A Short Message to UMC Pastors after General Conference

4 03 2019

img_0148

United Methodist pastors and church leaders across the theological spectrum, I have a simple plea for you. No, I’m not trying to sway you to my “side.” No, I’m not even pausing to suggest that you treat each other with decency and respect (although that would be in order). No, my plea is even more basic than that.

Please take care of yourselves.

The above picture is a screenshot of my daily resting heart rate over the past month. In the month before General Conference, I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer number and intensity of the emails and letters I was receiving. So, in the week leading up to our specially called session, I took time off for a couple days of family vacation, and focused time of prayer and reflection. Want to guess which day was the last day of that short sabbath? You guessed it – my resting heart rate of 49 BPM – that was Friday, February 22nd. You can see how the next several days went. After experiencing what I’ve been referring to as “the toxic environment of Facebook” post General Conference, I essentially got off social media in an attempt to care for my own soul. As you can see above, my body has responded with a loud, “thank you!”

The stress is real, friends. And yes, I want to call you friends still. Though maybe you won’t want to be my friend after what I have to say here. At the end of the day, your statements of conviction on Facebook, or to the news outlets or even in your churches won’t have nearly as much influence on leading people to Jesus as the joyous, refreshed, Spirit-filled life you lead in your everyday life. Oh ya, many of us are no longer leading that kind of life. Instead, we’ve become consumed by the busy, the frantic and the reactionary.

I propose this. How about we take a few days – maybe a week or even all of Lent – and pause, reflect, be silent, love those closest to us, do something fun, walk with Jesus and receive his grace afresh in our lives – heck, maybe even laugh? Then, regardless of our theological bent, we will actually have something of God’s Kingdom to offer all those folks out there we say we want to embrace.

*Special shout out to our Illinois Great River Conference’s Pastoral Care and Counseling team – You have made yourself available for us during this time of immense stress. Thank you!*





#GC2019 Update 4.1 – Pastoral Postlude

26 02 2019

img_0133-1

Tomorrow I officiate the funeral of a friend who died of cancer at the age of 48.

Puts General Conference happenings in perspective, doesn’t it? What is it for you? Returning home to family challenges? Preparing a sermon when your own heart is weary and troubled? Ministering to people you love who are dealing with brokenness, illness, miscarriage, or some other tragedy? Chances are you have something that breaks the General Conference bubble and returns you back to reality.

Up to this point in my General Conference updates, I’ve largely stuck to passing on the information. Let me be pastoral for a moment and do my best to encourage you.

No matter what plan you favored, there are some affirmations I believe we can all cling to and find hope:

  • God is still on the throneLord, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation. (Lamentations 5:19)
  • Jesus still loves everybody and didn’t come to condemn but to saveFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16)
  • The Holy Spirit is still at work giving life and transforming peopleThe Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)
  • The Triune God is still calling us to be ambassadors of Jesus in this world – So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • The Bible is still authoritative, and we need to wrestle rigorously with it allAll scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

No matter how you feel after the results of General Conference, I pray that you not only take comfort in these truths but also let them challenge and convict you to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world that is still lost, lonely, hurting and in need of a savior.

 

 

 

 





#GC2019 Update 4 – Take a Deep Breath and Press DELETE

26 02 2019

AbbeyThis was originally a long post, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I deleted all except the following:

Today has been extremely frustrating. I’ve again witnessed the reason why very little if anything happens at this level of the church. The majority will of the body can easily be ambushed by parliamentary procedure. In my opinion this has been an example of how easy it is to throw out our “hearts of peace” when “we don’t get our way.”

Lord, help me be more gracious when I don’t get my way. Maybe deleting what I first wrote is a simple first step.

 

 





#GC2019 Update 3.1 – An Emotional Day

25 02 2019

This afternoon was wrought with emotion. First the information:

After several amendments and attempts at other amendments, the One Church Plan was defeated – 386 in favor and 436 against – a 50 vote differential. You could hear a pin drop. Being in the front row, I could see the disappointed reaction of many bishops who had touted the plan as their preferred way forward for the last year. Nobody moved – no celebrations, no outcry. Just silence. The truth is, nobody celebrated because nobody won. There has been a collective sense throughout this General Conference that regardless of the outcome, there are no clear winners. Everybody loses. Such was my perception after this vote.

