The Local Church Still Matters

As a millennial who works for a church, it’s not uncommon for 90% of my conversations with people I’ve just met to be an explanation of their feelings towards the local church. In fact, I joked the other day that a lot of my dates end up with me giving church recommendations (oops).

For some, its that the prospect of going to the local church feels painful – they’ve heard things from the pulpit that have felt more like personal attacks than pastoral wisdom, they feel that the church has taken the sidelines in issues that they should have intervened in, or their experience of church has looked more like political division and less like the Body of Christ. For others, attending church simply feels like one more item for a week that’s already packed with work, kid’s schedules, family needs, or home projects.

Often, the conversations I have with people who have chosen to not attend church result in something like, “I don’t go to church, but I do listen to podcasts/watch the sermon online/get devotional emails.” All of those things are great – I love watching my cousin James preach on Facebook Live from his church in California – but they’re simply not a substitute for plugging into the local church.

I’m a firm believer that, even despite its imperfections (it is, of course, made up of imperfect people in desperate need of a Savior), the local church is critical to our well-being and, at its healthiest, is the best hope for our community. Here’s why the local church still matters:

Spiritual Formation is More Than Hearing Great Preaching

It’s not a secret that I’m incredibly passionate about great preaching – I think that something powerful happens when God’s Word in spoken in ways that make it approachable and transformative for people’s lives – but the church is more than great preaching, and our spiritual formation is more than sermons on Facebook Live.

At its best, the church is the most radical form of community available for us today. It’s a place where people are given an unshakable identity in Christ – an identity that cannot be given or lost based on job title, relationship status, neighborhood, or educational degrees. It’s a place where people are radically generous, unusually forgiving, surprisingly hospitable, shockingly welcoming, and counter-culturally self-sacrifical.

It’s a place where we learn to be the Body of Christ and do the will of the Father – not just on Sundays, but in our workplaces and homes, too.

When Jesus demonstrated the way that we can live into our identity as sons and daughters of the living God – heirs to the Kingdom He had made – He did so with great preaching, yes, but also with healing, demonstrations of unusual community, and a deep sense of identity given to His followers. When we follow in His footsteps, we do so in community with others who, too, are seeking to be more like Him.

Accountability is Our Only Hope to be More Like Christ

Hebrews 10:19-25 reads:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

As temptation lurks not on our doorsteps, but on our phone and computer screens, in our workplaces, and in our relationships, the accountability and input offered only by community is one of our primary lines of defense. It is through the meeting of the local church that we are reminded of two important facts: (1) no one is immune to sin, and (2) we can come alongside one another to pray and keep one another accountable to not be beat by the things that could destroy us.

When the Church Meets, It Sends A Message

The early church was brave and countercultural. Their courage to meet in the face of persecution and their involvement in their community – in particular, their treatment of widows and orphans – was second-to-none. The church is just as critically countercultural today.

In a world that is increasingly technologically connected and personally disconnected, the meeting of the local church reminds us that we are created for community. Its meeting sends a message that the faith that we profess is so worthy of investing in that we are willing to take time out of busy schedules and pressing deadlines to come together as the body of Christ. It demonstrates that, in a world in which chaos reigns and headlines depress, the hope we profess is still worthy of being held on to.

Do we believe as strongly in the church’s mission as our brothers and sisters worldwide who risk their lives to meet in basements and dark alleys?

Jesus > Entertaining Messages and Insightful Podcasts

In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman quotes WorkLife, Inc.‘s Doug Spada to say:

From this day forward, I would like you to think of your local church as an aircraft carrier. […] It’s only as the carrier arms, equips, briefs on the battle plan, fuels the jet and then launches the pilots out on their mission that they assume their maximum dominion. […] Unfortunately, many of our churches operate like a cruise ship. Think about it, what do you do on a cruise ship? You go to be entertained, you eat a lot, there’s very little accountability. And think about a cruise ship: it goes out, hits a couple points, and comes back to the very same place—rarely advancing forward into new territory.

At its healthiest, our local churches are the primary places in which God’s people receive their mission plan and fuel to launch well in every other area of their life. I’m convinced that without community, accountability, and a deep sense of the value of this place that we call the church, your (and my!) chances of burning out, crashing, or confusing your mission plan only increase.

