Why I Disconnect…and What God (And I) Are Doing About It

My name is Todd, and I struggle to connect.

As one of the pastors and leaders of a church centers its efforts on connecting people, that’s an admittedly painful thing to confess. But I can’t get away from it. I have to own the reality. The evidence of disconnection in my life is too great to ignore.

If I’m being completely honest, this is not a new struggle for me, though I’d say it has become more pronounced in some ways in recent years. Truthfully, I’ve always trended in the direction of isolation.

I’m an introvert by personality, and while I assure you that I do like people (good to know as one of your pastors, right?), it often requires a great deal of energy and effort for me to relate with others as I should. Though I do believe this is how God wired me, and that with this wiring come some legitimate strengths, in the end I cannot use God’s design as an excuse to neglect God’s purpose, which is that I connect with Him and others in meaningful, life giving relationships. Introvert or not, if
I’m not making relationships a clear priority in my life, that’s a real problem.

This is very fresh for me, but in recent days, I’ve asked God to help me reflect on what’s at the root of my struggles with disconnection. What’s the heart of the struggle, and what does repentance and obedience in this area look like? While I don’t think I have all those answers right now, God has begun to reveal some things to me- things which I believe are necessary if I’m to become the connector that He has called me to be in Christ.

So why do I disconnect- and why might you? Here are a few things I’m finding…

1- I want to be in control of my life.
Connection requires us at some level to relinquish control of our lives and become subject to the choices of others, and for a perfectionist like me, God only knows what a dreadful thought that is. This is certainly true in a relationship with God, wherein I must surrender my whole life to Him. And while total surrender isn’t required in the same way in relationships with others, there is a real sense in which we must operate from a posture of openness, adaptability, and selflessness- all of which require that we loosen our grip on the reins of control. For me, tough as it is to admit, that’s often a difficult step to take.

2- I am afraid and insecure about what others think of me.
As I mentioned above, I actually really like people, and I want them to like me too- but sometimes, I want that so badly that I avoid letting others in out of fear that I won’t get it. This is a subset of the desire for control. To be truly connected to be known as I really am, not as I pretend to be. That requires an incredible degree of authenticity and vulnerability- and let’s be honest, it’s risky. I know that God knows the worst of me and accepts me in Christ, but how can I be sure that others, if they knew too, would respond in the same way? I can’t. It is, by nature and necessity, an unknown. But here’s what I do know- living a lie will guarantee me a life of disconnection. Even knowing that, though, the choice to reveal can be a real challenge.

3- I don’t want to give the effort that relationships require.
This won’t come as a shock to you, but people are complicated, and relationships will inevitably complicate your life, in both welcome and unwelcome ways. I know this too, and unfortunately, for too long I’ve been more concerned with my own comfort than I have been with connecting as God desires. In short, I’ve been lazy about relationships, preferring the seeming relative ease of life “on my own.” There is no way to avoid this or make it pretty. I simply can’t be relationally lazy and fulfill God’s call on my life. I must embrace the complications that connection bring, and draw on the grace and strength God gives to thrive in the face of them.

4- I don’t love others as God has loved me in Christ.
This one is most painful to admit, but it speaks more clearly and directly to the darkness of my heart apart from Christ. I call myself a follower of Jesus, and consider what that means- It signifies that God, in all His unblemished holiness, owed me nothing but wrath and instead gave me nothing but grace through Jesus. If that’s the kind of love I’ve received, and the One who gave it commands me to share it generously with others, why wouldn’t I? The only answer is sin and selfishness, and the only antidote is deep repentance. I must daily meditate on the reality of the Gospel in my life, and consider its implications in my relationships with others.

So if that’s the very raw diagnosis, what’s the solution? If anything I’ve written here resonates with you and your own struggles, I invite you to consider taking the following steps toward becoming the connector God desires that you would be in Him…

1- Be honest about the choices you’re making- and why you’re making them.
The most important person with whom you need to be honest about this is yourself. Ask God to show you if you’re deceived yourself in any way regarding the way you’re negotiating your relationships, and ask Him to reveal what heart idols (e.g. control, fear, pride, comfort) are underlying your choices. A healthy dose of self-understanding is a critical first step toward experiencing deep, lasting change.

