The Response Juxtaposition

Over the last few weeks, I have had an inner dialogue going in my head. (That’s a nice way to say I have been talking to myself, a lot). It’s a juxtaposition that I have been trying to get to the bottom of. And the question is simple. But the outcome is great.

And let me preface this- this is my inner dialogue. I am not accusing anyone or placing blame. This outcome is from my heart only because I have wrestled with the texts.

But I think most of us need to answer this all-important question too.

In the face of the racism, homosexual conversation, and tension between Christians and Non-Christians, what does my response say about my faith?

I have been dwelling on two different times that Jesus spoke. Both monumental, and both convicting for my heart and how I respond in life.

Through all of life- but especially now in the season of this country we are in- how do we respond as Christians?

I can tell you based on social media how people have responded. And tbh, it feels wrong. It feels combative, angry, divisive, and hurtful. Truth without love fails. Another way to say it- no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

So I looked at how Jesus responded to the his country “falling away from God.” The moment where they had rebelled so much from God that they were moments away from murdering Gods son. The implications of their decision were huge. And his response was so loud it was deafening.

And I also looked at Jesus response to those who were supposed to be representing Him-those who should be a reflection of the Kingdom. And it was like being in the room with your best friend when he was getting yelled at by his parents in middle school- embarrassing.

So, does our response sound like Jesus? Or, do we as Christians need to be reminded of who is on the throne? (Spoiler alert- it’s not us or even America.)

Please remember, I am not advocating for any one issue or circumstance. What I am advocating for is repentance in our response to the different issues we will face in our lifetime.

Here are the two verses. Wrestle with them. Read them over and over. Don’t rush to conclusions or make excuses. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom (he’s good at that).

Matthew 23:23-24

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!


Luke 23:33-37

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”


Have I forgotten mercy? Have I forgotten love in my response?

Am I only getting half the equation right? Truth- Check. Love- Uh oh.

Do I stink of self-righteousness or have the magnetic chemistry of Jesus.

Wrestle away. For me, I think I need to take a bath.

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Look at the Beach! (a lesson on discipleship)

A few weeks ago, we were able to go to the beach down in Fort Morgan- and it was awesome. It was the first year since we have had kids that both LOVED the beach. My one year old, Grady, was loving every part of it. He was comfortable in sand, pool, ocean- it was awesome to watch. His mission everyday on the beach was to go around and sit in every chair. And he did it with a smile and a shirt that said “Ahoy Ladies.” And my 4 year old, Aubryn, turned fearless on this trip. Swimming with no floaties, playing in the ocean for hours, jumping in to the pool. It was such a joy to watch both of them! (and terrifying at the same time. Two fearless kids may be a problem.)

Before the trip, I had been really wrestling with discipleship defined. And I know the typical answers and the different approaches but for me personally and our church, The Branch, what did it look like?

And it hit me in the ocean with my awesome four-year-old. We were having a blast playing in the ocean but the waves kept hitting her in the face and getting water in her mouth. Snot running everywhere, coughing, crying, eye rubbing… then bam! Hit again. So I would pick her up, get her calmed down and cleaned up, and put her in the water. And this was our next hour.

“Checkerwood, (thats what I call her- don’t judge) – when the waves are coming, look at the beach! The water can’t get in your face then.” So we are playing and having fun- waves come, and I am saying over and over “Look at the beach!!!” The first 15 minutes was a disaster- she was wanting me to hold her, crying- but I insisted “Look at the beach! Its simple!”

Then, it started clicking for her. It was a very simple truth. Look at the beach and you won’t get splashed in the face. And she started turning her body when the waves would come. And then it happened. It clicked. It turned into muscle memory. We were playing, chasing each other, getting sea shells, acting like we were the turtles from Finding Nemo, and when a wave would come, I wouldn’t say a word. She would face the beach and then we would keep playing.

From this interaction, here is how I have started defining Discipleship.

Discipleship= Simple Truth + Given Opportunity. 

Most discipleship looks like me sitting in the condo explaining to Aubryn why waves are there, what rip tide is, what the red, yellow, and purple flag mean, what is in the ocean, etc. But, we never actually get in the ocean. And when she does, she goes without my guidance, gets beat up in the waves, and leaves feeling discouraged. She knows the truth, but has no framework for applying that knowledge in a practical way. (is this sounding like your discipleship journey yet?)

