Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Buying the House

I am currently in the process of buying the house that I currently rent.  First off…holy junk, I’m gonna be a HOME OWNER!!!  As I make the transition from renter to home owner I started thinking about how it applies to so many of us as Christians.  Here’s what I mean…

As a renter there is no real investment.  Your commitment to the house you live in is limited to the contract you signed.  You pay the rent you are obligated to pay, but beyond that you don’t have to commit anything else to it.  If the water heater goes out, it’s not yours, so you call the owner and they fix it.  Anything that breaks or needs attention outside of normal care taking isn’t your responsibility.  Eventually, when you no longer like the place, disagree on your commitment level or find something better, the contract allows you to simply walk away with no obligation.  Because the house isn’t yours, because you weren’t invested, you can walk away with zero loss.  On the surface this sounds like the best deal.  But contrasted against ownership, it really isn’t.
When you own a home you get to invest in it.  Yes you become responsible for all the imperfections and things that need repair, but everything else is yours too.  Will you put money into it? Absolutely.  In addition to money will it cost you time, sweat and hard work?  Most definitely.  But it’s yours.  You get to make it YOUR home.  You can decorate and make it yours.  There is also the potential for amazing return.  If you stay committed, put resources into it and invest in it, eventually it pays off (whether you sell it or pay it off and stay in it forever).  Obviously I’m not saying you can sell Christianity, but the investment/return principle correlates (I’ll address that in a bit).

Many people treat Christianity this way.  They go through life simply “renting” the title Christian.  They may throw resources at it; they give up Sunday mornings for church, maybe they tithe, maybe they even serve on Sunday mornings, but they never really invest in it.  They never own what it means to follow Christ.  They maintain a contractual mindset in which they have come to believe that as long as they continue to pay what is “owed” they’ll always have a place to live.  In essence they believe that as long as I believe in Jesus, go to church and pay tithe then I’m a Christian and I get to go to heaven.  While that may be true, they never get to experience the fullness of life, here on earth, that Jesus promises.  In John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  If we “rent” Christianity, the time will come when you become frustrated, disagree with the pastor, no longer agree with the commitment required, or you find something better and you just walk away, because you have nothing really invested and have no obligation to it.

In choosing to follow Christ we have the opportunity to invest our whole self in something amazing that has an immeasurable rate of return…the lost found.  Is it messy? For sure.  Do you run the risk of being hurt? Yeah.  But anything worthy of pursuit with that rate of return brings the potential for great personal loss.  Besides, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36) 

Fullness of life isn’t meant solely for heaven, it’s meant for and can be experienced now.  But it requires that you fully and completely submit to and follow Christ.  And that…you just have to own.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Four Letter Word (The 40 Year Old...Pt. 3)

Ok, here's Part 3 to the whole men being men series.  (Here's PART 1 & PART 2)  

There is one word that we must not utter.  This word will bring a man to his knees, or more accurately, make him stand tall, chest puffed, chin out determined not to "give."  It's a word that brings to mind horrible thoughts of giving in, giving up, and weakness.  The very thought of this word causes "real" men to pull up their pants, tighten there boots and stand firmly in opposition! What is this ever so foul four letter word I speak of?  It's: submit!

For far too long guys have held firmly to the idea that a wife should submit to their husbands, never once even offering to lift a finger to serve their spouse.  Let me first clarify this point.  While the bible does direct wives to submit to their husbands, submission does NOT mean subservience.  Ephesians 5:22 tells women to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord, but does not tell them they are slaves to their husbands.  (Just as a point of interest, EVERYONE that follows Christ is a slave to Christ - I'll explain in a second - and Ephesians 5:21 - just one verse prior - says to submit to one another, blatantly telling HUSBANDS to submit to their wives!)

Here's the difference between submission and subservience: one is voluntary.  Dictionary.com defines each as:

To submit is - to give over or yield to the power or authority of another (voluntary)

To be subservient is - slavish: abjectly (with great shame, desperately) submissive; characteristic of a slave or servant (not voluntary)

I think where we begin to associate submission with weakness is in our view of slavery.  Obviously slavery in and of itself is wrong.  But the way that we've come to understand slavery is fully based on the abduction and bringing over of Africans to America and forcing them into horrible conditions.  This understanding is far different than that of the Hebrew culture's understanding of slavery.  Pastor Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, TX) did a sermon in Aug 2010 on this subject.  He does a far better job breaking this down (you can listen HERE), but I'll summarize as best I can.

