Stay Focused

Yesterday, I blogged about staying hungry. When we stay hungry we also have to be sure that what we feed ourselves is vital to our health. We can feed ourselves junk food and it will destroy our health or we can feed ourselves healthy food and it will restore our energy and focus.

Speaking of focus… Let’s talk more about that. Let me share with you a story from David Miller’s book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.

“Strider started the trail with a purist mind-set, but soon joined with a group of hikers who are having a more social experience of the trail. He spent two weeks partying with them in Damascus. The group is ahead at Rockfish Gap, preparing to travel by canoe to Harpers Ferry, bypassing the trail through Shenandoah National Park. Strider is torn between going with them and hiking the entire trail. ‘I can still come back and hike the Shenandoah later,’ he says, echoing a common refrain.”

My family and I moved to my hometown to plant a missional community (church). We’ve been here for three months and already I have received offers to be a youth leader and a worship leader. These are lucrative positions; pastors with great vision, established congregations, financial gain, immediate accomplishment, critical support and existing faith family. If I were like Strider in the previous story, I would be torn between my calling, “hiking my own hike,” or being led away from my calling for a good idea like Strider and “hike the Shenandoah later.”

I love the pastors who called me and felt the need to offer such positions to me. They are really good friends who I’ve done ministry with for years. However they felt they couldn’t go any further without at least marking me off as an option for their local church. I would have done the same. Call it a testing if you’d like.

Thankfully, I am focused on what God has called me to do. Maybe a little headstrong as well. But that’s what happens when you set out to fill your calling. Opportunities will rise to 1) test you, 2) tempt you, 3) see if you are focused, 4) confirm your calling. It will be too easy to be torn because you’ll see the good in both of those opportunities but if you stay focused, you’ll finish strong.

At my last church, we had a filter that we ran every opportunity through. We would ask, “Is it a good idea or a God idea.” Most time it was a good idea and the Good Idea Fairy has no other desire than to get you off track. It will flood your mind with what you could be doing rather than what you are called to be doing. Staying focused kills the Good Idea Fairy.

So if you know what God has called you to, then stay focused. Don’t find another “good idea” while hiking the trail. You started for what God called you to do. Finish strong knowing that you didn’t give into the good ideas.

 

References

Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 94

 

Stay Hungry

We all get hungry. Some more than others. That’s why they invented the All You Can Eat buffet. Getting hungry basically means that your body consumed the calories it found in your last meal and you need to refuel.

Two ways we get hungry

We get hungry physically and we get hungry spiritually. Both of them have damaging and healthy effects depending on the nutritional value of the meal. When get hungry and eat cookies, ice cream, Nutella, breads, sugars all the stuff that tastes good, we can begin to feel sluggish, sick, and paradoxically have no energy. However, if we feed our body with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, water, and non-processed foods, we feel a sense of energy, we feel good and a heightened sense of awareness.

Spiritually, it’s the same. When we work for God, we get hungry as well and ostensibly, we have two ways to spiritually feed ourselves. We can refill with God and His word, church, small groups, worship music or we can choose to refill with what the world has for us; self-serving, opinion of others, fame, refusal of time with God, negative and dramatic friends, addictions. However we choose to fill our hunger cravings, if God is not presiding over the meal it won’t have a godly effect.

Working for God doesn’t always contribute to a hunger for God

But don’t be mistaken. Just because you are working for God doesn’t necessarily mean you are hungering for God. I’ve realized this lately as a church planter. Planting a church takes a lot of work meeting people, sharing your vision, planning and preparing. But when I lay my head down at night, I’m hungry because I’ve worked all day. However, sometimes, that hunger craving is not for God. It’s for a regular life, to live my life outside of public opinion, not being the crazy Christian who’s trying to do the impossible in a small rural town.

Sometimes my hunger is for God to make it easy, simple, and not so hard. I lay awake at night asking him where he is moving and sometimes, I want to stay away like Jonah. I wake up in the morning and ask him where He is working and I refuse to listen because it means I have to go there and work too.

I realize also in my refusal to feed myself with the healthy word, I am choosing to feed my soul with spiritual junk food. I know it’s bad for me so I simply ask God to give me a hunger for Him, to be soulfully healthy because I know it’s better for me. I see the spiritual Mt. Dew and Fudge Rounds and realize the delayed reaction will ultimately hurt me and so I repent and begin to ask him to give me a thirst and hunger after righteousness.

Maturity is moving from milk to meat: 1 Cor. 3:2

Maturity helps understand that we need to fix our eyes on what reduces fat and strengthens muscles. The temptation to hunger like we do at Thanksgiving and Christmas will always be there. The temptation will always be there to overindulge with a couple of exploding calorie meals a day when six light meals a day will be more beneficial.

But when we become mature, which is a life long process and not a life event, we begin to choose as much as it hurts to be healthy. With help from the Holy Spirit we begin to choose what is right to consume. We hunger for the right things. The temptation for the junk will always be there, don’t be misled. But the power of the Holy Spirit has the ability to help us in our time of weakness put down the cookie and grab the banana.

May God always empower us to hunger and thirst for Him and move to the salad bar rather than the dessert tray.

Psalm 107:9 – For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things (NIV)

 

My Hero

This is an assignment I had to write for my Destiny and Calling class at GCD.

