Don’t Miss the Point

It’s easy to see symptoms, right? We put bandages on cuts. We take ibuprofen for headaches. We drink energy drinks with loads of caffeine. We’re addressing the symptoms but we’re not really dealing with the deeper issue. We’re deferring time or deflecting attention so that we can move on with whatever feels urgent right now. We are all susceptible. We are all guilty. But how long does it go on before we pull down the wall and take the time to do the hard work of trying to deal with the real issues?

What I mean is this… maybe you don’t need to take two Advil every morning with your four shots of espresso. Maybe you need more sleep. Maybe you don’t need to buy fourteen tubes of toothpaste just because it was on sale. Maybe you need to deal with the pain of losing your son. Sometimes life just sucks. So why pretend that it’s fine when sometimes it just isn’t?

The Apostle Paul sent lots of instructions that would help shape Timothy into the leader he needed to be. He warned him against people who would try to maneuver into position using money. Money was their distraction. It was a bandage. For some of us it still is. But for most of us it’s something else. And in 1 Timothy 6:17-21, Paul gets to the point. He says, “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.”

Be careful when you get caught up in the chatter that you’re not missing the point. Get to the source. Don’t be distracted by smoke and mirrors. Don’t miss the point. Jesus even warned us there will be those who say, “But Lord, I did all these wonderful things in your name,” and that He’d still say that they missed the point. His point is that doing is not the end itself. It’s knowing. Knowing Him and what He cares about and following Him into the world. Doing is born out of knowing. Not the other way around.

What are you deflecting? How are you missing the point? Maybe it’s time to deal with it.

A Little Less Fragmented

We got news of a landmark event. Something we’ve been praying for for at least a year.

Have you read where Isaiah says we are to take up the cause of the widow and the fatherless? Well, if you haven’t read it, here ya go (Isaiah 1:11-17). Read it and think on it for a bit then come back.

For a year now my wife has stood in unfriendly places to make sure she held true to what God was calling her to do. A year ago, a young mom came into our church not knowing how to fit in. She wasn’t immediately welcomed by the majority. Our pastor told Kelley that this is exactly the mission we are on. And Kelley and I know that part of our mission as a family is to integrate the fringes. So he sent her to this young mom to help nurture her and encourage her.

Not too long after becoming involved, the story swirled with an ominous cloud that seemed to never relent. This mom had been reported to authorities for suspected neglect and abuse. The strange thing is that there was no evidence of such and even stranger is the person reporting this to the authorities was in a position to benefit greatly from the child being taken from his mother. The timing was urgent and we needed to get her into a stable environment as quickly as possible. I petitioned our Elders to stand for her and this little child. One of them came forward and offered to become foster parents for the little boy until the mom could get a little better situated on her feet.

At the same time, there was a lady, eager for a child she couldn’t have and seemingly desperate to make this opportunity hers. Somehow, she was able to convince the system (which is in such bad shape) to let the little boy come live with her while the birth mom got her stuff together. And to complicate things, this lady had some socially powerful friends in a very small town. If she could convince them of her noble intentions she might ultimately get to keep the child (at least that’s what she seemed to be angling for). I won’t go into the details, but it wasn’t too long until her friends came to discover how they’d been manipulated throughout this process.

Kelley went to meeting after meeting after meeting with the birth mom, the custodial caregiver, and the case worker. Most meetings ended with the caregiver cursing at Kelley. Threatening her. Threatening our family. Demeaning the birth mom and being rather belligerent to the case worker. The caregiver knew she was losing what could be the last opportunity she might ever have to raise a child. And as sympathetic as I am to that, I simply cannot stand for manipulation and disrespect. The caregiver continually created more and more hoops for the birth mom to jump through. She created scenarios where she tried to justify leaving the state with the child, even when doing so would immediately result in FBI involvement. One night the caregiver threatened the safety of our family because of her disapproval of Kelley’s involvement in this process. She said she couldn’t understand how the church could stand with someone who obviously hasn’t done anything to prove she deserves it. She said that Kelley’s involvement was an abomination and was making a mockery of the church. We came home two nights later and our house had been broken into.

