Not para, but Part Of

You’ve got to know who you are. When you know who you are, everything flows from that as you do the thing(s) you are designed to do. It’s the first step towards understanding your context and understanding your context is the first step towards fulfilling your purpose.

I recently took the responsibility of becoming the Executive Director of Fellowship of the Sword. For the first time in the 15 year history of the organization, the ministry is Board-led where it had been founder-led. The fact that the Founders, Richard and Paige Henderson, had the courage and humility to facilitate the transfer is remarkable. For many organizations, the founder’s unwillingness to hand off operations cripples the capacity and potential of incredible vision.

Some would call FTS a “para-church” organization. One of the most important and enlightening things I have heard from Richard over the past several weeks is his clarification of that tag. “We are not a para-church, because ‘para-church’ means to come beside the church. We are not coming beside the church, but we are part of the church,” Richard said.

There is only one church. It’s not different churches determined by different buildings. There is one Bride of Christ. We are here to serve His Bride as part of His Body. We are in, not beside.

This is a big deal for many reasons, one of which was that the only grant of authority that Jesus gave was to make disciples (Matthew 28). He didn’t commission us to start a ministry or facilitate a Quest or anything else unless it is to contribute to the disciple making process. He gives us that authority and the mechanism through which that occurs is the local church.

This opportunity comes several years after answering a call into ministry which moved me away from a fulfilling practice of law. The only way that Julie and I want to do things is on a call from the Lord. His call includes this recent invitation to serve the local church through this ministry called Fellowship of the Sword.

The primary mechanism by which the Lord has equipped FTS for this purpose is the facilitation of Quest and HeartQuest events, which serve as catalysts in the disciple making process. That process, first and foremost, is accomplished through the local church. It’s our pleasure to serve the local church in this way as hearts get awakened and set in healthy rhythms, to be alive in their purpose and passions which are to be carried out in their eternal context. That context is as part of a local church.

 

Walking Out Is Permissible, but Not Beneficial

Some students at Notre Dame exercised their First Amendment rights and walked out of their commencement ceremony a few days ago when the Vice President of the United States began his speech. While I certainly would (and have) defend their Constitutional right to leave in protest, I challenge their judgement in choosing to do so. For any courage they may have displayed, their lack of honor and maturity was that much more glaring.

These young people, while accomplished in the sense that they have earned degrees from such a fine institution as Notre Dame, haven’t really done much of anything yet. Their lives are just getting started and they have much to learn as they endeavor to accomplish things they have only dreamed of. By contrast, Vice President Pence has graduated from undergrad and law school in addition to serving as a U.S. Congressman and the Governor of Indiana prior to his election as Vice President.

They presumably walked out over disagreements with his policies. He is a staunch conservative who undoubtedly offends their beliefs. Now that they are out of school, they can do something about it. They can organize, write, volunteer or run for office, among other things. They can enter the conversation with greater focus and commitment now that they aren’t distracted by their studies. They can get in the game, but the game requires that you stay in the room. Not walk out.

The idea of ideas requires dialogue. Those young people don’t have things figured out solely from their own perspective any more than Mike Pence does. To sharpen, refine, develop and deploy their fledgling beliefs, they have to stay in the room. They have to hear the other guy(s) out if they want to actually be heard. It goes both ways. There may even be things that he, or others that they disagree with, say that they learn and/or grow from. If they stay in the room for long enough, they may get to share something that challenges or develops the belief of their antagonists, whoever they turn out to be.

Honor is not solely a reflection of the other person; it’s a reflection of the character of the one that is offering it. You give honor because your have honor to give, not just because they earned it. Honor given where there is disagreement isn’t agreement, it’s a reflection of the maturity of your character. It’s evidence of the humility required to serve and credibility required to be heard. Honor stays in the room.

The Shack is Not the Authority, but Neither are You or I

At the risk of drawing fire from the religious elites, I saw The Shack the other day. I loved it. I loved the sweet and inviting nature of how God was portrayed and it caused me to want to draw closer to Him. I have no intention of defending the movie theologically or entering into a debate about it. I came out encouraged in the Lord, the One True God, and that’s a win.

Whether the movie is perfect or not wasn’t really the question for me as much as I was open to considering God while watching the movie. Neither the book nor the movie will replace my Bible. The story draws me to know Him better and the inspired and infallible Bible reveals His depth like no man-made source can. I saw many things about the God of the Bible portrayed through the characters of The Shack and I agree with those things while considering Him, not my mastery of the philosophy of Him.

God isn’t a history lesson or philosophy to be mastered. God is God, present tense and real beyond comprehension even while being relational. None of us have Him figured out. Not you or me or William P. Young. As far as I can tell, Mr. Young didn’t set out to replace or even supplement the Bible; he was simply telling a story. From what I have read, the essence of that story was born out of Mr. Young’s experience as an abused child and the healing that was found in God as his Father, or Papa.

God stirred my heart in the movie. He called to my humanity and invited me beyond the restraints of this world and into the inexplicable mystery of the next. The depth of eternity is a revelation of the heart much more than it is an understanding of the head. The mystery has value and the pursuit of God through the whispers and whiffs of eternal markers on a temporal trail produce a better me.

People are hurting. Bad things have happened. In this world, we will have trouble. God as Healer, Comforter, Papa and Friend is Biblically sound and personally necessary. Considering Him as Who He is in those reflections of His character might save a life. Forever.

See the movie or don’t see the movie, that isn’t really the point. The idea that you or me or any author of any book has mastered God and cornered the market on the rules of how He should or shouldn’t be shared is a bit arrogant. Don’t be arrogant. I’ll try not to be, too.