But work continued. A third exit plan was defeated and then a motion was made to bundle the final 18 petitions together and reject them all with one vote. On the surface this seemed logical because none of them received more than 27% “high priority.” However, included in these 18 petitions were the Simple Plan (18% high priority) and the Connectional Conference Plan (12% high priority) – both of which had been faithfully constructed as a potential way forward. After amendments to remove both plans, only the Simple Plan was removed to be discussed – a gracious way to at least hear the pleas of the LGBTQ+ community. And that is what we turned our attention to after soundly rejecting the other 17 petitions.

Emotions obviously ran high. It was clear that this global body was not going to approve the Simple Plan, but there were very few speeches against the plan. In the end, the Simple Plan was voted down by a 60%-40% margin – an indicator to many that the vast majority who favored the One Church Plan saw it as a stepping stone to the more progressive Simple Plan. Still, no celebration. The hurt of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies was obvious. Even in the speeches against the Simple Plan, the speakers indicated that no harm was intended to anyone, but nonetheless it was felt. Again, there were no winners in any of these votes.

The closing worship service was sensitive to the Spirit’s movement among us. There was very little (if any) joy – just a sadness. I observed the body reflecting our shared covenant to love each other and treat each other with respect, keeping our hearts at peace, but clearly understanding “that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This [covenant] is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.” But it is difficult to live in that tension. Lord help us.

Tomorrow brings the final day of work. The legislative committee of a whole is complete. All petitions were dealt with (and on time!). Now the plenary body will deal with the following petitions handed to them from the legislative committee:

  • The two Pension petitions
  • The Traditional Plan – amended, but still not constitutional – needs more amending
  • Two Exit Plans

Other petitions CAN be resurrected either as a substitution to the main motion, or as a minority report that replaces the main motion brought by the legislative committee. Each of them would require a majority vote.

So the work isn’t done, but many of our tanks are empty. Pray for the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit for a final day of work.





#GC2019 Update 3 – Legislative Committee work

25 02 2019

On Sunday afternoon the General Conference began its work as a legislative committee. For those of you confused between the work of the plenary session and the legislative committee, let me explain:

  • In a normal General Conference, we divide all the legislative material into groups depending on the section of the discipline it seeks to alter. I explain that in this blog entry from GC2016:
  • Because of the importance of the legislation for this specially called session, the sessions committee (an elected group who meets ahead of time to work on the schedule and agenda) agreed that all General Conference delegates would serve as one legislative committee.
  • The work of the legislative committee is to perfect and filter the legislation before sending it on to the plenary session.
  • Anything that receives a 50.01% approval vote in legislative committee is sent on to the plenary session to debate, amend, and vote on.
  • If a piece of legislation receives less than 50.01% of the vote in legislative committee it is not completely dead, but I’m not going to get into this much because it would require at least 50.01% of the plenary to resurrect the legislation, and if it didn’t receive over 50% in a legislative committee made up of the entire body, it likely won’t receive over 50% from that same body (make sense?).
  • A couple other notes – the legislative committee is not presided over by a bishop but by a member of the body who is elected by the body. Same with vice chair and secretary.

So, what is happening in our GC2019 legislative body of the whole? First, the objective. We need to vote on every piece of legislation on our docket. EVERY ONE. And it must be done by tonight so the report can be printed in our materials for our plenary session for tomorrow. As you can guess, we won’t be able to spend time on every piece of legislation. If it did not receive a large percentage of “high priority” votes the day before, it is likely that it will be quickly rejected without much conversation. We will see how that plays out.

Here’s the update on the progress thus far through lunch on Monday:

Sunday afternoon we approved the two petitions that dealt with clergy pension calculations for any clergy person who leaves the denomination and still has a “defined benefit” as part of their pension. That benefit will be converted as fairly as possible (according to Wespath, the UMC’s benefits provider) to a lump sum benefit. This was a “no brainer” as it potentially applies to any and all ways forward.

