Category Archives: Phil’s Blog

Why I Love And Will Always Love The Church (Part 1)

When I was young I went to this really fun, alive church led by one of the kindest pastors I’ve ever known. It was a healthy church in a small town; maybe 400ish people considered it their home (I was young so give or take a bit on that number). Even though we had very little connection at this season of my life, my pastor was and will always be a hero of mine.

Around the time I turned 12, I watched the slow, painful, evil demise of this beautiful community. I watched people become unable to love their neighbors as themselves. I watched people prioritize elements of non-essential doctrine over relationships. I watched people gossip, backtalk, slander and look more like the Father of this World than the Father of Lights. I watched hyper-spiritual hopes create a new world caste system of the “ins” and the “outs.”

I watched this beautiful church crash. As a young boy I watched the worst of the church put on a song and dance in front of me. Sometimes I still see it like a slow-motion pantomime where I recount the faces of these people who once considered each other family. I remember the day my mom sat in the van and cried all the way home from church because she couldn’t stop what was happening. I remember the Sunday my pastor sat on the steps of the altar unable to speak when it was time for the sermon, and after several minutes of haunting silence, an elder coming up and simply ending the service. I remember the last Sunday I was there. There were maybe 30 of us. My parents, imperfect but faithful, faithful people, did what they had promised they would never do…leave. I know it was the right choice for our family, but I still think it’s a decision that grieves my parents in secret places.

I hated church.

I hated them all. I hated what they had done to my pastor. I hated what they had done to my parents. I hated what they had done to my friendships. I hated that there were people who couldn’t hang out with me anymore because of where I went to church. I hated how they divided people. I hated their facade of spirituality with no remnant of love. I hated the ease with which people left, the ease that people spoke evil with and the ease of looking nothing, and I mean nothing, like Jesus.

I hated the church.

If I had all the time in the world I could tell you about the next several years of my life. I wish I could tell you that I was different than everyone I hated, but I wasn’t. In the summer of 1999 one of my best friends drowned in a cliff diving accident. And…I went numb. At least in hatred there was emotion and feeling and the occasional swing of passion, joy and love. But being numb is potentially the worst place to be. So I chased the typical American high school dream of feeling good. I wanted it through girls, through attempts at popularity, through the right people liking me, through a party lifestyle. It was three dark years in my life. I don’t pretend to compare my story to others who have faced difficult things…but this was the part of my story where I lost myself.

In 2001 a series of event changed the course of my life. A real, physical, undeniable, supernatural experience with grace in an Anaheim hotel room. A hard conversation with my dad at a Dodgers game where we confronted all of my secrets. A desperate love for Jesus that had so long been buried by hate and numbness that was screaming to break through to the surface. A long, hard look at the worthlessness of my decisions and desire to change. I really, really wanted to change.

I needed a next step. Enter YWAM Montana and a little program called DTS (Discipleship Training School). I needed to get away, and something about this felt just right.

Revolutionary changes came. Every day I came alive. I changed. It’s like God made up for three years in three months. I found myself in Thailand. I met this beautiful girl named Emily. I was living in a UN Refugee Camp. Everything had changed. So many stories that are just too long to tell, but everything had changed.

I came back to the States, my life moving forward. But I was haunted by one lingering reality. I loved Jesus, but I hated the church. I remember nights in tears praying, “I don’t know what to do. Father please help me, I don’t know what to do.”

He did. In late 2002 I found myself reading books on the dusty floor of Powell’s bookstore in Portland, longing for answers. In a moment of despair I closed a book I had put way too much hope in and considered giving up. Maybe an answer just wasn’t possible. And like a rushing flood a voice thundered within me. “Don’t hand your generation over.”

“Don’t hand your generation over.” That’s all he said, but it’s not all he did. In that moment my heart changed. It was a Grinch moment. It’s as if he had done spiritual surgery; wherever hate had created a home, forced eviction left nothing but ghost towns of a once great empire. All he left was love. Fierce, wild, love. I had his heart. I felt his feelings. I had Jesus’ eyes for his church. His beautiful, broken church.

The next ten years of my life was a lot of discovery. God revealed so many right feelings with wrong motives. So many wrong feelings with right motives. Places I had been given a prophetic heart and voice and places I had my head far up my you-know-what. I tasted arrogance, truth, mercy, justice and everything in between.  I worked to forgive those who had done wrong and realized there were many stories I just didn’t know what really happened and couldn’t pretend I did.  In spite of everything I had seen, everything that had been done to me, and everything I had done to myself, I still couldn’t deny-

I loved and will always love the church.

There have been a lot of conversations lately about the church. Sadly, I’m not the only one who’s seen God’s people at their worst. Some people have even suffered much worse things than I have. And to any of you who may read this, let me say with everything I have – I’m sorry. My choice to stand in love and unity with church is not a dismissal of her actions and the responsibility she has to own them.

Recently, the perpetual conversation was reignited by a blog by Christian leader and thinker Donald Miller who boldly declared his disinterest in church and that it really wasn’t a big deal. He also wrote a response which is much more interesting after receiving a huge response that he claims caught him off guard (C’mon Donald…we’re not that dumb). And while I have greatly benefited from Donald’s leadership and writings and understand several elements of his response blog, I wholeheartedly disagree with his conclusions. I actually agreed with so much of his perspective in his follow up writings, but see none of it as a helpful perspective on why belonging to a local church doesn’t matter, but rather why a generation must fall in love with the church and help lead her to her beautiful future. While we have narrowed the concept of “church” into false categories and argued the wrong stances, being committed to a local fellowship of believers is not only something I will give my life for but is vital to the life of every follower of Jesus.

And if any of you are actually interested in reading a book about this, I would highly recommend picking up Why The Church Still Matters by my hero and mentor Jon Tyson. It’s short…amen.

This is a very important and detailed conversation and I admit that blogs don’t serve well given their brevity and sharp-statement status. So I just confess my inability to do such a conversation justice, but I have been too compelled to stay quiet.  There are thoughts behind thoughts behind thoughts that lead me to my conclusion and I long to share them with you. I think the only way to do them justice is to list the main reasons why I believe what I believe. In the weeks and months to come I will write a specific blog behind each statement. So in many ways I’m writing to take a stand. I love the church. I will defend her till the day I die, and I believe that this is the right place to be.

Here are some simple reasons that I love and will always love the church. Over time, I will explore them all in the fullness they deserve.

1. Following Jesus is something I am incapable of doing apart from community. You were created to have spiritual family that empowers you to live on mission.

2. Dangerous things happen when we view ourselves above being committed and submitted to other believers.

3. God has promised that He involves himself in our lives in unique ways when we are gathered together in His name in ways He doesn’t when we are alone. And no matter what anyone says, musical worship is not just for extraverts or people who like to sing and teaching is not just important for those with certain learning styles.

4. Learning how to be around people I don’t agree with, don’t like, don’t understand and don’t relate to is pivotal in my spiritual development.

5. The church statistically and factually is the most generous, selfless, justice movement in the world.

6. While I am at times an unashamed and outspoken critic of what we call church, the creative possibilities of God’s community are profound and God uses all kinds of churches to change lives…even the ones that are different from me.

7. While I’ve met my fare share of broken, hurtful people…the vast majority of people I encounter who are committed to a local church are remarkable, kind, passionate and life-changing people. And in most cases the church has never actually hurt anyone, people have. I refuse to take the actions of individuals and bind them to the collective whole.

