It’s just not relative.

What time to be alive. Things change so fast, culture can swing around a hinge point and into something new so fast now. The institutions that people used to count on aren’t guaranteed to exist next year and legacies come crumbling down because of sins long buried. So many things seem fragile, and still people want to subdivide and claim truths and rights apart from those others might claim, railing against traditional values and long-held beliefs. The phrase ‘That’s your truth” has become passé from overuse, but its still a drumbeat that so many move to every single day.

IMG_3E9144B79363-1.jpegI saw an article yesterday that said the CEO of Twitter had to apologize for eating at ChickFilA during Pride month. If a chicken sandwich company can get you outed for offending people, then just about anything is possible. We walk on pins and needles, so many of us unsure about what we can or cannot say. SNL did a skit earlier in the year that hit this nail on the head.

(Warning, this is SNL, there are sensitive topics discussed here with some language, and I don’t endorse the show itself.)

As Christians we just have to understand and accept that what we have to say about Jesus, morality, sexual conduct, lifestyle choices, parenting, fiscal policy and pretty much anything else you can think of, will be at odds with the opinions of people who walk according to other, worldly standards. We will offend people. We shouldn’t seek to be offensive in our presentation, being tactful and sensitive is always good. Building relationships with people so we can have difficult conversations with them is also very important. We have to earn a degree of personal credibility with them. But we cannot apologize or be fearful because of the hope that we have in Jesus.

Listen to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. They were very much a divided culture, and Christians stood apart (or were supposed to, at least) from what society endorsed and expected.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1

Paul goes on to say that our pride must be sourced in God, and not in ourselves anyway. We trust in God for our worth, purpose, identity and voice. We reject the things of this world, and we stick with Jesus. Human beings and our institutions cannot ever serve as a replacement for what we should receive and expect from God. They will never be our voice. They will never represent us. We belong to Christ and His Church. We are children of God, residents of another kingdom. We do not share a common values system, ethical foundation or set of expectations with this world.

Even if we need to be reminded of it every day, and often we do, it is still gloriously true. We find our peace with Him. Truth is not and cannot be relative. If it could be, it would no longer be truth. We must learn to have bold, definitive conversations with people, but take them from the love of God for His wayward children. God’s truth never changes, and because we can be steady in Him, we can be steady in anything. Let’s show that peace, steadiness and faithfulness to the morally ambiguous, shifting and unsteady world around us. May His love compel us to do so.

Speaking From Authority

We all want to be a little authoritative don’t we? We like when we say something and it sticks, when people pay attention or when our particular expertise is recognized, taken into account and decisions are made from whatever we have to say. It’s an ego thing, right? We all like to feel good about ourselves and to know that we are ‘right’ in any particular situation.

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When you start a new job or position, and you suddenly find yourself in charge of people who used to be your peers, it can feel a little odd to become that voice of authority. You might feel like they’re looking at you and thinking “Who does they think they are now? One day they’re joking around in the break room with us, and today they’re giving us orders and polishing their new name tag.” There can be that dose of intimidation that comes from people that you’re now supposed to lead. This can lead to frustration on both sides and even conflict.

This is human nature, right? We see it over and over again throughout human history. We see it in our workplaces. We see it at home. Oddly enough, we see it in our church families, too. There are occasions where people get ‘too big for their britches’ and the swagger kicks in with an attitude to match. That’s not cool, and everybody knows it. Even if you’ve worked hard and earned the position fairly, people still expect you to be…well…you. They may fight against the ‘authoritative you.’

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul begins his letter (a letter of correction, mind you) to the church that gathers there. They know him well. He helped plant the church, trained the leaders, discipled the first gatherings and then left them to go and do it again elsewhere. But now he’s having to come back with his ‘dad’ hat on, to speak in a very fatherly/authoritative way. He has always held this position with them, but even then, we can come to resent those in authority over us if our attitudes are wrong.

In the first three verses, we see this coming through pretty strong, but laced with love and concern from the onset: (emphasis mine)

Paul, called / by the will of God / tobe an apostleof Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,/ called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace / from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you see & hear these different references to authority? Paul points out calling, Lordship, Whose they are and that there are things that flow from God to them as gifts, not as privilege or from demand. They are owned more than they might claim ownership or to be in the lead position. Paul wants to establish the hierarchy here, not to promote himself above what was right, but to speak into the role that God had called him to in Christ. More importantly, he wants them to recognize and remember the authority & supremacy of God.

