Burned Out

I visited an old friend in a nursing home this week. Once he was a successful businessman, enjoying life as he knew it. Now things were different. He was just waiting to die. What does one say to a friend that might help at a time such as this?

Well, we reminisced. Old friends like to do that. We told stories of the past, and perhaps embellished them just a bit. This brought a few laughs, but the relief was only temporary. I could have said, “This is rough, but when you get to heaven things will be better.” This might have led us to discuss such topics as: Is there a heaven? Will everyone be there? If we had concluded that everyone will be there and this heavenly existence will be just the way we want it to be, the conversation might have brought some comfort. However, it would have been false comfort.

No, if we are to bring comfort that is not superficial, we have to deal with the problem. Therefore, we turned to Psalm 6 and saw David in his most difficult hours. The Psalm begins with the words, “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am faint. My bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. I am worn out from groaning all night long. I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow.”

We do not know the specific causes for this depressed state of mind and soul. However, by reading about David’s life, we know that it could have been any number of heartaches. He had family trouble. While the children were growing up, he was too busy to show them his love, which would have included discipline when it was necessary. He was a father at home, yet away. David had children from different wives, which didn’t make life easier. One son raped his half sister. Her full brother, in anger, killed this half brother and then fled from home. That was a heavy load for David.

If it were not the family that brought him grief, it could have been the wars Israel was always fighting. Those Philistines would never go away. It could also have been the three-year famine that caused his people such suffering.

Whatever the cause of his depressed state of mind, David was burned out.

What did he do? He did not party his grief away. He did not take his depression out on those nearest to him or get angry and curse God. He did not commit suicide leaving a note beside him saying, “Life is unfair. I can’t take it any more!” No, David turned to the Lord praying, “Be merciful to me. Heal me, Lord. Please deliver me.” In prayer he poured out his grief to a Father who understood. Then he testifies that his soul was refreshed. Hear his testimony, “You are my lamp, O Lord. The Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” David is giving out counsel. When you are burned out and know not where to go, turn to God. He can turn your darkness into light.

You hear this and wonder, could this happen to any person, or is this just a story of what happened to a man who lived hundreds of years ago by the name of David?

The Bible telling us that God offers us the same peace David experienced. Christ can bring that light, peace, and forgiveness to all who are in a living, personal relationship with Him. The first step in this personal relationship is to confess our sins and let Jesus Christ come into our lives. Then He will forgive our sins and restore us into a personal relationship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In this relationship God meets us as He met David.

The second step is to bring our cares to Him. Remember Jesus’ invitation to those who trust him, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will bring you rest.” We are told to cast all of our anxieties on Him, for He cares for us. For my friend whom I had gone to visit, it was a terminal illness. He had been told him that his time on earth was limited. That was depressing news for a man who enjoyed life. For others it might be marital problems. Take God’s counsel serious and see how the marriage can be restored. This means honestly repenting to each other, trusting God to forgiven you, and then forgiving one another for all of those hurts. It means having a daily devotional as husband and wife, and letting the Lord lead you.

Whatever the problems might be that weigh heavy on your heart, God has the answers for you and me, just as He did for David.

What a privilege it was to sit beside my friend and share this glorious message of Jesus Christ with him! Life was heavy for him. He was burned out. He had not been interested in spiritual matters during his life. The church was not a part of his agenda, and to use his words, “The roof would have caved in” had he attended Sunday worship services. From his point of view, he did not have much going for him when he had to stand before God, except the grace of God. For the Lord has given a promise to such a person in his last days, “He who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” That is grace Ð undeserved love. It is for all who trust Christ.

Now you might say, “Your friend has the best of both worlds. He could live as he pleased while he was well, and then, in days of sorrow, sickness, and death, could enjoy the assurance of a heavenly home.” No, that is not the way it works. When one has tasted of God’s divine presence as they walk through this life, they would never want to be without it. The cry of many who meet Christ later in life is, “Why did I waste all those years?”

Are you feeling burned out? Study Psalm 6 and see what God has to tell you.

The Church Within the Church

The pages of history, the morning newspaper, and our personal contacts with members of a Christian congregation present to society some disappointing pictures of the Church.

