Saturday, August 23, 2014

Psalm 145 by Shane and Shane

Its been a while since I have posted here on the blog. But tonight as I was studying and going over my sermon for tomorrow, I was listening to the Psalms album by Shane & Shane. The lyrics to the song, Psalm 145, moved me and I wanted to share it tonight. Listen to the words closely and follow along with your Bible. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vulnerability

Last week, I read Mitch Albom's bestseller, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It is a book that tells the story of a man by the name of Eddie who dies, goes to heaven and meets five people who explain his life to him. [A full review is coming as soon as my son reads the book & does his summer reading assignment; I'm not going to make it easy for him to copy my thoughts, if you know what I mean.] But there is one thing I wanted to mention now about the book that particularly struck me. 

Throughout the book while Eddie is in heaven, there are flashbacks to his time on earth. In one of them, Albom pulls the curtain back to see some of the true feelings of Eddy. We witness what's really going on in his mind and heart. One is when he wakes from a dream when he is 33 years old.
"And then he wakes up. Sweating. Panting. Always the same. The worst part is not the sleeplessness. The worst part is the general darkness the dream leaves over him, a gray film that clouds the day. Even his happy moments feel encased, like holes jabbed in a hard sheet of ice. 
He dresses quietly and goes down the stairs. The taxi is parked by the corner, its usual spot, and Eddie wipes the moisture from its windshield. He never speaks about the darkness to Marguerite. She strokes his hair and says,' What's wrong?' and he says, 'Nothing, I'm just beat,' and leaves it at that. How can he explain such sadness when she is supposed to make him happy? The truth is he cannot explain it himself. All he knows it that something stepped in front of him, blocking his way, until in time he gave up on things, he gave up studying engineering, and he gave up on the idea of traveling. He sat down in his life. And there he remained" (118).
The part that struck me is the part I underlined above. He never speaks about the darkness with his wife. She asks what's wrong and he says that nothing is wrong. He puts up a mask disguising the real issue going on in his heart. 

I wonder how many people really do this. How many people think its too dangerous to be vulnerable. How many people think its too risky to pull back the curtain of their life to allow someone to see inside.  When asked what is wrong, how many people will deflect the real issues and point to something simple . . . "I'm just tired." Why do so many people do this? Why do we do this? Why do I do this?

Vulnerability isn't easy. It is risky. It can be painful. But it is necessary if you are going to successfully deal with anything significant in your life. I've been thinking about this topic a lot recently and will continue to think about it. But until then . . .

Why do you think people avoid the risk and pain of vulnerability?

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Life: My Birth Story

The other day, I shared a short review of Jerry Bridges new book, God Took Me by the Hand. One of the things I took away from that book is the need to tell life stories. I'm not pretending to be Jerry Bridges or that anyone would want to hear my life story. But I thought if I do not write these things down (at least for my kids), I'll forget about them. They may not hear them. And so today I'm starting a series of stories that I'm going to write to show how God has been active in my life throughout my life. I'm writing these stories for my children, you just get to look through the window of our storytime (if you want). 

