The Big Move

It’s been over 12 years now. Recently, I went back to the place where I grew up. I showed my wife where the first 16 years of my life took place. We retraced important steps and visited significant places. We also did a good bit of exploring because 12 years is a long time for things to change. And things have changed.  The place where I grew up was just ranked the best place to live in the country.

But it was leaving that place that turned out to be an inciting incident in my life. During my sophomore year in high school, my parents, my brother, and I all discussed and prayed about the possibility of moving.  It would be a dramatic change. New city. New school. New church. New house. But when it came time to make the decision, we all agreed that’s where God was leading us. I didn’t like it. I was leaving behind everything familiar. It had been easy to trust God before this day, but now my faith would be tested.

At the time, I thought this was a test for God to pass. But as I look back on it now, I can see I was really the one being tested. He wanted to know if I would trust Him in this situation. I wanted to know if He was trustworthy–if He was the God I had known, read about, and seen in so many ways up to then. At first, it was difficult. Making friends was not easy. Spending so much time with my brother and parents was a big change. Getting comfortable at a new church was even more difficult. So much change. I literally had to trust God with everything.

This move set the tone for the next 12 years of my life. My longest-lasting friendships were made at that new school. My first experiences in ministry occurred over 3 separate internships at that new church. They eventually ordained me (yes, it took them 3 internships to approve me), and I eventually met my wife during all that time there. That new house became the place where my family bonded together in new ways. The people I met there led me to Taylor University, which led me to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In those places, I learned about worldview, the integration of faith and learning, and how my desire to do ministry could mix with my passion for organizational excellence.

Today, I get to help lead a non-profit organization that is technically owned by 46 different church partners. My role in that organization is an intersection of my entire history, especially the history that took place over the last 12 years.

Through that move as a 16 year old boy, I learned to trust God by relying on Him to meet my every need–demonstrating that He is the good Father He says He is.  That deepened my faith in ways I’m still uncovering today as a man.  I’m not sure I always passed the test of trusting Him, but I’m confident of this:  I have no reason to ever doubt God’s faithfulness.

This post is part of a group blogging project celebrating the release of Inciting Incidents (Moody Press), a book featuring the stories of six creatives who share honestly about surviving life’s difficulties while attempting to do great things. You can visit the “Share Your Story” section of IncitingIncidents.Org to check out posts from other synchroblog contributors, or visit the sites of the authors: Sarah Cunningham, Jeff Goins, Dave Hickman, Blaine Hogan, Tracee Persiko, Stephanie Smith, Mandy Thompson and David Wenzel. In addition, you can hear more about the project in this NPR-style interview series by Moody Radio.   
 
Also, if you pick up the book in the first two weeks, Moody will give you a bundle of free resources, including two full-length e-books. The book is available immediately at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Christian Book.

holiday paradox

Turkey. Ham.  Mashed Potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Corn. Stuffing. Green beans. Rolls.  Pie. I love that Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat all the best homemade foods the best cooks in your family can dream up. I’m confident I ate in proportion to my level of gratitude this past weekend—especially since I attended two Thanksgiving feasts.

Strangely, I felt more indulgent this weekend than I did thankful. Anyone else? Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but do you know what I mean? Thanksgiving is certainly not about indulgence, but sometimes I wonder if our culture of consumerism has slowly eroded our country’s grateful spirit. Seriously, on the day of the year when we are encouraged to reflect on what we’ve been given, many of us are frantically searching for and thinking through the best deals to be found the very next day.

I looked at them, too.  This bothers me.

You would think this year might be different than previous years. More people seem to be struggling financially, at least that is the report I get from the 44 churches I meet with regularly in Charlotte. Every one of them had to make budget cuts in 2011 because giving was down significantly. People seem to be saving more and spending less, right? That would lead me to expect shopping lines to be shorter and sales to be smaller on Black Friday. Boy was I wrong.

Smartmoney.com reports, “Early figures from the National Retail Federation say the average shopper spent about $400 in stores this weekend, up 9.1% from last year. Online spending rose 24% to about $150. In all, shoppers spent a record $52 billion.” Wow. 

