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!

 

How Are You Different? – Trust Matters

The place of the church in American society has significantly diminished from what it was 50 years ago. Where once churches held central places in cities and towns, not only geographically but socially as well, they no longer hold that same place of esteem that they once did. The process of this fall from esteem was not a fast one. Tim Keller, in his book “Center Church,” describes this societal change.

The problem is, the church’s response to this societal fall has been more complaint than correction. Instead of saying, “What can we do to adapt to this fall?” the church has instead said, “How do we get back to our place of esteem and glory?”

This fall from esteem has helped the church to garner a look of suspicion from most of society, not just from those who are not a part of it but also those who are or at one time have been a part of it. Because of its stance on various issues, the church has been labeled as prejudiced, bigoted, and closed-minded.

It’s really easy to lament this change and wish for the golden days when the church was respected and esteemed, but what will that lament change? Will it be helpful? Or the church can do the hard work of building trust in its community, seeking to build relationships with people who have become skeptical and calloused towards the church.

In this day and age, I am constantly reminded of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (bold and italics mine)

I’ve heard this verse quoted many times and it seems that many people have neglected to include that bold phrase, “to everyone who asks you.” I’ve heard people say, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” and then they do just that, giving everyone around them an answer to their hope without building a relationship or earning their trust. They just launch into answering questions that are never asked.

We live in a day and age of skepticism where people are not as trusting as they once may have been. Taking that into consideration, trust is something that is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and slow, cumulative process. It can’t be microwaved, it needs to simmer and soak through interactions and conversations.

This has been one of the major growing areas for me during this church planting journey. I’ve written before about my personal journey of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, this is part of it. If people think that I am only listening so that I can get a word in, there will be no trust built. But if I listen to understand and hear what others are saying, if I show genuine concern for them and the things that they are concerned for, trust is built.

The last thing that I ever want someone to think is that I’m just a salesman who is “selling Jesus.” I’ve seen this happen all too often, Jesus becomes a bargaining chip for people. Come to be part of our party, but first you need to listen to our “Jesus pitch” before we let you enjoy yourself. Worse than this is when people come to have some of their physical needs met and we tell them, “We’ll give you what you need when you listen to what we want you to listen to.”

Treating Jesus and the gospel like a bargaining chip cheapens the message of grace behind it. If we don’t earn trust and earn our voice, why should people listen to us? If we simply listen so that we can get our moment in the spotlight, people will sniff out the disingenuousness of our listening and we will be even further from gaining their trust or earning a right to be heard.

Trust matters and this is a part of the process that can’t be skipped or fast-tracked. It needs to be entered into authentically, organically, and with the utmost patience and care.

As I’ve been building relationships within the community, this is forefront on my radar screen. I want to hear about the things that people care about. I want to hear their hearts, know their fears, know their joys, know their passions. I don’t want to know or hear these things so that I can use them as collateral to negotiate, I want to know and hear these things so that I genuinely care about these new friends I am meeting. If I don’t care about these things, then I am just a salesman, selling Jesus, doing my best to convince people of something.

Jesus said to love my neighbor, and it seems that one of the most loving things that I can do is to listen, care, and build trust with people, letting them know that I’m for them and about them, not simply wanting to tell them what I need to tell them and then move on.

Building trust leads to the last significant difference which is also the newest one for me: establishing a parish model of church. We’ll talk about that in our next and final installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

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.

Reflection of a Year

The year closes down as one chapter ends and another one gets ready to begin. There are times in life when a moment feels more significant, as if you are on the brink of something.

In January of this year, as I looked back at my journal, I had written Isaiah 43:19 down, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” It was almost as if the Holy Spirit was prompting me, alerting me that something was coming.

If someone had told me at the beginning of this year what I would be heading into as 2019 begins, I don’t really know how I would have responded. I’ve never been a very big risk taker, I long for control much more than I would probably ever let on. Uncertainty is scary and I like to do whatever I can to gather as much information as possible to lessen the amount of possible surprises that might await me.

