Our Hope is in Jesus

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This week, while I grieving my friend Ray High, I found this quote by Kara Tippets.

Kara , an author, mother of four and co-worker with her pastor husband Jason, went home to Jesus on March 22, 2015, after a long battle with breast cancer. As the cancer spread, Kara courageously embraced her situation, trusting in a Sovereign God. She believed that cancer was not the point, but Jesus was. How would she trust God in the midst of sickness? And then, how would she trust God in the midst of dying?

In the fall of 2014, David C. Cook published her story, The Hardest Peace. She refused to be defined by cancer and considered every moment a gift and an opportunity to learn more about grace and trusting God; she believed suffering was not an absence of beauty, but an opportunity to understand God’s love on a deeper level. Near the end of her life Kara wrote:

My little body has grown tired of the battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and he will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over his love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

When we cannot comprehend, we have Jesus.

Not Luck, But Grace…

400px-double-alaskan-rainbowYears ago I heard my professor Wayne Oates say “People today believe in a theology of luck.”  I jerked my head up in amazement, recognizing the instant truth of his statement.
In an earlier age, even non-followers of Jesus believed in Providence.  When things happened they could not explain, they still assumed God’s guiding hand was at work in some way.

Darwin’s theories of evolution lead to the assumption that chance governs our world.  Thus the famous quote: “If a billion monkeys were typing randomly over a billion years, they would produce the works of Shakespeare.”  This pseudo-scientific statement is ridiculous: it claims a truth that can’t be proven.  Plus, I’ve never seen a monkey type anything, random or not.

People have come to believe life is chance, luck.  To me, this answer falls short.  How then do we explain the prevalence of good?  We all experience grace regularly.  Grace is narrowly avoiding an accident.  Grace is an unexpected raise.  Grace is a tender moment between husband and wife.  Grace is arms of your three year old around your neck.  Grace is the oxygen you breathe.  Lewis Smedes said his daily dose of Prozac was a sacrament of grace.

The skeptical voice inside of us quickly turns to the counter argument: “What about all the bad?  How do you explain that?”  I can more easily explain some, not all bad, than I can explain good.  Bad things happen because people make bad choices.  This terrible gift of free will can be used to bless others or blast others.  I know even beyond people’s bad choices there are bad things that happen that cannot be explained.

I don’t think we can conclude that unexplained bad things offset unexplained good things.  To borrow a term from engineering, things happening to us, good or bad, are not part of a closed system.  Life doesn’t run hydraulically.  We can’t distill the moments of life to mathematics.

I will grant that to see the good in our lives as grace, not luck, requires faith.  It requires faith that there is a God out there who wants good for us, not evil.  All the “luck” in the world seems to point not to random chance, but to a God who is personal, who is intervening in life, who is blessing every human being in this world in some form, in some fashion.  What we call luck is really grace.

Even if you don’t believe in this gracious God, would you be brave enough to pray to see signs of His grace?  What you see might surprise you.

God’s Answer …

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When you dream for God, it is a risk.  You think you are hearing from God, but you aren’t quite sure.  There comes a moment when you have to step out in faith.  This is scary: you are out on a limb and you don’t know if it will work or if you will look like a fool.

I imagine this is how Moses felt on standing before Pharaoh: “Did I really see that bush or was it my imagination?  Is Pharaoh really going to listen to me?”

I imagine this is how Peter felt the first time he tried to cast out a demon in Jesus’s name: “Did Jesus really say I could do this?  What am I supposed to say?  What if nothing happens?”

You have felt this way.  The words “Will you marry me?” are halfway out of your mouth when you wonder if God really told you she is the one.  What will she say?  What if God didn’t talk to her!

Maybe you thought you heard a whisper from God to lead a group.  On the first day, a few people show up and you crack a joke to put everyone at ease.  No one laughs.  You look like a fool and wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

Remember this:  Fear doesn’t get the last word; God does.

I admit to doubts and worries when we begin thinking about Pocalla Church.  I worried about the money; God provided it.  I worried about getting enough volunteers; God called them.  I worried about space; God arranged it.  I wasted a lot of worry for nothing.

Sunday, God gave us His answer to our leap of faith.  His answer was 280 people showing up for the first public service.  Thanks be to God!

God answered Moses, destroyed Pharaoh’s will and his army, and set His people free.  God answered Peter, and even the demons were obedient when they were rebuked in the name of Jesus.  God answers you and she says “yes” when you pop the question.  God answers you and that group that didn’t laugh at your joke ends up creating a new circle where people know church is a place of grace.

