Pulling Back the Curtain – Part V

Curtain-Pulled-Back-300x204As a church planter, I’ve been posting over the last few months about some of the things happening behind the curtain. The purpose is both accountability and demystifying it so as not to seem like the Wizard of Oz.

Church planting during a pandemic is interesting. In fact, the first service that we did online after the stay at home order was issued by our governor in Virginia was on our six month anniversary. What a nice anniversary present, right? But a lot has happened in the six months leading up to that and the month and a half since the stay at home order was issued. One of the most significant things is that in just a few days, we will be moving into our first space.

One thing that I’ve learned during this process is that holding your plans loosely is not only encouraged but almost essential. Things rarely happen the way that you would like them to and the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. Rolling with the punches is a necessary occurrence on almost a daily basis.

After a few months of searching for a possible location prior to our launch, we were getting nowhere. Strip malls had told us that they wouldn’t lease to a church. This was the case with the strip mall that most fit our needs and was located within walking distance of the community that we had felt God calling us to reach. It was disappointing news, but a few pastor friends in town had offered their spaces as possibilities for me, so I knew that we would have a location somewhere, it just might not have been exactly what we were looking for to start.

Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that the Holy Spirit had given me that we would be in this strip mall. I couldn’t explain it, but after one of my administrative team told me the answer he got back from the property agent about not leasing to a church, I said something to the effect of, “If God wants us to be there, he will make a way. I’m not worried.”

Now, there are a handful of times in my life when I’ve said things that were fairly uncharacteristic of me, things that just didn’t make logical sense. The only way that I would say something like them would be if they came from a God confidence that was lurking somewhere deep inside. This was one of those times. The engineer in me has a tendency to NEED to know what’s happening and have all my ducks lined up in a row. When that doesn’t happen, I can have a tendency to freak out a little bit.

Still a chance conversation with a leasing agent in June before we launched eventually led to another phone call nearly four months later on Halloween while I was having lunch with a friend in the very plaza we had felt pulled towards. That phone call turned into more phone calls, emails, and texts as well as conversations with my team. It led to lots of prayers and even more phone calls to friends and colleagues.

The thing about the October phone call was that I had told the leasing agent in June not to contact me until after January 1st. While I was still a rookie church planter, I knew enough to know that we needed to establish ourselves before finding a more permanent location. I was probably a little annoyed at the agent for contacting me two months early, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes God drops opportunities in your lap that you need to entertain, opportunities that sometimes seem so outlandish, unreasonable, and even impossible that they almost might work.

Nearly two months later, as I was readying myself for a trip with my thirteen year old son to celebrate his 13th birthday trip from his grandparents at Universal Orlando and also preparing for Christmas, I was running around trying to find a way to make it work for us to actually get into a space that seemed to be twice as big as we needed but the exact same price as other places that were half the size.

As an aside, not only was this location in the VERY plaza that we had felt drawn to for the sake of our mission, but the space was 1000 times better kept than the other spaces in the very same plaza we had looked at. My team had talked about not wanting to move into a space that we would outgrow in a short period of time, this space remedied that, leaving us plenty of space to grow. In addition, my attempt to “beat the bushes” and find additional funds to help us afford this dream was met with incredible encouragement and not just one year’s partial support, but two.

Now I sit here, days away from moving into this space. This space that seemed impossible. This space that seemed too good to be true. This space that would act as a mission outpost in our community. As I think about all the pieces coming together, I am constantly reminded of dreaming dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish. This dream is certainly that big.

We are stepping out in faith and, if I’m honest, there’s some fear in there as well. I feel like Peter in the boat, poised and ready to step onto the water when Jesus calls him. I feel like the Israelites on the banks of the flooded Jordan River, ready and waiting to step into the promised land but having no dry path to get there. Peter stepped out and took his eyes off Jesus, causing him to sink. The Israelites stepped into the flooding waters before they eventually parted, leaving them a clear path to the other side.

