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.

IMG_20E87E036E9A-1

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.

Advertisements

Planting for the Future

In Mark 4, Jesus tells a parable about a seed growing:

“And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

What is the point of the parable? Which element is most important?
That a seed is planted right?

IMG_C92C52FBE8AC-1

I would want to say that the seed grows, but it cannot grow unless it is first planted. So, the planting must, by necessity, come first. When we look at the planting, we will notice a few key actions.

Number one, the man took up the seed and went to the field.
Number two, he placed the seed in his hand and chose where to scatter it.
Number three, he went to work, trusting in what he did not understand in order to accomplish what he knew needed to be done.

This is the work of the kingdom. There are elements of what God calls us to do in Christ that are non-negotiable. We who have received the Word & Gospel must take up ownership of it and go to the field. When Jesus commands us to make disciples it isn’t a point of debate. He is our Master, and this is His will. Secondly, we must take a hold of the Gospel, personally, purposefully and then make a plan to spread it around. Third, we take action and do what we planned and were commanded to do.

We don’t have to know all the details. We don’t have to harness great skill. We simply need to be obedient to the task, trusting that God will do what He intends to do, and that He will seek His own glory in it all. This is right and good.

We cannot balk because we don’t know everything. We are not God. We never know what will grow from what we sow, and that’s okay.  It’s not for us, but for Him, and for those who will grow to Him from that effort. We simply trust and obey.

Check out this article about a man who was preparing for the future, and how his seed went to work long after he was gone. It’s a cool story.

What’s your story? Where are you in the process of scattering the Gospel seed?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Saturday Something 

Do you hear what I hear?
Probably. It’s something we choose to do.
We need to make sure we follow up with love.

One Step at a Time

Ever had someone try to offer you deeply profound advice at a time when you just needed something specific and easy to hear? “Ah, my friend, you know that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Really? Thanks. Super helpful.

IMG_B35D6B7D5C99-1

Instead of what we need, something real, something practical, our friends try to over spiritualize, over think and over do it when it comes to advice. Sometimes simple is best. When your friend is suffering, struggling with the deep and distracting travails of life it probably best not to use that time to make yourself look better or sound smarter, ya know?

But that’s what we tend to do isn’t it? We don’t know what to say to them and so we wind up talking about ourselves. It’s easier. We compare life notes, we share our own struggles, and how we dealt with them. We have the benefit of the 30,000 ft overhead view of our whole situation while they’re slogging through the worst of it. We can oversimplify, overcomplicate, talk about anything and everything else that comes to mind when maybe, just maybe, we simply need to be present with them.

I am super guilty of this myself. I’m a guy. I compartmentalize. I try to be objective, and maybe my friend just needs me to listen. Maybe if I say anything at all, it just needs to focus on the next step, or even what it will take to lift their foot to begin to think about taking that step. In the name of trying to give good advice, we often give terrible advice, because we aren’t present in the situation with our friend. Maybe what they need is someone to just take that one step with them. I know I’ve been there, too, and recently.

Thank God for good friends who can come alongside of us in our struggles, encourage us, be present for us, and not necessarily try to fix everything in that moment as if life was a sitcom with 30 minute resolutions.

Jesus walks with Peter, James and John everyday. Peter is Captain Obvious, pops off at the mouth and says some pretty brash stuff on a regular basis. But rather than take on all of Peter’s problems and foibles, Jesus loves him that day and offers direction for that moment. Sometimes we see Jesus speaking a long term solution or pathway to Peter, but more often than not, He’s present with him in that moment of brokenness. And on the beach, over those smoked fish and watching the sun come up, Jesus speaks both into Peter’s present hurt andante his future as a leader of other broken people.

Last year, I was in a pretty rough place. I was feeling raw and vulnerable. I was feeling pretty worthless, and was dealing with some deep-seated hurts. But we had some awesome Christian friends who sat with us in church, had us over to their house and never once asked anything to bring up those hurts. That wasn’t what we needed in that moment. What we needed were a few people to take the next steps of ‘normal life’ with us, and that went a long way with our healing. May God provide us all with those good relationships when we need them, and us for them when they need us. It a beautiful opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we walk in the rhythms of His grace together.

