Caved, Endured, Benefited from The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill

I completed a journey today I didn’t want to take for two reasons: a little bit of pride and a little bit of anger mixed with fear. I caved, mostly from the encouragement of two friends. I’m glad I did.

At my pace, the journey took almost two months. Necessary stops and starts to digest, to breathe, to clear, to process. The journey took me to expected and unexpected places; some I knew I needed, some I surprisingly didn’t know I needed. I’m glad I endured.

The journey was listening to the main twelve episodes of The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill podcast. One description of the podcast reads:

Hosted by Mike Cosper, this Christianity Today podcast takes you inside the story of Mars Hill Church in Seattle-from its founding as part of one of the largest church planting movements in American history to its very public dissolution-and the aftermath that followed. You’ll hear from people who lived this story, experiencing the triumphs and losses of Mars Hill, knowing it as both an amazing, life-transforming work of God and as a dangerous, abusive environment. The issues that plague Mars Hill and its founder…aren’t unique, and only by looking closely at what happened in Seattle will we be able to see ourselves.

There would be no point in retelling the story. There’s plenty of that available. Rather, I wish to encourage those like me resistant to giving the podcast a chance to consider these thoughts:

  • We can learn from failure. Along with learning, we can also grow. In order for both to happen, we have to set our minds for them. We can listen to this story, pass judgment, shake our heads, drop our jaws, defend, sweep, have any of all the possible reactions. But if all we do is emotionally react, CT’s work has been in vain. If the message is received like a Netflix binge, we have missed the opportunity to learn and grow. If you are a person who doesn’t want to miss the opportunity, it’s time to cave.
  • There is such a thing as church trauma. If you’ve spent any time in the church, you know it. But what you probably don’t realize is trauma’s impact, subtleties, layers, history, and power. Under so many holy labels, trauma is happening right now. And the danger is we don’t even realize it. Wolves are feasting. If you are a church leader, paid or volunteer, who feels powerless to speak about what’s troubling your spirit, it’s time to endure.
  • Stories are sacred and deserve dignity. Our desire to avoid pain inhibits healing. Our wish to consider it “not my problem” disregards the wounded’s sacredness. Facing our fears, weeping with the discarded, listening to the angry, offering safety, and naming evil must be available in the church. If your church makes these things unavailable, it’s time to listen and restore.

Several moments in the hours of these twelve episodes I felt these words by Mike Cosper:

Part of what drew me to this project was my own history. The fact that even from a distance, I heard echoes of my experience and the stories coming out of Mars Hill. The more time I spent with that story and especially the more time I spent with these people, the louder those echoes got. Now, having seen the story go back out into the world, I’ve genuinely wept at how many others are hearing their experience reflected here too.

Aftermath, December 4 episode

I’m better for having caved and endured. I’ve benefited from meditating, weeping, discussing, and repenting. If someone has encouraged you to listen and you’re resisting, odds are you will also benefit. It’s time.

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Jack’s Purpose

Jack Dietrich passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 92. His memorial service was held yesterday.

I didn’t know Jack (A friend asked me on behalf of the family to sing his favorite hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”) But the service was one of those that when you left you felt like you knew the person regardless of previous history.

Everyone who spoke weaved the story of Jack’s life which included his influence on their teaching careers, his love of family and really everyone, his witty humor, and his outspoken faith. Apparently, if you walked by his porch on the way to the beach, most likely you got an introduction to sit with Jack.

That was the neighbor’s story who gave the eulogy. His initial introductory conversation with Jack lasted three hours and started an unexpected, life-changing relationship. As he described it, the life change was for both of them.

Although Jack had lived a full and successful life, he asked his neighbor the same question I’m guessing all 92-year-olds do. “Why am I still here?” His neighbor unashamedly told him, “You’re here for me. God knew I needed you. That’s why you’re here.”

Truth is, we don’t have to live 92 years to ask Jack’s question. For a multitude of reasons at any given time, our minds and emotions look at our situation and wonder why we’re in it. We question what’s the point. And as is often the case, the point isn’t about us; it’s about someone else. Someone that needs to be noticed. Someone that needs to be heard. Someone that needs to be touched. Someone that needs something that we have-time on the porch.

