The Season of Perpetual Hope

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

…or so we’re told this time of year.

But let’s be honest: how many of us feel remotely close to Yuletide bliss?

I know for me…as the fall sun sets into what should be the happiest season of all, the stress of it not being so sets in as well.

What if December is blue, not white. What if this and that are not right.

I’m sure I speak for many when I say the anxiety can be overwhelming.

And yet, as valid as our tensions may be…as easy as it is to yield to negativity and strive for positivity, it’s worth noting we were made for the other way around.

But Cam…how do I get there? 

Well, that’s why I writing this.

‘Cause truth is: this Advent season can feature some of the roughest crossroads of the year. For instance, what do you do when you want to sing joy to the world, but feel too ‘Charlie Brown’ to care? Or what do you do when Christmas is coming on too fast for one limping among shattered dreams and broken goals on way to another yearly finish line?

To help answer these questions, I want to cut away to one my favorite Christmas movies: Home Alone.

Remember the scene when Kevin’s mom is desperately pleading with the Scranton ticket agent?

And I don’t care if I have to get out on your runway and hitchhike! If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son.”

Well, it just so happens prior to her ‘Momma Bear’ unleashing, she leaks out one of the most profound definitions of Christmas in cinematic history.

This is *Christmas*! The season of perpetual1 hope!

Now it’s worth pointing out a couple things:

  1. Kate McCallister, like many of us this time of year, is tired, frustrated, yet determined…knowing what she wants but unsure how to get there.
  2. Kate admits a profound truth as a means to justify a personal end (i.e. getting home to her son’)…as opposed to letting that means be the end she needed to persevere.
  3. Kate’s response reminds us of the potentially beautiful relationship between resolve and desperation (Note I say ‘potentially’ since unguarded desperation can mislead our resolve away from what we believe).

In short, Kate had the awareness of what was right: Christmas is the season of perpetual hope2; however, in her frantic state, she lacked the application of what was right as the only thing she wanted perpetual was herself.

Yet, while Kate could have saved herself some stress, we can learn from her mistake by discovering what the Word says about  ‘perpetual hope’. ‘Cause when we talk ‘perpetual’, we’re not only talking about the immutability of God – the reality of an unchanging God timeless in nature, but also the quality of hope we internally long for.

Ask yourself this: why do so many nations celebrate the secular symbol of Santa Clause…or represent their holiday spirit with illumination? Is it not as Bryan Bedford stated from “Miracle on 34th Street”, “to create in their minds a world far better than the one we’ve made…”?

If yes, then I submit we’re not only hard-wired with an innate drive to hope in something, but to hope in something perpetual. Granted, it’s easy this time of year to put foot to gas…hoping to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’…hoping to feel good about ourselves…hoping enough satisfaction can be derived from momentum…as opposed to resting in our perpetual Provider; however, if you’re sitting there worried the joy of Christmas has to be earned or is going to take off without you…I have good news for you:

You don’t have to carry the load anymore!

Rather you can relinquish fear, release control, and receive a fresh hope centered in the always abiding, ever enduring love of the begotten. After all, that’s what Christmas is all about: remembering the “light of the World” who came not only to make a way, but a perpetual way (Isaiah 43:16)…even when we feel no one can reach us3.

Thus, if anyone needs some perpetual hope this Christmas, consider it’s always been Jesus…

…God from God…

…Light from Light…

…Strength of Strength…

…Hope of [Perpetual] Hope…

…breaking through the darkest of nights to save…

…you.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Perpetual = Never ending/changing, everlasting; occurring repeatedly
  2. Honestly, how many people around her could have come up with a better summary of Christmas in six words or less, especially under those circumstances
  3. Desperation Band – “Make a Way

Dear Church: Get Real, Not Relevant.

I got something to say…

…and gotta get it straight before the sun goes down.

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If the church wants to be a city on a hill, then why is it trying so hard to be relevant?

Not to suggest the church should be indifferent towards evangelism or complacent in discipling; I’m just sayin’ since when did the church become ashamed of the Gospel? Since when did she start making it about you…and your receptivity to truth?

