This One’s for Jason

God is relational. He values it. He made us for it. He loves us through it. 

Some of his best graces come through relationships. Our spouses, our spheres of community and comrodory – all gifts. 

Someone might say they can seem more curse than blessing. True, but if our friendships were only good or bad, never without tension or joy, we would not be human. We would not experience growth. We would not value commitment, loyalty and certainly not love. 

I love God, and thankfully he loves me. I know because he says he does, and also because he shows he does. He gave his Son. He granted salvation. He gifted Jason. 

I know with all my mind that God loves me. I felt it with all my heart today when my friend called in the middle of a rough week. He listened with Gods loving silence. He spoke with Gods affirming love. On a phone, through fields, piercing cities and across state lines, Jesus loved me. 

This post, my first in two years, is in part because Jason called me out, but mostly because the Lord invited me in. 
God is relational. He values it. He made us for it. He loves us through it. 

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A NEW WORLD IS OK

“See, we have left everything and followed you…” – Peter Matt 19:27

A month ago I wrote what is now my most read blog post to date. It was about the difficult decision of closing our church after nine years. It would seem it struck a cord with many. I think in part because following Jesus is never as easy as we thought. It requires tough choices and tremendous sacrifice. It can cost us wealth, relationships, reputations and even our lives. It’s contrary to everything we’re taught to chase in this life. We know and face it daily yet we still struggle to share this painful reality out loud. We would rather fake a smile; skirt the truth and white wash our tombs rather than come clean about where we truly are in our walk.

Jesus warned us it wouldn’t be easy to follow him. He was very upfront about his calling and it’s cost. The Bible’s full of stories of the Lord confronting people with this actuality, challenging them to abandon themselves and trust him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. God is also quite clear that accepting his invitation and surrendering everything to him is the best thing any human being could ever do.

Our family has spent the past few months wrestling with this very thing. What does following Jesus together mean for us right now? We’ve talked, prayed, shared concerns and shed many tears. Ultimately the Spirit has brought us to a place of unity, clarity and faith. Collectively we have come to believe the Lord has asked us to trust and follow him into a new world. This summer the plan is for our family to move to Oklahoma City.

Over the past four years we have developed a great relationship with our friends at Frontline Church and through this time of transition they have been a constant source of encouragement, leadership and grace. They love Jesus and his church and along with the rest of our Acts 29 family, have been incredible evidences of God’s love and kindness toward our family these past few months. Our hope is to spend the next year in community with brothers and sisters in Christ thinking through the past and planning for the future. We are excited to experience a new place and simply worship and enjoy Jesus as a family for a time.

We do not know what awaits us after that, but we know the One we follow is good and has good for those who love him. Often there isn’t more than an invitation from Jesus. Sometimes all we are given is an opportunity to trust grace and follow in faith. Scary, I know. But we have the certainty of the gospel, the promises of scripture and the confidence of God’s love, and in the end isn’t that more than enough?

I’d greatly appreciate your prayers during this time. We’re asking the Lord for his continued peace, clarity and provision, for his Name to shine brightly before us and through us in the days and months to come.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” – Jesus Matt 19:29

THE HOUR HAS COME

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Nine years ago a church was born in Joplin. What began as a few people having dinner and debating the need for yet another church in our city blossomed into multiple home bible studies, culminating in an evening worship service a year later. There we reached out to our community, loved our neighbors, welcomed new people and grew into a young gospel centered church.

 

A few years later God graciously blessed us with our own space right in the heart of Joplin’s burgeoning downtown revitalization. It was here we continued our vision of seeing God glorified, lives transformed and a city changed by the power of the gospel. The people of Mystery loved Joplin and served downtown. We welcomed artists, hosted events and helped contribute to the growing culture and commerce of our city center. By God’s grace we began partnering with our neighbor West Central Elementary and involving ourselves with Joplin schools, doing our best to show the love of Christ to the amazing teachers and students in our community.

 

We grew, worshiped Jesus, baptized new believers and loved each other well. Marriages, babies and grace abound. Our small congregation had done so much with so little in such a short a time, and in May 2011 we faced possibly our biggest opportunity and greatest challenge in the form of a devastating tornado that tore through our town. In the aftermath Mystery, like many churches, sprang into action and spent the next several years giving ourselves fully to our city. In the wake of it all we found ourselves very blessed, but very weary. Mystery faithfully pressed on, but the hard work of the first seven years had begun to take its toll and our overall health and happiness suffered.

