The Struggle Is Real To Do Church

Since being back in the Marshall County area, we have been visiting different churches to worship with all of our friends as well as remembering the culture in which we left. We have been touching base with those we had done ministry with and those who we touched with our ministry before we left. It has been really good for us to worship with those we love as well as worshiping in the community we will be doing ministry in.

With that being said, we have been asked numerous times if we were just visiting or if we were making the church we were visiting that Sunday our church home. It is hard to let down our friends by telling them we are just visiting. But I love telling them we did not come back just to come back. We came back to do ministry so we are planting our own church. It is too hard to explain what missional communities are without some misunderstanding so I tread lightly in the words I use because when I say church, I don’t mean their context of church.

The struggle is too real to do just that, though. It would be too easy to rent a place out, pass out flyers, make phone calls, create Facebook events so we could do “church.” I could plan a sermon, call up a musician friend, set up chairs, and sing four songs, pass the plate, speak for 30 minutes, shake babies and kiss hands as they walk out and feel good that we held a great church service.

But I wouldn’t feel good at all.

Our intention is not to continue being part of the monster that makes Christian consumerism. We want to make disciples. We feel that creating an atmosphere for someone to come in to a place and hide among the people and walk out unchanged would be doing the gospel a disservice.

When I explain that we intend on creating a new expression (for this community) of church, I usually get positive feedback but when I explain it is high accountability then I get pushback. No one wants to be confronted or challenged. Western Christianity has created a problem God never intended.

It would be too easy to keep with the status quo. Instead, I choose to live in the community, be in the community, work with the community. I choose to wait for God to lead me to those He has been preparing. I choose to be slow and not rush into wanting to create a biblical community just because I can.

That’s the hard part because planting a church in today’s culture means immediacy in doing something. It can feel, when done right, that nothing is being done at all when that is far from the truth. Building relationships take time. Creating a missional culture takes time. Doing it right takes time.

The Progressive Work of Sanctification and Our Involvement

The other day I got the rare opportunity to witness seventh graders playing a quick pick-up game of basketball. I was reminded of the days of my youth spent in a wandering spirit with the only thing troubling my mind is how much homework I would have that night and if I would be picked last that day during P.E. As I stood there with my own basketball in hand (to knock the boredom off of being a substitute), I watched joyously as these mere budding young adults attempted to play what we know as the game of basketball. Their version was a mixture of WWE, football, water polo, and checkers all while trying to get a basketball through the hoop.

I was never the purveyor of the basketball sport however I do know a few basic rules; no walking, no double dribbling, no pushing, no playing tag, no tackling, no crawling on the floor, no untying of the opponents shoes, no pulling on clothes, no swapping players mid play, and no using two balls. This game was quite entertaining.

However, what came to mind watching these whimsical sporting goofs play was how each of them were at different stages of knowing the game. A couple of them were scoring hounds. Of course they were handed the ball at every opportunity to score and typically they were successful. There were the few that knew enough to dribble the ball down court and throw the ball in the air hoping for the net and not the brick. Then there were those who had no clue other than that ball was supposed to go through the goal. However it got there didn’t matter.

So it goes with Christians. We all know the goal is to love God and be obedient to His word. There are some who are score hounds. They know that prayer, bible study, steady church attendance, obedience to God and His word, and love for others is imperative to spiritual healthiness. Then there are those who just get by with making sure they go to church as often as life lets them, they read their bible once a month or so, pray when life gets hard and give when they want to feel good about themselves. Then, there are those who are Christian because their parents were. They went to church when they were a kid and typically go on Christmas and Easter because it is the right thing to do. They give when it’s a benefit or fund-raiser, love the idea that there is a “man upstairs” that listens to them complain about life and they give Him a list of things they want.

But there is something that all Christians have in common, sanctification. It’s a large word meaning a “progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives” (Grudem 1999, 328). Did you catch the key word there?

It’s progressive.

That means it is an ongoing process to get us from being sinful to being holy. All Christians are being sanctified and each are at different levels in the process of sanctification. Therefore, just as the basketball game, some know how to score big and some just know that the ball needs to get through their hoop.

One of the biggest problems with Christians is those who know how to score big get upset at those who don’t even know how to dribble the ball. They can’t understand how someone can be such a klutz. Then there are those who somewhat know how to play the game that argue some are too good and smell like it while others need to work on their game. Those who don’t know how to play are just happy to be in the game and willing to do what it takes to be part of a winning team. But because there are different levels of ability, you get different views and arguments.