When we speak truth in love to our friends, family, coworkers and neighbors, we need to follow Paul’s lead. In our world today, we are likely overly cautious, almost fearful of speaking from a perceived point of authority. That is part of our culture today, everyone has their truth that they own, and voices of external authority can be perceived as oppressive or even cruel. This relativistic mindset makes us hesitant to speak with the authority that Jesus has given to us (Matthew 28:18-20) in the Great Commission and that we see Paul moving in here in 1 Corinthians 1.

Speaking from authority is a gift. It is a point of peace for us. It’s not meant to stroke our ego or to inflate a false self-importance. It is meant to give us confidence to bring people into an understanding of the things of God and His true authority over us and in every aspect of our lives.

The danger here, with speaking in relativistic terms, is that we wind up creating God as a god in our own image. And that’s what Paul is going to have to talk about with the church in Corinth. We need authority, as Christians, we should be open about the benefits of authority. And when rightly used, authority is meant to benefit those it is held over. It is not a tool for manipulation or pressure, but for freedom and life. Paul is getting ready to walk through a letter, in love, that is meant to point the church in this crazy city back toward freedom and away from the oppression of sin & human vice. He means to reissue what he originally laid out for them in the Gospel.

So, when we speak from our God-given authority in Christ, we need to keep that same mindset. We speak from love, we speak from concern and we do not speak to lift ourselves up. The only one lifted up is God Himself, this was the way & attitude of Jesus, too. So may it be with us.

Making the Decision

ElizaBeth and I were driving around in the Highlands area of Louisville. We had been looking at apartment locations, trying to figure out just how temporarily someone might house us while we were attempting to make the jump from Louisville to wherever God was leading us. We had been offered a very kind rate by a family friend for a space in the Lyndon neighborhood for 3-6 months. There was a standing offer from my parents, but we were trying to avoid that option if possible because we knew that two households being on top of each other, even for a brief amount of time, would be difficult.

I wanted my parents to still like us when we left town 😉.

IMG_1479.JPGThere were no strained relationships or anything like that, we just knew it would be tight and open ended timelines can be difficult to deal with when you’re already wedged in someone else’s personal space. This was already a big life shift on the horizon, and we didn’t want to make that any more difficult on them or ourselves than absolutely necessary.

So, like I said, we were walking through the Highlands neighborhood, and we rounded the corner by the tattoo shop where she had her nose pierced and where I received my first (and as of this writing only) tattoo, my family crest. My tattoo is located on my left shoulder, my ‘shield arm,’ and is a sword-wielding lion, encircled by a Celtic-style belt and has the words “Deus Juvat” (roughly, God Assists) written in the top of the loop.

So, again, we rounded that corner, and started walking down the block absentmindedly looking at the houses, both of us knowing we weren’t going to get to walk around on these streets much longer. We were talking about our experience a CPAC, what we were wanting and looking for in a community of faith, and knowing that we weren’t in a place to slide back in with a ‘legacy’ church right now. There were so many hindrances in how they functioned and we both knew that we were wired a little differently than those expectations might lead to…at least in a central Kentucky kind of way.

(Spoiler Alert: No church or faith gathering is perfect. No minister is either.)

I would rather try things, fail, learn and keep trying as we sought God’s will and were grown in the process. A few churches we’ve been a part of or encountered seem to think the Holy Spirit runs on Robert’s Rule of Order and requires 3 months of tabling topics and debate before any actions are taken. Even then, they can still be recalled at a whim or because of fear/complaints/preferences in a way that undermines the process that began. This isn’t every church, but we have seen it far too often, and we weren’t in a place personally to go in a be instantly stifled again.

The team at Stadia told us not to compromise and to make sure that we landed somewhere that would allow our gifts, both of our gifts, to be utilized in real-world ways so that we would be fulfilled in our work for God. This meant finding a place that had a looser leash, finding an organization that understood what we had been gifted to do and who trusted us to do those things without nitpicking, micromanaging or going back on what they said they wanted.

