At least once a month I do something I never imagined myself doing as a pastor: I put on a bulletproof vest. The vest is part of the uniform I wear as a chaplain for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department (KCPD).
As a local church pastor, one of my primary responsibilities is to equip the people of God for “works of service”—and for most people the place where they do the majority of their serving is in their workplace, through their occupation.
So when the Kansas City Missouri Police Department approached me about joining their chaplain team, I eagerly accepted the role.
First, it was an incredible opportunity to extend the local church’s mission of vocational discipleship into a dangerous, difficult, and draining vocational field. Second, because as the child of a police officer—my dad served as an officer for 25 years — I’ve experienced firsthand the joys and challenges that come from being part of a law enforcement family.
So what does a police chaplaincy involve? That was a question I asked a lot during the extended background check and vetting process that took place before I was officially “sworn in” and joined the team in November of 2018. What I’ve learned serving in this role is that there are three main aspects.
First, chaplains serve in a ceremonial role—performing invocations (prayers) at formal department events and meetings (e.g., police academy graduations, board of police commissioners meetings, award ceremonies).
Second, chaplains are available to serve officers for weddings, funerals, and pastoral care in times of need.
Third, chaplains are a faithful presence with the officers as they do their work—cue the bulletproof vest. This faithful, persistent presence is the heart of the chaplain role and where most of the time is spent. During regular ride-alongs with KCPD officers, I get the chance to hear their stories, see what they see, and experience firsthand the realities of law enforcement work.
I’ve been on ride-alongs where hardly a single call came in, and on others when the radio didn’t stop the whole time, and the officers went from missing person calls to liquor store brawls to domestic violence situations.
But it’s the moments in between calls— talking while patrolling a lonely street or pausing for a quick bite to eat—where the real work of friendship, listening, care, and vocational discipleship occur.
In an interview Matt Rusten, the executive director of Made to Flourish did with David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research Group, David explained “vocational discipleship” like this:
Vocational discipleship is a means of helping people understand what they’re called to do, made to do. A sense of how their work matters….[It] is the process by which we would help someone understand they are made in the image of God to do things in the world…to bring God glory and to do good, and to push back the broken parts of creation in doing your work and doing it well.
In every interaction with a member of KCPD, that is the goal I’m working toward—helping them to have a deeper understanding of what they are made to do and how their work is pushing back the broken parts of creation as they accomplish their work well.
So whether it’s in the pulpit on Sunday morning or in a patrol car on Monday night, vocational discipleship is at the heart of my role as local church pastor.
I have never retired from my job before, and I probably won’t for some time (Lord willing), so it may seem a little strange that I am writing about it. But I am a pastor to many retirees, and have seen and heard a lot. As our upcoming Journey to 100 online conference approaches, I want to share a few of the lessons I have observed along the way and make a recommendation at the end.
First, I have learned how difficult retirement can be for many. Our culture promotes a lot of financial and personal retirement goals: Save $1,000,000 by 55! Plan your next getaway this winter! and other things like that. But rarely do folks tell you how significant a life change retirement truly is.
In fact, there are some who say retirement is one of the most jarring life stage changes, second only perhaps to the college to workplace transition. Retirement is not as easy as the commercials make it out to be.
Many, having worked for decades, find that one of their primary identity markers or “big whys” for getting out of bed in the morning is conspicuously absent after the retirement party. As a pastor, I have seen many men and women struggle in the first few years of retirement, not having accounted for this shift. Many find that having hit their “retirement goals,” they are more aimless than ever.
Second, I have learned that retirement, especially as it is defined by our modern society, has absolutely no biblical basis. The Scriptures are full of language about calling, assignment, service, and work, all as a means of worship to God and love for neighbor. Never will you find a verse that says, “And when you turn 65, all of that stops, and you can do whatever you want with your time and money.” While no one is generally surprised by this observation, I have noticed precious few believers account for it as they plan for their retirement. Instead, I see a strong focus on the “three big g’s”: golf, grandkids, and getaways. As amazing and good as those things are (seriously!), is that all God has in mind for our post-work years?
Is retirement just the inevitable final check box when the bank account and the birthdays hit the predetermined numbers? I, for one, hope not. So what should we focus on as believers who are approaching retirement? What would new kingdom oriented retirement goals look like in our lives?
