What about hope?

Well, it feels a little like we went to Six Flags to ride the roller coaster ten days ago and just never got off, doesn’t it?  Every day has been full of dips, twists and turns, and the general consensus is the ride will not achieve the heights we saw at the beginning for quite some time.

We’ve been shocked, scared, freaked out, angry, remorseful, angry again, and confused…and I’m hearing about people losing hope.  Even those who believe in Jesus.

Hope is not lost.

We often use the word ‘lost’ when we mean misplaced.  Have you ever lost your keys?  When you tell the story, you always talk about finding them where you didn’t think to look.  They weren’t lost – they were just misplaced.

Lost is a far more tragic scenario than misplacing the car keys. 

January 28, 1986, I was standing in line in the college cafeteria when someone ran in and announced that the Space Ship Challenger was lost.  We were glued to TV screens for the rest of the afternoon, watching the same loop of film that recorded the shuttle’s liftoff, and seventy three seconds later, it’s demise.  The Challenger was lost.

Hope is not lost like the Challenger.  Hope is misplaced.  Some of us are despondent today because the future looks different than the one we were vested in.  We had more hope in the American dream than the faith story we professed.  We’re discouraged because the thing that we hoped for may not pan out like we thought, and we’re a little embarrassed to admit it.

Jesus brings more hope than anything in life.  Hope for peace.  Hope for reconciliation with God.  Hope for an afterlife with him.  That’s why hope in Jesus supersedes difficult situations.  It rises higher than the pain of this world

Friends, if your hope is in Jesus, your hope remains.  If you’ve misplaced it, you need to go find it and place it where it belongs.

Hope is not lost.

The Unexpected Next

Pastors and ministry leaders everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to effectively minister to their congregations and communities, and doing a yeoman’s job of it.  They’re working long hours, burning up the phone lines and mastering new skills by the hour.

Even so, my gut says we don’t fully understand how much is changing right now.  Most of us were good at a few things and bad at a few things before Covid-19 put the kabash on the potluck for us, but we’d found a way of doing life that worked for us.

Best case scenario, that way is broken for a while.  Worst case scenario, that way is over.  Here are a few realities that will be true for a while – and perhaps are the new reality.

Your congregation will not grow from visitors for months, if ever again.

None of us like being thought of as the big attraction, but in our culture, most people who join a congregation make that decision after visiting a few times.  Perhaps with friends, perhaps solo, they approach us tentatively and anonymously until they elect to join a newcomers class and we walk them through the process of what it means to be one of us.

They might be visiting your streamed services, but probably not, unless your advertising budget is bursting and your production quality can back up the promises….but mostly, they’re not.   Even if they did suddenly start ‘attending online’ (also called watching, but attending online sounds better), how would you get to know them?  How would you serve them?  How would you engage them in serving others?

A Sunday morning is now family meeting rather than outreach. 

Sunday morning is now an opportunity to equip the saints and challenge them to be the church.  They will be doing a lot of the pastoral care, the evangelism and discipling that used to take place on Sunday morning back when people would walk in the door and pickup their gift mug at the welcome center.

The quicker we can position Sunday morning as an insider team huddle rather than a production for the community, the quicker you’re going to have real people ministering to your community.

The move from evangelistic to apostolic.

For decades, our church buildings have been evangelistic centers – or at least tried to be.  

An evangelist boldly preaches the gospel like a man or woman on fire, and wherever they do – even in the wilderness – a crowd seems to gather to watch them burn.

Now, the church must lean into it’s apostolic calling, focusing on building the kingdom of God whether it benefits the local congregation or not.

I understand that when the kingdom grows, congregations grow, so there will be additions to the church, but the goal must be bigger than filling our building because at least for a while, even if we were good at it, we can’t do it anymore.

The most we can hope for (and perhaps the most we could ever hope for) is to unleash a mob of people equipped to do the ministry that we always hoped to do when the people would come to us.

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Join me each week on the Third Cup of Coffee podcast.

 

On Lock-Down Eve

At 12:01AM, a few short hours from now, Kansas City and the surrounding area is under a stay-at-home order.  Most of us have taken to calling it ‘lock-down’, but it’s not quite that.  You can read the order here.

To save you the reading, it means we all need to stay home unless we need medical attention, barbecue, gas, groceries or dry cleaning.  Yes, dry cleaning and I have so many questions about that but it’s not important right now.  Other essential organizations can operate – Zoe’s House will continue to operate but everyone is working remotely and they’re getting really creative about it.

We’ve prepared as best we can. 

Grocery stores are open so we won’t starve, but even so, we’ve stocked up on some things.  We’ve also talked with the kids quite about – no play dates, no crossing the fence to play with the neighbor girls, no piano lessons and no school.  They’ve adjusted pretty well – boredom is generally not an issue at our house even when you’re locked in.

We’ve also gathered a little band of friends. We’re about halfway through a 40 day fast, so we’ve been meeting and praying together.  We just moved it to zoom.  This weekend, we had 33 locations online at one time.  In a different world I’d call them campuses but in reality, it was ones, twos, threes or more gathered across the city and a few as far as Florida and California.  Teaching by zoom is a whole different thing but I think people found it worth their while.

With the lock-down, I mean the stay-at-home order, I’ve been hosting a check in time for the group at 10am on Zoom that we call Morning Coffee and then a time of communion and prayer for one another at 7pm – sort of an informal evening vespers.  We’re one day into that and I can tell it’s going to be really valuable.   Some of our group live alone and this is their time to speak to real people face to face.  For others of us, it’s good to see faces other than the faces you’re responsible for once in a while.  Community is hard to come by and I’m grateful for the technology that makes this doable.

