Archive for April, 2021

Apr
25

What Is Your Priority?

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From Essentialism, by Greg McKeown: The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed this way for the next 500 years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to do multiple first things. People and companies routinely try to do just that. This gave the impression of many things being the priority, but actually meant nothing was.

McKeown’s words created a pause when I first read them. Like many, I was conditioned to think of having many priorities, and I categorized them according to my spirituality, my family, my relationships, my physical health, my personal finances, my work, and my intellectual and emotional well being. Each of these categories had sub categories, with goals and action plans. All were, in my own thinking, my priorities, but upon reflection, was my feeble attempt to “have it all.” The pursuit of all of those priorities was demanding, leaving me overwhelmed and governed the tyranny of the urgent. Having multiple priorities complicated things and resulted in chaos. Establishing one priority creates simplicity and order.

His words reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14, NLT). Faith was not an important part of Paul’s life. It was his life. His faith served as the litmus test which ordered everything else. It doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t do other things or have meaningful relationships. For a while he held down a job as a tentmaker. He had numerous relationships with people he called friends. He developed a strategy for planting faith communities in towns that didn’t have a Christian presence. Paul developed people and leaders of people. He also had an extensive writing career. But each of those served the greater good of one priority. Having one priority doesn’t mean you only do one thing. However, having one priority governs every thing else you do, if you even do it at all.

Maybe instead of getting our priorities in order, its better to discover the “one thing” and focus there. No, we can’t have it all or do it all. But we can identify and pursue what is best and finally discover the freedom and power that comes by being able to say “no.”

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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This data was compiled during the COVID-19 closures in 2020. However, it is interesting to see how generations differ in what they missed and what they value in the corporate worship experience. What did you (or do you) miss most by not gathering in person for worship?

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Jesus’ third post resurrection statement was made during his interaction with two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. The narrative describes two disciples who had observed all of the events in Jerusalem during the first passion week. While on the journey home, they were joined by a traveller who asked them, “What are you so concerned about?” They didn’t recognize their new traveling companion and began to describe all of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A careful reading of the story will reveal the ambiguity they felt. You could sum up the conversation like this:

Who was Jesus?
Well, he was a prophet.
Why did he come?
We hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman rule.
What did he accomplish?
We don’t really know. We heard his body was gone, and we heard he had risen.

How did Jesus help Cleopas and his wife transition from ambiguity to faith? How does Jesus help us move from ambiguity and uncertainty to faith?

Jesus first began with what faith they already possessed. Luke 24:25-27 reads as follows, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the road to faith actually begins with faith. Three times during the last six months of his public ministry Jesus foretold his passion. The point is that faith is a building that is constructed on what God has said in Scripture. The Scriptures serve as a foundation and we build on that foundation one story at a time. The two on the road to Emmaus weren’t challenged at the point of the circumstances of their immediate weekend. They were challenged at the point of the writings of the prophets over the course of several hundred years.

When we take the first step of faith, faith will next open the door to reveal more light. Think about driving your car at night. Your car has headlights that reveal what is before you. Your vision is not unlimited, for the headlights reveal what lies before you for only a few yards. But as your car travels the light continues to illuminate your path. Even with limited vision, you as a driver are more than willing to drive 60 or even 70 MPH.

As the travel companions neared Emmaus, Jesus was invited to dine and stay with them. His words had taken root in their hearts and their faith was emerging. It was during dinner that the couple recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. Then He was gone.

Rather than bask in the afterglow of the experience, the couple set out for the return trip to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the disciples. Jesus’ self disclosure made their faith personal. At the beginning of the story, the two pilgrims were wrestling with what others had said. But now their faith was personal because they had seen Christ for themselves. No longer did they need to live on borrowed faith. They learned that they could have their own faith and be free from ambiguity. So can we if we begin with the light we already possess.

Barna Research released a study this week which assessed how church goers feel after attending worship. These emotions range from feeling encouraged, disappointed, connected and more. To read the research you can use the following link: https://www.barna.com/research/churchgoers-feel/.

The surprising statistic from this research is the level of disappointment people feel following worship attendance. A full 50% of churched adults feel some measure of disappointment, and nearly 40% of practicing Christians feel the same. I am reminded that disappointment is the result of failed expectations. In other words, there is a significant disconnect between what pastors and worship leaders are providing in a worship experience and what attendees are actually looking for or need. This is critical, because disappointments are also resentments under construction. People may feel a wide range of emotions on any given Sunday, but repeated disappointment is a foundational crack that needs to be addressed.