Faith rarely affords us a perfectly mapped out gameplan that we can see, as the Who sang, for miles and miles. Instead, the image of a lantern to our path, shedding light to the few feet immediately before us seems like a better analogy. I want to see more, but I can’t. If I could see more, would it really be faith.

I can’t take any credit for what’s happened up to this point. The only thing that I have been is obedient, and I haven’t even done that well. God has been driving this and I am grateful to be along for the ride. This is actually giving me the chance to model the very things that I have taught and preached and spoken of for years. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

This feels like Christmas to me, or a first date, or the first day of college. It’s a bit overwhelming, scary, humbling, and exciting all wrapped into one. I know that God’s got this. I know that this space will only help us do the very thing he has called us to do, especially as I look at my dining room full of food collected to help the very neighbors who will now be within walking distance of this new space. This isn’t a space that we will be using on Sundays and then leaving vacant the rest of the week. This isn’t a space that we are relying on to establish ourselves in the community (although it won’t hurt), but rather an outpost that will allow us to have feet on the ground and be more effective at becoming a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace.

It’s exciting and scary and I know that this wild ride just got a little more wild. Here we go!

 

Unprecedented

It seems as though every generation has a specific event that they remember. Pearl Harbor. The moon landing. JFKs assassination. The Challenger explosion. 9/11. Events happen within the course of time and history that many may describe as unprecedented. Unprecedented for the good or for the bad, either one. It’s something we’ve never experienced before.

Well, if there was ever a day and an instance to use that term, it seems like today is that day. What we are experiencing in our nation and in our world is unprecedented. Globalization has been advantageous in many ways, but now we are seeing the downside, the dark side, the shadow side, or whichever side you want to call it.

Driving to my usual coffee shop the other morning, it was eerie to see cars parked in front of one of the apartment complexes I pass, cars that I had never seen before as everyone had hunkered down and just stayed at home. In the hour and a half that I was in the coffee shop, there were maybe two other people who came in.

Had the term “social distancing” ever even entered our vocabulary before all of this? Had we even considered what this might look like?

Sunday night, as I prepared to bring a message to my church congregation, I kept thinking about all the places in the Bible that I had gone to for comfort and peace in all of my years. Do not be afraid. Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God is with you. The Lord is my strength and my song. It’s funny how it all comes flooding back into your brain when you need to be reminded of it the most.

My daughter seems to sense that things aren’t right. It’s not every day that kids are told that schools are closed for two weeks (at least) when there isn’t a flake of snow on the ground or predicted and when the only thing on the horizon is an unseen germ that’s wreaking havoc upon the world. Kids are intuitive, they can always sense when something isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be.

I’ve watched people who are used to not only having the essentials of life but all the added benefits as well go into a pure panic when they can’t buy toilet paper, tissues, and hand sanitizer. Not that it shouldn’t be a moment for panic of some kind, but people have just gone crazy. A pastor I used to work with once upon a time used to say, “People are crazier than anything.”

Unprecedented.

We’ve not been here before, but there are plenty of people who have gone before us who sat on the precipice of the unknown, not knowing what was to come, what was next, how they would maneuver through it all. It’s unnerving and scary. It strikes fear at the heart of us and we go into panic mode.

I shared Colossians 3:15 on social media a few days ago as well, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” In the midst of unprecedented times, we need to have an unprecedented peace that rules our hearts and our minds. We can’t fall victim to chaos and fear, but need to practice wisdom and peaceful trust in God.

So we press on in faith rather than fear. We step in wisdom, seeking to be informed. We seek the peace that passes all understanding, knowing that only God provides that level of peace and comfort.

In an unprecedented time, I am praying for unprecedented faith to endure. Trusting in God that he will walk with us through these dark times and give us peace.

Stay well, my friends.

Grace and peace!

 

Crossing the Threshold?

I was asked an interesting question the other day by a friend. We were sitting in her office, talking about our kids, and she asked me when my son became a Christian. I stopped in my tracks and started thinking deeply. A lifetime of thoughts flooded my mind and I fumbled for an answer that would suffice, finally settling for what I thought would require the least explanation and seem the most genuine.