‘Cause truth is: the church was never meant to be culturally relevant or well-received, but contextually real and eagerly given.¹

For what we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know and understand the wonderful things God has given us.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 (AMP)

 “[So I have intended] to come to you, in order that I may reap harvest among you…both to the wise and to the foolish. I am eager to preach the gospel to you…for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” ~ Romans 1:13-16 (ESV)

Granted, most of you agree; however, in a time when church gets commission, but not Gospel…where truth is seen as content only worth its reach, it shouldn’t surprise us why many struggle to get God since what’s being modeled to them is more marketable than relatable.

Thus, it’s worth asking: How do we conquer the divide (be it deception, segregation, warped ecclesiology, etc.) in a way that gets us back to fishing for men without the bait? 

To answer this, we must accept…

  1. Relatability and relevancy are two completely different thing (more on this in a future post; ’til then, note Jesus’ interaction with outcasts (Luke 15, 1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 21, Mark 5, John 4).
  2. The world isn’t looking for church to be relevant; it’s desperate for something real, radical and revolutionary.
  3. When we’re reaching out, embracing in, and loving like Jesus, we never have to attract people to the Kingdom because it’s already there in front of them.

Remember the church’s call is to draw near to the lost like God, not draw the lost to find God.

Sure, our church may be in the midst of a powerful sermon series with catchy taglines to promote. But at the end of the day, what the world really wants is the reality of grace abounding as people love the way they know how.

‘Til then, I charge the church to get real about her entitled expectations. ‘Cause honestly, whether or not we’re in favor of a church’s peripherals (worship style, tech incorporation, service flow) or demographics (diversity), shouldn’t distract us from what ultimately matters – people fearlessly living and loving like Jesus…who are willing to resonate truth rather than make it relevant.

Remember Jesus didn’t die for you so you could be you; He died so we could be of same mind and heart so those lost and afflicted could join in. He didn’t die so you could be convinced how special you are; He died so you could tell others why they are.  He didn’t die so you could be served; He died so you wouldn’t have to worry whether or not you are.

And that, my friends, is what the Gospel is all about:  serving those deserving, giving to the living, bringing unity to community, telling not selling…I could go on.

Maybe you’re sitting there discouraged wishing things could turn around. If so, I want to encourage you tonight: while it may seem you gotta get your life in order to make a difference, you can make a difference in order to make a life.

Yeah, you may think you have nothing to offer, you make think your faith isn’t ‘attractable’, but given the Word says it’s who you are over what you have (1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 3:27-28), you never have to worry about having something to lose and nothing to give.

As for the church, I also encourage you: whether you’re pitching a product, promoting a series, or marketing a vision, never forget…

  1. The ‘me’ in ‘follow me’ (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17) is not about you.
  2. We’re called to make disciple-makers, not gain followers.
  3. Millennials don’t want your relevancy; they want your authenticity.

After all, when we “present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God”, we not only capture their attention, but their hearts as well.²

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Selah.



Footnotes

  1. Vaters, Karl (2016, March 30). “Forget Being Culturally Relevant.” Christianity Today.
  2. Dyck, Drew. (2017). “Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God”). The Aquila Report.

Cover photo creds: Pinterest 

3 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

It’s been said spiritual maturity is not just what you believe, but how you behave.

But let’s be honest: marrying the two in every situation isn’t always easy.

Granted, we have this side of heaven to learn, grow and discover; still, if you’re like me in the sense you’re looking to embrace spiritual maturity without despising the growing pains, here are three marks of spiritual maturity to aim for…

1. Dying to offense

Have you ever dealt with someone who lacked the same care you had for an ideal outcome?

Probably multiple times, right? I know when I was younger, anytime I found myself in a similar boat, I would withdraw into discouragement, ignorant to the offense (specifically my attitude towards unmet expectations and what I perceived to be indifference) I was taking; however, as I now know, not only is this a recipe for cynicism, but a contradiction to our call to love at all costs.

So I got to thinking: if everyday presents a temptation to be offended…why not die to our offense in the moments we catch ourselves alive in it?

