“The Time is at Hand to Leave and Cleave”

Yesterday I preached on the allegiances the Gospel of Jesus challenges us with from Mark 1.10-20. While there may be times that Christ’s call to us may be an utterly radical call to hop on a plane and give the rest of our lives in service on the mission field, more often the call to radical discipleship is in the everyday stuff of life. This season of Epiphany we have been focusing on the fact that God is everywhere and is always revealing himself. The task is for us to have eyes to see his work. This doesn’t just happen, but we need to train our minds, hearts, eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands to feel and experience his presence–as we live and move and have our being in him (Acts 17.28).

Yesterday we considered that Christ’s call to a new allegiance is more often a reappropriation and reorientation of our lives–a line which he draws in the sand and bids us to step over that line, turn around and see the grandeur of the ocean.

The Allegiance of Livelihood

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, notice that he did not say to these fishermen, “Follow me and I make you become makers of tents and tabernacles…or stonemasons…or anything other than what you’ve known all your life.” Have you considered that God has placed within you, indeed, knit you together, with gifts and talents and passions that he wants you to use in reference to him in the service of others. We minimize our lives and worlds when we strive for our own building up. But when we use these passions and desires for the service of others, we have the opportunity to see God’s glory and our joy multiplied. Don’t shirk the person he has made you to be. Don’t run from the things you love to do because it seems harder. Rather, challenge yourself to re-purpose your loves and passions in service to others, and thereby seeing God’s face more clearly.

The Allegiance of Family

The family in the Ancient Near East determined much of who you are–your profession and your very existence. We get a glimpse of how Jesus reconfigures and challenges the identity and covenantal headship of the nuclear family when he says that those who do the will of his Heavenly Father are his mother and brothers and sisters (Mark 3.31-35). In this, Jesus reorients and challenges the notion that family determines your life. What is more, he is calling his people to a new family based upon faith and apprenticeship to him. To follow him and learn from him.

We long for our children to know Jesus. We believe that parents are the primary disciples in their children’s lives. But we still affirm the call of Jesus to each of our children to repent and believe to be a child of the family of faith.

This reconfiguring of the family can also be seen in the way the Apostle Paul challenges this notion of having to be married and have children to be complete. Not only was he single all his life, and laser-focused on doing what pleased the Father, but our Savior Jesus was single. This challenges the popular notion, and shuts the mouths of those who would ask a single person, “When are you going to get married” or to the married couple, “When are you going to have children.” Relationships and children are gifts and are good. But they are not the definition of wholeness.

The Allegiance of Self

At root of both of the explicit allegiances is the implicit challenge to the gravitational pull of allegiance to our self. Our desire to gather around us “yes men” who merely affirm what we want to be true. Jesus’ first words of public ministry were words of power, words of stark harshness, words of utter grace. Grace in that he offers us freedom from the slavery to our self and our passions. He offers us freedom to experience his world and see him in his world…once we turn from our navel-gazing to see the vastness of his love. Not just at one moment in time, but verily at all points in our existence. If we will have eyes to see.

His call to repent does not come from a call to shape up or ship out. Rather, it stems from his having conquered Satan in the place of judgment and of human weakness and frail and failure–the wilderness.

Consider these questions to guide you in your application of this passage into your life:

1. Your skills at fishing were never meant solely for you. They were intended for and are made even greater when used in the service of others. How has God gifted you? What do you find you are most excited about?

2. How can you make the family of Christ more of a priority in your life? What areas of welcoming others into your life and being open to being known is God calling you to?

3. What allegiances is God challenging you to question and forsake?


Five Tips for Dating Your Child

I took my second child on a date this morning. It’s something we have been trying to implement to give one-on-one time with me, but have not made it a reality. This time was so significant for me as my sweet girl danced freely when a fun song came on at Starbucks this morning. She smiled and laughed and told me about swim team. It was so delightful to not think about the projects I had to execute today at work. It was a sweet hour together.
As I’ve reflected on our time this morning, I thought I’d share five encouragements for you if you’d like to start taking your kids out on dates.