 

Churches aren’t meant to merely survive; they’re planted to thrive. This rag tag group of gospel misfits has accomplished tremendous things for Gods Kingdom. Jesus has been more than good and generous to us along the way. We believe he began the work of this church and he has been nothing less than faithful to it.

 

Over the past year for various reasons known ultimately and only to God, our body has worn thin and our needs have come to outweigh our abilities. Mystery has never been about the status quo and now we face another opportunity to blaze a faithful path. The Lord has invited us to journey a narrow, less travelled road; to courageously follow Jesus in faith along a hard, humbling, but hopeful path.

 

On Sunday March 8th our particular journey will end. In order to steward well what remains we are closing our doors as a church, but not The Church. In the end it’s not about us. We have and always will exist for God’s glory and not our own. Every church, like every living thing, has a lifespan and this is ours. Every excursion has a beginning and end. We are a beautiful testimony of God’s grace and love, and will continue to be so. There is no end in Christ. New Life always springs forth from the gospel and we believe Jesus has invited us to follow him, becoming seeds of grace sent out and scattered throughout our community.

 

The hope for our church, as well as any others who might find themselves in similar circumstances, is that through our death many churches will find new life; gaining new missionaries, gospel servants, loving leaders and faithful disciples. Our ultimate desire is to see healthy, happy Christians loving God, loving people and enjoying grace, wherever that may be. His body and mission are bigger than Mystery. For us it’s always been about loving Jesus first, and so is this.

 

If you have ever enjoyed a time of walking with A Church Called Mystery we would love to invite you to finish this race together with us on Sunday March 8th, 10am in downtown Joplin. We will be gathering to share stories of grace and celebrate our amazing Savior together one final time for now, with as much current and former family as we can possible hold. It’s going to be fun and full of joy. We hope you can join us.

 

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Mt 28:20

 

For His Glory and others Good – A Church Called Mystery

A PRAYER FOR WHEN LIFE COMES UNDONE

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Lord, this morning I am reminded of who you are and how you hold all things together. In my life I often forget this. I quickly become a spiritual chicken little; thinking the sky is falling and there’s no way out. Fortunately my weakness and lack of faith has no affect on your strength and faithfulness.

Jesus, you are the Son of God. You were before all things, you made all that is made, and only you can completely unmake anything. In you is the source and power of life. In you is eternal hope; even in the worst of situations. There is no power greater, no mind wiser, no leader more capable and no god greater. In you we see the beauty, love, power and ability of God.

I confess that I too often believe I can (and have to) hold all things together. And when that falls apart I am quick to look to someone or something else to protect and pull it all back together. I put too many things before the One who is before all things, to my detriment and disgrace. Forgive me lack of faith. My unbelief only images my idols and unravels my world. Fear, worry and despair display the domain of darkness not the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Holy Spirit, thank you for pointing me back to His deliverance; for speaking truth into my doubts through your enduring Word. Give me eyes to marvel at the strength of Christ anew. Grant me faith to trust that He alone holds all things together by his word. That He alone, by his blood, covers over all my failures and fears with outstretched, unmatched arms of grace. Continue to transfer my thinking into trusting. Let me view every circumstance in light of his power not mine and every opposition as under His throne.

Thank you Lord, that nothing about my day, my week or my life has surprised you. I am confident that nothing behind or before me can overtake or unravel You. You hold all things together. You are preeminent and premiere and because of this, I can trust that even my shortcomings and inadequacies are being used by You to create in me something beautiful and beneficial here on earth as it will one day be in heaven.

Thank for Father for Jesus. Thank you Christ for your cross. Thank you Spirit for your eye opening, heart illuminating truth. Amen.

WEEKLY WORSHIP MATTERS

This past week I spoke on “Church” as part of our Home Life series. Specifically the reality that God the Father has redeemed a people through Christ’s saving work to be His Family and His Home. (Eph 2:22). What an incredible and reality, but as imperfect people this profound truth doesn’t come without difficulty. The expectations of life and the temptations of our own hearts conspire to choke this new life right out of us. (Luke 8:9-15)

I was thinking of some of the ways this manifests itself and had planned to write some on it today. I thought a good place to start might be where most of us begin and so many of us can struggle; The Weekly Worship Gathering.

