Jesus Frees Us to be Artists

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Yesterday, I wrote about my journey of writing (almost) daily for the last 100 days or so. Today I want to take a minute and address how Jesus frees us to be truly creative.

Before I get too deep into the subject, though, let me be clear. I’m not what you typically think of when you think of an artist. I write. And for a long time because there were no “beautiful works of art” out there that I had produced, I could never relate to a conversation about being an artist.

But you may not even write. You may be a business owner or a construction worker or a house church planter or a housewife. And in each of those fields where God has called you, you produce art, you just don’t see it that way. Your art is the effect that you leave on those who view your work. And so whatever field you are in, no matter how artistic it feels, you are an artist.  The key is accepting that fact.

For me, it was Seth Godin, a practicing Buddhist, who pushed me into the work of art*. His book, The Icarus Deception, pushed me to a place where I realized that I had been created to write. Art, according to Seth, is what happens when we get beyond our fears. My biggest problem was getting over the fear–not necessarily the fear of being rejected, that was there–but also the fear of having nothing to say. Maybe the biggest fear of all was that I would show up and pour out my heart and it would be met with a resounding yawn. Those of you who would be traditionally known as artists know what I mean.

This is where Jesus frees us to be an artist. Jesus comes to us in our lives and His goal is pour out the love of God in our hearts to such a degree that we are free from fear (1 John 4:18). Can you imagine what you would create if you were free from fear? Not just from the fear of rejection but also the fear of the yawn? The fear of no one caring? Jesus can even free us from the fear of not making an impact. In Jesus, none of these fears can keep us from creating, because our goal is not to please a man or a crowd–our goal is to love Jesus and obey Him. This is more rewarding than click counts and awards.

I’m still learning in this process. I still get that feeling in my gut–you know the one–this might not work…this will probably start a fight on the internet…my audience might hate this and this will be the one post that gets no traffic ever**…but I’m learning that as much as that feeling is designed to stop me from creating, it’s also an indicator. It’s an indicator that I may be onto something that no one else has been able to write because of fear. And so lately, as I’ve been feeling that fear, I’ve been taking it to the Lord. And He frees me from the need to be relevant and popular, from the need to make an impact, and from the need to be right. He loves me and that is enough.

So I want to invite you–whether you call yourself an artist or not–to join me on this journey. You don’t have to be a writer. You don’t have to write everyday if you are. You don’t even have to follow my path. But Jesus can free you–yes you–from the fear of what will happen once you hit “publish” in whatever world you are in. And that freedom releases you to be the creative agent you were designed to be.

*The irony of a Buddhist marketer inspiring me to create for the Glory of Jesus is not lost on me. Christians through the last few centuries have had a name for this phenomenon–Common Grace.

**Ironically, that last feeling is how I feel about this very post.

Reflections on (Almost) 100 Days of Writing Every Day

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There’s no such thing as talker’s block…

And with those simple words, Seth Godin blew my mind. God used his book, The Icarus Deception, to provoke me on the journey of writing publicly daily. Tuesday will be the 100th day since starting and I thought it would be a good time to look back at what I’ve learned.

First a confession: I haven’t written every day. Looking back since November, I’ve missed about 15 days total. Most of those days were misses because life or the churches were consuming all the time I had.  Second confession: Some of my posts were better than others. In fact, on a few rare occasions I wrote simply because I said I would, not because I felt like I had a lot to say.  But for the most part, it has been a lot easier to write from my heart than I thought.

Now, some things I’ve learned from writing daily:

  • Less but better is important. This was something I’d been musing over for a bit, but it really became true the more I wrote. There certainly isn’t the time for lengthy, detailed articles, but the short bursts I’m able to get out when inspiration hits have connected with my audience.
  • Fear is over-rated. I’ve shared this with a few friends, but prior to writing every day my posts were primarily shared on Twitter. But once I started writing every day, I decided that fear shouldn’t have a place in my writing. So I started posting these blogs on Facebook where friends and family who haven’t read my blog got a chance to read. Embracing writing and not being bound by fear of what others think has been helpful. It turns out, my fear was what was holding me back. And guess what? Facebook has become the place the vast majority of my readers have come from and I’ve had lots of great conversations with people about different thoughts I’ve gotten to share there.
  • Unexpected posts travel farther than expected. Sometimes I’ll write a post thinking I’m going to be the only one interested in a topic. Men and Becoming Missional by the Power of the Holy Spirit were like that. Each of these were just posts near and dear to my heart but I wasn’t expecting them to touch people. But I’ve had several people reach out to me sharing how they were inspired by them. I wrote I Want You…to Plant a House Church as a simple post making readers aware of my intent. But it got shared all over the place and has become the fourth highest read post this year.
  • This has been about us, not about me. Along the way it’s become clear that me being able to write has been about a community. Writing every day has helped me figure out exactly who is in that community. Felicity, Gunnar, Aroea, John, Dan, David, and countless others have been cheering me on along the way. Without you and your experiences, comments, and sharing, I could never have kept writing. If anything, I’m able to write daily because I know there is an audience waiting for the content.

