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.

 

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Something Like A Collision

car collisionThe other night, I was driving home from the hospital. I had just gone to visit a friend who has been struggling with health issues lately. Visits like that are always helpful to put things in perspective for my own life.

On the drive home, I was fairly pensive, pondering the existential questions of life as I drove up Interstate 95. My phone buzzed as a message came in from another friend asking whether I had a minute to chat. After my talk-to-text affirmative response, I spent some time on the phone with him hearing about the challenges that he is facing in his life within his own family.

When I hung up the phone with him, my mind raced to a handful of other friends and acquaintances whose lives have been a bit of a challenge lately. Marriages on the rocks. Childrearing challenges. Sickness. Crises of faith. It was a little overwhelming for me to consider.

My mind wandered to this church planting journey that I am on. I thought about the name of this church we are starting, The Branch. Our tagline has been, “Where life and faith meet.” I couldn’t help but think that sometimes that meeting of life and faith meet feels more like an abrupt collision than a cordial meeting.

Years ago, a mentor reminded me that when you embrace a name for yourself as a church, you had better be prepared to embrace all that comes in that name. I couldn’t help but hear his words as I thought about life and faith meeting. I’ve known from the start that this collision of life and faith would be messy.

I’ve never been one to tolerate giving messages or advice that I am not following myself. To think that any kind of meeting of what can sometimes feel like diametrically opposed things like life and faith would be a walk in the park would be naive, in my opinion. Collisions rarely are tidy.

But that’s the thing, as I thought about it, the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve grown weary of encountering people who are hurting who run from the church rather than running towards it. I’ve grown weary of the stories of people forming opinions about Jesus based on his imperfect followers. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like an insider’s club that suspiciously eyes outsiders for fear of what they might have brought with them. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like a retirement home for the already convinced rather than a hospital for the sick who are desperately in need of attention.

Different. Everyone wants to be different, to establish themselves within their own uniqueness. I guess we’ve embraced that same notion. We want to be different. We want to be a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace. So, when we begin to see barriers being broken down, I guess you could say that we can begin to measure ourselves against our goal.

I’ve been in a handful of accidents in my lifetime, nothing tremendously horrible (thankfully), but enough to know that collisions rarely leave us without a mark. Even if there is no physical evidence of a collision, it generally impacts us mentally.

I fully expect that the more and more we see life and faith meet, collide even, we will be impacted by those meetings, those collisions. We won’t be the same, and frankly, I think that’s what we’re going for.

 

Owning vs. Taking Ownership

I had a conversation with a good friend last night about all that’s happening in my life right now. As we get ready to start this brand new church in a matter of weeks, so many different things are coming to the surface.

Having grown up within the established church, I’ve got my fair share of stories. Despite the fallibility of people, I realized a long time ago that my faith wasn’t supposed to be in them but rather in Jesus. People will disappoint you, discourage you, let you down, and sometimes stab you in the back. We encounter people like that within the church and we are surprised but I don’t think that it should be any more a surprise to us than when we find sick people when we go to the hospital.

It’s not the surprise of finding them in church, it’s the surprise that the behavior is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Yes, Christ came to heal because it is the sick who need a doctor, but doctors generally give some direction on a plan of health and wellness to be on the road to recovery. If patients fail to follow that, they can’t be surprised when they don’t get better and feel better.

Over my years within the church, I’ve heard the statistics that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. I’m not sure how accurate those statistics are and, frankly, I’m not sure I care because anything less than 100% of engagement means that we still need to be working so that people can not just attend church but be part of the church.

It makes me think about the difference between owning something and taking ownership of something. You see, I think that there are some people in the 21st century who believe that they own the church but they don’t want to take ownership OF the church.

Owning something means that you paid a price to possess it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you take care of it once you have it. It might mean that you pay someone else to take care of it. It may mean that you don’t take care of it at all.

But taking ownership of something means that possessing it isn’t the main goal, it means that you take responsibility for it. When it succeeds, you rejoice. When it fails, you lament. As it goes, so you go. You don’t abandon it when things aren’t going well. You stick by it.

