For many of us, trusting God is hard.
People rarely say this, especially in church. But it is written all over their lives. And mine.
To solve this problem, we separate what we confess from what we practice.
We confess that God is trustworthy. We confess we surrender to Him. We confess our lives- our time, our resources, our decisions- our in His hands. We confess we trust God completely.
We practice trusting only in ourselves. We practice a life of scrambling to maintain control. We practice avoiding letting God get into the details of our lives. We practice keeping God at a distance from our decisions, our money, and our time.
Of course, trusting God is rock solid decision. God’s hands are steady, and ours our shaky. Trusting God is always a wiser decision than trusting ourselves.
But how do we get there? Thanksgiving.
There is a direct relationship between giving thanks and trust!
Do you want to more fully trust God? Give thanks! Thank God for what he has done and what he has given.Remember His faithfulness. Remember His provision. Remember His goodness. Remember what He had done for you. As you do, give Him thanks.
As you thank God, you will more easily trust Him.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to deepen your trust in God.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
As a pastor, I feel a little guilty about this. A part of me feels I am supposed to favor the religious holidays, like Christmas. Truth is, I hate Christmas. I do not hate the quiet miracle of Jesus coming into the world. This, of course, is beautiful. But I hate the celebration of consumerism that Christmas has become. Then again, Natalie thinks I am a scrooge.
But not when it comes to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving seems to be the only holiday I know that has not been hijacked by mascots. It is the only holiday I know that seems to retain its original substance… giving thanks. And this, of course, is at the heart of Christian spirituality.
This time of year my Facebook feed is filled with people listing things they are thankful for. I am not sure why, but this is yet to annoy me. In a world filled with complaint, gossip, and meaningless chatter, these snippets of thanks are surprisingly refreshing.
But there is one essential thing missing.
Thanksgiving (like faith) requires an object.
It is nice enough to be thankful “for” something. But giving thanks is not just about the “for”, it is about the “to”.
My parents gave my wife and I some money to help pay for our wedding. I was thankful “for” the money. But I was thankful “to” them. Could you imagine being thankful for the money, but never giving thanks to my parents? Yet, this is how so many of us approach Thanksgiving. We have been given so much. But we have forgotten by Whom.
If we are just thankful “for” stuff this Thanksgiving, we will miss the heart of giving thanks. The best part of giving thanks is not the “for”, it is the “to”.
When I was a kid, I tried to invent my own food. I thought it would be cool to be the guy who invented peanut butter and jelly, or peanut butter and fluff, or peanut butter and bread, or just peanut butter out of the jar. The problem was (and still is), I am a horrible cook.
My combinations didn’t have that magic chemistry that makes the mouth water. Pudding and hot dogs. Ham and jelly. Ketchup and bologna. I never could get my parents to eat my culinary masterpieces. They loved me, but not enough to gag down my food inventions. Truth was, I could barely gag them down myself.
Today, there is a lot of religious teaching that people have a difficult time swallowing. And I wonder if it because we have forgotten that magical recipe Jesus came to share with us. Scripture says, Jesus was filled to the brim with grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace and truth. What an interesting recipe!
I seem to notice teachers today cooking with one ingredient, but not much of the other. When this happens, the teachings of the church are just as hard to gag down as my ham and jelly sandwiches.
Grace, without truth. The gospel is grace to the bone. But grace is not designed to come at the expense of truth. There are some teachings on grace that seem to help people avoid truth, rather than experience it. Rather than experiencing grace as we discover the truth about God and ourselves, we use grace to cover up the truth about God and ourselves. Grace, for some, is an excuse to continue living in the lies of this world.
Truth, without grace. Truth is truth. But truth without grace is terrifying. And truth taught by a graceless person is repulsive. Some teachings in the church today are true, but void of grace. And truth without grace is ultimately not the gospel.
But Jesus was filled with grace and truth.
His words were sharp and true. Narrow is the road that leads to life. Fruitless branches will be cut off and thrown into the fire. If you hate, you kill. If you lust, you commit adultery. You cannot serve God and money. The truth is that you have five husbands. You do not have in mind the things of God.
But he was filled with grace. Abide and rest in me. I have come to bring life. Do not worry. I am the way. I do not condemn you. Your sins are forgiven. Today, salvation has come to this house. It is the sick who need a doctor.
I am imagining a church that is filled with grace and truth.
A church that speaks words that sharp and true. Substantive, not politically correct. Honest, not popular. Eternal, not superficial.
And a church that is filled with grace. That meets people with forgiveness, not condemnation. Love, not hate. Hospitality, not judgment.
Yep, that is the recipe.
Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1)
What a great image for our lives.
Planted. I think first of the roots. A deep web of tentacles beneath the surface of the earth. Here, in in hidden places, the tree drinks the stream’s waters. Here the tree is nourished. Here the tree is stabilized life above the surface- heat, storms, winter.
