Thoughts Occuring on My Last Day in the 30’s

So here it is… It’s my last official day as a thirty-something, and to be honest… it’s a bit odd.

The day started pretty much like any other in the Pritchard household. We arose early and charged through our morning in a flurry of coffee, oatmeal, cereal, hair-brushing, and of course the required guidance from me… then I went on to deal with the kids. Totally kidding… I had already dealt with the kids :D… Please if anyone finds me broken and bleeding anywhere, I was beaten up by the most amazing and beautiful, and of course completely Godly woman ever!

I digress… After getting my wife coffee and getting kids to school, I was off to Crossfit for one of the three weekly torture sessions I subject myself to there. I think that is where the day shifted for me. Perhaps it was the completely obvious difference in my physical ability or the aftermath of being caught looking like I was about to die after the workout, but somewhere in there I started thinking about turning 40 tomorrow (even typing that is just weird) and the lessons that I have learned in the last decade of my life, those slightly-less-than-roaring thirties (growling?) I am going to take a minute or 10 to list them out… some are deep, some are amusing (at least to me).  So if you have ever been curious as to what a guy thinks on the eve of his 40th birthday… or if you suffered a 40th birthday and were struck with senility (which I hear can happen) and can’t remember your thoughts… here are mine. Feel free to borrow.

1. The Gospel is the most important bit of information the world has ever received.

2. My wife is without doubt the coolest, most amazing, wonderful, hottest, best friend I’ve ever had.

3. Whew… I finally have an excuse for all this gray hair.

4. I can now admit I am not as quick as I used to be.

5. One can actually hang out with Jesus…it’s called abiding, and it rocks!

6. Where did this hair on my shoulders come from?

7. It’s never too late for a fresh start.

8. Is it too early to start anticipating how cool of a grandpa I’ll be?

9. Ministry is honestly not just a job… it is an adventure (take that Navy)

10. All the things I thought I had to get accomplished by now… life is just as sweet, if not sweeter, without them.

11. That is actually a bald spot starting on the top of my head.. bummer.

12. Manhood is deeply important, and not as cliche as so many people think.

13. Do I really have to start wearing Dockers and polo shirts?

14. Christian sub-culture is weird.

15. Authenticity is definitely worth living by.

16. Humility is of incredible value, and is probably the central character trait of Jesus.

17. Standing on convictions can be costly, but in the end is always worth it.

18. My relationship with my Dr. is about to change dramatically.

19. At whatever age you are, you should be mentored and mentoring someone else.

20. The most significant thing a pastor can do aside from preaching the gospel… is raise people up to perpetuate ministry. That my friends is discipleship.

21. I have never been more thankful for friendship in my life, as I am at this point.

22. Community is not a buzz word… it’s a lifestyle.

23. Talking to my own sons about puberty, sex, and so on… wasn’t bad at all

24. The Bible… freaking awesome.

25. Politics…. riiiiiiigght.

26. I can learn a lot from my children… especially my daughter, who loves to laugh.

27. I promise not to complain about weird ailments starting tomorrow.

28. I believe I am becoming the father I always wanted to have.

29. I actually like “dub step” thanks Gray, for introducing me.

30. All that I need or could ever want is given to me through Jesus and His amazing truth… everything else is just gravy! (but I am blessed to have been given a wonderful marriage to an incredible woman, four amazing kids that I am deeply proud of, a humbling and satisfying career as pastor/shepherd, truly gracious and caring friends, a roof over my head, food on my table… and who could forget the cat.)

Thanks for reading… See you on the other side!! (of 40)

j-

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The Elegance of Last Place

We live in a culture of driven, winning (thanks Charlie Sheen), hard charging, take no prisoners mind sets. As long as I have been alive that is the attitude that will carry you through life to the place where you are on top of things. When that’s the case, is it any wonder that so many people struggle with the gospel? To be honest it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many people… Christians included, struggle to grasp the gospel message. Especially when we are honest with the fact that the gospel puts us in perpetual, life-long last place.

