Faith for Exiles (Part 1)


Have you ever had a moment when you were attending a conference, reading a book or a blog post, or even watching the latest Netflix documentary, and had what can only be described as an epiphany?

About seven years ago, I had one of these moments!

At the encouragement of a great friend I knew from seminary who is also a church planter, I jumped in my car and drove up to Washington DC to attend an event called You Lost Me Live. An author named David Kinamman had just written a followup book to his very popular unChristian book; which had been released a couple years prior. The name of the new book? You Lost Me. And David was on a tour promoting the new book to begin a conversation about why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking faith.

The event was amazing! Both David and Mark Batterson (the pastor of the host church) spoke to a small crowd for a couple days and, in the meantime, we got to do some sightseeing in our nation’s capital; which never gets old to me! As David, Mark, and other presenters spoke, I remember taking notes until my hand fell off! It was incredible.

The funny thing is that I had not even read the book before the event, but, fortunately, everyone who attended received a copy. When I returned home to the south, I started reading right away and came to a chapter in the book about Exiles; in which David uses the language of exile from the experience of the Israelites in the Old Testament. He applies this experience to many of us in the church today. Essentially, David says that there are a number of young people who are in the church, but feel like they do not belong. They are exiles.

And in that moment, David gave perfect language to what I was feeling.

This was the epiphany: I was an exile. Despite an ever deepening faith in Jesus and a hunger for the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, I felt like I didn’t belong in the local church. I was a stranger in a strange land…and lots of the folks around me felt like I was a stranger. They were always wondering why I had to be so strange and would much prefer I just get with the system…the status quo.

So naturally, when I heard that David was releasing a new book (Faith for Exiles) and I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch team, I jumped at it. I have read the new book thoroughly and am excited to share some of what I think we can all learn from his latest project!

First of all, David has an incredible understanding of the current culture, especially the white, middle-class, suburban culture. He states that “many of us today turn to our devices to make sense of the world.” I actually have a real-life example of this concept…

Several years ago, I was officiating a wedding for a good friend. As is often the case, there was a little spat between a couple of the bridesmaids before, during, and after the ceremony. I remember sitting next to one of the bothered bridesmaids at the reception and I picked up her Blackberry (which should give you an idea as to just how long ago this occurred). I noticed that her browser was open to Google. And what had she googled?

“How to make the best of a bad situation.”

Think about it…

Here sits a well educated, intelligent, and socially well adjusted young woman, surrounded by her closest friends, but yet she chooses to turn to a handheld computer and strangers on the internet for advice on what to do in her current situation.

This is the norm today. We turn to Google first. It’s easy. It’s quick. It does not require us to be vulnerable with another human. It allows us to hide while we put on a front to convince everyone that we’re just fine.

So what does this have to do with faith?

(Stay tuned for the second part of my review of Faith for Exiles in next week’s post!)

Putting Identity Before Instruction

Several years ago I was doing my pre-service ritual on a Sunday morning; which included sipping coffee and gathering my final thoughts while early arrivers made their way into the lobby. As I made small talk; which is not exactly fun for an introvert like myself, the doors to the gym-made-sanctuary were violently swung open by a production team volunteer yelling, “Hey Stephen, will you tell Erik to take his hat off?!?”

Erik was the recently hired worship director and he was guiding the different teams in their run-through prior to the “worship experience,” as we called it in those days. Of course my first thought was, “Oh yeah, this is what Jesus died for and why I went into full time vocational ministry.” Then I thought back to that day in seminary when we discussed the case study of a camera operator triangulating the pastor in a plot to make a wardrobe change.

Are you feeling my sarcasm??

Turns out that the production volunteer had already asked Erik to remove his hat; which he declined because, well, who cares?? The real issue, however, is that Erik was new and a relationship had not been developed between him and this entitled production volunteer.

This ministry moment illustrates the damage we can do when we throw around instructions before addressing identity.

We all get our identity from our relationships with others…starting at day one. I was born a son to my father and mother. When I arrived, they chose my name (coincidently the same as my father’s) and wrote it on the certificate. I didn’t choose my name and yet that is the most prevalent way by which I am known. I received that identity out of relationship to my parents.

Do you can see just how tied up our identity is in our relationships with others? Therefore, we really have to consider relationships (and their correlation to our identities) before we start throwing around instructions.

