By now many of you know I have been hired as a news anchor and reporter at Newsradio WBBM. If you missed Robert Feder’s story you can read it HERE. I’m thrilled because WBBM is such a great station and I have many longtime friends who work there.

Several people have asked what this means for the church. Around 3 years ago, I began working with a team of people to start Village Church of Oak Park. The church has grown wonderfully, not only in number of people, but in quality. Village Church is filled with loving people who truly sacrifice and care for each other as they seek to grow in their faith. It’s a great honor to serve as the Lead Pastor of this church. People have assumed that a job at WBBM would mean my time at the church has ended. No way!

I made the decision early on in my church planting journey to be bi-vocational. That’s a fancy way of saying I have a job outside of the church. Many church planters are doing this because it lessens the financial burden on the new church and also keeps you grounded by intentionally having relationships with people outside the church. Oak Park is an expensive (but worth it!) place to live. It would be nearly impossible for a new church to pay one pastor’s full salary, much less pay for several staff members to work at the church. So, the choice was easy.

The bosses at WBBM have already been kind in working around my responsibilities with the church. For example, I won’t be scheduled to work any Sunday mornings. It is truly a gift of God that I can work at two fantastic places.

Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this, but I have a tendency to think the work that God is doing in, through, and around me is His most pressing concern. Sure God is working all around the world. Of course. But He really cares about what’s happening in my neighborhood. Thankfully God has a way of realigning the way we see the world.

Anna and I are visiting some friends in Edinburgh, Scotland. This city has 600,000 people, most of whom are not Christian. Not only are they not Christians, but they have no real idea of who Jesus was and is. They don’t know the simple Bible stories that most of us learned as kids. The Scots were recently declared an unreached people group because of the number of people who have no hint of a Biblical worldview.

In many ways, this is where America appears to be headed. Fewer people attend church, hang out with Christians, or know even a little about the Bible. People see less of a reason to bring God into their lives. Within a few decades this leads to an absence of God from the lives of most people.

What is left is an absence of meaning. If a person doesn’t know he or she was created by a loving God for a reason then what is this all about? The few Christians left in the area begin to despair. Things appear to be changing for the worse. It seems hopeless. But then God breaks in.

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Anna and I spent this morning worshiping at Carrubbers Christian Centre in the heart of Edinburgh. We were surrounded by a group of Jesus followers who not only love and honor Him, but they are passionate about reaching their land with His message. Instead of seeing things as bleak, they confidently know God is doing big things in the lives of people around them. It’s beautiful.

I’ll confess I had tears in my eyes as we sang with our brothers and sisters, heard solid preaching from Hebrews, and shared communion. God used this time to show me three things. One, He is at work in the world even when things seem hopeless. Two, He has chosen to have all of us on the globe at exactly this time to do big things for Him. Three, while the things God is doing in our neighborhood are vitally important to Him, so are the things He’s doing in Edinburgh and in every other corner of the earth.

I am humbled and honored to serve my King. It’s incredible.

More than a decade ago, Toni Braxton had an abortion. She was on the prescription acne medication Accutane, which is extremely dangerous to unborn children. She knew the risks and decided to end the pregnancy. But she now admits she would have likely had the abortion anyway simply out of convenience.

Years laters when her son Diezel was diagnosed with autism, Braxton believed it was a punishment from God. She was wracked with guilt after her abortion and was sure this was somehow God’s payback. Reading about her guilt and shame reminded me of the need for Christians to show extraordinary grace to women who have had abortions. And women who have had abortions need to understand something important about God. Here are three things for all of us to remember:

God is gracious. The Bible shows us that God does not continue to punish us for our mistakes. Psalm 103:12 says “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” This doesn’t mean our sin won’t sometimes have consequences that we live with for the rest of our lives. If you contract an STD you may deal with the effects of that for years. If you alienate your children because of an affair those relationships may never get healed. But the consequences of our sin is not the same as continued punishment. When Christians repent, God forgives. If you are wracked with guilt over forgiven sin memorize that verse and repeat it to yourself daily. God is not punishing you!

