Defeating Discouragement

From time to time I have a moment to consider problems a bit more deeply. Flowing from a few of the verses in Hebrews 3:1-6, I thought your day could use a lift. Maybe you are wrestling against discouragement? I hope the following will help you defeat it.

A simple orientation shift, a focus adjustment, has to take place. Discouragement is the result of self-focus. In other words, you look at life and decide how it should go. You prop up your fulfillment on the backs of something or someone. When those people or things fail, you become frustrated. Once frustration with what you didn’t get turns to anxiety over what you may not ever get, you become discouraged. So discouragement is unmet expectations stretched over time. So how do you defeat discouragement?

First, you need the correct expectations. Those expectations have to lean on promises that will endure. If your expectations rest on someone or something, you are in danger of discouragement. Likewise, timing combines with discouragement to move you out of the emotion of frustration and into the state of discouragement. To feel disappointed is emotionally necessary because you have to trust in people and things that cannot and do not endure. To be frustrated is normal because you have to expect changes in circumstances and people as they occur over time.

Discouragement, however, is the result of thinking you own the expectations and the timing. Discouragement is sin to be defeated because it is the result of self-focus. The discouraged say, “this is a right expectation” and “this is the right timing” without yielding those strong emotions to God. We ask God questions such as, “You promised, so when will it happen?” or “This is what should happen, so why did it not succeed?” The first question is the frustration over timing and the second is the unmet expectation, combined they lead to discouragement.

When we are discouraged, we tend to seek a remedy to the time problem or the expectation problem. Instead of changing our own basis for expectations and our own estimation of timing, we suppose those two considerations were right, and we are entitled to them being met. Men leave their marriages because “they deserve to be happy.” Teens give in on their moral standards because “its time they got what they wanted.” Hebrews 3:1-6 lays out the truth. Expectations belong to Jesus and so does the timing.

Cana Vision Follow Up

First, Cana Vision Sundays were a huge success. We had high turnout! That told me people were excited about the direction Cana Church is going. Buckle up, it’s going to be exciting.

I mentioned many ministry areas we would engage over the previous two weeks. Our goal, if you remember is 80% of the congregation involved in ministry and mission. You have responded to the sparse details within the actual presentations with questions like, “What is a ‘Hub Family’?” Good question, so here is a quick collection of definitions to clarify and help you decide how you might plug-in.

Hub Family: A central family that connects 10 other families together. The connections are cross generational and across Life Groups/Ministries. The objective for the hub family is to engage and keep families – to leave no one behind.

Evangelism Team Leader: A person who recruits and trains and executes evangelism efforts in a selected neighborhood. Evangelism team leaders are semi-autonomous in that they keep a schedule that works for the people in their group. These leaders work directly with the pastor.

Multi-Generational Interaction: Teens need spots to function in ministry efforts. Music, technical, teaching, missions, and leadership opportunities are all open. Interested teens should inquire directly with staff or be willing to give a hearty “YES” when asked to lead.

Prayer Leaders: An individual or family that recruits and organizes a team of prayer warriors. We will attach them to the present prayer leader to get them started.

Teacher Training: Cana’s discipleship goal is for every member to be able to teach. This is the promise of the New Covenant. The promise does not mean they lead a class but it does mean they have such a relationship with the Scripture that they can navigate the Bible on their own. Classes will be offered to enhance classroom teaching and personal biblical knowledge.

Adopt a Neighborhood: Evangelism and Prayer teams adopt neighborhoods in Burleson to evangelize and reach with the Gospel. Neighborhoods may be two to four blocks and should be the home neighborhood of one or more of the team members. The Adopted neighborhood will be engaged through block parties, prayer walks, crisis care, and door to door engagement.

Mission Champions: Mission Champions keep the interests, prayer needs, and ministry needs before the Missions Committee and the Church. As these people develop their relationship with the missionary, they might also help identify the mission opportunities available on location. They would be the primary point of contact and advocate for the missionary while they are away.

To review Cana Vision, Go here:

Cana Vision Preview

Remade to Reclaim:

Resurrection Day is April 16! Make plans to attend one of two identical services on that day: 915am or 10:45am.