‘Cause truth is: while we’re all hardwired to passionately pursue people with the passions we pursue, that doesn’t guarantee mutual understanding or aligned priorities. Obviously what matters most to me won’t always matter as much to you or someone else, but this doesn’t mean we have to take it personally.

Rather, whenever we feel others aren’t heeding what we value, let’s consider confronting offense in the moment with the intent to make truth known at the right time (using the in-between time to process, pray, talk to mentors/confidants, etc.)

Bottom line: If you want to mature as a believer, start by viewing every day as an opportunity to love heart to heart (accept people as they are) even if you don’t see eye to eye.

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2. Praying in detail

 If you’re reading this, chances are you know the idiom, ‘the devil is in the details’ is often used to imply an effort that seems simple at first, but takes longer than expected. What you may not know is the phrase actually derives from ‘God is in the details’, expressing the idea whatever one does should be done thoroughly (see 2 Timothy 3:17).

What does this have to do with prayer, you say?

Again, note the origin of the idiom. Sometimes when we pray, it’s based on condition, setting…a criteria of life surrounding us; however, when we pray in the Spirit, we’re praying in detail…we’re praying on terms outside our own. And that, to me, is what prayer is all about: delighting in His nearness and inquiring the specifics of God to better know His will.

Bottom line: Don’t just be intentional in prayer, be aggressive. Have Word exposure (Side note: you can’t mature without it), have a list of requests in front you, have people in mind you can speak out by name, and know what you want to take captive/what you want to take their place. You’ll find the more you pray in detail, the more you’ll discover fresh perspectives you couldn’t have known otherwise.

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3. Fruits in fullness

If you know me, you know one of my favorite topics centers on an issue I haven’t always been great at: living fully/unconditionally; however, to be fair, this is a life-long tug-and-pull for all of us.

As I’ve been teaching my students the past few months in our ‘Fruits in Fullness’ series, fullness and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. The more we pursue fullness with the spiritual fruit we carry, the more others are able to taste and see that it’s good.

That said, we must understand one of the ways the devil prowls after us, especially in a compartmentalizing world, is conditioning our fruit to be conditional.

Check out Genesis 2:16 (AMP): “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely (unconditionally) eat [the fruit] from every tree of the garden.

Note the freely/unconditionally correlation and how this ties into fruit (albeit, the edible kind), God’s original design for man’s function…not to mention our place in Ephesians 3:19: “and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself].”

Again, how awesome is it whatever talk about on here…it all comes back to God’s surpassing love and desire for our highest…our best with Him through Him by Him.

Mufasa tingles, anyone? 😉

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Bottom line: Staying with the Ephesians theme…

“…until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity]. ~ Ephesians 4:13

Selah.

Cover photos creds: http://julielopes.com/category/spiritual-maturity

3 Ways to Better Love Your Enemies

Here’s a riddle for you: What’s something everyone has, the evidence of having stood up for something…yet also a byproduct of brokenness?

Give up? The answer…

…our enemies.

You know those people who curse you yet you’re supposed to bless…who hate you yet you’re supposed to love…

In many ways, we love to hate our enemies…to exact sweet revenge without the calories. But what if I told you while revenge is sweet, forgiveness is sweeter? What if I told you while enemies hurt, not loving them hurts even more?

Whatever the case, wherever you find yourself, if you want to better love your enemies, here are three truths to remember…

1. Understand who they are

When it comes to our enemies, it’s easy to hide behind the labels we place on them. Seriously, how many of you at one point had a sinking relationship you wanted to write off? Like mileage on taxes…or interest on a mortgage?

Granted, enemies come in many forms and yield to subjective definitions; still, if you’re like me, then chances are you know what it’s like standing on the mast of a shipwrecked relationship capsized by offense and insecurity. Perhaps now you’re drinking the bitter dregs of an expired friendship, a partner turned rival, or a severed family tie.

If so, I want to offer some hope: You don’t have to see your broken relationships as enemies!

But Cam, how is this even possible?

