Stop saying “I’m fine!”

We have all heard it before. You pass someone you know and ask them, “how’s it going?” or “how ya doing?” Answer: “fine.”  Or….. “I’m fine thanks.” There are other go-to responses to that question, but “I’m fine” tends to be among the most popular. Steph and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors conference this past week and one of the speakers made an offhand remark about the meaning of “fine.” He said that it really stands for:

Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted

We all laughed, but we also recognized the truth that he was hinting at. Fine really doesn’t mean fine. It often means I could be doing a lot better…… I’m struggling…… I have a lot of problems that seem insurmountable, etc, etc. Now, just to give a little disclaimer, often when someone asks how we are doing, they are not looking for us to unload all of our troubles on them. Nor are we. But you would admit that we have the tendency at times to be dishonest in our assessment of ourselves. It is human nature to want to put on a good front and project a stoic, “got it all together” image of ourselves. But one of the things that should characterize us as Christians is our desire to be real and transparent and genuine.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that of loving and caring for one another. God never designed the Christian life to be an individual, lone-ranger kind of thing. God designed the Christian life to be a community project where we share one another’s burdens and constantly point one another to the power of the Gospel. The Church of Christ is a wonderful gift! Brothers and sisters in Christ are a wonderful gift! But in order for this gift to work, we must be real with one another.

The next time someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel like you have to tell them how fouled us, insecure, neurotic, and exhausted you are. Simply do your best to answer honestly and accurately. Along with that, remember what an amazing gift God has given us in the Body of Christ and seek to attach yourself to that Body. Find people that you can minister to and people that can minister to you.

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:4-25)  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

 

Are You Growing in Your Walk With the Lord?

In a few weeks, our son John will turn 1. The pace of his growth has been breathtaking, but especially of late. It seems like every week, he reaches a new milestone. It has been fascinating (and fun) for my wife and I to watch this remarkable growth, along with the growth of our twin daughters Anna and Elizabeth, who are fast approaching their third birthday.

More than once I have wondered; is it realistic to expect Christians to mature at the same pace as a growing child? After pondering this, my conclusion is yes. It is certainly possible, but it is not the norm. I believe it is possible for a Christian to rapidly grow in their walk with the Lord and their sanctification. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we encouraged to reach a certain level of maturity (whatever that might be) and then park yourself there until you die or until Jesus returns.

2 Peter 1:5-8 puts it this way: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are your and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What the apostle Peter is saying is that Christians should strive to grow in their walk with the Lord. If we are serious about following Christ, then our faith will result in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. This is a sanctifying work that God performs in our lives through the Holy Spirit. It is an act of grace that continually takes our faith to the next level. But we must understand that we have a role to play in all this, which is why Peter said, “make every effort to supplement your faith.”

The apostle Paul was also serious about growth and sanctification. In fact, he rebuked the Corinthians for their lack of progress in the faith. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is still jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

When we see a 6-month-old baby being nursed by his mother, we don’t think much of it. However, we would rightly be disturbed if that same baby grew into a teenager and was still on the breast. We would think to ourselves, when is that child going to grow up?  Sadly, many churches are populated by adult infants. They have attended church for decades, but they never heeded the inspired words of Peter. They are still on milk when the solid food of the Word is available to nourish them.

Another lamentable reality is the fact that we often have a hard time encouraging fellow believers to pursue Christ with abandon. When we see a brother or sister in the Lord who is not growing or maturing, we have a hard time challenging them. Perhaps one reason for that is we know what the bible says about judging. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) But we need to be careful that we don’t simply use this as an excuse not to challenge one another. God gave us brothers and sisters in the Lord that we might be responsible and accountable to one another. “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). If we truly love our Christian brothers and sisters, we are going to do everything we can to point them in the right direction. The right direction always involves moving closer to Christ and growing in maturity.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to take this time to examine your own life (2 Corinthians 13:5). Are you growing closer to the Lord – every year, every month, every week, every day? If our son John stopped growing and maturing, you can bet my wife and I would be concerned. I hope and pray we will show the same concern for our own Christian maturity and sanctification.

