5 Things People Grieve Over

Last week I encouraged everyone to pray for those who are grieving. Grieving is a common journey we all share. The stages of grief tend to be the same for many people, but how long those stages last and how well we come out on the other side vary greatly. Also, I have found in my years of ministry people grieve over many types of loss and change in their lives.  I wanted to share a few observations of the things I have experienced people grieving over and add some considerations to help in this journey.

1.  People grieve the loss of a loved one.

This type of grief is the most obvious and is one we will all experience in our life at some point.  God has given us people in our lives with whom we get to share life. The times we spend with the people we love is precious and the memories we build are treasures.

To say goodbye to a loved one is never easy. Waking up in the morning and no longer being able to enjoy talking, walking, having a cup of coffee or just sitting together is at times unbearable. Knowing the phone call you made at the same time daily or weekly will no longer happen, often comes with great sadness. Losing a loved one is tough and the grieving process is a journey that can literally take years.  We have to remember that Jesus went through this grief as well. Jesus is only recorded as crying twice in the Bible, once over the condition of the people in Jerusalem and once when his friend Lazarus died.

2. People grieve the loss of a relationship.  

We might not realize this as grief, but I would argue losing a relationship can cause us to experience much grief. God made us to be relational people. God himself is relational. So when we invest into a relationship whether it is romantic, familial, friendship or professional we are investing a big part of our lives. If that relationship ends, it can big a big deal.

Relationships in many ways shape much of our personal identity.  Our family and close friends help define our personalities, our worldview, our values and so much more. Intimate relationships often define certain periods in our life and our memories are forever shaped by them. When those relationships end, we cannot simply erase them from our memories.  If those relationships end badly, we often carry the scars with us for a long time.

3. People grieve the loss of their health.

My wife often reminds me as I am now approaching 50 (2.5 years to go), that I did not handle approaching 40 well. Places on your body start to ache, your recovery time is longer and you just can’t do everything you used to do. But for many people the physical toll on their bodies creates a real grieving period because of the adjustments they are forced to make. People who are extremely active in the life of the church are no longer able to do all they enjoy doing and it is tough. When you begin to have mobility issues, attending events or gatherings becomes too hard and it creates a void that can lead to grief.

It breaks my heart as a pastor to see those who are so willing to do whatever it takes to serve the Lord, but have now entered a time where their ministry is physically limited. Often those of us who are not there yet do not understand this grief but it is as real as the others listed above.

4. People grieve the loss of the past.

This is a tough one for many in the church as well as outside the church. Change is inevitable.  Most people do not like change or at least parts of change. When life as you know it changes, we often grieve like we do with the loss of the other things listed above. The slight difference in this is that while we grieve we also have a congruent tension with the things we like about change, but often grief trumps embrace.

The tension between the past and what the present brings is real. We don’t like growth in our small towns, but we like the conveniences that come with that growth. We don’t like technology, but we like being able to talk with our grandchildren or keep up with them on Facebook. We don’t like changes in our church, but we like when we reach new people. Things have always changed an they always will and every time things change we will most likely grieve the loss it brings.

5. People grieve the loss of control.

This loss is many ways is a thread through all of the previous four. Part of our sinful nature is our desire to be in control. Most people have a trust of themselves and their own decision making. We are comfortable that given the right information we  will make the right decision. Over time we are often allowed to be in control. We are given the ability to make decisions over our lives, at work, at church and in our families. The difficulty comes when our control is either given or taken away. We grieve this loss.

Loss of control can be extremely hard to deal with over time. When our bodies and minds become frail, we might have to give our medical decisions over to our spouse or children. When we are involved in a transition at work or we retire, we no longer are the ones making final decisions. When new leaders emerge at church, people begin to look to their counsel and wisdom and not as much to ours. When our children have their own families, they become less dependent on us. All of these loss of control situations can lead to grief.

Grief is never easy. I would however offer that grief can be healthy. We need to understand grief doesn’t have to be a never ending journey but a journey to health. Life is a journey of change. The good news is that one thing never changes and that is the love of God for each of us. We must remember, life on this earth is but a small piece of the eternal life God has available to us all.

 

5 Ways to Pray for Other Church Members

One of the most difficult things about being a pastor is knowing the struggles the people in your congregation are going through. This is difficult because you love the people and because confidentiality is so important, you often find yourself sheltering those concerns alone.  There are however some consistent patterns of issues that you can join your leaders in praying for the members of your church.