I don’t have all the answers here, but a few recent conversations give me hope. One friend and congregant, after decades in the workplace, stepped away from paid work. As he and I processed that change, I mentioned the “r” word. He furrowed his brow and shook his head. He said, “I don’t talk about retiring. I talk about re-firing. What else does God have in store for me now?” Listen, I’m not one for cheesy turns of phrase, but I love this language, and especially the attitude behind it. Since then, this individual has consistently consulted with organizations, mentored young leaders (like me), and volunteered with local and global ministries for the common good, all in his “retirement years.” Re-firing indeed!
I am increasingly convinced that one of the real tragedies of our day is the latent talent, energy, expertise, and time of our retired brothers and sisters that has been sitting on the sidelines. I don’t say that in judgment. I just want to imagine the possibilities! God is not done with us when our paychecks start coming from Social Security. I know God feels that way as another recent conversation with a congregant had him recounting to me that God said to him, “It’s time to get off your behind and serve in your community.” This was someone who already gave of his time, talent, and treasure. But God was ready for more!
Are you ready for more?
When is the last time you asked God to reveal what He has in store for you next? Where do your passion, your training and expertise, and the needs of our community and world align?
Here’s my recommendation: be part of our Journey to 100 conversation on Saturday, November 7. I am serious when I say that if more people in the church caught a vision for what God can do with those “retirement years,” we would be blown away by the energy, vitality, ideas, and service it would unleash.
Keep up the good work, church. And I’ll see you at Journey to 100.
In the 4th century the city of Caesarea was reeling from war and famine that rendered its citizens and infrastructure vulnerable. The city’s fragility was compounded with a widespread plague that forced many to flee, leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves. While many evacuated in panic there was one group of people who remained in the city to care for the dying. It was the Christian remnant of Caesarea who risked exposure to illness and death to stay back and care for their indigent neighbors.
The ancient historian Eusebius recorded the events that took place during this time and penned these words:
“All day long some of [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
In the face of great sickness, uncertainty, and even death, followers of Jesus risked their own well being to love and care for the most vulnerable in their midst. While many saw these events as an opportunity for self-preservation, apprentices of Jesus saw it as an opportunity for sacrificial love. This has been a hallmark of the church of Jesus Christ from the beginning. And she finds herself presented with another opportunity to be who she has always been.
This is quite an unusual time in our world as we watch the COVID 19 virus spread around the globe. It is unusual to see major sporting events canceled, churches empty on Sundays, and toilet paper in such high demand. If you know where I can score some please hit me up…I have 4 kids.
But these unusual times call for unusual kindness (Acts 28:1-2).
Yes, we need to take precautions to avoid the spread of this virus. Yes, we need to adjust our rhythms and habits to embrace a new normal for the time being.
While many are viewing this time as a reason to panic, the church of Jesus Christ should see it as a reason to persist in neighborly love.
Here are a few suggestions for us to consider as we seek to offer a counter-narrative to the Coronavirus by showing unusual kindness:
1. Check in on the vulnerable
The elderly and the chronically ill are the most susceptible to the virus. Odds are there is someone on your block or in your apartment complex who is living with a heightened and justifiable concern because of their increased risk of contracting the virus. Find ways to contact them to offer prayer, encouragement, and any assistance that is appropriate within the parameters recommended by the CDC and other public health officials. It could be as simple as offering to get groceries for them. If your neighborhood or apartment complex has a social media group or webpage then use it to contact neighbors and encourage others to do the same.
2. Put pen to paper
We may be limited in our face to face contact. What a great opportunity to dust off your ink pen and stationery to write some cards to friends, family members, and neighbors. When you consider our technological age and our impending quarantined lifestyle, receiving a handwritten card in the mail might do wonders for people stuck in isolation.
3. Redeem social media
Can we all agree that social media has been kind of terrible as of late? But it doesn’t have to be. With people more isolated due to the virus, let’s redeem this tool to connect, encourage, pray for, and serve others. Ask people how you can pray for them and just see who responds. Invite people to your church’s online worship service if they are offering one. Share encouraging words of Scripture that will buoy people’s spirits and remind them of God’s presence amidst the chaos.
4. Volunteer (if possible)
This may not be a viable or even permissible option, but if it is within your means to do so you may reach out to offer your time and resources to area food pantries, non-profit groups, hospitals, and nursing homes. We all know that medical professionals will be swamped during this time. We also know that there are many food insecure families who will be in greater need with schools closed for an indefinite period of time. Many families rely on the meals their children receive at school. Consider contacting the principal of your neighborhood school to see if there is any way to help.
