Learning Together: It’s Tough to Say Good-bye

Jessica DavisI cried like a baby.  I can’t recall a more difficult good-bye, excluding moving away to college.  My heart was hurting for those from whom my life was departing.

Brooklyn and I had only served at the church for two years.  Seems like such a short time, now.  It felt much more significant then.  It was our second pastoral assignment.  Well, Brooklyn was the only one officially assigned.  She was the youth pastor.  I was just her husband who was attending seminary.

As her husband, I was there for every ministry moment in which she was involved.  I served beside her on every Wednesday night youth group, Sunday school class, worship service, beach trip, lock-in, camp, and graduation party.  You name it, I was there.  Not begrudgingly, either.

Our hearts formed around the lives of these teenagers.  They became like family to us.  The connection was deep.  An intimate bond had been formed.

The same can be said for many of the adults and families in the church.  Brooklyn and I knew we were loved like one of their own.  We shared numerous meals together in their homes and at their favorite restaurants.  We surfed together.  We took random trips to Disney as a group.

One of the hardest days of my life was standing on the stage and saying, “Good-bye.”  Brooklyn and I were moving 18 hours away.  Our ministry time with them came to end.  Oh, it was painful.

Brooklyn and I have learned in 14 years of pastoral ministry, it’s tough to say good-bye.  It hurts to let go of a bond formed around God’s love lived out in mission together.  Sadly, we’ve also learned that in the ministry, good-byes will often come.

Now, we face another difficult good-bye to dear friends and partners in ministry.  Only, this time we aren’t leaving.  Precious friends and partners in ministry are making the move.  We have served together with them for 10 years, in 2 different states, through 5 pregnancies, and 3 separate lead pastors.

They are our “framily,” friends-family.  Much more than coworkers, we are friends who share a hard to find kind of love for another.

It’s hard to believe we won’t see them every Saturday Night anymore.  Our tradition of “Taco Tuesday” (which was actually Fajita’s) is suspended.  We’ve shared many pizza’s together after church.  And, we’ve worshipped our heart’s out with a worship leader who can sing with the best of them.

It’s time to say, “Good-bye.  We love you.  Thank you for all you have poured into our lives, and for allowing us to pour into yours.  We believe in you.  We know God will use you even more than God already has.  We will miss you.”

Good-bye, Warren, Jessica, Aubrey, Truman, and Graham.  Our family, and Highland Park Church, is forever changed by the gift of your ministry to us.

It’s a tough lesson to learn.  But, totally worth the value added to our lives and to God’s kingdom.

 

Learning God Didn’t Create Humans to Be Poor

God created the earth with extravagant luxuries.  The ground was lush with succulent fruits and vegetables.  The air was fresh and clean.  The waters were vast and pure.  The land was alive with wildlife and trees and vegetation as far as the eye could see.

It was a perfect world.  Resources were plentiful.  Beauty was everywhere.  Nothing was spoiled.  Anything and everything you could ever want or desire was right before you.

God gave it all to humans, to us.  To you.

God didn’t create humans to be poor.  If that was the case, then why wouldn’t God give us a small portion of creation?  God created humans, you and I, to be rich in creation.  God created a world with more than enough for everyone to satisfy their needs.

Sin created a distribution problem.  Sin causes you to believe in scarcity.  Sin tells you there’s a limited amount of resources for a limited amount of people for a limited amount of time.  So, whatever you do have, you better keep and use only for yourself.

Scarcity isn’t true.  It is your belief in it that makes it a reality for others.  God created an earth with enough resources for everyone to share.  When you believe in scarcity, you collect as much you can and you horde it.  You’re afraid it will eventually run out.  You have things that you feel you can’t live without.  Whatever extra you do have, you spend on those things.  Essentially, you end taking more than you need for fear of missing out.  Doing so keeps resources from blessing the lives of others, which creates a situation of scarcity for them.  There’s enough to go around.  Sin convinces you not to believe it, so you don’t share it.

God didn’t create you to be poor.  But, God would rather you be poor and faithful than rich and faithless.  Wealth and riches in God’s economy aren’t measured by how much you have but how much you are willing to give.  God gave the example of giving it all, not saving it all.  As ones created in God’s image, how much should we be willing to give?

