The other day I was on my way to Toys R Us to try to get a certain toy that was on sale for one day only.  On my way off the exit, there was a man on the side of the road holding a sign “Please Help” or something like that.  The temperature was somewhere in the 40s and a cold drizzly rain was falling.  In moments like these I sometimes feel that God is watching me to see how I will respond.  I wonder if you are like me in these situations and have about a dozen thoughts race through your head…

Quick visual assessment: Does he look dangerous?  Am I going to have to stop my car right next to him?  Maybe I should lock my door.  Is he just scamming?  Do I have a dollar on me?  I only have a $20.  But that’s gas money.  I can’t give him a $20 – that’s a lot.  I don’t carry extra cash.  What if he just buys cigarettes with it.  Light’s green.  Too late to figure it out now.  Poor guy.  I shouild have helped him.  Or should I have?…

The irony set in as I walked into Toys R Us.  I had passed this man by so I could save 15 dollars on one of a dozen toys my kids will get.  Once I found out they were out of stock I left.  I then drove around the corner to a store to buy the homeless guy an umbrella.  At the checkout, the worker said “You didn’t plan on it raining today, did you?”  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I left and headed back to the off-ramp.  I had already worked out in my head where I would park and what I would say.  When I arrived He was gone.

I was bummed and felt, in a way, that I had not passed the test.  I decided I could keep the umbrella in my car in case I run across someone else who could use it – and I’ll make sure I stop and help right away next time.

This seems to be a topic that arises on occasion in our Christian circles.  Jesus seems to be clear how we should respond.  But why do we rationalize our way out of helping?

I’ve been reading and thinking and talking with God. I just had to sit down and write out this vision. I don’t know if this is complete or right, but it is something I had to sort out and get down on [paper]. Perhaps if I were to shepherd a group of Christians, this is what God would lead us to. I wonder why is this vision coming to me. Does this resonate with anybody else out there?

The goal for each Christian family is to be completely submissive and obedient to the commands of Jesus. This will result in bringing Jesus and His Kingdom into their communities by engaging in relationships with those who live there. As Christian families are submissive to Jesus (the head) and His commands, they partner with God by being the hands and feet of Jesus in loving those who are in need.

These families are not autonomous but are connected to a greater community of believers who support, encourage and partner with each other to accomplish this task. Within this Christian community, Christian families who are in need are cared for in the same manner as the world families (community members bringing the power of Jesus into their lives for healing and restoration). This Christian community, through the power of Jesus (who is there because the community exists for His purposes a.k.a., gathered in His name) maintains the health of its members to see the power of Jesus at work and so that they can continue in obedience to Christ. (Which will, again, result in bringing Jesus to their communities)

These small Christian communities are also connected to a larger Christian community. This larger Christian community gathers together to corporately re-align with God or, in other words, submit to the Lordship of Jesus, glorify Him and corporately submit to His will for the life of the whole community. This larger Christian community also gathers to hear from God and to be equipped and encouraged to obediently serve Christ and others.

As families engage in relationships with those in their circle of influence, they seek to bring the Kingdom of God to them. This means they need Jesus to reveal the needs He wants these families to meet. Eventually, the Christian families invite these people into their Christian community (where Jesus’ presence is strongest) so they can experience The Kingdom, encounter Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to draw, convict and reveal to them their need for Him.

The final step for the world family is to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and forgiveness, and give their lives to Him. They then are fully join together with the Christian community they already have a relationship with and, consequently, join the larger Christian community in corporate submission and a turning outward to meet other’s needs through the direction of Jesus.

I remember going to video stores as a kid. Growing up (let’s say during the 90s) video stores were it. It was a huge deal for mom to take us to Videotown to rent a Nintendo for the weekend. (yes, a Nintendo – remember? Super Mario Borthers? Duck Hunt?) I remember our mid-size town going from having 1 or 2 video stores to having more video stores than Drive-through carry outs (which, by the way, was a lot). Videotown, Blockbuster, Dave’s Video, Video Etc., – there were more than I can remember here. One doesn’t have to be a leading authority on the Video Rental Industry to know that in the past 10 years things have changed dramatically.

[Begin analogy]

Imagine Video Rental Chain executives sitting around the board-room table discussing how they can improve their declining video sales. Someone offers a better way to display their VHS tapes. Someone suggests a multi-sensory experience for the customer when they visited the store. Someone throws out membership incentives. But the reality is, video stores are dying. They are fighting a losing battle. Times have changed, methods have changed, and consumer needs have changed. No matter how creative they get, video stores are on their way out.

Here’s the problem presented in this analogy (because I really HOPE no executives are trying to improve their VHS sales!). They are not changing their paradigm. They are not challenging their assumptions. They are not expanding their imagination. They are stuck in the past with their backs toward the reality of the present.

There are some other smart people out there who are creating DVD vending machines, movies through the mail, instant digital downloads. These companies did not start with a blank video-store-template and go from there. They started with a problem, a blank sheet of paper, and the freedom to dream. They were not bound by pre-conceived notions of how you get videos to people.

