All Aboard The Crazy Train! An Update And Some Random Thoughts

May 21, 2013 at 12:37 am

securedownloadMy wife Kristi and I have been foster parents for almost one year now. Trust me, I know how crazy this is to most people. We already had four biological boys of our own. But we didn’t feel like our family was done, even though it was done biologically (trust me, I had the surgery). So, last July we began praying for a bigger van. We simply outgrew the normal minivan. A minivan could no longer hold our love.

Last week, we picked up our new 12 passenger van. And just in time, too.

I can’t give a lot of details, but our world has became a lot more chaotic. In fact, it’s a beautiful madhouse. Late last week, we received a call asking if we could take three more foster kids. We said yes. So, we went from 5 kids (our 4 sons and Baby G, who we’ve fostered for almost a year now) to 8 kids in our home. It helps that the other kids are Baby G’s biological siblings, but It doesn’t help as much when 8 kids are fighting, fussing, whining, pottying (on a potty or in diapers) or falling asleep at the most inopportune of times.

We never set out to become a big family. But then again, we never opposed being a big family. That much should be obvious with four biological sons of our own. But there’s something unexplainable about foster parenting. Someone recently told us that as you begin to love the kids God places with you, your heart expands to love each additional child for the season they are with you. That is very true. But it’s hard. In fact, sometimes it sucks. Our house is loud. It can get messy and lots of things break. We sweep/mop/vacuum/wash dishes/load laundry/fold laundry/put away laundry/wipe privates, change diapers, wipe mouths, tables and floors, etc., multiple times a day. Every day. And, in addition to the normal household chores that any children bring with them, foster children often bring problems of their own with them (though the problems are most often not their fault) and these kids are no exception. But then again, biological children are not always a walk in the park either. This type of life requires sacrifice.

But then again, it always takes sacrifice to love others, doesn’t it? And this has led me to lots of thought and prayer lately.

I am passionate about foster care and adoption. We have four biological children of our own and then decided our family wasn’t complete. But I know people that aren’t called by God to be foster parents. And that’s OK. I am under no illusion that you are called to be a foster parent, especially of multiple children. And I’m OK with that.

Just don’t tell me how crazy I am for opening my home. I already know that. I can’t even go to Target without getting stares and comments. Even in the heart of Suburbia, large families are not the norm. I understand that you may not be called to open up your home. But I have to ask: how has God called you to sacrifice? Even though I may not know personally, I can guarantee you that God has called us to more than a comfortable American life where we put our church sticker on our car and call it good.

How has God called you to sacrifice? How has God called you to embrace and enter the suffering of the world He loved enough to send Himself/His Son to die for? Just like I believe that ”Not Every Local Church Is For Every Person,” I believe that not every Christian is called to sacrifice in the same way. But all Christians are called to sacrifice. Something.

This may seem self-evident to you, but the way Christians treat one another says to me that we don’t believe this. I am weary of Christians believing that because we’re not all called to sacrifice in the same that we’re not all loved by our Father in the same way. While most of us would never be so blunt as to word it that way, this is exactly how we treat one another. The ones who passionately sacrifice on behalf of those caught in sex trafficking/slavery sometimes look down on those who aren’t called to serve in the same way. The people giving their lives to the homeless want others to share that passion. Those fighting abortion passionately ask “Where. Is. The. Church?” Those, like me, who open up their homes for kids with no home wish that more Christians would do the same.

But instead of celebrating and encouraging and equipping the beautifully different ways Christians can and do impact our culture, we cast dispersions at those who aren’t called to serve like us.

Now, I’m going to be brutally honest; if you claim to follow Jesus and you’re not living sacrificially in some way, I urge you to repent. I’m not sure you can truly belong to God’s family and live for yourself. However, that’s really not the group I’ve been thinking/praying about.

I am far too quick to dismiss those who are not like me. But at the same time, I tire of people that are just like me. After all, “variety is the spice of life,” right? What kind of world would it be if we all liked the same music or movies or food? I am deeply concerned that we are creating non-necessary dividing lines within the big freak-show tent of Christianity. I am far too quick to think that if you’re not called to serve in the same way that I am, then you’re not called by God at all. And that’s just nonsense. We don’t all like the same music. And that’s awesome. We don’t all like the same movies and I thank God that I’ve never had to sit through Titanic or Avatar (the 3D thing, not the animated series) even though I can appreciate that those may be your thing.