I bet you know those who go to church complaining about others in the church. We call that gossip or backbiting or creating factions. Maybe you are the one doing it. I only hope that this analogy helps all of us understand that the sanctification process is a good work, one that God himself will finish (Phil.1:6).

Romans 6:19 encourages us “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” In other words, we were born sinful and grew deeper in it as we aged. What once was stealing a piece of bubble gum from the store quickly turned into being a car thief or house burglar. What started as lusting over a girl turned into buying Maxim magazines which further progressed to watching internet porn. But now that we are in Christ we are to work towards being more holy in all that we do. We start small; being faithful to attending church or reading our bible till we get to the point of working faithfully in our gifting.

It’s a process we are all in and each of us should understand that we are all part of the sanctification process. So instead of belittling a person because they are not as far along in the process as you are, prayer would be a good place to start. Loving others is part of the Great Commandment. It’s impossible to do that when you’re too busy bashing somewhat for not being as Christian as you are.

When Our Ignorance Leads To God’s Grace

It’s been four years and Carrie and I are still working on how to be the best parents we can. Sure we mess up and give Levi candy when we shouldn’t, allow him to play video games when he’s spent too much time already, let him stay up longer than he should and probably allow him to get away with things that he shouldn’t. But sometimes we are pretty strict in that we limit his TV and video game time, prevent him from eating candy and cookies, make him lie down when he’s wired, and say “no” more times when saying “yes” wouldn’t probably hurt too much. It’s a fine balance that we are learning.

Recently we felt like he had been playing video games too much so we cut him off for a few days for him to decompress from all the time he spent getting to be best friends with Mario. One night he asked to play Mario and Carrie told him no in which he replied, “I hate you, I don’t like you.” My head whipped around so fast to give him the stink eye, I popped my neck. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Carrie told him to go see me because she didn’t believe she could deal with what he had just said without going all ninja turtle on him as if he was the foot clan.

I sent him to his room and over the course of the next two hours we had three talks two of which because he couldn’t apologize and say he really loved her. The one reason I didn’t severely punish him was because at four years of age, he had no clue what he had just said. I really believed he had heard another kid say it at preschool and he was just repeating what he had heard another child say. The reason I know this is because when I say I hate a song, a certain enemy on Mario or certain foods, he is always quick to correct me and tell me that hate is a bad word and we shouldn’t say it. So he knows very well not to be saying it.

Simply put, he had no idea what he was doing. So because I believed this, he was not punished as harshly as I would have liked to had he truly known what he was saying. It’s one thing to hate things but to hate a person, this is where I felt he really didn’t know what he was doing to his mommy.

Reminds me of another moment that grace was shed because someone didn’t know what they were doing.

There he was laying on the cross as the Roman soldiers pierced is body with the nails. They lifted the cross up and as it dropped into the hole, the total weight of his body came crashing down on the nails sending searing pain though his body. They mocked him, laughed at him and even taunted him. He hung helpless as the weight of the world’s sin and the forsaking of the Father assured him that death was imminent. In order to cleanse all humanity of their sin, his death was necessary.

Yet all he could say was, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Sure they did. They knew they were killing a man. They knew that they were mocking, laughing and taunting. They knew that they were not only putting a man in pain but his family and friends were in pain as well. They knew that it was a mockery to cast lots for his clothes. They knew that blood money was paid for turning this man in to Caiaphas. They knew… but did it anyway.

And Jesus said, I will still die for you. I will give you grace.

I gave Levi grace because he knew that hating was bad but really, he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know he was hurting his mommy’s feelings. He didn’t know that he was betraying his parent’s love. He didn’t know that saying such a strong word would cut so deep.

Just as he didn’t know, they didn’t know and realistically, none of us knows but God, the Father, thankfully knows and sheds his grace on us all. It is for that reason that I am thankful to have such an example as Jesus to model after.

Building A New Life, Rhythms, and Ministry

There has been an extremely warm welcome from just about everyone we have met here in Lewisburg. “It’s nice to have you back,” “We are glad you are back,” and much more pleasantries. We have definitely learned that we have been missed here in Lewisburg.

I have had the opportunity to meet with a few local pastors and share our vision of church with many more in the narrow time we have been back. I have been encouraged by everyone with the belief that we are supported and the local pastors I have met with are tremendously excited about our vision.