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Apr
18

The Goal of Faith is Clarity

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“The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” — Paul Tillich

For many years I equated faith with certainty, a kind of “know so” posture that could rest in having all the answers. I began with certainties about who God is and my eternal destination in heaven. From those two foundational blocks I attempted to back into the grind of everyday living, believing that I could have the same level of certainty about life and its perplexities. But it didn’t always work out that way. The everlasting problem of evil, for example, left me confounded. Every time I watched the news or witnessed the personal struggles of humankind, I found myself frustrated that I didn’t have the certainty that I felt I was entitled to have.

Daily faith is more related to clarity than certainty. Faith is not an answer to every question. Faith certainly includes questions, but the goal of faith is the process of learning. The outcome of faith, in my personal experience, is not an answer, or even the answer. The outcome of faith is the next better question. Faith is humble. Certainty is arrogant. Faith is directional. Certainty is explicit. Faith focuses us on the future and hope. Certainty is formed by and bound to the past.

Abram left the land of Ur with clarity, but not certainty. He was directed to go to a land he would be shown upon arrival where he would father a child in his impossible old age. He was promised to become the father of a great nation as numerous as the stars in the heaven, yet he only had one son. Abram knew the general direction of what, but wasn’t given the certainty of how or when. My American faith struggles to separate those nuances.

Here’s what has been helpful as I distinguish the two. Clarity is expressed in stories. Certainty is expressed in rules. Clarity possesses curiosity about other points of view. Certainty has little if any curiosity. Clarity embraces knowing what you don’t know. Certainty doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and doesn’t care to learn. Clarity emerges in the space between insight and action, comfortable with the direction its heading but flexible about the detail of how you’re going to get there. Certainty demands rigid formulas and processes with little room for variance. Clarity fosters trust and confidence. Certainty demands detailed explanation and guarantees.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to live life filled with guarantees. But it’s not real. Each of us is only one test result or phone call away from being turned inside out and having our certainty shattered. Clarity empowers us to ride the waves of life’s undulations and ride the storm out until the clouds clear and the sun emerges. If I walk in clarity rather than certainty I can manage life free from resentment of the storms and see that I have grown from the experience.

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Apr
18

NEXT: Don’t Be Afraid

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The second post resurrection saying of Jesus cuts straight to the heart of where many of us live regularly. Check this out:

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:1-10, NLT)

Jesus second saying? “Don’t be afraid!” It’s interesting how somethings never change. What are you afraid of? Some of our fears are common place, such as snakes, spiders and mice. But many of us are gripped by fears that lie beneath the surface of our skin. What do we know about these phobias? For one, most of our fears are false. In the late 1980’s I attended a conference and heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that fear was an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not only are our fears usually false, our fears are usually negative. No one says, “I’m afraid I’m going to earn too much money” or “I’m afraid all my dreams will come true.” Fear establishes the limits in our lives. If I’m afraid of water, I stay dry. If I’m afraid of heights, I stay low. If I’m afraid of change, I stay the same.

How does the risen Lord help us deal with fear? There are three things from the text that are helpful to us. The first is worship. Worship is beneficial in that it increases and magnifies the greatness of God. One lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath is that the size of your giant in life depends upon the size of your God. When we regularly engage in the spiritual discipline of worship, God becomes literally larger than life and all that life throws at us.

Not only does the practice of worship help us deal with fear, faith helps us as well. Did you notice the simple phrase, “just as He said” in the passage quoted above? Three times in the last six months of his ministry Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead on the third day. Unfortunately the disciples forgot what Jesus had said as his claims became swallowed up in the sea of circumstances that surrounded the first Easter weekend. Until God’s voice becomes the prevailing voice in your life you will face fear after fear. In reality, we don’t overcome our fears. We replace our fears with faith in what God has said.

The final piece of the story is obedience. Jesus summonsed his followers to meet in Galilee. Why Galilee? If the disciples wouldn’t go to Galilee to see the risen Lord, they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth on behalf of the risen Lord.

Worship, faith, and obedience. That’s how Jesus’ followers overcame their fear. After the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, fear evaporated. While the gospels record numerous times the disciples huddled in fear, fear is virtually absent from the Acts of the Apostles. Have you ever noticed that? Do you wonder why? I think its because Jesus’ followers had such a high view of the risen Lord that no other voice mattered. Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If you’re struggling with fear, don’t focus on the fear. Focus on the God who created and sustains the universe. He’s the same God that knows you by name.

