Monday is Juneteenth.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It stated, "that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free."
Enslaved people were people of color - specifically, Black African Americans.
The world didn't know about the internet, TikTok, Twitter, or fast-moving mass media. Telegraphs were used by the elite, but they were still relatively new. Morse Code was adopted in 1865. Alexander Graham Bell didn't patent the telephone until 1876. And even if they could communicate with enslaved people, they did not have access to education, which meant they couldn't read or write.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and publicly announced General Order No. 3 to all enslavers and enslaved people.
Freedom was no longer an objective written document. Freedom had become real because someone went to enslaved people, declared their freedom from slavery, and encouraged people who had never experienced freedom to take a risk and, for the first time, live as a free person.
I think of the Apostle Paul, who asked: how will they know about Jesus if they have never heard about him from somebody else? "How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15). While General Granger had beautiful feet and brought the message of freedom to Galveston's enslaved people, each of us has been given beautiful feet to bring the message of Jesus' freedom to the world stuck in the slavery of sin.
Jesus has died. Jesus is risen. Jesus will come again. We are free because of what Jesus has done. That freedom is written on every page of scripture. We are free from sin, death, and the devil's power.
Where are the people you know living in the slavery of sin? Where is the work of the law of God crushing people's hearts and spirits with guilt and shame? And like General Granger, how will you go to them and say, "You are loved. You have value. You really are free from your sin."
You may not know what freedom from sin is or what it means… but like the enslaved people who heard the sweet news on June 19, 1865, take a risk and maybe, for the first time, go live like you are eternally loved and completely accepted. Why? Because that's exactly what Jesus gives you through his death on the cross.
Slavery. Freedom. That is the plot line of life. Confession and Absolution. Sin and Grace. Baptism and Communion. Human Pain and Healing.
That sounds a whole lot like Jesus to me. And that’s something worth celebrating.
You can learn more about how to love God, love people, and live like Jesus on Juneteenth at these links.
Our Daily Bread - Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom (video)
Rasool Berry - For Christians, Juneteenth Is a Time of Jubilee
Erin Perkins - Juneteenth and the Gospel
Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Juneteenth
Lutherans for Racial Justice
Karen Savella Stallard - What Is Juneteenth? How Christians Can Engage with Black History
Melody Copenny - How Juneteenth Helps You See God
More resources can be found at oslc.com/justice.
On June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a Gay Bar and Dance Club in Greenwich Village.
Over 30 years later, to recognize the Stonewall Riots and the subsequent activism for equal social acceptance and legal protections for people identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), President Bill Clinton designated June as "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month."
For the last two decades, Pride Month has evolved into a month of learning, community festivals and parades, flag demonstrations, and actively supporting people who identify as LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other gender identities and sexual orientations).
I was going to share 5, but 3 of them were probably not all that helpful.
1. Many Christians (perhaps even most) find it intimidating to talk about gender and sexuality.
Unlike biology class which teaches facts, the intersection of gender, sexuality, and faith is personal. That's why an individual or small group conversation is the best place to begin.
If you want to explore faith, gender, and sexuality, let's find a time to get together.
2. Assumptions and misinformation get people fired up.
Earlier this week, I learned that an outtake from a popular Christian mini-series caught the corner of a crew member's equipment with a small pride flag. Tens of thousands became jurors in the court of popular opinion embedded in the social media world.
A Few Thoughts
I've spent the last two decades listening, learning, failing, processing, and praying about how best to talk about Pride Month in a Jesus-like way. To be honest, I've been afraid to talk about it beyond a small circle of trusted friends because I know the risk of being misunderstood, judged, and losing friends - even my job. Know that I am on a journey (we all are). And to be honest, I'm still listening, learning, failing, processing, and praying. The journey (I hope) will never end.
I invite you to join me following Jesus with both grace and truth (John 1:14-15).
1. The foundations of Pride matters… a lot.
From what I understand, Pride Month brings together three separate and related conversations.
Human Rights. According to the United Nations, human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status (including gender identity and sexual orientation). Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. (un.org)
Sexual Ethics. According to the University of Tennessee researchers Katie Scott and Clint Graves, generalized Western sexual ethics say that sexual activity between human beings is permissible as long as it is consensual.
Marriage. The legal definition and practice of marriage in the United States include same-gender marriages.
