visible families in the (in)visible kingdom.

WHO CAME FIRST?
Before there were kingdoms or empires, before governments or sovereigns, states and tribes there were families.  No matter the meta-narrative (or grand story of the universe) you ascribe to, you have a mother and a father.

(in)visible kingdom, families, devotions, Renovatus Church

Thankfully, our science hasn’t quite ‘progressed’ to the imagination of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where children are “created, ‘decanted’ and raised in hatcheries.”

If you are reading this, take heart, for you weren’t born in a hatchery.  Memories of family past might be isolated to pain but it’s a human pain because you are human and have a family.

The idea of family instigates a whole host of emotions, ranging from nostalgic to ambivalent to bitter.  That fact alone testifies to the sheer power and influence of our families.

Although it’s tempting to do so, I’m not writing to reignite the Moral Majority’s argument for defining a family.  That definition is far more contextually and culturally defined than most Southern Evangelical’s are willing to admit.

I am writing to affirm one truth: that the family unit is the seed-bed and proving ground for our understanding of life itself.  The story starts with family.

Yeah…it’s that big of a deal.

So who came first?  The family did.  The Trinity itself testifies to a familial pattern: Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Argue with that.

SO WHAT IS THE (IN)VISIBLE KINGDOM?
Renovatus Church recently started a new series based on Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This new series is called (in)Visible Kingdom.

Paul wrote to a group of Christians who were living in an empire where Caesar was exalted to godhood.  They lived in a tension where faith in Caesar was as justified as faith in Christ.

We live in a similar culture where faith in state, government and even church are tempting replacements for our faith in Christ.  Welfare, social security and gym memberships are our society’s new sacraments or means of grace.

Our families live in a tension between the visible kingdoms of this world and the invisible kingdom of the world to come.  That invisible kingdom is sometimes hard to see while in the 9-5 rat-race, the toy section of Wal-Mart, listening to the top 40 Billboard hits, studying divorce rates, affected by the epidemic of pornography, etc.

We need an alternative to what’s visible…

HOW DO WE MOVE FROM VISIBLE TO (IN)VISIBLE?
Paul’s task wasn’t to remove the families of Colossae from the Roman Empire.  There was no Branch Davidian or Kool-Aid to drink.  There was no scarlet letters and no Christian Broadcasting Network.

Instead, Paul set out to help the Colossians re-imagine alternative ways of being/doing “family”.   He did this in three basic ways:

  1. He sought to move them from faith in Caesar to faith in Christ.  Tell your children “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
  2. He sought to move them from a religion about Jesus to a relationship with Jesus.  Remind your family, “human commands and teachings…have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value…”
  3. He sought to bind the family in love: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Moving from visible to (in)visible isn’t easy.  The chips are stacked against you.  Hollow and deceptive philosophies wait to take you captive.  Caesar’s still around.

To help you over the next few weeks, devotions will be available to the families of Renovatus.  These devotions will help families dive deeper into Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Lean into these devotions, lean onto each other and trust in the sovereignty of Christ.  The visible pain of family past will soon be transformed into the (in)visible witness of God’s faithfulness.

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in celebration of blogging: my 50th post.

This is kind of a big deal: my 50th post in the 5th month since I started.  I can’t think of a better thing to write about than ‘writing’ itself.

This whole thing has always been cathartic for me.  I enjoy finding just the right words to express what I’m thinking and feeling and then emptying myself of them.  What is not cathartic (and downright stressful) is attempting to publicly legitimize my thoughts as actually interesting.  A pen-and-paper journal would have been much safer.  I’ve always felt trapped by the opinions of others, so exposing my thoughts on the internet has not been an exercise in comfort, to say the least.  I would still consider myself an intrinsically and categorically ‘guarded person’ in this regard.

Todd Henry points out that “It is human nature to default to the path of least resistance.”  It’s not necessarily hard to type some words on a screen.  It is hard to suffer the fear of misinterpretation which in turn spurs the need for disclaimers and increased verbiage.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I would write shorter posts but I just don’t have the time.  I’m not saying all of this for pity or empathy.  I’m actually trying to say that blogging has been good for me.  If resistance is a hallmark of progress, then I must be growing.

It’s been good because I’ve encountered the styles and disciplines of others.  I think of writers like Seth Godin, marketing guru and imminent blogger whose influence across so many flavors of business is astounding.  His posts average around 175 words and he get’s about 500,000 page views a day.  I think of Jonathan Martin, a modern-day Thomas Merton but with swag, who writes in the neighborhood of 1,000 words per post.  He defies convention and creates loyal followers at the same time.

I just had a conversation with fellow blogger Sarah DeShields about how our vocations/professions can manifest themselves via blogs.  They have all helped me to understand that my individuality is far more important than following some writing rules.

What has surprised me (even when it shouldn’t have) is the evolution of my need to accelerate my readership.  I didn’t start out on this journey thinking of platform, SEO, RSS feeds, tagging keywords, short-links, monetization and so on.  Is this the tyranny of perfectionism rearing its ugly head or just the inevitable fork in the road for all bloggers?

It’s funny how bloggers are like all creatives, keeping a shroud of secrecy around the unfinished work until a moment of unveiling.  Then we expect instant fans.  It’s like a writer before the book is published or a musician with an album coming out or a preacher who’s prepared a sermon.  Is it the product that attracts us or the process?  Yes.  Do I write about what I do or who I am?  Yes.

