This is the Big One

I suspect every one of us has done it, but only because it seems minor compared to the “big” stuff. The harm is so hidden that it’s easy and it just makes you feel better. Yet, it’s tucked in right there among stuff that could get you thrown in prison:

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29)

While nobody is going to endorse murder or excuse depravity, gossip is commonplace. Among the church, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced and even deployed for what might seem like the purposes and outcomes that God would prefer. He doesn’t.

Gossip is extremely hurtful as it isolates and degrades the person who may find out that they are the one being talked about. It tears apart relationships and creates division. There are real victims when we choose to target someone as worthy of our descriptions.

No doubt that when someone is torn down or division is created, there is harm. The other harm, however, is within us as we choose to entertain the stories. The deeper division is within us as the chasm is stretched every time we foster the desire we have to relieve ourselves by reducing others.

Reducing others makes us feel better in the wake of some discomfort as it helps us to elevate ourselves to a seemingly superior position on the imagined battlefields of our minds. This elevation is pride.

When we choose to tear down others, we don’t even have to mention ourselves to actually be promoting ourselves. Our insight, intellect and understanding that inevitably comes out in the shadows of our stories makes us feel better about us temporarily.

That’s a problem. God says so. He says that He will oppose the proud; literally going toe to toe with them to ensure that their schemes don’t advance. Pride sets us at war with God as our strategies will not be promoted above His ways.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” (Psalm 101:5)

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it, and I repent. My battles will not be decided in my wit or words, but by His grace and sovereignty. I pray for the satisfaction He provides from within that will satisfy the temptation that I may feel to exact justice in my stories.

What Fills Your Tank Could Mess You Up

It’s good right up until the point that it isn’t. Things you do for the right reasons can be something that gets done within you when the reasons get twisted. When what was intended as service becomes sustenance, it’s time to put it down.

Once people meet Jesus, they naturally and appropriately want to agree with Him in His purposes. They have a story to tell personally and they want to tell His story passionately. That is so good and so right. The issue comes when that natural and organic desire to share and serve becomes more. When the outpouring produces a return and the return becomes an addiction, it’s a problem.

Two things that can happen in ministry is the assumption of an identity based on the service of ministry and the need for affirmation to fill/refresh the space that has been emptied in service.When your whole world revolves around your ministry, then your ministry has become worldly.

Ministry is the operation of gifts and it’s the Lord’s sovereignty in His choosing of how and when He distributes those gifts. He gives them to His children because they are HIs children; not because they are special. The “anointing” is in everyone that carries the Holy Spirit within if/when they will die to themselves to put Him on display. Dying to self is the key and ongoing ingredient to ministering in Him and not in our own ability.

Wanting or needing people to depend on or affirm you based on your position or gifting subtly shifts the focus and purpose from Jesus to you. He is the One from whom affirmation flows; from the Head down, not the bottom up. It’s out-of-order when the affirmation comes from the receiving perspective. It’s like a father waiting on his kids to affirm him or a boss needing employees to be their source of encouragement. Backwards.

When you need it, it’s time to stop. When you have to do a thing, even a good thing, a reasonable question arises regarding where grace and identity are in the equation. Has it become your source in place of the intended Source? Has religion hijacked your passions and become a formula for what relationship is intended to satisfy?

The Kingdom of God will advance in it’s purposes without any one of us. The things that God wants to do are going to get done without our involvement, yet He chooses to include us. As such, we can/should enjoy the ride and appreciate the invitation. Along the way, the commission we enjoy should never be worn as our identity or source for fulfillment as it’s always His authority and His deal; never ours.

Going Out There with a Clear Picture of It’s Limits

The reason for the gathering is to be encouraged and equipped for the purpose. The purpose is carried out day-to-day in markets and communities that aren’t coming to the gathering. That means that vocations and locations occupied by people who come to the gathering are going to be the ones that carry out the purpose. Out there.

The ministers are electricians, dentists, room moms and IT professionals. They go places that pastors and priests aren’t invited or expected. It’s in those places that ministry extends the reach of God beyond the four walls of a gathering place. To be qualified, you simply have to be reconciled. Once you are reconciled to Jesus, you are a minister of reconciliation.

“And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Once reconciled, you are given the authority of an ambassador to bring the message of reconciliation to others. You are a minister of reconciliation. Congratulations.

John 1:1 says that Jesus is the Word. Reconciliation is to the Word; written and personal. When people are hurting they need to know but they need more than information. The written Word is imperative in our understanding of truth. The Word Himself is just as vital as we realize grace and love. Without the personal connection, it’s a matter of logic and reason with no relationship. The invitation is into relationship.

Too often, we are “out there” among people who don’t know Jesus and we want to try to convict or convince them of their faults with supporting evidence from the written Word. The net result is accusation and condemnation. Typically not very fruitful.

If we’ll allow for Jesus to be personified in our grace and compassion without the need to change behaviors from the outside, He is good at the inside business. In fact, when we consider it, He is still in the process of changing us from the inside but is doing so with love and grace. Not guilt, shame or condemnation.