We talked about the attitudes of churches in different regions of the country. We talked about styles of worship. We talked about liturgy. We talked about church sizes, cities, states and degrees of need. We talked about our prayer for an adventure, and we talked about what we had already looked at and how none of it, except for a very short list of options, would fit that bill. We talked about family timelines, where the kids would go to school, how we didn’t want to move them mid-year, and how much we were concerned with moving just once while they still had school to finish.

There was a lot to talk about. We had two options, two irons in the fire. One was wide open, the other that started off promisingly had gone totally silent. One was nearer one was very far. We had seen so many options roll by. I had interviewed churches as they interviewed me. I was going to be picky. I was doing my research. I was digging in deep and asking tough questions. I wasn’t going to settle.

But on that street in the Highlands, we made our decision. It seemed like the only sure thing, the space were we could do what had been pressed upon us to do, and where we could really have an adventure and try something new.

On that sidewalk in the Highlands we decided that it was time to sell everything and move to California. It sounds cliché, but it’s what we were going to do. The need here is real. Very real. And I’ve always been drawn to fringe groups and people that others won’t go near. California had been the butt of jokes for a long time, mostly ridiculed and ignored by the ‘good’ side of the country and the stats were alarming. There are areas of California that almost qualify as unreached people groups.

The day we made our call to move out, the other option called. They had been sick, gone on vacation and there were some very reasonable delays. They wanted me to be a campus pastor, and work through a relocation and do some other work to reestablish one of their campuses. As they were doing their research, that campus wound up having some serious issues that they wanted to address head on from existing leadership. If I was willing to wait another six months or so (undetermined) then they would love to have us join them. That would mean a mid-year move for the kids, and it also meant there were some possibilities of walking into things we had intentionally left behind. We would have loved to have joined them in their work. I still like everyone on staff there, but the timing was wrong, and I didn’t want to go in gun-shy. We had a lot of trust issues to heal and rebuild from, and starting something totally new meant we wouldn’t be walking into this type of situation at all.

So, California, here we come.

 

Saturday Something – Ep 10 – Failure Happens

Just as an example…today was supposed to be a live stream event. It didn’t work when I went to start it up. Oh well! Life goes on.

Nothing is perfect. Just keep trying! Set yourself up to do well, and then work through it. Don’t let fear keep you from trying.

Making an Investment

You and I make investments everyday. Some people have money go straight from their paycheck into a 401k or some other retirement plan. Others choose to use their funds to invest in other works, local charities, missions or ministries. Other people choose to just invest in themselves, and their impact is limited to their own lives and practices. However you slice it, everyone is making investments, conscious decisions to give toward some effort every day. The investments we choose speak directly toward what we believe and value in this life.

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Jesus modeled this life of investing for us, and we can see how it played out on several levels. He invested in the crowds. He dedicated His daily ministry mostly to large groups of people. He would preach on hillsides, down by the sea, sitting at a house in a village somewhere, or maybe out by a well. He saw groups as valuable collections of individually valuable people. He gave whole days away to them, healing, teaching, encouraging and bringing glory to the Father with this investment.

We also See Jesus investing in a larger small group. He is often seen spending more intimate time with the 12 disciples and the faithful group of women that travelled with Him. There were debriefs that took place after these crowd-facing events. They discussed the day, looked more deeply into the lessons He taught, and probing questions were asked. He was invested in seeing them grow as leaders. He wanted them to become next-step aware, looking for what God might do next within them or what the deeper idea was for the day’s activities. Jesus poured into this group, bringing them deeper, investing in the community they built together.

Finally, we see Jesus investing in three guys, Peter, James and John. One older guy and His own cousins, a friend and some extended family. This is where His deepest investments came though. When it was time for specific prayer, a bigger concept or a next-level responsibility, this is where Jesus locked in and made the time to see growth happen.

He let them know there was an expectation that came with this investment, and that the rewards may not be what they were thinking…but the investment was going to run in both directions.

Matthew 8:18-20
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

As we make our investments in this season of life, let’s be mindful of those different opportunities that utilize our own giftings in many different ways. Find your crowd, your small group and your inner circle and show them the same attention that Jesus has given to you.

