When Grace and Life Flow Through They Get In Us

There was a time when I was representing a young man who had gotten himself into some legal trouble. I saw him at the courthouse with a local pastor who had taken the young man into his family home and was mentoring him through a transition. I commended the pastor on his willingness to take another person who needed assistance into his home and life to the degree that he has. The pastor said to me that it was mutually beneficial because while he is helping the young man walk from one season of life into another, there are benefits to the experience that he and his wife are enjoying through knowing the man in need.

Similarly, when I was leading a group of volunteers at a youth prison, we would welcome a prospective new volunteer mentor from time to time. Invariably, he would be blown away by how much he was effected by the time spent with the incarcerated youth. He would go on and on about how he got more out of the mentoring time than the kids did and how they wanted to come back. There is something about serving others that serves us at least as much.

When we reach out of our comfort zone to step into someone else’s trouble it will often be a little risky and uncomfortable. The interaction at a raw and real level which evades us so often in our suburban environments is refreshing in it’s authenticity. For the time that we are serving, we are allowing our inherent desire for true significance room to manifest. The resulting satisfaction is often surprising and practically always encouraging.

The lie that most of us fall for is that we don’t have much to offer. That’s just not true; nor is it true that we can fix all the problems of those that we serve. We are simply funnels to allow grace to flow through us. The payback isn’t that we are recognized or that there is a fix to every problem the person(s) we seek to help has, but that we shared life and therefore lived that day a little more than if we had chosen not to choose.

When grace or anything else flows through us, then it is in us and part of us as least to the extent that we are the avenue of travel. Think of a garden hose; water flows through the hose, so the inside of the hose gets wet, too.

 

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.

A Priest, A Lawyer and a Business Owner Walked Into a Bar

I’ve been doing this for a living for about five years. Before I did this, I was practicing law. When I practiced law, I was responsible for the representation of clients as an advocate. That advocacy sometimes meant investment that exceeded their legal questions. Life questions got them in legal problems so my advocacy sometimes meant life investments.

Before that, I was a business owner. There were things I did well as a business owner and there were things that I did not so well. My intentions were to serve my clients and my employees in a way that was honoring and gracious. For those that didn’t know Jesus, my hope was to put Him on display in the ways that I interacted with them.

Now I am a professional minister. I’ve had several roles, but my job is Christianity. This has afforded incredible opportunities to  grow, share and multiply in the life I have found in Christ. It has also afforded me a perspective of what is challenging in the professional endeavor of Christian leadership.

The truth is that I am no more or less of a Christian leader than I was when I owned a business or practiced law. I was a born again believer in Jesus Christ, committed as a disciple to carry the good news of the Kingdom of God then as I am now. The recognition, credibility or validation that comes with vocational positioning does not qualify me any more or less than He did in those previous roles.

The problem, to some extent, is that we struggle to accept that. We struggle to accept that lawyers and business owners are the same as pastors and ministers. The separations are subtle, at times, but insidious, just the same. The little hints of superiority or separation feed the lies of inferiority and disqualification. In every way that we elevate professional clergy, we disqualify the saints that are called to do the work of the ministry.

I’m just as righteous in Christ today as I was in the courtroom, and so are you. I’m also working out that salvation through my flawed and wounded soul as a professional minister as you likely are as someone who is engaged in the marketplace. We’re the same. Our flaws don’t disqualify us nor does our knowledge validate us. There is no more pressure on me to live a perfect application of religious expectations as there is possibility that you are able to pull it off outside of grace.

Don’t Just Go to Work; Carry the Kingdom with Passion and Purpose

When we are searching for our purpose, the first place to inventory is often our passions. The question we are asking is, “why am I here,” and that question requires context. The context is creation and creation is a product of the Creator. The same Creator that initiated the context, designed us for the context.

So how are you wired? What stirs you? What are your passions? These are breadcrumbs on the trail in the journey I touched on in last week’s article.

The passions that are stirred are indicators of design and the design is only legitimate for so long as it fits within the context. This is where it can get tricky, if you aren’t careful. The context is bigger than you, me or any individual. It’s not about us. The passions we uncover aren’t to be explored for the sole purpose of satisfaction, but they are actually indicators of equipping for service. Service within the framework of the context.

The context is the Kingdom of God. He is the Creator and He is the Designer. Everything starts with and comes back to Him. Every gift, ability, passion or purpose within us is designed by Him to be offered back to Him. The fact that the get to feel His pleasure in the pursuit of our purpose in the context of His Kingdom is a bonus.

The Kingdom extends beyond the institution of a church, into the society within which the church operates. The gatherings of “church” have to be considered in the context of the Kingdom. The passions and purposes of the church folks applied in context extends the reach of the church beyond the four walls of the church.

The marketplace needs the gifts of the church for any hope of light in the darkness. In other words, Christians walking in their purpose reach places that won’t be touched by a pastor as people who won’t be attending a church interact with the church in the context of the Kingdom.

The Kingdom is the invisible reality beyond the visible facts (Hebrews 11:3). When working among the world, don’t be satisfied with the visible facts but ask for eyes to see. Ask to see the invisible and reach beyond the tangible. What are the eternal needs in the temporal facts? The answers that God shows you will be in need of a Kingdom ambassador walking in their purpose, given permission by the gifts of their passion to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.

There is One Church in the City; Not a Bunch of Clubs

img_1502I had an opportunity to visit with a church down the road from us this weekend and was impressed with the hospitality and relationship which was extended. Their pastor and I have been developing a friendship over the past couple of years; he has spoken at Heritage, where I pastor, a couple of times and I have spoken to their men previously. This weekend was fresh vision for what the church of the city could possibly be.

When Paul wrote his letters that we find in the New Testament, he was writing to the church of the city (Rome, Ephesus, etc.); not a church on the corner. He was addressing a movement of the Kingdom in a region; not the club of a celebrity in a building. The Kingdom is designed to be advanced across gatherings that have a common interest in an area.

The gatherings of separate congregations are separate by logistics, but not purpose. They are not isolated to their own “brand” and what they might be able to build for their own expansion. They are together for the purpose of building up the house of God, which is people together with Christ as the Cornerstone, not brick and mortar with an attractive sermon series as the foundation.

Julie and I were received incredibly well by this church in our city. We were loved and honored because their pastor, Gabriel Andrade, loves and honors them. He makes it safe for them to receive from others without the dance because he has built trust with them that can only come from caring about their hearts. He ministers to them, which makes it possible for them to receive ministry from others. The word “ministry” comes from the word “serves,” by the way. Ministry is service.

Going forward, it will be imperative for the consumerism and attraction to be secondary to the sacrifice and service. The collaboration between congregations to take advantage of diverse demographics and gifts is what will change the city; not a better worship service in one corner of the city pulling people from one gathering to the other.

In the current culture of the United States, the consumeristic, attractional model of church for the sake of the provider of the attraction that appeases the consumer has not worked. There has been a shift where certain churches grow large but they do so by transfers from other churches in the same city more so than new disciples of Jesus Christ. Among us, there is a slide from building to building based on latte’s, lights and services more than an advance where light overcomes the darkness.

It’s time for the slide to stop and the advance to begin. With congregations locking arms to agree to not only receive but also to serve others. Individually, we can be transformed; together we can be transformational.