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!

 

Curating An Experience

I remember a few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was a worship leader at a local church. We were talking through resources and books recently read. He had mentioned to me a book about curating worship. I was intrigued by the title as I had really only heard that term used of museums and art shows prior to that conversation.

The dictionary defines “curate” as, “to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)” or “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.” My interpretation was always that it had more to do with strategic organizing, organizing for a purpose.

I don’t think I had thought about the word until the other day when my wife and I were having a conversation and I said something to her about parents curating experiences for their children. That passing statement implanted itself in my brain and I’ve been mulling it over since.

I’ve rarely met a parent who hasn’t, in some way, wanted their own children to have either identical or completely different experiences than they had as children. Parents can often get incredibly nostalgic about their own childhood experiences, almost to the point of obsession, thinking that the only way their children can experience something is in the exact same way that they did.

At the same time, there are plenty of parents whose childhood experiences were such that they want to do anything and everything possible to ensure that their children don’t have to have that same experience themselves. While they may not necessarily have been traumatized by their experience, they know that they want better for their own children than they had themselves.

I have to admit that my approach has been similar, at least in the area of wanting my kids to experience better than I did at their age. But in the midst of doing my best to ensure that, I’ve come to realize that, just like food, organic is better than processed, and experiences that happen are so much better for my kids than experiences that are forced.

I’m learning that presence and availability matters so much more. I’ve been on enough trips with my kids, given them enough gifts, to know that setting my expectations high about their reactions can lead to disappointment and frustration. How many of us have given our three year old child a present at Christmas thinking they’ll be so excited, only to have them playing with the box the present came in fifteen minutes later?

Instead of trying to force my kids to experience things the same way that I did, maybe it’s just about offering suggestions and letting them decide for themselves. While my kids share certain personality traits of my wife and I, they are their own people. They are becoming who they are becoming. Sure, I want them to carry on a legacy of sorts, but I don’t want them to feel forced to do it the way that I do it. Forcing that on them won’t result in joy in the journey at all.

When you have friends whose kids are older than yours, you hear the endless comments about how time flies and how they blinked and their kids went from pre-school to high school. I get it, I’m listening.

So, I’m trying my best to be present. They want to throw the baseball or softball? I’m here. They want to show me the latest trick on the skateboard? I’m here. They want to talk about what happened at school that day? I’m here. Instead of forcing the experience, I want to be there for it, whatever it is, and then be available to respond to that experience.

I spoke with a friend yesterday and we laughed over how much of a growing experience it is to see your own flaws in your children. It’s humbling at best and unnerving at worst. But it’s also freeing to realize that they are who they are and we have the opportunities to shape them, not by force, but through the investments that we make in them.

I’d love to be a curator of life for my children, not to force them to see things the way that I do or even experience exactly what I have experienced. Instead, I want to be available, like a tour guide, to respond to the inevitable questions, do my best to steer them when I can, and support and encourage them along the journey.

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?

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.

Little Miracles

It’s been an interesting week for me, which seems like something that I’ve been saying a lot lately. I had my second board meeting for the little league (second one I attended because the last one I missed for my son’s birthday). I subbed at a middle school in the town where our church is being planted. I met with my leadership team for our church. I took my oldest son with me to see Bob Dylan. I met with a friend who leads an incredible ministry which includes a food pantry and weekend feedings of the homeless. I participated in a book discussion group where I was only one of two men in attendance.

In the midst of all that, I have had an interesting opportunity dropped in my lap for our church. It was one that was completely unexpected but one that has God’s fingerprints all over it. In some ways, it feels like the perfect situation because it provides for the long-term. The decision wouldn’t be made out of urgency or imminent need, but made out of a vision that God has given me for what lies ahead.

As I survey the events of the week, it’s hard to point to just one thing that seemed more significant than any of the others. They have all combined to fuel the fire of the week, a good fire, a fire that acts as fuel to propel the engine of who I am forward into whatever it is that God has in store. But as has been a common theme for me over the past years, community stands out significantly.

I serve a little league board in my community. I am getting to know the community of the middle school and elementary school in the community where I am serving. I am grateful and humbled by the community that God has surrounded me with to plant our church. We are partnered with and partnering with some incredible community organizations who are seeking the peace and prosperity of the place where God has us. I entered into a new community to have a civil discussion about topics which are usually accompanied by anger, frustration, and hurt.

Sitting down with my friend who runs the local ministry to the homeless and hurting, I was glad to hear some of his stories face to face. While I’ve had the chance to read some of them on social media, there’s nothing like hearing them for yourself, face to face, from the person who has experienced them.

There’s a verse in Hebrews in the Bible that talks of spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. The verse right after it is a verse that I point to over and over again to people who are constantly asking and wondering what the point is of being part of a church community. Don’t give up meeting together. Don’t take yourself out of community. Community is essential to spur you on to love and good deeds.

I can attest to this. That was my experience this week. Community made me better. Community changed me. Community helped me. Community helped me see things that I would normally miss.

In my conversation with my friend at lunch, we were both reminded of the ways that God has worked and is working all around us. My friend said, “If we don’t see it, it’s because we aren’t looking or paying attention.” Those words resonate so deeply with me.

