Revealing the Kingdom

In Matthew 9, we see Jesus doing Jesus things… Healing, calling someone to leave behind the life he knew to become a disciple, teaching, and… a lot more healing. The legalists among His people hated what they saw happening because Jesus didn’t seem to fit their paradigm or follow their playbook – and he certainly wasn’t limited by their sense of propriety and power.

And then…

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

– Matthew 9:36-38

His people were unknowingly living in the light of a Kingdom so imminent they could see it breaking through if they’d only look. But like sheep with no one to direct their attention they steadily grazed on, oblivious to the LIFE that was right there with them. Jesus knew they were close, and he knew he only had a handful of disciples to show them the Kingdom they were missing, and he knew he only had a few years to train those disciples how to reveal the Kingdom.

So he told them to pray.

“You guys have a lot of work to do… better pray that God sends some help.”

We usually connect this line to the actual harvest, the moment of reaping. But before a harvest can happen, doesn’t a crop have to be nourished? Before it’s nourished, doesn’t it have to be planted? And before seeds are planted, doesn’t the soil have to be tilled and maybe amended in some way to be ready for the seeds?

Workers aren’t just the harvesters in this metaphor. Every moment of the process of the Kingdom coming involves different work. And every step needs workers. Sometimes workers need to do different work for a different season.

Are you tilling any ground right now? Planting any seeds? What are you nourishing in the people around you? Every disciple today is the result of others praying this prayer and doing the work God called them to. Who were those people for you? Who made sure the soil of your life was ready to receive the seed of His Kingdom? Who planted those seeds?

Take some time this month to get in touch and tell them thanks.

Then, be the answer to Jesus’ and the disciples’ prayer – work to reveal the Kingdom the world is crying out for. And join them in praying for God to send some more workers…

CORE 52 Wrap Up

A little over a year ago, I started to take our students through a book I’d come across called CORE 52 from Mark Moore. (You can see where we started with this post.) It was a great journey through scripture, highlighting 52 of the major themes and verses that capture the essence of the story of Scripture. If you’re looking for a solid discipleship tool to sharpen your Biblical focus – grab a couple friends, buy the book, and discuss your walk through the Bible over the next 52 weeks.

There’s evidently a Student Edition coming out this Spring! Watch for it… or pre-order here.

I revived my instagram account and used it to post a verse image each week with a bit of a comment to help remind students of what we’d discussed and to help in memorizing the verse. Take some time and enjoy a visual walkthrough:

Don’t Forget To Be A Person, Pastor

Some thoughts for my Pastor type friends, especially. You’ve got an important message to communicate, but does it ever feel like no one’s listening?

I write a lot of fairly serious stuff that I think is really important. Like – life or death forever important. I hope to help people see and engage some potential God has put within them that they may not have realized was even there. I love it when I get to see this happen.

But, in a life full of a constant stream of information, I know my stuff is not always an easy read and my lesser self tells the rest of me that it’s easy to ignore. That I’m easy to ignore. No one’s listening, so why bother… I have ample evidence to make this case, and yet I keep tilting at the windmill, hoping to spark something in you that God will use for His glory and someone else’s benefit.

But a couple days ago, I posted something that was anything but serious, definitely not meaningful, and at face value of little redeeming quality. It was a flippant comment about the food I was eating. It was this:

Just a dorky comment about cereal, but between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, (where I also post all the other more serious stuff) I had about 50 times more interaction about my cereal that anything else I’ve posted lately. It was a good reminder of a few things:

Many people aren’t as interested in public discussion about matters of faith and church and spiritual growth as I might be. I’m a church nerd all the way through and I don’t mean to back away from that at all, but “everyone eats.” As we pastor from a distance right now, we need to make sure to maintain common ground and not get lost inside our own thoughts so deeply that we begin to disconnect from the people we serve.

Maybe this one’s just me, but it’s easy to start to take ourselves (and everything else) too seriously. There is room in your life for a goofy food post once in a while, or a stupid meme you found funny, or maybe even that horrible dad joke that makes you laugh way too hard when no one’s looking.

Pastor friends – I know your work load is crazy right now and you’re having to learn new ways to communicate and gain new skills to do it. You’re helping lead churches full of people facing fear and uncertainty looking to you to know what to do. They need to see your faith and confidence and character that grabs a mop and leads through the mess.

But don’t forget to be a person. Often, connections are forged in the trivial moments we share every day with each other as much as in the deep, meaningful, momentous occasions that come along once in a while.

Take a breath…

Take another…

Relax… He’s got you.

Have some Cookie Crisp.

What Do You Really Believe?

“Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because He said, Do it, or once abstained because He said, Do not do it. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you.”

George MacDonald

What we really believe is seen in what we really do. The quote above stopped me in my tracks last week as I read it and began to think about the way I live my life. This doesn’t mean I have absolute confidence in every decision I make… definitely not that. But it means I have some way to cut through my self doubt and find some assurance that what I’m doing (or not doing) is in sync with the heart of God.

Am I living a life that reflects the fact that it’s being directed by God or by me?