Last week I was watching (be prepared for surprising, or not, tv show confession) “The Voice”. The actual episode was from two weeks ago but sometimes we just rely on the ole DVR to help us catch up. Anyway… moving forward. There  was a young man who had made it through the trial rounds by offering a very stirring rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. Prior to that moment he was a mere sandwich maker from Chicago named Jamie. Having thoroughly enjoyed his performance I thought for sure he might go a long way, but alas, it was not to be. He was ushered out in the “battle rounds” after singing a duet version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with a real powerhouse singer named Jamar. All these details are really pointless, it probably just shows that I’m paying too much attention, but what really struck me is the reaction from Jaime as he was interviewed afterward. He said something so noteworthy…

 “I feel like there is a reason I’m here and maybe that’s to be here to let Jamar go through and win everything… he’s such an awesome person”

I was dumbstruck… through tears this young man just pointed out something that I think so many of us miss in life. He went to a place that simply elevated the elegance of last place. Jaime is a talented musician and singer, and has the potential to go far, but he has the intangible element that truly matters; humility.  This stands out in a world where we celebrate the outspoken, self-aggrandizing, and the winners (if you doubt it… turn on the t.v.)

As those who follow after Jesus, we have to realize that we are following after a Savior who, in His example to us, did not exalt those positions. This is something we miss all to often in our lives and it can have a detrimental impact on our hearts. We can get wrapped up in being good, and then can become proud of just how “good” we are. In Andrew Murray’s book aptly named “Humility” he writes this:

“The question is often asked, “How we can consider others better than ourselves when we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received?” Asking this question proves at once how little we understand what humbling ourselves really involves. True humility comes when, in the light of God, we come to see ourselves as nothing, consent to put our self-will aside, and let God be all.” (language updated/revised by C. Walth)

Murray nails it. We can never forget that we are not in search of self glory but self sacrifice, and we are not looking to be elevated but to be in surrender.

So where does the this understanding really come from? Surprise… we need look no further than the gospel. It provides us with an example, with freedom, and with sufficiency to live in a mindset that allows for the stirring, and possibly offensive, idea that I may exist in this moment not for what I can get out of it, but for how I may sacrifice myself so that someone else gains. This is the entire narrative of Jesus’ ministry & message summed up in a single verse:

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” Matt 20:28.

It echoes out again and again throughout the NT and is staring us right in the face challenging us with the example of a humble Savior who could have been a “winner” but chose to wash the feet of the man who would turn Him over to be killed. This is the example that should keep us from self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and free us from drowning in the “must do” mentality of religion. It also frees us to then love and serve those around us with an honest humility that allows for true discipleship, servant leadership, and sacrificial servant-hood.

So how do we respond? Seek to cultivate humility and weaken pride… not by efforts and checklist based religion, but by grabbing hold of Jesus and staring into His example, allow the message of the Gospel to remind you “How can anyone be arrogant when he stand beside the Cross?” C. Henry. For much better insight into this I recommend starting with Philippians 2 and a host of other texts in the Bible, and for opinions that are way smarter and more practical than mine… try reading “Humility” by Andrew Murray and “Humility: True Greatness” by C.J. Mahaney

And of course… we need to constantly die to ourselves, pray that we draw near to Jesus in His perfect example of humility and when given opportunity walk it out in every relationship we have, and in our interactions throughout each day, trusting that He is enough for us and through His sacrifice we are free to live this way. That ultimately, in Jesus, there is a beauty, a freedom, and an amazing elegance, in being in last place.

j-

When Enough Isn’t Enough…

This season of life has had me pondering… well in actuality it has had me wrestling, struggling, and many other -ings. It never ceases to amaze that we are given seasons in life that are custom fit for our growth and maturity. It also baffles that those seasons always have to include a serious amount of discomfort… or maybe that’s just me.  Now amazement and… bafflement? baffledom? baffeledness?… you get the point, those things aside, it is an awesome thought that we have been given enough to journey (at whatever pace necessary) through these seasons.  However, inside that last sentence lies the biggest struggle for our hearts and minds; the great tension of “enough”.  (cue dramatic tense music here)

