The Four Sources of Suffering

The Four Sources of Suffering

Across all nationalities and all generations and all religions, suffering is the common human experience. For the past couple of days I’ve been writing a message that I’ll preach soon on the relationship between glory and suffering, but before I could get past suffering to talk about glory, I needed to tackle the question everyone asks: Why do we suffer? If God is so good, if he is so powerful, why do we suffer? I’ll tackle this quite a bit in the message when I preach it (Note: if I get a recording of it, I’ll link here later). But since the topic has been on my mind all week, I wanted to write about this question in more depth here. Religion has long sought an answer to the cause of suffering and long sought the ability to end suffering. In fact, Buddhism, one of the largest religions in the world, is built strictly on defining suffering and its end. But all religions have attempted to define suffering and root out its cause because it encompasses so much of the human experience: sadness, depression, anger, fear, pain, loss, confusion–all of these emotions are connected to suffering. One could argue that the average human life is comprised far more of suffering than the absence of it. As believers, where does Scripture tell us suffering comes from? The Bible actually identifies four sources of suffering: 1) Our sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve committed the “original sin” which condemned all flesh to be not only inheritors of sin but active participants in it. Regardless of where you land on the...
Why Churches Die a Slow Death

Why Churches Die a Slow Death

Left to itself, the universe tends towards chaos. This is the fundamental truth behind the Second Law of Thermodynamics. “The state of entropy of the entire universe, as an isolated system, will always increase over time.” Even when a productive reaction occurs in chemistry, there is always a byproduct of randomness and chaos. The arc of the universe is towards a slow death—the very life and energy being sapped away. A rolling ball will lose its energy until it stops. A rubber band will break or snap back rather than be infinitely stretched. And a church that exists within a closed system will tend towards a slow death: void of energy but filled with chaos. In physics, chemistry, and the church, the only thing that stems the affect of entropy is intentional, outside energy that works to accomplish a specific outcome. In Robert Quinn’s book Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, he states, “Given the choice between deep change or slow death, we tend to choose slow death.” Deep change requires outside energy, intentionality, and genuine leadership. The concept of change threatens the status quo, a sense of normalcy, and the perception of equilibrium. However, what most churches refuse to accept is that change is always happening. In a closed system, a church will always be changing towards entropy. While the externals can be managed to look like things are going well, the internal reality is that the organization is unraveling. Let’s be clear: if your church remains a closed system, resistant to the outside energy required for fundamental and deep change, your church will inevitably die. Quinn further states in his...
Say No to Bad Coffee – A Theology of Hospitality

Say No to Bad Coffee – A Theology of Hospitality

Good coffee matters, and so does your theology of hospitality. This past summer, the church I was working at tried a different approach to small groups during the summer. Rather than encouraging groups to meet throughout the summer months in homes and compete with vacations, travel, ball games, and pool parties, we decided to house our groups on our campus. Groups could meet, mingle with other groups, and not have the stress of hosting at their own home. It was a great idea on paper, and in some ways it worked and didn’t work in other ways. That’s an article for another day. Here’s one thing that definitely didn’t work: my coffee. I’m the master of making coffee in my own home with my own coffee pot. I’ve got the measurements down, and let’s be honest, I mostly use a Keurig. But making coffee in the large, commercial coffee maker at the church? Foreign territory. I had been trained by people who knew how to do it, and yet more than half the time, I still got it wrong somehow. The coffee I was brewing looked and tasted like motor oil. A coffee stirrer would stand straight up. It was thick. It was disgusting. Truth be told, I had a good relationship with most of the people who were coming on those Wednesday nights so the worst I risked was good-nature ribbing. I had tried, and that’s what counts, right? Maybe in that case yes, but when it comes to the hospitality ministry of your church… no. The hospitality ministry of your church makes a significant impact on guest retention...
There Is (No) Peace on Earth

There Is (No) Peace on Earth

I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old familiar carols play And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men And in despair I bowed my head “There is no peace on earth,” I said For Hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men Then peeled the bells more loud and deep “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep” The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The poem is more true today than ever, right? There is (no) peace on earth. The cause of your despair is your own to name, but there are lots of choices: The terrorism in Paris, San Bernardino, and across the globe The race rioting in the streets and police brutality The fights at home between you and your spouse or kids The raise you didn’t get but deserved The friendship that betrayed you The busyness and chaos of life that wakes you up at 2am The job that stresses you The cancer that threatens you or the ones you love There’s no shortage of roots for despair. And so you’ve bowed your head: “There is no peace on earth,” you’ve said. Me, too. I’ve said it. Sitting on my bedroom floor folding laundry a couple of weeks ago, I was overcome by a massive wave of grief–completely out of nowhere. Thought after thought about every hard circumstance that my family has been challenged with in the last 18 months came like barrage of bullets all at once....
5 Specific Ways to Pray for Paris

5 Specific Ways to Pray for Paris

“Pray for Paris” must be more than an afterthought or merely a hashtag. Church leaders–all Christians–around the world must surround the city of Paris and the nation of France in genuine and sincere prayers of faith. If you’re like most people, though, you don’t know what to say or how to pray. In 2005, my wife and I studied abroad in France as a part of our college careers. During that summer, we fell in love with the unique culture–and more importantly: the people. The French are often the punch line of American jokes about liberal softness and chain-smoking womanizers. The reality of the French people is drastically different; they value many of the things we do in America like family, tradition, peace, and liberty. But what my wife and I also discovered is a culture, and a people, that had lost touch with spirituality in general and faith in Christ in particular. As the globe mourns with the people of France because of the devastation from these insidious attacks, let us Christians engage in sincere, specific, and faith-filled prayer. Here are five specific ways to pray for Paris: The healing of the victims. The road ahead for those who have been wounded is long. The road for those who have lost loved ones is even longer. As the personal stories of victims begin to come out over the coming days and weeks, don’t be so quick to scroll by on your news feed. Stop for just a moment and pray for the families by name. Ask that if they have a faith in the Lord that it would be...
3 Ways to Fail Forward

3 Ways to Fail Forward

Leadership matters. Perhaps leadership matters most in the midst of failure. Everyone wants to be a massive success: build a huge platform, grow their attendance, expand their campuses, hire more staff. Maybe the definitions of success sound a little more postmodern for some. They want to have more dynamically, relationally missional, communitarian, discipleship, ecclesia groups. Regardless of how you define success, every leader loves the feeling of achieving a stated goal. But sometimes we don’t achieve the stated goals. We don’t make budget. We don’t meet the benchmark. We have to lose that staff. We have to close the doors. We lose our awesome. Failure happens. When it does, leadership matters. It’s become something of a buzzword these days to “fail forward.” Somehow the cutsie phrasing still doesn’t take the sting out of failure. But what if it wasn’t just a catchphrase? What if great leaders could really find ways to move the ball forward even in a failing situation–to generate a different kind of win? Here are three ways to fail forward: 1) Be open about being wrong. Failing is hard. Trying to pretend like something isn’t failing is even worse. Great leaders can be honest about failures, and can generate authenticity, empathy, trust, and camaraderie with people in the organization. To be able to communicate openly about what isn’t working in a non-blaming environment can build the kind of gritty, enduring relationships with people that are hard to create when everything is going off without a hitch. Failure is an opportunity for vulnerability, and vulnerability is the linchpin of building trust. Failure is an opportunity for vulnerability,...