Based on the Jesus stories found in Christian scriptures, particularly the Gospels; Jesus' teaching about human rights, sexual ethics, and marriage; along with his character and conduct, I am led to believe that Jesus is the very best human rights advocate, sexual ethics philosopher, and marriage advocate to have ever lived. After all, God is love, and we know this love in the person and work of Jesus (1 John 3:16-20).
Knowing this, I ask myself, "Who would I go to for direction and advice? Uncle Sam or Jesus? Western thought or Jesus? The UN or Jesus?".
As a Jesus follower, I go to Jesus first. If Uncle Sam, western thought, or the UN aligns with Jesus' teaching and way, then I apply it. If not, I continue to learn about it and live with the fact that not everyone and everything will agree with Jesus. When there isn't clarity, I continue to ask questions to listen, learn, process, and pray.
I'd love to learn with you, listen to your thoughts, and discuss these three topics. You can set up a time to meet here.
2. Integrity is a booming voice in a highly fake world.
A healthy church aligns what it does with what it says (integrity). Otherwise, people become hypocrites - two-faced. I don't believe Jesus wants me to be a hypocrite. I'm just not that hip with it. ← If you know, you know. 🙂
What does that practically mean?
I will generously love, cherish, welcome, foster a culture of care and belonging, share meals with, stand alongside, support, defend, and listen (a lot) to my family, friends, and neighbors who identify as LGBTQIA+. I will do that with love and joy because Jesus says to love my neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37). These are my brothers, sisters, and neighbors who are worthy of love.
I will also choose to stand with both the sinners and the saints. Jesus is the one who chooses love over hate, welcome over rejection, and support over abandonment. When Jesus was on earth, He stood by the religious leaders and those who rejected religion; Pharisees and Teachers of the Law and his disciples; Samaritans and Jews; the straight man, eunuch, and sex worker; the righteous and the unrighteous. Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a sinner like me!
Through the cross, Jesus invited sinners (all of us) back into a relationship with God. Jesus tells a story about while I was still a long way off, God ran out to me and hugged me, gave me his robe to wear, clobbered me and kissed me, welcomed me home, and threw me a party with all my friends and family - all because I was back with God.
I will also not redefine human rights, sexual ethics, or marriage apart from Jesus. Here's what I mean.
Jesus unconditionally loves people while not redefining human rights, marriage, gender, or sexuality. Instead, Jesus ups the ante to a point that nobody can live up to what God expects when it comes to these three essential parts of the human experience.
Jesus talks about gender, sexuality, and marriage (Matthew 19:4-6) and doesn't redefine it. Instead, Jesus echoes what was already given by God (Genesis 2:24-25) and translates it into a person.
Jesus is the one who came to live, die, and rise again so that gender identity is no longer a power play between me and God and between me and others. There is equality when it comes to who I am and that the way I am fully loved and accepted by Jesus. The love I receive is equitably experienced and is not based on my gender, but solely because He chooses to love me in ways I understand and in ways I will never understand (Galatians 3:28).
Jesus, according to the gospel accounts is a single cis-male who demonstrates a sexual ethic that honors human sexuality by remaining celibate while at the same time encouraging sexual freedom within the safe boundaries of a consensual, committed, and culturally-recognized marriage.
Jesus is the one who demonstrates the essence of marriage as he vows an eternity of love to me and signs it with His blood that flows from the cross and then lives in me by His Spirit (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Jesus unconditionally loves people who don't agree with him. I do, too. At the same time, the gospel writers do not suggest that Jesus redefined or described marriage as anything other than a distinct deep friendship of one male and one female humbly giving everything to each other; entrusting their bodies, hearts, and life to each other - just like Jesus did for me. This is one of the many ways the profound mystery of Jesus' saving work on the cross is expressed through my human experience.
Jesus' point is that when it comes to human rights, sexual ethics, and marriage - you can both love people like God loves people and apply God's way of human rights, sexual ethics, and marriage to the present time and culture. There is application with no redefinition.
Which means, Jesus isn't fake - He had integrity. And I strive to do the same today.
Integrity is a booming voice in a highly fake world.
So, friends - I need Jesus, and so do you. Let's follow Jesus together. That's how I will love all people - including my LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors this month while not redefining the gifts of human rights, sexual ethics, and marriage… because I want to be a person with integrity.