Instead, I give her one very simple truth, and we don’t move forward an until she has an opportunity to apply what she has learned. Simple Truth+ Given Opportunity.

Does she know everything there is to know about the ocean? Or how to swim? Or what to do in a bad situation? No.

But does she get to enjoy life as she applies that one truth?? YES!! And will she forget it?? NO!

I can’t make this part up- when the others that were with us were coming out into the ocean, she was telling everyone- LOOK AT THE BEACH! haha! When you learned a life-changing truth and know how to apply it- when you have tasted and seen that it is good, then you tell it. When you aren’t only convinced in word that it is truth,  but when it is truth and word and action, you can’t help to talk about it.

My role? Teaching a simple truth. Giving her an opportunity. And not giving up on her or moving on until she has learned to apply it. 

Next year, maybe we will work on the boogy board.

Any maybe today, i will teach someone what the Bible says about God’s forgiveness. And not move on until they get it. I will not move to another topic until they have been given an opportunity to live in that forgiveness. It may take a while, but they joy that comes from understanding that one truth will be like a four year old playing in the ocean with the biggest smile on her face and a giggle that only comes from pure joy.

How Do We Measure Success?

As guys, one of the first questions we will ask each other when we are just meeting is “what do you do for a living?” AKA- do you make more money than me and do you do something cooler than I do? All guys do it. It always cracks me up when someones demeanor totally changes when I tell them I am a pastor. Their voice goes up an octave, they start really being careful what they say. I always make fun of them for that.

But with being a pastor, how do we measure success? They same conversation happens between pastors. We don’t talk about what we make but want to subliminally leak how many people are members at our church. How many seats are in your sanctuary. We aren’t  businesses so we can talk about our profit in money, so we talk about or profit in people.

And thats dumb. Our main barometer should be disciple making. And not simply knowledge. Disciples that make disciples that make disciples. Knowledge and action together.

I was hanging out with some of our church the other night and I made a comment about something- I don’t even remember what it was. And one of our freshman in college called me on it. What I said was opposite of our vision and direction of the church.

And thats when it hit me! People are catching the vision! They understand that language matters because there is a heart behind that language. Its not just our leadership talking our heads off. Vision has leaked and soaked our people. And they are doing it.

This time last year, we had maybe 2-3 people that understood the vision of The Branch. Now, a year later, we have 10-12. That is a measure I am ok with. Because that means God is doing something. God is working. God is calling people to live in community and to live on mission! That makes me excited. So for me, I learned a huge lesson on the health of a church. Is the main core team in your church living on the churches vision? Is vision being pushed and modeled so people are actually doing it? I had never really seen or thought of this metric before. But I am grateful God is doing it in our midst.

And keep in mind…. this is because God is at work. God is doing this, not me. This is Gods church, not mine.

I am grateful God is working and leading our church to really follow him. I am glad I get to watch and play.

Confessions from a Pastor

I love business. I am an entrepreneur at heart. I love starting something from nothing. I love taking chances. I love trying things no one else has. I love problem solving, dreaming, and making things happen.

But the end result between a church planter/pastor and the average businessmen or woman is our end results.

Most business exists to make money. And that’s great. I love it.

Most churches exist to make disciples. And that’s great. I love it.

But here is the rough, hard, unexpected lesson I have learned this past week.

When a business takes risks or tries something new, sometimes it flops. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. When they try to achieve something and miss the mark, they loose money. And it hurts. It stinks. And they get discouraged.

Businesses lose money when they miss the mark.

But churches wound souls when we do.

We, the church aren’t dealing with hundred dollar bills, we are dealing with hearts.

The pressure of that is daunting. This week has been a week of apologies from me. I have had to have 3 discussions of apologizing for areas where are church has fallen short. We are new. We are trying to figure how to structure our selves as a church. What works, what doesn’t.

And that is a messy process. It only comes from trial and error.

But again, when we error, we hurt. We wound. We turn people away.

