The Journey Towards a Better Death (and life)

architect-architecture-black-and-white-1537008The better game is one we all play even though it never promises a return.

We pay for the next better, move cities to find the next better, cheat on a spouse to experience the next better. There really is no end in the quest to find this psychological sasquatch.

One of the ways it has shown up in my life over the years is with church and employment.

Southerners are especially skilled in playing the better game with churches. The perfect one is out there. I’m going to find it. The one where the pastor preaches a strong, theologically rich sermon with hilarious stories, poignant illustrations, priceless application and all in 30 minutes or less, like an episode of that new Netflix show, F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

In my mind, there was always a better preacher. A better worship experience. A better atmosphere. There had to be. This could not be the pinnacle of church.

And I carried that same mentality and quest for better into my graduate education and professional career.

So by 2013, after 7 years of marriage, we’d moved 11 times (a couple of which were in the same city to a different living situation, but my wife still counts those as moves). Granted, at least I didn’t say I was feeling “called” to Nowheresville. We set up camp in Savannah, Los Angeles, St. Louis–all great cities.

My graduate transcript was a registrar’s worst nightmare. It probably looked more like a word search than a transcript.

After all my searching and gypsy-like moving, where did we end up? Daggum Bluff City, TN. You have to say daggum in a sentence with Bluff City.

That’s a very generous use of the word City, by the way.

But there I was. There we were.

I went from megachurch to megachurch in search of better and ended up being most satisfied pastorally and professionally working in this little, out of the way church and at a Christian school.

At Bunker Hill Christian, there was nobody waiting to be wowed. They wanted to be loved. I didn’t hit a home run with that one, but I grew. Oh so slowly. But they were kind, patient, and gracious.

That season was refining in the sense that it exposed the prideful dross that covered every inch of me. That pride kept me from living a Hebrews 11 life. It would keep from dying a Hebrews 11 death.

Even when I thought I was seeking first God’s kingdom, I was very much at home here. I was an earthly citizen through and through, ALL about the tangible, measurable, and quantifiable.

From childhood to adulthood, the next achievement, next girl, next church, next city, the next better was supposed to make me feel like I’d arrived.

My grand realization? Fundamentally, these were all things I could manipulate. All I had to do was say, Well, God’s calling me to California. Calling me to St. Louis. Calling me to break up with you (best.line.ever).

It doesn’t take faith to manipulate. It takes faith to live and move toward that which you do not control.

Hebrews 11 again

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

There’s only one truly better city, better scenario, better whatever. The city of God.

There is a future that will only be fashioned by faithfulness in the moment. The Architect has the plans drawn up. But He is also the Builder. So what’s our part?

It may sound like this conclusion to Hebrews 11

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

What better epithet could you ask for than verse 38?

    The world was not worthy of them

Only a person who has lived for a better world will have that said of them.

But like the folks in the text, I can’t sit idly by and dream of the better place.

So, a word to the dreamer like me who can’t get no satisfaction.

Pastor Darrin in Pooler, GA said something one Sunday while we were visiting. I can’t shake it. Keep your eyes fixed on heaven, but get your head out of the clouds, he said. Mind your business, I thought.

No, it really did hit me. Translation for my life? Stop being a critic without bringing a contribution. I’d made a living doing that. The pay is terrible.

I’m asking God to do something with my imagination other than have it be an idol factory that spawns discontentment and petty thoughts. I want to bloom where I’m planted as those flowery journals at Target quip.

But part of our spiritual journeys is smashing face first into the transcendent reality that the lasting satisfaction and fulfillment we seek won’t be found this side of forever. No thing. No one. It won’t happen.

That realization should be even greater fodder for the fire of exhausting all resources in this life on the journey towards what matters most. And it’s probably not the latest facebook fight or Twitter mud slinging contest.

I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, and this is what or who God has put in front of me right now, and I’m going to catalyze those resources to make the most and best of my actual life right now—and by faith it will produce a better life and death.

Eyes on heaven. Heads out of the clouds.

I’m going to cultivate the very ground in which I’m presently planted to see the fruit that God wants to grow in me and through me, for my good, the good of those around me, and for His glory.

Selah.

Seeking a Better Better in a World of Imposters

So you’ve been bamboozled by the idea of better your entire life, as I mentioned in the last post. Nobody said that’s what was happening, but it happened. And it carries on.

Right now, some of you reading this are thinking about the better job or car or shoes or purse or blog (shame on you for that last one). But it’s in us. We want better. We crave better. We have anxiety over better and imagine ourselves living in, driving, or sleeping with better.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that better is so alluring. The first advertising campaign on earth had to do with better.