Two days ago, I applied for a male counselor position at the In His Image Pregnancy Resource Center. I decided to swing in to see Mrs. Shirley and hear her heart and vision for the pregnancy center. Thankful for her spending two hours with me without an appointment. By the time we were done, I had a tour of the building, knowledge of the work they do plus some information on its financial backing and board support. She is very excited to have another male counselor helping. I would make a third one. I personally know one of the other male counselors so I am looking forward to training with him and helping men who are unsure what fatherhood may look like.

Yesterday, I went through substitute teacher training. A part-time job substituting will work great while I spend the next few years working on my Bachelors in Divinity (B.Div.). To tell you the truth, it freaks me out to go back to the schools I attended and be a target for disrespectful kids and paper wads. But, in order to make a difference, you have to go where a difference is needed. I should begin work by next week.

It is still weird waking up to a rooster crowing. Carrie and I have spent the last six years living in the middle of a bustling town. Sirens were heard each day, sometimes twice a day. Neighbors no more than six feet away and the back yard neighbor able to see right in to your house. Sitting by the fire on cool nights with the neighbors took literally twenty steps. Speaking over the fence to your neighbor or watching practically every move they made with their children in the yard was an everyday occurrence.

Living in the country will take some getting used to again. We’re not strangers to it but we have been removed from it for some time. I absolutely love hearing the rooster and looking out my window to see the hillside of trees. I walk out my door and I hear the bumbling creek just on the other side of the road. If it had rained recently, it sounds like a gushing water fall. Just yesterday, I had to help my brother-in-law with the cows for a split second. It is a life that not only love but respect.

I’m beginning to create rhythms. These rhythms help me meet people so that I can see where God is moving, find people who accept our mission, and are looking for God’s tangible presence. Most of these rhythms have stemmed from me trying to find wi-fi in this town which is almost an impossibility. McDonald’s and the library have given me the best opportunity.

I had a talk with a local pastor who reminded and encouraged me that building His church is a slow process. It is too easy to want to see progress immediately however we understand that lives are not like microwaved food. Ministry takes time. I’m thankful for those who understand our vision and do not want to discourage us. I have already found a few pastors who are willing to work with us. That is encouraging.

Continue to pray for us as well as the many “small” churches around. Cumulatively, small churches can make a large difference!

Moving Day: Closing the Chapter on Clarksville Tennessee

On November 7th, 2008, Carrie and I signed the papers on our house, went to the house and packed everything we owned in a large uHaul and drove off to start a new chapter of our life in Clarksville, Tn. We weren’t prepared for what we would experience; biggER town, new jobs, friends from all over the world, near church shutdown, a newborn kid, a tattoo, becoming a pastor and a full-time college student. So many “new” things we experienced in the six years being here.

I must admit, I’m not a big fan of Clarksville. I’m a small town boy. Ok, for those who think Clarksville is small, think smaller. No smaller than that. Clarksville was definitely a culture shock for me. However, I do not think I would change a thing if I could. I do believe my wife and I came out on the other side better than we went in. I know this because folks back home have told us we have changed and for the better so it seemed. Folks here have seen huge growth in us since we moved as well. So Clarksville, in all its intricacies, have changed us for the better.

Today we are moving back. We are taking on a new adventure with a renewed vigor. As I type this the boxes are packed, the walls are empty and I am about to go pick up the moving truck. A few friends will be joining us in the parade of boxes. I think back to the night when men from the church were standing at our door waiting on us to arrive so they could usher our belongings into our rental house.

I can’t possibly sum up my emotions or feelings as we prepare to close this chapter and begin a new one. We leave with so many good memories and a few I’d rather not remember, so many new friends I hope to keep in contact with and occasionally see. I can only hope that when Carrie and I drive off there will be some, who years from now, will say they were good people, they made a difference, their legacy has lived on long after they have left this town. 

I know that we will take the love, experiences, memories, and lessons we have learned here back so that we can do some serious damage to the kingdom of Hell. Moving is not a form of leaving but more a form of continuing our work in the Kingdom of God. Everything we have learned and experienced will be utilized to make disciples wherever we go. I’m sure some of our experiences have fell on stony or thorny ground but for the most part, our hearts have been fertile and accepting of the seed that has been planted so that we can continue making an eternal difference in other’s lives.

So this is not a goodbye. This is a celebration to keep it going. The beauty of one day being face to face with God is we will meet again “in the sweet by and by on that beautiful shore.” Remembers that we are not only co-laborers with Jesus but with one another. As we continue eternal work back home, I encourage you (especially if you’re in Clarksville) to continue steadfast preaching and teaching the gospel. Share your faith with others, don’t back down to the spiritual bullies and live a life that is worthy of the gospel.