The caregiver tried numerous times to convince the birth mom that the best thing for her son was that he live with the caregiver – permanently. She wanted to adopt him.

That seems noble until you realize that the birth mom loves her son and wants him to live with her and that she is doing everything and more that the state is requiring of her to get her son back. At some point, you begin to see that this the nobility has been tainted. This is an unstable situation and this child needs to be back in the custody of his birth mother sooner rather than later. And if it can’t happen soon then he needs to be placed in legitimate foster care. This sentiment wasn’t received very positively by everyone, as you might imagine. Some people were making Kelley out to be reckless and haphazard. One of our own team members (who was also aligned with the caregiver) told Kelley that she was out of line and she shouldn’t continue to do what our pastor had commissioned her to do. (Excuse me, what?!)

Here’s the deal. As a family, we make every decision through at least one of three filters – honor, generosity, and compassion. And we stand firmly to maintain those values. If someone is acting in a manner that dishonors the basic humanity of another person, we stand to build honor. And in this storyline, that’s precisely what Kelley has fully committed her heart and soul to see. We believe that every person is made in the image of God. Oftentimes, when we see brokenness in the world, it’s because someone has painted an inaccurate representation of God to an individual. We believe that we are called to help restore the image of God. And for a year, Kelley has stood beside this birth mom with honor, rebuilding honor in her heart. Telling her that she’s a good mom. That God has gifted her with love for her son and a spirit that will do everything to provide for him.

In our day and age, we don’t see as many widows as we used to, especially like in bible times. A widow then was someone who had no husband to represent her, no one to provide for her or protect her. She relied solely on the care of her other family members or if she had no family, the care from a sensitive and responsive heart. In our modern Western society, that scenario is not as prevalent. It is my opinion that single moms, especially those who’s baby-daddies have run out on them… they are the widows of our generation. They are left with the care of this child and abandoned by one who said he’d be there. These girls aren’t to be discarded. They aren’t to be ignored. They aren’t to be run over or manipulated. They are to be encouraged and nurtured. And that’s what Kelley has done for the last year.

We knew we were getting close to the day we’ve been awaiting. The birth mom got her own place. She got registered for school. Went to parenting classes. She was granted weekend visitation. And every weekend she would just beam when she was with her son.

And this afternoon, she sent Kelley a message to thank her because today she received full custody of her son! No more visitation. Mother and son fully reunited.

I’m so proud of my wife. She flew high like a flag amidst the beatings of adversity. She stood proudly for justice. She was a beacon of hope and honor. And today I place her high on a mountaintop for all the world to see as she flies as a symbol of profound victory. The image of God is a little less fragmented because of her.

The Trap of Authentic Worship

What would it look like if your preferred form of worship was taken away?

I’m a musician, a singer, and a worship leader. It’s easy for me to pigeon-hole “worship” into how I express my worship rather than actually worshipping. I have some friends who are musicians. God has clearly given them their talent and has worked in them and has directed their hearts to share their talents with the Body. I know some of them struggle the way I do. We love to worship. And for us, music is one of the most natural expressions.

I can tell, however, when we’ve gotten trapped into one form of worship. Whether it’s a musician on a worship team or a member of the congregation, we start saying things like, “I feel closest to God when I’m singing that song.” I’m not denying that something transcendent happens when we abandon ourselves in song to God, both privately or corporately. But what if you lost your voice or your ability to sing? Would you be exempt for worshipping? If singing or playing an instrument is the only way I know how to express worship, then what about those without the ability? Are they not able to worship?

