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Relevancy has everything to do with meaningfulness and applicability. Something is perceived as irrelevant only if it is perceived as lacking meaning or applicability to a persons life. Even if it is the MOST relevant information, if it is not applied in such a way so that it is actually meaningful, then it will be considered irrelevant. Things that are completely irrelevant, are sometimes perceived as relevant because they have an appearance of meaningfulness.

Relevance is all about meaningfulness and applicability. It asks the question, what does this information mean in my life? How does this information apply to my life? Questions like these determine the relevancy of the information, media, entertainment, etc that we are otherwise engaged with.

In the context of a church, relevancy has absolutely nothing to do with environments. It has nothing to do with flashy lights, graphics, temperature of the room, videos, music, etc. (even though I enjoy and do those things) As a church planter, I certainly think environments are important, but not the most important thing. You could go to the coldest, dirtiest places in the world and still find people worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth. Why? Because the object of their worship has incredible meaning to life. You will find these same people incredibly engaged in the scriptures. Why? Because the scriptures have incredible meaning and applicability to life. The only ones that see the scriptures as irrelevant, are those who either fail to see the meaningfulness of them, or have leaders that fail to demonstrate their meaningfulness in such a way that they become relevant.

The scriptures don’t simply have an illusion of meaning, but rather have actual meaning in life. When considered as a whole, even if you are an unbeliever, the scriptures have been around the block awhile. They contain some of the most inspiring, challenging and enlightening information about life. In his book “Avoiding Jesus” Michael Green puts it this way:

“You must at least recognize that it is the most significant book in the world, has done more than any other book to change the world for good, remains the world’s bests seller, and was composed over a period of some 1500 years. So it may be worth listening to. It may well embody perspective and wisdom, for it comprises a very broad spectrum of human history and experience.”

So as a pastor, as a leader, as a follower of Jesus, it is my responsibility to make the message of Christ, the scriptures, and the knowledge of God as relevant as possible in a world who hungrily seeks meaning in life. Who is looking for answers. Who is looking for something that is true. Jesus was a master at this. May we follow in his footsteps, demonstrating the meaningfulness, applicability, the relevance, of the most relevant message in the world.

I only blog when I feel I have something to say and that certainly doesn’t feel like an every day occurrence. And on days like today I feel so caught up in what I’m thinking and feeling that I have to let it out on paper whether people read it or not. So this blog is more for me than it is for you.

My dad passed away on June 2 of this year. Boy…that’s still difficult to type. And while I am still growing to accept this new reality for my family, there still comes those moments when I hear a song, see a picture, watch a video or get outdoors equipment ready that the loss hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m reminded that he is gone from this life.

One year ago today Dad was in surgery to replace a broken vertebrae in his spine and to have a cancerous tumor removed. One year…it feels like 10 years ago and yet it feels like yesterday. Today, while cleaning up my table next to my chair I found, buried under some papers my dad’s funeral program with his picture on the front along with a poem he’d written. It was one of those moments for me.

It was one of those moments when I hear my dad say, “Mike, let me share something with you…” 1960-2011 was the span of my dad’s life. And boy did he fill up the “dash” between those two dates. I think of all that we did together. Particularly a trip to Michigan to deer hunt over Thanksgiving. He and I drive the whole way up from Oklahoma, just the two of us, and all we had to listen to was a Bing Crosby Christmas tape. I must say, I’ve been hooked ever since. But when I think of my most precious memories, my dad is in them somewhere. He may be in the background quietly holding the pride he felt for me in his chest, or he may be the one standing behind the camera filming – but he’s there.

What my dad is still teaching me is that the most important moments of our lives within “the dash” are our families. I’m reminded that before I am called to lead others, I am called to lead my family. To love my wife and children with an undying devotion. I’m reminded that before I am held responsible for how I preach and teach, I’ll be held responsible for how I live and lead my home. Because I have been entrusted with the care of two dear little children, and a loving wife – they are my first responsibility in this life. I’ve been taught my whole life by leaders that our priorities should be “God, Family, Ministry” – and yet how many ministers really mean that? And while I don’t believe I’ve been replacing my family with ministry or other things – I have certainly been challenged today by the memory of my dad to maintain what is most important in this life. I’ve been challenged to give my best to my family and not expect them to be content with my leftovers.

The other night I had a dream. I was talking to some people and off to my right my dad walked past me. I was the only one who noticed him as he walked away. But about 10 feet way, he stopped. He slowly turned around and locked eyes with me…smiled…and give me a big thumbs up, and then continued walking on. And so, still, even being gone from this life the last several months, he’s still teaching me, and he’s still telling me he’s proud of me.

I remember sitting in the back of a dark people-mover. The twenty or so adults in front of me were all asleep while I lounged on the pile of luggage unable to sleep as we returned from a 3-day ski trip. My mind was racing. God was speaking. My soul was wrestling. It was in that moment 3 1/2 years ago that I decided to become a church-planter. The words of wisdom that my dad had said to me years before, once again, was proving true, “Sometimes God gives us a choice between two paths. And He’ll bless us either way, but He leaves the decision up to you which one you will take.” I could continue doing what Jaclyn and I were doing, or we could adventure down a new path that God was opening up before us. We chose the new one.