I have felt a strong sense of my own need to celebrate the little things in the season of life where God has me. My frustrations and anxieties can be overwhelming to me, but I have to counteract them with a celebration of the little miracles that I see in my life. They are little enough that if I’m not looking, I will miss them. They are little enough that they might just underwhelm me when I’m looking at them…….if I forget what they truly are: miracles.

Little miracles happen every day, in the chance meetings of two people, in the opportunities that seemingly come out of nowhere, in the provisions that God brings, in all of the little things that I will rush right past if I don’t take time to slow down, pay attention, take notice, and tell about them.

Maybe it’s just a fuller realization for me of the old adage to stop and smell the roses, but it feels more significant than that to me. It feels more like touching the divine, the realization that God is here, not far away somewhere. The realization that the incarnation of Christ in Advent wasn’t completed in his death and resurrection, but was just the beginning.

At the end of this week, I am tired and weary, but not from bad or hard things, thankfully, from the overwhelming way that God meets me in my messy life. I’m hitting the weekend at just the right time, but I want to anticipate more of what this past week held for me. Because in experiencing more of what I did this week, I find the little miracles that God has for me. Nothing extravagant or ornate, but just enough that it keeps me coming back for more. Just enough that I can allay my fears and anxieties for a little bit longer. Just enough that it keeps hope alive and spurs me on to see whatever is next, lying just around the corner.

Pulling Back the Curtain – Part I

ПечатьI have been on a church planting journey unofficially for about a year. The decision to plant happened sometime in the summer of 2018. Throughout the Fall of that year, plans were being made, funds were being raised, a team was being assembled, and prayers were being prayed. In January 2019, it became official, we had received our 501c3 status a few months before and we were ready to begin the pre-launch process.

Growing up in the church, the concept of church planting was not foreign to me. But I definitely encountered a number of people who looked at me sideways if I used the term. It sounds kind of weird if you don’t have a church background. Most people just want to say that you are starting a new church, which is much simpler and probably leads to less staring.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued to strive for authenticity from myself and the people around me. Authenticity and transparency. I get a little tired of things being shrouded in secrecy. Maybe it’s a result of growing up in a pastor’s home where Mom and Dad were always whispering about something. Nowadays, even with my kids, I probably tell them way more than they should know, but secrets never helped me in my own formation, so why should I think it will help them?

All this being said, I know that some of the most powerful lessons that I have learned in life have come from two places: learning from the mistakes of others and learning from my own mistakes. Throughout this church planting journey (as I seem to keep referring to it), I’ve decided that I need to pull back the curtain to show what’s behind it. While there are multiple reasons for it, the two main ones that jump out are that it will provide some accountability and it will also demystify what’s back there.

Two weeks after launching the first public worship service of our church startup (aka church plant, The Branch), the big question I was bombarded with was, “How’s it going?” I knew everyone meant well, but it’s a far bigger question than a two minute conversation thrown out in passing at the grocery store. I’ve never been known for brevity in words, and this time is no exception, so asking such a gigantic question and leaving me limited space to answer is hard for me.

The answer that I consistently gave to those who asked was that church planting is a little like tracking your 401k, it’s more about the long game, the journey, the trajectory. If you look at it day after day, it’s easy to get frustrated, angry, scared, worried, nervous, anxious, and a variety of other emotions that are based on its instability. Church planting, like a 401k, is not about overnight success.

I’m not sure what everyone wants to hear when I am asked that question, but I have desperately fought to not simply throw out numbers. Telling people how many people were at our launch service and how many we have had every Sunday since is tempting but not a true indicator of what’s really going on. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way we count in the 21st century church. I call it “nickels and noses.” How much money do you have and how many people are coming?

If that’s what we’re counting, than we aren’t measuring something that gives a deeper indication of the change or transformation that is happening in the people who come, in our community, and in ourselves. I didn’t start a church from scratch to see how big it could get, I started a church from scratch because a) it was what I felt God was calling me to and b) I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Despite popular belief, walking through the doors of a church and sitting in a chair or pew doesn’t automatically equate to life change and transformation.

So, I’ve tried to get into the habit of talking about what I am seeing beneath any numbers. I’m talking about things that some church planters might not be talking about. I’m walking with a high school student through depression, identity, and thoughts of self-harm. I’m visiting a recently graduated young man in prison, I’m spending time on the psych ward of a hospital with a friend, brother, and fellow sojourner. I dare say that you’re not going to see a ton of church planters doing these things.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to distinguish myself as different, outside the norm. I like to mess with people’s preconceived notions. It’s probably heavily linked to being an Enneagram 8, but I also think it’s because I’ve grown tired of settling for the status quo and the norms that are too easily passed off as prerequisites for success.

We don’t have tons of people coming to our Sunday worship service, but we are beginning to make a mark. We’re caring for people. We’re caring for our town in small ways. We’re doing our best to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where God has planted us. We are partnering with others whose heart beats with a similar beat.

So, if you run into me in public and you decide you just might go there and ask me how it’s going, be prepared, you probably won’t get a statistical resume of how wonderful of a leader I am (I’m not) and how amazingly successful we’ve been so far. Instead, I might just tell you a story, a story of how God is beginning to break down barriers one at a time. While others are doing their best to put up walls, we’re trying to break some down. If you want to hear stories like that, then go ahead, ask away.

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.

 

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?