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)

 

Love and Unity – Two Keys to a Healthy Church

John 13:34-35:  “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Among the many “radical” teachings of Jesus, this verse would have to be put in that category. And what was true back then is still true today – only when a heart has been transformed by the power of the gospel can we truly love another person.  A life lived without Jesus is a life lived without love.  Sadly, this is the norm in our world.  In light of this truth, Jesus knew what a powerful witness it would be for a group of people to actually “love” one another.  When the world watched these crazy people who truly loved and cared for one another, they would know that something was different about them.  So love for one another within the Body of Christ is a key element in the health of a Church.

A second key element is unity. A healthy church will be united around the cause of Christ and His gospel. Just to clarify, I am using the word unity to describe a group of people who come together for a common purpose. In the Bible, one of the metaphors most commonly used is the Body of Christ. In speaking of our physical bodies, there are hundreds of different parts that come together to form our bodies, but they are all important and all serve a specific purpose, just as God intends. This is instructive because when all the parts come together, you have a healthy, functioning, body. The same is true with the Body of Christ on earth, the Church.  If half the parts are not functioning and not being used, you have a sick body that will never perform as it was intended. However, if all the parts are working and functioning together for a common mission, you will have a healthy body that will be used to accomplish the purposes of God. Paul puts it this way in Romans 12:4-8: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

There you have it – two keys to a healthy church. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but in any church where love and unity are missing, you can be sure that church is not a healthy functioning church.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

“Gordon and Emma met at a church function. She was an admirable young woman, and he was a fairly new pastor. Their wedding day seemed to be the launch of a godly couple in the promise of fruitful ministry in the decades ahead. But just a few days into their honeymoon, all of Emma’s dreams for her life were crushed. Gordon made it clear that he didn’t love Emma, and that he had married her simply because there were more opportunities for married pastors than single ones.

 

For forty years, through the birth of six children, and the while functioning as a pastor, Gordon made no meaningful attempt to kindle love for his wife. Freely admitting to an adulterous affair that began after the birth of their fourth child, Gordon insisted he must remain married – divorce would derail his pastoral career. Marriage for Emma became a life of secret shame. She was relegated to sharing a room with their two daughters, while her husband stayed in a separate room, and their four sons in another.

 

Gordon’s disregard for Emma permeated almost every facet of their marriage. While she continued to live under the same roof, she never experienced life under his care. Seemingly normal on the outside, Gordon’s disdain for his marriage created a home ruled by his hypocrisy and indifference to his wife’s well-being. His children grew up with a clear sense of the difference in their family and others, but little grasp on the fundamental wrong being done to their mother on a daily basis.

 

But Emma loved the Savior who was merciful to her and clung to him through the trials and years. Bereft of human love from the man she had wed, she threw herself on the mercy of God. The gospel reminded her that she needed a Savior – and that her principal need was not to be saved from a cruel twist of fate, or the evil of the man who shared her home, but from her own profound sinfulness before God. Emma understood the mercy and forgiveness of God for her sin, and accepted the Father’s call to extend mercy toward her husband. Emma never allowed bitterness to take root in her heart. Instead she learned how to stand with dignity by entrusting her welfare to Christ.

 

For four decades, mercy defined her actions, thoughts, and words toward the man whose very purpose in life seemed to be to crush her spirit. Knowing that her response to her husband would testify to her children about the God she served, Emma was resolutely determined to draw on Christ for grace and to honor Christ in her actions.

 

The marriage ended sadly and painfully after forty years – an apparent ministry call squandered, a financially destitute family shattered by the unrepentant sin of one man. In the years following their divorce, Emma sent Gordon birthday cards and periodic letters, calling the lonely and rebellious man to God. She was tasting the sweet joy of a deep relationship with the Father, and increasingly longed for Gordon to know that for himself.

 

Somewhere in that time, the mercy of God broke in on Gordon and he responded to the gospel call in saving faith. The children, now adult Christians, lovingly confronted him on his past sins, and for the first time Gordon took responsibility for the destruction of his family. Gordon wrote a letter to Emma confessing his sin against God and against her. Emma was faced with the test of forgiveness. Can it be that easy? Can mercy cover forty years of wrong? We have Emma’s choice preserved in the note she wrote back to her former husband:

 

It is with mixed emotions that I read your letter. Sad, as I was reminded of many difficult years, but also glad for the work the Spirit of God is doing in your life. Glad to hear you share your failures so frankly and ask for my forgiveness. And glad to hear you share them with your children. Gordon, I forgive you. I forgive you for not loving me as Christ loved the church and for your disregard of our marriage vows. Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart from the ravages of bitterness. I rejoice in the mercy of God, that in spite of our failed marriage, our children all serve the Lord faithfully….God uses confession and forgiveness to bring healing. I’m trusting God that will be true for both of us.

