Dangerous Personality

There are so many celebrities in our culture. I have never been good at keeping them all straight. As a person who legitimately struggles with names, I have kind of lived under the assumption that they don’t keep track of my life, so I don’t have any need to keep track of theirs. So, don’t come talk to me about celebrity gossip, expecting me to know who is into who, who got married/divorced/had a baby. I simply will not know. If you’re into that stuff, then I will do my best to engage with you but I wanted to warn you ahead of time.
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I also operate under the policy (and living in California, I think this is probably best) that if I see them in public, I ‘m just going to leave them alone. If they’re eating dinner with their friends/family/crew/whatever, I was not invited to that meal. I will happily give them their space.

There have been so many stories of people who take things to the opposite extreme. They stalk celebrities, hang on their every word, know everything about their lives and some even begin doing dangerous/illegal stuff to try to get their attention. They develop an unhealthy obsession with that person. They go beyond fandom and into idolatry, aggressively defending that person, and caring far too much for someone that doesn’t even know they exist.

I also grew up in the ear of the televangelist. These people almost did everything possible to make my generation cynical in regards to fame & ministry. The Robertsons & Swaggarts of the world built up such a cult of personality around themselves that their inevitable human failings made their falling from public grace all the more devastating. We cannot invest ourselves, devoting the whole of our lives, to a single human person like this. People are broken. Celebrities and preachers will let us down. No one is perfect.

Paul recognizes this danger in the church of Corinth. This church had encounters with several powerful leaders within the early church and people were beginning to take sides:

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
1 Corinthians 1

When we follow Jesus, we cannot spend our time espousing the benefits of any human individual. We simply need to focus our efforts on Him. It’s not about Paul, Peter or Apollos. It’s not about Joel, Steven, Judah, Kyle or Francis. It’s all about Jesus, 24/7/365. All of the rest of us are simply His servants, brothers born of His blood, recipients of grace, standard bearers for His kingdom. We don’t need to waste our short time on this earth and in this life to build up a little kingdom of our own. We all belong to Jesus. His Lordship does not get sub-divided, His sovereignty cannot be shared.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Luke 17

Jesus is our concern. He is our solitary celebrity. If we want to devote ourselves to knowing all the details about someone’s life, then may it be His.

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Relentless Faithfulness

We worry too much, don’t we? Every day has a million components, thousands of moving pieces and so many things that could go wrong, fall short or come up empty. And so we worry. We lack a feeling of control, a perception of peace, and so we worry. We worry about finances, about things at home and different things at work. We worry about our kids, our family members and about things in the national news. We worry about people and situations that we have absolutely no say over, or influence around, and so we become accustomed to worry. It becomes a pattern for life. It becomes acceptable, and we weave it into our worldview and understanding.

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But that’s not God desire for us.

That’s not what He has in store for His children. And so if we follow Christ, if we claim to be in Him and simultaneously experience these weighty worries that distract us from His plans for us, then we have to ask if the promises of God in Jesus are really that effective. Does He care? Why do I feel this way? Why don’t I feel happy more often? Why do I feel so insecure? Where is God?

And these are natural questions that we struggle with as we learn to transition from walking outside of Christ into the new life we have been gifted in Him. There’s an incongruity between what we say we believe and what we actually do in practice. And so we add guilt for worrying to our worry. Again, we make this our life.

But Paul reminds us of something different, something that God intends for us as he begins his first letter to the church in Corinth. He was getting ready to hit them with some tough love, because they had been doing things in their own way, rather than in God’s, but because of the love & grace & mercy of God, he wanted to remind them of what they needed to hear. They needed to be reminded of God’s love, His plan and His provision. Rather than worrying about trying to balance their new walk with Christ with their old life, He begins to set the stage for them and reminds them that God’s gift for them is sufficient. It is better than what they might manufacture.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Paul reminds them that God’s covering over them in Christ is sufficient for everything. He reminds Tham that this was something confirmed in them, they’ve already borne witness to Him, and that God has a good, guilt-free life laid out for them in preparation of out final realization of His love when Jesus returns. There is so much goodness that there is no need to be wrapped up in what used to be, in old identities, old cultures and in old pathways. God has so much more for us, something so much better.

So why worry? Why waste your time in those old ways, those dead ways? We don’t hang out in cemeteries looking for lively conversation. Why would we expect to get anything worth anything from our old, dead selves?

His faithfulness is relentless. Trust Him with your today, and then trust Him with your tomorrow & watch Him reveal Christ at work in you through His Holy Spirit.

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.

Saturday Something – Episode 10 – Know-It-All

It’s always good to be situationally aware as we speak into the hurts and pains of this life. We have been tasked with bringing comfort and the wisdom that God provides, but remember, you and I don’t personally have the corner on being every answer for every person. That honor belongs to Jesus…we just point them to Him.

Day Three – The Daily Lapse into Sin

Come along on the journey as Ben reads from Johann Gerhard’s “Meditations on Divine Mercy.” This is Day Three, “The Daily Lapse into Sin.” In today’s devotion, Johann reminds us how daily struggles result in our daily need for God’s great mercy. All scripture read comes from the ESV.

