For many of us, Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year”. That’s not true for everyone. There are some of us that will experience significant pain this Christmas. So… how do you cope? What do you do? During this episode of The Next Steps, Kevin will talk through the problem of pain and the answer that the message of Christmas gives us!
When you start a journey, it’s always exciting.
The first few steps of a run, the first few miles of a road trip… there’s always a sense of wonder and expectation.
The same is true of the journey to plant a church.
It started with good dreams: helping people find a meaningful relationship with Jesus, seeing broken families healed and the lost being found.
I neglected to understand this important fact: to see all that happens we would have to gather a bunch of sinners together, build relationships with them, and watch Jesus move in their lives… since we are practically incapable of doing any of that in their lives!
I didn’t expect to get hurt when we started out on this journey, but planting a church is a journey filled with pain.
Here are a few observations on how it hurts…
I’m not a “health nut”, but I’ve learned something important about being healthy… It hurts.
Being unhealthy hurts, too.
When you plant a church, at the center of your motivation needs to be two things: God and people.
Planting always needs to be a response to a call. I’ve written about that before.
Planting also always needs to be focused on people.
There is a funny looking bush that grows in the red clay forests of Georgia and Alabama. Literally, it looks like overnight someone to a pine tree and buried it, leaving only a small stem poking out of the ground. I feel like this furry little bush a lot. A small spectacle amidst a towering chorus of achievement. A bit out of place. Or small. See, though its appearance is of a shrubbery, its merely a small tree. A small “long-needle” pine tree to be exact.
God teaches us a lot about personal growth in this tree. For its formative years, the tree injects its efforts into growing downward in a series of what are called tap roots. There is no growth apparent to the onlooker. Really, it looks like a nice feather duster. Something to for young boys to yank up and beat each other with. I think roots are important to God. I think this awkward little bush shows a way.
I think there are two directions that roots grow. It’s true in trees; in trees, roots grow along the relief of the ground or down deep into the soil. For us, I think our roots grow either into God or into ourselves. I suppose this is not “stop the press” material, but today it became important to me.
I saw, in a brief moment, that there is a lot of hurt inflicted in this broken world. I’m in line with the murderers and thieves, because I, too, at times have led a life that bent in such a way that those who were wrapped up in me were hurt because of my declination. The root of it, in the end, was selfishness.
I think there is no end viler than selfishness and nothing more difficult to balance within the will than the self. Really, no man really cheats on his wife because he desires another woman. A man enters an adulterous affair because he values himself more than his wife. In the end, a woman laundering money a work doesn’t do so because she is desperately poor, but, instead, because she finds herself to be worthy of the money than the institution that earned it.
As a believer, I think there is nothing more difficult to balance upon the will of God than the self. Practically, when you read this you may wonder “What in the WORLD is this guy talking about?” Well, this comes more from practical experience than direct teaching. In the book of Acts, which I think is the definitive discourse (narratively speaking) on human interaction with the will of God, you find a very excited guy named Paul. At times it appears that Paul is in direct control of where he is going (examples: Mars Hill, Ephesus) and then there are times that the Holy Spirit is directly involved in his decisions on where to go (forbiddance to go into Asia).
Here’s the practical problem: We, as believers, want to follow Jesus with all of our hearts (hearing his voice and responding). And we, as believers and seekers of God, have dreams that resonate in our souls (chasing the desires of our heart that we believe Jesus placed there). Sometimes, it’s very muddy where following Jesus and following dreams intersect. Anyone who tells you different is a liar.
For example – suppose a young woman has a dream of becoming a singer. This is a dream she feels very passionately that the Lord placed in her heart. However, she is working as a teacher and has a real chance to touch the lives of the kids in her class. Baring direct communication from God, she is left with a muddy choice. Where does the desire to fulfill the personal (or selfish) desires fit in?
I suppose I’m wading in the mud between the places that God and my will are coming together in my life.
In 1955, the late AW Tozer wrote a series of articles that were published as a volume under the title “The Root of the Righteous”. In his, he says of righteousness “many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right”.
I love the biblical concept of righteousness. Literally, the Greek term means to be right in the eyes of God. Westerners, like us, interpret “right” with behavioral specifics. The term correctly applied does not mean that. The term literally refers to being the right person. The concept is the same as a coach that has trained a quarterback for a specific purpose. They have practiced many hours together and put much work into developing the player. The coach, sitting on the sideline, watches to athlete execute perfectly in a game and recognizes that he is the “right” quarterback. Basically, being righteous means being the person that God created you to be.
Being righteous is all about roots. If we, like that awkward little shrubbery, spend time developing roots that sink deep into the truth of God’s revelation to man, personally through the revelation of his Son, then we are indeed developing roots of righteousness.
However, if we are constantly thinking of ourselves, our image, our benefit, where we fit in, what we get out of it, then we are growing roots of selfishness. The only way to face the mud of the intersection of our will and God’s will is with a bridge of righteousness.
Seeking God’s face about who we are and who we were created to be is important. It’s paramount, actually. Nothing in life is more important. Once that concept has been fully developed, then, and only then, can one safely wade in the mud.