5. Share the unusual good news of Jesus
It is during times like these when we are awakened to our need for Jesus. When we discover just how fragile, vulnerable, dependent, and fearful we actually are.
May the church of Jesus Christ be present and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and to show how the unusual message of the cross of Christ is actually our wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:20-25).
This is indeed an unusual time in our history, but it is also a unique opportunity for the church to step up and reach out to our neighbors. As it is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. I think unusual times call for unusual kindness.
One of our great privileges as a church is that we can partner with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are also doing the work of multiplying churches, disciples, and leaders. Together we are advancing this mission to multiply across Kansas City and around the world.
Our partner Eleventh Hour Network, focuses on evangelism and church planting among Muslims in northeastern Kenya. Here is just one recent example of how God is powerfully at work. —
I recently witnessed a testimony that moved my heart so deeply, I had to share it with you.
Two nights ago at the Evangelical Outreach, a possessed young man entered the church where we camped around midnight. He had escaped from his parent’s home, running through thorny bushes in the dark until he collapsed inside our compound. We ran to see what was going on, yet were rightly afraid that the conflict zone surrounding us had erupted.
After the excitement quieted, one of the evangelists recognized the young man as a student from the nearby university who had dropped out a few years ago due to mental illness. The young man’s Muslim parents searched for healing among the well-known witchdoctors, healers, and by attending sacrifices, yet his situation worsened.
Finally, the Holy Spirit got a hold of him to break the chain his parents used to keep him from wandering away from home. It’s then that the Lord led him to run to the church where we were gathering.
We felt the Lord brought him to us at such a time as this for healing. We agreed to pray for him the whole night.
God, very rich in His mercy, set him free from the demonic spirit. For the past two days, this young man has helped set up Jesus film equipment and joined in morning prayer, fasting and sharing his testimony during fellowship.
Yesterday, his parents came to see him in the church. To their amazement, he told them he did not want to go back home. He wanted to stay in the church with Christian families. Remember, he is a Muslim.
Shortly after that, I lead this young man to accept Christ, and the Lord restored his health and state of mind. This afternoon, he went out with the outreach team as a translator.
Indeed, there is nothing too hard for the Lord!
Kindly continue to pray for safety as we travel, and more stories of the transformative power of God.
Thank you for your generosity that allows our church family to partner with the work that God is doing around the world. May we learn from these partners in ministry who are faithfully bearing witness to the good news that Jesus is alive, and that death has been defeated!
“Well, sure, but how do I figure out which ones I have?”
In almost every conversation I’ve ever had about spiritual gifts, some form of this question has been asked. And I completely understand why. The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 4:10, assures us that ALL Christians have at least one spiritual gift: “As each has received a gift…”
So then it is only natural for a curiosity to develop regarding WHICH spiritual gift (or gifts!) the Lord has given to us. But in my view, there is a problem with this approach. If not careful, it makes our spiritual gifts mostly about US, which is not why we have them. Just take a look at how Peter finishes the sentence I began quoting above: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
Yes, Peter says, All Christians have received (at least one) gift, but that gift is not about you! It’s about others! It’s about serving! It’s about giving yourself away!
You may begin to see the problem if we become obsessed with what MY gift is. How has God gifted ME? Me, me, me. But no. Your spiritual gift is FAR more about other people in your life than it is about you.
Our definition from part one of this series matches this emphasis:
A spiritual gift is a Holy Spirit empowered ability, freely given to the believer for the purpose of serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.
Now granted, to accomplish the purpose statement in our definition, one does have to know what gifts they possess. So the question of spiritual giftedness is an important one, it’s just not where the conversation should originate.
When you’re ready for it, here’s a helpful approach, first recommended to me by pastor and author Tim Keller: Three places to “look” to discover your spiritual gifts.
The first place people typically look to discover their gifts is IN. Which is important, we’ll get to that. But again, starting by looking IN begins the conversation from a self-centered position. Instead, we ought to look OUT and ask, “What are the needs of the community around me? What openings could I fill? How could I serve?” And it’s interesting, because by jumping in where you are needed, you may be surprised to find out that you are gifted in an area you didn’t think you were! And what a gift that would be! (See what I did there?)