A Sunday service is were many of us first heard the gospel and met Jesus, the place where we first saw and experienced grace and the people we first gathered with and called our family after conversion. I think it’s no coincidence that weekly gathered worship is in decline, out of vogue and under attack. No wonder scripture constantly seeks to remind us of, call us back to and admonish us not to ignore it. Weekly Worship Matters. Despite what’s currently culturally cool to think; God’s people gathering regularly to worship and enjoy Him together is crucial to our walk with Him.

When I sat down to put some thoughts to paper, I happened to see friend and fellow  pastor Ryan Huguley (@RyanHuguley) had a new post on his blog that was inline with my thinking and articulated it way better than I would have. This affirmed my ideas and confirmed the reality that it’s not just an “our church” issue, but a present and growing reality in our culture as Christ Followers.

My hope is that we might read, examine ourselves, talk about it with others and enjoy the blessings of worshiping together weekly anew. With his permission, below are the first 3 of pastor Ryan’s “6 Reasons to Worship Weekly” with a link to read the remainder of his insightful thoughts.

6 REASONS TO WORSHIP WEEKLY

Few things frustrate pastors more than the inconsistent attendance of weekly worship by the people who call their church “home.” I grew up in a home where we rarely missed church. Now I’m a pastor, so it’s even more uncommon that I miss church. So, I may not have the most objective view point on this, but I never cease to be amazed at the reasons people are willing to miss church. Sporting events, sleep, and social gatherings are just a few of the sad reasons people skip church without a second thought.

What concerns me most is not the numbers missing from our attendance, but the blessings missing in the lives of those who make a habit of missing weekly worship in a local church. Here are six blessings we receive when we gather for worship on a weekly basis…

1. Worship

Yes, I know you can worship in your car, in your living room and anywhere else you choose to ascribe worth to Jesus. BUT . . . something unique happens when we worship Jesus TOGETHER. When we join with our church family and the angels of heaven and lift high the name of Jesus, God’s glory is evident in a special way. Some of the most powerful moves of God in my life have happened in a weekly worship service. I won’t begin to try and explain it, but God’s presence is uniquely displayed when we gather each week.

2. Community

The Christian life is becoming increasingly lonely in our culture. It’s not popular to profess Biblical faith in Jesus anymore. That’s why it’s such good news that God hasn’t just saved us from our sin, but also TO a community. The New Testament has no category for a lone ranger Christian who is disconnected from a local church. Community should happen throughout the week, but at the very least, we need weekly connection with other followers of Christ.

3. Prayer

One of the greatest honors I experience as a pastor is when people ask me to pray for them. Each week we pray for wisdom, healing, strength, assurance, freedom, salvation . . .  I could go on and on. It doesn’t have to be a pastor, but you need people praying over you. Not just FOR you, but OVER you. People who will lay their hands on you and lift their voice over you and pray for God’s good will in your life. That can and should happen every time we gather.

Continue Reading Here

 

RAISING UP CHILDREN

This past Sunday I preached a message on parenting, from our current series called “Home Life”. We have been looking at how the gospel transforms and informs all of our relationships. Beginning with our heart relationships with God, grace impacts how we live at home with others as singles, marrieds and parents.

As I told our church, talking about parenting is one of the topics I can find most difficult. Not because I don’t know what the bible says, but because it’s here I feel my own struggles as a Father. I have been blessed with four incredible children. I want to steward this grace and I feel the weight of doing it well.

God has a grand purpose for parents. We are to teach our children who God is and what he has done, who they are as his creation and who they can be in Christ. We are to train our kids to walk in the Lords ways, to love him most and honor him with obedience for his glory and their good. That’s a lot of pressure.

Fortunately our Father in Heaven has not left us alone in it. We have his presence and his power and so press on. We also incredibly have the gospel and his grace even when we fail and fall short, and this guards us from despair and guides us into hope. My children need the cross of Christ, and so do I. Gods plan is that we would approach his throne together.

The following is a list of principles I gave for parenting with the gospel in mind. They are truths I’ve gleaned from scripture, tried through the enabling of the Spirit to apply in our own home, and hope you find them helpful as well.

 

PRINCIPLES FOR PARENTING

Fill your home with Truth

Let Scripture lead the way. Teach them what the Lord has said and help kids to see as he sees. Illuminate their world with Gods Word. Speak His truth and teach them to be truthful. An honest home is a unified home. I teach my kids that lies divide. It’s always been The Liars way to separate us from God and one another. Model speaking the truth in love and make your home a safe place to always speak the truth; good and bad.