I’m sure there have been times when another parent at school or in the neighborhood gave you some parenting instructions and yet didn’t know you from Adam. Or there was that time when a supervisor at work started assigning you tasks and you thought, “Why is this assigner telling me what to do? Who does he think he is?,” because he was not your supervisor and had not built the relational equity like your supervisor had.

We are all tempted to instruct others, but that’s never the place to start. We see this in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He spends chapters on identity before he ever gets to instructions. It is our identity as saint, saved, chosen, and sealed that serves as the foundation for the types of behaviors Paul gives us. Notice that he doesn’t start with submission.

For those of us who profess Jesus as savior, king, and lord, we really should consider our identity. Most of all, we should consider how our baptism is the signifier of our identity, because we will only live in submission to Jesus (and to one another) in as much as we live out of our submersion.

In this passage, near the end of his letter to the Ephesians, and only after Paul has spent so much time on our identity, do we find that there are twice as many instructions to husbands as there are to wives. Interestingly enough, when I was preparing for this message, Emily (my wife) and I ended up in some of the silliest spats.

She berated me for being too liberal with our body wash in the shower. Later in the week, I informed her how she was opening a bag of chips incorrectly. (Obviously she was very appreciative of my correction.)

Seriously though??

We were both forgetting our identity. We were failing to live out of our submersion and, consequently failing to live in submission.

So don’t be like me!

Instead, I encourage you to resist the temptation to throw around instructions before you consider identity. Develop relationships with people before you start instructing them on how to live. And, if you believe that Jesus is Lord, remember your identity before writing off any instructions that may actually be helpful in reinforcing that identity.


Liars, Spirits, and Fears…Oh My!

I find out about new subcultures everyday. For example, there’s a Nick Cage subculture. That’s right…the guy we all love as The Family Man now writes, produces, and stars in a handful of underground movies, some of which you can see currently on Netflix. And apparently he has an underground following around these cheesy B-rate films. I recently got roped into watching one of these cinematic marvels at a buddy’s home one evening.

As we sat down to take in the horrible acting and predictable plot lines of Season of the Witch, something else caught my attention…

The timeframes for the story is set during the Crusades. If you don’t know about the Crusades, check the google machine, but what stuck out to me was the armor worn by the soldiers in the film. These days, one of the only places to see armor in action is on the news as they report the latest riot from somewhere around the world. But the old school armor donned by Nick Cage’s character (and pulled from some backroom Hollywood  storage closet I’m sure) made me think of the passage from the Bible in which the Apostle Paul uses similar armor as a metaphor for our spiritual protection.

Let me explain…

The very first piece of armor one would encounter, being as it’s held out in front, is the shield. Paul encourages his readers to pick up the shield of faith in his letter to the gathered believer in Ephesus. Therefore, it is our faith that is our first line of defense against anything that might want to come against us.

What might want to come against us?

For me, and maybe for you, fear is one of the largest arrows that comes against me and is the very thing against which I must pick up my shield to keep it from getting any closer!

Fear takes different forms for all of us. Here are three big forms it takes for me:

  • Fear of Inadequacy and Irrelevance
  • Fear of Judgment
  • Fear of Loss

Do any of these sound, or feel, familiar? When I am not intentional to pick up my shield of faith, I can easily be injured by thoughts of not being good enough, not being important enough…

of not speaking up or joining certain circles for fear of being judged…

of losing something or someone I have come to depend on.

Any of these sound familiar?

Interestingly, each of these fears can be the very thing that keeps us from taking the next step in growing deeper in our faith. It’s almost a very brilliant cycle and scheme of our enemy.

Are any of these thoughts familiar: What if I try and fail as a follower of Jesus? The really spiritual people will see me as a fraud if I try to run in those circles. What if stepping deeper into faith requires me to give up my job, relationships, lifestyle, income, etc.??

So we have all of these fears and I would label them as internal, because we create and experience them without much influence from the outside. But at the same time, the writings of Paul remind us that there are external forces of which we must also be aware.

So internal and external causes to fear??

Rather than lions, tigers, and bears, it’s liars, spirits, and fears…oh my! So we find ourselves in a situation where fear and paranoia can reign. But, if fear and paranoia become our regular experience, then we have missed the whole point!

As we look at Paul’s final greeting in this letter, he explains the purpose and hope he has for these friends to whom he writes. The purpose is encouragement and the point is peace. This is why it’s so important for us to understand that Jesus’ victory is our victory. Because fear makes no room for faith. And paranoia makes no room for peace.

