Connecting with the One in the Building by Connection to the Ones in the Building

My family and I took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving. From Germany, we visited Luxembourg, England, France and Austria. Planes, trains and automobiles took us to various sites including a few different cathedrals. These magnificent structures were centuries old, ornate and large.

We took a taxi to Notre Dame in Paris and I enjoyed a conversation with the taxi driver along the way. He asked where I was from and reacted consistently with other Europeans when I told him, “Texas.” Apparently, there is a perception of Texas that leads people to smile with familiarity from cowboy movies. There are gestures of riding horses and references to John Wayne.

We enjoyed talking about Texas, family, Paris and other little connection points along the ride. He asked where I work and I told him that I was a pastor, which required some discussion for clarity. As we pulled up to the huge and impressive Notre Dame cathedral, he presented it to me with a grin, “your church.”

What I found within me as we looked at these large churches was a bit of apathy. In fact, almost disregard. It wasn’t that they weren’t fantastic but instead that I wanted more. More connection, more interaction, more life. Less looking and admiring and more experiencing. More relationship and less religion. More taxi conversations and fewer lines to see stained glass.

I don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging about the structures. Instead, what I found was a deeper appreciation for church. I found a greater clarity for the value of people and recognition that the institution is for the sake of relationship. It’s there, by its original design, to connect those that are looking to connect. It’s intended for people to know God differently and they (we) know God differently by knowing each other.

Strip away stained glass, bulletins, programs, pews, etc. and what’s left is an opportunity. The opportunity is for connection to other people with similar questions, thoughts and beliefs as well as dissimilar questions, thoughts and beliefs. There you are, together in a building; work it out. Work it out together.

What I found at Notre Dame and Westminster and others was an appreciation for grace. Grace is necessary to live with people. No grace is required to sit in a building and participate in a service, but great grace is needed when relating to the flaws we find in each other. That realization of grace was stirred me and connected me to the One that the building was about in the first place.

Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.

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.

We Can’t Fix Everything, But We Can Hope

When I was practicing law, there was a time when I was struggling after I was not able to help a client that I really thought I could help more than I did. To be truthful, I got a little cocky and ran head first into situation that I shouldn’t have. In the wake of a relative failure, I was feeling bad about me. Still in the courthouse following the embarrassing setback, I was still engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked out of my self-pity by a crying mother and a little girl.

The mom was facing traffic and drivers license charges that, if convicted, would result in a mandatory ten days in jail. When I met with her before court, she had her young daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. She was completely worn out from her effort and cascading failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion.

Her despair and her daughter’s compassion drew tears from me, as well. Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. Hope rose following our prayer and the mood started to shift. When the smoke cleared, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory. A victory against despair and against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next 10 days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to.

For me, the victory was over the lies regarding my ability to make a difference for and with people. I’m not saying that I did anything legally significant for this little family, but I am saying that I was there to walk through something with them. I was an advocate for the hurting when they needed one and that is an honor.

We are invited every day to extend our efforts beyond our failures. There are hurting mommas and sweet daughters all around us to invite us into the hope and honor of standing with others. We can’t fix everything, but we can hope with everyone.

 

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.

God is Present Among Us

Like everyone, I have been working through various challenges that are practical in nature. There are real and present circumstances that require attention and that attention is tangible. The actions and reactions are manifest in and around people.

At the same time, I have been intently and purposefully drawing near to God. I went through a season where I felt a bit disconnected and lacking any intimacy with Him. The times of connection which I have been finding with Him as I pursue depth are rich and refreshing.

Recently, I noticed a collision of the practical and the private. The refreshment of intimate connection to the love of the Father played out in the practical decision-making process. Was I saw was the multiplication of His presence as the manifestation of His wisdom was displayed through community.

As I discussed a thought process and developing strategy with two people who serve as wise counsel and co-laborers, one of them offered, “when you first started talking about this, I believe God stirred in me, ‘not this week.'”

The second person confirmed that they were stirred to wait in similar fashion as there was an upcoming event that they believed needed to unfold first. Same counsel, different yet consistent reasoning.

The counsel and the rationale, in both instances, resonated with me as right and true. The wisdom of the Lord was manifesting in the counsel of those that know Him. In this case, there were three of us.

We draw into the love of the Father by the grace of Jesus. We seek the filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit as we draw near to Him. We need to be refreshed and connected through times of individual worship, study and prayer. Then the walking out of our purpose in agreement with Him is with others.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as referenced in 2 Corinthians 13:14, is played out in the fellowship of others. He manifests, as often as not, through others that are intimately connected with Him. There is agreement and grace when we are submitted in humility, one to another, to allow for His wisdom to be manifest through His carriers. His carriers are us.

There are no rogue prophets. We seek his voice and insight submitted one to the other (1 Corinthians 14:32). The natural application of the supernatural begs for agreement between imperfect vessels of the Perfect. If and when we will allow Him to speak through us and among us, then He will be displayed through us. All of us as the corporate body will put Him on display, not a single one of us elevated to His place as the Head.