I’m about to jump out of my skin with excitement for our first SUNDAY MORNING back in church in over a year!!! And as I consider the significance of this weekend and the future our church, I can’t help but to also reflect on my own personal “pain & progress” from the past year. No doubt everyone faced challenges this past year. For me, it was both brutal & refining.
Frankly, I was emotionally, mentally and professionally unprepared for the curve balls of 2020. In the Bible, we read how the role of a pastor is a lot like that of a shepherd. (Yes, a “sheep herder” but for people) Shepherds & Pastors care for, fight for, provide for, and sacrifice for their flock.
For pastors, shepherding requires wisdom, patience, experience, spiritual depth & unwavering commitment…qualities that are somewhat lacking in my own leadership arsenal.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a shepherd before. I’ve always thought of myself as more of a sheep-dog. You know? The dog that works for the shepherd…it kinda looks and smells like a sheep, runs and barks & nips the backside of sheep who are out of line, picks fights with wolves and bears? Yea that’s me, the annoying canine sent by the chief shepherd, Jesus, to push people in the right direction and pick fights with perceived threats.
Over the years I got into a comfortable & manageable weekly rhythm of preaching, sermon prep, occasional funerals, lots of weddings, leading staff, long term planning, prayer, serving various people in the church, emails, etc.But…the Covid curveball (no pun intended) threw me for a loop. I got shaken up. The whole church got turned upside down! Not only were we figuring out how to do services online, but we were also leading Oasis through the most divisive political season in my lifetime. I know we can’t please everyone, but this past year there were times I felt like we couldn’t please ANYONE. Covid separated us, and politics divided us.
There was the global pandemic. And Trump, then Biden, voting fraud, QAnon. Antifa. Racism. Protests. Cancel Culture. Riots. Insurrection at the Capitol…A stolen election…Cuties on Netflix, Gay stuff on Disney+, BLM, Marxism, and Critical Race theory…
There were also UFO’s, Killer Hornets, 5G, and government conspiracies…
But what was the most divisive subject of the year?
MASKS!! Do we require them? What’s the governor saying? What about the WHO and the CDC? Half our people want them, half refuse to wear them. We hadn’t even started regathering yet, and people were already emailing upset or even some leaving the church because of differences of opinion about masks.
Then came THE VACCINE….I am constantly questioned about it. Should we get it? What about the aborted fetal cells? Is it the mark of the beast? Is this prophesied in the book of Revelation?
WHEW!!! I’m exhausted just writing about all this.
I wish this past year was as easy as “just doing church online for a year,” but it wasn’t that simple. How do you shepherd people that you can’t even see? How do you keep people in community when they won’t even attend a small group? And for those who did stick with their small groups, how do you keep them from arguing over political things when they are together? If the senior sheep-dog is having a hard time leading people and navigating this stuff, how can I expect a volunteer, less-trained, small group leader to keep people focused on Jesus?
And then the economy and financial stuff. Will we have to let staff go? Will our church survive this? Should we try to build our own building? How much money should we borrow? Steel prices, wood, PVC, the cost of all building materials is skyrocketing, can we move forward in faith without being bad stewards?
I have friends who closed their churches. How much longer will we last before we have to do the same? Thank God Oasis Church is in a healthy place financially, but that didn’t prevent the fear of “what if…”
Then the emotional health stuff, will I get a day without worry? Anxiety? Stress? Why can’t I seem to get any quality time with Jesus? I need rest, BREATHE, Bill, Breathe!
Meanwhile, the emails and text messages are still pouring in with links to articles about racism, social justice, conspiracy theories, end-times prophecies, Candace Owens clips and Anderson Cooper interviews. People want me to read this, watch that, give my opinion on this & that.
Then that awkward email or text, or maybe even a phone call where someone would tell me they’re leaving the church…
–We just can’t do online services anymore…
–We refuse to wear a mask…
–Everyone should wear a mask!
-You should be fighting for our constitutional right to _____.
-You talk too much about racism
-You should say more about racism
-You’re just trying to be “woke”
-Why don’t you “Just teach the Bible”
-You should preach more on social justice! How come you haven’t said anything about _______ (insert latest hashtag)
-Stop being a social justice warrior!
-Why don’t you preach on the END TIMES?
-We’ll come back when you ______ (insert personal preference)
The conversations were often, “why can’t we just have church outside, maybe at a park somewhere? Or we can do drive-in church? We can meet at a random building somewhere else on a different night of the week.” When we finally started having services on a Thursday night, most of the people who were demanding we do it only showed up once or twice. I guess they just wanted the option to attend church, but they weren’t actually committed to being there.
If I have certainty about anything after this past year, it’s this:
#1 – EVERYONE NEEDS GRACE. including me.I’m a flawed, imperfect sheep-dog doing the best I can with my severe limitations. I’m not a political scientist, I’m not an immunologist, I’m not a sociologist, I can’t predict the future, and I need grace and prayer.And so does everyone else. For the people who quit church this past year, I owe them grace. Even if their “reasoning” was terrible, I owe them grace. I’ll still serve them, pray for them, and talk highly about them whether or not they consider me their pastor.
#2 – FAMILY IS PRIORITY. My family means everything to me. My wife is amazing, she was a refuge this year and our home was a place of safety. As a pastor, I’ve come to learn that everyone is alway shopping me – as soon as I don’t meet their expectations, they shop elsewhere. But my family is not shopping. If everyone else walks away, they are still waiting with open arms and unconditional acceptance. Jennifer was my QuaranQueen. Aubrey was my quaranTEEN. And Elijah was my QuarINFANT. LOL
#3 – THE CHURCH BELONGS TO JESUS, not me. He already died for it, so I don’t have to. People come and go, culture changes, society is constantly shifting, but JESUS is the same yesterday, today and forever.
People have asked, are you excited about returning to the school this Sunday?! Of course I am. But I’m not naive enough to think that everything is gonna be like it once was, because it’s not. Everything has changed, including ME. I’m different after this past year. The people of Oasis are different after this past year. Our church will be different, and that’s okay.
I used to say “the best is yet to come” a lot because it was a trending phrase in church circles. But I recently heard a preacher say, “the best already came, and his name is Jesus.” I agree with that. The best has already come, and the best is with us. I’m not looking forward to a better future anymore. I’m looking to Jesus. He’s the better everything. And He’s already with us.
I’m excited to return to in person services this Sunday and worship JESUS. I’m excited to see who’s still with us. I’m excited to rebuild a church that is ALL ABOUT JESUS.
For me, this Sunday is so much more than a chance to attend a service- it’s a day of redemption & restoration. It’s a day where God gives back everything that was taken away. He proves his faithfulness through the storm. In Joel 2, God promises to RESTORE everything the locusts had stripped away. Similarly, I think this Sunday is a Joel 2 moment. The pruning is over, Spring is here! God is redeeming & restoring.
America is being squeezed. I’m looking at the results of the squeeze in America, and it’s not all good stuff.
In the past week, I’ve spoken with THREE different people who are wresting with their faith BECAUSE of encounters they’ve had with people in their faith family. The question that ALL THREE of these people asked me is “Am I Safe Here?”
One was a black man who had concerns with some things he saw people posting online and wondered if this was a safe place to raise his kids.
One was a white woman who had concerns with what felt like passive aggressiveness & superiority from a male coworker.
One was a white male who has some progressive political and religious leanings and was feeling concerned about whether or not this was a safe place for him to wrestle.
Truth is, right now
WE ARE A PEOPLE WHO ARE DIVIDED
When the gap becomes uncrossable, feels unsafe, seems uncertain, then we look for a bridge.
WE NEED BRIDGES
A BRIDGE is attractive.
A BRIDGE is safe.
A BRIDGE is connected to both sides, but does not identify with either.
-the bridge is not so focused on being right as it is focused on being strong.
A BRIDGE provides stability within the ever-changing, shifting nature of each side.
-it’s more about support than direction.
A BRIDGE accepts and receives all people, from both sides.
-it’s inclusive but not affirming.
A BRIDGE is okay when people leave, pass through, and even loiter (but its not okay with people jumping).
If we believe, love and live the true gospel, we will become an attractive, safe place – connected to both sides but not identifying with either, providing spiritual and emotional stability in an unstable world, and even though we are an incredible part of a person’s journey – it’s never about us.
Paul deals with the division in the church by giving them a BRIDGE, the true gospel.
Scripture: Galatians 2:11-21
11But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.
Essentially, God was showing Peter that He was BRIDGING THE GAP between Jews and Gentiles.
He was taking what once was divided, and he was uniting it. He was creating a way of unity in the midst of the chaos of disunity. This is what the gospel does. It brings people together, and unites them. Enemy love is the heart of the gospel. IT does not affirm your way, but rather, shows you a third way, a third option, it begs and beckons us to meet in the middle.
And so, Peter started to eat with Gentiles, but when some Jews from Jerusalem show up, Peter withdraws and goes back to his old ways of not even eating with Gentiles, like they had a disease and he might catch it.
13As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
14When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?
15“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. 16Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”
17But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. 19For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.
Paul starts explaining the gospel to him! Which may seem condescending, but Paul is saying, C’mon Peter! You know we are not made right because of something about us, or something we eat or don’t eat or do or don’t do, but because we accept Christ’s righteousness as our own.
We are completely accepted and loved as sons and daughters of God. That’s the basis of our acceptance, and when we really embrace this true gospel it tears down any sense of superiority or division we might feel toward someone else.
