Making Room for More

We are creatures who need routine. We crave normalcy. I suppose we inherit this from the constancy of our Maker and the rhythm of the cosmos He spoke into being. The sun, moon, stars, and planets keep hurtling through space right on schedule in their perfect dance. Gravity seems to be sticking around. The seasons have been doing their thing for quite a long time. 

And yet, the world is broken by sin. All of creation is holding its breath, waiting for change. 

Change. Ugh.

We need routine and we need change. This is quite the quandary, particularly for us (the Church) who are commissioned to be the agents of change in the world. 

On the first day of its existence, the Church grew from 120 people to 3000 (Acts 1:15, 2:41). People with baggage, with brokenness, brought into a community challenged by racial and cultural tension. It was messy. Difficult. Glorious.

When churches fulfill the mission given by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20, they grow. When disciples make disciple-making disciples, the Gospel collides with culture and knocks its axis off kilter, and churches grow. That growth means change. 

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Our churches should be willing to make room for everyone in our communities who are weary and burdened. If everyone comes (that's the goal!), things change. And we have to decide between our longing for stability and our mission to grow. 

At The Bridge, we have experienced significant growth over the past few years. In 2011, we were two churches of about 300 people. Now, we are closer to 1000 most Sundays. That isn't Acts 2 growth, but it's growth. And more importantly, it is growth that necessitates a change in systems and communication. 

There is an article by Tim Keller called "Leadership and Church Size Dynamics" that has been a significant help to leaders at The Bridge over the past few years. We recommend it to anyone who has experienced a transition in church size or leadership culture (The link is available below.) It has helped us understanding the transition we've experienced, and why certain things have been more challenging than we expected. 

Because our identity as Christ followers is rooted in a God who is constant, there is much that cannot change. But because He has called the Church to be a city on a hill, may we reflect the creativity of God in how we communicate His wonders to the world. 

Article: "Leadership and Church Size Dynamics" by Tim Keller

Article: "Leadership and Church Size Dynamics (Shorter version)" by Tim Keller

A marriage made in the trenches

“If I weren’t a follower of Christ, I would have divorced you by now.”

That’s what my wife told me a few months back. How’s that for a picture of the Christian family?

Truth be told, our life is crazy. The past few years have felt like a whirlwind. Some of the most chaotic years for any family are when the house is full of young kids. Add to that a struggle with leukemia while entering a ministry role for which you feel completely inadequate, and you’ve got a recipe for crazy.

But that’s where we were. It was the middle of the school year, and every day felt the same: Wake up in a hurry, throw some food down the kids throats, make sure their pants are buttoned, shuffle out the door, get to work, spend the day worried about 100 different things, rush home for a quick dinner, help with homework, bath, stories, and bed, then get ready to start over. I knew things weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible either.

I’ve learned that a silent truce is way more dangerous than a full-fledged shouting match.

We had gotten the kids down and were in a mild argument over something that doesn’t matter – just being short with each other. (When you’re stressed, little things tend to bother you. And we were bothered about many things.)

As a parent with young kids, the moment when your kids go to bed is incredible. You don’t realize how tired your ears are, or how much energy you’ve spent, until you sit in silence. Your body goes limp and you don’t want to move or think or breathe. Truth be told, you don’t want to expend an ounce of energy - or a joule, or whatever they use to measure energy. But loving another person always takes energy. It takes initiative. I was in a pattern of not initiating.

After a few seconds of tense silence, Karen said, “I’m not happy. I don’t know what we’re gonna do, but this isn’t working. If I weren’t a follower of Christ, I would have divorced you by now. There isn’t enough here (in our relationship) to keep me here.”

I was floored. We’d never had a conversation like this. I never imagined we would. But here we were.

Let me be clear: Karen was not threatening to leave me. Just the opposite, in fact. She was declaring the unconditional commitment she had made to me before God – a commitment that would hold fast through difficult times. She was loving me enough to tell me something that hurt deeply but that I desperately needed to hear.

I had forgotten some foundational realities about marriage. And God was reminding me through the wonderful words of my wife.

Being a parent is one of the great joys of my life, but it is a great danger as well. We parents can become so engrossed in that role that all other roles become obsolete. My identity first as a child of God and as a husband to Karen must come before my identity as father to Jude, Owen, and Charlotte. The pyramid will crumble if I turn it upside down.

Maybe you’re in a similar place, so overwhelmed by some urgent responsibilities that you’re neglecting more foundational ones. In those moments of chaos, it is of utmost importance that we center ourselves around God’s Word. Regarding the importance of marriage, there is no more helpful passage than Ephesians 5:21-33. You can read it now if you like.