A few years back, a phrase became popular to utter, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” The thing about that phrase is that the church is the bride of Christ. So, if you say that you love Jesus and hate the church, that’s like telling your best friend that you love him but you think his wife is a……well, you get it.

As we launch out with this new church, I want to allow God to build us into a place where people take ownership. I don’t want people to feel like because they have given money towards the ministry of the church that they somehow own the church and get to call the shots. If anyone owns the church, it’s Jesus, she is his bride, but I don’t think it’s about owning, it’s about loving and committing to her.

No, the church is not perfect, but neither are any of us. Abandoning her when she shows her imperfections is no better than abandoning your spouse the moment he or she begins to show that they are human.

I hope and pray that when people come to see what God is building through us, the specific local expression of his body, that they will see people taking ownership of the church rather than owning the church. I hope that they see beyond the flaws of the people who are there and instead see the flawless head of the church, Jesus Christ, who we are all seeking to be more like every day.

Flexing Your Muscles

Strong male arm shows biceps. Close-up photo isolated on whiteAs I’ve grown in my faith as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that faith can be a lot like working out. When you are trying to get stronger and build muscles, you have to add more weight, do more repetitions, be persistent. If you simply just lift the same thing day after day, you may remain somewhat strong, but you will never get stronger. You certainly won’t grow and gain additional muscle.

Faith is similar, it’s like a muscle. If you continue to limit yourself in your faith-stretching situations, your “faith muscle” will stay the same, it won’t grow. But if you allow yourself to step out in faith further than you have done before, you will see growth and you will get stronger.

Throughout the last fifteen years of my life, I have reminded myself (and those around me) of this time and time again. Fifteen years ago, I left behind a successful career in engineering to pursue a career in full-time vocational ministry. It was a step of faith. It was scary. It was a sacrifice. But if all I did over these last fifteen years was point to that, it would be like lifting the same amount of weight day after day, it wouldn’t make me stronger, it wouldn’t make me grow.

Instead, I’ve had to step out further and further, grab a little extra weight to grow and get stronger. I can’t keep relying on faith stories and faith leaps that happened a while ago, I need to allow God to grow me as I stretch further and further.

In Christian circles, people will talk about sharing their testimony. Growing up, that came to mean telling the story about when a person first met Jesus. Those stories were always great to hear, but I also wanted to know how that decision that had been made years ago was impacting them today. In other words, did it make a difference?

Where were the stories of God working now? Where was the evidence that what had happened so long ago was still having a profound impact on the present day?

That’s what I am constantly striving for. I want to make sure that I’m telling current stories of what God is doing. I want to make sure that I’m lifting a little more weight today than I did yesterday. It’s gradual and I think there can be a danger of getting excessive with it, doing it for the wrong reason or motivation. I don’t want to flex my muscles for my own glory, to win accolades and attention for me.

So, what kind of stories are you sharing? Are you still telling stories of years ago, about what God did a long time ago? Or are you adding on some additional spiritual and faith weight, letting God grow you in new ways so that you can share current stories of what God is doing today?

 

Stop Telling Me, Just Show Me

show me don't tell meFor years, I had grown tired of what the church calls evangelism. It just didn’t seem right to me. It felt like an Amway session or a gathering to try to sell someone a timeshare. It didn’t feel genuine and, at times, it felt downright offensive.

Now, I know that Paul wrote in the Bible that the gospel is foolishness for those who are perishing, a stumbling block for some, offensive to others. But the offensiveness should come in the content, not the presentation.

Over the course of my life, I’ve done some of my best learning when I’ve been watching and paying attention to what’s going on around me. I learn better when you show me what to do.

My father-in-law is a contractor. When my wife and I lived close to him, I relished the times when I could work alongside him, learning new things, watching a master at work. The ease with which he would accomplish things was always astounding to me. I wished for the capability that he had and showed often.