We decided to help plant Journey Church in Denton, TX. For over a year the city was burning a whole in my heart and we made the leap to leave our position at a church in OK. We put our house on the market in the summer of 2008. It wasn’t on the market for a week and a half when we got a phone call while on a Mexico Missions Trip that we had a cash buyer, our neighbor. When it was all said and done, we would make about $10k on our house. A pretty nice nest egg for any church planter to have in their back pocket, right? That’s what we thought too.

Jaclyn was in Denton and I remained in OK, finishing up my remaining weeks on staff and waiting to close on our house. The day I was leaving town for good, I received a phone call from our realtor. When I stopped by her office she said those words, “Your buyer backed out.” A mere days separated us from closing, and he backed out. No cash buyer. No $10k to sit on. No release from our house. No easy move.

As you may realize, within a matter of months, the housing market crashed, the stock market fell 777 pts in one day and our country fell into the worst economic state since the Great Depression. Our house, remained on the market. That was in September and by December, we ran out of money. We also became pregnant with our second child and my wife’s grandfather passed away. Somehow we managed to make it to March 2009 when we received a phone call. Someone wanted to wire us some money and when it came in, it was $10,000. Wow! I’ve never been given that much in my life! Before that miracle came in, it was a hard time of testing in my life.

Our house remained on the market until December of 2009 when  I told God, “If you’re okay with the bank foreclosing, I’m okay with it.” We simply weren’t fiscally capable of maintaining it. The last day of 2009 I got a call from someone wanting to rent the home and would pay exactly what we needed to make the mortgage payment. Another wow! Thank you Lord.

Fast forward 9 months to September 2010. Our renter decides to marry his girlfriend and move in with her. His aunt and uncle wish to take up the lease and move from Iowa. Not a problem, right? After health issues and other things they pushed their move-in date to late January of 2011. Several months of keeping the house afloat was taking it’s toll on us. After moving in, the complaints started rolling. In one day alone I received 12 phone calls, while Jaclyn received her own. Our tenants simply became unreasonable, asking for things that were simply absurd, and eventually refused to pay rent which eventually led to their eviction. I knew that we were in the right, both morally and by the law, but I must admit to sleepless nights knowing that these people were going to be forced out. It wasn’t easy.

January through April of 2011 has been some of the toughest months of my life. I’ve never known people to take advantage of others as much as our tenants did. I’ve always been an optimist and given people the benefit of the doubt – it bit me in the rear really hard with these folks. I’ve learned to forgive how they spoke to my wife, how they treated my family, and what they did during those months. It has truly been a journey. But with the lack of rent, and us being unable to make the payment, again I spoke with the Lord that if He was alright with it foreclosing, I was too. At this point, two and a half years after moving out, I had had enough and simply didn’t care. However, God’s patience hadn’t even begun to wear thin.

So I received a phone call and a meeting was set up. A person told me that the Lord was speaking to them the words “Mortgage, mortgage, mortgage” regarding my wife and me. With that, we received a check for $5,000 to help with the mortgage this person previously knew nothing about. Wow! And with that, the story picks up. We were able to get out of default, did a few repair jobs to the house, set it on the market, and within a month, had the offer that led to us finally closing on our house last Wednesday. What…a journey the last three years has been. With this in mind, let me share some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Following God’s Call Isn’t Always Easy & Smooth: Once word got out that our house hadn’t sold, someone asked me, “Are you sure it’s God’s will for you to go to Denton?” Now, that person had demonstrated to me what they really thought about God’s will. For them, everything had to go smoothly and simply. Read Hebrews 11:32-40. Notice anything? Some of the faithful turned away lions and armies – others were sawed in two and put to death by the sword. All in all, they were all faithful and not even one of them received what they had been promised. Talk about feeling “ripped off by God” right? But not for these folks. I’ve learned to change my perspectives while enduring difficulties and trials. James 1:2-4 has become a verse I quote often b/c I’m reminded to take joy in my trials trusting God is at work, even when I can’t see it.

2. Faith Is Trusting and Having Confidence In God: I’ve learned over the last three years that faith is not a blind leap. That the Christian faith has always been a faith, or trust, or confidence, based on knowledge. And it is precisely that knowledge of God that kept me going. God has proven himself to be trustworthy. He has demonstrated Himself as reliable. He has proven that you can put your confidence in Him. It has been in these last three years that this understanding of faith has rung true, not just on paper, but in experience and reality. Through everything we went through, we could trust, rely upon, and have confidence in God. Some say theology is too heavy to be taught in churches. That it’s reserved for scholars in ivory towers. The truth, is that it was my understanding of theology that helped me with some of the most practical struggles of the last three years. So pastors: teach people to think theologically!

3. Everyone’s Story Is Different: Our lead pastor and his wife sold their house in OK pretty quickly. Things happened fast for them, at least from my perspective. But what I’ve learned is to not expect my story to be the same as someone elses. I think we all have this “picture” in our mind of how God ought to do things and when it deviates from that plan, somehow, God isn’t at work. But if everyone had the same story, life would be boring, wouldn’t it? Your story may not end up like ours. And that’s okay; as long as you remember that God may be leading and guiding you down a path that you have never noticed because you were too interested in making your story just like someone else’s story.

I hope our story has encouraged you. I hope it challenges you to not give up. I hope you’re inspired by the fact that God is at work, even when we don’t think He is. I hope you begin to study so that you too can think theologically and realize that the more you grow in the knowledge of God, the more prepared you’ll be to face the realities of this life.

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