Moving Forward

As many of you may already know, we received a phone call in the middle of the night on March 19 telling us that my wife’s sister had suddenly, and unexpectedly, passed away. To say that the news was traumatic would be an understatement. 

Trauma has a way of doing a number on you. It is crazy how things can go from smooth to chaotic in a matter of seconds. One minute you are doing fine, and then the next minute everything has changed as a result of…

  • A sudden death
  • An accident
  • An unexpected diagnosis 
  • Suddenly being fired
  • Or a variety of other reasons

Sometime, we see it coming. Sometimes, we see it coming and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Life just slows down and you see the train a coming, it’s coming round the bend, but you know you can stop it. You also know that it is going to hit you square in the chest. Yet, even when you see it coming, it is still hard to take. 

  • A long time illness ending in death
  • A person who seems like they would live forever passing away
  • The need to close or restart a church

Then, after the trauma is over, we have to figure out how to pick up the pieces, and that can be quite a process. This is because there are stages of grieving the loss of the ideal, and not everyone goes through them at the same time, at the same speed, or in the same way. 

We start off in shock and denial, trying to rationalize the irrational that just occurred in our life, overwhelmed with what just took place. This gives way to pain and guilt, where we begin to list things that we think we should/should not have done. It is also when we begin to feel the full weight of the whatever happened. Yet, it’s also at this point we either try to just keep ourselves busy, or we seek to self-medicate, rather than acknowledging the pain we are going through. We will do anything we can not to feel the full weight of the trauma. 

We may move into a time of anger and blame, and the crazy thing is that we often unleash that at people who have nothing to do with what happened. It might be someone who is trying to help us move forward or pick up the pieces. It might be someone who just is at the wrong place at the wrong time. When someone is in this stage of grief, offering the words of Isaiah 43:18-19, probably isn’t the best idea. Saying something like, “Come on, man, just forget what happened in the past, don’t dwell on that stuff. God’s got a plan for all this,” could potentially get you killed. 

Just when our friends may think you should be getting on with our life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake us. The crazy thing is that encouragement from others sometimes is not helpful to us during this stage. During this time, we finally realize the true magnitude of our loss, and it just depresses us. Life will never be the same, and we begin to full realize this fact. We may isolate ourselves on purpose, reflect on things we did before the trauma, and focus on memories of the past.

The reality is that we all have to go through the grief of loss. Yet, we often don’t want to, or sometimes we just get stuck in one of the stages and don’t move forward. For instance, we might deny acknowledging the pain and get stuck in a cycle of self-medication. We might also just begin to live in the past and constantly celebrate memories of before the trauma and/or constantly talk about how it “used to be.” We might just stay angry: at the person who caused the trauma, at God, and at everyone else. Going through the stages is a healthy part of grieving, but being stuck in one stage and not moving on is not. 

As we process, things do begin to change. We can begin to adjust to our new normal and move forward. We do become more functional, and our minds do start working again. We learn to accept and deal with the reality of our new normal. Now this does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the trauma that we have experienced, but we do find a way forward.

So why talk about this at all this? I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that there is a process when dealing with the realities of life, and that it is healthy go go through the process.  

Sadly, there are many times that people, sometimes even Christians, deny a process at all. They will read scriptures like Isaiah 43:16-21 or Philippians 3:7-14, and then tell people, “Life is hard, but God is good, so you can just get over whatever you are going through, quit looking back and start looking forward, because it will all be okay.” However, I don’t believe that this would be helpful to many of us who are going through things in life that are hard right now. To be honest, If I told you that everything was going to be okay, you might just look at me and, like Thomas, say, “Oh yeah, Prove it!”

You see, in John 20:24-29, we encounter a grieving Thomas. In the text immediately preceding this one, the disciples had all gathered in a locked room, for fear of the Jews, and the resurrected Jesus appeared and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them that he was alive, and they moved very quickly from shock and denial to acceptance and rejoicing. Jesus was alive! This was most certainly a game changer! 