Flood your home with Grace

A safe home is a grace filled home. We all want good kids, but goodness is not the goal; it’s godliness. As the kindness of the Lord leads to repentance and joy, so parental grace can invite our children into greater freedom and satisfaction in Christ. Give them truth. Hold them to Obedience. Lavish them with grace. To the extent I understand my Father does not condemn me, I begin to learn to bless my kids with grace. They will screw up and so will I, we all need the gospel; lets express it, that we might experience it together.

Fill your children with Love

Children need our affection. They need encouragement. They need to be loved for who they are, as the person God has created them to be in him. Help them to cultivate an identity in Christ. Know them as individuals. Celebrate them for their individuality. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They need your approval and your applause, as we learn to appreciate our Heavenly Fathers. Give them unconditional, unabashed uncompromising love.

Give your children Presence

I love to give gifts. It’s one of my love languages for sure, but the gift our children want most, however they might interpret it, is to have us present with them. Be attentive to them and listen well. Learn who they are and what makes them tick. Turn from all that vies for your consideration and look deep into their eyes when they come to you. Let them know they matter more than any screen. Be there for them in the little things, not simply the big events. Give them quantity and quality. Be present in body and soul.

Communication

This is hard for anyone. Friends, co-workers and marriages all struggle to communicate well. It’s part of being truly present with them. Talk with your kids along the way. Learn to listen to them; not just to their words, but to their hearts. What do they treasure? Hope in? Desire? Teach them and let them teach you. Tell stories; the great true ones about the mighty acts of God and fantastical magical ones that stir their imaginations. Tell your story, your family’s stories and help them learn to tell their own. Talk about your struggles and encourage them to share theirs. We teach them to apply truth and grace as we help them to understand their stories are part of Gods story for them.

Enjoyment

Play, imagine, create and celebrate. Explore together. Rest together. Have fun together. Make lots of memories. Not just when they are young, but all their lives. Budget for it. Save for it. Sometimes spontaneously splurge for it. Be generous with your money and your willingness to have fun. Good homes have chuckling children and gospel parents know how to laugh too.

Mission

Let us teach our children that they are not the center of the world. We are made by him and for him. We are invited into something bigger that ourselves. Do our kids see the Kingdom prioritized in our own lives? Are you excited about the things of God? Do they know, in Christ, they have two families; theirs and his church? Help them learn to be generous, hospitable, servants of God and man. Bring them into the ministry and mission of God as you engage in it yourself.

Prayer

In the end, our children belong to God. He alone can save them and keep them. As parents let us plead for our children before God. Pray over them and with them often. Teach them to take all their cares to him because he cares for them. Pray for them as they sleep. Get on your knees for them in the night. Lift them up during the day. Bring their specific concerns and struggles to him. Ask the Lord to keep them from sin and evil. Beg for his saving grace and his gift of faith and beseech your Father to be theirs. The more I pray for my kids, the more I trust him with them. If there is peace to be found in parenting, if there is hope for their salvation and if there is joy for them in this life and the next it will come from him and it’s sought through prayer.

I pray the Lord be your strength and hope in parenting. Remember, his plan is to give them and you, more of himself along the way.

*Listen to the message “Raising Up Children”

 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Here are a few tremendous resources for parenting:

The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally-Lloyd Jones

 Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp

Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick

New City Catechism (App) by Redeemer Presbyterian Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOO BUSY TO BLOG

Well, it’s fall already according to the school and church calendar. Not sure if the leaves are falling from my trees because of the intense heat or they know the times are changing. All I know is that around this time my leaves starting falling off under the winds of busyness as well. It always sneaks up on me no matter what. Trying to stay ahead of things is hard enough, but add in the busyness that accompanies the start of a new semester and season in the church and things just get downright nuts.

With so much going on I often find myself falling behind in “non-essential” things like blogging. I genuinely want to become a better writer and serve our church and others through it, but it does seem to be one of those things I push to the side when it gets busy. Sometimes it’s just forgetfulness, other times I simple have little to say (what me, speechless? Yes) but right now there’s just lots going on.

Fortunately many others have good stuff to say. In an effort to continue to keep helpful, relevant ideas on our radar, I’ve compiled a short list of links to a few quick reads this week. Hope you find them challenging and beneficial, I know I have.

Simplifying Your Spiritual Life

A Gospeled Church

Preventing Pastoral Car Wrecks

Because the World is Watching – Being a Church near Ferguson, Mo