I think God has more to say to us about being one church with multiple locations.  But for now, He has answered our worries and questions about Pocalla with a resounding, “YES.” 

This first step has worked, but there is a next step for us.  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of ADBC, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word; God does!  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of you, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word, God does!

What Leaders Can Learn From Bill Belichick

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Coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick just won his fifth Super Bowl, tying Vince Lombardi for the number of NFL championships (Lombardi won 3 championships before the creation of the Super Bowl).  Yes, he has flaws.  Spygate and Deflategate suggest a “win at all costs” mentality.  But Belichick has mastered one skill that every leader needs: It’s all about the who.

Most NFL teams have a general manager who typically chooses the team’s personnel.  The coach is expected to take the talent he is given and coach them to win.  In church world, this is the equivalent of having a committee hire a staff member and telling the pastor to supervise them.  In business world, the equivalent is having HR hire someone and telling you to make them fit on the team.  No wonder so many organizations flounder.

Jim Collins in Good to Great taught us it’s the who before the what.  In the NFL Belichick is the only head coach who has control of personnel decisions and has made it work.  Other coaches (Chip Kelly of the Eagles, for example) think if they get that control, they’ll be successful too.  It seldom works out.  Why?

Because Personnel decisions are hard.  You can’t just look at talent; you have to know how you want to achieve success.  Belichick criteria for personnel decisions is not how tall they are or how much they can bench press.  He wants to know if they can tackle, catch, run, block, or throw.  He has a clear picture of a win.

Belichick puts the interest of the team first.  If that means cutting a popular player, he does it and takes the heat.  When guys are done, he makes the gut wrenching decision to cut them from team.

I’m not suggesting you apply Belichick’s football standards to your organization; I am telling you (and me) that if you lead an organization, it’s all about the who.

The Day Dreams Come True …

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This Sunday is a day when dreams will come true.  I’m not talking about the Super Bowl.  I’m talking about the dream of Alice Drive becoming one church in two locations.

The church began as one church in many locations.  Acts 2:46 tells us the first followers of Jesus met in homes.  It would be decades before Jesus followers thought about having a physical location.

Over time, Jesus followers lost sight of this idea: that the church is a movement, not a location.  Instead, we were consumed with real estate.  We built grand cathedrals and brush arbors, thinking a church wasn’t a church unless it had a roof, four walls, and a deed.

The modern multi-site movement began as churches began to run out of space.  Blocked by local zoning laws or the restriction of finances, they leveraged technology to bring a service to another physical location.  Today in North America, over 5,000 churches are exist as one church with more than one physical location.

For a long time, I observed this movement and thought it would not apply to Alice Drive.  Sumter, I thought, was too small.  Anyone who wanted to attend could easily reach us.  Then two things happened.  First,  I saw a study stating if a person lived more than ten minutes away from the physical location of a church, their participation (attendance, service, and giving) dropped by half.  A quick mapping of our membership showed over 200 households beyond a ten minute drive, clustered around the Pocalla/Lakewood area.

The second thing that happened was reading about Brand New Church in Arkansas.  Shannon O’Dell had a vision to serve the underserved communities in Northern Arkansas by becoming a multi-site church.  He went to the least of these with a satellite truck, merging with dying churches in small towns to create a healthy, thriving congregation where none existed before.  Today, Brand New Church has 4 campuses in forgotten places, drawing over 2,000 people each weekend.

A whisper from God seized me.  If this could be done in Arkansas, why couldn’t it be done in South Carolina?  That day, a dream was born.  The dream was to spread the health God gave Alice Drive beyond 1305 Loring Mill Road.

In the 60 months that have passed since that whisper from God, I’ve shared this vision with our staff team, with the Vision Council, and with our Deacons.  All of them are committed to help as many as possible take their next step toward Jesus – and they saw the connection.  I think they heard the whisper from God too.

This Sunday, Pocalla Church launches publicly.  People volunteered to be pioneers, to go and serve.  People gave sacrificially so we can resource this campus.  Staff team members stepped up to go, help, and train.  On Sunday, we take our next step and become one church in two locations.  Sunday is the day the dream comes true.

This is our next step, but it’s not our last step.  All my life I’ve loved Jesus’s church.  It literally breaks my heart to see churches that once were thriving, dying.  This week, 80 churches will close in the United States.  It’s like a lighthouse that is going out of business: the money has run out for lamp oil, but the warning still needs to be given.  I believe with all my heart that God is going to open doors of opportunity for us to go to the forgotten corners of South Carolina, and be Jesus to people who lost sight of what church, Jesus’s body could be.

