November 2, 2016

Where it Hurts! 

My physical therapy friend Becky uses a special form of massage to alleviate musculoskeletal pain in her patients. She tells me it is her job to “poke people where it hurts.” She is not sadistic. She takes no joy in triggering pain for already hurting people. But, she is convinced identifying and dealing with the source of pain is the only hope these bruised and aching people have of experiencing hope and relief.

Her clients’ future levels of functioning may rest upon submission to the pain that heals. So, reluctantly she pokes people where it hurts.

As a former counselor, I too, had to poke people where it hurt.

A couple entered the office for marriage counseling. They knew they were dissatisfied, disgruntled and their commitment was rapidly deteriorating.  If not corrected, soon the marriage would die. Though they argued about it daily, they could not identify the source of their pain. She blamed him. He blamed her.

In time, it was clear that his detachment and lack of attention along with her insecurities and fear were draining the love from their marriage. It was an emotional and even explosive session when I poked them both in those tender places where the pain throbbed like a toothache. Pointing out the source of their pain gave them both the opportunity to stretch, exercise and strengthen these damaged areas hence reducing the agony.

 But, just as in physical therapy, it is each person’s job to submit to the pain that heals. Some willingly embrace the pain and work out the knots and kinks. Others hide from the pain and live a status quo of misery or eventually become crippled.

The Apostle Paul poked an entire congregation where it hurt. He was reluctant. Even after the fact, he ached for those who had to hear his harsh words. But, he knew that pain was often necessary to bring the repentance that brought true health and eternal life.

Writing of the time he poked the Corinthian Church because of the blatant immorality in their midst and the subsequent lack of discipline for the sin, the Apostle to the Gentles bares his soul and expresses his love in II Corinthians 7: 9,10:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

To have kept silent would have made the Apostle complicit in their sin and a partner in their spiritual death. To have held his tongue could have resulted in years of regret and sorrow.

As parents and grandparents, the most difficult thing to do is to poke our children or grandkids where it hurts. Our lives consist of giving, feeding, praying and encouraging. When we see a grandchild suffering because of an unwise choice or faulty thinking, we don’t know how to poke them without causing excessive pain. And, who are we to poke others? We are painfully aware of our own hurting and damaged places.

Just the thought of causing any pain to these loved ones brings emotional – yes, even physical - pain to us.

We struggle with whether we should speak up or keep silent. How should we approach this situation? What does God require of us? What is in the best interest of these people we love more than life itself?

Perhaps the answer lies in three places:

First, we pray. We pray for wisdom, tenderness yet boldness to share the good news that Jesus can help in every situation. We pray for open doors. We pray for soft hearts. We pray for ourselves and our words before speaking them. We pray for every aspect of our loved ones’ lives and know that God is more concerned for their welfare than we could ever be. We wait on God for direction. We stay in His Word – our only sure guide

Secondly, we know them. Our words are given in the context of a loving relationship. We know the names of our children and grandchildren’s friends.  We know what time they have chemistry class. We know their strengths as well as their hopes and dreams. When they are experiencing stress we ask if there is anything we can do to alleviate it a bit. Quiz them for that English Lit test? Do a load of laundry? Make a sandwich? Pray?  In other words, we are part of their lives and over the years earn a right to gently speak truth.

Thirdly, we exercise a tender boldness. Our goal is our grandchild’s welfare so we know we must speak clearly and with conviction. We offer whispered and private words that may stir up godly sorrow, not the false guilt that they have disappointed us. Our words are not cutting but words of wisdom – sometimes sincere pleading - about the better path to follow. We hint at the source of pain without twisting the knife. We express our hopes for their future and guide them in leaving compromising behaviors behind. Sometimes, they just don’t know what they need to do next in order to get on a better path. Our tentative and gentle suggestions might be just what our loved one needs.  We offer loving prayers on their behalf. We promise to be there when they need us.

And, if we see that we truly have poked them where it hurts and experience sadness, we don’t try to fix the pain but pray they will become sorrowful as God intends.