Have you found a place like this?

Five Things Friday

Welcome to Five Things Friday: Relationship Book Edition! This past week, I posted an Instagram photo in my hammie at Bethel, reading a book on marriage. A ton of people asked about the book, so I figured that interest – in tandem with Wednesday’s post on singleness – might warrant a special edition of Five Things Friday. Here are my top five books when it comes to singleness, dating, marriage, and sexuality (in no particular order, as always):

  • Not Yet Married by Marshall Segall
    I LOVE everything about this book. It starts with a really robust set of chapters on healthy singleness – which is rare in books about dating and so, so needed in the church today – and ends with perhaps one of the best writings I’ve read recently on healthy dating relationships. I also love that this book is written by someone I can relate to – someone who didn’t marry their high school sweetheart or get their Ring by Spring. It’s the type of dating book that you’ll find yourself “mhm”-ing and nodding your head every step of the way.
  • Loveology by John Mark Comer
    I want all of my relationships to align, at their best, to God’s intentions for love and marriage. This book has helped me to do that. I love that this book doesn’t shy away from hard topics, but rather dives in with scripture as the basis. I love John Mark Comer’s grace by which he writes, and the way that he calls the reader back to consider what God’s original plan was and how we can continue to seek that in the midst of a broken world. I’ve re-read it multiple times – and you will, too.
  • Sex God by Rob Bell
    “Oh look, Caitlyn recommended Rob Bell twice in the past week. Heretic.” Some of you, probably. This was my favorite book about sexuality and relationships when I was a teenager (which isn’t saying much because “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “Boundaries for Teens” sat untouched on my bookshelf until I sold them to Half Price Books this past summer. Sorry, mom and dad.) and it continues to be one of my favorite books today. If you’ve ever heard me use the phrase, “when a woman is well-loved, she blooms like a flower,” you’ve heard me quote this book. The scriptural context in here is extraordinary, the writing style is compelling, and the excellent basis for healthy, Christ-centered relationships that Bell provides is both applicable, helpful, and biblical.
  • Scary Close by Donald Miller
    There are two writers for whom I’ve made the effort to buy every book they’ve ever written – Donald Miller is one of them. I’ve always appreciated his humor and candor, and his vulnerability in this book is no surprise. What was a surprise, however, was how much I needed it. The best thing that we can do to be healthy people in relationships is to really grasp and practice healthy vulnerability. I love Donald’s openness about his history, his struggles in being vulnerable in relationships, his fight against the innate desire to perform, and the never ending grace found within these pages. This book has been one of the top books I’ve recommended to everyone the past two years for good reason. If you read one book off this list, read this one. 
  • Party of One by Joy Beth Smith
    This book on singleness is an essential read if you’ve ever struggled with feeling left out, excluded, unloved, or misunderstood about your role as a single person within the church and Body of Christ. Her stories, combined with excellent work in establishing the biblical basis of God’s heart for and the innate worthiness of single people, makes this book one that I will no doubt find myself recommending over and over.

Do you have any favorite books or resources when it comes to singleness, dating, marriage, or sexuality? Share them below or tweet me at @StenersonMN!

Dating Detox

A few years ago, I took a dating detox. A purposeful time away from pursuing relationships.

I’m not going to lie to you, it wasn’t a flowery year. I didn’t walk around wearing a #SingleLife t-shirt, and I may or may not have downloaded, then deleted, dating apps more times than I’d care to admit.

But it was a necessary time.

Like most millennials, my world is filled with dating – who’s dating whom, who broke up with whom, who found love on Snapchat/Tinder/’s Only (okay, I’ve never met someone who actually uses that site) this week. Bombarded, is probably the right word.

And in a world like this, it’s so tempting to settle for anything just to have something. And, to, be honest, I was tired of doing that. I was so tired of having to convince myself why certain relationships were close enough to perfect.

And so, one night, I decided I was done. Cold turkey. A dating detox.

I wanted to take some time to see what God was saying to me that didn’t come through another person. To see if I was even called to date in this stage of my life. To see if there were more things I could learn alone than in a relationship.