But April is also incredibly important to the future ministry and life of Cana. Because of the importance of upcoming events, I have decided to devote this whole issue of the Cana Vision to the task of previewing some of what we are going to discuss during our vision casting Sundays together. Mark your calendar to attend both Sunday morning and Sunday evening services on April 23rd and 30th. During the morning services, we will explore what the Scripture has to say about who the church is and what the church does. During the evening services, we will explore what we must be and what we will do. We will see how we have been remade and, therefore, the mission we have to reclaim the lost world for Christ. We are Remade to Reclaim.

First, the Theme

We are remade in Jesus Christ. All believers share in this fundamental transformation. We were all lost and without God in the world. Before Christ, we were under the weight of impossible guilt and judgment caused by our sin. Death reigned and sin won. We were unable to save ourselves. But Jesus Christ stepped in to remake us. We call this occasion our salvation. Our salvation remade us into the image of Christ. We are remade from objects of destruction into sons and daughters of God.

Yet, the world is not fond of our transformation. We struggle to live out our faith. Praise be to God, he did not leave us alone but provided the Holy Spirit to mature us in our faith. Jesus also placed us under his own authority and into a motley crew we call the church. As gathered believers, we function as a human source of encouragement and aid in an ongoing life with God. Jesus placed us in the church so that we could be encouraged by it and encourage others in it. When Jesus remade us, he uniquely gifted us for our time with the church on this earth. Jesus placed every person into the church as both the church and the person needed. You were remade to belong to Christ. You were placed into His church because you matter to its well-being.

Your placement in the church means Jesus has a mission for you to accomplish. In fact, it seems a church is hardly a church if it has no mission. Jesus remade us in order to reclaim lost souls. Just as we were remade, others need to be remade. We must love them enough to share our faith and our lives with them. Evangelism is the intentional effort to reclaim souls from certain and eternal death. Our mission moving forward must be intentional and focused. The mission God has assigned to us in a result of the people God has given us. We are called to love one another and love the lost. We are called to encourage one another and confess our sins to each other. The power of Jesus to form us into His church is the same power that enables us to call the world to salvation in Jesus. This is the crux of our vision.



Praying for Awakening:

We need a spiritual awakening custom fit to prepare us for God’s mission. Any great project requires the power of Christ Jesus given through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit compels us and empowers us for life change. In fact, we cannot be saved except that the Holy Spirit empowers us. If we are to be a great church, we have to be a church where real power for transformation is the rule rather than the exception.

We need to pray together. Each Sunday morning for the next few weeks, we will pray together for spiritual awakening in Cana. Every person should participate in this call to the altar. As we pray, we will confess our sins, call on Christ for forgiveness, and forgive others who have hurt us. Our prayers cannot begin and end at the altar, however, they need to be a daily habit. Will you pray for awakening?

Second, we need to pray for the lost. Select five people you know who need salvation and begin praying for them. These should be people you have regular contact with. Will you pray for them daily? Spiritual awakening is often accompanied by many salvations and the baptisms that follow. Sometimes we discover that our ritual faith is not true faith. If you find that you do not have a genuine faith, you should declare your genuine faith to His church and be baptized. Spiritual awakening is often accompanied by many people being saved who were already attending church.

Expanding our Mission:

We need to expand our mission. Cana is a great mission giving church. We fund well our missions endeavors. This should continue and increase. Embrace, our international missions fund, has focused on the Moronene people group and we have seen great success there. With that success has come some freedom to expand our international efforts to London. I will spend more time describing this mission later, but I can say now that it is a wide-open mission field. The churches there are beleaguered. There are few pastors. And everyone can be involved in our short-term and long-term mission opportunities. Our efforts to revitalize London churches (and to plant new ones) through direct evangelism, youth/children outreaches, and construction projects will produce great fruit.

Cana is also called to its local community and its own state and nation. We can prepare ourselves for this calling by joining an evangelism team, assisting on the follow-up team, or by willingly participating in some of the outreach ministries the church will construct in days and weeks ahead. We also have an opportunity to expand our digital ministry. Many of us think of the internet as a minor convenience. However, it is a major tool we could use to reach many other people we currently cannot reach through our physical location. We can do digital discipleship in other countries and to our stubborn neighbors. I see expansion of our digital capabilities as a major platform for future ministry.