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are Truth. The world is filling our children and grandchildren’s minds with lies about their identity, worth and the meaning of life. They are unaware that these insidious lies are robbing them of their youthful joy and vitality. At just the time that the world needs passionate, sacrificial young people to take the Gospel into the world and to alleviate suffering, the enemy is distracting them with issues of false identities and throwing them in to confusion.

But, You have done it before, Lord. You have raised up from broken cultures and societies young believers who grasped the truth and changed the world of their day. We pray Lord, that our generation will speak the truth in love to these young people, and that millions of them would deal with their pain and move forward to advance the Kingdom. May Daniels and Josephs and Esthers come from this next generation? And, may they come soon.

Lord, we confess we do not know how to deal with all they face.  But, you do. And during you earthly ministry, you ministered with such wisdom and grace. Help us to follow your loving example and to cautiously poke our family members at the source of their pain.  And, at the same time affirm, support, encourage, recognize, and acknowledge them as precious gifts from You.

If we have ever needed your help, Lord, it is now. Please lead us all to the godly sorrow that brings life. Guide us to a place of boldness of clarity of thought and mind.

In the Name of the One Who is Truth.

Amen

 

 I hope you will check out A GRANDMOTHER'S PRAYERS: 60 DAYS OF DEVOTIONS AND PRAYERS. IT IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON AS WELL AS DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHER AT www.dhp.org/grandma

Our book, Make Yourself at Home, discusses the great need for loving relationships in church. 

 

June 30, 2016

In the Morning

 

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3 NIV 

The sun rises over Jerusalem. Dust swirls around the feet of solemn priests making their way to the temple. In the first flickers of daylight, it is time to report for duty – time to prepare the morning sacrifice. With precision and reverence they silently assemble the elements of the sacred offering.

The Psalmist has morning duties as well. In Psalm 5:3, he reflects, “In the morning. LORD, you hear my voice.” As he begins each day in prayer, he is assured that God hears his voice and attends to his pleas. His morning prayers are a statement of his absolute dependence on God.

Early, he lays his requests before God, carefully arranging his petitions in the same way the priests arrange the sacrifice. His heartfelt prayers will not be haphazard or casual, but sacred, intentional, serious and an act of honor to His Creator.

Having done his duty to lay out, arrange, place his needs before God at the start of the day, the psalmist now waits in expectation for the answers. The word for wait can also mean “to look out” in the same way that a watchman takes his position on a fortress wall. He constantly scans the horizon to detect the first indication of the arrival of important guests or the threat of danger.

The Psalmist expects God to answer. That is the position he takes. Throughout the day, he surveys the horizon of his life, anticipating God’s intervention and care.

In the morning.

For centuries, Christians had the habit of early Morning Prayer. From time to time, we replace it with other things: the morning news, what is happening on social media, a trip to the gym. Perhaps we have paid a high price for this change.

How different would our lives be if we made prayer the first duty of our day? What if this time of prayer became our highest priority? What if every believer made morning prayer a daily habit? What if we were so certain of God’s answers that we became like watchman on the wall?

Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.

-          Oswald Chambers

 

June 17, 2016

The Shadow of Protection

The following is a chapter from Kay's book, A Grandmother's Prayers. Copyright Kay Swatkowski 2015. 

"Our safe place is not where we live, but in whom we live." Tom White

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most HIgh will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." Pslm 91:1

 

It was a hot Fourth of July in 2011. I soaked my hot, tired feet in the ice-cold water of the kiddy pool, while our eighteen-month-old, sunblock-coated grandson Kevin splashed and played there. As I watched him, I was amused to see our adult son Jonathan circling Kevin in the little pool like a hawk.

Later, as we recalled the day's events, Jon explained his unusual behavior. "I was casting a shadow so Kevin wouldn't get sunburned."

Less than three weeks before, our sin-in-law - Kevin's daddy - had lost his life in a motorcycle accident. Over those three weeks, we had grieved and prayed contnually for God's protection and care for our dauhter, granddaugther, and grandson. 