While I was working alongside him, he wasn’t sitting there lecturing me about the different steps that he was taking. He would just go about doing the work, asking for the things that he needed along the way. As I watched and learned, questions emerged in my mind and I would ask them as they popped up. My father-in-law obliged to answer the questions, and my education continued.

As I’ve thought a lot about the church lately, I think we’ve stopped learning by doing. We’ve also stopped teaching by showing. Essentially, that’s what discipleship is all about. It’s not saying, “Let me teach you a collection of facts so that you can be smart and know how to be a disciple.” It really needs to be about saying, “Walk with me and I will show you what it means to be a disciple.”

In our errors of teaching rather than showing, we’ve also failed in our witness to the world. Instead of showing the world what it means to love Jesus and be his disciple, we’ve simply said, “You’re not living in such a way as pleases God.” Meanwhile, our lives don’t necessarily indicate anything different either. We say that Jesus changes everything and then we go on living our lives as if he makes no difference at all.

So what would it look like for us to stop telling people how to live and start showing people how to live?

Again, don’t get me wrong here, this doesn’t mean that we never share the gospel with those around us, it simply means that we earn the right to share and be heard by living in such a way that it actually matters to us. I won’t go so far as to say that we need to preach the gospel and use words if we must, but we need to let our actions model the words that we speak.

I was at a gathering not too long ago with some people who have been jaded by the church. They’ve been burned and hurt and they are slowly making their way back to faith. I had adopted a posture of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, so I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut (a fairly significant feat for me).

Finally, the hostess looked over at me and said that she was curious what I was thinking. I shared that I thought it was time for the church to remember that there is an important verse that Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15. He said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have.” Unfortunately, I said, many people had left out some significant words in there……everyone who asks you.

The church needs to do a better job of living questionable lives, lives that cause people to ask questions. We need to do a better job to not only speak about the difference that Jesus makes in us, but also to show it and live it out. In so doing, I am convinced that people will see that difference and then we can live into Peter’s words as they begin to ask us why we’re different. In responding to their questions, I think it will look and feel a little less like a pitch for a timeshare and more like the reason for the hope that lives within us and has changed our lives.

Painful Growth

This month marks fifteen years in full-time ministry as a pastor. Having successfully navigated a career in engineering before becoming a pastor, I can say that engineering was much easier for me. I believe that pastoring is a calling, which isn’t to say that engineering is any less of a career, but rather that if someone thinks that they could do anything else other than being a pastor, they should try that first.

In those fifteen years of being a pastor, I have experienced lots of difficult times. I lost my parents. I experienced a church split. I sat through ordination exams….twice. Throughout those difficult times, I have seen myself grow. Of course, I would much rather have grown through simpler means than the ones that grew me, but that wasn’t the plan.

In my work as a pastor, I have experienced seasons or experiences of pain. Unfortunately, these seasons or experiences aren’t unique. I would guess that if you were to talk with other pastors, most of them would agree that they have had these seasons or experiences as well.

These experiences are mostly unavoidable. Sure, some of them could be avoided for a period of time, but if you live for any length of time, you will most likely face them all at some point.

Based on my own experience, these have been among the most painful things that I have experienced in ministry:

The pain of tragic loss

When my best friend from college lost his six month old to cancer, it was among the most difficult things that I ever had to face, and it wasn’t my child. I tried my best to be a friend who loved and cared without trying to offer cliche advice.

When my friend called to ask me to do the funeral, I knew that it would be one of the most difficult things that I would ever have to do.

Trying to wrap your head around the pain and hurt in this world without throwing out trite answers is tough. Yes, sin has tainted the world, but that’s not the most helpful answer that a grieving family wants to or needs to hear at the height of their pain. Helping families cope with loss is one thing, tragic loss always seems to make it harder, at least in my opinion.

The pain of people leaving your church

This seems so small in comparison to the point above, but as I’ve talked with other pastors, I haven’t met one of them who has said that they enjoy it when people leave their church. The more personally connected you are with the people whom you shepherd, the harder and more painful it is when they choose to leave. While I have never been divorced, I can say that having friends walk away from my church is the closest thing that I’ve felt to a divorce.

