david herndon


hospital

I awoke suddenly to the incessant beeping of the IV machine, letting the entire hall know that it was time to change the bag. Luckily the patient did not wake up since by now I knew how to work the buttons better than the PM nurse.  I settled back into the plastic covered recliner that was my bed and tried to go back to sleep, knowing that in 90 minutes I would be up again, helping take vitals with the nurse.  I was exhausted, but sleep did not come easy.

I was worried.  I was anxious.

This was my life for most of last week.  My son woke up one morning with a stomach ache.  A doctor’s visit, a hospital stay, and then a transfer to another hospital.  It could be appendicitis.  I could be colitis.  It could be a parasite.  “We’ll have to run tests to be sure.”  Tests meant drawing blood, among other things.  Lots of pricking and prodding tended to weary the patience of the strongest 6 year old I know.  Doctors, nurses, needles, oh my.  He was scared.  So was I.  My son was sick and I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it.

So in the early hours of the morning I sat in my plastic recliner and prayed.  Then God reminded me of this scripture:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).”

I get it.  I’ve heard like a million Christian talks on how “worry is the opposite of faith,” and how “worry is a sign that we are trying to control God,” and blah, blah, blah.  I know that I shouldn’t worry about making a good impression on the new neighbors.  I know that I shouldn’t worry about that red light when I’m already running late.  I shouldn’t worry about affording to pay for one more Disney trip.  That’s first world problems.  That’s the small stuff.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the big stuff.  What if I can’t afford to pay for all three of my children to go to college?  What if my daughter gets pregnant as teen?  What if one of my sons gets a girl pregnant?  What if one of my children becomes a drug addict?  What if I get cancer?  What if one of my children gets cancer?  What if my wife gets cancer?  What if its not appendicitis or a stomach bug?  What if its something worse?

When you love someone as much as a parent loves a child or a husband loves a wife… how do you not worry?

When tragedy strikes and your whole world turns upside down… how are you supposed to be thankful?

Abraham worried about fulfilling God’s call so he had a child with a woman who wasn’t his wife.  Noah worried about finding land after the flood, so he kept sending birds to their deaths as they flew across endless water.  Gideon worried about battle so he often tested and challenged God.  Paul writes in Philippians 4 the famous “do not worry” passage, but just 2 chapters before he talks about his own anxiety concerning one of his disciples, Epaphroditus.  And even Jesus, the night before his death, sweated blood as he prayed, “If there is another way, let this cup pass from me.”  The bible doesn’t really give instructions on how not to worry.

I hashed this out with God, the beeping IV machine, and the plastic recliner all night.  As I watched my son sleep I couldn’t help but think that my love for him is but a fraction of God’s love for us.  “I would give my life for his health,” I said.  “So would I,” God replied, “and so I did.”

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

This next sentence is difficult to write and perhaps more difficult to read.

God is not as concerned about our health and well-being and general comfort in life as we are.  I’m not saying that He’s not concerned.  Its just that the things we value most are not as valuable to Him.  On the cross, Jesus could have died so that we would never experience illness or disease. He could have died so that we would never experience poverty or hunger.  He could have died so that we would never experience injustice or hate.

But he didn’t die for those things.

Jesus died so that we would never have to experience separation from God.

God is most concerned with our relationship to Him.  The only thing that ever threatened our relationship with God, and thus our eternity, is sin.  Through the cross, Jesus took care of that problem.  So we don’t have to worry about it anymore.  We’re cured… if we want to be.

The truth is that any anxiety I feel is evidence of being more concerned with this life than the life to come.

I may or may not be able to afford three college educations.  My children may or may not become drug addicts.  My son may or may not have a parasite that makes his stomach hurt.  God does not require us to have a college education in order to understand His love.  God does not require us to be clean and sober in order to receive His grace.  God does not require us to be healthy in order to live in His ways.  God does not value us based on our checking account, our car title, or the title on our office door.

In the end none of that really matters because none of these things determine my relationship with God.  None of these things determine my eternity.

I still worry, especially about my family.  I probably always will.  I don’t understand how to prevent anxiety anymore now than I did last week in the hospital.  But I take great comfort in the fact that my eternity has nothing to do with my abilities (or lack thereof) or my wealth (or lack thereof) or my success (or lack thereof) or my health (or lack thereof).

My eternity has everything to do with Jesus’ victory over sin in His death and resurrection.  I can be thankful for that.  No matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) today, my sins are forgiven and my eternity is secure in Jesus Christ.  Come illness, come trouble, come injustice, come hardship… nothing can take that away.

I can be thankful for that.

And that is one less thing to worry about.

Happy Easter.