One of the greatest purposes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to help the church realize that in our new identity in Jesus, we are no longer separate. Instead, we are one. And one of our greatest fears as humans is fear of the other…fear of the unknown. Paul wants his readers to understand that in Jesus, there is no longer an other. What (or who) was unknown has become known. As we skim the surface here, understand that unity across socio-ethnic divides deserves its own blog, or book…and there are countless out there!

So back to Paul in prison…

We cannot miss how Paul writes this letter while being in-prisoned for proclaiming the message of Jesus. Yet he does not try to hide how following the Lord and being obedient has landed him in jail, rather than living a wealthy life in a palace! In fact, I would argue that Paul is more concerned with this community than with his own circumstance.

And that is a mark of someone who lives in the true victory of Jesus — having overcome the fears and paranoia of this life, both internal and external, and living life on mission.

The S Word

Here’s a personal confession:

I have a problem submitting to authority!

I know, I know. You’re shocked! 

Of course this is not news to anyone who has been around me for any length of time.

Is it nature or nurture? Or both? I have no idea. I just know it’s tough for me.

Where in your world are you required to submit to authority? If you are employed, and you are not your own boss, how do you feel when your supervisor asks you to do something? It probably depends on both your relationship with your supervisor and the task being asked of you.

Let’s start with a definition of submission: To submit is to willingly and willfully be subject to the will of another.

With this foundation, hopefully I can provide a new framework for an old concept.

The Apostle Paul wrote some instructions to a gathering of people in the city of Ephesus almost 2,000 years ago. In the centuries since, this instruction has been used to manipulate people and even given Paul a reputation as a misogamist. When understood from a different angle, however, we can see that Paul was actually a progressive!

Paul writes, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” This is the single sentence pulled out of context over and over by (mostly) men to manipulate people. But when put in context, this instruction is part of a larger guidance.

Just prior to this instruction, Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The full instruction is for everyone, in this particular gathering, to submit to everyone! Therefore, obedience to Jesus looks like willfully and willingly being subject to the will of one another.

So imagine this…

What would it look like if everyone was striving to be subject to the will of everyone, rather than everyone striving to push everyone’s will on everyone? What kind of community would that be? The hope and goal is that everyone in the gathering is simultaneously aligning their wills with the will of God; which can (inadequately) be summed up in one word: reconciliation.

Meanwhile, back at the house…

As Paul is applying the full instruction to various roles, he instructs husbands to love their wives. Specifically, husbands are to love their wives just as Jesus has loved us. And how did Jesus display this love?

He died.

So wives just have to submit. Husbands have to die… to themselves. And here it is again: death to self.

Then Paul drops the bomb that really kills the opportunity to continue in this effort to just get our wives to do what we want.

He writes, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

How you, as a husband, treat and love your wife says more about how you feel about yourself than it does about her. Ouch. Let that sink in for a moment.

Here’s the thing…Paul is writing to a culture in which there is no doubt the husband is the head of the household. No one questioned it. Everyone thought and behaved in a way that fell inline with the expectations of the male of the house. This was normal. And if you did not, then you were cast out!

But the new framework presented by Paul moves Jesus into that position for every household of those in the gathering. If the husband is part of the church (and the church is a gathering of people, not an institution), then he is in submission to Jesus. The husband is now expected to willingly and willfully subject himself to the will of Jesus. There’s a new head of the house!

So maybe Paul is not the misogamist the church has made him out to be after all. Perhaps he was progressive beyond his years—challenging the mindset of how a family should view one another and treat one another—in a way that was countercultural, challenging the established mindset of an entire society.

Death to self, after all, will always be countercultural to any society. This, however, is the kind of authority to whom I have less trouble submitting.

The Idol of Comfort

During one of my teaching times in The Gathering for Multiply Church, I started by asking the congregation if their prior week had been perfect. And you know what? Not a single hand went up!

I know the concept sounds kind of silly. I mean, of course nobody had a perfect week, because there’s no such thing. But does the idea of a perfect life play more into our thought process and heart posture than we tend to give it credit?

If you’re like me, you tend to pursue a life in which everything is perfectly stable and pristinely balanced…as we best understand stability and balance at least, it in our myopic view of the world.

You know what I’m saying? 

For many of us, if it’s all good, then God is good. If life is tough, then either God is upset with me, I have not done the right thing(s), or God is a sham! After all, isn’t He the giver of all good things?

