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.

 

 

Getting Them In vs. Getting Them to Him

ringling-barnum-poster-railcars-v420The way that we do things can be indicators of the reason we are doing them. The reasons we do things matter and sometimes the reasons are more important than the outcome. More than the result, I’m pleased with the way and the reasons for the way we are engaging in the coffee shop that I wrote about here.

I am a pastor at a local church and that church is supportive of the effort at the coffee shop conceptually and also financially. They are willing to invest in the expansion of the Kingdom of God. The best part, however, is that they are willing to do so without being the marquee player. They are willing to share the stage without competition, insecurity or posturing for gain.

I need to be out-of-town this weekend and a pastor from a different church will be leading the coffee shop. That other church is the church that provided the worship leader last week. The other pastor and I won’t be the only two people speaking over the life of this ministry nor will these be the only churches. We are looking to engage the city as the church of the city for the sake of the Kingdom of God and not the benefit of a club.

When Paul wrote his letters to the church, he wrote them to the city, not a particular denomination or trending mega church congregation. The church was a region, not an isolated institution. They weren’t competing for growth, they had the common goal of the Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, we have been in an era where the church has been competitive even if that competition has been covert or unintentional. Where large buildings get built, large mortgages are attached. Where large mortgages have to be paid, there is large pressure to get people in the door to pay them. Attracting people who may be looking for a church means you have to present them a better option than a church down the street. That’s competition.

There are many problems with that, but one of the biggest is that it is worldly. There is no difference between that and business or even entertainment. People looking for a place to understand how to live in this world are seeking a God that supersedes this world and all too often they are engaged on the same level they seek to move beyond.

While this is often unnoticed, it is not as unknown as we might imagine. Church growth across the board is down. Could it be that there is no attraction to more of the same only re-packaged? Could it be that people are looking for the one true God and when we present them with Barnum and Bailey’s tactics instead of Jesus they intuitively reject the premise?

How We Change a Nation

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There is an opportunity we have day in and day out to make a difference in our specific environments. The difference comes in honor. Where we can honor despite our disagreements of belief or preference, we will find favor. Where we have favor, we have influence.

There is a maturity required for cultural impact that exceeds the conviction of belief. Belief for yourself to govern your choices is useful for your personal transformation. Broader impact to be instrumental in the transformation of neighborhoods, workplaces, communities and groups we are associated with requires greater humility to honor. Humility to honor despite disagreement with or rejection of the beliefs which have been instrumental in your personal transformation.

In the book of Daniel, we see Daniel consistently honor authority even where his personal convictions prevent adherence to an unrighteous rule. His stand is not carried out with arrogance or rebellion, but reliance on the truth and faithfulness of God. As a result, he faces severe trials but God rescues him and is glorified in the process. Daniel enjoys promotion and prosperity but God gets the glory (Chapter 6).

2 Peter 2 says that those that “despise authority” are “presumptuous, self-willed . . . not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” even though angels of greater power do not bring accusation.

We live in a divided nation. There are things that happen on a national level which are easy to be concerned about and presumptively declare right or wrong. Yet, the call to the mature believer is to get small. Quit working from Yahoo news and allow the truth of the Gospel to first work within our own soul. Then, serve where we are called with humility and honor with an excellent spirit. We will find favor despite the trials and when our God is faithful, He will get the glory.

No matter which side you are on regarding the issues, a Facebook post or break room rant regarding the president of the country or president of the company won’t change a thing. The mature character of Christlikeness will, however. The humility of excellence in serving others no matter their agreement will provide an opportunity to put the faithfulness of God on display. That display will likely come through your influence which is meek and honoring. The net result will be transformation beyond what any one of us can accomplish in our own limited convictions or wisdom.