Today @ The Gathering – Welcome to the Revolution

diversityToday at The Gathering we returned to the last installment of our present series, “Loving God.” Today I spoke on “Welcome to the Revolution,” calling for the creation of a Renegade Nation.

One of the points I tried to make throughout “A Renegade’s Guide to God” is, though each one of us has an individual relationship with God, that relationship automatically leads us into a larger relationship with other believers. When we are a part of Christ, we are a part of each other. Jesus reflected this unity in His last prayer in John 17 when He prayed that we would be one as He and the Father were one.

Unity of purpose and passion has been the one thing that the American church has denied Jesus. We are a fragmented group. We divide into denominations and then sub-divide within those denominations on the basis of our preference, or what we consider doctrinal differences. It’s gotten so bad in this country that if someone asks if you’re a Christian, the next thing they want to know is, not what does that mean, how has it affected your life, or where are you now on that journey? But, “What church do you belong to?” This way we can decide what your political preference is, what your moral stance may be, and what you believe about the war.

There has to be a way for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ – and there are so many of us we number in the millions – to be able to come together and recast the revolution; this grace revolution that Jesus instituted 2,000 years ago. This weekend at The Gathering I offered a simple covenant that we could all agree upon. It could be the starting point of our unity.

In the Renegade Nation couldn’t we just simply agree that our basic consensus is Christ; that we are followers of Christ, that we love Christ, that we believe He is actually who the Bible says He is, that He is God incarnate, that He lived a sinless life, that He died and was raised on the third day, and that He is our Savior working out His purposes. And one day when those purposes are complete he will return. This is the core power of what we share together.

In the Renegade Nation our connections are organic. We don’t have to be the same. We can be Christians and ride motorcycles, or enjoy symphonies, or like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bach, Beethoven, or the Beatles. Our heart is around Christ, but we all have different tastes and personalities. So organically we can come together with those affinity groups that share the same kind of outward passions we do and let Christ be the uniting force.

In the Renegade Nation our calling is to conversation. In the past fifty years the method has been condemnation with an attempt to convert. It seems to be exactly the opposite of what happened in the early church. They engaged people in conversation about what was going on with them and through them. And that conversation led people to curious investigation while the Holy Spirit began to move in their heart and bring about conversion. It may seem like a small shift, but it’s not. It may be the most important one in the new revolution. Condemnation has never changed anyone. You can’t condemn people to God.

And last, in the Renegade Nation our compassion is practical and front-line. Which means we want to do it now, here. We don’t want to pay other people to do it. We don’t want to build institutions that do it for us while we sit around and let the world go by.

The vision of The Gathering is to recast the revolution. We talked about this in great detail at our recent Leadership Summit. If you were not able to attend, you can download the mp3 and all the notes and get caught up on exactly what the heart of The Gathering is all about. I’ll talk more about recasting the revolution in greater detail in my blog in the days ahead.

Again, today at The Gathering was a great time of celebration. I truly believe God moved in the hearts of people. I saw new faces. I saw a bunch of old faces I hadn’t seen in a very long time. And it was great to renew these relationships.

Today @ The Gathering – Happy Mother’s Day

diversityToday at The Gathering I took a break from my series called “Loving God,” to speak on the subject “What Women Wish Men Knew.”

I thought since it was Mother’s Day it would be a really great time to talk about men/women relationships as taught from the Scripture, without being pushed through the lens of religion.

Let’s face it, in religion women have not fared very well. We’ve been taught they are second-class citizens, born to be submissive to their husbands. And yet the Scriptures, particularly in Proverbs 31, tell a very different story. It talks about the fact that the godly woman has great character, that her integrity, the strength of her soul and spirit, are far more valuable than any precious diamonds or stones; that her character in full bloom is so powerful it even can affect the career of her husband.

I also talked about the industry of a woman who goes out and buys real estate and sells, makes profit, who has a keen business mind, who takes care of her family, who has an endless and boundless amount of energy. Yea God for a godly woman!