We sell ourselves short. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I know I do. There’s plenty God has given me that doesn’t cost me much, if anything, to give away. Occasionally, I’m reminded that’s it’s not as hard to know the why as I make it. Occasionally, all it takes is saying yes to singing a song, to give someone something I can easily give, and the why is clear.

Photo by Ana Essentiels on Unsplash

Stop & Hold

The Day is coming When My

Heart will stop wandering

Peace will stop wavering

Faith will stop studdering

Joy will stop fleeting

On that Day I’ll Finally Stop

Looking in a mirror dimly

Asking needless questions

Forgetting You Are the King of the World

Trying to do what You’ve Already Done

‘Til that Day I Desire to Keep

Holding on to Hope

Holding on to Truth

Holding on to Life

Holding on to You

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Don’t Quarrel With the Bus Driver

(From a FB note in 2009)

A few weeks ago while talking with a friend about some things going on in both our lives I made this comment:

“I’m not driving the bus. Just along for the ride.”

What did I mean by that? I’m in a season where I am completely thrilled to sit back and let God be in charge of what’s next. My analogy is that I’m just on the bus, he’s driving, and when it’s time for me to get off the bus at the next assignment stop I’m sure he’ll make it real clear.

Isaiah says a few phrases in chapters 43 and 45 that reminded the Jews about their relationship with their God:

  • Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me
  • No one can deliver out of my hand
  • Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker

About one of these phrases, the NLT Study Bible has this note:

If we could design our own god it would not be like the God spoken of in the Scriptures. Most would prefer a god that answers every prayer positively, or a god that goes along with our cultural values, or a god that will welcome us to heaven no matter what. God’s message to the ancient Israelites who struggled with this was in essence, ‘Go ahead! Find a new god! See where it gets you!’

So does this mean I can’t talk with God if I’m confused, frustrated, or having trouble staying content in my “passenger” life? Absolutely not. It just means that I should approach him in faith with a peaceful spirit; my words don’t need to come from a discontented place in my heart leading me to being quarrelsome or argumentative.

My best response to the ride is to sorta take on the Allstate motto: I know I’m in good hands. God knows the destination. When he parks and gives me further instruction, I hope to say, “Thanks for listening and being such a patient driver and getting me safely to my destination. I wouldn’t want to be traveling with anyone else.”

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Even in the Silence

Recently I was introduced to artist Makoto Fujimura. In exploring his works, I discovered his love for another artist, novelist Shusaku Endo. This admiration led to Fujimura becoming an advisor for the movie production based on Endo’s book Silence, a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. With all this overlapping of creativity, I decided I would read the book and then watch the movie. Today I finished the book and managed to find the movie on demand to watch this afternoon.

First, let me say what a joy it is to receive the creative gifts by these three artists-a contemporary artist, a novelist, and a filmmaker. Not only are they masters at their craft, but they engage all of who they are into their work, including their faith and beliefs. Unafraid of transparency, they allow you into their wrestling and therefore make it acceptable for you to acknowledge yours.

Endo’s Silence is set in seventeenth-century Japan. The tale challenges your commitment to your faith as you follow two Portuguese Jesuit priests encounter the forced renouncing of beliefs by their Japanese Christian brothers and dialogue with a silent God. You are forced to acknowledge persecution has always been a part of Christian history and will always be, something we prefer to forget Jesus told his disciples to expect.

Such stories produce various responses. Responses usually focus on what ifs and reminders to not forget those currently experiencing persecution. My biggest response today is this: I am the sole guardian of my faith. It’s not up to the church, a pastor or priest, or anyone close to me to secure my faith. In decisive moments where I have to live out my faith, it’s entirely up to me. When my mind tells me I’m alone and God has abandoned me, my faith reminds me that he said “I am with you always,” even in the silence.

Our Batons

This morning I listened to a student pastor speak on the importance of being for the next generation. He used the analogy of passing off a baton in a relay race. His last point was an encouragement to not waste your weakness-meaning your past brokenness, your inabilities, or your inexperience do not disqualify you from being on the track, being part of passing off your baton to the next generation. You can carry a baton and pass it on.

Got me to thinking about the actual baton. What is the baton we are passing off? Is it just a broad view of a way of life? What if each one of us knew in more detail what the baton is that we are carrying? I believe we have our own unique baton that we can pass off to countless others throughout life.

Many things come to mind for me. I have a baton of music that I have passed on in many ways. I have the baton of church leadership that is still running its course. I have a baton of living a contented single life. One could say I have a baton of running that I occasionally pass on.

Those are skills and experiences. We could, and I believe we should, consider our spiritual batons also. These spiritual batons are the core of who we are, how we live. We run with the baton of faith, surrender, peace, hope, love, mercy, humility, kindness, patience-what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Another thought about our unique baton could include the life challenges that God has used to mature us. These could be anything from experiencing loss of jobs, finances, relationships to seasons of doubt, distance, or disconnect. All of these things make up the baton that we are carrying.

What if we held tight enough to our unique baton making sure we don’t drop it but loose enough to let God keep molding it? What if we passed on these batons as often as we are prompted to while we are living rather than only after we die? What if we lived more for what we relay than what we grip?

You might have to get a wheelbarrow for all those batons. But imagine the impact when your race is over and your batons are still in the race.

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Two Things God Thinks of Me

In the last few days I’ve been struck by two ways to know what God thinks of me. They sound similar yet carry different meanings.

The first came from a devotional that highlighted Hebrews 11:16:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

To be clear, no, Hebrews 11 is not about me. It’s a list recalling Old Testament lives of faith. And the writer pauses in the list to say, “God was not ashamed to be called their God.” Why? Their faith. Their faith to build an ark. Their faith to leave their families. Their faith to wait. Their faith to give up everything. Their faith to trust. Their faith to desire heaven over earth.

When I have and act by that kind of faith, I know God is not ashamed of me.

The second came from the book I’m reading by J. Paul Nyquist, Prepare.

“God never blesses anyone or anything He doesn’t approve of.”

Nyquist says this based on the beatitude: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) He begins chapter four of his book with this verse to support that persecution isn’t a curse but a blessing. So in the face of false accusation, reviling, and evil, I can know God approves of me.

When I face evil attacks, I know God approves of me.

I don’t have to doubt what God thinks of me when my faith is steadfast. He approves. He is not ashamed.

Photo credit: Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

The Faith Doctor

I’m half through the autobiography of Jerry Kill, a successful college football coach known for turning around programs. One part of his personal story is a bout with kidney cancer. In the chapter recalling the bout, he gives a shoutout to his team chaplain with these words:

He is the best Christian man I know. He knows how to talk to you, how to relate to you, and he has the “it factor.” He’s a faith doctor. You have to have your medical doctors obviously, but he was a faith doctor for me.

That’s a first-hearing someone categorized as a faith doctor. Made me ask two questions:

  1. Who’s my faith doctor?
  2. Who’s faith doctor am I?

Maybe we all should ask those questions. After answering them, we could ask further ones like…

  1. How often do I see my faith doctor?
  2. What symptoms do I need to acknowledge to my faith doctor?
  3. How willing am I to be someone’s faith doctor?
  4. What fruits of the Spirit are needed to be someone’s faith doctor?

You get the gist. This chapter, by the way, was entitled Upsetting Cancer. Whatever spiritual issue you have that needs upsetting may well be worth answering these questions.

Better & Deeper!

Equal Access

Occasionally someone will say to me, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

We both understand the thought, but reality is it ain’t true. Just because one person may practice praying more than another doesn’t mean their connection is better. For a really clear illustration of that, check out Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:9-14. Frequency of praying doesn’t assume better.

Does that mean we shouldn’t bother praying regularly? SMH. It means we should take advantage of the access God graciously gives everyone. My connection ain’t better than yours. No ones is. Well, except Jesus. Why? Because of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s right. One of the many impacts of his resurrection for all people is direct access to his Father through him. His sacrifice gave everyone equal access. His job right now is to sit by his Father to intercede on your behalf.

So if you’re tempted to believe the lie that you don’t have equal access and maybe give yourself an out for praying, why not tell Jesus, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”