Our understanding of slavery is this dark, vile forced way of life that involved forced labor, abuse, beating, rape and murder, in which one race forcefully subjects another to their will, desires and needs.  However, the Hebrew culture slaves were often times Hebrews who voluntarily sold themselves, often times because of a debt they owed, into slavery as a means to receive a better life & to become educated.  Many times this would result in there being no noticeable distinction between slaves and freemen of wealth.  (There is far more to this than what I've written, so it would be beneficial to research yourself or listen to the sermon above.)  The more important part to understand about Hebrew slaves is the Year of Jubilee.  The Year of Jubilee was the freeing of the slaves.  During that time, slaves were allowed to go free and owners were required to provide them with material goods to ensure they left slavery equipped to live.  At that time a slave could choose to voluntarily stay within that household as a slave.  In doing that, they were acknowledging that remaining in their master's house was far better, far safer and preferable to anything else in the world. 

We have that same choice today.  Before Christ we are bound by sin.  We are slaves to the world and can do nothing else but live controlled by our sinful nature.  But, in Christ we are freed from that.  But here's the rub...Romans 6:22 says, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."  So we trade being a slave to sin for being a slave to Christ?  Yes.  It has to do with choice.  God does not force Himself on anyone, but when we CHOOSE Christ we are acknowledging that remaining in His house is far better, far safer and far more preferable to anything the world has to offer.  Ok, so practical submission...what does it look like?

The first act of submission must be to God.  I re-posted a blog by Pastor Jeff Maness (Lead Pastor of Element Church in Cheyenne, WY) about reverence for God, to which I added some comments about submission to God (you can read it HERE).  So what does submission to God look like?

The bible says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” James 4:7  This is the surrendering of your control of your life to the control of God in your life.  For some that means letting God remove stuff from it, for others that means letting God add stuff to it.  Submission to God should cause an inward change that reveals outward fruit.  In other words, what God changes and does in your heart should be visible to those around you.

I also think that acts of physical submission to God are important to remaining submitted to Him.  Things like kneeling during prayer, dedicated devotional and prayer time and other spiritual disciplines are all ways of submitting to and holding God in reverence.

We are also called to submit to others (in this instance I'm going to primarily address husbands to wives, but we're also called to submit to those in authority over us).  Ephesians 5:21-33 spells out the responsibilities of husbands and wives as they relate to each other.  And let me start by pointing out that v. 21 says, "And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  Then it goes on to spell out what that means for both wives and husbands individually.  But here is what I would contend...there are more scriptures talking to the husband about his responsibility than there are to the wife.  Realistically how can you ever expect your wife to submit to you if you refuse to serve her.  Ultimately, as a man, submission is YOUR responsibility.  The first step in submitting to your wife is to stop worrying about others and worry about what God expects of YOU. 

For wives submitting to a husband does NOT mean serving them.  That is an aspect of that submission, but it goes both ways.  Submission is allowing him to lead your family and sometimes that means he'll fail.  When that happens, all he wants from you is to know that you still support him and will still follow him.  He needs someone that will stand by him regardless of his successes or failures.  Not a slave, but a willing partner that will yield to his leadership.

Submission doesn't mean that you are weak.  It takes great courage and strength to admit that you can't do everything on your own, then voluntarily yield to the authority and power of Jesus Christ.  You cannot lead your home and expect your wife to submit to you until you first submit to Jesus, then submit to her (and serve her).  Then and only then can you claim manhood and take your rightful place as the head of your home.

Submitting to Him (and soon her),

P.S.  Girlfriends are NOT required to submit to you.  Submission comes with commitment.  Just "dating" a girl with no real commitment to pursue anything further does not afford you the right or privilege of her submission.  Being that I am engaged (and will soon be married) there are areas that I have started submitting to and serving my future wife in, but full submission comes after we're married. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SUCCESS: as defined by God

This past Sunday, at Triumph High School, marked the last Element Church South Campus worship service. While it was a great time of worship and an amazing last Sunday, it was marked by a mix of joyful and sorrowful emotions. It was bittersweet to say the least. Some will look at the closing of South Campus as a failure. And by human standards maybe it looks that way. Did we do everything right? No. Did we learn a lot? Yes. Did it go exactly the way we wanted it to? Nope. But…that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. When you define success as God sees it, we were a screaming success. And why were we? Because our success is fully defined by our obedience to God. God called us to start South Campus and whether it was destined to last 4 months or 4 years, we obediently answered that call. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15) Our love for Jesus left us no choice but to be obedient to God’s call. And the best part is this…through our obedience God did some amazing stuff at South Campus.