In a way, this post is both a  “lessons” learned post and a giant thank you. The fact that you’ve all allowed me to have some of your day the last 100 days means the world. I hope that these posts continue to encourage you and that by the time we hit 365 daily posts, we’re all better for it.

Becoming Missional by the Power of the Spirit

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Disclaimer: If you ever see a footnote on the bottom of a post, it’s likely to become a follow up post at some point. This post originated here.

There is a giant market in Christianity in the West for all things “missional.” In fact it’s so large, we’ve started naming things missional that aren’t.  And much of the missional conversation has begun to center around doing good works for our neighbor–caring for the sick, empowering the poor, advocating for those at the margins.

All of this must include sharing the gospel. The missional movement will go completely off track if it abandons the story of Jesus as the way to the Father and the only answer for the human condition. In fact, while good works are important and cannot be ignored, sharing the good news must take priority in our lives. I say this as someone who has taken in people without homes and cared for the fatherless.  Only the Gospel of Jesus ultimately saves people.

Our model for all of this should be Jesus Himself. He sets the terms and conditions for how Christianity should be lived out and demonstrated on the Earth. We should be surprised, then, to find that much of the missional movement not participating in the power of the Holy Spirit and advocating for a display of His power, because Jesus regularly relied on the Holy Spirit to sustain His mission.

Hear me on this: I’m sure Jesus would welcome us caring for the poor. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us for extending love to those who seem outside of the social norm. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us to care for the sick. I just see Him do it in the Gospels in a radically different manner than the missional church in the West.

A few examples of this:

After being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days by the devil, Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches in a synagogue. He teaches from Isaiah 62, proclaiming His intent to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, open the eyes of the blind, and loose the oppressed. After being chased out of the hometown for not doing many miracles, he moves on to Capernaum where He sets a captive free by casting a demon out of a demonized man (Luke 4:14-37). There aren’t many in the missional movement I hear practicing freeing people in this way.

Jesus frequently emphasized caring for the sick. But we don’t see Jesus establishing hospitals*. What we do see is Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17), a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12), and a man born blind (John 9:1-6). These are just some of many healing miracles that were the method Jesus used to “care for the sick,” (John 21:25). I hear many advocating for better healthcare in the missional movement, but very few people praying for healing.

Jesus also did a number of other miracles for the benefit of others. He fed those without food. He did this twice through miracles of multiplication (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39). This is rarely how I hear missional people speak of feeding the hungry. And I hear very few answers from the missional crowd about how to deal with demonized men who live as outcasts that no one knows how to deal with. But Jesus ends both the oppression and the isolation by rebuking the demonic presence and freeing the man (Mark 5:1-20).

Jesus did all of these signs as proof that He was truly the embodiment of God’s Kingdom (John 2:23, John 6:2, John 15:24). And He did these miracles, not because He was God incarnate, but because He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (see perhaps my favorite missional verses of all time, Phillipians 2:6-8, and John 5:19 & Matthew 12:28).

Not only did Jesus rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be on mission Himself, He told us to do the same. He said that those who believed in Him would do not only the works He did, but greater works (John 14:12). And he commanded the apostles not to begin attempting the mission until the Holy Spirit came and gave them power to do the mission, too (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5). Once this happened, they embarked on a very similar story as Jesus did.

My point in bringing all this up is that we often try to carry out the commands of Jesus in the power of the flesh. And while I’m sure there are true and real times Jesus has asked us to bandage a wound, be a friend to the lonely, and be an advocate for the poor, I want us to remember that the Jesus of the Bible had a radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit to deal with the true ills of society, not just manage the side affects. He brought the resources of Heaven to bare on the problems of Earth, not just the efforts of men.

The only mission we are called to is the one Jesus started. We aren’t to bring just our resources to bear on the world’s problems. We’re to draw on the Holy Spirit to truly heal the evil around us. If we want to engage in the true mission of Jesus, I think we need that same radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit Jesus had.