 

The Planting Journey

So, usually a farmer knows where he’s going to plant his seeds and attempt to raise a crop for harvest. That’s normal practice, right? You work that soil ahead of time, add in fertilizer, see where the land rises and falls so you can be aware of spots that may hold water, where wildlife come to graze…you know, farmer stuff. Seems like this would be a part of how you operate.

Typically ministers know where they are going serve on a given Sunday. They know their people, there’s probably a building, people leading, carrying the load with them (hopefully) and others who rally around the cross with them, all at various stages of maturity, growth and service…you know, churchy stuff. Seems like this would be a part of how you operate. IMG_8CF53472CA55-1

That’s unless God decides it’s time for you to do something different. Almost exactly one year ago, I resigned my position as Lead Minister with a legacy church in Kentucky and officially kicked off a new adventure that is still taking shape a year later. Right now, I know what city I’m supposed to serve. I have a general idea what neighborhood or area we’ll be located in (it’s not where we’re currently living) we have a pretty complete idea what our team looks like, but there are still many, many unknowns. It’s definitely a different feeling after 20 years of ‘normal’ Southern, North American ministry.

There’s that old saying, “Life’s a Journey.” And there’s also, “Life is about the journey, because that’s all you have.” Or you could say any number of motivational poster type things that speak to the importance of seeing where you are, appreciating it, and then enjoying the trip to the next spot. And so on and so on, right?

Scripture talks about planting seeds. It’s something we all can understand. The farmer plants the seeds, there’s hope that something will come from it and faith that a harvest will come one day. That’s good stuff. This is how life works. There’s a high degree of uncertainty simply because we can’t see beyond the curtain of today and take a sneak peek of tomorrow. So, we plant those seeds. Some will grow, others will never germinate, some will begin to grow and nothing will come of them. That’s life.

So, for us, we are doing a lot of prep work. We are in the business of speculation, planning for growth before we have the seeds or even know where the field sits. It’s a weird place to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Is it hard? Sure it is. I wouldn’t learn anything if it was easy. And so far, I haven’t been handed a lot of ‘easy’ stuff over the course of my ministry career. There are people involved. People who are broken like me. People who have problems, who make mistakes, people who hurt one another, who feel like they know better than everyone else, who plot and gossip and try to get their way. That’s life, right? We all deal with this. And as long as sin is present, we still will. So, I choose not to get hung up on the hard stuff, and instead I focus on what God has for me to do, and I trust that He will lead me into tomorrow when it comes.

And such is church planting. We will get to till soil with prayer. We will get to plant and water. The time is coming. But we are journeying to that day.

So far, we’ve made the big cross-country move. We’ve stepped out in faith physically. Now we are beginning our support raising journey, trusting that God is going to provide for us, so we can accomplish what He has called us to. This is His journey with us. He is the guide, not me. He is in charge, and I gladly submit to His leadership. Soon, He will begin directing us to begin new relationships, open new doors, and allow us to plant seeds in new hearts. This is more of what I am used to and expect. But no journey is constant travel. No journey is a non-stop cascade of motion. Instead, we find seasons of waiting, seasons of trust, seasons of rest.

This is a part of farming, right? This is a part of ministry, right? Yes, yes it is. Everything is a journey. What matters is Who we journey with, and Who we’re trusting along the way. There will be plenty more to share some day, but today, I wait. And I wait with faith for the harvest.

Don’t Be Satisfied with Less

Following Jesus, I find a standard for living that I cannot compromise. It doesn’t allow for compromise…and not because it’s some legalistic thing that must be completed. Whether it’s for myself or for other people, it is love that lays out the expectation. It is the love of God and for God that compels us to speak in His love to those who are walking outside of His love’s desire.

