Our Differences Are the Opportunities We Have to Connect

A friend asked me a while back if I considered myself a patriot. The question caused to me pause and consider my answer. I’ve served in the military and was more than willing to fight on behalf of the nation, although that call never came. I suppose that’s patriotic. My answer to him, however, was “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am appropriately submitted and loyal to my country. My ultimate allegiance, however, is to a Kingdom more than it is a country. I am aligned with Kingdom of God more than I am any manmade institutions, no matter how valid. I am more zealous for the Word of God than I am for the Constitution of man. All while being a loyal citizen under the governments He has placed in authority.

Last week, I had the privilege of serving some men in the United Kingdom. I got to walk them as they walked towards God. It was a magnificent week of encounter and freedom despite some cultural differences. At one point, those cultural differences were called out by one of the men. He confessed a bias against some stereotypes we, as Americans, carry. He did so to repent and connect, not to accuse.

The typical demeanor in the U.K. is different from it is from the U.S. The same can be said of Texas and any particular state in the Northeast United States, I suppose. In fact, we can find cultural differences between families living across the street if we choose. Then what? Stand on our preferences or find a place to agree?

Even in allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom, do we use that as a dividing line or compass to point us towards relationship? We are invited to invite and the invitations we extend must come with permission to be rejected. That means we get to value others no matter whether they agree with us or not.

I really enjoyed my time in the U.K. and look forward to going back. I look forward to seeing my new friends again and I eagerly anticipate new friends there, as well. There will be differences that we will laugh about because our allegiance isn’t primarily to our cultural differences, but it’s to the Truth. The Truth of God’s design within us that calls for reconciliation and connection, no matter what side of the pond or other distinguishing characteristics we hurdle to get to that place.

Understanding in 3D

When we are students, the degree to which we learn something is often determined by a taking an exam. Our knowledge is tested as we are asked to answer questions which demonstrate the degree to which we have mastered the subject matter.

If you are a follower of Jesus, the quiz comes every day and it’s not for the sake of the knowledge. It’s for the purposes of the One that is offering the information in the first place. Followers of Jesus aren’t invited into an academic exercise; they are invited into life change and life transfer.

Jesus taught by experiences and imparted by proximity. He was living life with people, teaching them in the moment of living to give them a depth of understanding that exceeds the limits of information. It had to be that way because what He was teaching needed to go viral through their capacity to learn and their capacity to learn was their capacity to reproduce. The quiz for them was in their ability to give it away.

For too many of us, our attempts at discipleship are limited by our reliance on information. That information, which is vital to our learning but not conclusive of our mastery, is only the first step. The understanding comes in the implementation. The mastery comes in the multiplication.

Time and time again in the practice of law, I saw the depth of a passage that was in the Bible. The exercise of the knowledge in the lives of real people who didn’t agree with my beliefs opened the doors for me to multiply those beliefs. The grace, love, hope and encouragement that are talked about time and again by Jesus took on 3D perspective as I encountered real needs and needed real help in the application of the real Truth.

With eyes to see and ears to hear, we are invited into relationship with Jesus as He ministers. We minister where He ministers by agreeing with Him in the ways that we know are His way from His Word. Our knowledge of Him is put to work in our relationship with Him and our understanding is developed through our experiences with Him. Those opportunities are every day; in our families, in our workplaces, on a train or at a restaurant. Wherever people are, He is interested and we are invited.

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

The Connection of Comfort

We were in Northern Virginia this past weekend and decided to head into Washington D.C. on the way to the airport. We had mentioned going in to see some monuments if we had time and the kids had shown strong interest in doing so. We were running short of time as we had to catch a flight, but we decided to give it a try.

We drove past the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital and the White House as we looked for a place to park. Without much time to waste, we were fortunate to find a parking spot as D.C. was crowded with tourists. From our parking spot, we walked past the Vietnam Memorial towards our intended destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial. After checking it out, in addition to the reflecting pool and Washington Monument (from a distance), we had to head back to the car and onto the airport.

We walked back towards the Vietnam Memorial towards our car. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial before; it impacted me then as well as this time both going and coming. My father served two tours in Vietnam and the names on that wall of those that didn’t come home are a grim provocation of what could have been for my dad and our family. I’m thankful.

As we were moving towards our car, I was processing some emotion as we walked briskly to be on time for our flight. Julie noticed an older Asian man along the pathway where we were walking near the Vietnam Memorial. She noticed he was weeping. It caused her to cry as we continued to walk and, about 50 yards past the man, she had to go back. She turned and jogged back towards him.