Apr
11

The Out of Ur Podcast

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This week’s progress on the forthcoming Out of Ur Podcast included the completion of the artwork, thanks to the gifting and talent of my daughter Shannon. My original goal was to be ready to upload episodes by March, but I didn’t realize all of the work that was involved in setting up the infrastructure. So the back room is almost ready.

After 36 plus years of serving local churches as a pastor, I concluded that chapter officially on August 24, 2020. My initial series of talks will focus on my personal journey from sacred to secular; from the comfort and security of “Ur” to the wide open horizons of the “Promised Land.” It will be an honest, transparent and vulnerable account of what I’ve learned, what I’m learning, and what I still have to learn. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for the first release. Updates will be available on this website under the OUT OF UR tab on the menu bar or on any of the Tim Deatrick or Out of Ur social media platforms. You can follow me personally on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @timdeatrick. You can find the links to the Out of Ur social media platforms at the bottom of today’s email by clicking any or all of the icons. If you haven’s subscribed to the Out of Ur weekly email, you can do so by emailing outofur@timdeatrick.com.

Thanks for your support of www.timdeatrick.com and Out of Ur!

Categories : Out of Ur
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Apr
11

The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus

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Last week we celebrated Easter, and I wanted to follow its observance with a series of posts titled, The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus. Many are familiar with the seven last sayings of Jesus uttered on the cross. But I wanted to focus on the first post resurrection comments from Christ because I felt they were timely and appropriate for where we are in culture today.

While I take credit for the content of these posts, I cannot take credit for the concept. I came across a book by the same title several years ago written by a pastor named Shane Stanford. I liked his approach and immediately thought it had the potential to be an important post Easter series that would help people make the bridge from Easter up to the upcoming summer months.

It’s hard to get a clear read on the disciple’s reaction to the crucifixion. Three times during the last six months of his ministry, Jesus plainly said that he would be delivered up by wicked men who would crucify him, but that on the third day he would rise again. He didn’t make this prediction is veiled terms. He said it plain and simple.

The image that the gospel record seems to convey, however, is that the disciples and those closest to Christ were either hiding in fear or waiting for the Sabbath to pass so they could resume their ordinary existences. John chapter 20 is no exception. The chapter begins with the exciting account of the resurrection, then sharpens the focus on Mary Magdalene who had gone to the garden to finish the burial preparations for the body of Jesus.

Mary is an important character whose story is interwoven through the story of Christ. Some scholars believe that she is the woman famously “caught in adultery” in John 7:53-8:11 (look it up!). Luke reports that Jesus had at one time cast seven demons from her. She had a sketchy past, and her life of loyal devotion is evidence that she had experienced an uncommon transformation. She certainly knew Christ and was as familiar with him as anyone could have been.

The reader is surprised by her surprise that the stone has been rolled away and that the body is missing. She is confronted by a man she assumes is a gardener and inquires where the body of Jesus had been taken. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that she recognized the risen Lord. Sometimes the tears in our eyes can distort the images of reality right in front of us. That is the setting of he first post resurrection saying of Jesus, found in John 20:15, which reads, “‘Dear woman, why are you crying?’, Jesus asked. ‘Who are you looking for?'”

The relevance of the questions are obvious. Like Mary, many of us have spent time, money and energy looking for something or someone who can fill the empty void of life. We find ourselves desperate, having climbed the ladder of life’s meaning only to discover we’ve put the ladder against the wrong wall. In my opinion, Mary’s tears are not just tears of grief. They are also tears of frustration, maybe even tears of anger and disappointment. Disappointments, I’m reminded often, are nothing more than failed expectations.

But with one word Mary experienced a complete reversal. Who are you looking for? The good news of Easter is that Jesus remains beside the tomb, challenging us to look inside and discover the power of a new beginning. And when we think we’ve lost hope we discover that the same hope exists in a way that we could have never imagined.

Apr
11

I’m Spiritual, But Not Religious

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Over the past several months I’ve enjoyed many conversations with irreligious people about faith. In my encounters I’ve heard one recurring theme over and over–“I’m spiritual, but not religious.” One person, when I pressed for further understanding, quipped, “Religion is sitting in church thinking about fishing. Spirituality is going fishing and thinking about God.” Without question, people are very open to spiritual things, but simultaneously bypassing organized religion to find and fuel their spirituality. Religious institutions are becoming less and less where people turn to in order to find meaning and make sense out of life. So where do they turn?

Harvard Divinity School published a study titled, How We Gather, that centered around the question, “How can we retrieve the ancient wisdom, without the constraints?” The research team discovered that people who seek spirituality do so by accessing several practices outside the confines of formal religion.