Jesus didn’t walk the earth dropping bags of gold in people’s laps.  God came to earth to help us open our bags to everyone else.

Psalm 112 says, “Happy (or blessed) are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in God’s commandments.  For people like this, it says “wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.”  Then it describes this same people as those for whom “it is well” because they “deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice…They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor.

God didn’t create you to be poor.  God created humans with access to great and many riches.  God doesn’t keep it from you.  It’s not a stick with a carrot dangling in front of you.  God’s plan isn’t to punish humanity with a futile existence.

God created humanity to thrive.  For all of humanity to thrive, generosity and justice and sharing and giving to those without must be at the core of who you are and how you live.

God didn’t create you to be poor.  Neither did God create your neighbor to be poor.  Or the family in a different neighborhood, or country, or continent, or government.  God created all of us to share in the riches of creation.  God’s resources aren’t scarce.  You just need the courage to live generously.  Then, scarcity would disappear and no one would be poor.     

What a beautiful world this reveals.  It is the way of God’s kingdom.  As sons and daughters of God, we can create pockets of this reality all over the world.

Learning Why You Should Encourage Female Pastors to Preach

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.26.12 AMI didn’t recall the conversation.  If she hadn’t reminded me, I would have no recollection of what was said.  Just yesterday, I received a Facebook message that brought the story back to life.

We invited her to see our new home.  It’s not really a new home.  It was built in 1959.  It was new to us, though.  We recently bought it and had given it a few facelifts.  She came over to check out our progress.

It was a couple years ago, now.  The tour of the house made a pitstop in Brooklyn’s office for a quick chat.  Somehow the conversation led me to ask, “Have you had an opportunity to preach at your church?”  I should stop here and tell you that she is a youth pastor.  She had been a youth pastor at the same church for several years.  I was assuming that a church that would hire a female youth pastor would also be supportive of women preaching.  It felt natural for me to ask about her experience behind the pulpit (even though not many of use a pulpit anymore).

Her answer was, “No.  I am not sure how they would feel about that.”  Being the forward person I am, I then asked, “Are you good?  Tough question to answer.  Probably would take that one back if I could.  Regardless, the next thing I said was, “You should preach.  You need to preach.”

As she recalls this moment, she walked away from the conversation “shaken a little, doubting herself but finding encouragement that someone, who doesn’t even know me all that well, had confidence in me.”

Nearly two years later, she wrote a message to say, “I finally had the gall to ask to preach…and they said “No.”  Not a confidence booster.  It’s also a common response female pastors receive from their male counterparts.  February came and the pastor approached her with the question, “Do you still want to preach?”  

This time,” she said, “I was stubborn, and didn’t want to, but I thought back to your words and knew I had to.  So I did and it was awesome!  Last week, I preached again at another church.  

Her message ends with thoughtful words:  “Thank you so much for having a pretty ordinary conversation with me one Saturday afternoon that has given me so much encouragement to do the one thing I never saw myself doing!”

The primary reason she never saw herself preaching is because no one told her she could or that she should.  It wasn’t because she was incapable or didn’t have the desire.  Her God-given potential was neglected in large part because she is a girl.  Such a sad truth to realize.

It’s hard for me to imagine a conversation I can barely remember provided enough support for her to pursue her calling.  I certainly am not special.  Nor do I take any credit.  It’s simply a reminder of the reason why it needs to be said to female pastors more often.  God has gifted women with the power to preach.  Not just to men, or children, or teenagers, but to everyone.  Most female pastors will never hear encouragement from their peers and or most male leaders.  They need to hear it from somebody.  That somebody can be you.  Your simple word of encouragement could be the spark that provides the courage to pursue preaching with confidence.

If you lead a church or attend a church that supports women in ministry, I urge you to encourage the female pastors you know to preach.  If you don’t, then who will?

Learning 2 Corinthians 6:14 is About More than Who You Marry

All three of the girls in my house want a dog.  I am not sure the genesis of this desire.  I don’t think the idea germinated with Brooklyn.  There is no way she’s anxious to put ourselves in a situation like the one we had with our previous dog.  He had issues, mental and emotional!

Whoever started this whole thing, I guess it really doesn’t matter.  They have banded together regardless of who the leader is.  They are one on this issue now.  It’s not going away.

The oldest, Brooklyn, recently came across the one they want.  Her friends recently welcomed him into their home.  Of course, they plaster cute pictures all over social media. It’s free advertising for the breeder.  I almost wonder if they are getting some kind of kickback.  Haha.  Lol.  Seriously, they better not be.

I am holding strong.  A cute teddy bear face with hair blowing in the wind won’t sway me. We are not getting a dog.  I only need to keep coming up with good reasons agains it.

I gained one such reason on a recent speaking trip with Brooklyn.  We were sharing a meal with respected leaders from the community for a donors luncheon.  Next to us sat business leaders, government officials, respected alumni, and a veterinarian.  Who knows dogs better than a veterinarian?  I saw a golden opportunity.  I worked into our conversation the question, “So, what is your opinion of golden doodles (the dog my girls want)?”  He spoke well of them for the most part.  Then, he gave me the ammunition I needed.  “You know,” he said, “they aren’t pure breeds.  They really are just a mutt.”

Here’s how I translated it in my head:  “The dog isn’t worth the high price tag breeders are placing on them.  Don’t waste your money.  It is not even a pure breed.”

I guess if you breed a poodle and a golden retriever you get a golden doodle, or as some say, a goodle.  You can no longer call it a poodle or golden retriever.  Those identities are lost.  It is altogether something different.

2 Corinthians 6:14 is written, 

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?  (NRSV)

Most readers associate the words “mismatched” and “partnership” with dating and marriage.  We use this verse to teach Christians a principle against being in a committed relationship with someone who is not a believer.  This is helpful advice, but doesn’t capture the full meaning.  The command is meant for a much broader audience.

In all of your relationships, a Christian should not be mismatched.  You shouldn’t be creating partnerships of dependence on others who don’t follow the way Christ.

Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:20 help us see this more clearly.

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.  Leviticus19:19 (NRSV)

 

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.  Deuteronomy 22:10 (NRSV)

In Leviticus, we find a tri-command of “You shall not” create a situation where two independent parts become indistinguishable one from the other.  In each scenario, both parts lose their original identity.

In Deuteronomy, we find a single command of “You shall not” create a situation where two independent agents become codependent.  In this scenario, both an ox and donkey are dependent on the other to accomplish a task.

If 2 Corinthians 6:14 speaks in the negative, “Do not be,” then 2 Corinthians 6:17 is written in the positive, “come out from them, and be separate from them.”  Both reiterate the same point that goes beyond the topic of dating and marriage.  It is saying, don’t create a partnership with others in a way that pledges away your faith.  Don’t become dependent on another for your identity (Leviticus 19:19) or your success (Deuteronomy 22:10).  Let your faith set you apart in how you think, live, love, forgive.  Let your status as a son and daughter of be the primary source of who you are and where you find your purpose.

You don’t have to be dating or married to someone to be “mismatched.”  It can happen in any area of your life where relationships are involved.  Be careful.  Maintain who you are in Christ at work, at home, with friends, and among everyone you know.  God is making you pure.

 

 

 

Learning You Need a Clean Space to Be Creative

Have you ever tried to cook in a dirty kitchen?

Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it in a couple paragraphs.

I meet with a few college students throughout the week in a mentoring relationship.  We meet for about 45 minutes.  We discuss setting goals, creating strategies, church ministry, and ways to grow in leadership.  Each week, we start with a short video on leadership.

This week, we watched a four minute clip of David Allen speaking on the topic of productivity at Chic-Fil-A’s Leadercast.  It can be summarized using four statements he made:

  • If you’re already in a creative mess, you have no room to make one.
  • You are most productive when you have the freedom to make a mess.
  • I don’t cook neat, but it starts clean.
  • You don’t have room to make a mess because you are already in one.

