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A while back I sat down to coffee with a friend from our church. They wanted to share with me some things that were going on in their life.

We had a few minutes of pleasantries and small talk while waiting in line for our drinks. But once we sat down at our table, my friend started right in on the reason they wanted to meet.

They started to explain what life had been like for them for the last few months. It was a story of heartache, pain, and loss. I was quickly overwhelmed by their story.

For the better part of an hour, I listened. I asked follow-up questions. I looked for ways to empathize with what they were experiencing and feeling. The one thing I didn’t do during the conversation was to try and help them. Over the last few years of being a pastor, I’ve actually stopped trying to help people.

If I were to have had this same conversation about eight years ago, as I listened, I would have been devising solutions to their situation in my head, ways to alleviate their pain, stress, anxiety, etc… Instead of asking questions in an attempt to better understand and empathize, I would have been throwing out pieces of my solutions to see if they latched on to any of my brilliant ideas.

Essentially, my old paradigm of ministry was that my job as a pastor was to fix people’s problems. And I was actually arrogant enough to think that I could fix their problems. If only they would follow my advice everything would work out fine. Over time, I’ve learned that what people need more than me fixing their problems is for me to be present with them in circumstances, whatever they might be.

Ultimately, it’s Jesus who sets things right. I don’t have the ability or capacity to fix their situation. And when I try to fix things for people, I lose sight of the one thing that I actually can do really well, I can be present.

On that afternoon, having coffee with my friend, what they really wanted (and needed) was simply for someone else to know. That’s it. They wanted someone else to know what they were experiencing and feeling, and that in the midst of it that they weren’t alone and were still loved.

So, next time a friend of yours wants to share with you what they are experiencing, don’t try to do anything in response. Just listen, Ask questions. Seek to understand. That might be more meaningful than anything else you could do to help.

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YOU ARE HERE blog pic

I have a good friend who says, “God is so real, he meets us where we really are.”

I love this phrase, not only because it’s pithy, catchy, and tweetable, but because it causes us to be honest with ourselves about what’s going on inside us.

A few weeks ago, I had a lunch appointment with a fellow pastor in the area. As we sat down to our table, he asked me how I was doing. I was tempted to simply say, “Good. Things are good.” And then return the question. But instead, I decided to open up a part of my life where I had been experiencing anxiety and fear. That lead to a 30-40-minute conversation about why I was feeling that way.

Before that conversation, I had yet to tell anyone else about this growing anxiety. But I was noticing that in moments of anxiety, I was quick to displace my worry by internally blaming others for why I was feeling the way I was feeling. But at lunch that afternoon, once I started to name my anxiety and the way that I was dealing with it, two things started to happen. One, the anxiety began to lose its grip on me. And two, I had a greater awareness of God’s power and presence in my life.

(Side Note: I realize that anxiety disorders are a real thing and that they are incredibly nuanced and complex. I don’t mean to suggest that if you have an anxiety disorder speaking your worries out loud will remedy your situation. I’m merely using my anxious feelings as an example.)

What I found to be even more surprising, was that a few days after that lunch meeting, I was in another conversation and ended up sharing with another person this same anxiety and my misguided patterns of dealing with it. I wasn’t intending to share it, but again, sharing and naming it loosened the grip of my anxiety in my life and I was more aware of God’s presence and power.

God is so real, he meets us where we really are.

If we desire to see transformation happen in our lives, it starts with beginning to be honest with ourselves, and with God, about where we really are. If you’re anything like me, it’s easier to shift blame as to why you are feeling the way you are feeling (whether it’s fear, worry, doubt, anger, skepticism), make excuses, or even deny that you are feeling that way, rather than simply own it and say this is true about me.

If you don’t have any orientation to where you are, it’s nearly impossible to figure out how to reach your destination. For example, if I want to get to Atlanta I’m going to travel a much different route to get there if I’m starting in Milwaukee than if I’m starting in Boston. If I’m confused about my starting point — believing I’m in Boston when I’m really in Milwaukee — I will have a really hard time navigating the route forward. But if I have clarity that I’m starting in Milwaukee and not Boston, it will be much easier to plot out my route.

The same is true with our spiritual lives. If the destination is transformation, specifically transformation to be more like Christ, we need awareness of where we are and the things in our lives that are hindering transformation from happening.

So, instead of denying, hiding, or pretending that you’re in a different place than you really are, own it. Have the courage to say, “This is where I am.” Invite others to inhabit that place with you. Invite the Spirit in as well. Because, really, the Spirit already knows where you are before you do.

Open yourself up to God in that space. See what he has to teach you about yourself. But more importantly, see what he has to teach you about Himself.

God is so real, He will meet you where you really are.

So, where are you?

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HHMany people have different ideas and perceptions about what the church is. Depending on their experience and engagement with the church, they may think that the church is a place you attend once a week hoping to appease God, trying to convince him that you’re not that bad.

Others might think that church is a place for off the wall religious people who are out of touch with modern culture and society.

And still others may associate church with some form of modern day religious therapy.

Everyone has a different perception of the church.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about the church that would help reframe it for people who had written it off. I’ve been looking for a metaphor that will help recapture people’s imagination for what the church is all about.

Recently, over the last year, I’ve begun to use the image of the church being a hospital and a home.

In Luke 5 Jesus is hanging out with a bunch of “tax collectors and sinners.” This is right after Jesus has invited a tax collector to be one of his followers. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were thought to be crooks and dirty businessmen. The Pharisees, who were the religious elite of Jesus’ day, saw Jesus spending time with these disgraceful people and were shocked and offended.

Jesus’ response to them was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (v31-32).”

When you’re sick, when you’re not well, it’s important to go to a place that will help you get well. A hospital is a place where it’s okay not to be okay and has the intended purpose of helping people become healthy and whole. Jesus states that his goal is the same. He has no problem spending time with people whose lives are a mess because his intention is to help people become well.

Recently, in a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that if we want to see God’s redemption take hold in people’s lives we have to be okay with engaging and befriending people in those unredeemed places in their lives.

So, the church should be a hospital, but it should also be a home.

It should be a place where people feel welcomed and safe. Individuals should be able to let their guard down, take off their masks and be their true selves. That’s what happens when I’m at my home and would imagine for others when they too are at their home. We tend to be our most true version of ourselves at home.

In addition to the metaphor of a home, the scriptures also describe the people of God as a family. In the New Testament alone, when Paul writes to different churches, he almost always addresses the people of the different churches as “brothers and sisters.” Also, in 1 Peter, Peter calls the people of God a “family of believers.”

This is significant because everyone has a desire to belong. Everyone wants to be a part of a group of people who loves them and accepts them simply for who they are. Our initial sense of belonging in life often comes from our family and the home in which we were raised. Therefore, by saying the church is a home, I’m speaking to this desire that we all have to belong.

So, I guess the bottom line of the metaphor of the church being a hospital and a home is this — the church is a place for broken people to belong.

What would you say that the church is?
What metaphors or images would you use to describe it?

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