We also discussed that a man should know that a woman is a person, not property. This is particularly important in light of the way women are turned into objects in our present culture. We also talked about the importance of presence, not just presents. Men often excuse their actual physical presence in the home by saying they are out making money so they can live a better lifestyle. Sometimes even for a man it’s hard to believe that his wife and children would rather have him at home than the things he can buy them.

I also talked about the fact that women use their husbands’ eyes as their mirrors. I’ve come to understand that one of the differences between men and women is that women get their self-worth reflectively through how they’re seen in the eyes of other people. And oftentimes when a wife asks her husband, “How do I look in these clothes?” what she’s really saying is, “Tell me that you love me, that you affirm me, that you appreciate me, that you find me beautiful and attractive.” All of this seems to be self-evident, but trust me, it’s not, because we men are way slow on the uptake when it comes to the importance of saying not just the right thing, but the thing that is in our heart.

Talking about the differences between men and women and the rightness of how they get along, can often seem to be only mildly a Christian idea. By that I mean, too many men call themselves Christians and then treat their wives totally opposite of how Christ taught us to treat each other. If I am a follower of Jesus Christ, it must be reflected in the words that I use and the way I use those words with my wife, my daughters, and all the people in my family. It should start at home first. This is how you change culture; one man, one woman, one family, one relationship at a time.

Next week at The Gathering we will be going back to the “Loving God” series based on my newest book, “A Renegade’s Guide to God.” I’ll be talking about “Welcome to the Revolution,” calling for the creation of a renegade nation. Take all those R4G’s and pull them together around what I call a “4-C Covenant,” which creates the foundation on which the renegade nation is mobilized. We’ll also be talking about what we need to do to re-image the church in a culture that sees church as something that’s not that important to our work-a-day lives.

Today @ The Gathering – May 6

diversityMaybe it’s just me, but today at The Gathering was the best weekend we’ve ever had. People were coming with such joy and freedom, with great anticipation. It makes it so much easier as a speaker, to get the point across when people are leaning forward. It seems as though people are coming, already hungry, engaged, and ready to listen and to respond.

This weekend I talked about probably my favorite chapter in the book, A Renegade’s Guide to God. I did a talk called “Growing Up Into Greatness”. Listen to it below;

One of the premises of this talk is this: You cannot over time behave in a way that is different than how you truly see yourself. We really do allow our inner programming to dictate how we behave.

If our behavior is to change over time, our thinking has to change over time. And if our thinking is to change over time, we have to change the way we think about ourselves. We change the way we think about ourselves when we change the way we think about God. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to believe, tell me what you think about God and I’ll tell you what you think about yourself. If you think God is distant and removed, it’s exactly how you’ll feel about your own identity.

The thing that really strikes me about The Gathering is the organic nature of what goes on. You see people going up to people, embracing and hugging. I talked to people this morning who had just gotten a speeding ticket on the way to The Gathering, but were filled with joy. I talked to one guy who had just gotten out of jail and came to The Gathering still filled with joy in the midst of the great pain. I talked with some who had just lost their parents this week to cancer, a person who had just lost their job. And yet there is this hopefulness, there is this sense of God is at work.

Maybe for the first time in my life I have fully embraced the privilege of being called a pastor. I think I have been way too afraid of all the stereotypes and the negative things that are said about pastors, and have failed to embrace all the fullness and joy.

What a privilege it is to be a pastor! What joy it is to stand before people to give the word of life, to set them free, to lift them up to Christ, to tell them with great confidence and certainty they were created in the image of God, by God with great design. That design extends not only to their particular talents and gifts, but it extends to where they are, to this moment in time that they have been inserted on the stage of life’s great redemptive drama; that each one of us is important, that everything is worship, and everywhere is sacred. What a great privilege to be able to gather to worship God, to learn how to go worship God everywhere else.

This week, there will be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people from The Gathering out being the church of Jesus Christ in their work-a-day world; loving, living, displaying their confidence, letting the fuel of God’s love be their greatness, letting the foundation of who they are in Christ be their greatness, letting the face of their greatness be the face of a servant, and the attitude of their greatness be the attitude of humility that’s fueled by the attitude of gladness.