IMG_4B222DD30838-1

Think about it this way, if you will, What do you expect when you go to an amusement park? Here’s a quick list: rides, food, music, water park, games, souvenir shops, people in costume, lines, dirty bathrooms, expensive food, huge parking lots, and a very set understanding of what is allowed and not allowed within the boundaries of that park. And for the most part, we’re okay with it. I have never felt anger or hostility to the kid running the roller coasters who tells me not to stand up during the ride. Personally, I think that’s a valuable piece of advice that is going to profit my health and maintain the structural integrity of my physical body. I like that rule. I understand that rule. It’s a good rule. Someone cared enough to put that one in writing.

What about “Line jumpers will be ejected from the park.’? That one seems a little harsh to me. If I was the one writing the rules, I would just make them get out of that line and move along somewhere else within the park. But in many places, this is a pretty standard  rule. No one consulted me on this one. It’s a little strong for my liking, like, I’m not sure if the punishment fits the crime…but it’s ultimately not my call to make. So I abide by it.

sorry-folks-parks-closed

I don’t walk into the park telling people that things are going to run my way and according to my likes & dislikes, my preferences and schedule. That would not only be the height of arrogance, but it would also be a monument to stupidity. People researched and learned what will work best for a public amusement park long before I considered buying a ticket. Many hours of legal counsel were accumulated to help lay out these standards & I don’t have the expertise to contest them soundly.

I can speak preference, I can speak to what I want, but really? These rules are meant to maintain something that is enjoyable, something that is fun. And if that fun is going to be life-giving rather than life-breaking or life-ending then I’m going to wait in line and remain seated on the roller coaster. I see the value in those rules, and so I will not compromise on them. I’m not going to be satisfied with less.

But let’s take this half a step further…ultimately, what’s the objective of an amusement park? What is the M.O. of the people who run them? They want to see people laugh, scream and have fun, right? (And, yes, to make money in the process 😉) They began this work because someone, somewhere wanted to see families, friends and communities get together in a shared experience and have a good time. So, rules were set up to maintain this good, positive outcome.

But human beings are broken. There are people who live to break rules and there are people who seem to live to make broken rules. Rules based in corrupted intent can lead to suffering, even in the name of some ‘greater good’ that isn’t greater or good for anyone. And we do need to be aware of broken, human systems. Many bad things have happened under the umbrella of someone else’s “good.”

Let’s bring this back around though, when we talk about the love of God & His desire for what is really and truly best for us, these are not broken, human systems. God, in His holiness, wisdom, provision and care has laid out what is right & good, what is wise and best. If you don’t like the rules at the amusement park, don’t go. If you don’t like what God lays out? Well, that’s a very different discussion. The analogy falls apart there.

As a child, my parents kept me from harm as a child because they loved me. They didn’t look at my desire to walk out into the street and say, “Well, that’s what his heart wants.” because that would be some terrible parenting. They didn’t look at my desire to not go to bed and say it was a decision that I needed to make for myself. They knew and understood that children have a terrible concept of personal safety and personal upkeep. Children don’t come wired with a good understanding of how to maintain healthy circadian rhythms…but parents can definitely see when it’s time for Junior to get to bed. It’s no great mystery.

So why then, as adults, do we suddenly think we understand everything about life. You and I both know that there is an element of ‘making it up as we go along’ that is inherent to being an adult. And so God’s rules and desires benefit us today just like they did when we were kids.

And if we want a quality of life that is unmatched/unrivaled then we need to humbly acknowledge that His ways are indeed better, and that the wisdom of the One who spoke light into existence probably knows better than I do how to handle life’s little hiccups. Don’t be satisfied with less than His best. It’s the smart way to live. Being loved beyond your understanding is no cruelty, it is simply an opportunity to see how deep that love goes, even as it keeps you from a harm you intended to do to yourself in ignorance.

2 Corinthians 10:5
“5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Proverbs 1:7
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

James 4:10
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

1 Peter 5:5-11
“5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lionlooking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

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.

IMG_548E3711504E-1

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.