Jonathan's words were a vivid picture of Psalm 91:1: "Whoever dwells in the shelther of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

When we are facing the most difficult moments of life and seek our shelter in God, He casts a shadow over our lives, protecting us from the things that would harm us most. Much of the time, we are as unaware of His loving presence and protection as Kevin was of his uncle's love and care. Yet God is always present, circling our lives, intently watching caring, and inviting us to rest in the shadow He provides.

Every devoted parent and grandparent prays for God's protection and care for their children and grandchildren. Concerns for their health, safety, and future keep us up at night. As we pace the floor, we wersetle with how little power we have to protect them from disappointment and harm. 

Prayer is always the best answer for our concerns. As we pray, let us remember Psalm 91 and God's promise to hide us and our grandchildren in the shadow of His wings.

My prayer is that my grandchildren will seek their protection under His wings.

Join me in praying that.

....our grandchildren will choose to run to God for safety (Psalm 18:2).

.... God will provide protection and shelter for each of our grandchildren. (Psalm 5:11).

... our grandchildren will consistently turn to God alone for refuge and safety (Psalm 2:12).

... we will be examples of people who turn to God for safety and security.

... we will find natural opportunities to share stories of ways God has cared for us personally, even when we were unaware (Psalm 66:16).

 

 

June 10, 2016

IS yOUR cHURCH iN cARDIAC aRREST?

The following is an excerpt from Ray and Kay's book, Make Yourself at Home: Discovering the Heart of the Church. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016

It was rush hour. Snowplows were busy clearing the streets, but not even a broom had touched the grocery store parking lot. I wrapped a blue scarf around my face, trudged through the slush, and grabbed a wet and icy cart. We just needed a few things for dinner.

 Inside the store, as I rounded the end of the bread aisle and headed toward the dairy cooler, my heart began to pound so loudly I was convinced other shoppers could hear it. Panting, I hoisted a gallon of milk into the cart and then shuffled to the meat counter. Eager to get home, I even skipped the ice cream aisle.

It was bad enough putting my purchases on the checkout counter, but I realized with dismay that the most difficult part of this shopping trip still lay ahead—maneuvering the cart outside through frozen slush and snow. My imagination ran wild, and I began to wonder how long it would take a store employee to find my frozen body by the cart corral.

But I knew this feeling well—it had plagued me for nearly thirty years. Pushing a shopping cart, carrying a computer bag, breathing in cold or humid air, even at times just the process of eating could all trigger a rapid heart rate that left me weak and frustrated.

Doctors, never able to observe this recurrent condition, chalked it up to anxiety. Maybe, they suggested, it was related to an arthritic condition that flared from time to time.

 After a while, I gave up searching for answers or asking for help. I just learned to live with the frequent frustration of having to collapse in a chair, lean on a wall, hug a tree, or clutch a shopping cart handle when my rebellious heart decided to sprint ahead of the rest of my body. I knew I had a problem; I just didn’t want to think how serious it might be.

Then one day, my heart took off on a sprint of marathon length. After twenty-four hours of unrelenting tachycardia, I was unable to walk across the room. My exhausted heart wasn’t pumping enough blood to my extremities, and I learned that when the heart is in trouble, nothing else works as it should.

 I thought I was going to die. Clearly, I survived that experience, but I learned a costly lesson: Never neglect your heart. If you do, expect to pay a high price.

The Heart of the Church Today

Some churches are paying a high price for neglecting their heart. They invest deeply in programs and spend hours brainstorming ways to stay afloat. But the cultivation of a thriving, deeply loving Christian community may take a back seat. I believe many churches are ignoring the symptoms of serious heart issues. They may sense the problem, but they don’t want to consider how serious it is.

Over forty-plus years of ministry, my husband has planted and pastored churches in St. Louis, Missouri, and Menton, Introduction 15 France. Ray has worked with dozens of churches in the United States, and with groups of pastors in the Philippines and Japan, directly or indirectly impacting more than two hundred congregations. He has come to believe that the greatest challenges confronting churches today are relational.

When we as Christians don’t connect meaningfully with other believers, we become discouraged. Our individual spiritual growth is impeded, and our churches’ health suffers too. Whether we keep a cool distance or allow unresolved conflict at church, we will not be everything we can and should be. A light in our community will be snuffed out. Lack of love for one another dilutes our witness to the world.