 

No Need to Mediate the Acceptance of a Promise

mediationA few months ago, I completed training to become a mediator. Mediation is the practice of conflict resolution. Mediators draw each party in a conflict or impasse to a common ground of agreement where possible. They don’t negate the conflict, they find a solution for it which both parties can agree on.

Galatians 3 says that we, as people, needed a mediator when we were under the law of Moses. When that law was given, it was through angels to Moses as a mediator between God and man. There was a conflict that needed resolution. The conflict was between a Holy God and a rebellious people. To re-connect and agree there needed to be go-between.

By contrast, through Jesus, we are heirs to the promise of Abraham. The blessing of Abraham available to us through Jesus is not mediated, but given directly. There is no mediator, because there is no conflict. The law of Moses had to be negotiated to reach agreement and those negotiations were ongoing and dependent on compliance. The promise of Abraham simply has to be received through Jesus.

Any time we start conditioning our receipt, we move from the promise to the conflict. When we think we can do better, we actually reject a free gift and enter into negotiations for a lesser possibility.

Jesus died for our sin and that requires no counter-offer. There is nothing we can do to put ourselves in a better position to be better. It’s only Him and His sacrifice that affords us the receipt of the benefits. Grace is dependent on receipt without conditions, otherwise it isn’t grace but conflict. When we add conditions to our performance and behavior, we reject grace.

Grace is available to us not only for restoration to God for salvation and eternity, but also for the purposes we have in living here and now. We are invited into His purposes in this life and the only way to accept that invitation is as a gift. If we begin to negotiate by attempting to show Him how capable we are in the carrying out of His business, we reject the gift and make it a job interview. That’s a negotiation that requires a mediator as conflict arises between His righteousness and our attempts and self-righteousness. If we are good enough, then it isn’t His business anymore.

We are accepted by a promise, not a law. God promised and He delivered on that promise through Jesus. The law was a place holder in between the promise and the Delivery. Don’t go back and negotiate things that are already resolved. Just enjoy the benefits of the relationship.

Chasing Waterfalls

IMG_0746We hiked up a mountain yesterday and reached a point with an incredible view of a waterfall. We sat and ate lunch with family and friends, enjoying the accomplishment of the hike as well as the surroundings and the company. The thin air made it a challenge at times, but the reward of satisfaction was worth the sacrifice of effort.

As much as we enjoyed it, our friends Jon and Mary were the main reason why and how we did it. We wouldn’t have known where to go or how to get there without their guidance. They had been there before, knew the path and were aware of the potential hazards to be aware of.

We can’t do this deal alone. Faith and freedom will not be walked out in a vacuum of isolation. Without others to show us the way and encourage us with their leadership, we will not be satisfied.

I’ve served hundreds of men and couples through “Quest” events where we go away and seek the heart of God for 6 days at a time. Those encounters are powerful and real. Men and women who may have lost hope, feigned faith or don’t realize any love within them encounter God as the source and they are filled up with those things and more. One whisper, hint, whiff or shadow of God’s presences changes us.

But what about the ones that go home and struggle? Does that invalidate the encounter they had? If they return and don’t walk it out, it neither invalidates God or the experience they had with Him. It doesn’t change one thing they knew about their identity in Him, even if their knowledge seemed to be only for a moment.

The reason they struggle, almost every time, is they try to live it out alone. Either because of busyness or some other distraction, they fail to live in the transparency that facilitated the encounter. Slowly but surely, they find themselves in the ditch of isolation alongside the road to freedom.

Encounters and retreats can be great catalysts but the continuity of community is what facilitates the destiny of faith. That continuity is found in the local church. More than Sunday services or programs, the church is a place for imperfect people to connect and sharpen one another. It requires authenticity and transparency but the reward is the view that comes from a higher place of greater glory.

With Isn’t For

imagesThe bad news is we can’t do it; the good news is we don’t have to. We really don’t have anything we have to prove or accomplish that advances us in favor or blessings. We don’t have any burden to do stuff that protects God’s reputation or advances His cause of our own initiative. We do get to, however, join Him in the stuff that He will do.

“We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” 2 Corinthians 6:1.

Paul writes about the opportunity of walking as an ambassador of Christ, offering the message of reconciliation to a world that needs to be reconciled to Him. The only thing that qualifies anyone as an ambassador of Christ and minister of reconciliation is that they have been reconciled to Christ. The qualifier is Him. The Savior is Him. We just receive.

In the same way that we once were lost and dead in our separation from Him, others still are and we are commissioned to bring them the good news of His salvation. In the bringing of that good news, however, He doesn’t become any less the Savior than He was when we were saved. It’s Him that saves and we get to be there when He does. We get to participate with Him. We don’t do it for Him because we don’t have capacity to save.

Remember what Paul wrote in the passage quoted, “together with Him.” How many times have we said or heard others say they were doing something or wanted to do something “for Him.” Big difference between the “with” and the “for.”

Agreement with Christ as King in the advancement of His Kingdom is acceptance of an invitation into life and living. We are just as impacted in engaging the lost and broken as the lost and broken are in our engagement. We are encouraged and alive in the purpose that comes with accepting the invitations into the eternal even as we are otherwise bound by the temporal.

Doing stuff for Him is burdensome and lifeless. It’s fulfillment of an obligation that never existed towards a purpose we can’t accomplish. It’s hoping distant father notices the striving child and grants approval based on performance. It’s orphan stuff.

As children of God the Father through Christ the Son, we are already in Him. We can’t get anymore in and we don’t need to do anything else. We are invited to experience Him in an infinite variety of ways through our finite earthly existence. We are sons and daughters in Him and we don’t need to prove it or earn it.