1. Be present. So much of our days are spent thinking about the next thing or what we haven’t done yet or how poorly we did something. The best way to be present is to kill distractions. Kill distractions and give life to your child. Put your phone on silent and turn it face down on the table. 

2. Look into his or her eyes. With the first tip taken care of, this ought to be super easy. But because we have implicitly learned not to look at people when they are talking (because we’re “multi-tasking”), we need to make a concerted effort to look at the person. This is cumulative. Don’t stare like you are trying to look at them in the eyes–though staring is better than looking away!
3. Ask questions. This would seem like a no-brainer, but too often parents are not asking questions. They are merely stating. They are saying “Yes” and “No”. This is not the time where you go over family rules and expectations. You are not pouring into the well, you are seeking to draw out from the deep well of your child’s heart. Feel free to default to “Why?” This easily translates into a rabbit hole of conversation and communicates that you care. Do not have an agenda, so that when you do have to have a talk you have already communicated your child is valuable by not having agendas before. It’s a liberating thing to know that dad is not only talking to me because he wants me to do something. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Do you like friends who only talk to you when they want something from you?
4. Splurge on a treat. With our culture’s slow shift to healthier foods, we have often kept sweets out of the mouths of our kids. Don’t feel guilty on getting a doughnut for your child. Let this time be so out of the ordinary that they are sure to remember it. Tank them up on sugar!! In fact, it might do your soul well to get that triple chocolate cake doughnut too. Carrots and celery can be consumed later. 
5. Share one thing you are thankful for in your child’s life. This can be an accomplishment, but even better is something about their character.

Relationships & Losing Control

Am slowly working through Lesslie Newbigin’s “Christian Freedom in the Modern World.” In light of the last post from The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I thought this a mighty helpful teasing out of not only the human relationship we were intended to have but also the ultimate relationship of God to his people.

When I turn from dealing with natual objects to dealing with another person, I am in a quite new world. I am no longer in the position of a subject dealing with objects; I am no longer the single centre of decision and will, and a centre which is inaccessible to my will in a way that nothing in the natural world can ever be. I am in the presence, therefore, of something which can resist me finally in a way no natural force can, with something which can hide itself from me as no natural secret can. A secret of the natural world can in the end be wrested from it by persistent and painstaking research. THe simplest secret of my friend’s will towards me can never be so reached. I can only know it when he chooses to speak–he, a new subject not in my control.

It is this quality of ultimate resistance which is a big part of true friendship. Loneliness, the terrible loneliness of the egocentric man, means, above all, being without any such resistances. It means being the sole subject in a world which is all objects, being alone on a wide sea where one can go everywhere and see everything, where no path is closed and nothing will ever finally resist, where one is always at the centre of the world with a vast horizon all around. The joy of friendship, or a large part of it, is the knowledge that my friend is not in my power, that he is not merely one of the objects in my world, but that he can do to me what only another subject can do–challenge and resist me.

So it is with any and all relationships we have or hope to have. Blissful infatuation eventually gives way to the battle of the wills. Rather than being frustrated, we can embrace the joy and secret and challenge of being vulnerable and enjoying the fact that another subject willingly opens up his/her life to me.

In the same way, we cannot study God as though he is an object. We receive his self-disclosure as an act of grace and opportunity. We relish the secrets he reveals to us when he wants and how he wants. We cannot shake our fists when he is not ours to command.

Why We Left That Church

This past Sunday my family and I visited a church. . .for ten minutes. Lest you get the content askew from the title, we are looking for a church to join. We have no angst about church, other than the typical issues most folk have (subjects for later posts you can be assured).

This post stems from a coincidentally related post this past Saturday by Thom Rainer that has received a lot of attention over the past few days. I am offering here is, I hope, helpful in that I have been in church leadership for the past several years and have just recently taken a job where I am not required to lead for my pay. This, I believe, gives me an insider’s look at the goings-on of churches–from the leader and the led perspectives.

This, by no means, will be my last comment on this topic, but it will be one of the first. I have taken some time to process my time in the church leadership world for the past 5 years and want to make sure there’s no anger or vitriol in what I write. Rather, encouraged by a pastor, I am putting my thoughts to pixels in an effort to help and say some things that may be hard to hear for those in leadership (and those being led). What I write, now and in the future, has no motive other than as a help. This is a genuine help and not in the stream of watchdogs who want to pick others apart for the sake of picking apart. Rather, I want these thoughts to build up and not tear down. In that vein, I want to offer positive ways to move forward rather than saying what folk are doing wrong.