So to resist the secrecy and risk transparency, here are some of my stats so far: as of this writing my all time page views are 2,671, my busiest month was November with 509 views and my busiest day was November 9th, when I posted ‘sweet [baby] coen james‘ with exactly 100 views that day.  Contributing to the busyness of that post was the addition of pictures which each added to the total views.  My most popular post is ‘my wife + the gift of mercy = leadership‘ with 130 views.  Fittingly, it’s my most poignant post to date.

I have a running joke with my boss Tracey Rouse, who just started her own blog (fantastic by the way).  The joke essentially revolves around us tossing out our page views and how she’s pretty much stomped my numbers without even trying.  Next to guys like Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt, we’re small potatoes but that’s not the point.  The point is to keep writing because it’s a good thing.  If you’ve read this far and there’s an itch of creativity within you, please stop waiting any further and start scratching.

Resist the ping, power through the dip and find your space.  Here’s to the next 50 posts.

the space between absence and presence.

Do you ever wish there was a delete button for your life?  Like, you could highlight a certain thing you said or did and just magically erase it?

What if our entire life was written out on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and editing was simply a matter of ‘undo, redo, cut, copy and paste’?  What would you rewrite?

I used to think (and still act to a degree) on the notion that if I could just get rid of a certain mistake or prevent a temptation or stop a sin then my paper would be perfect and I wouldn’t need the delete button.  I was convinced that then my 8.5 x 11 would make my Father proud.

This idea, however, met reality when I found that sins like to lurk behind each other.  For example, when I felt that pornography didn’t have near the stranglehold as it once did, there furtively waiting in the shadows of my soul lay a bed of anger, perhaps an even more dangerous enemy.

I’ve spent so much time trying to erase what I have done or focused on abstaining from a sin, I’ve forgotten that freedom is found in a better way.

The freedom that I’ve longed for isn’t in my energy to abstain; it’s in my energy to pursue.

The object of that pursuit isn’t to be a “better person“.  I’m not interested in the next self-help bestseller.  My pursuit is for the presence of God, manifested in what I know, who I am and what I do.

However, that presence won’t be manifest just because I was able to abstain from a sin.  That would mean it’s about me and about my attempt to manipulate the Father.

The mere absence of a sin doesn’t suddenly mean that God is now able or even willing to invade my life with blessing or clarity.  I’ve spent a majority of my life focusing on the absence of one sin or the other when God has been saying, “Spend less time on that absence and more time in My presence.”

If my 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper were filled with the pursuit of His presence then I would find much less need for the delete button.  Unlike the false space between love and obedience, there is a very real space between the absence of sin and the presence of God.

Seeking that absence would mean I’m more than human, more than frail and broken.  Seeking His presence would mean that I accept my humanity, that my frailty and brokenness are His delight.

It’s in His presence that I will find fullness of joy and strength.  Finally, here are the words of Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

the roaring twenties.

As the third decade of my life rapidly comes to a close, I’m faced with the same question I had at the end of my second decade: “What was I supposed to be doing again?”

Should I feel guilty that my twenties haven’t produced some meteoric trajectory for my life?  I mean, I haven’t found a cure for cancer, solved the economic quandaries of our age or ended world hunger.

I’m not talking about a discontentment with my job.  I’m talking about this notion that something was supposed to happen in my twenties.  This American ideal that pretentiousness is deserved for those who earned it.

As my friend, John Zimmer reminded us recently at a parenting workshop, there does come a time where our children must accept responsibility for their own choices.  My teenage years were racked with some pretty dumb choices but my license to fail didn’t make me an Einstein by 19 either.

In fact, my twenties became a seed-bed for testing how far I could stretch my ideologies and actions.  The result…well, just call me King Solomon.  He said vanity, I say selfishness and narcissism.  The last 10 years have been called “A Lost Decade“.  I can concur.

In the mix of all this forming and norming, I can no longer hide behind my adolescence.  My teenage years bred this false sense of security as I entered the twenties.  I told myself that life was in the doing – harder, better, faster, and stronger.  That if I worked hard enough at anything, I could see it accomplished, even something like a cure for cancer.

Now, these roaring twenties have brought a new level of reality.  That I’m frail.  I’m sensitive.  I’m imperfect.  I’m broken.

Now, these roaring twenties have bred another sense of purpose for me.  That life is in the being, the abiding, the loving, the obeying.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have visions of grandeur: the Riviera, the grand canyon, exploring space and all those boyhood dreams.  In fact, I’m confident the best is yet ahead.  I won’t let the mistakes of the last decade skew my optimism for the next.

What I will do is wrap my confidence, calling and vocation around the hope of the Cross.  Here’s to the next decade and here’s to more stretching.

why you should visit your local used bookstore.

Recently, Amy and I visited TN and went to a favorite haunt of ours: McKay’s Used Books, CD’s and Movies.  There are three of them in TN and we went to both the Chattanooga AND Knoxville stores (if that tells you something of our fanaticism).  Their business model resembles a pawn shop – bring in your used media and receive cash or credit, which will always be the bigger return.  We planned for the trip and took a box of old books only to return with a new stash.  After our credit, we only spent about $20 for all of them!  Aside from Hedges and Watterson, this will all be new territory.  My reading queue grows…  I’ve linked them all to Amazon only because McKay’s doesn’t have an online store.  Otherwise, support your local used bookstore.

Here they are in no particular order:

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how the YMCA became the church’s greatest competitor.

Competition.  It’s the lifeblood of capitalism.  It spurs innovation and breeds new technologies.  It’s what makes us run faster, jump higher and reach farther.

Every organization has competition.  Google has Facebook.  Democrats have Republicans.  The Blue Devils have the Tar Heels.  Tom has Jerry.

Now, the church has the YMCA. Continue reading