It’s been real and at times it’s been fun. But now it’s time to move on. If only I can find my keys. I think they got packed up!

How Helping Others Be Successful Makes You Successful: A Quick Memoir of Being A Job Coach

Yesterday I quit my job as a job coach with the state of Tennessee through the Division of Rehabilitation. My job was to help folks with mental or physical disabilities search, interview for and sustain themselves in gainful employment. This has by far been the greatest job I have ever had. It was very rewarding. I thoroughly enjoyed my coworkers. I had little to complain about. I was able to apply my talents and abilities. In other words, I was able to be a professional in my vocation.

In November 2011, I was fired from being a pest technician four days after Thanksgiving. I immediately went to the Career Center and inquired in a few jobs that sounded interesting. I had never heard of being a job coach but when the job counselor told me what I would be doing, I saw it as pastoring people outside of the church. I applied for the job and waited. January of 2012, I received a call to come for an interview. An hour and a half later, I was hired.

I learned a few things working with people with disabilities.

  1. People with disabilities are just a capable to succeed as those without.
  2. However, everyone has a disability of sorts, some are just more severe.
  3. People with disabilities are people too
  4. There are more rewarding things in life than money.
  5. Making a difference in someone else’s life makes a difference in your own.
  6. Finding a career utilizing your God given gifts means no longer going to a J.O.B.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might actually like it.
  8. Coaching (teaching) people opens doors for your own learning.
  9. Everyone needs help. Don’t be afraid to assist and don’t be afraid to ask.
  10. It truly is more rewarding to give than to receive.

I could think of more but that is enough. I worked with so many different type of disabilities, from homeless to addictions, anger management to TBI, depression to overzealousness, physical limitations to mental limitations, down syndrome to manic depression. It’s amazing what so many people go through. There are so many people hurting and most times are not able to find the help they need to be successful.

I watched a homeless man literally having only the clothes on his back go from the street to having his own home, receiving disability and working twenty hours a week after fifteen years in jail and five on the street.

I watched an alcoholic go from losing everything he had including his wife and house to getting back on his feet and being stable in a job with a new home.

I watch a man with down syndrome find work in a local pizzeria.

I watched a man with no hands learn to drive a fork lift.

I watched a young woman strung out on drugs because she watched her husband get murdered in her front yard living off her son’s disability check find work at a local restaurant.

I watched a young man who had a learning disability pass his test to become a firefighter.

I watched a blind man become a journalist for a local online news source.

I watched a young woman leave jail as a felon and get her drivers license, a house, her G.E.D. and find work all within thirty days.

Sure there are some failures along the way, some clients who I couldn’t help or was non-compliant. But the highlights of this job brings me so much joy. Where I thought I could bring hope to others actually gave myself hope. I learned, more than anything, that in order to be successful, I had to help others be successful. That’s what serving truly is all about.

Presence Always Trumps Purpose

As the weeks and days make their way closer to us moving to Lewisburg and starting a church in the living room of our house, I find myself getting antsy and nervous along with a little fear and anxiety peppered in. This past weekend, we continued working on the house we are moving in to by sanding the floors. We didn’t have time to stay so my wife’s parents finished the floors with a polyurethane. We have very little preparation left before we can move; install counters, fix a leak in the bathroom, touch up painting, tear out and insulate back porch, sheet rock and paint the concrete floor in the back porch and hook up hot water heater. In three weeks, we will be moving in.

During our very brief stay this past weekend, we were more than blessed to have a friend from church, Jonathan, join us in this process of working on the floors. We had never sanded floors and he volunteered his time and effort to drive near two hours away to supervise and teach us on the delicate matters of sanding hardwood floors.

But we really didn’t need him. Honestly. It wasn’t as hard as we thought but having someone there who had just enough experience to provide comfort to our anxiety was more than worth it. As a matter of fact, having him there was exactly what we needed. Not in the sense of his experience of sanding floors but more so in the sense of friendship. In other words, I was more glad to have him there as a friend than as a supervisor.

What I learned more than anything from this experience is there are times when your presence matters to someone not because of your knowledge but because of your friendship. Having Jonathan there was a form of support and camaraderie. And I believe that was what my wife and I needed more than anything.  Simply giving your time to someone for the mere purpose of presence far outweighs purpose. When a person is sick in the hospital they just need someone to be there. When a relationship is broken, sometimes a friend is needed just for presence. When a death in the family happens, sometimes a person just needs your presence. When times are hard sometimes the presence of a friend is most important.

I do believe presence always trumps purpose.

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