I Dream of The Church

Over the 6 years that I’ve been the lead pastor of Naperville Christian Church, I’ve experienced tremendous highs and deep lows.  We’ve had growth and loss.  We’ve seen the beauty of unity and the shared pursuit of vision, but we’ve also experienced the pain of division.  What have we learned through it all?

I believe more than ever that God has a plan for all things.  His very nature is redemptive.  So when the Apostle Paul says that God is working for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose…I’m seeing and living that in a whole new way.  God really does take the dirt that is tossed on us and cause us to grow.  It’s painful.  I don’t want more of it.  But I see the promise of the future!  And the future is bright and full of goodness.

I dream of The Church (not just MY church) being a hub of wholeness for the hurting.  And it will be messy.  And that’s ok.  I dream of The Church being a place where transparency is not only encouraged, but anticipated.  I dream of a place where people can receive the rest that Jesus promises when we bring all of our baggage to him.  A place of respite.  A place that values wholeness psychologically and socially, and physically and spiritually. 

I dream of a place where the broken flock, but don’t stay that way.  A place where we walk through the valleys of the shadow of death with each other, and then offer the helping hand that encourages us to move beyond the broken to healing and wholeness.  A place where we serve the world together and demonstrate the sacrificial love of the Savior we claim to follow.

God is doing a NEW thing in The Church, and Naperville Christian Church is one expression of God’s extraordinary plan.  And I’m grateful for the mess that led us to this place.

 

Peace,

Neil

Echoes of Eden

What do you want to be when you grow up? It is one of the first questions that we are asked as children and it is one of the first that we ask our own kids when they’re little, too. When you think about it, it is a pretty daunting question. The question behind the question is deeper. And that question is this:

Who ARE you?

In our society, our identities are, for right or wrong, inextricably linked to what we do. That’s why no little kids describe a not-so-glamorous future for themselves. You’ll always hear about dreams of rocket science and doctors and pop-stars and lawyers. But then reality hits, and most of us realize that those things are not going to happen for US. Because our parents were wrong. We can’t do whatever we set our minds to.

And then the emptiness sets in.

We feel like we were meant for more, but our realities aren’t matching our hearts’ desires. But what if we did have a greater purpose, but we had simply bet our dreams on the wrong race horse?

I’ve been on a journey. It has been hard. Journeys aren’t significant unless they are, are they? This journey has made me look deep into my own heart and into my church and more deeply into who God is and who I am. And the results have been awe-inducing to me. I’m fully convinced that we were all made for so much more…

In the bible in Genesis chapter 1, God is almost finished creating. But his masterpiece has not yet been completed. In Genesis 1:27, He says this~

So God created mankind in his ownimage, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

I’ve read that so many times that it had lost its meaning to me…but suddenly it had more meaning. Deep, life-changing significance. Of all His creation, only one piece was the image of God. The literal representation of God on earth.

But just two short chapters later, His image-bearers, Adam & Eve, were deceived into trading that untarnished image for something feeble and fallible. They traded THE image for a lie. And they were broken in every possible way. They were psychologically wounded. They were relationally challenged. They were spiritually disconnected. Even the earth was broken. Death had entered the world because of this unnatural great image-exchange.

But God had a plan. From the beginning of time, God knew that we’d give up his image and our truest selves for a lie. But lies will not have the last word. Truth does.

And God sent the Truth to earth in human form to remind us of what our image was meant to be. Colossians 1:15~ The Son is the image of the invisible God…

Jesus came to show us the Way back home. Jesus showed us what God looks like. And that makes me feel homesick. Not like I’ve been away from my house in Aurora too long…but something deeper and more mysterious. Something redemptive. Something so powerful and good, that it is nearly irresistible to me.

I sense something in me that wants to go to a place that I’ve never been physically, but feels more like home than I’ve ever experienced. I feel the echoes of the Garden of Eden, where all was right in every way. There was no strife or alienation or shame. And I need that…and I’m pursuing that kind of wholeness.

And in this place, God is encouraging me with a deep sense of goodness and healthy doses of longing. Longing to agree with the amazing work that God wants to do in me and through me. Agreeing with the work that Jesus did on the cross so that I can once again become a full image-bearer.

You can do this, too. You’ll never meet your longings in your careers, or in another person, or in any other charade you can think of or do. Your craving will be satisfied only when you surrender to Love and allow yourself to become the truest version of YOU that could ever be.

And the only way that will happen is if you allow God’s love to scrape off the veneer that you’ve so artfully decorated yourself with and give in. Become the you that was designed before there was time. Become fully alive.

Peace,

Neil

A Bullying Culture: The NFL and Richie Incognito

“I never saw any of the signs.” “I thought they were close.” “I’ve never heard him speak THAT way in public.” “But…he is such a nice guy.” These are common things for people to say after learning of domestic violence and or bullying. And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Rarely do bullies walk up to their victim in public and shout racial epithets at them. Bullies are too clever and too cowardly to do that. They care about their reputation to much to do that. They’re to selfish to act in such an outward way that they’d actually have witnesses to their bad behavior.