To be honest, I can’t say entirely. All I know is when it comes to better loving our enemies, the best place to start is choosing to see them how God sees them.

Now I know this is a sticky, tricky subject for some so with that, I want to tread this topic carefully. At the same time, I want to emphasize the importance of perceiving enemies as broken yet redeemable brothers and sisters in Christ.

‘Cause truth is

When we contend for reconciliation, we ultimately redirect ‘enemy’ off a person’s identity and onto the principalities in between.

Therefore, if you want to better love your enemies, the first step is to accept the fact who you think they are isn’t who they are…and instead reframe ‘enemy’ as lovable people who you’ve hurt, who’ve hurt you, who’ve cut you out, who’ve accused or slandered you, etc.

Bottom line: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places.” Ephesians 6:12 (AMP)

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2. Consider your ways

Now that we’ve framed who our enemies are, we can better discuss how to bridge our divides with them.

But before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: Not all reconciliation stories are going to have happy endings. After all, when the lock is on the other side, obviously you’re not going to be able to unlock it.

That said, there’s no reason why you can’t knock at least once. The question is: How do we knock the right way at the right time?

For starters, it’s best to filter misunderstandings through vain imaginations before dashing to the doorstep. Ask yourself what is being assumed, what is the reason behind my suspicion, what signals and vibes am I giving off? Give yourself permission to self-examine.

Then after careful consideration, begin to rejoice and repent…

  • Ask the Lord to illuminate outstanding resentments, bitterness, and grudges.
  • Release to Him the burden of having to be the one to make things right.
  • Request of God a removal of fear, a prescription of peace, a path to follow, and a heart of humility.
  • Pray into what needs to be said and how it’s to be communicated.
  • Thank the Lord for all He’s done and what He’s going to do.

Remember these steps don’t entitle you to action, but rather position you to better know how to bridge the gap once given the green light. From there, it’s all downhill (i.e. embracing courage, walking in grace; see next point).

Bottom line: Before rushing to resolution, “humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV)

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3. Make love known

For this point, we’re going to assume you have the peace to confront; or as I like to say, make love known (not an agenda).

While intentionally loving your enemies can be intimidating, it can be all the more freeing when we recognize what is starts with:

    • Love starts with courage. No question, loving in broken environments requires boldness; however, to be bold, we must choose courage from the onset. Accordingly, if you have faith in the source of love (i.e. God) and its message (i.e. the kingdom of God), then you have access with confidence and without hindrance into the places they’re needed the most (see Acts 28:31, Ephesians 3:12). Keep in mind you have what it takes so don’t be discouraged if it takes everything you’ve got.
    • Love continues by faith. If your decision to love is motivated by results, then newsflash: It’s not love since love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5). For if genuine love is to continue by faith, then you must die to your desire for favorable outcomes and progress. That way, when your effort is refuted or ignored, your desire to ‘try again’ will be renewed and you won’t take the rejection personally.
    • Love advances with an invitation. When we boil it down, loving your enemies is God’s ministry of reconciliation in motion (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Still, how we reconcile is worth discussion since if we’re to be “out of our mind”, when must do so in way that tells our adversaries “it is for you” (2 Corinthians 5:13). Hence, why love starts with courage, continues by faith, but advances through invitations where encouragement can be expressed.

In my experiences with adversaries/frenemies, I’ve learned the best way to mend fences is to be sensitive to what they’re experiencing and processing. As the past has taught me, if I can offer hope in the moment, chances are I can further extend it through invitations to connect later on. Even if it’s just a short e-mail or text, the impact of those ‘little’ things can only help establish reconciliation.

Bottom line: Regardless of how you make love known, know the same Christ who is in you is in your midst working on your behalf. Remember there’s no need to fear when you have nothing to lose.

Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (MSG)

Cover photo creds: Wallpaper Cave

Bye, [Bye]Vocational

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not easy marrying marketplace and ministry.

After all, when you consider secular expectations, the challenge of availability matching flexibility, how most church leadership models are structured…it can be tough-sleddin’.