The Gathering is growing. Why? Because we believe in the J-life. We believe in loving people. We believe that God wants the best for us and we are committed to encourage people every single week when they come.

I can’t wait until next week as we gather on Mother’s Day. Every mother is going to receive a special gift and God has given me, I think, a really special message. It’s going to be really powerful.

What was today at The Gathering like? Sunshine inside and out, great joy, hallways filled with happy people – people hugging each other and loving each other, people coming up to me and saying, “That’s exactly what I needed to hear, that’s exactly the time I needed to hear it.” That’s just like God. That’s one of the reasons why we gather.

Today @ The Gathering – April 29

diversityWell, we had another weekend at The Gathering. The weather was incredible and people again came in a great mood. The worship time led by Ken and Barbie Isham, and others, was stellar. I love “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, “Great in Power,” and one of my favorites that Barbie wrote – “Relentless.” It may even be recorded on The Gathering website, I am not sure, but it’s a great song if you’ve never heard it.

It’s really great as I come in early to see people at work setting up signs, setting up classes, sound, and all the things that go into creating the environments we know that people are going to come and have this amazing experience with Jesus.

Today I talked about Mastering the Art of Abundance,” and illustrated the fact that we can have one of two mindsets; a scarcity mindset which amazingly causes us to go in debt, over-spend, and feel like there is never enough. As opposed to an abundance mentality that helps us stay out of debt, save, and actually have money to give.

It is far more than money or possessions. It’s the promise that Jesus gave, that He’d come to give us life and give it to us fully. He’s come to prosper us, to bless us, to supply all of our needs. And there’s one place in Scripture that says that God supplies us all things for our enjoyment. This really doesn’t sound like the God I was raised with. God didn’t supply anything for our enjoyment. As a matter of fact, having joy or having fun was a strict no-no.

I really wanted in this series, “Loving God,” to help us understand that the greatest thing in all of life is receiving God and returning it, finding out how to love God in our everyday, work-a-day world; to break down the barrier between the sacred and the secular, to see all of life as sacred, to see work as sacred, to see home life as sacred.

That’s why The Gathering is what we call a “three G church.” We gather to worship in order to go worship everywhere else. We also gather to grow, to grow together in love, up in Christ, out through ministry, and more through conversion. And this gathering and growing turns us into incredibly generous people. We’re generous with what we know, what we’ve learned. We’re generous with our money, our time, our talent, and our energies. We live, as I talked about today, with a full heart and an open hand.

Since I am part of a brand new church that officially, this Sunday, has been meeting in Cool Springs for four months, it’s been amazing to recover that real joy and excitement of being a part of something new, something that’s growing and changing and morphing as people come and add their love and their talent. It was awesome today to see new faces and to be introduced to new couples – young, bright, happy couples who have an amazing future in front of them. And it’s also really great to see familiar faces, faces I haven’t seen in awhile who are now finding out where The Gathering is and migrating over and joining the journey, being a part of this movement, learning how to be the church in this new, wireless, wall-les, worn-out world. It’s a great trip, and I’m enjoying it!

Next week at The Gathering, I’m going to be talking about “Growing Up Into Greatness.” This is one of my favorite talks and maybe my favorite chapter of the entire book, “A Renegade’s Guide to God.” I really look forward to seeing what God is doing.

Today at The Gathering, April 15

diversityWell, this is the Sunday after Easter and we usually expect the attendance to be low, but in spite of the cold temperatures and the pouring rain, The Gathering’s attendance was amazing today.

I’m also amazed at how responsive both services are. Traditionally the 8:30 service is a little more subdued because they are not awake yet. And the second service is a little more active. It was almost the opposite today. It’s as though people are coming anticipating. Hey, that’s a good word. Let’s talk about it.

One of the things that is true of all great churches is that, as they gather, they gather with anticipation, an expectation, a buzz. I totally disagree with those people who believe that we ought to come into church and sit silently in our seats. I understand what they mean, that is, being focused, centered, be in the moment, and be prepared. And I think there is value to that.