Do we really have enough? Do we really have all that we need? Lately I have been reading a pretty great book by a pastor from Florida named Tullian Tchividjian (chi-vee-jan) entitled “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” and I must say it’s a very good read. It points out the obvious struggle we have with really recognizing that Jesus is truly sufficient, or He is really enough.  Truth be told this book probably struck me because of my own season, and of course that is why I’m writing about it now. The depth of the impact of the book though, that has come as a result of what God has been doing in my heart for the last few months.  The question of enough-ness is a reality in this season and coming to a real and in depth grappling with the sufficiency of the Gospel has been a key part of the journey.

The Gospel, the best news mankind has ever received, is so often thought of as a step on the road of the Christian, and that is really tragic, and a huge mistake.  Why? Because in the Gospel is where we find enough! We want to find enough so badly we look everywhere for it. High and low, in every crevice, under every rock, and in every other place we think the world will offer it to us. The reality of this lifelong search is that we end up trying to get it from both “good” and “bad” things in our lives.  The problem is that we are left depleted and longing for more, or searching for the next new thing that will be enough. We fill our lives with those things and it leads to an insidious form of idolatry that we can’t even recognize (especially when it’s the “good” stuff).

 TRAPPED

That’s where we can end up. Trapped or enslaved to the things that we are desperately hoping will be enough. The things we hope will build our image, increase our significance, secure our identity or fill every void. Everything that, from the outside in, looks like we truly have enough, but in reality it is only keeping us addicted to those things all the while our hearts are burdened and longing for something real. Practically it may be the thing that keeps us in a mindset of putting others down to elevate ourselves, drives us to seek accolades and praise for the good acts we produce, leads us to craving a place to be needed or valued, or has us diving into relationship after relationship seeking comfort.

We can seek the solution in religion, hopeful that it will lead to a sufficient filling of our need for enough, but in the end this is also a trap. Our acts of service lead to self righteous attitudes, our identities get wrapped up in what we do, our value tied to the “goodness” we portray.

Isaiah and Paul said it best: “Our righteousness (self righteous acts) are as filthy rags” and “I consider all things (contextually all the “good” things Paul had done to be “righteous”) rubbish (literal: crap) that I might gain Christ” (Isaiah 64:6 and Phil 3:2-11)

Think about it… that’s what is written about the good we try to do to fill the void, or just for the sake of being good.

FREEDOM

Freedom is found, or more importantly, enough is found in the Gospel.  This is why it’s so desperately important that we NEVER think that we have matured beyond the Gospel, but instead we need to wrestle with it every day of our lives. When that happens there is freedom! Freedom to truly live, freedom to serve without need for praise, freedom to encourage without seeking affirmation, the list goes on and on and on. Imagine how we could live if we were truly finding enough in the Gospel, if we truly found satisfaction in the fact that while we were enemies of God, while we were far off, in the depth of our sin, when we were dead in our junk… at that point, God sent Jesus to die the death we deserved to give us the life we didn’t. If we consider that, or not just consider, but we give it significant weight each day, we really think about it, we could indeed find the enough that the Gospel has to offer each of us.

My prayer for each of us is that we look for enough where enough can only truly be found.

Truly Organic… the nature of Christian community

Recently I’ve been in some really cool discussions, a great many of which have dealt with the idea and nature of community. Other conversations have revolved around a lot of other things from what my thoughts on “KONY 2012” are and why I enjoy wearing minimalist running shoes… but that’s beside the point. The conversations surrounding community and specifically Christian community have really, really been good. Good for my heart, and from what I have gathered, good for the hearts of others involved.

Basically it revolves around the term “organic”.