Expanding our Make:

The work of Christ is not just about the mission actions we take. The work of Christ is also about the transformation we are undergoing together. We call this transformation, discipleship. Discipleship occurs individually through our personal devotion and together in our church community. In order for us to be effective for years to come, we need to become deeper in our daily devotion. We will concentrate considerable effort on prayer both individually and together. We will also look to encourage marriages, strengthen singles, confront practical problems like depression and grief, and improve our biblical understanding through focused training. As we move forward, we will explore and develop ways we can become closer as a community of believers. It seems personal confession is the level of friendship the Scripture envisions. Cana can become a place where we find lasting, edifying, and helpful friends. We need spiritual maturity in order to be confessional with one another. In short, we want to be serious about discipleship both together and individually.

The True Worker:

Though we will lay out a grand vision of how we are remade to reclaim Burleson and beyond, the true worker is the Holy Spirit. Spiritual Awakening will make us a great church, not our plans. Please pray for that spiritual awakening only brought through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Why This Child Has Been Tearing Me Up

I am not always the quickest on matters of justice. I don’t always think about them as sensitively as I should. But this situation,, has really stirred me lately about a dormant work within our Christ-following. For $8,000 we could help a child be resettled into a family pursuing the truth of Christ Jesus. That’s less than the cost of most of our baptisms if you count staffing, utilities, etc.

I know money is a crass way of gauging anything’s worth. Much less the worth of a child – it’s outright filthy to measure the worth of a child by money. What would we give to rescue a child? – much more than $8,000. And that has prompted the real urgency in my heart because we could raise the funds to rescue a child we know, one living with a proven family serving the Lord Jesus beside us.

Maybe sometimes we calculate the costs rather than seeing the spiritual opportunities. We don’t line-item fund adoptions or place them within the overall mission perspective of our congregations. I think this is a hole in our gospel expression. The church has long seen its mission to the widow and orphan as a critical feature of its religion. We staff our widow ministry with deacons but we have not tasked anyone to our orphans. We have permitted the state to look after them. Among believers there ought not be any orphans. Maybe the Lord has used this little girl as a wake-up call to me. This is a low-cost matter of justice with a huge redemptive return. Carly matters to God. $8,000 helps us demonstrate that.


Blunting Criticism – Some Steps

Nobody loves criticism. It bugs us. In fact, criticism is so effective that though we received countless commendations, one negative word can topple our whole attitude. What is it about criticism that makes it so potent? What is it about a negative word that gives it such gravity? What can we do to blunt the thorny edge of criticism?

  1. Let go of your self-idol. We need to identify what criticism is doing to us. Criticism is effective because of our own sense of self and pride. When we are criticized, we turn inward to see if what was said is true. We second-guess and self-assess. Truly effective criticisms are those directed at our identity. These type criticism usually begin with, “You are just a …,” fill in the rest. We spend a lot of time and energy building our sense of self and our own identity. This is the result of the curse in Gen. 3:16-19. Rather than relying on God for our identity, we begin to draw on relationships (3:16) or achievements (3:19) to self-identity. This self-idolatry is the root of why criticism is so effective. We defend our self-idol.
  2. Change the question. Criticism attempts to force our focus on an endless list of personal failures. Someone else might have seen through us or spotted a weakness. So we respond by asking, “What did I do wrong? How could they say that? What do they expect?” We need to ask the important, selfless questions, “Is God at work here? Was God’s purpose accomplished today/night/this time? Was God’s glory reflected?” Denying self means coming to grips with God’s hand in humiliation as well as in glory. Paul reflects on this when he writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I how to abound. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret to facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:12-13, ESV). Paul sees all his circumstances as God’s doing so what criticism can come against his own efforts? He sees himself as a servant of the only one worthy of glory. If one were to criticize Paul’s work, he would simply acknowledge that God had been at work.
  3. Stop criticizing others. Most criticism is our attempt to use another person’s identity brick for our own idol constructing efforts. Our pride drives our criticism of others but is also the reason we are so vulnerable to criticism from others. To be fair, criticism and fair evaluation are not the same. We have to evaluate our own work and that of others. It is pride, however, that makes other people’s criticism so difficult to receive. It is also pride that makes criticism so opportunistic for us to use. Negative and destructive criticism is used as a weapon. Our pride is the hand on the hilt. Teach-ability and humility go hand in hand.  Pride and criticism go finger on trigger. Stop running others down to make yourself feel important by comparison. God alone is the judge and image-giver.

