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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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.

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.

 

So Many Options, So Much Time

When Beth and I knew that we wouldn’t be sticking around at our previous ministry, needless to say we began seeking out whatever God had laid out next. Even in the midst of the beginning of the transition, I was still hoping down deep inside that there would be a miraculous change, and that we would be able to see something amazing happen. It probably wasn’t fair to myself or my family to let hope linger, but I will always trust in what God can do beyond whatever I might see. But all the signs said it was time to move on, and so we began looking at what those new opportunities & options might be and where God might lead us.

IMG_1133.PNGWhen you pray and ask for an adventure, then there are a multitude of options that can open up in front of you. We were looking at Oregon, Washington, Texas, the Atlantic coastline, and we even had someone talking to us about going to work & serve at a refugee camp in Sicily. There were so many options that there were too many options. It became daunting.

As we looked, we considered, and as we considered, we dreamed, and when you start dreaming dreams in different directions, you’re going to wind up feeling very, very torn. You’re going to feel directionless. And that’s a tough place to be.

We spent many nights having discussions about the pros and cons of this area over that. We researched churches with open positions. We debated the merits of large congregations and small congregations, and knowing how to negotiate the purpose of each in their environments. We talked about the areas we simply didn’t want to go to, and where there might be the greatest need within the kingdom. There were so many options, and our wait within those options seemed to be a very long one.

Granted, we were still wrapping up our final season in that ministry, and we are always subject to the timing and will of God. We wanted to leave quickly, but God had intention for keeping us around just a little longer. Waiting isn’t often fun or pleasurable, but God always has something in store for us in it.

During one of my many meetings with other local ministers, I was talking about this time of transition, and our waiting within it. And I told him that I knew that God was doing some refining of me and my heart through this whole process, and that I didn’t want to miss out on it. I didn’t want to lose something that God might raise up within me. Again, it didn’t make the waiting easy, but knowing that there was growth to look for within it brought some measure of comfort.

In a previous post, I talked about the breadcrumb trail that God would lead us to, that helped to define this waiting for us, but it was still a struggle to deal with this amount of time and with this degree of feeling directionless.

In these seasons of transition, we must come back to trusting in God. There is a temptation to begin to doubt ourselves, to doubt our call to ministry, there are ample opportunities to listen to voices of discouragement, and to let the whispers of the enemy creep in. This is what he’s prone to do. Where we see options, he speaks into difficulty. Where there are decisions, he sows doubt. Where we are presented with the goodness and mercy of God, the enemy present us with insults that detract from where He is calling us and what He is doing in those moments.

You see, there is a deep degree of trust and faith that comes with a life in ministry. There are people who do not understand it, who disregard it, and who will act as agents of misery in that time. The enemy likes to sow division, to breed hurt and to create wounds as we wait, and there are people who claim Christ who gladly add to that burden. As tough as it might be, we still pray for them, over them, and we continue to do our best to point them toward Jesus in all of our actions, words and example.

Waiting is hard, searching can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that we have reason to live in a way that dishonors Christ in the process. As we look in the Bible, we find ourselves in excellent company when we consider those who wait. We see Moses, Joshua,   David, Ezekiel and other prophets who had to wait to see God’s next steps come about. There may have been choices to make, but there was waiting within those choices. This happens with Jesus, Paul, John and others in the New Testament, too. So don’t despair in your waiting. Don’t think that you are alone, or listen to the lies that God has abandoned you, or that He is somehow being cruel. God has purpose in our waiting, there are considerations to weigh, and lessons to learn in the choices laid out before us. Seek Him in them & trust in His timing.

 

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!

Oh, and VBS starts in six weeks.

So, to follow up from the previous post, I found myself at 18 years old and coming on staff at very small church in northeast Tennessee, having grown up in a thriving megachurch about 5 hours away in a larger, mid-sized city. It was a big change in environment, culture and attitude. Again, one wasn’t better than the other…it was simply different.

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Coming from the mega church where visitors were expected, there were VHS cassettes wrapped in the latest copy of the church paper and a variety of ministry brochures and other pieces of information that might help a visitor learn more about the church. If you were visiting, there was a point in the service where ushers would walk from the front to the back carrying several of these packets, hand them to those who felt brave enough to raise their hands and that was the end of the immediate contact for visitors. Pretty quick and painless, and it left the impetus for follow up on the hands of the visitor.

Walking into the small church, visitors were given a little embroidered rose stickers to wear on your shirt or jacket. The greeters at the front door always had a few on hand, and as if being a new face in a room of 95 people wasn’t evidence enough, the rose solidified the fact that you were new there. At a point, later in the service, people in the church were asked from the front to identify any guests they brought, by standing and introducing them and everyone would say ‘hello.’

Both gatherings had bulletins, choirs (the small church choir wore robes) and offered Wednesday night meals. Both had Sunday school, youth group and children’s ministries. Both practiced weekly communion, believer’s baptism, and made the sermon the central point of the service, hoping to bring encouragement for following Jesus to everyone in attendance. Both ended with an invitation, and a song. But the small church sang the same closing song every week. “The Family of God.”


It was different and still rang of elements from home. But the people were nice, they few us poor college students, and the old people didn’t treat us like we had our heads on backwards. They were used to college students coming through, and they welcomed us quickly.

My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I started attending a Sunday school class with a guy named John who was the Youth Minister there, and we got locked in with the community. We were hooked.

There was this little room just off the fellowship hall that we called the ‘Holy of Holies’ it was run by the Women’s ministry, had deep, shag carpet (with a rake) and was decorated in dusty rose and lace doilies. We were warned not to eat in there on Wednesday nights. We thought it was funny.