8. Belonging to the church keeps me connected to the historical, rooted community of God’s people and practices that always survive the constantly changing cultural worldview.

9. It’s a Grace Factory.

10. God believes in the church. He has never lost hope in what it is and what it can be. I will never lose hope either. Jesus has an undeniable and insatiable love for his people and to carry his heart I must as well.

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Keeping Up With The Manginellis

First of all, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  My parents came down from Idaho to visit so we had a really special time.  The highlight of the weekend was definitely me falling down the stairs.  My body was bruised.  My ego was crushed.  🙂  Long story short, it was slippery, I was holding Rohan and it hurt like heck.  Serious heck.  Since I was holding him I had no arms to stop myself.  Little one made it without a mark…but Dad wasn’t so lucky.  Ha.  It’s good to be 31 and feel like you’re 80.  But I’m bald, so I’m already a bit used to it.

Last week I updated everyone with my One Year Blog, but I wanted to write and actually just catch you up on how we are doing, and what God is doing and where we need your prayers and love.
First, let me catch you up on what everyone really cares about…our boys.  Jacob is doing really well.  He is in a 5 day preschool and loves every minute of it.  He actually cries on Saturdays when there is no school to go to.  He is making friends and growing up.  He has already played two rounds of soccer and is getting set for some tee-ball in the spring.  His imagination is wild and contagious.  The best part about him right now is his heart.  He loves Jesus and he loves people.  So many of our conversations are about this growing desire in his heart to help people.  We are so proud of him.
Rohan is a bulldog.  He is also doing really well, though we are in a “fun” parenting season with him.  He has found head-butting to be his favorite activity when feeling sad, angry, happy or playful.  So that is fun. :/ Let’s just say Jake also has a few bruises.  But Rohan is such a joy.  Growing up so much.  He’s starting to say his first words and loves being outside more than anything in the world.  All he wants to do is go outside and play in the yard.
The church?  It’s actually happening.  7 months ago there were 8 people in my living room.  Now, there are around 40 adults with us every Sunday night.  Probably about 50-55 people would consider The Square their home, but people missing is just the nature of church.  It’s incredible to watch.  Honestly…I’m so humbled by what God has done.  He has been faithful to what he said he was going to do.  He is building a house for prodigals and creating a beautiful church out of the dust (and spiderwebs in the garage).  We have so much left to accomplish, but God is so clearly with us it’s remarkable.
We are also in the process of moving out of our garage and taking over a building in the heart of our neighborhood.  Details are still being figured out, but we are really excited about what God is doing.  The property needs a great deal of repair, but we believe God is doing to lead us into the resources we need to get this building up and running.  We will have more details on this soon, and we will share them with you once we do.
Emily and me?  I think the only thing we can say is that we are so overwhelmed by the faithfulness of Jesus that it has overcome all difficulties.  Everyday we are experiencing the evidence of God leading us, providing for us and showing up the way he promised.  It has changed us.  And we are doing really really well.  Poor at times.  Stretched at times.  Lonely at times.  And in all of those moments, God is faithful.
Here are a few things that we would love for you to pray alongside with us…
*  We are hosting a large Christmas celebration and outreach on December 22nd. It’s our first attempt at reaching out to our community.  Please pray for God’s favor and that our neighbors would come and hear the message of Jesus.
*  My car is on its last legs.  I took it into the shop and they looked at me and said, “Your transmission is about to die.  Could take 6 days.  Could take 6 months.  But when it goes, it will cost more than your car is worth.”  So…soon enough we are going to have to figure that out.  Please pray for God’s provision to this need.
*  Keep our team in your prayers.  Mitch, Marina, Seth, Megan, Maureen and Annie have all sacrificed so much.  They are my heroes.
*  God would lead us in our transition out of our house and into a building.  We need his leadership, wisdom and resources to make this happen well.
Love you all.  Thank you for being in our life and standing by us.  If I can say one thing to all of you, it would simply be this…say yes to Jesus.  Please.  Whatever he wants to do with your life, it’s better than what you want to do with your life.  He will never fail you.
Phil & Em

One Year Later

One year ago today I got onto a plane with my wife and my boys and left the most significant home we had ever had.  Both of our cars were sold.  A bunch of our stuff had new homes.  A small trailer full of essentials was being driven from Seattle to Atlanta and all that we had in our possession was a few carry-on bags and some deep sorrow.  Seattle had come…

And Gone.

Six years.  And like a flash it was over.  I remember sitting on the plane looking out of the window remembering the feeling of arriving in Seattle.  I remembered the first time I drove through the city.   The first time I stepped into MC4.  The first incredibly awkward night at a youth Christmas party having no clue what to do.  Our first house.  Our first students and the unshakeable bond it created.  Struggle. Success.  Failure.  Heartache.  Students falling in love with Jesus.  Students walking away from Jesus.  Camp.  Jacob being born.  Youth ministry giving birth to internships and college students.  Walks and walks and walks and walks around the church.  Deep friendships.  A second baby boy.  And this eventual unsettled heart I could no longer ignore.  It that moment I saw six years sewn together and jumbled up into one emotional mass.

All of the conversations.

All of the dreaming.

All of the fires.

All of the people.

All of the victory.

All of the…non-victory.

The season was over, and a new one was about to begin.  And as much as my mind and spirit had said yes to Atlanta, my heart was stuck in the Seattle rain.  It was stuck in the six most important years of my life, and most significantly stuck to a group of people I didn’t know how to leave.  It was stuck with Michael Glenn on the curb outside our house in Everett.  It was stuck with Audrey Shed at a Wal-Mart in Calgary.  It was stuck with Heidi Jensen picking blueberries next the church.  It was stuck with Drew Montoya killing scorpions in Cambodia.

I was stuck.

With so many people.  And so many moments.  More than I could ever possibly type.  And I just kept thinking, “What have you done?  What have you left?  Have you just made the biggest mistake of your life?”  Over the last year I have faced those questions every morning and lived my life under their shadow.  Did we actually hear from God?  Did he actually want to give us Atlanta?  Could we actually plant a church?  Was all of this a foolish attempt at faith or was Jesus our King really leading us?  Was I sitting in a plane as my son cried for his lost home because I didn’t know how to be settled or because Jesus was with us?

A year ago I didn’t know the answer to that question.  One year later, all I know is that Jesus has superseded the questions.

He’s become bigger than the looming doubt.  He’s stronger than heartache.  He is the creator of the world and therefore he is qualified to be the creator of home.  He’s muddled the confusion and just brought clarity to one central thing: Wherever he is, is exactly where I want to be.  And all I know is that right now I’m sitting on my porch on a quiet street in northwest Atlanta and the God of resurrection is sitting next to me.  Whether I followed him here or he followed me here…he’s here.  And that’s what matters.

I’ve learned so many things.  One year of church planting should definitely qualify for some kind of spiritual masters degree.  This has been a year of lesson after lesson,  discovery after discovery.  But there is one lesson that stands apart from all of the rest.

Jesus can do amazing things when you just say yes.

I mean he does the wildest, most incredible things when you have nothing but a yes.  The God of fishes and loaves is still alive.  The God who looked into the eyes of simple men and said “You will do even greater things” still believes in what he said.  I serve the Jesus who is the God of immeasurably more.  The God who can take all things and turn them for good.  The God who wipes tears and redeems stories.  The God of resurrection who is doubled over with grace takes what I have…and he makes it more than I could have ever thought was possible.  A year ago I came to Atlanta with a heart full of dreams, and a year later I have much much more.

