Can You Have Church Without an Agenda?

Can You Have Church Without an Agenda?

A couple of weekends ago, I participated in a men’s retreat. It was one I helped coordinate, and we had invited Wayne Jacobsen (founder of Lifestream Ministries, co-host of The God Journey podcast, and co-author on The Shack) to come and be with us.

I’ve never experienced a men’s retreat like this before. For one, we decided to run the retreat without an agenda. I had heard Wayne talk about this before, and it sounded like amazing things could happen. However, it also scared the heeby-jeebies out of me. Being a good ex-pastor, I always had a plan or agenda for things like this. After all, God’s not a God of chaos, so we shouldn’t be either, right?

Wouldn’t not having a schedule lead to utter chaos?

I decided to trust in the process that God has been leading me in over the last few years, and trust that it was God who was nudging me to have an agenda-less retreat. I ran it by my friend who so graciously offered up his lake house where we hosted the retreat. He obliged to the request.

I’ve seen and been part of retreats that fill up every moment of time, not really allowing you to connect with God, or others for that matter.  I’ve been to others that have a light schedule but also provide room to hear from God. I enjoyed the ones that didn’t fill up the whole time and so I wondered, “What could Father do if we don’t fill up any of the time, but turn it over completely to him?”

There were still doubts and fears, even at one point the first night of the retreat. I kept wondering, “Is this really going to work?” After that first moment of panic, I decided (again) to surrender the schedule to the Lord. We had one dinner planned with the wives on Saturday night; other than that, we left conversations, gatherings, and agenda to Father.

At the end of the weekend, as I reflected, I couldn’t have planned and orchestrated everything any better than what happened. There were deep conversations, there was time spent alone or in groups of two’s or three’s. I got to know new brothers and fellowship deeply with others that I hardly know. There was laughter and joy. There were moments where I was deeply satisfied and

It was, in a word, more.

I felt more community.

I felt more connection.

I felt more “church” than I have in a long time. All without an agenda – and all without planning much of anything.

I used to think that you needed a plan or schedule to make things happen. I really didn’t trust that God would show up without needing a bit of help. Now I know that a schedule isn’t necessary. Father can handle it. Much of the time, we limit God by our own agenda. We read into what He wants, instead of simply surrendering our agenda and plan to Him, because we ultimately don’t trust that He can do things without our assistance.

It doesn’t mean there is not room for a plan, on occasion. However, I think we (I know I did) have a tendency to over-plan and plan God right out of most of what we do. I’ve heard people ask, “Couldn’t God break into [our plan] if he wanted to?” I guess he could, but wouldn’t it be better to let Him lead from the beginning? Trust him with the program and the results.

Try it and see what happens. And when God shows up, I bet you’ll be glad you did!

Where can you create more space for God to set the agenda in your life or ministry? What fears do you have about leaving the results and schedule to Father?

Letting Go of Expectations

Letting Go of Expectations

This morning I received an email from a friend of mine who is a missionary in Mexico. I usually hear from him about once a week and we briefly tell each other how we can be praying.

He shared about his interns being too comfortable and needing to come to the end of themselves. He knew he couldn’t be the one to bring them to that point, but wondered at least how he could lead them down that road.

It got me thinking about our expectations for others, and the long journey it’s taken me to come to the end of myself. Every time I think I’m at the end, it seems Jesus is there tugging me forward saying, “That was just a resting place. It’s not the end.” Have you been there?

What Do You Expect?

Unmet expectations are the source of all kinds of conflict, whether in marriages or friendships or the workplace. This is especially true when the expectations are unrealistic. Much of the time, I believe they are.

  • We expect others to meet our needs completely, when there is only One that can fulfill us (and it’s not your spouse or significant other).
  • We have too high expectations of ourselves and get frustrated when we don’t meet those. (Come on, I’m not the only one am I?)
  • We have expectations that others need to be where we are spiritually and if not try to get them there. (Is that really our job? Check out 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
  • We expect other people to behave like us, respond like us, and communicate like us. We forget that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made. We fulfill different roles in the body, and our uniqueness is from the Lord (Sometimes it feels like it’s from the devil, though, right?)

Often we feel that we have a right to lead people down the road to meet our expectations, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. I know from experience. I’ve felt that way before, and I shake my head when I remember some of those moments. (That was before my Phari-sectomy).

God Has a Process

Does God want us to come to the end of ourselves? Absolutely. Can He use my friend as a part of that process? I’m sure He will.

