Tag Archives: discipleship

Move on

In my discipleship group in college I learned Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  We claimed it as this verse of trusting God and waiting on Him.  It was a verse of surrender and patience.

Fast forward 4 years and I’m sitting in church and Pastor Jonathan was literally in a teaching series surveying ALL OF SCRIPTURE.  It was a long series 😉  He got to verse 14 and I expected the same interpretation and application as I was taught.  And then he read verse 15 aloud:  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

(ALSO: Lesson learned in the importance of reading Scripture in context before memorizing it and claiming it as a “life verse” out of context.)

As much as I love to be busy and productive and take matters in to my own hands, I wish that v 14 is where the story ended.  I wish I could be still and let the Lord just work it out and holler at me when it’s done.  I suppose there are times when that might be the case, but most often I feel like it’s more a both/and.

The Lord will fight for me and He will tell me to move on.

The Lord will call me to still my soul and to press on.

The Lord will hide me in the shadow of His wings and I will throw off things that hinder me and run the race marked out for me.

He has given us things to do, even when we feel like there is nothing we can do.  He allows the sun to rise and set day after day even when, frankly, we’d rather Him not.

When things get heavy or hard and all I want is to sleep for a week or 3 until “it” passes, there are dishes to do and emails to answer and babies to bathe and meetings to run.  I can choose to be resentful of the routines that must continue, of the seemingly unsympathetic time that ticks on by– or I can see those things as means of grace.

Grace in the conversation at lunch with a friend in need that counters (or at least distracts me from) my self-pity.  Grace in the alarm clock that kicks me out of the bed.  Grace in a hot shower- a perfect place for crying, for a moment of solitude, and for drumming up the courage to step out into the day set before me.

I trust that the Lord is okay with it not being pretty or efficient or neat or without faltering.  It doesn’t even have to be out of noble ambition or holy desire.  It can be by feeble and limping faith in what I cannot possibly see or understand in this moment.  It can be in obedience and surrender despite my uncertainty and reluctance.

I cry out and hear the Father, full of compassion and tenderness, calling out to me…

Move on.

Living within your means is a spiritual discipline

Man, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time!  I think about this a lot.  I am the executive pastor of a fairly young congregation.  I look over a lot of reports and numbers.  I have a lot of financial conversations with people from various generations.

And while I think my generation and subsequent ones after mine are particularly financially ignorant, this is not a new phenomenon and is definitely not limited to those 35 and younger.

I was raised by financially sound parents who started teaching me about money as soon as I could talk it seemed.  My grandmother tells the story of me being at the store and having a toy in one hand and my birthday money in the other as I soberly and tearfully had to make the hard, life altering decision of how I wanted to spend what little money I had.  My dad had to explain to me that he couldn’t just pull out the book of green papers (i.e., checkbook) when we didn’t have money in the bank for everything I saw and wanted.  I paid for my own Nintendo.  I saved up my own money to buy my trampoline.  The first thing I did when I turned 16 was open a checking account.  I had a Roth IRA at age 20.

I realize this is not a typical upbringing, but it is one of the things I am most grateful for in how my parents raised me.

All of this is simply to say that money makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s finite and measurable.  It’s earnable and spendable.

And while I realize that money is quite a hot button issue for church leaders to talk candidly about, I must say it is a far scarier prospect that we would leave it out entirely in the discipleship process or dance around it rather than equipping people to live in financial freedom.  After all, what is discipleship if it’s not learning how to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus?  And what are better indicators besides your time and your money on how faithful you are being with what’s been entrusted to you and where your affections & trust lie?

While I can’t unpack all of my thoughts on money & discipleship in one blog post, here are 3 of the things (in brief) that I most want to share:

1.  “Work” is not a four-letter word.

The ethic of work has been pitted against trusting God to “provide” and I  honestly can’t take hearing it anymore.  The Lord “provides” through work for the vast majority of us.  Sometimes that means we don’t get to spend as much time at home as we’d like for a season.  Sometimes it means we get a second job to make ends meet.  Sometimes it means we work a job we don’t feel “called” to (or even like) and we need to be grateful for the the provision of a paycheck.  God is not displeased by us taking personal responsibility for our finances.  On the contrary, Scripture is very clear  about the value of day’s work. (2 Thes 3.10)

Do not overspiritualize work or assume that because it’s hard or less than ideal that it isn’t from God. (Or that at the very least that He can’t use it for good in your life and the lives of those around you.)

2.  Don’t pass the buck.

Be self-aware enough not to dress up your desires or justify your poor decisions as God’s will or provision if those things compromise your ability to live within your means.  No, I don’t think He intended  for you to buy that “dream” house you can’t afford.  No, it doesn’t sound like the Lord’s will for you to buy a 2013 minivan when the car you’ve got runs just fine and you are already living paycheck to paycheck.  Nope, I don’t think the Lord ordered those steps into the Apple store to buy a Macbook Pro on Monday when you can’t seem to find your wallet when the offering plate passes you by Sunday after Sunday.

I know I’m being tough and pointed and everything about this aspect of discipleship is uncomfortable.  I do not mean to say that God does not give good gifts to His children.  Quite the opposite.  A good Father doesn’t give His children their wants at the expense of their needs.

I’m worn out by people who won’t take the initiative to ask for help to learn how to live within their means but who have no problem repeatedly making poor choices with money and wrapping those choices up in spiritual language and then expecting God to “fix it.”    You might not have had any financial education growing up.  You might not understand the value of compounding interest or what the heck a Beacon score is.  But the tools and resources you need for living within your means are available to you.  Do not live financially ignorant.  It’s simply not necessary and not worth the stress and turmoil it produces in your life.

3.  Self-control will sanctify your spending

We all have our weaknesses.  Shoes, clothes, electronics, coffee, eating out, cars, concerts, travel- surely you could name yours.  Mine is eating out.  I like to cook but eating out is convenient and a treat and fun for me.  So, I’d be happy to have 60-75% of my meals in a week not come from my kitchen.  However, we live on a tight budget and eating in 80-90% of the time means we can make it to the end of the month in the black.  It’s what is wise for us.  Let me be clear:  I would MUCH prefer the Original Pancake House for my usual Saturday breakfast over the Rouse Pancake House (though our chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin waffles are pretty spectacular)!

No matter what income bracket you are in, living within your means, practicing the virtue of self-control, will always be a discipline.  There will always be more things you could spend your money on.  There will always be opportunities to blow your budget or compromise your financial health. There will always be a list of things you “need.”  That is not unique to those on a limited income.  It is unique to mankind.  Set some financial goals and boundaries, or at least a budget, and protect it!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.  It’s true.  There is grace and mercy for our mistakes, for our carelessness, for our greed, for our lack of self-control.  But repentance requires change.  And discipleship is more than having a quiet time and fasting from chocolate during Lent.  It’s about faithful living.

Recovering People Pleaser

Hi. My name is Tracey and I’m a people pleaser.

I don’t need everyone to like me, I just need everyone to be alright.

I don’t need to be popular or at the center of a conversation, I just need everyone to keep the peace and get along.

I want people to be well and free.  I want to be well and free!

The difficulty with being a recovering people pleaser is that there is some rightness wrapped up in there that can’t be altogether abandoned.  There is some good that comes with wanting people to be well.

However, what I know is that the desire for wanting everyone to be alright can become an idol.  I (all too willingly) sacrifice my own emotional health and the health & development of others on its altars in the name of keeping the peace.

The irony of worshipping this idol is that I also know (all too well) that just because there is no commotion, no crap hitting the fan, doesn’t mean everything and everyone is alright!

Furthermore, I’m coming to see the value in the tension, in the conflict, in the disruption.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like it at all.  I’d rather avoid the awkward conversation or swerve to miss the punch to the gut.  BUT I recognize that there’s a lot of learning and growing that happens in the confrontation and the disruptions.  No one chooses to have their plans hijacked or their lives thrown into a tailspin.  But for better or for worse, we learn by doing.  And if I have any hope of learning and growing in any capacity in my life, I’ve got to be okay with people not being pleased sometimes.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve landed a job that is THE crucible for me and my people pleasing ways.  When you are a leader of leaders, next to never is everyone alright.  Next to never is everyone keeping the peace.  There is always a conflict to manage.  There is always a sensitive relationship to be mindful of.  (Being an executive pastor is practically People Pleasing Rehab for me!)

People pleasing can dress itself up like compassion.  It also does a pretty good peacemaker impression.

But at the end of the day, our motivation tells us the truth of the matter.  Am I avoiding the hard, but right thing?  What could be gained by letting this conflict play out?  What’s really at stake here?

I don’t want to miss the opportunity to invest in someone because it’s easier or more comfortable not to.  I don’t want to hinder ministry and discipleship in order to keep the (faux) peace.