One year later, there is a church in Atlanta that didn’t exist six months ago.

One year later, dozens of people who had walked away from Jesus have started to walk back.

One year later, displaced men and women have realized they were created to lead God’s people.

One year later, God stories are filling up my house.  Redemption is alive and well.

One year later, we are outgrowing our garage and taking steps into our first church.

One year later Atlanta has become my home.  And it’s the most bittersweet truth in my life.  Because I confess part of my heart is still stuck.  And in some ways I think it will always be.  And you know what?  I’m happy it’s stuck.  It’s as if Jesus is giving me the gift I really always wanted, which was that no matter where I go and what I do…Seattle will be sacred.  Those people.  Those moments.  They will always matter.  One day a long long time from now…part of my heart will still be stuck with Kat at a graduation party.  And Megan and Sierra and MySpace.  And all of the moments that really mattered.  Because Jesus was there.  And when he touches something, distance and time don’t really have much of a say.  Which also means everything that is happening here will matter as well.  Life with Jesus is not a random string of events, but a continuum of heaven colliding into our lives that makes everyday things have eternal qualities.

Seattle mattered.  And it’s my proof that Atlanta will matter just as much.

The God who is leading the way for me in Atlanta is the God who is holding firm in Seattle.  For then.  For now.  And for all time.  Jesus is who he says he is.  And just a little bit of faith has a way of echoing into eternity.

May you know today Jesus is alive.  May you know that you were created for a story beyond your wildest dreams.  May you know that in gain and loss the God of all things stands with you.  And may you know that whatever bits of faith you come to Jesus with will be made into something beautiful.  Something wildly beautiful.  All you have to do is say yes.

In all things.

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Last week was a hard week.  This week is a hard week.  I imagine next week is going to be a hard week.

While many have heard our news I know that there are also many of you who haven’t.  Last week Em had a miscarriage and we lost our baby.  She was 16 weeks along.  At this point we don’t know many of the details, but from what we can gather the baby had stopped developing and the heartbeat was lost.  I believe in time we will know more.

I know many people are grieving with us, and I just wanted to write a simple update on how we are doing.

Physically Emily is doing very well.  She was able to go through this experience without surgery or a D&C so for that we are very grateful.  We know many women who walk through miscarriage also have to go through deep physical pain and our hearts ache for them.  As we have shared our news we have realized how many people in our friends and family have also walked through miscarriage.  There is a comfort in knowing we don’t walk this road alone, though we wish that no one would ever have to walk it.  Knowing many others have experienced miscarriage doesn’t make the hurt diminish, but rather it wrenches me that such pain has entered so many people’s lives that we love.  I don’t think I understood the heartache attached to losing a baby…no matter how far along someone is.  For all who have lost children at any stage of pregnancy, know how deeply we love you and are heartbroken for what you have suffered.

One of our greatest concerns was processing this with Jacob.  We weren’t sure how his little 4 year old heart was going to be able to respond.  He was very excited for this new brother or sister.  We know that we will have processing still to do with him in the future, but he is doing really well.  At the end of our conversation he just looked at us and said, “I think God is going to give a new baby in Mommy’s tummy.”  What a sweet sweet boy we have.

Emotionally…yeah.

Yeah…

Yeah…I don’t really feel like talking about it if I were honest.  We’re sad.  We’re so sad.  Last night Emily and I just laid in bed and felt the void.  But you know what that’s OK.  Being broken and doing terrible are two totally different things and as followers of Jesus this is something we must understand.  In the middle of the void the presence of Jesus has filled up the empty space.  It doesn’t take the emptiness away, but rather reminds us that we serve the God who suffers with His people.  We love the Jesus who comes closer than suffering.  We know the God who has suffered death.  And He lives.  And we live with Him.  And this little child lives with Him.

This is not our cliché belief.  This is not what we tell ourselves to try to numb the pain.  This is our deepest belief and conviction. We serve the God who lives and holds the lives that are lost.  We believe in resurrection and that heaven is here and coming.  We believe Jesus came to rob death of its power and we can taste and experience the evidence of His victory.  Resurrection has consumed my being and nothing sways us from our declaration that Jesus is alive and those who believe in Him though they die will they truly live.  He is our hope.

In all things.

He is our hope.  Nothing can shake us from His foundation.  He sits with us in our suffering.  He is strong enough to handle my anger.  My spectrum of emotions does not shake my Father.  He is good and true and kind and loving and in Him I place my life.  I will never stop declaring such things.

So…yeah.

Yeah…

I’m sad.  Em’s sad.  We’re hurting, frustrated, lonely, tired and sad.  And Jesus is King.  And I’m at peace with both.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out.  We are amazed that six months into Atlanta we have the family and friends around us that we do.  Maybe Jesus really knew what he was doing when he created the church to be the light to the world.  I’ll finish with a verse I’ve read every day since my friend Jon sent it to me.  Keep praying for us, and keep praying for Atlanta.  Our beautiful city needs to know that Jesus is alive.

“Don’t be afraid.  I am the first and the last and I am the Living One.  I was dead, but look!  Now I am alive forever and always.  I have the keys of Death and the Grave.” – Jesus

When everything is gone there will still be Jesus. (Thoughts on Matthew 2:13-23)

Sometimes I dream what life will be like when my eyes close only to open in the life to come. For some reason it’s always when I listen to music.  It has this way of distancing my heart from the moment and stretching out my existence from the things that have been to the things that one day will be.  I see.  I dream.  I hurt.  I wonder.  I ask.  I consider all the things I know and all the things I don’t.

Being a pastor is an honor like no other.  I remember the first time I got to speak at the Bible College from which I graduated and the first thing that was in my heart to tell them was that no one could ever articulate what it really means for someone to let you be their pastor.  It’s an invitation into the most sacred parts of their life.  You get to be there when two become one, when new life starts and when life goes away.  People allow you into the darkest and most precious moments of life.  There’s something about the words “power vested in me” that still shakes me.  You get to be one of the first to hold that precious new baby.  But maybe the most sacred part is when you get to sit with those when life is fleeting, or with those on the fringe when death has come.

Several years ago I had the honor of sitting with a young man who was being ravaged by cancer.  His days were numbered.

He knew it.  I knew it.  We all knew it.

He asked me a simple question, “Pastor, what is heaven like?”  When you’re sitting in that moment it doesn’t matter how much theological training you’ve had or how well you know your Bible.  A lump sits in your throat that seems like it has a life of its own.  Everything you’ve ever told people in easy moments runs across your mind.  Everything that has been written in little booklets sold at Christian bookstores sits at the forefront of your thinking.  And as I hope all Godly people would, I responded with godly fear that I don’t get the right to speculate.  Not here.  Not now.  Maybe when it’s easy I can be opinionated, but not in this. I can only speak of the things I would die for myself.  I remember that moment like yesterday.  Tears rolled down my face because I didn’t even want to entertain the question…I just wanted him to live.  I looked back and said,

“I don’t know.  But I do know one thing…Jesus will be there.  And I can promise you this, that wherever he is is exactly where you want to be.”