But I also think there is more value to coming into a place that’s exciting with anticipation. We’re beginning to see that develop here at The Gathering in both services: anticipation; anticipation during set-up, during the services, between, and afterwards. It’s exciting.

The other thing I noticed today at The Gathering was the music was exceptional. Brittini Black and Sandra Lee led music today and did an exceptional job. I particularly enjoyed their rendition of the old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” It didn’t sound anything like it did when I was growing up, but it still moved me. Thanks, ladies, for a great weekend.

I was also overwhelmed at how great people were in receiving the message this weekend, “Savoring the Sacred Now.” I have to say it’s probably my favorite chapter of the book. It’s one of my favorite subjects because we all easily get there. We lose the joy of the moment waiting for another place and time to really live.

I talked about why we trade our joys for jobs, our humanity for hurry, our souls for security, and our relationships for responsibilities – how we lose our sense of wonder. When did we lose our silliness, our ability to be in the moment, to laugh? Why are we so serious? Why is image so important? Why can’t we just love life and love each other as we are?

The two things I talked about this weekend that I do every week, I encourage you to find your own, is to get up every single day and submit to the devastating love of Jesus. I’m talking about the kind of love that changes everything; the kind of love that says I am loved as I am, not as I ought to be, where I am; the kind of love that says God will never forsake me, never leave me, never run away from me. What a great joy!

I also talked about the importance of not only submitting to the devastating love of Jesus, but surrendering to God’ divine providence, knowing that I am exactly where I am, going through what I have, on the way to where God wants me to go.

Savoring comes from a word which means to taste. So here’s what we talked about at The Gathering this weekend: savor, taste, enjoy, sample this moment. It is the only one you have. Be glad in all the circumstances you’re facing – good or bad – that God is at work. Live an 8:28 lifestyle. You know what 8:28 means, don’t you? “For we know that God is at work in all things for our good.”

What am I learning at The Gathering? It’s exciting to start over. It’s exciting to be in the Franklin/Brentwood area. It’s exciting to see new faces. It’s exciting to see things develop. And I’m so surprised that I’m not in as much of a hurry as I used to be. I’m taking every day, enjoying it, learning to enjoy the people around me, just staying in the moment. How about you?

See you next weekend at The Gathering.

Today at The Gathering, April 8th – Easter

diversityToday at The Gathering far exceeded my expectations. Almost every seat was taken in the early service, and every seat was taken with people standing in the aisles in the second service. Plus, when I came in, all the hallways were full of people talking and serving, loving kids and doing great things. Just the chatter should be recorded, just the happiness, just the being in this moment, this divine place where God meets man in a moment of divine exchange!

For the first time since the existence of The Gathering, today we actually had video. We have been working hard and faithful to be able to plug into the theatre’s digital video systems and now that’s been accomplished. And it was great to see all the cool stuff, which really brightened up the room and made it an exciting experience – from the words, to all the pictures, to the countdown videos.

It was also exciting today to see the choir. And the music was really high quality and moving – not just something that you watch other people do, but that you joined in, too. There was that feeling of great participation.

It’s exciting to be around something that is just being born, with so many possibilities, so many happy people. People are doing things that matter; things that mean something. There’s less time to worry about the system and more time to focus on just serving one another in the love of Jesus Christ.

Unless I’m mistaken, we’re going to look back on today, not at the amazing attendance of so many people sitting and standing, but at what God has done in the hearts of the people who were sitting and standing in the room and outside; to see the reality that a risen Christ makes in everyday life. Because, let’s face it; if all Christianity is, is a bunch of historical stories about people that we’ve learned in our childhood, it’s really failed us in the world.

Christianity is the only enduring, prevailing rumor of hope the world really can hang onto. It’s the hope that life not only will get better, but the belief that God will help us. He’ll not leave us to ourselves. He is here to rescue, to redeem. And though very few times do you see in the news the God factor put in, we all know it’s there. And we trust it.

