3 Things you Should do Before Leaving a Church

“I need a church that meets my needs” as if we’re a pre-teen relationship and not the body of Christ, people leave the churches they attend all the time. Where I live, there’s a known circuit, with a few new churches entering the loop. This is not unique to where I live.

With all these people going from one church to another, we need to ask ourselves, What are the steps we should take before we head for green pastures (or pastors).

Here is my take on the three steps you should take

(1) Is it personal or theological? Evaluate.

Personal issues can happen in various ways. Some are serious, but usually, they are not. Whenever you are in a community of people, there will be personality clashes. We see it on sports teams–we see it in the workplace–we see it in church. Chester and Timmis write,

“Community may sound exciting in theory, but in practice it is also painful and messy. When you share your lives with people, you can be sure you will annoy one another! But grace makes us humble.”

The church is called to live in the community it is designed for, but as these authors point out, it is difficult. However, as they also note, grace becomes a powerful tool. Most times, when something gets “personal” in a bad way, and we want to leave a church, it is for a minor issue. Usually a different opinion, an offence over a statement, or perception about a situation.

Way too often, people are easily offended and leave a church, not reconciling the relationships nor feelings.

This is not how we have been called to act!

We are called to love one another! Jesus stated in the book of John, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Community isn’t our calling. It’s to love each other. Community is the result of the love. “Those who are in love with community, destroy community;” writes Bonhoeffer. “..those who love people, build community.” We need each other. If we throw away relationships like used paper towel, we are left alone with a mess and no one to help us clean it up. As the old Italian proverb says, “The one who drinks alone, chokes.”

Personal issues are just that–personal. Usually, it has something to do with you. If it does have more to do with the other person, then you talk about it. {spoiler alert}

The Church needs different personalities. That includes the weird and difficult ones. Plus, how do you know you are not the weird and difficult one? Just because your friends tell you you’re not doesn’t mean a thing (who is to say they don’t fall in the weird and difficult category too!).

I believe there would be a lot less movement from church to church if we all gave each other a little grace. What if instead of leaving we were part of the solution. What if God wants to use you as an agent of change towards His grace and love?

The second part of this is theological. Just like personal, so much of this is your interpretation. We need to weigh whether the theological issue is a small issue or a significant issue. Paul told Timothy that the church was not to “argue about words.” Churches argue about some of the most foolish, small, unimportant theological issues. We should be able to have disagreements on matters without it meaning splitting a church. After all, we are to be known by our love.

Yes, of course, there are significant differences. Egalitarian vs. Complementarian–Calvinist vs. Arminian/openness–sola Scriptura vs. traditional readings. Such differences can make it hard to find theological unity. They can tend to be distractions to our growth in Christ. So while we are to love each other in Christ, we can grow deeper in our faith when we can find agreement on significant issues.

There are also small issues. Who wrote 2 Peter? Is Job or Jonah a parable? Was Jesus born on Dec 25 or not? (idk). No need to fight! These are nothing to trifle over. These are insignificant, and it is only your pride stopping you from growing together.

We must allow different opinions to spread their wings. If not, we are saying that our interpretation of God and the Scripture are infallible. I hope we all know that that isn’t true for any of us.

(2) Pray. And then pray some more.

Before you pray about whether you should leave a community or not, you should be praying for the people/pastors/deacons/elders who you have an issue with.

Whether it be a personal issue or theological issue, our humanity can get in the way. We can be set off by a comment, opinion or body language, and it can skew our whole entire thought process. I love what Andy Stanley says about other’s words,

“When someone’s words stir something inside of you, remember, it’s inside you. That makes it a you issue. You need to own it.”

Yes, they may have issues, but what is happening in you at that moment is “a you” thing, and you need to take it to God. Often we react when things begin to stir. While accountability and understanding are essential, they need to happen within the context of love. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are a body. We want the body working in wholeness.

There is a caveat though. Your temptation will be to pray for God to change their mind/attitude/heart. That’s normal. After all, you are the offended or the one in the right, and God clearly needs to work in their heart…..

Not so fast.

Don’t be so self-righteous. We are all broken people who are addicted to our selfishness.

When you pray for them, you need to be praying that God blesses them and pours His amazing love upon them. After all, Jesus did say to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. I believe your heart will begin to be changed, after all, that is all you can control.

