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.

 

Connection Defeats the Need for Compliments

Someone encouraged me recently and I didn’t need it. I liked it and I appreciated it and I was thankful for the words they spoke into me, but they weren’t filling a void. I could receive the encouragement for what it was and not grab hold of it for what I needed it to be.

A few weeks earlier if the same person had said the same thing to me, it would have been different. I was empty and frustrated and feeling isolated and invisible. I didn’t feel appreciated or recognized for service, sacrifice, ability or accomplishment. “What’s the point?” was my question then and the compliment would have helped to get me back to neutral.

The difference between then and now, was my connection to the Source. I pursued the Lord and knew that I knew (again). The affirmation of God’s Spirit in my spirit satisfied the questions of my soul. The agreement by way of man’s kind words was good and encouraging, but the need of identity was not connected to the affirmation of man. That question was settled in my soul by the One that created me uniquely.

More than anything, our “why” needs to be connected to eternal purpose. Our eternal purpose is born out of eternal identity. How we are made and who we are reveals what we are about in the context of God’s eternal Kingdom. He satisfies the questions of value and worth we all struggle with and when we depend on Him for satisfaction of those questions, we are free.

Freedom releases us from the need for approval of man. Approval of man is no longer a need so encouragement can be received in context. The best part of that is that in the absence of people’s encouragement, we are not nearly as prone to discouragement. Good days and bad days don’t hinge on someone recognizing us, affirming us or endorsing us. Our mood swings are mitigated by our security, which is born out of His affirmation.

Connection is relational so the opportunity is to continue to lean into God’s place as Dad. Remembering and remaining in position as His son defeats the insecurities that threaten to rob my joy with whispers of needs that are actually wants. Security is a prime posture for purpose and purpose is a reflection of identity. The momentum from the dynamic that unfolds from His lap is one of destiny.

Graceful Absolutes

From time to time, I’ll have someone tell me that they agree with aspects of Christianity. They value Jesus in some ways, but not others, and they agree with aspects of philosophies or religions that aren’t aligned with Him. They lean into a “universal” approach to God where all’s well that ends well and, in their estimation, it ultimately ends well for anyone that tries. Or something like that.

I typically will pseudo-congratulate those people for creating their own religion. They have walked through a buffet line of ideas and picked their way to a meal they prefer, but they are likely the first in the history of ever to pick that unique combination. I’ll often encourage them that they are now the prophet of the religion of “me.” I do so without any condemnation or rejection, just the logic that goes with the reasoning they have used to avoid absolutes.

We are currently in an era that wants to reject absolutes. The idea of absolute Truth where someone can be wrong has increasingly become offensive. The Gospel of grace is, in fact, offensive by its very nature and it is founded on absolutes. With no absolutes, there is no need for grace.

The challenge for those of us that embrace the absoluteness of Jesus and His invitation into an eternal Kingdom,  is to handle the absolutes with the grace they empower. If/when we wield them like weapons of judgment and condemnation, game over. That conversation will go no further. If and when we can find the sweet spot of grace in the middle of Truth, we may just be able to connect people to eternity. We may get to be included in God’s heart for them and us.

Forcing absolutes is likely going to be manipulative and maybe even abusive. Holding them gently and receiving people gracefully is inviting. The invitation holds the promise everyone is ultimately looking for; to be connected to the love of the Father. His love is absolute, and the connection is available. How we receive that perfect love for ourselves will often be reflected in how we offer it to others.

The disagreements related to behaviors are growing so don’t accept those as your premise. The love of the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ is what drew you in to start with and it’s what “they” want, too. Or not; and if they don’t, the argument becomes moot, anyway.