 

 

 

 

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more than a fisherman

So I saw this picture yesterday…

Image

It is a group of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church protesting outside of a Lorde concert in Kansas City.  You can read the full story here or Google it to see more ridiculous protest signs.

What caught my eye were the WBC protest signs. “God hates lukewarm Christians.”  “God hates sluts.”  “God is your enemy.”  There were worse statements but I will not even give the courtesy of repeating them.  At first I was angry with the protesters because this is not exactly good PR for Christianity.  In the end, however, I found myself feeling sorry for them because this protest shows just how much they misunderstand Jesus.

God hates us?

God is our enemy?

Is that how God would describe himself?

Is that even a good evangelism tactic?

If God hates me for my sin, does he also hate you for your sin?

I find this rule often at work in the world.  What people say about God is really a reflection of what they believe about themselves.  For example, a man may say that God hates another person because he himself feels unloved, or worse…. unlovable.  This belief will ultimately take shape in the way he views and treats others.  Believing he is unloved leads to a life in which God’s love is neither received nor shared.

This man thinks he is just a fisherman.

I finally watched Captain Phillips last weekend (it was incredible).  At one point near the end of the movie Captain Rich Phillips has a conversation with Muse, the Somali pirate leader.  Throughout the movie Muse has struggled with inferiority and repeatedly made the statement that he is “just a fisherman.”  He was never surprised when his plans failed to work out.  He never really believed he could accomplish anything.  He believed he was just a fisherman – not a real pirate.  When Muse  finally realizes that his latest plan will also fail he puts a gun to Rich’s head, and the captain says, “You are more than just a fisherman!”

And Muse puts down the gun.  Its like that’s all he wanted to hear.  He just wanted someone to believe in him, and in some very strange way that is what Captain Phillips was communicating to him.  Despite all of his violence, hate, and anger Captain Phillips still saw potential in Muse.

“You are more than just a fisherman.”

It was as if for the first time in his life Muse realized he could be someone different, someone better.  There is still hope for Muse.

As a full-time minister I have all kinds of conversations with people.  People don’t think they can lead a small group because “I don’t read my bible enough.”  People think they can’t participate in a mission trip because “I’m not generous enough.”  People think struggles arise in their lives because “I’m not a godly person.”  My least favorite is when people say something like, “I’m not a good person like you, David.  You’re a professional Christian.  I’m just a (insert occupation).”  As if somehow your career determines your standing with God.  Trust me – “professional” Christians are just as sinful as anyone else.

People often (and unfairly) think poorly of themselves, and so they just assume that God feels the same way.  Somali pirate, Baptist protester, Pop-star, “professional” Christian – we all live life based on our beliefs about ourselves and about our God.  These beliefs will ultimately take shape in how we view and treat others.  If we believe we are unlovable, then we will live a life in which we neither receive nor share God’s love.

We’re missing out on something different, something better.

Let me be the first to say to you today, “You… are more than just a fisherman.”

There is still hope for the 17 year old pop-star and the WBC protester.  There is still hope for the Somali pirates.  There is still hope for the “professional” minister as well as for the accountants and lawyers.  There is still hope for you.   Zephaniah 3:17 says that God rejoices over you and takes delight in you.  Romans says that we are indeed sinners, but God dies for us so that we don’t have to stay that way.  Jesus personally says in John 15:9 that his love for us is the same as God’s love for him.  There are no conditional clauses attached to these statements.  These promises are not reserved for a select few.

God loves you.  He delights in you.  He pursues you.  He sacrifices for you.  He believes in you.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Now remain in my love (John 15:9).”

Jesus deserves every drop of God’s love.  God sees perfection and hope in him.  There is no shame, no condemnation.  Only worthiness.  And Jesus says that his love for you is the same.  He believes you deserve every drop of His love, that you have perfection and hope in you.  He has no desire to condemn you.  He finds you worthy.

God calls us to believe we are loved because of the simple fact that we are.  He sacrificed for us.  He died for us.  Does that sound like hate to you?

Don’t assume God hates you.  Know that He loves you!

Most importantly, live your life out of that love.

 

 

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volume

I read a tweet yesterday by Adam Young (better known as Owl City, the electronic musical ear-candy that has released songs like “fireflies”).  I’m not sure if this is Mr. Young’s personal thought or something someone else said, but either way I think the words are pure genius. 

“The first sign of maturity is the discovery that the volume knob also turns to the left.”

When you’re a young musician… okay, when you’re a young anything, it seems louder is always better.  As my friend Jason Harwell says of his early days in music – “what we lack in skill we make up for in volume.”  I can remember as a 16 year old, driving around town with the windows down and the music blaring so loud that my friends knew 2 minutes ahead of me that I was coming to their house.  Even with my own children, I know when something is important or exciting to them because they scream about it instead of simply talking.