Let’s turn our hearts toward God together:

We won’t tell you anything.

I like to know what’s coming. So this whole season of life had been difficult. I had spent years asking for feedback from church leaders, and received little to none. We had been in prayer for 5 months over where God wanted us to go, being very open with Him that we were cool with pulling up stakes and going on an adventure, and we hadn’t received clear direction until the opening of the North Carolina direction, and the breadcrumb trail that lead us to the Church Planters Assessment Center (CPAC) beyond that, we had nothing. We were being made to wait, to look, to listen, and we didn’t know what we were doing, where we were going or if and when something was going to open up. But God had led us to the CPAC, so we paid everything out of pocket, made arrangements to have the kids taken care of, and we did whatever needed to be done to get to CPAC.

IMG_1084Since we had no idea what was going on, just a date and time to be in Raleigh, I was starting to get antsy. I like to plan and prepare. I am hard-wired for preparation, I enjoy the work that goes into preparing and I tend to geek out a little when I get to just run with this kind of stuff. But the answers I kept getting were very nebulous. “What do I need to bring” would get “Don’t worry about it.” as a reply. “Should I prepare anything, gather some books or resources to have on hand?” received “You’ll get what you need as you need it.” as a reply.

Folks, this stuff kills me. I thrive on open communication. I live for feedback. I work best when there’s defined purpose, and when that purpose is unclear, my mind goes 1,000,000mph trying to work out all the scenarios. “Don’t worry about it” and “It will come as it comes.” are not acceptable answers in my book. But get this, my consistently highest spiritual gift is faith. I am endlessly trusting. I am a conundrum in this regard. I acknowledge that wholeheartedly. I trust God, but I still ask questions. I can trust people, but I like to know basic direction, motivations and direction. When I hear nothing, I begin to worry. I start playing out worst-case scenarios, and I have to wrestle within myself to regain lost ground. I have faith in God. But because of then-recent, deep-seated hurts I was in a very tough place to find trust in people. And if I’m being honest, I’m still struggling with it.

When we arrived at our hotel, checked in and made our way over to the church, I asked for a schedule for the week. When did we need to be where, that sort of thing. I was promptly told there wasn’t one, and that we would receive direction as it was needed. (Deep breath.) Okay, so we just roll with things as they come. That was our instruction. We were here, we were ready to do something. We just had no idea what CPAC was even going to be, we had literally ZERO expectations, no understanding of what would happen, and every session would have us trying to play catch up and learning wheel we fly by the seat of our pants.

People would later tell us how CPAC was the worst 4 days of their life. They hated it. It stressed them out. People were moved to tears. They made it sound like insanity.

I. ABSOLUTELY. LOVED. IT.

I know, right? Read that again. It sounds crazy. Everything was pointing toward a crazy time of not knowing what was coming at any given moment. It was mystery shrouded in vagaries, and coated in obfuscation, and I loved every minute of it. Apparently I’m a little strange. People who have gone through it tell me as much with their eyes, if not with their words. It’s intentionally difficult, and I love a challenge.

And, I’m not going to tell you anything about it either. I’m not going to let you cheat. But hear this: it breaks some people, and others it energizes. There was a couple at ours that didn’t fare well. The husband was called out, with all love and direct conviction that punch in the face might deliver, in front of everyone else. He was carrying something that was dangerously unhealthy, and it was manifesting itself in the middle of a group project…and he belittled his wife to deflect the blow. He was called to the carpet right then and there, and I admire the assessor who did it, too. He was spot on, he was right, and it was good to hear someone with that skill set and credibility simply and clearly say “No. This stops here. It is not acceptable.”

Again, I loved it. I highly recommend it.

We don’t have to know everything. There are some details in life that we need to have, things we need to nail down. There are others where faith has to take the lead, and where trust needs to come with the experience, not be earned after the fact. That’s a hard line to walk, I admit it. But coming through that experience, I was glad we did it. It was there at CPAC, that I was reinvigorated for ministry. It was in CPAC that the God-given skill sets gifted to us through the Holy Spirit were confirmed and we were told not to compromise ever, ever again. It was life-giving in every way imaginable and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was in a place where I was, for the first time in my life, doubting my call to ministry, and CPAC cleared away every lie and doubt the enemy had worked so hard to sow in my life. Beth had a great experience, too, but that’s for her to share in her time and in her way.

Sometimes the hardest things are the best things. Sometimes they are just the worst. But this time, we struck gold, and it was wonderful. There’s so much more to it, but suffice it to say, I’d heartily recommend it to anyone in ministry. It’s a great litmus test for your heart and calling, and God’s fingerprints were all over it.

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If you’re interested in church planting, or in going through an assessment, I’m happy to answer (some of) your questions without ruining the experience. I’d also suggest reaching out to Stadia, the church planting organization that conducted ours.

 

Saturday Something – Ep. 5 – Brag on God!

So, you’ve been excited about things that God is doing in your life, your family, your ministry, but you don’t know how to share it with people without sounding like you’re just bragging on yourself? If you’re thinking that way, it’s highly likely you already have God’s glory in mind.

Just let it out! Brag on God!