When you pray for them, it helps you see them for who they are–a child of God. It helps you push past the issue and see a God-loved-child who is a part of the body of Christ. It will also help you see that your battle isn’t against that person or their opinion/worldview but,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:12

The Pastor isn’t your enemy. Dorthy, the worship leader, isn’t your nemesis. Just because Tom has an opinion about everything and feels free to share it despite how it makes others feel, that doesn’t mean he’s the villain. Our enemy is the brokenness from Hell itself that is ravishing each and every one of our lives, the brokenness that God has come to break.

Pray blessing on the person or church and ask God to increase your love for them. Do it until it happens. Only as your love increases to a burden are you ready for step three.

(3) Have a responsible, adult conversation. Not an email, text or facebook message.

If we never talk about our issues and each other’s issues, we can never be iron sharpening iron. If you never talk about what is on your heart, don’t assume the other person knows. Living as a body is hard. Just look at your own body. You need to exercise and to eat right as a whole unit, or there will be problems. Talking with each other in loving, responsible, and sensible ways is all a part of the exercise. To wait until you are in crisis is neglecting the body. It is like the person who never takes care of themselves and is then surprised when they have a significant health issue.

This conversation shouldn’t be one where you say that you are leaving nor you threatening to leave. The discussion should be about the health of the relationship, and that person should be the prime directive. After all, now that you have prayed and have a burden for all parties, you should be more concerned about the health of the person and church to which there is an issue.

If your first time discussing the issue you have is when you are wading a threat or say that you are leaving, that is your wrong, and you need to repent. Remember, you can only control your heart.

If you have thought it through, prayed for, and discussed, only then is it appropriate to consider leaving and that discussion needs to be filled with love and care, even if it is only on your end. It is also a discussion that needs to happen face to face. It will probably hurt, but it is the most healthy way to experience an amputation (after all, we are a body).

There are a few other steps that could be added. However, I believe if you follow these three basic steps, you will be along the road to help yourself and our churches be a much healthier place.

What are some steps that you would add?

GUEST BLOG: When anxiety is a narrative …

Written by Sarah Trombley

Most of my life has been filled with fear of impending doom.

Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I guess you could call it anxiety.

I haven’t been diagnosed or anything, and for the most part, it’s manageable, but I spend a lot of time contemplating the worst-case scenario, waiting for rejection, betrayal, and the poop to hit the fan. It’s not fun, and sometimes the fear can be debilitating. Not in a physical way, but I find myself stagnant with the narrative of anxiety over my life. Afraid of letting people in, and being hurt. Fearful of trying and failing. Getting hopeful, about what God has next and in an instant, worrying and ruling myself out. What I’m left with is isolation and the status quo.

I know that that’s not what I’m called to. I know that my fears are the enemies lies, but here I sit, on my couch, analyzing every conversation, wondering if good things will come to an end and if I’ve failed once again.

This past week I was reading a message I had written many years ago, and I was a little annoyed. You see, anytime I speak at church, I seem to be drawn to the same scriptures. It all just seems cliche, I thought. Doesn’t God have anything more to say to me?

Today I was reading What is the Bible? by Rob Bell, and I came across this quote,

“… it’s easy to spend – or more accurately, waste – an extraordinary amount of time and energy on things that we can’t control. Worry is lethal to thriving because it’s a failure to be fully present. Worrying about something means you’re there, not here — stuck ruminating on the future, not enjoying the present. Jesus teaches us to be fully present in this moment, not missing a thing right here, right now.”

These words spoke to me, a message that is not new to me but is still so needed. While soaking it all in, my fears of the “what if’s” starting creeping back and in that moment God reminded me of the verse that he often speaks over me, you know, the one that’s so cliché,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

This is indeed a familiar lesson for me. That God is in control, he has good plans, and I don’t need to be afraid. If you’re like me, you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but today I needed to listen to it, and it was fresh and new and powerful. See when you’re like me, and you struggle with anxiety and fear, you need to be reminded that God is in control. He loves us, and he wants what’s best for us. Even when life seems messy and doesn’t make any sense,

HE HAS A PLAN.

In my fear, I keep people at bay, I stay in my comfort zone, and in vain, I try to control. I sometimes joke that I have a fear of missing out (FOMO). Seriously though, in my anxiety or fear of missing out, I miss out on the plans God has for me. I rule my self out or tell myself I’m just not ready yet. How much time have I wasted waiting for doomsday, how much have I really truly missed out on just worrying my life away?

