Posts Categorized as: god
For me, it is a stunningly clear memory…mostly because it was so painful. I was walking around the soccer field at Lincoln Christian University praying as hard as I’d prayed in many, many years. I’m not a genius, but I can usually see what’s coming down the road in regard to next steps during big changes. The truck coming at me was our imminent move to Texas. Did I feel a sense of God’s calling? Yes. Did I believe I was being obedient? I hoped so. But I knew that the housing market in Illinois was down. The recent refinancing (trying to do what had Dave Ramsey said), a new furnace and $5000 worth of plumbing was compounding the fact that my house was worth much less than when we had bought it.
So, in “faith,” I spent two hours stomping around praying as passionately and fervently as I knew how. Outside of a miracle, I was going to be more broke than ever before in my life. I prayed for miracles…miracles were what we needed.
We left for Texas with the house unsold. It did not sell for 10 months. My financial situation became dire. Miracles felt like mirages.
During that time our kids had to transition, and our medical bills skyrocketed. We had terrible health scares/diagnoses, and we had to pay apartment rent on top of our unsold mortgage. Things got tense. I felt so disappointed in God. I was hurt—deeply. Words were not enough to describe my disappointment. God is everywhere (Psalm 139 and Prov 15), and even though I had read this, I tried to avoid him and focused on getting through the season. My prayers changed for a long time during that season.
As I write this, years later, I’m embarrassed at the depth of my hurt and my childish reactions. Mentally, I can play the “you-should-consider-yourself-blessed” game with the best of them. I’ve been to the dark places of the world. Shoot, I’ve lived in some dark places. I KNOW the coping mechanisms: count your blessings; consider the lilies of the field etc. But I was crippled and disoriented by my context and my pain.
Pain In Our Hearts and Ears
It seems to me that our post-election cultural context is like that on a massive scale. If you read the news or social media people are freaking out. Some with joy, some with sorrow. Often there is rage that lets loose words that are horrifying in their scope—both for the victors and the politically defeated. Blame, accusations, and labels are flying around like debris in a tornado. Many people feel a sense of defeat right now. Others feel a rush of triumph. Regardless of which side you voted for, it is terribly painful to see the deep division in our nation. The pain in our hearts keeps our ears from hearing hope. It’s a complicated time to be a Christian leader.
Recently I was in my morning prayer/reading time, and I was praying about the whole situation. I have not written or posted anything about it because no matter what anyone says, they seem to fall into one of three categories: “Told you so” (nyah nyah), “The (x) bigots won and we’ll fight back”, or “everybody-relax-Jesus-still-is-in-charge.” None of those seem particularly helpful to me in getting us to engage more in the Kingdom of God.
As I read my Bible that day, I was asking for help for myself. My kind of work does not really fit this climate. I need wisdom… Think about it—my job is to help our church engage the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan and the “far-from-God.” Yet these are often the very groups we are afraid of and that are being used (by both sides) as pawns and fodder in the current debate. The very nature of what I do is to find and love the “other.” How on earth can this work right now? You can bank on the fact that I’m praying for wisdom.
As God does in response to a prayer for wisdom, I happened to be in Proverbs 15 and Luke 4. Proverbs 15:33 “The reverence of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.” (NASB). I was turning that phrase over when I turned to where Jesus was led out to the wilderness with the Devil. Every process the Devil used against Jesus just wrecks me: personal suffering (bread), capacity to change the world (all the kingdoms), and proving God (throw yourself off the temple). Now, likely you’ve all read those things before.
But I was struck by something about Jesus that I admire so much: When he was weak, when he was tempted, and when he had opportunity to (wrongly) change the world, he reverently pressed into God’s Presence and the Word. He used reverence for God as the anchor for everything else in His life.
You might be thinking, “Nice work Einstein…this little bit of teaching has been around a while now…way to go, Captain Obvious.” But (while that might be the case) what struck me was that in my worst times, I am the focus in my pain—and then I question God’s work in my life. I wonder why he doesn’t want me to be happy, healthy, rich, more influential etc. And I think that’s normal. In pain, I seem to have such a hard time hearing God. The pain numbs my hearing. But what Jesus did in the desert, that is so extraordinary to me, is that in pain, in weakness, in defeat, and ultimately in death, he pressed into God’s presence and promise REGARDLESS of the outcome. He trusted in the Father so profoundly that he was forever rooted in truth. Instead of Himself as the center, asking why God was not addressing His needs, Jesus pressed into a reverence for God as the center of everything—including his very reason for coming to earth.
So, during this climate of fear, rage, triumph and word-bombs being lobbed around, I am going to work harder at pressing in to God’s presence as I press on in His loving work. I’m asking for God to help me use HIM as my reference point instead of the cultural angst or how I’m feeling today. In His Presence and truth, I am in the exact spot I want and need to be in order to be obedient.