I don’t want to worship a god who keeps me as anxious as a sheepdog always trying to count the flock and keep them all peaceably moving in the same direction with their heads down.

That’s not leadership and it certainly isn’t love.

the wonderment of baptism

Every baptism service we have at Renovatus is extraordinary. We’ve baptized in a borrowed Baptist church, a hundred year-old elementary school auditorium, a shopping mall headed into foreclosure, the Atlantic, and now years later in a traditional sanctuary of our very own.

Let me be clear: the scenery isn’t what makes it extraordinary. The baptismal we most commonly use is a glorified bathtub wrapped in wood and on casters! The time slot isn’t what does it-we’ve baptized on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. (Though last year we baptized by candlelight at Midnight on Easter and that actually was a pretty memorable timeslot!)

Pastor Jonathan baptized me at our first baptismal service over five years ago. Since then, each time I help baptismal candidates line up with their towels and their nervousness to wade in deeper with the Lord, my heart races a bit. I smile really big as they are brought before the congregation. I hold back the tears as they share a bit of their story with us, and then I cheer like no one’s business when they come up out of the water and hug their pastor.

The old being put to death and the new coming to life in such a clear, demonstrative way is nothing less than remarkable. The bodies are as unique as the stories embedded in them—diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. But the baptismal water is no respecter of persons; it is the great equalizer. Neither male nor female, slave nor free, rich nor poor—the old markers and old stories are now submerged into one story: the story of death and resurrection.

While we encourage people to sign up in advance and to bring friends and family to witness this mysterious sacrament, we also leave room for the Spirit to move in real time during service. If someone wants to be baptized on the spot, we are always ready & willing! Much like the eunuch in Acts 8 who said to Phillip, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” In other words, why not here? Why not now?

I certainly don’t want a lack of preparation on our part to hinder anyone from being baptized! That’s why we stock up each time on t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and underwear and ponytail holders and towels a plenty. (It’s a really awkward trip to Target, let me tell you!)

A missionary from our church who works in a part of the world that is closed to the gospel just shared with us about a friend of hers becoming a believer and the subsequent baptism in the bathtub that came with it. How beautiful is that?

Baptism is brave and weird and awkward and messy and breathtakingly beautiful.

It is the mystery of death and life summed up in single moment that changes everything.

From my vantage point, I can account for all the logistical elements that go into a baptismal service. There is nothing mystical about the mechanics of filling the pool or buying the shorts or folding the towels. But what I can’t see, what I cannot account for, is the enchantment of deeper and holier things that take place in the water. I cannot account for the sense of awe that lingers long after the moment is passed.

What I can testify to is the baptism by-proxy into wonderment I receive time and time again.

The Discipline of Becoming All Things

We have a document called the Renovatus Manifesto. It’s our code, our culture in written form. It hangs on our walls, it’s on our website, it’s part of our language. One of the themes throughout is the emphasis we place on diversity. It’s really important to us that we honor people of all kinds.

The difficulty in doing that well is that each of us sees the world through our own eyes. We lead from our perspective, our strengths, our convictions. And while I fundamentally believe that to be good and wise, I’m starting to realize the potential blindspots we create by only leading from our own perspective, our strength.

We lose a lot by not disciplining ourselves to consider the perspective of others.

How do you learn? What engages you? What is distracting to you? What do you notice? What do you value? How do you see it?

It is only natural that we gravitate to those who see things the way we do. It is perfectly understandable why we resonate with those who share our opinions and inclinations. But gravity is quite a force and before you know it, our perspective can begin to feel authoritative and superior, as it becomes the only one we acknowledge in ourselves and our like-minded company we keep. We’d never say it that way- no, we’d dress it up in some humble language and explain ourselves using our education, our degrees, our training, our experience, our position.

In the name of protecting the vision or not diluting the mission, we can easily justify our pride, our elitism and close-mindedness, our insecurities and our comfort zones.

We have to see the entire field, consider other vantage points. What is ministry if it’s not a willingness to come alongside someone and walk with them, trying to see from their perspective?

Our worship, our preaching, our programs, our art, our curriculum– all of the church must be built with all of the church in mind. 

Let me be clear: I am not advocating a myriad of ministries to cater to any and every demographic, phase of life, and interest represented in the church.  What I am saying is that the ministries we do have need to stay accessible to the very people for which they were created.

