On Reading Well

I’m devouring On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior. Maybe you don’t miss high school English as much as I, but I’ll bet you your lunch money that you won’t be disappointed if you give this new release a try (Brazos Press).

Here’s the format: Professor Prior explores Christian virtues as they figure prominently in twelve key selections of Western literature. From Henry Fielding to Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps you’ve never read The Great Gatsby. Here’s your chance to get up-close-and-personal with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald by exploring the “ongoing tension that has always defined American culture.” Prior is referring to the struggle which you and I face every day: will I deny myself some pleasures so that I can pursue what matters most (am I willing to trade the good for the best?) … or will I live far beyond my means so that I can — like the credit card companies promise — have it all now?

You’ll learn how to read closely, and you’ll learn how to read slowly. You’ll learn how classical and Christian thinkers have contributed not just breadth and depth to modern civilization, but artistry and grace as well.

You’ll learn how to appreciate words. That’s good for us as a people formed (and being reformed) by the Word (John 1:1), don’t you think? Is there a difference between being kind and being nice? You bet your bottom dollar there is! Sound etymology leads to … well, I’ll cut to the chase, a better life.

You’ll meet Ethan Frome, as you think about what C.S. Lewis called “the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.” Here’s my favorite part of Prior’s commentary: “In his desires for beauty, friendship, affirmation, and respect, Ethan is like all of us. His situation is hard. He is a man born into hard conditions, with untapped potential, exposed to just enough of life beyond the narrow constraints of the life he inherited so as to dream, only to see those dreams frustrated.”

As you fall in love with literature you may have missed, you may find yourself befriending more than a few of the characters. There’s even a section of probing questions at the end of On Reading Well, in case you want to explore this book as a family, with a friend, or as part of your book club. So grab your copy and get going!

I think you’ll be drawn in from the moment you dive in. Happy reading!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

One Small Step

What a week!

We are a fragile lot, you and I. Yes, we sprint along like strong and steady gazelles, but then everything turns on a dime. That was our Monday, and our Tuesday. And … well, you get the point.

What we thought was a simple infection ended up becoming, for my bride, an emergency surgery. Already trying to recover from surgery, it felt like: one step forward, two steps back. Can you relate?

Because of you, friends, Eileen and I could not have experienced more love, support, and encouragement. Thank you. You have been terrific compatriots. You have been the rainbow beyond the gray clouds. You ARE grace extraordinaire!

It is more than comforting to know that every one of our steps is ordered and established by God (Psalm 37:23-25; Proverbs 16:9). Even the steps which feel to us like baby steps. Even the steps which feel backwards.

This morning we are more than grateful for a few steps down a hospital corridor. Thank you, Jesus. As by faith we run the race of life, the “stumbles” along our road surely and stealthily bless us with renewed appreciation for our seemingly minor victories.

One day soon we shall take what seems like one more small step. But it will be in reality like Neil Armstrong’s giant leap. We will leap into eternity. Because Christ first stepped forward in our place … to a cruel cross, a borrowed grave, and then into Paradise … you and I will leap into an eternity free from sin, sickness, and even death.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Shake a leg ’til then.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

#sicem

Sunday I preached on the wonder of work! Based on the Bible’s cultural mandate found in Genesis 1:26-28, I tried to present a strong case for the revival of the Protestant Work Ethic. I contend that we, as Christ followers, need to recover our calling to lead in culture, government, industry, and plain-old hard work in general.

In case you think this subject is irrelevant, that very afternoon a once-famous actor from the 80’s Cosby Show was publicly shamed for his “menial job” at Trader Joe’s (a grocery store). So Geoffrey Owens makes $11 an hour as a cashier? Friends, that might be the most honorable job on Earth – just like yours. As far as I’m concerned, shame on the shamers. We thought Bill Cosby was the example we ought to follow. Turns out it was Owens.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We are to have dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential. As God’s image-bearers – and this was reiterated in abbreviated form to Noah in Genesis 9:1 – you and I are the only ones who can fulfill the cultural mandate as it was truly intended – because we know that God’s glory is the bottom line. The end goal. The prize! Unbelievers don’t (can’t) understand that.

We were not purchased by the blood of Christ so that we could cocoon ourselves off in some corner fearing the “secular” world and its dangers, but we have been uniquely commissioned to bring the light of Christ into every sphere of the public square. We are to light up the marketplace with creativity, ingenuity, and gospel passion. Through hard work and perseverance at whatever temporary post where we’re divinely assigned, we are to lead by example. Soli Deo Gloria.

Then I noticed Chip and Joanna Gaines on Twitter. What were they doing? Just enjoying a Baylor football game. Against Abilene Christian, if you’re interested in the details. I’m super proud of our “Fixer Upper” friends, not just because they’re brave enough to take their new baby, Crew, to a game (along with siblings Drake, Ella Rose, Duke, and Emmie Kay, of course) – but because they’re brave enough to live out their Christian faith before a watching world.