Here’s my point. I really believe that those of us who desire to see lives changed with the power of the Gospel through the local church need to start with a blank piece of paper instead the assumption that every church as certain elements by default. What if, just like my family needs to follow the specific commands of Christ, we as a local church need to find the voice of the Shepherd, figure out where He’s leading us and follow.

The idea presented here is not new. In fact I’m joining in late on the conversation. This is just how I’m beginning to understand it as God renews my mind.

This hit me while driving to the office today. In church-world, we talk a lot about our environments. We talk about our programs. We pour our energy into designing and executing them. If you ask me what return has been on our investment, I would tell you I have no clue.

What if we all decided that our main environment, or main program for ministry, was the basic human relationship? This idea came to mind (perhaps from God?) and it was an a-ha moment. I mean, isn’t this what we are trying to achieve anyway? What do we hope to achieve with these programs, environments and events?

The way I see it, they either are aimed at producing deeper relationships (with other people and/or God) or aimed to equip people to pursue relationships (with God or others) on their own initiative. Now that I think of it, I wonder how many of our church programs end up reinforcing the self-centered, self-help mentality of our culture. Think about our sermons, our worship time, Sunday school classes. There is a lot of talk about being helpful and relevant. Isn’t the need for the power of Jesus relevant enough? Where in our church programs and environments are we encouraged to bring the power of Jesus to work in Christian community? I don’t know, I’m just asking…Just thinking out loud…

For the second week, Nicole and I sat down and had a purposeful time of prayer together. We are barely into the journey but everything feels right. We again put the kids to bed and sat on the couch. We listened to Hear Us from Heaven to get us “tuned in” and prayed for whatever came to mind. Our kids, our marriage, our friends, our neighbors. We prayed for maybe 15 minutes. This time, I got a sense – not a clear voice from God – but a sense that we needed to reach out to a certain family. Now we’re getting somewhere

There is a family we met this through our daughter’s ballet class. I’m not sure of their situation but they have kids our kid’s ages and they live somewhat near us. They came to mind so I prayed for them. I feel like God has given us something to do now. So, we have made it to step 2. Now on to step 3. We will make contact with the family and try to get together. We can’t assume we know the needs they have. It could just be they need someone to be their friend. Whatever it is, we’ll hopefully find out soon. I’m confident the need God wants to minister to will become clear. This is also good because it involves the whole family. Our kids need to be able to participate in God’s work.

My blog has been live about a month now and has had a few hundred visitors which include a handful of international visitors.  Hopefully this is only humble beginnings.

After some hard thinking, I had an ‘a-ha’ moment. I decided to split my website into two sites. Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, its clear to me that I’ve been trying to have one website to share two separate areas of my life. So I’ve created a new website called lifeinthekingdom.com benchilcote.net will remain as a website to share anything that relates to my creative side of life: music, art, creative projects, etc. Lifeinthekingdom.com will be my main site where I explore life in the Kingdom of God – and one I’ll probably be posting on more regularly.

There is an easy way to keep up with any new blog posts. Simply sign up to my RSS Feed and you will receive an email every time I post a new entry. Don’t worry, it doesn’t put you on any mailing list or anything. In fact you don’t get any email unless I post.

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I will still be making a few adjustments to the two blogs as I get the time. Thanks for everyone who has checked out my site so far!

Are there others like us? My wife and I talk about how we could just spend all day together every day. We love to hang out and be together. We can even work well together. Even after almost 8 years of marriage and 3 kids.

Yet we hear other married couples say how they need that occasional breaks from each other. Or that they could NEVER work with their spouse. That they would drive each other crazy. For whatever reason, we aren’t like that, and we have trouble identifying with those who are.

So what’s the difference here? Are people just wired different? Do we have a different kind of relationship? I was very excited to see a new book arrived in my mailbox today – Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships, by Dr. Will Miller with Glenn Sparks, Ph.D. I’ve only read the forward so far but I know this is going to touch on something I’m very interested in: our culture’s current crisis of isolationism and decline of face to face relationships.

We are definitely relationally challenged in our modern world.  I wonder how this shift is affecting our marriages.  Check out this interesting article from one of the authors of Refrigerator Rights. You can find the original blog post by Dr. Glenn Sparks here.

In America, we’ve perpetuated the strong belief that if we could just find that one “perfect” person to be our life-long mate, all of our relational and emotional needs would be met and we’d live happily ever after. Since publishing Refrigerator Rights, Will Miller and I have cautioned against blind acceptance of this myth. We’ve warned that no single person is capable of meeting the totality of another’s relational and emotional needs. Human beings are wired for close connection to a whole range of relationship types: fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, aunts & uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.  Regardless of the closeness of the marriage bond, both partners still need close friends and family-type relationships to sustain them throughout life. In fact, we believe that marriages that are characterized by a rich network of “refrigerator rights” friends are actually much healthier, more vibrant, and likely to last.