You see, I grew up with an approach to faith as an arrival rather than a journey. It was about being “in” or “out” and not about what or who you were pursuing. If you crossed the threshold of belief, than your eternal soul was secure. If you prayed a prayer and walked an aisle, then you had your “fire insurance.”

But as time has gone by, I’ve realized the error of that approach. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is some kind of threshold, I just don’t know that it’s as clear cut as some people try to make it out to be.

My mom always assured me that there was a day when I asked her to kneel at the side of my bed so that the two of us could pray. The prayer was “the prayer” asking Jesus into my heart. While I have no memory of the experience, I really can’t remember a time in my life when Jesus wasn’t a part of it.

As I’ve gotten older and grown deeper in my spirituality, I’ve come to a place where I realized that there’s no specific prayer in the Bible about asking Jesus into your heart. The Bible says we need to believe in the name of the Lord to be saved, so there’s a threshold there, but when it becomes about a prayer, I think it makes faith an arrival rather than a journey.

Growing up in the church, it wasn’t often that I saw people who would be considered “seekers” in my church. The people who were there had already been convinced, they had already prayed their prayers, walked their aisles, crossed their thresholds. But what of those to whom faith was more of a journey, a meandering road? Did they not qualify?

I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ after hearing a message and I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ after years of searching, seeking, and asking questions. I have a hard time saying that one of those is better or more valid than the other.

But faith is a journey, it’s not an arrival. I consider myself fortunate to have had faith a part of my upbringing. Others have come to faith through the side door or even the back door. They explored the property before they even stepped up to that door. They looked all around, checked under the porch, made sure everything seemed safe and secure.

When faith is an arrival, a crossing of the threshold, we can be in danger of letting it stagnate. What’s the purpose of growing something that serves no purpose any longer? If we’ve “arrived” then there’s no reason to continue moving forward, is there? Faith as an arrival can make us complacent, thinking that we’ve done everything that needs to be done, but that’s not really the faith that Jesus speaks about, or that Paul writes about.

In some ways, I consider myself a spiritual guide, guiding people along the journey of faith. People who think they’ve arrived at their destination don’t really like guides, they’re content to bask in the destination, thinking it’s the best place they can possibly be. A good guide may be fairly well informed, but I think they’re also always willing to learn something new, in fact, I think they’re always looking for that something new, that something that they missed along the way.

At some point, people move from searching to believing, but belief isn’t always surety. Faith isn’t surety. It may be confidence, but I don’t think faith exists without some lingering questions. After all, faith is the act of believing even when things remain unseen. How can you not have questions when you can’t see everything?

The State of Things

I woke up this morning, in the wee small hours of the morning, and found my mind racing as it does often when this scenario plays out. If I’ve got a lot going on, it’s not unusual for me to find myself preoccupied by deep thoughts about what’s been happening during my days.

It’s been a strange week for me and there have been a number of things consuming my thoughts. One of my closest cousins lost her mother-in-law in a tragic accident. The details around the accident and some of the back story have caused me pause even more and I’ve spent more than a few minutes not just thinking but praying on it since I got the news.

The governor of my great state declared a state of emergency leading up to a rally causing the extremes on both sides of the political arena to react. Reactions had me scratching my head because it may have been the first time that people very close to me were getting caught up in the fray and getting hyped up about something that seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

This week, I got back to one of my loves: StrengthsFinders. Years ago, I went through training as a Strengths Communicator and I enjoy having one on one conversations with those who go through the assessment. In the busyness of life, I haven’t had as many opportunities to spend in conversations with others about it, but this week I was privileged to do it once again. It’s inspired me to schedule a seminar where I can present an overview to those who are interested along with some of the ministry partners that I work with.

I had dinner last night with some old friends. They’re friends that I still see separately, but it was the first time that we had all been together in a long time. One of those friends felt a burning desire to “get the band back together” and scheduled this dinner. It was great to catch up, to share about life, and to laugh a lot about some of the things that we all experienced together.