Thank you for stepping up to this whisper from God.  I don’t know how it will all turn out; but I know God is leading us!

God has a dream and we are part of it – Sunday, one more piece comes true!

God Really Does Want to Speak to You …

 

god-callingI called Senator Lindsey Graham’s office in Washington once.  I had a question about a government decision that impacted me personally and thought the Senator’s Office would be the fastest way to get an answer.  I really didn’t expect to speak to the Senator.  I spoke to a secretary and then an aide.  They promised to find the answer.  The next day I received a call back with my answer.  I was grateful for their quick response.

That’s the way our world works.  I can’t imagine how much money I would have to give the Senator’s campaign or how famous I would have to be for Senator Graham to personally call me.

God’s way is different.  When I pray to Him, I am not directed to an angel.  I speak directly to the Creator of the Universe.  I talk with the One who loved me so much He sent His Son to die for my sins.  I address to the Lord of Life, who defeated death.  God and I have a direct connection.

The connection goes both ways.  God not only listens to me; He speaks back.  Imagine how rude it would be if Senator Graham called me back, and I did all the talking?  How rude are we to God?

God really does want to speak to you.  Because He loves us, He is careful not to overwhelm us.  Through the Holy Spirit, He gives us whispers in our souls.  You can call them gentle nudges or promptings.  But we get message that comes not from our subconscious, but from God.

God’s most common messages?

  • Fear not.
  • I am with you.
  • Take action.
  • Speak up for me.
  • Go to the forgotten ones.
  • Follow me.
  • Love your enemy.
  • Love that person the way I love you.
  • Do the right thing.
  • Giving in to this temptation has a consequence.
  • Trust me.
  • Be generous.
  • I will bless you.

God’s best and final message to you He wrapped in a body, the body of His Son Jesus.  In Jesus is everything you need to know about God.  Jesus is God’s final word.  So don’t be surprise if one of the frequent messages you get from God is “Look to Jesus.  He’s the example of how I want you to live.”  How do you know if a message is from God?  You know a message is from God because it sounds like something He would say.  The message will look like Jesus.

God really does want to talk with you.  The last question is, will you listen when He does?

Why President Trump’s Assumption of Office is Pivotal for Jesus Followers…

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President Trump was inaugurated last Friday; protests began shortly thereafter.  The next day was the Woman’s March on Washington.  A “Saturday Night Live” writer tweeted inappropriately about Barron Trump, the President’s son.  An argument broke out between the President’s staff and the media about the true size of the crowds at the President’s inauguration.  Facebook, Twitter, and other social media quickly filled with people taking sides.

I believe this is a pivotal moment for Jesus Followers in the United States.  Some Jesus Followers think it is important to support President Trump because they believe Jesus is moving back into the White House (important note:  Jesus can move anywhere he wants.  He doesn’t need an election to do His will).  Other Jesus followers feel the need to protest the new President’s past and his stated intentions.

I think the pivotal moment for Jesus Followers is here because we must give an answer about where our hope lies.  Does our hope lie in a President, or in politics, or in political power?  Or does our hope lie in Jesus?

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not worry about the size of a crowd – Jesus didn’t.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will care about the truth – even when it makes us uncomfortable.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will defend children – all children – from attack.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will love our enemy – even if they are protesting for a cause we do not agree with.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will pray for our President.  We will pray wisdom, strength, and patience for Him.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not waste worry on the things of this world – they will pass away.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will teach this world how to love by loving each other like Jesus loves us.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will never sell the birthright of the Kingdom of God, given to those of us who are born again, for a mess of political porridge.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will realize our political opinions really don’t impress God much – how we follow Jesus matters.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will not be drawn into fights that don’t matter.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will be caring for the least of these.

If our hope lies in Jesus, we will live confident, loving, joyful, peaceful lives, walking with our Lord.

How the Voice of God Sounds…

My mother, like most Southern women, could say more with the tone of her voice than the choice of her words.  Maybe words cost more in those days.  She didn’t have to say much; it was how she said her words that mattered.
If she said your name softly in the morning, it meant it was time to get up, dress, eat breakfast, and get to the bus stop.  If she had an edge when she called your name, it meant you had fallen back asleep and she had risen from her morning coffee to remind you to get up and she was not happy about it.  If, however, your name was spat through clinched teeth, it meant you had missed the bus and now she had to drive you to school and you were going to be spanked, grounded, and your name would be removed from the Lamb’s Book of Life if she had anything to do with it.