Yet here I am, stepping into the unknown and hoping and praying that my feet will fall on sure footing. I’ve prayed. I’ve listened. I’ve sought wise counsel and advice. I’ve done all that I can and that’s where faith comes in. Faith steps in at the end of the rationality and reason that we have, launching us off into the unknown.

I’ve never been a fan of resolutions that come at the beginning of the new year. The statistics aren’t good for how many people actually follow through with the new year’s resolutions that they’ve made. I’d much rather make goals and feel like I have the liberty to make course corrections along the way.

While my verse at the beginning of 2018 was from Isaiah, the verse that I launch into 2019 with is from the Psalms. The Psalms have always been by default when reading the Bible. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” It serves as a daily reminder that no matter how much I may think of myself, the work that I am doing is not dependent on me. It’s a reminder to stay humble and lean into the unknown that only God knows, relying on his strength and wisdom to direct me as I move forward.

God has been doing some incredible things over the past few months as I get ready to launch out into this new adventure. I am excited to see what God will continue to do. At the same time, there is anxiety and fear because of uncertainty. Those things aren’t overcoming me, and that’s the key. Just as the Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

2019 will be an adventure, but I feel like it’s an adventure that has been a long time in the making. Goodbye, 2018, and welcome to whatever comes next!

Pressing On, Pressing In

So, I’m learning a ton about myself, a ton about faith, and just a ton in general. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt like I’m drinking from the firehose, this season is certainly one of them.

For anyone who has been following my story, my family and I are launching out and planting a church in the next year. It’s something that’s been on our heart since we left Asheville, North Carolina almost eleven years ago.

There are a number of reasons why it’s taken us this long to do it. To be honest, I think that God had a lot of work that he needed to do in me before I was ready to launch out. And honestly, I still don’t know how ready I am, which is probably a good thing. If I felt completely ready and capable, I would probably be relying on my own strength rather than the strength that God gives me.

Since we made our announcement about the plant, I’ve gone through all kinds of waves of emotion. There have been moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of doubt, moments of confidence. One thing that is consistent is my daily realization that I cannot do this alone. Not only as an individual, but also not without God’s help in all of this.

I was educated as an engineer. Two degrees. Some people are tired of hearing me say that, but I bring it up because engineers pride themselves in having the answers. In fact, I always prided myself on having the answers to questions that still hadn’t been asked. But where we are right now, this reliance on things that we can’t see, it’s totally out of my norm, I just don’t usually operate this way. I want answers. I want control. I’m not finding a lot of either right now, and I think I’m okay with that.

But this is a different season. I’m trying my best to press on and to press in. I am doing my best to trust and to have faith. I don’t have all the money that I need for the upcoming year. I don’t have all the particulars of what this church that we are starting will look like. I don’t even know for sure where it is that we will be meeting. And you know what? I’m actually okay with all that, and I think that it’s perfectly acceptable.

It’s actually a big step for me to be where I am and I didn’t get here on my own. Some may think I am being reckless. Some may think I’m hanging on to outdated beliefs. I have seen too much in my life, both good and bad, to not believe.

So, we’re pushing on and I am excited to see what God will do. While I may have some unique strengths and gifts, I know that none of this can happen without God. Like Moses in the wilderness, I stand where I am saying, “If you do not go with us, we will not go from this place.” That’s my sentiment. Exactly.

I’ll keep updating here. I’ll keep hanging on to the faith that I have. After all, faith is the assurance of the things that we hope for, the things that we can’t see. Here’s hoping and here’s faithing!!

Seeing With Your Heart

I am a visual person. I like to be able to see things. I have a white board in my office where I can write out the things that I have to do and even work out ideas. It gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and stare at the thoughts and ideas written on it. I can work them out in my head but right there in front of me as well. My thoughts come to life in a visible way, allowing me to see where I am going and order my thoughts better.

When I can’t see things, I panic. My anxiety rises up. I flip and flail like a fish dropped on dry land, struggling for breath and wondering when I will get a glimpse and see what I have determined in my head is necessary for me to see in order to move forward.