20My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
In this story, Paul doesn’t go on a rant about the do’s and don’ts of being a Christian, he instead shows us how to gospel bridges the gaps, and he also shows us how the gaps got there in the first place!
We are always trying to justify ourselves: to set ourselves apart from others. We look for something or someone to identify with, to be our “righteousness.” Constantly in competition with others because the essence of pride is that it is competitive. I have to protect and defend my personal uniqueness because that gives me value and worth above others.
What are the things that we lean heaviest on to distinguish us from others? To make us feel better than, or accepted, or valuable?
Race, Status, Religion, Political views, Ideas, achievements and other accomplishments.
#1 – The Gospel Bridges The RACE GAP.
For some, their ethnic identity becomes a way of distinguishing ourself above others. So, they take pride in their American-ness, or their blackness, their Southernness, or their Asian-ness, Indian culture, or Hispanic-ness. Or whatever. A racial distinctive makes them who they are and forms their identity.
Our cultures are beautiful things, created by God to reflect his glory. But when it becomes our primary, distinguishing identity, it causes division. You become really proud of and protective and defensive of your culture, because your culture gives you a sense of identity and sets you apart. So much of our division in the church is because our secondary identity begins to rival with our primary identity as a citizen of Heaven.
#2 – The Gospel BRIDGES the social status gap.
Do you think some personal accomplishment or characteristic sets you apart and justifies you before others?
Do you see people in categories:
successful vs unsuccessful, intelligent vs dumb, beautiful vs ugly, fit vs fat, rich vs poor.
Do you look down on those who are “less” than you are in these areas, or do you feel intimidated by those who are “more” than you?? In Christ, there is no place for allowing social status to separate us.
#3 – Lastly, the gospel bridges the RELIGION & POLITICS gap.
-Religious behavior does not “distinguish” us. Have you lived a moral or religious life? Have you avoided certain “sins”? Do you feel a sense of pride because you have lived a good life? And so now you feel a sense of distinction, even superiority, over others who have done any of these things?
-Political Ideals do not “distinguish” us. If you think your political affiliation gives you a moral high ground, or your political ideas are superior to another, then you are lost in secondary identities.
Ultimately, you need to know that, in Christ, NOTHING makes you better or superior to ANYONE ever. When God sees you, he doesn’t see you – he sees himself. He sees Jesus.
Your identity is to one who is clothed with Christ’s righteousness and filled with Christ’s resurrection power. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to reflect Jesus and BE A BRIDGE!
In Christ…you are an attractive, safe place – connected to both sides but not identifying with either, providing spiritual and emotional stability in an unstable world, and even though we are an incredible part of a person’s journey – it’s never about us. It’s all about Jesus.
I was researching bridges and came across a quote from AirForce Magazine – “In time of war, bridges make attractive targets for air attack. They constitute seemingly vulnerable links in the enemy’s lines of communication.”
Photo – Bombing of a bridge in Novi Sad in 99, the second largest city in Serbia/Yugoslavia.
Photo – Draw Bridge
When I think of drawbridge I think about ancient castle with a mote, and security lockdown measures include drawing the bridge up.
Photo – A drawbridge causes a backup. But sometimes with emotions its the backup that causes the drawup. It’s the mental and emotional clutter that causes disconnection and retreat.
>Question of the Day.
WHY DOES IT SEEM LIKE EVERYONE IS ANGRY ALL THE TIME?
Every awful event in the world seems to be recorded and uploaded on the spot, if not LIVE-STREAMED.
Our sacred boxes (personal values) are threatened – we live in the most politically polarized time ever
We are still separated and segregated– it’s likely that most of us don’t have friendships that go beyond our skin color, or how we vote, we don’t talk to each other. We interact with each other, but we don’t hear one another
We live in an US vs THEM culture. Everything is driving us to pick a side. Its easy to point out there and blame “those people” or “culture” or some system, influence, deep state, etc…but what about pointing INWARD and asking “what’s happening in me?”
In the Early 1900s, GK Chesterton said,
>“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
In our culture today, being a Christian, a bridge builder, a peacemaker, is difficult. It’s muddy, it’s hard, it’s inconvenient. That’s why a lot of people aren’t trying.
Cultural struggles are a result of personal anger and struggles. It’s not what’s wrong “out there” it is what’s wrong “in me”.
If we are gonna change what’s going on out there, then we have to change what’s going on in ourselves.
Ephesians 4:26-27 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity”
Unrighteous anger wants pain and punishment, Righteous anger wants redemption and restoration.
Don’t mistake self-righteous anger for righteous anger.
When I see Jesus, I see a man who is angry!
-In Matthew he calls religious leaders snakes
-In Mark he heals on the wrong day and looks at religious leaders with anger
-In Luke and John he turns over tables and whipping people
Jesus gets angry! Why? Because he is a man of love.
When you are a person of love, you WILL get angry about things .
