Thursday, February 26, 2015

Failure and Grace

I was 16 and I had just found out that the things that I had built as my foundation, namely success and approval, were crumbling.

I had lived recklessly and it caught up with me and hurt a number of people along the way.

And I remember having to go and tell my grandparents the news. My grandpa was a pastor. My grandma by his side in the ministry for as long as I could remember.

And there I was, with my tail between my legs, letting them down.

I told them the hard news and they wept.

It was official...

Failure.

It was bad enough to admit it to myself...almost unbearable to admit it to my grandparents. I felt more than disappointed. I was a disappointment.

But it was around that time that I experienced a deep encounter with a God who looked beyond...beyond my failure and shame...beyond the facade of success and validation...and saw the potential in my life for redemption and beauty and purpose. The mixture of torment and hope was both confusing and liberating to my soul.

I cannot explain the encounter, other than to say the depth of my immense, consuming shame was shallow compared to the depth of His intoxicating, relentless grace. And I found myself interacting with a God I didn't believe in.

In the midst of failure, grace.

Jesus came near.

And I was baptized not too long after that.

In the pool in the backyard...

of my grandparents house...

by my grandpa.

He was clear in his instructions that I should not "fight him" during the baptism, but instead just relax and let him baptize me. So I did as instructed and a little bit of my grandpa's frailty combined with my special affinity for food left me under the water for a period of time that seemed longer than wise, so I finally assisted in bringing myself out of the water.

And the trajectory of my life changed forever, mostly because my failure was trumped by His grace, and perhaps slightly because of the near death experience I had during my baptism!

Fast forward nearly 10 years and I preached a message at the church I was serving in and my grandparents had come to the church to hear it. At the end of the message, I was assisting in serving communion and got to serve my grandparents and my grandpa came up, walker and all and he was weeping again.

He reached out over his walker and hugged me, while I tried to figure out what to do with the loaf of bread in my hands.

And through tears he said repeatedly, "I claim you...I claim you."

And the place that had brought such sadness and disappointment and failure was redeemed by the Gospel of grace. Tears of heartache replaced with tears of joy.

Failure replaced with Grace.

Pain replaced with healing.

Drowning in pain and disappointment replaced with (nearly drowning!) in baptism and new life.

And the lesson I've learned in the ups and the downs is that your failure can be His triumph, if you'll only have eyes to see.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

People or Pawns

I remember it well. We were early on in planting City Campus Church. And we had a cookout at a park and met some folks. We hit it off with a family that was there. I have a unique 6th sense that can read people pretty accurately and I sensed that the family was Mormon.

It was either the 6th sense or the fact that all 6 of them had Utah shirts on and the kids were the most well behaved kids at the park.

But we hit it off and ended up having dinner with the parents a few weeks later. And Shaina and I were pretty sure they were Mormon and wouldn't be interested in planting C3 with us but we were hopeful there could be friendship.

We got to the restaurant and exchanged pleasantries and inevitably the "what do you" conversation came up and I shared that I was a church planter pastor. And the rest of the night turned into what I can best describe as a Mormon apologetic. Whatever evangelism training they'd ever received, they began to implement in hopes of converting us to their faith.

In an instant, we became an agenda.

To be fair...if they started asking questions about C3, we wouldn't have withheld our story and an invitation to join what God was doing...but I remember very distinctly leaving that meal with a bad taste in my mouth about being viewed as a project or a pawn rather than a person.

Agenda.

Church Planting has been a blast. I feel like at the moment of being hired, a list of 563 tasks was unleashed that needed to be accomplished. My specific wiring is all about tasks, so this process has hit a sweet spot for me. Do this. Accomplish that. Knock this out. Finish these. Have an agenda and git r dun.

What happened from there was that ever so subtly, all my relationships became tied to cost-benefit analysis. If they could help us, I'd invest. If we could help them, I'd invest. And every meeting, every connection, every get together was packed with purpose and plan. If someone did not seem interested in helping us tell the story, their value decreased. Of course I would never say that out loud, or perhaps even think it. But I communicated it with the access I gave them, the relational equity I'd give (or not give out).

The thing that made me an effective church planter was the thing that subtly and toxically was stealing my soul.

Every relationship I had was filled with agenda.

Could they be a leader? Could they serve on a Celebration Team? How do I challenge them? How can I encourage him? How can I pray for her?