He didn’t have the strength to cry.  He just simply said, “I can do that.”  It was from that little laugh that we got to dream together.  His kindness opened up the door to dream, to believe.  I got to share the picture that the scriptures paint so vaguely of the life to come.  I talked about new creation and resurrection, about a place where death has no more life, about a new earth that is alive and vibrant, about family and what is means to be sons and daughters of God.  We dreamed and laughed about snowboarding with angels and what life will feel like when death has no place over human beings.

A week later I did his funeral.

And that’s the power of death, isn’t it?  It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t have the last word.  Whether it’s the death of a close friend, a madman in Newtown, a tornado in Oklahoma, a starving child in Kenya or a war-torn desert in Palestine, death’s brutality has its way.  It has its way in this life and it has its way in our hearts.  It looms like an unspeakable shame that taunts those in its way.  And it creates for those who contend with it a deep question, “God, where are you?”

One of my favorite moments in scripture is when Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies.  Lazarus has been dead for 4 days.  He shows up on the outskirts of Mary and Martha’s property and Martha runs out to meet him.  Desperate, broken and alone she says the question that sits on all of our lips.  She asks the question not only for herself but for all mankind, “Jesus, where were you?  If you were here my brother would still be alive.”

Jesus, where were you?  This is the dilemma of suffering.  It isn’t that we don’t understand that suffering exists.  We get it.  People can be evil.  People can do evil things.  Don’t believe me?  When you realize that the same amount of money that could end global poverty is the same amount of money Americans spend on ice cream every year then you can’t really argue back with me.  Watch the news for 5 minutes and the potential evil of human beings is told without a second thought.  The problem of suffering is that Jesus is so good.  He’s so so good.  And if he’s this good, how can this happen?  How can he really be the one he says he is and all of this can still happen?

This last Sunday we stopped at the moment in Matthew’s account of Jesus when death had its way in Bethlehem.  Right in the middle of the King of Resurrection’s birth is an evil King who, in his jealousy and rage, murdered all of the male children under 2 in the area of Bethlehem.  These two realities stand so contradicted to each other, it’s hard to hold them together.  Jesus born in the slaughter.

It’s here that I sat with Matthew.  Why would you tell me this?  There’s so many things you didn’t tell me about Jesus, why tell me this?  It’s here that I hear Matthew say back to me, “How could I not?  This is who Jesus is.  He came into death to be the one who would stand up to it for all of us.  He didn’t come with cheap answers, he came with power.  You have to know the conditions of the life Jesus was born into because it clarifies the whole story, the entire reason he came.”

“Death had always had the final word.  But Jesus had something to say back.”

Matthew is capturing the two storylines of life.  There is a storyline of the world, you live and you die.  Do what you can to enjoy it.  It comes and it goes.  The dead children of Bethlehem tell us the story of this world; evil wins and suffering has no equal.  And yet, right in the middle of the climax of the most evil thing that could exist in the death of children…there is another story.

There is Jesus.

He is the second storyline.

Matthew isn’t telling me this story to be brutal or for the manipulation of emotions.  He’s making a statement.  He’s making the statement of the entire gospel.  He’s making the statement of why anyone in this life could actually believe Jesus is Good News.  He in his subtlety is drawing a divergent line in the stand.  “You must see, Phil, what I believe about Jesus.  He created a second way.  When my story is all finished you’ll know it like you don’t know it now, but Jesus came to tell death it didn’t have the final word anymore.  He did.”

Martha is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  The question lingers in the air.  “Where were you?”  Jesus looks back at Martha with a simple and audacious comment, “Your brother will rise again.”  This response is so layered I understand why Martha initially responds to the level on the surface.  “I get it Jesus.  One day there will be a resurrection.”  There is something about her words that are so defeated and sarcastic.  I don’t know if she believed what she had just said, my guess is it’s the answer someone gave her in sunday school one day a long, long time ago.  Much like our answers.  But Jesus isn’t upset.  He loves Martha so much.

He loves us so much.

I see this moment so vividly.  Jesus eyes locked with Martha.  There’s a power that connects past the tears.  People everywhere, but right in this moment no one else exists.  Jesus looks at her and says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who trusts me will live even though they will die and whoever lives by trusting me will never die.”  And then the question.

“Do you trust me?”

In such a simple question Jesus’ words start to take so much life.  Jesus is putting Martha’s first statement right back in front of her, but inviting her to see it with fresh eyes.  Her brother will rise again, not because it’s the cheesy answer that you learned from someone you don’t really know a long time ago.  Her brother will rise again because Jesus is.  Jesus isn’t an imagined hope or an ideal existence.  There was a day he sat in the dust with a broken woman named Martha and with tears in his eyes made a declaration to the ages…death doesn’t get to win anymore.  It’s rival has come.  Its enemy is at its doorstep.  Lazarus is about to be the proof.  Death is about to be defeated.

There is no easy conversation about suffering.  Cheap answers are more dangerous than no answer.  But I can tell you this, I believe in a God who has real answers.  I believe in a God who did something.  I believe in a God who desires to create people to be the answer to physical suffering.  I believe in a Jesus who wrote a second story.  I believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  I, if I trust anything at all, trust Jesus.  I believe that when everything else is gone, there will still be Jesus.

His resurrection isn’t simply a philosophy for me, I feel its existence within me.  I believe in the resurrection because it has taken dwelling within my flesh and blood.  The eternal promise rests within me like breath.  I have no doubts.  Every tragedy, personal and global, every ounce of suffering will be made right…because death doesn’t really have the last word…Jesus does.

I know for those who don’t believe questions still linger.  We could debate philosophies and Jesus’ sovereignty in light of the gravity of our choices having real impact.  We could debate about how the vast majority suffering is human made.  We could debate that when we broke away from God nature itself shifted and now suffers from the same sin sickness that we do.  We could debate that we want to shift blame on God when there is so much more we could do.  We could pull out all of the great quotes of atheists and Christian social advocates who say things so much better than we ever could.  We could debate God’s responsibility in a world with free will.  We could say everything there is to say.

And what I would tell you back is this.  After all of those words, there is one more word.

Jesus.  He wrote a second story.  He stands at the epicenter of your questions and wants to give you resurrection.  He wants to make you resurrection.  He wants to commission you to be resurrection for others.  He is here to tell you that death hasn’t had the final word.  He has.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Death may be flopping around this world like a dying fish…but it won’t win.  And one day, all of us will close our eyes in this life and open them in the life to come.  I don’t know exactly what it will be like, but I do know that Jesus will be there.  And I can promise you this, wherever he is is exactly where you want to be.

Open Carefully: Response Required. (Thoughts on Matthew 1:18-2:12)

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Last night we celebrated Christmas on Cinco De Mayo.  Sort of.

As we go verse by verse in Matthew as a brand new community of people, we found ourselves in the story of Jesus’ birth.  Add a few Christmas songs, Christina’s Christmas cookies and a white elephant gift exchange (which did include a massive box of tampons and E. Smith’s actual licence plate) and it made me wish it were snowing.  But more than anything there was this heartbeat growing inside of me as I looked out at these 20 people sitting in my garage that realized one day these people are going to be like my family.  Those who were once strangers were going to become some of the most meaningful people in my life.

Those who were far away were going to be drawn near.

And that’s really the thing that felt like Christmas, because if there is anything worth celebrating as we look at this origin story of the King, it’s that He who seemed far away came near to bring close those who were actually far away.  God became man to wrap his arms around me and draw me in.  The God who seemed so far away, so quiet for so long, is here.  As I let Matthew tell me about the birth of his true King it became so apparent that he wanted me to know one thing.  The King has come.  He’s here.  The waiting is over.  He finally came.