It took all of three chapters in Genesis for Eve to be convinced that she could be

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Just one bite?

better and life could be better if she’d just eat of the fruit from a specific tree.

Both she and Adam took the bait of better, hook, line, and sinker. And then everyone blamed someone, but that’s a different topic.

Better is that low hanging fruit, right there in front of your face non-stop. It seems so reachable, so pleasing to the eye, and it must be wonderful to experience. 

  • With ladies, I think about social media and the gnawing sense that her life is better. It’s constant.
  • For the gents living in a hypersexualized culture, it’s evident that the Internet thinks you can get better, and for cheap. Why bother with real people when virtual people will fulfill your fantasies?

Better is everywhere. It wears many masks.

It may be worth noting here that my hope is NOT that you would abandon better. I want you to believe in better. There is a reason that longing is in you. It just may be a wildly different better altogether. It’s a better that, in an election year, will make people frustrated and simultaneously prevent you from slinging mud on the facebook…because you don’t think better will be won at the polls, at not the better folks are slandering, lying, and cussing to grasp.

I found myself some time back re-reading through the letter of Hebrews in the New Testament, which really reads best if you do it all at one time. It’s more like a sermon.

Hebrews chapter 11, in particular, is where this is all coming from.

This chapter is sometimes called the hall of faith because it is replete with the names and stories of some of the who’s who of the OT

Enoch. Noah. Moses. Abraham. Sarah.

The refrain of the chapter is by faith. By faith Noah–by faith Abraham–by faith Israel…

In order to not be confused about what faith is, God is kind enough to tell us exactly what faith is at the beginning of chapter 11

Hebrews 11.1 Now faith is the reality (confidence) of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (CSB) 

> The glaring oddity about faith and your walk with Christ is that it’s wrapped up in things not seen.

It’s not that the empirical, visible, or tangible doesn’t matter. But rather, that the transcendent, intangible, and invisible matter more, at least in terms of what governs the way you live.

As you might expect, this is a pervasive theme throughout the Bible. That we live amidst the visible and invisible.

It’s this tension that makes so many college students and academics uncomfortable.

It’s what drives attempts by Bible professors who’ve spent nearly a decade in doctoral programs to explain away the supernatural.

And yet much of the focus in Hebrews 11 is on these men and women who were faithful even when they didn’t see what was promised to them by God in this life. Those who were captivated by the invisible, by faith.

  • Abraham didn’t see descendants as numerous as the stars.
  • Moses didn’t see the Promised Land in all its glory.

In the next post, I will point you to a summary of several of these lives and their having died without seeing the better they so longed to experience. Faithful men and women who, thousands of years before we ever cared about a thing, listened and obeyed God, not perfectly, but to the degree that it was clear their better was vastly different than the better we’ve become accustomed to chasing.

Here’s to a better better.

When “one day” is today but was actually every other day

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Headline news—-It’s raining. In Savannah. Again.


Actual blog post:

For the last 10 years or so I’ve said one day countless times.

One day, when I’m not in school and working, I’ll …

One day, when I’m not working and waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers and help with baby feedings I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs and finishing another degree I’ll…

And back again to: one day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

Well lah-di-dah, it would appear that “one day” has arrived. “One day” has come. One day has become today.

I have one job. I’m not working at a school and a church. Just a school. A great school. The Habersham School (with a fine new website).

While there is much work to do and plenty to keep me busy, it’s still one day. And that means I have written pages upon pages of a book, right? I’ve researched and taken notes on topics about which I plant to write, right? I’m blogging multiple times a week, right?

Nah. I’ve blogged a couple times in as many months. No pages for a book. Not even a sentence.

I’m writing a blog about how I haven’t written anything, so this should count for something.

It turns out that “one day” isn’t as situational or circumstantial as I thought. One day is about discipline. It’s habit. Which means that one day has been every other day prior to today.

Crap. I wasted a lot of todays waiting on one day.

How, then, do I work, spend quality time with my kids, date my wife, workout, cultivate spiritual health, AND write. Your AND may be something else–dance, create art, start a business, travel, lose 10lbs–mine has always been write (and lose 10lbs).

There has to be something to do to-day that will demystify your one day and make it more achievable. There’s a discipline or habit or practice to start, or, to stop. It’s one less meal…another practice session…500 more words…another page…two more sets…something.

Here’s to your efforts at bringing one day into today!

Newness

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Change is hard.

That’s what people say. Whoever people are…

And it is. Usually, change is hard, especially on the moving front.

Different place, different people, different responsibilities, different school, different church, different Walmart.

But how much really changes?