Yet, Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas didn’t have an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. We don’t know where Thomas was at this point, whether he had run to the store to get some bread or if he just needed to go for a long walk, but we know that he was not in the room when Jesus first appeared. 

So, when he did come back around the other disciples, and they told him the news of Jesus being alive, he just couldn’t believe it. Though there are at least ten folks, that he did life with and trusted, standing there and telling him that Jesus was alive, Thomas didn’t believe them. He had to see it for himself. So, he looked at them and said, “I need proof.”

Thomas was grieving. Though Scripture didn’t say it directly, I am sure that he was just trying to wrap his head around what was happening. Thomas had seen all the miracles and wonders. His ears heard the voice of God. He had a front-row seat as Lazarus rose from the dead by only a few words from his teacher. At one point, he, not Peter, was ready to go and die with Jesus.  

But Thomas had also just seen his teacher and friend taken away. He had seen Jesus murdered, dead, and buried. The darkness of unbelief and doubt swirled around in Thomas’s head like a storm. His faith certainly had wilted and shriveled up. Like a broken record, the words of the religious leaders replayed in his head. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Why didn’t Jesus save himself? Why didn’t Jesus fight for himself? Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they had thought he was.

So, the words, “We have seen the Lord” were not comforting to Thomas. They were salt in a fresh, deep wound. If Thomas was to ever believe again, there would need to be concrete proof.

Yet, in the midst of Thomas’ pain and doubt, Jesus showed up, looks Thomas square in the eye, and says, “Peace be with you.” These are the same words that Jesus said to his disciples when he first appeared to them as well. Why? He wanted Thomas, and the others, to realize that it will be okay, that we can have peace in the midst of life’s craziest storms because He is with us in it. 

Now, notice what Jesus didn’t do when he appeared before Thomas. He didn’t wack him on the head and say, “You IDIOT! Why didn’t you believe the others?” He didn’t tell him to just get over it. Rather, He came with love and compassion, in the midst of his trauma and grief, and gave him just what he needed, His peaceful presence. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him, to experience Him, and to know that He is Lord even in the midst of the chaos of life.

The storms and the trauma happens because we live in a broken and sinful world. Sometimes, they come as a result of something that we do as a result of our brokenness, but many times they come just as a result of the brokenness around us. Jesus comes into our broken situation and give us peace. He invites us, like Thomas, to touch him and know that we are not alone. 

Honestly, that happens every time we come to the Lord’s Table. It happens every time we hear His Word. It also happens every time we encounter another believer. Christ comes to us through His Body and Blood, in His Word, and through the presence of other believers to let us know that we are not alone, that he is present with us. As we encounter Him, we are reminded that he has overcome our brokenness, that he was sacrificed for our sin. That is why he had to go to the cross. Through His life, death, and resurrection, we can have hope and peace as we deal with, and process through, our trauma. As he says in John 16:33, “In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

He invites us to hear His Words, “Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). “When you go through the sea, I am with you. When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you. I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3a). 

Christ is with us in the midst of our trauma and grief, saying to us, “Peace be with you.” He is with us as we go through the grieving process. While we go through it, He is inviting us to come to Him, rest in Him, and heal in His presence each and every day. He  makes all things new, gives us hope, and gives us peace in the pain. He is the one who enables us, like Paul, to get to a point where we have faith and confidence even in the midst of our suffering. To a place where we don’t look back, only look forward, and strive for the prize that God’s heavenly call offers us in Christ Jesus. 

He also invites us to go into the highways and byways, into the streets and the allies, and invite those in our community who are hurting without hope to encounter the resurrected Jesus and experience His peace as well. He is inviting us to go and connect others to Him so that they too may be restored and made new, just as he is doing so with us. As he comes into our lives and says “Peace be with you,” he calls us to go out and be agents of peace in this chaotic world, most of the time before we are ready to really do so. Yet he does call us to walk with others, and not leave them in their trauma nor smack them over the head and tell them to get over it. Rather, he is calling us, His Church, to walk alongside people and be a peaceful presence in their lives, to help them process what they have been through however that may look, and to point them to the one that can heal their pain, forgive their pasts, and give them the hope of a new life, Jesus Christ.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Amen.