And boy, did I learn. A few highlights:

Singleness is a gift – don’t waste it.

You can waste your singleness really easily. You can make it all about you, complain about it, sit at home, watch Netflix, or spend every second trying to figure out how to not be single.

Or, you can see the gift it is and not waste it. Your singleness frees up time and energy to pour into other people in unique ways that you never can when you’re in a relationship. Volunteer, become a small group leader for teenagers, invest in your single and married friends, give your parent friends a night off… Whatever you do, don’t waste this time.

Singleness is a calling – don’t ignore it.

Not everyone is intended to date. Or marry. I’ve met more than one person who honestly feels called to be single, which I never understood until this season.

There are times in our lives when we are called to be single in order to do the brave or time-consuming work that God is calling us towards. If you feel called to be single – for a season or for life – embrace it. I learned so much in this season that I couldn’t have learned if I would have ignored God’s calling in this area. I grew in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I identified growth areas that I would have ignored if I hadn’t been paying attention. And I was able to do ministry in a different way than my dating and married friends, simply because I had more time and emotional space.

If this is a season for your singleness, don’t be afraid: trust the love and security of your known God over your unknown fears.

Singleness is a opportunity – don’t disparage it.

To the church and those who have been called to marriage: love the single people in your life well. Jesus and Paul were both single, so to set up marriage as the pinnacle of the Christian existence is a common way to burn out the single people in your church and in your life.

To the single people: celebrate your singleness and the unique opportunities it allows you. Take this time to identify your attitudes towards singleness and make them healthy. Embrace this season – even if it’s reluctant white-knuckling – and see what God offers here, too.

If you’re single, I pray that this time, for you, is a season of growth and encouragement. And I pray that if it doesn’t always feel that way, that your community can come around you and love you well. From one millennial to another, let’s do dating better: starting with our single selves.

Preach the (Entire) Bible

A recent sermon from a famous pastor has gained attention for saying:

[First Century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures. Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.


Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.

While I give grace upon grace upon grace to pastors – especially those that preach multiple times in one week – for momentary slip-ups and misspeaks (I once attributed 1 Peter to Paul, after all), I’m concerned with the fact that this type of language is increasingly becoming a trend in Evangelical circles. The desire to “unhitch” or explain away 77% of the Holy Scriptures because they contain difficult passages is an easy desire to fall into – especially in an era in which people are increasingly critical of Christian faith and tradition – but, point blank, it’s dangerous.

At best, failing to incorporate the Old Testament into our modern faith is intellectual dishonesty. At worst, it’s spiritual malpractice.

The Old Testament is a story of the people of God who are trying (and failing) to live as set-apart people. The Old Testament, at is core, tells us of a God who desires relationship and a people who are in desperate need of salvation. I often tell people that the Psalms tell me that it’s okay to be human – but perhaps this is true of the entire Old Testament. When I read the Old Testament, I see solidarity with my humanity and the consistent character of God is my missteps and mistakes.

But, this is easy enough to say of the easy parts of the Old Testament: Creation, the Garden, the Exodus, Jonah, David (and Bathsheeba, if you’re at a youth conference), the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Jeremiah (but just the prophecies of Christ). What to do with the difficult passages – the ones where God seems angry or vengeful, where children are struck down for calling a prophet “baldy,” the pages of rules in Leviticus, and the endless genealogies of Chronicles?

When it comes to these passages, I think that we often miss the point because we read them from our context, not theirs. And so, we read a vengeful God when the passage is meant to demonstrate Him as a God who desires His people to be set apart. We read boring chronologies when we’re meant to pick up on the imperfect people who are a part of God’s plan. We read stories of chaos and destruction when we’re meant to see faithfulness and deliverance. And we read boring, hard, outdated passages when we’re meant to see a beautiful story of our own solidarity with generations and God’s faithfulness to us all.

