Who is the Power?

The following article is published with permission from all parties involved.

Last Month

My friend Eric began to worry. Financial difficulties. What would be the solution to the problems he saw? After talking to one of the pastors at his church, he opted to spend a week fasting and praying. He would seek an answer from God.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

***

Waffle House
Brookhaven, Miss.

August 12

“Hey, Boy.”

I smiled and held the door open for a certain Pastor. It was time for the final showdown.

One year ago, I sat in a staff meeting and spoke what was on my heart–that we had taken our eyes off God as a church staff.

Maybe I was right or wrong, but nothing changed. I fell further away from God myself. I became unstable and prone to fits of anger. I wasn’t sure of myself anymore, and nothing could be made to make sense. By January, I was off staff and in a self-imposed “exile” with suicidal tendencies.

For the next seven months, I was a ghost. I lived in two cities and traveled all over the state to work. I spoke only to whom I wanted. I was miserable.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen!

***

Eric hit his trouble by the weekend with the pressure he felt. As he rode on the bus back from a high school football game, he was handed a hamburger like the rest of the team. All he could think to do was lean over and pray with a burger pressed to his forehead. Was there anything that could possibly happen to give him the answers he was looking for?

He called Ron, the pastor he had spoken to at his church. He needed the support. His “community,” if you will.

“God has something He is going to show you,” encouraged Ron. It was going to come from the place least expected.

***

Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

“I had a lot of anger toward you,” I said.

“I had a lot of anger towards myself,” Pastor replied. It was certainly the most honest conversation we’ve ever had. He was telling me about the hardships that brought him to a new awakening at the beginning of the year–hardships that became a call to turn around.

It was the death of the Old Church and the resurrection that led to something much greater while I was away.

At some point, I remember leaning forward and pointing to my right ear, asking him to repeat himself.

The meeting held something deeper for me. It was validation. I’m not really crazy after all. Granted, it takes a certain kind of crazy to be willing to yell at a pastor alone behind the church building (sometimes while he wore a gun), but to realize that I was actually standing on some sort of foundation gave me a new sense of worth. I had been onto something. Maybe God did love me.

***

August 11

It was the final day of Eric’s fasting. He was at church when someone gave him an envelope and some instructions: he was to take the envelope to someone’s house, and give it to someone that was in need of it. And so he did. The gift led to a conversation, which potentially led to the changing of someone’s life.

But Eric was left confused.

Was that what you had to show me? He prayed, trying to decipher some inspiration. The day was over–nothing else on the schedule.

Still confused, Eric turned and picked up the other envelope that was sitting next to him.

The envelope I gave to him that morning.

Eric Brown–Pastor Eric Brown–opened the card. Given from someone he thought could just as easily have run him over. He read that I was giving the church half the proceeds from selling out of my DJ-ing business. He looked at the amount on the check.

“And that’s when I started crying,” he said.

***

CenterPoint Church–Brookhaven’s newest–did rediscover its first love. And things have turned around. Which is why it has experienced explosive growth this year. Which led to it outgrowing the building it had free use of. Which led to the staff discovering it could rent a room in the movie theater–two buildings away–on Sunday mornings.

There was just the last piece to fall into place. Eric was happy to report to the congregation the following Sunday.

“Guys, that pretty much pays for everything,” he said.

***

As I quietly looked away while Eric spoke, my left ear popped; I was able to hear again. After two weeks of just dealing with being half deaf, my hearing was returned to me even without my asking.

And that’s when I knew God never left me, either.

So in this story arc–the big rivalry between the blogger and the sheriff’s deputy/football coach/pastor–who won? We both did. We both screwed up. But we both handed the problem over to God. We both died to our old selves. And we both were made new.

We’ve looked at a number of supposed God-following church structures in this article series. But there is one last piece to consider: is God truly present in your walk, or are you holding to something more human in origin while calling it a “miracle”?

If you are not experiencing–personally–manifested appearances by God, either you are not seeking Him, or you are worshiping the wrong god. Either case should be cause for major alarm.

I couldn’t have written a better ending myself.

With love, Joel

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:1-7

 

What is the Urgency?

“Joel, are you trying to look like a madman?”

That’s not one of the phrases you would like to hear from a bank teller. It’s probably right up there with “Are you planning on paying these NSF fees today,” or “The FBI was asking about you this morning.”

But in case you’re wondering, the bank teller was a friend of the family.