Being preachy here isn’t my point. People’s pain is real and it matters and I want to respond to that as lovingly as I can. But the God who prophesied Immanuel 700ish years before His birth is not surprised by today. And America isn’t the center of God’s activity or inaction. So, my delightful, complicated work of welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and the unborn must go on. Our need to trust and preach God’s word co-exists with our task of feeding the hungry and loving the “other” and even our enemy. I need to continue to love people regardless of gender orientation or political stance while I lift up orthodoxy. We will press on to plant churches, to pack meals for orphans, to reach out to the refugees, the hungry and the broken in our midst! This work costs time, money, and emotion. Yet as we press into God, we can, “press on so that (we) may lay hold of that for which also (we were) laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”* Rhetoric is not what will convince a broken world of our love. Only the love of God, displayed in the power of God will do that.
Jesus returned from the desert full of the power of the Holy Spirit, and he began something that continues to change the world to this day. As we lean into trust, we rely upon that same Spirit to empower our work. Pray for me. Pray for all our church leaders. We need wisdom in this era…this work of mission leadership requires nothing but our best right now. I am praying for strength to press in and thereby press on. When God answers this prayer, I believe we are in for an amazing ride!
God, be our reference and give us the grace to revere You more than our own suffering, fear, or discomfort.
*Plural version of Philippians 3:12
It seems that for now, I cannot avoid the autobiographical. I’ve written drafts for three or four posts but they all fail in several areas; most notably in passion. So my apologies.
We recently sent my oldest to college. During our last night at home together I gave him a final “Dad talk.” I reminded him of just a few things that he already knew but needed emphasis. It didn’t last very long. What I really wanted to do was to send him away with my blessing. I had to wing it of course. No one ever taught me the formality of that process so I laid my hands on his raggedy, adolescent head and waded in. I ended my rudimentary attempt at a Biblical ritual by praying Numbers 6 over him with lots of tears but only a few catches in my throat. In traditional Garrett fashion he quietly accepted my touch in a humble yet strong way. In what was a very weird, awkward and holy moment I felt as close to Garrett as I can remember. My firstborn, doing exactly what we wanted him to do, was leaving with my blessing to go make his way as a man in this world.
The next day, I left for yet another trip and during our final hug, I whispered, “Be brave.”
He nodded, I got choked up and we parted ways. Of course I was saying that to myself just as much as I was to him. His Mom and sister bravely took him to college—lots of tears there. Our adjustment at home is new and weird and wonderful because although this is painful, this is what is supposed to be. We WANT him to be brave, to be a man, to do daring and godly things.* And now Kate has to face her remaining years of High School alone. She too needs to be brave right now. Driving a stick, social pressure, her vasculitis, future decisions etc. All of those things are now upon her. Shannon and I are staring down the barrel of all kinds of new frontiers. Everything is changing and we all need to learn to be brave.
As one of those families who has adopted a somewhat gypsy/activist/suburban/missionary/homeowner life, we have had lots of moments where we had to move toward the breach. What I mean is that as we move down (or forward in) the timeline, God continues to bring us to cross roads that will force us to choose. This is a complicated and multi-faceted issue but in the end, we are all forced by the inevitability of time to choose something. Courage is needed because of our inherent desire to avoid pain. It is always some kind of battle. When that battle has a breaking point, that is the direction we need to go toward rather than shun. Our courage is directly tied to the cost of a certain decision and I have chosen the cowardly way far too many times. As I face my embarrassing cowardice I consistently hunt for images and words in the Bible that remind me to manifest courage.
I have been studying the Gospel of Mark for some time now. Yesterday the phrase describing Joseph of Arimathea in Mark 15 just jumped off the page at me. He was a prominent member of the council and he was “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” He had been on the periphery with Jesus. He was soul-kin to Nicodemus—A believer but not ready to pay that real cost of losing his comfortable place and resectable power. But after Jesus died he “gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mk 15:43). I was struck by the proactive statement: “he gathered up.” (Pause to consider) Joseph ends up, by the brute force of time and circumstance to finally have to make a choice between his former life and Jesus. To do so meant a great deal of perceived loss. So he had to get courage and go forward, toward the crossroads and change the course of his life. Many times in the Bible you see the phrase “take courage.” or “be strong and courageous.” The result of doing this is that you become courageous by choosing and grabbing courage in a painful situation.
