The Next Generation

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the people who have invested in me. Who have been the people who have invested in you? Have there been people in your past who have seen something in you and invested in you so that you could be better? The kind of investing that takes time, energy, money, sacrifice, and many other things.

I have been fortunate to have had people who have invested in me like that. People who put aside their own agendas, their own preferences and did things the way that connected with someone much younger. It leads me to ask the question, “Am I investing in the next generation?” You should be asking the question, “Am I investing in the next generation?”

This question can seem like an easy one and we assume we are doing the right thing, but are we? Are you and I willing to put aside our personal preferences for the sake of connecting with the generation behind us? Are we willing to lose our self in loving others so that we don’t say, “What about me?” but we say “What about them?” It doesn’t matter if you are 88 or 18, there is still a generation younger than you to invest in. The challenge for you and I, and the challenge for the church is quite simple; if we don’t put aside our preferences for the sake of those younger than us, for the sake of those outside the church, then it is likely they will not be a part of our church and maybe any church.

The mission to go and make disciples is an important one, and frankly it is about self-sacrifice of the older, more mature to invest in the younger. One caveat in the church is that older doesn’t mean more mature spiritually and younger doesn’t mean right. This never means a letting go of the message of Jesus, but it does mean not being committed to any particular form. However, if we don’t always think in terms of the next generation we will be one generation from our church not existing. I don’t know about you, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to invest in the next generation and I am willing to let go of whatever preferences I need to let go of for the sake of those coming behind me. Are you?

Live Like John

Prophets from the Scriptures are people like you and I. Sure, there were moments that they lived in ways that were less than desirable. Elijah fleeing from a woman comes to mind! Overall, what we see in the lives of the prophets is a willingness to live in ways that invite others to something beyond themselves. The more I try to follow Jesus the more I am coming to believe that God didn’t just want the prophets to live in ways that call others to something beyond themselves, but that God wants you and I to do that as well!

John the Baptist is a fascinating character, he is the one that Jesus says “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” Jesus says some other things, but what we see in John and other prophets before him is a call to another way of life. The prophets lived and talked in a way that even when people disagreed with them, they knew there was a connection to something more!

I cannot help but think how I used to hear a loud voice yelling in the wilderness when I think of John and his call to repentance. Maybe the loud voice wasn’t loud at all. Maybe it exuded such a passion that it was inexplicable. Maybe the call to repentance was a plea of hope for what could be. An invitation to join in the relationship with the Father the way the Father had always wanted.

What John was calling those hearers too is something that he could not quite understand, but he knew it was life-changing. It is God made flesh, who dwelt among us. It is the Spirit of that One dwelling in us, in such a way that it reshapes and remakes us in a way we have never been before.

Our repentance brings us to a place where we are humbled in such a way that we can finally be known and know fully the God of all. It is us coming raw, vulnerable, with our souls laid bare and recognizing no matter how together we are, we are all in need of something more. We may have great homes and sweet rides, but there is something in us that knows there must be more. We have tried to fill it with sex, drugs, alcohol, consumerism, self help, careers, family, exercise or anything else that we may call good or worthy, but there is something that beckons us to more. The more is the voice that calls in the wilderness and calls in the city streets, it is the voice that calls in the quiet space and in a packed concert, it is the one that joins together the universe and invites us into a relationship that changes the very essence of us to a place in which we are connected to the divine. The divine that we celebrate in the birth of Jesus.

This voice calls us to itself and then when we have heard the Voice we are called to share about the voice and what it beckons us to. It calls us to live in the ways of the prophets before us. To call others to another way, a deeper way, a way that is simple and deep, founded in relationships with one another and the creator. Relationships that are joyous and lighthearted and at the same time carry a depth that is profound.

What if you and I lived in the way of the prophets? What if our life and words echoed a connection to eternity? What if we “Lived in the Way of the Prophets?”

The Day After

Today some of you are feeling excited because the person you voted for won the election. Some today are feeling anxious because the person you voted for did not. Some today are feeling relief that the political ads may finally cease!

Hate is a strong word. It is thrown out at times when it is appropriate and when it is not. I hate the political season. People choose one or two issues that are most central to their understanding of life and too often demonize those who see the world differently than they do. Rarely, do I see legitimate conversation or debate.

Love is also a strong word. It is much different than hate. Love defines the life of Jesus. Love is seen in the Jesus creed, “Love God, Love others.” Loving others is the call for Christians. So if today, you do not call yourself a follower of Jesus you can respond however, you see fit. If you do call yourself a follower of Jesus that is not the case.

Today you and I should think of the other. The ‘other’ is the person who did not vote like you or I, the person who has a different skin color, the person who may be born from another place, the person who is oppressed, the person who sees sexuality different than you or I, the list goes on and on.

Jesus is clear in his life and teaching in what it looks like to be a child of God. He modeled humility, gentleness, his great teaching in The Sermon on the Mount lays out a call to peacemaking, mercy, and love. I could go on and on in what defines Jesus and what he calls the characteristics of God’s children.