The night before Jesus was crucified, He shared powerful words of instruction with His followers. After His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, Jesus would no longer be physically present with His followers. But He would still be visible to the world. How?

From that point on, the disciples’ relationships with one another would change dramatically. Now, the world would see Jesus through the unity and love of one believer for another, the unity and love that reflected His love for them. This love—the heart of the church—witnesses to the reality of Christ’s love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love if you have love for one another.” John 13:34–35 NASB

Jesus had come for this very reason. He appeared to unveil God’s love in a way the world had never seen before. The love He commanded His followers to have for one another shows his love to the world. It was revolutionary.

Does your church suffer from any of these symptoms? Apathy? A lack of congregational commitment? Financial distress? Declining attendance? Volunteer burnout? Disgruntled leadership? Ideas for a simple solution: Motivate people. Raise more money. Call a consultant. Start a new program or preach a sermon series.

 However, if lack of love is the underlying cause of the trouble, none of these remedies will do. In fact, sometimes the treatment can aggravate a deadly condition and send the church into cardiac arrest. As with any health problem, an accurate diagnosis is crucial. So knowing what ails the church is the quickest path to finding a cure.

Is it time for you to attend to the heart needs of your church? Is it time to strengthen the relationships between the brothers and sisters of Christ in your congregation?

Make Yourself at Home and A Grandmother's Prayers are both available at www.dhp.org as well as at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/j3sa4lg (Prayer Book) ,http://tinyurl.com/ztmaxum (Make Yourself at Home) 

 

May 27, 2016

Does your church have a Body image problem?

What do you see when you look in to a mirror? Do you like the image reflected there? Sometimes yes? Sometimes, no?

Having an accurate perception of our physical being isn’t easy. And, the mirror doesn’t always help. Some mirrors provide a more accurate reflection than others – but every reflection is flawed and slightly distorted.

Suppose a man measures six feet tall and is admiring his likeness in a full length mirror. He asks a friend to draw a line on the mirror corresponding to the top of his head and then the bottom of his feet. Then, the two carefully measure the distance between the marks. They look at each other in disbelief. It measures only four and a half feet!

Well, which is it? Is the man six feet tall or four feet and six inches? How do they decide?  If he accepts the likeness he sees in the mirror as the truth, he is only four feet six.  Better go shopping for shorter pants.

What we see is never completely accurate. What other people reflect to us can be distorted. Our own inner perceptions can be equally flawed. There is always more that needs to be added to the picture.

So, what do we do to have an accurate picture of ourselves, physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally?

We choose to rely, depend upon, put our confidence in and trust an objective measurement – our measuring stick.

For individuals with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, they trust their inner perceptions more than objective measurements.  Perhaps the family chin is stronger than they would like. Each pass by a mirror or a store window the chin seems larger, more pronounced – even though friends and family reassure them, “Your chin is one of your best features! I love it!”

The belief that this chin is a bad chin can’t be shaken. The suffering person arranges their days to include frequent appearance checks.  Is the chin larger today? Maybe it is smaller and more acceptable? Does it change shape in different lighting?  Each time the focus on the perceived flaw becomes stronger and more terrifying.  In excruciating pain, the person hides. Scarves, high collars, long hair and makeup can’t disguise their agony.

Instead of understanding the beautiful array of chins in the world, they fantasize about the perfect chin that would solve all of their problems.

This person has developed – and is feeding - a painful body image problem that affects relationships, work or desire to try new things. People with this disorder live with distress, anxiety and depression. They report pervasive unhappiness.  They isolate from loved ones.

Some churches suffer from serious body image problems. The mirror - other people’s comments, traumatic experiences or the congregation’s own negative evaluation - distorts the image of their local church. For some churches, the only thing the pastor and members see is the struggling congregation of fifty. For others, they can’t escape the image of the empty church checkbook. It looms as large as a billboard threatening to crush them.  Perhaps conflict has caused them to feel overwhelmed by relational problems and they live with the cloud of embarrassment and shame that comes from losing members.

