Why Should I Forgive?

Forgiveness is much more about YOU -than whoever hurt you.

The act of forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent. I have witnessed countless people refuse to forgive. In turn, I have watched those same people repeatedly tear their own wounds open, time and again.  Forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent and allows the healing process to begin and continue. It is the well medicated bandage that is placed on a wound that has been properly cleaned and dressed.

Forgiveness is also the antidote for the infection of bitterness. I have witnessed bitterness eat people up like a vicious emotional and spiritual infection, causing even more damage than the initial wound. We have all heard stories where a person would get a small cut on a finger or toe and not treat it properly. Then infection set in. As a result, death and decay set in. The tissue around the “small” wound begins to rot away. If the infection is never properly addressed and treated, limb or life can be lost. Forgiveness is the much needed antiseptic treatment for deeply infected emotional wounds. While unthinkable to some victims, forgiveness is the ONLY way the pain will ever begin to subside.

In addition, forgiveness protects relationships. Some of the most miserable people I have met are bitter people who refuse to forgive. They become hard, calloused and simply difficult to be around. While they remain steadfast in the reasoning that justifies their bitterness, the fruit that it bears makes it very difficult for them to actively participate in healthy relationships. No one wants to be around them. Bitterness hinders and corrupts healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is NOT simply giving the offender a “pass” on their misbehavior and looking the other way. Forgiveness is God’s blueprint for enabling us to heal and begin the path towards emotional, spiritual and even physical health and happiness.  This is exactly why Jesus responded “seventy times seven,” when he was asked how often we should be willing to forgive each other.

Healthy living is impossible without forgiveness.

How to Make a Tough Decision

choices

God gave you a free will and the ability to make choices for yourself.  Do not believe the lie that “things just happen” and everything in your life is completely out of your control.  That is a stupid theology/philosophy to live your life by.  -I am just being honest…

People often surrender their lives to others by surrendering their ability to make good decisions.  Sometimes we freely do this because making tough decisions is hard. We would rather someone else make the decision for us than make it for ourselves.  I find this very sad.

I had a tough life altering decision that I wrestled with recently and used the principles below to help navigate the decision process.  I am sharing this list with the hope of helping someone else.  Here are the steps I followed in making my tough decision:

 -Research the situation and subject matter that is involved with the tough decision.  Gather as much information as possible.  Do not be lazy, do research and ask questions.  Lazy people make wrong choices.

-Quick decisions are often bad decisions.  If it is a good decision today, it will be a good decision tomorrow.  If it is God’s will today, it will be God’s will tomorrow.  If I am being pressured to make the decision today, it is very likely that I am being pressured to make a bad decision.

 -Reconcile the situation with scripture.  Will my actions line up with the whole of scripture and the teachings of Jesus? This is a very simple but profound question. (DO NOT pull one verse of scripture out of context; use the “whole” of scripture.)

-Reconcile your choices with “commonsense.”  Will my actions make sense? In the long term, will the fruits of my decision be positive or negative? Force yourself to be honest.

 -Reconcile your thoughts with your spouse.  What does my wife/husband think? If we are not in agreement, I NEED TO STOP.  God made you “one flesh.”  You should be on the same page. Take time to talk the big decisions out, and do not move forward until you are on the same page.

-Reconcile your decision with personal, professional and family goals.  Will my decision line up with my personal, family and professional goals?  Will this decision require me to sacrifice one of these goals?  In the long term, will it be worth it?  -Beware of immediate gratification; it usually comes with a long term price.  Again, force yourself to be honest. Will my decision ultimately bring me closer, -or further away from my predetermined goals?  (BTW, you should have some goals you are working towards.)

-Reconcile your thoughts with a few close trusted friends.  What do my close trusted friends think?  Am I tempted to hide this decision from them? Why? If I disagree with the counsel of my friends, do I have a commonsense valid reason? Is it a difference of opinion or something deeper?  It is obviously okay to disagree with trusted friends, but be honest with yourself and know the reasons why.

-Reconcile your decision with your “gut.” After my emotions settle, what do I feel in my gut?  I find when I am thinking clearly -and not rushed, my “gut” is normally right.

-Reconcile your decision with prayer. How I am praying about this decision?  Am I begging God to open a door, or am I genuinely asking God for His will to be done in my life.  Am I truly neutral enough to seek God’s will?  If God’s spirit prompted me with direction, am I being sensitive enough to hear Him?  If I realize that God’s prompting is different than my desire, am I okay with that?