The danger, I believe, is when we try to take on that process ourselves. Very rarely does any good come from trying to short-circuit God’s timing. (Just take a look at Abraham, Joseph, and any number of Bible characters who tried).

When we try to usurp the activity of God in someone’s life, we reveal a lack of trust in God and His work and growth in that person. Yes, he can absolutely use us to be a part of that process. So what role do we play in that?

What is My Part?

According to 1 Corinthians 3, we plant and we water. We are not in charge of growth. That is God’s domain. What does planting and watering look like? There’s not a specific formula for each person, and I’m not trying to set forth principles to live by but ideas to embrace.

FORGIVE

When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, forgive them. When you don’t meet your own, forgive yourself. Extend forgiveness frequently and generously.

ANOINT WITH GRACE AND MERCY

Be willing to shower people with God’s grace and mercy. Let go of unrealistic expectations and ask God to show you those when they occur.

LISTEN

Above all else, listen. Listen to Father for the gentle nudges that can help you walk alongside your brothers and sisters. Listen to your fellow believers as they share their struggles and what God is showing them. Help them navigate and nurture their relationships with Father and fellow believers.

May we be rich in mercy and slow in our criticism of those who love Jesus and may not be as far along as we are or as far as we think they ought to be. May we learn to see the beauty in our uniqueness and value our differences.

Do you struggle with imposing expectations on others? How do you respond when others place those on you?

Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

In recent days, the pope made a historic visit to the United States. One of his stops was Philadelphia, where a Catholic priest had built a replica of the Vatican out of Legos. If I took you to Philadelphia and showed you the Lego Vatican and said, “Look! It’s the Vatican.” You might reply by saying, “Well, it’s a model of the Vatican.”

“No, no, no! This is THE Vatican. See the courtyard and the columns? The dome, the piazza, and all the people? The nuns? And look – the Pope is here and he’s even waving to the people.” If I said that you would know that I was either delusional, lying, or maybe a bit of both.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a deep-dive of Colossians. I’ve taken a slow and Spirit-led (and also very non-linear) approach to studying this book. It has long been one of my favorite parts of the New Testament, and I am finding a vast richness and untold treasures as I have dug in and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal things to me.

One of the more significant passages in Colossians 2 has struck me recently:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

With the things of God, there is shadow and there is substance. These themes run throughout Scripture:

  • The temple was a shadow of the reality of heaven and eternal life (the presence of God in and around humanity).
  • The Old Testament high priests were a shadow of our great high priest, Jesus Christ.
  • The Sabbath is a shadow of our eternal rest found in the work that Jesus did on the cross.

There are many more, but I think you get the idea. Now, if this is unfamiliar to you, please bear with me and hopefully it will become more clear.

The Shadow Points to the Reality

The things of God which are a shadow point to the reality. The shadows themselves are not the true things; however, they are often mistaken for things which have true substance. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They took the things of God which were shadows and built a religion out of them. Their understanding was limited and much of what they saw was not the true reality.

Take healing on the Sabbath, for instance. It was forbidden by the Pharisees. Why? Because it was considered work, and God had told them that the Sabbath was a day of rest. There was to be no work. When Jesus came, he healed people on the Sabbath. Again, why? Because he understood the reality of the Sabbath (that it was a shadow of things to come). God is for His people and He is working to restore all things back to Himself (See Colossians 1:20).  This is just one way that Jesus demonstrated that truth.

As impressive as the Lego Vatican is (it does have a waving pope, by the way), it is not the real thing – it’s merely a representation of a greater reality. That’s what the shadows are as they relate to the things of God. The shadows are a representation of a much grander reality, and we must come to know the reality, or we will be left (like the Pharisees) holding up the obscure things as those with substance.

The Substance Belongs to Christ

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Because Christ dwells within us, we have a vast wealth of resources at our disposal.  I have said before that although we have an inheritance of princes and princesses, we often live like spiritual paupers. That’s because we live by shadows and forget about the true substance. (The reality is that many Christians have been taught more about shadows than substance. It likely isn’t even your fault.)

The things which have substance are Christ’s alone. Colossians tells us that the great mystery of the ages is not just found in Christ, but it is Christ Himself. If that’s not enough, the mystery is also referred to as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Can there be a greater mystery? How Christ could dwell in us? It is almost unthinkable. But that is the greatest reality. Christ dwelling in His believers.

