During one of my interview sessions with New Life they asked me what I would put up on a billboard that would tell everyone in Watertown what the church was all about. Without too much thought I simply said “Jesus”. The weekend we candidated they put this sign up on a billboard in Watertown. Love it!
One thing I have seen over the years that has baffled me is people who are really strong when it comes to knowing the Bible but weak when it comes to love.
I should say that it use to baffle me. Now I think I get it.
It’s very possible to be reading one’s Bible, to be active in church and yet fail when it comes to being transformed by the gospel.
What is the fruit of the gospel? Making sure others know you are right? Correcting the mistakes of others? Winning an argument? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that when a person is abiding in Christ the result is…
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
I can say from personal experience that as I draw closer to Jesus my own sin becomes more and more painfully obvious to me. As I continue to press into the gospel I find myself amazed that Jesus would love and die for such a sinner as myself. This gospel immersion leaves my heart soft and broken and desiring to pour out the same grace that I have received to others. It also makes me incredibly patient with others because I know how patient God is with me every single day.
There will be times when we need to speak the truth into someone’s life but Paul was clear in Galatians 4:15 that our words of truth must be done in a spirit of love.
When I find that people are divisive, self-righteous, or just plain hard to get along with I know that they may be busy with religion but somewhere in their soul there is a gospel disconnection.
But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. -Center Church, p. 73-74
Over the past few months I have been asked a number of times about my opinion when it comes to how the church should do evangelism. One of my main responses has been that I believe we have over-complicated what it looks like to show the love of Jesus Christ to people all around us. I am not one to throw all “programs” under the bus. Programs have their place in the life of the local church. Yet I do think Jesus has modeled for us that there is no substitute for opening up our life, spending time with people and building relationships (Luke 7:34). With that said, allow me to share with you a quote from the book “A Meal With Jesus” by Tim Chester. Instead of making your life busier I hope this encourages you to see that evangelism can take place in the rhythm of everyday life.
Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals, and have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates so powerfully with what you are saying. -Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus
I am super excited to let you all know that my family is moving to South Dakota! I have accepted the call to become the Senior Pastor at New Life Church in Watertown, SD. New Life Church is part of the Evangelical Free Church of America.
I feel refreshed, renewed and ready to walk through this door that God has opened. Since you are here, reading this, can I ask you to do me a big favor?
Here are a few things you could be praying for…
- Safety for my family as we leave the DFW area and move to South Dakota
- For Marcie to have the strength and endurance to finish her first year of teaching
- For us to find a house to rent or buy. We like the idea of renting so that we can really get a feel for the area before we purchase a home. If we found a great deal we would be willing to buy right away! We definitely want to be centrally located (close to schools, church, friends, etc…)
- That my family would build deep, life-long relationships with New Life and the residents of Watertown
- That as we immerse ourselves in ministry we would create margins in our life to rest and to quietly abide in Christ
- That the gospel would saturate our church and the city of Watertown
- (And when the prayer request above is answered…the result would be…) That Watertown would know that New Life (and Jesus) loves them like crazy
- The lost are saved
- That disciples of Jesus Christ are made
Knowing people and preaching: On one of these evenings he was asked by one of the students something about preaching. Something on the order of “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday?” I think we were all surprised by the answer, at least I was. His answer, “For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make some home visits. There is no way that I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about. Preaching is proclamation, God’s Word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel.” P. 86-87
The importance of hospitality: But a serious problem surfaced quite early. From her early adolescence Jan had wanted to be a pastor’s wife. And from an early stage I had wanted nothing to do with pastors. For Jan, “pastor’s wife” was not just being married to a pastor; it was far more vocational than that, a way of life. It meant participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God’s grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who didn’t fit were welcome, where neglected children were noticed, where the stories of Jesus were told, and people who had no stories found that they did have stories, stories that were part of the Jesus story. Being a pastor’s wife would place her strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth. P. 95
