The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“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.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

Peel Back the Layers to Find the Truth of Healthy Relationship

The truth is the truth and the stuff we add onto it and around it is not. We take the truth, add our experiences, preferences, feelings and perceptions but that doesn’t change the truth. It just changes our foundation. When we alter the truth, we weaken our footing. To get back on solid ground, we peel back the added layers and get to the core.

God loves us and He loves community. He gives us a framework of truth to guide and lead us through the challenges that come with living in community. We sometimes add to it, subtract from it and twist it to fit our preferences but if we’ll get back to the foundation, we can relate in healthy community.

With some regularity, I experience people coming to me or observe them going to someone else to let the other person know that they are forgiven for some otherwise unknown offense. They will typically offer some detail to the thing that fueled the offense, followed closely by “but I have forgiven you.” While the exercise is well intended, it’s not based on truth. Whether or not the offense is legitimate or imagined, it’s not the way to handle forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology nor recognition.Forgiveness is just given from within. If there was a thing against us, we have the power to choose to release it but we can do so without informing the forgiven of their pardon.

One of the times to go to another person to discuss offense is when you think they may be offended by you (Matthew 5:23). Think about that; when I think you’re upset with me, it’s legitimate for me to go to you. That’s a time when you need to know about it; when it’s my fault. The humility of that is noteworthy.

A different time for healthy confrontation is to call out sin (Matthew 18:15). This requires and presumes relationship. This is intended for community, not judgment or legalism. It is intended for the benefit of the individual who is struggling as well as the culture of the community as a whole. With the benefit of constructive confrontation, there is an opportunity to repent.

When it’s me that’s offended, I get to forgive. Forgive as I’ve been forgiven. I get to operate in the grace that I’ve received and grace doesn’t demand acknowledgment. Grace is sacrificial and feels forsaken. Grace gives without expectation and submits without reciprocation. Grace is the foundation for healthy community and grace is the fuel for personal transformation and nobody needs to know about it; they’ll recognize it without words.

Small Choices of Rebellion Lead to Big Consequences of Arrogance

I was on the way to an appointment last week and I wasn’t really running late, but I was running “just in time.” When you are wired like I’m wired, just in time feels late so I was pressed to get there as quickly as possible and I had missed a turn. I needed to make a U-turn and was sitting at a red light, only to see a no U-turn sign. I began to survey the landscape for cameras and/or police. There were none, so I decided the U-turn wasn’t going to hurt anybody.

As I waited for the light to turn, I realized a prompting from the Holy Spirit. “You are about to intentionally choose to rebel.” That was it; nothing more about the light or what consequences I would deal with and there was no fear or shame. Just that gentle nudge that showed me my heart. I turned left and proceeded to the next intersection where I could make a legal U-turn.

Nobody would ever know the difference except for the fact that I’m writing about it now. Well, I would and God would and others would as rebellion became more comfortable to me so the next rebellious thing would be that much easier. Oh, and I might forfeit things that God has otherwise qualified me for which I don’t even know about yet.

“For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:23

Rebellion is as the sin of divination, or witchcraft. Witchcraft is our attempt to harness the power of God. We turn the truth of His word and power of His Spirit into a technique that we can master. We try to control the outcomes of supernatural things.

By contrast, we are invited into His love for people when we are submitted the manner in which He loves. Submission and humility are the posture to observe and sometimes even participate in the supernatural love of God. Doing things our way, even for the purpose of church or ministry and even for what we believe are good intentions, is rebellion and witchcraft.

It’s the little things that open the door to the big things. Nobody may notice the U-turn but when we intentionally reject submission in the small things, we will be ready to grow in that seed of rebellion. There may not be cameras and there may not be cops, but there are always consequences.

Legitimate Leadership is Born Within Everyone that Chooses to Be Made

There is a timeless question regarding the production of leadership that asks, “are leaders born or made?” The answer has to be “yes,” leaders are born and then made. Further examination of the question would reveal that leadership potential is more universal than it is exclusive because the essence of true leadership is deeper than the qualities we may initially identify. We are all born with leadership potential and our impact is dependent largely on our development but our development is unto different qualities than we often associate with leadership.

Regardless of your faith or belief, few could argue that Jesus has to be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. He initiated a movement that has spanned centuries and changed cultures. His leadership has reached far beyond his tangible touch or span of years on earth. Within the context of the faith He invited, we are told “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, He was born for His destiny.

As difficult as it is to fully grasp, He also developed into it. Specifically, we know, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). While His destiny preceded creation, His capacity was developed by experience. In other words, He grew into His destiny.