 

Both Emma and Gordon have gone on to be with the Savior, who wove restoration into a torn family with the strong threads of mercy. All of their children love the Savior and now see the mysterious purpose of God as they look back. Though Emma and Gordon were never restored as husband and wife, Gordon was laid to rest in old age, no longer alone, surrounded not only by his family but by the friends of his church with whom he had knit his life. Emma’s body gave in over time to stroke, but her spirit and story define a work of God that transcends the failure of marriage and touched many lives.

 

For Emma, mercy had triumphed over judgment decades before Gordon repented. Mercy triumphed with every prayer cast heavenward, every sin covered in love, every refusal to grow bitter. For Gordon, mercy meant getting what he didn’t deserve – the forgiveness of his sins, the love of his family, a home with the Savior, six God-honoring children, Emma’s life-long love of Christ. Each of these remarkable outcomes point to the triumphant sweetening effect of mercy – the remarkable mercy Emma received from God and lavished on her family.”

 

Taken from Dave Harvey’s book When Sinner’s Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (pages 77-78, 94-96).

Jonathan Edwards on God’s Power and Glory

“There is none like him, who is infinite in glory and excellency: he is the most high God, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders: his name is excellent in all the earth, and his glory is above the earth and the heavens: among the gods there is none like unto him; there is none in heaven to be compared to him, nor are there any among the sons of the mighty, that can be likened unto him. Their God is the fountain of all good, and an inexhaustible fountain; he is an all-sufficient God; a God that is able to protect and defend them, and do all things for them: he is the King of Glory, the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle: a strong rock, and an high tower. There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rideth on the heaven in their help, and in his excellency on the sky: the eternal God is their refuge, and underneath are everlasting arms: he is a God that hath all things in his hands, and does whatsoever he pleases: he killeth and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up; he maketh poor and maketh rich: the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s. Their God is an infinitely holy God: there is none holy as the Lord. And he is infinitely good and merciful. Many that others worship and serve as gods, are cruel beings, spirits that seek the ruin of souls; but this is a God that delighteth in mercy; his grace is infinite, and endures for ever: he is love itself, an infinite fountain and ocean of it” (Jonathan Edwards) (Sermon: Ruth’s Resolution) (April, 1735 – At the height of the Great Awakening) (Lesser WJE#19: 310).

Are We Neglecting Something in Our Evangelistic Efforts?

When we think of evangelism often what comes to mind is a particular technique or method to share the gospel with those around us. These methods tend to come and go, with some enduring longer than others. I like the method found in John 9 with the blind man. He simply said, “I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Few would argue with the effectiveness of a person sharing how Christ has changed their life. When Christ makes a “new creation” out of someone, it speaks volumes to a watching world.

There is another important aspect, which doesn’t seem to get much press these days. I am speaking of the words of Jesus in John 13:35. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This verse is not talking about evangelistic method or apologetics (defending the faith). Rather, it has to do with the example we set in the Body of Christ. What Jesus is saying is that the way we relate to one another as Christians really does matter. J Mack Stiles puts it this way: “biblical love, practically applied in the church, is the greatest image of the gospel we offer the world.” Mark Dever adds to that in saying, “God intends to display his glory through the local church today, as Christians live together in patience, forgiveness, justice, mercy and love. We reflect God’s own character by the character of our congregation’s life.”

I believe that we need to be intentional and creative in our evangelistic endeavors. All around us there are people who are searching for hope, purpose, and joy in life. It’s only through the saving work of Christ that they will find that. But we must not forget (especially in our individualistic society) that God created the church for a reason. The Body of Christ is to reflect Christ, as we love one another. Love, one to another offers a compelling witness to the world. Conversely, a lack of love has the opposite effect. We’ve all heard people say they would never become a Christian because so and so is such a lousy witness.

What about you? Have you committed yourself to a local congregation? I realize that not all people will agree with me on this, but church membership is important – very important. More than anything, it shows that you are committed to loving your brothers and sisters in the Lord. When you take this step, it will go a long way in making you an effective witness for Jesus.