  1. Finding community by valuing and fostering deep relationships that center on serving others. Creating new communities is often more powerful than joining existing ones.
  2. Striving for personal transformation by making a conscious and dedicated effort to develop one’s own body, mind, and spirit.
  3. Seeking social transformation by pursuing justice and beauty in the world through the creation of networks for good with the goal of closing the asset gaps. This effort extends beyond geographical and political boundaries. It is global in its focus.
  4. Finding purpose and hope by clarifying, articulating and acting on one’s own personal life mission. (Yes, the secular world is challenging their employees to write their own personal life mission statements.)
  5. Fostering creativity by allowing time and space to activate the imagination and engage in play, especially as digital interfaces become more common.
  6. Valuing accountability by holding oneself and others responsible for working toward decided goals, often without a centralized authority.

Yes, I realize that these are all core values of religions groups and local churches. The key distinction is the structure and constraints of religion and local churches. The listing above is expressed in the ministry of Jesus and the apostolic work reported in the Book of Acts. Perhaps the key is for churches to reevaluate their “constraints.” Churches have a lot of rules, some of them written, many of them unwritten. Unfortunately, many of these rules are reinforced from obscure verses from the Bible and the particular interpretive biases of church and denominational leadership. What isn’t cited from Scripture is purely the culture of the congregation. The result is that many feel invalidated as persons. Much of local church life is on the top shelf and inaccessible.

No, I don’t advocate tossing the Bible aside and giving in to every whim of popular culture. But I do think churches need to reassess what is most important and direct their resources and energy in that direction. The mandate of Jesus was and is, “follow me in a life of discipleship.” Not, join a church and become like them. The standard must be higher, not harder.

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In a recent poll released by Gallup, American church membership has declined to below 50% of the population. The study cites that in 2020, only 47% of U.S. adults belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque. That’s a 20 point reduction since the turn of the century (1999). The survey states the following reasons for this steady decrease.

  1. There is a decline in religious affiliation, due in part to the increased number of churches that have eliminated formal church membership.
  2. Values have shifted through generations. With each generational stage comes a decline, which should come as no surprise.
  3. No demographic sub group is unscathed. The decline in membership is non discriminate toward race, gender, socio-economic status, political affiliation, etc.
  4. While the pandemic certainly didn’t help the numbers, it didn’t cause the numbers. The pandemic revealed the trend that was already underway.
  5. While estimates remain unclear, it is certain that many churches will be forced to either close or form mergers in the coming years in order to remain sustainable.

What are the options, then, in the face of this trend?

First, churches need to re-evaluate their values toward formal church membership in favor of committed participation. Regular attenders may never formally join a church. At the same time, these same attenders may provide stability through volunteerism, leadership, and financial donations. If a church is narrow at this point, it may miss opportunities to disciple people and fellowship with them.

Second, churches need to immerse themselves in their communities to find the needs that are present instead of “just guessing at it.” For example, the Gallup Poll cites a 2017 poll among church goers which details the major reasons people attend a particular church. The results are interesting.

Reasons for Attending Church or Other Place of WorshipMajor factorMinor factorNot a factor
%%%
Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture76168
Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life75168
Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers642115
Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities592713
Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring542817
Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community493614
A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music383625

Three things immediately stand out. First, participation in a particular church or denominational brand is not listed. Brand loyalty is a diminishing value that may not be persuasive. The second is the placement of worship style as number seven out of seven. So guitars and drums do not guarantee growth. Again, becoming immersed in your community will enable churches to discover the needs of people and design strategies accordingly. No, you don’t have to “guess at it.” The third and final observation is that people have a desire to be involved, but not necessarily in the way churches are designed. Take, as an example, a congregation with a heavy committee structure. It is not uncommon for a church to have 6-8 standing committees, in addition to a governing board, elder board, or deacon board. These committees may have 6-9 members each. At that point it’s a math problem. Six committees with six members each equals 36, not counting other leaders, officers, or staff. For most churches in America, that’s a substantial percentage of their adults. And because churches value membership, you can’t serve on a committee even if you were willing. Younger generations may not have their grandparents values, where membership included service to a committee. Service? Yes. Committees? Pass.

These statistics can lead us to do one of two things. One is to throw our hands up, give up, and close up. The other is to allow God’s Spirit to lead us to think about church in ways we haven’t thought before. We don’t have to give up. But we may have to let go of some things that we have gripped with white knuckles. As Corrie Ten Boom once wrote, “I’ve learned to hold on to things loosely, because it hurts too bad when God has to pry them from my hands.”

You can find both surveys at the following link: https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

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