Do The next RIght thing

This is college football country, so I feel free to ask this question. How do you feel when an offensive coordinator scripts all of his offense’s plays for the first series or quarter of the game? Most of us are Monday morning quarterbacks, so if you were the coach, would decide every proceeding play before the game started?

I recently spoke with a friend who was left with mostly bad options. It was difficult to counsel him. Most of us- myself included, prefer a clear and precise plan. Like a offensive coordinator, we like to script the plays, imagining that each will work out just like we anticipated. But unfortunately life doesn't work that way. Because of our choices and the choices of others, life requires many game time decisions and half time adjustments. 

But what do you do, when you don’t know what to do? Another saying we have in the fellows ministry is “ Do the next right thing.” Almost without fail, when we say this the emphasis is always on the word next.

Yet a clear aspect of our humanity is our nearsightedness. Figuratively speaking, we can't see past our noses and never have any idea of what’s around the corner. And sometimes like my friend, even when you can anticipate the life coming down the pike, we’re only left with less than stellar options. All you can do is the next right thing.

A friend just lost her husband and there is no way to prepare completely for the season to come. Today all she can do is the next right thing.

Another person I know is trying to save his marriage. He’s praying for the silver bullet solution that would fix everything, but today all he can do is the next right thing.

Another friend is navigating the waters of a corporate merger. Its not that he doesn't like the new organization. It's just different and a significant adjustment. Most days he shows up at work, not certain how to best do his job. Today all he can do is the next right thing.

As the fellow’s year progresses, the fellows will find themselves investing a great deal of time and emotional energy in trying to figure out life after their fellow's year. Like of all us they will be faced with a web of interconnected decisions and they often feel overwhelmed and overrun my infinite contingencies. They will find themselves having to do the next right thing.

One of the many differences between us and the Lord is that he has no “nexts.” He lives outside of time and space and sees all of eternity with simultaneous, crystal clarity. He doesn’t wait nor make adjustments based on the latest intel. He sovereignly and simply... sees.

And thus we are left as those who “see in a mirror dimly” to trust and entrust ourselves to the One

who sees; who knows us and who cares. Just as Christ in his humanity, anticipated yet not knowing fully what the next day of his crucifixion would bring, entrusted himself to the Father, we too by faith trust the Lord by doing the next right thing.

Be At Where your feet are

This week in Germany, a young train terminal dispatcher admitted to accidentally pressing a button that inadvertently switched tracks causing a head on collision of two commuter trains that took the lives of twelve passengers and injured eighty nine others. In the moments leading up to the horrific episode, he was found playing a video game on his smartphone. 

This is not an article against technology. I enjoy and am even thankful for my Iphone 7. It is useful and helps me be more productive and effective. This is an article about our fragmented lives and the effects it has upon our relationships.

In the fellows, we have a saying. “Be at where your feet are.” We are constantly aware of the growing amount of information that crowds our minds. While this in many ways is inevitable, today we have the ability and opportunity to simultaneously be a million other places. Though in actuality… we can’t. A lesson that young train operator learned all too tragically.

I could speak of how this fragmentation affects productivity, or stress or work performance, but what I think is critical for us to explore is the effects that a fragmented life has on our ability to obey the Great Commandment. It is a challenge to love the Lord our God will all of our hearts, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves, when our attention and affections are spread thin and pulled in a thousand different directions.

My daughter has recently entered the complex world of 7th grade social life. One of the things that she often complains about is that while she is in a conversation with one friend, as soon as another friend walks by, the friend in which she was conversing often in mid sentence, walks away to talk to the other girl. It's like the siren call of another is so irresistible that with a zombie like trance 7th graders always gravitate to the next friend, leaving the original 7th grader alone, looking at their shoes and developing social complexes. What I appreciate about 7th graders is honesty. Grace, my daughter, says “Its like the other friend is better.”

The fundamental problem of this kind of fragmentation is that with every text or twitter alert or the ding of the my many Iphone notifications is always the potential that behind that notification or badge app icon is something more interesting or important than the person in which I'm currently with.