What if those of us who call ourselves Jesus followers took seriously that call right now. If we don’t we are likely to ruin the witness that he calls us to carry out. In desiring to see God at work in the world, too many of us have done more harm in our witness than good. The call of Christians is reconciliation not division over politics. May we not forget that God wants to redeem all that is broken in the world and He wants to use all people in that effort.

Paul’s words may be of some use today:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. 8Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

Today, what I can say with certainty is whoever was elected president has deep flaws that are easily apparent. That being said, I will pray for president-elect Trump and I will pray for Hillary Clinton. What I know to be true is that regardless of who is president of the United States is, Jesus is Lord. Will you join me in striving to follow him? Will you seek to be a peacemaker over a mocker, will you join me in striving to pray for others who don’t see the world like you or I? Will you join with me in striving not to ruin our witness in the words that we use and the actions we take?

The “Next Thing” for The Lakes

Have you ever wondered if God was calling you to something more? Have you ever wondered if maybe there was more you should be doing for Christ’s Church? Have you ever wondered what the “next thing” in your faith journey was going to be?

I have wondered all of those things and in fact I wonder them all of the time. Our church board has been praying about what that “next thing” may be for about a year. We have taken a leap of faith for the “next thing” that we believe God may have for us.

A little over six months ago I was invited to a conversation by our District Superintendent about the district planting a church in Fruitport. The district had been approached by the school board at Calvary Christian Schools in Fruitport and they were thinking seriously about pursuing this endeavor. My initial reaction was one of believing this was a bad idea, I mean 1/3 of our church lives in Fruitport. However, the more Dr. Seaman and I talked the more the idea for something entirely new might work.

I brought the conversation Dr. Seaman and I had to our church board about what the district had thought. I shared how in our conversation what seemed to come out of it was not an idea for a new church, but an extension of the work God is doing through us. The conversation our board had was, what about us starting another campus of our church at another location.

We talked through various scenarios and we gave the District Superintendent a new plan that would be funded by the district, but rather than a new church plant it would be us providing leadership, infrastructure, and prayer support. The district took that plan to their meeting with Calvary Christian School’s executive board and the financial numbers did not match up in a way that were reasonable. We assumed the conversation was over.

A couple of months later we were contacted by the board of Calvary Schools and they said, what if this time it was really about ministry and the number was more reasonable? Would you still consider another service of your church in our location? Our board prayed about it, talked about it, and eventually approved this endeavor. We are hoping this is the “next thing” God has for us.

This has a few new meanings for our church. First, what it does not mean: It does not mean we are planting a church, we are adding a new service time at another location. It does not mean we are stretching ourselves too thin financially. The district is covering all of the expenses for the first year and we will evaluate the cost at the end of the year and make sure it is self-sustaining before we continue the second year. It does not mean we are trying to pull people from the Eastwood Campus to go and help launch the new service. We are using a handful of twenty-somethings to help launch this and they have committed to continue in all of the various roles they are currently in.

What this does mean: We will have an additional service on Sunday evenings at 6PM inside Calvary Christian Schools. It will be the same message as what is heard on Sunday morning. We hope to eventually hire another staff person who will serve as campus pastor at that location and youth pastor of both locations. We hope to reach people that no one else is reaching.

Here is what I am hoping for all of us who call The Lakes home: join with me in praying for our church, one church in two locations. Pray that both campuses will help to decrease the unchurched population in Muskegon County (as of 2010 there were 120,000 of the 172,000 people in Muskegon County who marked they do not have a church home). Join with me, our church staff, and our church board as we try to follow the words of Jesus when he commanded his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Join with us in loving God and loving others.

What are we investing in?

Lately, I have had a lot of conversations about money. I am willing to bet you have had many of the same conversations. Some of my conversations have centered around bills. In fact, my wife was going through our personal records and found the bill from our son’s medical flight from a few years ago…it was over $30,000! (we had good insurance at the time and it paid a major portion and we negotiated down the balance or else we would still be paying). Money is one of the things that dominates many of our conversations.

Money drives conversations in lots of ways, “Can we afford it?” “I don’t have enough money.” “We can’t afford both, pick one.” “I wish we had the kind of money they have.” “Maybe, I will win the lottery.” “You can’t have that toy if you want the lights on at home.” “I know I should save more money, but I have to have ____ .” “Am I saving enough for retirement?” “Will I be able to retire?” I could go on and on and on with the ways that money drives conversation.

I have never had to say, “Man, I have too much money!” If that is your problem you can make checks to “Aaron Gregory” or if you want the tax deduction you can make them to “The Lakes Community Church.” Most of the time we think “I wish I had a little more money.” We think, “there just isn’t enough money to go around.”

I love what Andy Stanley talks about in his book, “Be Rich.” (It is a great read for all). In the book he talks about how most of us think of the other guy as rich, when in reality compared to the rest of the world we are rich! He quotes a study that shows when you take people who make $30,000 they see people as rich who make $60,000 and the people who make $60,000 see the people who make $100,000 as rich. You get the point.

The reality is that most of us earn differing dollar amounts, but there are some questions we all must ask. “Where am I investing my money?” If we were to open our check books, or show others our online bank statements, where would our money have been spent? Would people see that we lived within our margins, or would they see we lived beyond our means? Would people see generosity to others or money spent only on ourselves? Would people see faithful giving to Christ and His Church or would our wallets show lip service to our faith?