Funny thing is, this week seems fairly normal to me. My weeks are generally full of highs and lows, of both the heavy and the fun. I don’t know if it’s just me and life as a pastor or if this is pretty typical of everyone, but it can honestly get exhausting. The emotional toll that this kind of roller coaster can take on a person if they don’t find time to step away is excessive.

So what do I do? I choose to spend the day subbing for my middle child’s fifth grade class. Not exactly relaxing, but it’s an opportunity that I won’t always have, and one that I definitely want to seize.

Through it all, I’m reminded of the tagline of the faith community that I lead: where life and faith meet. Through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, one of the most important question that people ask is, “How do I get by?” Just because I’m a pastor doesn’t make me exempt from that question. The juxtaposition of life and faith is where I live and while it can feel like a jolt to the system and somewhat harsh at times, I don’t think there’s any other place that I would rather be.

 

‘Tis The Season to be Hopeful

I used to be the guy who started listening to Christmas music in July. I would roll out the Christmas CDs and park them right by the stereo. I would load them in a case to bring into my car. I would pull out the ones that I would listen to regularly and make sure that I got through every single one of them.

That’s kind of what happens when music is your thing and your job. You get caught up in the season and planning takes priority.

Of course, I always used to be the one who was cuckoo for Christmas. But life can sometimes have a way of changing you, of stealing your joy a little.

I’ve had some great Christmas seasons in my past but I’ve also had some pretty crappy ones. The Christmas after my mom died, my dad was in the hospital and acting like he’d lost his mind. It was one of the most surreal and depressing Christmases on record for me.

At the same time, watching my kids grow up and seeing their faces on Christmas morning has been one of the greatest joys that I’ve experienced. If there’s anything that can make me feel like a kid again, it’s Christmas Eve and the experience that comes from having young kids experience the wonder and joy of Christmas.

But as much as I still love Christmas, I think that I’ve grown up a little bit. I’m not talking about growing up like the kid in The Polar Express. I think. I can still hear the bells, but the “why” of Christmas has become so much more important to me and, frankly, I’ve begun to look at Christmas in context with why I celebrate it as well as why it’s important in the grand scheme of things.

Last week was the first Sunday of Advent and it passed me by. I don’t think that I forgot it, maybe I just ignored it, but it hit me on the second Sunday of Advent just how important it was. I was speaking on the second Advent of Jesus and recalling the first Advent of Jesus. It all seemed to be that much more weighty and important to me.

During Advent, each Sunday has a theme: Hope, Joy, Peace, Love. I can’t help but think about those and this pas Sunday, I was thinking about hope. Hope is the thing that propels us along when it seems like there’s nothing left. Hope is what keeps us going when everything inside and outside of us is telling us to just give up. Hope is the thing that keeps us looking around the corner, checking the mailbox, waiting for that phone call. Hope is what keeps us going when everything seems impossible.

Hope is one of the only reasons why I’m still here. In the midst of pain, in the midst of loss, in the midst of uncertainty, I have hung on to hope. When it seemed that darkness would overcome, hope remained a candle that penetrated the darkness.

That’s what this season is to me. It’s a reminder that although God seemed silent, something happened to keep hope alive, to breathe new life into all those places that seemed dead and lifeless. God seemed silent until he came to dwell among us, and even as he lived and eventually died, hope still hung in there, albeit by a thread.

And then he rose. Death had not won. Hope was alive.

Christmas time is always a reminder to me that when it seems that things are the darkest, there is still hope. It may not be realized in my time, it may not even be realized on this side of eternity, but hope is there, waiting patiently for us to believe and trust. We may not understand. We may not be happy about waiting. But hope remains.

We’re coming to the two week mark to Christmas. As I look at all that those two weeks hold, it’s a little overwhelming to me. I’m afraid that I’m going to blink and those two weeks will have passed without me fully understanding the significance of these moments.

Walking By Faith

There have been a number of times in my life when it seems my faith is stretched more so than  others. Times when it seems I have to reach a little further, take a little bit longer of a stride, and that where my feet land is solid ground. These times in life are a bit unnerving and kind of scary. But a life of faith was never promised to be easy or without incident.