It is sad, but unsurprising to me to see so many Miami Dolphins players coming out to support Richie Incognito. Incognito just became famous for being revealed to be a tyrant to a young man named Jonathan Martin, a teammate of his on the Dolphins.

Today, the “leader” of the team, Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said: “If you had asked Jonathan Martin a week before, who his best friend on this team was, he would have said Richie Incognito.” Later, Tannehill stated “All I know about Richie is that he’s a great teammate to me…”

A couple things:

1. Tannehill only knows what he observed in public. Bullies are too smart to do what they do in public. They save their venom for their victims in private moments. Why? No witnesses.

2. Tannehill is at best, naive, for stating that Incognito was a great teammate to him. Great teammates don’t leave hate-filled voicemails for another of their teammates. Cancer does that. Incognito was a cancer to the team, and they should be thrillled he’s gone.

We all need to open our eyes. If YOU were being bullied by a co-worker or a teammate…what would YOU want someone else to do? I know that I’d want to be believed and that I would want others to stand up for me.

I choose today to stand with the oppressed. I choose today to open my eyes to the plight of the downtrodden and the silenced. I choose today to never bully another person. I choose today to believe victims, and to help them get back their voices. I choose today to pray for victims and abusers, alike. We all need grace.

Peace,

Neil

Last night, I met Richie Incognito

Last night, I met Richie Incognito at Lambeau Field. Ok, it wasn’t actually Richie Incognito, but he was just like him. If you don’t know who Incognito is, you probably will soon.

Incognito is/was a star on the Miami Dolphins football team. Sadly, though, it appears he was far more than just a ridiculously talented athlete. There is mounting evidence that he is also a vicious bully. His former teammate, Jonathan Martin was picked on unmercifully by Incognito, on various occasions, and even received racially-charged texts, emails, and voicemails from him. Incognito reportedly referred to Martin (whom is bi-racial) as a “half n—–.”

Martin was disturbed enough by the treatment to leave the team. Bullying doesn’t end in high school, does it?

Last night, I was thrilled to have the chance to see the Chicago Bears defeat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It was an amazing experience, until I stood up (with almost the entire stadium) to see the Bears score a touchdown. After standing for a few seconds, I was shouted at from behind: “DOWN IN FRONT!!”

My friend and I turned around to receive angry glares from two large, middle-aged men, seated directly behind us. We told them that we’d sit as soon as the people in front of us sat down. They swore at us and made belittling, and hate-filled comments to us the rest of the night.

The abuse continued throughout the REST OF THE GAME. I saw unruly and drunk fans being kicked out at record speed, and several times I thought about asking the cops to get rid of the guys behind us, too. Then something happened inside me…and I turned around and asked:

“HOW OLD ARE YOU?” He yelled back “I’m 53 years old and I’ve had these seats since 1971, and NO ONE STANDS IN FRONT OF ME!”

I just turned back around and said nothing. His curiosity was killing him, so he asked: “why did you ask how old I am?”

I turned quickly back to him and said: “because I’m surprised that by YOUR age, that you still think it is ok to act like this.” That must have stuck with him, because he got up and walked out of the stands, swearing up a storm.

Then something interesting happened…the man sitting next to him leaned over and apologized for his behavior. And told us that his brother was terminally ill, and that his bitterness had overwhelmed him. Before he left, I asked the man what his brother’s name was and he said that it was Kenny. I told him that I’d pray for Kenny’s health and that he’d walk away from his bitterness. The man graciously thanked me and he left.

I certainly don’t know Richie Incognito’s experiences in his life, but I do know human behavior. And the truth is that HURT people hurt other people. Kenny lashed out because of his pain, and I would bet that Richie does, too.

Don’t get me wrong…Kenny is responsible for his ridiculous actions, and Richie is, too. And they both need to reap the consequences of their bad behavior. But…they also need people to see through their angst-filled exteriors to the heart of the matter and to offer them tastes of grace.

Kenny, I’m praying for you today. Richie, you can change, too. Own your bad behavior, ask for help, and move on. You’ll both be so thankful that you did. All of us will be, too.

Peace,

Neil

The Graceless Church

Earlier today, I received this message on Twitter:

“Really pastor? Last straw. Unnecessary. Unfollowing.”

This was from a woman that I don’t know whatsoever. I don’t follow her on Twitter, but for some reason she follows me. I’ve never even met this woman. But something that I wrote bothered her enough that she pulled out the “shame” card on me. She was responding to an article that I posted yesterday about a paralyzed man who whose dog chewed off one of his…well, you probably get the point. I wrote: “Best friend?! Ha.”

Was the article shocking? Yes. Worthy of an unfollow and shaming tactics? I don’t think so.

Sadly, it looks like she is a church-goer.