So here I am, having God whisper the same passage to me, but it’s not cliche, it’s relevant–true–necessary. He is faithful, he is in control, and he’s got some awesome stuff in store for me.

I’ve gotta start letting my guard down, and taking some chances, come what may! And yes, I’ve heard all before, but I’m stubborn, and some lessons take a long time to sink in, and that’s ok.

Why you shouldn’t plant a church

It seems like everyone is doing it! Pioneering a church. Did you know that the average church plant closes within the first three years? It is a tough business! The only thing that is tougher is the restaurant business.

Before I get too far into this, I believe we need more new churches.

But if you think you are starting the next Elevation, do yourself and those you serve a favour and don’t!

If you pioneer a church, I hope it explodes! (not literally, that would be awful). I hope you reach billions for Christ.

However, if you only reach a few, would it still be worth it? I hope it would. If you are going to shut things down because you don’t have the numbers you want or the finances aren’t good enough, or life is just hard, please don’t. You need to have tenacity!

There will be struggles in the church. Whether big or small, it is a certainty (about the only certainty).

The hardest part, though, is what happens in your life personally. They are things that no one really cares or thinks about. They are things that will dramatically affect how you do ministry.

I started Life Boat Church 4 years ago. Before planting, there were a ton of things that happened to my wife and me before deciding to move to start a church. However, they were from the outside.

In the vein of 2 Cor 11, here’s my list of things of all that has happened in the last four years.

The gift of blessing, our daughter was born. You’re thinking what, that’s not a difficulty. You’re right. But you’re wrong. Context is everything. At the time, we were living with my parents, which meant 8 people in a house. My parents, me and my wife, our 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 1-year-old. And now, a newborn. We love our kids. But we also love sleep. Two months before our church launched our beautiful daughter was born, we started a church. We were barely sleeping (even now it can be a struggle). But this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Bedbugs! We presume they came from the hospital. As I laid on the bed after our second pre-launch service, I saw a bug crawl across the bed. FLICK! It exploded–full of blood–all over the sheets. Do you know what it is like calling everyone on your launch team and tell them that they need to check their houses just in case I had transferred some to their homes? Added to the sleepless nights, this meant paranoid sleep (I don’t want to recount the memories).

February, as I did a shoulder press with my oldest son, POP. I tore the labrum in my shoulder (it’s the cartridge) and the nerve in the shoulder that goes up the neck and through the back, somehow, got wrapped around the ball of my shoulder. I was sleeping very little due to the newborn, the bed bugs, and now the excruciating shoulder. While I experienced healing with the nerve, I suffered from this for two years. Two years of sleeping 3-4 hours a night… You try being nice! Of course, when you have a portable church, and you can’t pick up heavy stuff–it doesn’t go over well. People don’t care that you’re in severe pain, haven’t slept, and irritable because of it. They care about the fact that they have stuff going on in their life–parents, work, kids. Real things. They’re hurting. They can’t carry yours too.

The next December right before our big Christmas Eve event my daughter, the one who was born the year before, got sick. I mean like really sick. Pneumonia, strep A, sepsis, fluid in her lung. Literally, she almost died. She was in the hospital for twelve days and had to get a chest tube. It was a terrifying scene. My wife stayed in the hospital with her while I watched the three boys while trying to get ready for our Christmas event. I had some fantastic help during this time. However, as much as the support is appreciated, it was only a mild aid to the extreme stress. It was during this time that I wrote the song, Invite You To Move (which is in my blog on May 24, 2019).

We luckily had a little break, other than my chronic shoulder pain and the odd emergency room visit due to the kids breathing and allergies (3out of 4 have anaphylactic allergies. 2 at of 4 have asthma).

Then came 2018. As I spoke about in my blog “What I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you think” (June 24, 2019, where I go into more detail), I was dealing with a lot of stress due to difficult situations with the church. This was when I ended up with shingles. Stress-induced shingles. I was confined to bed for nearly two months, except for Sunday mornings and important meetings.

You might pause, as I did and reflect on if this is for you, again as I did. Thoughts of something different. Maybe a position with more security and with less stress.

We determined that we had to be faithful to what God called us to. In fact, this was an opportunity to learn to be more dependent upon God–to learn what He wanted to teach us in the midst.

This was when we had a fantastic Summer and Fall. I felt refreshed. I had learned so much about my self and what needed to be changed in my life to be more like Christ.