Back to my original question, Have you ever tried to cook in a dirty kitchen?  Allen would say don’t do it.  You’ll only create a bigger mess.  Actually, the primary metaphor he uses in this clip about creative productivity is cooking.  “You are most productive when you have room to make a mess,” he says.  If there are dirty pots and pans scattered everywhere with flour and eggs and milk spilled all over the countertop while cutting boards contaminated by raw meat are left uncleaned when you walk into the kitchen, where will you have space to effectively cook an impressive meal?

Being messy isn’t the problem.  It can actually be good.  It is part of the process of coming up with something great.  The problem is never cleaning up the first mess you made, then trying to work in those conditions.

This applies to your:

  • Job
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Dreams
  • Education
  • Hobbies

I asked one of the students who watched this clip with me how this idea applies to his life. “Have you ever gone into work and everything was a mess?”  He answered, “Yes.”  I followed up with, “How did it affect your work that night?”  Without needing to think too long, he said, “It made things pretty difficult.”  

As one who believes God created humans with a great capacity for creativity, it is in your design to be productive.  Of all the creatures God made, humans are the only ones created in God’s own image.  With that comes a special responsibility to care for and positively contribute toward the well-being of creation.  The earth and all its inhabitants isn’t ours to take advantage of for our own pleasure.  It is God’s gift we are meant to help prosper.

This requires productivity.  God created you to create.  There’s no room for you to create because you are living in a mess.  Making a clean space for yourself will give you the room to discover the creative potential already living inside of you.

What mess do you need to cleanup?

 

 

Learning Together: It’s Tough Being a Female Pastor

Brooklyn-2We loved her dearly.  She was like family to us.  We lived with her husband and her for nearly 6 months.  Brooklyn worked with her everyday.  She made us the best crab cakes.  Her husband and her took us to pizza nearly once week.

We knew she loved us too.  She would do almost anything for us.  She would never do something to hurt us.

What she said to Brooklyn wasn’t meant to hurt.  She was only being honest.  It was a manifestation of her old-school, southern way of thinking.  In the sixty plus years of life, she had never before heard a woman preach.  At least not in person.

Brooklyn’s first sermon in church was also her first time hearing a woman preach.  She was polite.  She didn’t walk out or make a scene.  She sat there and listened with the rest of us.  Seemed to be a vote of confidence.

Then she made the comment to Brooklyn, “I just don’t like listening to women preach.”

Not easy words to hear from one whom you love.  It is a sentiment that characterizes the difficulty women face when serving as a pastor.  If a person who loves Brooklyn dearly isn’t comfortable with a woman preaching, chances are many others who don’t love her will feel the same or worse.  And, they will share it in ways that are much more harsh.

In the fifteen years that Brooklyn has been a pastor, we have learned together how tough it can be for a woman to a be pastor.  In some cases, she definitely was not welcomed with a red carpet.  It was much preferred to sneak her in the back door.  In other circles, she isn’t even welcome.

It may be tough, but it doesn’t mean it is wrong.  Brooklyn is called by God to serve as a pastor as much as any of her male counterparts.  The trail of changed lives being left behind her is evidence enough.

We are grateful for our pastors and friends who have supported her along the way.  You have treated her as equal when it isn’t popular.  You recognized her God-given gift of leadership.  You opened to her a stage once reserved solely for men.  You encouraged her to break the glass, and even provided the tools to do it.

Highland Park Church is one of those places with these kind of leaders.

Being a female pastor is tough.  You can count on that.  As difficult as it may be, it is worth the beauty revealed to our world.

I am amazed by the courage Brooklyn has shown in following the direction of God’s will for her life in pastoral ministry.  She is a brave leader who is changing our world.  She is setting the stage of the future by raising up other young women to be even greater leaders of transformation.

 

Learning Love Looks for What’s Beautiful

How often do you see the beauty in others?

Cain couldn’t see what was beautiful because he was blinded by resentment.  Remember the story?

Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  Cain was the firstborn.  Abel wasn’t as fortunate.  Cain was a farmer who worked with the land.  Abel was also a farmer who worked with the livestock.  Not much else is said about them in Genesis 4, until the time came for them to give an offering to God.