The Psalmist describes believers in this way, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” Today these words could be used to describe the Church. However, an unbeliever might respond, “This might be the way the Church was designed to be, but it is not the Church that I see today. I know faithful church members whom we cannot trust. Their word is not always truthful. Their language is profane. They believe the end justifies the means if it means money in their pocket.” How do you explain what the Church is supposed to be like and what it actually is in everyday life?

In the Christian faith we talk about the Church within the church. There is the Visible and the Invisible Church. Let us suppose there is a town with three churches. There is the Methodist Church with 500 members; however, only 300 are believers in Christ. The Presbyterian Church has 600 members, and 400 of them are committed to Christ. The Lutheran Church has 700 members, and 350 of them are believers in Christ. This town has 2,000 church members claiming allegiance to one of these three congregations. They are members of the visible church. However, the Bible teaches that the Church is made up of baptized believers in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. In essence there are not three churches in that town, but only one, for the Church is one. In this town there are 1,050 members of this Invisible Church. Only Christ knows who they are. This is why we have used the term, invisible church.

In my office I have a picture that I refer to as “my x-ray machine.” There are six circles with the inner circle being deep red. Each circle gets lighter, and the sixth one is almost white. I labeled the three inner circles the believers. There are three circles because believers grow in their relationship with the Lord. Some are more mature than others. The Bible says that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We grow up in the faith.

I labeled the fourth circle the seekers. These people might be very faithful in their church attendance, but are still not sure about their relationship with Christ. As one person recently told me, “I am not sure He died for me. You don’t know what a sinner I have been.” This person is honestly seeking peace with God.

The fifth group is the respecters. They respect the church as an institution. They have joined the church, but seldom come. They are thankful for the church’s youth program and that the pastor visited mom just before she died.

The sixth group I have labeled, those who joined the church for ulterior motives. These might be people who wanted a church in times of crises, for business, or social reasons.

When people got into serious counseling problems, I would ask them to study the picture and tell me which circle described their relationship with God. Often it was a marital problem. They would tell me they were seekers or respecters. I would then say to them, “Before we can begin to talk about your marital problem, it is necessary for us to talk about your relationship with Christ.” The marriage problem was a result of their relationship with Christ. This was often a very unpopular counseling session, but most profitable in finding a solution for their problem, because their problem had to do with repentance, forgiveness, self-centeredness Ð all a part of their relationship with Christ.

All of this brings out that there is an invisible Church within the visible. Not all who belong to the visible church trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. That is just the way it is and the way it has always been.

What are some characteristics of the Christian?

¥ The Christian is led by the Spirit of God. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

¥ The Christian is attentive to God’s Word. ” . . . his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4)

¥ The Christian is bold. After being told never to mention the name of Jesus again, Peter and John said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, 20)

¥ The Christian is faithful. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

¥ The Christian shares God’s love. “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: ÔWe should love one another.” (I John 3:11)

The Christian’s question is, “Where do I see myself in this Biblical presentation of the Christian Ð one who trusts Christ as Savior and Lord?” How do my children, spouse, parents see me as I live with them in the home? How do my fellow workers view me at the office? How do my constituents view me as a leader in my community, state, or nation? How do people in the congregation view me as a fellow worshiper? But more than all of this is, “How does the Lord see me Ð as a member of the visible or the invisible church? Am I a believer, a seeker, or a respecter of the Christian faith?

Are you wondering about the Church? None are without sin, and our lives can often be very disappointing. But those who trust Christ live in a personal relationship with Him and give evidence that His Spirit lives within them.

Angry With God?

We think of the Bible as a book with many comforting thoughts. When we receive bad news, what chapter in the Bible do we read? It might be Psalm 23. This is a popular Psalm and very appropriate. However, what do you read when the news is bad and you begin to realize what has happened to you? Your days are numbered. The loved one is dead and buried. The fortune is gone. Where do you turn when you are confused, guilty, and weary? I have just the Psalm for you. Turn to Psalm 44 and acquaint yourself with it.

The Psalmist writes, “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.”

He could have been thinking of the story that his father had told him of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. Israel was victorious and the Egyptians went down in defeat. Or he could have recalled the account of Joshua going into the Promised Land, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. It was God who was winning the victory, not Israel. Then there was the battle with the Philistines, and David killing the giant, Goliath. Again the hand of God interceded for His people.

Then the Psalmist asks, “What happened? Why have things changed? We don’t sense your presence that way any longer.” He writes, “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing for their sale.” He continues to ask for a reason. The Psalmist believes he has a right to know what went wrong.