Monday morning we began with the Traditional Plan. If you recall, the Bishops originally told the Commission on a Way Forward to not work on such a plan, so they spent the vast majority of their time working on the One Church Plan and Connectional Conference Plan. After some pressure to have three plans, the Commission was allowed to create such legislation in the final days of the Commission’s work. When the Judicial Council was asked to make preliminary rulings on the One Church Plan and Traditional Plan (late in 2018) several parts of the Traditional Plan were ruled in conflict with our Book of Discipline’s constitution. Thus, there are several necessary amendments to be made in order to attempt to bring it into compliance. That’s what much of Monday morning was spent doing. In short synopsis, several amendments were made, several speeches were made against the plan as a whole, and the plan was ultimately approved. However, for it to be constitutional, it will need to be amended further by the plenary session on Tuesday.

After the Traditional Plan was passed, we moved on to the Gracious Exit Plans. After a few amendments, the Taylor plan was approved followed by the Boyette plan in its entirety. In case it isn’t obvious, no more than one of these would be able to be approved by the plenary session on Tuesday.

When we come back after lunch, we will have the One Church Plan before us followed by another Exit Plan and 18 other pieces of legislation that received less than 30% “high priority.” I expect many if not all of those to be dealt with swiftly, but again, we will have to wait and see.





#GC2019 Update 2.1 – The Straw Poll

24 02 2019

img_0126Although there is a lot of work still to do, our Sunday afternoon prioritization of legislation may indicate the general will of the body. Please note that it is possible for people to vote for MULTIPLE plans and legislation as “high priority” – So, conceivably, some delegates could have voted “high priority” for ALL of the legislation below. The numbers below indicate the people who voted “high priority” for each piece of legislation or plan.

Remember, the rest of today and Monday we will work as a legislative committee to “perfect” each piece of legislation through amendments and substitutions, etc. We will then vote on each piece of legislation/plan and if that is passed by 50.01%, then it will be passed on to the plenary body (all of us) on Tuesday.

Also note, I haven’t reported the breakdown of several other pieces of legislation we voted on because each one would take significant time to explain. Let’s just say none of them were any better than the options below!

Pension Work (applies to ALL plans)
Pension legislation – 518/815 – 63.56%

Way Forward Plans
Traditional Plan – 459/826 – 55.57%
One Church Plan – 403/828 – 48.67%
Simple Plan – 153/819 – 18.68%
Connectional Conference Plan – 102/820 – 12.44%

Exit Plans
Exit Plan (Taylor) – 412/823 – 50.06%
Exit Plan (Boyette) – 406/820 – 49.51%
Exit Plan (Ottjes) – 395/816 – 48.41%

Here’s my brief interpretation. It seems that by a slight margin (50 or so votes) the body seems to prefer the Traditional Plan over the Once Church Plan. Neither the Simple Plan nor the Connectional Conference Plan gained much traction. As a delegate at the 2016 General Conference, this is not surprising. Most of the delegates are the same from 2016 to 2019 and these vote differentials are about the same as we dealt with similar “Local Option” legislation then.

Furthermore, it seems like about 50% of the body favors considering an exit plan for churches who cannot, in good conscience, abide by whatever Way Forward plan we end Tuesday with.

I was encouraged that despite the magnitude of these revelations that nobody cheered and there weren’t any overly disruptive protests. It seems that at least for now, we are continuing to proceed with the work before us with grace and respect.

 

 





#GC2019 Update #2 – Hearts at Peace

24 02 2019

img_0119

This morning, while most of you were in worship at one of your great churches, at General Conference we worshiped together then began our business, highlighted by the report from the 32 member Commission on the Way Forward. This commission was charged with the task of outlining options for ways forward for the United Methodist Church despite deep differences in approach to and belief about human sexuality. They were not a monolithic group by any means. They were, in fact, a diverse group of people – men and women, bishops and pastors and laity, theological conservatives and moderates and progressives, heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQIA community.