What do you think? Let me know. Let's find a time to meet up here, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nothing would bring me more joy than for you to talk about this blog post. When doing so, please be mindful of the 8th commandment which says: Do not bear false testimony about or against your neighbor. What does this mean? We fear and love God so that we do not lie about our neighbor, betray them, slander them, or hurt or harm them or their reputation, but rather defend them, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way (Luther's Small Catechism, Explanation of the Eighth Commandment). Thanks!
Like many people, I graduated high school.
It is common for students to begin planning for what’s after high school by considering being gainfully employed; enlisting in the military; or enrolling in trade school, college, or university.
The reality is that what people choose to do after high school graduation continues to rapidly change.
Let’s be honest - it had been shifting for years before the pandemic, and everything about post-high school life is different today. Nothing is really the same - and nothing is returning to the way it was.
The employment field and workforce are altogether different from hybrid and remote work. Enlisting has its own unique set of pros and cons. Tradespeople are desperately needed and are often under-resourced and ignored. And there seem to be more ways to pursue a college degree than species of fish in the Puget Sound.
This is why I was so intrigued when the conversation I had a few weeks ago implied that college was a better or preferred choice over being gainfully employed or enlisting.
Here are 3 reasons it might be so easy for us to assume college education is a student’s next step after graduation and what to do about it.
1. Your friend group all went to college after high school.
Birds of a feather flock together.
It’s human nature. If everyone around you chose to enroll after high school, that has become your norm. It’s the unspoken standard that you expect from others. And, when people do not align with your idea of “normal,” they are the opposite - abnormal. Afterall, there is safety in numbers.
The challenge is that we can unknowingly make unhelpful (and inappropriate) judgments about people based on their decisions and how they align with our idea of “normal.”
Does that mean you’re wrong? No. It just means that your expectation about life after high school has been shaped by the people around you. It’s not good or bad - but it is something to be mindful of when others share their life decisions with you.
2. You went to college after high school.
Perhaps you went to college right after high school. It might have been the best experience of your life. Your expertise and degree have served you well.
It’s easy to assume if it was the right choice for you, it’s the right choice for others, too.
We must acknowledge that each person is unique - made in the image of God with specific gifts, talents, and skills. Therefore, while I do not believe that each person is specifically “called” to a pigeonhole and if they aren’t there, they are “outside of God’s will,” - I do believe that each person is called to use what God has given them to love people, care for creation, and be a blessing to the world.
So, while that may have looked like college to you - for others, it might look like experiencing boot camp, fixing sprockets on a Navy ship, welcoming you at your favorite restaurant, baking bread, butchering meat, caring for children, or advocating for human rights.
While it is normal to be shaped by our experiences, it is important to be mindful that God led you to use your gifts, talents, and skills by way of a college classroom. At the same time, your experience does not mean God is leading everybody down that same path.
3. You didn’t go to college right after high school and wish you did.
Regret is a powerful negative emotion.
Perhaps you think your life would have been different if you had enrolled or completed college. You would have met another partner or spouse. You would have made more money. You would have had other opportunities.
And because you regret not enrolling or completing college, you don’t want other people to repeat your past action.
Regret is closely related to guilt and shame, which have the incredible potential to control and manipulate other people.
If you are experiencing guilt, shame, or regret over a past choice, such as not going to college right after high school and wishing you did, there are excellent resources for you to own it, call it what it is, and work through it.
The bottom line is this: the prison of regret has an open door for you to pull other people in with you or run out the door leaving it behind while remembering your experience in captivity.
What would it look like if heading out to boot camp, securing full-time employment, or focusing on trade were equally celebrated as enrolling at a college or university?
I think there would be a lot of lifting graduates up and celebrating them for who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they wish to do - whatever that might be at this moment in time.
Let’s be honest - how many of us really knew what we wanted to do when we were 18 years old? Some of us are still trying to figure that out at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old.
What I’m trying to say is that it is OK to not have our life’s plan mapped out two decades into life. It is OK to just take the next step and do something and move forward.
Sometimes honor and respect looks like celebrating people when we don’t necessarily align with their choices. Celebration and agreement are not mutually exclusive.
