Tending to Things that Seem to Go Unnoticed

I used to routinely represent clients who were seeking bonds. The bond allows them to be released during the time that they are waiting to stand trial. Without a bond, they may have to sit in jail for a month or two leading up to a trial. The judge looks predominately at whether the defendant is a flight risk or a risk to the community. If either of those things are a concern, the judge is less likely to grant freedom to the defendant while they await their trial.

As part of the judge’s paperwork, they have a piece of paper from the magistrate with notes on it from when the person was first arrested. The magistrate can often grant a bond right there at the point of booking but for one reason or another did not in the present situations. The magistrate writes notes about the evidence (very brief) and any criminal record. Additionally, the magistrate can take notes about the person’s conduct during the arrest process or while in front of the magistrate.

In two of the cases I was working on, the magistrate wrote derogatory notes. In one instance, the defendant had a bad attitude with the magistrate and cussed them when addressing them. In another, the defendant had to be physically restrained by deputies when in processing at the jail.

The defendants were now on their best behavior and wanted to go before a judge to ask them for some favor and mercy. They wanted to be found trustworthy of release pending trial. The problem is that the notes from the official who most recently came in contact with them reflected rebellion and disregard for authority.

Our integrity and character are best measured when we believe nobody is watching or going to hold us accountable. Do we choose to take the shortcut on our taxes? Do we intentionally flip to the pornographic movie when our wives aren’t around? Do we have people in our lives that we call to share our struggles and failures to ensure that we develop in those areas?

Integrity and character can’t be turned on and off; it can only be transformed. We are going to mess up, but owning those failures opens up the opportunities for us to grow. Better to grow in the small things that we could just as easily get away with to avoid the implosion that builds up with unleashed depravity. Confession of the little things keeps the big things at bay.

 

Not Worrying About Who is Wheat and Who is a Weed

There was a time when I watched a bond hearing for an 18-year old man who was in jail for a misdemeanor charge and apparently this young man had some more serious legal problems pending. Because of the overall seriousness of his patterns of behavior, he was not allowed out of jail while waiting for his trial(s).

When that decision was announced, he completely lost his composure. All of his anger and frustration were released in with a profane outburst. “I’m trying to get my life turned around and I can’t do it in here. I just got a new job; I am supposed to start today. I cut my hair and everything!”

To this kid, getting a haircut was apparently a pretty significant change to his previous norm. He made a conscious decision to make changes in his life which probably aren’t comfortable or easy for him. His frustration was that even with this effort, things still weren’t going his way. His recent changes were showing some signs of promise; he did get hired. There were still the remaining consequences of his previous choices.

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” (Matthew 13:24-25)

In the same way that young man trying to transform internally with evidence (job, haircut) externally, we all have things that God will work out within us. We don’t need a haircut or a job; we need God to change us. The fact is that we all started out as weeds and it’s only by the grace of Jesus that we become the fruit producing wheat that is talked about in Matthew.

Notice that there are weeds with the wheat; the next verse tells us, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Let them grow together. Quit worrying about the weediness of other people and be about the opportunity to simply be wheat. Sorting it out is God’s job, not yours or mine. We should be about our wheatness and quit worrying about their weediness.

The same grace that invites us to be wheat invites others, as well, and they are working it out the same as you and me. In fact, there are likely days that the weeds within us are more on display than the wheat. If we ever forget that, we’ll start weeding out the weeds that Jesus tells us to co-exist with. In fact, the more we do that, the more chance that we are the weeds in the first place.

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.

It’s One or the Other; Not a Combo Deal

There are two options for life: law or grace. They present a choice, not a combination. There’s no “Law- Grace Combo Option” for our inadequate attempts at performance when we want to enhance our chance of acceptance. Either we choose the self-reliant performance woven into the Law of Moses, or we accept the satisfaction of the law through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus.

Human nature pulls us toward the default position of keeping rules because—believe it or not—it’s easier for our flesh than relying on the finished work of Christ. Our flesh craves the tangible. It takes conscious effort to deny its innate bent toward score keeping. The letter of the law is what we point to as evidence of our self- provided righteousness. At the end of the day, we place a star in the box, measure our performance and judge ourselves good. Or not.

Our flesh pulls us to perform though we know we can’t pull it off. It produces shame and fear of exposure and conceals us behind Moses’ veil to hide the limitations of our soul, creating or reinforcing walls between us and God, us and other people, or both. Such walls stem the ow of grace.

We can’t enjoy the freedom of the New Covenant while striving to keep the Old. Energy meant for bold living gets spent struggling to hide behind the veil, and the covenant of Moses breeds insecurity from the certain knowledge we will fail and someone will actually see us. That insecurity results in prideful self-promotion as we try to hide our limitations.

Insecurity shows up as boastful arrogance or timid fear, both outward manifestations of pride. God never offers to meet us in our pride. In fact, He actively opposes a posture of pride: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Our only hope is choosing the covenant Jesus offers, which means dropping the veil in humility to allow for our flaws. Our performance behind Moses’ veil puts us on display. Our flaws revealed on the grace side of the veil put Jesus on display. His glory shines.

Accepting the invitation into a life of grace-only is liberating and powerful. Sold out to the truth that we are “good enough” only by the gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus, we can stop trying to preserve the charade of our perfection. We can stop pretending in order to throw religious folks off the scent of our depravity. We can be about the true transformation of our souls.

Freedom is born from grace that lets us drop the veil to live authentically with others. They get to see us; really see us. Not everyone we know needs access to the closed closets and dark crawl spaces of our souls. However, for those with whom we have time-tested relationships, we foster transparency for the ongoing transformation that results in greater liberty.

Admitting our weaknesses and imperfections, we become strong and perfect in Jesus. His grace never blinks at our depravity but meets us eternally with redemption. He embraces us and removes our limitations so we walk in His fullness. From the realization of His grace, we know love; we know the Father through the Son.

From “Abundant and Free” available on Amazon by clicking here.

 

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

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.