I wish we could divorce Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I don’t put much faith in political change, but I’ll vote for the presidential candidate that does so. I’m not quite sure what it looks like in my life yet, but I want to do something to ensure that Thanksgiving weekend is about gratefulness and contentment more than it is greed and consumption—at the very least in my life and my family’s lives.

Remembering what Thanksgiving is about is now counter-cultural. The pilgrims designated one day of the year solely devoted to giving thanks to God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world. The large majority of us have exponentially more material possessions and money than the pilgrims did. They set aside one day. Perhaps we should set aside all four days of Thanksgiving weekend.

thirteen point one

This past Saturday I crossed a goal off my bucket list. That list has done nothing but grow with more goals since I was challenged to put one together. But I finally got to cross one off, and I’m only 28! I ran 13.1 miles.

About six months ago, I signed up to run Savannah’s inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon with some friends. If you know me at all, you know that running is last on the list of physical activities that I enjoy. So, I was starting at square one. Before I could even start any official training guides, I had to be able to run 5 miles. Well, I hadn’t run in quite some time.

So, my first run was literally a half-mile. I made Candace run it with me. She was faster than me. Not surprising. Over the next two months, I would slowly build up to running 4 miles. Sometimes, I had friends that would run with me to push me to go a little further than I wanted or a little faster than I liked. Looking back now, I realize how encouragement and challenges like that produced in me a stronger desire to achieve my goal. Even in an individual sport like running, community is necessary.

I started a 10-week training program in mid-August that always ended the week with a long run. My first long run was 4 miles. My last long run was 11 miles. The lessons I learned during those weeks are invaluable. You do battle against yourself every morning to get up and run. No one else is going to stop you from running but yourself. It was unlike other sports I always enjoyed playing—there was always an opponent trying to stop me from reaching my goal. But when you run, the only opponent you face is yourself.

Ten days before the race, I developed patella tendinitis in my knee. After consulting with a friend who is both a doctor and a runner, he assured me that I wouldn’t do any major damage in finishing the race, but it would be painful. I had no choice at that point. I had put too much time and hard work into training at this point to stop. So I continued to train with Advil and a lot of icing.

On race day, surprisingly, my knee felt pretty good. It was a cool 50 degrees with clear skies and 23,000 crazy runners around me. The pace on my first mile was about 30 seconds faster than I wanted it to be, and through the first 10 miles, I was cruising along faster than I expected. When I started training, my goal was simply to keep running the whole time; I didn’t have a specific time in mind. But, I was challenged by my wife on Friday to beat 2 hours and 15 minutes. My pace through the first 10 miles would have allowed me to beat 2 hours and 10 minutes, but the last 3.1 miles was a different story than the first 10.

During the last 5k, every step was difficult. It felt like I had weights on my feet, and the pain in my knee reared its ugly head again. It was these last 3 miles when my opponent implemented his strategy, and it was during those last 3 miles that I learned the most about myself.

I kept running. I kept looking forward. I remember my training. I envisioned the finish line. I reminded myself that every time I went for a run over the last month, I did more than 3 miles. And when I finally saw the finish line, with just a city block left, I felt rejuvenated. The injuries didn’t matter. The last 13 miles didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that finish line.

This picture was taken about 15 minutes after I crossed the finish line. The medal is pretty legit, and it is definitely something I am proud to hold up.

But my reward is not just that medal, it’s the multiple lessons I learned from training and finishing that I will always have with me. The lessons that can be transferred to my relationship with God are unmistakable. Hard work, discipline, sacrifice, focus, determination, and joy are only a few of those lessons.

If you want to accomplish something great, it is going to require great discipline and great sacrifice. There are going to be barriers, and the obstacles will probably increase dramatically as you approach the finish line. Running 13.1 miles was a crazy idea for me–from .5 miles to 13.1 miles. But I knew the lessons I would learn along the way would be lifelong lessons.  Now the question is, “What’s next?”

Rest.

credit

About a month ago, as I was waiting on my car at a tire shop, I started rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the things I want to continue developing is my understanding of what makes organizations great, whether that’s a business, educational institution, church, or non-profit organization. I figured this book was worth a second look since my first look was more of a skim back in college.

So far, one chapter has left an indelible impression on me. Again. When I reread it, I remembered the fascination and surprise that hit me the first time I read Collins’ interesting research on what kind of leadership was characteristic of “great” organizations. It came down to two things: personal humility and professional will.