This is one of the primary pieces I look for in my students’ criticisms of book or positions. It is never enough to point out what’s wrong with a practice or a thought, but we must offer another way. I am praying this squeaking voice will be just annoying enough to grate you to action without tempting you to anger. But, if anger ensues, I pray it deconstructs unhelpful practices and pushes you toward better ways.

Enough preliminary (as one of the cardinal rules to blogging is to be brief–something I am not so sure our culture needs right now, more pithy sayings with little substance). If you have read this far, I applaud you. You are in the 10%. The elite.

So my family and I have been trying to find a local church since moving to our new town. We are not picky but are trying to discern what is best for our family both now and in the long-term. We want a place that teaches and strives to live out the Bible. We want a place where people are broken and healing. We want a place that loves neighbors and each other.

We went to a church at the suggestion of a friend (who doesn’t go to this particular church, hint one right?). It was disconcerting when we could not find the main entrance–since it is oftentimes NOT the front door to the sanctuary. Well, not being able to find it we walked in the front door to the sanctuary. There was an elderly gentleman who literally looked at us for 10 seconds before he said “Hello.” Probably tops my list of most awkward moments in a church visit. I mean, I said “Hello” to him and he just looked at us with our four children and smiled. Immediate thought: Child molester.

Strike One. After the awkward silence was broken by MY next question ,”Do you have a nursery for our kids?” He did not have an answer.

Strike Two. He gruffly called an adolescent girl over to us and said, “Sarah, show them where they can put their baby.”

Strikes Three and Four (yes, I try to play by more gracious rules when looking at churches considering we are dealing with subjective sinners and not objective rules like in baseball). He spoke gruffly and disrespectful of the adolescent’s person–which leads me to believe these folk think it is alright for older folk to speak thusly to youngers. Fourth strike came by way of the girl not knowing herself. We assumed we were supposed to follow her downstairs.

Strike Five. Never lead visitors down a dark stairwell when they have only been their five minutes. It’s creepy. Or, if you are going to do that (by necessity) at least engage in conversation to distract from the weird place they are being expected to put their most treasured possessions!

We took our youngest to the nursery and there were four elderly people sitting in chairs. I have nothing against elderly people, but none of them got up from their chairs. Not one. My wife prodded, “Hi, is this where we can drop off our 1 year-old?” “Um, yeah. Sure. We’ll be happy to take him.” Did I fail to mention that one of the gentlemen was asleep on a rocking chair? Take a nap, but do it where most folks do–in the pew during the sermon, please. Not where you need to be watching curious crawlers. Strike Six.

We went to take our other two to the area designated for them. They turned us away because they only take kids after the first few songs are sung. Strike Seven (ah, the spiritual complete number. I thought we’d never get here). I can understand this, but it betrays something in the culture of this particular church. It tells me that people are to conform to the system as opposed to the system serving the people. This is particularly abrasive to a visitor. . .even more so someone not accustomed to the strains already put on a children’s ministry–of people who don’t really want to serve there and being understaffed. My quick suggestion. Bend for the visitor–especially considering you only have about 100 people in your congregation. We visited a church once that had 40 people in it. When we showed up, we were the only ones with children. Not an exaggeration. We were very close to joining this church because as soon as we walked in there was a kind 80 year-old woman who offered to watch our children! She reached out to us and bent to serve those who obviously needed it. All this to say, bend for people. This stems from the command to think of others more highly than yourselves–or your system.

Again, we are okay. We are not leaving the church, but we definitely left that church. . . in 10 minutes. Record time I think. We left just in time to visit another church who welcomed us with smiles and made it very easy to know where to drop off our one-year-old.

For those of you who think it wrong to put your kids in a nursery during service, I will write on this later. In the meantime, please share why you left a church you were visiting. It might prove therapeutic. Any slander will be deleted. That means–don’t put a certain church’s name on the example.