Making decisions that we know affect other people is one of the most challenging things we do as people, parents, citizens, neighbors, and leaders. Oftentimes, we begin placing our thoughts, feelings, and potential outcomes through a filter. Almost certainly, we never use a single filter. More often than not, we use a hodgepodge of filters such as personal experience, limited knowledge, trusted input, and our intuition. And, as Jesus followers, we strive to also apply the filter of God’s Word that is light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
So, how do we make big decisions that affect (literally) thousands of people? I can’t say that I’m an expert, but I will share a few things I’ve learned over the years about decision making that have been affirmed in the last eight months.
We pray. Prayer roots us in our Master Decision Maker, Jesus. The fundamental reason a decision needs to be made is either we don’t know what to do next or we already know what we need to do and we need the confidence to do it. For both reasons, we bathe every decision in prayer. We reflect and thank God for his faithfulness in decision making in the past. We rest in the truth that God is the chief decision maker. And, we place our trust in whatever conclusion God will bring us to in the end. Prayer also invites us to present to God our collective insecurities and worry. We become vulnerable with God and each other which increases our trust in each other as a team. We take seriously, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5). It’s almost like we have a collective, constant, and ongoing conversation with God - which is the heart of a life of prayer.
We center ourselves on Jesus’ mission. Like a magnetic field always shows us “true north”, Jesus’ mission always shows us where to go next. Jesus’ personal mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and we see that every decision Jesus made pulled him closer to Jerusalem, the cross, and the empty grave. Fast forward to the early church, we see that every decision that was made was oriented toward Jesus’ co-mission: to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20). Both individually and as a church, we center ourselves on Jesus’ mission for us: to make disciples who love God, love people, and live like Jesus. Anything that distracts us from Jesus’ “true north” is given less priority which frees us to keep walking in Jesus’ direction.
Now - I don’t believe there is always one correct decision. Rather, God has given us incredible freedom to choose how best to follow Him both individually and as a church. Oftentimes, our own fear of failure or anxiety concerning disagreement fuel our indecision. Ed Stezer, Professor at Wheaton College once said that if you want everyone to like you, go sell ice cream. Making decisions is not for the faint of heart. Decisions are hard and a common agreement on a shared mission brings unity, disarms fear, and brings peace in the conviction that anything that loves and serves others is the best decision we can make.
We ask questions which lead to principles. Conversation begins with questions that might sound like, “what do we believe God sees as the ultimate outcome?” and “what do we know today about the challenge?”. Each of us has a different perspective and the difference of opinions matter. Clarifying our thoughts and seeking understanding from each other builds a cohesion of consensus. For example, when it comes to onsite worship, God’s outcome is that we live lives of worship because that’s what heaven will be like - a never-ending worship service at the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our challenge today is multi-faceted. There are guidelines, attitudes, underlying beliefs about the virus, the hard science of medical pandemics, social stigmas, organizational ethics and liability, and the list goes on. Throughout our conversations, principles emerged such as, “relationships are king” and “we move forward when it is wise and safe to do so”. If mission keeps us oriented to Jesus’ “true north”, then principles define the parameters of what we are willing to do.
We seek wisdom and input. Like a dinner buffet, everything looks good. Yet, we know that some options are more sensible than others. The way we discern which option might be the best to pursue, we ask for input from a variety of people. In this sense, decision making is very much a community sport. On behalf of our team, I solicit collective wisdom from our Board of Directors, our team of elders, other ministry staff and leaders, field experts (such as our Medical Advisory Team), and those we know and trust in our greater community. They see things we cannot see. They know things we do not know. Their wisdom and input makes us all better. Every piece of input is extremely helpful because it affirms our proposed decision, refines it, or leads us in another direction. In all three cases, we win because the best decision is both the one that is avoided and the one that is affirmed.
We commit. Knowing that our decision is a team effort, we are committed to its implementation, follow through, and owning the results - both success and failures. Every decision is a learning experience that sharpens our skills more and more so that more people can be invited to make disciples who love God, love people, and live like Jesus.
When I think about it, these learnings intersect making decisions in most of life - from diets to elections. So much of life is about growing in our ability to make wise decisions.
In the end, I believe that decision making is a skill that we develop over time. With that said, we know that the biggest decision of all time that gives us confidence in every decision we make has already made. God made the decision to send Jesus to love us, die for us, come back to life for us, forgive us, renew us, and lead us as we continue making disciples who love God, love people, and live like Jesus.