They’re willing to lead in a winsome way. They’re willing to take the hits that come their way when they’re charged with antiquated notions of morality. They’re willing to stay the course as a family of faith. And, may I add – and this is just as important – they’re willing to work hard as excellent home designers. That is ministry.

I stole “#sicem” from Joanna’s post on social media. Being the son of an diehard Texas Aggie, I certainly know what “Sic ‘Em” means! It means “go get ‘em.” And, I realized in the moment, that that’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you all week.

You are where you are supposed to be, at least for now. Your job as a high-profile exec, or a janitor, or a mom of five is a high calling in Jesus Christ.

I’ll close with something Burt Reynolds, who died just yesterday, said at age 82: “I don’t know why I think this, but maybe I’ve got my best work ahead. Maybe I’ll be putting my teeth in the glass, and maybe it will be a very different kind of role, but I want to do something.”

Sic ‘Em!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 7

Eileen and I are praying for a young man in Southern California who has recently been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. Jason is a youth pastor, and this situation has transpired very quickly. Jason’s pain became so severe that he had to be in the emergency room instead of present with his precious wife for the birth of their third child.

Even for God’s people, sometimes the disappointments of this life defy explanation. Our Lord is always with us — we know that both intellectually and theologically — but at times our griefs and sadnesses are overwhelming for even the strongest among us. Who has never asked God, “Why?”

Thank you for hanging in there for this series on healing for our broken hearts. I have learned some things putting these communications together, and I hope that you have as well. You may not be facing a situation exactly like Jason’s, but I know that you understand how quickly Providence can land any of us in an unexpected place where we now have to live — even though we’re unsure what our “new normal” will mean for us or for those we love. Maybe your heart is broken even as you read these words.

For most of us, life includes its share of desperate trials and crippling defeats. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to focus on today, and to leave tomorrow in His hands (Matthew 6:34). Life can be difficult at best, and even our most life-giving relationships can inflict on us the most profound pain that we’ll ever experience. Love is risky, but well worth it. C.S. Lewis observed: “Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?”

On our journey of trusting Christ with the harshest wounds we’ll ever have to face, here’s where we’ve journeyed so far (our road to recovery, of sorts) …

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

WAKE UP YOUR WONDER.

In my final chapter of this blog series, I’ll add one more: DREAM YOUR DREAMS!

We serve a big God, a God who is able to do more for us (and for His own glory) than we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20) — do we not? He specializes in rescuing the helpless, and in the last-minute deliverance which no one anticipated. What I mean to say is that we can trust Him even with our lingering pain and grief. If someone has hurt you, choose to love again. That may include many changes on your part — even a real repentance from seeing God as less than Sovereign and able. When it comes to God’s love, you are never out of bounds! By the power of the Holy Spirit, you can choose to pour that love into others (Romans 5:5).

The Bible mentions the heart nearly 300 times, and it’s not talking about the muscle in our chest. It’s talking about the core of our most authentic self. The heart is the place where we love with all we’ve got (even our enemies), where we discover our wellspring and our joy in Christ, and where we dream our most gigantic dreams for the future! It is the center of who we are.

If Christ is in you, you already have everything you need. Your heart is His, so love is yours. Sometimes the love we desperately need is ours only when we give it away. When we need Him most, surely we can trust our Savior for the healing we desire. “He heals the broken-hearted, and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

As always, Christ is more than enough.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 6

Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “There are many kinds of broken hearts, and Christ is good at healing them all.” I love that quote. It is truth on steroids.

Nothing can feel more isolating than a broken heart. The pain can seem unbearable (Proverbs 14:10). But we – as God’s people – have been called into community. How do we “do” community when we really want to be left alone? For that matter, how do we commune with God – even worship Him – when we really don’t want to be in the company of anyone?

Here’s the good news: a broken heart is an open heart. Hosea had to learn that. Before him it was King David. And before David – among many others who had to feel the sting of life’s bitter disappointments – it was Sarai (later known as Sarah). Each Biblical account reinforces the trajectory of God’s faithfulness to meet us in our moment of absolute despair. When we find our refuge in God, He never lets us down. He is the strength we’re missing. He is the solace we’ve been looking for.

But the reality is: God often chooses to heal us through the ministry of others. We bear each other’s burdens and pains (Galatians 6:2). What we most need when we’re hurting most profoundly is something that we’re tempted to pull away from: each other! Don’t let that happen.

The same goes for our time with God. Don’t let it slip away, friends. Find yourself in the company of God’s people. Even if you don’t feel like worshipping, worship anyway. Even if you don’t feel like singing, sing anyway. Even if you don’t feel like reading your Bible, read anyway. There’s something about worshipping the God of the universe that puts our personal pain in its proper perspective. Look up! Like the Israelites who were snake bitten in the wilderness, we must look up in order to live.