When I and our leadership focus on the wrong thing, use wrong words, get tunnel vision, look to much in the future, get competitive, react our of anything but love, people get hurt. Cuts happen.

My hope is that people see the vision that Jesus, not the church, has given us. To make disciples. To love well. To be grace. To serve. That people matter, your story matters, and that Jesus is everything. As a family, we can push and encourage each other towards Jesus. Even when we are wronged, we do what a family does. We fight to make things right within the family.

So that …we can invite others into our family.

But I realize as a pastor now, its not a matter of if I will hurt someone, its when. When my decision is going to rub someone raw. When I feel like I am making the best decision for the church and it’s the unpopular one. When I mess up, (which is frequent), someone could be hurt.

I knew its not if, but when. I didn’t know when would happen so quickly, 7 months in…

So this lesson has been a hard one for me. But a growing one for sure.

So my confession as a new pastor is this: I need to be fervent in prayer, quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. This is Jesus church, not mine. He is The Branch lead pastor, not me. He creates beauty from ashes. I create ashes from beauty. Let him lead, not me.

This Might Surprise You…

Church is…

That’s a loaded question. I think for most, the sentence will end with something negative. The sentence will end with an awful story of when someone was talked about, put down, kicked out, not welcome, and never going back. That is an true statement for most people.

I think one of the reasons are people failing to admit who they are. So as a pastor, let me let you in on the people of the Branch Church, my self-included.

The Church is….. a mess! We are! Plain and simple. No running around it. No denying it. We are a mess.

The staff’s a mess. I am a mess. Most of the people I have talked to in the church are a mess. Its true. In some way, shape, or form, we are a mess.

AND I LOVE IT! It feels so great walking with those people and doing life with our church and not feeling like I am the only one hurting, confused, or struggling.I love how we talk about it and how we are real about it.

The culture that is starting to take form at The Branch Church is one of grace and love. Because when we can start being true about our own shortcomings, it’s hard to judge others on theirs. We all realize that if we could fix ourselves, then we we have already done it?

There is a theme throughout the Bible about boasting in your weaknesses. About admitting your shortcomings and admitting when you have blown it. That you are not your own solution.

This is the Gospel.

I am trying to understand the culture that has been created in most churches that seems so obviously contrary to what the Bible teaches. When Paul, author of most of the New Testament, comes out with a statement like this, I think we need to listen.

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” 2 Corinthians 11:30

So to my family at The Branch, keep it up. I am so proud of you. The more we are open about who we really are, the better King Jesus becomes in our lives. The more we are open about where we fail, the better friends and neighbors we become. And the more we are honest about our shortcomings, the better we can love ourselves.

I heard a quote yesterday about parenting from Brene Brown that I think expresses what the church should be.

“Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job””

Church is Cancelled!

You cancel “church” for a football game?!

Our church gathers on Sunday nights at 5:30 and then we scatter through out the week for life in community. Our goal as a church isn’t to get as many people under one roof once a week. Its not to act one way on Sunday and be a different person the rest of the week. Our goal is to live as family, always. We believe that Gods plan to change the world is to have groups of people saved by Jesus to be the church. This is how we would prove our claims that Jesus is the savior of the world; not by a weekly service, but by the quality of life within the community known as the church.

This can’t happen once a week for an hour. This must happen outside the walls of a building and in people’s homes. Where people can do life with each other and act as a family- a community living with a purpose.

We want to be a church that hangs out with people on their terms. For a church that claims to love people, we sometimes have a hard time giving up our traditions to show the love that we claim to have for people.

If all this is true, then action must take place. Therefore, Sunday, February 1st, we are canceling our weekly gathering and having 3 or 4 Superbowl parties at different peoples houses.

To be with people.

On neutral grounds.

Not because we want anything from them or somehow expect them to come to our church- but just to love. Love with no agenda. Love with no expectations. Love for loveness sake.

The church is not a building- it’s a movement. It’s a people. Its group of people called out for a purpose. What does that look like? Come to one of our Superbowl parties! (or big game parties. I don’t want to be sued.)

Biggest Lesson of 2014

As I sit here sipping on my Pumpkin Spice Latte (haters gonna hate hate hate hate), I am convinced that 2014 has been one of the biggest growth years of my life. It has also been the hardest year of me life. Those two normally go hand-in-hand, don’t they?