This passage reminds me of something really important: my marriage is a picture of God’s love for me.

Here’s what I mean:

1. Marriage shows us a love that submits.

God has called me to humility in marriage because He has shown humility to me in Christ. As a husband, God commands me to live for the benefit of my wife rather than expect her to live for me. This is why Karen’s statement to me was so powerful that night. She said, “If I was in this for me, I’d leave. But I’m not in this for me. I’m in this because I have committed to love you through every season of the soul.” And that’s the same thing Jesus has told all of us. 

2. Marriage shows us a love that transforms.

Jesus commits Himself radically to us when we are still His enemies. He loves us, not because of who we are, but who we will be when He is done transforming us. Marriage tells that same story. We have the opportunity to say to our spouse, “I know you, and I love you anyway." And that type of undeserved love always transforms us.

Marriage is a furnace. It tests us and refines us. This process is difficult but essential.

3. Marriage shows us a love that lasts.

Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus will remain faithful to His church until He presents us to God as a radiant bride. That means His love remains to the end, even when it’s inconvenient, heartbreaking, or costly.

My wife shows me what God is like. She doesn’t love me with the cheap, shiny, short-term, self-serving, microwavable, consumer love of which our world has had its fill. Her love is stronger and truer and deeper than that. 

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Paul the Apostle, Ephesians 3:17-19)

The Power of Forgiveness

Sunday morning I shared a story from my childhood that dealt with the disappointment of my Dad not coming to pick me and my brothers up for a weekend visitation. I sat there watching from the window, feeling like the odd kid out when they picked teams at recess. I knew he wasn’t coming, but I waited anyway.

Like most of those stories, that was just the tip of the iceberg.  In fact that was a pattern that was repeated many times and in many ways for the first 4-5 years of my life, culminating with my father giving up all custodial rights to us as his children, severing our relationship. As a young kid, I was completely innocent to how that reality would shape the rest of my life.

Decisions like these can’t be easy for a parent, but they also have life-altering consequences for their children. Growing up without a relationship with my father created a wound that I would have to engage as I grew into man, husband, and father.

1 Samuel 24 was a great look into how David dealt with the wrong that King Saul committed against him. As my story unfolded, I realized that, like David, I needed to address my wounds. In my mid 20’s I was involved in a Men’s Fraternity study that provided me with some challenging truths and some great guys to help me as I navigated the wounds I had from my father.

Sunday we asked four questions from 1 Samuel 24 regarding how we respond when we are hurt by someone. Let me tell you the rest of my story through the lens of those questions.

Will be tender hearted or hard hearted? 

There is a part of a young boy who always longs for connection with his Dad. The older I got, I began to learn how deeply that wound cut me. Most people would say that I would be justified in being angry with my father for all the hurt he caused for my family. But as I reached the age that my dad was when he made critical mistakes, I began to understand how easy it would be for me to make those same mistakes. Rather than hating him, I identified with him. I never found myself angry with my Dad, and I am thankful to God for that.

Will we address the problem or attack the person? 

In the fall of 2000 I attended a Dallas Cowboy football game at the old Texas Stadium. After the game I ran into a cop on a motorcycle (my dad was also a motorcycle cop for the City of Dallas) so I asked him if he knew my dad. 

Not only did he know him, they were close friends. I asked him to pass my information along, and later that Fall my dad and I connected by phone – a pattern we maintained for a year or so. A year later, my dad was involved in an accident while on patrol that almost cost him his life. 

I decided to go visit him in the hospital, even though he was sedated and would not know I was there. I remember sitting next to his hospital bed, looking at him lying there, weak and frail. He wasn’t some villain out of a storybook. He was a man like the rest of us. A flawed, depraved man.

Months later, he called to thank me for coming, and I took the chance to ask him if we could get together one day to talk. God had been working on me and was showing me that I needed to address my past and the wounds I had from it.

Will we trust God with the outcome or take matters into our own hands?

As my meeting with my dad approached, the men in my Men’s Fraternity group asked me how I felt -  if I was scared, anxious, or nervous - and what I thought I was going to say. One guy even asked me if I thought I would hit him. 

Quite the opposite, God was showing me that I needed to forgive and express my forgiveness to my Dad. I had no idea how he would respond but I knew that my responsibility to forgive didn’t rest on any sign of contrition on his end. I was called to forgive regardless of his actions or attitude.

Will we forgive others as Christ has forgiven us?