No matter how long I’ve been a pastor, it always feels like a shot in the gut. People tell me not to take it personally, but it’s really hard. When you pour your life into something and someone walks away from it, it’s kind of hard not to take it personally.

The pain of seeing someone waste their potential

Leaders should have a knack for seeing potential in people. I’ve seen this in good coaches, teachers, supervisors, whoever. When that potential is identified, a person is made aware of that, and that person just shrugs it off, that’s painful to me. I see that as a person embracing mediocrity, not being willing to do the hard work of growing but instead being content to remain as they are.

I wish that I could say that this was limited to those who are young and foolish, but sadly, my experience has been that I’ve seen it mostly in people who should know better, people who have even grown up in the church. There’s not much worse than seeing someone who believes that they are a mature and growing disciple of Christ with thirty years of experience when in reality they are just an infant who has repeated the same year thirty times over.

The pain of having people say things about you that aren’t true

I can fully admit that I am stubborn. I can also admit that I have a hard time letting go of things. But one of the most difficult things that I have struggled to let go of is when someone says things about me that aren’t true. It’s not just the saying of untrue things, it’s also the unwillingness of people to actually hear or learn the truth.

This has mostly happened when someone had a preconceived notion about me or when someone has generated an opinion about me based on a very limited experience. No matter how hard I’ve tried, there is no convincing them that they should take a second look and get to know me. I become a justice monster then I feel that injustice is being done to me.

There may be a lot more painful things in ministry, but a decade and a half into this, these are the top four experiences that have been most painful to me.

Like I said, I’ve seen growth come out of all of these experiences, but it’s been painful growth, growth that I would rather have come any one of a hundred other ways.

How about you? What have been some of your most difficult growing experiences?

Between Belief and Unbelief

When Faith FailsIf you’ve spent any time in the church, you may have grown uncomfortable with certain things that you see there. Aside from certain social issues that have emerged to the forefront in the recent past, there are other things that have irked people who find themselves struggling to make sense of what they know of God, what they read in the Bible, and what they experience in their daily lives. The juxtaposition of those three things is rarely as well-fitting as puzzle pieces but might rather feel more like the jagged edges of glass or pottery that were shattered and are now trying to be mended and put back together again.

Dominic Done steps into a difficult and sometimes controversial topic in his book “When Faith Fails.” He addresses doubt, a subject which has been avoided in some camps and embraced in others. Rather than taking the approach that it is bad, wrong, or sinful, Done instead recognizes it for what it is, “an opportunity for authentic and vibrant faith.”

Done divides the book into three sections: Far From Home, Exploring the Terrain, and Coming Home. Far From Home addresses how we got here to this point of doubt, wrestling with our faith. Exploring the Terrain seeks to find hope in life’s hardest questions. Coming Home deals with moving through doubt in pursuit of deep faith.

In the Far From Home section, Done is quick to correct those who may want to live or expect to live with complete and total certainty. He says that in seeking total certainty, we lose the beauty of mystery. As he puts it, “If all we value is explanation, we lose the joy of exploration.” He spends the section vying for a healthy doubt and trying to promote is as normal and an everyday part of life.

Doubt, as Done sees it, is living in the world in between belief and unbelief. It is a moment of tension, living somewhere in between. It is the place that stands in stark contrast to the Lego gospel which says that everything is awesome, because life is hard, tragic, and people sometimes suffer. It is the place you come to when everything you thought was supporting you and holding you up disintegrates.

As “When Faith Fails” unfolds in these pages, Done shares insights and wisdom, but he does it with care, compassion, and sensitivity. There are plenty of helpful phrases that he shares, none of which felt contrived or cliche to me. For instance, “God doesn’t demand that we understand him, but he does ask that we trust him.” And, “You can believe without doubting, but you can’t doubt without believing.”