-“Make” the tough decision. Examine the “decision” from all angles, then make a decision. -You must make a decision.  If you do not make the decision yourself, someone else will likely make it for you and it might not be the right one.  Do not lose control of your life to “indecision.”  Be wary if you sensed any red flags from any items above, especially if it is more than one.

 -“Rest” in knowing that you made the best decision possible. You took your time and asked all the right and “hard” questions.  “Rest” in knowing that you did your best to make the right choice.  Rely on God grace and His spirit to lead you to good places.  Trust Him. The God of the universe is perfectly capable of leading us through the maze of life, -if we seek Him and trust Him.

 After making your decision, in the weeks after, take some time to reflect on the decision you made, the outcome you are experiencing and what you could have done differently in your decision making process.  Life is a series of choices and every choice leads us somewhere.  We need to continually develop the skill of learning to choose wisely and decisively; I have found this life skill to be priceless.

My Greatest Fears!

fear

In the past few years, I have embarked on the journey of getting to know “myself.”  In key moments I have stopped and asked myself questions like, “Why did I respond that way?” and “What makes me do that?”  In other words, I have tried to figure out what makes me tick.  It has been a worth while endeavor; I have learned a lot about myself and have grown in the process.

Now for those of you who might be tempted to say something like, “Now Eric there is a lot of my, me, I and myself in this post.”  My response is simple.  In order to serve, help and invest relationally in others you must “know” yourself.  -If you ever conquer the beast of “self,” all those other beasts that you are fighting out in the world become a lot smaller.  Trust me.

During my journey of discovery I have learned that many of my actions are dictated by fear.  “Fear?” you might ask.  -Yes, I know.  I was a bit surprised when I discovered this about myself as well.  I have never considered myself to be a fearful person.  However as I unraveled the motives that play into my everyday life, I found fear to be a central motivator.  I would imagine that this would be no surprise to a well trained, well seasoned psychologist.  (If one ever happens to read this post, please chime in and let us know.)

Anyway, I find great liberty in understanding the fears that motivate me.  Understanding them allows me to understand how I “tick.”  In addition, understanding my fears enables me to make good choices, the “right” choices for me.  Furthermore, understanding my fears empowers me to be aware of the wrong choices that I can potentially make.  Because, as we all know, fear can be a negative motivator just as much as a positive one.

I have listed my greatest fears below with short descriptions.  I find writing about them to be a good exercise in understanding them.  Also, I cannot help but think that my transparent thoughts might encourage some of you to take some time for personal reflection so that you can discover something new about your own self.

Two more quick thoughts before I share: Except for the first fear, they are in no particular order.  Also, just because I do not have a very important thing listed as a fear, that does not mean it is not important to me.  It just means that fear is not a motivator in that aspect of my life.  (For example: I am convinced that God loves me unconditionally and I “rest” in His love, therefore “fear” is not a part of that relationship.)

-I am afraid of failing my children -as a parent.  I find myself making many decisions based out of this fear.  Overall, I think this is a very positive motivator.  (Notice I said, “a fear of failing,” not “a fear that they will not love me.”  There is a HUGE difference between the two.

-I am afraid of the direction that I see our society tracking: morally, spiritually, intellectually, politically, etc. Because of this fear and my love for mankind, I am compelled to invest in others and to do what I can to make a positive difference in society.

-I am afraid of being alone.  I understand that God designed mankind for relationship. Understanding this Truth drives me to cultivate relationships.  I am aware that my purpose and any meaningful contributions that I might make to society revolve around relationships with others.  In addition, I understand that I will only find true happiness in relationships with others. (This concept is a good one to wrestle with, but I firmly believe the teachings of Jesus support it.)  “Our purpose” is intertwined with “others.”

-I am afraid of living a mediocre life.  One of my biggest fears is to be sitting on my front porch, in a rocking chair, when I am 85 years old, -with the regrets of a mediocre “safe” life.  When I say mediocre, I do not mean mediocre in income, station, or worldly influence.  I mean mediocre in that I did not invest my life anywhere.  I mean mediocre that I buried my life rather than risking it all.  I mean mediocre in that I look back and encounter memories of a selfish, fearful person.  I mean mediocre in that all I am left with in my old age is “could have been’s”  No amount of wealth, no level of station and no measure of worldly influence could satisfy “that man.” -The picture of “that man” scares me to death.  And it motivates me to positively respond to all of these fears.

