It’s Not About You

devilsgulch

Credit: Charlie Wilson (http://charleslwilson.smugmug.com)

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter Ava (who is 2) to Devil’s Gulch in Garretson for the first time. For those unfamiliar with Devil’s Gulch, it is a hiking destination filled with many imposing and jagged cliffs. It is both a beautiful and yet exceedingly dangerous place – especially for a Toddler. As we entered the park and began to hike through the tall grass and pass over the famous metal bridge, I instructed Ava to hold onto my hand. I explained to her that the cliffs were dangerous and if she were to fall from the side, she would be seriously injured.

Thankfully Ava listened to me as we explored the different areas of Devil’s Gulch but here’s the thing – she could not have fallen off a cliff even if she wanted to. Ava may have been gripping my hand but I was clinging to her entire arm. If she left go of my hand and tried to fly off the cliff (as Toddlers sometimes believe they are birds); I would have simply pulled her back to myself.

Ava’s safety was not found in her holding onto me but instead in the fact that I was holding onto her.

This is a picture of our relationship with God.

Many Christians fearfully ask the question, “Is it possible to lose my salvation?” If your salvation was based on your effort and righteousness, the answer would be a resounding yes. If your spiritual safety is rooted in you gripping the hand of God with all your might, the answer is surely yes. You do not have the strength to endure the storms of life through your will power or spiritual vigor. But here’s the thing – your salvation is not based on your effort, righteousness, or spiritual vitality. It is the gift of God you receive by faith. Salvation from your sin, the devil, and the world is based on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in your place – not your religious works.

In John 10, Jesus is using a metaphor of sheep and shepherds to explain his relationship with those who follow Him. This teaching left the crowd divided; some believed Jesus was more than a mere religious teacher while others accused him of being possessed by demons. Rather than appealing to logic to try and convince the unbelievers in the crowd to give him a chance, this is what he says –

“The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” (John 10:25-30).

As you begin your Monday, here are a few incredible realities to ponder based on this passage:

  1. If you are a Christian, it is Jesus who has given you eternal life; not your effort to follow Him (“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”)
  2. If you are a Christian, no one can snatch you away from Jesus; not even your own actions (“No one can snatch them away from me…”)
  3. The beauty of the Gospel is that God is holding onto you; not the other way around (“No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”)

Friends, rest in Jesus today. Quit trying to perform to earn God’s favor or nervously seeking to establish your own righteousness. Instead, find your peace in the reality that your salvation has been accomplished through Jesus on the cross. Listen to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to transform your thoughts, attitudes, and actions to look more like Jesus. It’s not about you; it’s about Him working through you.

 

 

My Schedule for a Day Long Retreat

Chair on Dock at Alice Lake in Late Afternoon

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to lead my first ever spiritual retreat. Many retreats and conferences consist of sitting in a large room with other people and listening to spiritual or business leaders give presentation after presentation; to be honest, it can be exhausting.

Instead, I decided to pattern the retreat from Mary’s posture when she sat at the feet of Jesus and simply listened to His teaching (Luke 10:38-42). Our day was structured around connecting with God through Scripture, silence, prayer, and nature. As one of the people who joined me said, “God whispers through nature, talks through His Word, and shouts in our circumstances.”

Below is the schedule and information I created for those who joined me on the retreat. I pray you find it helpful and possibly encourages you to embark on your own retreat so that you can practice the discipline of solitude and silence to hear God’s voice more clearly.


MEETING LOCATION:

As soon as you enter into the State Park, directly in front of the entrance, you will see a picnic shelter and various tables. This will be our designation meeting location. Please be there by 8am.

RETREAT SCHEDULE:
(8am – 5pm)

 8am:
– Meet at Palisades State Park
– Welcome
– Short Teaching
– Morning Prayer

9am:
– Meditation Walk/Hike
One of the “spiritual disciplines” we can practice to connect with God is to slow down and be truly present to what is around you. Go on a walk or hike around the state park with no agenda. Listen to the sounds of nature and pay careful attention to the trees, flowers, grass, and insects that you see. What does the created world teach you about the Creator? Write down a few observations in your journal.

10am:
– Centering Prayer & Meditation on Scripture
Find a place to sit down at the park – it could be on a bench, a picnic table, or even on the ground. Focus on your breathing and seek to be still in the presence of God. As you do this, meditate on 1 Kings 19:1-13. In this passage, Elijah has reached a place of exhaustion and fear – seeking to die. God reveals Himself to Elijah but only through the still small voice of a whisper. What other details do you notice about this passage? What is the significance of God speaking through a whisper?

Notice the question God asks Elijah – what are you doing here? Take a moment and write out the reason you are on this spiritual retreat. Are you exhausted? Anxious? Fearful? Why? What circumstances in your life have led you to this point? How might God be inviting you to find rest in Him during this retreat? Journal your answers.