Those who have had abortions need love. It’s true that abortion takes a life. I’ll not deny that. But once the act is done a Christian has two options when interacting with a woman who has had an abortion: they can reinforce the guilt and shame she is probably already feeling or they can shower her with love and grace. The Bible says God, “heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). Do you want to be a part of that work of God’s grace in a woman’s life or do you want to be a reminder of the mistake she has made?

Don’t forget the men. There are men in this world who are equally hurt by abortion. They feel guilty over the loss of life. They may be ashamed if they pressured the woman to get the abortion. They need someone they can confide in so they can get healing. You can be that friend!

It’s important that Christians pray for the Holy Spirit to show them how to balance His grace and truth (John 1:17). We can’t allow ourselves to move too far toward one or the other. Jesus reflected both and so should we.

 

Recently I was part of a team of people from two churches helping a godly woman as her cancer battle came to an end. She was well cared for, but dying is tough. It’s painful and uncomfortable for the person dying and those they love. Any reasonable person has asked, “Why does a supposedly good God allow suffering?” Also, “Isn’t he strong enough to end suffering today?”

I’ve thought about this for a long time and I’ve come up with 11 ways a good God could allow suffering to continue. I’d love to hear more if you have some. I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University and Dr. John Feinberg’s book The Many Faces of Evil for help in processing this subject and creating this list.

1. Suffering reminds us that this world is fallen. When we endure suffering or witness the suffering of others it should serve as a reminder that this world is not as it was intended to be. Sin is rampant and its effects are seen everywhere.

2. Suffering should point us toward heaven. Christians have been promised a time when suffering will end (Rev. 21:4). When enduring or witnessing suffering, we should be drawn to the fact that the eternal destiny for the Christian is a place where there will be no more suffering. This will not totally eliminate the pain of suffering here on earth, but it provides us confident hope.

3. Suffering may provide God a platform to manifest his power. In John 9:1-3, people assume a man blind from birth is handicapped because of the sin of his parents. But Jesus lets us know that there are times these cases of suffering are only happening so God can be glorified by displaying his power. In our day, God may provide a miraculous healing that leads non-Christians to acknowledge him. Without the suffering preceding healing that wouldn’t be possible.

4. God may use suffering to remove a cause for boasting. When things are going well in our lives we tend to become self-sufficient and arrogant. Suffering can remind us of our need for God.

5. Sometimes God uses suffering to display the Body of Christ. When someone is hurting, other believers can step up to help him or her. They can run errands, provide meals, help them financially, or encourage them with prayer.

6. Suffering can promote sanctification. Suffering can lead us to turn away from sinful things that may be leading to our suffering. It can refine your faith. Suffering can educate the believer by forcing him or her to focus on God so he can teach them. God can also use suffering to cause the believer to understand his majesty and sovereignty in ways they otherwise would not be able. Suffering gives the believers intimacy with God as it drives him or her straight to their Creator. And it sanctifies as we realize we are imitating Christ in our suffering.

7. Those experiencing suffering can minister to others. This can impact believers and non-believers alike. Believers who suffer can encourage other brothers and sisters in Christ who are also suffering. This is especially true with people who are experiencing the same kinds of suffering. Those who suffer well can show the strength of their faith to non-believers who may be attracted to Christ because of this.

8. Suffering can prepare us for future trials. Withstanding one trial is in no way a guarantee that we will never experience suffering again. Sometimes lessons learned during one round of suffering help us during another round.

9. Suffering prepares believers for judgment day and the rewards it brings. As Christians are made more Christ-like, their deeds are more reflective of God’s will. Thus when Christ returns and the believer’s deeds are judged, there will be greater reward because there will be more righteous deeds evident in their life.

10. Suffering can humble the believer so he or she can someday be exalted. If we are to be great in God’s eyes we must first be brought low. Suffering can give us the humility we need to ultimately be thought of highly by the Lord.

11. Suffering may ultimately be how God brings us home. This was the case of the woman I wrote about at the beginning of this post. The suffering of cancer that leads to death is ultimately a good thing for the Christian because once death has happened we are at home with the Lord.

I’d love to hear more from you to add to the list!