I am also not advocating a futile attempt at trying to please all of the people all of the time. But I’m begging that we are considerate and mindful of them all whenever we can be. I do think we have a responsibility, just as the Apostle Paul did, to become all things to all people in order that we might save some. (I Cor. 9.19-22)

We cannot afford to hold our own inclinations and preferences so tightly that we cannot embrace another’s.

Ministry is messy and self-sacrificing. It requires learning how to speak someone else’s language.  It is incredibly inventive, no matter the “type” of ministry being done.
People worship differently. Children learn differently. We all experience the Lord in a multitude of ways.

For that reason, it is incredibly important that we fight our own personal defaults so that we can be free to think creatively of how we can become all things to all people.  May we cultivate the discipline to pray, learn and try whatever ways we can that lead to effective ministry and the honoring of complex, diverse people made in the image of God.

Many Are the Plans

I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 16.9.  It’s burned into my soul by now, but in case you aren’t as familiar with it yet, it goes like this:

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”

You can see where this is going now, huh?

I learned it as a new believer over a decade ago.  It resonated with me as a college student, full of plans and timelines.  And every time those plans blew up or the timeline came to a screeching halt, it was the one thing I could hear in the silence.

As I’ve grown a bit and made some significant life changes along the way, the Lord and I have a playful relationship when it comes to me and my plans.  I Google things and ask lots of questions and research options A, B, and C.  And most of the time I even have a contingency for each, just to be sure.  But the irony in it all is that the Lord RARELY sees fit to go with my plan.  He humors me as I scheme and strategize. But inevitably, at some point when I’m finally willing (or sometimes forced) to submit my plans to Him, He responds by kindly messing up my deal.  Yep. I’m aware this is not the most articulate way to express it, but that is exactly what is happening.  I throw my hands up and say “AGH! There You go again, messing up my deal!”  and then He proceeds to order my steps with the most loving and gracious and good plans.  Every single time.

I honestly hoped that I’d outgrow or outrun Proverbs 16.9 eventually, but it always seems to know how to find me.  And most days I can be found at Renovatus, where I am inevitably reminded of this particular truth!  Nevertheless, the proverb is a good one to own when you are a Spirit-led church, desperate to go where He sends you, resolved to faithfully do whatever He puts in your hands to do.   But MAN it can be frustrating sometimes and is not altogether unlike trying to hit an ever-moving target!  Because while the church is a living, breathing organism, dynamic and organic, she is also an organization that needs some semblance of structure and a plan!  Amen?

In 2009 Renovatus began renovating a movie theater inside a shopping mall in great decline on the east side of Charlotte.  It would become our offices and worship space.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We had big dreams about what God could do through us in the community.  We had big plans.  We worked really hard on those plans.  And 9 months after we moved in, the landlord filed bankruptcy and the entire mall went into foreclosure.  We had 60 days to come up with a new plan.

Now on the one hand, we were heartbroken.  We poured so much sweat and time and resource into upfitting the space and developing relationships in the area.  We had persevered through some serious challenges to be there and it felt like we had just begun to dig in when our notice was delivered.  (Quick aside: There is nothing quite like calling your lead pastor while he’s out of town to inform him that his congregation is being displaced in less than 2 months.)

On the other hand, no one panicked.  No one plummeted into despair.  There was no sackcloth and ashes.  There was a deep peace and confidence surrounding us.  Ultimately, we all knew there was no doubt that the Lord would give us somewhere new to go, something else to do.  And He did.

The “plan” is never the end game anyway, just the means.  And the Lord is infinitely creative with the means.

The lesson in all of this for me, for Renovatus, for anyone is simply to surrender.  It is right and good and biblical to plan.  It is God-honoring to steward resources well and to organize work effectively.  But all of it must constantly be laid on the altar before the Lord.  It must always be offered up in open hands raised high before the King.  We do this so we don’t end up worshiping the strategy & systems we’ve created.  We do this to avoid the subtle drift that leads us to bowing down before man-made 5 year plans that make us feel accomplished and productive but leave no room for obedience in a moment’s notice.

We surrender.

God, in His wisdom and by his grace, equipped us with minds and hearts by which we can make some truly amazing plans.  But the minds, the hearts, and the plans–it’s all His for the taking.  And no matter how frustrating or disappointing or confusing it can be in the moment when it feels like He’s once again “messing up your deal,” you cling to the knowledge that the Father is incapable of being anything but good and loving toward you.

You recognize that “deal” He is supposedly messing up was never yours to begin with and that His ordering of your steps is ultimately the only plan worth following anyway.