I’ve lost a lot of sleep in these seasons, wondering whether I’m making the right decision, wondering whether I’ll be regretting the leap of faith that I’m making. My prayers become prayers for signs and glimpses of evidence that will make me more confident. I want it all spelled out for me and I pray and wait, almost expecting the sky to light up with letters from some kind of divine skywriting plane, telling me exactly what to do.

But that’s not faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things that aren’t seen. Faith isn’t simply following a paint by numbers painting and filling in all the pieces. It’s not following some kind of treasure map and making sure that we get all the clues right. Faith is stepping out of ourselves and our strength and relying on the One who created us, the One who sees beyond all time and space.

And yes, it’s unnerving. For those of us who are more analytical, even more so. We want evidence. We want clarity. We want 99% certainty, things we can put our eyes on, our hands on. Things we can wrap our heads around and make sense of rather than things we need to trust and hope for.

Faith is a little bit scary. All right, it may be very scary. But in those moments of leap, those moments where it seems impossible, there is peace. It’s the biblical concept of shalom, more than just our concept of peace being a state of being without conflict. It’s peace and security, a holistic peace that is transcendent. It’s a diving peace that can only be realized and experienced through God.

In these moments of faith, these leaps that seem irrational and impossible, there’s a difference between a nagging sense that it’s the wrong decision and a fear of the unknown that you are stepping into. I’ve stopped to try to determine which one it is during those times. Am I uncomfortable because my “faith muscle” is being stretched beyond what it’s used to or am I uncomfortable because it’s the wrong decision?

For those of us who like to exude confidence and rely on our own strengths and abilities, these faith moments are exactly what we need to be knocked into humility and trust, relying not on ourselves but on God. If we can figure it out and accomplish it within our own abilities and strengths, it’s probably not requiring as much faith of us. Faith isn’t praying and then leaning on our own understanding, it’s leaning on our understanding that God’s ways are higher than our ways and that he knows more than us and is capable of more than we can ask or think.

Faith is a leap into the unknown. Scary? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Because afterwards, we find that we’ve got even more confidence for what’s next, the next ask of us.

I’m not sure if faith ever gets easier. Probably not if we are doing it right. But the more we exercise it and see how much we can grow in it, the more likely we will be to want to leap a little further the next time around, knowing what the outcome was the last time.

I’m learning to leap. It’s kind of a scary business, but as I look at my history in walking with God, I can see that the leaps have extended a little further every time. I’m not talking additional feet every time. It’s more like inches, if not smaller. But we can’t look at our growth and progress from event to event, we need to see it as a progression over time. A long obedience in the same direction. Then, when we look back, we can see just how far we’ve come in faith and not in our own strength and power.

Giving In Faith

you of little faith

If you were to ask any pastor the topics that are the most uncomfortable for them to address and preach on, I would be hard pressed to believe that money and giving would not fall in the top five. Despite the discomfort that pastors might have in addressing these subjects, Jesus seemed to have no problem whatsoever addressing these issues. After all, he said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

People in the United States give an average of 3 percent to charitable causes annually. If you look at Christians within the church, the same number applies. Yet, there are numerous references in the Bible for people to be giving back at least ten percent to God. Why the disparity?

Ryan Thomas has written a provocative book meant to challenge believers to give not charitably or out of obligation but out of faith. Rather than giving because it is commanded or because of an altruistic spirit, Thomas urges believers to give in faith with the expectation that God will give back.

Thomas defines a faith-based giver as one whom, “gives to God, and only to God, and not because of how the money will be used.” He tells his own story, sharing of how he and his wife gave sacrificially and how God returned the blessing to them. He shares that giving to God should be driven by the rewards that we know we will receive in giving. In fact, he claims, the idea of giving to receive a reward is seen throughout the Bible and he shares the various places where we see this.

After sharing his own story, Thomas lays out the four rewards that should come to us when we give in faith. We give in faith because it will strengthen our faith, it will free us from materialism, we will be provided for, and we will receive treasure in heaven. He spends time within the book supporting these rewards and how the Bible supports them as well.