But the choice is ours: Will we do mission our way, or Jesus’?

*This is not a critique on hospitals nor me advocating not going to doctors. It’s purely a statement of fact.

Trust and Striving

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Part of coming to Christ is the conviction that there is no righteousness in ourselves at all.  Don’t get me wrong, there are people out there who do good things. They help others and sacrifice of themselves. But compared to a blameless, Holy God, there is no one who is truly righteous. Jesus himself said there was only one who was truly good–God (Matthew 19:7).

But a funny thing happens when we give our lives to Christ and join the church. Often, we begin to feel the burden to become the kind of people the New Testament describes. And many take this burden and turn it inward. They try to become the people the New Testament describes through sheer will power. Some call it holiness. Some call it Christ-likeness. Others call it maturity.

And all of these things are virtues that the New Testament encourages. But, what happens is believers learn to live from their human willpower. They become good through their own striving. And they learn to accomplish living out the Christian life in the flesh–through the means that our human soul can make happen.

This works only until we get tired and then everything comes crashing down.

But there is another way.

The same Holy Spirit that softened your heart so you would accept Christ in the first place is the same Holy Spirit that wants to transform you from the inside. He actually is more willing to transform you from the inside than you want to be transformed. He wants to make you willingly–dare I say–happily holy.

Sometimes this is hard to believe because our growth seems to be moving so slowly. But it’s in these times that we must trust that God is doing more than we can understand. Sometimes He moves powerfully and visibly. Other times He is working in the background, setting up events to transform you that you couldn’t possibly imagine.

And it’s in these places that we have to content ourselves with the fact that He is God and we are not. He is the potter and we are the clay. We partner with Him in prayer and abiding. We remind God that there is work to be done in us. But we don’t approach God like we’re orphans. We have the trust of sons and daughters in a Father who has been faithful.

He will transform us. We don’t have to strive. We just have to give our attention to Him and He will change who we are.

So stop striving, loved son or daughter. Trust that the Father is good and has good plans for you. Remember:

If we die with him,
    we will also live with him.
 If we endure hardship,
    we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
    he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot deny who he is.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

Photo Credit: In God We Trust by Gadgetman42

 

A Simple Definition of Missional

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Lately being “missional” has become the new buzzword in Christianity in the West. We have missional church, missional community, missional bible studies, and even missional worship services.

I love everything that being missional is about. I probably use the term more than most people. But when we use the word missional so much that it can mean anything we want it to mean, I think we start to create confusion that is unhelpful.  In some camps, missional has come to mean anything that is new, trendy, or designed to reach a younger crowd. And while missional is new, trendy, and does reach a younger crowd, not everything that does these things is missional.

We get the word “missional” from the Latin phrase “missio Dei” or “mission of God.” The idea behind the phrase is that God has a mission that He has been pursuing from the beginning of time to reclaim humans who have wondered away from Him.  God, who is the ultimate missionary, has been coming to humanity to turn them back toward Himself.

God’s mission then, takes its ultimate form when Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth to announce and embody the Kingdom of God and suffer, die, and rise again to purchase our entrance into that Kingdom. Jesus’ leaving the Father’s side and embarking on mission is our key to understanding what “missional” really is.

Missional means we leave where we are to spread the good news of the Kingdom where people are.

The truth is we cannot be missional if we don’t leave and go to people. Missio Dei is also where get the word missionary from. So we shouldn’t be surprised that missional embraces the idea of leaving our home or place of comfort behind. It means crossing boundaries, whether those are our neighbors of another race across the street or they are national boundaries as you enter a foreign land.

But another truth about being missional is that we have to speak and spread the Good news. Certainly Jesus did good works. He healed the sick (supernaturally). He cast out demons. He welcomed the poor and the outcast. All of these were displays of the missional God’s heart of love. But all of these signs pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with humans. Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom was near.

And so being missional means leaving where we are and going to the lost. It means doing works that point to the Kingdom* and declaring the nearness of God’s Kingdom that people can enter into. It’s both.

But your church isn’t missional if it’s not going to where lost people are. Missional is not waiting for lost people to come to you. It’s going to them. Your community isn’t missional if it’s not talking to lost people about the nearness of the Kingdom, no matter how often you hang out at the bar or the local coffee shop.  Your Bible study is only missional to the degree that your group goes and shares Jesus with people far away from him. The other things you add the word “missional” to?

Well…you get the idea.