The Americanization of Congregation: The ink on my ordination papers wasn’t even dry before I was being told by experts, so-called, in the field of church that my main task was to run a church after the manner of my brother and sister Christian who run service stations, grocery stores, corporations, banks, hospitals, and financial services. Many of them wrote books and gave lectures on how to do it. I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books that the size of my parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. I was being lied to and I knew it. This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques, organizational flow charts, and energized by impressive motivational rhetoric. But this was worse. This pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity violated everything-scriptural, theological, experiential-that had formed my identity as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor. It struck me far worse than the earlier rhetoric and crusader illusions of church. It was a blasphemous desecration of the way of life to which the church had ordained me-something on the order of a vocational abomination of desolation. P.112-113
God does not select people like we do: It became more and more clear that when God forms a church, he starts with the nobodies. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works. Those are the people he started with-Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon-to bring our Savior into the world. Why would he change strategies in bringing the salvation community, church, this congregation into formation? P. 127
Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you: But without this substantial “cleansing” and “shift” that took place in the catacombs, we would not have been able to recognize and participate in the actual church that was being formed among us. Without that, the church that most of us expected and wanted would have become the enemy of the church we were given. P. 129
Becoming a pastor who is not in a hurry: I was in the process of coming to terms with my congregation, just as they were; their less-than-developed emotional life, their lack of intellectual curiosity, the complacent acceptance of a world of consumption and diversion, their seemingly peripheral interest in God. I wasn’t giving up on them. I didn’t intend to leave them where I found them. By now I was prepared to enter a long process of growth in which they would discover for themselves the freshness of the Spirit giving vitality to the way they loved and worked and laughed and played. And I was finding areas of common ground that made us fellow pilgrims, comrades in arms in recognizing unexpected shards of beauty in worship and scripture and one another. I was learning not to impose my expectations of what I hoped for them but rather let them reveal to me, as they were able, who they were. I was becoming a pastor who wasn’t in a hurry. P. 135
People are not a problem to be fixed: Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered. Who else in the community other than the pastor has the assigned task of greeting men and women and welcoming them into a congregation in which they are known not by what is wrong with them, but by who they are, just as they are? P. 137
Embracing slow sanctification: Would I trade my pastoral birthright for the mess of pottage that provided the immediate satisfaction of affirmation and discernible results? Or would I be willing to live in the ambiguities of congregation in which growth was mostly slow and mostly, at least for long stretches of time, invisible? Would I embrace the emotional gratification of solving a problem that could be diagnosed and dealt with head-on rather than give myself as a companion in searching out the sacred mysteries of salvation and holiness? P. 140
The ecstasy of crowds: Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence-religious meaning, God meaning-apart from God as revealed in the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and sex, but, at least in America, almost never against the crowds. Probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds. P. 157
Church growth or church cancer? Meanwhile, the momentum of what was being termed church growth was gathering. All of us in the company agreed that it was misnamed. It was more like church cancer-growth that was a deadly illness, the explosion of runaway cells that attack the health and equilibrium of the body. A year or so later, another of our company left us. We hadn’t realized the rapid spread of the lust for size that was spreading through the American church and was now penetrating our own Company. P. 158
Seminary: My seminary professors had no idea what pastors were or did. P. 162
Not a strategy, just being a good neighbor: She didn’t have a strategy (Eugene talking about his wife). She didn’t have a “business plan,” or a “vision statement.” She just went about being what she has always been, a neighbor, a friend. P. 189
What do we do about our broken and hurting world? Is it possible to live in this increasingly inhospitable world in a hospitable way? Is is possible to do something focused and intentional about what is wrong in our society without turning the wrongdoers into the enemy? Gathering friends and family to the table for a meal is our most frequent act of hospitality. P. 192