How many of us have had these thoughts over the course of our lifetime? Is it just me? If it is, you can (and should) let me know!

My work wife, aka Pastor Casey, reminds me often that we (in the white, American evangelical church) do not have a theology of suffering. This is academic church-speak for how we often associate the presence of trouble with the absence of God. There’s much more to it than this, but I think it happens when the people of God fail to devote time to the story of God and fellowship with God.

When we fall in love with the grand narrative in the Bible and gain a greater understanding of the whole picture, we see that suffering is a necessary part of becoming the people God is calling us to be. When we stay shallow, however, there is never an appreciation for how a difficult situation might actually draw us into deeper faith and understanding of our relationship with God (and one another).

Another factor that plays heavily into this conversation is the socioeconomic and ethnic context in which we find ourselves. This mindset of pursuing comfort is primarily only an option for entitled white wealthy people. I know that’s not you, but think about it. You know who does not even have the option to consider a trouble free life, nor has any doubt that life is tough? 

The poor.

The marginalized.

The minority.

The refugee.

I could go on…but no matter how long the list, I know that I will never be on it.

We also tend to conflate the American Dream with a Christian life. These are not the same…much opposed at times, actually. This is another reason for why reading the Bible, prayer, and fasting are all disciplines (who likes to be disciplined btw??) necessary for breaking down the idol of comfort.

Jesus could not have been more direct. “In this world, you will have trouble,” he says. But Jesus, I thought that as long as I went to church every so often (i.e. when convenient), gave a little (< 2% of all I earn), and served once a year that your favor would follow me. If I lose my job, develop a chronic illness, lose my marriage, etc., then it’s a different story. Our prayer can easily become, Why did you remove your favor?? Maybe we just have a misunderstood and over-contextualized understanding of God’s favor.

Let me ask you a very difficult question and actually think about this. Really consider this notion in your heart and in your head, giving it the time it deserves…

Would you choose suffering in the will of God or comfort out of the will of God?

If what King David, whose story we read in the Old Testament, says is true, that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, then maybe brokenhearted and hurting is the best place to be. I don’t know of any promise in which God says He is close to the comfortable. In that case, maybe I should be concerned that I have not experienced enough suffering…

…not to make an idol of discomfort.


How can you reorient your own spirit to better receive your current suffering as an opportunity to grow deeper in your faith and trust in God?

Nobody Likes a Showoff

As a dad who coaches little kids on the baseball and soccer field, I hear parents say this a lot. “Nobody like a showoff!” We, as parents, teach this to our children because we want to develop a humility within them, right? Some people naturally have greater talents and skills than others; which we encourage, but no healthy parent wants his or her child to flaunt their ability over others not as naturally adept at the task at hand.

I have to wonder if this concept of “showing off” and being taught to display humility from a young age lead to a few mindsets that can keep us from sharing our stories and, more pointedly, sharing our faith in Jesus with others.

Could faith be a form of bragging?

Think about it for just a minute. We hear people say, “I don’t want to push my beliefs on others.” Yes, we’ve all certainly seen stories and faith shared in ways we hope no one would emulate, but is there a difference between pushing and simply sharing? Pushing could come across as if you are better than or have all the answers. We don’t want that. But just to share our experience of God? Is that pushing?

There is also the thought, “I don’t want people to think I’m better than them.” This is the goody-goody mindset. We don’t want to put in the goody-goody or Jesus freak category!

Quick story…

I remember visiting a family friend who had attended grad school with my father. I was probably around 8 or 9 years old at the time. As we arrived at their home, my father asked his friend about some of his neighbors who were milling around their yard across the street. “Jesus freaks,” was his response.


At that moment, I decided I never wanted that to be the answer when friends of a neighbor ask about me! And I can’t help but wonder what the response would have been had the Jesus freaks taken the time to actually develop a healthy, neighborly relationship with my dad’s friend and his family. Maybe his response would have been more like, “really nice people and good neighbors.”

Another mindset and way of thinking that keeps us from sharing our stories is that we (by we, I mean those of us who profess faith in Jesus as the Son of God and savior of the world) don’t have any joy or wonder or awe in our salvation. There is not a sense of amazement that God would save me from the life I lived previously apart from him… that He would allow me to experience the peace of heaven in the here and now.

All three of these mindsets can be addressed by a few sentences in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the gathered believers in Ephesus. Specifically, Paul writes, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that??