It’s funny how the things that we can so often think are necessary for our survival are far more expendable than we actually think. We obsess over things that seem crucial to us, viscerally reacting or even overreacting. Then we realize that we can live without the very thing that seemed to crucial and integral to our own plan.

Do I need to see, or do I just WANT to see? When I can see all of the pieces laid out in front of me, it’s really easy for me to wallow in my own self-sufficiency, elevating myself to a plain far above where I belong. Seeing all of the pieces may seem comfortable to me, but it mostly eliminates my need for trust and faith in God. If I can figure it all out myself, if I can seem to be self-sufficient, if there is no mystery, what’s the use of faith anymore?

A friend of mine describes the Christian life as being a combination of the two simple yet difficult tasks of trusting and obeying. It’s one step after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Onward. The mundane yet laborious task of putting one foot in front of the other, not always knowing where your footfall will be three steps or ten steps or twenty steps from now. Only knowing where the next step will be. Like the psalmist’s words, a light to our path doesn’t shine for miles in front of us, it simply lights the way for the few steps that lie immediately ahead.

I’m beginning to see that what I think I need to see may be just an extension of my need to control things. Maybe trusting is less about seeing with our eyes and more about seeing with our hearts. Maybe all I really need to see is what’s immediately before me so that I abstain from self-sufficiency and I lean more on God, who has promised to guide me and provide for every step.

I’ll continue to resist, I can be assured of that. I’ll continue to search for ways that I can see what I was never meant to see. But in my search and in my resistance, perhaps I will find that the same vision that I have prided myself in with my eyes may transfer over to my heart and I will begin to see things not as I want to see them, but as I need to see them. Perhaps I will find that as difficult of a task as it is to see with my heart, it will serve me so much better in the long run.

What Are You Afraid Of?

I am afraid. I am full of fear.

I do not know what is going to happen. My fear wants to seize control (or at least give me the illusion that I’ve seized control). My fear wants me to have plan in place, so I’m looking, I’m grasping at any possible plan. I can make up plans with the best of them, so this is cake. Problem is, it’s not the right plan.

No, it doesn’t hurt to act. God wants us to act, but not to act in fear. How many times are we commanded in the Bible, “Do not be afraid?” Not urged or invited, but commanded.

Are my fears bigger than God? I’ve certainly been acting like they are. But we read, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” Trust in me, he tells us. Come to me, he tells us. My burden is light, he tells us. Cast your anxiety on me, he tells us.

So, what am I waiting for? What are you waiting for? What am I so afraid of?

Who’s In Control Anyway?

Clinton, Trump pick up big winsLast night, as I sat in my chair listening to the news on the television in the other room, I opened my Bible to 1 Kings. The kingship of Israel was a tumultuous position. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his flaws. Solomon was the wisest man to live despite his affinity for foreign women. Rehoboam exploited his people and threatened to be more harsh than his father had been.

And on and on the story goes. While there were some bright spots here and there for Israel, there were far more duds.

And you know what? God was still in control. Just because the kings weren’t obedient didn’t change the fact that God was still there.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul told them, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it by saying, “All governments are under God.”

The thing is, I don’t think that the Church has been doing a really good job in the past days of really believing this and living as if it was true. I think we’ve been driven by fear. I think we’ve believed that the president of a democracy has the power to somehow seize control of that democracy and make it a dictatorship.

It’s hard to think about evil rulers without considering King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When the Hebrew young men who were in exile refused to worship the image of gold that the king had set up, Nebuchadnezzar was furious and threatened to cast them in the fiery furnace.

I love the way that the young men responded to the king. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I think that their response is such a foreign one to the ears of so many of us who consider ourselves western evangelicals. God is for us, right? Who could possibly be against us? The United States is a Christian nation, right? God has shed his grace on us, right?

Jesus spoke often about how those of us who follow him would experience persecution. As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve still failed to find the section that talks about how following Jesus sets me up for health, wealth, power, and comfortable living. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but I don’t think so.