As a worship leader, it’s tough to look out into a sea of faces and see such vast expressions. “How can two people in the same room, sharing the same experience have such distinctly different responses,” I think to myself? I see some sitting. And a few seats over, some are standing. Some quiet. Some singing so loudly I can hear them over the music coming from the stage. Some clapping. Some with their hands in their pockets. Unless you’re a worship leader at a Hillsong, Jesus Culture, or Chris Tomlin event, you know what I’m talking about. We seem to have some form of dissociative disorder. I get that we respond differently at different times of our lives. My fear is that we tend to get comfortable with one form and resist the opportunities to respond with other forms and expressions.

We were all created for the express purpose of worshipping God. No one is exempt. But we often justify our resistance by saying things like, “I don’t worship that way,” or “I’m a quiet person. For me to shout or jump around would be inauthentic.” But I would argue that for you to resist anything but an unfiltered response to the very one who created you is what’s inauthentic. For you not to shout or jump or sing (or whatever form it takes) isn’t really about authenticity, is it? It’s about pride.

I’ve come from a very wide circle of Evangelical Christian traditions. Some of these traditions champion lifting the hands, dancing and other physical acts as the outside indicator that a person is fully involved with worshipping God. But what if you don’t have hands or your legs don’t function the way most others do? Are you exempt? What about singing loudly? How does the mute person fit into that mold? How does God expect them to worship without a voice? I could detail other physical restrictions, but I think you get it.

The point is this… our God is diverse. And in our creation he established a variety of ways to respond to him in worship. Ways that allow everything that has breath to express worship. But when we get locked into one form or another and resist expressions that vary from “our way” we’re actually squelching a response to God that says, “I am Yours. I have no other response but total abandonment.”

Are you open to responding to God in ways that aren’t comfortable to you?

Church is Not…

I wrote an article last week about the reasons why we gather as a community (and also about some of things Sundays are not intended to be). Today, as a follow-up, I want to go a little further down that path.

I grew up in a moderately traditional Southern Baptist church in Alabama. There were some incredibly devoted people there. Some of them who today have become extremely valuable influences for me. But there were some who seemed to only come on Sundays out of respect for a ritual. At the time I pegged this a condition of the teaching of the church that didn’t challenge its people toward a life of devotion to Christ and His Church. I am confessing to you today that my indictment was off.

I’ve seen this epidemic in every single church I’ve served over the last decade. I’m wondering now if this is a condition of the individual rather than a flaw in denominational doctrines or practices. Even in the Deep South Bible Belt where religion and religious activity are marks of honor and duty, there’s a subterraneous belief that the church is nothing more than a civic club. Unfortunately we, as followers of Christ and overseers of His Church, have done little in the last few years to help accurately portray what Christ desires of the Church in these days.

The American Church especially is suffering from an identity crisis.

We’ve tried so hard to be appealing to the masses that I fear we’re becoming background noise in a post-Christian culture. Where I live in Western North Carolina there are just over 415,000 people. Of those, more than 190,000 people do not associate with any religious organization. Forty-six percent (46%) of our friends and neighbors (almost 1 in 2) don’t affiliate with our church or any other church in the area. In a lot of ways, I fear it may be that we don’t know who we are. To rediscover this, sometimes it is helpful to know what we are not. These may sound like some really bad marketing strategies for a church, but hear me out.

A few things the Church is NOT…

  • The Church is not a community service organization.
  • She is not a charity.
  • The Church does not exist to serve your needs.

Community Service Organization
While the local churches do well when we get involved in community service to help make our towns and neighborhoods better places to live, this is not the thrust of the Church. We must always give preference to retelling the Gospel in every way imaginable. We believe that God has called us to live in, to be an active contributor to, and to serve our communities in a variety of ways. But if we neglect to tell the story of Redemption within the context of our good deeds we are merely good people doing something nice for someone.

Not A Charity
Certainly with regard to taxes, your donations to a local church are classified as ‘charitable giving’ but that’s about as far as it goes. If one day our government decided to stop giving you credit for your donations, the Church would still continue to be the Church. Jesus taught us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The IRS doesn’t owe Christians a tax-break just because we’re Christians. Caesar still gets his part independent of what we give to God. So, yes… give to the church. Give lots. Give lavishly. But stop hoping that Caesar will take care of you and trust the LORD. Proverbs 19 tells us that he who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD and He will repay you.