Collins’ chapter on this kind of leadership begins with a quote from President Harry S. Truman.  Truman says, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit.”  Read that again and ruminate on it.

What’s been wrecking my mind and heart is that last clause.  I’m not concerned about accomplishing anything as much as I am concerned about doing what I know God has lead me to do at this time. I strive to do it well—to the best of my God-given abilities.

But often I struggle with what is actually motivating me. Am I really doing it simply because God has called me to it or because I am fully committed to the success of the organization/mission? Or am I working hard so I can get recognized? So I can receive the credit for the work I’m doing? Is it about getting a promotion? Is it about expanding my leadership?

Maybe my motivation is more often about proving myself. Proving to myself that I can do it. Proving to my boss that I have what it takes.  Or proving to my family and mentors that their investment in me was worth it.

But I think it is worse when I subconsciously try to prove myself to God.

It’s the thinking that if I get “qualified” (=proving myself) enough, God will use me in “bigger” ways. There are so many things wrong with that statement that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s not even logical. When would I ever feel qualified enough for something God has called me to do? Never, I hope. And it seems fairly presumptuous to elevate certain roles or callings over others when God says every person plays a vital role in His family. And finally, what is moving me to do bigger things? Is it something holy or self-centered.

I can get caught up in this kind of thinking. And it is my guess that you can, too. Truman’s quote struck a cord deep inside of me that hadn’t been played recently. And it needed to be played badly.

You and I have nothing to prove to God. He is our Father. Children should not feel a constant need to prove themselves to their fathers; how much more should we not feel that need or burden with our Heavenly, perfect Father! Knowing we do not need to prove ourselves to God is a great comfort! It should relieve us of the feeling of inadequacy and the striving to show ourselves worthy and capable.

Proverbs 25:6 says, “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men.” Jesus Christ has claimed that place for us. In Him, we have the highest standing. We are counted as God’s children through Jesus Christ, His Son, and so we have no need to exalt ourselves in the King’s presence or anyone else’s presence.

Candace and I came across a great thought this past weekend as we were perusing through a store.  A plaque said:  “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” May you remember all the people God has used throughout Scripture, and may you rest in the reality that God will qualify you for your calling.

relevant

“Relevant.”  Recently in church history this word has become a buzzword—mainly because the American church has lost much of its relevance in our culture. Church leaders suddenly realized what had happened and began evaluating, strategizing, and orchestrating changes in their churches.  Just think back to what church was like just 10-15 years ago. A completely different experience.  Whether or not every church leader agreed about how to become more relevant, there isn’t a church leader in America who hasn’t wondered how his or her church can become more “relevant.”

What does it mean to be relevant anyway? The dictionary says it means, “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” Pertinent. Applicable.  Germane. Material. So, does the Church have a significant bearing on social and cultural issues today? Does it have a voice or is it being ignored?  Do people look to the Church as having pertinent and applicable answers to life’s questions?  For a post-Christian society, the answer is more and more often “no.”

So, church leaders began seeking relevance.  And they did so in different ways.

To note one example, with the emergent church movement (some call it a conversation), many churches changed the appearance and experience of a typical Sunday morning.  Candles were on the stage.  The lights were dimmed.  The preacher wore cool glasses, jeans, and a hip, and often too tight, graphic tee.  Sermons became more conversational, and the music changed.

Some of the changes that happened are still very obvious in many churches, and some of those changes are great. I do not mean to applaud or criticize any of them (in this post).

The Church decided it needed relevancy. I would suggest church leaders believed the message (the Gospel) was still relevant, but the mode of communicating it no longer sufficed.  Singing hymns, dressing up, and monological speeches seemed out of place in our society. But our first instinct was to think of surface level things:  appearance, style, fashion, and entertainment even.

Many of these changes are positive. People cannot hear a message if it is not communicated in their language. So we must understand the language and culture of the audience with who we are attempting to communicate. It’s a simple idea, but it’s behind the superficial changes we have come to accept as normal.

I would argue that all these change we have just addressed have been a major factor in the reasons why we, as church-goers, have come to believe we need to find and attend a relevant church. We crave relevant churches. Or at least we have been taught that we should. Relevant churches are the hope of the world.