First of all, for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives, this big ol’ Bible but should leave us in awe and wonder! How could we not experience an immense joy at the great mystery of how while we were dead in our sin and transgressions, because God is rich in mercy, he raised us to life as a gift of grace… and by no means of our own merit?? This message, and the joy that accompanies it, should be enough to motivate us to share our story with those who have yet to receive this message.

Also though, if you catch the secondary purpose of why God has shown his great love to you and to me, you will see that God has sat you up to show you off! In the final part of this section, Paul even says that we are God’s workmanship. We are His masterpiece. What does an artist or craftsman do with his greatest work?? Does he or she hide it in a closet somewhere? Of course not! They put it up on a shelf for the whole world to see proclaiming, “Look at this beautiful creation I made!”

How often are we shimmying ourselves back off the shelf and into the closet by thinking we aren’t worthy of being shown off as His creation in Jesus??

It is not the piece of art that is showing off here. It is the artist who is showing off. God wants to show Himself off through you! So our faith and our story might be personal, but it is not, and cannot be, private.

Faith is not bragging. Sharing your faith is boasting in the Lord. “Look at what the Lord did.” Sharing your story is allowing God to be the show off… not you.

And sharing your story is not being a goody-goody. Sharing your story is the opportunity to tell others of the goodness of God and how you specifically have found that goodness.

Why does all of this matter?

Well, the mission of the Founder (i.e. Jesus Christ) is to make disciples and there is no way you will make disciples without sharing your faith. Just as prayer is vital in the process, so is sharing your own personal story of how Jesus has made you a new creation and has seated you in the heavenly realms currently, not in the distant future.

There is someone in your spheres of influence–a coworker who is struggling, a neighbor who is hurting… and you have an opportunity to be the person through whom Jesus can show off. And it might just change their circumstance.

So let Jesus show you off. He has sat you up for just this kind of opportunity… to show you off as his masterpiece, as his workmanship. Share your story. Share your faith. And watch what God does through you.

Finding Security Internally

Do you ever struggle with insecurity? Because I do! And I really have no reason to.

As someone who has had every need met from day one, I can’t believe that insecurity is something someone like me would deal with. The good news is that insecurity is becoming less and less of an issue for me; which is probably typical. I suppose that as you grow up and wise up, you give less space in your life to the thoughts that lead to insecurity. But it’s been a long time coming.

I can remember a social outing for my 5th grade class. It was at night, at an arcade, and I have a vivid memory of me staring at my reflection in the window of the arcade. I was wearing a turquoise print shirt and a pair of black overalls with only one strap connected (obviously!). My outfit was finished off with a pair of Jordans and a baseball hat I was wearing backwards (obviously!). As I stared at my reflection in that window, I thought,” Yep, this is it. I’m good.”

But I wasn’t.

The reason I wasn’t good is because I was looking for things externally to give me security internally. Again, this is probably a typical right of passage for most adolescents in our society, right? We crave people’s approval. And there are those rare anomalies who are naturally confident and secure apart from outside influence. I know this because I married one of these unicorns! Actually it’s one of the things  that most attracted me to her. But for the rest of us, we are always trying to find that right behavior or look or possession or talent that will finally bring real security.

I assume that many of you reading this are dealing with, or have dealt with, insecurity as a parent, in your workplace, or just as an individual within a larger community. Many of you have gone looking for security thinking you’ll find it in the right relationship, in the right lifestyle, in the right job, in the right home, in the right whatever. The problem is that whenever you go anywhere, you take yourself with you. Wherever you go, there you are… along with your insecurity.

This leads me to one conclusion…

Security can never come from outside of yourself. Instead, the way to find true security is through internal transformation. I am really talking about identity. Identity is the antidote to insecurity.

And this is how I found mine…

A couple thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to a group of people in the city of Ephesus and he began the letter with several sentences that address identity. Those of us in the traditional white evangelical church tend to skip over these opening words to get to the “meat of the message.” The problem with skipping over them is that the words are the message. We’d do well to stop treating them as flowery language for fancy filler, because there is incredible depth if we are willing to dig.

In just the first 14 verses of the letter, we learn that those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, claiming him as Savior and Lord, receive a new identity that can be summed up in four words:

Saint, Selected, Saved, and Sealed.

