John Stange

When the Lord takes pity on your suffering

When the Lord takes pity on your suffering

In 2002, my wife and I bought a house. For a couple months before we moved in, we would work on it and make updates and repairs. One afternoon while I was working on the landscaping, two kids came riding through my yard on their bikes. It seemed weird, but I didn't say anything. As they made it to the street, one of the kids tried turning his bike around in a spot where the road needed to be repaved. He immediately fell, and the impact ripped his ankle open so badly that it exposed his bones.

When I saw what took place, I immediately called for emergency services and rushed to help the boy. While we waited for an ambulance to arrive, I kept trying to get him to focus on my face and stop looking at his ankle. He was in a lot of pain, and he was starting to panic because it was a very bad injury. Even though he had been riding his bike where he shouldn't be riding, and making careless decisions about how to maneuver it on uneven pavement, I still felt compassion for him and did everything I could to help him.

Joel 2:18-27 gives us an example of God doing that for His people on an even deeper level. Our Lord takes pity on our suffering, reaches into our situation, and offers Himself to us as the only lasting solution.

When it's time to return to the One who always loved you

When it's time to return to the One who always loved you

Have you ever experienced a season when you were running away from God? It's not a rational thing to do, but it's something we've all done in one way or another. Sometimes it's painfully obvious when we're running from Him. Other times, our desire to become distant from Him can show itself in more subtle ways. But if you've been running from Him, keep in mind that His compassionate heart invites you to return.

If you've been running from God, rejecting His embrace, and venturing out on your own only to discover that you've made a big mistake, it isn't too late to come back to Him. In fact, He makes a point to show us in Joel 2:12-17 that He delights in showing us His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

When you're in the midst of tribulation, what should you do?

When you're in the midst of tribulation, what should you do?

Have you ever experienced a season that was so stressful, troubling, and upsetting that all you wanted to do was scream? When you really want to let out a good yell, where is the safest place to do that? Practically speaking, I think your car tends to be the best place to let out a roar when you need to. There have been several times in my life when I have definitely taken advantage of the solitude, and cried out to God in such a loud way that I'm grateful the windshield didn't crack.

During the era in which Joel was ministering, the people of Judah were going through one of their worst collective trials since they had been established as a kingdom. The locust plague had destroyed their once beautiful land, and this once prosperous people was now surrounded by death and devastation. This portion of Scripture also gives prophetic insight into a time of tribulation that will be experienced throughout the whole earth.

So, when we're in the midst of a season of tribulation, what should we do? And being that we know ahead of time that great tribulation is going to come upon this earth one day, how should we prepare for that now?

When your only option is to humble yourself and pray

When your only option is to humble yourself and pray

Culturally, and personally, one of the primary personal attributes that many of us admire is self-reliance. I read a story recently about Colonel Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. He spent the majority of his life failing at nearly everything he tried, then retired at age 65 and didn't know what he was going to do with himself. He actually wished he was dead, but instead, decided to go door-to-door selling fried chicken he had cooked using his special recipe. Between age 65 and age 88, he became a huge business success and a multi-millionaire.

It's nice to hear that his story ended well, but what do you do when you're still living through the messy parts of your journey? Sometimes it isn't as simple as picking yourself up and trying something new. Sometimes you get to the spot where you run out of options. What should you do when you hit that wall? How should you respond when you can't pick yourself up, change your circumstances, or escape your problems?

When those seasons come, (and they come for us all), we really only have one primary option. Our best option is to humble ourselves and pray. Instead of relying on our own wisdom and strength to fix our issues, we can seek the Lord's direct intervention on our behalf and trust Him to do miraculous things for us, or change our attitude toward what we're going through.

When God gets your attention in a big way

When God gets your attention in a big way

At the time of Joel's writing, locusts had just devoured the vegetation and crops of the people of Judah. As a result, their economy was suffering, many of the animals were without food, and their families were devastated physically and financially. This event was so severe that it was unlike anything that generation of people had ever witnessed.

Through this event, God was certainly getting the attention of His people in a big way, and He wanted them to be sure to convey what He was teaching them through this occurrence to their children and the generations of grandchildren that would come after them.

Have you ever experienced a season when you could tell that God was trying to get your attention? How did you respond?

How can I become financially healthy without worshipping money?

How can I become financially healthy without worshipping money?