Our church board wrestles with how to invest money at times. One board member pointed out to me the other day that we do not hesitate to update an area of the church, but we struggle to spend money on actual ministry items. I have been wrestling with that!

There are moments when it is obvious where we need to spend our money, and other times it is not so clear. The Bible talks about money in several places and it asks the same question in many different ways, “does your money own you?” I am reminded over and over again that we are called to invest our money wisely. 1 Timothy 6:17-18: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”

The call for you and I, is to be rich, the way Paul writes of here (hint: it doesn’t matter how much money you have). We are called to be generous in all things. The question that I think is good for you and I is this, “What am I investing in?”

Writing Love in the Streets

There are moments we can get so wrapped up in the details of our own lives that we find ourselves ignoring the things and people around us. We can become so self-focused that we miss the hurting person next to us because we are telling them all about our problems. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a group of people and a person is telling the way in which they are suffering and someone else says, “I know how you feel. I have …insert some story about themselves that does not really relate…” We are often quick to not listen. We are also just as quick to be “doing” something and miss an opportunity to participate in the life of someone else.

The other day I hurried home for lunch, grabbed something quick and hurried right back out the door. I did say hello to my wife and kids, but otherwise I was wrapped up in my own “stuff” that I would have missed anything else. In fact, as I walked in and out, I missed all the chalk hearts that had been drawn on the driveway by my wife and daughter. I didn’t realize I had missed them until later on in the day.

The realization that I missed them became apparent when I received a notification that my wife had posted a new photo on Instagram (I always receive notifications when she makes a post, they are usually my kids!). I opened the app on my phone and saw the picture of my daughter drawing hearts on the driveway. My wife captioned the picture “writing love in the streets.” That picture and that line grabbed me out of whatever self-absorbed state I was in and brought me to a place of contemplation.

For those who call themselves followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives radically defined by love. The kind of love that is selfless, sacrificial, and persistent. If we are not careful we live lives that write a different story.

I cannot help of the words of the Great Shema in Deuteronomy chapter 6, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I am not sure we have to write the words on our doorframes anymore (my wife would be ticked if I did that because it would need repainted.), but we are to write them with our lives. The question I am left with is, “Am I “writing love in the streets” with the way I live?” The question we are all left with is are we living in such a way that our children and the children of others will “write love in the streets” because of the way we live? Our church desires to “Love God, Grow Together, Serve All: because life isn’t simple.” I hope I never forget that the way I love other people is a direct reflection on the way I love God. In fact, it echoes the words of Jesus when he was asked the greatest commandment and his response was “Love God and love others.”

I want to live a life that isn’t self-absorbed. I want to live a life that isn’t only filled with self-interest. I want to live a life that doesn’t see the world with tunnel vision, but sees the world with the eyes of Jesus. I am fairly certain that if I live that way, if those who call themselves followers of Jesus live that way, we will send a message to all children and to the rest of the world that our lives are “writing love in the streets.”

Love Poured Out

We are a few weeks removed from Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They are both days many recognize their mother and father and how much they have meant to them. For some they are really hard days, either because they have lost a parent or they had bad parents. The reality is that families who celebrate those days in some way are celebrating a parent who loved them.

Just a few weeks ago, I was thinking about how much I loved my children. There was one day in particular when my wife was gone and I had both kids to myself (If my wife is home, my daughter doesn’t know I exist!). We were watching a movie and eating popcorn and I found myself just looking at my kids. I was overwhelmed in that moment with how much I loved them. Somehow in that moment I loved them more than I knew how to express. I pulled them both a little closer and kissed them both on top of the head. My daughter even snuggled with me (until her mom got home!).

On father’s day I took my son to play golf. It is something I love to do and something I hope to share with him. We played nine holes together and had a great time. I had fun with the golf and he had fun because he had orange pop and potato chips. There was once again a moment in which I looked at him and thought about how much I loved him.

This deep love I have for my children is born out of nothing they have done. Sure, I love when they tell me they love me, sure I love when they appreciate something I have done, but my love for them is not conditional. My love for them is boundless. Even when they do something that angers me, or disappoints me, or is just irritating, there is never a question in my mind (and I hope theirs) about whether or not I love them.

I have been thinking about how the deep love I have for them pales in comparison to the love that God has for them. The love of God was poured out through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was a love born from a deep desire for all people to be in right relationship with God. It was the epitome of the love of a parent for a child. God wants all people to know they are loved in the deepest way possible.

We have nightly prayers in our homes and a part of my prayer is the same every night, “Help Isaac and Gracie to know how much You love them, and help them to know how much their mommy and daddy love them.” I pray that prayer because I want them to know that not only do they get to see their mom and dad love them, but I want them to know that God loves them and their mom and dad are trying to model the love God has for them through our lives.

My prayer is that all will choose to receive the love our heavenly father has for us. The type of love that knows no limits, knows no bounds, and is relentless in helping us to be defined by this great love. May we find our identity, our hope, our present, and our future in the Love of God. May we live in such a way that, that love defines how we live.