There has been a constant phrase that has developed in my vocabulary over the past 4-5 months.

“Crazier things have happened.”

There has been so many times where God has shown up this year, it has been ridiculous. I am a dreamer, and everything I have dreamed up, as impossible as it may be, God has surpassed my greatest vision! So, now when I throw out crazy visions and dreams and people give me that “I-love -you-so-I-am-going-to-try-to-smile-but-you-must-be-the-biggest-idiot-in-the-world,” I just smile and say, “Crazier things have happened.”

(I think Bre is tired of hearing that. lol)

I heard Matt Chandler say earlier this year that almost all the problems he noticed in young pastors stems from an attitude of fear. Almost all.

Then, I saw a commencement address from Jim Carrey and what he said struck a chord in my soul. For so long, this has been me. I can give you example after example where I have chickened out of what I really felt like I was suppose to do, but rationalized it has being wise. Bull.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” – Jim Carrey

Once I became aware, dreamed big, and took big chances, God showed up the most. How great is it going to be when I get to the end of my life, and can clearly see where I would’ve given up, but by Gods grace, was taken further than I would’ve ever guessed because I stopped being afraid.

So hear me say this in love, because its what I always have to tell my self.

If your heart is burning and your soul is restless, quit being a coward and go for it. Its not practicality, its fear. Stop it. Failure leads to growth. Idleness leads you backwards. Go for it!

Pastor, stay at home mom, business man, assistant, college student, 9-5’er, what do you want to do? What has been your dream for years? What do you keep bottled inside because you are so afraid to try? Worst cast scenario is not that bad. And failure is way better than wishing you would have.

My brother (like actual kin, not my “bro”) has a sticker on his truck that I love. KMF. Keep Moving Forward. Are you moving?

Enjoy this clip, don’t be afraid, keep going. Crazier things have happened. \

Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt

All my life, I have always enjoyed collaboration. I am pretty extroverted and really enjoy people. If you are in front of me, lets hang out! My tendency though is horrible communication with those not in front of me.

I’m serious. Horrible.

I know some of you are reading this blog saying “Thank Goodness you finally admit this you idiot!” haha I know. I’m sorry.

I have a team of guys, 13 of them to be exact, that I reached out to for prayer and fasting when my wife and I felt God calling us to plant a church. For the men that I saw on a weekly basis, they were in the loop. They were probably telling me to stop talking in their head. For those that I didn’t see often, they weren’t. My email communication was not the best. My last pastor can agree to this. Communication was the name of the game for my first 2 years of ministry.

Not to long ago, I ran into one of the guys on that prayer team and he said “Dude! Where has the email update been??” So I back pedaled, made excuses, and apologized. He looked me square in the eye and said “Gabe, you stink at this.”

And I smiled.

I can be a fighter. I can get defensive and argue have a little bit of a temper sometimes. But I smiled because I knew this guy really loved me, really cared for me, really wants the best for me, and was not afraid to tell me to get my stuff together. I am grateful for that!

Do you have that? People in your life that aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, not because they are jerks, but because they genuinely want whats best for you and your growth?

The only reason I watch American Idol is for the dozen of people that never had anyone tell them they stink at singing. They are awful and it is sometimes painful to watch, but I love it! As soon as the first few episodes are done, I quit watching.

Don’t be that guy or girl. Find someone who loves you and let them speak truth into your life. It may hurt for a moment but it will save you so much pain and struggle later.

Heres some proof of what I mean from American Idol!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_Ybl0Qvves

Forever and ever, Amen.

“The honeymoon stage will end. Thats when marriage actually begins.”

“Just wait 6 months or a year, then get ready for the gloves to go on and the fights to begin.”

“Enjoy the first year of marriage… its all down hill from there.”

That is advice I received before I married my bride on October 17, 2009. Real advice. People were genuine in their words and thought they were giving me great advice. And what do I say almost 5 years later…. FALSE. UBER FALSE! But, as I think into it is false, there are 2 reasons.

1. The goodness and grace of Jesus.

2. How incredible my wife is.

This blog has been burning in my soul for the past few months. And no, I am not writing this blog to get me out of the dog house. Bre is a very interesting individual- and what I mean by that is she loves to be behind the curtain, cheering on. Very rarely will she ever get in front of a crowd and get the recognition that she so rightly deserves.

So this is me putting her on the stage.

Marriage with me can not be easy. I admit that. I have a temper. I am OCD. I have dreams and visions and an dumb enough to think I can achieve them. I am lazy. I am inconsiderate. AND SHE STILL LOVES ME! Our marriage is not awesome because I am awesome.

Breanne is the most supportive woman I know. I remember talking to her before we got married and told her we could move to China, plant a church somewhere, go wherever God calls us. And we will never have much money because I will be in ministry.

And she didn’t care. She said she would love me and support us no matter what. That was 6 years ago. And those were not just words to her. She meant it and has lived it out. She doesn’t care about any money or crazy possessions (that will end up in a yard sale in 8 years btw), she just loves me so well. Day in, day out. She is there. Loving me. Supporting me. Challenging me. Encouraging me. If I could only count the number of times she has looked and me and said, “well Gabe, have you prayed about it?” And all the while, doing it because of how selfless and loving she is, not because how “good” I am. And I will never forget her response when I told her, “God is calling us to plant a church. Its time to quit a stable job and a church we love. We may move to Oregon, and I don’t know how we are going to pay our bills in 6 weeks.” She looks at me, with all the love behind those beautiful marble-colored eyes and her warm smile and says, “I see God is in this, and if you think that’s where God is calling us, lets go.”

WHO SAYS THAT?!? She had counted the cost of planting, knowing the sacrifices she would have to make and the things she would have to give up, but because of her love for Jesus and her love for me, she said, “lets go.” And its not glamorous. Practically being a single mom when I was working 2 jobs for 5 months. But no complaints. Only support. 

And then we had Aubryn. And now Grady James. It is something special watching someone you love acting and living in their ‘sweet spot.’ Where you can tell that they are doing exactly what God has designed them to do. And she is doing it- a mom. And an incredible one at that! Never complaining-even during the feeding and rocking in the crazy hours of the night- nothing. Changing diaper after diaper after diaper and cleaning up spit up- no complaints Gentle. Loving. Graceful. Mom. Watching how she handles Aubryn, tucking her into bed every night and singing the same song from Little Mermaid every night. She is daily modeling for Aubryn how to be a woman of God.

Doing all this- kissing me when I walk in the door- all the dishes; all the laundry; all the cleaning; everything.

When I dwell on Bre and how great of a wife, best friend, and mom she is, it makes me feel so lucky that I tricked her into marrying me.

 

I could write for a long time and never fully express how thankful I am for my bride, who she is in Christ, and how I could not do life without her. Thank you Breanne, for being you. I hope I love you in a way that you deserve.

 

Forever and ever, Amen.

 Image

(September, 2006)

 

Great Expectations

If I could be completely honesty, I am nervous. Crazy nervous. Super anxious. The anxious that you feel in your stomach, constantly. Especially when things get really quiet and still. I am going to be a dad, again.

And I cant wait! We have entered into the “any day” stage. Every time Bre calls, I greet her with “are you in labor?” One, because it drives her crazy but two, because she could be. Just a few more days (or up to 2 weeks) until I get to hold Grady James for the first time, and Mommy, Daddy, and Aubryn welcome the fourth member to our family.

The anticipation is killing me. And it made me think today why am I not as expecting and anticipating God to show up and do something. You know the disciples walked around Jesus with some serious anticipation that at any moment, Jesus was about to tell a dead man to get up, to heal a blind man, to challenge the status quo of the day. But most days, God is just a thought. I dont consider that he could show up in my life, my friends, my situations, and turn things upside down for his glory.

But its growing. I have a real genuine excitement for what God is doing/going to do through our church and in our neighborhood, on campus, and in Dahlonega,

If you and I believe Jesus is who He says He is and He will do what He will say He will do, then you and I should walk around a little nervous- the excited nervous- that at any moment, Jesus could show up and do something incredible in our midst.

I want that. I long for that. Just as I long to hold my baby boy.