It’s hard to capture the magnitude of what this meant to Matthew.  Part of it is connected to his genealogy.  You see every one of those men were waiting.  Abraham was waiting.  David was waiting.  They were all waiting.  42 generations are listed, and we know historically that there were more than that…and they were all waiting.  But the waiting is over, because King Jesus is here.  The true King is here.

The true King.  It’s like you can see Matthew pause because he’s wondering how to explain a very complicated story.  “But when Jesus was born, Israel had another king named Herod.  He wasn’t the true king and everybody knew it, but he had a lot of power with Rome so it wasn’t a boat that many wanted to rock.  Except for John, but I’ll get to him in a minute.”   And instantaneously we see that Jesus the King was born into a power struggle.  A spiritual and physical power struggle which is setting up the question that isn’t going to be answered quickly, “What is going to happen when the Kingdom of Herod confronts the Kingdom of Jesus?”

And it’s here that I began to see what mattered to Matthew about this moment.  Lot’s of things happened when Jesus was born and if you want to gooshy stuff you really should be talking with Luke.  It’s like Matthew steps back and says “If you saw it from a distance you’d realize that when Jesus was born it became the most catalytic event in the history of the world.  It set off this chain reaction with Jesus at the epicenter.”

Jesus is the epicenter.

Matthew makes one thing very clear – when Jesus showed up it demanded a reaction.  It demanded a response.  He told me about Joseph and the choices that were in front of him.  Was he going to trust God and marry this pregnant teenager to the shame of his name and family or was he going to divorce her and maintain his reputation among his peers?  Jesus’ arrival demanded a reaction.  Then Matthew told me about these powerful men from the East who studied the stars and saw something so wild they traveled at the cost of their own lives to find this King.  Where they going to count the cost and find this child or was it simply too much work?  Jesus’ arrival demanded a reaction.  Then Matthew tells me a little bit more about King Herod and his discovery that “a new King” was coming.  Just like Joseph and these foreign astrologists he had a choice to make.  Was he going to believe that God was on the move to the loss of his own status or was he going to tighten his grip on the power he craved?  Herod, like the others, had a moment where reaction was required.  And sadly, Herod’s reaction was with the sword.

It’s like when Matthew was telling me about the events around Jesus’ arrival I knew what he was trying to tell me.  I, like all of these men, was now confronted with the very same choice.  In fact we all are.  The arrival of King Jesus invites me into a response.  Whose path will I follow?  Will I side with Joseph and the mysterious travelers or will I side with Herod and protect the Kingdom I built with my own hands?  Will I gently bend to my knees and worship this King?

Worship.  It’s an interesting thing.  Chords and songs, chants and liturgy and occasionally the oh so awesome light show.  It’s this word that no matter how much we tell people we understand it ultimately means the 20-30 minutes of singing before some epic female pastor tell us about Jesus.  You may have a boring dude as well, but same difference.  You know, it’s the time we drink coffee and go quiet on the verses we don’t know by heart.  It’s where we send those last texts before we sit down and everyone will notice.  It’s where we stand in God’s presence and judge people for what they are wearing and lean over and say stuff like this to your spouse, “This song?  Really?  I hate this song.” (I actually did that about 5 weeks ago).  But you know what I mean…worship.

I’m using slight hyperbole, but sadly I’m closer to the truth than any of us want to admit.  I wonder one day what it will feel like to stand before Jesus knowing we perverted something so important.  My prayer for you and for me is that we won’t have that day.  That something inside of us would wake up and see that it’s not too late for us.  We get to let Matthew invite us into a life of true worship.

True worship is a life that allows Jesus to be the epicenter.

I want that life.  I crave that life.  I want to give my life so that others can have that life.  And you want to know what…something about the singing changes when this is your life.  The songs become expressions from the deepest places of your heart.  The moments become the cry for King Jesus to take his rightful place at the epicenter of your life.  The words become the language of love to the one who loved us first.  It becomes the time that you never want to miss…because there’s something about music when you mean it that becomes the most powerful language we have.  And we start to give that language to Jesus.

So who is this Jesus?  This catalyst who created waves throughout human history.  This one that we may dare shape our lives around.  Matthew does something very interesting.  He tells us that Jesus actually has two names.  And his names tell us something very important.  His first name is Jesus, which is actually Joshua, which is actually Yeshua.  It means the one who will lead you into the promised land.  But this isn’t his only name, he was given another name.  Immanuel.  Simply translated Immanuel means “God with us.”  And even though Matthew is just at the beginning of his story he looks at us and says, “Jesus is the one who has come near to take you to the promised land.  This is what he wants to do.  Jesus isn’t a static king.  He’s here and he has a plan.”

Jesus came to be with me and take me to the promised land.

N.T. Wright talks about how Matthew is the left eye that saw the birth of Jesus and Luke was the right eye.  When you put them together, you see the full story.  Apparently John was what happens when you dream in your sleep after eating Taco Bell.  And there is something amazing when you put these two viewpoints together.  You see Joseph and Mary, shepherds and angels, Kings and travelers, and even some barn animals.  They all find themselves surrounding a baby in a feeding trough.  An impoverished King of a teenage mom in a lonely town.  But around him was something spectacular.  Creation leaned in, angels surrounded and the most broken of society came close.

There is another moment in the biblical narrative like this moment.  Except it’s at the very end.  Revelation 4.  John has just shared his heart with all of the churches and starts the vision at the end…with heaven.  Standing at the throne of God is a lamb that has been slain, a picture of Jesus.  Surrounding this Jesus are these four wild creatures with eyes up and down their bodies.  They have different elements of animals and creation woven together into a single freakish being.  I remember being little and being scared to go to heaven because these things were there.  Thankfully, John was just being weird.  🙂  These animals are symbol of creation.  It was creation that surrounded this lamb.  And around these creatures was God’s people.  They were all there.  And around them the angels.  They were all together.

A little over 2000 years ago a baby names Jesus was surrounded by creation, people and angels and they worshipped.  Jesus came to lead us back to where it all started.  That one day all of creation and humanity and the angels will surround this King and worship.  Why?  Because he made all things new.  Something wild and provacative is at place between these two scenes.  Jesus the King, the baby in a feeding trough, the lamb was slain is taking me to a promised land.  That promised land is the renewal and transformation of me to become the me he always intended.  A me free of death and decay, and of sin and hatred, where I take my rightful place next to the one who created me as His son.

One day we will be right back where it all started, but the difference will be that King Jesus will have rescued us.  He came to the broken to make all things new.  

To lower the high places and exalt the valleys.

To make the rough places plain.

To set the crooked places straight.

To reveal the glory of God.

May you today celebrate Christmas, and don’t worry you don’t need any licence plates or tampons.  But you do need one thing…to know that you were loved first.  That there is a King named Jesus who stands at the epicenter of history.  He’s inviting you to let him stand at the epicenter of you, because when he gets there he’s going to have a plan.  He’s going to make all things new.  May you become a worshipper who let’s God Immanuel take you to the promised land.

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You really want to know this guy. (Thoughts on Matthew 1:1-17)

Tonight we began a journey as a brand new community on the northwest side of Atlanta.  We moved into our garage (picture here) and opened up the Good News of Matthew and began our journey to discover Jesus by going verse by verse through his book.  When we decided this was going to be our initial step into church planting I was so excited.  What could be better than looking at the life of Jesus together and asking the hard questions about who Jesus really is and what it means to follow him?  I was stoked.