Then came January 2019…

First, my daughter rolled out of her bed as she slept and landed awkwardly on the ground, breaking her collar bone. It happens to lots of kids. It’s a thing; however, it’s not that big of a deal. Yet, this was the beginning!

9 days later…

I joined a basketball league to get to meet some people. After all, my shoulder, after two years, just started to be pain-free. Seemed like a good idea. Noticing that I was the oldest on the court should have been a warning sign. While guarding a guy 10 years younger than me POP… I ruptured my Achilles. If you weren’t aware, this is a 12 month recovery period. I am currently approaching the halfway point, and it has been a long road. I’ve been worn down physically and drained me emotionally. It has also played tricks on me mentally. Yet it has caused wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth.

February was filled with doctors, appointments and physiotherapy.

Then March… my two oldest kids became very ill. They missed a week of school they were so sick. That’s when I heard my wife scream…

I grabbed my crutches and hobbled as quickly as I could to see my 8-year-old as stiff as a board, eyes rolled back, frothing at the mouth, and a deep moan/groan like sound. He was having a seizure. It was scary. VERY VERY Scary. We called the ambulance.

A couple days later, my middle son could barely breathe. He was admitted for four days with a severe asthma attack.

One child can’t lift their arm, I’m on crutches, one son is seeing the neurologist, and one sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator.

It would be really easy to hand in the towel. Life is hard.

Just because life is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be faithful. Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean you get to redefine how God’s calling is manifested in your life.

We need more churches, but if you are going to fold just because things are hard, that’s a good reason why you shouldn’t plant a church.

Starting a church can be hard. Many struggles will arise from within the new fellowship. They can be hard. If you think the battle stops there, you will be disappointed. Satan will stop at nothing to squash the God-dream in your heart and the amazing work you will do.

It is hard, but it is worth it! So so so worth it.

If you were to start a church, where would it be?

Is God Mother or Father?

There has been a lot made in the last little while about the gender of God.

Is God our mother or our father.

For some, hearing “mother” in front of God sends a liberal shiver down their spine. They can only see God as a strong and mighty warrior.

For others, they might say, this is an old conversation. It’s old news in many circles to whom evangelicals and many mainline churches might call “liberal.”

However, this question is not something that should be pushed aside.
What do we do when someone cannot see God as a father due to a damaging relationship with their own? Or how about the person who had a toxic mother and knowing that there is a perfect mother in God is restorative? Maybe there is someone who never knew either parent, are we supposed to say God is only a mother or only a father?

There is a lot to this, and it is vitally important that we understand the question of God being a mother or a father. So, which one?

To which I would answer, YES!

(Some of you just hit the x on your browser.)

In Genesis 1, it states that both Male and Female are created in the image of God. I have known many women and some men who have struggled with this concept because of how God is spoken of in male language. Is God more concerned with them being able to refer to “Him” in a masculine tense than “He” is with them being able to connect?

We understand language has its limitations. When that language is coming from a patriarchal dominated society, those limits can become baggage. What we see as we look through the Scripture is a personal God, and thus a Gow who relates to us in a personal way.

As I look through Scripture, I can’t help but see a God who is more concerned with you being able to relate, than a God who has to be seen as either mother or father, as if the genitalia is an essential part of God.

I would argue that if you are dogmatic about God being either mother or father, that the problem isn’t the other side, it’s you.

The Scriptures paint the picture of a God who is more concerned with us being able to see him/her in our limited capacity than portraying him/herself as something so that we cannot see God at all. After all, any picture we do have of God is limited by our knowledge and experience. What God does is reveal him/her-self to us, and as we grow in the relationship reveals more. Isaiah writes, “Can you picture me without reducing me?” Isaiah 46 (MSG)

No, we can’t!

Whatever picture you have of God, it’s incomplete.

Yet, we must relate to God. So, is God Mother, Father, or both? Here are a few verses.

“like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”

(Dt 32:11)

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

(Is 66:13).

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The mighty in battle.”

Psalm 24:8

He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.”

(1 Ki 19:4–9).

Maybe God’s a Nonna?

“Going a little further, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass for him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

(Mark 14:35-36

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”

Ho 11:4.

God is both our perfect Mother and Father. However, he is not limited to either. John 4 tell us that God is Spirit!

If you can’t relate to God as Father, try Mother on until he can heal the wound. If you can’t refer to God as Mother, try Father. God would rather you be in a relationship than not. It is only as we begin our relationship–allowing God to heal our hearts–that God is willing to meet us at where we are at, in order to reveal His/Her character in fullness so that we may know abounding grace and love.