1.  Pray for church members who are not believers. 

I recognize this statement makes some people very uncomfortable. Who am I to judge whether a person is a Christian or not? While you and I are not in the position to determine a person’s heart and soul, the Bible is clear that those who truly believe in God are to show signs of it in their lives. Here are just a few indicators:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17

I would urge you instead of being angry or uncomfortable about the statement above, love people enough to pray they would come to a place of repentance and belief.

2. Pray for church members who are struggling.

Our faith journey is indeed a journey. I fear we often have expectations of people that are unrealistic. We have created “saints” in the church who seem to have it all together and the reality is they struggle with their faith and with the pressure placed on them by others. This struggle is seen clearly in Romans.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:21-25.

Let us be careful not to forego praying for those who struggle and unintentionally place them on a pedestal creates a hard fall. Many people are struggling in your church and many of these people would surprise you. Let’s not skip over people because “they don’t need it” because they do.

3.    Pray for church members who are grieving.

Grief is a complex thing. We all recognize the time of grief when a loved one passes, but others are grieving as well. This is going to be the subject of next week’s blog, but people grief the loss of more than loved ones. We grieve the loss of the past. We grieve the loss of our health. We grieve the loss of our traditions. We grieve the loss friendships and so much more.  Grief, whether through the loss of a loved one, or something else can cause intense pain for people.  We are reminded that part of the way we live out our love for one another if by walking the journey with those who mourn or grieve.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

It is often easy to get frustrated with those who grieve, but instead we should not only pray, but to live out those prays with empathy.

4. Pray for church members who are burnt out.

We all know the person. Every church has the person or people who do everything. Deep in our soul we know we are asking too much from that person but no one else will do it so we keep asking. It doesn’t matter if the program or job we are asking them to do is no longer effective and that is the reason no one else will help, so we keep asking and they keep saying yes. We burn out a lot of great people doing not so great things. I am guilty of this, my staff is guilty of this and our church is guilty of this. I want to urge you today to pray for those people who do too much. Wouldn’t it be great that instead of having these faithful people do 5 or 10 ineffective things, we could have them do one thing with passion, excitement and reclaim the joy of ministry?

Pray that those who are burnt out or on the path to burn out make a course correction and discover the passion for serving Christ and his church. Pastor, this is not only a prayer but something worth fighting for.

5. Pray for church members who are causing disunity. 

I think the biggest shock to me as a young person who grew up in the church was when I found out there were people in the church who were troublemakers. And the shock turned to grief when I realized some of the troublemakers were people who I thought were the most godly people in my life. Every church needs robust debate and healthy discussions to remain on track, but sowing discord among the church body is not healthy. The reasons people cause disunity are many, but the root is the same. Nothing can tear a church family apart more than when a person decides their personal preferences, their wants, their demands are to come at the peril of the whole body.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  Romans 16:17-18

Pray for these church members to repent of what they are doing. Pray for those who would be influenced by their talk. Pray that God would redeem this person or people to use their influence for his glory.

Seven Things to Pray for Your Church This Week

Would you start of your week by praying for your church? Many church members are in the habit of bragging about their church, complaining about their church and demanding things from their church. This morning why not simply pray for your church. Here are some suggested prayer prompts:

1. Pray your church brings glory to God in who they are, who they are becoming and what they do.

We must seek to bring glory to God in all we do. A reminder from Paul to the church at Corinth.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

2. Pray your church brings light into your community and the people who make up your community.

Jesus, in his introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, spoke about how we should be seen in our community and world. If this how people see you and your church?

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

3. Pray your church remains focused on Jesus and not on politics, buildings, personalities and programs.

We are reminded by the writer of Hebrews we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses but our eyes are to be fixed on Jesus. Too often we concern ourselves with the wrong things and those concerns can turn into idols.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

4. Pray for your church to live out the Gospel both inside and outside your gatherings.

Often we only see our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus as a “gathered” responsibility. It is the desire of God that we also live in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel to which we have been called to embrace.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel Philippians 1:27

5. Pray for church members who are just attenders or drifters to become fully engaged in the body of Christ.

I have recently heard conversations about the importance of church membership.  It is true Jesus never took role. However, we understand from the behavior of the early church that whether formalized or not, there was a tremendous expectation that believers would be heavily engaged in the body of Christ. Engaging once a month, one hour on Sunday or whenever you find it convenient (many times to complain about those who are engaged) is not the desire of God.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

6. Pray for your church family to have a heart for those who are not in relationship with God and specifically pray how you can be faithful to be an ambassador for God in their lives.