Abel brought the choice portions from the most prized in his flock.  God received it with pleasure.  Cain brought a portion from the fruit of the ground.  God did not receive Cain’s offering with the same enthusiasm.  Instead, God looked upon it with disgust.

This infuriated Cain.  His countenance fell.  His chin dropped.  He stared at the ground in embarrassment and anger.  He didn’t want to look at God, his family, and most definitely not Abel.

After a period of time we know not how long (obviously long enough to come up with a vengeful plot), Cain invited Abel out to his stomping ground, his fields.  You might guess Abel was oblivious to Abel’s anger because it doesn’t appear he foresees what is happening.  Cain drew him away from the family into a territory only he is familiar with in order to kill his brother.  Which he did, mafia style.

The final time he looked at his brother Abel, his vision was marred by contempt.  He was unable to see the good in his brother.  What is beautiful lay hidden behind the fog of Cain’s  own emotions.  He looked at him with eyes full of selfishness and pride, not love.

The writer of 1 John alludes to this story when speaking of love.  It is written:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one anotherWe must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  1 John 3:11-12 (NRSV)
We should love one another.  Love looks for what’s beautiful and brings it to life.  It focuses your attention on the good that can be found in others.  It draws you to notice the potential in others before they can see it for themselves.  It gives you eyes to see a treasure of great worth.
Love does not look like Cain.  He wasn’t looking for good.  His sight was set on vengeance.  Looking through this lense he wasn’t able to see his brother clearly.  The end result was destroying what is beautiful.
Love looks for what is beautiful in others.  Then, it nurtures it to life.

Learning To Be a Church Synonymous with Love

I was sitting at a traffic light on the way home from picking my daughter up from school.  A sticker on the back window of the car in front of me caught my attention.  It said, “I heart (a heart icon) ______________.”  I forget what they hearted.  I think it was an elementary school or maybe a local church.  If you’ve been to New York City, you’ve seen the shirt:  I “heart” NY.

Even though I was looking at a shape of a heart, my mind automatically translated it to love.  I read it as saying “I love _____________.”

Then it hit me.  How could  a simple shape of a heart do that to my brain?  How could a symbol be synonymous with a word?  It’s such a simple icon.  A preschooler can draw it.  It barely resembles the shape of a real heart.

Nonetheless, it is amazing.  My eyes can see the shape of a heart and my mind thinks of the word love.   The association is inseparable.

The Church is also created to be synonymous with love.  The writer of 1 John reminds the church, “this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” (1 John 3:11&14, NRSV)

How amazing would it be if the Church became synonymous with love?  Not a political party.  Not a nation.  Not a philosophy.  Not an economic system.  Not a race.  But, LOVE.

Imagine someone sitting in their car at a stop light.  On their left, they see a church.  Then, automatically, their mind thinks of the word love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  1 John 3:7

Learning to Name Your Wounds

HappyHome-WebsiteWhat would you say if you were asked to name your wounds?

We asked our community at Highland Park Church to name them during our weekend worship.  It’s part of a sermon series called Happy Home.  Week 1 started with the idea that a Happy Home will be a safe space where healing is taking place.  Happiness at home is difficult when hurting people are hurting people.  Hurts need to be healed.

The message challenged our people to place their wounds in God’s hands.  Give them to God because God cares for you, 1 Peter 5:7.  We invited any who are willing to name their wounds by writing it on a card.  We offered a chance to bring those cards forward to the altar and symbolically leave it in God’s hands.  Let it be a statement of your trust in God to begin the healing process.

I’ve read through and prayed over each card.  I am compelled to share some of them with you as a way to create solidarity with one another.  You are not alone.  Not in your pain nor in your healing.  Together, we share in the redeeming of our lives and our world.  As you read each one, I hope you will pause to say a prayer of faith in God’s ability to heal every wound.

