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.

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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.

 

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.

 

Saturday Something – Episode 3

So, you’re probably too busy for this right? Even though it’s only 2 minutes long.
Do you know who’s responsible for that pace of life?

That’s right! It’s time for Saturday Something, Episode 3!


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Saturday Something – Ep 2: Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is nice when it’s for us.
Forgiveness is hard when we have to give it.

 

Integrity Defines Us

“The righteous who walks in his integrity –
blessed are his children after him!”
Proverbs 20:7

I was reading through the account of Jacob’s encounter and decades spent working for his uncle Laban. These two men seemingly deserved each other. Jacob had stolen his brother’s inheritance and his blessing from their father, Isaac. This was essentially an irrevocable identity theft. The family name and fortune now belonged solely to him, and there was no way to break that spoken contract.

In today’s culture, much of what causes the struggle between Jacob and Esau would be ‘solved’ by simply stating ‘Well, I didn’t mean it like that.” or “I didn’t say that.” or there would be a claim made about fake news & false reporting. Even when the situation was disastrous for them, they maintained their integrity when it came to their spoken word and commitments.

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Esau is devastated when he finds out Jacob has tricked their blind, aged father out of his blessing. But one Isaac had spoken the words, there was no way to withdraw them. Once Esau had committed his portion of the inheritance to his brother for a bowl of soup, the deal was done and the words had sealed it. What you say matters. Your word is your bond.

Today, though, words are treated like they are cheap. You can say something and act like it was never said. You can write something, or be recorded saying it and claim you never said or did that thing. And this is absolutely insane! There is no call for integrity unless someone vulnerable or oppressed has been harmed. When children are abused and mistreated, we speak up and expect hard lines. But when two adults interact with each other, like Jacob and Laban did, then we allow for all sorts of gray space that is open for interpretation. And you can’t have it both ways.

Jacob finds this out when Laban pulls the old switcheroo on him on his wedding night, subbing in his older daughter Leah. Both of them are harmed in this interaction, Leah is now committed to a man that she does not love and who does not love her, and Jacob has been cheated out of the relationship he had worked so hard to provide. This was a seven year build up & Laban swapped his daughters like they were a pair of socks. He had no personal integrity. And now Jacob gets to see what it’s like to be mistreated.

It’s a bad situation all the way around. Now Leah and Rachel will spend the next decades fighting over the affections and attention of one man who really isn’t all that different from dear old dad. At least we are given an insight into Leah’s plight and her building relationship and dependence on God. There is some good that comes from her pain…a pain that shouldn’t have occurred if integrity was a priority.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us very plainly to let our ‘Yes’ be a yes and our ‘No’ really be a no (Matthew 5:37.) Anything else, He says, filters down from evil and the evil one. What we say matters. Sticking with our commitment matters. How we treat our fellow human beings matters. And when our integrity is all that we have left, it is still worth fighting for…every single time.

When Integrity is compromised everyone gets hurt. When it is fought for, human dignity, our own reputations, and our walk with Jesus will win the day.