Let’s stop here and try to apply the Psalmist’s feelings to our life. The Psalmist was angry with God. Or perhaps he was frustrated and confused about why God did not do a better job in caring for His people.

Are those some of our feelings? Could we say, “God, my parents told me how you blessed them to get their farm and how they prospered? Now look at me. I worked hard. I was faithful to you and your Church. I invested much of my life’s savings in Enron, and now it is all gone. Why, Lord, why?”

Perhaps it could have been that you want to know why you have to die. You have a beautiful home and are prepared to enjoy those retirement years. Now you are going to leave this world. It isn’t that you don’t look forward to your heavenly home, but being here for a few more years would have been pleasant. “I cannot understand it, God. Why?”

Well, the Psalmist has a few other thoughts to share with us. He writes, “All of this happened to us though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness.”

Here the writer reminds God that He cannot accuse them of serving other gods. They were not perfect people, but neither were their ancestors who received so many blessings from their Creator. Then in anger he shouts out, “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?” Why do you hide your face from us? Can’t you see how miserable we are? And you say that you love us?” Get real, God!

Do these words echo our feelings? Is this sometimes the way we feel about God? This is not the time for us to hear words like, “The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are His everlasting arms.” No, we are in the spirit of saying, “Come on, God, let’s have it out. I want some answers!”

At this point someone could well counsel us, “Who are you to talk this way to God? He owes us nothing. Look at our sins.”

No, we are not unbelievers. We are simply children who are frustrated. We believe that God loves us. We know that He has showered good things upon us far beyond what we deserve, but we cry out in our hurts and frustrations. When our relationship with a person is close, we have real conversations about our feelings. All superficiality is gone. This is the way it is with God when we know him through Jesus Christ.

He does not answer all of our questions, nor is He obligated to do so, but neither does he ignore us. Here are some of His answers:

“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, life is not going to be easy, but with God’s power you will be up to it.

When did I promise you would be free of suffering? Here is my promise to you. I am with you always. There is strength for today and a heavenly home for tomorrow. Need any more than that?

Just remember. You cannot make me promise things I never said I would give you.

These answers may not be what we want to hear from God, but he will be with us even when we are angry with him. Here is another word from our Heavenly Father. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Psalm 44 gives you an example of how great people of God have prayed. We are invited to do the same. Sometimes we have to let our emotions hang out. Then the comforting words of God begin to make sense. Then we hear Him say with new meaning, “Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil, for I will be with you.”

Have You Been to Shepherd?

A good friend and I were visiting one day on an important matter. In the midst of our conversation he said, “Pardon me for changing the subject for a minute, but have you been to the Waffle Stop?”

“No, I haven’t, but what does the Waffle Stop have to do with our conversation?” I asked.

“Oh, I just didn’t want to forget it because I know you and your wife would enjoy their waffles. They just melt in your mouth.”

I still didn’t get the connection. However, that very evening my wife and I went to the Waffle Stop, and we have continued to go. The best advertisement for any business is a satisfied customer, and my friend was just that kind of customer.

A few weeks ago, I preached at the church where my son-in-law serves as pastor. This was one of the first Sundays the congregation had worshiped in their new sanctuary. What a thrill it was to be there and share God’s Word with these people! The congregation was started twenty-five years ago. Today it is a congregation of 1,350 people. From a human point of view, how did all of this happen Ð from no congregation to a large church that worships in a new building costing several million dollars?

Let me tell you one reason that the congregation has grown. Members of the church have asked some of their friends a simple question, “Have you been to Shepherd?” Shepherd is the name of the congregation. If the person says, “No, we haven’t been to Shepherd,” the enthusiastic member responds by saying, “You must come. We will pick you up next Sunday. You will find this church has something to share that may change your life. We call it the Gospel.”

The basis of the message that you will hear in some form is “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me.” (John 12:32) This message brings peace to the soul and builds a fire in the heart. The enthusiastic member continues, “Let me share with you three effects Christ can have on your life.”

First, He turns your life around. Christ assures you that through His suffering, death, and resurrection, He has paid the price for your sins. By nature we have no relationship with God, because God is holy and we are sinful. A Holy God can have nothing to do with a sinful person. However, in spite of our sins, God loved us and sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. He took our sins upon himself. When we, in faith, receive Jesus, our sins are forgiven, and we are brought into fellowship with the Creator to live both now and for all eternity in a personal relationship with him. Life becomes an entirely new experience. We no longer walk alone, but Christ walks with us.