I believe this translates into the topic of spiritual maturity too.  When we are young in Christ, we feel the need to be very loud in our faith – almost to a fault.  We feel that our faith should be made up of super-large groups, earth shattering works, and lots and lots of activity.  We feel that every act of worship should be an aerobic workout filled with adrenaline and end with tears and trembling.  If its not “loud,” then we’re not doing it right.  If we can’t “feel” it, then it must not be real.

At 17 I was a fired up new Christian who could not understand why the pastor of our church wouldn’t let me preach on a Sunday morning in our traditional UM church.  I only wanted to talk about the book of Revelation and tell the whole adult church that they weren’t really Christians because they didn’t raise their hands and all of their songs were over 100 years old.  I felt like he was only trying to keep me quiet, which did not compute because louder is better, right?  Obviously, now I see the wisdom in that pastor’s decision.  The truth is, my desire was less about serving others or serving God, and more about bringing light on what I was doing and what I was learning about God.  I wanted to turn the volume up for my glory, for the betterment of me.  It had nothing to do with God or anyone else.

Had my pastor given me what I wanted it would have only reinforced my immaturity.  Instead he did something much better.  He allowed me to speak at a smaller evening service on a scripture and topic that he selected.  The end result is that I had to learn something new on God’s terms, not my own.  

I ran across a recording of that “sermon” a few months ago.  It was terrible.  But here I am 15 years later, still looking for ways to share God’s word with others because of an old man who understood the value of turning the volume down a little bit.  In turning me away, in quieting me down, I was forced to retreat into the presence of God to grow and to mature, so that when I did finally get my chance to speak my words were carefully chosen and full of meaning, instead of simple emotion.

The bible is full of examples that show how powerful quiet, still, solitary times can be: Moses and the burning bush, Elijah on the mountainside, Isaiah in the temple, Jesus early every morning.  Through all of these men, even in his own son, God could have easily turned the volume up and made his point quickly.  But that’s not how He did things.  That’s not how He does things.  Louder is not always better. 

In the audio world we use filters, limiters, compressors (oh my) and a whole box full of tools whose purpose is not to increase the amount coming out, but to decrease.  Often in audio recording, volume can be the enemy – distorting sound quality, breaking microphones, and blowing speakers.  Great sound engineers understand a key concept, just as Mr. Young understands and just as my old pastor understood: If you limit the volume, sometimes you enhance the quality.  You don’t have to let everything out at once, but make sure that what you do let out is worth hearing – make sure it points to Christ and no one else.

Its easy to busy ourselves with good works – with volume of activity.  But volume can never replace quality.  Think of a guitar player who keeps adding effects and turning up volume, but has no skill.  Quality players don’t need to be loud.  Their quality invites you to quiet down and listen to them.  Volume of faith cannot replace quality of faith.  Volume of time cannot replace quality of time.  Works can never replace a personal relationship with Christ.  as Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  When we are in right relationship with God, our faith will invite others to quiet down and listen to us.

As John the Baptist so eloquently said, “I must decrease, and He must increase.”  Sometimes we need to turn the volume down because we’re drowning out and distorting God’s voice.

If I had read this post 15 years ago, it would have made me angry.  “How dare you tell me to quiet down,”  I would have said.  I guess I’m getting older, and hopefully that means I’m getting more mature.  I know there is a time and place to speak up and to be loud – but not all the time.  My faith is a more “quiet” faith now.  But it is so much stronger!

May you find the time to turn it down today, and in doing so find the powerful voice of God that can only come through stillness.  May you decrease, and may He increase!



the morning’s coming soon
March 12, 2008, 11:54 am
Filed under: life | Tags: , , , ,

I’m a night owl, there is no doubt about it.  My mind just seems to wake up after about 11 PM.  I feel more creative, I feel more productive, everything is quiet, no chance of interupption, and I feel like I have all the time in the world.  I once stayed up all night just to paint my kitchen.  I often stay up late to write this blog (that might be why some of them don’t make much sense).  The truth is, my late nights are not near as productive or creative as they feel.  I’m much better on 8 hours of sleep at 9 AM.  I start off at night focused and have good intentions, but I get pulled in so many different directions – I feel like I have all the time in the world, so I try to do it all.  But inevitably during my late night sessions, a time comes when I look at the clock and realize how little time I have left myself for sleep.  I realize that I have more things to do tomorrow that will be done much better if I get some rest.  I realize that there are so many more important things I could have been putting my time and energy towards, but instead I have squandered it on the night – and now nothing is done.  Everything is undone.  This is my “Oh no!” moment – when all the good feelings of late night disappear, when I realize that like it or not, the morning is coming soon.  I spent the night following my feelings with no accountability.  I didn’t think or listen to reason or common sense.  Now all of the different feelings change into one feeling – the I-Don’t-Feel-Like-It feeling.