Why do we all take for granted that our passion (trafficking, abortion, homelessness, poverty in all its forms, health, water, children, hospitals, literacy, etc., etc., etc., etc.,) is the only passion? If that were the case, we might make a large dent in one issue without making any dent in others and making little to no impact on the big picture. Why are we so quick to elevate our own passions while diminishing others (hint, I think it’s because, even in serving, we are arrogant)?

This whole journey has reminded me that God’s people are nothing more than a beautiful circus of crazies and freaks. Instead of judging one another for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we one another’s best cheerleaders? Instead of looking down on each other for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we reaching back to grab the hands of those who aren’t yet serving at all? Instead of believing that our focus is pitch-perfect, why aren’t we all listening to the beautiful symphony of God’s will to reconcile all things to Himself through the Son while we try to find our part in the orchestra?

If the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of our love for one another (John 13:35), I wonder what our false judgment of one another tells those who are paying any attention?

Listen . . . But Be Encouraged And Don’t Compare . . .

April 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

1227282_spotlight“Christian Celebrity Culture” is such an odd phenomenon. Christian leaders putting themselves on display is certainly nothing new. Jesus intentionally incorporate His disciples into everyday life. Paul urged his readers to follow his pattern of life. I wonder how many of Paul’s readers read those words and thought things like “I’ll never match up to that! That Paul is too holy for me!” Or, how many in the original audience compared Paul’s place in life to their own: “We should all be like Paul! Why isn’t our church more like that?!”

There seems to be a glut of “missional” videos and sermons with people sharing stories of gospel transformation; at a personal and community level. While I love that the idea of living missionally is gaining exposure as a normative expectation of every Christian, I also worry that the flood of success stories has an unintended impact on many. It’s not uncommon for these success stories to breed discontent and sometimes even discouragement in local church families. We as individuals look at these videos and hear these stories and wonder why we don’t have exhilarating stories to share. And why doesn’t my church family look like that one? Why don’t my pastors look like those pastors. They must be doing something wrong. I need a church that lives like that. Stories that were meant to encourage and spur on, oftentimes actually discourage. Because we compare ourselves without the context of everyday life.

I wonder if that’s how Paul’s original audience took his audacious statement that they should imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Though it’s hard to know for sure, I doubt that Paul’s audience met this claim with the same discouragement of comparison that we meet celebrity Christian success stories with. I think there’s an important difference. In Philippians 4:9, Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Notice: Paul says to practice not only what we’ve learned and received and heard, but seen. I can learn a lot of internet sermons. We now have unprecedented access to arguably some of the richest theological teachings ever, at the click of a button. I can listen to world renowned pastors and teachers. And I can easily begin to place them on a pedestal. And it’s not long before discouragement nips again at my heels. Why can’t I be more like them? But Paul says to practice what they’ve seen him do. I may be reading in to the text here, but I don’t think so: to see how Paul lived, they had to share life with him. His teachings were never removed from practice.

The next time you hear some of the conference and video missional success stories, listen for phrases like “Then one day . . . ” What we forget is that the churches, pastors and people in those videos are boiling down days, weeks, months and oftentime, years of perseverance into a single story. So, listen to these stories. Be encouraged that you too can live a missionary’s life in the everyday. But don’t compare yourself or your church to the polished product of a sermon illustration or professionally-produced video.

We must learn to redefine “wins” and “losses” in the grand scheme of things. Most of us are not going to have spontaneous baptisms and mass conversions as we go through our weeks. But we can live everyday life with Gospel intentionality.

New eBook, “Be The Church”

February 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

BeTheChurchGCMpic3DBe sure to check out the new e-book Be The Church: Discipleship And Mission Made Simple (10 Drawings, 10 Conversations) by my friends Seth McBee and Caesar Kalinowski.

Verge Network describes the book:

Sometimes the simplest things can get lost in tradition or become over complicated due to confusion or lack of practice. Sometimes we are just too smart for our own good. The reality of who we are as Christians, the Church and as disciples, while having historical and eternal importance, has become somewhat muddled in our modern understanding and dialogue.

As the conversation around being “missional” has come front and center within certain church circles in recent years, it seems that many of us struggle to grasp and/or explain the basics to others. This short book of simple pictures and conversations is meant to offer a starting point–a way to get, or keep, the dialogue going around some of the key issues surrounding who we are as the Church and what our mission really is.

  • Get the book here.

So, Despite My Best Efforts . . .