While a study of His life would reveal great knowledge, discipline, influence and an extraordinary ability to communicate, the impact of His leadership if dependent on His character much more than it is attributable to the effect of His skills. Ultimately, the unleashing of centuries worth of global impact hinged on His humility which is grounded in the security of His identity. Humility and security are not necessarily natural in any of us no matter what we believe we may be born for. Humility and security have to be developed.

People follow leaders that sacrifice for their benefit. In fact, the very definition of legitimate authority depends on sacrifice for the benefit of others. “Leadership” that falls short of that isn’t leadership at all, and often it is manipulation or even abuse. The ability to lead which is born within each of us is unleashed by the development of our character and inherent understanding of that identity more than it is our skill at doing things or getting people to do things.

The production of a legitimate leader is the reduction of an aspiring leader. Those that will become less will be positioned for more. Willingness to embrace demotion will increase capacity for promotion. We are all born with the ability to sacrifice and decrease, but the making of our character dictates the extent to which we will influence others along the way and after we are gone.

Don’t Be Weird

The opportunity we face in the coming years is to be different without being weird. Different brings hope but weird distracts and discredits. The weirdness is typically in premature and exhaustive explanations and arguments. Hope will be carried in relational revelation with the context of experience. Once there is a common experience, the dynamic changes and different isn’t trying to convince but simply pointing to the hope which was just revealed.

Whether church is in a coffee shop or cathedral, people actually want there to be hope in God. Even those that have walked away from church are typically “spiritual” and believe in God. The frustration with their religious experience can be redeemed by encountering God Himself, not programs about Him. Relationship affords opportunities in life’s challenges and celebrations to recognize God’s fingerprints together.

Too many times, even revelation of God is recognized and agreed with in ways that are driven by religion. Fruit of His presence includes joy, peace and self-control. That means where He is moving, there can be a sense of calm and order when we will simply recognize Him without packaging Him. Sitting in the calm of His manifestation will convince people more than the routines we have learned by religion.

Inherent in this idea is the stark reality that a minister’s job is to allow for others to connect to Him for themselves. It’s the ministry of reconciliation and every follower of Jesus is a minister in this sense. Our bias within the idea of “ministry” is that we do something to stand in for God’s voice or intentions. Actual ministry is that we simply agree and allow others to experience and agree for themselves.

We can’t be afraid of getting out-of-the-way. The compulsion to follow Jesus comes from Jesus, not to be substituted by the convincing arguments and practices we insert with good intentions. When God starts, we need to stop, not speed up.

The coming season will bring opportunities to agree with heaven on earth and Holy Spirit’s power and presence if we will agree and not always augment. Our extras are subtraction and distraction. We need to marvel and wonder with people, not analyze and explain for them.

God will move in ways that are not bound by denominations and the unification that will be available will affirm and strengthen any church that is more interested in being the Church. The capital “C” Church will be without competition, coercion, comparison or compromise. People are more than willing to see Jesus if we will just quit making Him about us.

Church or Something Like it In a Coffee Shop

A little over a year ago, we were considering where to go and what to do. The building we were meeting in was for sale but it wasn’t a bad thing as we knew there was something more and needed a change, anyway. One morning outside of a coffee shop, God whispered and the conversation began.

Last night, the church moved into the heart of the marketplace. We aren’t the first congregation to start or move in a coffee shop, bar or other market centered location, but it’s not entirely common, either. The first night of “Ekklesia” was full of life and power as God showed Himself faithful, because He is.

As of 2014, according to the Barna Group’s book “Churchless,” 48% of people consider themselves “churched” (at least once a month) and 41% are either de-churched or marginally churched (once or twice a year). Only 10% are truly “unchurched” where they have no history or experience with church at all.

Of those that are de-churched or marginally churched, they are overwhelmingly still interested in God, spiritual growth, etc. but have various reasons why they eventually were done with the institution as we know it. Their theology and world view wouldn’t typically line up with the main stream church, but they need places to figure it out. They need to be able to disagree, out loud, without disqualification or stigma. They need authentic relationship regardless of theological agreement, conversion or tithing.

We are going to give it a run in a coffee shop, because it seems that God said so. We are going to try to be a part of the Church with a unique little spot that isn’t really designed for large crowds. We’ll never have gatherings of over 100 because we want people who are there to have an opportunity to be heard and be part of the experience. We want to foster gatherings that are participative, not consumeristic. Many voices, not a single voice. If we grow, we’ll multiply the number of meetings, but we won’t be starting a building campaign or moving to a larger building.

Some people have been hurt, misunderstood, offended or grown weary of religion and church as we know it. It’s not necessarily anybody’s fault, it just is what it is. They won’t go back into a building with a steeple but we hope they’ll have a cup of coffee with us whether they agree with us or not.

8700 N. Tarrant Pkwy, North Richland Hills, TX . . . We meet Saturdays at 6 pm.