I’d love to hear what you think about decision making! You can send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love you more than you know.
In Protestant churches around the world, the Reformation is usually observed on the last Sunday of October. For those who are still tracking with time in 2020, that’s this Sunday. The day is usually filled with reminders of reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther clarifying and crystalizing the gospel message that God’s salvation is by grace alone through faith alone rooted in scripture alone which is all about Christ alone.
And while the spiritual outcomes of the Reformation are certainly foundational to who we are Jesus followers, I think the Reformation might mean something more for us - especially this year. It’s so easy to forget that the Reformation wasn’t just a spiritual renewal, but also one of political, economic, and social change and how Jesus is the only solution that can get us there.
For a moment, let’s think about the Reformation as a period of time between 1517 and 1648 (instead of a one-time event). LutheranReformation.org helps frame out its significance. Here are some highlights:
We could sum it all up like this: in a world of blurred religion and politics, questioning science and discovery, increasing social disparity and inequity, rumors of revolution, and fractured relationships, the words of Jesus Culture’s song, One Thing Remains echoes in my mind:
[Jesus’] love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.
That’s great news because the world of the Reformation sounds a lot like today. And perhaps the words of Martin Luther are just as true today as they were in the middle of the chaos of 1529:
That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever!
Indeed, all else can fail. We cannot fully change the world - but we know the One who has already changed the world. Jesus has closed our casket of sin and death and opened the way back to God. Everything else can fall apart and be taken from us - the gospel isn’t that we get more life, liberty, and happiness. The gospel is that we get God and that a new heaven and new earth is coming. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Through Jesus, we get God. And that’s really good news in this world that seems to be constantly swirling with change.
This last week of October, we might be able to escape from our chaotic experience of the year 2020 by watching Disney’s Coco and swinging our hips to Salsa music on Dia de los Muertos. Or, we might put on our costumes and light candles on Halloween and All Saints' Day. Or, we might find ourselves eating our favorite party foods while watching football with a few friends and family. Enjoy and have fun!
And, if our celebrations might be different than usual, our days continue to be disrupted from our idea of normal, and our lives seem to be perpetually disoriented, let’s remember what songwriters Keith Getty and Stuart Townend write:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
Dread is real. And it takes a toll on our mental wellness.
On March 12, 2020, New York Times Opinion Columnist, David Brooks said, “Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart. These are crises in which social distancing is a virtue. Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection”. And to think, Brooks wrote these words before the economic uncertainty, social disharmony, and the national election really heated up.
Dread is a specific kind of fear that expects the worst. Even the most positive person experiences a sense of dread over something. Dread is real.
The good news is that Jesus finds himself in a world of dread - and He does something about it. Think about it:
I can only imagine how dread-filled people living in a dreadful moment received Jesus’ words.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life… Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life… your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (selections from Matthew 6:25-32).
But, Jesus - don’t you see that we are in dreadful times? I sometimes feel like I’m losing my mind. We seem to be moments from chaos. There are rumors of food shortages. Families are divided by ideologies and opinions. It seems as if the world is falling apart. Protests and riots have become the norm. Injustice and discrimination is rampant. I’m not sure about taxes, but morale seems really low right now - and there is a whole lot of debt out there. Dishonesty, disloyalty, and dis-everything seems to be more of a character trait among leaders than integrity. And when it seems like the world needs leadership, we find ourselves in a vacuum.
Jesus responds, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33).
You mean, you will give me everything I need to get through this dreadful day?
Jesus gently speaks, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).
Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t eliminate dread. Instead, Jesus gives us a better alternative than to fixate on our dread.
When our minds are consumed with dread, Jesus gives us everything we need to live with dread. Jesus lived through one of the most dreadful human experiences - not just abuse, being bullied, and humiliated - but crucified on a cross. Jesus experienced the worst: death. Jesus also comes back to life to tell us about it.
Indeed, we can find respite for our tired minds in Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Here are some fantastic resources to help you get started!
If you or somebody you know needs crisis assistance, please use one of the following resources:
One of the more influential people in my life is Dr. Dale Meyer, Emeritus President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. While sitting in my “Holy Time Out” waiting for my CT scan, I read what “Dr. Dale” wrote on March 2, 2020 about the coronavirus:
“The virus can scare us because we don’t have control over it. Lack of control can lead to fear, and fear can lead to anger. Some blame China; others blame our government. In the blame-game anger is present. Anger comes when something we hold dear is threatened, in this case our lives and the lives of those close to us may be threatened. When we follow the news with spiritual eyes, we see human nature as it really is, as we really are apart from grace” (The Meyer Minute, March 2, 2020). You can read his entire devotion here.
