Value Within the Unfamiliar

Last week, I was in an airport across the world waiting to come home. We had a 14 hour layover and were just spending time in the coffee shop when I wandered out front to stretch my legs. My phone was charging at our table just inside the outer window as I strolled out to take in the scenes and smells.

I turned to walk back in but there was an armed soldier preventing my re-entry. He pointed upstairs and informed me that I could only re-enter through the doors on the second floor. My attempts at an explanation or appeals to step right back into my table got me nowhere.

Upstairs, they informed me that I needed my outbound ticket to be granted access. I realized that the only ticket I had was on my phone, which was inside. I tried to explain and got nowhere. Fortunately, I was able to go back downstairs and get the attention of my friends through the glass to bring my phone out but for a minute I was stranded in a foreign land with no way to get to what or where I needed to go home.

This was the return trip from a week in a culture where language, food, smells, traffic and customs among other things were outside of my comfort zone. Connection and understanding is possible but requires greater intentionality than the familiarity of home. Insecurities related to your purpose, abilities, reason or choices can emerge in the discomfort of the unfamiliar.

Going places on a calling related to the Kingdom brings hope that you are bringing some value. Beyond that, however, the value is within. The revelation of insecurities when security based in preference is gone offers the opportunity for redemption. It requires dependence on God’s grace and your identity in Him beyond the controllable aspects of life and ministry.

Every time we agree to step into unfamiliar circumstances the likelihood of exposure within us multiplies. For as long as we are comfortable and controllable, there is a security in our maintenance. Outside of routine boundaries such as common language and agreement based in our upbringing, there are questions that can bring value in their answers.

Reliance is so much more real when there is no other plan. True reliance builds true understanding of true identity in true faith. The product is greater security in Him; not the substituted security controlled by me or my ability to move in familiar expectations.

 

Minding the Gap

I sincerely enjoy what I get to do and am appreciative for the opportunities that I have to do it. The journey has been an amazing, scary, frustrating and fulfilling walk of faith. I am more amazed than ever at the faithfulness of God through the personal experiences He has afforded.

For some of us, there was a time in our lives when everything changed. From that point on, nothing was the same as we were changed from the inside-out. The transformation was initiated by grace as we realized the need to give our lives to Jesus in order to receive the life He bought for us with His own.

The realization of Jesus and surrender to Him and the resulting new birth are vertical experiences. That is, they connect us with the higher perspective. According to Scripture, we become seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), which is a vertical ascent.

The challenge in walking out the new birth is in the confusion, temptation and illusion that horizontal experiences present. That is, as we live in this world the things of this world capture our attention to distract us from the vertical ascent we once and sometimes realized in Christ Jesus. We live horizontally even if positioned and invited vertically.

I’ve found in ministry that some are very tuned into the vertical but have little to know connection to the reality of the horizontal. That is, they hear from God, have strong faith and appear to be completely aligned with heavenly perspective. Others are completely distracted or consumed with the challenge and opportunity of the horizontal and the vertical isn’t considered when working out earthly circumstances.

Both the vertically minded and the horizontally focused have their strengths and weaknesses. They each can come to be remarkable in their abilities as aligned with their focus. Without the appropriation of the benefits and challenges of each of the two perspectives, the opportunity to agree with God on earth as it is in heaven is missed.

The opportunity of the Kingdom of God is to mind the gap. It’s to stand in the intersection and connect eternal truth with temporary circumstances. It’s to recognize the invisible beyond the visible and bring eternal wisdom to temporal situations. Christ followers are not called to an illusion; they are invited to agree with Him in the advancement of His Truth into temporary facts. Never acknowledging the challenge of those facts is just weird. Never connecting Him to those facts is just disconnected.

Stand in the intersection and pray, minister, listen and assist real people with real stuff. Pay attention to the challenge and pray for the solution. Don’t be so good at the vertical that you miss the horizontal and don’t be so focused on the horizontal that you disregard the vertical.

It’s Difficult to Get All of Our Stuff to the Places We Should Be

It really is easier to assimilate. It’s easier to round off the edges and fit into a culture that is tolerant of religion. After all, courteous and passive “belief” that is largely kept to yourself is not offensive as it it is futile. The problem is that passive belief isn’t belief at all; only active belief which is manifested in choices and actions is faith-based confidence.

In Matthew 28, Jesus presented a commissioning; a transfer of authority. The transfer of authority was to go into the world and make disciples. That is, go out and invite people to follow Jesus with the same authority. That necessitates a contrast between the current state and the intended state. In other words, it requires a difference between those that are commissioned and those that are invited.