2- Take a step to intentionally stretch yourself relationally.
If you’re going to see change here, you’re going to have to start somewhere. My counsel would be to start with one- one person who you love and trust, and who you’re confident loves you. Take a step to be honest with them where you haven’t been, to invest in that relationship where you’ve held back, to frankly do something that makes you a bit uncomfortable. Gain the courage to connect through persistent practice. I can’t promise that it will become easy or natural for you- I don’t yet know how my own story goes- but I know you’ll never know if you don’t get started.

3- Consider God’s initiative toward you as a motivator to take initiative with others.
Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 are so telling and true- “Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another.” So what’s the first step to doing that? Consider over and over again just how God has loved you in Jesus. Make the Gospel your meditation and motivation for investing in right relationships, for becoming the connector that God has called you to be. Allow it to drive out- through humility, gratitude, and joy- the heart idols that keep you disconnected, and empower you to do things you never thought possible on your own.

I don’t know how this strikes you today, but I have no doubt it’s what God laid on my heart to share with you. I hope and pray you’ll be encouraged by the fact that one of your pastors is on this journey with you- and honestly, in this area, is in some of the very early stages. I want to move forward as God intends, whatever it takes- and I want you to do so too. Know that God is able, but we must participate in the process of change. I’m praying for you as I pray for myself, that we would be connected connectors that give God great glory and show and share His great love with others in Ascension Parish and beyond.

Are you a Life Bringer?

Have you ever had the privilege of bringing the best dish to the party? Everyone raves about how delicious your food is. For me this typically means I made buffalo chicken dip. People love it.

Jesus told us, “You are the salt of the Earth.” We have the great privilege of bringing into the world the flavor that makes the difference. Jesus is the bread of life. He is the living water. Those who drink of this water will never thirst again.

The vision statement of Fellowship Church is Bringing real life in Christ to Ascension Parish and beyond. It is birthed not out of personal vision but out of Scriptural revelation. Jesus told us to, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the age.” This is the revelation of Christ for our instruction till his return.

Go. That word is pretty self-explanatory. Go.
Make Disciples. This means cause to become a follower of Christ. We, followers of Christ, do not cause people to come to Christ, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we have been called directly into that work. We are called to be intentional and obedient in our everyday mission of going for the purpose of making disciples.

The wording real life was birthed in my heart the first time I drove around Prairieville. I saw a community that has most everything it needs from house to house. Nicer homes with nice cars parked out front. Often you can see boats and other toys around the house. People are affording for themselves the good life. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The Thief has come to kill, steal, and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and that life abundantly.”

The truth of life in this world is that the good life can miss everything that matters. Big houses can become the loneliest places. Nice cars can take the loneliest and most meaningless drives to relationally dead end jobs and commitments. Our mission is to bring life…real life. And we, the followers of Christ, have it. Are you bringing it?

In this passage in John 10 we learn some key factors about real life. We learn some truths about the Good Shepherd and life as his sheep. We, the followers of Christ, are his possession and experience his provision and protection as we live for his purposes.

Being the possession of Christ requires us to embrace this right relationship with God. It requires daily admitting the areas we desire to lean into our own understanding and asking God to make our paths straight by leading us to trust his ways. Experiencing the provision of Christ means trusting Him to provide everything needed for his purposes in our lives. Every time we struggle with his provision, it reveals that we are struggling with his purpose. He always provides what we need for his purposes.

Ask yourself these 3 questions about provision decisions.
1. WHY do I want this, really? (Have pure motives.)
2. What will this really cost? (Not just the $ but the time and energy.)
3. How will GOD receive glory?

The Good Shepherd’s protection is sufficient in the face of our rebellions. Meaning the grace found in Christ is not negated by sin, it is sufficient for sin. His protection, however, is not efficient in our rebellion. If I tell my children to not play in the street, but they do, there is only so much protection I can provide.

The big issue is purpose. Are you willing to live for Christ’s purposes? Christ did. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. If we will know this purpose with our lives we, too, must lay our lives down to Christ.

Will you lay your life down? Will you Go and make disciples? Will you bring life?

Yesterday’s News Or Today’s Reality?

Will your actions in Jesus TODAY reflect your words about Jesus YESTERDAY?

As we close our series called The Road this week, that’s the incredibly uncomfortable- but I believe critically important- question you must ask yourself as a follower of Jesus on the “narrow road.”