Financial struggles are both a symptom and an effect. They can be a symptom of the choices we make, or they can be the effect of choices others have imposed upon us. Our financial health can impact the quality of our sleep, our relationship with our spouse, and the amount of time we have available to spend with our family. But regardless of what our present day financial situation looks like, there are some principles found in Scripture that can help us understand how the Lord wants us to manage our finances.

I should also say before we look at these Scriptures that while I believe the Lord wants us all to make wise financial choices, I don't believe He wants us all to be financially rich. For some of us, that would be too much of a temptation. For others, it might become an idol that they worshipped instead of Him.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim to improve our financial health. So how can we become financially healthy without worshipping money?

How can I build, invest in, and keep healthy relationships?

How can I build, invest in, and keep healthy relationships?

Relationships, particularly on the human level, can be rather complicated. We all know people who can be quite difficult to interact with. I suspect that during the course of your life, you have probably been forced to interact with some people who may have been hurtful or dishonest with you. Maybe you've also been attacked or betrayed. That certainly isn't pleasant, and while we're called to forgive those who have hurt us, I don't think anyone would blame you if you felt like there were certain people that you were better off not interacting with for your own well-being or safety.

At present, I have several friends who have admitted to me that they're at the point of life when they would strongly prefer to interact with their pets than with other people. It's hard to blame them, but I think Scripture shows us things that can help us navigate the complexities of relationships, even if we've been hurt in the past.

Is my emotional health one of God's primary concerns?

Is my emotional health one of God's primary concerns?

Emotions are both interesting and puzzling. By design, as those who have been created in the image of God, the Lord has fashioned us in such a way as to give us emotions and the capacity to feel empathy and sympathy. Admittedly, I have sometimes wondered if life would be a little simpler if we weren't as emotional as we are. But the capacity for emotional expression truly is a gift from God that can serve to reflect His compassionate heart.

Would you consider yourself emotionally healthy or emotionally damaged? Do you think the Lord wants you to express your emotions or keep them under wraps? How can our emotions serve as a reflection of the heart of Christ?

Five frequently overlooked facets of physical health

Five frequently overlooked facets of physical health

I'm convinced that anyone beyond the age of 25 that looks and feels healthy isn't looking and feeling that way by accident. They are making intentional decisions that contribute to their physical health on a daily basis. For those who follow Christ, there's also a correlation between our physical health and our spiritual health.

I hope you're interested in making investments in your physical health. I hope you can see the value of doing so. If so, I'd like to take the next few moments to point out five frequently overlooked facets of physical health that are stressed in Scripture.

Four traits of a spiritually healthy Christian

Four traits of a spiritually healthy Christian

If you asked a group of random strangers what it meant to be "healthy," I'm sure you would be offered a variety of suggestions. My guess is that many of the answers you received would primarily relate to physical health. Healthy bodies are certainly important, but there's a deeper level of health, with longer lasting results, that we should prioritize first.

As followers of Christ, we're called and empowered to be spiritually healthy. So what does that look like, and how can we obtain the spiritual health and spiritual vibrancy many of us are craving?

Don't give in to any attempt to tear down what Christ is building

Don't give in to any attempt to tear down what Christ is building

Jesus made it clear in His word that at present, He is building His church and the devil will not succeed in destroying what Christ is building. Christ is building us up as individuals, as a family, and as an eternal kingdom. But even though Christ will ultimately be victorious in His efforts, there are still those who seek to tear down what He is establishing. He also warned us about these attempts ahead of time so we can be on our guard against them.

So how can we avoid giving in to any attempt to tear down what Christ is building up?

Do big things, but don't do them alone

Do big things, but don't do them alone

Paul spent his life on this earth attempting big things. He experienced great successes and painful failures, but I admire what he did, and I'm motivated by the example he gives us of the blessings of submitting our lives over to the Lord, and learning to listen to the Lord's voice when He speaks.

And I'm grateful that when Paul did the big things the Lord called him to do, that he was intentional about bringing other people along with him. He wasn't trying to bring the gospel to the world by himself. He partnered with men and women who became His family in Christ. They served together, and we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifices. We know Jesus, in part, because people like this partnered together to make Him known to us, and their example has been emulated by millions of people throughout the centuries.

When and how should you speak boldly?

When and how should you speak boldly?

When I was a brand new lead pastor, fresh out of college, I was invited by another pastor to come and speak to a group of teens. I had been serving as a youth pastor for several years, and was involved in camping ministries, so speaking to teens wasn't something new for me, but I didn't do a very good job when I spoke to this particular group that day.

