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There are many myths we live by that God never ordained. Honestly, I’m still discovering them. They’re just things that unknowingly become ingrained into us without us ever making an active decision to accept it as truth. Things we might have grown up thinking, by inference, not necessarily teaching. It’s what wasn’t said, sometimes, that impacts us more than what was.
One of those myths is what I call…
The Perfection Before Presence Myth
Here’s the basic idea.
- I know I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner.
- My sin separates me from God.
- I want to follow Jesus, but…
- In order to approach Him, or be in His presence, I need to turn my life around… be perfect.
- Once I get my life straightened out, I will be able to truly follow Jesus and approach God.
You’re probably looking at that saying, “That’s so wrong” or “Yep, that’s me” and maybe you’re saying both at the same time, because there’s this tension we don’t know how to resolve.
Last night I went to the Fresno County Juvenile Hall with people from several different churches, including Two Cities Church, to put on a Christmas Party for the boys currently living there. The situations and life track many of these boys are on, are heart-breaking. Many of them have been in there 2 or 3 times and one young man I spoke with is in for the 9th time! Can you imagine that, 9 times?
While talking to one of them about their belief in God, he said, “I want to follow God, but I’ve gotta get my life together first.”
I said, “That’s a common misunderstanding. The fact of the matter is, none of us, volunteers, are here because we were able to get our lives together. We’re here because we gave our broken and messy lives to Jesus. And Jesus has been cleaning house.”
He didn’t understand, as most of us don’t, God isn’t up there handing out judgement, he’s handing out mercy. The reason this young man was in there is because of robbery. I reminded him that God’s mercy has already been on him because all it takes is on citizen with a concealed weapon, all it takes is one person willing to shoot one bullet and he’d be dead.
You can’t get clean and then come to God, you’ve got to come to God to get clean. The walls of the church won’t cave in on you if you show up with your life in shambles. Don’t let the enemy of your soul convince you otherwise. Here’s the truth.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NLT
So here’s the truth…
- I know I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner.
- My sin separates me from God.
- I want to follow Jesus, so…
- I approach Him to surrender my life to Him.
- He loves me, accepts me and cleans me so that I can fulfill the true purpose He has for me.
- I am an adopted, royal-child of God, co-heir to the throne and there’s nothing that can take that away.
What myths do you accidentally live by? Are those myths holding you back from truly living a life of freedom?
At Two Cities Church, when we say our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, what you’ve got to understand is that’s not an easy thing. There’s often pain involved.
It’s like learning to swim. This summer we welcomed a foster-son into our home. This little 3-year-old boy, in the month and a half he’s been with us, has learned to swim! He wore floaties a handful of times, but doesn’t want them anymore. He actually never really did want them. He would get into the water and immediately want them off. So I’d take them off and he’d shove off from the step. Well, what happened?
Thankfully, he held his breath and I was right there with him. I can always see when his eyes go from, “I’m doing it!” and transition to “Uh oh!” And that’s when I’d bring him up and he gasped for air. But he learned quick!
My point is, before we grow, we often experience some sort of pain and we might even have a panic in our yes, but God is right there and he knows when we need to be pulled out and when to push us a little so that we can grow our capacity for holding our breath.
- capacity for empathy
- skills in managing something small, so you can handle something bigger
- parenting patience (Am I right?)
- and many other things
And the amazing thing is, one day what you’re struggling so hard with, if you face it again, you’ll fly through it with greater ease.
I mean, when you finally learned to swim, it was amazing… it’s like flying, through water. It’s gliding, it’s smooth and easy movement… you’re no longer frantic or flailing. You understand physics, buoyancy, and the mechanics of how to move through the water with minimal effort.
“Thoughts in a prison” an atheist prayer by Micah Prewitt.
I came across this song the other day. It’s by a friend of mine, Micah Prewitt. I haven’t seen him in years but he did help out with the music in a student ministry I was leading a few years ago. He now lives in France pursuing music. But his gut-wrenchingly honest song got me thinking…
You don’t have to be an atheist to cry out words like these. There’s probably a time, no matter what you do or do not believe, that you’ve faced a question like this one, “Are you real or are you no?”