I completely agree. But I disagree as to what defines a relevant church.

What makes a church relevant is not candles, crazy light shows, fog machines, dialogical sermons, hipster pastors, or even great communicators. What makes a church relevant is people who are relevant.

Instead of looking for a relevant church, which sometimes just means one where we are super comfortable, we should be focusing on being people who bring heaven to earth. People who are salt and light in the world, as Jesus said. People who carry the message of the Gospel with their lives.

People who are relevant are those who care about their friends, make a difference in their community, remain committed to their local church even when the music style or communicator changes, and choose to view their workplace as an opportunity to share the love of God.

I hope and pray church leaders continue to discover the best way to communicate the Gospel, and I hope and pray that you and I will take the focus off the kind of church we want and onto becoming the kind of person who makes that church relevant.

nine eleven

Candace and I watched multiple documentaries over the past week about 9/11, including a candid and splendid interview with President George W. Bush.  From the vantage point of my 12th grade web-design class, I could not have imagined the magnitude of devastation or the depth of evil that would forever mark that day.

But ten years later, it is the bravery, courage, and sense of community that is most striking.  The evil was great, but good came out of it.  Just as God turned the evil intended by Joseph’s brothers into good for His chosen people (Gen. 50:20), the schemes of hate and terror have not prevailed over the bonds of unity they created.

In a previous post, I considered what it takes to create real unity.   I made the argument that it is deeply held beliefs that create lasting unity and that common unity leads to community.

If common, deeply held beliefs create the foundation or building blocks for unity, perhaps it is poignant experiences that create lasting community.  In the days following 9/11, Americans bonded together.  The most tangible example of this is probably the thousands of firefighters, first responders, and rescue workers that gathered at ground zero to find survivors.  People who had never met worked together, sacrificed, and fought to rise above the evil we all experienced.

On one of the few sites I regularly visit, Jonathan Merritt writes in an article titled “Ten Years From Normal” for Q:  Ideas for the Common Good:

“Americans shed individualism in the days following 9/11. Institutionally, we began tearing down the walls that separate national intelligence agencies from themselves and local law enforcement. Within communities, strangers joined together to give blood, mourn, and pray. The latter would not last, but the lesson remains: communication and collaboration is critical to both averting and weathering life’s calamities.”

What sticks out about Merritt’s comments to me, and what I’ve been trying to take away from the community-catalyzing event that 9/11 was, is that after tragedy, isolation is not an option.  The walls that we’ve built around ourselves get torn down, and we intuitively know we need each other.  Tragedy is the most poignant experience in human life.  While some may want to be alone after tragedy, they must engage with others eventually in order to cope and move on.  Indeed, tragedy makes us stronger.  9/11 did not make America weaker.  It made America stronger, more resolved, more prepared, and less individualized.

Given what we’ve just discussed, what more tragic event could there be than the brutal and barbaric execution of the most fully human, fully God man upon the most fully in-human and divinely absent cross?  For those who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ, the cross is the tragic event that tears down the man-made walls of isolation.  In this, and in this alone, do we have ever-lasting unity and community not only with one another but with our Creator.

In December 2003, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City to engage some of the homeless in innocent conversation while passing out food.  It was freezing, and it snowed 8 inches in about 4 hours.  It was difficult to see much further than about a block in front of us, but we toured the city that day anyway.

Just 2 years and 3 months after the towers fell, I was standing at ground zero, gazing at the massive hole in the ground.  Debris was everywhere within the blocked off border.  It was difficult to make out much of anything, especially with the heavy snowfall.  But, the most incredible image came into view.  Perhaps it has taken me these 8 years to formulate my thoughts on the significance of it.

There, in the middle of all the tragedy was a reminder of the most tragic event in human history:  the death of the Son of God.