Every Christian needs a deep, hidden life with God.
By streams of water. This is God. Life-giving water. What we thirst, hunger, and yearn for. A thriving tree drinks deep and often of the streams’ waters. A stream is not like the rain. It is not whimsical and unpredictable. It is constant and readily available. This tree is never in want. The streams’ waters are never lacking.
Which yield its fruit in season. Anyone who has a fruit tree in their backyard knows how much fruit tree produces- a plethora of fruit. So much fruit a household cannot possibly eat it all. It must be shared. Given freely to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.
All this, though, comes in season. Fruit is the end result. It is the reward for years of planting, cultivating, and growing. It is the reward for roots that have grown deep into the earth. And it is seasonal. Constant each year, but not continual without rest.
Whose leaf does not whither. Leaves. Strong enough to cling to a tree during a hurricane, and fragile enough to be torn by a child. Leaves which drink poison from the world, and breathe out life.
What better image is there for the Christian? A leaf. Absorbing poison, producing life. Strong, yet vulnerable.
May you be like a tree planted by streams of water. May you bear fruit in season. And may your leaves not whither.
I have a few friends that hate feet. They are disgusted by them. Repulsed. These are the friends that I always wear sandals around and ask for foot massages. They are easy to tease.
In my curiosity, I have asked these friends why they are so passionately anti-feet. Their answer is all the same: Feet are gross. They are dirty. They are ugly. They are nasty. Though I have no animosity towards feet, I understand their repulsion.
Feet are not beautiful. They take a good deal of beating. They often smell. And being near the ground, they certainly get dirty.
In John 13, Jesus tells his disciples that he wants to show them the FULL EXTENT of his love. To do so, he takes off his cloak, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. When Jesus comes to Peter, Peter protests. “Absolutely not!” There is no way Jesus- King of Kings and Lord of Lords- is going to wash his feet.
Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Jesus says, “Unless you give me access to your ugliest and dirtiest parts, you will never understand my love.”
It is easy, in church, to hide our feet from Jesus and from one another.
It is difficult for us to give Jesus access to the parts of our lives that are dirty and ugly.
It is easy for us, in church, to want to hide our feet. We fear if people actually saw the dirtiness and ugliness of our lives, they would be repulsed. So we work very hard to keep our feet covered. To play church. To present our good side. To keep things on the surface.
But Jesus says if this is what we are doing, we don’t get it!
The full extent of God’s love meets us in our dirtiest and ugliest parts. This is where his love and grace is most powerful. This is where God truly washes us clean. This is where we begin to understand what Jesus is really all about.
And then Jesus says we are to wash each others’ feet. We are to give one another access to our dirtiest and ugliest parts. And this is where our love for one another is to be on display. This is where grace and forgiveness washes us clean.
If you want to know the full extent of Jesus’ love, don’t hide your feet!
As Grassroots continues to grow, and as word spreads about what God is doing in and through us, people are beginning to ask, “What kind of church is Grassroots?”
For a while now, I have been having a difficult time answering that question. We never really had a catchy tagline. We never really set out to mimic and reproduce a certain “kind of church.” We simply believed God was calling us to plant a church in the heart of downtown Rockford. Sure, we had a (hazy) vision and some core values. But mostly we just wanted our church to be marked by Jesus.
We wanted to be a Jesus kind of church.
The more I learn to be with Jesus, to learn from Jesus, how to be like Jesus… the more I understand that Jesus was radically SAFE and HOLY.
Jesus was safe. Not safe in the cautious sort of way. Not safe in his radical life and teachings. But safe to the people who came to him. Think about it. People felt remarkably safe in the presence of Jesus. Outcasts, ragamuffins, prostitutes, pagans, beggars, and all those considered smitten by the religious establishment were welcomed by Jesus. These people ran, pushed, and shoved their way into his presence. They climbed up trees and dug holes through roofs… just to get to Jesus. People wanted to be with Jesus. He was safe.
Jesus was holy. When these people found their way to Jesus, their lives were transformed. Sins were forgiven, bodies healed, stoning rocks fell harmlessly to the ground. In the presence of Jesus, greed was transformed to generosity, legalism to grace, death to life. Scripture shows us, time and time again, that it was rarely possible to be in the presence of Jesus and not be transformed. Jesus changed everything! He was holy!
It is the vision of Grassroots to be a Jesus kind of church.
It is the vision of Grassroots to be a Safe and Holy church.
“Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because before we know it our sense of self is caught up in opinion on a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.
In Mark 2, there is a story of a paralytic man trying to get to Jesus.
Jesus is in a house teaching. Scripture tells us the house if filled to the brim with people. There is a huge crowd gathering around Jesus, listening to him teach. It is a Jesus-crowd. A Jesus-gathering.