February 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm

My oldest three boys were part of a “Harlem Shake” here in Glendale, AZ:

 



Some Thoughts On Short-Term Missions

November 6, 2012 at 10:32 am

I recently had the chance to travel to Hungary with my good friend Justin Southwick, pastor at (Mosaic Community Church in Peoria, AZ) Justin pastored a church in Miskolc several years ago. Since then, he has gone back to encourage, equip and sometimes train local pastors there. In other words, he has done a great job at building long-lasting relationships with the indigenous people.

As a pastor of a “missional” church, I have gone back and forth on the idea of short-term missions over the years. In our church family, we place a high emphasis on equipping one another to live everyday as missionaries, living everyday life with Gospel intentionality. As I’ve struggled with all that that means, I have sometimes soured on the idea of Americans going to foreign countries to plant “American” churches. As a result, I have also wrestled with the idea of short-term missions; people traveling to another country for two weeks or so on some sort of “missions trip.” I mean, after all, isn’t everyday our primary mission field? Why should we travel to another country to do what we should be doing everyday? And, if we’re not doing it in the everyday, what business do we have going somewhere else?

This past trip to Hungary was a great time to process some of these issues through a missional hermeneutic; not just of Scripture, but all of life. I mean, if our church family is trying to equip, encourage and challenge our people to live everyday life as missionaries, then why in the world do we need to travel to another country to live that out? But then again, perhaps being taken out of our everyday context is just what some of us need to remember how to redeem the everyday.

So, in no particular order, and mostly because I like to write to sort out my thoughts, here are some thoughts prompted by my recent trip to Hungary:

  • Sometimes We Need To Be Taken Out Of The Everyday To Appreciate It

Do you know the saying, “A fish doesn’t know it lives in water”? For anyone striving to live everyday life as a missionary, traveling to another context can be quite valuable. We are forced to consider and sometimes participate in other customs and ways of life. We are immersed into another world. Lord willing, this causes us to examine our everyday context through a new lens.

We marinate in our everyday and we become numb to the very people and cultures we are called to reach. Traveling to another culture can help jar us awake again and force us to consider the cultures and customs in which we live but we must pay attention, asking questions that we should be asking of the everyday.

  • Ask Lots Of Questions

A good missionary strives to understand and engage the culture to which they have been called. That means they ask lots of questions. What is the “story” of that culture? What is their history? What do they celebrate and why? How do they view family? What are their afflictions? Where do they gather and why? What do they value? What is their pace of life and why?

This goes back to the first point. When you are placed in a culture you’re unfamiliar with, you will naturally ask these questions. Lord willing, you’ll be reminded to ask them of your own culture as well.

  • You’re Not There As A Tourist

OK, this one could be up for debate. But, if you’ve traveled somewhere on a “short-term missions trip” of any sort, you are not there to be served. You are not there to be entertained. You may have the chance to see some things, but that’s not why you’re there. You are there for other people and not yourself.

We had the chance to see some amazing things while in Hungary, but I was continually convicted that, though I personally wanted to make the most of our trip, I didn’t travel that far so that I could see old buildings and cool rivers. That was just an added bonus that we fit in when we could. I was constantly reminded of how we live everyday for ourselves rather than others. It’s sad that I had to travel to another country to be reminded of this, but it is what it is. We live everyday as tourists, wanting to be pleased, but that’s not why we’re here.

  • Practice What You Preach

So many of us Christians are good at compartmentalizing our lives. I know churches that are great at overseas missions that don’t encourage, equip or challenge their people to walk across the street. They will spend thousands of dollars sending people to other countries without challenging people to invite their neighbors over for dinner. Short-term missions is a great way to challenge ourselves to the everyday task of living as missionaries. But, if we’re not doing it at home, do we really have any business going to another country in the first place?

  •  We Are Not The Hope And We Don’t Have All Of The Answers

One thing I sometimes worry about with Americans doing foreign missions is that we tend to believe that because God has blessed us with some money, that this can fix people’s problems. Not only that, we are notorious for exporting our “way of doing church” in the name of missions. A church family in Glendale, AZ shouldn’t necessarily look the same as a church family in Nairobi. We are not the hope and we don’t have all of the answers. Our job, when we go is, to equip “the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus is the hope and He has all the answers. Our role is to equip local people to figure out what that looks like in their everyday, not to make them like us.

What are your thoughts on short-term missions?

Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (4): Don’t Plant Out Of Opposition

April 24, 2012 at 7:24 am

I continually marvel at where God has led me in life. I never planned on going to seminary, much less becoming a pastor. In fact, when God finally did take me to seminary, I kept thinking about how good I would have it after I received my M.Div, got my Ph.D. and got to teach people all of the cool stuff about God without having to deal with anyone’s real problems like pastors do. Then God broke my heart for the Church and for discipleship and changed the course of my life forever.

Not only did I never set out to be a pastor, I never expected to be a church planter. I don’t fit many of the models I’ve always (rightfully and wrongfully) attached to church planters. Now, nearly four years in to planting Church of the Cross, I’ve had lots of time to reflect, react and consider what I wish I had known while planting. So I decided to write a series on things I wish people had told me while church planting. First, we considered the need to start with discipleship, then we looked at the need to define yourself quickly and stick to it and yesterday we were challenged by the fact that most of us will never be mega-church pastors and not only is that OK, most of our churches will grow slowly.

Today, I want to share one that’s haunted me personally over the years. I have come to realize that I can tend to be a bit cynical, oftentimes framing things in a negative light rather than a positive one. I’m not making light of my tendencies, just sharing them with the world wide webs for all to know and judge. But honestly, I have come to realize that I am more prone to introduce a point by criticizing others than finding points of agreement.

This, of course, is a primary danger facing many church planters and will probably have to color the way you read this post (along with all of the others in this series). This may not be true of other church planters, but I know that one of the reasons I felt compelled to plant a church was because I could see where others had gone wrong. This, of course wasn’t (at least I thought) out of pride but biblical conviction. I saw what I felt to be the errors of those on both sides and I was sure I would plant a church “in the middle.” In our area of the country, there are churches that pride themselves on “going deep” into the Word who don’t even know the names of their neighbors, or there are churches that are thousands of people large who will openly admit that they don’t publicly teach anything above a seventh-grade level. So, we were going to model our church plant after the song we teach our children: “Deep and Wide.” We were going to openly and honestly people challenge people to go “deeper” into the Word and “wider” out into culture.

While I still believe in that vision, I have come to realize that I was planting out of opposition to the mainstream mega-church mentality as much as planting for the right vision that I believe God gave us. In other words, it was natural for me, especially in the early days, to frame our church plant by what it would not be; by what we would be against, as much as what we would be “for.”

I wish someone had told me in those early days to search the Scriptures, to understand the Gospel’s impact and implications for the Phoenix suburbs positively more than just pointing out what was wrong with other churches. This isn’t to say that church planters may not be able to accurately point out where the “mainstream” church has gone wrong. Instead, it is to say that we should not plant churches based on what we’re against. If that’s the motivation, then all we ever have to do is not be the other guy. If you plant out of opposition to mega-churches, you will probably be a small church. If you plant out of opposition to shallow churches, you will be quite intellectual. If you plant out of opposition to program-driven churches, your church will probably not have enough structure.

If you spend a lot of time and energy defining yourself by “what you’re not,” then you are creating an “us vs. them” mentality and the church already has more than enough of that. Plus, love believes the best about others. You may have significant differences with other churches, but chances are, they’re still family. You may want to consider them distant cousins rather than brother or sister, but they’re still family. Church planting should further the Kingdom, not drive deeper wedges.

I wish someone had told me to plant out of an overflow of the Gospel, to clearly be shaped by Scriptural convictions and to learn how to communicate those convictions regularly, clearly and humbly. This way, people will see the differences themselves. They don’t need you to always point out why you’re right (more on proving yourself in an upcoming post).

If you plant out of opposition, then all you have to do is not be the other guy and that is never enough. The Gospel reveals where things need to change but it also provides us with the positive motivation for change rather than just the negative. I wish someone had told me to plant out of an overflow of God’s work in my own life and community rather than just understanding (rightly and wrongly) where others were wrong.

  • Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (1): Start With Discipleship
  • Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (2): Define Yourself Quickly And Stick To It
  • Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (3): You’ll Probably Never Be A Mega-Church And It’s OK To Grow Slowly
  • Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (5): Don’t Plant To Prove Yourself

A Missional Contradiction?

April 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm

My friends over at Verge Network have started making some clips from the recent 2012 conference available. I was able to watch a few of them the other day and I came across these two from Alan Hirsch and Jeff Vanderstelt that initially seem to contradict one another and I wanted to get your thoughts.

 

The first is from Alan Hirsch on the missionary nature or “sent-ness” of the Church:



 

The second is from Jeff Vanderstelt, explaining why he’s actually growing tired of the term “missional:”



 

What do you think? Do Hirsch and Vanderstelt contradict one another? What do you you think?