When I found myself in a conversation where I felt the student was being judged by another adult for choosing to work full-time and not pursue college classes, I said, “That’s awesome! I’m proud of you. Where do you work so that I can visit you sometime?”.
That kind of response takes the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to sound like Jesus when we find ourselves stuck in making assumptions about other people, letting our pride compare other people to ourselves, and in the prison of our regret, guilt, and shame. Paul writes in Philippians 2:3: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but consider others better than yourselves in humility. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
Perhaps the best response to all of our grads who are gainfully employed, enlisting, enrolling, or already enrolled is this: we celebrate you for who you are and who you are becoming! We love you! Tell me more about what’s next for you. When can I see you next to encourage you in your next chapter of God’s crazy awesome story called life?
This summer, we will listen to and follow Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew.
Here’s a sneak peek at our three upcoming message series.
We kick off our summer in June with Jesus teaching us His way of authority, mercy, and compassion we find in Matthew 9 and 10. Make plans to be sent to live The Forgotten Ways of Jesus on June 25.
We will then move into July with some Story Time with Jesus. Each week, we will discover real-life principles from the stories Matthew records Jesus telling about seeds, weeds, and hidden treasures in Matthew 13.
We will wrap up summer by spending time with Jesus as he feeds people, walks on water, heals a woman, and directly asks us, “Who do you say I am.” I pray we are moved to respond, “This is Jesus.”
Alright - time to pull the curtain back on the fall a little bit…
In January 2023, 22 people spent 10 weeks connecting with God, the church, and their purpose. For those who were exploring faith, their experience revealed who God is and how to live more like Jesus. For believers, it refocused their relationship with God and ignited a new passion to connect and serve.
As a result, today, 15 out of 22 are in a Life Group (9 of them for the first time!). That’s pretty impressive.
But don’t take my word for it… one person shared: “I loved the class and learning everyone’s story. It taught me to listen more, speak less, ask questions, and think about what Jesus is doing in each person’s life”.
True spiritual growth. Real discipleship.
That’s why I want each of us to get Rooted this fall.
Why? Because loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus is about being Rooted in Jesus.
So, kids, youth, and adults… get ready. It will be an inclusive experience for anybody and everybody.
I can’t wait to share more in August.
I don't believe anyone believes that generosity is a bad thing.
To be honest, most people (I believe) want to be generous and grow in their generosity.
Sometimes, it's just down right difficult to live generously. Whether it's a busy schedule (time), competing priorities (talents and skills like work and relationships), or financially (inflation, salary ceilings, macro economic realities, unexpected expenses... let's be honest - life in America is expensive)... living generously like Jesus takes work.
That's one of the reasons Beth and I were so thrilled to have the incredible opportunity to attend our first Celebration of Generosity event last week in Phoenix. We wanted to discover how we could grow in our generosity as a family, today.
What is the Celebration of Generosity?
The Celebration of Generosity is Generous Giving’s annual gathering. It’s an intentional time when people are invited to have significant conversations about financial generosity. The event leaders stress that generosity is not about dollars and all about God’s heart for us and all people. As a result, conversations about generosity focus on aligning how we use and manage our stuff - our time, relationships, skills, and money to God’s heart and what God wants to see in the world. Why? Because in the end, it’s all God’s. We can’t take any of it with us because it isn’t ours to begin with.
Over 650 people heard inspiring stories from people engaged with a national foundation that assists families with wealth management and how to execute complex gifts for charitable causes. We also received biblical teaching from people like Christine Caine (who also spoke at the IF:Gathering via video). We experienced Spirit-led worship led by Matt Maher and Martin Chalk (nothing like a worship leader with a Scottish accent!).
It was a fantastic opportunity for Beth and me, along with 12 other OSLCers, to connect the dots between God’s generosity to us and how Jesus invites us to live out that same generosity to the world.
I left the gathering reflecting on God’s faithful generosity to Beth, our boys, and our families. The truth is that while we have rarely had significant excess, we have always had enough… and in many ways, more than enough (even when I don’t recognize it).
To be honest and vulnerable with you about this topic, here’s a snapshot of Team Bayer.
Beth and I believe that all things are a gift from God - not good or bad, but rather a gift. And like all gifts - kids, work, food, our bodies, relationships, knowledge, clothing, school, the internet, tech (I could go on…), we are invited to manage money in alignment with our relationship with Jesus.