Occasionally the body image problem comes from comparison with other congregations. The church around the corner has a vibrant youth ministry. We only have eight in that age group. Why would anyone come here?  The church on the edge of town has a new facility. We need to find money to fix a fifty year old heating system so we can hold worship services in the sanctuary instead of the foyer.

Problems and challenges are real. We have an obligation to deal with sin in a systematic, prayerful, humble, honest and Biblical manner. Denial of our sins or problems is just as deadly. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation were letters to churches that had a woefully inaccurate perception of themselves. Some of them were in deep denial.

But, for this conversation, the difficulty arises when guilt and our perception of our church as the “the loser church” zaps us of our energy, resolve and the faith to move forward. We see a distorted image that barely represents the true Church of Jesus Christ. The problem becomes so big that it clouds our view. Our conversation with fellow believers becomes all about the problems, the losses, and the perpetual ache.

We isolate. We turn away from interacting with other churches. We hide. We hide from the very people we are called to reach. We try to add a little makeup here and there to dress ourselves up, but we know it is only to cover the pain.

We believe in church assessment tools. Ray works with these measurements daily and the information they reveal can be empowering to a struggling church. But, one crucial truth we have learned is this: assessment tools are helpful but imperfect. They only reveal a partial picture. If we accept only the likeness represented in these reports, we may be missing the rest of the story. Likewise, if only use our pain to evaluate our church the image will be distorted.

We need a loving, truthful and unchanging measuring stick that gives us accurate and complete information about who we really are as the local church. In spite of any problem, large or small, the church will always be the church as described in the New Testament.

Wherever you are today as a congregation, there are certain things about you that will remain the same. Whether you are flourishing numerically or struggling to keep the doors open, you are the precious church of Jesus Christ.  These are things you have in common with the church down the street and the church in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Meditate on these truths that will provide an accurate picture of God’s plan for the church.

What is our objective guide for having an accurate picture? The Word of God, of course.

We are not alone.

Just prior to his ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of all nations.  Knowing they could not do this on their own, he coupled this command with a beautiful promise. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Even in our darkest hours, Jesus is still with us, working on our behalf, encouraging us to reach our world with His love. We are co-laborers with Jesus Christ.  Add the presence of Jesus to your mental picture of your church.

We are family.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household…” (Ephesians 2:19) Family is a precious thing. Being a member of God’s household – family – is even more precious. We need to find comfort in this knowledge and rejoice in the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters. This is our true identity.

We display God’s love to the world.

Even the most conflicted churches may have a history of loving relationships. Sometimes, in the midst of their struggles all they have is the love they share for one another. The decision to love fellow believers is open to us every day – regardless of hurts and turmoil. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ( John 13:35)

We are equipped

No one cares more about your church fulfilling its calling than Jesus. Therefore, He, Himself, equipped every member to do their part. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Christ Himself is handing you the tools to do His work. Use the ones you have and pray for the ones you need.

We are given all we need

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) It is hard for us to believe that all we need is available to us, but 2 Peter makes it clear that through our knowledge of Him and His great love, we will be supplied with all the spiritual and emotional resources we need.  There are hidden treasures in your church.

We have the words of eternal life.

Things were tough for the disciples along the seashore by Capernaum. Jesus’ hard words made many turn away. Directing his conversation to his remaining followers, Jesus asked if they would desert Him as well. Peter answered. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68, 69) Talk about a treasure! Your church has the words of eternal life – the most precious resource available to mankind. It is worth more than all – all---the riches in the world. You are rich.

Yes, some churches suffer devastating loss and conflict. A few even close their doors. But, even in those situations, God still uses the church to serve His purposes. When we focus on God’s Word, replacing our obsession with our own failures with faith in Christ’s ability to redeem, our looming problems take on an appropriate size and we breathe a sigh of relief.

Spend some time studying the teachings of the New Testament about the church.  Quit checking the mirror of your own bias or others’ hurtful comments. What you perceive about your church is not the total story. Add the truths of Scripture to your image of your local body and you will have a more accurate reflection of who you are and what God is calling you to in your own community.

I promise you---what you will see is a beautiful thing!