For the entirety of this series, we have laid bare the inescapable truth which Jesus presented to His followers in Matthew 7- namely, that there are two roads, one wide and the other narrow, one leading to destruction and the other to life, and that each of us must set our lives on one of those two paths. In light of this reality, we’ve challenged each of you to consider your way, to honestly assess which road- the wide road of self, or the narrow road of Jesus- you are traveling. We’ve also presented clearly and unapologetically the reality that Jesus had done everything necessary for you to follow Him on the narrow road.

And now, in the final week of this series, in light of all that, we ask this question- What now? If you’ve set your life on the narrow road, trusting and surrendering wholly to Jesus, what happens next? What does life on that narrow road look like practically? Practically speaking, what should you be doing as you follow Jesus?

When we examine the post-resurrection accounts of the Bible, the answer becomes very clear- Everyone who encountered the risen Jesus, from the women at the tomb to the disciples on the Emmaus Road to Jesus’ own doubting inner circle, immediately shared what they had seen, heard, and experienced with someone else who needed to know. There was no keeping this news to themselves. It was too groundbreaking, too life changing not to tell someone.

Jesus then removes all doubt with His final words, which we know as the Great Commission. “Go make disciples of all nations,” Mathew tells us in His Gospel account. “Be my witnesses to everyone everywhere,” Luke recounts in the Acts. It’s as though Jesus is saying to those disciples then, and to us today, “If everything you say you believe to be true about me is actually true, then it’s not just true for you, but for EVERYONE. So don’t keep it to yourself!”

God has convicted my heart recently that this is a matter of spiritual integrity. It is a plain and unavoidable inconsistency to say that I believe life is found only in following Jesus, only on the narrow road, and then neglect to share that message of hope with others who I believe to be walking the wide road to destruction. That’s tough truth, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get around it.

Now certainly God is sovereign in salvation; you and I can’t save anyone from their sin, can’t transform a human heart from sinful to righteous. We also can’t make anyone else’s choices for them. But that’s not the issue, because Jesus never told us or expected us to do any of those things. He simply told us to tell others what we know to be true of Him, and in Him. That’s faithfulness right there- to be a witness, then allow God to do what only He can do.

So today, on Monday (or whatever day you are reading this!), don’t allow the Gospel to become merely yesterday’s news; demonstrate that it is indeed today’s reality. It’s as true today as it was on Sunday, and as worth proclaiming in the world as it was worth proclaiming in the church. Let’s be a people who do as those in the Gospel accounts did when they encountered the life changing reality of the risen Jesus- go tell someone who needs to know! Where, and with whom, can you begin today?

The Answer To 10,000 Questions

The story is often told of a young boy who attended a class at his church and was, in time, conditioned to answer every question that was asked of him in the exact same way. Whatever the question- at least in church- the safe answer seemed to be “Jesus,” or some variation thereof.

As the story goes, one day the boy’s teacher asked the class, “What lives in trees, eats nuts, is brown and has a long bushy tail, and jumps from branch to branch?” The boy, ever quick on the trigger, replied excitedly, “Well, the answer must be Jesus…but it sure sounds like a squirrel!”

Now this story is often used to poke fun at followers of Jesus, to cast His people as ignorant and thoughtless about what they believe and why. I, for one, actually believe that’s a challenge that we need to hear; we should pursue and practice a thoughtful, well reasoned faith, and additionally, work to be able to articulate it to others wrestling with the claims of Christ. The world around us needs to see that there are credible reasons to follow Jesus, that the Christian story really does make sense of- and provide hope in- the jumbled mess of a world in which we live.

But even as I believe all that wholeheartedly, I actually want to press in the opposite direction today, on those who claim they need to know everything- the answer to every one of their questions- to believe or do anything as it relates to Jesus. If that’s you, whether you’re considering the claims of Christ for the first time or are a disillusioned follower trying to make sense of your life, these words are for you. And let’s be clear- They aren’t coming from a place of judgment or condemnation, but instead one of genuine love, concern, and challenge.