When I picked up “You of Little Faith,” I was incredibly skeptical of the message that it seemed to be promoting. It smelled of a “health and wealth” gospel, a gospel that can often treat God like a genie in a bottle, ready to accommodate our every request and desire. As I read from the author’s own experience, there were certainly times that I squirmed, feeling uncomfortable with what he was sharing. But I began to ask myself whether my discomfort was because what he was sharing was wrong or because it was different from everything that had been traditionally taught about giving.

As I made my way through the book, I couldn’t help but see parallels between what the author was sharing and my own experience in life. Growing up the son of a pastor, I heard stories from my parents of how God had provided for them in the midst of very difficult times. As a pastor myself, I have experienced those same times, times when I wondered how on earth we could keep pressing forward as a family, only to have God show up in a powerful and mighty way, unexpected and miraculous.

While there are certain things within “You of Little Faith” that I don’t necessarily agree with, the overall message of the book was a challenge to me to step out further in faith, giving more than was rational in expectation of just how God would show his faithfulness in sacrifice.

Among the verses that Thomas shares within the book is Malachi 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” It’s a verse that most church-going people have heard around the matter of giving, but I wonder how many have written it off as irrelevant because of its location in the Old Testament.

If you want to be challenged to the point of wrestling and discomfort, you should read this book. While you might not agree with everything that the author shares and writes, you may be stretched in your faith, causing you to step out and test whether what he poses is true. If nothing else, it may cause your faith to grow in a way that you weren’t expecting.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Raising Resilient Disciples

faith for exilesIf you spend any time at all around the church and pay any attention to what’s going on in the western church, you know that there is a trend of younger generations leaving the church. Not only are children not being raised in the church but those children who have been raised in the church are going off to college, leaving church and sometimes faith behind.

Over the years, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, one of America’s leading research companies, has written much based upon the research that his organization has done. Together with Mark Matlock, he seeks to tackle this topic head on that research in his latest book, “Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.”

The authors pull no punches in speaking truth. I the introduction, they write that it is their contention, “that today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” While the history of God’s people has shown that they can resiliently walk our their faith, they also contend that the kind of resilient faith that lasts and allows one to walk through difficulties, trials, and antagonistic culture is tougher to grow today.

While that might seem like bad news for some, the authors speak of how faith can grow deeper and stronger in unsettled times and dark places. The current climate may cause some to head for the hills and hide, but the authors are offering this book as a challenge that resilient faith can be grown, it just takes intentionality and hard work.

The authors speak of the importance of culture and its influence. They use biblical examples of characters who have walked in direct opposition to the culture surrounding them, the culture in which they have been immersed. One of the greatest examples may be Daniel and his three friends who found themselves exiles living in Babylon, a culture dramatically different and even opposed to their Jewish homeland.

Complicating our culture is the medium of technology and how it pulls us and the next generations away from productive things, particularly spiritual things. Screens demand our attention, they call us to be their disciples. Jesus himself said that we can’t serve two masters, so how do we can we be disciples of him and screens at the same time?

Matlock and Kinnaman suggest that we are exiles living in digital Babylon. While we would like to go back to Jerusalem, our home and safe haven, we don’t have that luxury and we need to find a way to live out of faith in this somewhat hostile environment. Fortunately, the story of exile isn’t limited to Daniel and his friends, it’s a story that plays out over and over again in the biblical narrative. We see God’s people living as exiles in lands that are foreign and often hostile.

The authors propose that discipleship today has the goal of developing Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit. They go on to reveal some of Barna’s research as they define four different kinds of exiles: Prodigals (ex-Christians), Nomads (unchurched), Habitual Churchgoers, and Resilient Disciples. Among 18-29 year olds today, 10% are resilient disciples, 38% are habitual churchgoers, 30% are nomads, and 22% are prodigals.

The book goes on to lay out five practices that have led to resilient faith. These practices are based on a decade of work and research. Not only are these authors experts in researching this material but they have also experienced this personally with their own children, experiencing how these practices make a difference.