What exactly did I do today that He told me to do?

How has God instructed you?

How have you responded?

(These questions may sound rhetorical, but I really don’t mean them that way. I hope you’ll wrestle with these questions for yourself, and I’d love to hear your stories of God’s direction and your response. Use the comments section below if you don’t mind sharing.)

Shared Victory

The agony of the cross faded into a silent anguish and the grief that follows the unexpected.

“What do we do now? I thought He would lead us to glory and victory… I can’t believe He’s gone…”

The answers didn’t come… at first.

But then the silence of Saturday was broken as the Lion of Judah shook death still in His jaws, threw it to the side, and stepped out of the grave with an earth shaking roar. An incredible victory – but one that perhaps shouldn’t surprise us as it does. What else would the Author of Life do when He’d tasted death? (What a luxury is a couple millennia of hindsight!) The greatest victory is always one that is shared.

What may be even more amazing is that Jesus put His power over death to use at great personal cost for the benefit of those who are powerless against it without Him. We have no hope against death outside of the hope He has given us by inviting us into life, His life. So that’s exactly what He did. He’s invited us to share in His victory.

“Or have you forgotten that when we were joined to Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. and just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was.”

Paul, in a letter to Christians in Rome

Easter was certainly different this year. But Jesus’ power over death has not been diminished. Our union with Him still leaves us with nothing to fear from death. And His selfless use of His power for our benefit is still the example we follow.

I wonder… What power do you have? How are you using it to benefit someone else and help people find the Way to life? How are you entering into the darkness and uncertainty and fear in your family and neighborhood with the light of hope and faith and love?

Look Deeper…

“The sail was patched with flour sacks, and furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.”

-Ernest Hemingway

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway begins with this description of old Santiago’s sail – it’s beaten and weathered and old and used up. Just like the man, himself. On the surface, it’s easy to see the signs of defeat.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. Every patch and wrinkle and scar points to something more than defeat. They point to tenacity and resilience. They point to a long-suffering mind, set on doing just what he was made for. Born to be a fisherman, Santiago launched out day after day after day in the pursuit of the fish.

Our world is looking a bit worn these days. Our society is revealing its brokenness in ways we haven’t often experienced before. On the surface, the signs of defeat are evident: the selfish hoarding, the accusations and mistrust, the shoving away of our fellow man in just about every possible way… We are broken.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. We wear the scars of our sin, yes. All creation groans as the result of our choosing of death over union with Life, even as it also cries out His glory with every sunrise and hidden valley and sack lunch given away. We wear the scars, but those scars can remind us the scars of another – those worn by one who did nothing to earn them, who bore their pain and shame on our behalf.

In Jesus’ final week, the signs of defeat were easy to see – a fickle crowd turned in just days from shouts of praise to calls for death, a family of friends reduced to a hiding gang of misfits unsure of what to do next after the betrayal from one of their own, a final meal, a cross, a tomb… Surely the defeat is now absolute.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. Every step brought him closer to doing just what he had come for. Born to rescue, Jesus launched out into Jerusalem one last time. He set his gaze on his Father and ran a stake through the heart of death itself to open the way for every sin scarred one of us to come home.

Whatever defeats you are feeling and seeing today, keep looking deeper. Determine to gaze deeper into the heart of our Father and be just what He’s made you to be. These defeats are not final. These wounds will be healed. Because of Jesus, even death itself is only a way marker on our journey home.

Light The Dark

A couple months ago, I came across Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark and was reminded how much I’ve appreciated his songwriting. It was a great look into what lies behind his writing that I enjoyed so much that I hadn’t even finished the book before I picked up a few copies for some people I know whose creativity has been a constant blessing in my own life and many others’.

Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

I also checked out The Wingfeather Saga, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and his Rabbit Room community, and I listened again to the songs I first heard in my college days. Then I came across this newer song of his, and it’s been resonating ever since:

As our world seems to slide into a collective panic, this has been a great reminder for me during this Easter week that there is one who is greater than the source of that fear. He is worthy of every shred of devotion I can find within my soul and every ounce of effort I can muster to give. He is whole, and He is King, and He would make Himself known.

Rest in Him today, friend. Soak in His light and go and share it in the dark places that threaten right now to smother those you and He love. He does indeed intend to dwell again with us.

We Are Not Excused

I’m a pretty slow eater at this point and am usually picking at the food on my plate well after everyone else at the table is done, but when I was younger, it seems that I engaged a more Hoover-like mode of mastication-free dining. I remember being a lot more hasty with meal times than my parents would have preferred, and being shot down with a simple phrase when I tried to fly away from the table too quickly…

“You’re not excused.”

Despite what I’m sure must have been more urgent and exciting things to do, I was not allowed to leave the table just quite yet. There was something to accomplish there that was evidently still undone… conversations to be had… dishes to be wash… leftovers to be put away.

