October 24, 2012 I began a new work with a new church. One year has passed in a new place. I have been in full time ministry for over a decade and October 28 marks the 15th anniversary of the beginning of my journey with Jesus This time as I write, I am struck by a few interesting similarities to a year ago. Last October my wife and kids were in Oklahoma waiting to finish packing and loading to head to Ohio. This October, my wife drove back to Oklahoma today to be with her parents, especially her dad who is having some pretty serious surgery tomorrow. I am in Ohio, this time with the girls. As I continue to think about the past year in a now not so new place, and 15 years of walking with Jesus, I am struck by a few things:
Churches are different. And churches are the same. I worked with a great group of people in Duncan, Oklahoma for 9 years. I work with a great people in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ministry is similar across the board. But the context changes the practice of ministry. I do things differently in Cincinnati. Different isn’t bad, it’s just different. But, I also do things the same here as well. So, what I am saying is I am seeing how the early experiences and my time in one place has helped to facilitate a better practice of ministry in another.
My family is still my biggest fan. One of the cool things I get to experience is after I get to speak to the church, to hear one of my daughters say, “daddy that was really good.” They are paying attention. I love when I get home from a day at the office, and they are excited to see me and cheer when I walk in the door. Being a dad is one of the coolest experiences on the planet. Being a husband is even better. My wife is a safe place, a friend, my help-meet. She makes things better just by being with me.
Life is relationships. A dear brother from Oklahoma was fond of that saying. It is true. Life is relationships. The same God who exists in community seeks relationship us. We likewise are created for relationships. Our lives have two movements, upward (our relationship with God) and outward (our relationships with others). This sounds an awful lot like Jesus in Matthew 22, when asked about the greatest command. He answered to love God with the totality of the self, and the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourself. Interestingly, Jesus sums up the entire Old Testament with two movements, upward and outward. It’s important to note, that the first shows up in direct proportion to how we do the second. In other words, how we love others has a direct connection with our love for God. Creating friendships and cultivating them in the church are important. Befriending outsiders is important too. As a matter of fact, we would do well to make some relationships with people who don’t know Jesus. They need to see his love in action in us.
Sin still rears its ugly head. I still struggle with sin. After 15 years you would think I have it figured it out by now. Here’s what I have figured out, I am a work in progress. I am sometimes stumbling, messy disciple of Jesus. I know that we all are broken (Romans 3:23). Paul acknowledges his brokenness again in 1Timothy 1:15-16, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15, 16 NIV). The same Paul whom God used mightily also knew that he struggled, he didn’t always look very Jesus-y, (cf. Romans 7:19-29). The Goodnews is that God’s love is bigger than our brokenness. God has always used the broken to accomplish his plan. We don’t earn God’s favor through our best efforts, we embrace the love of God because his very nature is love, he can’t help himself.
I still love Jesus. I want my life to reflect Jesus in everything. I have been called into ministry. It almost seems unfair sometimes to consider all that is asked of a minister. A life of constant service, and sacrifice. For what? For me it’s seeing a young person embrace the the story of God’s working in the world through Jesus and realizing that there is hope in that story! I recognize the need more than ever though for a time of ended maturity in my life. I believe you can only effective lead to the degree that you are rooted in the story of Jesus and the disciplines. I want the people I encounter to see Jesus in me, before they see Jason. I want to be able to say like Paul, that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
It is easy to ride the fence or play church. Sporadic Christian faith isn’t something that just sprang up over night. I believe that though, for believer in the West especially, our culture’s insistence on self-preservation, and self-indulgence ruin us to Jesus’ call to abandon self for his life of adventure and service. For Christians it is easy for us to play church. We show up Sunday, maybe twice, come on Wednesday, and for the most apart we don’t look or act different from our non-church, or non-Christian friends. I believe that the world needs to see us living consistently, and intentionally. We aren’t called to live in step with the world and try to blend two worlds. We are called to change the world we live in, by helping people to see how God’s kingdom is breaking into the world in the person of Jesus and how the unfolding drama is being enacted through the life of the church. But it is easy to play church. I know sometimes I’m guilty of just being at the church building that I am neglecting the more important things around me: the needs of the people I rub shoulders with in my neighborhood, and community. Playing church provides a certain comfort, or even false security in what we are doing while at the building. Playing church avoids taking risks, and centers on following a set of rules. Rules are comfortable, predictable and are controlling. Legalism arises in an environment of fear of risk. Legalism masquerades as religion, or proper, or orderly. Legalism blinds us to the mission of God. Instead of sharing the gospel of God’s in breaking kingdom, we share a lesser story of cookie cutter religiosity.
The church is strategically positioned to bless their communities. But sadly, it seems the church is afraid of their neighbors, or anyone too different. We exist solely because of what God has done and is doing. God has brought Gentiles and Jews together into one body’s, the Church so that the world may see a blending of peoples into community as a reflection of divine love. I think our churches could have a larger impact in our communities if we found a way to work together for justice and mercy, in our towns, state, regions, nations, and globally. The church isn’t a building that marks off one room as more sacred than others. The church are the people who follow Jesus and are willing to be shaped, or marked if you will by the story of Jesus. I believe the church can offer a refreshing voice at a time when culture seems out of control, and interested in spiritual things.
The church is family. Over and over again over the last 15 years I have witnessed firsthand the community of faith come together to embrace a new brother, or sister, or take care of a member of that faith community in some pretty generous ways. I have seen how a collective group of Jesus followers reached out to my wife, and I and my then new born daughter when we first moved to Duncan and include us as one of their own. My daughters grew up with surrogate grandparents, aunts and uncles in the faith. I have seen the church feed the hungry, clothe they nearly naked, and provide medicine to the insurance-less, and offer a place of new beginings in a community of imperfect, and yet loved people.
This world is not my home. And yet the promise of the story of Scripture is that God’s kingdom is breaking into the world and that all of creation is groaning waiting the day when God will put the world to rights. When he does God’s reign will fully be present and he will bring a new heaven and a new earth together (Rev 21). We see this in Jesus. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth come together (John 1:51). Jesus as the firstborn from the dead makes new creation possible. While this world and its ways aren’t my home, God has a plan for the world and I believe his people get to be a part of pointing people to this beautiful vision of new creation!