11am:

– Spiritual Reading
Spend some time reading the book you received at the beginning of the retreat – Habits of Grace. What stands out to you from the reading? How might God be using this book to speak into your specific situation of life? What about the “spiritual disciplines” is new to you? What is a good reminder for you? Journal your observations (or continued questions) about spiritual disciplines.

12pm:
– Silence Lunch
Return to our meeting place with your lunch. We will sit down & have lunch together but we will practice a “silent lunch.” This is a monastic discipline of eating in community while seeking to be aware of nature together. During your lunch, pay attention to what is around you and how God is seeking to get your attention through nature and the meal. As you eat your food, reflect on Jesus’ death & resurrection. As the food is crunched in your mouth and as you consume your drink, remember that Jesus’ body was broken for your sin and his blood poured out for you. Receive the afternoon meal as a gift from Him.

– Afternoon Prayer
After lunch, we will slowly read a few Psalms together and pray for one another as we enter into the afternoon time.

1pm:
– Meditation on Scripture
The best way to grow in the Christian life is to read Scripture slowly, prayerfully, and out loud. Find a place in the park where you can sit down and read the Bible out loud to yourself. For this time of meditation, read through the famous “Sermon on the Mount” preached by Jesus as found in Matthew 5 – 7. What themes stick out to you? How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you through this sermon by Jesus? In what ways does this message challenge you to live differently? Journal your reflections and observations on the Sermon on the Mount.

2pm:

– Rest in God’s Presence
We have arrive at the afternoon hour of rest. Around 2pm, we often become tired and lethargic. Rather than fighting against this, spend some time “resting” your body, soul, and mind in whatever way you prefer. You can continue to read Scripture, you can read another book, you can go on a walk or a hike, you can even find a place to lay down and take a short nap in God’s presence. In order to begin your time of rest, read aloud Matthew 11:28-30 and receive Jesus’ invitation to rest in Him.

3pm:
– Reflection on the Retreat
For this final hour in solitude, reflect on the retreat today. What parts of the retreat were especially life-giving and joyful to you? What parts of the retreat were difficult? Was solitude and silence easy for you? Or was it extremely difficult?

– Three Take-Aways
Pray through Psalm 139. After praying and reflecting on this Psalm, ask the Holy Spirit to give you at least three “take a-ways” from this retreat. How is God asking you to apply ideas, themes, or principles you learned to your every day life? How can you make this type of retreat a regular occurrence in your life? How is God inviting you to sit at his feet and listen to his voice this upcoming week?

4pm:

– Meet for Sharing
We will return to our meeting place and share with one another some of the insights God has given us during this retreat. Specifically, we will share our “take-aways” we journaled about in the previous hour. How can we support, encourage, and pray for one another before we leave?

– Closing Prayer
We will close our time by reading and reflecting on Scripture together. Finally, we will pray for one another and be dismissed.

THANK YOU For Your Support

RC Cover Photo

Hey everyone!
I know that many of you who follow my blog also support the ministry of Renovation Church I just received financial statements for the first part of the year and wanted to thank you for your support and generosity.

As a church, we have been able to give over $5,000 in outreach in 2019 alone. This comes to a little more than $1,000 a month. We have been able to give to both our local community & beyond through partnerships with Simba Educational Ministries and AsOne Ministries.

We are a small church with an average attendance of 50 people (including children) in a town of 1,100 and we meet in a school each week. Nevertheless, we do not view our size or lack of a building as a handicap. Instead, we believe God has blessed us, not so we can hoard our wealth or purchase a fancy building, but rather so we can be a blessing to others & make disciples.

If you would like to partner with our church in 2019, you can give online at the link below. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization so your gifts are tax-deductible.

Thank you!

https://renovationchurchsd.com/giving/

Should You Avoid Toxic People?

toxic people

I told the people of Renovation Church last Sunday that I sometimes have the spiritual gift of being offensive so… here we go.

Let’s tackle a controversial question: should you avoid toxic people? According to the many posts shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – toxic people are to be avoided at all costs. You should not befriend them, speak to them, or give them any amount of space in your life. If you do so, you will end up miserable, angry, and exhausted.

I guess it’s a good thing Jesus didn’t do that – you would be in Hell.

The word toxic literally means, “a poisonous substance.” Therefore, a “toxic person” can be defined as a poisonous, or death-giving, human being. A toxic person is one who commits great sins without concern or care for those hurt by their terrible actions. It is the person who freely betrays your confidence; the one who joyfully gossips and tears you down behind your back.