I’ll confess that the ding is an irresistible siren call and it has has captured us all. And thus its helped developed a broader corporate consciousness and social acceptability to be fragmented and distracted. We all have quietly embraced that everyone has at least one social foot out the door at all times and so we engage in a shallow and easy come- easy go social contract. This light relational arrangement allows us to engage in a casual, no strings attached conversation not wanting to actually be tied down or obligated to the needs of another that would keep this conversation going longer than necessary. Thankfully there is a phone alert that will rescues us. Even better if it is their phone that interrupts. Then I can apologize for them on their behalf- and avoid any shame all together. Heaven forbid that I feel awkward.

The new spiritual discipline of the 21st century is attention. I find for me it takes more and more wear-for- all just to be present when someone is talking. Walking in the Spirit is often simply paying attention to what or who is in front of me. Self control is bringing my mind back to focus and constantly wrangling wondering and rogue thoughts. Faith is following the light unto my path and ignoring the rabbit trails of twitter feeds and click bait. To abide is to be quiet and to be with and to be fully present with Jesus, or a friend or whoever is more important than the other one at the other end of my Iphone notification.

And so for God’s glory and for our joy, let us always be where our feet are.

Investing the most time, energy and resource in the most important things

I’m always behind. That’s why I’m just now reading What’s Best Next by Matt Perman. I know that I probably should have read it by now. But if I were better at what the book talks about, I probably would have. Just the same, I’ve appreciated the truth filled practicality of the book about life and time management. It points us towards not only doing things better- but doing better things better. 

Some years ago Stacy, my wife, and I developed a litmus test for life. This simple question acts as a canary in the cave for our life and helps us focus. Our diagnostic question is:

“Are we devoting the most time, energy and resources to the most important things?"

The answer to this is often “No”. Otherwise I wouldn’t be asking the question. In fact, over the last 24 hours, I’ve fixed my attention and my affection on football scores, fashion trends for 8 year old’s and Ford F150’s.

In the fellows ministry we spend a great deal of time pressing into the prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done- on earth as it is in heaven.” When Jesus prayed this way, was He praying for a far off future kingdom that would inevitably appear? And when He says, Thy will be done… was He requesting that the decree of a Sovereign God actually come about?

While I think with some effort we can square our minds around the theology of the prayer, what is striking to me is that more than teaching them a memorized prayer, He was teaching them what they were to desire. He was teaching them what and how to want.

From this simple prayer, we can make some significant observations about what Jesus was teaching them.

1. Jesus taught that things aren't the way they are supposed to be.

Otherwise there would be no need to ask God to change things.

2. Jesus taught there is a Kingdom of Heaven.

There is more to this life. And the most important things may not be visible.

3. Jesus taught the Kingdom is coming here to Earth.

Jesus is working in real time today and work towards his designed ends in the future.

4. Jesus taught the supremacy of God’s will.

By asking, we are forced to submit to His will. That’s what asking really is.

5. Jesus taught the Kingdom comes as an answer to prayer.

Why would Jesus teach his disciples to pray, if it really didn’t matter?

6. Jesus taught that we should pray for what we want.

Jesus wasn’t commanding them to recite wrote, meaningless words, but he was training their hearts to want what it ought to want.

7. Jesus taught that we should want the Kingdom.

He taught them to ask for the Kingdom, even though He knew it had already come, was coming and would come in its fullness in the future. Jesus knew that the issues of life flow from the heart- from our “wanter.”

I'm not much on twelve keys or seven steps, but even I can understand that if I want to invest the most of my time, energy and resources into the most important things then I have to want to.

I like clarion calls and I need sharp edges to cut through the callus. Any problems with my marriage or my money or my time management, along with upteen other categories of my life is is almost always a problem of my wants.

And so for Jesus I am grateful that the One whose joy was set before Him…. the One who wanted most to be returned to the joy of his Father’s presence… it was He who wanted His Father's glory and who wanted me enough to endure the Cross. He has saved and secured me and you and as we seek Him by His grace, He changes our “wanter.” Thus we pray Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

It's the Best of Times. The Worst of Times... All of the Times.