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” It was my turn to forgive. We met in Bossier City and rode together to Natchitoches. We spent the better part of the day riding around campus and making small talk. 

We sat down for a late lunch at Mama’s on Front Street. After the waitress brought our drinks I told him there were some things I wanted to talk about. In many ways he was as exposed as Saul relieving himself in the cave. Lots of my family would have said, “You’ve got him right where you want him. Let him have it!”

It was one of those rare moments as a child when you have all the power in a conversation with your parent, and I could tell he was prepared to take whatever hate I was going to give.  I opened with, “I want to forgive you for things that happened when we were kids.”  When I did, his countenance completely changed. 

I went on to explain to him that, as someone who has been forgiven by Christ, I could not withhold forgiveness from him. I shared more about my faith and asked about his, a conversation he wasn’t very interested in having. The day ended well and he was genuinely thankful for the time we spent together.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the healing God brought in me that day. I had no idea how those wounds had affected me for years and years. In forgiving my dad face to face, God began healing me, and I began to experience freedom in areas where all I had known was bondage.

Are there any conversations that you’ve been putting off? Is it possible that you’re holding on to anger, and the only person it’s hurting is yourself? That forgiveness could actually bring freedom and peace to your own heart? What if you picked up the phone right now? What could change?

Two ways to lead

A lesson from college

I started leading worship in high school for our youth group on Wednesday nights. It was a clumsy journey, to say the least. I experienced some colossal failures along the way. Like one time we played "Wonderwall" by Oasis, only we changed the words to say, "...and after all you're my Fellowship Hall..." 

I look back on those years with a good bit of embarrassment. And yet, they were critical to my growth as a leader. I was responsible for something. I learned to make chord charts and direct other musicians. I was given room to fail. And when I did, I was given enough encouragement to get back up and try again the next week. 

In college, I got lots more opportunities to lead worship in other places. And I began to learn what it meant to actually lead people rather than just lead songs. But that took some "experimenting" too. 

On one such occasion, I was leading a song, and I began to give people some space to process what we had been singing. I invited them to come forward and pray if they felt so inclined. Many people responded. It was a step forward in my leadership journey. 

But then the pastor of that church pulled me aside. I'll never forget what he said to me. "Son, when the singer starts to preach and the preacher starts to sing, we get in lots of trouble." He laughed. I didn't.

"Stay in your lane." That's what I heard.

In the years leading up to that moment, I had been surrounded by leaders who invited me into broader areas of influence, even if it meant that I would fail or embarrass myself. I can't remember a time that someone had told me, "Back off." It hurt. I felt belittled, devalued, and foolish. 

A lesson from 1 Samuel 18

I preached on 1 Samuel 18 Sunday morning. Saul was king over Israel, and David was an up-and-comer who was gaining popularity with everyone. Everyone but Saul, because Saul was chronically insecure. When people celebrated David's success, it threw him into a jealous rage. 

Saul's response? I'll just throw a spear at David and pin him to the wall. That should eliminate the problem. When that didn't work, Saul demoted David from his high position. But David continued succeeding. Next, Saul began sending David into precarious military situations designed to get him killed. But every time Saul tried to harm David, he actually only hurt himself. Everything Saul intended for evil, God used for good in David's life.

Sadly, lots and lots of leaders respond the same way when people under their charge experience success. Ok, maybe they aren't actually hurling spears at their subordinates, but they go on the attack. Sometimes they recruit an army who will defend their position. Or they spread little morsels of gossip that make his/her reputation questionable. Or they demote the up-and-comers to a place in the organization where they won't be a threat. 

Truth be told, Saul was afraid of David. Why? Because God was with David. 

If you feel threatened by the success of people around you, beware. You may well be resisting God Himself. 

A lesson from Skin

A few years after college, I was the worship leader at a small church called Crossroads. James Skinner - known as "Skin" - was one of the pastors, and he has been a really, really significant leader in my life for a long time. 

"Chris, I think you should preach a sermon one Sunday," Skin said. That was an extremely intimidating proposition. But it was encouraging and life-giving as well. It was an invitation to change lanes, to spread my wings a little bit and take a risk. I was nervous and afraid. But I worked really hard, with lots of help from Skin and others, and I preached my first sermon in December of 2005. I remember praying at the end of the message and walking to the back of the room as the band started to play. Skin was standing there, beaming. He put his arms around me. 

It's difficult to put words to how significant a moment that was for me. Here was a guy I trusted and respected who saw potential in me. It was the polar opposite of "Stay in your lane." 

