Thursday, June 13, 2013

Call Me Jonah: Reflections After a Year of Re-preaching

Just over a year ago, God resurrected my preaching ministry. Before he did, I had to find peace in never preaching again, and so 18 months ago I gave up on my preaching dream.  In that moment of surrender God said, "My broken, failed child, I think you are finally ready to begin to learn to preach." God put the Trenton Church of Christ in my path, an authentic and grace-filled community who managed to see Jesus in my scars when so many others only saw disfigurement. I am so grateful for this amazing church and their invitation to preach again. THANK YOU, TCOC!

I also have to thank Tim Woodroof, who saw Jesus in the mess. I heard Jesus calling me back to ministry through his gentle and honest words. Thanks Tim!

I have so much to learn and so much to change, but after my first year back I want to share a little of what I have learned, some things I do differently, and some things I try to practice.
  1. Every Sunday I am aware that I preach from God's grace and not ability, education, or experience.  It is a gift.
  2. I try daily to choose HOPE over CYNICISM. Churches can make you cynical and I know many ministers who are. I was one.
  3. I see Jesus in and owe my ministry to church members who work 40+ hour weeks at their regular jobs but then give their passion, time, and energy to the Church. They are the lifeblood of the Church, and TCOC has an amazing team of "owners" (rather than "members").
  4. I take Fridays off, and I mean completely off: no Twitter, no Facebook, no texting, no checking emails, no answering the phone. I try not to think or talk "Church." It breathes life into my soul.
  5. I give my time to people who are hungry for Jesus, new to faith, and have skin in the game rather than those who simply sit back, complain and object.
  6. I am learning that I tend to underestimate the power of preaching but overestimate my importance to it.
  7. Fridates! WIN! With the three boys in school, Mary Beth and I take Friday mornings to date each other. And yes, I still try to make-out with her every chance I can get. It has been wonderful for our marriage.
  8. Life is so much more than ministry.
  9. People are not as bad as we often make them out to be and not as good as they pretend to be.
  10. Be like a duck. There is a lot of water in ministry and if you don't let it roll, you will drown.
  11. I'm more convinced than ever that the Gospel really is good news and people do want to hear it.
And Jesus said, "Feed my lambs..."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lessons from a Prostitue (Part III): When Good is Bad

This is the third part of series on Rahab and what she teaches us about goodness and faith. You can read Part I (HERE) and Part II (HERE). Thus far in the "Lessons from a Prostitute" series, I've unpacked two main thoughts:
  1. Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God.
  2. You will never be good enough, but a little faith is good enough.
In this post I will explore how...

Faith focuses on God but goodness focuses on you.

 If your goal is "goodness," then you tend to focus on yourself:
  • Your reputation: what others think of you.
  • Your ability: your talent, discipline and effort.
  • Your stats: keeping track of how many "right things" you do.
  • Your standing: evaluating your "goodness" as compared to the "goodness" of others.
Goodness is often self-centered but faith is always God-centered: focused on his power, his sovereignty, his love, his ability. Goodness says, "I can do this!" Faith says "God has promised to do this." In the story of Rahab, she hides enemy spies (Israelite spies) on her roof in order to make a deal with them. She saves their life hoping they will return the favor when Israel sacks Jericho. She betrays her own people to save her family's life. She is not an Israelite. She does not worship Yahweh, but she has heard about his victories, how he fights on behalf of Israel. Although Rahab has an elementary understanding of Yahweh, she puts her faith in him. Faith is simply: believing God is exactly who he says he is. As she talks with her enemy house-guests her faith comes to light:

"...the LORD your God is God in heaven above and the earth below." -Rahab

She doesn't claim Yahweh as her God, but she does acknowledge his sovereignty. She believes he is who he claims to be and as a result has confidence Yahweh will hand her city into Israel's hands, so she bargains with the enemy.

Rahab had no Intel on the Israeli army: the number of infantry, their training regiment, the sophistication of their weapons, but she was not making her decision based on the army's training or ability nor Jericho's lack thereof. Rahab acted based on what she believed about Yahweh!

Faith focuses on God but goodness focuses on you. 

But that begs the question, "Does goodness have a place in the divine-human relationship?" The short answer: absolutely. The Apostle Paul lists goodness as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Goodness is part of the Christian life but it is a byproduct of faith! Goodness is the offspring from your intimate relationship with God. As he works in you, goodness becomes a part of the fruit of your new existence, but it was never the goal.