When she reached him, she comforted him and asked him if she could give him a hug. If you know her, you aren’t surprised. He smiled and welcomed the comfort. That was it. We had to go; we had a flight to catch.

I’m really glad we decided to detour our trip to the airport. The kids loved it and this brief encounter was rich and deep. While the man was a little older than me, he apparently has a story that cause him emotions in much the same way that the realization of what could have become my story did for me.

Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He lives within every born-again believer in Jesus. He lives in us not only because we need comfort, but also because other people do. Giving comfort is a testimony of Jesus, with or without words. The expression of the heart of God is accomplished through people with people. People around us are weeping and we get to connect heaven to earth if we’ll notice earth and offer heaven.

Reminded of the Beginning to Affirm the Future

img_1402Sometimes it’s good to remember where you came from and maybe even to return for a visit. It’s good to stop and appreciate what has happened vs. what could have happened and be thankful. Recently, I’ve had a couple of those times.

My son and I were driving past the duplex where I was living in 2001 when my cousin, Bryan, died and it shook me to my core. After years of fast and shallow living and knowing that I wasn’t on course, I pursued Jesus in that duplex. It was just me and my boxer, Tank, after years of thinking that if things were ever going to change I would have to first get everything cleaned up and go to church.

The landlords occupied the other side of the duplex and although I had not talked to them in 15 years, we stopped by and rang the doorbell. It turns out, the still live there and after an initial “what can I do for you,” recognition yielded to excitement. “I was just talking about you with my mom last night; I was just talking about Tank” she screamed.

I was there with my son but if there had been no meeting with Jesus such as the one which occurred in that duplex, there likely would be no son, or other son, or daughter or grandson or wife, all of which enrich my life now. I was shallow and selfish and spiraling in several ways. You don’t dabble in darkness without descending into it and I was increasingly engulfed in the consequences of my rebellion. Those circumstances were not particularly to a family and certainly not a healthy family.

Recently, I was sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in a coffee shop. I’ve written about it before, but it’s really an invigorating engagement with people who may or may not be in some similar form of shallowness or searching as I was in that duplex. Being invited into this marketplace gathering spot to share the Good News that changed everything for me and propelled me towards the capacity and ability to have a family and be a multiplier of that Good News is humbling.

Interestingly enough, I looked outside the window of that coffee shop and there was a boxer tied to a pole and the owners were coming in to get a cup of coffee. This boxer looked almost exactly like Tank and come to find out, as I talked to the owners, the dog was a rescue which was on a schedule to die if it hadn’t been adopted. I was on a schedule to die if I hadn’t been adopted, too. We are all.

It was me and a boxer as I met Jesus and here was this boxer as others were invited to be adopted by the Father by the sacrifice of Jesus. Maybe a coincidence, but I don’t think so. It’s good to go back to the beginning as the memories presents reminders that the present builds on.

 

Getting Them In vs. Getting Them to Him

ringling-barnum-poster-railcars-v420The way that we do things can be indicators of the reason we are doing them. The reasons we do things matter and sometimes the reasons are more important than the outcome. More than the result, I’m pleased with the way and the reasons for the way we are engaging in the coffee shop that I wrote about here.

I am a pastor at a local church and that church is supportive of the effort at the coffee shop conceptually and also financially. They are willing to invest in the expansion of the Kingdom of God. The best part, however, is that they are willing to do so without being the marquee player. They are willing to share the stage without competition, insecurity or posturing for gain.

I need to be out-of-town this weekend and a pastor from a different church will be leading the coffee shop. That other church is the church that provided the worship leader last week. The other pastor and I won’t be the only two people speaking over the life of this ministry nor will these be the only churches. We are looking to engage the city as the church of the city for the sake of the Kingdom of God and not the benefit of a club.

When Paul wrote his letters to the church, he wrote them to the city, not a particular denomination or trending mega church congregation. The church was a region, not an isolated institution. They weren’t competing for growth, they had the common goal of the Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, we have been in an era where the church has been competitive even if that competition has been covert or unintentional. Where large buildings get built, large mortgages are attached. Where large mortgages have to be paid, there is large pressure to get people in the door to pay them. Attracting people who may be looking for a church means you have to present them a better option than a church down the street. That’s competition.

There are many problems with that, but one of the biggest is that it is worldly. There is no difference between that and business or even entertainment. People looking for a place to understand how to live in this world are seeking a God that supersedes this world and all too often they are engaged on the same level they seek to move beyond.

While this is often unnoticed, it is not as unknown as we might imagine. Church growth across the board is down. Could it be that there is no attraction to more of the same only re-packaged? Could it be that people are looking for the one true God and when we present them with Barnum and Bailey’s tactics instead of Jesus they intuitively reject the premise?