 

A couple of weeks ago after the State of Illinois officially passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, I decided to deliver a message at Village Church focused on this decision. I stayed quiet for a long time as I journeyed with the Lord to find the proper response to changing cultural norms. There’s no doubt what the Bible says. Marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s clear.  But polls show society is moving away from what Scripture says and toward “marriage equality.” So, how are Christians supposed to react? When laws redefine something that God established are we to continue to work for change, move to another place, or is there another way? A biblical way? That’s where I tried to head. You can hear my message HERE (It’s the November 10th message).

Recently I met with a friend’s mom who has terminal cancer. I visited her because she just moved back to Chicagoland after many years away and doesn’t have a church. She was in incredibly good spirits and shared wonderful stories with me. We prayed and shared communion together. It was an incredible honor to be able to serve her in a small way in the last weeks of her life on earth.

Our meeting got me thinking about the job of pastor. There are times it’s tough. Spiritual warfare is a very real part of the job (that’s never included in the job description that churches post on job websites). The hours can be long. You have to work hard to protect your family from being neglected because of the work of the church. The pay isn’t always great. There are many critics. Pressure to perform on Sunday and make great leadership decisions weighs on you. But we have to remember it is an honor to serve.

That word, honor, has stuck with me recently as I reflected on my afternoon with a dying woman. It was an honor to serve her. I was every bit as blessed as she was. God called me to the job of pastor, but it’s more than a paycheck. So much more. It’s an honor to know the God of the universe who can do anything he wants without me, chooses to use me to extend his love and kindness to others.

Even if you’re not a pastor, God still wants to give you the honor of serving others. Remember that when a phone call comes late at night or you have to go out of your way on a busy day to help someone. God could have used anyone in the world to do what you’re doing, but he chose you. What an honor to be used by God!

It’s not too surprising when a college friend tells you they don’t like reading. When you’re being assigned hundreds of pages for classes, few like it. But many years ago a friend gave me her reason and I’ve never forgotten it. She hated reading because her dad was an avid reader. I thought that was a weird reason. Isn’t a parent who loves books supposed to inspire their child to read? But her dad was obsessive about it. He read on the couch all evening long. Sometimes he would have his nose in a book throughout dinner. She said it was rare that her father didn’t have a book in his hand. And, though this is unlikely to be true, it made her feel as though he loved books more than her. He spent way more time reading than engaging her. What else was a kid to think? This led her to hate books because they reminded her of a remote father.

I’ve noticed something on our local playground when Anna and I are there with the kids. I call them “The Cell Phone Parents.” There are moms and dads who bring their kids to the park and then ignore them while checking Facebook, Twitter, or returning texts. They are looking at their smart phones the whole time, disengaging from their children. In fact, the only time they engage their children is when they look up from the screen to announce it’s time to head home.

I’m one of these parents. I confess. I won’t act as though I perfectly do this or anything. Seeing other parents totally check out has been convicting. I wish there was a group where I could just admit, “My name is Cisco and I’m a smart phone addict.” Even when hanging out with my family in the park that phone is screaming from my pocket, “Someone may have sent you a text!” “Maybe someone posted a funny picture on Instagram!” “You could be missing a hilarious hashtag party on Twitter!!!” The possibilities are almost overwhelming!

But I don’t want my kids to hate technology because their dad used it to escape them. In fact, I don’t want my children to think anything came between us. Of course, they know Jesus and Anna come before them. This isn’t about worshiping your child by making them think they’re the center of the universe. Instead, it’s about your boy or girl knowing you love them and value the time you have together. I want them to have memories of their dad getting home from work, throwing his bag down, and spending the next several hours enjoying them.

Overcoming smart phone addiction is a marathon not a sprint. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but this is hard. I’ve started taking some tangible steps to move the process along. When I get home from work, I put the phone in our bedroom and leave it there for several hours. If I’m tempted to see if anyone has sent me a Facebook Friend request I have to walk to the other side of the house in order to check. And I have to explain to the family where I’m going. “Um, I have to make sure my socks are properly folded in my dresser.” Yeah, that doesn’t work.

I’ve also started taking a one-day fast from the internet (smart phone included) each week. Man, is that hard! But I’ve found that I don’t really miss much. Email responses can be sent the next day. And, frankly, I’m not missing out on a lot if I ignore a day of social media chatter.

There are so many distractions around us, but if we blink our kids are grown up and out of the house. Let’s work hard, with God’s help, to cherish every moment we have with them.