Spiritual dormancy: Did I think that being a pastor in the workplace of a congregation was all fertile farmland and and rolling green hills, grand horizons and majestic mountains? I was a pastor in a place and with a people in an American culture and an American church that seemed more like the badlands and Wall Drug than the continental kingdom of God fertility and horizon and peaks in which God’s throne is established and over which God reigns. Annually on pilgrimage to the sacred ground of Montana, my vocation was renewed in the company of my family. I was a pastor: I would stay with these people for as long as necessary to acquire an imagination and develop a faith to follow Christ right here, in this congregation, in this place, with this family, in this workplace. Didn’t I know by now that growth, any growth-but especially character growth, spiritual growth, church growth, body-of-Christ growth, soul growth-had periods of dormancy? Did I want to be a nonpastor who by diversions and novelties and distractions-“challenges”-perpetuated a kind of sub-Christian adolescence? I remembered a line from the English Novelist E. F. Forster: Ecstasy doesn’t last. But it can but a channel for something lasting.” P. 207-208
Addicted to adrenaline: I was addicted to adrenaline. And now I was realizing how my already well-honed competitive instincts were exacerbated by the competitive and consumerist church culture that surrounded me. P. 210
Suburbia souls: Suburbia souls. I needed to renew my conversations with Newman, cultivate a way of understanding these men and women in my congregation in terms of who they were, not in terms of how they either interested or bored me, not in terms of what I could make of them-but souls. Which I did. P. 225
God and the workplace: Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well asking a woman he didn’t know for a drink of water, on a country hillside that he turned into a huge picnic, in a court room, having supper in homes with acquaintances or friends. In our gospels, Jesus occasionally shows up in a synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace. Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as worker: “My Father is still working, and I am also working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God. P. 281
“We are a generation of lovers who long to be loved. We spend exorbitant amounts of money to compel others to delight in us. We construct our ideal life on Facebook because we are unsatisfied with our real life, which is tainted with boredom, loneliness, insecurity, and a lack of friends and followers . We do not enjoy the person God created us to be or the life God has gifted us with. We think we are overweight, underweight, too pale, too dark, too plain, or just plain boring. Yet we crave to be delighted in by a significant other. So we pursue misguided avenues to make ourselves delightful, to satisfy our craving to be loved. -Preston Sprinkle
It goes without saying that we spend most of our life looking for things that will give us a sense of fulfillment. To put it another way, we are looking for things, or people, who will make us feel complete. Stop for a moment and ask yourself this question, “when was the last time you truly felt complete or fulfilled”? As Preston mentioned in the above quote, many of us, unfortunately, will pursue fulfillment in relationships, professional titles, drugs, exercise, family, religion and the list goes on and on.
Lately I have been captivated by the book of Colossians. I am starting to believe that Colossians may be the most Christ-centered book in the New Testament. Take a look at 1:15-20 for proof. In Colossians 2:9-10 we read this…
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
What caught my attention is that Paul is writing about being filled, about being made complete. I want this. We all want this. The questions we face when reading these two verses are rather obvious. What does it mean that we have been filled “in him”? Filled with what? What difference does this filling make?
First, as you carefully study this passage in its context you will notice that Paul is not exhorting the people at Colossae to work harder so that they will find fulfillment or a sense of completeness. No, Paul is writing to the Colossians to inform them that they are complete in Jesus Christ just as they are. One of the heresies floating around at Colossae was that there were “other” things, such as circumcision, that a person needed to do to be forgiven and to be pleasing to God. Paul will have none of it. There is nothing missing for the person who has embraced Jesus Christ by faith. We, like the Colossians, have “received Christ Jesus” (verse 6) and therefore have been made righteous, complete as children of God.
Second, when Paul says that we are filled he means that we are supernaturally filled with the life of Jesus Christ. Mysteries of all mysteries! You and I, human flesh, somehow have the Son of God indwelling us, making us whole, making us complete.
What difference does this make in everyday life?
What is missing from your life that is keeping you from experiencing a deep sense of fulfillment? Since we have been filled with the life of Jesus Christ and have been made perfect due to his atoning death on the cross what do we truly need that we do not already have? We have forgiveness. We have grace. We have eternal life. We have the very life of Jesus in us. We lack for nothing. What place does worry or anxiety have for a person who is complete in Jesus Christ?