Before getting down to business, the group spent significant amount of time building relationships with one another despite their differences. The commission’s report included powerful testimony from Alice Williams, a layperson who identifies as LGBTQ+. She was deeply intimidated and initially wondered if she was “invited but not welcome.” She shared her heart that not only were LGBTQ+ voices heard, but she was loved and respected by the entire commission. What a great witness to the broader church.

Multiple prayers yesterday and today have emphasized a desire to love those who think differently than us. We’ve sung songs about needing one another. In fact, our General Conference delegation from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference agreed to such values at the beginning of our meetings and deliberations. We borrowed it from a document called “Hearts at Peace” that was affirmed by the delegates of our broader North Central Jurisdiction. I believe it captures the heart of love and a graceful way to handle difficult conversations. Let me share some excerpts from that “Heart of Peace” document (italics are mine for emphasis):

In affirmation of the values expressed in [Ephesians 4:2-6]

  • We will have a heart of peace toward one another and will avoid objectifying or demonizing those with whom we disagree.
  • We will come to General Conference in a spirit of discernment, trusting that if we allow the Holy Spirit to move, God will show us the way.
  • We will be good stewards of our time and resist delaying our discernment process by excessive focus on the rules. We will honor the work of the Commission on the General Conference and the design of the called special session by working within the existing rules.
  • We will work for the betterment of The United Methodist Church and the realization of its mission, especially as that mission is expressed in the ministries of local churches and of other connectional structures.
  • We will honor the work of the COWF because we believe that the years of relationship building and discernment given to the Commission was a gift that we cannot replicate in the four days of the called session.
  • And, we will honor the leadership and discernment of our Council of Bishops in the recognition that the delegates of General Conference 2016 specifically asked our bishops to lead.

We understand that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This statement is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.

I find the tenor of this highly charged General Conference extremely grace giving and kind thus far. But then again, we haven’t voted on anything of significance yet. That comes this afternoon when we vote on the priority of the legislation before us. How that vote goes will be the first indicator of the will of this worldwide body. Which of the main plans that the commission outlined will the body favor? Will the body favor discussing potential exit plans for churches that cannot, in good conscience, abide by the globally discerned direction of The United Methodist Church?

This afternoon will be telling, and I anticipate that once the results of legislative priorities are revealed, we will all hear a collective gasp and roughly 45% of our General Conference delegates will be tempted to cry, clench their fists and exchange their “heart at peace” for a “heart at war.” Will you join me in praying that whoever is disappointed after this afternoon, delegate or not, will participate in the values of peace, love and gentleness that the Commission on the Way Forward and our Illinois Great Rivers Conference has chosen to adopt?

 

 





#GC2019 Update #1 – Worldwide Discernment

23 02 2019

img_0116Sometimes I get tunnel vision – when I fail to see too far beyond my own circumstances. And sometimes, sometimes, by God’s grace I’m blessed with a Holy Spirit insight into a broader picture.

The United Methodist Church just finished a set-aside day of prayer to begin our specially called session of General Conference to determine a way forward in the midst of differences in views on human sexuality. In the midst of our united prayers, God opened my eyes to something I already knew but easily forget in my tunnel vision.

In the months, weeks and days leading up to this General Conference, I personally received somewhere between 200 and 250 “contacts” from those concerned about the direction of the broader church. These contacts consisted of a few phone calls, and dozens and dozens of emails and letters. A small handful were from the congregation I serve. The vast majority were from United Methodists within our Illinois Great Rivers Conference. And I received a handful from others across the United States. Furthermore, I spent many hours reading blogs and articles written by UM leaders with varying viewpoints. As much as I hoped to keep my mind open to all points of view, I realize now that I was undoubtedly in a tunnel – a tunnel of Stars and Stripes – Red, White and Blue.