Then I read the beginning of Matthew.  Crap.

My first sermon…the one that is going to start everything off…the one that is going to set the momentum for who we are…the one that is going to show everyone how crazy talented I am so they never want to leave…the one that is going to make everyone cry so hard they want to get saved all over again…is a genealogy.  It’s Matthew helping us know that a lot of people got it on and had kids who got it on and had kids who got it on and had kids etc.  Throw in a few begats and some awesome names (Thank you Amminadab) and that’s what I call a party.

But…you can’t really go verse by verse through a book and just skip 17 of them.  Especially week 1.  So I spent some time with Matthew and his first thoughts.  And you want to know what?  He won me over.  The first few times I sat down with this passage all I could think about was “this is going to suck,” but then I just took a step back and asked Matthew to talk with me.  I asked Matthew to tell me his story and to tell me why it mattered that I knew this part of the story.

And it was like Matthew leaned in and whispered, “I want to tell you about a King named Jesus.  I promise, you really want to know this guy.”

From this point on, instead of seeing a list, I saw Matthew sitting at a table next to me with coffee in hand about to tell me an incredible story about a King named Jesus.  But before he could get into the story, I needed to know some things about this Messiah.  Some things that if I listened were really going to matter.  So as I swirled my coffee I decided to let a list of begats tell me a story.

I imagined Matthew leaning back in his chair and saying, “You’re never going to understand Jesus if you don’t understand Abraham and David.  Jesus’ story starts a long ago with promises that were made to his fathers.  Jesus is the heir to all of those promises.  He is the son of David and the son of Abraham.  God spoke a lot of things to these men, and all of it was about to be fulfilled in Jesus.  When I say that Jesus is the son of Abraham and David I want you to know what I mean.  You can actually find the genetic trail that links their bloodlines if you want to, but more importantly he is the one who fulfills all of the promises given to these men.”

Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.

When God promised Abraham he would bless him so he could be a blessing to the world…it was all about Jesus.  When God pulled Abraham out of his tent and asked him to look up…it was all about Jesus.  When God told Abraham to count the stars and dream of his descendants…it was all about Jesus.  When God made a covenant with Abraham where he would count all of the cost…it was all about Jesus  God’s wild love has always been after the whole world and he communicated that to Abraham.  Then Jesus came and fulfilled it.

When God saw a shepherd boy and made him king…it was all about Jesus.  When God promised David a kingdom that would never end…it was all about Jesus.  When God said one of David’s sons would reign forever…it was all about Jesus.  God was speaking to the world through David that one day a good and perfect king would reign forever.  He would not be like all of the others kings that wielded their power and conquered through violence, he would be the king every heart has longed for.  Then Jesus came and fulfilled it.

Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham is the true King.  He is the King of Israel and the King of the world.  He is the fulfillment of every promise…and the king you’ve been waiting for.  As Bill Johnson says, “Everybody wants a king like Jesus.  If we’ll represent him well, they will want us too.”

As I considered this King Jesus I realized that Matthew was telling me that Jesus wasn’t simply the fulfillment of God’s promises, he was the fulfillment of all of my promises too.  Do I believe this?  Could this really be true?  And Matthew looked back at me and said, “But there’s more…Jesus came from some pretty screwed up people.”

I thought about my own family when I let Matthew tell me this.  I have my French Canadian fur trapping family from my Momma and my loud, boisterous, easily-angered Italian family from my Dad.  I love my family…but we are pretty screwed up.  You look to the left and see a lot of addiction, you look to the right and you see a lot of abuse.  You look all around and you see secrets and shame.  Then I thought about myself, and I have my rightful place in this Manginelli/Maupin ball of screw-ups.  I don’t tell a lot of people that; those parts of my story and my family’s story contains a lot of shame.  But Matthew tells me this about Jesus right up front.  He doesn’t hide the mess he come from, he claims it boldly.

Jesus is the son of really broken people.  They all have a place in His Kingdom.

Prostitutes, thieves, bastards, whores, murders, adulterers, liars, drunks.  This is who Jesus came from.  He wears it like a badge of honor.  Most kings would tell you something else, the kings around the time of Jesus certainly did.  Julius Caesar had the Goddess Venus in his lineage.  So right here in the middle of this list Matthew is telling me something very important…

I have a place with this King.

We all have a place with this King.  In every other kingdom, I’m a peasant.  I’m too poor and from too weak a history (my last name literally means little left-hander) to have a place with any other king.  I’m not good-looking enough.  I’m not talented enough.  I’m not elite enough.  But I have a place with Jesus.  I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not, because I fit in his lineage.

I imagine Matthew telling me the stories of these broken lives and the moments of redemption weaved within them.  When we get to the end, we finally get to Jesus.  He tells me, “And Jesus was the seventh seven.”  At first I’m confused, but intrigued.  He begins to show me that all of these names are broken into sections…three section of fourteen.  A list of seven, then a list of seven, then a list of seven, then another list of seven, a list of seven, a final list of seven, and then Jesus.  Matthew tells me that he had to play around with Jesus’ genealogy a little bit to make this happen, but it was more important to tell me this part of Jesus’ story than to give me a few more names.  I asked him back, “What does it mean that Jesus is the seventh seven?”

Jesus is the fulfillment of everything we’ve been longing for.

From Abraham to Mary, every name of this list has been waiting.  Their lives have been lived in the expectation that something was coming.  Something that was going to make sense of this life and give meaning to everything they have done.  They were waiting for God to come back, for Yahweh to rule in Zion again.  They were waiting and hoping and dreaming and it was all about Jesus.  He was everything they were waiting for.

I stared at this list for a while.  Jesus is the fulfillment of everything I’m longing for, and I began to think about my longings.  I thought about my family, my boys and my little one to come.  I thought about my dreams and the desires I have in this life.  I thought about security and finances, about possessions and wishing I had hair.  I thought about friendships and people.  I thought about everything I’ve been longing for and it was like Matthew was reading my mind, “Jesus is the only one that can fulfill those desires.”  He’s it.

He’s the one I’ve been waiting for.

At this point I realized that I officially really like Matthew.  If we were actually having this faux coffee date this would be about the point where I’d say, “We should hang out more.”  Matthew has one more thing to tell me though.  All of these people, they’ve all been waiting, but they have been waiting in different seasons.  This story has markers, very important markers.

I imagine Matthew saying, “The first set of names, they are from Abraham to David.  This was the season when God’s promises were alive.  They were moving and God’s people were in the middle of experiencing the beauty of what it meant to be part of God’s movement.  The second set of names, from David to the exile, were part of a very different season.  This was the season when God’s people threw away everything God had given them and tore apart their lives.  While they had everything they needed, they traded it in to be their own kings.  The last set of names, from the exile to Mary, were in the quiet season.  It was here that God’s people wanted to hear God, but he was silent.  They wanted to be with him again, but they didn’t know where to find him.  This Jesus, he’s king of every season.  Jesus was the real king when everything was working.  Jesus was the real king when everything was failing.  And Jesus was the real king when silence was deafening.”

Jesus reigns if we are in seasons of beauty, seasons of loss, or seasons of silence.