The problem is we rarely take these labels seriously and, therefore, we never come to embrace the internal security that comes from living into them. But when we do, it’s beautiful. And the best part is that no matter where we go, no matter how we perform, no matter who’s around, we have an unshakable security in our identity. It’s a security completely independent of our circumstance or surrounding.

When Paul writes that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, the imagery that would have come to mind for his original audience is that of a king’s signet ring. The signet was used to seal declarations and mark territory, designating approval and ownership.

Those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives have been marked as approved and as the property of God, complete with full protection and provision.

And guess what!? Everywhere I go, there I am… now fully secure because of the identity from within… in every circumstance, every environment, every role. I especially remind myself of my new identity in those moments when I catch my reflection in the window and see that insecure 5th grader again… at the age of 37.

I now find security in a God who claims, “This is mine…mess with it and you must answer to the King.” The King of kings has declared a new family heritage for me as signified by the mark of the Holy Spirit on my life.

Is this not the kind of compassionate King under whose authority I would want to submit and I would want to obey? Absolutely!

It’s this innate security in my new identity that motivates and emboldens me to live life on mission everyday. I’m no longer on a mission to find security, but instead I get to join the King in his mission of reconciling and healing a broken world back to his Kingdom.

I encourage you to spend at least 10-15 minutes reading Paul’s words in the opening of his letter to the Ephesians. Open up your Bible or the YouVersion app on your phone and really allow the words to speak to you… sit with them and meditate over them. Then decide for yourself if it is even possible to find the kind of security this identity offers anywhere else!

Disqualified: Two Barriers Keeping You From Sharing Your Faith

The ordination process for the United Methodist Church is a long and tenuous journey. Given the trend of the denomination over the years, it’s easy to see how this slow, arduous process has developed. Essentially those who have made it in want to make sure those who are trying to get it are worthy of the designation of pastor. That’s understandable.

When I was nearing the end of the process, it was time for me to go before the board of ordination and defend my theology, my preaching, and my understanding of church doctrine…all of which they had read or viewed ahead of time. I can still picture pulling up to the old school church that morning over 10 years ago. The building itself was classic…lots of brick and stained glass, long white hallways…a very sterile environment.

I entered a white room and sat down at a white table in front of a dozen pastors I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. That morning was spent answering their questions and listening to them debate ideas among themselves. Then, after returning to the holding area, I was approached by one of those pastors who told me the bad news…

I did not pass and would not be ordained.

My preaching was not sufficient. I was not qualified to preach the story of Jesus and encourage others to put their faith in him after all.

I was disqualified.

I have a feeling that many of you feel disqualified as well. You don’t feel qualified to share the story of Jesus and your faith in him with others. This is not a problem…

until you feel like you’re supposed to.

You experience the tension when you are spending time with a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate or teammate…and there’s that moment while he or she is speaking when the thought hits you; “This person is struggling and I know what he needs. He needs hope and faith in Jesus. I should talk about God here.” The feeling to share could be a desire within you or even a conviction of God in that moment. But you don’t share…

And I think I know why…

The first reason is a mindset that has been perpetuated by the church. This line of thinking makes you reason your way out of sharing, because you don’t have the credentials to do so. Leave it to the professionals! After all, “I haven’t been to seminary,” you think to yourself. “I don’t even have any Bible verses memorized!”

Instead of sharing who Jesus is to you and what he has done, the best you can do is invite the person in front of you to church…where those who are qualified can take care of it. Again, this is something the church, mainly the paid professionals like me, have created, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.

Another reason you don’t share is because of a past behavior or lifestyle. You remember who you used to be and think, “Who am I to share my beliefs with anyone?” The shame and guilt that you still carry for what you did…to yourself or to others…keeps you quiet about your faith.

So we continue making faith a private thing.

The problem is that keeping quiet about the story of Jesus and how it impacts us is not something we see in the story of God following Jesus’ resurrection. Actually, it’s the opposite. Let’s take a look at Peter for example…

Following one of the most pivotal moments for the church–receiving the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection–Peter stands to explain everything to the thousands witnessing this moment. But here’s my question: Who is Peter to share all of this with others?? Don’t you know his past and his resume? As a matter of fact, just prior to this account, we read of Peter adamantly denying that he even knows Jesus. That’s not much of a resume to now be the proclaimer of Jesus’ story…and even telling others what to do in light of this news!

But there is one statement Peter makes in his speech to which we need pay close attention.

He says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Savior.” In one sentence, we see what qualifies Peter to share.