I’m not arguing you stop being missional if you use the word. Instead, let’s direct our effort to doing the things that are truly going out to where lost people are and doing and speaking the words of Jesus.

That is truly missional.

*I would argue that one component that the “missional movement” typically misses is doing the works of Jesus that way that Jesus did them. Healing the sick typically becomes taking care of their physical needs. Jesus laid hands on blind people and they saw. In my mind, this is truly missional.

Making Missional Decisions

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Sometimes in our pursuit of Jesus and the mission of spreading the Gospel, we come to forks in the road where we have make decisions. The hard part about these forks in the road is that they seem rather small, but sometimes have serious implications.

This past weekend I was with a bi-vocational pastor who buys, renovates, and sells homes. We were laughing about a time about 3 years ago when he had a house for sale that was just outside of the mission field God had called me and my wife to. The house was literally across the street.

What was the problem with a house across the street? In many ways, nothing. Except the fact that everyone in my mission field believes that the people who live on that side of that street can’t possibly understand what life on this side of the street is like. In my eyes, that made me a worse missionary to my mission field, so I turned the house down.

This is just one example of several things we’ve intentionally chosen to do for the sake of the mission God has called us to. We’ve had to decide whether to send our kids to a school in our neighborhood or somewhere else. We’ve had to only consider houses with living rooms and dining rooms big enough for a church to meet in. We’ve had to say no to opportunities that have taken us away from our mission field, like board opportunities and ministry trips.

My point is that a life of mission will mean making some very natural choices intentionally. You won’t have to make the same choices we’ve made, but the choices you make will impact the mission you are on.  Don’t believe the everyday or supposedly “non-spiritual” choices you make don’t affect the mission. They absolutely do. Make choices in your life by lining up your natural decisions with the call of Jesus on your life. This is what the Bible calls faithfulness.

 

It’s Jesus, Not the Programs

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For those of you who are new readers, I talk once and awhile about my adventures at McDonald’s and how we are now part of the show. A week ago, my buddy and I were sitting there doing our thing when the manager sat down and started talking with us.

After a minute she began discussing with us the struggles she’s having with her teenage son. As a single mom who is working two jobs to raise two teen boys with no dad involved, there were plenty of things she struggled with. But the conversation took an unexpected turn when she started talking about how she had tried to send them to church to change some of their behavior. She expressed frustration at the church that she was sending them to and talked about sending them to a different church.

And this was where I had to interrupt because I’ve seen this happen so many times before. So many well-meaning parents, struggling with the action of their kids try to get their kids to a youth group…a church service…to hang around with other fiery young adults…youth retreats…even Bible colleges in the hopes of the program or the person changing their kid.

So I stopped my manager friend and explained to her the difference between going to a church meeting and following Jesus. I made sure to emphasize that Jesus is the power that God gives us to live good lives and that until her son had Jesus inside of him, changing him from the inside, no program would help him.

I bring this story up not because it’s unique. I bring this story up because as Christians we often subtly convince ourselves and the lost that the power of transformation is somehow found in our programs. It starts as small as trying to get people to our programs so they can meet Jesus. But why not just share Jesus from the get-go?   Why bring them somewhere to meet Jesus? And then from there, we often send them to a program to get discipled, instead of teaching them how to follow Christ apart from the program. And soon all our “disciples” know is programs.

Now we like programs because they are easy to create. They make us feel effective. We can do more of them and get different results. It’s easy to get people to a certain place for a promised activity. And no one likes surprises, so a program that goes smoothly makes everyone feel comfortable.

But it’s not our programs that save or change people; It’s Jesus. To the degree that those programs have been effective, it’s because somewhere, somehow in the midst of our programs Jesus has shown up and encountered a human heart. This is a miracle and we should always treat it as such.

What being part of an organic church has helped me see over the years is how deeply we rely on programs to change people. As a house church, we don’t have any programs. And the dangerous gamble when we started was will people still be changed if all we have is Jesus and a group of people who love each other? Jesus has showed up despite our lack of programs and has continued to meet people, change them, and grow them up into mature believers, so I know it can be done.

Now, while admittedly I’d love it if you started a house church, I know some of you aren’t there yet. But, can we at least lay down our dependency on what we can program and control and get back to the simplicity of Jesus changing people from the inside out? Can we stop burning ourselves out doing things that don’t generate much change? Can we get back to waiting on the Lord and doing what He says?

Much of it comes down to what we actually believe is the agent of change in our lives: Jesus or our programs?