If you’re looking for practical ways to incorporate the Old Testament into your preaching, here are a few practices that I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Whenever I preach, I try to touch on the story of God’s people in the Old and New Testament as a way of showing spiritual solidarity across ages. If you watch some of my sermons, you’ll see that it is sometimes very explicit; I’ll say phrases such as “and this issue we face is not an old one. Since the beginning of time, God’s people have…” and then will note various stories from Genesis and beyond.
  • When I preach on Jesus’ words or New Testament letters, I’ll look for the story behind the story: what is the Jewish Torah understanding that has led to this idea? This is often most obvious with Jesus’ parables or the Sermon on the Mount (i.e., “You have heard it said… (Torah), but I say… (Jesus’ deeper take), but takes more work in other passages. The New Testament writers had a deep understanding of the Old Testament theology and practice as they wrote – we should, too.
  • I don’t shy away from hard conversations about the Old Testament. Throughout this past year, I’ve had numerous conversations about God’s hard words in Old Testament prophecy (have you ever read Amos with teenagers?) and the genre of the creation story in light of scientific advancement. We can’t not address the Old Testament and expect questions, unfamiliarity, and uncomfortability to fade away.

Whether you’re a pastor, a lay leader, or just someone seeking to grow in your understanding of scripture, here are some resources that have been incredibly useful for me:

  • How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. This is a great book for literary context, and its accessible language makes it an easy read for armchair theologians and ivory tower academics alike.
  • God Has a Name by John Mark Comer. There are about three books that I find myself consistently recommending to people – this is one of them. It’s a great exposition on God’s self-revelation in Exodus.
  • Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey. This book was recommended to me my first year of seminary by a fellow student, and it’s now a consistent commentary that I use when I read or preach on the Gospels. Bailey incorporates Jesus’ context – including Old Testament understanding and His Jewish heritage – in a way that’s readable and transformative.
  • What is the Bible? by Rob Bell. Before I catch flack for putting a Rob Bell book on this list, this book has come highly recommended to me by people who wouldn’t otherwise pick up a book about biblical context. It’s a great primer if you’ve already lost your love of the Old Testament. Rob wrote this book because he was confronted after preaching one day about missed Jewish context, and this provides a reminder of the basic context of the Old Testament writings.
  • Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (shorter companion: Cross Vision). If nothing else, this book is one way to reconcile the depictions of God in the Old and New Testaments. I attended Boyd’s Cross Vision conference this past fall, and since then I’ve been even more committed to a full teaching of the Old and New Testament.
  • A good commentary set. To be honest, I don’t have a singular recommendation here – if you visit my office, you’ll see a hodge podge of various commentaries (which is also because I just buy my commentaries cheap from Thrift Books and retiring professors #poorgradstudent). Find a commentary by someone you trust (John Oswalt, Gordon Fee, David Howard, and others are my go-to) and read it for the deep insight of experts into difficult passages.

Ultimately, if you’ve struggled with your personal faith, your pastoral care, or preaching because of the Old Testament, I hope that these resources and my thoughts can help you to rehitch yourself to the messy work of being people of God and the entire scripture. Have further thoughts or questions? Drop me a line via my contact form or via Twitter – my handle is @StenersonMN!

Five Things Friday

Welcome to the first installment of “Five Things Friday,” where I share the five things that I am currently loving this week. On this list: a scarf, non-traditional bubble tea, books on science and women in ministry, and a general shout-out to my community.

In no particular order:

  • Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf
    Okay, let’s be real… I am not a scarf person. About every six months, I’ll find an adorable scarf at a store, buy it, and promptly hang it in my closet where it will never see the light of day. Not too long ago, I was in the Lululemon outlet (specifying outlet, because I’m a poor grad student), and I stumbled across this Vinyasa scarf.

    I don’t do yoga (TBH, I don’t work out). I don’t usually buy Lulu (see previous sentences). And, like I said before, I don’t really do scarves. But I bought this. And I am obsessed. It’s versatile, cute, and comfortable. I keep it in my care and use it all the time. I’ve used it as a blanket when I travel, a vest (shawl?), and a huge, fashionable, lovely scarf. Get yourself one.

  • Caribou Bubble Tea
    As a high schooler, I spent all of my time at Sencha tea. Partially because I loved it, but also because bubble tea was becoming so dang popular (hello, 2010). So, when I saw that Caribou was coming out with bubble tea, I was a little skeptical… Square bubbles that taste like caramel and coconut? Be still my tapioca ball heart.