But in our day of prayer, I was ejected from that tunnel by the Holy Spirit. We spent segments of our day in prayer led by United Methodist bishops from all across the world. We prayed for the church in Europe and Eurasia, singing songs in Russian and Swedish. (By the way, did you know that “How Great Thou Art” was originally a Swedish hymn?) We were led in powerful prayer by representatives from Africa – the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Yes, we were also led by leaders from the United States but concluded our regional prayer-times with moving leadership from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Again, God’s Spirit reminded me of what I already knew. Roughly 45% of the 864 delegates to this General Conference are from outside the United States. In my attempt to remain open minded to all viewpoints, I realize now that I missed hearing from nearly HALF of our connection.

Make no mistake about it. We have all studied the Scriptures and the legislation before us. There is deep faith, tradition and courage in the global church. And we are here collectively as a worldwide United Methodist Church to discern God’s will. We each bring our cultures and regional tunnel vision, but collectively we will discern God’s will that transcends any one culture. I take comfort in that. I take comfort in the fact that God (for better or for worse) has yoked me to a denomination that is connected across oceans, national boundaries and languages. (We all have translation devices!) And God has used that BROAD connection to help me get out of my narrow tunnel vision.

No matter what decisions are made or not made over the next few days, I hope you take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit, who transcends all cultures, is working through a global body to discern God’s will together. Could we still get it wrong? Yes, that is always a possibility. Will people be upset and even hurt by the decisions made here? I’m sure that will be the case. But there is a far greater probability that we will get it right and that we will be able to share grace and compassion with one another precisely because as a worldwide church, it is a lot harder to get caught up in isolated tunnel vision.





Grieving Through Tragedy

11 09 2017

Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At Troy United Methodist Church, where I am the senior pastor, we have been in a message called Good Grief where our goal has been to learn how to grieve with hope. One of the hardest circumstances to grieve with hope is when tragedy strikes. By all means, 9/11 was a great tragedy, but there are others. Cancer. Stillbirth. Suicide. Natural Disasters. Car accidents. Death – particularly the unexpected death of someone far short of a long-life led. Tragedy strikes someone, somewhere, every minute of every day. We spend most of our lives simply hoping and praying that tragedy will not strike too close to those we love. So when it does, I’ve found that most of us are completely unprepared for how to navigate through the waters of the intense grief that follows.

The completely unexpected nature of tragedy is what makes it so difficult. Especially when that tragedy ends in death. And because of that, a unique set of challenges to the grief process arise:

  • You’ve had very little or in some cases NO time to prepare your heart for the loss – if a loss is expected, you have time to start grieving before the loss. Not so with tragedies…
  • Because you haven’t prepared, oftentimes you have no opportunities to say goodbye to a loved one – no time to make amends or ask forgiveness for dumb things you’ve said or done which at this point seem so trivial. You have no time to adequately express the love you have for the one you’ve lost. So much is left unresolved. Like stopping a song in mid-chorus, it longs for completion. Tragedy leaves unfinished business.
  • Because of this, there is often a long period of shock and denial – a complete sense of unreality as your mind and body try to come to terms with the truth.
  • One of the most difficult parts of tragedies are what I call the “What ifs” – What if I didn’t cause him to be late he wouldn’t have been speeding to work? What if I just wouldn’t have complained that she didn’t make more money or put so much pressure on her? What if I didn’t let him go to the party? What if I said this instead of that, would she have made a different choice? The “What ifs” can drive you crazy – literally. They are our way of expressing our own guilt over the tragedy making us question if we could have done something different to prevent the loss. But it’s an effort in futility because nobody will ever know for sure.
  • Tragedy also often involves violence, accidents, mutilation, destruction and killing. This can stir in us horrible images as our imaginations run wild – we replay the scene in our minds over and over and over again even if we weren’t present. This makes the grief more prolonged, disturbing and in need of healing.
  • For many people unexpected tragedies cause major life interruptions where logistical issues need to be dealt with – life insurance, medical examiners, estates, legal authorities, funerals – things that just need to be dealt with causing a delay in our grief.
  • For others, tragedy leaves the survivor in an utter sense of helplessness. Nothing reminds us better than tragedy that we’re absolutely NOT IN CONTROL. And sometimes that can send you into a tailspin rendering you paralyzed to deal with everyday life.
  • But one of the main challenges to Good Grief in the midst of tragedy is the instinctual need to blame someone for what happened. We want things to make sense. We feel like if we just get to the bottom of “things” we’ll find enough of an explanation to satisfy us. But it’s not true. The basis of “things” is not rational, but tragic! So when you enter the domain of suffering and sorrow you find that reason and logic have their limits.
  • But we’ll persist. And oftentimes, when we can’t find anyone to blame or gain enough satisfaction in assigning blame to someone with flesh and blood – we’ll turn our attack on the only available target left. God. Anger at God is not uncommon in the midst of tragedy.