And yet, it was left there as a symbol of hope.  Why?  Because tragedy like the cross brings us together.  Because it dismisses social boundaries and causes us to form new friendships.  Because it stirs within us a renewed vigor to search for meaning and truth.  And because evil doesn’t get the final word.  Jesus Christ is not dead.  This is our hope.  And whether people know it or not, God’s story of redemption, of rebuilding, is so ingrained into our very souls that when a steel beam cross appears in the rubble of evil, we take our stand at the foot of it.

journal

As I was doing a little cleaning in my office on this muggy Labor Day, I found some old journals.  As can be seen by the frequency of this blog, one of my strengths is not keeping a regular, running dialogue about my thoughts and experiences.  Blogging is like journaling except that you understand (and hope) people may read it.  Most of my journaling efforts were written under the premise that no one would read them but God and me.  People write in their journals as if the journal was a real person—a friend they can imagine so that thoughts, dreams, and desires can be articulated clearly.  Most of my journal entries are written to one person as well, but that person happens to be God, so they are often my feeble attempts at very concerted prayer.

I only have two journals that can be described in this way (my thoughts, dreams, concerns, etc.).  The 3-5 other journals I have are all sermon notes from Sunday morning church services, Taylor University chapel services, leadership conferences, and retreats and camps.   Looking through them this morning reminded me of how little our minds can actually remember.  This is all the more reason to write things down!  But God promises to help us recall the things we’ve learned in those settings when we need them.

One of the journals I flipped through was the one I used most recently.  Predictably, only its first 15 pages had anything written on them.  The last date to have an entry:  May 12, 2010.  And that’s because I was on a mission trip to Honduras with His Eyes in Tegucigalpa (which is easily both the worst and most exhilarating place to land an aircraft).  They’re really doing some great things, and if you’re interested in coffee that produces a profit for the native farming community, buy it on their site.

The first entry was from January 9, 2007.  Yes, you read that correctly.  There were 3.5 years between the first and last entry and yet only 15 pages contained words.  More than one entry begins with something like, “It’s been well over a year since my last entry.”  But I think this made taking 15 minutes to read through each page all the more enjoyable.  I found that I was looking back over numerous months to consider all the changes that had taken place since the last entry.

I understand that journaling is supposed to be a fairly regular thing, and I guess that is why there are even websites now that will send you an alert to journal every day like 280daily (sum up your day in 280 characters or less).  But maybe you’re like me.  Journaling is something you want to do, but you don’t seem to find the time or discipline to actually do it.  Well I want to propose that even if you do it just once a year, it will be worth it.

I was able to reengage with my thoughts before I went to seminary, before I worked in three churches, before I met, dated, and married Candace, before I moved to Charlotte, and before I worked for CharlotteONE.  I read through my personal struggles with being single, dating, living alone, disliking school, wrestling with my calling, job situation, and wanting community.

Reading through all these struggles, I was able to find a theme weaved in the midst of them.  It was a cry for God to lead me…that I would find my identity in being a son of God no matter what circumstance or confusion I faced about my present and future situation.  The amazing thing is that God heard those cries and He answered them.  It was like reading a modern day psalm, but it was my psalm.  This is the beauty of journaling.

Let me share an example with you.  It’s personal and it’s about being single.  When I started this journal, I was beginning to wonder if God was preparing me for a life of singleness, and I had only recently accepted the idea that this could be a good thing.  I hope it will be an encouragement to you no matter where you are on your journey through life.  And I hope you will find comfort in knowing that God is there with you, and if you’re following His lead, He is always preparing you for something.

January 23, 2007

“With all these thoughts and the lives they affect, all I am asking is that You would prepare me for my wife and her for me.  OK, so maybe I’d like to know more about what You are doing in this area of my life, but I am content to devote myself more fully to You and to others because of You while I wait on Your timing.  You have changed my perspective on singleness, but my heart is not there yet.  Please continue to help me match my thoughts and actions with this new mindset.”

May 23, 2009

“In just nine months, I feel as though I’ve always known her.  She impresses me daily with her character and she has become the most beautiful girl I’ve ever known or seen.  You made it possible for me to love her because I have known Your love.  The changes that have occurred in both us of because of You are undeniable.  I have no doubt about her being my wife.  I know without question, that I want to pursue You and Your kingdom with her, and that is why I asked her to marry me.”

I would never have imagined that in just over two years, I would have dated and proposed to the woman God was preparing for me.  But, without those two years, I would never have been ready.

Journaling is one of the best ways we can remember all that God does in and through our lives.  I encourage you to try it…even if it is only once a year.

america

I’m not very interested in the political arena.  And while I’m interested in economics and would enjoy studying it more intentionally, I don’t’ have a good grasp on the historic economic problems facing our country today.  But, being a pastor, I have an opinion on why we’re experiencing the things we’re experiencing.  That’s not the point of this blog though.