I’ve not been thrilled coming into yesterday’s election. To be honest, I didn’t vote for either of the party nominations. In good conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I’ve got friends who voted for both candidates, and I still consider them my friends today. I’m not judging them, I’m not angry with them, I still love them.

Yesterday was an election, and going into that election, I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job of exhibiting our confidence in a sovereign God. I think some of us have been led by fear. I think some of us have been led by anger. I think some of us have let our imaginations get the best of us after having read too many apocalypse novels.

I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a season of opportunity for all of those who believe in the sovereignty of God, all of those who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ. People will be looking at us to see how we respond, not so much when we agree with the powers and authorities over us, but more when we don’t agree. We’ve not always done a good job in the last eight years of modeling a Christ-like attitude in following our president, will we continue in that vein for the next four years?

If I could have gone back and lived yesterday again, I think I might have made a pin or sticker for myself that said, “I’m with Paul” because Paul’s words still ring true today, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” They were true back then and they still hold true today.

So, I’m going to do my best to let this be an opportunity for me to shine Christ in the midst of it all. I want my children to see that when I say that I believe in the sovereignty of God, that I mean it. I want my children to see that when their dad gets up and preaches about trusting in God, that he means it. I want my children to see that authority is still authority, regardless of whether I agree with that authority. While I won’t go against anything that God speaks against, I see this upcoming season ahead as a crucial time for the Church to be an example of what it really means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

#ImwithPaul

The Value of Relationships

Today is the last day of my trip. The end of a journey. For the last three and a half weeks, my family and I have been traveling across the United States. Richmond to Los Angeles and back again. Today, we finally arrive back home.

We’ve squeezed an awful lot into those 24 days. National parks. Baseball games. Reunions with friends. While we’ve been able to do an awful lot, there have been plenty of things that we just haven’t been able to do. There’s only a certain amount of time in a day and as much as you can try to stretch it, you just can’t do everything.

As we’ve been making our way back east towards home, we’ve had the privilege of staying with three of my closest friends from my time in seminary. On the way out, we connected with some family members and some dear friends of my wife’s from her college days.

In the midst of this valuable time, two things have stood out to me.

First of all, the structure of our trip, seeing all the sights that we could see and ending at a much more manageable pace with relationships at the heart of the final days, has been perfect. I can’t think of a better way to spend these last days as we inch our way towards home than to engage in meaningful conversations with some of the people that I love and respect the most.

All of these friends of mine are spread out across the Midwest. South Dakota. Iowa. Ohio. One friend, who we were not able to see, lives in Singapore. Needless to say, we don’t get to see each other very often. While two of the three that I saw were at our seminary graduation a few years ago and one of the three was officially ordained into ministry two years ago, we all have not really spent time together in years.

The second thing that stood out to me was the importance of these relationships. The nature of life is that it just doesn’t slow down. I’ve spent a lot of time during my three month sabbatical considering that truth and its implications. In the midst of schedules, families, crises, and all the things that life throws at us, we make time for the things that are important to us, but even the things that are important to us can have a tendency to fall by the wayside as the things that are directly present before us invade and overtake us like kudzu on trees in the southland.

As I ramp up to dive back into the fray of ministry after three months away, I can’t think of a more fitting preparation for my reentry than to spend time with these friends and their families. One of the things that I valued most about my time in seminary was time spent with these friends outside of the classroom. Sure, we learned a lot within the classroom, but the nature of the program that we went through was that all of us were in ministry and doing ministry while we were getting our degrees. The ability to share about what was happening and the things that we were learning along the way was invaluable.

I am grateful for all of the people that God has placed along my path. I’m especially grateful to these guys that I’ve had the privilege of spending time with over the last few days. I’m not sure when we will have the chance to connect again, but I sure hope it’s soon. Relationships are a much more precious commodity than we can often treat them, I’ve got to make sure that they become a priority. Spending quality time with trusted and respected friends is worth the effort and sacrifice that we make in order for it to happen. The benefits that we will reap from time spent are incalculable, especially when we consider the alternative and just what we might miss out on.