This term has become a familiar one to me and to my family this year as we’ve pursued a better eating lifestyle and it’s a term that our culture has become more aware of in the past decade when it comes to that particular arena. However, organic is not a term or description that is limited to the vegetable aisle at the grocery store or that weird little natural food store down the street. Organic is basically something that is produced naturally, in the grocery universe that means without insecticides, hormones, or other chemicals.  It’s also something that can be applied to other areas, areas that are important in our development as followers of Christ.

In the book of Acts, which my wife and I have the humble blessing of leading a group of friends through right now, we get a picture painted for us of the development of the first Christian church and Christian community. This is found in the very familiar text of Acts 2:42-47. This being said, I want to point out that this isn’t some new thought or revelation, in fact I am well aware that I’m not the first guy to point this out… it just seems a worthwhile point to chime in on.

The image of this early church community can sometimes be over-idealized, as though it was somehow without flaw or fault. To be certain, since we realize that people were involved it in no way could be perfect. However, in light of that, we cannot just go and write it off, because the reality of this fledgling community of Christ followers is that they had a significant impact while keeping it really simple. They pursued four distinct things: Gospel, Prayer, Fellowship, Breaking Bread (Acts 2:42).

THE RESULT of this kind of intentional community is really what I want to talk about, and although it would be a worthwhile discussion to have surrounding the in’s and out’s of the things they were devoted to… we can leave that for the comments section if necessary. But for the sake of understanding simply put – Apostles teaching = Gospel. This would be the main thrust of their teaching, Jesus being the Messiah in accordance with and fulfillment of the OT scriptures, and His death, resurrection, and ascension. Prayer = self explanatory. Fellowship = intentional gathering of believers for encouragement, glorification of God, and proclamation of the Gospel etc.  Breaking of Bread = meals together (that may include observance of communion) Alright… now on to the actual results.

Community impact came as a direct result of the changed lives of these believers and this new “way”. What I love is that they displayed a balanced approach to clinging to meeting corporately for worship in the temple, then continued on in worship in their homes and smaller gatherings as well. They determined to be with one another and in each others lives, to bear the burdens of those around them (even those they didn’t know extremely well) tangibly. This is a powerful display of the heart of Christian community… but there is something noticeably missing.

WHERE’S THE PROGRAM?

There is no mention of devotion to making sure the apostles were setting up feeding programs, or efforts to go out into the community and find and meet needs, or to take care of the poor. So does this mean it wasn’t happening? I would offer that it was indeed happening, but that it was such an organic, natural outcome to what Christians do together, and how the Gospel plays out in our own hearts, that Luke felt no need to mention those particulars. People outside of the Christian “fold” were certainly being blessed by this new group, and people were being impacted and coming to faith but the outworking of God through this community of believers, but not because their local church had established such great programs. It was happening because the Gospel was alive and working in the midst of people and it was driving them to be servants, love those around them, sacrifice for others, declare Jesus, and praise God through all of it.

This in my mind is what happens when believers get together and devote themselves to simply pursuing the Gospel in our own lives, having a full prayer life, connecting intentionally and deeply with other believers outside of the weekly corporate gathering, and sharing our homes and lives over meals with one another. We become active participants in the Gospel… organically. And I would challenge each of us to examine those things…

Are we devoting ourselves to Gospel preaching, sound biblical teaching of the scriptures (not morality or philosophy), and our own study of God’s word?

Are we connected in prayer, taking time to talk with, and listen to, God?

Are we in deep connected community with other believers? The kind where people are speaking the hard truths into our lives and we are encouraged to further understand the Gospel in our lives. It’s gritty and uncomfortable at times, but is so necessary. Is it consistent?

Are we exposing our homes to other people, are we sharing our dinner tables and meals with people around us? Get your small groups into each others homes! Discipleship is a matter of life on life exposure, not just instruction.

 

It is my belief that if we are encouraged to grow in these areas in our lives that we become the community of believers that moves to feed the poor, that visits the home bound and ill, ministers to our neighbors, sacrifices for others, and ultimately proclaims the Gospel to the world around us… all because it has taken root in us and grown out of us organically.

 

think about it.