 

In Step. In Unity. In Boldness.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-25
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Paul reminds Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7) that God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power through Jesus Christ. There is boldness that should inherently come from being made pure by the blood of Christ, and by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. There is a confidence (not an arrogance) that should come from knowing whose we are and what it is that we are up against. There is  a strength of character that comes from walking with Jesus, as He works His will in us day after day after day that should exhibit that handiwork and the Master Craftsman behind it.

If Jesus grants us the confidence to enter the holy places by His blood, how much more so those places where He already holds victory over the enemy? Why should we cower in fear? Why should we worry? If we have been washed with pure water, why would we not walk in that newness of life, throwing off the faithlessness that used to bind us, but that binds us no more?

This is one of the reasons why the author of Hebrews is encouraging us to continue gathering together. This is just one reason why it is good that we look other Christians in the eye, shake their hands and give them hugs. We need to be in the presence of other people who have seen victory at work in their own lives. We need to see people whose faces have been lifted up to heaven, whose eyes have looked upon the cross and we need to stand in boldness with them as we unite in Christ, our Great High Priest, and stand in bold assurance against the schemes of the enemy.

Standing alone is wrong & dangerous. God did not design us or example to us this stand-alone mentality. Instead, we are gathered together with our people to receive this encouragement: God has the victory. He is in charge. He loves us dearly. He has paid the price. He will bring change about in us. He will see change happen in the lives of others through the work He is doing in us today. We are meant to be together, walking in the rhythms of grace together. Praise God for that.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Family Update – Steps of Faith

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Do you remember the ending of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade? Indy has a few trials that he has to make it through between arriving at the Canyon of the Crescent Moon (Petra) and reaching the room with the last of the three brothers & the resting place of the Holy Grail. The first demands a penitent heart, the second knowing & walking in the Name of God and the third was the leap of faith, a miraculously camouflaged bridge.

Well, we’ve been through some trials and now we are on the camouflaged bridge. One foot in the air, the other stepping off from the familiar floor.

It’s pretty plain to see (pun intended) that God’s path for us is rarely a straight A —> B route. He always works by circuitous methods, linking people and places we would never have looked for in order to find ourselves at the destination He has planned. We’ve been walking that path for a little while now. And while I would LOVE to say that we’ve found that place where our foot is landing on solid ground again, I am also fully aware that growth comes in those mid-air moments, the times where we are not in control.

God refines us through trials so that we will have what we need to have when we arrive where He is leading us. It is easy to say, difficult to wait through, & rewarding when it is accomplished, but usually not before. And it’s in the waiting where we find the conflict of our hearts. Because God knows better than to give us what we want when we want it, He gives us what we need as we need it. And so we grow in the waiting. God has been confirming our gifts, skills & identities in Him along the way, echoing the value He finds in us and that we were doubting just months before.

We are following each step as He lays it before us, following leads as He places them at our feet. Talking through one contact to the next, meeting one new person so that we may find the one who takes us where we need to go, God leads us ahead. And every time we take a step, He has shown us in one way or another that we are moving in the right direction. A word spoken, a verse repeated, a phone call offering support before we need it…He is faithful before our needs even arise. And this is the path of God, we must come humbly (“Only the penitent man shall pass.”) and walk according to His Name (“Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.”) While we are in this moment/season of the “…leap from the Lion’s head” we know that God will prove Himself again and again as He has been doing.

The full story so far is super long, and I may write it out one day, but I think I’ll wait until I know that we have arrived on the other side of the chasm. There are still so many options laid out before us that we are sorting through them and praying for wisdom on which path to pursue. So, it’s not a matter of having a path to walk, it’s a mater of which one He wants us to follow & pursue. It is nice to have options, but we also would like to begin to move in one direction with solid purpose.

For now, we simply ask for prayers:
1. Pray that God will be glorified in us as He works out His plan.
2. Pray that God will provide in this in-between time (funding & temporary employment.)
3. Pray that God will give us strength for each day & wisdom to see His path.
4. Pray that God will bring healing around in us after the trials. (Marriage is fine, btw.)
5. Pray that God will show us each step as we need to take them, and that He will give us the faith to take them.