    Since I am a frequent (understatement) customer of the joint Brueggers-Caribou that’s walking distance from my office, I decided to try it before youth group one Wednesday night. Dang. It’s good. I’d recommend the Raspberry Green Tea with bubbles (squares?). Get your inner 2010, bubble-tea-drinking, punk-rock-listening, Hollister-wearing self to Caribou.

  • Adam and the Genome by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight
    Our youth group has been in a series called “Press In,” where we’ve been pressing in to the major issues of our time – including holding power with Christ-centered integrity (thanks to the current leaders of our time for that prompting… Woof), addressing poverty in helpful ways, and loving people in our community who disagree with us well. This past week, we pressed in to science.

    Coming from a girl who barely passed eight grade science, Adam and the Genome was a great help in understanding genomic science and its relationship with Scripture (especially the creation story and the writings of Paul). It’s readable, it’s interesting, and it reminds me why we need to take science seriously as Christians. I’m grateful for Venema and McKnight’s voice and expertise, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work as I continue to wrestle with this issue. You can buy it here.

  • Emboldened by Tara Beth Leach
    Live look at me when I got this book at this past fall’s She Leads summit satellite at Bethel:

    And then I had to go back to the seminary grind and didn’t have a chance to read it until this month. A part of me is glad that I waited, because this was the right season for it, but another part of me wants to go back in time and force first-year seminary me to read it IMMEDIATELY (which would take some gymnastics, because it wasn’t released until this past fall). Reading it was like sitting down with a friend who loves and cares about me and my call.

    If you’re a guy who is trying to figure out who to empower the ladies in your life to chase down what God is calling them to, or a girl who needs some encouragement, truth, and reminders of your inherent image bearing (yes, even in your leadership), buy it here. Meanwhile, I’m going to order copies upon copies and give them to every woman in my life.

  • My People
    I’m a semi-strong F on the Myers Briggs, so I love emotions and feeling sappy… and I have a lot to be sappy about when it comes to my community right now. Ministry can feel so lonely and draining if you let it. From the people I work with, who make me excited to go to the office (for real, can we just all hang out all the time?), to my family, to the friends, mentors, and co-ministers who encourage me and push me to better things, I couldn’t ask for better people to be by my side through it all. #blessed.

What are you loving right now? Drop a comment or send me and tweet and give me your five things!

Listening with Care in a Noisy World

My mom has a hearing loss in her left ear.

As an extrovert, this meant that, growing up, I would walk on her right side so that I could continue talking… Or on her left side if I wanted to pull the “but I told you that my friends and I were getting together on Friday!” card.

It also meant that our family had to do a lot of correcting and explaining after family events, conversations, sermons, commercials, and TV shows.

At one point during the 90s, Old Navy had started running commercials to advertise their drawstring cargo pants. Check out the commercial to see the start of dog memes and the least catchy jingle imaginable:

After overhearing this commercial one day, my mom turned to our family, and exclaimed “How terrible!”

Now… There’s a reason that drawstring cargo pants never made it out of the 90s. They are a terrible fashion choice. 

But that’s not what she meant. “How terrible! How terrible that they would name it that!”

Old Navy Drawstring Cargo Pants?

No, that’s not what she had heard… She had heard “Old Lady Drawstring Cargo Pants.”

If we’re honest, we don’t need to be experiencing hearing loss in order to not listen well. In fact, recent research shows that, although listening makes up 60% of our conversation, we only retain 25% of what we hear. In Julian Treasure and Celeste Headlee‘s Ted Talks on listening and conversation, they offer three main hypothesis for this new era in verbal retention:

  • With the ability to rewind and replay our media (shout out to Netflix and Youtube), our brains are not used to having to listen with perfect accuracy.
  • Cell phones have reduced a majority of our conversation to text messages instead of phone calls and emails instead of face-to-face meetings.
  • The world is incredibly noisy.

In a world in which soundbites reign and it is harder to hear and be heard above the noise, the ability to listen with care is a blessing that the people of God have to offer the world.