When it comes to healing your broken heart, here are the steps of faith which you’ve taken so far …

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

And today you’re adding:

WAKE UP YOUR WONDER!

When you are recaptured by the greatness of God, you will be well on your way to a renewed heart.

Let’s suppose for a minute that you have no idea how to begin. I’ll offer three simple suggestions. Choose one or all three. 1. Spend time with a young child (not an infant). Have conversation in their language. Seek to see the world through their eyes. You’ll be stunned by how much of you gets reignited in the process. 2. Go outside and take a long walk. Pull out your cell phone and take pictures of God’s creation. If you do social media, post your pictures and give God glory. You’ll be prompted to worship. 3. Spend at least half an hour with an old friend. Drink in the goodness that comes from just being around a person who has invested in you for years. Savor the moment. Like sweet tea for the soul.

Remember that verse I gave you earlier (Proverbs 14:10)? Read it again. The same heart that was once broken can be filled with unspeakable joy! Our Helper is here. Healing is on the way. I’m rooting for you.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 5

Heartbreak doesn’t just hurt, but it often feels downright insurmountable. So many questions come along with our pain: How can I move on? How can I get through this? Will I ever feel better?

It’s an unfortunate truth that heartbreak in any form, whether a mild rejection or a full-blown life-changing trauma, can propel us into an emotional tailspin. Just getting through the day can feel like: I don’t understand anyone around me, and now I don’t even understand me.

Other self-imposed questions tend to interrogate us. What did I do wrong? Can I ever fix this? Why am I such an idiot? Questions like these prance through our minds as if they own the place, and can take a toll on our emotional and spiritual health. It’s hard not to let these post-traumatic emotional experiences negatively define our character. That’s what I want to address today.

Sometimes, as evangelical Christians, we fear our emotions – as if to allow for emotion is to be less than a devout follower of Christ. But the Bible reveals a Triune God who is rich with emotionality. As we unpack the New Testament, we discover a Holy Spirit who not only manifests rich emotions Himself – but who is given to every believer so that we may enjoy a profoundly significant emotional life. Our emotions are closer to us than air, and must not be avoided. Being created in God’s image is not just the impetus for our ability to think and to reason – but it’s also the impetus for our ability to feel. Since we can’t (and shouldn’t) run from our feelings, we must deal with them in a Christ-honoring way. Since God has given us emotion, He has the power to heal our damaged emotions (and our unhealthy emotional reactions). We can trust Him for this.

When it comes to our true identity, if we attempt to re-define ourselves, we will self-destruct. But if we will embrace our identity IN CHRIST, we will be on the road to real recovery.

IN CHRIST, who are we?

  1. We are God’s friends (John 15:13-15). As I offer you each of these truths for your contemplation, my hope is that you’ll look up each text, and meditate on its glorious applications to your own emotional well-being. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you delight in these realities as personally applied to you!
  2. We are new creations (Second Corinthians 5:17).
  3. We are children of God, reflecting His own character, nature, and love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  4. We are forgiven and free, even in our suffering (Romans 8:15-17).
  5. We are saints. Our lives have been divinely set apart for holy purposes (First Corinthians 1:2).
  6. We are recipients of wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (First Corinthians 1:30-31).
  7. We are Christ’s brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:1-12).

In terms of our identity, that’s only a start. But it’s a good one.

So here are our steps so far:

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

And today we’re adding:

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

We’ll pick up there next time. As always, I am grateful for your many contributions to my life – and to my own understanding and enjoyment of my identity IN CHRIST.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 4

Now that we’ve faced our fallenness, what next?

Well, we must learn to grieve for the glory of God. Grief is natural and normal, whenever we face a significant disappointment of any kind. There’s no use pasting on a fake smile and pretending that everything is fine. As a matter of fact, suppressing grief – and never dealing with it appropriately or redemptively – can be very unhealthy.

Grief often overtakes us in stages. First we may feel shocked. (How could this have happened to me?) Then we may go through a period of denial. Next is often when strong feelings of anger emerge. Don’t be surprised by any of these. They’re all part of a normal grieving process. Sometimes, however, our sadness can evolve into excruciating pain – something more like depression. And this is where I don’t want you to get stuck. And, if you’re already stuck, I want you to be free!

How do we get unstuck?

When we’re in one of those life seasons that feels like perpetual winter with no sign of spring, pain can be piling up inside us like emotional garbage. Friend, don’t leave your grief unattended! If you leave your grief unattended, you’re likely to find yourself engaging in behaviors which you never thought were you. Bitterness can take over. You may soon find yourself isolated even from the people you love the most. You may discover that you’re suddenly blaming everybody around you for, well, everything! Not healthy. Not healthy at all.