 

 

Bibliography…

Stages of Grief: https://www.recover-from-grief.com/7-stages-of-grief.html

Devotion for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, “Prove It,” in the Saint/Sinner Lenten Devotional by Kyle Jones and Kathryn Strauch

 

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Moving Forward

Go Fish

The following is a part of Pastor Kyle’s sermon from February 10, 2019. The text for the sermon was Luke 5:1-11

When reading through, and studying, Scripture, you always want to study the text in context. As a result, so that we have a better understanding of what is going on, let us, briefly, recap what has happened up to this point in the Gospel of Luke. 

Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist in Jordan River (Luke 3). He then was led by the Spirit into the desert where for forty days he was tempted by the devil (Luke 4). Upon passing that test, he began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee, people were amazed at his teaching, and word about him spreads (Luke 4:14-15). 

At one point in his Galilean tour, Jesus goes to Nazareth on a Sabbath; reads the prescribed reading from the prophets that day, which happens to be the prophet Isaiah; and then announces that he is the fulfillment of this prophesy. As a result of this news, and a bit of a back and forth with the townspeople concerning the fact that he wasn’t going to do what they wanted him to do, people in his hometown wanted to kill Jesus, but it says that he went right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:16-30).

Jesus then goes down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and begins to teach in their synagogue, drive out demons, and heal individuals with various kinds of sickness (Luke 4:31-41). 

Now, we learn in Luke 4:38 that one of the individuals that he healed was Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. This means a couple of things. First, Jesus and Simon have actually met before the events that took place in our text this morning. Second, you do not, typically, have a mother-in-law unless you first have a wife. So, I think it is safe to assume that Simon Peter is a married man, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church. (Think about it, the Catholics believe that Peter was the first Pope, the Father of the Church here on earth, and he was married; but they teach that priest should not be married. So, I guess their church was started in hypocrisy. Just kidding.)

In the verse immediately preceding the story found in Luke 5, Jesus tell the people, “I have to tell the Good News about the kingdom of God in other cities also. That’s what I was sent to do.” Basically, Jesus was announcing to the people that he was on a mission from God. So, the story in our text this morning is an invitation to join Him in this mission. 

So we come to Luke 5, our text this morning, and, based on Luke 4, we know that Jesus is a pretty popular guy. He has been teaching with authority, driving out demons, and healing the sick. I don’t know about you, but I would have gone to hear him speak, given the chance. So it is not too far out of the realm of belief that there was a big crowd following Jesus and wanting to hear what he had to say. It is also not too far out of the realm of belief that when people came to hear Jesus, they were probably bringing their sick, or demon possessed, relatives to have Jesus heal them. This means that people probably weren’t just sitting down on hillsides and listening, they were probably pressing up against Jesus saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, thanks for the talk but I think my mother-in-law has a demon, can you cast it out of her?”

It says that they were by the Sea of Galilee and Jesus, who has a big crowd pressing up against him, sees two boats. Now, you have to know that fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee were pretty decent size boats. They found a first century fishing boat in an archeological dig and it was about 8ft wide and 26 ft long. Also, remember that there are several stories in the Gospels about the disciples being in one boat traveling across the Sea of Galilee. I think it is pretty safe to assume that these were fishing boats they were traveling in. So, they were big enough to carry 13 or so people and even allow space for Jesus to curl up and sleep in the front. 

Jesus sees Peter, which we know that they have already met, washing his net, something that fishermen often did after a night of fishing, with the others in his crew, we can infer this through both conversation and also at the end of the story he calls his partners James and John over. Jesus steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to push off from the shore, so that he can teach people without being crowded, and Peter obliges. After hearing about the fact that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, we can understand why Peter obliged without incident. Otherwise, we might be wondering why he wasn’t like, “Who the heck are you, and what do you mean, ‘Push out from the shore’? I don’t know you!”

When he finishes speaking, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Take the boat into deep water, and lower your nets to catch some fish.” Now, we need to realize a couple of things. First, it is in the middle of the day and fishing was typically done on the Sea of Galilee at night. Second, one did not typically fish in the deep water. Typically, you would fish just off the shore. Third, Peter is a professional fisherman, this is what he did for a living. Jesus has a carpentry background. So, essentially, you have a carpenter telling a fisherman how to do his job. 

Also, it should be noted that, Peter’s friends and co-workers are watching this all take place, along with others on the shore. Peter is risking embarrassment and shame, both from his partners and from the crowd that had gathered. This is, more than likely, why he said, “Teacher, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll lower the nets.”

In obeying Jesus, Peter is risking his own honor, and comfort, and acting out in faith. Peter went against his own experience, science, wisdom, reason, and all that men might say about him to hold on to the Lord’s word. Jesus was testing Peter’s faith in Him, even before he called Peter to follow him. 

Well, we know what happens next. Peter and his crew, it says “they” pull up such a large number of fish that their nets were starting to tear. They call over their partners, Jame and John, and there is so many fish that it began to sink both the boats. Basically, they hit the fishing lottery, a catch that would feed all their families for a bit and provide them with enough money to last awhile. 

Peter falls on his face, confessing his doubt and that he isn’t the best guy in the world (Have you ever hung around sailors?). Jesus then tells Peter that from now on he is going to be fishing for men rather than for fish, essentially commissioning Peter to be his disciple. They get the boats back to the shore, leave everything, follow him, and their journey of discipleship begins. Pretty simple, right? 

The one thing that keeps going through my mind when I hear this story is what Peter’s wife thought when he came home and said, “Hey honey, I’m leaving my fishing career, our family’s only source of income, to follow a rabbi named Jesus.”

Think about it, Peter, James, and John walked away from their livelihood, their families, and their home to follow Jesus. I understand that, at that time, everyone wanted to be a Jewish rabbi, but there was a process that most people went through and this scene is WAY outside that process. They were essentially committing a shameful act, at least by cultural standards, by leaving their families and their lives to follow Jesus; and for what? 

It is true that the haul of fish just brought in would provide for their family for a bit. Yet, typically, in the first century, fishermen leased their rights to fish from toll collectors, guys who would tax them on the fish they caught and take their “cut.” It is essentially like winning the lottery today. You win $1 million dollars and then the government takes about 50% right off the top. 

Now, Peter, James, and John, more than likely, thought that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who was going to make Israel great again, and if they follow him, they will have power and prestige. They probably didn’t leave their families and work for deeply “spiritual” reasons. (We see this later on in the Gospel, in Luke 22, when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.) I am sure that they were eventually expecting a life of comfort and safety as a result of following Jesus. 

Of course, we know now that their lives would end up being anything but comfortable or safe. In fact, all three of these guys would eventually face persecution. We know from history that Peter and James were martyred, and the story was that Peter’s wife was also martyred for being a Christian. 

I can’t help but wonder about the fact that if they knew what was ahead of them, would they still have followed? Would they still have denied their families, their hopes and dreams, their, somewhat, comfortable life, and follow Jesus?

The reality is that, after Jesus died and rose, after they came to realize the truth about the Gospel, they willingly risked it all for the sake of the mission. In fact, in Acts 4:23-31, the disciples pray for boldness in the face of persecution; and in Acts 5:41, they rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for speaking about Jesus. Following the day of Pentecost, these guys were sold out for the mission, they wanted everyone to know about the forgiveness and new life that was in Christ Jesus, and nothing was going to get in the way of that fact! They were willing to risk their comfort and lives for the sake of the Gospel. 

What about us? Are we willing to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel being proclaimed and disciples being made? 

The reality for us is that we are on this side of the Old and New Testaments, we have the whole story and can, in some ways, understand both the risks and rewards. We can look back and see the fact that following Jesus isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, that at times, acting out in faithful obedience, is going to make us uncomfortable and feel unsafe. We have a much better understanding what Jesus meant by “counting the cost,” and “denying ourselves,” than the first disciples did because, as we know from history, there is a high cost to following Jesus. 

We also know who Jesus truly was and is today. He was not some political Messiah that had come to make Israel great again, he was truly the Savior of all mankind who came to die and rise for you and for me. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who has taken away our sins and given us new life through his life, death, and resurrection. He is the one who has overcome sin, death, and the power of the devil to set us free through faith in him. He is the one who has bound up our brokenness, filled us with faith, healed our hopelessness, given us peace in the midst of persecution, and generated joy in our hearts and lives, no matter what might happen around us. We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has washed us clean in our baptism and, through faith in Him, made us members of the family of God. Amen?

We also know that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and that he sends us, his children and disciples, out to proclaim his goodness and mercy to all we come in contact with. He calls each one of us to be disciples who seek to disciple others. He calls us, his church, to be on mission in the places where we live, learn, labor, laugh, and worship; and he gives us His Spirit to lead us, guide us, and equip us for the work ahead.

We know that He calls us, his church, to walk with the people and share with them the hope that we have in Christ. He calls us to be willing to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel. 

Let me ask you this morning, are you willing? Are you willing to be made uncomfortable for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to do what it takes to get to know the people around here and to be in relationship with them? Are you willing to do the long and hard work of discipling others in the context of those relationships, to engage in work where both the commitment and relational levels are high but where you may not receive any instant gratification or thanks on this side of heaven? 

I have to be honest, Jesus didn’t call us to simply sit in the pews. He is calling us to get into the game. He is calling us to be disciples that make disciples. He is calling us to share the love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy that we have experienced through faith in him with others. 

I really feel that, as a church, we are entering into a new season. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I know that Jesus is not calling us to simply sit and do the same thing that we have always done. I believe that he is calling us to do something that will probably go against our own experience, wisdom, reason, and make us very uncomfortable, just like he did Peter. I believe that he is calling us to be bold and obedient, to dive into His Word, both as a church and as individuals; to ask His Spirit to guide us; and then to risk for the sake of the Gospel. I believe that Jesus is about to test our faith in Him, just like he did Peter.

Let me tell you, even if, in the end, it looks like a colossal failure, humanly speaking, if we are obedient and faithful in what God is calling us to do, by the power and guidance of the Spirit, I can guarantee it will be an eternal success. 

The Lord is calling us, just like he did Isaiah, “Whom will I send? Who will go for us?” Who will go out into the neighborhood and beyond so that others may hear, and experience, the Gospel? Are we going to answer, “Here I am. Send me!”?

Go Fish

Show and Tell

showandtell

This past Sunday, I used the text from Ephesians 1:3-14 as the basis of my sermon. (You can find it here.)

Now, because this particular section of scripture pretty clearly proclaims the Gospel message, most Lutheran pastors would probably have said a few words after reading it and then simply said, “Amen.” The whole section focuses on the fact that being “in Christ” is central to the Christian faith and experience. It points out, in fairly plain English, that God is doing all the saving work in our lives. We bring him our shame, guilt, and sin, and he trades us those things for Christ’s righteousness.

Look again at verses 7-9:  

Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. He poured out his kindness by giving us every kind of wisdom and insight when he revealed the mystery of his plan to us. He had decided to do this through Christ.”

Though I could have ended the sermon quickly, I didn’t. This is because as I read through, prayed through, talked through, and meditated on the text this past week, there was a question that I kept coming back to: 

What does the Gospel mean for my neighbor? 

It would be easy for me to simply hear these words for myself. Praise God that I have every spiritual blessing that God has given through Christ; I have been chosen to be holy and perfect in his presence; I have been adopted by God; I have been set free from my sins; I have been given every kind of wisdom and insight; I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit; and I will be with Him on the last day.

Yet, as a Christian community, we know, or at least we should, that God intended these blessings, that are received through faith in Christ, not only for us but also for our neighbor, in whatever context you want to put the word “neighbor.” So, how exactly is our neighbor supposed to find this out? 

I would actually answer that question in two ways, and it relates to one of my favorite childhood activities, show and tell:

We are called to show our neighbor what the Gospel looks like lived out.

We are called to have Gospel conversations with our neighbor. 

First, we show our neighbor what the Gospel means for them in both our willingness to be present in the lives of others and how we treat, and interact with, others as we go along.

The reality is that God forgave you for your many sins, called you as his own, made you family, gave you a new life, and sees you as extremely valuable through faith in Christ, no matter who you are or what you have done. The reality also is that he wants the person sitting next to you in the pew, in the car, on the bus, in line at the supermarket, at work, the one who lives next door to you, or any other place you may find yourself to know and experience the same thing.

How does this happen?

It happens when we forgive as we have been forgiven.

It happens when we love as we have been loved.

It happens when we show mercy as we have been shown mercy.

The problem is that we often fail at this task. Many times, we treat others as less than for a variety of other reasons. We act like we are more important, like we matter more.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t find a clause in Scripture that says that we are only supposed to forgive, give grace to, love, or show mercy to people who looks like us, have the same income level as us, is a citizen of the country that we are a citizen of, don’t have a criminal past, are straight, are a Lutheran (or whatever denomination you belong to), are housed, or any other thing we might discriminate against someone for. When we do this, when we treat someone as less than for any reason, we are sinning both against God and against neighbor.

We are called to live out what we believe. As Jame 1:22-25 says…

22 Do what God’s word says. Don’t merely listen to it, or you will fool yourselves. 23 If someone listens to God’s word but doesn’t do what it says, he is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 studies his features, goes away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 However, the person who continues to study God’s perfect teachings that make people free and who remains committed to them will be blessed. People like that don’t merely listen and forget; they actually do what God’s teachings say.

People need to experience the Gospel, that’s why we are called to live it out in our daily lives, but they also need to hear it!

We all need to hear that we have every spiritual blessing that God gives through Christ. Through faith in Christ, we have been chosen to be holy and perfect in his presence; we have been adopted by God; we have been set free from our sins; we have been given every kind of wisdom and insight; we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit; and we will be with Him on the last day!

As Paul says in Romans 10:17…

faith comes from hearing the message, and the message that is heard is what Christ spoke.

 I believe that we, the church, have made sharing our faith WAY too complicated. Somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that we only have one particular moment in time to share our faith. In that moment, we have to say the right words, from some particular script, in the right order, and have all this deep Biblical knowledge to be able to defend the faith and answer any question that a person might have. If we do it wrong, then we, single handedly, have assured the other person’s damnation.

We are called to share our faith as a part of our ongoing daily relationships. It is as simple as talking about what you believe about Jesus and why, when the opportunity arises. The reality is that the opportunity arises more often than you might think.

May God give us comfort to know that He is still at work around us and through us, in spite of our own struggles. My He lead us to joyfully show others, through our interactions with them, the same love, grace, and mercy that we have been shown; and may He give us opportunity to share with others the hope that we have through faith in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Show and Tell

Why I’m Walking Away…

good bye

I decided to walk away from social media today, at least for now. It has been a long time coming but today, after a friend rightly confronted me about something I posted, I decided it was time.

To be honest, over the past couple weeks I had been really wrestling with, thinking about, and praying through the idea of giving it up. It had become obvious to me that being on social media was not really adding any value to my life. Rather, I have come to realize that my addiction to being on social media was, in many ways, severely harming many, if not most, of my relationships with family members, friends, and neighbors.

Here are just a few examples…

  • I began to realize that I was using social media as an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress.
  • I had to move my phone to another room because I would wake up in the middle of the night to check my social media feeds, and it was affecting my sleep patterns.
  • Friends and family members kept telling me I needed to “put down the phone” because I was more focussed about what was going on online than I was about what was happening right in front of me.
  • I would often ignorantly post without thinking and unintentionally harm others as a result.
  • I would often get in debates on social media and it would affect my demeanor with others that day.

I believe that, as a part of my call as a Christ follower and pastor in the community, I am to be a reconciler, a bridge builder, and a Gospel-centered community cultivator. However, I came to realize that I was burning more bridges than I was building them. Too many times, I was slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry when interacting with others, both online and offline, as a result of my social media use.

So, I decided that I needed to step away from social media for a time and reevaluate some things.

Why I’m Walking Away…

You are BAD

It often amazes me at how, and where, God shows up, though it should not by now.

Twice a month, members from our church gather at 9am to walk the neighborhood surrounding our church and invite people to pray for the neighborhood with us.

What you need to know is that the neighborhood around our church is quite diverse: culturally, socioeconomically, and experientially. You could go a couple of blocks in one direction and be in a decent area of town, an area that most people reading this blog might want to live in; but you could go a couple of blocks in a different direction and not be in the best part of town, an area that most people reading this blog would not want to live in or walk through. This morning, we chose to walk through the latter.

As we walked, we encountered, talked to, and even prayed with quite the variety of people. We prayed with a couple of guys who were working on bicycles that were most likely stolen. We prayed with a Michael, a man who is experiencing homelessness in our community. We talked with a couple of guys who identified as Buddhist, and there were a couple of people that politely declined our invitation to pray with them for a number of reasons.

Along the way, we also encountered two individuals sitting at the bus stop in front of a “transitional living” home, aka a halfway house. This particular house is pretty notorious for having some very “colorful” individuals living in it and hanging out around it. Though I did not know these particular individuals, I had seen them before in one of my weekly walks through the community. I approached them and said, “Hey, we are praying for our neighborhood this morning. Do you want to join us in praying for it?”

Much to our surprise, they immediately jumped up, grabbed our hands, and eagerly encouraged me to start praying. So I did.

When I had finished praying, the gentlemen who was standing next to me, Tyrone, looked at me and said, “My turn!”

Now, I have to admit that I was a little nervous at what was going to come out of Tyrone’s mouth. However, what came out of his mouth was a beautiful prayer for the individuals in the community that most people forget about or look down on: those struggling with homelessness, those who struggle with mental illness, the poor, the incarcerated, and several others.

After Tyrone prayed, he looked at us and said, “Remember, whenever you read God’s Word, He is teaching you; and whenever you proclaim God’s Word to others, He is using you to teach them! So, keep reading and proclaiming His Word! Also, always remember that you are BAD…Blessed and Delivered!”

After our prayer, and Tyrone’s encouragement, we thanked Tyrone for his words and kept walking down the street.

I have to admit that God used this morning’s interaction with Tyrone to remind me of a couple things…

First, God is always present and working around us, he simply invites us to join him in what He is already doing. If we thought that we were bringing God to our community, He reminded us, through our interaction, that he is already there and working.

Second, God’s encouragement can come from just about anywhere, we just have to be willing and open to receive it.

Third, you should never make assumptions about the people you interact with. I have to admit that I made some assumptions about Tyrone and the other young lady sitting at the bus stop as a result of my experiences outside of that house. I also admit I was wrong in doing so.

God can, and does, use anyone, and any situation, for His glory. I am very thankful for how God worked through Tyrone this morning. I really needed the encouragement. I’m also thankful for how He humbled me and showed me that I was wrong in making certain assumptions.

Most of all, I’m very thankful that God used Tyrone to remind us that through Christ, we are BAD (Blessed and Delivered).

You are BAD

Lessons Learned (And Still Learning)

Dear Friends,

I have to confess, I haven’t written a blog in sometime. This is not for a lack of stories or lessons, I have more stories and lessons than I really know what to do with, but because I just haven’t taken the time to sit down and type them all out.

So why post today? I realized that I am quickly approaching my two year anniversary in Long Beach. I really can’t believe it has been two years already. Where has the time gone?

They say that you cannot begin to work change in an area until that area changes you. Well, I have to tell you that Long Beach, and my experience here so far, has changed me; and I am very grateful for the lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, here.

I would like to share with you a couple of the lessons I’ve learned over the past two years:

  • It’s not my church, it’s Jesus’ church and He has called me here to steward it, care for it, lead it, be with it, and direct it as the Holy Spirit leads. Now, you may say, “duh” to this lesson. However, I have found quite a few people who want to ascribe success or failure of an organization to an individual. I would agree with you if we are talking about a corporate organization or business, but Jesus’ church is a totally different organism. Why? Well, this brings me to another thing I have learned.
  • God’s going to do what God is going to do and God is going to use who God is going to use. I have watched God work miracles, big and small, and use some of the most unlikely of characters to do his work. Now, I simply ask him to open my eyes to see what He is doing, what He wants to do, who He wants to use, and I simply respond to what I see Him doing. God doesn’t work in mysterious ways, as so many people want to believe. He works in very obvious ways, we just don’t always see it.
  • My goal should be to, simply, faithfully follow Jesus today, steward the gifts and people He puts in front of me today to the best of my ability, and point people to Jesus as I go about my daily business. That’s it. We get so wrapped up in worrying about tomorrow and trying to control things and people we have no control over. Jesus really wasn’t kidding when he said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34). Honestly, it makes life so much easier, and more enjoyable, when you seek to live this way.
  • There really isn’t a formula for success. Though we would love to think so, we cannot break planting a church, or replanting a church, down to a particular formula (if you do this, then this will happen). It is true that we can, and should, learn from those who have gone before us; that we should glean from others’ wisdom and experience; but we have to know, and trust, that it is always, always, the Holy Spirit who is leading. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and there will be plenty of days where nothing works the way you think it should, but if the Lord is leading, it will all be okay in the end.
  • It needs to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, be about the Kingdom of God rather than “my” church. Growing a particular organization must come second to seeking to grow the kingdom. Be okay when people you have been discipling, walking with, and taking time to pour into decide to join another Jesus centered church in the area.

Like I said, these are just a few of the lessons I have been learning over the past two years, and there are a TON more. You see, I have also learned about: the importance of the table, the blessing of longevity, what it means to walk with, racial issues and the church, the dark side of gentrification, the humanity of homeless and homies, PTSD and the inner-city, and much, much, more over the past two years. However, I guess those will be topics for blogs to come.

I ask that you continue to keep my family, the ministry we have been called to, and our community in your prayers.

In Christ,

Kyle

Lessons Learned (And Still Learning)

No Fear

No-Fear

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19

What would it look like to live without fear? I’m not talking about being stupid, trying to test God and physics every waking hour, but to walk around, led by God, and not being afraid of whatever happens next. 

What would it look like to truly trust in Him for everything? I mean, He did send His son to live the life we could not, die the death we deserved, and yet rise again. In Him we find comfort, in Him we find peace, in Him we have joy, and He has promised to provide for our every need. Yet, how many of us still walk around full of fear and anxiety? 

We get caught up in fear, we become consumed with it. We worry about this or that. We convince ourselves that we won’t have enough, that we have to work harder, that we have to impress so and so, or that the other shoe is going to drop any minute. 

You know, we don’t have to live that way. In fact, Scripture tells us time and time again not to fear because He is with us. The one who has all the power and authority in heaven and on earth walks right beside us through it all, through the good and the bad. 

May the God of the universe lead us to rest in His goodness and grace. May He teach us what it looks like to trust in Him each step along the way, to rely on His Spirit to lead, and to live in freedom rather than fear. 

No Fear