Many people face this question when they feel forgotten or overlooked by God. Some people face a faith crisis when circumstances seem to be out-of-whack with what we’ve been taught about God or His character. It doesn’t take much research or googling to see all the awful things happening in the world and so it doesn’t take a genius to know at some point we’re all going to face this kind of question and perhaps say a skeptical atheist prayer.
In fact, it takes a lot of courage to ask a question like this. Especially if you’ve been raised to believe in God. But it also takes a lot of courage for a life-long atheist to pray that same prayer, coming from a different perspective. Here’s my challenge to you all:
- If you’re an atheist and you’ve never prayed. Pray it. Just try it. Pray it as if you’re actually talking to someone. Ask, “Are you real? If so, show me.”
- If you’re an atheist who has prayed this before. Try it again. I dare you. Ask, “Are you real? I know I’ve asked before and I didn’t see any evidence that you’re real. So, I’m giving you another chance to show me.”
- If you’re a Christian and never had a faith crisis, you’re faith is on shaky ground. You’ll have a faith crisis one day and if you have the courage to ask God this question and you come out the other side with your faith intact, your faith will be undeniably solid.
- If you’re a Christian and you’ve been through this whole process, I challenge you to pray, “God, I know you’re real. I know you’re there. Help me live as though I truly believe that.”
No matter who you are. No matter what you believe. There’s a time in your life where you’re going to face the God question. You’re going to say a bit of an atheist prayer, “Are you real or are you no?”
So tell me. Has your faith weathered the storm? Have you come out stronger? Have you lost faith altogether? Be honest. I want to hear your story.
Most great things come from humble beginnings. Great companies. Great non-profits. Great endeavors. Great ideas. Many of them come from people you wouldn’t expect, working jobs that have nothing to do with their big ideas. But they see a problem in the world and they see their opportunity to make a big impact with their big idea. It’s the barista at your local Cup of Joy, the sixth grade teacher at Liberty Elementary, the loan processor at Resource Lenders, bank teller at EECU, the cashier at Food 4 Less, the sales associate at Clovis Glass, the seasonal life-guard at Wild Water Adventures and the woodworker who sells their work to Vintage on Fourth that might just have the next BIG idea. And that idea might change the world.
And I want to encourage him or her to pursue it.
Check out this short video from DELL all about humble beginnings.
These big ideas that grew into major game-changing companies were the ideas of people like you, like me. Everyday people. Make 2014 the year that everyday people changed the world, all over again. Make 2014 the year that humble beginnings comes back into style. It might be a non-profit, it might be a business, a product, a service, a relationship, a trip, a dream or a vision… but you’re going to change the world this year. Just make sure the way you change it, matters. Make sure it’s not just an idea for idea’s sake or an idea for money. Make sure it makes a difference in people’s lives. Make sure it counts.
I’m going to start a semi-regular spot on my blog about local people doing amazing things. It might be a leader at a non-profit, a entrepreneur just starting out, a successful business woman, a city official or church leader. It could be you. The point though, is to share just how amazing our community is here in Fresno and Clovis. The point is to celebrate what people in our communities are doing to change the world, and I sincerely hope you are one of them. Check back often to see who I feature.
This is the year for humble beginnings.
You’re a church planter.
You take risks.
You believe that things will work out when you take those risks.
You run into issues from time-to-time that require quick thinking and fast action.
Your RightPath profile says you’re a DRIVER, which means you’ll get it done.
Now, imagine what you would do in this scenario…
It’s 8:45am on Sunday November 17.
Today is the day of the church plants second service, ever.
You drive up to the security gate, an arm activated by a key card (fob-esque).
You run your key card over the sensor.
You do it again.
The guy behind you in his truck is waiting because he’s volunteered to tow your 26′ trailer to the location of the portable church.
This is the first time you’ve ever met the man.
He’s a brother-in-law of someone who helped for the first service.
You repeatedly try to scan your card, but nothing.