So here is our second step toward healing: SPEAK YOUR SADNESS. You and I must learn to grieve well, and that starts with telling the truth: “I am hurt.”

John 11:35 can be powerful for us: Jesus wept. Even knowing that Lazarus would be raised from the dead in mere minutes, Jesus expressed – honestly and intimately – the sorrow of His heart. There had been a loss, and it was real. And it was sad.

If this frankness was right for the Son of God, can’t we be certain that it is right for us?

 

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

 

We’ll go from there next time.

Your heart is in His hands.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 3

Have you ever been betrayed?

Scientists and researchers at UCLA and other places are documenting the links between emotional pain and physical pain. What impacts us at soul-level can take a severe toll on our bodies. But I probably didn’t have to tell you that.

As holy and powerful as God is, He knows what it’s like to be betrayed. The Old Testament, somewhat like a novel, reads like a series of: 1. God pursues His people in love; 2. God’s people enjoy His blessings; 3. God’s people reject Him, and abandon Him; 4. God’s people get into trouble; 5. God’s people ask for forgiveness; 6. God forgives and restores; and 7. Rinse and repeat.

So our Sovereign God knows what we’re facing when it comes to getting better – emotionally, and in every other way. In fact, He is the hope we’ve been looking for! Check out Paul’s testimony in Second Corinthians 1:8-11.

A broken heart is not likely to heal overnight. It’s not like getting a cavity filled. It may take months, or even years. We trust God with the timing, right?

But what I want you to wrap your mind around today is the good things that can come into our lives via a broken heart. Sometimes God uses these seasons of suffering to replace our pride and false identity with confidence in Him. Glory comes through pain. C.S. Lewis said it like this: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

So here’s what I want you to do …

Look back on that affliction of sadness that keeps dogging you. Maybe it was something that someone did to hurt you, or something that you did – and that you regret doing – and something that you can’t seem to move past (no matter how hard you try).

You’re going to take one step forward today – another step will come next week – but here is your one step for today: FACE YOUR FALLENNESS. Read, and reread (and reread) Romans 3:9-20. “None is righteous, no, not one.” This applies to you. This applies to me. This applies to our betrayers.

Thankfully, it does not apply to Christ. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

La Lumière

We just touched down after a great week in France! Our friends, Randy and Jan Kent – and the team from Mission FPC: France Pour Christ, led by Jeannot Gauggel – could not have been more hospitable hosts. Because of the FPC approach to missions, we ministered alongside new friends from all over the world, literally. We came home with hearts which are full. We are grateful to our gracious God for the experience and the relationships.

We arrived in Nashville exhausted but invigorated at the same time. In days ahead we’ll be sharing more details with you, but I wanted you to see some photos of our ministries and missions. Our FBC contingency worked together exceptionally well, and I can honestly say that there was never a moment when I felt like we weren’t on the same team. I praise the Lord for His faithfulness in answering so many prayers for this trip.

Some of us made it up to the Alsace region – an area in northeastern France on the Rhine River plain – which is steeped in history. Bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace has alternated between German and French control over the centuries, and reflects a mix of both cultures. We met with Joseph, Natalie, and Roland, who are leaders of a congregation in the small city of Haguenau. The church has opened an outreach café to attract unbelievers (see pics of Jeremy and Sharon enjoying a raspberry smoothie, and our group around the table). We were more than impressed with their evangelistic fervor and creativity, and we’ll share with you some of that dialog a little later.

Our trip was capped off with our making the most of our 36 hours in Paris. We particularly enjoyed our guide, Claude, and his walking tour of Montmartre. The weather was perfect after a much-needed cool front invaded, and those memories became the icing on the cake.

As you may know from church history, the nation of France rejected the Protestant Reformation. As a result, much spiritual darkness fills the land. But God’s people are the light (Matthew 5:14) – la lumière – and our job continues to be to make Christ known: in postmodern France … and to the ends of the earth!

Thank you for praying us safely home.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

France Pour Christ

FRANCE FOR CHRIST!

We have most definitely been sent out into a culture that could be described as thoroughly postmodern and post-Christian. Evangelical churches of all stripes struggle to proclaim the gospel of Jesus in a nation where most people believe that truth is relative and that Christianity has no place in public life.

Christians in France are doing whatever it takes to build bridges into the lives of unbelievers. Our main job here is to encourage church planters who are doing that very thing. You can see that some of today’s activities focused on people at a city park, where unusually hot weather still allowed for some important gospel encounters. Creativity, without losing the claims of Christ, is the name of the game! We’ll have plenty of fun stories to tell you when we get home.

It’s late here, and I’m totally exhausted. Please pray for me as I teach from Matthew first thing in the morning. I’m focusing on the account of John the Baptist, and our need to press on in faith even in seasons when we’re assaulted by significant doubt. I’ll write again later in the week.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts