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Archive for the month “September, 2013”

True Life Chronicles – Part 5

A few weeks ago I did a sermon out of 1 Peter 5:1-6 about the importance of Shepherding Each Other and Being Shepherded. 

I’m not going to go into the theology of it in this post (you can listen online to the message), but just to recap with one summary sentence: To call ourselves Christians means that we help to shepherd other people in their relationship with Christ, and that we also allow ourselves to be shepherded by other people.

Now how do we do that in a new church where not everyone knows each other very well and where everyone is really busy? That’s what we’re all still figuring out, but I want to throw out a few practical “tips” that I did not have time to cover two weeks ago.

These are tips on how to get the ball rolling with each other, which is often the most difficult part. Once the ball is rolling…..well, let the Holy Spirit continue to lead you.

So here they are — 5 TIPS TO GET THE SHEPHERDING BALL ROLLING

1. If You Have a Conversation With Someone New, Be a Good Steward of that Conversation

A “steward” is a churchy way of of saying, “Be responsible with what God has put into your life.” So if you have a conversation with a new girl named Sally in the lobby before church, assume that you are having that conversation for a reason. Don’t think, “Well I’m sure Pastor Chris will end up talking to Sally and telling her about our church. I’m sure Sally will fill out one of those red cards and she’ll get into a life group.” Don’t do that.

Rather, ask Sally if she has any questions about the church. Ask about her story. Tell Sally about our life groups. Heck, tell Sally about YOUR life group.

2. Listen. Don’t Ask Weird Questions 

One of the most important parts about shepherding others is finding out where they are at in life and in their relationship with God. Don’t assume that everyone is where YOU’RE AT.

To continue with the Sally example — don’t ask Sally about her “testimony” or “when she came to know Jesus.” Sally may not know what a “testimony” is or even who Jesus is.

Get to know Sally first. Ask her about her…and listen.

3. Pray For Each Other

This may seem obvious, but church people are far more likely to say that they will pray for each other rather than actually take the time to do so.  So take the time — maybe in the morning, maybe on your way to work — to ask God, “Who are you putting on my heart today?” And then pray for those who come to mind. As we begin to pray for each other more and more, God may give us thoughts and words of encouragement to offer each other.

And that might lead to a phone call.

Which brings us to the next one……

4. When You’re Hurting, Make that First Awkward Phone Call

As we have gotten to know each other, it seems like a lot of us have felt comfortable inviting each other to parties and hang-outs. But I’ve noticed that, for the most part, we still have trouble making that phone call when we’re going through a hard time. We have a tendency to think that it will weird people out or that they will think less of us when they find out what we’re going through.

So that’s why I say – make the first awkward phone call. It will certainly be awkward, but that’s okay. Most people will be honored that you called them. They may not have any good advice, or they may give too much advice. But either way, it’s okay. As you grow in your relationship with that person, they will get better and better at being there for you in your rough times.

5. When You Think Someone Else is Hurting, Make that First Awkward Phone Call

If you notice that something is “off” with Joe, or if Maggie hasn’t been to life group in a few weeks and you get a weird sense about it, pick up the phone and call. Of course, if you never talked to Maggie about anything more than how your kid’s potty-training is going, this will be awkward. But again, that’s okay. Maggie will appreciate it. She may not open up to you right then, but she will appreciate that you were thinking about her and that you asked.

And it will make her more likely to do #4 in the future.

I know these are super practical and over-simplified. Each person in our life, and each situation, requires more prayer and a reliance on the Holy Spirit.

But in order for True Life to be the church that God has called us to be, we have to get this Shepherding Ball rolling.

The Day I Left My Marriage (Becky Zerbe)

The following story was taken from “Today’s Christian Woman.”

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The day had come. I’d lasted as long as I could in my marriage. Once my husband, Bill, left for work, I packed a bag for myself and our 14-month-old son and left our home. It was the only year in our married life when we lived in the same town as my parents. Obviously the convenience of being able to run to Mom and Dad made my decision to leave Bill easier.

With a tear-stained, angry face, I walked into Mom’s kitchen. She held the baby while I sobbed my declaration of independence. After washing my face and sipping a cup of coffee, Mom told me she and Dad would help me. They’d be there for me, which brought me great comfort.

“But before you leave Bill,” she said, “I have one task for you to complete.”

Mom put down my sleeping son, took a pen and sheet of paper, and drew a vertical line down the middle of the page. She told me to list in the left column all the things Bill did that made him impossible to live with. As I looked at the dividing line, I thought she’d then tell me to list all his good qualities on the right-hand side. I was determined to have a longer list of bad qualities on the left. This is going to be easy, I thought. I started immediately to scribble down the left column.

Bill never picked his clothes off the floor. He never told me when he was going outside. He slept in church. He had embarrassing, nasty habits such as blowing his nose or belching at the dinner table. He never bought me nice presents. He refused to match his clothes. He was tight with money. He wouldn’t help with the housework. He didn’t talk with me.

The list went on and on, until I’d filled the page. I certainly had more than enough evidence to prove that no woman would be able to live with this man.

Smugly I said, “Now I guess you’re going to ask me to list all Bill’s good qualities on the right side.”

“No,” Mom said. “I already know Bill’s good qualities. Instead, for each item on the left side, I want you to write how you respond. What do you do?”

This was even tougher. I’d been thinking about Bill’s few, good qualities I could list. I hadn’t considered thinking about myself. I knew Mom wasn’t going to let me get by without completing her assignment. So I had to start writing.

I’d pout, cry, and get angry. I’d be embarrassed to be with him. I’d act like a “martyr.” I’d wish I’d married someone else. I’d give him the silent treatment. I’d feel I was too good for him. The list seemed endless.

When I reached the bottom of the page, Mom picked up the paper and went to the drawer. She took scissors and cut the paper down the vertical line. Taking the left column, she wadded it in her hand and tossed it into the trash. Then she handed me the right column with the list of my reactions.

“Take this list back to your house,” she told me. “Spend today reflecting on these things in your life. Pray about them. I’ll keep the baby until this afternoon. If you sincerely do what I ask and still want to leave Bill, Dad and I will do all we can to assist you.”

Leaving my luggage and son, I drove back to my house. When I sat on my couch with the piece of paper, I couldn’t believe what I was facing. Without the balancing catalogue of Bill’s annoying habits, the list looked horrifying.

I saw a record of petty behaviors, shameful practices, and destructive responses. I spent the next several hours asking God for forgiveness. I requested strength, guidance, and wisdom in the changes I needed to make. As I continued to pray, I realized how ridiculously I’d behaved. I could barely remember the transgressions I’d written for Bill. How absurd could I be? Nothing immoral or horrible was on that list. I’d honestly been blessed with a good man—not a perfect one, but a good one.

I thought back five years. I’d made a vow to Bill. I would love and honor him in sickness and in health. I’d be with him for better or for worse. I said those words in the presence of God, my family, and friends. Yet only this morning, I’d been ready to leave him for trivial annoyances.

I jumped back in the car and drove to my parents’ house. I marveled at how different I felt from when I’d first made the trip to see Mom. I now felt peace, relief, and gratitude.

When I picked up my son, I was dismayed by how willing I’d been to make such a drastic change in his life. My pettiness almost cost him the opportunity to be exposed daily to a wonderful father. Quickly, I thanked my mother and flew out the door to return home. By the time Bill returned from work, I was unpacked and waiting.

I’d love to say that Bill changed. He didn’t. He still did all those things that embarrassed and annoyed me and made me want to explode.

The difference came in me. From that day forward, I had to be responsible not only for my actions in our marriage, but also for my reactions.

I think back to one of the items on my list: Bill slept in church. The minute he began to doze always marked the end of my worship time. So often I thought he was rudely uninterested in the message—and my dad was the preacher! It didn’t matter that Bill was unable to stay awake any time he sat for a longer period. The entire time he spent nodding, I spent fuming. I’d squirm in the pew, feeling humiliated. I’d wonder why I ever married this man. I knew he didn’t deserve a wife as godly as I was.

Yet now I could see myself as I truly was. My pride was hampering a valuable portion of my life—my worship. This problem wasn’t Bill’s; it was mine. When Bill fell asleep in church, I began to bathe that time in gratitude and prayer. I took my eyes off Bill and myself and looked to God. Instead of leaving the services in anger, I left in joy.

It wasn’t long before Bill noticed a difference. He remarked at lunch one Sunday, “You seem to be enjoying the services more lately. I was beginning to think you didn’t like the preacher!” My immediate instinct was to explain how he’d ruined so many services for me. But instead, I accepted his statement without defense.

Many times through the years I’ve had to remake the list of my responses to my husband. I’ve continued to ask God to forgive my pathetic reactions and give me his wisdom in dealing with my marriage.

Fifteen years later, at the age of 49, Bill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He had to quit his teaching job, leaving me to support our family, which has led to trying days and nights of worry. Watching him fight to maintain his abilities to function daily has been inspiring to my sons, as well as to me. We’ve had to depend on our faith that God is in control—especially when we feel so out of control. We’ve searched the Bible for answers to questions we struggle to understand. We’ve spent hours with every emotion from anger to grief. We’ve asked, “Why?” We’ve claimed God’s peace that passes all understanding.

Regrettably, many days I’ve run short on patience, even though I know Bill can’t prevent himself from doing things that try my nerves. I realize my responsibility is to respond with the love God would have me show. I cry to God to love through me—because I know I’m not as capable of loving Bill as God is capable of loving him.

Many times I’ve thanked God for a mother who was a spiritual mentor. Though she must have been tempted, she didn’t preach to me or offer her opinion on my behavior. She guided me in discovering a truth that’s saved a most treasured possession—my marriage. If I hadn’t learned to respond as a Christian wife to Bill’s small problems, I wouldn’t be able to respond appropriately to his larger ones now.

My son came home one day and asked, “Mom, what are we going to do when Dad doesn’t remember us?” My reply was, “We’ll remember him. We’ll remember the husband and father he was. We’ll remember him for all the things he’s taught us and the wonderful ways he’s loved us.”

After my son left the room, I chuckled. I was thinking of all the things I’d remember about this man who loved his family and his God. Many of those enduring memories are those same annoying little habits that made their way onto a list of bad qualities so many years ago.

A New Way to Process Conflict (Amy Carroll)

“When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly.” Proverbs 31:26 (MSG)

It was like we were speaking two different languages. Even though my friend and I were both talking in English, we couldn’t seem to understand each other. I started the conversation with the assumption we would see things the same way, but emotions rose, opinions conflicted, and wounds were inflicted. How did we get to that frustrated place?

After cooling off, I called a wise, truth-telling friend. I told her the basic outline of the conversation, trying to keep it neutral. Finally I asked, “What do you think went wrong?”

She astutely turned the question back to me. “What could you have done differently?”

Initially, I couldn’t think of one thing. After all, the conflict wasn’t my fault! But then I took some time to reflect, and God began to soften my heart, revealing my part in the conflict.

I had called my friend during an extremely busy time in her life with a suggestion that would have added to her overloaded schedule. Instead of being sensitive, I pushed and pushed my own agenda. As our emotions escalated, my defensiveness increased, making my responses sharp.

The friend I had called for advice gently prodded, “How could you have listened more carefully? Would truly listening have made you more compassionate? How could you have responded with more grace?”

For the rest of the afternoon, God etched a new way of interacting in hard situations on my heart. This is the truth He carved: Listen with compassion. Speak with grace.

Listen with Compassion. Years ago my pastor shared an invaluable method for re-adjusting his attitude when dealing with conflict. He asks, is this behavior consistent with the person’s general character?

Wow! If I had applied that question in the conversation with my friend, I would have remembered her kindness, her servant’s heart, and her calm nature. Then, I might have wondered what was changing her normal response. Compassion would have flooded my heart toward her and the stress she was under. My heart would have been positioned to serve her, rather than insisting on my own way.

At its core, listening with compassion is simply obeying the biblical commands to die to ourselves (John 12:24-25) and to consider others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Speak with Grace. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). There is no downside to a gentle, grace-filled answer. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve often viewed responding this way as losing or giving in. That’s simply not true. Needed truths can be told in kind and gentle ways. Just think about how my wise friend treated me when I sought her advice.

Before I called my friend to ask for forgiveness and clear up the misunderstanding, I prayed for a Jesus-sized dose of compassion and grace.

Since then, I’ve been rehearsing “Listen with Compassion – Speak with Grace” over and over in my mind. Last week I had a chance to put it into practice when I received a difficult email. My first response was defensiveness, but then I started to repeat my new way of processing until I could hear the needs in the email with compassion and respond with grace.

I love how God gave me the chance to practice what He had taught me after I had time to take a breath, pause, rehearse my new motto and then respond. Life and relationships are filled with conflict, so I have no doubt I’ll have a chance to practice again. Next time, I’m praying I’ll be ready!

Dear Lord, sometimes it seems like conflict pops up out of nowhere. One minute the conversation is going fine and before I know it, hurtful words are being said. Please help me listen and respond as You would. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

True Life Chronicles – Part 4

I have read in many books a church-planting principle that goes something like thisUse Programs to build people, instead of using people to build programs.

I agree with this in theory. But in practice, it’s often more tempting to focus on programs because you can see the tangible progress of programs.

Programs are easier to control, easier to manage, and to be honest, often more rewarding — at least temporarily – than people are.

But people……well, you don’t always see the growth in people. You can’t always tell what is happening in their hearts. Progress is slow, it takes windy turns, and it’s often hidden beneath the surface for a while. And you sometimes don’t even know how to pray for people.

And yet, that’s what God has called us to. He said, “Make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Not discipleship programs.

And to make disciples, it requires relationships. Growing relationships that go deeper and deeper. And the deeper you go with someone, the more potential for conflict, confusion, and chaos with that person. And the more you have to apologize to them. 

I preach about this truth in sermons often. But I’m learning more and more that I don’t like it and have a tendency to avoid it.

I guess I’m a hypocrite in that way.

 

True Life Chronicles – Part 3

Well, a month ago I set out to write something every week about the new life of our church plant, and I failed already. I missed two weeks in a row.

But I have a good excuse — I didn’t feel like it. I was busy with day-to-day things, and I didn’t feel like stopping to think about what God is doing in our church. It didn’t seem too important.

And I think that’s something we all struggle with. We get so overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks and problems, that we don’t stop to step back and ask God to show us the big picture. We even pray as if God is just taking our order, telling him what needs to be fixed and solved and taken care of. But we fail to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute, God. What is going on today? What are YOU up to?”

Because he is always up to something. He is always at work, orchestrating and wooing and stirring and shaking and messing with things. Always. And I think he delights in us asking for a glimpse of it.

 Now granted, just because we ask doesn’t guarantee He will make things very plain and clear. But I think it’s at least good to ask the question and to wait for an answer.

For example, this past summer seemed to be an extra difficult season for quite a few married couples in our church (some have been dealing with on-going problems, and some were more short-lived conflicts).

And I’ve been praying for these couples based on whatever details I was told (some weeks this included my own marriage, especially in July).

But it wasn’t until Sunday night, after hearing from a few people within 24 hours, when I stopped and asked that question: “God, what’s going on? Are you up to something?”

And I started thinking about how we’ve been praying for the marriages at True Life since the beginning, and how marriages has always been a priority of ours. And then I started to wonder if God, in an answer to those prayers, has just been stirring things up. Like gold that is heated so that the impurities can come to the surface, perhaps that is what God is doing in these marriages right now — stirring things up, bringing out the ugly stuff and the fears and the bitterness that has been hidden deep down in our hearts. Perhaps this is a season of bringing it up so that it can all be addressed and confessed and healed and redeemed.

I don’t know.

But the point is, whatever you’re going through or dealing with, make a regular habit of picking your head up from your work, slowing down, pushing away from your busyness, and asking God, “What are you up to right now?” He may show you, and he may not. But at least you’ll be reminded that He is indeed up to something.

Because He always is.

And it’s always for the good “of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Day My Fragile Identity as a Mom Melted (Lysa TerKeurst)

Lysa TerKeurst August 29, 2013

The Day My Fragile Identity as a Mom Melted
Lysa TerKeurst

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

She had the most angelic sweetheart lips. Eyes blue as the most tranquil oceans. Blonde ringlet curls. Chubby cheeks begging to be kissed over and over. Little hands that instinctively curled around my finger while simultaneously melting my heart.

Pure sweetness wrapped in a pink blanket.

And then came the day this little creature pursed those lips, gripped the toy in her hand, tilted her pigtailed head and screamed, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

The fuss was over a small red toy my friend had let her borrow. My friend who was much more organized than me. She had brought along toys and baggies of Cheerios to keep the kids entertained during our coffee date. The plan to use this toy as temporary entertainment had worked beautifully. Until it was time to go.

I could feel a burning flush of embarrassment rush from my chest to my face.

Of course my friend’s child was shining her halo with one hand while happily handing over her yellow toy with the other.

“Mine! Mine!” My daughter screamed as every eye in the small java joint stared at me.

I pried the toy from her hand, thanked my friend, and hoisted my kicking and screaming daughter out of the wooden highchair. And then in slow motion, I watched in horror as she knocked my paper coffee cup from my hand and sent it careening across the floor.

I felt my fragile identity as a mom melt into the puddle of spilled coffee. What happened to my angel? My beautiful daughter was … not so angelic.

It’s been many years since that day in the coffee shop.

But oh how I wish I could go back and sit with my little inexperienced mommy self on the drive home.

I would say, “Your daughter is a child in need of a parent. She needs to be taught. And some of your best teaching opportunities will come when she puts her sin nature on display. Don’t fear or fret or feel like this is some sort of failure on your part. Her outside demonstrations are an internal indication of her need for guidance. So guide her. Love her. And always remember to be the parent. Not her friend. Not her buddy. The parent.”

I needed to know what Proverbs 22:6 teaches, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

That daughter is 19 years old now. And is an absolute delight.

But growing her up wasn’t always easy. There were many more times when she put her sin nature on display. And each time I had to choose to be the parent.

It’s not easy to be the parent. It seems less and less popular to tell kids no.

As parents, we need to set biblical boundaries. Teach our kids the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations. Not cater to their every whim. Draw lines between what’s appropriate and inappropriate for language, entertainment, and the length of a hemline. Model manners. And what it looks like to seek a life of godliness, not just religious activity.

Glory knows I’ve been so imperfect with all this.

But holding the line on being the parent, even when done imperfectly, is good.

And will be worth it.

Even in those seasons where you feel as if they’re doing everything the opposite of what you’ve taught them. All that parenting is in them. And the fruit of that will emerge one day.

Yes, be the parent. Teach biblical truths. Stand strong in saying no even when it’s not the popular choice.

That’s what our kids need so desperately.

And be encouraged, friend … you’re doing better than you think you are.

Dear Lord, You know better than all of us that parenting is hard. Help me to see each day as a teaching opportunity to raise up a child who loves You. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Related Resources:
Wouldn’t it be great to go into this school year stress-free? You can! Click hereto join us for the “No More Unglued Mama Mornings Challenge.” We’re taking five days to make mornings better with our kids!

For more on looking to the Lord for what you need each day as a mom, check out Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Am I Messing Up My Kids? Click here to purchase your copy!

Reflect and Respond:
Take a moment to think: how and what am I communicating to my children?

Read today’s power verses for a better understanding of just how important it is to raise a child to follow after the Lord.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 54:13, “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace. (NIV)

2 Timothy 3:14-15, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

Embracing Koinonia

The below is an excerpt from an article written by Rick Joyner.

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There are two basic Greek words used for church in the New Testament. One is ecclesia which speaks of the structure and government of the church. The other is koinonia that is the bonding relationship of the saints, which is loosely translated “fellowship” or “communion.” The ecclesia exists for the koinonia, not the other way around.

The church is called to be a family, not just an organization. We need organization, but the structure given to the local church in the New Testament was the most basic and simple imaginable—there were elders and deacons—that’s it. The life and power of the church was its koinonia not the ecclesia.

In I Corinthians 10 and 11 we have the only reason given in The Bible for Christians being weak, sick, or dying prematurely. The reason for this is not having koinonia. The Apostle Paul warned us not to partake of the ritual of koinonia (the Greek word used for “communion” in this text) in an unworthy manner because doing so would bring judgment on ourselves. To partake of the ritual in an unworthy manner is when people partake even when they do not actually have what the ritual symbolizes and reminds us to have—koinonia. It is noteworthy that nowhere are we given such a warning about not having ecclesia.

Koinonia is far more than greeting each other and exchanging pleasantries before a service once or twice a week. This word represents a bonding together to such a degree that the parts cannot be separated without dying. This is why the apostle warns that not having this in our lives will result in weakness, sickness, and death. It is that vital to the Christian life.

Some may maintain that they have fellowship with the Lord and that is enough for them, but the Lord said that this was not enough. We cannot be rightly joined to the Head without also being rightly joined to His body. I’ve heard many say that they love God but just don’t like His people. However, as John wrote, we do not really love God if we do not also love His people. John also wrote that:

“If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we will have fellowship (koinonia) with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7).

If my hand is severed from my body, it will die quickly because the life blood cannot flow through it without being connected to the body. The same is true spiritually. We must have koinonia to have the true life of Christ flowing through us. We can’t have all that koinonia implies by just having good chats with our friends over coffee. We can’t have it by looking at the back of their heads in services either. This level of relationship is a vital part of true Christianity, yet it is rarely found in Christianity today. We must find it.

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