After doing some reading of a theologian and pastor’s spiritual thoughts about his one-year experience in America, I began to wonder if the American Church is not a significant factor in our current economic and political struggles.

On a side note, how many theologians do you know that are pastors these days?  And how many pastors do you know that are theologians?  I think it’s quite rare, and therefore quite unfortunate, that we do not have pastors who are more serious theologians and more theologians who are more thoughtful pastors.

Let me share with you a couple of quotes that struck me from this pastor-theologian’s analysis of attempting theological study in America:

“There is no theology here…They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria.  The students—on average 25-30 years old—are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about.  They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions.  They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.”

“There is little intellectual competition and little intellectual ambition.  This gives work in seminar lecture or discussion a very innocuous character.  It cripples any radical, pertinent criticism.  It is more a friendly exchange of opinion than a study in comprehension.”

“In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.”

What a indictment of the theological institutions and churches he attended.  As I read through them, I couldn’t help but agree in many ways.  We have set aside the gospel of Jesus Christ and our need for a Savior and Lord and decided that we can make our own way to God.

The analysis comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1930, when he decided to spend a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

I recently started reading Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy.   I just finished the chapter about his to study in America.  I had no idea Bonhoeffer was such a good theologian, but what has struck me most about him is his ability to think clearly and perceive logical arguments.  He always knew how or why he (or anyone) arrived at his conclusions.  In that sense, he was a true academic.  He attended and studied under some of the best liberal theologians of the 20th century—liberal because they did not believe the biblical text should be studied as the living Word of God.  Yet, he learned how to study the texts from their scientific approach to them while still believing that God revealed Himself to the world through them and through the person of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t accept their conclusions.

I think this is the beauty of using our heads.  Sometimes, I think we let our church leaders get away with not using their heads.  And certainly, we all are guilty of the same.  Accepting the conclusions and proclamations of politicians, pastors, and public celebrities without investigating whether or not they opposed to or aligned with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer’s brother worked with Albert Einstein and his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a world-renown scientist.  So Bonhoeffer was able to take the scientific methods and mindset he learned at home and put them to good use as a theologian and pastor.  I guess growing up in that household had its benefits.

If you don’t know much about Bonhoeffer, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there are a couple things you should know.  First and foremost, he was martyred for his faith in a Nazi concentration camp because he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  Second, he is known for his incredible pastoral and theological ministry from within the camp.  And third, if you haven’t read Life Together or The Cost of Discipleship, I suggest that you make plans to do so as soon as you can.

(home)ownership

Jesus didn’t have His own house filled with all kinds of material possessions.  Think about that for a minute.  No car, no home office, no books, no pantry.  Nothing.  When it came to a house—having somewhere to call home as we say—he relied on others to meet those needs.  If I’m trying to follow Jesus, then should I just rent a house or try to live in some small community where no one owns anything?  Some have decided that is exactly what we should do.  But, we just bought our first home.  Am I no longer living how Jesus would want me to live?  Why do I own anything?  Why not rent, lease, and borrow everything?

This is something Candace and I discussed before we started our house search last year. Does God want us to own a house?  Should we take on debt in order to have a place we can call “our own?”  Can we really say we own it?  Isn’t there something else we should be doing with our money?  Giving it away?  Saving it?  Investing it?  All these questions, and many more, came with our new search.

We finally moved into a new home this past April, and how Candace and I think of our home ownership has become the central and foundational way we answer these questions.  

In one of my earlier posts I expressed the idea that leadership is about three things:  shepherding, stewarding, and serving.  Buying a house was a practical, tangible way for us to learn how to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.  We’ve been trying to think of this house not as “our own” but as “a loaner.”  And of course, that should be easy enough, because it actually is a loaner from a financial perspective.  But we’re not thinking of it just as something the bank owns.  God has given us the opportunity to live in this 1940s house located in the heart of Charlotte, and we feel it is our responsibility to make sure we live in it in a way that honors Him.