On Monday, my idea of life has indeed been threatened - this time not by COVID-19, but by a small and painful calcified stone lodged in my cecum. How did it get there? Why is it there? What is its composition? Do I have “the c-word”? Everything at that moment (and still today as I write this), I couldn’t control.
As I waited for my name to be called, I reflected on some other life aspects that I couldn’t control.
These are a few things that scrambled through my mind.
And as I sat there in the middle of a swirling world with a racing mind and broken heart, I started laughing to myself.
I was in God’s Holy Time Out. Just like a coach calls a time out to re-focus their team, a Holy Time Out is a way God huddles us together to bring focus to what He wants to do in us so that He can do something through us.
What did I do in my time out? I just sat there.
What did I see?
What did I learn in my Holy Time Out? It’s all out of my control.
I think about how the Hebrew people must have felt out of control in 586 BC. Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and taken everybody into a whole new world. And in the chaos, noise, and clutter of life, God calls a Holy Time Out. He sends Isaiah to get the attention of the Hebrew people saying, “But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Those words are true in my time out today as they were around 586 BC. And, they’re true for you today, too.
When everything seems out of control, we’re in “time out”: God is in control. We have nothing to fear because God has redeemed us through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. God has called us by name. We are God’s.
Which means even when our life and world is spinning out of control, we continue to love and serve the people around us.
I don't share this to brag, but to share that perhaps God's Time Out was not just for me.
After all, I'm not in control.
Here’s some good news: Jesus lives in you. He is using you for His good in the world. God has placed you with your family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, in-laws and outlaws, frenemies and enemies, EGR’s (extra grace required), and your church family for a specific purpose: to love them as Jesus loves them.
With Election Day about a month away, I feel like it’s a good time to remind ourselves as Jesus followers not to trade big things for little things.
That’s what happened with the little boy, Narcissus. He started to look into a pool of water and fell in love with his reflection so much that he stared at it until the day he died. That is a real danger of falling in love with oneself. Or an issue. Or a policy. Or a candidate. Or anything other than Jesus.
Oh, how easy it is to trade big things for little things.
I recently read John 2. Jesus is heartbroken over people trading big things for little things. Like Narcissus, the temple people had fallen in love with themselves and everything that made them great. They traded Jesus’ big things - His grace, His love, His mercy, His life, for all the little things. It’s why they reacted with anger when Jesus said he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. John makes it clear that Jesus is not talking about the building, but His body (v. 21). I once heard that if a crucified man comes back to life and lives forever to tell about it - then the game is over. At least, on this side of heaven.
Jesus is the rebuilt temple. Jesus places the stones back together as his body rises from the dead on Easter morning. So what happens today - a vaccination, an election, racial justice, world peace is not all that impressive or hope-filled - at least compared to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
So, if the world is torn apart by senseless violence, riots, terror, a virus, or an election gone mad - Jesus is still living in you and will use you to be His active presence and voice in this incredibly broken world. If America goes nuts over these next 32 days - there is no need to worry. You cannot compare anything that might happen on this side of heaven to Jesus’ death and resurrection - or yours. Never trade big things for little things.
You might be let down, betrayed, hurt, or ignored by those you love most over seemingly small, silly things. You can trust that Jesus has given you His Spirit to continue loving them well like Jesus already loves both you and them. Never trade big things for little things.
Jesus says in Luke 21:5-38, even if the sun, moon, and stars fall out of the sky: enjoy God’s light show because you know what comes next. It’s your resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes to Christians in Corinth, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (like Jesus’ body was). He is now in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). So, if you and I are temples (like Jesus), He will rebuild us. He will resurrect us, too.
Mud-slinging, in-fighting, and more tearing down than building up will most likely fill these next 32 days. That’s the nature of humanity when we look into the pool at ourselves. Remember that Jesus has chosen you. He loves you. He lives in you. God gives us life’s biggest thing: Jesus’ life, Himself. You and I no longer live, but Christ lives in us; who loves us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
May your words reflect your Savior. May your thoughts reflect the temple of all temples, Jesus. And may you never trade Jesus’ big things for little things.
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor.