The end of an era

LETTERS(2).png

My time is coming to an end.

As hard as this is for me to really connect with, it’s true. This church that I dreamed about, gave the best years of my life to, and sacrificed everything this world says is valuable for, is slipping though my fingers. Don’t misunderstand, it is not being taken from me, nor is it something I am losing, It is in fact, something I am willingly laying down for the sake of what matters most.

As of September, 2017, I will no longer be the pastor of Finding Life Church, because it is in fact what is best for Finding Life Church.

After 8 years, it is clear to me, that in order for this church that I have given blood, sweat and tears for to move into the next season of its development, I have to let it go, in spite of my natural instinct to hold on. If you are struggling to understand what I mean, imagine having a teenager that no longer seems to like you, but has fallen in love with some stupid kid that is promising so much but has the ability to come through with none of it.

This is how I feel if I am being totally honest.

Well, if you have ever loved something more than yourself, you understand what I am talking about and why I am making the decision that I am. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you expect, the way you want. Sometimes, life just reminds you that none of it is about you.

Life is screaming that to me right now.

As hard as it has been to come to the conclusion that it is time to step away, never for a moment have I questioned whether or not it is right, it is good, it is the kingdom move to make.

And so here I am, giving up something that holds a place in my heart that is only rivaled by my wife and children, and doing it with great excitement and enthusiasm.

Why am I excited you ask?

Well, the only way to find that out is to show up at Finding Life Church, August 20th-Spetember 3rd. Those 3 weeks I will preach my last 3 sermons as the pastor. I plan to lay my heart out, and hopefully inspire this great community to only lean harder into what Jesus has called us to from day one.

I pray you join us. I pray you are inspired by what you hear. I pray these 3 weeks brings a level of commitment to this community that you never imagined you would have.

I pray Ephesians 3:20 (Look it up). Hope to see you then.

 

Just one more piece

229008_slider-istock_000017949870large1.jpg

It’s cold… it’s rainy… its Saturday. The kids are out with dad, and will be all day. The smell of freshly brewed coffee swirls about her nose as it fills her favorite mug, steam rising in the air at the same pace as the elation in her heart over the idea of a day to herself. Peace, quiet, freedom.

She wants to do something, but nothing too intense. The TV would shatter the serenity that rarely described the atmosphere around the house, and the exhaustion of a long hard week being a wife, mother, sister, daughter, student, house cleaner, schedule maker, Tudor, retailer, etc, etc, etc… means she would be snoring on the couch like a wild boar after a holiday feast in just a page or two.

She is tired, but energized

She goes to the closet, to see if anything sparks her imagination. She shuffles around the old board games, stacked high, and covered in dust looking for something she can do by herself, until she sees something.

A puzzle… 10,000 pieces…

“That’s a lot of pieces,” she thinks to herself…

“Not sure I have enough time to get it finished.” She pauses for a moment, and then quickly grabs the puzzle from the closet and heads back downstairs…

“I will just get it started and see how far I can get.”

Once downstairs she glances briefly at the front of the box, hoping to see what the puzzle looks like when finished, but due to its age, the picture has been rubbed off so that nothing is recognizable. She doesn’t think too much of it before opening the box, and pouring all 10,000 pieces out onto the table, saying to herself…

“A little mystery never hurt anyone.”

One by one, she turns each piece over so that all 10,000 pieces are right side up, waiting to be put together to reveal Whatever was on the front of that box at one point when it sat in its packaging at the store.

In almost no time at all she has all the edge pieces separated and put together. Although this job was not very difficult, and reveals very little about the finish product, it gives her a sense of accomplishment, and after pouring another cup of coffee, she presses on.

As she fishes for pieces that look similar in color, separating them on different sides of the table, all the while searching for pieces that fit together, her sense of excitement begins to fade, giving way to the realization of just how long this puzzle is going to take to put together.

“I have all day,” she thought, “I have already started putting pieces together so I might as well keep going.”

As the seconds, turn into minutes, and minutes turn into hours, her sense of excitement, begins to turn to anxiety.

“I have worked on this for so long already.
If I just quit now, no one would know I gave up.
I don’t want to be the kind of person that gives up.
I won’t give up… I just need a break.”

So she hops up, leaves the table and heads to the kitchen for a mid morning snack.

“I just need a little energy and a rest for my eyes, and I will be back in the groove.”