We don’t manage the yard, keep it clean, and improve it just because we bought it but because we don’t see it as exclusively our own.  And we ought to see everything we have in this way—not just our house.  Everything we are blessed to have are gifts from God that He wants us to enjoy, but they are also gifts He wants us to use to bless others.  If we become too attached to them, they begin to take the place of God in our lives, and we won’t be able to give them away.  One of the ways we try to bless others is by having people over for dinner and conversation like our friend Mary Austin Slate (you should check out her blog!) and our small group from church.  We also like to have visitors spend a night or two, and we do our best to share everything we have with them.

Why does God want us to be able to give these things away?  Because it is exactly what He does for us.  He gave up His only Son for us.  Surely we can give up something as small as a house for Him if He asks us to—or a car, some cash, and our time.

How can we call ourselves children of God or followers of Jesus if we are not willing to eventually part ways with what He has given us?  Jesus was willing to give away everything—even His life.  Candace and I are so compelled by this love that we cannot help but learn how to live with this mindset.  And we are always looking for ways that we can be a blessing to others with the things God has given as a blessing to us.

What we have is not ours.  They are gifts.  And they are meant to be used in a way that honors God.  What has He given you?  Are you willing to part with it if, and when, He asks you to give it away?

committed

Why is it that we struggle to commit ourselves to anything—people, social events, blogging every other week, marriage, workout routines, diets, even where we eat dinner on Friday night.  Just this week I didn’t want to make weekend plans with one friend because I wasn’t sure if I may get a better offer or come up with a better idea.  Have you noticed this?

Noticing this tendency in myself, my peers, and in the culture generally, it is clear that our culture is afraid of commitment.  Unfortunately, I think it is more than a simple tendency or initial reaction.  If we cannot even commit to weekend plans before the weekend arrives for fear that something better might come up, what shall we do when we must commit to things that require something of us?

Commitment is way too long-term.   It’s too difficult to know if we’ll still want to be committed to something next year, next month, or next week.  If it benefits us now, then we’re completely ok with it.  But who knows if that same thing or person will continue to benefit us later or “then.”  Why are we like this?   Should we change it?  How can we?

Part of the answer is that we are consumers of the here and now.  We are told that living for the moment is a good thing—soaking it all up so that we can get the most out of it. That’s something that athletes can get away with during a competition, but it makes for a poor life motto.   Of course, those are our heroes, the people our culture looks up to for guidance.  There’s part of the problem.

Another possible reason is that we have too much going on to really think about staying committed to anything much longer than a month.   Have you noticed that many churches these days offer a “trial-run” small group that lasts 4-6 weeks?  It gives people a chance to see if they like it.  This definitely fits with our culture, but what does it say about Jesus?  Is He something you can just try for a few weeks to see if He fits into your life?

You know what?  The lack of commitment I see in myself, and my friends, ticks me off.  I’m sick of it.  I see it everywhere.  I have been attending churches for the last three years, but I haven’t really planted roots and made a commitment.  I work for an organization that survives through volunteers; I bet more than half of the people who sign up to volunteer never show up.  A friend told me there are over 300 underprivileged boys on the waiting list who have requested to have a “big brother” in Charlotte.  Are you kidding me?  300?  You have heard the single most important relationship for a child is a father figure, right?

While I’m on this miniature rant, let me get to what really irks me.  Church shopping.  I’m not sure if I can think of a better oxymoron.  Church:  a missional community committed to Jesus Christ and one another.  Shopping:  the pursuit of something that makes you feel good.  You don’t shop for a church.   You participate in one.  If you’re not participating, then you’re not part of one.   And by participating, I do not mean attending Sunday services.

We need to stop acting like there might be something better waiting around the corner when it comes to church.  We cannot treat church like our weekend plans.  Church is what God has designed for us to live life to the fullest.  But it will cost us.  And that’s the issue.

After thinking about this for a few weeks now, I’ve finally arrived at a reason that I think makes sense:  we’re selfish.  We lack commitment exactly because it is going to cost us something.  We don’t want to give whatever that is up.  We want to hang on to it, enjoy it, control it, soak it up, and “live the dream.”

The Gospel is about giving it all up.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about you.  And you cannot live out the Gospel without committing to a church.

Let me leave you with some encouraging and motivating words from a German philosopher:

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:  that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can—begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”

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