The minster had been on staff for over 25 years, and the people had a very open relationship with him. Everyone liked him, it seemed, He always wore a suit on Sunday mornings, slacks and button up on Wednesday nights, had his dark hair slicked back and wore these thick rimmed glasses that looked like he had kept that style since the 50’s.

We went home for Christmas, and came back in January. We went with John and the Youth Group to Gatlinburg for the TCTC where my wife and I got fake engaged & fake married in front of the “Chapel in the Valley” so we could send our parents pictures and freak them out a little bit.

Shortly after that, the church started getting ready for Easter, and all of a sudden John was gone. We found out that he was moving back to Florida to work with the youth in his home church. And so, a few weeks later, the elders got together and asked me if I would want to serve as the interim minister over the summer, for the next three months or so while they looked for a full time youth minister. That meant not going home, staying in the house of one of the elders as their guest, and taking care of the weekly and summer programming.

Since I was in school for ministry, it sounded like a great idea & good experience. I said yes, and was excited about moving into my first office. I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t have a prayer of filling office space. “Oh,” and they told me, “VBS starts in six weeks. I don’t think anything has been planned yet.”

Oh…

To be continued.

I was 18 years old. I knew nothing.

Back in the summer and early fall of 1996 there was a lot going on. I had just made the move to Northeast Tennessee, going to college in the mountains, taking my first steps of what felt like independence and responsibility (being 18 will make it easy to see more in some ways and less in many others.) Kurt Russel had just escaped from L.A., the Macarena was the hot new dance on MTV2 (a brand new channel) and ER was the top watched show on television with Seinfeld, Suddenly Susan and Friends just steps behind.

Brooding, angsty teens in plaid flannel and ripped jeans were everywhere.

IMG_7BF627CEF19D-1Moving into college was fun. I enjoyed it. I was the kid who was always looking forward to being another year older, reaching that next milestone. At 13? I have arrived. I am finally a legitimate human being. At 16? I am a legitimate human being who can drive. At 18, I have graduated high school. I am an adult. I am moving out into the world on my own…with my few close friends, social tendencies to play it safe and regular check-in’s with my parents. I was also going to begin my degree in ministry, Youth Ministry, and that first day on campus I would meet the equally mature and responsible and mature 18 year old woman who would become my wife in a few short years.

Moving to a new town meant leaving behind not just my parents and friends, but also my church family. I grew up in a pretty remarkable church. My dad grew up in that church and my grandpa and grandma had been around at the beginning to see it begin. Ever since the doors had opened, this church had been growing. And I don’t mean by one or two people, like many churches, my home church was growing, growing. By the time I was in elementary school it had already outgrown every inch of its original campus, which is a good sized property, multiple buildings, a gym…you name it. There was off site parking, people coming in by bus, multiple services every weekend. It was hopping.

We moved just down the street to a huge, sprawling campus, bigger buildings and way more parking. It was more, a lot more. and by the time I was graduating high school, that campus was over full, and there was no more room to expand…so they broke ground over on the east side of town, in an undeveloped area next to a small cattle farm. And I grew up in that environment. Excitement, growth, programs, movement, building, campaigns, expansion, excellence…and then I moved in to the foothills of Appalachia, and began my search for the place that would be my new church home for the coming years.

So, at 18 and coming from a megachurch environment, I set my eyes toward the biggest church in town. You can see it from the highway, it’s a featured building, and it’s shaped like a big, white Hersey’s Kiss. You can’t miss it. So, we went to check it out. I think it was the default first church visit for many students at my school, and it probably still is. Apart from the church on campus where you can roll out of bed and just amble your way on down on a Sunday morning, it’s a pretty good draw.

So we went, we attended for a few weeks, maybe two months, and then we moved on wanting to make sure we gave a fair glimpse at some of the 777 churches within 45 minutes of our school. Yes. we were told there were hundreds and hundreds of churches where we could settle in and find our place to serve. The big church seems like it had its ducks in a row, and we did want to go somewhere we could get involved, so we kept looking around. One week here, two weeks there, and we eventually come to a little church about 10 minutes from campus that was in the smaller city on the east side of campus. There was something different about this group. This whole church body was smaller than a single Sunday morning class at my home church, let alone the thousands and thousands of people who gathered for worship each weekend.

But my curiosity was piqued.

So we locked in. About 5 of us decided to make this tiny little church ‘our’ spot each Sunday morning. It was quaint. They sang from hymnals, wore choir robes and had pot-luck meals on a very regular schedule. The people, mostly old, were incredibly friendly, and it was pretty obvious that the minister was sticking to Scripture each week, so doctrinal concerns didn’t exist.

We started attending a class on Sunday mornings, went on Wednesday nights for the spaghetti dinners. It was nice, no pressure, no hustle, just people who loved Jesus loving each other, maybe they were still hanging out in the 1960’s. There was a time warp happening, and I loved it.

Growing up in a church that was growing into a megachurch meant that I didn’t experience a lot of what most people experience in their church communities. Add into that the fact that my family was in leadership, and I was pretty consistently abreast of change, aware of new stuff around the corner. Walking into a church family where change was not the word of the day, and where it was more about maintaining a weekly pace, about having a cohesive community, was a huge difference. And one was not better than the other. It was just different.

In my next post, I’ll lay out how some of the differences came across, and what I learned at 18 that was helpful, and what I learned to look out for…because later that Spring I began my journey on staff at a church. I was 18 and I had no clue what I was doing.