Beth and I don’t have generational financial wealth. Both of our fathers were pastors, and in many ways, we didn’t know just how little money our families had when we were growing up - and yet, we always had enough. My dad’s side of the family were farmers. My mom’s side of the family were railroad workers. Both of Beth’s parents’ sides of the family were educators or pastors. We have immigrants on both sides of our family who left everything behind and spent everything they had to come to America.
Since the ministry is not a publicly traded commodity, we do not have business equity. Therefore, the currency of our portfolio is primarily relationships, time, and skills - not dollars, euros, or crypto.
As a family, we strive to live simply in a world that thrives in indulgence (the struggle is real). Like every disciple and ministry leader in scripture, we live paycheck to paycheck - depending on the generosity of God’s people. We pay self-employment taxes and contribute to Social Security.
We manage debt (a mortgage along with some consumer debt resulting from a combination of some bad (past) tax advice, having purchased a house right before the 2009 housing crisis and selling it in 2013, unexpected medical expenses, and (honestly) some choices we made that weren't "mistakes", but were outside of our means at the time).
A large part of our retirement comes from an employer-paid pension plan. In addition, we have contributed a very small amount to an individual retirement plan to supplement future retirement.
As parents, we live in the tension to manage all the joys and challenges of three (growing) boys.
While dollars are not our core motivation for living, from time to time, we do sometimes dream of what we would do if I transferred my skills to a corporate setting which would produce a storehouse of cash, dividends, stock, and perks. I have had headhunters reach out and ask me to join their firms. Yet, I feel deeply called to ministry, and that’s an intentional, God-driven choice. Would we be "happy" and feel satisfied? No - we don't think so. Why? Because satisfaction only comes from a relationship with Jesus - not from stuff. Easier said than done... but if God's Word is true (which we believe it is), then we lean into it and trust it.
And yet, when opportunities to help others present themselves to be generous (and overly generous), we respond. For example, we have helped (and continue to help) make it possible for people to go to camp. Treating people to a special meal (lately, it has been inviting them to our house to join family dinner), helping students pay for their college education, raising young children, or covering medical bills all have become a generous response to the generosity God has given to us.
Perhaps you can relate to Team Bayer.
So, what did a married couple with an overly generous heart, living paycheck to paycheck, who trust that they always will have (more than) enough, learn from last week’s event?
I’m glad you asked.
First, good things are different from good works.
I never really gave this much thought until Tony Evans shared it from the stage. There is no shortage of good things to spend our time on. Hobbies. Family. Friends. Work. Church and ministry. They’re all gifts from God. Yet, God calls us not to good things but to good works (Ephesians 2:10).
What are good works? God has already given us the answer: To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Justice. Mercy. A relationship with God. Those are the good works that God invites us to invest our time, talents, and finances into.
Another learning is an operational definition of justice.
John Mark Comer encouraged us not to allow others to redefine such a beautiful and biblical word. He helped me understand the biblical definition of justice as “disadvantaging yourself to give others a greater advantage.”
Justice is generosity in action. And both begin and end with the heart of God. The heart of God is always about giving all people the more significant advantages of grace, belonging, acceptance, and unconditional love by disadvantaging himself by sending Jesus not to condemn anybody but to save all people (John 3:17, Philippians 2:1-10). Oh, sweet justice!
Justice is not a matter of human equality or making the scales even. It’s disadvantaging yourself so others receive a more significant advantage.
Regarding money, the truth is that God owns every dollar, won, euro, yen, and bitcoin in the world. He holds every nanosecond in his hands. He is the giver of every musical talent, technical skill, and unique personal gift. Those aren’t equal scales… God owns all of it. We get to use some of it.
What a spectacular picture of the Christian faith. God gives. We receive. With every act of generosity, we continue the story of God in real-time. In this way, everything works together to bring the advantage of Jesus’ forgiveness, life, and promise of eternal salvation to all people.
One way that the Bayers work this out is by learning to understand that everything we have - our clothing, shoes, house, hot tub, sports court, time, education, knowledge, meals, shopping trips, travel time, cars, and so much more are resources to help people know Jesus, not just for our enjoyment. We share it. We give it away. We disadvantage ourselves (not for self-gain), but as an acknowledgment that it isn’t our stuff, to begin with… it’s all God’s stuff on his excellent work of grace and mercy.