 I drink coffee in the morning because I don’t feel like waking up and being productive.  Sometimes, in order to fight the urge to stay up late I will take a Tylenol PM because I don’t feel like going to sleep.  I have weeds in my flower beds because I don’t feel like pulling them out.  My “check engine” light has been on for months, but I don’t feel like taking my car in.  There are people I need to forgive me, but I don’t feel like asking for forgiveness.  There are people I need to forgive, but I don’t feel like talking to them.  There are friends I have not seen or spoken to in years, because I can never find a convenient time when I feel like making a phone call or writing a letter.  I passed a guy on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere who had a flat tire.  I’m not sure if he even had a spare.  I didn’t feel like stopping to find out.

The I-Don’t-Feel-Like-It factor rules so much of our lives, and inevitably we find ourselves in this state much like staying up late.  We think we’ll get around to “it.”  We think eventually we will feel like it.  We think we have more time than we really do.  And so we leave so many important things undone… and unsaid.

On the night before Jesus was crucified he went into a garden to spend some time in prayer.  He knew he had something pretty important to do the next day and it was going to be a challenge – so he sought guidance.  This was his prayer: “Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me.”  Translation: “I don’t feel like it.”  Jesus is saying that he does not feel like sacrificing himself, that he does not feel like receiving the punishment of others, that he does not feel like being nailed to a cross like some kind of criminal.  Jesus does not feel like saving the world.  But that is not the end of the prayer.  he goes on: “yet, not my will, but your’s be done.”  Translation: “I don’t feel like it, but I’ll do it anyway.”

What if Jesus followed his feelings?  What if Jesus gave in to the I-Don’t-Feel-Like-It Factor?  What if because Jesus did not feel like dying, he didn’t?  What would that mean for all of us?  For all of history?  For all of eternity?

What if you give in to the I-Don’t-Feel-Like-It factor?  What would that mean for all of us?  For all of history?  For all of eternity?

Jesus knew one simple truth: the morning is coming soon.  Time is going to run out.  You cannot wait to do what is needed until you feel like it.  Most of the time, the things we feel least like doing are perhaps the most important thing we could do.  Maybe now is a good time to do it.

 If you need a little inspiration to put this message into action, I wrote a song on this theme called “Morning’s Coming Soon.”  You can listen to it and download it HERE.

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attack of the mega-church part 2
December 17, 2007, 5:10 pm
Filed under: religion | Tags: , , , , ,

Okay, folks, here we go again – Since my mega-church blogs always get so much attention (fifty million dollars, part 1), I had to share this post (and I won’t even mention Northpoint).

Willow Creek is undeniably “the” mega-church.  Dating back to the 70’s, Willow Creek Community Church is the church that started it all – Small Group Network Philosophy, Contemporary Worship, Drama, and big, big numbers.  I’m not sure what their exact attendance is, but I’m sure its ridiculous.  As their website says, “we’re big enough for you to blend in and investigate the claims of Jesus Christ anonymously, if you choose to.” 

I recently read an article about a multi-year research project Willow Creek has been doing on itself.  The topic: is Willow Creek’s Mega-Church ministry effective?  The result: Not even close!  Oops.  Here is an excerpt…

Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the “experts” were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

“Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.  We made a mistake.”

There are two kinds of Church growth in my opinion – 1) growth in number, 2)growth in spiritual transformation and maturity.  I don’t believe the two are exclusive, but my experience sadly has been that usually churches focus on one or the other.  Focusing solely on maturity does not make for the most “attractice” or seeker friendly church service, and so often churches opt for the easier to swallow “Starbucks” model.  To achieve growth in number, just give people what they want more than what they need.  This seems to be what Hybels and his church discovered, but now they are discovering something new – being attractive simply is not enough.  If your staff and pastors are the only spiritually mature people in the church, how long will the church last after the mature people are no longer around – and for what reason does the church exist if not to help people grow spiritually?

I celebrate with Willow Creek that they were willing to ask the hard questions and that now they are trying to correct their mistake and do things more effectively.  Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek says this of the recent findings, “Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”

Upon this note, I would like to reemphasize my heart in all of these blogs: Mega-Churches have a responsibility to make sure they are leading the way responsibly.  How many small, medium, and even large churches have modeled themselves after Willow Creek?  And now what good has it done?  I sincerely hope that ALL churches, large or small, will follow Willow Creeks new example and ask the hard questions.  I sincerely hope that ALL churches will learn to value true spiritual transformation over simple numbers.  I sincerely hope that ALL churches will strive to accurately reflect Jesus rather than dress Jesus up and try to make him “attractive.”

Click HERE for the article this blog is based on.  And thanks to my Dad for sending me the link
 




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