You learned to listen to her tone.

Though few of us have ever heard the audible voice of God, we all imagine the tone of His voice.  How you hear the tone of God’s voice has a lot to with whoever first taught you about God.  When Aunt Faye taught Sunday School to us, God sounded sweet and kind.  When the preacher talked about God in his sermon, God sounded mad and frustrated (I better understand now why the preacher was frustrated!).

Sometimes the Bible is clear how we are to hear God’s voice.  When His people made an idol after He told them not to, the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from these people so I can destroy them.”  If God has teeth, I’ll bet He was gritting them that day.

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine God gritting His teeth when He tells Abraham, “I will make you a great nation and by you, all people on earth will be blessed.”  To the ear of my soul, God sounds magisterial and regal.

When Jesus talks with the Rich Young Ruler, He looks at him lovingly and says, “If you want to be complete, go and sell all you have and come and follow me.”  Jesus wasn’t mad when He said that; He was saying the most loving thing He could say, in the most loving way He could say it.

How you hear the voice of God is greatly influenced by what you think of God’s character.  If you think God is out to get you, it’s easy to hear His voice as angry and demandive.  On the other hand, if you experienced the grace of God through Jesus, God’s voice is gentle, calm, peaceful, and centered.

Dallas Willard reminded us that God’s voice will always be confident and never excited.  God’s voice is filled with authority and goodwill.  Strikingly, even when God is angry, His voice is never demanding.

Maybe to recognize the real tone of God’s voice, you need to spend some time with Him – listening.

The Holy Spirit…

Reactions I have noticed when you mention the Holy Spirit:

  • Baptists – “We want the Holy Spirit to move, just not in such a way that we lose control and people think we are dancing.”
  • Presbyterians – “We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know what the Father does and what the Son does.  We are still waiting for John Calvin to tell us what the Holy Spirit does.”
  • Lutherans – “Holy Spirit, speak to us. You have exactly 17 ½ minutes.”
  • Catholics – “Without incense, there can be no moving of the Spirit.”
  • Methodists – “We are a denomination founded on a great movement of the Spirit. We hope it happens again someday.”
  • Episcopalians/Anglicans – “We will earnestly talk about seeking guidance from the Spirit. One day, we’ll get around to earnestly listening too.”
  • Pentecostals – “If the Spirit does not cause you to lose control, you aren’t really saved. Did you hear that Baptists? You aren’t really saved!”
  • Millennials – “Isn’t the Holy Spirit like the same as the Force?”

Okay, maybe I’m not as funny as I think.  But this is reality – the Holy Spirit is God, up close and personal.  That can be frightening.  It can also be the best news ever.  It really depends on the true desire of your heart.

Which leaves one question: Is the true desire of your heart to have God up close and personal?

How to Know if a Message is Really from God…

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I get nervous when people start to talk about hearing from God.  Please do not misunderstand: I believe God speaks to people.  I believe God whispers into people’s souls.  My anxiety is around people who think they are hearing from God, but they are in fact hearing other voices in their souls.  The soul can be a noisy place, filled with voices of shame, guilt, temptation, and desire.  How do you know which voice to trust?

The best way to know if a message is from God is to learn what God talks about.  The better you know Him, the more you will know if a message comes from Him.

Here are four prayers that will help you know God better, so you can know if a message is really from Him:

  1. The Prayer of Engagement:  Lord, speak.  I really want to listen to you.  You know God better when you are engaged with Him.  Practice spiritual disciplines. Learn to listen in prayer.  Study God’s story and His character.  You can learn if a message is consistent with God’s character or at odds with God’s character.
  2. The Prayer of Clarity:  Lord, please clarify the message.  Help me understand.  You know God better when you have clarity about His messages.  I find clarity comes best through writing down thoughts and feelings, and by seeking counsel from wise friends who are for me, not against me.  If you can’t gain clarity, either the message isn’t from God, or the timing isn’t right.
  3. The Prayer of Waiting:  Lord, give me faith while I wait.  Waiting is part of every relationship, but it is not a skill that comes naturally.  Ask God to help you believe that He is for you, not against you.  This is faith while waiting.  God’s message will come exactly when you need it, not when you want it.
  4. The Prayer of Self-Awareness:  Lord, help me be self-aware.  Ask God to show you your blind spots.  Ask God to show you your own weaknesses.  Ask God to show you what your anxiety really represents.  Self-awareness helps you know what messages are from your own needs and what messages are from God.

When you know God better, you’ll really know if the message is really from Him.