As I sit back in my chair, I realize that through it all Matthew is trying to tell me one central thing.  Jesus is credible.  He’s faithful.  It doesn’t matter what lens you look through, Jesus is trustworthy.  No matter what is going on in my life, no matter the strength of my faith or my doubt, Jesus is someone worth hearing out.  He’s credible to handle my sin.  He’s credible to understand my life.  He’s credible to hear my heartache.  He’s credible to know my needs.  He’s credible to carry my life.  He’s credible to know my story.  He’s credible to know my needs.  He’s credible to fulfill on his word.  He’s credible.

He’s a good King.  A really really good King.

May you today be reminded that Jesus isn’t like other kings.  He has a lineage that you belong in and is inviting you to become family.  May you see that whatever season of life you find yourself in, Jesus can carry the weight.  He’s sufficient.  And may you let Matthew and his brothers remind you that there is a King named Jesus and you are really going to want to know Him.  And the best part is…you can.

Developing Rhythm.

It’s been too long since my last blog.  I’ve started about four different blogs since the one I last published, but at some point I hit that turn and I can’t seem to bring it to completion.  I’ve thought a lot about this and have asked a lot of questions internally.  Mainly, “Why do you suck so much at keeping a blog?”  And the best part of asking that question is that I actually came to an answer.  The truth is that I approach writing blogs like I approach life…

I have a really hard time not being perfect.

I don’t stop blogs because I can’t finish projects, which at times is a truth in my life.  I don’t stop blogs because I can’t think of things to say (we all know that’s not true).  I stop blogs because at some point right in the middle it isn’t poignant enough, deep enough, poetic enough or some other selfish reason that just makes me turn my head and say…”Eeehhhhhh.”  I get this idea in my head that every stroke of my keyboard needs to be leading to a transcendent moment…and when they don’t I tell my own words that they aren’t valuable.  And that has made me realize not only how much I do this with my writing, but how much I do this with my life.

How many aspects of the mundane have I criticized?

How many moments of the faithful roll of life have I viewed as unimportant?

One thing I’ve learned about my life is that I love catalytic experiences.  I love creating moments.  I’m the kind of guy that if I have some money to spend, I want to spend it on an experience.  Who wants to replace a cracked windshield when we could drive to Savannah for a night?  Who wants to buy a shirt when we could try dinner somewhere we have never gone before?  Who wants to buy furniture when we could go to Harry Potter world?  Pay for a hair cut?  Ppppfffff…I’ve got clippers for you honey.  You’re beginning to see why Emily Manginelli is truly the saint that she is.  I’ve somehow bought into the idea that if I can’t take a snapshot of a moment, it isn’t that great of a moment.  And I’m beginning to realize what a lie that is.

Translate that to right now.  To planting a church in Atlanta.

When people ask me how things are going I always say the same thing, “Good I think.”  What I’m really saying behind those three words is, “We aren’t a thousand people yet, so I’m pretty sure we are failing entirely.”  That might be a bit of hyperbole, but it’s true to some extent.  Almost four months into life in Atlanta I’m beginning to realize that my perspective is completely dominated by the lack of highlight moments.  I wanted church planting to be like the Miami Heat…and it’s a lot more like the San Antonio spurs.  For those who know that means you really know what I mean.  We haven’t had a night where tons of people are giving their life to Jesus.  We haven’t had moments where everyone in the room is bawling their eyes out because my preaching is just that good.  We haven’t remedied Atlanta’s poverty problems and have the photo-op that is going to keep everyone giving.

But you know what we have had?

A good transition.  I like Atlanta and my boys and girl are happy.

A closeness with Emily’s family that we have never had before.  Everyday God is moving in our family life.

We’re developing relationships with amazing people.  Some Christian.  Some not.  We are becoming close with neighbors, single moms, coffee-shop workers, doctors, college students and the amazing random friendships that God is brining our way.

We’re learning how to live every moment for the gospel.  I don’t go to a grocery store, coffee shop, soccer game or meeting without asking Jesus to move.  I’ve never lived life so intentionally.

We’re gathering faithful people to worship Jesus and listen to the word on Sunday nights.  Right now it’s a whole lot of family and some really epic people…but God is stirring things.  Jesus is glorified and in the middle of so many questions of “How in the world do we do this?”,  God is just doing this.

And you want to know what is in the middle of all of the mundane?  A rhythm.  A Jesus rhythm that is helping me realize that he really doesn’t live in the highlights…he lives right in the real.  I’m sure there are going to be those occasional epic moments that me and Jesus get to do some high-fiving, but right now I’m completely OK just hanging with Jesus in the real.  Because it’s in the real that I’ve got to grow with Andy, Christina, Eliza, Braden, Zach, Shawn, Whitney, Daniel, David, Lauren, Chris, Jennie, Ethan, Shelley, John, Emily, Brandon, Tyler, Mel, Holly, and so many more.  God has started to give me people to love.

And for me…that’s all the highlight reel I need.

May you today stop measuring life by your own definitions of perfection.  May you stop ignoring what is right in front of you because it isn’t as epic as you wish it was.  May you finally realize that grass will only be greener in heaven…and oh yeah, I actually already have that now as well.  Stop living life like a half done blog…because I’m pretty sure what really matters is in the middle of whatever you just gave up on.

Settling, Stripping (Not That Kind), & Surrendering.

Life has settled.  The boys have settled.  Em has settled.  I’m settled. (That’s a really weird word when you write it four times in a row.)  We still miss people, but everyday we love calling Atlanta home more and more.  The streets look less foreign and the power of a good coffee shop can do amazing things.  It will be a long time until Atlanta is home just because it is and not because I have to call it so…but the train is officially on the move.

In many ways I feel like the move to Atlanta was this massive drop and when we landed everything flew into the air.  Debris was everywhere.  Dust and scrap were swirling about.  Moments of blinding pain and the realization that nothing would ever be the same.  I would be different.  My family would be different.  My relationships would be different.  My home would be different.  It was as if I was just lying on the ground, feeling the pain and watching everything fly through the air.

And now…it’s settled.  Everything has floated back to planet earth and the chaos has subsided.  I’ve stood up, wiped the dust from my eyes and began to assess.  Through this whole process my heart has discerned many things and Emily and I have received many words of hope.  But it in all, I’ve only heard one thing.  There has only been one thing that Jesus found important enough to actually speak.  Everything else has been discerning the movement of God’s Spirit, but one thing was actually said.  “I’m not sending you to plant a church, I’m sending you to plant the gospel.  Let a church be born from that.”  So I’m standing, wiping myself off with nothing but a piece of paper with one instruction, “Plant the gospel.”

Maybe a year ago that phrase wouldn’t have been daunting.  It’s easy to discover meaning within a pre-secured scenario.  Planting the gospel within my context would have meant implementing more campus outreach, a new teaching series, discipling and sending our core leadership into environments where this calling could be true.  I would have responded to this invitation not within Phil Manginelli the man, but within Phil Manginelli the Student Ministries Pastor.  The filter through which I would have said yes would have been MC4 and the community of those gathered around me.

1 year ago I would have responded with confidence.

Today I respond with insecurity.

Insecurity sits at the forefront of my mind and this disparity is a an example of a very meaningful quote in my life by a pastor named Bill Johnson.  One time I heard him teach, “Insecurity is simply wrong securities exposed.”  The truth is that as I stand from my long fall, clear the dust from my eyes and begin to look around the first thing I really see is that the only way to plant the gospel is to admit that I’m exposed.  I’ve clothed myself in many noble things, but they have all been stripped from me.  I have been a man that has put his security in wrong things.  Noble things…but wrong things.  I’ve put security in having a position, in my ability to communicate, in my knowledge of Scripture, in having a successful ministry that I’ve allowed to speak to my value.  And in the deep dark fall to Atlanta I awoke none of those things.  I’ve been stripped.