I took the comment in stride and laughed. Not cutting my hair in seven months made me look butt-ugly, I’ll be the first to admit. Some of the other terms I heard in that time were “werewolf,” “dirty hippie,” “drug dealer,” “Wolverine.”

***

Today, we go to Hosea 6:

5: Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
6: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offering
s.

To understand the passage is to understand the prophet Hosea: He was speaking from God about the transgressions of the Old Testament church. Because Israel had taken its eyes off God, God came to punish the nation. But Hosea is also a call for repentance. An opportunity to turn the page.

***

In January, I began my exile from church. I felt unloved by everyone, including God.

There were a few times that I was invited to volunteer at LifeBridge. I just changed the subject. I didn’t “have it” anymore. I couldn’t forgive myself. Surely God wasn’t going to.

I felt ugly. I decided to look ugly on the outside. Therefore, the hair. It cost me the first job I interviewed for.

But it was something more. It was a reminder that I had outstanding debts against my old pastor. I thought every day about the fights we had. It was a reminder of where I came from every time I looked in the mirror. I wasn’t going to get a new job until the wound was closed. It wasn’t that I needed a victory. It was that I needed my relationship with Christ restored.

I needed one thing: Mercy.

***

It took two months to get what I had been waiting for as my parting gift from my last company: my buyout check. I owned 10 percent, after all.

It wasn’t huge, like you would normally think when it comes to selling a company. But it was all I had left. It was my “life savings.” And it was an opportunity to do what I wanted for once in my life. I made a list of what I could do: knock out a serious portion of my debt, buy a new vehicle, travel to Europe, get the tumor removed from my dog’s side, get my hearing repaired, etc.

The thing about my hearing? I never really made an issue of it, but if you’d been around me lately, I’d often ask you to speak up, or I would turn my right ear toward you. That’s because something happened suddenly to my left ear a while back. I would say I lost a good 90 percent of its hearing, and it stuck that way.

I considered going to the doctor using the money I got. But there was something I thought about: At what point would it stop? If I went to the doctor, I’d probably go out to eat on my way home. I would too easily focus on myself again. I didn’t have to work for 6 months if I stretched it, but it would have meant I kept running.

Many times, God isn’t the “problem solver” we think He is. Sometimes He is the problem creator. Every time we think we’re in the clear, that we are our own demi-god, that we need nothing outside of our own resources, God is there to allow a wreck, a job loss, or a medical emergency. Just so we could look to the heavens, cry “Mercy,” and be reminded that there is only one power in the universe, and it isn’t in a bank account.

Mercy. It tastes so sweet to those under a curse.

***

August 11

It was the Sunday morning I waited all year for. I drove 1.5 hours down south to Brookhaven. I slipped in and sat in the back. For the most part, it was the normal exiled experience. People that recognized me welcomed me. The pastor would stare at me while he spoke.

We spoke for the first time in months. Maybe even a year. I handed him a card before we parted. I was expecting to feel the Spirit’s presence, but I felt nothing at that moment.

But in the last few months, I’ve realized that there is one thing you can do on your power alone, but one thing only.

The one thing you can do apart from God is laying down your illusions and running to Him. Illusions, your “best” in life, whatever. If it’s not God, it’s meaningless.

So there I was, faced with a choice. I could have decided I hated him, or I could have shown mercy.

Pastor didn’t realize there was a check in the card. Half my buyout. My old, broken life that could have given me six more months of false security, just handed right over to him, my “enemy.” And I didn’t have another job yet.

I went home and laid down. I’ve pretty much feared death since Easter; I didn’t want to die in exile. I wondered if I would die on that couch, bearded and half deaf. I decided that if the highlight of my life was giving everything I had left over to God, then I could live with that.

But then I woke up in the midst of a glorious worship experience, of which we will talk about next week.

With love, Joel

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. — Matthew 5:7

Anyone need a roof?

Northpark Mall
Ridgeland, Miss.

Thursday

I had nothing to wear. Certainly nothing to use in a formal capacity. Let’s just say Domino’s has provided me a lot of “growth and development” in the last two years.

I was, sitting outside Dillard’s since 9, waiting for them to open at 10. I ran inside the mall. Looked around. Went upstairs. Asked a lady where the men’s department was, because I could have sworn I bought clothes in a Dillard’s only like eight years ago in Hattiesburg.

Believe me, a guy remembers his clothes buying experiences. They only come a few times in our lives.

It turns out there was a men’s and a women’s Dillard’s. What was this, gender segregation? In a clothing store? Craziness.

My time was elapsing.

“You look like you’re ready to sell me something,” I said to the first guy I saw. I told him I had a job interview today.