St. Paul put it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17) This is what many people experience who hear this “good news.” Years ago I visited the church where Chuck Swindall was the pastor. As I sat outside the church before the evening service, I had a conversation with a member. When I asked him if he enjoyed the congregation, he replied, “Well, I don’t know if Ôenjoy’ is the right word, but this place means everything to me. This is where Christ met me and turned my life around. I was converted here.

Second, Christ strengthens me to face the tough experiences of life. His Word makes it clear that the Christian is not freed from the hard knocks of life. In the Bible, the book of Job reveals to us that the righteous will suffer. Still, how do we make it through these tough times? Christ walks with us. He offers this great invitation: “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”

A certain single-parent mother will share with you how it works. She has a 17-year-old son. He is an outstanding young man and brings great satisfaction to his mother’s life. A few days ago he got sick. The local doctor detected a mass on his pancreas, and they immediately sent him to the Mayo Clinic for care. The doctors could offer little hope, for if that mass were malignant, the illness would be terminal. Then came the day of the operation. There sat this mother, herself a surgical nurse. She knew what was happening. There was no kidding her. She had plenty of experience watching the surgeon look into the abdominal cavity and then close it because he could do nothing for the patient. What would be the answer? After a lengthy period, the good word came, “The mass is benign.” Her son would get well.

In talking with a close friend, the mother said, “I had to be brave and upbeat around Mike and the family, but I was frightened. I knew how serious this could be.” Nevertheless, she was not alone. Christ was with there to see her through some tough, tough hours. She had the eternal promise, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

Third, Christ makes life challenging. He gives life a new depth. This challenge comes when He says to all who trust him, “Follow me . . . you will be my witnesses.” Life presents many challenges Ð earning a living, raising a family, having some fun, and the list goes on.

Isn’t it fun to live? I think it is. Nevertheless, if these were the only challenges we have, life would be lacking.

I can illustrate this with the conversation of two men discussing their lives. I had enrolled in a course on how to share the faith at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A part of the assignment was to go calling with a layperson to learn how he shares the faith. This was an unusual part of the course that they did not recommend be done on a regular basis, but it did give the trainee good experience. When the trainer told me we would be visiting with strangers in a mall, I was hesitant. This wasn’t for me, but I had to go along. In the mall we met this man standing by his car. He was waiting for his wife who was in a store.

My trainer asked this gentle man if we could ask him a few questions about his religious life. The person was very friendly and gave his permission.

“Do you belong to a church?” my friend asked.

“Yes, I am a member of a church in Pittsburgh.”

There were other questions, and then came the big one, “Have you come to that place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that, if you died today, you would go to heaven?”

The man replied, “No, I haven’t, and you are looking at a dying man.”

He told us his story. This man had been a high executive in a large company that was downsizing, and he had lost his job. He had plenty of money and a big pension; life was supposed to be easy. However, he had lost the challenge to live, and he knew this would kill him. He asked my trainer if he had a similar problem. My teacher said, “No, I have never been as challenged in my life as I am today teaching people how to share the Christian faith with other people on a personal basis.”

Hearing this, the depressed man said, “What did you do before your retirement?”

The trainer replied, “I was the executive vice-president of a large eastern company with tremendous responsibilities.” Were was a person telling another that teaching people to share their faith in Christ was more challenging than running a billion-dollar company!

The man from Pittsburgh couldn’t understand this, so my friend invited him to have breakfast the next morning at some private club. I often wonder what the outcome of that breakfast conversation turned out to be. The point is, Christ gives us a new challenge that reaches far beyond this world into eternity.

The message of Jesus Christ is what our soul longs for as we walk through life, although we might not know it. That’s why we need to worship regularly in a church that lifts up Christ.

Obviously the church I have described, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, is an exciting congregation. A few years ago there was no congregation. Today 1,350 people attend the congregation’s services and share in its ministry. What is its future? One word Ð exciting! People who have met Jesus Christ at Shepherd Lutheran Church will keep on asking their unchurched friends, “Have you been to Shepherd?” Some of them will go to see what it is all about, and Christ will be lifted up before their very eyes.

The story of Shepherd is the story of every congregation who tells the story of Jesus.