Now, I’m not a church consultant or ministry life coach; however, in my brief ministerial experience, I’ve come to realize while tent-making is often praised behind the pulpit in an evangelism context, it’s rarely incorporated to the fullest in a leadership context.

Case and point: I work full-time hours (7:00-3:30 pm) for TDOT Monday through Friday, where at the start of each day, I take the day’s game script, stack it against my church load, and do what I can accordingly for both. For instance, on slower days I create youth discipleship content, plan events, design social media promotions, and field church-related correspondence on my breaks, whereas on busier days, I keep a running ‘to-do’ list to better tackle my gameplan after hours.

The problem is: whether or not my day at work is busy/productive, I still miss out on the life that happens at church (i.e. staff meetings, luncheons, offsite special events, etc.) during my shift.

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Granted, I do have supervisors who meet with me on a quarterly basis to catch me up to speed with important information. Yet, while the communicational challenges can be frustrating, it’s the communal setbacks that offer the greatest potential for discouragement.

So while having flex or contractual hours would be ideal, I know in seasons like the one I’m in, I can only abide in what I can control, confront what I can’t, and trust God in both. Still…this doesn’t mean the divide is easy.

On one hand, I’m proud to represent the Gospel in a taxing work environment, to mature in my reliance upon God when I find my own strength to be nothing but weakness. On the other, I’m often downcast considering a) it’s hard to justify why I work where I do1  and b) to not experience deeper community due to a job I can’t stand on my own strength is a bitter pill to swallow.

So when it comes to the idea of a bye-vocational (i.e. leaving one job to fully pursue the other) life in place of a bivocational one, I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t intrigued considering the struggle to put forth full-time effort in part-time hours is [super] real…not to mention I’m the first Fry male in three generations to not know what full-time ministry life tastes like.

*Sigh*

I guess what I’m trying to say is: it’s hard being bivocational when the call itself seems to rob you of relationship. ‘Cause while many think bivocational ministry is all about tackling two different jobs, truth is: it’s just as much about influencing community and inspiring culture change as it is achieving excellence. Thus, how we cope when we feel our ‘spread out’ lifestyle is diluting our impact is worth discussion.

Of course, you can count on me to drill down on this in future posts, but for now, let me just say: for those of you working multiple gigs striving to keep joy afloat, understand you carry difference-making potential inside you…and that potential is not only going to come to fruition in the territory God has given you to tend, but is also never contingent on what you can’t control. Again, that’s the beauty of trusting God. Whenever we reach an end of the line, God grants us the slack to press on. Whenever we reach an unscalable wall, God equips us to ascend it. And whenever we’re overcome by a particular lacking, God meets us in our midst, fills us, and goes before us to make a way (Isaiah 43:16-19).

Yeah, I get how hard it can be craving community and passion outlets in the arid seasons of life, but remember God specializes in showing His power in hopeless situations. So if you’re reading this today wishing you could swap out a bye-vocational life in place of a bivocational one, I encourage you: allow God to fill up your empty canteen with encouragement and fresh perspective. ‘Cause I submit: where you are now is not by mistake, but by design and by grace.

Think of it this way: If you’re thirsty, what sense does it make to cut your water bottle in half when you could simply remove the cap and fill it to the brim?

Pretty obvious, right?

Yet, how many of you reading this are essentially doing the same thing by denying yourself full-fillment as a result of wanting the ‘bye’, not the ‘bi’?

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If you can relate, I encourage you: stop overfocusing on what you wish could be different in your life and embrace the fact God has you just where He wants you. Don’t fantasize about what it’d be like to customize your life. Instead, take joy in trusting the Lord’s lead and take courage in pushing through to the good stuff that’s coming (see Isaiah 58:11).

While I’m tempted to go on, I’m goin’ to push ‘pause’ for now and instead bid adieu with some parting questions:

1) What do you need to be filled with today?
2) What is capping the ‘containers’ God has placed you in?
3) Will you remove those caps and allow God to fill you up?

I’ll just let the mic drop there…

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Footnotes

  1. in light of how I was created

Cover photo creds: ThomRainer.com