You inform your wife, sitting in the passenger seat, and the man behind you that you’re going to try the uHaul next door. Maybe they can get into the lot through a pad-locked gate.
No, that’s doesn’t work.
Maybe this man on the street who has a boat in the lot can get in with his card? No.
The storage lot is owned by a local glass shop. They’re closed on Sundays. In fact they don’t usually grant Sunday access, but they are friendly to churches and you got special permission and a special remote for the outer gate.
Your wife looks at you as you examine the gate and start analyzing how you’re going to break in.
She says, “So, what are you going to do?” The pressure is on.
You remember that the man who helped you when you first rented the space used to drive a trailer for another church in town called The Quest… You pull out your phone and you have the pastor’s cell phone in your contacts. But it’s Sunday morning, what pastor is going to answer a call on Sunday morning?
You call. He answers. He sounds confused. You haven’t spoken in months, but had a mutual contact connect the two of you previously that year.
You say, “Hey, It’s Micah from Two Cities Church. How you doing?”
He answers, “Fine?”
“I have a very strange question for you…” As you unpack what’s happened, he agrees to track down the guy who helped you. Turns out, he’s one of the owners. The owner calls your cell phone and meets you there. He unscrews a few bolts and you pull out at the arm.
The owner helps you break in and get your trailer. By the time you return the trailer, the gate has been fixed and improved.
Imagine your stress.
What would you have done?
Imagine if my wife’s uncle hadn’t put me in contact with a man, who would connect me with that Pastor, who months later would be such a key player in tracking down the owner, who loves the church and wanted to help us? Imagine.
It’s all orchestrated by God and it’s amazing how the churches and Christians in our Two Cities can work together to accomplish big things. Now that’s the body of Christ at work. Loving each other. Helping each other. In the moment it felt like a fiasco, but at the rear-view-mirror… it feels like God saying, “Keep trusting me.”
Church planters are confronted with issues every week, sometimes daily. There is no easy way to plant a church, but it’s always worth it. Check back on this blog Saturday to see why it’s worth it.
On Sunday night at an event with some of our Two Cities Church team, I introduced an idea. The idea that our community in Fresno/Clovis is becoming more and more post-Christian, despite all of the great churches in the area. Despite a high density of faith-based non-profits that benefit the community, people are becoming more and more ok with the idea that we are ok without God. That we have somehow outgrown the need to lean on the “crutch” of God and we’re perfectly ok with the idea of meaninglessness and a completely random life that happens by chance. So we are increasingly more comfortable with the idea that we are born, we live, we die and that is all.
Let’s explore what post-Christian looks like. It looks like Europe. A lot of great history and landmarks. A lot of empty, beautifully built and highly maintained chapels and churches. I spent a summer abroad in the city of Heidelberg, Germany. One of the things I noticed was that you could walk into any church and it was beautiful. The acoustics were amazing. The art-history was awesome.
I stood on a plaque that sits in the middle of a cobble-stone-road in a small courtyard in Heidelberg. It was one of the places Martin Luther (not King Jr… but the accidental father of protestantism) stood to give an oral defense of his 95-Thesis against certain practices of the Catholic Church. Luther meant to reform the Church, but instead he was condemned and forced to create a new kind of church… a church that was accessible to everybody by translating the Bible using the common language of the local people instead of reading it in Latin, which only the highly-educated would understand. And that’s just one of the many things he thought should be done. He was no Saint, he said a great many things that are extremely offensive as well. The history of religion in Europe is rich.
However, juxtapose the rich history of Christianity in Europe with it’s current spiritual state and you’ll see a gap between the two. Largely due to the fact that most of the Christendom in Europe was aristocratic and politically driven. It was not so much about a growing relationship with Jesus as it was a forceful-respect-filled relationship with a priest, who in turn supposedly had the ear of God. In other words, the religion in Europe was a hinderance to society, something that the people felt they no longer needed. The church was marginalized and eventually they became historic landmarks and a great stream income from tourism.
Are you aware that according to Barna, Fresno/Clovis is ranked number 45 on the Top 96 Post-Christian Cities in America? Yeah, here’s their graphic:
Ok, so what?