According to a recent blog post I read, you should avoid these eight kinds of toxic people:

1. Those who spread negativity.
2. Those who criticize you all the time.
3. Those who waste your time.
4. Those who are jealous.
5. Those who play the victim.
6. Those who don’t care.
7. Those who are self-centered.
8. Those who keep disappointing you.

Friend, here’s the problem with this philosophy. If you take it seriously, you should avoid yourself.

You are toxic.
You spread negativity.
You criticize.
You waste people’s time.
You become overly jealous.
You play the victim.
You don’t care.
You are self-centered.
You keep disappointing others.

So do I.

Our human nature tempts us to label people with a term such as toxic so that we do not feel guilty for treating people made in the image of God as being less than human. Instead, we view them as sub-human; a strange “toxic” kind of person to be avoided at all costs.

Hurt people hurt people.

According to Scripture, you are unrighteous, ignorant, evil, worthless, deceptive, cursing, poisonous, violent, wretched, and rebellious apart from Christ (see Romans 3:10-18)

Thank God, Jesus came for unrighteous, ignorant, worthless, evil, cursing, violent, and toxic people like us. There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when he was slandered for spending time with so-called toxic & sinful people. Jesus’ response is one we must keep in mind when we are hurt by the so-called toxic people in our own lives – “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… (Mark 2:17)”

So, should we avoid “toxic people”?

Only if you figured out a way to avoid yourself. The message of the Gospel calls us to befriend broken and toxic people that we might be a means God uses to bring healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But won’t befriending toxic people leave us bitter and pessimistic?

Yes, if you seek to do so through your own power and look to broken relationships to do what only God can do – provide the deep healing, energy, and strength needed for the ministry of the Gospel. If your joy is dependent on the human relationships in your life, no amount of “positive” people will bring healing to your soul. The only One who can provide lasting strength, peace, and wholeness is the Living God through Jesus Christ.

We pursue toxic people because we are toxic people who have found forgiveness, grace, and healing at the cross of Jesus Christ – the only non-toxic person to ever live.

Got Milk?

gotmilk

This past Sunday at Renovation Church, I had the honor of teaching through an ancient letter written by a church leader named Peter. Specifically, we studied 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 and discovered together the power of God’s Word.

At the end of this passage, in 1 Peter 2:2-3, Peter instructs us to crave God’s Word in the same way a newborn baby desires milk:

1 Peter 2:2-3
Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good. 

As many of you begin a new work week on this Monday (or have today off due to it being Memorial Day), I want to remind you of how this passage applies to our lives today. The first thing we need to consider is exactly HOW newborn infants desire milk. If you have ever had a newborn in your home, you know that when a baby is hungry, that baby will let you know. When Ava was a baby, I was in awe at how such little lungs could produce such ear-shattering cries!

The other thing we know about newborns is that, on average, newborns eat 7 – 12 times a day. Keeping this picture in mind (and relating it to the Scriptures), I find it fascinating that the Psalmist proclaims, “I praise you seven times a day for your righteous judgments (Psalm 119:164).” 

The truth is, very few of us spend time with God by meditating on the Bible even once a day – let alone 7 times a day. The vast majority of Christians in our churches are malnourished; seeking to survive off of one meal a week from their pastor. Peter makes it plain – If you want to grow in your Christian faith, it begins by learning to meditate on, love, and prayerfully read the Scriptures on a daily basis.

The second observation I want to point out for you is his emphasis on the purity of this word (desire the PURE milk of the word). Purity means it is undiluted by the things of this world. In far too many churches, the Scriptures have become diluted by the pastor’s attempt at creativity or church growth. Most sermons in outward-focused and contemporary churches (similar to Renovation Church) hold to a high view of Scripture in their statement of faith but the weekly sermons paint a drastically different picture.

Many pastors do not teach the Bible.

Instead, they come up with 3 – 5 different points they want to convey to the audience THEN go to the Bible to try to find proof texts to defend these points. In other words, the Biblical text is not the main point of the message; the pastor’s creative ideas are and the biblical text simply serves as a springboard for the pastor’s agenda/vision. This type of preaching may grow a large church but it will not produce disciples – it only creates spiritual consumers. It leaves the members of the church malnourished and untrained in the deep things of God.

As you begin this week, here are a few questions to wrestle with:

1. What are some ways you can make studying the Bible a daily discipline so that you will continue to grow in your faith? What are some activities you need to cut out of your schedule so you have time to simply BE with God?

2. As you gather with your church on Sundays, ask yourself the question, “Is the pastor using the Bible as a springboard for his/her ideas or is the pastor faithfully teaching the Scripture in it’s original context?” If you find that the majority of the messages are not faithful expositions of Scripture, approach your pastor from a attitude of genuine humility and love, seeking to hear what he/she has to say.