When something you love is threatened, you will get angry.
If you follow the trail of your anger, you will find the treasure of your VALUES.
3 Ways People Deal With Anger
#1 – BOMB THE BRIDGE-
This is the reactionaty, quick tempered, blow up response. Have you ever been in an environment like this?
-some of you grew up in a family like this.
-you could be chillin with your feet on the table, and momma comes in the room and loses it. There is no talking, bridge building, or healthy conversation. It’s all volatile, everyone is outraged all the time, walking on eggshells
-some of you work in environments like this.
-unfortunately we all live in a culture like this. Everyone is bombing bridges in the name of “right-ness”
#2 – DRAW THE BRIDGE –
Leave, Run, Disconnect, Unfriend, End the relationship
Divorce happens because someone, in anger, their bridge is drawn. It’s not the violent treatment, sometimes its the silent treatment.
“They’ll never see their grandkids again” “I’ll never be intimate with him again” “If I come in the house, and she starts, I’ll just sit and not even look at her”
What does Paul say we need to do?
>CROSS THE BRIDGE –
Why is Paul writing about anger here? Because he’s a church member, writing to church members.
Sometimes, the church can bring out all the anger in you.
Why? Because you start interacting and engaging with people who are very different from you
Ephesians 4:28-29 “The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need. You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
If Christianity is under attack, it still doesn’t give Christians the right to attack.
Our logo is a cross. We don’t get to drop bombs on anyone in the name of righteousness, we DIE for righteousness.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk.
-you push it down, but all this stuff comes up in your mind like anger fantasies.
-you picture you telling them off? You see them getting busted? You see them dying?
-you draw the bridge but still hope they get blown up.
ANGER – FEELING INCONVENIENCED
-constantly feeling frustrated bc nothing goes your way
WRATH – DEMANDING YOUR WAY IMMEDIATELY
-the demand for immediate justice
-this could be the rioting downtown, throwing glass bottles filled with gasoline and a flaming rag
-this could the storming of the capitol building
QUARRELING – WHINING & COMPLAINING
SLANDER – JUDGMENTALISM -assuming the worst about someone and then speaking it aloud
“Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”
When is the last time you spent some time considering your own dark side?
Do you not realize that YOU are forgiven?
So why aren’t you forgiving?
You can’t cross a bridge when you don’t realize the bridge was originally built FOR you.
God built a bridge to you. The bridge of forgiveness.
I was at Vacation Bible School in 1994 when I first heard this phrase. Every kid in the room had a Bible in their hand, no cheat tabs or fingers in the pages yet.
The leader shouted “John 3:15…GO!”
Every kid in the room is hustling through the pages trying to find this Bible verse first, because the winner got candy as a prize. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the books of the Bible memorized, and I didn’t even know if John was in the front or the back of the Bible. So I turned to the table of contents in the front of the Bible, scanning with my finger looking for “The Book Of John.” Just as my finger hovered over the page number, a girl to my left stands up and says “I got it!’
Ugh. The other kids were way faster than me. It was almost like they were cheating, but they weren’t, they just knew the Bible (and had lots of experience playing Bible Swords.)
Today, I see a different version of Bible Swords being played by Christians, and the reward isn’t always candy. It’s a version of Facebook Bible School where people combat the ideas of their opponent, they pick and prod and argue, and fight for the moral high ground – and their weapon of choice is the Bible.
In our social media driven, politically charged culture, too many people are using the Bible as a weapon (a real sword). They’re proud of their ability to find random things in the Bible, out of context, as quickly as possible, and leverage their findings to wound their political.
Using the Bible as a weapon to win an argument, or even to “prove your point” is NOT the way of Jesus, nor is it the way of a biblically informed, fruit-of-the-Spirit producing Christian.
Let me be clear, I believe the Bible is 100% God’s word. But it’s not a weapon.
I love the verse: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
It says the word of God sharper than a sword, it does not say “use it like sword.” Also, it isn’t even referring to the Bible, it’s referring to JESUS. He’s the word the became flesh, which is living and active. But, let’s assume that verse IS talking about the actual Bible.
The fact that it has two edges makes it easier to penetrate, and it cuts very deeply. This is the very reason why you SHOULD NOT wield it as a weapon, but rather, be CAREFUL with it. Don’t use the Bible like a warrior uses a sword, instead, use the Bible like a surgeon uses a scalpel. Or better, receive this blade for yourself! Allow God’s word to pierce, penetrate, and cut deep into your own heart, filleting open your motives and innermost being. But don’t use it as a tool to destroy or attack someone else, ESPECIALLY if they aren’t open to receiving it.
In conclusion, stop using God’s word as a sword in your petty battles, finding fault in others and punishing them with the word. Instead, start using it as a mirror (James 1:23) to reveal your own inconsistencies and when see your own faults, THEN you have something to talk about.