As she walks back to the table, she notices a cluster of pieces that all seem to have a mix of tan and green colors on them… She begins to group them together and what do you know, they all go together. Even more exciting than that, she sees something she recognizes.

“Its a hammock!!! There must be a hammock in this picture.” Immediately she begins speculating about the finished product,

“It must be an island scene, with crystal clear waters, palm trees and endless white sandy beaches.”

Pieces are going together, it’s fun… who knows, she might even get this thing finished at this pace.

But once again, as the minutes go by, the struggle returns… The pieces aren’t fitting as easily and she even wonders if she had forced some of the pieces together that she has already placed. To make matters worse, with every piece she finds, she becomes more and more convinced that what she thought was a hammock might actually be something else entirely.

She is frustrated.

“Did I waste my time?
will I ever finish this puzzle?
Is it too late to just put it away?
After this much time, shouldn’t I have some idea of what is happening in this puzzle?
I wonder if there is a piece missing?”

“Coffee, I just need more coffee,” She thinks to herself.”

As the hours role on, she is making progress here and there, but experiencing all kinds of emotions. She gets frustrated and then quickly reminds herself it just doesn’t matter that much. She tries to convince herself that she doesn’t really care about the finished product to try and relieve her frustration. She gets up, walks away, folds some clothes, comes back in, stares at the puzzle for a few moments, shakes her head, and walks away again. She can’t ring herself to give up on the puzzle, but also doesn’t want to look at it right now. The more she tries to distract herself, the more that unfinished card board nightmare begins to haunt her.

“Why did I even start that stupid thing to begin with,” she says to herself.

When she finally returns to the table, she takes a long hard look before sitting down and she notices that on the other side of the puzzle she has put a cluster of pieces together that she is certain she knows the identity of…

“Its definitely a setting sun.”

But on the others side it appears that she is putting together what looks like a glass of water sitting on a table indoors.

“How could those two things be in the same picture?
Did I do something wrong?
Is it possible that the puzzle maker wanted me to be confused at this point?
Why would he do that? Its mean, unfair, even cruel.”
“I have spent my entire day, the only day I have to myself putting together a puzzle that doesn’t even make any sense? What a waste of time!”

With that thought, she slams her fists down on the table, and the pieces go flying, scattering across the table, some even falling to the floor. She storms off, convinced she will never come back to it again…

“This is stupid.
Puzzles are stupid.
Puzzle makers are stupid and want to make me suffer.
I paid good money for this… the puzzle maker owes me a better experience than this…

Slowly but surely her anger turns to self doubt…

“maybe its me
maybe I am the problem
Am I too dumb to understand?
Did I do something wrong in the early stages that have made it impossible to understand?
If I can’t put a simple puzzle together, what is my worth anyway.”

She cries as she considers how much time and energy she has put into this puzzle. The day she has wasted. She stares at it through tear filled eyes, wondering if she will ever know what it is. She knows she has gone too far to stop and that feeling alone makes her feel like a slave. Guilt, obligation, frustration and doubt consume her thoughts as she sits, and stares.

“All I wanted was a day of freedom… I didn’t ask for this.” She mumbles to herself

After a few moments she thinks to herself…

“What am I doing… its just a puzzle, why am I letting this consume me. I don’’t care if I finish this puzzle, and neither does anyone else… I’m done… Im out of here. I don’t care at all… and she storms out of the house to do some shopping.

After two stores, a new pair of shoes and a hat, that will mostly likely turn out to be a mistake, as most hats are, she is feeling empowered. When she gets home, she walks into the kitchen, takes one look at it and thinks,

“Screw you puzzle, I have these new shoes to make me happy.”

it works… for a little while.

It doesn’t take long for memories of the puzzle to begin to haunt her. She knows she has this deep need to know whats in that puzzle. She knows she needs it to feel whole. Again, she pushes away her feelings, pours herself a glass of wine, and sits down to read a book.

She gets through one page, and realizes she doesn’t remember a single thing she read because her mind is consumed with the unfinished business that lies on the table only 10 feet away from her.
“Fine!”

she screams, and she goes back to the table and just starts forcing pieces together, but she knows it isn’t getting her any closer to the freedom she longs for. She pours another glass of wine, then another. She feels better, but deep down knows that she will not be satisfied until she knows whats in the puzzle. She feels helpless… she feels beaten, she feels broken. She knows there is only one thing that can change the way she is feeling…

She has to build the puzzle, one piece at a time. She has to choose to set aside her desire to see it done, and embrace the process of doing it. She has to enjoy the mystery, accept the confusion, and acknowledge that reality that freedom in her struggle, and moving toward clarity means she has to trust that some day, some way, it will make sense. She will see it. But the only way, is if she is willing to keep putting pieces together, even when she doesn’t understand. Even when it isn’t working….