Today at The Gathering truly was a time to gather to worship, to get fired up to go worship wherever we go. Yea God! I can’t wait until next weekend when we go back to our series, “Loving God,” and we talk about savoring the sacred now. It’s probably my favorite chapter of the entire book. It’s about how we often get robbed in our lives from not being where we should be – not physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

Today at The Gathering, April 1st

This weekend at The Gathering was the sixth installment of our series “Loving God.” I related my visit this week to a state penitentiary. And what I took away was, from death row to maximum security, to all the different sections of the prison, there seemed to be a normalcy, an acceptance of the walls and the barbed wire. And why not? If you’re living within a prison, within walls with bars, where your freedom has been taken away, you either accept it or go crazy.

This morning I really tried to use the illustration that we build prisons for ourselves. We live too far within our limitations. As followers of Jesus, we have this outrageous joy that comes from extreme freedom; a freedom that says that any and every day of my life I am able to live where I want to live, do what I want to do, with the people I want to do it with. I’m free to move, to quit one job, to accept another, to change a career. I am free to have ambition, to dream, to dare. I’m free to take risks because I have the extreme freedom that Jesus offers.

I talked about this freedom from three aspects: Freedom from the shame of the past and the fear of the future, which stills the self-condemning voices that whisper, “I’m no good and God wouldn’t want to bless someone like me.” It also stills the fear of abandonment inside.

I talked about the freedom under the loving leadership of renegade Jesus. It was Peter who said that a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. As a Christian, my great joy is to allow Jesus to master me, to get up every single day and to love living, to press so deeply into life that I’ll ultimately come to the essence of real life and that is Jesus – the creator and sustainer of all life.

I also talked about the freedom to, the freedom to dare great things for God. I love what Paul said when he said that God is able to do far more than we ever ask or imagine according to the power that is at work within us. Which to me means that God has given me everything I need to live the life for which I was created. I have the talent, the skill, the energy, the personality, and the intellect to fully embrace and fill every area of the life God ordained for me.
What a joy! What a freedom!

What did I learn today at The Gathering? I learned that people are hungry to be free; that of all the people in the world who live in bondage, religious people have the greatest bondage. It’s a bondage based on self-deception. Religion will not set you free. It’s only another form of prison where the morality police reign and fear and dread become the daily diet.

I invite you to move beyond religion to a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who said He’s come to proclaim Good News to the poor and freedom for the prisoners, to recover the sight of the blind, and to release the oppressed, to proclaim that this is indeed the year of God’s favor.

God’s favor is yours. Live like it.

Today at The Gathering, March 25th

We had another awesome day at The Gathering. The weather was incredible, the sun was out, and people were coming in straight from the parking lot in a great mood. What lesson did I learn today? Going to church ought to be a happy thing. Gathering together ought to be something we look forward to with anticipation, something that we dread missing, not something we dread going to.

When you create that expectation that this is going to be a good place where God is going to meet us, where each one is going to get something to take away; that hurts are going to be healed, that burdens are going to be lifted, that people are going to understand, that God is going to be here in some real and relevant way that makes gathering together to worship God so important that as we go, we’ve learned how to worship God everywhere else. Just going to church on Sunday morning without taking something away that colors and forms the rest of the week, is missing the mark.

I spoke out of Chapter 6 of the Renegade book today on the morphing power of conversion. We highlighted the fact that as Christians, we call ourselves “believers” and our problem isn’t with belief, it’s transforming that belief into life-changing action. That’s’ always been the tension, hasn’t it, between what we believe and how we behave, what we believe and what we truly possess.

This seems to be a really important message. I got a lot of feedback from people particularly as I talked about the mechanics of conversion. So the question I asked today and each person has to answer is, “Do I live with a converted heart, or am I someone who just believes a certain set of facts that really haven’t worked their way deep into my heart and into my soul?”

I also talked about the conversion effect: the three signs that my religion is more than rules, that it’s entered into the relationship phase. Next week is April 1st, one more week before Easter. It’s exciting and you can feel the excitement build.