Often, with good intentions, we become 99 churches.  We do everything personally and privately to meet the needs of the members of our church. However, Jesus reminds us our mission goes beyond the 99. As a matter of the parable below, Jesus prioritizes the one.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:4-7

7. Pray your church will fall in love with Jesus and not simply be a religious organization to which people belong.

God does not desire for us to be a part of something that does not bring Him glory. With good intentions we have often turned our churches into organizations or clubs that look no different than clubs we might join in our community. The church should first and foremost fall in love with Jesus. God warned the people of Israel that the things they were doing had lost their purpose and meaning.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:21-24

Would you join me in committing to pray for your church this week?

 

Removing Barriers

Sermon Follow-up from Sunday, January 14th

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. Mark 2:4

The determination of these men to get their friend to Jesus is undeniable. However, it is important to see what drove their determination. The group of men had faith that Jesus was the only one who could help their friend. When Jesus saw what lengths the men were willing to go he recognized their faith and forgave the man of his sins. I believe the reason the men were so determined was because they were convinced Jesus was the only hope for their friend. Do we believe that this morning? Do we believe it enough to do whatever it takes to remove barriers to get people to Jesus?

I want to challenge you this morning to consider the following about barriers as it relates to people coming to the gathering of a church in particular on Sunday Morning

1. Many facilities were built to meet a different context. Any church building that is over 20 years old has challenges meeting the needs of today’s church and context. Add 50 or more years to that building and you have a reality you need to deal with and that is your facility is probably hard to navigate. It is important to recognize what we take for granted in getting into our building and where to go.

2. Signs can never take the place of human interaction. When I worked at a grocery store in college, our store manager insisted that we never allow signs to take the place of human interaction. Never point people to isle 6 and hope they find what they are looking for, you take them there and help them find it. The same is true of our guest who come to the facility where our church meets. Make sure no one has to wander around, take them where they need to go. This provides a great opportunity to get to know that person or family as well.

3. Don’t assume people trust us with their children, show them why they can. The days of the assumed trust of the church are long gone. It is imperative we help our guest know what policies and procedures are in place to protect their children while they are in our care. It is also vital we live up to those procedures to earn the trust of parents.

4. The guest information card is not the only or best way to make someone feel welcome. It is helpful to get follow-up information from our guest. This is the way we give information about the church and answer questions. However, it is important for people to know they are not simply a name and address being added to an excel sheet. Take time to have real conversation with our guest and invite them to lunch. This is a great way to do what I call, “Making our welcome authentic.” It is a great opportunity to get to know someone new and maybe begin a relationship that will lead to a deeper or new relationship with Christ.

 

The Blessings of God

The Blessings of God November 19th Sermon Follow-up

Psalm 28

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. Psalm 28:6

Day one: Understanding our desperate situation

  • Are you desperate? In middle school that may seem to be a derogatory statement. However, I believe David shows us being desperate is actual a good thing. David is desperate for the Lord to hear his cry for mercy. David knows without the Lord hearing his cry for mercy he is ruined. Do we understand the desperate state we are in because of sin? Have we become so comfortable with our lives we have forgotten without the Lord’s mercy we are doomed not for a season but for eternity? I would encourage you today to reflect on your prayers to God. Are you desperately calling out to Him or is your prayer life simply a routine void of a cry for mercy?     
  • In your prayer time, cry out to God in mercy and acknowledge your utter dependence on Him.    

Day two: Blinded and unaware

  • David’s plea for mercy contrasts with those he sees in trouble. David is begging God not to let him end up like those who have no regard for the work of the Lord. These people have chosen a path of self-reliance and not a reliance on God. Because they have become self-reliant, they are in fact doomed. Their judgment will not be wrapped in God’s mercy but rather they will be judged on their own merit which cannot stand up to God’s righteousness. Today, look at your life. Have you become self-reliant and instead of God-reliant? Do you only do what you can pull off on your own? Are you submitting to your own understanding and not the understanding of God?         
  • In your prayer time, ask God to help you become a person who is willing to live by His standard and not you own.