God’s Work in Suffering

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit there are times where we wonder – how could God let this happen?  Whether it is an earthquake where thousands of people die or a family member who is sick, we wonder, why is God allowing this to happen? My intention is not to try and explain the problem of suffering (a massive project in itself), but I do want to acknowledge that suffering is something that every person will eventually experience. I think it is safe to say that in the midst of trial, most people direct their attention Godward. We seem to think that God can and should fix our pain and suffering. But is it possible that God might be up to something more than just numbing or eliminating our pain?

I don’t think we ever fully know God’s purposes for our suffering, but the Bible does give us some insight into the matter.  James exhorts his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).  This tells us that trials are not optional, but something we will face. And when we face them, we are to rejoice.  This is remarkable given that the sufferings of James’ original audience were beyond what most of us in our modern context could ever imagine.  Having left everything to follow Christ, they now faced intense persecution.  Obviously, James’ readers would need a very good reason as to why they should be joyful in the midst of suffering.  It’s simply not human nature to rejoice when life is tough.  In a nutshell, James reasons that we can be joyful and happy in our trials because of what God is accomplishing in and through us.  We can be joyful because he is working to grow and mature us through our suffering.  How amazing to think that the sovereign God, who controls everything, uses the circumstances of life (even the bad things) to bring glory to His name and make us more like Jesus.

I don’t in any way want to minimize your pain and suffering. But I do want to tell you that if you are a child of the King, then you can know that God is using that trial for your sanctification. In this you can rejoice.  Life may be hard for you right now, but God will see you through if you put your faith in Christ.  As John Piper once put it: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  Whatever you are going through, don’t miss this opportunity to see God at work and to “count it all joy.”

Longing for God

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” (1 Peter 2:2)

So what exactly is “pure spiritual milk”?  The apostle Peter makes it clear that we are to have an intense longing for this milk, but we know he is not literally referring to the “milk” that we drink. The answer is, the Word of God. Without an intense longing to hear from God through his Word, you will only remain a spiritual infant.  You might be a faithful pew sitter who remains involved in the church, but without God’s Word, you will never “grow up” in your faith.

Part of the problem is that all too often Christians are taught to be content with little.  Instead of being told to come to the feast and eat to your heart’s content, we have been conditioned to take in spiritual crumbs here and there and then think that’s enough. But the scriptures give us a much different picture.  In Psalm 37:4, David writes, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Or as the prophet Jeremiah explains, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” Indeed, there is a feast, but the question is, do we want to partake of it?

Over the past couple weeks, Steph and I (especially Steph) have been reminded of the intense longing babies have for breast milk.  They desperately want it and they are not afraid to let everyone in their zip code know that. In short, babies love milk! And that’s a good thing because it makes up 100% of their diet. We also have to keep in mind the matter of frequency. With pets, you can feed them once or twice a day and that’s enough. You give them a little dog-food or cat-food and some water and they’re good to go. But newborn babies are a different story. Before we had kids, I had no idea that babies need to be fed so often, but several feedings a day are necessary to keep the baby healthy and growing. If you only fed a baby once or twice a day, you would starve them. They might survive for a while, but they would never grow as they are intended to grow.

Does that mean I am saying we should read our bibles several times a day? While that would not be a bad thing to do, it’s not always realistic. I will say that you need to have a hunger and a thirst for God’s Word and you need to satisfy that thirst on a daily basis. There needs to be a consistency in your walk with the Lord. You need to find time ‘daily’ to dig into the Word and listen to God. Just as the baby who is well fed is going to grow rapidly, so too is the Christian who has a daily feast of God’s Word. The Psalmists really capture this type of “longing” that Peter is encouraging:

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2) “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  (Psalm 63:1) “As the deer pants for the flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)

It’s my prayer that you will be able to identify with these Psalms and that God would give you an intense longing for His presence.  Just as a baby longs for his mother’s milk, so too do we need to long for our Heavenly Father and the manna that only he can provide. The choice is yours – either you can be satisfied with the crumbs the world offers, or you can feast on what only God can give you through His Word.