The other way you can “look out” to discover your gifts is to ask questions like these: What needs am I drawn to or stir my emotions? What is broken in the world that I am deeply compelled to fix?By considering problems that draw you in rather than push you away, you may be stumbling into an area where God has gifted you.
See, I told you this was important! And, of course, it is. God built and created YOU in a special and unique way. No one else is like you. Which means that no one else can contribute to God’s mission in this world (to make all things new again through Jesus) like you can. Hear this: You (and your gifts) ARE needed. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
So ask, “How has God made me? What am I good at? What comes easily to me? What brings me joy while I am doing it? What do I seem particularly fitted for?”
And yes, you can take an assessment! Just like personality assessments fall short at capturing the whole of who we are (and even the best ones do fall short—I’m looking at you, Enneagram), so will a spiritual gifts assessment fall short in and of itself. But it is a helpful tool on the journey. The best one I’ve found is by Pastor Jeff Carver at spiritualgiftstest.com. You can take the assessment online(you will have to create a free account on the website to do so).
Here’s the last step. It’s important, and a ton of people forget it. You see, no one in this world is better at tricking me than myself. I convince myself of stuff that isn’t true ALL THE TIME. So after you look IN to discover your spiritual gifts, you HAVE to look AROUND. Which means, you have to ask people in your life to affirm or deny your giftedness.
Ask, with true humility and an open ear: Do you see this gift in my life? Do you agree with what I think I’ve discovered?
Those are terrifying questions, are they not? But we have to ask them, and we have to be open to hearing hard things in response. Because if we aren’t, what’s the point? We’ll miss our true giftedness, and fail to maximize our fruitfulness to God’s mission.
So talk to your spouse. Your small group. Your mentors. Your friends that love Jesus. Your pastors. Ensure them that you want full honesty. And then, listen. Don’t wait to talk. Don’t formulate your rebuttal while they are still sharing. Truly listen. And if what they have to say is hard, ask them to walk with you as you discover your true gifts.
So there it is, three places to “look” to discover your spiritual gifts. They are not a list to check off, mind you, but are a framework to point us in the right direction. May we never forget who gives us the gifts in the first place. God, yes, but more specifically even, the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, we close this series with adapted prayers from the The Valley of Vision, “God the Spirit” and “The Spirit of Jesus”:
Oh Lord God, I pray not so much for spiritual gifts as for the Spirit himself, because I feel his absence, and act by my own spirit in everything. Give me not weak desires but the power of his presence, for this is the surest way to receive all his benefits, and when I have the seal I have the impression also; He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly and easily, can work grace and life effectually, and being eternal, can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hindrances, from being content with a little measure of the Spirit, from thinking you will not give me more. When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith, for when I lose thee I am either in the dark and cannot see you, or Satan and my natural abilities content me with a little light, so that I seek no further for the Spirit of Life.
May his comforts cheer me in my sorrows, his strength sustain me in my trials, his blessings revive me in my weariness, his presence render me a fruitful tree of holiness, his might establish me in peace and joy, his incitements make me ceaseless in prayer, his animation kindle in my undying devotion. Teach me to find and know the fullness of the Spirit only in Jesus.
“It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have. The alphabet is fine. But it’s what we do with it that matters most—making words like ‘friend’ and ‘love.’ That’s what really matters.”
– Fred Rogers
It’s been said that “Good friends are hard to find,” but I think it’s truer to confess that “Good friendships are hard to build.”
They take time and work and diligence. They require patience and forgiveness. There are no shortcuts. They often grow in fits and starts. And though many are interested in experiencing the outcome of that kind of labor, few are interested in the effort.
In other words, many people want a friend. Few want to be a friend.
And that’s resulted in an epidemic of loneliness and dissatisfaction. The children’s poet Shel Silverstein speaks about the way we tend to approach friendships. He writes:
“I’ve discovered a way to stay friends forever There’s really nothing to it. I simply tell you what to do And you do it.”
Shel’s right. Too many of us unknowingly embrace a selfish posture towards friendship. His playful poem captures what I’ll call the “my friends exist for me” approach to friendship. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. It rears its ugly head when folks find themselves believing:
My friends exist so that I have something to do on a Friday night.
My friends exist so that I can try new restaurants and see new movies with someone.
My friends exist so that I won’t feel lonely.
My friends exist for me.