So… if you want to know what makes Eric Starkey “tick.”  There you have it, or at least a big part of it.

 *What are you afraid of?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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What Some Christians Have in Common with the Ancient Greeks and Trojans

troy-3

Am I writing a blog post that compares modern day christians to the pagan Greeks and Trojans who worshiped false mythological gods?  Why yes, I sure am.

Last night, my wife and I watched the movie “Troy” for the fist time.   For various reasons, we are not typically drawn to movies like this, but due to boredom, sleeplessness and curiosity we decided to watch it.  I found it intriguing when I noticed a few similarities between some of today’s christians and the ancient Greeks and Trojans -as portrayed in the movie.  Here is what I observed:

-Buildings, statues and other objects were held in very high regard and often worshiped as the gods themselves.

-There was no concept of “personal relationship” with the pagan gods; therefore determining the “god’s will” was simply a guess made by the priests, often with catastrophic consequences.

-The rulers used the gods to manipulate the armies and people in order to get what they wanted; more power, treasure and territory.

-When something bad happened because of the leader’s own stupidity, selfishness or poor leadership abilities, it was explained by saying, “It was the will of the gods.”

-Terrible things occurred, -and was justified in the gods’ name.

I am sure I am missing a few other similarities.  I was not actively looking for them while watching the movie. These are just the glaring ones that I remember as I reflect for a few moments.

If this post unsettles you a bit, good.  Maybe it will cause you to think about how people in today’s culture view Christians.  Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  This means that His Kingdom looks nothing like our pagan worldly kingdoms.  If what we sometimes call “God’s Kingdom” can be so easily compared to “pagan kingdoms,” perhaps we need to stop, reflect and ask God to search our hearts in order to make a few adjustments.  -After all, we are called to be DIFFERENT.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

When God Leads Us to “Foreign” Places

Wilderness

Seven years ago, my family and I moved across the country to plant a new church.  While there were various practical reasons and factors for pursuing this new journey, in the end we felt like it was “God’s will” for us.  -So we felt confident that He would guide and provide for us.

Our new church plant did not work out anything like we thought it would.  In the end, we found that God had led us on a journey that looked completely different from what “we” thought it should look like.  God had led us to a very “foreign” and uncomfortable place…  In this message I share some of my experiences while planting HealingPointe Community Church.  I transparently describe that “foreign place” God led me and my family to.

But most importantly, I share why the “foreign places” that God leads us to are so important and how we can be in both a “foreign place” and “God’s Will” at the same time.

Click on the link below to Listen:

Why I Almost… left the Church

LeavingChurch

I almost left the church, the “established” church that is….  And sometimes, I still feel like leaving the church.  There, I said it.  Yes, Eric Starkey: husband, father, devout Christian and maybe most relevant to this post, “pastor” has seriously considered leaving the church, or at least “the church” as we know it.

Why???

I guess the answers to that question are both simple and complicated.  I am hesitant to publicly share many of my thoughts on this subject because I fear that I will offend friends.  Nevertheless, I feel this post might be a valuable exercise for me to write -and for you to read.  Perhaps if we wrestle with a few of these “reasons” you and I both might be better for it.  And perhaps, the Church could be better for it.  With that being said, I want to make it clear that my goal is not to insult or take cheap shots at anyone or any local church. My goal is to transparently share why I sometimes find myself nearing that point where I want to say, “Enough is enough!”