My approach was all wrong. I was under the mistaken impression that in my new pastoral role, I needed to be more serious and somber. And what I ended up doing was communicating the life-changing word of God in the most dull and lifeless way possible. Those teens probably felt like they were at a lecture. I could see in their faces that they were bored to tears.

And whether you're a teacher, a speaker, a preacher, or something else, there's a time for all of us when it's appropriate to speak with boldness, particularly in regard to the gospel of Christ. But when will that be, and how should we go about it?

What is the key to living in harmony?

What is the key to living in harmony?

As much as you may like other people, one of the most difficult aspects of life is getting along with the people the Lord brings into your life. If you serve in a people-centered vocation, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. One of my friend's daughters was recently telling us about her new job as a server in a local restaurant. It's been an eye opening experience for her to attempt to meet the different wants and preferences of her customers while keeping a pleasant smile on her face.

Likewise, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there might be a few people in your life that you've decided not to interact with frequently because you're trying to "keep the peace." Living in harmony with others, even our brothers and sisters in Christ, can be a challenging task that, in the end, requires us to depend on the strength of the Lord to empower.

Pursuing peace in a divisive world

Pursuing peace in a divisive world

Every day of our lives, we're given multiple opportunities to demonstrate Christ-like love toward others. Every day we are given opportunities to build others up in their faith. So, what are we doing with these opportunities? Are people being built up through interacting with us, or are they being destroyed? Are their spirits being uplifted or are they being crushed?

A mature Christian is an others-centered Christian. This world can be divisive, but we have been given the privilege to promote a spirit of peace within our Christian family as we prioritize each others' lives, needs, and growth. Take a look at what we're shown in Romans 14:13-23 where we're taught to prioritize peace in the midst of a divisive world.

Loved or Judged? How do you make others feel?

Loved or Judged?  How do you make others feel?

How do you suppose others experience you? Do they feel better or worse after talking with you or working with you? How do your conversations and demeanor come across to your church family? What kind of impression do you suppose you're making on those you know who aren't followers of Christ?

One of the biggest hangups many people in this world have toward Christians relates to the fear of being judged or condemned by them. And even among believers, there are plenty who no longer attend or participate in the life of their local church because of a fear of being unkindly judged. Is this an issue you've ever wrestled with? Loved or judged? How do we make others feel? What counsel does Romans 14:1-12 give us about this subject?

Is it time to restructure your life's priorities?

Is it time to restructure your life's priorities?

Have you ever come to a breaking point in your life when you realized that it was time to make some changes, but you weren't completely certain what changes you needed to make? I remember a particular season like that in my life that took place when my children were all very little. I was involved in so many things at once, and had taken on more ministry responsibilities than I should have. On top of that, I was working three jobs, and had started neglecting things like my health, my personal finances, and good stewardship of my available time.

Finally, I came to a breaking point…

Can you lead if you haven't learned to follow?

Can you lead if you haven't learned to follow?

In life, I think many of us like to "call the shots." Many of us like to be the one making the decisions, and that preference shows up at a very early age. I'll never forget a debate I had some time ago with one of my teenage children who was bristling against a decision I made. My response was, "When the day comes and you're a middle-aged adult, I'll feel really bad for you if you let a 15-year-old run your house." I also said, "I realize you'd like to be the one calling the shots, but before that day comes, you need to learn an important lesson. You can't be an effective leader until you've first learned to follow."

The resurrection matters. Here's 5 reasons why...

The resurrection matters.  Here's 5 reasons why...

The resurrection of Christ matters in more ways than we may realize.

If Jesus didn't rise from death, there would be no reason for us to gather together for worship. If Jesus didn't rise from death, there would be no point in worshipping Him or referring to ourselves as His followers. But thankfully, Christ did rise from death, proving His divinity, and giving us a foretaste of what He has in store for all who trust in Him.

The resurrection of Jesus is paramount in its significance for us, and I'd like to take the next few moments to share five of the many reasons why that's so.

Jesus can forgive you, even if you struggle to forgive yourself

Jesus can forgive you, even if you struggle to forgive yourself

Jesus can forgive you, even if you struggle to forgive yourself.

The ways in which Jesus was treated, not only in His crucifixion, but also in the actions that led up to that event, are despicable, yet amazingly, forgivable. There was nothing that happened to Jesus that surprised Him. He knew these things were going to take place, and for the sake of the good He knew would come out of His suffering and death, He willingly endured this disrespect and torment, even for the good of those who directly participated in it.