The Exploring the Terrain section contains an apologetic for the Bible. Can we trust it? As he walks through this section, he helpfully tells the reader that we might need to change our approach and view of the Bible. Rather than looking at it through modern or postmodern eyes, Done suggests we see it for what it is, “an eccentric, weird, difficult, challenging, inspiring, inviting, paradigm-disrupting book that, page by page, story by story, culminates in the person of Jesus.”

Done also asks in this section whether science is the enemy of faith. As he sees it, faith and science are not enemies, but different sides to the same picture. He writes, “Science only tells us part of the story. It reveals and enriches our perception of reality; opening our eyes to the complexity and splendor of the world. But it cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

While many in the world of religion see science as the enemy and many in the field of science see religion as incompatible with science, there are others who live in the tension of both, scientists who are theologians and who embrace both sides.

Theodicy, the problem of pain and suffering, and the silence of God are also addressed by Done. He doesn’t throw trite answers at any of the questions he poses. He also doesn’t give packaged responses that fail to address what is at the heart of these questions and issues. If I could describe the approach in one way, it would be embracing the tension of the in between. So, if you are seeking a beautiful resolution like a thirty minute sitcom, you should probably go somewhere else.

As Done moves into the third and final section, one of the most memorable recommendations that he makes to the reader is to, “do the hard work to put yourself in a place where the truth can find you.” He recommends seeking out community because it is in community that we are shaped, formed, and that we learn. Rather than seeing community as a provider of resources to be consumed, we should see it as a family to invest in. Even as we look at Scripture, Done says, we should see it as active participation in the unfolding of a story that tells us we are all in this together. The community of the church is the place where broken people should discover that they are not alone.

Done does a great job of encouraging his readers to embrace doubt with purpose and intent. While some doubt dogmatically challenging anyone to prove those doubts false, Done recommends an approach that seeks to learn and understand, not completely, but adequately.

I have encountered a number of people within the church over the years who have been so adamantly against doubt that you would think they were afraid of the outcome had they embraced it. I wish that I had encountered a book like “When Faith Fails” a long time ago, I would have felt less awkward and much more affirmed when I found myself in that in between world.

The approach that Done recommends with doubt is very much the approach that is modeled by David in the Psalms. He started with his honest doubts, questions, and concerns, but he always came back to God, who he was, what he had done, and what he had promised to do in the future.

If you have wrestled with doubts and questions, this book won’t give you quick and easy answers, but it will help you to know that you are not alone nor is there something wrong with you. Instead, Done brings encouragement to his readers to embrace the tension and continue on the journey with expectation, anticipation, and mystery. If you can live with the tension, then “When Faith Fails” may just be the book to help encourage you through it.

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

Context Is Key

A few years back, a friend and mentor of mine introduced me to a concept that really made sense regarding the local church. He talked about the three C’s of church. Contents, Context, and Containers. The contents of what church is about is non-negotiable. If we are seeking to be faithful to the Bible, we will do our best to understand it and let the contents of what we do and say as the church be driven by what it says.

The containers in which that content is housed are negotiable, they can change. Another way of saying container might be presentation. How is the contents being presented? In which containers is the content housed?

But I haven’t really been thinking much about contents or containers lately. I’ve mainly been focused on context. This friend and mentor asked a question as he presented this idea of context. He asked, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?”

As I’ve been on this church planting journey, I’ve been visiting other churches to get an idea of how they do things. I’ve especially wanted to observe churches that meet in non-traditional spaces, spaces that are not their own. Schools. Theaters. Rented spaces where they have to set up and tear down every week. We’ve visited a number of them.

As I look back over the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, I can see a progression of my thinking in regards to church. Ten years ago, I questioned why church planting was necessary. I also questioned why there are so many churches and why people feel the need to constantly change churches. It never made a lot of sense to me and it still doesn’t completely make sense, but I’ve begun to put some of the pieces together in my head.

You see, as I’ve looked around and seen these different expressions of the body of Christ, I’ve begun to understand that it makes more sense than I thought for there to be so many expressions. After all, we are a diverse people and that diversity is going to shine differently in different contexts and in different people.

But there are two things that I think need to happen in order for this to be more effective.