Services Sector Corporation
A lot of our gatherings are full of the best-of-the-best when it comes to public speakers, musicians, creative artists, and even culinary treats. And week after week, all around the country people arrive at state-of-the-art facilities with well planned parking to take in an experience unlike anything else. All for free. It’s easy to see why sometimes the Church has gotten mis-identified as a kind of Services Sector Corporation. Multi-million dollar annual operating budgets are required to continually pull this kind of thing off. But what if we’ve gotten so good at putting on “the show,” so masterful at “customer service” that we’ve set the expectation for those attending that this is what should be demanded by a distinguished religious consumer? When worship becomes a matter of musical preference or when the dress code of the pastor becomes the distinctive for missional alignment, I fear we’ve started to believe the Church should to be run by a different maxim than what Christ would desire.

Now, I’m all for using the resources God has given you and for making sure people who attend as guests find their experience a pleasant one. That’s simple stewardship and hospitality. What I hate is when people begin feeling entitled to stuff. “Their” seat. Preferred parking. Or that the pastor speaks to them within 60 seconds of them entering the building.

Regardless of how it plays out, it’s entitlement. And entitlement is a cancer.

We are a grateful people (or at least we’re supposed to be). We enter His courts with thanksgiving, right? But it’s hard to be grateful when you feel entitled. And if entitlement is allowed to reign, the cancer spreads. Thoughts like, “I’m just not getting fed,” or, “The band didn’t play my song,” are evidence that you’ve got a Me-Monster inside that wants more, more, more. And it simply cannot be satisfied.

Let’s think about this. You (we) are the Church. So by saying that you want the Church to meet your needs, you’d actually have to say that you want to serve yourself. Right? This is narcissism. You’re frustrated because the Church isn’t meeting your needs. But that’s simply not a realistic expectation. Instead, why don’t you go find inventive ways to serve someone else’s needs and see if God doesn’t take care of you. On Sundays, connect with a guest who’s looking for a reason to stick around. Find a ministry to jump into and serve with your whole heart. Run out with an umbrella to help mom’s get their kids inside from the rain. Mentor a child or a student. Do something to serve the needs around you.

Otherwise, just go play golf on Sundays.

What’s A Volunteer

All over the world there are those who see something so compelling they are driven to give of themselves, their finances, and even sometimes their entire lives.

We’ve been talking about the impact our money can have on bringing solutions to the needs around us in a very real, very practical sense. Things that will feed the hungry, clothe the needy and befriend the outcast.

And this is exactly what our volunteers do. Everyday. Around our communities and across the world. We are the rescued ones who now have made it our mission to serve as agents of our Redeemer. To bring the story of love, of liberation and restoration to people who are loved by God.

A Grove Volunteer sees the world through Christ and reaches out with hands to serve, to heal, to give hope. Because at one point we were the outcast, the hurting, the hungry and needy. We were alone and without hope.
Christ has come for all of us through the hands of his agents.

And now we do the same.

If you are currently serving with the Grove, take a second to fill out a Connect Card (in the center of your table or in the seatback pocket of a chair around you). Drop it off in the basket before you leave and we’ll help you find ways to aide in the redemption story of the Gospel.

www.thegrovechurch.com/serve

www.thegrovechurch.com/missions

Live Generously

A problem currently exists in American churches that we as spiritual leaders need to address. As a whole, American congregations (of which we are classified) are not generous. Let’s look at some facts.

Christians are giving at a 2.5% per capita or tithe. During the Great Depression, they gave at a 3.3% rate. Today, 33-50% of church members, those who claim they have bought in at a deep level to the ministry of their local church, give nothing.