A side note about being angry at God. I don’t believe it’s necessarily a bad thing to express your anger toward God or complain to God about the loss you’ve experienced. In fact, I see it modeled over and over and over again in the Scriptures. The book of Psalms are filled with complaints about God’s action or inaction. Read Psalm 44 sometime if you don’t believe me. Here are some excerpts:

O God, we give glory to you all day long
And constantly praise your name.
But now you have tossed us aside in dishonor
You no longer lead our armies to battle…

Our hearts have not deserted you.
We have not strayed from your path.
Yet you have crushed us in the jackal’s desert home.
You have covered us with darkness and death…

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you look the other way?
Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?
(Psalm 44: 8-9, 18-19, 23-24)

I believe there is biblical precedent for being angry at God and expressing our anger toward God for what is happening or not happening. But unless our anger at God is followed by ultimate trust in God’s unfailing love, then our anger will not be a helpful part of Good Grief. Even the Psalms of lament and complaint incorporate some element of trust in God in the midst of anger and doubting and questioning.

You see in the end, I believe the Bible teaches us that although expressing anger toward God is an acceptable part of the journey of good grief, ultimately, anger toward God is misdirected anger. God is not the problem when tragedy strikes. In fact, I believe God is the only solution! Because in the midst of tragedy, God gets angry too. Want to know more? This will be the focus of my message, When Tragedy Strikes, Sunday, September 17th. I hope you can make it, or watch the video on our website that day after 11am.

 





Grieving Well when “here” has been wonderful.

6 09 2017

In my last post I gave a little introduction to grief and one of the more overlooked causes of grief: transition. Transition occurs when you move from HERE to THERE: your child enters kindergarten, you begin a new relationship, you become a caregiver to your aging parents, you try to rebuild your life after the divorce. You are no longer HERE –> you’re now THERE. It’s a new reality. Things have changed, and whenever there is change, there is loss. And grief is the natural human response to loss. How can you grieve well in the midst of transition and the subsequent losses you experience?

I discussed in my last post how to grieve well when HERE is not so good. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but I shared the first two steps: 1) See the truth of HERE and 2) Grieve the losses sustained by staying HERE so long. I promised step number three in this post because it’s the same final step as scenario #2 – How do you grieve well when HERE has been wonderful? Sometimes a transition forced upon you either by time or something else out of your control. And you don’t know whether the transition will end well or poorly. It’s all unknown.

Our family just moved, and my wife shared that she felt we packed up our kids childhoods and unpacked them into adolescence. They are now in 3rd and 4th grades and we’re sad because our kids are growing up and we have loved the days when they were little. Maybe you’re getting older and the things you used to be able to do are more difficult now. Maybe someone you love has moved away, or maybe it’s been more tragic. Regardless, how can you grieve well when HERE has been wonderful and you’re not sure about THERE yet?

First, stop long enough to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for the joy you’ve experienced in the past that you’re saying goodbye to. Thank God for the joy of the past. Stop to say thank you for the HERE that you don’t want to leave, but that you’re having to leave. Thank God for the joy you’ve had with your parents; for the memories of raising your baby; for the pleasure you had to run and jump and play; for the opportunity you had to experience that great vacation or that season of life that has been so fruitful. Offer your thanksgiving to God. Celebrate what was. It was God’s good gift to you so thank God for it and remember!