It’s my daughter's birthday. She is nine years old today and an absolute delight. We enjoy celebrating her life because there's so much to celebrate. She is a joy and I smile just thinking about her. Yet, I just got off the phone with a friend who is counseling another friend about what to tell his kids because his wife has issued divorce papers. Today it seems that Dickens was right when he said, “it's the best of times and the worst of times…and I’d add “ all of the time.” 

We recently celebrated “Nehemiah Day” at our church. It's a day we gather and commit the afternoon to prayer. This year we had four pastors read John 14-17 “over us.” They literally stood in the balcony and read four entire chapters of the Bible. This is unheard of in the modern church. Who reads four chapters in a church service? It was wonderful.  

I’ve read those chapters many times and honestly there is so much rich and trans-formative truth in this Scripture, it's hard to catch your breath to savor it all, but at this reading these lines reverberated in my heart.

  • “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
  • “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
  • Because I live, you also will live.
  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.
  • the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me. (Jesus)
  • Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
  • No one will take your joy from you.
  • Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full
  • I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
  • But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

I’m struck how honest Jesus was when he comforted his disciples. He didn't mince words or bath a difficult situation with light platitudes. He see things as they are and speaks accordingly. In the midst of their despair and fright, he gave them exactly what they needed most… Himself.

He says things like … “I will come to you because I live you will live.”” You are clean because of my words.” “ I have overcome the world.” “That they may have my joy.“

Jesus, though He saw the world as it was- anticipating the hardship coming down the pike- He promised joy. Not ease. Not personal peace and affluence. Not comfort. But joy. He promised to them Himself and His Spirit.

One of the things that we talk about in the fellows is living life in a broken world as broken BUT redeemed, new creations. Because we are redeemed, we live in hope with a faith informed optimism. Since the world isn't the way it ought to be- we hurt. We feel the sting of a creation gone awry.

And thus for us followers of Jesus- It is the worst times. We live among the ruins of a once beautiful world. Yet, Its the best times. We have Jesus today who's making all things new for his glory and our joy!

May our glory have faces

    A few years ago one of our fellows made this statement. He said “the difference between American hospitality and biblical hospitality is that with American hospitality it’s ultimately about the host. Biblical hospitality is ultimately about the guest."

   For the last several months I’ve been studying and teaching Paul's letter to Thessalonica. In many ways 1 Thessalonica is a case study of biblical hospitality and ministry. This may sound strange since it was the small new church that hosted Paul, Barnabas and Timothy until the threat of danger was too high that their ministry team had to be evacuated. But while Paul was forced to leave and was now writing from some Greek town far away, he paints a portrait of rich hospitality and deep love.

Paul’s life was marked by hospitality- the welcoming in and the giving away. Notice his heart throughout the letter.

• We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,

• But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

• We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

• But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,

• For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.

One of many truths and hopes that we endeavor to pursue in the fellows ministry is summed up in a little slogan we’ve recently developed taken from verse 3:20. May our glory have faces.

In fellows community we pray that much of our joy would come from being in rich community and relationship with people. We hope that our trophies in this world would not be shiny things, but broken- redeemed people. That our glory would not be in status but in good friends.

I’m thankful that as I think of the five fellows classes that we’ve enjoyed, my heart is filled with joy and my mind is filled with faces. The faces of our dear fellows who the Lord in his kind providence has brought into our lives and who have brought us much delight. I praise God that our “glory has faces!”

Truths Fellows Live By

With any intentional community like the fellows who spend so much time together, its inevitable that the group would develop their own vernacular. In this, our first blog series,  we wanted to share a few of the sayings that seem to have stuck and have become a part of the language of fellows.

  • Investing the Most Time and Energy in the Most Important Things
  • Do the Next Right Thing
  • Be At Where Your Feet Are
  • Glory with Faces
  • The Best of Times- The Worst of Times- All the Times