Last week at our Leadership Summit we had around a hundred people show up for leadership training. It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm and the number of people who are willing to step up and to take leadership of this movement we call The Gathering.

Today at The Gathering, March 11th

Well today at The Gathering took an unplanned turn for me. On my way in I found out that my wife, Paula had been seriously injured in the process of setting up, which what she does every Sunday morning without fail. And she is incredibly great at it. One of the signs being erected was dropped on her toe and made a large gash on the top of her foot. She was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital. I learned all of this as I was arriving to get ready for the service.

I have to tell you that, for me, getting ready to teach God’s word to God’s people as an act of worship is an incredibly serious matter. I’ve learned over the years that I need quiet to pray and to enter into this moment, so I can be at the absolute best. I figure this: When you go in for surgery on a Monday morning, you want your surgeon at his best. When you go to the dentist for a root canal, you want them at their best. And when you come to a worship experience with God’s people, you want your pastor at his absolute best. And I’ve learned over the years that being alone, praying, studying and really preparing myself for that moment is what everyone who comes to The Gathering deserves.

I’ve taken, in the past, a lot of criticism for not being out and shaking hands and meeting people. But I have found that sacred moment just before speaking is to be guarded at all costs because I know that a lot hangs in the balance. I prepare as though some people will be there for the first time and maybe only time, and others may be there for the last time. There’s always a sense of urgency. So you can imagine how distracted I was when I realized that the love of my life, the greatest person in my life, the one woman who has saved me in every way a man can be saved, was at the emergency room and I did not know the full extent of her injury. Not being able to go be with her and having to stay fully focused on the moment was a great spiritual challenge.

On top of that today, I was talking about a very difficult subject, and that is: What’s so cool about being Christian? To really talk about the change that happens in the heart, to really look at the evidences beyond just rule-keeping and doing what we ought to do, to go to the heart of the matter of how God changes our heart and what the process and benefits of that are.

As I was trying to pray and gather through the first service, it was a real struggle for me. I felt as though I was a little scattered and coming in and out. I wanted to say so much and serve the great men and women who had come to The Gathering as best I could. When I got to the last benefit or evidence of the Jesus life, I talked about the hunger that changes in the life and the heart of the person who follows Christ. I talked about drying up the hunger for pornography, rather than just trying to avoid it; to dry up the hunger for anger, or rage, or selfishness, or dishonesty, rather than just trying to restrain myself. To not “ought to love my wife,” but to want to love my wife, to not ought to love God and pray, but to want to, to hunger for it more than I hunger for life.

And yet, again, God seemed to show up. In the second service I was a little more focused, but still, in the back of my mind, concerned about the one whose love has changed my life. At the end of the day at The Gathering, God showed up.

I love being around gracious people. At the end of the service I prayed with several people: one lady came up and related that her young, 24 year-old daughter now has cancer, no insurance, and has to stand in line for treatment, an older gentleman who has cancer and has been given no hope for recovery, a lady whose husband walked out on her, others who have been physically or verbally abused, people who have lost their jobs. And on the other side of the spectrum: new babies, new couples, new lives, and new careers all mixed in the day’s service.

That’s the church of Jesus Christ – the good, the bad, the up, the down, the realness of life mixed in that sacred moment where God shows up and gives the theme of grace, the theme of redemption.

What a privilege it is today to be able to be back at home now with my wife with 6 stitches in her foot, resting in our own home – safe. Injured to be sure, but yea God for His protection. It’s good to know that I know the heart of God, that I can trust His love and follow wherever He leads me. And who knew that today as we went to The Gathering that it would lead Paula to the emergency room and me to stand and speak in the absence of the most important person in my life.

Bottom line: I hope you know the kind of love that comes from a good, godly woman. And ladies, I hope you know the love of a man who honors Christ by honoring you, by loving you, by cherishing you, by making you feel respected, beautiful, lovely, sexy, and wanted.

That’s the kind of love that God smiles on.