And the startling realization was that the way I viewed the world was the way I viewed my relationship with God.

Transaction. He scratches my back. I'll scratch His. I even operated under the auspices of God's agenda...His kingdom...and thought that I could justify my role as the King's servant. And felt perfectly satisfied maintaining this role.

The kicker? Churches hire people who are really good at this. If you can get stuff done and accomplish tasks and reach goals and make the dream become a reality, you're going to get hired to grow the thing, launch the thing or revitalize the thing. Church world (too much like business world) thrives off agenda and transaction.

The pressure that this generates is immense. And it dawned on me that treating people as pawns (even God's pawns) was stealing from them the essence of their humanity.

We weren't meant to merely be servants. We are called to be sons.

We weren't meant to only do. We are called to radically be.

This shift has saved my life.

It's ok just to be. To enjoy company. To delight in friendship. To meet someone and get nothing done. It's ok to just sit in God's presence and not ask for anything or report on duties.

It might be even more than ok. It might be the way to life.

It's a better way.

I'm living proof.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Some thoughts on wilderness

I think the Wilderness Series at City Campus Church has been one of the most important ones we've ever done. Here's 10 quick thoughts on wilderness.

1. Those whom God wants to use greatly, He first wounds deeply. --A.W. Tozer

2. How did Christianity's message become "Jesus loves you, pray a prayer and receive him into your heart and you're good."? It seems more accurate to say, "Jesus loves you, and if you wish to follow Him, you have to pick up your cross, deny yourself, die daily, lose your life to find it, and count the cost."

3. We weren't meant to consume church. We were meant to produce it. Consumer Church has developed because the majority of Western Christianity despises the wilderness, so whatever it takes to keep the hype and inspiration and freshness up, churches will bend over backwards to create. We do a huge disservice to the process of discipleship when we make it about hype and one upping ourselves in how "epic" our church is. Charisma and winsomeness and dynamic worship have their place. But show me a church that embraces the rawness and hell of the pit, and I'll show you a people that will find redemption and will produce the beauty of church for the world.

4. You can't get to the Promised Land without going through the Wilderness. Want the beauty and joy and healing of resurrection? Then you dang well better expect the cross.

5. God doesn't just want to rescue you from wilderness. He wants to redeem your wilderness. The Burning Bush called Moses back to the place that he had been running from for 40 years. The murderous persecutor of the church, Paul would become the most effective planter of church the world has ever known. He went from killing church to birthing church. That's redemption. The place that is most despised, feared, insecure, broken, painful and weak in you is precisely where God awaits you. If you lean in, the story He tells could change the world and it will definitely change YOUR world!

6. The main reason pain and adversity and despair and sadness and trial and anxiety and depression happen is because God wants to show us there is something better on the other side. Unfortunately many of us quit because it's hard or we resign ourselves to settling, thinking the pain and anxiety and depression is all we'll ever know and all we'll ever be. There is something better on the other side. Lean in. Don't you dare quit. Don't you dare believe the lie that your identity is wrapped up in your circumstances.

7. The biggest paradox I can think of? Many people's primary indictment against belief in God is "How can God be perfectly good in suffering and pain." I would answer, I have known God's perfect goodness to be most fully on display precisely in the suffering and pain.

8. Christians want desperately to put the nice and tidy bow on people's stories. "I was broken and hopeless and then God came in and now I'm whole and everything is great." Sometimes the bow happens. Sometimes it doesn't. The church would do well to teach her people that tension and stories that are unresolved are ok. The expectation on people to have the bow on their story distorts how they see God at work in their life. Sometimes there isn't a bow because God isn't done yet.

9. If your competency exceeds your character you can accomplish some things, but eventually you'll be found out and invited back into the place of fear that you've been avoiding. God has never allowed competency to trump character for the long haul. In fact the opposite is more often the case. And your character is most distinctly forged in the pain and desperation of the wilderness.

10. You can avoid the pain and the heartache and the wounding and try to get a fresh start and a new beginning. God will often allow this pursuit because He is not a control freak. But He will whisper all the while "I will wait for you right here. You'll be back. You'll be stuck again. And when you're ready to engage your fear and pain, I will be right here waiting for you."


If the wilderness intrigues you, this message series might be helpful. Check out www.citycampuschurch.com and click on Messages to hear the sermons in this series.

Hope you find this as helpful as we have!