Most importantly, know that we have a heavenly mother/father who loves you and wants you to know him/her intimately.

How do you see God, Mom or Dad….or Nonna?

I wish there was a command Z for life

Have you ever wished you could just hit command Z (or ctrl Z for those other “people”) for life?

Let’s say you have half a dozen you could use in your lifetime. Maybe you wouldn’t have dated someone. Maybe gone, eaten, drank, or wore something. It could be you want to hit command Z on the leftovers you ate last night.

More than likely there is some pretty serious stuff you wish to hit command Z on. Even in my not so much traumatic life, I have stuff.

I wish I hadn’t said that.

I wish I hadn’t indulged.

I wish I hadn’t made that decision.

Yet, in the words of The Tragically Hip, “No dress rehearsals, This is your life.” We have to live with our choices, others have to live with our choices, and we have to live with others’ choices.

Even when typing this, it is so freeing to be able to hit command Z and be able to go back and type something different. Life, however, doesn’t offer us such luxuries.

We must live with the pain, choices, and consequences, it is that certain, but what do we do with it is not. This is the crux of it.

What do you do with the things you wish you could hit command Z on? This is the question we must ask ourselves.

Avoid?
Face?
Own?
Distract?
Fight?
Justify?

So many options.

I believe there is a “best option.” When we own it, that is what changes our life. Yes, there may be consequences, but what’s the other option?

Russel Brand writes,

“By maintaining a personal museum of resentments, we imprison ourselves within it.” Whether that resentment is directed toward others or ourselves, it’s not a way to live.

I believe the best and only real option that brings relief is to own it.

But what then? For me owning it means admitting that I am fallible but that those fallibilities do not define me.

What defines me is Christ.
Not my past.
Not my choices.
Not the consequences.

When I can admit that I am weak and make mistakes, it allows God to come and heal. As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Co 12:9–10)

There is a strength in vulnerability. You’re not hiding–you’re not worried about your secret being found out–you’re not trying to contain the confession that could relieve your soul.

When I can admit my wrongs openly, it makes room for Christ. Christ can’t be king if we have propped ourselves up in the position. Christ can’t lead us through if we have clenched the reigns.

In my weaknesses, He is strong. What a great comfort, for I am more than weak. As much it would be great to be able to hit command Z from time to time, I would hate to deprive myself of the strength Christ has given me. I would hate to sacrifice the lessons that I’ve learned. To surrender the character that has been developed by the mud and mire of life.

Sure, command Z would be helpful, but at what cost? No, thank you.

I’ll take Christ any day.

What’s one thing you wish you could hit command Z on?

Your great love

Verse 1

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could say, a thousand times

         C         D             G

how much I love you God

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could sing, the greatest songs

         C         D             G

of melodies touch the heart

Pre chorus

C                                            Em

none of these can ever come close

       D                     C

To your great love for me

C                                            Em

Even when I fall short

  D                     C

Your love never fails me

Verse 2

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could touch, a million souls

         C                  D                  G

and never come close to your power

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could say the sweetest words

         C         D             G

that move the stone heart close to clay

Chorus

D                                   C         G

Jesus, your cross has said it all

Bm7                                      Cmaj7

you showed your great love for me

  D                                     C           G  

You lived, you loved, you took my place

Bm7                                  

you showed your great love 

Am7  Bm7   C2                            Am7  Bm7   C2

                           Your great love

Verse 3

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could serve, a billion lives

         C                  D                  G

To show how much I love you God

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

I could go the furthest mile

         C                  D                  G

To tell the world of your mighty works

Pre

Chorus

Verse 4

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

You gave your life upon that cross

         C                  D                  G

So I would how much you love

G  D     Em     C     D      Em

You rescued me, from the cruse

         C                  D                  G

even though I was far away

Pre chorus 2

C                                            Em

‘cause nothing will ever come close

       D                     C

To your great love for me

C                                            Em

Even when I fall short

  D                     C

Your love never fails me

What I learned in Africa… and it’s not what you think.

Most people when they go to a foreign country, especially those that have lesser means then their own, are impacted by the poverty, lack of opportunity, and many times, the hopelessness the local people have of ever pulling themselves out of their situation.

For me, it has always been different.