I want to say this to my Christian friends today as we wrestle with canceled activities and “services”: We’re not excused. Being unable to meet together does not excuse us from continuing to be the church together. As we sit around frantically trying to adjust to a new (if temporary) normal, we still have work to do. Conversations to be had… relationships to deepen… seeds to be planted… lives to be built. Don’t forget you’re here for a reason.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.

-Paul, in a letter to Roman Christians

It’s easy for us to get a little confused about what worship really is. Take this virus imposed quarantine as a reminder: We were never called to hang out and sing songs while our friends and family and neighbors sleep in at home wondering why we’re so weird. It’s a good practice we’ve developed, but we have been called to more. We have been called to take light to dark places so people can see the way out, to take truth to people who’ve been deceived about what life’s really for, and to take life where death seeps in seeking to drown and destroy and ruin everything good that God has made.

That hasn’t changed.

We are called to give all of ourselves to Him, to put our very lives at His disposal for whatever purpose He decides. We are called to live lives that are so filled with faith and hope and love that our neighbors can see the Spirit of Jesus living through us. You have a great opportunity ahead of you. You may not be able to gather in the building you’re used to on Sunday mornings for a while – but don’t let that stop you from worshiping together.

The church that Jesus has drawn together cannot be stopped even by the gates of hell. Go and love your family and love your neighbors. We still have that work to do – even if we have to do it from at least 6 ft. away! The church has always been most productive when it’s dispersed. Let’s go worship by giving all of ourselves everywhere we are.

What’s On Your Mind?

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me – everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

–Paul to the early church in Philippi

Recently, probably like you, my thoughts have been consumed with the never ending stream of information regarding COVID-19 and the overwhelming wave of novel coronavirus data that’s flooding us all right now. I’ve found myself wading through pages of CDC and WHO websites and articles linked by friends and media all focused on how bad it is, how bad it’s going to be, and whether or not anything we do will be of use in reversing the tide.

The maps tell me that COVID hasn’t quite made it to our neck of the woods yet, but the grocery shelves tell me there are a lot of people afraid that it’s coming soon. I’m still not quite sure why that means there’s no toilet paper available, but who needs to take logical action when a good dose of panic will do, right? We are letting this coronavirus take up an awful lot of our mental bandwidth right now!

I realized I needed to turn my attention elsewhere. Maybe you do as well. I’m not saying we bury our heads in the stockpiled TP and pretend COVID’s not making its way across the planet… But how much more data do we need? As the situation changes, there will be new information, but what are we doing with the information we already have? The contagion that is threatening us right now more than any other is not COVID… it’s FEAR.

Can I make a couple suggestions? (I’m going to anyway…)

  • Avert your eyes. Detox your mind from the COVID juices for a while and stew on something else.
  • Read a good book.
  • Meditate on a passage of Scripture.
  • Find a virtual tour of an art gallery or something online and think about something beautiful for a while.
  • Call or message someone to see how they’re doing. Share with them what God’s showing you when you’re not burying yourself in your new virology hobby.
  • Go for a walk and notice the birds and squirrels (or bigger critters if you’re in the right place). They just keep doing their thing. Maybe we should, too.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Don’t forget you still have a mission – your life means something, so don’t stop living while you wait to see what COVID will do.

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Paul, to Timothy (who probably needed a reminder)

Maybe your conversation with God has been drowned out a little lately… Here’s a great deal on my journal “PRAY” that can help you cut through the noise and stay connected to our Maker and Sustainer (who is not surprised at all by any of this corona business)…

Quick “Younique” Thoughts/Review

I recently read through a new book from Will Mancini called Younique: Desiging the Life that God Dreamed for You. It was a good look at some practical tools to help someone live intentionally engaged in the specific mission God has for them to live.

Mancini is great at helping people and churches gain clarity. A previous book called Church Unique was a great treatment of how God has shaped every congregation uniquely and I expected something similar from Younique only aimed at the individual instead of a whole church.

Expectations were met, and Younique could be an incredibly helpful book. It is full of tools and practical thought exercises that can help you determine your unique mix of personality, skills, interests, passions, etc. and how that all works together to reveal the specific work for which God has crafted you.

If you’re tired of living on auto-pilot, this is a helpful resource. The only caveat I would offer is that at times, the deluge of inventories and exercises can be overwhelming. This is not a friend you sit down with for a casual read at your favorite coffee shop. This is a counselor that will help you unpack years of unexamined living to make order out of the chaos your life may resemble from time to time. This is a pastor that can help you find clarity through the tears and a coach that will bark at you when you’ve been running the wrong route.

I don’t know a lot of people who have put the kind of intentional effort into living that Younique calls for. We all have blindspots that keep us traveling familiar routes, but I could see this book being incredibly useful to a small fellowship of people who are committed to helping each other live on God’s mission. I think maximum benefit from this book would require some extended time with a good counselor, discussing the various exercises.

Not coincidentally, Mancini has developed a company designed to do just that as they walk people through the tools in the book to develop their “Younique Life Plan” through various weekend and 4 day events and 6-month cohorts. It looks like a great way to get the most out of the book if you’ve got the funds to join in. Even if you don’t, there are a number of free resources available to help you as well.