Two dangers exist when goodness is the goal of your Christian life:
  1. BURNOUT. Chasing goodness is an act of futility. It is chasing the horizon, a dog chasing his tale, the Cubs chasing the World Series. You will never catch it. You will never be good enough, and eventually you will collapse on the floor panting in exhaustion. If you are reading this and you find yourself exhausted by the Christian life, take a step back and ask yourself what you are after. Are you striving to prove that you are good or are you chasing a God who is wholly good? Chances are you are chasing something you cannot catch.
  2. GIVING UP.  If you don't burnout, you'll give up. You will realize that goodness is unattainable and so "What's the point?" You may be reading this and have already given up. You know you are not good. You may play the church game. You attend worship services to ease your family's mind. You bring your kids because, although you are a hopeless cause, they might be young enough to have a chance. You may call yourself a Christian but go home and live as if God doesn't exist, because "What's the point? You'll never be good."
So, if you are burned out or if you have given up, there is good news. You are chasing the wrong thing. Christianity is not what you think it is. Quit chasing goodness. Stop and recalibrate your compass. Just stop. Breathe. Sit in God's presence. Sit there a long time... focuses on God!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lessons From a Prostitute (Part II): You'll Never Be Good Enough!

Recently I started a blog series on the most popular prostitute in scripture, Rahab, and the insight her story shares regarding our notions of faith and goodness. In the first post (you can read it HERE), my main point was:

Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God.

Scripture commends Rahab for her faith, and here is why:

Rahab lived in Jericho, a city of The Promised Land. That's key, because Israel sat primed to pounce on Jericho as their first target. Joshua, Israel's leader, sent a couple of spies on a recon mission to Jericho. Upon entering Jericho, they headed to Rahab's home, a perfect camoflouge for a couple of Jericho's enemies. Of all city dwellings, strange men entering a prostitute's home would arouse the least amount of suspicion. Also, Rahab lived in the city wall. The window to her house opened to the escape route. Why Rahab? It was a strategic move.

While the spies were hiding out at the prostitute's, informants advise the King of Jericho on the spies arrival and whereabouts. He sends S.W.A.T. to drag the spies out of Rahab's home for a game of Truth or Torture. As the soldiers arrive to arrest the Israelite spies, Rahab lies, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from...they left. I don't know which way they went." She knew. They were hiding on her roof! She hid them there.

Why would Rahab protect the enemy? Why bet against your King, your army, your own people, the famous walls of Jericho? She believed the God of Israel would grant them victory. She had faith in his power! She says it this way:

I know the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you...everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and the earth below.

She had heard what God had done to Egypt and what he did at the Red Sea. She had faith in his sovereignty and she was scared! Fear led her to self-preservation. She hid the spies so she could bargain, "Your life for mine. When you come to destroy Jericho, save my family and me!" The spies agreed.

Scripture commends her for acting in faith and saving the spies, but when you read the text closely, Rahab's faith was IGNORANT and IMMATURE!

Her faith was IGNORANT because she had  an incomplete and faulty view of God. She saw God as a warrior: defeating the Egyptians and the two Amorite Kings. She did not know this same God was a God who loved his creation, who had a plan to restore all things, who wanted Israel to be his light to the Gentiles, who would eventually wrap himself in flesh and die for her. She only saw a general who could not be stopped. Her faith was ignorant.

Her faith was also IMMATURE. She clearly had not grown up in church. She did not know the Ten Commandments. She had never done a Beth Moore Study. She had never screamed a Chris Tomlin song as she drove down the highway! She didn't have a fish sticker on the back of her donkey. She didn't know the books of the Bible. She was unaware that the Duck Dynasty guys were Church of Christers. 

Her faith was immature! It was shallow. She did not hide the spies because she loved them or because she loved God. She didn't lie to the King of Jericho because she saw herself as "The Lord's Servant." She did not view herself as an ambassador of Yahweh. She saved the spies because she was scared to death. Her faith was motivated by fear. But faith is simply believing God is who he says he is, and all she knew at that moment was that he claimed sovereignty, and she believed it.

That's the point! God uses immature and ignorant faith:

You will never be good enough, but a little faith is good enough!

You will never fully understand God. You will never fully mature. You will doubt. You will misunderstand scripture. You will have bouts of feeling unspiritual (usually based on how much you are praying and reading your Bible compared to others). You will sin. You will feel like you do not have "It" together (I'm still not sure what "It" is). Some of you will have horrible views of God because of what you will experience and what others will teach you. You will feel like you don't know how to pray. You will feel like you don't understand the Bible...

As a result you will believe the lie that God cannot use you:
  • I can't serve in a ministry.
  • I can't teach anyone.
  • I can't invite someone to church.
  • I can't make a difference for good.
  • I can't be a good father/mother.
  • I can't have an impact on the Kingdom of God.
  • I can't help anyone.
  • I can't share Jesus with anyone.
Rahab dispels the notion that God only uses strong faith. God uses ignorant and immature faith. God only needs to get his big toe into the door of your life in order to change the world. He can use what little faith you have, however immature or ignorant. Your part is to pray the prayer of the Father who wanted Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son:

"I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!"