Over the next few years, the leadership of that church challenged me to preach more. They sent me to seminary. By 2009, I was preaching monthly. In 2013, they labeled me the "primary communicator" for our church. 

That doesn't just happen. It takes a special kind of culture to provide that type of opportunity. And it takes a special kind of leader to produce that type of culture. A leader who understands that his security isn't in his position or accolades, but in his God. Skin is that type of leader. 

That type of leadership is costly. Inviting me into a new role meant that Skin's role would diminish (at least visibly). It meant that people would make snide remarks like, "Skin, I wish I had a job like yours. You get paid full time but only preach once a month." 

Maybe leadership isn't about winning. Maybe it's about helping others win. Saul led with a clinched fist, trying to keep people from taking what he possessed. 

Skin leads with an open hand. So did Jesus. So should we. 

The trip you can't afford to miss (part three)

Ever had a baby? I haven't. In the words of comedian Jim Gaffigan, "I don't think I could have a baby... because I don't have a uterus." 

I have, however, spoken with many people who have given birth. Apparently, it's a painful process. But it's interesting, it's a painful process that leads to overwhelming joy. (Well, usually. There are terribly tragic times that it does not. Which is part of what we've been talking about in this little blog series.) 

I've been trying to show you over the past couple posts that if we get some clarity around our eternal destination, that it changes our perspective of all the struggles and trials that we walk through in life. It's what Paul was writing about in Romans chapter 8. 

Look at what Paul says in verse 22: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." He goes on to say that followers of Christ groan in the same way. These groanings are expressed by our souls through pain and hardship. The universe itself is expressing these same things. It's broken, "in bondage to decay" as Romans 8:21 says. But the destination changes everything

Our journey is progressing toward the glory of birth, not the agony of death.

When life falls apart, it often feels like death. When marriages fail, when those close to us hurt us, when we hurt them, when floodwaters rise, when the economy crashes, when the government is out of money and out of ideas. It feels like death. 

But it's not death. It's birth.

We're living in an alarming time in history. The threat of terrorism, genocide, global pandemics, war, environmental decay - many of us walk around in a shroud of anxiety. I mean, some people are ready for a zombie apocalypse! (It is comforting, in a way, that the linked article says "FEMA did not respond to requests for comment about the need for zombie preparedness." Phew! 

A few implications of Romans 8:22-23:

1. Birth pains still hurt.

Knowing that they will produce something wonderful doesn't change that.

When Karen and I were expecting our first child, she had these grand ideas that she was going to have our baby naturally. "I have a pretty high pain tolerance," she said. I'll go with it, and if the pain gets too severe, I'll get the epidural. 

Karen's first words at the hospital when she went into labor? "Give me the epidural!" 

Jesus told us that pain will be a reality of life in this world (John 16:33). Nothing in the Bible seeks to minimize or trivialize the pain we experience. From seemingly small things like getting laughed at in elementary school, to major things like burying a child, life hurts. Deeply. 

2. Our pain isn't for nothing

Although birth pains hurt, we know they aren't pointless. No mother, holding her newborn for the first time, says, "That wasn't worth it." The hurt we feel isn't senseless. God isn't cruel. Romans 8 says that "He subjected the universe to frustration in hope." That means that the pain all around us has a purpose. Whatever pain you are walking through right now will one day be worth it. 

I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:17. "For our light and momentary troubles (that's a paradigm shift in itself!) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." The trials we experience now are actually adding to the glory of heaven. 

3. Our future joy will be greater for having experienced pain.

The joy of motherhood is greater for having gone through labor. The championship trophy is more fulfilling for having endured spring practices and tough losses. Graduation is more meaningful because of the all-nighters. Embracing your child is sweeter after the agony of separation. And our heavenly joy will be greater for our suffering on earth. 

4. Hope is the currency we need to endure the pain of life.

That's the idea of Romans 8:24-25. A mother can endures the excruciating contractions because her hope is in the not-yet-experienced moment of cradling her child. 

Have you read those stories of women in labor who didn't know they were pregnant? Can you imagine anything worse? All the pain with none of the hope? 

Unfortunately, that's how many, many people live. Their only hope is some alleviation of pain in this life. In Paul's words, that is "no hope at all." But if we understand and believe in our great destination, the result will be patient endurance that only God can produce (Romans 8:25). 

Is your hope in Christ? Or is it in a relationship, or social status, or comfort, or financial independence? Those things will inevitably fail. Jesus did promise us trouble in John 16:33. But He also promised us hope: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world."