  • I got burned out.  I entered the ministry at age eighteen; I preached for the first time on Sunday morning at nineteen and experienced early “success.”  Sometimes I believe that early “success” was actually a “curse.” From that point forward, it was full speed ahead and no looking back.  I put the Church and ministry before everything –and I mean everything.  After doing that for over fifteen years, the inevitable finally… happened: I burned out.  I am surprised I lasted as long as I did.  I often wonder why someone did not stop me earlier.  Many people in many different churches had opportunities to grab me and put their arm around me and say, “Eric, slow down.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  Slow down and enjoy your college years.  Slow down and enjoy your young family.  Slow down and enjoy life.”  Very few people offered me that wise caution and still fewer leaders ever did.  Honestly, I cannot think of any other pastors who ever advised me to slow my pace.  It was not until “I” put on the brakes (at God’s prompting) that I finally got that message –independent of anyone within the Church.
  • I got incredibly frustrated with many of the people in the Church.  Religious people, legalistic people, “super-spiritual” people, mean people, hypocrites, needy people, manipulative people, leaders who worry more about themselves than the people who they are leading, highly educated people who are illiterate to the simplest Biblical Truths, insecure people, etc.  Everywhere I turned (in the Church) there seemed to always be someone who met one or more of the aforementioned descriptions.  These people sucked the passion, energy and life right out of me.
  • I began to notice the lack of authentic relationships in the church.  There is so much that could be said here but I want to keep this post short.  Let me just say that most churches that I have been a part of have shallow relationships with various undercurrents running through them.  Church leadership is more about politics than shepherding.  If you doubt my observation, just watch what happens when controversy or disagreements arise. Church relationships often (not always, but often) have little depth and are disposable   *This is not a loose accusation that I am making. I make it after eighteen years of being heavily involved in various local churches.
  • I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends to church.  Approximately four years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to purposely start living our lives OUTSIDE the walls of church buildings.  Part of this commitment was to begin building relationships with people who did not attend a church.  As we have slowly made this transition, we have realized that we are not comfortable inviting our un-churched friends to church with us.
  • Much of the contemporary Church is “dumbing down” the Gospel. In our efforts to grow and attract people to our churches, we have watered down and “dumbed down” the Gospel to where “following Jesus” is not following Jesus. We have forgotten what it means to “take up our crosses.”  We have made it too easy. We have made it too simple.  Sometimes I think we may even insult the intelligence of un-churched people when they attend our churches. Don’t talk to un-churched people like they are stupid. Share Truth! Challenge people! Preach the Gospel!  Teach the Word! That is what the people are there for; that is what they desperately need. Challenge them; that is what will cause them to see their need for Christ and authentic Christian community.
  • I have not gotten anything out of many of the church services I have attended.  Sorry, I am just being honest.  When we extricate authentic relationships and dumb down the Gospel, what do you think is going to happen? Church should be more meaningful than checking a box off on our weekly Christian “to do list.” And please do not try to attract me with just music, I can always find better on Pandora.
  • Most churches look nothing like the Church in the New Testament.  I am just being honest –again.  Why should I force myself to attend a weekly meeting that calls itself one thing and then has the characteristics of something completely different?  Most churches “Major on the minors” and “minor on the Majors” of the things that are important to New Testament Church culture. We invest our time and treasure in buildings and programs rather than people –and then we wonder why we are losing “people.”  Hello…..?
  • I was never good at “Playing the Game” –nor did I ever want to play.  I have no passion for the “the game.”  I have no energy for “the game.”  I find no life in “the game.”  Honestly, when I sense that “the game” is being played, I run fast and far from it. “The game” disgusts me now.  I am so tired of political games.  I am so tired of people games.  I am so tired of church games.  I just want to be a part of something real.  I am not looking for perfect, (I know it is not out there) but I am looking for “real.”
  • Because of the above characteristics, I find many of our churches to be full of under discipled, under utilized, immature, lethargic Christians.  I think that is the real fruit that our church marketing, flashy programs and flowery sermons have produced for us.  Frankly, this reality absolutely disturbs me.
  • I got tired of excuses.  You can come up with an excuse for anything, -if you try hard enough.  And we have become very astute at making good excuses in the Church.  Our excuses disgust me.

Why should I attend a weekly “celebration service” that has no real depth and screams “fake,” with other people in a community almost completely divorced of authentic relationships, where a watered down weak (and/or twisted) gospel is preached, in an atmosphere where I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends, with “church people” who often incredibly frustrate me?

 These are the reasons why I have had serious thoughts about leaving the established church.  *For the record, my family and I have not left the Church nor do we plan to; we still faithfully attend.  But, I have to wonder how many people have already abandoned the Church for these same reasons.  I would bet all of my earthly possessions that the numbers are far more than just a few…

Perhaps we should all take a step back, stop making our ridiculous excuses and wrestle with some of these areas of dysfunction while there is still time.  -Because the era of “going to church just because you are supposed to” is over.

I invite you to comment with “your reasons” below -or feel free to offer a rebuttal to mine.  Let’s please keep our comments as positive and productive as possible.   -Just an FYI, I plan to write a post next week entitled, “Why I did not leave the Church.”