If you’re wrestling- and feeling paralyzed- with questions of faith, my strong encouragement to you would be to take these three practical steps before you throw in the towel on Jesus…

1- Check your sources. If you’re searching for answers, where are you looking? Who is influencing you, and how? Have you, intentionally or unintentionally, bought into “straw man arguments” regarding Jesus and the Christian faith? “Straw men,” whether they are of the Christian variety or otherwise, are by their nature designed to be torn down and burned up. Instead, go to the “best of the best” sources and weigh them against your doubts and skepticisms. A few recommendations…

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller
The Case For Christ / The Case For Faith / The Case For A Creator, all by Lee Strobel
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

2- Consider your motives. Are your doubts and questions honest, or is there something behind them that you can’t see (or won’t yet admit)? Is there something outside the intellectual or philosophical realm that scares or repels you from truly following Jesus? If there is, you owe it to yourself to know that, and deal with it accordingly. In reality, most of us are a bag of mixed motives, and until we’re willing to stop posturing and get raw and real, we’ll remain stuck where we are. Again, that’s not a condemnation, only an important consideration.

3- Doubt your doubts. Timothy Keller asserts that “all doubts are really systems of alternate belief.” In other words, you believe something is good, right, and true, even if it isn’t orthodox Christianity. Again, I think you owe it to yourself to identify what those beliefs are- and to weigh them out against the Christian story. Which system of belief is most cohesive, and makes the most sense of the “big questions” of life in this world? Subjecting every form of belief to the same scrutiny that you would Christianity is an important step toward establishing your own convictions.

Now, back to our little boy and the squirrel. While this example is obviously facetious, there is a sense in which Jesus is the ultimate Answer to the questions we’re all asking. Follow me here. At the end of the day, what do we want most? Some might say love, others truth, still others joy or peace, and still others hope for the future.

However you define what you’re ultimately after in life, the reality is that if the Jesus presented to us in the Bible really is who He said He was (God in the flesh), and really did what He is reported to have done (lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose from the grave victoriously), then He and He alone really is the Answer to all our questions, the satisfaction to all our longings.

He is perfect love.
He is unadulterated truth.
He is everlasting joy.
He is peace beyond all understanding.
He is eternal, unshakeable hope.

He is.

In the end, none of us can have all of our questions answered in this life; it’s simply impossible. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek them, but it does mean we need to be anchored in reality and mindful of our own human limits. But here’s what I believe- Jesus is able to satisfy what we really want and need most in our hearts even in the absence of some of those answers we long to know. He’s that great, that good, that sufficient.

So in light of your questions and longing, will you consider Him? I pray you will- honestly, thoughtfully, and ultimately wholeheartedly. I believe if you do, He will show Himself to you to be the only One worth your life.

THE ROAD: Scripture and Prayer Guide: EASTER SUNDAY

INTRODUCTION

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

DEVOTIONAL

Through the Gospel I learn not only of the saving works of God on my behalf, but I also learn that one of God’s key purposes in doing these works is to put me to work myself. Gospel-motivated works do for the soul what food does for the body. They bring refreshment, enjoyment, blessing, and strengthening to the doer of the deeds, even more so than to the receiver. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Lord, I will serve you. I will serve you in your church. I will serve you in the world. I will declare your Gospel. I will use my gifts and abilities so that other believers will be built up in you. Help me to do this. Empower me. Constantly remind of the grace that allows it and the grace that empowers it. Thank you that you made me a “good work” and thank you that allow me to do your “good work.” Amen.

THE ROAD: Scripture and Prayer Guide: Day Seven

INTRODUCTION

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

DEVOTIONAL

If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. The more I am exposed by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up about ongoing sin issues in my life. Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?

Ephesians 3:14-19, James 5:16

Lord, Thank you. Thank you that my sin and all of it’s ugliness is not something I must live ashamed in because you have gained victory over it. May I never be ashamed of the reality of the Gospel in my life. Lord, grant me the willingness to be the one that allows others the freedom to speak their struggles with sin because I share mine. May my life be opened up by the Gospel. Amen.

THE ROAD: Scripture and Prayer Guide: Day Six

INTRODUCTION

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

DEVOTIONAL

The more I see the Gospel and the grace in it; the more I see my sin and my need for it. A rightful awareness of my own sinfulness does not drag me down, but serves to lift me up by magnifying my appreciation for God’s forgiving grace in my life. The more I appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of my sins, the more I love Him and delight to show Him love through heart-felt expressions of worship.

Luke 7:37-47 (meditated on verse 47 in your own life. How much?)

Lord, may I never forget what you saved me from. May I never forget who I was.   Yet, let me live in the joy of who I have become in you. Cause the truth of the Gospel to bear open my soul and my sin before you. Today, as we celebrate the cross, may the sheer magnitude of such an act of love remind me of the immensity of the Gospel and of the depths of your love for me. Amen.