We live in this awful yet wonderful time. Politics and fury make our world feel like something out of the miserable part of history books. Fear is absolutely rampant. How do we live in hope? When violence and manifest evil make headlines every day how are we to move forward with church planting, prophetic living, loving our neighbors (who are not like us at all any more) and raising our children to be brave? Should we be positive or cynical? There is a false kind of courage that makes some Christians reactive. Love turns to defense, attacks replace conversation and the fringe-voices that only hold judgement get too much attention. People want to fight or flee. The fight option seems harmful and mean. Consequently many of us take the flight option. It’s true: we can try to hide, protect ourselves and keep everyone from harm. But the timeline toward terrible things is marching on…we cannot avoid it. Choosing comes upon us all.
What we need now is to gather our courage. God is not weak. He is not inactive. It is in the breach where we find a chance to be change agents! We get the awesome and terrible privilege to stand with Jesus and co-labor with him (I Co 3:9). We get to share in both his sufferings and his glory (I Pe 4:13). We are ambassadors, agents of reconciliation, healers, pastors, teachers, servants, truth-speakers, prophets, worshipers, and seed-sowers. It takes courage to listen to our enemies, to love those who hate us and wish us harm, to try new, costly endeavors, to learn new work skills or to create something for God. Courage is needed for church planters, leaders, CEOs, moms, students, accountants, service workers and everyone who calls on Christ in every workplace. Only courage will give access to radical generosity, bold leadership and big attempts for the Lord. Courage is required to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey in the small and unknown sacrifices.
The costs are going up for those who follow Jesus. But the alternative is by far a worse option. Don’t be afraid—take courage. I know it sounds trite…it’s easy to say but it is hard to do. But this is the season to go toward the breach.
I remember the first sermon I ever preached. It was terrible. I thought I was going to die in the pulpit of the Algoa Mens Penitentiary in Jefferson City Missouri.
After 7 minutes of inane gibberish I just sat down, experiencing my first flop sweat; dizzy with both shame and adrenaline. The first sermon was hard. The second was even harder because now I knew what a bad preacher I was. 27 years later, I make my living by speaking and leading and it brings me joy rather than mind-numbing shock. Yet each time I preach or speak in public I am still required to gather courage to do my job. To lead my family, to love my aging parents and to participate in this amazing endeavor of church leadership, I am still required to gather my courage to obey my King. Please pray for me. I need it. If you want, let me know how I can pray for you.
As always, if you want to discuss any of this, hit me up on Twitter @MaupinRob, Facebook or email me at email@example.com.
*Garrett is studying to become a missionary pilot…he is choosing a very brave pathway indeed…please pray for him.
There have been several friends recently who have commented something to the degree of “…gave up on the blog, huh?” I suppose I did. It was not a conscious decision by any means but life got a little out of hand for a while.
Last August, Garrett started his Senior year of high school (note his cool Senior pic).
Kate started her Freshman year. Between football, choir and a host of doctor visits we had a pretty full schedule. On top of that, we were trying our best to purchase a home. We had lived in a house owned by the church since late March and we felt we needed to put down some roots. We spent a lot of time trying to find the financing to do that. ON TOP OF THAT, the church/missions ministry was growing and I was still teaching part-time for LCU. It got a little crazy.
In December we closed on a house in the kids’ school district and then we left for Christmas. We were stopped cold (sorry) by a blizzard on our way to see family but when we got back to Texas, I started remodeling the house. For six(ish) weeks I would work all day at church and all evening at the house. An untold number of friends and church members helped us and finally in February, we moved in! Throw some mission trips into the mix and then getting Garrett graduated and I just lost the concept of keeping up with the website.
As I write this, Garrett leaves in four days for LeTourneau University. It’s a crazy time in life. Kate will soon get her license and is as busy as ever. Shannon is now an associate youth pastor at Compass and our lives are wonderfully full in a challenging and lovely way. Our home is beautiful (all who know Shannon are not surprised) and we LOVE being a part of our church.
However, there is one continuing challenge that we need to face. The medical bills that have grown up around us during this time of transition/diagnoses are pretty impressive. Nothing like some people suffer but for now, they’re a tad out of our reach. My petitions to God about this were answered one day during a prayer retreat. I was asking God to give me the money for those medical bills. What I believe I heard surprised me: “work harder.” In this particular age, there is a great deal of talk regarding the imbalance that many Americans face with busyness. This is a valid issue. But as I tried to weasel out of more work, I became more convinced this was what is required.
I approached several friends and asked them to send speaking engagements my way. That did not work out. But, one friend got me connected with CDF Leadership Capital and I applied to work as a part-time leadership consultant with them. For the last few months, our team has been working to get an amazing group of talented facilitators together hoping to be a blessing to churches around the world! It’s a very exciting thing. In fact, I was just certified to facilitate the Paterson Center StratOp™ tool. It’s amazing.
So, here’s the point. I took a year off of writing. That’s long enough. Some of our big transitions are over, the hiatus is over and I am going to press forward at Compass, LCU and CDF to do all that I can to serve my role in the Kingdom of God. If you care to comment or communicate, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you.