Church can be one of the most graceless places you could ever be and that sickens me. I’ve found far more grace from people who don’t claim the name of Jesus. How can that be?!

Church-goers seem to be more interested in monitoring what others put on Facebook and Twitter than they care to watch the hardening of their own hearts. Church is more often a place of condemnation than a place to gather and to get well. And that simply should never be. Why? Because Jesus died for us and offered us a new life free of shame and judgment.

Why then would someone who claims to follow Jesus offer anything other than raw, unadulterated, dripping, all-encompassing grace?

As a pastor, I strive to represent Jesus well. I try hard to love intensely. I try to forgive quickly. I try to be gracious. I know that I don’t do it was well as Jesus would, but even with that realization, I’m met with overflowing grace from the Creator of all things.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? I’m disgusted in the moment by shaming and judgmental churches and people. But, I’ll get up and be awakened to the possibilities of how far grace and mercy can reach.

Imagine a church that is as welcoming as a bar. Dream of a place where everyone recognizes their own faults and shortcomings and no one has time to look for the problems in other people. Is there a place where we can all come together to encourage each other and where we seek to draw out the best in each other, first?

I want to be a part of a place like that. So, I’ll keep dreaming and pushing for it. Until then, I won’t be condemned by the voices of shame, and I hope that you won’t either.

Peace,

Neil

 

Serving the World with Green Harvest Food Pantry

One of the ways that we live out our mission, here at NCC, is to serve with Green Harvest Food Pantry. Jeff Green started this wonderful ministry after the terror attacks on 9-11 because so many people were having a hard time figuring out where they’d get their next meals.

We’re proud of our long-term connection with Green Harvest, and we are looking to take some next steps in how we serve our community in Chicago-land. Right now, Green Harvest has some specific needs. Would you like to be a part of something larger than yourself? If so, this is a great opportunity for you.

The biggest need is consistency. Volunteers come and go…but the ones that make real impact (particularly for themselves) are the ones who commit and serve on a regular basis.

Here is a current list of needs at Green Harvest:

1. Website & Facebook—If you are a social media maven or a web guru, we need your help. Let us know if you can do this twice a month.

2. Database—Green Harvest needs a program that can help them effectively keep track of clients. If you have ideas and want to help implement a program, let me know!

3. Helping clients shop & re-stocking—Green Harvest gives clients dignity, by allowing them to shop for what they WANT. They want each person to have someone to help them shop. If that is something you’d enjoy, let us know. And if you are a task-oriented person, they need your help doing re-stocking of the warehouse.

Here’s what I know: A life lived for others, is a life well-lived. When you serve, you will be blessed.

Join us?

This summer, we’ll be having an ENCOUNTER:GREEN HARVEST night, where you will get a tour of the facilities and you’ll meet Jeff and Patricia, the leaders that make this all happen. Come and see…

Peace,

Neil

Serving the World in #Moore, #Oklahoma and Beyond

Yesterday, a tornado of biblical proportions devastated Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City. The response from generous people around the nation has been encouraging to me. One of the best ways that I’ve seen to give is through Convoy of Hope. In just 19 years, the organization has served over 55 million people worldwide, in their times of greatest need.

I love seeing the best of humanity. When brothers and sisters are hurting, people rush to help. But I wonder something: why does it take a tragedy that is so large to grip our hearts and to galvanize us into action?

Naperville Christian Church has proudly served at PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) for the last few years. Giving the homeless shelter, a good meal, and love, has been very important to us as a church family. Why? Because people matter to God. People matter so much to God that we’re told in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, that we will be judged on how we served “the least of these.”

What does that mean? Do we go to heaven based on our own good works? No. But our salvation and our faith is demonstrated by the fruit that our lives produce. When we are changed by God, our actions show it. Our priorities are re-ordered. Selfishness is transformed into selfLESSness. Greed is transformed into generosity. Ashes are exchanged for beauty.

I want to serve the people of Moore, Oklahoma. And I’ll be proud to do it with so many others that just got re-awakened to those things that matter most in life. But, I want to do more than that. I want to change the world with one good choice after another…even when it isn’t in the news!

If you are in Naperville or the surrounding suburbs, and want to help us make a difference in the lives of our homeless population, I want to hear from you.

Here is what we need:

1. An organizer—someone to make sure that all the jobs are overseen and completed (with great love).

2. A shopper—if you can purchase a lot of food items in a grocery story in an efficient way, that’s a gift. And I will help you use that gift!

3. Cooks—we need one person to oversee the kitchen, and several people to cook the meal.

4. Clean-up—everyone like to eat, but no one likes to do the dishes. But if you are into clean-up, we want to hear from you.

5. Pads—It will take about an hour of your time. We need a couple of able-bodied people to arrange the bedding.

6. Hour of Hope—if you are a gifted communicator and a facilitator of good and deep conversations, then this is your spot. With just an hour per month, you will give hope to the hopeless.

Peace,

Neil

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