In Acts 8, we’re privy to a conversation that happens between a man named Philip and an unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch. This conversation is unique for a few reasons. For one, these two men couldn’t have been more different – Philip is an early Jewish convert to Christianity who was tasked with caring for the widows, while the Ethiopian Eunuch is likely only nominally Jewish (evidenced by his lack of understanding of scripture) and tasked with caring for the royal family or nobles because of his inherent trustworthiness (you can Google what a Eunuch is later. With SafeSearch on.)

Scripture says:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39 ESV)

Through this passage, we have a lot to learn about what it looks like to listen with care to those around us.

The first thing that we learn is that God goes before us to prepare the way for us to be a blessing. In this passage, we see that Philip’s very first steps are a result of the Holy Spirit’s leading. It says that the angel of the LORD directed him to a specific location, and the Holy Spirit placed him in a position to be available to the Eunuch (see vv. 26-30).

Is it possible that our “right time, right moment” moments are actually evidence of a divine itinerary?

If we’re sensitive to the working of the Spirit – leading with prayer and listening to areas in which God may be guiding us forward – we will walk in the aftermath of the path he has prepared for us and find ourselves in more and more moments when the situation in front of us calls for grace-filled, gospel-inspired conversations that bless those around us.

This passage also teaches us that when we listen with care, we listen for our invitation instead of planning our response. So much of our conversations involve us not really listening because our minds are hard at work planning our next response. In this passage, Philip doesn’t run up and immediately begin sharing the Gospel or controlling the conversation. Instead, he merely listens and asks a well-timed question based off of what the Eunuch is doing.

In our own conversations, this may involve us listening – truly listening – to the people around us, and listening for what the Holy Spirit may be inviting us to do and say next.

So, what does it look like for us to listen with care in a noisy world?

  1. Listening with care involves asking the right questions at the right moments.
    We feel most cared about when other people show a genuine interest in the things that interest us, so ask open-ended questions about work, family, life, and faith. Just as Philip begins his conversation with a question, we’re invited to ask the right questions at the right moments.

    In this sense, listening with care may involve asking your coworker who is stressed what keeps them grounded in times of high stress, or asking your friend who is dealing with a long-term illness where they continue to draw hope and joy despite their diagnosis. When we listen with care, we ask questions that clarify, lead to deeper conversation, and show that we care.

  2. Listening with care enables us to inject conversations with the hope of Jesus.
    There is a difference between injecting and interjecting – interjecting makes it awkward… Injecting simply allows our conversations to be reflections of our natural Christ-centeredness. Philip doesn’t simply answer the Eunuch’s question, but continues to explain the hope of Jesus throughout scripture.

    Conversations about loneliness enable us to talk about ht community we’ve found in the body of Christ. Conversations about pain enable us to share our own stories of healing – or the reason why we continue to hope and believe when healing hasn’t come. Conversations about hopelessness enable us to share of our own source of hope.

  3. Listening with care will often result in action items.
    When we look at the ending of the story of Philip and the Eunuch, we see that this conversation didn’t end at the end of the explanation. Instead, Philip and the Eunuch travel together for some time until the Eunuch asks to be baptized (see vv. 36-40).

    When we listen with care, our conversations with often result in action items – future conversations, invitations, or demonstrations of love that occur later. Did you know that the loneliest time after a loss is six weeks after the funeral? Listening with care involves being intentional about following up with the people we love and care about.

Listening with care was a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry. As the Body of Christ, we’re invited to walk in those same footsteps and offer the gift and blessing of listening with care to a noisy world. Imagine the stories you would hear and be a part of if you were known for being an unusually good listener – one who listens well and asks good questions, injects conversations with the hope of Jesus, and followed up with tangible help to those around you.

For more on this topic, watch “Listen with Care” on my Sermon page.

LINK: Bethel Seminary Recognizes Three Omark Preaching Competition Finalists

“They’re passionate preachers. They’re both students and teachers. And for the first time in its 51-year history, Bethel Seminary’s Omark Preaching Competition finalists are all women.