I thought I would start with my birth story. I know I was there, but do not remember much about it. Several years ago, I asked my mom to write down some of the details of my birth so I would have them. These are her words as she recalls the events of the beginning of my life.
"On October 31, 1973, I went to the hospital, trusting to have a baby that night because our insurance ran out that day. When I had not given birth by the next morning, the doctor took an x-ray to see how many babies I was carrying: 'One big one' was the report. (There were no ultrasounds back then.) Labor was induced and at 4:44 that afternoon, Thad was born. Then on Saturday night, November 3, as we were celebrating with my sister the birth of our 9 pound 1 ounce baby boy, the doctor entered our room and said, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bergmeier, you have a very sick son.' 
He then proceeded to tell how Thad had a blood infection, which caused him to be very lethargic and to run a temperature, was jaundice, had a collapsed lung, and had an enlarged heart, which probably meant a congenital heart disease. Thad had already been put under the lights for the jaundice, and a heart specialist had been called in. At first I thought God was punishing me because I really did not want two babies so close together. That night God showed me again Romans 8:28-29. I studied it and read it over and over again. All this was to be for God's glory. Later that night a young nurse started to witness to me. God had everything lined up just the way He designed it to be. The next day, Sunday, I went home without my baby. 
Because we lived about thirty minutes from the hospital and I had a child not quite a year old at home, I did not get to see Thad everyday. On Monday we talked to the heart specialist. He said that he would call us back the next day because he was running all kinds of tests on Thad and would not have the results until the next afternoon. Tuesday afternoon he called and asked us to meet him that night outside the nursery so he could talk to us about Thad. We went, expecting to hear how we were going to have to deal with an invalid. The doctor then said that if he had not personally examined Thad Saturday night, he would have thought that someone had switched babies. Thad's blood infection was clear, he was no longer lethargic, and he did not have a fever. His lung was working properly. His heart was still large but probably just to fill his large chest cavity. (Several doctors had told us that Thad had the broadest shoulders and largest chest cavity they had ever seen.) The doctor referred to Thad as the miracle baby. We verbally gave God the credit. When the doctor asked if we had any questions, Gary had one: 'Will he be able to play sports?' 
'Yes.' 
'Will he be able to play football?' 
'With the size of those shoulders and chest cavity, he better.' 
Since there had been so many things wrong with Thad, the doctor wanted to keep him in the hospital until the next Sunday, just for observation. Finally, when he was ten days old, we brought home a healthy baby boy, knowing that God had something very special planned for him."
I never played football, but I did play futbol. Maybe my dad just mispronounced it back in the day.

I would ask my mom to tell me this story often as a child. She would always end the story the same way: "God has something special for you someday." I don't know why I used to ask her to tell the story. Maybe it was simply that I longed to be considered special. Maybe it was because there was something inside of me that was curious as to what that "something special" was that God would have for me someday.

I used to love having my mom tell that story. I don't share it much these days. I don't know why. I don't know why I was born so sick and then healed so quickly. I don't know why me and not the countless other children who are born with illnesses. Maybe I don't share it so much today because of fear that I won't live up to that "God's got something special for you" feeling. That can be a lot of pressure.

One thing is for sure. God began to take me by the hand (to borrow Bridge's verbage) while I was still in the womb. He began to work in my heart back then (physically and spiritually). And for that I'm thankful. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper

I have been on vacation the past two weeks and have taken the opportunity to do a lot of reading. One of the books I read early on in the vacation was Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid. You might have guessed from his name, Barnabas is the son of the well-known pastor, John Piper. And so when I saw that he was coming out with a book on what it is like growing up as a pastor's kid, I wanted to read it for three reasons. 

First, I am a pastor. Second, I have children. Third, I love them dearly and want to do everything I can to help them avoid any stereotypical or extraordinary demands placed on them because I am a pastor. I was happy to find out that my third reason is the main reason Barnabas wrote this book. He seeks to correct wrong thinking of expectations placed upon the children of pastors.

In the beginning of the book, he calls for pastors, and churches in general, to back off of an undue expectation of the Pastor's Kid (PK) to be someone different than every other kid in the church. He shows how it is unfair for the PK and creates a wrongful expectation of perfection that is impossible to bear. He shares how he felt everyone expected him to be perfect because his dad was the pastor. That is not only unfair, it is impossible. He talks about living in the fishbowl, where everyone hears and knows things about you . . . but they don't know you. That's painful for the PK. He shares, 
"PK's want to be known, not just known of. We want to be in relationships that cut through the facades and fronts and unearth the insecurities and needs. We long for those friends and mentors who will willfully set aside all they think they know of us as PKs and get to know us as people. These friends will engage our passions, our interests, our fears, our confusions . . . PKs struggle, and if all we have are people around us who know of us, we bottle those struggles inside and the pressure builds. Being known is a release, a way to pour out our problems and be helped, supported, corrected, taught, and simply known" (37). 
I was really drawn to my children through reading this book. It made me want to do a better job shepherding them in this area. I have had many conversations with my oldest son, who is now 14, about this issue. I often ask him if he feels any pressure from anyone because I'm the pastor of the church. So far, he says he doesn't. Only he knows if he is being honest with me. I hope so. I consistently reaffirm to him that if he ever feels that, he needs to let me know. I want him to feel freedom to be real; to struggle, to grow, to develop his own relationship with Jesus.