Back on January 8th, the day before launch Sunday, I felt that there was some stuff that God laid on my heart to share with the people that would put their hearts, sweat and blood (a couple people did bleed…you know who you are) into making South Campus happen. I was doing my devotional out of Romans 12 and as I read I felt that God was telling me that what I was reading was for S. Campus, but I was unsure of how or when to share it with them. In my journal that day I wrote, “This is going to be such an important chapter for South Campus. Eventually they will have to hear this.” When I found out that God had closed the door for South Campus, the message He gave me on that day fit perfect.

The verses that God specifically used to speak to me were 6 thru 10. Realistically God had been speaking v. 9 & 10 to my heart for a lot longer than Jan 8th. As I led the theSHIFT last year (post about that transition HERE), we often focused a lot of time trying to teach the importance of loving each other within Christian Community. We had taught Rom 12:9 & 10 on a number of occasions. What we were able to do was build this community that wanted and did their best to follow Jesus (we didn’t always do it well, but that was our focus) and we took serious His command to love one another.

Last August/September God began stirring my heart for some stuff and a part of that stirring included my call to serve at the South Campus. I eventually met with Pastor Jeff and Pastor Kody and joined the amazing team of leaders in preparing for the SC launch. But it wasn’t until the day before we launched, as I read R 12, that God used v. 9 & 10 to confirm my purpose/our purpose at SC. They say:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

That is what we’re called to: to love each other, to honor each other. THAT is Christian Community. Really there is more involved in Christian community, but at its core that is the point of Christian community.
When I finished reading R12, I prayed. I asked God what that looked like. For us as Element Church to love ALL of Cheyenne (including the south side of town) and to take Jesus to them. As I prayed, I felt like I had missed the real point that God was trying to get me to see. So I re-read it. As I read v. 6-8, that point smacked me in right in the heart. This is what they say:

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

The most important part of those verses is the very first sentence: In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.

You see, God, IN HIS GRACE, has equipped each of us with certain abilities to serve others with. EVERYONE needs to know, understand and BELIEVE that God has equipped ALL of us with a specific talent to serve others with.

The verses that follow, in v. 6b – 8, instruct us that if God has equipped you with a certain gift, then you are to use it to serve others in that way. If you’re gifted in giving, give generously, whether it time, money or materials, because the truth is, giving does come easier for some. If you’re gifted to teach, you should be teaching, leading a community group. If you’re gifted to serve people, you should be serving people, whether it's in FI or the children’s area. The point is, God has equipped all of us for a purpose and that’s to serve others.

So, what does that mean for SC and Element Church in S. Cheyenne? That we take the gifts that God, by His grace, had equipped us with and serve them. That we continue to take the Good News that Jesus saves to them.

Here’s what it means for those that call or want to call Element Church home. There are still opportunities to serve at NC. There are still areas that need people to step up and give. People that will obediently use the gifting that God has given them.

The truth is, while there absolutely are differences in what people in S Cheyenne may need compared to what people in N Cheyenne may need, there is actually only one REAL need in all of the Cheyenne area and it’s Jesus Christ.

It’s still OUR job, OUR call, OUR command to love and serve ALL of the Cheyenne area to Jesus and we’ll continue to do that. All YOU need to do is decide if you’re willing to be obedient to that call.

Just in case you’re wondering what this means for me, here it is. Since there isn’t a SC anymore, there is obviously no need for a SC Pastor. But, I have a ton of change coming up in the next year. Soon (not soon enough though), I get to marry the love of my life, Sarah (Blog HERE). Between us we have 3 boys (that can be a full time ministry in and of its self). Then, next June I get to separate from the USAF and seek what God would have me do in full time ministry. So the next year will be spent preparing my family for the calling God has placed on us. The truth is that SC was just a small part of what I felt God stirring my heart for and calling me to. What’s next is sure to be difficult. It will require a lot of sacrifice from me and my family, but it will be perfect because it has to be ALL God.

I deeply believe in and support the vision God has given Pastor Jeff (Blog HERE) for Element to reach the lost in the Cheyenne area. So because of that, I will, of course, continue to answer God’s call for me to serve Element Church as long as I’m in Cheyenne. Sometimes you’ll see me at the front doors, sometimes doing announcements, and maybe teaching in youth a couple times this summer (stoked for that), and even facilitating a community group or two. But make no mistake; I and my family will continue to serve God’s people and the Cheyenne area, in and through Element Church.

Thanks to those that put their hearts into South Campus. I love you all more than you know.

Excited for what’s to come,