One of the most challenge things for me in my spiritual journey has been to sift through the shadows to find the true substance. It is a journey that God is hammering into me at this very moment, and it is one of my favorite times in all my years of following Christ.

Leave the shadows behind and follow what’s real. You will not regret it.

What other things can you think of that are mere “shadows” of things to come? What are you holding on to that’s merely a shadow of the truth? (Feel free to share in the comments below.)

Creativity Unleashed

Creativity Unleashed

When I wrote this, I was on my way back from a conference in Vegas.  I know, I know. You can rag on me later.  While in Vegas, my boss and I went to see the Vegas show, Le Reve (it’s French for “the dream”).  From the set design, to the lighting, to the costumes and choreography, this show was an amazing spectacle of human creativity and ingenuity.

I marvelled at the set design and configurations that were created within a relatively small (and confined) space.  The theater is in the round so there is no back stage or side stages to store a lot of props and set changes.  All of the stage changes have to come up from the floor (which is also a big pool) or from the ceiling.  It was astounding to see what different designs appeared out of the watery set.

There is a link, I believe, to our Creator and our capacity to be creative.  For some, it is a natural gift (much like the creators of Le Reve or other Cirque du Soleil-type shows.)  For others, it exists, but needs to be nurtured and shaped and allowed to express itself. We need creative people in our communities to serve as ambassadors and heralds not only to redeem those areas of culture, but also to show us what is possible when we dream and dare to move beyond our current thoughts and trends.

Road to CreativityCreativity spans all kinds of industries, above and beyond art and media; although, we need artists in all fields and should encourage “Christian” artists to move beyond walls of the church and seek to be missional in their art and in their sphere of influence. How can an artist share the Gospel with other artists?  How can he or she create an organic community of believers who share the same passion?  How do artists and creatives share the Gospel of Jesus in their different medium and subcultures?

What about inventors, entrepreneurs and other business creative-types?  My father-in-law has a keen knack for business and being creative in financing certain business deals.  I am amazed at how he thinks when it comes to business. I have much to learn from someone like him in the area of business creativity.  There are opportunities for people like that to teach and train others and impact the business community as well as their local communities.  What if those people formed small groups or MasterMind groups to teach and train others all the while pursuing opportunities to share the Gospel and God’s love with them?  What if they had a heart for the community and training up the next generation about the in’s and out’s of business?

While we are not all called to be creative, part of our nature comes from the Creator, and so there is within all of us the capacity to create.  Whether that’s through business, the arts, education, or ministry, let us seek the author of creativity as we also seek to glorify Him in each of our areas of calling.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 40:28)

 

Our Lives as Mission

Our Lives as Mission

I like compartments. It makes it easier to organize my life. I used to have a lot of them. A compartment for work. One for my family. Another one for church and faith. They were nice and neat until Jesus started mixing them. How dare he!

That’s like someone coming over to your plate while you’re eating and mixing up your peas and mashed potatoes. Some of you might like mixing those two foods. I, however, do not. I like them nicely separated. Much like I like my life separated. My work from home. My faith from work. It makes it nice and neat. Otherwise, life could get messy.

Then again, when is life not messy? The harder I try to control it, the messier it seems to get. But when I give up control, that’s when the real adventure begins.

Lines start to blur as Jesus integrates our lives into a holistic exchange between Him, us, and others. They begin to blur as we start to see church as who we are not merely where we go on the weekend. And they blur even more when we realize that our lives are worship and our work (wherever we are) is to be on God’s mission as we move through our daily lives.

Walls start coming down. Bridges begin to be built. We start seeing simple things we do as an opportunity to worship our Creator. We begin living as the church, not merely attending one for an hour or two a week.

Then Jesus begins to speak to us and the lines get even more blurry and more bridges begin to be erected and we start living (and loving) the Spirit-led life that continually guides and directs us no matter where we find ourselves.

We start doing crazy things like praying for others, believing that God will answer our prayers and quitting jobs to step out on faith without knowing exactly where we’ll land. (For our crazy adventure like that check out my earlier post called “Crossing the Tracks“).

(Before you go out and quit your job make sure it’s God speaking and not you! And please don’t tell your spouse I told you to quit!)

Now I have no compartments. Believe me, I try to make them again every once in a while, but Jesus just looks at me now and I simply throw them away (sometimes even without a tantrum). Life is beautiful and adventurous and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, please, just don’t go messing with my peas and mashed potatoes.