It is not that the aforementioned doesn’t enter my mind, how could it not. It’s just so often we go on these experiences which have a tremendous impact on us, and while we are on the ground, there is an emotional change in us! It’s deep. It’s powerful. It’s potent. However, the effects often diminish over time. It wanes, and it’s completely normal. We return, and our reality instantly begins to shade our experience. We say we will never forget the feeling, but how can we genuinely help it! Our cultures consumerism slams us in the face everywhere we go.

Heck, you can’t even use the bathroom at most restaurants without some tv screen on the urinal wall flashing advertisements in your face.

I have led a few trips and each time, knowing the “life change” amnesia can set in, I’ve tried to take simple life lessons that are easy to apply. When these lessons can be implemented, though they are simple, they can be revolutionary in the long term.

While I was in Malawi last year, I was talking with my missionary friend Jef when he said something that has changed my life, and those around me’s lives, for the better.

“You realize when you come to Africa that they do things on their own schedule. It is hard at first to get used to it because we are always go go go but….”

And this next little comment changed my life.

“You eventually realize that there isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

WOW. This stuck with me. This lesson did need some help to set in.

Before we get into what came next you need to understand something about me, I’m a high energy, get things done on time, anal, church planter… What that means, I’m not totally sure. What I do know is that Sunday mornings stress me out (I write about this in chapter 9 of my new book Hidden Faces). So often, stressed out of my mind, I can be found storming around making sure everything is perfect as if the seam on the drape facing out is the deciding factor on someone accept Christ…

I needed to hear that lesson Jef taught me.

However, it only sunk in a little. I should say that I had been working on this for nine months, but sometimes we need a few impactful experiences to help expedite the process.

Right before I went, and increasingly after I had severe pain when I found myself in stressful situations. I pushed through. Why? Because weakness is the enemy! About two weeks after I returned from Africa, I started getting tingling in my hip, which turned into a numb spot about the size of a quarter. Then it slowly expanded to a hip that was completely numb with this intense pain that I spoke of earlier. This lasted for about a month until I was bedridden with pain, and small lesions appeared on my back.

I had shingles.

Stressed induced shingles.

I had two months laying in pain (only getting up to do the necessary) to reflect on Jef’s words, my patterns, and where I wanted to go.

“There isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

Tony Stoltzfus, while coaching a pastor, observed,

“Let’s say that the people you lead follow your example instead of what you say – that they imitate the way you live. Say that everyone in your congregation worked your hours, had your stress level, spent the amount of time you do with your wife and kids, and had your exercise and eating habits. If the legacy of your ministry was that your people took on your lifestyle, what would you think of that.”

If I were helping someone in my congregation who happened to have my stress level (due to anal tendencies and a need to get everything done ASAP whether it needed to be or not), I would tell them to relax, breathe, gain perspective, realize you’re not God. I would ask them to look at Jesus. Was he stressed out?

The Gospel of Mark tells us,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 1:35).

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray

The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 14:23).

It seems to me that Jesus took time to relax and refresh his Spirit. It appears Jesus took care of His soul. There were times when He dismissed the crowd, took too long to get to appointments, and went off script and had a meal or a party instead of rushing to His next thing.

For Jesus, as it turns out, most things could wait. Jesus demonstrated for us what the correct life/work balance looks like.

Africa changed my life. It helped me gain perspective. It’s been over a year since I was there, and while I have moments of regression I can honestly say, the cadence of my life is dramatically different.

It’s all thanks to what I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you thought.

I Sent My Son

As it turned out, we were out of cereal. As it also turned out, I was hungry. I wrangled my two youngest kids to head to Sobey’s as well as a little surprise.

What was the surprise?

Breakfast+hunger+kids= (you guessed it) McDonald’s

The kids scarfed down their hashbrown and proceeded to the play structure. This particular structure was made of multiple circles with large holes in each one that allowed children (not too small or too big) to climb through to the next.

As they ran off, I was excited for a few minutes of just sitting. I was tired from a late night of watching sports (’tis the season), I had a sore throat, and my leg was a little sore (Achilles ruptured 21 weeks ago).

It wasn’t even five minutes before my son came running to me.

“Dad, Dad!” Zeke exclaimed. “Karis is stuck.”

Good Grief! There is no way that this tired, old, sore body was going to be able to contort through those tiny holes. Now, if I had been born a snake, I could have slithered my way up to the very very top of the play structure to my daughter. If I had to, I could have probably found a way. However, she got herself up to the top, and she could get herself down. After all, she knew that if she climbed to the top, she would get stuck. I even reminded her before she went.