Who is Your Hero

Mathematical genius, inventor, grandfather of the computer and modern risk theory, renaissance thinker well versed in physics, philosophy, and theology as well as mathematics, among the most elegant prose stylists in the French language, Blaise Pascal is one of the supreme human thinkers of all time and author of a great masterpiece of Western literature—Pensées.[1] With such credits to his name, Pascal was thought of as a genius to the mathematical society, however he also dealt with some physical ailments that cause deteriorating depression, awful, wracking pain from a disease ravaged his bowels, legs and feet and he had bad circulation in his legs. To add to a life wrought with such torment and celebrated with such pomp, he had a dramatizing experience that nearly cost him his life yet paradoxically gave him life.

On the evening of November 23rd, 1654, at the age of thirty-one while Pascal was driving his carriage through a lightning storm, his horses got scared and jumped over the wall of a bridge. The horses plunged to their deaths in the Seine River, but because the leather straps that connected the carriage to the horses broke, Pascal was saved. Although he was not physically hurt, this accident affected him psychologically. This event so impressed Pascal that he decided that this was an act of God and became a true believer. Much of his work was then centered on theology. In his work Pensées, Pascal claims to prove that belief in God is rational with the following argument. “If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing. We are compelled to gamble.”[2]

Pascal had an allegiant addiction to gambling. Yet the night he brushed elbows with eternity, gambling took the side stage to his newly found faith. He had spent years developing a habit that became his calling, his destiny, his defined purpose yet the allure of the chance couldn’t stand as a hero when he saw the waters of the Seine and the horses plunge that drew their last breath. His carriage held him as the arms of God and he watched in horror as his life flashed before him. He felt that chance on eternity was not worth gambling for. He needed a sure hero, a savior that was promising and faithful. This, he found in Jesus.

We all have found something in our lives that assured us blindly that it could take care of our needs, support our inner addictions, and fulfill our longing desires. Yet for some of us, we have found it lacking in its promises because there was no sure law or barrier to hold it to its promises. For some, as myself have, we have found a God who promises us life and peace, an eternal reward in His presence yet for others, they have found these promises baseless because they can’t find truth in His words. They have not experienced a peace that passes all understanding or a life that when held up to the light is not cracked or broken. They find the words of the bible are shallow and misleading. They find Jesus to be the anti-hero because he cowered to the Romans rather than “bringing his kingdom to destroy them.” There are some of us who look to Him as the hero because his word is being fulfilled and will fulfill itself in the future. We have faith that he will fulfill those promises just as he has fulfilled previous promises already.

A hero is worth emulating in the sense that they are courageous, unfaltering, integral, caring, and selfless. They find that when the world is being brought down, there is no other answer than to give up one’s life to make it better for someone else, if only for a moment. That’s why we find heroes in service men and women; military, firefighters, police, farmers, pilots, and the occasional John Doe who performs courageous feats to save a life.

Yet I myself find a worthy all surpassing hero, one that exemplifies heroism. His name is Jesus, because of what he has done, is doing and will do for all of mankind. He first created us and through Him we are held together. He then took on flesh and lived a life of service toward His creation only to give up his life through a brutal execution after being badly beaten and ridiculed for the life he lived. He then rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven and speaks on our behalf to the Father. He gave us His Spirit so that we may be led how to live life like he does. But how do we do that in the 21st Century? How do we emulate a person’s life that lived in flesh 2,000 years ago?

serving_to_empower2_540x300

Feeding the homeless, taking care of the poor, loving your neighbor, having compassion toward the weak and giving to those in need are acts Jesus routinely performed. Not only are these physical needs that people have but are also spiritual needs. When we desire to emulate Jesus’ work we desire to feed the poor and homeless, help our community neighbors with whatever need arose; bring food when neighbors are sick, help them catch a dog that got away, help with furniture when they move in or out, mow their yard, having compassion toward those who seem to live in the dumps of life and never get their head above water. Also tending to those needs is not only a physical act but a spiritual one as well. How can we help when they are spiritually sick, spiritually in need, spiritually homeless? I would argue that Jesus didn’t necessarily come for our physical needs even though he provided, he came to assist with our spiritual needs.

When our hero is Jesus, we are inclined to be faithful to His teachings. Being faithful to God means being good stewards of our resources where He has planted us and with the gifts he has given us. We can get crazy with trying to impress people with excellence yet miss the spiritual mark and they leave without a clue about Jesus. We are not asked to be perfect. We are asked to be faithful. When we are faithful where we are planted and with the tools we have been provided, man’s idea of excellence can wane and Jesus can still be exalted and people still accept the saving grace of God.

A hero inspires us to be like him/her. Not for the rewards of fame and glory but for the success of others. A hero gives us the desire to see others win. A hero gives another person a chance to live. A hero saves lives. There are many heroes yet none is a better hero than Jesus. If we all inspired to see Jesus made into a hero in our own lives, imagine the exponential impact that would be made from our community to the world. Making Jesus our hero would have a global effect and that was His mission all along.

superhero-Jesus

 

Resources

[1] Guinness, Os (2003-10-09). The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (p. 80). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[2] Smalley, Audrey. “Pascal.” DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS, STATISTICS, AND PHYSICS – Wichita State University. Accessed February 20, 2015. http://www.math.wichita.edu/history/men/pascal.html.

 

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!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,329 other followers