She says to herself…

“Just one more piece.”

The second she says that. she feels a rush of freedom from her struggle, and a peace she has longed for since she put the last piece of the edge together.

“I don’t need to know what it is to enjoy putting pieces together,” she thought.

The truth is, when she first started, she wasn’t worried about the end. She was just in it to enjoy the ride. She was excited about the mystery and driven by the process.

“Just one more piece. All I have to do, is put together, one more piece. One. more. Piece. I can do that!” She thought.

Now, she could finally move forward…

It would take days, weeks, even months for her to get to the point where she could recognize anything… Every time she did, she celebrated, but she knew that more struggle was around the corner…

She recognized that on her own, she would probably struggle to finish, so periodically she would invite friends and family over to help. To point out things she didn’t naturally see, and help her put pieces together that she didn’t know she had. It was good, it was a process, it was her process. Some days were great, others were hard. At times she felt great about her progress, other days she wondered if she would ever know what the puzzle would end up looking like. But she kept on looking, she kept on putting pieces together. Just one more piece.

Then one day… as she was sweeping the floor around the table, out of the corner of her eyes, she saw a puzzle piece hiding behind the buffet that sat at the other end of the dining room. Slowly she walked over, and picked it up. She stared at it for a moment, and she began to cry… she knew what this piece was, she had agonized over it for weeks. It was a piece she has needed for a long time. She had searched and searched for this piece, and little did she know, the piece she was looking for was hiding…

With tear filled eyes, she walked over to the puzzle. She reached down, and placed the piece into an empty spot, right in the middle.

The moment it set in its place, she feels a rush of adrenaline. This one piece clarified everything. She immediately burst into tears. Tears of joy, of anger, of confusion and relief. It had been almost a year since she started that puzzle, and finally she knew what it was.

It wasn’t finished, no, far from it… but she knew what it was, and that gave her everything she knew she needed to keep putting the rest of it together. She knew she would continue to struggle at times, but she also knew that never again would she question the puzzle makers motives. Never again would she question whether or not it was worth it. Never again would she wonder if she was good enough smart enough or strong enough.

All because of one simple phrase…

“Just one more piece.”

__________________________________________________________________

Your faith journey is much like the story above. You don’t have to have it all together, you just have to be willing to keep putting it together. One piece at a time.

 

december 24

IMG_4631 2.jpg

Today my family and I spent the day in Norfolk, Nebraska. This is a small-ish community in the north east part of the state. My mom was born and raised on a dairy farm there. We had lunch, played bingo, a family tradition, and visited with extended family we don’t get to see too often. It was a wonderful day.

The highlight for sure, was visiting with my great, great Aunt Helen, who is currently living in a nursing home, and dealing with lots of health problems that come very natural to a woman who has lived as long as she has. My Aunt Helen is one of those people that just warms your soul. She is old, and doesn’t move well, if at all. She forgets things, and repeats herself often, but when she looks you in the eyes, you feel as though she is peering into your soul, warming you from the inside out.

About 10 years ago, my mom asked me for a favor. She said,

“Hey, Aunt Helen is flying in this afternoon, and I need someone to pick her up from the airport.”

Of course, I said yes, to helping my mom out, and went to the airport, picked her up, and drove home… I didn’t think a lot of it, other than that she was pleasant, and I enjoyed the stolen time with a relative I rarely got to see. She however was changed forever by our interaction. A few days later, my mom called me, and said,

“Jake, I don’t know what you did, but Aunt Helen won’t stop talking about you.”

Apparently she just kept saying,

“Oh, Jake, what an amazing young man.”

I am not telling this story to toot my own horn, I am getting somewhere…

Today, when we walked into the room, she looked at me, as though she had never met me before. I introduced her to my wife, and my kids, told them their ages, and she seemed thankful to have people visiting her, but clearly didn’t remember me.

Until she did.

I was sitting in a chair next to her, and she grabbed my hand, pulled me close, and said,

“Oh Jake…”

Her eyes lit up, she remembered me. She remembered me from our short interaction a decade ago.

She went on to tell me every detail of that day 10 years ago, when I picked her up from the airport, as if she was reminiscing with an old friend about that time she met a celebrity.

She grasped my hand tightly, she spoke softly, and she pulled me in close. She had a gleam in her eye that was so full of life, it was hard for me to believe I was speaking to a woman who’s days are coming to an end. It was surreal, it was even divine.

What really got me thinking, and the reason I am telling this story on day 24 of my Advent reflections is simple.

We are unaware of the impact we can have on the people around us. Just by caring.

advent gift #24…

The gift of impact…

One of the most powerful things about Jesus coming to earth, is that He planned to grow up, do some cool things, show us what it really looks like to be human, and then leave. What is most amazing about this, is that in His leaving, His desire was that you and I might become the vessels that would keep His life, His values, His gospel alive and transformational on this earth.

He chose you for impact.

He gave you His heart for people and longs to release you into a life of empowering others. He wants to use you to show the world how much HE loves them, to convey the value He holds for every human in a way that we all might accept it, and shift our course. He wants you to see every moment, every breath, every look and every action as an opportunity to pour the grace of Jesus into the life of the one we are face to face with in that moment.

Here’s the thing… like I was on that fateful day at the airport, we are often so oblivious to the impact, positive or negative, we can and do have on the people we interact with day in and day out. I didn’t know it, but just showing up, looking my Aunt Helen in the eyes, and showing her I loved her, when I didn’t really need to, changed her life. It gave her a memory that would carry her through long, hard days.  I didn’t know I was doing anything, so I really can’t take credit for anything here, but I do want you to see something profound from this story.

Every interaction you have, just might change someones life. It might be the memory that gets them through a really hard time. It might be the thing that reminds them of their worth when the rest of the world is telling them they are worthless. What you do matters. Because Jesus decided it should. The only question remaining is, what will you do with it…

Today, while in Aunt Helen’s room, after telling my wife she is the most beautiful woman she has ever seen, my son how handsome he is, and my daughters how precious they are, toward the end of our visit, she grabbed my hand and pulled me close. She pulled me closer than is comfortable for nearly any social interaction. Our foreheads are touching and her eyes are locked on mine (See the picture above). She whispers to me… “Oh Jake, will you pray for me…”

Of course I said yes, and did, but it wasn’t just any prayer. It was profound in my life. I don’t know if Aunt Helen knew it, but she was speaking worth into me. She was telling me that I am enough. She was telling me that I am a child of God, called for His purpose and positioned for impact.

Today, Aunt Helen was for me, a tangible expression of the Christmas Story, and its intended impact on the world.

Know this today… everything you do matters. You can be an agent of hope, life and transformation, or not, it is entirely up to you. But the best way to honor our Savior during the season of His birth is to live a life of impact that someone might remember 10 years from now.

I love you all… Merry Christmas… thanks for coming along with me on this journey….

december 23

present-wallpaper-4

Christmas got under way today in the Brower family. If you know my family well, it would come as no surprise that we opened Christmas presents at 1:33 in the afternoon, on December 23rd. We don’t do anything the way most families do. Our longest standing tradition is having Chili and cinnamon rolls on Christmas eve. Only, I can’t remember the last time we had Christmas Eve on December 24th. We are really bad at traditions, but we understand each other, so it works.

Anyway, we have gotten to the point that our family is too big for everyone to get everyone presents, so we draw names of all the kids so that we don’t have to take out a second mortgage every year in December. One of the names we drew this year was my niece Chloe. In keeping with the theme of Brower family Christmas’ we bought her three separate gifts, and only managed to get one wrapped and under the tree for her. We told her she had more, and we would get them to her later… who says that, seriously!? Apparently we do… I said to her as I was explaining, things,

“Hey, the silver lining here is, our gift is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Which lands me on at Advent gift #23

The gift of an infinite gift.

I know, it sounds a little outside of the box… stay with me.

The gifts that we give one another on a annual basis surrounding this holiday, are one and done. That is the nature of gifts. Once they are given, they can no longer be given any more. Sure, they can continue to make us happy, or add value to our lives, but the gift itself is expired. It has been given. It can no longer be given again.

That is the nature of a gift.

except one gift.

The Father’s gift. The one He gave so many Christmas’ ago, on the first Christmas ever.

The gift of Jesus Christ. The Messiah.

That gift changed everything… it took a world, destined for depravity, hell bent on destroying itself, and set it on a new course. It’s new course was one of restoration, redemption and reconciliation. The gift of Jesus gave the world a new identity, that would forever change the way it spun on its axis.

Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay with me now. If Jesus had been a gift cut out of the mold of the kind we give on Christmas’ all around the world, it would have been a one time thing. If God had intended it to be a one time gift, He would have accomplished all of it’s intended purpose in the moment it was given. That’s one of the things that makes this gift so unique. It was given with the intended purpose of being a gift that we continue to receive for the rest of our lives.

Jesus came to begin a restoration process…
Jesus came to start the miracle of Redemption…
Jesus came to give us access to reconciliation with our creator…

Jesus didn’t put the world on auto pilot, He opened the door for a genuine experience of Himself.

This is outside of the way the human mind understands life, which is what makes it so hard for us to embrace. When we get a gift, we want it all now. We want it’s full potential to make our lives easier, and we don’t want to wait, we think we shouldn’t need to wait.

Yeah, God could have done that, but He didn’t, because this gift is not a thing, it is a person in that person comes the pathway to life, to grace, to hope. It is in relationship with Jesus that we find out what is worth living for. That we discover what we were designed for. This is the infinite gift of Christmas.

Because Jesus came to this earth…

We get to experience the process of God restoring all creation to its original created form.
We get to watch the beautiful story of redemption as it unfolds in our lives and others.
We get to discover the wild adventure of journeying toward the Holy one, experiencing the intimacy we were created to live in.

This is the gift that keeps on giving.

Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

The birth of the Christ child is an invitation calling us into this crazy adventure. No, it won’t transform you all at once. It won’t immediately wipe away your problems, or remove their consequences. That’s not what God wanted. If He did that, we wouldn’t see our need for that gift anymore.

No, instead this gift is beckoning you and I onto this journey… wanna accept it? Wanna start living into it? Wanna embrace it? It is what you were made for.

I pray Christmas 2016 would be the year you understand it, and step into it.

december 22

tumblr_m08489gltp1robtq6o1_500-1

I like malls.

I know, I know, that sounds completely nuts. Keep in mind, I never said I like shopping. What I love about malls is the volume and diversity of people you find their. Especially this time of year. Today, my wife and I were walking through the mall, scrambling to get some last minute stuff done before the big day, and I found myself thoroughly distracted by the people I saw. Black, white, Short, tall, fat, skinny, rich, poor, and everything in between. The mall, at Christmas time, is one of the few places in a community like Omaha where you can get a real taste of the diversity of this city, all in one place. And I love it.

As I was walking around, it reminded me of my second favorite line from my favorite Christmas song of all time. O Holy Night.

“Then He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.”

This song is just loaded with unreal truth… but this line sticks out to me for a number of reasons… which brings me to advent gift number 22…

The gift of value.

The coming of Jesus to this earth said a lot of things, but nothing more profound than what this line of this song is attempting to communicate.

Your life holds immense value.

Maybe you are a person who knows this about yourself. Or, maybe the idea that someone, anyone could value you at all, is nearly impossible for you to believe… especially not the artist who crafted the rocky mountains peaks with His own hands.

I am fairly certain that the God who orchestrated this holy night over 2,000 years ago would want nothing more at this time of year than for you to fully connect with and embrace the value your creator places on your life. If it wasn’t so, why would He have come for you? If you weren’t enough, why would He have bothered?

If He didn’t place an amazing amount of value on your life, why would he have given up what He did, to come find you?

Listen to these words, and consider them at the heart level. In spite of your failure, your shortcomings and your insecurities, this is what your maker feels for you. It comes from Psalm chapter 139…

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them, they outnumber the grains of sand!

This is His heart for you, and He would love nothing more than for you to experience it this Christmas. Not just experience it, but have it become what defines you, in all ways.

He came here to tell you. He came here to show you.

He did it all so that you might find your life and identity in it’s power. Just connect with this for a moment… As you have your Christmas meals, open your presents, enjoy your family and friends, the God of the universe is watching, and you know what He is thinking? He is thinking about how wonderful you are. He is thinking about how beautiful you are. He is thinking about how much life He has to offer you. He is thinking, “If only you would embrace the life I created you for, and step into it with all your heart.”

He knows you, wants you, loves you and values you. Not because you are perfect, but because you are His.

Let Him love you the way He longs to. Let Him empower you in a way that might give great honor to His birth, life and death. Let Him tell you of your immense value and worth.

This Christmas, let Him tell you, even show you, that you are enough.

[december 20 & 21]

giving

It is December 21, and if you are following along, you noticed there was no reflection posted for yesterday. I spent over an hour late last night staring at my computer before I decided to close it and go to bed. I wanted to get something up, and even wrote a few things down, but ultimately felt like whatever I might end up writing would be forced, and inauthentic, which is the opposite of why I am attempting  to do this to begin with… So, tonight’s post is gonna be a two for one. Not because it’s twice is good, but because I am tired, overwhelmed and hoping it will suffice. Thanks for your patience.

So here it is…

The gift of giving

“It is better to give than to receive.”

You have a heard this before right? Probably felt it too?

It’s true, there is something about the feeling you get when you are giving. It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as whatever it is, is a little more than what the person may have expected.

You hand the person the gift, they accept, with a face that says, “You didn’t have to do this.” Meanwhile you are thinking, “Yeah, but if I didn’t, you would have been hurt.” But you don’t say that, you just smile from ear to ear, and accept the compliment. It feels good. Then they open the gift. In predictable fashion, they gasp, semi-authentically, because while the fact that you got them the gift isn’t a big surprise, it is in fact more than what they were expecting. Yes! Just the reaction you were going for.

And it feels good.

This poorly worded, semi accurate depiction of the emotional backbone of giving, is the very dis-function that drives the holiday season. Most of our giving is from a sense of obligation, cuz let’s be honest, 90% of the gifts we give during the holiday season, we would rather not spend the money on… but, “tis the season.”

In a small way, we feel a little more human, by giving gifts to people that already have everything they need don’t we?

The point of this post is not to bash the Christmas tradition of giving gifts, so please try not to miss the point. It is however an attempt to contrast the semi-selfish, to selfish, giving we tend to default to at Christmas time,  with the pure, unadulterated, life changing nature of the gift that God gave to humanity on the very first Christmas.

Which begs the question, what makes a gift pure?

No strings
No expectations
No obligation

Nothing to gain.

It was in this the context God gifted to the world, the person of Jesus.

But wait…

His gift attached very real STRINGS to a broken, finite, selfish people.

His gift came with the EXPECTATION of rejection, heart ache, and frustration.

His gift came with the OBLIGATION to continue to give in the face of an enormous amount of rejection.

His gift was so pure, that even the definition of, “pure giving,” doesn’t do what He did justice.

This is our God.

He gave it all. And why? Because it would benefit him in the long run? Yeah, sure, if by benefit you mean, being beaten, mocked and hung by his hands from a tree. Or unless you were thinking it was some how a benefit to Him to spend the rest of eternity pursuing a people that would push His good gifts away, any time the temporal seemed better than the promise.

No, see, the gift of Jesus meant nothing but heart ache for the Father. He had nothing to gain. He only had, to lose. Over, and over and over again. The gift of Jesus meant hitching His sail to a people who could not, and would not ever recognize Him in the way that His gift truly warranted.

But He did it anyway. Why? Love. That’s all. He loved you enough to lay it all down with no expectation of reciprocation. And guess what… He would do it again in a heart beat to secure your place in His kingdom, your freedom in this life.

As you give gifts this season, be reminded that the ultimate gift, the free gift. It came to you in the most surprising context of all, and for reasons that are difficult to comprehend for the human mind.

Remember that He loves you that much. He came for you. He gave it all for you.

Because you were worth it.

[december 19]

chargeback-reversal.jpg

Most of my life I have I sort of gotten a kick out of confusing people. I know, that sounds strange, but it’s true. I hate being put into a box, I am uncomfortable with titles, and I love to change assumptions every chance I get.

about 6 yeas ago, while we were in the early stages of starting Finding Life Church, I was waiting tables at a local place here in Omaha called Wheatfields. When I started working their, I was determined to keep my, “Other job,” a secret from my fellow co-workers for the purpose of allowing them to get to know me before they found out I was a pastor, and wanted nothing to do with me. I made it about 6 months without anyone finding out. I went to parties in their homes, stayed out late with them in local pubs, and they just became my friends. To this day, many of them are still my friends. I have had the honor of officiating the wedding of 7 of my Wheatfields friends. So many beautiful people.

I remember the day I was outed like it was yesterday.

One of the other servers had mutual friend of mine that had another friend who shared the link to one of my sermons on Facebook, and somehow the pieces were put together, and she came to work that day, primed to collapse my house of cards. It was so interesting to hear the different responses from the people I had worked with every day for 6 months. Most people just thought it was funny, but one girl in particular had a different response. She came into the kitchen and yelled at the top of her lungs… I seriously think the entire restaurant heard it….

“Jake, how could you not tell us that your are a pastor!”

And then she stormed out.

I caught up with her a few minutes later and said,

“Come on, you aren’t really mad at me right?”

To which she responded…

“Yes I am mad, if I would have known that, I would have acted completely different around you!”

I turned to her and I said,

“I know, and that’s exactly why I didn’t tell you. I knew that your assumptions about who a pastor is, would have kept you from ever being willing to get to know me.”

She agreed, and said, I will never forget it…

“Well, you aren’t like any pastor I have ever known.”

I had the honor of officiating her wedding 5 years later. Tara, if you read this, thanks for the inspiration, and thanks for being an awesome friend who taught me so much.

I learned something about myself from this interaction. I love changing assumptions.

Jesus, loved to change assumptions too. I think He loved it so much that He often times did things just for the sake of confusing people. I could give examples, but this thing would get really long. He loved keeping people on their toes. Why? Because changing things is at the very center of the heart of God. In fact, the very purpose Jesus came to this earth for, was to flip, or reverse, everything about it. To turn things upside down, to alter the social contract, to change assumptions, to reverse the course of human history, beginning with what it valued.

Advent Gift #19… The gift of reversal.

The heart of God for turning things upside down is seen in the Christmas story itself right?

King born in a stable? It’s not normal… it’s not what you assume. But the details of the story, are only the beginning. It’s Jesus’ intended purpose for coming to earth that reveals the value of reversal in the heart of God.
The Bible, throughout, is littered with reversal imagery…

The Blind will see.
The lame will walk.
The deaf will hear.
Rivers will run in dry wastelands.
Slaves go free.

Not only did God use language to convey this value, but then Jesus came to the earth, and started living it.

He touched the untouchable.
He called the little children to himself.
He sat and ate with prostitutes.
He made more wine for drunk people, so that they could keep drinking. (Amazing story)

God, made into human flesh, is a reversal in and of itself.

But the greatest reversal of all, that was made possible by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is found in what He longed to reverse in the human heart.

He wanted to take broken, selfish, rotten, ugly, messed up, dying people, and change them into,

Mended, Beautiful, reconciled, life-giving, righteous, even holy…

Yes, Holy.

Not because you and I are actually capable of being holy, in our own strength we are not, but because in Him, we can be. He invited us to put on His righteousness in exchange for our mess. Because of Christmas, I get to cloth myself in the holiness, in the righteousness, in the perfection of Jesus.

Now, I am perfect. I am holy.

Don’t believe me? Check it out…

Galatians 3:27
And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.

Need more?

Isaiah 61:10
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness

This is what God does. This is what Jesus came to accomplish.

This means that right now… in Christ…

If you are hopeless, He wants to restore your hope.
If you are enslaved, He wants to set you free.
If you are broken, He wants to heal, and restore.
If you are humiliated, He wants to raise you up.
If you are insecure, He wants to fill you with confidence

Not matter what you are feeling, walking through, or sitting in, Jesus wants to take it, and turn it upside down. He wants to do a reversal in your heart and life. Today, even now.

Believe it today. Believe it for he rest of your life.

december 18

freedom-1

The gift of freedom

It’s day 18, of my Advent reflections, and it is also my 37th birthday. Did I say 37? I meant 27… 27. With a nearly 16 year old daughter, who would believe that? In my 37th year, I have done a lot of extra reflection. I think mostly because that big number that I am not going to mention, is kind of beginning to loom large.

Have I done everything I wanted to do by this point?
Have I laid the groundwork for the latter part of my life?

The rapid pace of life is easy to ignore when you are in the first half of your life. No one turns 25 and thinks, man, life is really getting away from me. But as you creep toward that, what seems like your, “half way,” mark, you start asking some pretty serious question. There are a lot of things I am really proud of after 37 years. My family isn’t perfect, far from it, but dang man, they all care about all the right things. The Church I lead, Finding Life, we are constantly navigating the pitfalls of trying to be the church in a consumer culture, but, like my family, at the core, we are about the right things. More than that, when we get our eyes off the ball, which is inevitable, as a community we are so good at responding with courage, and righting the ship.

I am still growing
I am still changing
I am still pushing myself to get better. To be better.