Finally, while it was not a learning, per se, we both left with the burning desire to return to something we used to do: work out a Giving Plan.
For the Bayers, having a Giving Plan is a matter of being faithful to God, who gave us each dollar. It acknowledges our relationship with God who gave us each cent to be used for good work, and not knowing how we manage it means that we are not faithfully responsible for God’s money entrusted to us.
So, leaving the conference, we resolved to get back to laying out our Giving Plan. Jeanne McMains reminded us about the “Share. Spend. Save.” Approach - which we used in the past. Our friend Jenny introduced us to this system of managing our time, stuff, and money. In fact, she gave our kids piggy banks with those three “banks” for them to start thinking in those three ways. This is how the approach works.
The first part of our Giving Plan is to determine how much money we share. Right now, between 10 and 11% of each paycheck acknowledges that God gave it to us - so we give it back to him through the local church. Over the years, we have grown from 3% to 5% to where we are now. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been so worth it. We’ve seen people come to know Jesus through the ministries those dollars support. And that’s good work! In addition, we support a child through Compassion. We are also planning to talk with our kids about sharing “as a family.” That means our kids will get to choose how to share some of their allowance and special gifts given to our family.
Then, we lay out our Spending Plan. This includes being faithful to provide for the kids God has entrusted us to care for and satisfy our debts (which means to ensure they're none past due). So, things like housing, mortgage payment, insurances, creditors, food, utilities, safety, and clothing. These are the basics. This is excellent work... God's work of providing for others as He has provided for us! We also include how best to invest in our kids’ talents and skills. Music lessons are a big one for us. That’s our choice based on learning how God has uniquely gifted each of them.
We then save about $50 (which, at this point in our lives, is usually spent on unplanned medical expenses).
After that, if there is excess, that is added to our Giving Plan to share as God leads us.
That’s it. That’s how we lay out our Giving Plan.
It’s not perfect… we are working to pay down debts... we are figuring out how to adjust as the cost of living is always shifting and our kids are constantly growing... that means the plan is constantly in flux… but it’s a plan. And we pray that God uses it to help us act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God… and help others do the same.
We left encouraged.
If you’re still reading, then I’m guessing that you may want to grow in this area of your life.
I’m encouraged that the conversation about generosity is less about specific dollars and more about God’s heart for us and all people. I’m encouraged that the conversation about generosity focuses on aligning how we use and manage our stuff - our time, relationships, skills, and money to God’s heart and what God wants to see in the world. Because in the end, it’s all God’s. We can’t take any of it with us because it isn’t ours to begin with. So, I’m excited to see how God will use the seemingly little that we have (in comparison to others in the world) to not only remind me that:
Some personal reflection questions
What might you hear God say concerning how you can use your time, skills, relationships, and finances?
What will you do about it?
Our Franklin Pierce Schools have some of the most resilient students I have ever known.
This past Monday, Kristi Kellogg and I helped interview dozens of FPHS students who applied to graduate in June with "distinction." Many of them are first-generation high school graduates. Several students I had the honor of getting to know through the process will be first-generation college students, too. Several students were immigrants. And each faced obstacles many of us could never imagine experiencing in high school.
That is all I will say about the students because someday, I would love them to share their stories with you - face to face. But they are their stories to share… not mine.
These students love God, love people, and live like Jesus, where they live, work, learn, and play whether they know it or not.
How can that be?
Ready for some math and science?
Paul Hiebert was a professor at Fuller Seminary in Southern California. He's with Jesus now, but he helped people like me think about people around me differently when he was alive.
He explains that there are centered and bounded sets in "Set Theory" (people in math and science understand what I'm talking about). And while that's true for data, it's also helpful to understand relationships among people in this framework.
Bounded (or fixed) sets have a firm boundary. Data and people are defined by their relationship to the specified limit. There are people inside and outside the perimeter. Knowing the border, describing it, and maintaining distinction is critical to "being" and "belonging" to the set (or not). These sets do not change - they only add or lose what is inside the boundary. This means that the entire purpose of the set is to "cross the boundary" from the outside to be inside.
On the other hand, centered sets do not focus on the boundary. Instead, the data and people in a centered group are defined by their relationship to (you guessed it) the center. All data and people are either removed toward or away from the center. The limit or boundaries are still part of the set but are only determined by the relationship the data or person is to the center - not the boundary. Some may be near and others far, but always moving.