Wounds

  • Coworkers say things about me instead of bringing it to me so I can make things right.  Instead, it is more damaging to me and my career.
  • My oldest son doesn’t live with me.
  • My parents think that I’m not good enough, that I’m not ready.
  • Feeling like I wasn’t more important to my father growing up.  And, I’ve done the same to my child because her father is like mine.
  • Divorce.
  • Getting over the grief of losing both my parents at 24 and 40.
  • My parents never saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.”
  • Rape.  Divorce.  Cheated on.  Rejected by mother, brother, and sister.
  • Absent father.
  • My dad to get real professional help and ask Jesus to be in his heart.
  • My mom’s harsh words…I forgive her.

For those of you who were inspired to name your wounds, God hears your cry.  As the Church, we are listening too.  We pray for you.  We love you.  Our desire is to care for you.  We are in this with you.  Your vulnerability opens the possibility for healing, in you and all of us.

We believe many of you will discover a Happy Home like you never have before.  Can’t wait to hear those stories!

Learning that Hurting People Hurt People

Our first and only dog as a family (pre-kids) had serious issues.  He is the reason we’ve only had one dog.  I will never fully recover from the trauma of raising such a neurotic animal.

His name was Chip.  He was a pet store dog.  A discounted pet store dog.  Here’s your sign.  Duhhhh!  Could it be any more clear this dog comes with baggage?  Not to my in-laws.  They decided to buy this barely-a-puppy any more Lhasa Apso for us, without asking.

He was a cute dog.  Seemingly lovable.  There were some perks, too.  Every night he would make himself available to massage my feet by licking and nibbling the fungus between every toe.  I loved it.  Brooklyn loathed it.

The other side of Chip’s personality wreaked havoc.  His ability to destroy property defaced every home we lived in.  He tore down blinds.  He must have been the world’s highest leaping Lhasa Apso because the dog cleared at least 5 feet to rip the precious window treatments apart.  He chewed up the trim around doors.  You would have thought a beaver lived in our home.  He drenched the floor with his foaming slobber.  We would return home to find him in his cage covered in saliva.  It’s like he took a bath in it.  The smell was nauseating.  You couldn’t pick him up without him thrashing like a man trying to escape a straight jacket.  Bathing him was impossible.  Haircuts required sedation.  His anxiety caused him to be sick any time we traveled and left him with someone else.

The last straw came about 9 months in to his relationship with our first child.  He was sitting by the sliding glass door enjoying a siesta.  Kirra was learning to crawl.  She made her way toward where he was laying.  Her hand barely touched his tail.  He whipped around  and attacked her face.  He bit her just above her eye.  Bye Bye, doggy.

The hardest part about letting go of Chip was the reality that this poor dog must have endured some serious emotional wounds as a puppy.  There’s no other explanation for his erratic behavior.  He spent four months in the pet shop.  I’m sure he was messed with by hundreds, if not thousands, of kids.  He was scarred.  He had issues.  He was emotionally scarred.  His reaction to any situation remotely resembling his past pain ended up hurting others.

You are not a dog.  You are logical.  You are capable of using reason to make wise and healthy decisions.  I am not about to put a dog and you on the same level.  But, like our dog, you have been wounded in the past.  People have said things, done things, and withheld things that have caused you great pain.  The way you have been treated or mistreated has inflicted serious injuries on your soul.

Your relationships suffer because you are a hurting person hurting people.  You don’t mean to, it just happens.  It’s more of a reaction, than an action.  You are poked where the wound hasn’t healed, and it hurts.  Your natural response is to ward off the possibility of more pain.  Most of the time, this response isn’t something that makes you proud.

I am learning this about myself, as well.  The moments I hurt others is 99% of the time directly related to a place in my life where I hurt.  It hurst so much I become paralyzed and restricted from acting right.  It is difficult for me to think straight.  I simply want the pain and the memory of it to go away.  In the process, I lose sight of what it means to care for others.

God wants to heal those wounds in you.  God wants to relieve the pain of the scars that exist just below the surface of who you are.  God wants to remove those soft-to-touch areas of your soul.  God wants to bind up your broken heart.

You hear it in the words of Jesus as he claims a passage from Isaiah:

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;  Isaiah 61:1 (NRSV)

Hurting people hurt people.  God makes you a healing person who is then able to help people.