By this graphic and the barna research, we can see that church in the Fresno/Clovis area is beginning to be marginalized as something our community doesn’t see they need. Those of us in the church have referred to our cities as “the Bible-belt of California” but that’s not going to be the case in a few years.
So, how do we avoid being marginalized by our community?
- “In order to reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing.” – Craig Groeschel, Pastor of LiveChurch.tv
- Create Churches that Unchurched People Love to Attend
- Stop Speaking as if We are the Majority
- Stop Assuming People Know what is in the Bible
- Be Relational, not Religious
- Make a Difference, not a Point
- Error on the side of Reaching People, not Keeping People
- Get outside the Christian Bubble
- Be a Blessing to Our Community
- …and the list goes on.
I posed the following questions in yesterday’s post:
Are we concerned for the direction of our communities?
Do we live our lives proactively to ensure we leave our communities in a great place for the next generation?
Do we care about the challenges our grandkids and great-grandkids will face?
Will you be like King Hezekiah (read yesterday’s post) saying, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime” or will you avoid being marginalized by an increasingly post-Christian, maybe a better phrase would be post-Religious, community by being part of the movement of Two Cities Church and other local churches unchurched people love to attend?
What if God told you that you were sick and dying and to get your house in order?
What would you do?
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life…'”
I wonder if we really put that much stock in prayer… If you pray, do you expect anything to change about your circumstance?
Jesus prayed pretty hard one night.
He knew he was about to die and he was overwhelmed with sorrow, so he prayed.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed,“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
God did not spare Jesus from death, but Jesus rose from the dead, so that’s a pretty good trade off.
But what he did give him is strength and resolve to face what he was about to face.
What is your first instinct, first natural reaction to bad news, to stress, to the idea of death?
Where do you immediately go, in your mind?
How would our lives be different if our first instinct was to pray to the only one who can really do anything about it?
Try it, if you dare.
At Two Cities Church we believe that you can talk to God. You, me, anybody. We believe that He hears you and we believe He cares. We also believe that He can do something about your circumstances. Because we believe all of this, we’ve put together a prayer team. Three couples have stepped forward to pray for our church, our community, our country and our world. So if you are in need, please don’t hesitate to tell us. You can email us here.
Think back to a pivotal circumstance, the kind of circumstance that changes the entire trajectory of your life. Did you know at that moment what a big deal that event was? Usually we don’t see things are they truly are in these moments. Our close proximity to our circumstance gives us heightened emotions and we aren’t able to see clearly. An all-enveloping-emotional-fog-bank rolls over us and it becomes difficult to create meaning out of our circumstance. Isn’t that what we’re always looking for… meaning? I mean, that’s why we say things like:
- “Why me?”
- “Why now?”
- “How could…?”
Even a man that finds a double-rainbow longs for it’s meaning. This is designed in us. We long for meaning in every circumstance. The problem is, if we find meaning in our circumstance, it’s often in the rear view mirror. It’s when we’re looking back that we see the meaning or potential meanings. And when we find meaning, it gives us a peace about what we went through. It enable us to say things like, “Oh, now I see what you [God] were up to.” or if you don’t believe in God, you might say something like, “It all makes sense now.”
Even the very first followers of Jesus had this issue. They were walking, talking, and eating with the Son of God and they still had this fog-in-the-moment issue. Take a look:
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed in the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
Jesus’ disciples did not understand the meaning of all this, until later. That’s right, there was something meaningful in something as seemingly insignificant as what he rode into town on. Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, basically the first half, there’s tons of history and the whole time it’s pointing toward this future king, this future savior, this future public figure that would “Hosanna!” [save] the world. We call these messianic prophecies, which basically means the foretelling of a future Messiah, a savior. There was a sense in which things ought to be a certain way, but they are not and we need a savior from God to fix it. Israelites and Jews were always looking for Him. There are literally hundreds of these prophecies in the Old Testament, here’s a chart of just 44 of them and when/how they were fulfilled, aka accomplished.