1)  Before you leave and before you commit, ask a different question

It seems that people choose churches like they choose an outfit in the morning before they leave the house, it all depends on what kind of mood they are in. I think that often people come to the local church and ask themselves what she can do for them, and I don’t think that’s the right question.

With all apologies to JFK, I think his statement about asking what you can do for your country may apply here as well. Instead of asking what a church can do for them or even asking what they can do for the church, I think they need to ask themselves, “How can I best fit into this community?” or “Is there a place for me in this community?” or even “How can I best use the gifts that God has given me in this community?”

I think that some people may ask that question but I wonder how many actually go through the due diligence of seeking the answer in earnest. It seems that people are quick to express their frustration with the inadequacies of the local church and quickly go find another one. I wonder what would happen if every pastor expressed the same frustration over those members and their lack of engagement and using of their gifts in that same local church. That would be interesting!

If we think about it in terms of the context question my friend shared, I think we might wonder how we might fit into this local expression as God expresses himself through us in this place and at this time. Are we seeking ways that we fit or are we seeking ways that we disagree?

If the church is to be about the Missio Dei, the mission of God, her people will need to ask these questions with the intent of finding out how to best be used by God. This doesn’t mean that God can’t accomplish his will without us, but it does mean that we should always be asking how can I use what God has given me to best be a part of his work?

So, before you take your toys and go somewhere else, ask yourself if you have really been seeking to use the gifts that God has given you where he planted you.

2) Come Together Despite Differences

The town in which I am starting a new church is a unique place. It’s fairly diverse in many ways and it’s been cool and interesting to see.

There are a number of churches that already exist there and I’ve already had it asked of me more than once why this place needs one more church. And what I am finding is that God wants to take a group of people who come together in community to allow him to uniquely express himself in this particular place at this particular time.

If you were to put all of the churches together, I think you would have a lot of differing opinions on a number of different topics. But, I also think that there would be a number of areas where you would see agreement, and frankly, I think that gets overlooked far too often.

For how far down the road we are since the church was established in the first century, I don’t know that there will ever be a time this side of eternity when we could move towards one local expression of the body of Christ. In the meantime, though, I think we can look for a taste of what is to come. I think we can look at the essentials and see if we align there. If we do, I think we can have some discussions on the places where we differ and see if those differences prevent us from fellowship together. If we are honest, I have a hard time believing that they will.

In fact, as I look around at the community and its needs, I think that God can accomplish his work through his church if some of the barriers that have been keeping us apart are removed. That doesn’t mean that we will all agree on everything. That doesn’t mean that there might still be some significant differences. Could it be that some of these differences exist so that we can work through them and in spite of them? What would happen if the world could see the testimony of grace in these local churches as they put differences aside and seek to be on mission together?

As I continue to go from church to church to see how God is expressing himself from context to context, I am beginning to understand that these separate churches aren’t a bad thing if we can just try to find ways to come together now and then. We can be unique, express ourselves in the ways that God is calling us to express ourselves, and still find ways to cross over the barriers that keep us apart to have a taste of unity, not uniformity, not full agreement, but oneness. After all, there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.

The picture that we see in Revelation 7 seems to be a “someday” picture, a picture that we figure we’ll get to after Jesus returns. I wonder what it would look like if we began to practice that now, every tribe, tongue, and nation coming together to worship the Lord. A foretaste of what is to come, and I don’t think it’s a pipe dream to think we can begin to experience it this side of eternity.

Soli Deo gloria!

Raise Your Sail

The word for spirit and breath or wind in Hebrew and Greek is the same. Ruach in Hebrew. Pneuma in Greek.

There’s something to be said about the likening of the Holy Spirit to wind. In fact, Jesus’ describes this in John 3:8 when he says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Everyone born of the Spirit will be guided by the Spirit. While that life seems exciting, it’s also scary and unpredictable. If you’ve ever experienced the wind, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been on a sailboat, you especially know what this is all about.