Barnabas offers several solutions to these problems faced by the PK. For one, he says what the PK needs more than anything else is grace. Of course, doesn't everyone? But what he means by this is that the PK needs to see grace from his parents (specifically dad) more than hear about grace. He shares one way this happens . . .
"What the PK needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins. When a father refers to himself as a sinner and says he needs grace but doesn't make a habit out of admitting and apologizing for specific failings, he mixes up his kids. PKs see the lost tempers, the harsh words, the overwork, the pride, the gossip. We know what sins our dad commits, but if he doesn't admit to them, we can lose respect for him. We also fail to learn to recognize sins in our own lives, and even if we do see them, we won't admit them. Why should we? Dad doesn't" (79). 
My guess is that this is good parenting advice, not just specifically for pastors.

But he also says the church needs to show grace. He consistently begs that the church treat the PK as they would treat any other child in the church. In the appendix of the book, Piper offers Seven Rules For When You Meet a PK (pg. 145-147). These are helpful and could be expanded upon in depth. But they are things that are helpful for those in the church to think through.
  1. Do not ask us 'What is it like to be the son or daughter of . . .
  2. Do not quote our dads to us.
  3. Do not ask us anything personal you would not ask of anyone else.
  4. Do not ask us anything about our dads' position on anything.
  5. Do not assume you can gain audience with the pastor through us.
  6. Do not assume that we agree with all the utterances of our fathers.
  7. Get to know us.
I feel our church does a good job of this. But it is one thing I will continue to keep an eye on in the future.

While I assume my children are having a different experience growing up in a church being my children than Barnabas did being John Piper's son (size of church, breadth of ministry, popularity, etc...), he makes many great points I need to pay careful attention to. No matter if you are a pastor, pastor's wife, or a congregant, I hope you will give some thought as to how you can care for the children of pastors. After all, as one PK was quoted as saying in the book . . .
"Where is there a safe place to go with your struggles? Who can you talk to? Not even the pastor . . ."
That touches me deeply.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A True Spiritual Community?

Do you want great relationships with people? Do you desire to live as God created you to live? Do you hope that you could have friendships that speak into your life and you into theirs without hesitation or pretense? Then think deeply about this thought . . . 
"A spiritual community consists of people who have the integrity to come clean. It is comprised of those who own their shortcomings and failures because they hate them more than they hate the shortcomings and failures of others, who therefore discover that a well of pure water flows beneath they most fetid corruption . . . Integrity is the first step: We must admit to our community, to a spiritual friend or a spiritual director, who we are at our worst. We must tell our stories to someone without consciously leaving out a chapter" (Larry Crabb, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, 30-31).
A few questions to think about . . .
  • Is this possible?
  • Why or why not?
  • How badly do we want spiritual community?
  • What could we do to lead the way towards this sort of community?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • Are you afraid to share or afraid to hear what others share?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God Took Me by the Hand by Jerry Bridges

Many consider Jerry Bridges as one of the top Christian authors in the past 30 years. I would be one of the many. His first publication, The Pursuit of Holiness, is the first Christian book I read after getting serious about the Lord, between my junior and senior year of high school. I was hooked. Since that time, I have been blessed by his gospel-saturated writing in his books. He was gospel-centered before it was cool to be gospel-centered. 

I'm probably wrong, but it would not surprise me to learn that his books have been read and studied in different bible studies more than any other author. Because of my appreciation for his thinking and writing, when I saw he had come out with a new book, I quickly grabbed it and read it in one day. That was several months ago.