Three Small Ways to Practice Big Faith

Faith, however, is not built upon those big events but upon small devotion.

We like to focus on the big things of life.  Big events, big success, and big money entice us.  Big, positive occasions are great fun but come with the big risks of big failure.  Many people feel they are waiting for their big break or their “strike it rich” moment.  In the process of waiting we tend to neglect the building blocks of faith – we neglect doing the small things well.

The Bible is full of big miracles and historical accounts of ways that God moved in incredible manner.  These historic events, like the parting of the Red Sea or resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, are the exceptions.  They are big events.  Faith, however, is not built upon those big events but upon small devotion.  Small devotion reflects faith in a big God.  Here, I think, resides the lost secret to true connection with God.  In our emphasis on big things, we neglect the small devotion that truly pleases God.

So how do we please God?

  1. First, we believe in Jesus Christ. Without faith no one can please God.
  2. Once you believe in Jesus Christ, then do the small things well. Pray regularly, daily, intentionally.  Ask God about your attitude rather than your occasion.  Rather than praying for healing (though there remains a place and time for such prayers), pray for the correct attitude to handle the trials.  Rather than praying for justice, pray for the ability to show mercy.  Prayer is no small thing but those who pray faithfully have big faith in a big God.
  3. Praise God. Praise grows from gratitude and honor for God. Praise must grow out of regard for who God is rather than in reaction to what God does.  Praise is a discipline that pleases God.  Small devotion in prayer and praise lays the foundation upon which God builds his big work.

Ministering to the Grieving – 2

Grief resides with loss rather than with solutions.  You cannot fix grief – it has to heal the emotions of its own time.  It is a mistake to react too quickly or judge the emotional out-pour of a person.  Some people feel liberty to cry and others, like me, had their tear ducts sewed shut at an early age (not really).  Whatever the response, it is important to allow the grieving person to express those emotions freely.  Just because you feel a grieving person should not be responding the way they are, does not mean they are not grieving properly.  Time and sincere grief will heal the emotional wound they face.  Many people, especially men, need affirmation that their emotions are acceptable and the freedom to have very little external display of them.

Grief is an emotional balm rather than an overflow of emotion – not all bleeding needs to be stopped immediately.  When you attempt to stop the grieving mechanism, you can damage the emotional and mental expression prematurely.  Many years ago, a doctor friend of mine entered a construction site only to step on a nail.  I asked if he ought to bandage the wound and he commented that letting it bleed was more likely to cleanse the wound than bandaging. Sometimes grief wounds pour with emotional expression. The emotional expression helps cleanse the wound.  Don’t be hasty as a friend to limit that emotional expression.

Grief should be distinguished from despair.  Grief restores the mind and emotions to health by opening ones perspective.  The perspective Christian people have is one of God’s sovereign work – his great goodness, and comfort.  With great pain we eventually fall on this reality that God has worked as he pleased.  From there we have a better view of God’s efforts.  Despair defies God’s work and wedges the person away from God’s plan and sovereignty.  Despair is not grief but an infection of the emotional wound.  Be careful of infecting a wound by omitting talk of God’s goodness. The grieving person needs to grasp firmly that their situation is well within God’s power and plan. Times of great emotional outpouring, however, are not times to apply this fact. This fact doesn’t fix grief, it simply focuses the person on God rather than on self. When you minister to the grieving, speak about God’s plan as a way to help them refocus rather than as a way to change their emotional expression.

Three ways to minister to the grieving:

  1. Be There. If you are unsure what to say, say nothing. When in doubt about whether to visit the grieving, visit. Being there is a passive deterrent against self-focus so it helps the grieving person consider others.
  2. Be Patient. Grief takes time. When ministering to the grieving, be patient with the emotions and inconsistency of the person. I have found people struggle most at three occasions: the moment of the event, the funeral/memorial, and the months that follow. Minister with the months that follow in mind.
  3. Be Focused. Grief seems to consume the focus of a person’s mind. Focus your ministry on the mission of God still before the grieving person. Along with your presence and patience, include the person on your mission or remind them of theirs. If the grieving person had no real mission before or it wasn’t God’s mission, this may be a great time of transformation. Guide them toward God during this time. Being focused on God’s mission pushes back the emptiness and despair caused by the loss. God heals us as we obey His will.