One of the first times I was on a real sailboat, my wife and I still lived in Connecticut. A friend from church had a sailboat and invited us to go out one afternoon. Neither of us having had much experience with sailing, we consented and agreed to the adventure.

captain jonA few hours later, rocked back and forth by the wind and waves, an inexperienced captain (me!) steering the ship, we made it back to shore. My wife made a beeline for the bathroom as soon as we got there and proceeded to lose whatever was in her stomach. She wasn’t a fan of my captaining….

Fast forward about fifteen years later, she’s begun to trust my “steering of the ship” a little more than she did back then. Honestly, I really don’t think it’s me that she’s trusting, it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s not really me who is steering the boat, I’m just raising the sail.

That’s the adventure of being led by the Spirit. While there may be times when we think we’re in control, it’s mostly just raising our sails and letting the wind blow us wherever we will be blown. There is trust. There is faith.

As I’ve gotten older, I have found that new chapters in my life require more faith than I have exhibited before. Sometimes that faith feels like more faith than I am capable of or more faith than I am willing to give.

I look back and I see that my faith is grown. If I had looked ahead from fifteen or twenty years ago, I never would have believed you had you told me what I would be up to down the road. I wouldn’t believe that I would leave a career that I had been educated in, trained for, and been licensed for. I wouldn’t believe that I would leave my family and move twelve hours away to start a new career. I wouldn’t believe that I would go back to school again and get another degree. I wouldn’t believe that I would actually be starting a new church.

Faith works like that though, it becomes cumulative, it grows and grows, we acquire more and more because more and more is required of us if we really follow the Holy Spirit. But just like the man in Mark 9, I feel like I am constantly saying, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I don’t feel nearly as capable of trusting and walking in faith as I feel like I should.

But the very one who struggled with my leading through the wind on Long Island Sound is reminding me as I struggle with the wind of the Holy Spirit that faith is required and he needs to take the lead rather than let reason and fear win the day. My wife has told me multiple times that I can’t be sidetracked from what God has called me to, I need to have faith.

This past weekend, my journey led me down to Matthews, North Carolina. I visited Threshold Church, the church where my church planting coach pastors. We had talked about my family coming down for a visit to spend time with him, see his new church building, and pick the brains of those who had been part of his original team who helped to start the church.

Raise Your Sail

I had planned on speaking for a few minutes during the service to share about The Branch, the new faith community that we are starting in September. My friend also had an artist who was part of the church paint a picture during the message.

My friend told me that he would be preaching from Matthew 13, a chapter that talks about growth, plants, and seeds. The final section he would be focusing on would be about the mustard seed, the smallest seed which turned into a fairly large plant when grown.

As I watched the painting take form and listened to my friend’s message, I was struck by the picture that was emerging on the artist’s board. A ship. A hand. A mustard seed. Six people in a boat: me, my wife, my three kids, and Jesus. Jesus at the bow. Me raising the sail. My wife at the stern, steering the ship.

Raise Your Sail at home

After I finished speaking, the artist asked me to stay up there and told me that he would be giving us the painting as a gift from the church. I was blow

n away as I had been admiring it the whole time it was coming together. What a gift!

We drove home that afternoon and after unloading the car, one of the first things I did was hang that picture on the wall of our home. It stands now as a reminder of this journey of faith we are on. It tells the story of faith, the story that we are now a part of, the story that is still being written.

We have raised our sails and we are being moved by the Holy Spirit. It’s a little scary, but Jesus is in the boat with us, so I think we’re going to be all right.

If you want to see the picture take shape in video, you can see it here.

Irresistible Faith – A Book Review

irresistible faithMany people are familiar with the quote attributed to Gandhi that, “I like your Jesus but I don’t like your Christians.” For centuries, it seems that one of the greatest apologetics against Christianity has been the body of Christ, who have misrepresented him and, “created a public relationship nightmare for the movement that he began through his death, burial, and resurrection.”