Karis didn’t take too kindly to getting down. She was crippled by fear as she clutched onto the plastic bubble located 25 feet above the ground. She started crying, “Daddy! Daddy! I’m scared! I’m stuck!”

That is when I sent my son.

Even though Karis had got herself into the situation, she couldn’t get her self out. She needed help. Luckily, my son was more than willing to go.

I was so proud of him as he spoke to her with love and compassion reassuring her it was going to be okay and that she just needed to trust him.

“I won’t let you fall. You just have to trust me, Karis. I can help you down.”

10 MINUTES! If I were Zeke, I would have lost my poop by that point. He stood there continually reassuring her that it was going to be okay–over and over again saying, “You just need to trust me.”

As I stood there, my frustration over this predicament began to dissipate. I was starting to feel my emotions well up as the Holy Spirit reminded me of how when I was stuck, in the consequences of my own wrong decision, my heavenly Father sent his son, Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Even more moving, the fact that God didn’t chastise me from afar.

Jesus came in love and compassion, showing us the Father’s heart–hearing our cries–compelling us to trust him.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Zeke eventually convinced Karis to trust him, and they made their way down, but I think of how different it would have gone if instead of love, patience, kindness, compassion; he spoke vitreal, wrath, judgement, fear — knowing my daughter, probably not well. Luckily for her, Zeke was there (Ezekiel means, God will strengthen) to be her strength when she had none. He was willing to give her what she needed, how she needed it at that moment, grace through love (Karis is our take on Charis, which means grace).

Harold Fickett Jr. writes, “My favourite definition is, ‘Grace is God thinking in terms of what a man needs, rather than in terms of what he deserves.'”

It reminds me of that popular song by Hillsong United,
“I called
you answered
and you came to my rescue…”

As Psalm 40 says and U2 echoes,

“He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay.”

Maybe you feel stuck. Call out to God. His son, Jesus, is waiting with grace-filled arms to help you. He doesn’t stand there with a pointed finger. He isn’t a master rubbing your nose in your dirt. Jesus comes with no condemnation, but in hope and hope secure. It is a hope that will never ever fails. I love how the King James Version put Romans 5:5, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Though we may be stuck God sent his son to bring hope. It’s a hope that doesn’t carry shame but one of freedom. It’s a hope that comes into our hearts and can consume even the darkest corners but we have to be willing to let it. Not shame, but hope. Not condemnation, but compassion. Not wrath, but love.

I am thankful that while in a McDonald’s playground, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the Father sent his son, just as I sent my son.

Addict in Recovery Church

Recently while working on a message for my church on the “ROI of Church” I came across this quote from Russell Brand’s book Recovery,

“When my disease is on me, the loneliness and hopelessness seem real. One of the first measures I can take to alleviate it is to reach out to another addict.”

Russell Brand

It reminded me of a thought that I’ve had for a long time.

We’re all addicts.

Every.

Single.

Person.

Whether it is something destructive, visible and socially ho-hum or something that is seen as necessary, discrete, and socially praised, we are all addicted to something.

Maybe it’s drugs or alcohol, or perhaps it’s love and affection. Maybe it’s sex or pornography, or perhaps it’s success and praise. It’s time we realize we are all addicts.

I believe that when we begin to recognize that we’re addicts and we decide to start to live in a community of people who realize we are all in recovery, we begin to see fullness and freshness come to our faith and thus, our churches. The church thus acts as a place of recovery, not a place where no one needs to recover.

If each of us would recognize that we are all equally broken, just manifesting it in different ways, I wonder how much more open we would be to “reach out to another addict” as Brand states, and them to us.

In Luke 15, it tells the story of two brothers who on the surface appear to be in complete contrast with each other. The younger, brash and seeking instant gratification, spends all his money on hookers and wild living. He finds himself at the end of life’s rope.

The older is righteous and willing to resist instant gratification. This brother stays at home, denying pleasure, and slaving for his father. Of course, the elder brother thinks he doesn’t have a problem. He is responsible. He works hard.

The younger son decided it would be better to return to his father as an apprentice after losing everything and dangling from the end of life’s rope. After all, he says, “even the hired hands live better than me.” He thinks he has to return home and be a slave for his father.