The five practices that the research has shown build resilient disciples are: forming a resilient identity and experiencing intimacy with Jesus, developing muscles of cultural discernment, developing meaningful intergenerational relationships, training for vocational discipleship, and engaging in countercultural mission.

Intimacy with Jesus is about so much more than weekly worship gatherings. As the authors write, “we too easily mistake the starting point for the destination, oversimplifying Christianity to mere decionism.” This isn’t about merely following rules and habitually attending church and programs, it means creating an intimate relationship with Jesus, allowing young people to see that God speaks to us. Discipleship is growing in an understanding that one can hear and respond to the voice of Jesus in their lives.

Developing muscles of cultural discernment means combatting the easy and convenient teaching and learning that can be gained through technology.  As they define it, cultural discernment is the ability to compare the beliefs, values, customs, and creations of the world we live in (digital Babylon) to those of the world we belong to (the kingdom of God). It means we don’t bury our heads in the sand and we take a posture of learning and counterculturally speak. It’s not so much about protecting young people but preparing them for what they will face and how they will respond and live.

Developing meaningful intergenerational relationships  means being devoted to fellow believers we want to be around and become. It means mentoring and being mentored. It means to combat a culture of isolation and mistrust with deeper and spiritually significant relationships with those who have gained wisdom in experience. In digital Babylon, technology takes the place of real relationships, so those real relationships need to be forged in resilient disciples so that they won’t settle for cheap alternatives like technology.  These relationships are not forged by steamrolling questions and looking past legitimate doubts but sticking around long enough to work them out.

Vocational discipleship is about training up the next generation to know how to think about work and calling. It means finding meaning in what we do, not simply surviving. It means understanding talents and abilities, listening to God’s call, affirming those things, and being a church that enables and trains them to work this all out. Vocational discipleship does not mean full-time vocational ministry for all but it means being a full-time disciple regardless of your vocation, or even living out as a disciple through your vocation.

Finally, countercultural mission means living differently from cultural norms. We are privileged to be invited by God to join him in his mission to the world. This isn’t necessarily a safe mission, living in exile is not safe. Kinnaman and Matlock write, “Too many of our ministry efforts prepare people for a world that doesn’t exist, undercutting our witness and passing flimsy faith to the next generation.” The church needs to improve by focusing more on safe living than on faithful living. We need to help people believe and know how to express themselves and those beliefs in a spirit of love and respect.

Having read other books by Kinnaman, I was looking forward to reading this book. Much of what the authors share coincides with research that has come out of the Fuller Youth Institute as well. That kind of consistency should be encouraging for the church and should spur her on to the mission of raising up resilient disciples.

In order to fulfill this mission of raising up resilient disciples, we can no longer settle for a church that expects everyone to come to them, seeking good to be consumed and comfortable spaces to be coddled. Instead, we should be willing to venture into sometimes unsafe places, not just physical, in order that we might live out our faith resiliently, faithfully, and effectively.

If you care about the next generation and care about the church, “Faith For Exiles” is a book to be read with a message to be heeded. Matlock and Kinnaman offer not just problems but solutions. Their ideas are not some nebulous or fantastical theories but are based on thorough research. This book is a call to action, the question is whether or not the church will heed that call.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Walk It Out

0925190909As someone who writes and speaks a lot in my life, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself at an impasse. Some might call it writer’s block. Everything I speak I will generally write in some form before it’s spoken.

When I come to those places of blockage, those seemingly impenetrable walls, I’ve got to find a way through. Sometimes it’s moving to something else temporarily to clear my mind and then returning to it to get a fresh look. Sometimes it’s a complete disconnection from thinking to something mindless like watching a movie or playing a video game.

Most often, I find myself looking for a space of inspiration. When you encounter a block enough, you begin to find the places that help the most in working them out. For me, the two places where those blockages get worked out the easiest are when walking and when driving.