If we were able to see people increase their giving from 2.5% to 10% of their annual income, an additional $165 billion would flow into the Kingdom. To show the global impact those resources could make, consider the following:

$25 billion would relieve global hunger, starvation, and deaths from preventable diseases in 5 years.
$12 billion would eliminate illiteracy in 5 years.
$15 billion would solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
$1 billion would fully fund the Great Commission.
$100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.
These statistics were provided by http://www.generouschurch.com.

Here are some possible characteristics of a generous church. Do you agree with these statements?

A Generous Church:

is broken about the condition of those around them and has a vision of what financial resources could do to bring aid to the hurting and suffering.
celebrates generosity.
is unapologetic about asking for resources. It understands that ministry costs money, and the more money you have, the more impact you can make.
is well-funded and therefore, able to focus on the under-resourced, hurting, orphaned, poor, and those in need rather than giving so much energy to ministry maintenance.
is on a quest to serve those around them. Too much of Swain Co. and surrounding areas live below the poverty line. This is unacceptable to the Generous Church.
values partnerships with other organizations like LoveBryson, Samaritans Purse and Bridge of Hope to make the greatest impact in our communities and around the world.
isn’t afraid of the “Big Ask.” Giving and serving aren’t bad words in a Generous Church and the people of a Generous Church aren’t afraid to answer the call.
knows its community and knows how to utilize resources effectively to bring a solution to the problems.
creatively allows its people to participate in generosity.
has many avenues for financial contributions. There is no shortage of opportunity or mechanism for giving at the Grove. Obviously, giving on Sundays during regular worship gatherings is an easy way. But the Grove also offers online giving, automatic pre-authorized bank draft and mobile transactions. There are actually members of our team who can process contributions directly to the Grove on their mobile devices. Try it. Next time you see Jeff or Randall around town, offer to make a donation right then and there. It’s painless and the receipt is texted to your phone or can be emailed to you on the spot. Pretty cool.
recognizes that it takes all of us working corporately together. Together we make a difference.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these points.

What would it be like to see global hunger erased; every person on the planet drinking clean water; missionaries around the globe fully funded as together, we fulfill the Great Commission and ministries all over the world begin growing at record rates? This is so within reach. But it won’t happen on our current 2.5% giving. Do you believe in living generously? As people, we are wired to act on what we believe. If we say we believe something and do nothing, is it really a belief or simply a nice idea?

I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer lately. Two things spring to mind as I wrap this entry. He says (to the effect), “The ultimate test of a moral society [like the Church] is the kind of world it leaves to its children. We do not very naturally realize that we have been given so much more than we give. But we cannot be rich without gratitude.” More famously he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

So again, do you believe in giving and living generously? Do you believe it’s important to obey God? Bonhoeffer states, “Only the obedient believe.” Your money is going somewhere.

If you believe it, do something with it that will make an impact.

Live Generously.

-Randall

Why Baptism?

WHY BAPTISM?

We’ve asked that question over the past couple of weeks to some of our people who’ve been baptized in the past few years. This week we got to pose the same question to a few who’ll be baptized today.

What’s the big deal about baptism?

Let’s look. Jesus was baptized. He instructed his disciples to baptize. So it seems there’s gotta be something to this, right?

There are two ordinances of the church, and this is true all over the world. One is communion, where we remember the obedience, the sacrifice and the redemption through Jesus. We do this together. It serves to remind us that he did all of this to save all of us.

The second ordinance is baptism. Jesus made his way through the crowd gathered by the river. It’s symbolic, this immersion into water and emergence from it. For John the Baptist and Jesus and those alive in those days, it was foreshadowing the transformation that would be brought to all of us through Messiah.

They did this together, to remind each other that there is life after this life. Death is not the end. And for us now, on this side of the story, it is how we identify with what Christ did, defeating death, hell and the grave and bringing new life to us in the world in which we live. For Jesus and John and their contemporaries, this was a communal thing.

And today, some of us will observe from the banks of Deep Creek. But there are others who will enter that water and remind us of what we’ve been given – new life.

Here. Now.