Announced on April 11, the three finalists were selected for preparing and delivering outstanding sermons that addressed the question “Why Jesus?” The competition is open to all Bethel Seminary students currently enrolled in a master’s-level program, but this year’s finalists—Stephanie Fedor, Caitlyn Stenerson, and Ali Tonnesen—are all pursuing a Master of Divinity.” READ MORE

The Monday Gospel

It’s Monday. If you’re anything like the 70% of Americans who hate or feel disengaged from their job (seriously, that’s a real statistic!) the word Monday alone might be enough to make you cringe. Or start checking the job posting section of LinkedIn for a job that might make your Mondays feel less… well, like Monday.

For some of us, Mondays may feel like such a far cry from the celebratory, Jesus-praising, “life is good!”-ness of Sunday morning worship. And we might be tempted to cry out in frustration “if Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten that apple, we wouldn’t have to work! We’d just get to relax in the garden all day.”

But wait a second… If our theology of work starts as a curse, aren’t we forgetting something?

Aren’t we forgetting that work started at the creation of the universe? That we serve a God who starts His word with a description of a six-day work week? A God whose first command included the words “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28). Those are action words! Those are work words.

So why does our view of work feel so often like a “have to” and not a “get to?” Like our work is wholly disconnected from our worship?

And for those of us who love Jesus, and want to view our daily lives as worship, where do we go from here?

The Good News of our work is in the here-and-not-yet-ness. The here: Jesus’ sacrifice paved the way for the shalom of God – the peace, the Kingdom of our Savior – to start here and now. The not-yet: like The Leaf by Niggle, we only see a small glimpse of the future Kingdom in all its glory.

But that small glimpse is such a hopeful taste! It’s the taste of the future Kingdom that Jesus had as He built tables for eighteen years. It’s the taste of a work that transforms, makes a differences, and ushers in greater goodness now.

How can we see more Good News in our work Monday through Friday?

We can view our work in light of the bigger picture of God’s redemption of the world.
If we only view our work as 40+ hours a week of looking at spreadsheets, writing memos, sitting through meetings, stocking shelves, or changing diapers, we miss the big picture of our work in light of God’s redemption of the world. We have to change our mindset to see how even the smallest of our tasks contributes to God’s mission. Communicators, you have the power everyday to bring clarity to areas of darkness. Politicians and staff, you are creating a more equal world, giving people opportunities to grow and flourish. Mathematicians, economists, accountants, you are bringing order to peoples lives. Retail workers, carpenters, manual laborers, you are creating opportunities for others to succeed by providing valuable services. Stay-at-home-parents, you are shaping who your children will become and how they will treat others in the future.

Our work isn’t small, it’s hugely connected to what God is doing in the world through us.

We can do our work with integrity.
Our work in the world bears witness to who Christ is. In a world of cynics who see talk and action so divided by the church, we are invited to be people of integrity, trust, and honor. When we treat our fellow workers with respect, refuse to cut corners to serve bottom lines, and keep our word, we bear witness to a God who has transformed us so that we can look differently than the world. We communicate a gospel message of our newness in Christ – and we invite others to do likewise.

We can actively promote equality and civility in our workplace and through our workplace.
At the 2017 Global Leadership Summit, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church presented the rules of civility that he expects all employees to follow: 
We will greet and acknowledge each other.
We will say please and thank you.
We will treat each other equally and with respect.
We will be direct, sensitive and honest.
We will address incivility.
Having an internal code of civility allows us to focus on our work and to do it well. After all, how many workplace relationships have been destroyed by gossip or demonization? Yet, there is more at stake than internal relationship. When we do our work well and with civility, and when we pay fair wages, our working hours are freed up so that we can be people who make a difference in the world. We feel more actively supported, and we in turn actively support the world through our work.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only hope for the future, but hope for the day-to-day. The promise is that the work is completed, and the kingdom is ushered in, and that the work will be completed, and the kingdom will be ushered in – and we’re invited to participate.


Jacob, Waiting, and Advent Calendars

I was a terribly impatient kid.

One Christmas, when I was about four years old, I bucked the tradition of Advent Calendars.

You see, I had decided that something seemed wrong with having to wait twenty-four hours to eat one piece of chocolate a day. Especially when the little windows open so easily, revealing the tiny pieces of sweet, delicious chocolate that were so accessible to my toddler hands.