However, as the story continues, we learn there is a problem. The paralytic man is trying to get to Jesus. He wants to get to Jesus. He yearns to get to Jesus. He has friends trying to carry him to Jesus. But he cannot get to Jesus.
There is a problem.
Here is how scripture puts it: “…they [the friends] could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd…”
The problem is the crowd. The Jesus-gathering. The problem is the people who have gathered to listen to Jesus teach, but who have their back to the man yearning to get to Jesus.
This is the dramatic irony of the church. Peter tells us the church is supposed to be a royal priesthood. Priests are people who bring God to people, and people to God. They are bridge-builders between God and humanity. The dramatic (and tragic) irony is when the bridge-builders act as walls keeping people from getting to the feet of Jesus.
What about you?
Do you know someone who is having a difficult time getting to Jesus because of their interactions with the Jesus-crowd? The church?
But there is good news! In the story, there is a picture of a different church. A different Jesus-crowd. And it is the picture of the small group of friends carrying the paralytic man to Jesus.
This small band of misfits are willing to think outside the box, climb up walls, dig a hole through a roof, damage a little property, and do whatever it takes to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. Because they knew, deep in their souls, at the feet of Jesus sins are forgiven, and lives are healed.
I like *that* image of the church.
In grad school, I lived with a few college buddies. We were maturing, we thought. Our irresponsible college days were behind us. We cut the lawn, did our chores, and kept the house in a reasonable condition. In an effort to join adulthood, we decorated the house for Christmas. Mature indeed.
That is why it surprised us so much when we returned one evening to find our Santa Claus was missing. In its place was a ransom note.
Santa had been stolen.
Retaliation (the good, Christian thing to do) came easy to us. We broke into the culprits’ house, stole back our Santa Claus, put flour in the bathroom hairdryer, and hid food in our “enemies” bedroom. Flour on a head of wet hair was sweet revenge. And so is watching our friends try to figure out what that mysterious smell was in their house… for weeks.
Mature indeed. (And I hope you know pastors are not perfect).
Left on its own, food rots. It decays. It begins to smell and become diseased. And sometimes, I think this is how we feel about the world in which we live. As we journey in life, we begin to catch a whiff of some pretty rotten stuff: broken relationships, hate, crime, poverty, hopelessness, pain, cancer, and the list goes on.
Our natural reaction to decay is to run away.
But Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…”
In Jesus’ day, there was no electricity. No refrigeration. None of the modern conveniences we use to keep food from spoiling.
In Jesus’ day, salt was highly valuable. Salt is a preservative. It was the only thing used to keep food from spoiling. Salt prevented decay. It kept things from getting rotten and diseased. It was essential.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be salt of the earth. We are called, by Jesus, to prevent decay. Our lives are meant to be worked into this world in such a way that we will keep things from going rotten.
Some Christians today complain about the decay of this world. And they do so while distancing themselves from their neighborhoods, schools, relationships, and world.
But salt does not work while sitting in a jar on the shelf. It must be worked into the food.
If we refuse to be the salt of the earth, we should not be surprised at its decay. However, if we work our lives into this world, I think we will be amazed at what a little salt can do.
You are the salt of the earth… preventing the decay of this world is our responsibility.
If your only learning takes place during my sermons, you are in trouble 😉 Reading is a great source of wisdom. Books will improve your faith (and life) significantly more than Facebook! 🙂
*Feel free to leave your own book recommendations
Hearing God (Willard)
Deepening Your Conversation with God (Patterson)
Practicing the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence)
The Rest of God (Buchanan)
Thoughts in Solitude (Merton)
Your Church is too Safe (Buchanan)
No Perfect People Allowed (Burke)
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (Cymbala)
Organic Church (Cole)
Tangible Kingdom (Halter and Smay)
AND (Halter and Smay)
On the Christian Life:
Your God is Too Safe (Buchanan)
The Irresistible Revolution (Claiborne)
Ragamuffin Gospel (Manning)
Practice Resurrection (Peterson)
Divine Conspiracy (Willard)
On Theology and Mission:
Jesus and the Victory of God (N.T. Wright)
King Jesus Gospel (McKnight)
Mission of God (Christopher Wright)
The Shaping of Things to Come (Hirsh and Frost)
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Peterson)
The Jesus Way (Peterson)
In the Name of Jesus (Nouwen)
Organic Leadership (Cole)
On Church and Culture:
They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Kimball)
UnChristian (Kinnaman and Lyons)
You’ve Lost Me (Kinnaman)
Blue Like Jazz (Miller)
Let Me Tell You a Story (Campolo)
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Miller)
Love Does (Bob Goff)
Why the Church Needs More Bartenders (Hinz)