I hope all of you have a great week. As usual, if you are facing a particular challenge or simply want someone to talk to, I would love to connect with you. You can send me an e-mail at tyler@renovationchurchsd.com 

 

From Affluence to Monasticism – The Story of St. Benedict

stbenedict

In my previous post, I briefly outlined the project I will be working on for my Doctor of Ministry at Sioux Falls Seminary. This project is rooted in a deep and practical study of an ancient rule known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” In this post, I will provide a little more information on the author behind this ancient monastic rule. 


Monasticism become a popular movement around the time that Constantine declared Christianity to be the favored (and then legal) religion of Rome in the 4th century. The Church went from being a persecuted minority, depending on one another and the Holy Spirit for community life, to a powerful majority as a state religion. As a result of this change, the faith slowly become corrupt. Church leaders began making extravagant amounts of money and yielding extraordinary power over those in their charge. It became the opposite of how Jesus taught his followers to exercise leadership:

Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Many Christians were deeply pessimistic about the corrupt nature of the church. In order to live out the radical elements of the Christian faith, many retreated to the desert to be alone with God, study God’s Word, and commit to intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church.

It was in this climate (during the 6th century) that Benedict was born into an affluent family in Rome. From the little we know, Benedict lived a charmed life and had all the comforts of luxury. As he got older and was studying in the great city of Rome, he became disillusioned with his wealth and the state of the church. It was during this time of seeking that he felt drawn to monasticism.

Benedict retreated into the desert and pursued the life of a hermit. A hermit was a monk who lived on his own in an effort to seek God through prayer, Scripture study, and manual labor. Benedict’s fame began to grow and a large multitude of people were regularly visiting him to receive his counsel and insight into the spiritual life. Eventually, other men decided to apprentice themselves to Benedict and become his fellow monks. Benedict’s first foray into forming a monastery ended up as a failure; his disciplines were too strict and demanding for those who sought to follow him.

Eventually, Benedict formed another monastery at Monte Cassino around 529 (about 80 miles southeast of Rome). It was from within this monastery that Benedict developed what has come to be known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” It was written with the purpose of applying the Gospel to the everyday lives of those in his monastic community. Nevertheless, since it was a faithful exposition of the Scriptures for community life, it became the standard monastic rule of the Western church. The fact that there are Benedictine communities all over the world, 1,500 years after the writing of the Rule, demonstrates the power of this ancient rule for our lives today.


In my next post, I will briefly outline the Rule of St. Benedict and explain how you can study it for yourself to experience the benefits of this ancient document.

The Death of Pastoral Ministry

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The majority of those who embark on the journey of pastoral ministry will end up being a statistic of burnout, depression, exhaustion, and bitterness. On average, seminary-trained pastors will last less than five years in pastoral ministry.

This is a problem. Our current philosophy of ministry is killing the pastoral office.

As many of you know, I have begun the journey of attaining my Doctor of Ministry through Sioux Falls Seminary and I am hoping to address this problem. A few years ago I was on the verge of becoming another statistic; I was becoming pessimistic about ministry and drinking the poison of bitterness. It was during this painful season that a mentor of mine invited me on a 3-day retreat to a Benedictine Monastery known as St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

As a good, nondenominational pastor, I was not a fan of liturgy or the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed that liturgy (i.e. written prayers) were inauthentic and aligned with the babbling Jesus warned against in the Lord’s Prayer. Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, I followed the lead of Martin Luther and assumed the Pope was the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church was the Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelation.

Nevertheless, I was desperate.

Desperate for a spirituality that was deeper than a surface reading of a text with vague applications.

Desperate for way of measuring success that went deeper than attendance and budget numbers.

Desperate to truly experience the ancient God of the Bible rather than the false american god many of us worship in our churches.

Desperate to align my ministry with the trusted traditions of the church rather than sleek business models that propagate the false gospel of marketing and excellence.

With the Psalmist, I realized my soul was panting for God like a deer pants for streams of water (Psalm 42:1). The wells of evangelicalism and popular church culture had run dry. I was discouraged by attendance numbers, giving statistics, and my lack of “success” as defined by modern evangelicalism.

That 3-day retreat was a turning point in my faith and leadership. I participated in the Daily Office with the monks – gathering throughout the day to chant the Psalms and listen intently to the reading of Scripture. I began to read a small book placed in the guest room called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” This is an ancient monastic rule written by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit used this ancient monastic rule to save my ministry and renew my resolve to remain faithful as a husband, dad, and pastor. I will be spending the next 3 to 4 years studying and applying this Rule to the lives of other pastors with the hope that the Holy Spirit will breathe renewal into their lives and ministries.


This is the first post in a series – stay tuned for more discussion on the Rule of St. Benedict, my story, and how I believe this ancient rule offers a philosophy of ministry that is able to bring greater healing and depth into the ministry of pastors in small churches.