Peter’s profession of Jesus as Savior qualified Peter as proclaimer of Jesus’ story.

And the same is true for you and for me. Forget the credentials, the achievements, the permission giving bureaucracy, the past behavior… it’s your identity in Christ that gives you the right and ability and to tell others about him. If, like Peter, Jesus is both your Lord and your Savior, you have all you need to tell others of your faith in him.

And notice the instructions Peter gives to the crowd: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” To simplify the idea of repentance, it just means to turn around.

So let’s do that. Let’s turn around…

Turn from the mindset perpetuated by the church that you are not qualified to share the story of Jesus with others or your experience of him. In other words, for you repentance just means to change your mind. Don’t make it more spiritual or more complicated than it is.

For others, you need to turn from the guilt and the shame you carry because of who you used to be. Receive fully your new identity in Jesus and be confident of it. To fully surrender looks like giving Jesus every single part…even the shame and guilt. Lay it all down!

Then, after you repent, after you change your mind and lay down your shame and guilt, share.

Share who Jesus is (no memorized Bible verses required…after all, that’s why God gave us Google). Share what Jesus has done for you. And encourage the person you are sharing with…the neighbor, the coworker, the classmate…the one close to you, but far from God…encourage her to repent. Encourage her to change her mind about who Jesus is and who she is.

In this simple act of obedience, you become a co-laborer with God. You join Him in his mission to reconcile a broken and hearting world back to himself and to reconcile all of us to each other.

There is no greater experience than changing your mind and sharing the story of Jesus with someone you know…all because you decided that your profession of Jesus as Savior qualifies you as proclaimer of Jesus’ story…

and then seeing that person with whom you shared change his.

Centered Set Values: A Better Way

Are you a leader? Rarely do leaders actually feel like leaders. People think of someone as a leader when he or she starts leading, despite how he or she feels about leadership ability. The truth is all of you are leaders… or at least have the opportunity and even responsibility to lead.

If you’re married, it’s your spouse. If you have children, they are who you should be leading. If you’re a student, there are classmates you can lead. If you’re employed, there are coworkers you have the opportunity to lead. Leadership is vital in every environment!

Therefore, a lot rides on how we choose to lead the people and the organizations in our circles of influence.

The way I lead is heavily informed and influenced by the way Jesus led. Something that has recently occurred to me about the teachings of Jesus and the way he led people is that Jesus only drew hard lines against those who drew hard lines. With the broken and hurting people he encountered, I see him extending a lot of invitation. However, with the religious leaders who were drawing hard lines for Jesus and others, I see Jesus drawing hard (if not, harsh) lines.

So what can we learn from this, especially if you are attempting to follow Jesus?

Well, there is a bit of digging we have to do, but after we uncover some concepts and language around them, I think we’ll all be on better footing to lead people than we were before.

Check this out:

Back in the 1970’s a cultural anthropologist named Paul Hiebert wrote a book in which he discussed the concept of “Bounded Set” vs. “Centered Set”. His theory is that people tend to organize, or group, in one of two ways.

7Centered Set (left side): A flag representing a set of values is figuratively staked in the center. People then self-select (through their behavior) their proximity to center. People act in ways that reflect the stated values and move closer to center or their decisions demonstrate movement away from center. The key indicators of an individual’s relation to an organization are both proximity and direction.

You have probably experienced this in your own family, for example. If a child is not exhibiting a stated value of the family, such as forgiving a sibling who has hurt him or her, that child is not told to pack her bags every time she chooses not to forgive (in a healthy family). Rather, she is coached/disciplined in a way that encourages her to exhibit forgiveness; which moves her closer to center.

The determining factor is behavior. When it comes to the stated values at the center, a person can ascend mentally and acknowledge vocally, but unless acting in accordance with the values, there is no movement.

Bounded Set (right side): A list of behavioral patterns or criteria is created and you must meet all criteria to be in. If not, you’re out. The bounded set is well-defined and simple to delineate. A potential example of this is the job description. Many descriptions have a list of tasks that need to be completed. If a person in the role accomplishes these tasks within the timeframe and manner instructed, then he keeps his job. If he doesn’t, he is fired.

Another way the bounded set is applied is through labels, such as membership. If an individual does what is required to earn membership within an organization, then she is in, and she enjoys all the privileges that accompany her membership.

What does this have to do with leadership??