When Jesus rode into town on the colt of a donkey, that meant something. It accomplished that prophecy, it was a check in a box that was part of the ridiculously long make-sure-we-have-the-right-messiah list. But Jesus’ followers weren’t really thinking about that list until later. They found meaning in the small things after they had hindsight.
Here’s the deal. When you can’t figure out, “Why” or when it seems as though your whole world in caving in you’re going to look for meaning. And if your circumstance is tragic, you may be tempted to walk away from faith in a God who acts with purpose, a loving God. But, days, weeks, months, years or even decades down the road… you may find meaning. That meaning will give you a peace about the circumstance.
But here’s the difficult part. Meaning isn’t always wrapped around you or me. Sometimes meaning is bigger than us and while we may be given the understanding to have peace about our circumstance, we won’t know the entire meaning of the events of our lifetime until we have complete hindsight.
Most likely, nothing you read here will pull you out of a funk if you’re in a difficult circumstance. But it’s okay, not to be okay. It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to have emotions that run the entire spectrum of emotion. But I urge you to take your time in your pivotal circumstances, because where you go from here is going to change the rest of your life. When Jesus rode into town on a donkey’s colt, this was as good as it got for he and his followers. People were cheering. It was a parade, a celebration of the arrival of the Messiah. But Jesus’ followers didn’t totally understand what was about to happen. How could they?
His disciples were expecting a bit of a revolution, which explains why the political and religious people of the day were so scared of him. But instead…
- Jesus was betrayed by his own disciple
- Put on trial
- Found not-guilty
- The crowd demanded his death
- He was beaten to a bloody pulp
- He was paraded to a hill while carrying his own death instrument called a cross
- Nailed to the cross and hoisted upright
- He spoke forgiveness from his position on a cross
- He died.
- His followers were crazy confused
- He walked out of his tomb three days later
- Hung out with his followers again
- And basically floated up into the sky until they could no longer see him
- Sat down next to his Father in Heaven as King over all creation, not just over Israel
God usually doesn’t do what we expect, but bigger, more significant things. He generally doesn’t use the template or plan we devise. He uses a less-linear approach with meta-data that can’t be collected by any human or machine with information only known by the God who not only created the idea of time, but exists both in and outside of time.
Again, I say, it’s okay not be okay. It’s okay not to have the answers, not to know the meaning of your circumstance. It’s okay to have emotions surrounding your every-day life. But just know that one-day, if you allow God to give it to you, you’ll have peace about it all. And it won’t be what you expected, but it will be more significant than you could dream up.
Think back to a pivotal circumstance, the kind of circumstance that changes the entire trajectory of your life. Did you know at that moment what a big deal that was? Usually we don’t see things as they truly are in the moment. Our close proximity to our circumstance gives us heightened emotions and we aren’t able to see clearly. An all-enveloping-emotional-fog-bank rolls over us and it becomes difficult to create meaning out of our circumstance.
But the fog does clear or at least it moves. And as long as you keep moving at a pace in keeping with your visibility, you’ll have just enough information, you’ll see just far enough to make wise decisions and not let the fog control your decisions or destination. At best, the fog is a dictator of pace, perhaps it’s God’s supernatural pace car. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know this…
My grandma sent an email the other day with a poem attached. Here it is:
Today’s gift came wrapped in crystal drops of rain.
Is there anything more beautiful
that a freshly opened rose that is
covered in shiny drops of rain?
I love the bright sunny days of spring & summer
but an unexpected day of gentle rain is:
a soothing sound on the roof,
clears the air of pollens,
settles the dust,
makes the trees more beautiful,
makes the lawn sparkle,
and refreshes my spirit.
Lord, may my life be like a refreshing drop of rain
Help it clear someone’s troubled mind,
help me have cheerful, clear, encouraging thoughts
that will brighten someone’s day.
May my life be refreshing to someone who
has lost the sparkle in their life.
My goal is to serve by brightening someone’s life
like You have made mine bright
by Your presence and love in my life.
Thank You for refreshing sleep and
the blessing of waking to crystal drops of rain.
June 4, 2011