“I’m going to pass you off to my best job interview guy,” he said. Off I went to meet Marlo. I stood patiently in front of his counter as he finished counting his money to begin the day.

“Job interview!” Marlo said. He casually was flicking coins across his counter into his hand to count them.

“So when is your interview,” he said in a singsong manner.

“Thirty minutes from now.”

“THIRTY MINUTES?! Boy! What are you…?!” Marlo was interested in that sales commission. His speed increased quickly.

“You look like a 16 and a half.”

“Well, I’d like you to get my measurements.”

“I just did.”

Best job interview guy, indeed.

He finally shut his register. “I can do the rest of this later. Come on.”

***

2007

Freshly laid off from the Hattiesburg American, I took a deep breath and called the number I was given. I asked for Wally, the station manager for WHLT-TV.

In my best radio voice, I belted out that I would love to speak with him about the open anchor/reporter position for his CBS newscast. He invited me to the station to speak with him that day.

I already had the application filled out. I picked it up the day before when I dropped in, and on my way out, the other anchor approached and asked if I could give an opinion interview. I was about to ask someone to put me on his TV station, and I was already on his newscast just the evening before.

We sat down in a conference room. I handed over my resume, printed on elegant paper. He carefully looked it over. It was filled with awards and solid references. I was wearing an ironed shirt, suit, and tie. I was ready for this.

“Tell me,” he said, slowly and deliberately, “about your time as editor of the Wolf Tales.”

The Wolf Tales? That was community college. That was print journalism. I wanted to answer questions about how I’m a go-getter. How I had a radio show. How I’m qualified to be on TV.

I was unprepared for the question. I answered it gracefully, but not with the enthusiasm I had within. I inflected down and stopped with only a 10 second answer or so.

And that was the closest I’ve ever been to being a TV reporter.

***

I had forgotten the man on the phone wanted to see my resume. I had to circle around and go to Kinko’s. I printed it on basic computer paper.

Then I exited wrong getting off the interstate. Fortunately, my phone’s directions were able to correct my mistake.

I was certain I had my contact as “Justin.” So when “Joe” answered the door, I kept asking for the wrong guy until I realized that I could get the two-syllable “Joseph” and “Justin” switched up in my short term memory. Oops.

Still, if there is one thing about me, I tend to stay optimistic when it counts.

“The first thing you can do is loosen your tie,” Joe said as he took a seat. “We’re not that formal around here.”

Well, I still have an outfit for weddings.

“Why are you 10, 15 minutes late?”

“I was buying this outfit that I thought would impress you,” I laughed.

Joe did not laugh. I almost asked him if he wanted me to just leave.

“Well, let’s see your resume.”

He looked it over, then dropped it to his left as he asked the next question–one about my last business.

“So tell me about this ‘Challenge Entertainment.’”

GOT IT!

I was ready this time. He wasn’t asking for the story of my last company. He was asking me a random question so he could read me for himself to see if I was his guy. This time I saw the questions behind the questions.

And Joe gave me the job.

You are now reading the blog of Mississippi’s newest roofing salesman! Behold: Southern Pride Roofing!

I was cautious going in. There was one thing on my mind: were they a company that values their customers? I have a reputation to keep, after all (no jokes here, Eric!).

They are! Joe has won me over during training: the company is built on Christian principles (he’s prayed with customers before, something I’m excited to do), we don’t take any money until the customer is satisfied with a completed job, we meet insurance adjusters on site to get them to pay for a new roof if we need to, we offer a 10-year warranty, etc.

That Joe is a huge Dave Ramsey fan like myself is icing on the cake.

Laying in bed last night, I only had one thing on my mind: A deep feeling of worship from feeling unworthy of the blessings I’ve received lately.

I apologize for not sharing the much more amazing story today like I planned. Next week!

With love, Joel

P.S.: I did my own thing with the tagline contest this week. Since I changed the rules, I’m awarding gift cards to Noel and John both–an A for everyone who tried!

Introducing our first contest!

Hey, guys.

I’m in Brookhaven today, so will spend Wednesday on the new article.

However, I wanted to use this time to open a new contest.

The whole “written for those who hate Christians” never took off like I wanted. I never really found anyone that “hates church but loves the blog.”

Additionally, many people will tell me in private that they love what I write, but they don’t share the link.

So, it’s time to grow. I’ll be looking to do the next version of the website soon, and want to change the tagline. Since the whole “hate christians” thing was what I came up with, I’m tossing the next idea to you!