Enough math and science for now.
We often default to thinking (and living) in bounded sets. People are in or out based on a moral standard or behavior that we have come to accept as a norm within a community.
The reason I say that the students we met earlier this week love God, love people, and live like Jesus where they live, work, learn, and play whether they know it or not is that from a "centered set" understanding, God already loves them. God is already the center of life because Jesus is risen. So, their relationship with Jesus - whether they know Jesus or not, is a matter of distance, not crossing a boundary or doing something to "cross over" into the God-stuff.
In fact, the world is all God's and everything in it (Psalm 19), and Jesus tore down the boundary that separated all people from God (Philippians 2).
Earlier this year, I was reminded by my friend Jeff that people are either moving toward Jesus or away from Jesus.
Along with that, distance is not the same as openness. If Jesus is the center, you and I can be:
I don't know where the students are with the center of life - Jesus. But, if Jesus' word is accurate and He says that we will know we are my disciples by our love - then these students are not that far from the center at all. . . perhaps they don't know how close Jesus really is to them.
And who will share that good news with them if that's the case?
My favorite way to preach and teach is by taking a book of the Bible and walking through it with people.
That’s why I’m excited that we will preach/teach through the book of 1 Peter in our Sunday services between now and Memorial Day.
I pray that you will invite a friend to join us, and we will discover A Life Worth Living that is all about Jesus, our living hope.
Here are a few thoughts I’m having as we launch into this series of messages.
We have a God of unlimited second chances.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Because Jesus is merciful, we don’t receive the penalty for our sins that we deserve. Instead, we are regenerated over and over again to a better tomorrow. That’s our living hope. Not just a better tomorrow, but a better forever because Jesus is resurrected from the dead.
“Born again” or regeneration is an exciting reality. If you’re playing a video game, it’s like repeatedly respawning with unlimited lives. It’s the dream of immortality come true… and ours only through faith in Jesus.
Our living hope may not be what we first think.
From an individual-centric worldview perspective, we may think it is our resurrection or immortality. And in a sense, we are not wrong.
However, 1 Peter never mentions the resurrection of people. It does mention ten times the resurrection of Jesus (the revealing of Jesus in glory).
In other words, Peter is emphasizing that human hope is not found in our personal resurrections. Rather, living and enduring hope is only found in Jesus’ resurrection.
I wonder how many of us wake up every day looking, waiting, and hoping to see the resurrected Jesus and not just a better day for ourselves.
Sometimes Love Looks Like a Bowl of Soup
My friend Tracy's words will forever echo in my mind: sometimes love looks like a bowl of soup.
Every couple of months, a Saturday Faith in Action Day, a group of people prepare frozen meals to share with people who need one less thing to think about in times of crisis.
A few weeks ago, someone asked if they could take some of those freezer meals to a coworker. This coworker's husband was hospitalized after suffering severe medical trauma. She had also recently lost a son (due to a drug overdose) and is caring for two elementary-aged grandchildren. The kids were super excited about the meals, and the coworker was grateful they were delivered with a hug.
Someone took the opportunity to love someone else like Jesus - and it brought excitement to kids, melted this parent's heart, and made them feel seen and loved.
Indeed, sometimes love looks like a bowl of soup.
Staining Neighbor's Fence Brings Unlikely People Together
A middle school student saw that his neighbor's fence needed some TLC. He asked some friends to help stain the fence and make it look like new. Afterwards the student shared, “I saw God at work by doing something for someone else without a reward”. They also discovered that one of the friends who helped with the project knew the family who was served. The relationship continues today.
Gardens Help the Poor and Homeless
Last summer, a student wanted to learn more about gardening. So, he jumped into a Faith in Action Day to work side-by-side with other adults in the Abundance Garden. He shared, “I saw God working by helping make a garden to help the poor and homeless”. He now knows how to better pull weeds, care for growing vegetables, and work the soil to serve the neighbors around him with his time and newly learned skills.
Neighborhood BBQ Uncovers a Deep Need Among Neighbors
Last fall, a student noticed that her neighborhood needed to get together and have a good laugh. So, she chose to host a neighborhood party complete with a cookout dinner. Reflecting on the experience, she said, “it was powerful to hear our neighbors say ‘why haven't we done this all these years?’”. She now feels confident to be a change-leader among her neighbors, friends, and school by bringing people together to build deeper friendships and laugh together.