I know these are stressful times for everyone.  I certainly feel it, although I also have a strange comfort in not being alone.  This crisis has the power to make us into something that only pressure can.   My prayer for you is that in this time, you lean hard into Jesus and learn to look out for your neighbor.  Make a few extra phone calls.  Send a few extra texts.  We need one another.

Hunker down, Kansas City.  And when I see you at the dry cleaner, I’ll wave from a distance.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

President Trump as called for a National Day of Prayer, saying “We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these….”.

Let’s join many across our nation by praying together tonight on a conference call at 6-7pm Central Time.   Lou Engle is going to join us near the beginning of the call as well.

You can join in by calling 1-425-436-6348 and entering access number 169-784.  There will a time for those who would like to pray on the call to join in but while you are not talking, it works best to mute your phone.

We hope to see you all – in person – soon!

Randy & Kelsey

Kids Don’t Care About Your Fasting

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro is known for his quip, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

I can do him one better.  Kid’s don’t care about your fasting.

I say that because, in fact, we are fasting and from all indicators, the kids don’t care. Tonight was wild.  Not ‘gunfire in the streets’ wild, but ‘7 kids 13 and under’ wild, which is it’s own kind of danger.

The 13 year old with special needs decided to walk home from school, about a mile, in the light rain.  I’m not sure why that happened.

One of the 11 year old twins joined the 10 year old and one of the 8 year old twins in a raucous game of Apples to Apples, a game that none of them understand but managed to argue about none the less.

The five year old managed to hurt himself jumping from something to something.  The details are not clear and he wasn’t spilling the beans.

The other 11 year old twin and 8 year old twin decided to teach the dog to paint. That was not a typo.   Apparently the dog was not interested in art and bolted.  We heard screams of “Paisley is running and she has paint on her paws!”    I noticed when I put her in her crate tonight she did, in fact, have a robin’s egg blue on her paws.  I’m sure I’ll find the color elsewhere in the morning.

We should expect all this.  They’re kids.  And it was funny.

This is the atmosphere we’re fasting in, because we have to find a way to press in to God even as we fight for sanity.  We’ll never know any sort of transcendent love if we can’t manage the nitty gritty of fighting kids and painting dogs.

If you’re in this fast, hang tight.  Stay firm.  You may not be the keeper of a zoo like we are, but you have monkeys of your own.  Pressures.  Unexpected events that drive you a little batty.

Stay the course.  Make some time to pray.  And don’t turn your back on the kids or the dog.

Getting Unstuck

stuck

I have this thing I do that causes people to do a double-take.  Actually, I have several of those things, but I’m only going to talk about one of them right now.

When I tell someone about something we’re struggling with or need and they say, “We will be praying for you….” I almost always say, “Thanks!  Will you fast?”

Mostly, I get a blank stare.  And I get it.  The bar for praying for someone is a little lower than fasting.   “I’ll pray for you” can be hard to quantify.  Fasting is either done or not done, so we are careful what we commit to fasting about.

Recently I did an informal poll, asking people what they are fasting for right now.  One of the most common responses was for the future for their family, next steps, or simply that they were stuck and wanted to get on with things.  People are ready for what’s next and they’re willing to fast to find out what it is.  That’s remarkable.

Kelsey and I resonate with that.  We’re ready for the next season.  Part of our fast is about next steps, where is the Lord leading, what is He doing and how do we get there from here….because without clear direction, we’re stuck.   That’s true of all of us.

What if we’re all not quite as stuck as we think?

When Scout was about 3, he’d claim he was stuck when he didn’t want to go where we told him.  We’d tell him it was time for dinner, but he’d grab the door frame of his room and protest, “I’m stuck.”

He wasn’t stuck.  He just didn’t want to move to the next thing because the current thing was too comfortable, or at least known.   Sometimes, he’d go to the kitchen to discover that we were having broccoli and he’d wish he’d claimed he was stuck.  Sometimes, being stuck is preferable to the bowl of veggies God is pushing across the table.  Even when they’re good for you.

This fast isn’t about manifesting opportunities.  It’s about getting people unstuck and willing to go where He is leading, no matter the cost.  Fasting makes our bodies weak and our hearts tender, more willing to respond to the invitation of the Lord than we might be in other situations.

Here’s to what’s next and getting unstuck from all that’s been.

adapted from this week’s Third Cup of Coffee podcast

Tomorrow, we fast

I have historically not been an enthusiastic faster.

I support fasting.  I fast.  I have just embraced it reluctantly because, well….fasting.

Something is different in me right now.  Tomorrow, we begin a 40 day fast and perhaps for the first time since the year 2000, I am eager to dive in.  Perhaps because I am as desperate for God to move as I was back then.

In 2000, we were church planting in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati.  We were different people than we are now.  Adding eight children and twenty years of ministry will have an effect on you.  Yet in some ways we are the same.

We are very aware that our nation is at a crossroads.   We fasted in 2000, and the next September, the United States suffered an attack that would change the trajectory of our foreign policy, our expectations of privacy, our economy and our sense of safety forever. It feels a little like the nation is at a similar crossroads.  So much is uncertain, and what is certain does not seem encouraging, unless God breaks in.

We are hungry for a God-challenge.  We’ve had a few over the years, and we have found that we flourish in the challenges that God offers us while we struggle with those we pick up on our own.   Twenty years in, I’m realizing that the challenges He calls us to are the ones He chooses fight alongside us.

If you’re interested, we are joining in with Lou Engle and others for The Jesus Fast,  Over 60,000 people worldwide have signed up to do this together.

Also, I’ve been talking a little about fasting in recent editions of the Third Cup of Coffee podcast.  You can find it here.