God Took Me by the Hand is a great read. It is so different from any of his other books as it is his memoirs. In this book, he shares his life story, from how God opened his eyes unto salvation to his struggle with many theological concepts to his career ambitions. Throughout it all, he shares God's providence of being actively involved in his life in all aspects.

The providence of God is a doctrine that we do not talk much about these days. That's unfortunate. At the beginning of the book, he shares some insights into this doctrine and then throughout the book, shows how God was actively involved in every twist and turn of his life. Here are a few thoughts he has about the the providence of God.
"God's providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people . . . To say that God rules can give us an image of a king ruling from his throne, making major decisions but basically unaware of the day-to-day events occurring in his kingdom. But to say that God rules over His creation is to say that He controls all events and circumstances. Absolutely nothing can happen outside the controlling hand of God" (19).
But God's providence is even more than this. He goes on to say . . .
"God not only controls all events and circumstances, He directs all of them so that they accomplish His purposes. God is 'hands on' in directing the affairs of His creation . . . God not only directs all things to accomplish His purposes, He orchestrates all diverse events, things we consider 'good' and things we consider 'bad,' so that the end product displays the beauty of His glory" (20-21). 
These may not be easy doctrines to swallow or understand, but in each of these thoughts, Bridges shares verse after verse in support. My goal in this review is not to defend this doctrine (maybe that will come later). But I wanted to show the premise of the book, because in conjunction with these thoughts, he shares the significance of common and special grace in understanding God's hand in our life. The way he weaves these truths throughout his life's story is something special. It is something that is noticeable as you look back on life. As the old adage goes, "hindsight is 20/20 vision."

I won't share much of his life in this review. If you have enjoyed his writing ministry, you really should read it. He ends the book with this thought:
"I do know that for over sixty-five years God has been leading me by His invisible hand of providence, most of the time in fairly routine ways and sometimes in remarkable ways. But whether it was routine or remarkable, God has been leading me. I trust Him to continue to do that until He calls me home. Someone has said, 'Everyone has a life story, but not every story gets written.' I have written mine, not because my story is particularly important, but because it so clearly and so consistently over the years illustrates the unusual providence of God in the life of a very unpromising young boy. As you read this, I hope that you can see why I say, it seems that when I was seventeen years old, God took me by the hand and said, 'Come with Me'" (147-148).
As I read his story, it made me think of how I have witnessed God's hand in my life in the past. One of the things I took from this book is my desire to remember my past. I think it is way too easy to forget how God has been active in our life. I want my kids to know how much God has been involved in my life. And if you are interested, I wouldn't mind you knowing it as well. And so, I think from time to time, I'm going to write some things on the blog here as a way to remind myself and encourage others as how God's hand has been active upon my life the past 40 years (yes, I'm 40 years old).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dwelling In God's House Forever

I am preaching on Psalm 23 this morning. In my studies this week, I came across several quotes from Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. 

Now, I love to read. I have developed quite a vast library in the past fifteen years. While I faintly remember seeing this book, I never bought it or read it. After being impressed by a few quotes, I decided to order the book. After taking some time this week to read most of it, I can say without hesitation . . . it is pure gold!

I jokingly said on Twitter last night that maybe for my sermon on Psalm 23 this morning, I should just get up and read portions of his book. It's that good. I will never look at this Psalm the same way again.

The Psalm famously ends in verse 6 with these words: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Speaking on that last thought, Keller says these words:
"Here is a sheep so utterly satisfied with its lot in life, so fully contented with the care it receives, so much 'at home' with the shepherd that there is not a shred of desire for a change. Stated in simple, direct, rather rough ranch language, it would be put like this, 'Nothing will ever make me leave this outfit--it's great!' 
Conversely, on the shepherd's side there has developed a great affection and devotion to his flock. He would never think of parting with such sheep. Healthy, contented, productive sheep are his delight and profit. So strong, now, are the bonds between them that it is in very truth--forever" (165-166).
I love it!