I like much of who I am, but if I had a birthday wish, wanna know what I would wish for?

Freedom.

Real freedom.

Not the kind that comes through politics or legislation. The kind that no one can take, because it isn’t dependent on what anyone else does. The kind of freedom I am talking about is the kind that Jesus came to give the entire human race on Advent.

It’s the kind He believed was worth dying for.

When I was reflecting on freedom this week, I came across this passage…

It’s Paul, writing a letter to this group of new Jesus followers that had sort of lost their way…
Galatians 5:7-9 says…

You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.

This question Paul asked, sort of got me thinking, and ultimately I realized something…

It’s me.

It is my willingness to listen to the other voices that want to tell me who I am that keep me from living in the freedom He has designed me for.

I am the Thief of the freedom that Jesus has given me. It’s me.

So, today,  just 7 days from Christmas day, 2017. My 37th Christmas, I only want one thing… to dive deeper into the waters of freedom. I want to swim in it until it defines me, until my entire world view is shaped by its incredible invitation.

Galatians 5:1
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

This Christmas I choose to let Jesus define my worth, let Him tell me who I am, and listen closely to His opinion of me, instead of the opinions of others.

In Jesus, I am Free.

PS. If you want to hear more, go to http://www.findinglifechurch.com, and click the sermons link. I flesh this advent gift out in great detail on the December 18th link.

december 17

gracewood

So, this posting every day thing has gotten really tough, and my amazing wife volunteered to lighten my burden on a crazy weekend. So, here are her thoughts…

Pure Grace.

Whenever Jake and I argue and he tells me

“you can’t have a double standard like that”, I’m always left like

“uh uh, (stumbling trying to think of an excuse) no it’s not!”.

For whatever reason that accusation just gets me. I want to be strong and consistent and always right. The thought of double-standards has been mulling around my mind for a few weeks now. At some point it occurred to me ( I realize I’m a little late to the game here) that I am full of double-standards in my worship. It’s remarkable that God accepts any kind of worship from us when it’s so riddled with double-standards.

I say one thing and then go and live out another.

I say I want one thing…I surrender another, and all along, the Father knows that what I’m made of is a mediocre desire for holiness mixed with a ton of selfish ambition.

There is a pure longing for Him that is buried deep within me but it is so often covered and hindered in such a messed up way that I can’t even sort out what is Him, and what is flesh.

Somehow he accepts my garbage and works within me continually! He is always separating out the wheat from the tares. This kind of patience and genuine love is like none other.

So I was working yesterday and listening to Christmas music when a phrase in the song I was listening to kind of brought this double standard business full circle in my mind. It’s from a little known song called, “The Earth Stood Still,” by Future of Forestry. It says

“the angels trembled and the demons did too, for they knew full well what pure grace would do.”

That phrase, “pure grace” hit me like a truck.

His grace for the believer is full, pure, 100%, forever.

Imagine a bottle of.. I don’t know, honey, jam, doesn’t matter, just something that is 100% pure; the real deal. Christmas was the beginning of the end for Satan because of what, 100% pure grace would accomplish in the hearts of a world he thought he had a pretty strong grip on.

Maybe this isn’t feeling as amazing to you as it did to me but here’s why it was powerful in my life.

For the last year, as I’ve been trying to come head to head with God’s willingness to, “allow.” terrible stuff to go down in this world, I’ve often found myself feeling like I am more gracious than He is.

Ok, ok hold on. I heard it. I know.

But anytime you say to yourself, “how can God allow that?” you are saying essentially, why doesn’t he care or love like I do. I’ve wondered how in any context or any moment can it seem that I am loving more than, or better than the author of love Himself. I’m aware that my understanding must be the problem but haven’t got a lot further than that.

So here is where my acute awareness of my ability to live blindly with double standards flying all over the place and God’s 100% pure grace collided. He has the capability of being holy and loving and just and consistent all the time. That’s what makes his love matter. It matters!

It makes a difference, whereas my love that enters the scene when I feel like it, and on my terms and always reserves the right to change it’s mind, doesn’t really help anyone. It surely isn’t saving any souls. God sees the whole picture and chose to love us when we didn’t deserve it and continues that all the time.

So, I’m supposed to have an advent gift of the day right? Ok, lets go with the gift of pure grace. I hope this makes some sort of sense. I don’t typically do this whole blogging thing. Thanks for bearing with me. Merry Christmas!
– Anne Marie