Ambassadors are only legitimate for as long as they represent the governing authority that sends them. Jesus didn’t send you to tell everyone how wrong they are; He sends you to tell them that He isn’t holding it against them.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

 

Recent Attempts at an Ancient Way for Church

The burdens that we accept are made more clear when we finally get free from them. Looking back, the extra stuff which was piled on is exposed for its worthlessness. All that should be left as we walk out faith which is increasingly easy and light should be the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

We do church in a coffee shop and in no way do I think that we have it figured out and others have it wrong. In its simplicity, there have been some revelations of an ancient and easy way that may have been lost by way of best efforts, however. Without programs, promotions or professionals to administer them we are left considering the body and how people interact with each other as well as with the Head of the Church, Jesus.

We recently added to staff, which means we’ve added a part-time pastor. We only have part-time “pastors” and no particular guy who is “in charge.” There are elders who equally seek to agree on direction and facilitation of vision as the church fulfills its unique place and calling in the context of the Church overall in the Kingdom of God.

The implications of this model are numerous, starting with the idea that a “pastor” may or may not be pastoral. The “five-fold” ministry of eldership relies on the diversity of gifts to equip others to do ministry with Jesus left in His place as the Head of the church. That means that pastoral care and counseling might come to others via a dentist or other form of vocational professional who is gifted as a pastor. It also means that those that are compensated for their contributions to the church (again, on a part-time “bi-vocational” basis) are free to operate in their particular gifting and not try to be everything to everybody.

Recently, our new pastor (who actually is pastoral as well as evangelical) said to me, “I like coming here; it’s not like I’m coming to work and I look forward to the gathering.”

That’s it; it was never meant to be career management, but gifts and talents released in agreement with an eternal plan. Professional programming and metrics management isn’t part of the equation. The invitation of fitting uniquely in a group where your gifts are valued and released in unison with others frees up the “professional” to freely give without carrying a weight that isn’t designed for them to carry. It’s easy and light and should be enjoyable and maybe even some fun.

Stay Connected or Wither Away

I’ve been involved with Quest since 2008. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of lives impacted through the incredible encounter with the One true and living God that occurs during a Quest. Sometimes there is a person who experiences such an encounter only to later struggle and find themselves in a ditch. When I am involved with any individual whom has struggled like that, the first thing I’ll ask them is something along the lines of:

  • “Where are you connected?”
  • “Where are you going to church?”
  • “Who are you living life with?”

Every time, without exception, they aren’t connected, they aren’t a part of a local church and they aren’t living life in the manner we would encourage during and following the Quest experience. They are isolated. Every time.

In John 15:5-6, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

The first thing we should notice about this passage is that Jesus is addressing the branches, plural. There is an invitation to bear fruit in the context of other fruit bearers. While we are often tempted to read Scripture as entirely personal and individual, the context and promises are often corporate. Corporately, there can be much fruit; when we are connected together to Him.

Secondly, the reality is that without such corporate connection with unity in Jesus is that any individual branch is going to wither. Jesus isn’t going to wither and the rest of the branches (people) won’t wither, just the ones that aren’t connected. What happens without connection, by definition, is that the disconnected person dries up and wastes away.

We need to be connected to avoid the ditch. Unless we are comfortable with the withering which is assured, we have to be a part of a local church. House church, coffee shop church, small church, big church, denominational or non-denominational, find the place that you can connect and be a part of the fruit bearing. The connection will come with the challenges that come with relationship but the return on your commitment will be a life that is productive and part of the corporate display of Jesus through His bride, the church.

We Don’t Catch Our Issues; They Come Out of Us

When representing people charged with a crime, one of the first things that was necessary was to hear their story. Asking them how they viewed the circumstances would help uncover not only facts, but attitudes. It was common for many criminal defendants to say that they “caught” the charge.

Depending on the situation, I would sometimes stop them there and help them realize the flaw in their choice of words. The choice of words, whether it started out as a mindset or not, can create a mindset which is based in a lie. That is, for them to continually say that when they are charged with a crime, it was something they “caught” can create the idea that somebody threw it at them or it was just bad luck.

Criminal charges don’t typically float around and just get on people. They are not like a cold or the flu. Charges almost always come from someone putting themselves in circumstances that lead to trouble. They typically come from bad choices. We don’t catch bad choices, we create them, and if we don’t own them then we’ll make them over and over again.

Whether it’s a criminal defendant or anyone else, breaking patterns of destructive decision-making can be difficult. It may be that we have irresponsible spending habits or sloppy time management. The first step for any of us in getting things going the right direction in a particular area of our lives is to own it. It’s our deal; we are the ones responsible.

The next thing is to strip it down to its lowest common denominator. We need to ask ourselves “why do I do the things that I do?” The answers are within us and we have to be willing to do the hard work of responsibility and honesty to dig to the core. God will show us if we are willing to ask and examine and He will redeem anything within us that is producing the consequences in our lives that are distinct from the glory He intends from us.

Every time a flaw, insecurity, stronghold or some other expression of our soul is revealed to us it is an act of grace. The revelation of our depravity affords us redemption for security in His identity. We don’t have to stay where we are if we are willing to admit that we didn’t catch it; we chose it.