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Posts from May 2012

Comforting the Grieving (Don't Quote Romans 8:28 & Other Things NOT to Say)

There are times as a follower of Christ when opportunities come to comfort those in need. These times are not reserved for pastors. Every Christ follower will experience these moments.

Grieving-stressThere appears to be great fear when these times come. Most people say "I don't know what to say," and therefore do their best to avoid those situations.

However, you won't be able to avoid those situations forever. At some point a close friend or relative will be experiencing great pain or loss. It's during these moments, God chooses to use you to be his ambassador and conduit for comfort and grace.

This past week people in our fellowship have been grieving the loss of loved ones. Spouses, children, parents and friends have died or are in critical condition. The church gathers, but what do you do?

It's good to have a plan, but the fact of the matter is that in those times where loved ones are experiencing grief and pain, God will give you that which is needed to be His hands and feet. I like what one of our senior adult ladies told me a few years ago, "We need to be 'Jesus with skin on' for each other during these times." 

What an honor that God would choose you to bring comfort during times of need.

There are, however, some things you shouldn't do. These are just some that come to mind:

  • Don't say "I know what you're going through" unless you have gone through the exact same thing, and I mean EXACTLY the same situation.
  • Don't say "You'll get over it." 
  • Don't quote Romans 8:28 when the wound is open. We know all things work for good to those who love the Lord, but in the midst of the pain, sometimes this quote - though said in love - is not received well. 
  • Don't talk about something you've gone through that you think relates. Your story will most likely, in the immediacy of the painful event, not bring comfort. Possibly later, so hold onto the story and share as God leads.
  • Don't say "It was just her time."
  • Don't say "Don't cry." 
  • Don't say "God needed your loved one in heaven more than we need him here." God doesn't need anyone. This is poor theology and leads to a false understanding of God and heaven.
  • Don't say "You just need to move on."
  • Don't say "You'll get over this eventually."
  • Don't say "She's an angel in heaven now." That's so biblically incorrect, it makes me grimace every time I hear it. People do NOT become angels.
  • Don't say "God will never give you more than you can handle." Oh really, I think God always gives us more than we can handle, but even though that's the case - don't say that either.
  • If young parents have lost a child, either before or after birth, don't say "You're still young. You can have more children." You can't replace a person. People are uniquely created in the image of God. 
  • Don't say "He's better off." Well, if the person has died and is in heaven, that's the case. It's just that this statement doesn't really comfort.
  • Don't say "If there's anything I can do for you, call." You can say this only if you leave your number with the person. Most likely, they'll never call, so maybe a call to the person or a visit within a few days or weeks is best.

There's a common theme in the points above "Don't say. . ."

So often, we feel that we need to lecture or preach or offer comforting words. While being totally silent is most likely not the answer, empty words, poor theology, bad cliches and the other things listed above (and many more) are not the answer.

More than "saying" is "being." Be there. Hug your friend. Cry with your friend. Be honest with your friend.

I had a friend ask me not long ago while dealing with a trauma in her life, "Why is this happening, David?" Oh, I had some deep, biblical answers, but in truth and at that moment, my answer was "I just don't know." That's what I said. Then, we hugged. She cried. I prayed for her. I prayed aloud, in her ear, just loud enough for her to hear, not for everyone else, for God to comfort her as only He could. I said to God "We don't understand this, but we trust You. It's hard to trust You right now, so help us do this." It was honest. It was hard for my friend to trust, but she loves God. She's a disciple. She knows the Truth.

God was there. God is there still. She's still grieving and the pain comes in swells like waves in the ocean, but God is there. She knows this. She just needs reminding. Her faith is strong. She's known Jesus longer than I've been alive. She's a dear saint. She needs comfort and God is that comfort.  (BTW - if you can, stop reading for just a moment and pray for her and her family please.)

There have been others surrounding her that know the Jesus we know. There are other stories just like this and God is ever present in each.

There are also those who do not know Christ. They're confused. They're angry. They need hope. In those cases, God may place you as his conduit of grace. Be ready. Trust Him.

Remember. . .

2 Corinthians 1:3-4(ESV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

Making the Shift from Church-Focused to Kingdom-Focused

I readily admit that I really never have original ideas. I claim Ecclesiastes 1:9 for this reality.

Last week I was at a gathering of church planters and pastors of churches that are raising up church planters. The keynote speaker and leader of Vision 360 (and Pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas) Bob Roberts, Jr. shared about the necessity of moving away from the western "church-focused" model to the biblical "Kingdom-focused model." 

Though this is not a new concept, it was so refreshing to see it laid out in such an understandable way. It is exciting to be able to see or hear something and sit back and go "Wow! That's exactly what I've been thinking, but wasn't able to clarify in my mind." God does this. He uses the Word, situations and others to speak (and pretty much anything else He chooses. He is God, you know.)

So, what does this mean?

What's the big deal about shifting from being church-focused to being kingdom-focused?

The big deal is that remaining in a church-focused framework means death and missing what the gospel leads us to do and be.

The problem is that I grew up in a church-based model. I was trained in this framework. That's what I learned in church, at seminary and in ministry meetings. We work at doing church better under this framework only to continue to see the Great Commission go unfulfilled.

I'll break down more of this in later posts, but let's start here. 

The Church-Based Framework . . .

  Church Focused Framework copy

Now, at first glance you may not find any problems with this framework. It has a number of church terms listed: disciple, gospel, etc. However, look closely and you'll discover that the local church is the center and the primary functions of the church lead mostly to just growing the church (the organization, not the body and therefore, not the people.) 

Certainly we are supposed to make disciples, but all too often what we call disciple-making looks like nothing more than a membership drive designed to increase participation in a program. Here's a newsflash - just because people show up at church does not mean they are disciples.

The membership strategy and participation numbers drive this framework. This leads to a skewed view of the gospel. The gospel focus becomes about self, rather than about God. It's about personal salvation and personal atonement for one's sins. I know, I know, you're saying "What's wrong with that?" Well, nothing except that God may be excluded. Unfortunately, this is how Christianity has been sold, especially in the west. It's about "praying a prayer" rather than about the lordship of Christ.

The desire is for personal salvation and Christ's death does atone for one's sins. The issue, however, is the focus. The focus must not be about "me" or "us" but Him.

In the church framework the society is basically ignored. This leads to isolationist Christianity. It is evidenced in a "sanctuary" church and ministry designed to keep us safe from the evils of the world. It results in "Christian" versions of every societal domain and further removes us from being "in the world" while using the excuse of not being "of the world."

The church, therefore becomes the building and an institution. Regardless how many times we say that "the church is the people not a building" our culture is built on this framework, so it is difficult to really live otherwise.

So, that being said, what does the kingdom-focused framework look like?

The Kingdom-Focused Framework. . .

  Kingdom Focused Framework copy

It may seem subtle, but the differences are huge. In other words. . .THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

The kingdom-focused church begins with the gospel. It's the gospel of the kingdom of God and focuses on his sovereignty and kingship.

This leads to disciple-making. The Great Commission is a kingdom-focused command. We are to make disciples. Disciples are those who hear and obey. They live under the lordship of the King. 

Society should not be disengaged from, but engaged. Domains are engaged. Loving one's neighbor becomes real. We then do not love people simply so that we may get them to join our churches, but because we love them. Yes, we want them to come to Christ, but love must be unconditional.

The church is then defined and living out as the "ecclesia" - the called out ones. The church is the people and we are the ambassadors of the King in this world. We represent Him.

What does this mean?

It means a shift must happen. Language must change. Motivation must adjust. It's about the Kingdom, not about "our" church.