Secondly, grieve the transition. It’s okay to cry and talk about and reflect on the good ole days! It’s okay to grieve over these transitions that life brings. It’s okay to acknowledge the pain that saying goodbye to HERE causes you. In fact, it’s healthy! Just to be honest, I have a difficult time with this. I’m just wired to take on whatever is coming AHEAD that sometimes I forget to stop and reflect on the things that I won’t ever experience again. And when I don’t stop to say thank you and even grieve the good that is behind me, I miss out on intimacy with God and others. And I miss out on a deeper understanding and appreciation of the joys and even the sorrows that are awaiting me around the corner. Knowing this about myself, I recently faced my own grief head-on while in the midst of my own transition. We recently moved and had to say goodbye to the church my wife and I started 14 years ago. To read more about it, see this post. We had a several month transition of saying goodbye to so many people we loved with our whole hearts. HERE was so good. It was so wonderful. It was difficult to say goodbye, but I let myself feel. As hard as it was I let myself feel the pain and the hurt that accompanies goodbyes. Things will never be the same. Stop, say thank you and grieve the loss of the HERE that was so wonderful. Yes, it is likely that what God has in store for you is even more wonderful, at least at the end of the journey, but reflecting on the good things of HERE is a necessary part of learning to grieve well.

But there’s still another part of the grief process that is vitally important whether HERE is particularly bad or whether it’s been wonderful. And that’s the third part. No matter how good HERE has been, you will be missing out on the future God has for you if you try to live in the past – if you deny reality or live only in memories. Or, if you stay stuck in a HERE this is not so good because you’re so afraid of walking into the unknown of the future. The third part of good grief in transitions is to Trust God with your future. This of course is easy to say, but not so easy to DO.

Trusting God with your future means following God’s ways even when you don’t feel like it or want to because you know that in doing so you will get to experience the THERE that God has for you. Let’s break that down:

  1. It means following God’s ways. Jesus taught us what it means to follow God: It means to be obedient to His Word – to live a life like Christ – a life for God and not for ourselves. When we trust God enough to be obedient to God’s Word, then that’s real trust. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
  2. Because you know that God has your future in his hands. Now the reality is that much of our future in this life will be challenging – it will be difficult – filled with lots of joys, but also lots of sorrows and grief. The longer we live, the more we experience the losses and pain of this life. But God holds our future, and when we trust in Jesus, our ultimate future is with him. Don’t doubt that God make all things work together for your good. That’s trusting God with your future.

Jesus’ disciples had a major transition forced upon them, and over the course of a one 24 hour period, they went from a HERE that they loved to a THERE that they didn’t want to face. One day they were with Jesus celebrating. The next day they were scattered as Jesus was arrested, put on trial and crucified. But God had a much better future – a much better THERE in mind for them and for us. They just didn’t see it yet. Can you? Through the pain of Jesus’ death, God made a way for us to be with him THERE whether that’s THERE here on earth the rest of our days, or ultimately THERE by his side for eternity.

I don’t know what you’re presently going through as you read this, but you can trust God with your future. Don’t stay stuck in the past whether it’s a good past or a horrible past that has you trapped. Do you want to know why you can trust God? I mentioned in the last post that we grieve through loss because we’re created in God’s image and God grieves loss. Want to know what grieves God the most? When the people he created to love run from him instead of to him. That’s why Jesus came! He came to show us just how much God loves us and to what lengths he would go to suffer and die in order to bring us back to him. You can trust God with your future because He loves you enough to sacrifice everything for you – for your good – in order to be with you THERE.

I don’t know what the transitions are that you’ve been facing in your life and the extent of the grief that you’re working through. I don’t know if you’re stuck in a HERE that is horrible or maybe being tempted to return to a HERE that will only enslave you. Or maybe you’re grieving a transition that has been forced upon you. But I do know that God has made a way for you to experience his loving presence with you wherever THERE is for you. And you can even experience his presence in the midst of grief. That is, if you grieve well.