This posture towards friendship is highly misguided. It’s plain bad advice. If you desire deeper, more substantive relationships, here are four habits, advocated by the author of Proverbs, that can help you build better friendships. Friendships that aren’t all about you. Friendships that bring life and yield joy. Friendships that will last.
If you want to build friendships that will last, first, you must cultivate self-awareness.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
What’s going on deep inside us is difficult to analyze or to understand precisely. But those who desire to be good friends take the time to explore their own hearts. They assess their motives and desires, and honestly evaluate what makes them tick. They name old wounds and identify the effects of those wounds. They own up to the good, the bad, and the ugly that shapes their decision-making.
They cultivate self-awareness. And self-awareness is critical to building friendships that can last.
Someone who is self-aware is able to recognize when they’re being unreasonable, when they’re being demanding, and when they’re reacting to a current circumstance out of an old wound. And isn’t that what you want in a friendship?
Those who are self-aware have taken the time to look into their own hearts so that they can respond to and care well for those whom they call “friend.”
Self-awareness can grow in many contexts. Counseling is a helpful tool. So is journaling. Research shows that writing down things we are thankful for and identifying things that frustrate us can help us gain insight into the nooks and crannies of our hearts.
So how do you build friendships that last? First, you cultivate self-awareness.
But becoming a better friend isn’t just about improving the ways we understand ourselves. It’s also about adjusting the postures we adopt when relating to others.
If you want to build friendships that last, you must also commit to radical candor.
What’s radical candor?
Kim Scott, a remarkable business leader in the tech industry, who’s led online sales at AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick and Operations at Google, writes, “Radical candor is the ability to challenge directly and show you care personally at the same time.” It’s the commitment to take a risk and speak the truth to a person who matters to you.
Scott’s definition of radical candor reminds me of Proverbs 27:6, which says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
They also remind me of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Even though it can be remarkably difficult to tell the truth to those we love, it’s what a good friend does. It’s how we build friendships that last.
Radical candor matters for two reasons:
It’s how we care for our friends.
And it’s how trust grows in our friendships.
A friend says what needs to be said, even if it hurts for a little while, because they desire to keep their friends from greater heartache or harm.
And a friend speaks honestly, risking hurt or misunderstanding, so that their friendships might have opportunities to deepen and grow. Indeed, speaking with radical candor is one of the main ways trust grows between friends. It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “A good friend will always stab you in the front.”
Do you give your closest relationships a chance to grow through your commitment to courageous honesty? Are you committed to radical candor?
For healthy relationships to grow, honest, direct speech is necessary. But so is grace.
If you want to build friendships that last, you must make forgiveness a habit.
Proverbs 17:9 instructs, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
Whoever covers an offense—which is a Hebrew way of saying whoevercommits to forgiveness—seeks love. But those who repeat the matter—those who ruminate on it, bringing it up again and again—cause separation between friends.
It’s been said the only things that are certain are death and taxes, but you can also count on this: Your friends will let you down.They will break your trust. They will hurt and offend you. It’s inevitable.
But the ability to forgive—the ability to cut some slack and offer understanding—that’s what allows friendship to grow over the long haul.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that we let our friends run all over us or do whatever they please without consequence. Boundaries matter. And there are times that boundaries need to be established and firmly held.
But at the same time, if you want your relationships to flourish, you need to make forgiveness a habit. You must be quick to extend grace and give another chance to those who have offended you.
That’s just part of friendship.
And finally, if you want to build friendships that last, you need to embrace self-sacrifice.
Proverbs 17:17 declares, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
A true friend is one who commits to costly love, who is present in good times and bad times. A true friend doesn’t vanish when things get difficult, they dig in.
What’s funny is many recognize that friendship is valuable. But few seem willing to pay the high price that lasting friendship costs. It cannot be denied: Valuable things come at a high price. And lasting friendship is pricey. There are physical, emotional, financial, and time costs associated with building friendships that last.
But they’re worth it.
Because Fred Rogers is right.
Investing in things like friendship and love—that is what really matters.
Indeed, in a filmed interview, Rogers once remarked,
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”
That’s a gift we’re able to share in the context of friendship.
If you want to build those kind of friendships—friendships that bring joy, friendships that withstand hurts and deepen as years pass, friendships that last—you must cultivate self-awareness, commit to radical candor, make forgiveness a habit, and commit to self-sacrifice.