Walmart is still awful (but necessary). Work is work. My 4-year-old still acts 4, and my 2-year-old still makes staying in her bed a hill to die on. And, yes, Chick-fil-a is still closed on Sundays.

Some things will be the same regardless of latitude and longitude.

Jesus is also the same (didn’t see that coming, did ya?).

He’s the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.

There’s comfort in that reality. That regardless of space or time, Jesus is Jesus. He’s Lord. He’s in control. He’s holding all things together.

No politician or movement will ever change that.

Praise be.

 

 

Putting all your eggs in one basket–a letter to pastors preparing for Easter

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Dear Pastor,

Easter is the most important day of the church calendar.

Christmas is wonderful to be sure. But the apostle Paul says that without the Resurrection we Christians are to be pitied more than anyone (1 Corinthians 15.13-19). That is to say, the physical rise of Jesus’ body from the dead sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope unparalleled, for our Savior’s resurrection is a foretaste and foretelling of our own. In that day we will experience the fullness of Paul’s taunt, “Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15.55).

The temptation I feel facing this Sunday is probably similar to your own, namely, how to spice up the Easter service. After all, faithful attenders have heard the story countless times, and those who come only at Easter and Christmas may hear the same two stories year after year. So how can we make it stand out?

When I was on staff at other churches, I would hear the same rallying cry each year regarding Easter: THIS IS OUR SUPER BOWL!!!! Meaning, this is the event of the year for our church. People need to experience something spectacular. At times I wondered if they really meant, this is our Super Bowl halftime show.

Since usually the day included a special opener for the service (song from the radio, custom video, etc.) and other elements that would enhance the worship experience. None of these churches preached weak messages about the Resurrection, but the excitement of the day tended to focus on those ‘special’ elements.

Hear me, I don’t care if you have someone painting a version of Jesus’ face on stage or a marching band playing as people walk in. I have seen things that make me shudder, but I’m no prude.

My encouragement would be to put all your eggs in the only basket we have–the Resurrection. Resist the path of least resistance, which is simply telling the story. Give people the why behind the what and what it means for now and evermore that the tomb is empty. And, please, resist diverting to a catchier angle than the clearly defined gospel one. This is the hope of the world–it doesn’t need help being relevant.

If people leave our churches this Sunday talking about the worship experience–songs, visuals, the clever opener–but can’t articulate why Jesus had to die and what it means that he rose, we’ve failed..even if our opener goes viral.

Right there with you,

Patrick

 

 

The newly updated, expanded, unabridged, unpublished, unedited (mostly) sermon library of me is available for FREE–yes, FREE

You might expect to pay as much as $19.99 for what amounts to thousands of hours of work on my part.

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One day I may get crazy and make a podcast. Baby steps, people.

A church plant thought experiment

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Here’s how the question–which I am still gnawing on–was posed to me:

         What if you started a church with the aim and intent of killing it in 10 years?

This question should push us past preconceived notions of what church has to look like.

For the most part, when someone plants a church, the intent is to grow larger, build wealth for funding buildings / programs / staffing / etc. and carry on in similar fashion until Jesus returns.

Some of those churches get very large. Others stay quite small. And there are all sizes in between.

But what if you shocked your imagination to go beyond the consideration of size? What if the main component of a new church was time?

The first vision casting would go something like —

We are going to exist as this faith community for 10 years, Lord willing. And in that 10 years, we will not buy or build anything but will fully devote monies to spreading the gospel in word and deed. Whatever is left at the 10 year mark will be funneled into another ministry, or, 10 year church will begin anew in another city.

The follow up question to the possibility of a church like this is whether anyone would dare sign on?

Here are two immediate implications, at least in my mind, of such a model.

  1. A renewed urgency around the gospel
  2. A renewed responsibility to steward resources

You get the sense when you read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus and his crew really believed the message of the gospel was urgent. That lives depended on it. Eternities, in fact. And the gospel, lived out, could change communities, cities, countries, and continents. Which explains why I’m typing this in the United States of ‘Murica more than 2000 years after a nomadic carpenter from Nazareth died on a tree.

Beyond the urgency to share and proclaim, how would knowing you have 1o years and only 10 years change the way you allocated the kingdom dollars people would give? I think it would look drastically different than most of our churches now, including the one I pastor in which we are trying to pay off a $1million note on a building with 100 people in it each week. That same story is multiplied, sometimes by 30  or more, across the US.

Isn’t it an exciting question to at least consider? 1o years, All in. And then all out.

What might be? Aiming to kill a church may very well mean the preemptive death of divisive preference wars, because what’s the point? There’s no establishment, no old guard…naïve? Maybe. But plausible.

What do you think could be different with 10 year church?