I won’t say that they’re worked out the fastest, because that rarely ever happens. Mental blocks, to me, are more like wrestling matches, grabbing, grunting, pushing, pulling, rolling, tumbling, and so much more. The thing about those kinds of wrestling matches is that they rarely leave you untouched. They generally leave their mark on you, whether good or bad, but you rarely remain the same throughout the wrestling match.

I think best when I’m moving.

There’s a field that I go to in a park that has some great, wide open spaces. It’s almost as if that space represents a picture of what I am hoping happens in my mind. I want things open, free, unrestricted, and walking out these blockages in a place that’s unconfined seems to be one of the greatest solutions.

I generally know where I am going, both mentally in my writing or speaking, and physically, when I am walking or driving. I can see where it is I need to get to, I can visualize it in my head, but this isn’t the world of Harry Potter, I can’t disapparate and reappear at my destination. I’ve got to go on the journey. I’ve got to take the walk or take the drive. I can’t speed it up or fast track my way through it

And at the end of it, I find myself at an arrival of sorts. It rarely looks how I thought it would or should. Most of the time, it takes far longer than I anticipated or wished that it would. Oftentimes, it’s much more obvious and I realize that the arrival to which I have come was there all along, lurking right there in front of me, waiting to be discovered had I looked at things more simply than I had.

But it’s a journey. Everything’s a journey. Journeys rarely leave us untouched or untainted. Even when we try our best to ignore them and their impact on us, they still have a way of touching us, twisting us, changing us.

I’ve been on a lot of journeys in my life, some which I would gladly choose again, others that I wouldn’t wish upon myself or anyone else, for that matter. As I survey the map that shows those journeys, I can safely say that they’ve all made me who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am who I am because of those journeys.

I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t waste our pain. I think that’s true. But I think that God really doesn’t waste anything. His timing isn’t always our timing. His efficiency isn’t always our efficiency. But at the end of the journey, whatever it is has accomplished whatever he set out for it to accomplish.

Fearful

home aloneAs the day approaches when we will publicly launch out our new church, it’s been a journey of faith for me, my family, and the team of people who have joined us to embark on this new adventure.

I met with a friend yesterday, thinking, dreaming, planning for the future as we look at how we can collectively, with our two churches, press into the place where God has planted us. 1 John 4:18 came up in our conversation, a verse that I’ve quoted many times in years past. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I told my friend that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear.

There have been many days along the way that I could easily have been gripped by fear. There will be many days ahead where I could be gripped by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the inability to provide for my family. Fear of failure.

But there are also many times along the way that I have seen my faith multiplied and enlarged. In those moments when fear begins to creep in, slowly threatening to overtake me, God has allowed these small glimpses of what could be, propelling me forward with just enough hope to get me over the next hill, kind of like the little engine that could.

Fear tells us that we can’t. Faith tells us that God can.

Fear tells us that we aren’t enough. Faith tells us that God is everything.

Fear tells us that it’s impossible. Faith tells us that all things are possible with God.

I have refused to be gripped by fear in all of this, and every single time that I am ready to give up, to throw in the towel, to pack it all up and walk away, I am reminded that the driving force behind what I am doing has nothing to do with trying to be good or look good or succeed, it has everything to do with feeling called to do what we are doing.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

I believe that I am loved by the One who created me. I believe that he has given me the talents and strengths to do what he has called me to do. I believe that he can sustain me and that just as the author of the Book of Hebrews says, he can equip me with everything I need to accomplish his will.

Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? No. Do I wish that I didn’t have to walk in faith? Sometimes. But the whole reason why I am at this place in my life, fifteen years away from a successful engineering career, is because I didn’t feel like I could make the same difference in the world around me as an engineer as I can as a pastor. That’s not to say that engineers can’t make a difference, just that as an engineer, I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I can doing what I am doing now.

And so, we press forward in faith, not fear.

Many people tell me that this is what I was made for, to do this, to launch out. I can echo those sentiments and I see this as the culmination of years of being shaped and formed.

Only time will tell whether or not we are “successful” in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, I would much rather be faithful and faith-filled than successful, because I think in his eyes, faithful and faith-filled actually amounts to success.