So one night, only a few days into the brand new Advent Calendar, my parents found me huddled behind a couch, sticky fingers, chocolate-induced knot in my stomach, and – you guessed it – empty Calendar. While it may have only been December 3rd or 4th, you would have thought it would have been Christmas Day if my Advent Calendar was your only timepiece.

As an adult, I’m not much more patient.

There is a temptation in our culture to settle for something that is “good enough” for now – there’s half-love, starter homes, in-between jobs. There are names that we give the people and things that fill the space between right now and God’s best. And some of these things aren’t bad – after all, a job and shelter is a necessary thing – but we tend to be barraged by the constant cycle of waiting, then getting something good enough, and then waiting for something better, and then waiting, waiting, waiting for what God has for us. Our soul is tossed back and forth in an emotional cycle of hoping and praying that our waiting will end soon. Or believing it has and then realizing that what we possess isn’t God’s best. We can start to ask the question: “Where are you, God? Haven’t I waited enough? When will you deliver on Your promises?”

In my moments of extreme impatience, I’m reminded of the patience of Jacob.

In Genesis 29, Jacob is fleeing a dangerous situation of his own making when he stumbles upon Rachel. His heart is overwhelmed to tears – this is his girl, he has to have her. So Jacob makes a deal with Laban, Rachel’s father – if Jacob will work seven years for Laban, Laban will give Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage.

*needle scratch* Seven years?! Now, if I were Jacob, I probably would have tried to make a better deal. But regardless, seven years is the number they agree to, and Jacob joyfully gets to work, imagining his future life with Rachel.

Jacob had his eyes so set on what was God’s best for him that Genesis 29:20 tells us that the seven years he worked to have her “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

But those seven years are about to get a whole lot longer. When the seven years are up, Jacob crosses the last date off on his calendar and rushes off to find Laban. He reminds Laban they had a deal – “Give me my wife. My time is completed, I have waited long enough.”

But instead of sending Jacob Rachel, Laban sends Jacob Leah. The Bible tells us that Leah wasn’t the best looking. Compared to Rachel, Jacob was pretty disappointed. And understandably furious. Jacob cries out to Laban the following morning, when he realizes Laban’s trickery – “What are you doing?! I thought you had sent me the one. This wasn’t the one at all. This wasn’t the one I waited for and worked for. Why aren’t you holding up your end of the deal? I held up my end.”

Laban does his best mob-boss impression and says, “Alright, alright. I get that you’re upset, so I’ll make you a deal – you work seven more years and I give you Rachel.”

At this point, I would have probably decided that in-laws like this aren’t worth fourteen years of free labor and all the trickery that landed Leah in Jacob’s marital bed. But regardless, Jacob has his heart set on Rachel. He has his heart set on God’s best.

And so Jacob works seven more years. He works until he has God’s best. And eventually, Laban gives Jacob Rachel.

Wow. Fourteen years, Jacob waited for his spouse. He waded through detours, anger, lonely days of work, just to have God’s best. And when he could have easily settled for half-love and God’s half-best, Jacob eschewed that in favor of more years of waiting.

Jacob waited until he had what he knew God would be faithful to give. And in retrospect, those years of waiting seemed like a day in light of the joy of having Rachel – the joy of having God’s best.

How am I handling my season of waiting? Am I content in knowing that one day, I will look back at this season and marvel at its shortness when the days sometimes feel so long?

When detours come – when my waiting is interrupted with things that seem good-enough but aren’t God’s best – do I trust God enough to wait a little longer?

Is my heart so set on God’s best that I’m willing to wait longer to have what He would give me?

Will I eschew compromise or choosing “close enough” in order to have “just right?”

Will I recognize that my waiting is preparing in me patience and reliance on God’s plan instead of immediate gratification or self-sufficiency?

May we, in the midst of our waiting – for a new job, a new relationship, a new house, or a new beginning – be reminded that we serve a God that holds in His hand the desires of our heart. New blessings may not come when we want them to, they may take a little longer to get here – and we may be tempted in the in-between to settle – but may remember that, one day, this season of waiting will seem so short in light of the gift of what we were waiting for.

Psalm 62:5 ESV: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.