Are you tired? Colossians is filled with good news for the weary and fatigued. Paul wants us to know that we can stop working so hard to please God. Let’s not twist this. The gospel does not mean that we can live anyway that we want, but it does mean that because of what Jesus did on the cross we have been made fully righteous. Take a deep breath and know that you are dearly loved by God the Father. Charles Spurgeon describes what it means to be “in Him”. Allow these words to ease the ache in your soul…
Let not your sins shake your faith in the all-sufficiency of Jesus. You are, with all your depravity, still in Him, and therefore complete. You have need of nothing beyond what there is in Him. In Him you are at this moment righteous, in Him entirely clean, in Him an object of divine approval and eternal love. Now, as you are, and where you are, you are still complete. Feeble, forgetful, frail, fearful, and fickle in yourself, yet in Him you are all that can be desired. Your unrighteousness is covered, your righteousness is accepted, your strength is perfected, your safety secured, and your heaven certain. Rejoice, then, that you are “complete in Him.”
Addictions (you may choose to use a safer, more socially acceptable word for it) that we pursue to fill us up, to take away our self-perceived emptiness, can be discarded because we are filled with the goodness of God himself. Everything else we pursue for fulfillment pales in comparison to the goodness and beauty of life found in Jesus Christ.
You and I will need to remind ourselves of these gospel truths each and every day of our lives. This world, and our adversary, will strive to make us forget who we are in Jesus Christ and all the blessings we have because of our union with him. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ and live each day in light of that truth.
I have probably typed out the sentence “radical is embodying the gospel in everyday, mundane life” a thousand times on my obscure little blog. The reason I try to emphasize the importance of embodying the gospel in everyday life is because I believe we have the tendency to get bored with our average ho-hum existence and begin to wonder what is wrong with us. What if instead of always dreaming about a more dramatic, radical life we joined God in what he is doing in our quiet neighborhood, church, school and workplace? To spin it another way, what if the discontentment we are currently experiencing is a ruse to keep us from living out our faith right where God has strategically placed us?
I first heard about “Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being” by Zach Eswine from Lore Ferguson on twitter. The book is incredibly well written and I love it because it encourages us to see routine, everyday life as sacred and to seize the gospel opportunities all around us. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the book that I pray encourages you to embrace your life, right where you are at, as an opportunity to love God, love your neighbor and join in God’s ongoing redemptive work in the less glamorous arena of everyday life.
Exulting in Monotony
A placeless ambition can likewise rob us of the kind of happiness that God intends. J.W. Alexander noted this in his Thoughts on Preaching.
“A pastor without care for locality becomes what Alexander called a “ceremonious visitor” of the people he serves. His body is present but his mind is always looking elsewhere for meaning and success. But “the minister of the gospel,” is meant to find the “source of happiness in his parochial work and social communion” that God gave to him. Alexander continues: “The genuine bond is as strong and tender as any on earth, and as productive of happiness. Think of this when you are tempted to discontent. What is it that really constitutes the happiness of a residence? Is it a fine house, furniture, equipage…large salary, wealthy pew holders? Nay, it is LOVE. It is the affection and mutual attachment. It is the daily flow of emotion, and commingling of interest in common sorrows and common joys; in the sick-room, and the house of bereavement, at the death-bed and the grave, at baptisms and communions…The declaration of what one believes, and the praise of what one loves, always give delight: and what but this is the minister’s work?”
Happiness with the people and place we are in confounds many of us. But what if this is what Paul meant when he said that he loved people, that they were his joy and his crown (Phil. 4:1; Thess. 2:19)?
With this thought, a sinking feeling infuriates the pounding within my chest. To dignify the ordinary with glory will require a radical shift in my habitual approach to life. In Chesterton’s words, like other pastors, I will have to relearn how to exult in monotony.
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”, and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.”
And now it dawns on me. Restless discontent is a kind of fatigue. When a finite creature covets omnipresence he loses sight of sight itself. Imagination becomes placeless. Detail loses relevance. Routine becomes boring; arrogance and impatience bid a person to never look twice or long before moving onto somewhere or to something else. To exult in monotony is to deepen roots. To deepen roots is to look twice and long at the smiles that happen at the A&P. Such awareness of life extends the shade we can give. And I remember Jesus of Nazareth-born in Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt, growing up in his particular place. The holy One of God with a local breath. My bloomless battle to give shade without roots, it seems, must be fought at this point. No longer can I imagine great work apart from local places. A global work is a local thing. A local work has global implications. This means I must inhabit wherever I am, differently. P. 66,67