Into this, Scott Sauls brings his latest book, “Irresistible Faith.” Sauls is calling the body of Christ to be a better representation of who we are called to be in this world. If we begin to live in such a way that our faith is irresistible, perhaps the apologetic might turn around and instead of dissuading people from Christianity, they might see something in us so compelling that it will be irresistible.

Sauls splits the book into three parts: abiding in the Irresistible Christ, belonging to an irresistible community, and becoming an irresistible Christian. He calls Christians to seek out ways to distinguish themselves from the world in which we live. His call isn’t to completely sequester ourselves or hole ourselves up and practicing avoidance at all costs. Sauls points us to a place of savoring Christ rather than the things that the world has to offer.

He isn’t condemning the things of the world, he is simply condemning the loving and savoring them over Christ. He writes, “Possessing what the world has to offer only become problematic when possessing what the world has to offer starts to possess us.” Saul uses the example of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings books, a creature who had once been a simple Hobbit but who had been overcome with a lust for his “precious” that turned him into something like Hobbit-like.

Sauls also calls his readers to belong to an irresistible community. This has been a problem for many people as their experience of the church, the body of Christ, has been less than desirable. Rather than experiencing a place of welcome, warmth, and love, they have experienced a place of judgment, backbiting, and abandonment.

But we were created for community, Sauls writes, “not for isolation; for interdependence, not for autonomy; for relational warmth and receptivity, not for relational coldness and distance.” When God created Adam, he knew that it was not good for him to be alone. We also see that the community that existed from eternity past within the three persons of the Trinity has been extended outwards to those whom God has created in his own image.

There is acknowledgment of the imperfections of the church, but Sauls casts vision of what the church could be. “If all our Christian communities and churches were sold out to this one simple practice – to only speak words that make souls stronger – I wonder how many spiritually disengaged people would start wanting to engage. I wonder how many religious skeptics would want to start investigating Christianity instead of keeping their distance from its claims and its followers.” That kind of community would be compelling and irresistible to those who can encounter the opposite over and over again within the world.

Being in community means opening ourselves up to accountability and confrontation. Those things need to be done with loving intentions and humility. We are all imperfect, but that shouldn’t stop us from calling each other out with the right intentions. We should treat each others, “as fellow sinners who are on a journey right alongside us. We move together toward perfection, being animated by God who is faithful to complete the work that he began in us.”

Lesslie Newbigin once wrote that movements towards the new creation that God is seeking to create can only happe, “when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” This is the beginning of Saul’s third section of the book, how we become irresistible Christians.

We move towards becoming irresistible Christians as we treasure the poor, as we embrace our work, and as we leave things better than we have found them. Sauls is calling his readers to the work of biblical justice, being about the things that God is about. He doesn’t mince words, telling Christians that if the only faith people see is a doctrinal skeleton without the flesh and muscle that carry that doctrine out, then we have a malnourished faith which is sick or dead.

Sauls encourages a work ethic that makes no sacred and secular distinction. He is not promoting an ideology that only those who find themselves employed full-time in some kind of ministry position or organization are the only legitimate ministers. Instead, he calls Christians to the words of the Apostle Paul who said that we should do everything, no matter what it is, as if we are doing it unto the Lord.

Finally, rather than embracing a twisted and distorted theology that “it’s all gonna burn up anyway,” Sauls encourages Christians to leave things better than they have found them. While many have claimed that we can attain perfection and create a better world apart from Christ, Sauls says that the only way that we can achieve this is through the power of God. He casts a vision for what could be if Christians were to live differently.

“Irresistible Faith” is a call to action. Sauls is not simply suggesting that right theology will get us to a place where we are on track to better represent Christ. He is calling Christians to let their theology be evident in what they do, what they say, and how they act in this world. He is really calling Christians to step up to be who we are supposed to be rather than who we have become.

If you want to be challenged and called to action, then you will appreciate Saul’s work here. If you want to continue to live a life that seems no different than those around you who have no faith to speak of, then this book is probably one to avoid. If we heed the call that Sauls puts out here, I think we could see a real “turning of the ship” when it comes to how the world sees and perceives the body of Christ who is supposed to be representing him in this world.

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