The contrast is necessary, otherwise the invitation is not compelling. The presentation of an eternal King is dependent on the attributes of that King being evidence of His Kingdom. Watered-down, close-enough mutated religious attempts at a belief system with no real belief is neither compelling nor impressive. Jesus is impressive.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20).

The evidence of the Kingdom of God is the power of God and the power of God is dependent on the presence of God. The presence of God will be most often be seen when we are in reliance on God. We won’t rely on God from a compromised place of courtesy. We will only rely on Him when we are in over our heads as we walk in the authority of His commissioning into places and circumstances that exceed our career strategy or vacation plans.

The more stuff that we have, the more difficult it is to truly not care about anything except for the commissioning. The more comfortable that we are, the more challenging it is to accept the challenges. It’s increasingly as hard as getting a camel through the eye of a needle.

I don’t even want to write this. I certainly don’t always do it. It was easier to actually do it when there was less to tend to. It was easier to actually believe in the contrast of light and dark that exists in the jails and courthouses among people who are in desperate need of hope and healing. Most of the people I interact with aren’t desperate at all; they are well-churched, well-fed and well-rested. And so am I.

 

You Absolutely Can Go to Jail

When I was practicing law, I would routinely meet new criminal defense clients for the first time and they would tell me about the situation they were in. With alarming regularity, somewhere in their account of the situation, some of them would inform me something like “I can’t go to jail for this.”

I would stop what we were doing and interrupt by telling them, “You absolutely can go to jail.” Obviously, I was trying to keep them out of jail but there is nothing worse than standing next to a client that is surprised by the reality of the deputy putting handcuffs on them. Even if they don’t go to jail, feeling the weight of the potential consequences is beneficial to them long-term to avoid the situations that caused them to have to come to court in the first place.

Consequences cause us to have to consider the actions that bought the result. Ideally, we learn from the consequences to avoid bigger mistakes and greater consequences. Consequences are our friend as they suggest we consider our will. Why did we do the thing that causes us the discomfort of the consequence? What should we do differently?

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

The love of God is particularly attractive compared to the consequences of our rebellion. It’s His kindness that calls to us for us to change our mind and turn away from the choices we make apart from Him. Kindness is only kind by contrast. If there are no consequences and everything is a soft landing, then kindness isn’t that big of a deal, is it?

Jesus invites us into His Kingdom; into His holiness. He is in the redemption business. He wants to exchange the depravity within us and replace it with His glory. He loves us and knew we had issues when He decided to die for us. He isn’t intimidated nor impressed by our sin.

The consequences we face aren’t from the anger of God; they are more like gravity. When we choose to walk outside of the way that He has made for us, we are open to the results of our rebellion. We aren’t very good at being our own small “g” gods, so when we try, there are problems. The big “G” God waits patiently in His kindness for us to come home from our prodigal ways to enjoy the benefits of the relationship He intends for us with Him.

The Glory of Shutting Up

Somewhere along the way, we have largely embraced a cultural value and belief that we need to be heard. We need to have a voice to proclaim our perspective. We need to be afforded a seat at the table to weigh in on whatever subject we deem ourselves interested and opinionated.

It’s not true. We don’t need to be heard. Often times, it’s actually to our advantage to not be heard. The position of no position is peaceful compared to the contentious places of preference.

In Matthew 16, Jesus begins to teach His guys this lesson. He begins to teach them the Kingdom. Verse 21 says that Jesus “began to show” His disciples that He “must” suffer, be killed and be raised.

Peter actually starts to argue with Him. Peter needed to be heard, with what most of us would have concluded to be a noble position, but we would see in the reaction of Jesus that it was anything but noble. Peter said that he wouldn’t allow Jesus to suffer and be killed and Jesus shut him down; actually called him Satan.

Jesus tells Peter that his perspective is wrong; he’s looking at things from man’s perspective, not God’s perspective. Jesus goes on to say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, which actually means to forget about ourselves. It means to not focus on us or the opinions we foster within us. Those opinions don’t need to be heard.

We are invited to die to the preferences of our soul (vs. 25-26) just like Jesus was. We get to not have an opinion. We get to enjoy the benefits of sacrifice, if we will reject the apparent satisfaction of being heard or considered or preferred. If we’ll allow ourselves to lose, we will win.

Glory comes on the other side of crucifixion. Where we willingly allow ourselves not to matter and deny our desire to advance the preferences of our soul, the glory of God can come through us. Where we will sacrifice our mind, will and emotions, His Spirit will be put on display through us.

Jesus didn’t come to provide a history lesson or abstract idea; He came to unleash His Kingdom and His plan for multiplication of that Kingdom is us. We are invited to follow Him in His ways; the ways of His Kingdom. Not our ways and our need to be heard. His ways are better, but they come at the cost of our preferences.

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.