Day three: The thing that matters

  • David progresses in this Psalm from begging God to hear his cry for mercy to thanking and praising God for hearing his cry for mercy. David was able to praise God because of God’s mercy and the salvation provided in that gift. People who have repented and turned their lives toward God and believe in Him can give God praise because they know they have been saved. Without repentance we cannot utter the joyous praise of salvation. Today, I want to challenge you to consider not only your life but those you love. Do you and those you love have the ability to give praise to God today because He has heard your cry for mercy? If not, I want to encourage you to do that today. If you need someone to talk to please contact me and I will be glad to walk you through this journey.
  • In your prayer time today, give praise to God knowing He will hear and has heard your cry for mercy.   

Day four: Looking forward

  • Read Micah 5:2-4 and Luke 2:1-7 in preparation for next week.  

Thankful People

Thankful People November 12th Sermon Follow-up

Colossians 3:15-17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Day one: Being a person of peace

  • “Let the peace of Christ rule you in your hearts.” This is a powerful command for each of us. Our lives are to be ruled or arbitrated by the peace of Christ. This command should have major impacts on our lives. The peace of Christ is not arbitrary. Jesus said His peace was for certain and we could count on it. It is this truth that lets us be thankful people. Since the peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts, what evidence of that peace is in your life? Take time today to reflect on how you respond to people and/or events. Are you a person who allows the peace of Christ to rule your actions or do you allow other things to filter your conduct?  
  • In your prayer time, ask God to help you live with the peace of Christ ruling your heart.    

Day two: Centering your life in the Gospel

  • “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly.” The peace of Christ should rule in our hearts and the message or Gospel of Christ should dwell or inhabit our lives and in our church. Paul instructs us that the Gospel of Christ should be what guides our teaching and our admonishment of one another. Too often we rely on our own “understanding” of truth to teach and admonish others. Too often we become either logistic or secularistic in how we approach one another. Today, I would encourage you to consider what you teach others and with what end do you admonish people. Our goal in either teaching or admonishment should be to help reconcile people to God.        
  • In your prayer time, ask God to help you live your life centered in the Gospel.

Day three: Faithfulness and Thankfulness

  • Paul finishes this teaching by laying out what a thankful life should look like. No matter what we do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of Jesus. This is not a command to simply put the name of Jesus on the things we do to justify our actions. Rather, our actions and our words should reflect an obedience to God’s will and desire for our lives. If we truly are thankful, our actions should be in concert with the one to whom we are thankful. Today, take time to consider what your actions say about your thankfulness. Is your life truly reflective of being thankful to God? If not, what do you need to change?
  • In your prayer time today, ask God to help you understand and act to live your life as a person thankful to Him.

Day four: Looking forward

  • Read Psalm 28 in preparation for next week.  

James: Part 8

James: Part 8 October 29th Sermon Follow-up

James 5:7-12

“You too, be patient and stand firm, because the LORD’s coming is near.” James 5:8

Day one: Our Hope

  • How we see our future is a big deal. What future we see is a big deal. James writes to be patient, not because patience is easy, rather be patient because the Lord is coming. The reality of our current situation cannot be our motivation, rather the reality of our hope. I would encourage you to think about how you view life. Do you spend much of your time focused on your current situation? Good or bad, letting our current state in life frame the context of our actions can be a dangerous thing. How would your life look differently if you lived today framed in the context of eternity? Would you treat people differently? Would you spend your time and energy differently? Would you spend your money differently?      
  • In your prayer time, ask God to help you live with the hope of eternity with Him in your mind.    

Day two: Those who have gone before

  • Sometimes we think our life is so unique no one understands what we are going through. The reality is not matter what we are dealing with others have gone before us. James reminded the readers of his letter, the prophets and Job had experience the worst this world could offer and, yet they were considered blessed. I want to challenge you today to search through the Scripture and make a list of the things people had to endure for their faithfulness to God. After you compile the list, compare the struggles you have faced, if any, to theirs. I think what your will find is that others have faced the trials of life many of us face and, yet God has been faithful.      
  • In your prayer time, ask God to help you realize His faithfulness through the lives of those who have gone before you.

Day three: Integrity matters

  • James rewrites the words Jesus spoke about integrity. Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no. When we find ourselves losing patience with God or our current situation, we often give up on truth. We begin to let our guard down on the truth. We compromise here and there and eventually we lose our integrity and our witness. I would encourage you think about areas of your life where you play lose with the truth. Think about what motivates this “looseness”. How can you guard your life to ensure you maintain your integrity?    
  • In your prayer time today, ask God to help you maintain your integrity by maintaining His truth.

Day four: Looking forward

  • Read James 5:13-20 in preparation for next week.