Tacoma Police Officers Encouraged by Middle School Students
In January, a group of 16 students were bothered by the negativity their local police officers were experiencing. They know law enforcement work is challenging and they wanted to encourage them in a practical way. They chose to apply for a Thrivent Action Team and assembled Care Packages for Duty Officers and ordered breakfast for their mid-morning shift workers. It was a delightful and unexpected surprise delivery for the substation workers and officers who were at the substation that morning. Three students chose to boldly and powerfully pray over the officers and the community they patrol. The students received a full tour of the facility, shared stories and tears of gratitude, and left with a feeling of mutual joy that God is with all people.
Winterizing Homes is More than What Meets the Eye
After working on a Faith in Action Project last fall, a project team member followed up with the homeowner to make sure she was ready for the winter chill. She shared that she needed help installing a slider door to finish weather-proofing her home. Thanks to the ongoing generosity to our General Fund, we were able to provide the finances for the project. The team member completed the project right away and the homeowner enjoyed a warm, cozy winter. The homeowner and team member regularly connect about their kids and grandkids as well as pray together.
You might have heard that there is something going on at Asbury University in Kentucky. And that something has spread to other places, too.
People have described it as an awakening, a revival, and a movement of the Holy Spirit.
Like with most things today, there are also critics, pundits, and loud opinions mixed into the narrative.
Whatever you might think about the Kentucky events, we know at least three things for sure.
1. Jesus’ Spirit there… and here!
Jesus promises to show up whenever God’s Word is present. Much like any other time when people read the scriptures and respond, the chapel service which led into the ongoing event was just that - an invitation to respond to Jesus’ invitation to repentance.
The question is - so why is that event considered different - a revival or awakening, and other times seem so “ordinary”.
My personal opinion is that we’re trying to explain a spiritual (dare I say, miraculous or supernatural) experience in human ways… and our human way is limited, finite, and can only explain what we see - not what we can't see.
So, we see an event, a mass of people, and activity - but can we see the broken spirits and contrite hearts of people who are responding? Maybe… perhaps… and only if they share it (which many have!).
Here is what I do know. I know that God sometimes shows up and moves people to respond in masses (think Billy Graham). Other times, people respond loudly with singing and dancing (think David in the Bible dancing naked in the temple). And then there are individuals who respond as they sit in their cars with silent tears (or no tears at all).
My point is, how people respond isn’t the point. Psalm 51:17 emphasizes what matters is a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart. And that’s what we hear from people at Asbury and what we don’t always see when we, ourselves read and respond to God’s Word.
In a way, everytime we (or anybody) reads God’s Word and responds is a revival or awakening.
That’s how I know that Jesus’ Spirit is both there and here.
2. There is so much that we don’t know.
I do wonder why it seems like sometimes we see God work in big ways and other times we don’t see God work at all. I know that’s a very self-centered question resulting from an American cultural worldview. But, I think it’s an honest question.
I (personally) return to resting in the truth that there is so much I don’t know.
I’m reminded of Psalm 55:8-9 when God responds to the psalm writer, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,". Then, God explains why by saying, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
I find it interesting that it seems as though everyone feels like they are entitled to an opinion about the Asbury events.
For me, the Asbury Revival reminds me that there is so much we don’t know… and that’s OK because we know the God who does.
3. You and I can experience revival.
Revival isn’t fabricated or manufactured. It’s not manipulated responses or a forced emotional response.
Revival is an awakening to who Jesus is, who we are, and a turning away from ourselves and toward Jesus.
Our thoughts can be awakened as we turn our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1).
Our feelings can be revived from not feeling anything to feeling something - sadness over our sin or the relief and “lightness” of the forgiveness we have in Jesus.
Our lives can be moved by the Holy Spirit when we stop, reorient ourselves to God’s way - not our own, and take our next steps with Jesus.
This is the revival or awakening that is happening in hearts and lives everyday.
Afterall, the true fruit of revival is the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) seen in everyday life.
What do you think? Shoot me an email or let’s find a time to catch up.
If the blog helps you, share it with someone you think would appreciate it.
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.