If you like the content of the blog (which won’t change), put your best idea for a new tagline in the comments here.

Whichever one I pick will get a $25 iTunes gift card!

Wednesdays article will blow your socks off. See you then!

Joel

What is the Point? AKA, the Community and the Identity

January, 2010

Rumor abounded that Tiger Woods was in a rehab clinic in Hattiesburg. Paparazzi descended on my own city at the time to try to make a buck off the news. Yet, no one was “leaking” anything of substance to the media. Aside from a maybe-but-not-sure photo taken through an open gate, to this day, there is no definite confirmation that Woods was in town.

As someone who had worked for the Hattiesburg American for 1.5 years, I saw my own former editors’ names quoted in national media in a strange angle to the story: Mississippi journalists were suspiciously not participating in the tabloid frenzy.

I knew why: the community in this state is too strong for that.

***

Over the last couple weeks, we have been looking at the structure of churches. We used two models–a jungle gym and a fountain sculpture–to illustrate how churches could possibly be structured.

I thought this photo was taken in a cemetery.We said a jungle gym is a very solid structure: it is probably the last thing that would be affected in the event of an earthquake on a playground due to the very nature of its design. This is a great example of a strong community: If you are tied so closely to other members, it would be downright difficult to simply drift away. Some bad links could exist, but the more links there are, the more solid the whole structure is.

Support groups make very sturdy communities. That is what makes many drug rehabilitation programs so effective–patients are cut off from the negative temptations of the world and are encouraged to build links with counselors and their new peers. If someone tries to hang onto a lie, it won’t be undiscovered for long.

But a community not built around God is just a community.

Photo by R. Scott Pierce

Photo by R. Scott Pierce

In the fountain, we do see the community is based around a central idea. Everyone who doesn’t connect to the central idea inevitably feels like an outsider, because they are not connected to the identity of the community.

The problem with this model is that one has to stay aware of what the structure is built around–especially if it comes to modeling a local church.

***

Yesterday

Apparently there was a running joke among staffers that Pastor was not going to come back from our meeting. It was long, but I came to realize something as we prodded each other, explained our own selves, and made our apologies.

The church I was run off from has died.

Apparently there were others that left around the same time I did earlier this year. You could say the earthquake came, and Pastor realized that he wasn’t putting God first. He was attempting to build the church around his own will. It didn’t fare very well.

But there is a curious thing about God. It is never too late to head in the right direction. As I’ve said before, if you stop trying to build a structure with papier-mâché and admit that your life is broken, you can then die to your old self and hand the pieces over to Christ, and you’ll be reborn from steel and iron and have a beautiful picture as the end result.

I was sorry for hurting him, and he was sorry I was caught in the crossfire. And then we asked Jesus to make our relationship new. His church is going to do great things. And I asked him to let me know the next time they have communion, as I want to be there.

***

Let’s go back to Ephesians 2:19-22

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the  apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

In this series, we are using sculptures to illustrate the Cornerstone analogy. So now, instead of using one or the other, what happens if we put the fountain in the middle of the jungle gym?

One day I might make money doing this.

Maybe one day.

Now we see that the structure is built around a focal point. If the local community identifies that center-point as Christ, then you see a healthy church begin to form.

The Community (the jungle gym) works to pull its own self closer to the center. As it does so, it constantly looks more like Him. A good church is aware of where other connections must form. If someone wanders in, it cannot feel threatened. It cannot “run off” someone just for being different. It must constantly point to Christ, directing attention to the Identity (the fountain), and building connections that serve the function as such.

Being “built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles” serves as credibility. The Old Testament prophets always served a purpose: to point to and identify the future life of Christ. New Testament apostles (including you and me) are also consistently told to look like Christ, so our lives serve as standing invitation to the community.

Every passage in the Bible, Old and New Testament, serves to illustrate the Cross. A proper church pastor is the base of the fountain–playing second fiddle to and redirecting attention toward the center also. The entire structure is to serve the core.

If a community is based on miracles, membership, money, or other people, but makes little effort to point to the sacrifice of Christ, then be wary of what is at its center.

The church that has Discovered Life is the church that consistently guides people to Jesus: the CenterPoint of Life.

Drawing by tattooset.com Introducing the official flower of DiscoveryofLife.net

Drawing by tattooset.com
Introducing the official flower of DiscoveryofLife.net

And with that, I’ll be back in Brookhaven this weekend to check out an entirely different church. My apologies to Philip; I will be back at Lifebridge soon.

With love, Joel