody on social media know his feelings, too.

On and on I could go. And for one who carries low-grade guilt about this sort of thing, comments like the above are an absolute knife to the chest… and a knife that is left there.

I’ve adopted Andy Stanley’s mantra to “do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Helpful, but doesn’t fully scratch that guilty itch. So I try to take comfort by reminding myself that I’m not the Messiah to anyone. Take heart, my pastor friend, neither are you. And you shouldn’t try to be. There is only one—Jesus. Even he set boundaries on how available he was to the masses (Luke 4:40-43).

I’ve observed that any pastor who tries to be the Messiah for all people in his church, even a small church, burns out in catastrophic ways emotionally, spiritually, physically, ministerially, and maritally. Rarely does he survive and continue in ministry… or in his marriage.

I get to be the senior pastor of a church of four campuses and 2,500-ish people. I preach five services every weekend. I am a husband of one and a father of four who are ten years old and younger. I am relieved that the majority of the Grace family understands my role and doesn’t pressure me to be a Messiah.

But still… that dang guilt.

So why am I writing this? Therapy, I guess. It’s yet another way to try and deal with this guilt. And hopefully my pastoral brothers out there find it strangely helpful. I don’t have many answers, but sometimes it’s encouraging to simply know one is not alone in the struggle.

Either way, here is my attempt to encourage you, my pastor-brother:
* Refuse to be the Messiah. Jesus already bled for the church. You don’t have to.
* Share your boundaries with people and stick to them. If you don’t, people will determine your boundaries for you.
* Best you can, develop a team of staff and volunteers, then delegate and entrust the folks and their needs to them. In fact, in a way folks may not understand, you are doing the best for them by doing so.
* Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
* If you get kickback for not being there for everyone, entrust yourself to the Lord. If you want to explain yourself, do so. But don’t feel pressured to explain yourself to everyone. Some people will never be satisfied, no matter what you say or do. So don’t get sucked into that vortex.
* As a final straw, if the pressure to always be there is crushing you, and the church has developed a sense of entitlement that expects you to always be there, you might need to consider moving on. But no matter what you do, no matter where you go, that low-grade guilt will remain. Own it, but don’t let it own you.

Here is my encouragement to the church folk: Take it easy on your pastor. He loves you deeply, but he cannot be there for you and everyone else. Believe me, he LONGS to be there! In fact, he lives with deep-seated guilt that he can’t; and it’s guilt that might even wake him up at 2:00am. I hope you’ll honor him and his limitations. And if he provides direction where you can receive love, care, and needs met by other credible and qualified pastors/others (and perhaps even by pastors/others more gifted and qualified to meet your needs than him), trust his heart, his love for you, and take advantage of his direction.

Aah, this was therapeutic indeed… at least until tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

blank-slateLeading up to each new year I’m asking God for His “one thing,” or theme, for my life in the coming year. He’s rarely left me guessing. I highly recommend the same prayer for you. Forget resolutions, go for theme. If you’re drawing a blank at the moment, I’ll be happy to share mine.

The following has actually been God’s theme for me since October. Everyday it’s as if the Lord has simply said to me, “Jarrod, just be faithful.” Then, this morning, I came across this: “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (Luke 16:10 NLT). “Faithful” it is for 2015!

Here’s how I work this out: First, in 2015, where must I be faithful in the current roles in which God has placed me? They are 1) disciple, 2) husband, 3) dad, and 4) senior pastor. And in that order. What’s one place God is tapping me to be faithful in each role for 2015? After prayerful consideration, I record it for immediate viewing throughout the year.

Secondly, I reflect on 2014. Where have I been cheating myself, my family, my work, even my God? I find that these might relate to the above. Either way, I write out exactly what I’ll do to stop “cheating,” and what I’ll do instead to be faithful.

Now how about you? How have resolutions worked out for you in the past? In 2015, do you already know that “one thing”? Please share in the comments section!

If you’ve found that resolutions simply don’t work for you, go for that “one thing.” Ask the Lord for His theme for your life in the new year. Then personalize and write out how it will be worked through the roles in your life. In doing so, you’ll be assured to do that which currently matters and cosmically matters in 2015.

Happy New Year!