The older after seeing that his father has welcomed his younger brother home, thrown a huge party, and is calling him a son again pouts and declares that he has denied himself all the wild living and chose to slave for his father. To which the father response was that he never was a slave and all he had to do was ask, and everything would be his.

Though it manifests in different ways, both of these brothers suffered from the same sin. Neither brother knew their father’s heart. While one thought he would become a slave, the other lived as one. The only difference is the younger son’s willingness to repent while the elder lived in self-righteousness.

Whether it is self-indulgence or self-righteousness, the sin remains the same. Just as both brothers lived opposed to the father’s desire, so we do too. We are addicted to doing on our own. Whether it is making ourselves feel good or trying to earn God’s love and affection. When we have a community that is willing to admit they have a “self” problem, no matter which end of the spectrum each person finds themselves, we can be an immense help to each other.

When we are tempted to ignore the father’s heart, we would have someone to call.

Let’s be addicts in recovery church.

Our Problem Isn’t Our Problem

It all started back in 1994. It was the summer between grade 4 and 5. I had moved out of my love for baseball (back to back world series champions, the Toronto Blue Jays were my love) due to the MLB strike, cancelling the world series that year, and had moved on to a new love, the NBA. I was in with the Orlando Magic.

Shaq and Penny. What a duo.

But in summer of ’94, an announcement came that divided my heart. Toronto and Vancouver were awarded franchises. Basketball had come back to Canada. Suddenly my loyalty shifted.

This is why I needed to find a way! A way to what? To watch the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks. I saw on someone’s Facebook feed that there were links to sites where I could watch. I found a link, and I enjoyed the bliss of watching the Raps head to the NBA finals for the very first time!!!!!!

However, the next day, I had a problem. I was trying to back up my files to my external hard drive and but it wouldn’t connect. No matter which port I plugged the USB into, nothing. I tried all the tricks google would spit at me, and nothing still.

Immediately I rushed to the apple store. I was scared to death that there was a serious problem with my laptop. Hoping for the best, but fearing the worst, I imagined a virus attaching every file on my computer and me only being able to salvage the most pertinent ones. Luckily for me, I just looked like a dope.

Why?

Well, because as soon as the expert tried, the hard drive in question kicked in, booted up, and connected. The tech opened my chrome browser and began to google something when, pop pop pop pop! Popups were everywhere.

I went into the Apple store, thinking I had one problem, and as it turned out, I had another.

Being a pastor means encountering a lot of people. People begin to come to church or explore faith, thinking that they have one particular problem in their life. It might be their marriage, their kids, their job, or their health. They come looking for the answer to their perceived problem.

It reminds me of a story Walter Isaacson tells in his book about Steve Jobs. The predecessor of Steve Jobs’ second run at running Apple was Gil Amelio. While describing what he believed his role at Apple was, he said,

“‘You know, Gina, Apple is like a ship,’ Amelio answered. ‘That ship is loaded with treasure, but there’s a hole in the ship. And my job is to get everyone to row in the same direction. ‘Smith looked perplexed and asked, ‘Yeah, but what about the hole?'”

Walter Isaacson

Amelio perceived that his job was one thing. However, it was clear that he was completely blind to the actual problem. THERE’S A HOLE IN THE BOAT!

It is easy to perceive what the problems in our life are. We want the issue that we think is the issue fixed and we pray to God to fix it. God, on the other hand, is more concerned with the root of the issue rather than treating the symptom.

It is like going to a mechanic because when you put your foot on the break it makes a grinding noise, but telling them they aren’t allowed to change your breaks and rotors.

It is hard to self diagnose. The marriage, the sadness, the lack of fulfilment are all symptoms. Just as I needed an outside voice to speak into my problems, so we all need an outside voice to look and see the actual problem. We think we have a hard drive problem when we are infected with Malware.

Usually, something from our past that has given us filters that we hear through and lenses we see through. Past circumstances have influenced why we have made the decisions we have made.

You might be able to say that if the Raptors never came to Toronto in ’95, then I would have never got Malware in ’19.

In my new book, Hidden Faces: Discovering Our True Identity in Christ, I speak of how we have diagnosed the problem and put different masks, (or faces) trying to fix the problem. In actuality, we have believed the lie from the garden of Eden, that we are not who God has said we are. God has declared that you are his child and that He has sent His son to make you whole.

For that to happen, we have to be willing to see the hole in the boat and admit that we need God to fix it. We must admit that our problem isn’t our problem.