The Basic Elements of the Church: Evangelism

evangelism 

So I hear there is a big stink going on down in Sullivan, Indiana; “big stink” is my southern slang for a fight. Apparently, there are a few high school kids, who call themselves “gay,” that plan to attend prom as practicing homosexuals.  I’ll let my readers gathers the facts for themselves regarding all the details, but obviously when the public expression of homosexuality goes to the high school prom in small town Midwestern America there will be a few fireworks in the community.   -And many of the “sparks” will be made by my fellow conservative Christian friends.  I am sure that most Christians in Sullivan have already been asking tough questions like:

  • How did we lose our Christian influence on the culture in “our” town? 
  • What can we do to reach those who are continuing to drift away from the church and our Christian values?
  • How can we make Christianity and church life “relevant” to people in Sullivan, Indiana –especially the younger generations?
  • What can we do to take back the ground that we have already lost?

I have been waiting for some time to finish up my latest series, “The Basic Elements of the Church.”  I had previously shared that from my study of scripture and personal experience, I believe that there are three basic elements that make up the Church.  The first element is Relationships: our authentic relationships with God and each other.  The second element that I identified was Discipleship: our embracing of and learning to live out the teachings of Christ -and helping others to do the same.  Pretty simple so far, right?  Well, the third element is the tough one.  To be completely honest, it is the element that I have struggled with for my entire adult life. (I will share why in a later post.)  The third element of the church is, “Evangelism.”

Evangelism is our sharing of the Gospel message, or the Good News.  When we attempt to evangelize others, we are “sharing Christ” with them and inviting them into our churches.  We are extending an invitation for them to become a part of the Family and to be “like us.” We are compelling them to repent of their sins, ask Christ for forgiveness and come follow Jesus with us.  We are in essence, making the argument that “our way of life is better.”  We are rightly stating that it is much better to willingly follow Jesus than to be swept along in life by the undercurrents of this world.

So why is it so hard for us to make our argument?  Why are we losing ground in our culture? Why is the Church in America shrinking?  I believe these are the questions that we should be wrestling with.  In addition, I think that if we would be completely honest with ourselves and each other we would have to admit that fear, manipulation and entertainment are often used in today’s Christian culture to compel people into the Church. -Not always, but often.  My earliest memories as a child in church services are of the preacher speaking about hell and God’s wrath waiting for those who had not repented of their sins and given their hearts to Christ.  In my adult church experiences, spanning across multiple denominations and geographical areas, I have observed various forms of slight, mild and even strong manipulation used to convert a “lost person” to Christianity.  I am sure I have even been guilty of doing this myself, unknowingly of course with a very sincere heart.  And then there is the “entertainment value” of our modern church culture.  I’ll save you the rant, but we all know that “church” needs to be entertaining nowadays. We use our talents, technology and treasure to bring the “Wow Factor” to our church services, all so that we can “win someone to Christ.” BUT, what happens to “our” converts when the fear factor is lost, when they become wise to or grow tired of the manipulation, or when the entertainment of the world trumps that of our church services?  We lose them, that is what happens.  We lose them because our “evangelism” and flavor of Christianity did not present them with the “substance” that they so desperately needed to become well grounded followers of Christ.

So let’s stop and think about this for a second.  God is good.  He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins.  He rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death, hell and the grave -and redeeming us.  God has given us His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  He gave birth to the Church so that we could have a family filled with others just like us who follow Him and who love and support us.  AND He promises to return for His Bride one day soon. – Not a bad deal when you stop and think about it.

So if the above statement is true, -and I believe it is.  Why do we have to use “Fear,” “Manipulation” and “The Wow Factor” to win people to Christ?  And why are we failing to effectively communicate the Gospel Message?  WHY???  I strongly believe that this is a question worth asking and a question worth wrestling with.

I also believe that the answer to this question will go a long way towards answering the questions that some of my friends and colleagues are asking in Sullivan, Indiana.  Furthermore, I simply cannot stop myself from asking this question:  “What would Jesus do if he was living in Sullivan Indiana and a few spiritually, emotionally and sexually confused kids were planning to attend the high school prom?”  How big of a deal would He make out of?  How many fireworks would He set off? How many bridges would He burn?  How many relationships would He sacrifice?

Well, this post has grown long enough.  I will finish discussing Evangelism and make an attempt at answering my tough questions in my next post.  However, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts below.