And it’s exactly what I wanted.

It’s hard to explain really.  All I can I say is that I’ve desired something I haven’t known.  It’s been a feeling that I couldn’t name or describe.  It was an ache I couldn’t fulfill, but I knew it was there. It was something I knew I would pay any price for, but I didn’t even know what I was buying.  And maybe today is the first day I understand what Jesus is really doing in me.  The first day I understand what my soul has been fighting for that my mouth could never articulate.  I’m being stripped.  I’m being rebuilt.

I’m Eustace sitting next to a mountain pond.

I’m David giving Saul’s armor back.

I’m the woman pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.

I’ve been stripped, and instead of clinging to the rags I put my security in, I’m clinging to the Jesus who who is the possessor of life.  I’m believing in the wildly childish belief that Jesus knows everything I need, and if he knows how to dress the flowers and feed the birds then he knows how to care for me.  I’m saying yes to the invitation of Jesus to come and die…and maybe, just maybe…truly live.

And there is nothing I can do but say yes.  All of my life I’ve willed my heart and mind and soul towards Jesus.  I’ve hated sin and fought against my flesh like a heavyweight king.  I’ve gripped and struggled and warred and battled and contended.  I’ve done all I know how to do…except stop and just let Jesus do what only he can do.

He’s knocking on the door of my heart not for my accomplishments, but for me.  He’s not trying to make me into a brilliant church planter, he’s loving me as a Son.  He’s asking me, “Do you trust me?  What if I am the only security you have?”  He’s asking me to surrender and let Him remove all of my false securities and teach me to secure myself in one place…Him.  He’s showing me that I can’t plant the Gospel, until the Gospel is the only thing I trust.  Until the death, ressurrection, grace and presence of Jesus is all I possess, and all I need to possess.

You see the reason that Jesus told me to plant the Gospel and not to plant a church is because church has been the home of my false securities.  It’s been the trophy case of my soul.  And Jesus like a good Dad has been after one thing all of these years.  Me.  Atlanta isn’t where Jesus asked me to plant a church.  Atlanta is the place Jesus wants to save me.  And maybe…just maybe, a church will be born.  A church where nothing matters except the Gospel.  A church where the grace and presence of Jesus changes lives because at the foundation of everything we are is Jesus.  Where He’s our only hope, our only shelter, our only hiding place, the source of all of our confidence.

So…it’s settled.  I’m settled.  And Jesus finally has the yes he’s been waiting for.  Have your way in me my King.

Peace. Brought to you by Jesus.

Early this morning I got up with son Rohan.  As we sat and played, my heart ached to be with Jesus and was moved for my family…for my Manginelli and Irvin family.  As Rohan played, I worshipped and read the Bible and just sat with Jesus.  He reminded me of a few things…most specifically of peace, so I emailed my family.  After I sent the email I knew I also just wanted to share my thoughts in my blog.  Because while we are a few days from celebrating the birth of the King of Peace…peace is the very thing evading most of us.

In the wake of the Connecticut shooting, I think many of us are looking at the normal Christmas pace and seeing how pale it is in comparison to what really matters.  Here we are buying gifts, planning parties, stressing our calendars, worrying financially and like usual missing Jesus at a point he just wants to reveal himself to us.  As much as we grieve the horror of the elementary school shooting, I imagine for most of us it is yet again putting life into perspective.  It’s the cruel helper asking the question, “Are you living for things that really matter?  Life can be gone in a moment, are you living it how you need to?”

It also brings fear.  If the things that mean the most to us could be taken so easily and without reason?  What in life is safe?  What can we know will resist the darkness of this world?  Can anything be trusted?

And alas…we have only one answer.  Jesus.  In the middle of a world where free will is so beautiful and yet so possibly evil there is only one thing that never changes.  There is only one thing that can’t be shaken.  There is only one thing that lasts.  There is only one thing that worthy of eternal hope.  His name is Jesus.  And in this season he has gifts for us, not like Santa who brings things to satisfy the external and material, but gifts that are eternal and never end.  He wants to bring us peace.  He wants to bring us joy.  He wants to bring us Himself.

So my encouragement to you today…stop playing the Christmas game and fall more in love with Jesus.  Stop worrying about gifts and money and be a great Dad today.  Be a present Mom in everything you do.  Actually take a moment to celebrate the profound love of God which was found in an impoverished baby in Bethlehem.  Reconcile relationships, work out forgiveness, let go of bitterness and love your neighbor.

Know you are loved.  Here was my letter to my family.

 

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This morning I got up early with Ro.  While he played with blocks, ate some waffles and in general just did his thing I stole some time to worship and be with Jesus.  As I spent time with Him, my heart was simply drawn to prayer for my family.  And as I just began to pray and sit in the presence of God two things happened…my heart ached for peace for us, and peace overwhelmed me.  Today as I sat with Jesus he reminded me that He is the King of Peace.  And this isn’t just a title, isn’t just a cosmic affirmation of his divinity…but the truth that we serve a present, loving, compassionate God who walks out every day with us.

He’s the Jesus who makes my coffee with me.
The Jesus who plays trains with my Son with me.
The Jesus who laughs at all of the things I say in my mind that never make it to my mouth.
The Jesus who has cried all weekend with me over Connecticut.
The Jesus who doesn’t mock my fears.
The Jesus who knows I’m stronger than I think I am.
The Jesus who loves my neighbors and is begging my heart to pay attention.
The Jesus who asking me to slow down and be with Him.
The Jesus who loved me so much he died my death.
The Jesus who loved me even more and gave me His life.
And the Jesus who has peace.  Real peace.  Right now…for those who want it.
I was reminded of the promise of Jesus who said, “Come all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my way of life upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
Today I’m praying that as a family, we dont’ miss what Jesus has for us.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  That at every moment we can take every ounce of anxiety, concern, pain, frustration and lay it at the cross and receive its gifts.  The cross is not a static moment in history, but an alive reality that I can access when I come to it.  It always requires the letting go of self, but what it gives in return is always worth it…because it gives true life.  When I think about my family, from the Manginelli to the Irvin side, I know that there are things weighing underneath the surface of every one of our lives.  Stuff…lot’s of it.  I pray over you the thing I pray me…that I would have the courage to let go and let Jesus have everything.
I was drawn to Isaiah this morning and read in the 53rd chapter.  As the chapter tells us 600ish years before Jesus came of His death and what he would do for us, I was drawn to one part.
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions and he was bruised for our iniquities.
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.
All like sheep we have gone astray and everyone of us have turned to our own ways;
but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
The plan for peace has always been Jesus.  It is Jesus and will always be Jesus.  When Isaiah and Jeremiah saw their homeland destroyed and their children murdered the hope was Jesus.  When Joseph and Mary lived in exile to an evil empire and witness their own king murder a generation of children the hope was Jesus.  And we, when madman murder our children still only have one hope…Jesus.  He bought it for us. We just have to go get it.
I love you.  I miss you Manginelli family.  I am grateful to have you Irvin family.  May all of us know that today that we are Sons and Daughters of the King of Peace.