The other pastor at Multiply Church (Pastor Casey) and I have chosen to approach our leadership within the community of Multiply Church through Centered Set values vs. a Bounded Set. We have a stated set of values and behavioral patterns that are Biblical and healthy. At the same time, we have no membership to speak of. Therefore, there is no official IN or OUT.

This is messy stuff, but we think it’s what Jesus modeled so bear with us!

The dangers of this approach are numerous. If someone believes himself to be close to center, but his behavior demonstrates otherwise, there is a risk of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the community. Also, if someone is proving to be close to center, there is the danger that she might feel a sense of hierarchy or entitlement. And if center itself isn’t clearly understood, then NO ONE knows what’s going on or what’s expected!

You starting to pick up on the messiness?

Even with all the potential pitfalls, there are still some great and Godly things happening. First of all, entitlement has no place, because there is no “in or out”. Secondly, there is no opportunity for lack of ownership. If behavioral patterns alone indicate your proximity to center, then no one can rely on someone else’s behavior and claim it as their own. No longer can we say things like, “Our church does _____” or “I love how our church serves _____,” because if the individual is NOT doing it, it doesn’t really count for him or for her, does it?

How do the implications of this approach strike you? I hope you take the time to consider them as you lead in your…

  • local church
  • neighborhood
  • office
  • family
  • circle of friends

Do your behaviors and actions demonstrate close proximity to center? Are you moving closer or further away?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this leadership concept and if you would like to see more evidence for this being the method Jesus used, comment below!

Contending for Contentment


At Multiply Church, we have been putting the forgotten discipline of fasting into practice as a community through a 40 day fast beginning on January 1st. At the beginning of this effort, we began sensing a call to contend. A leader from within our community felt further confirmation as the Lord led him to the book of Jude during his fast; which reads, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

So what does it mean to contend?

This is not a word we use in our everyday vocabulary. Actually it means to struggle in opposition. Fasting is the current tactic we as Multiply Church are using to contend—to struggle in opposition against anything that would to come against us living into the life God has set before us. We are denying ourselves to seek God and fight for more of His Kingdom here on earth.

As we talk about all this struggling and hungering and thirsting and increasing our desperation for God, a new tension presents itself:

How do we balance all this longing with being content?

Contentment is always a struggle for me. There are times when I’m riding around the city and, more importantly, looking around at what others have, only to think to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Just look at all there is to acquire in this world and then, suddenly, what you have doesn’t feel like enough.

Do you struggle with contentment too, or is it just me? Do you ever wonder if your marriage, your spouse, your finances and material possessions, your fitness level, or your career path is enough? Have you ever had this thought: “I always thought I’d be further along than I am at this point in my life!”?

One of the greatest schemes of the enemy and one behavior that will surely keep us from ever being content is comparison. Never before has humanity had more opportunities to compare ourselves to others than we do now. Every advertisement, all 5,000 per day, is really just a comparison. Your life to the one being presented, or worse, sold. Of course social media is a huge opportunity for us to be discontent. We’re comparing everyone else’s highlights to our entire lives.

So what’s a brother to do??

Well, the apostle Paul has an idea and we find it in a passage that includes one of the most popular, and most taken out of context, Bible verses. Paul tells the believers in Philippi that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Then he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Notice that it is all this and not all things.

He did it! He figured it out. Paul knows how to find contentment. But how??

I think his contentment is found in his contending. What did Paul spending his life doing? He spent his life contending for the Kingdom of God.

So here’s how it works: Contending for our kingdom leads to comparison. Contending for the Kingdom leads to contentment.

When we are contending for our kingdom—striving for more until we have enough—we tend to be driven by greed, we operate out of fear, and we maintain a mindset of scarcity.

On the other side of the cross, when we contend for the Kingdom, we are driven by generosity, we operate out of faith, and, best of all, we experience freedom from greed, fear, and scarcity!

Greed says, “I don’t have enough” and fear says, “I might need this one day.”

Generosity says, “This isn’t mine anyway…I have it to share with those in need” and faith says, “Here you go.”

Could this be the reward and the abundant life of which Jesus speaks? I think so. We find life when we experience freedom, joy, and purpose.

When we shift from contending for our kingdom to contending for the Kingdom, we come alive like never before. Suddenly our marriages, our finances, our careers, and every other aspect of our existence is no longer something to be compared, but instead an opportunity to participate in “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

What is one shift you can make in order to contend for the Kingdom and, as a reward, find contentment?