But there is also a caution on the flip-side of this equation. As we point out in the book, for decades, America’s lifestyle has drifted into one of increasing isolation due to our high mobility–and an increasing tendency to surround ourselves with screens. Now, it seems, our trend toward isolation is also beginning to permeate into the marriage relationship itself. As Sue Shellenbarger notes in her recent column in the Wall Street Journal, a team of researchers at Penn State University has studied over 4,000 married people over the last 20-years. Shellenbarger states that, “They found that the likelihood of couples spending lots of time together visiting friends, pursuing recreational activities, dining or shopping together, or teaming up on projects around the house, fell 28%.” We think there’s little doubt that if we spend less and less time together, our marriages will be less healthy. If you’re married, you might want to take a personal inventory, note the trends over the past few years–and then plan to do something together with your partner. Doing something together–but also something with other people–might be a particularly wise investment of time. It will put you together with your partner and simultaneously permit you to cultivate friends and close connections with others.

Food for thought.

What about you?  Do you need breaks from your spouse or are you inseparable?  Do you regularly spend time with friends or spend most of your time alone?

My wife and I started a new thing.  We were inspired my some friends of ours to start praying together in a more formal way.  We chose Monday night as our night to have a serious prayer time together.  So we began last night.  And let me say… it was nothing extraordinary 🙂  There was something slightly interesting about it, though.

We put the kids to bed and tried to get our infant settled enough.  We listened to a Paul Baloche song, Here And Now, (great song!) to get us focused and “tuned in” then started to pray.  I held our fussy baby while we prayed.  Our 5 year old kept yelling things to us from her bedroom and even came out a few times.  (Let me tell you, your response as a parent to a bothersome child is really held accountable when it occurs during a prayer time!)  My cell phone even rang.  But we kept on and prayed for about 10 minutes.  It did cross our minds that when we tried to pray there were many distractions.  One might say the Enemy was trying to distract us.  Does that happen?  Perhaps.  At any rate, we didn’t take the opportunity to give up and I’m glad we didn’t.

It’s a small but good start.  Just like I think when I exercise, even if I didn’t run far or long, I at least got out and helped establish the habit in my life. Finally, I feel like I’m getting to the heart of this blog.  I hope to continue to share what we learn so others can be challenged and encouraged to make that final step into the Kingdom.

In my time with God this morning, these 5 steps came to me.  How simple would it be if we lived our lives by these steps.

STEP 1 – Die to self.

STEP 2 – Report to Jesus and receive orders.

STEP 3 – Carry out orders.

STEP 4 – Report back to Jesus.

STEP 5 – Repeat daily.

Tonight my wife and I will start what we hope to be a weekly routine and we’ll start with steps 1 and 2.  I have a feeling I have some ideas of what #2 already is.  Doing theses steps, of which step 1 in itself is where I usually get stuck, will require some things.  One being guts.  Another being trust.  We will most certainly need to sharpen our listening skills to be able to discern Jesus’ voice.  And we need to learn how to do this together.

I’ll post a follow up report.

Last night was not unlike many nights before.  I was up with a crying 1 month old baby.  Last night was unique in that a thought occurred to me.  One could summarize parenting into one word: Sacrifice.  That lead me to think of marriage and other relationships and how they could also be summarized by the word sacrifice.  And, of course, in light of this blog, life in The Kingdom is largely categorized by sacrifice.

Do you recognizes the screen shot above?  This is an image from the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus.  This is one movie I love and hate to watch.  Its the story that follows a music teacher (Mr. Holland) and his family through the ups and downs of his teaching career.  I love the movie because it’s fun and a very moving story.  But the audience’s heart goes out to the main character.  He has this dream to compose this Opus, this masterpiece.  Year by year, life keeps getting in the way and you see him slowly realize his personal dream will probably not be realized because so many other things demand his attention – things he didn’t necessarily plan on or ask for.  You see this man who has to continually make sacrifices.

Jesus once stopped and turned to a large crowd who was following them and talked to them about the cost of being His disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

I have to wonder if I have really counted the cost of being a parent.  Or even a husband.  Or even a disciple of Jesus.  Being a parent costs a man a lot.  In fact, I would venture to say it costs what it costs a man to be a disciple.  A man must give up his life for his family.  A man must sacrifice for his family.

For me, sacrifice largely means time and attention.  My kids need me to put the computer away and be engaged with them lest I teach them that Dad doesn’t care what they have to say.  I need to look when they say “look, Dad!” lest I teach them that their accomplishments don’t matter to Dad.  I need to have them on my mind through the day lest they learn that Dad only cares about us when he’s not busy with work.  I need to be there when I say lest they learn Dad doesn’t really do what he says.

How is my time, my work, my [whatever] more important than my kids?  Andy Stanley nails this topic in his book, Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide?, a must read for any parent struggling to prioritize family over career.  He asks the pointed question: Why choose to do something that hundreds of other people could do over something that only you can do?

That is an important principle I’m sooo glad I’ve learned as a dad.  There is NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD that can give my kids what I can give them.  Look around – everywhere kids are growing up without dads in their lives.  There are kids without dads in the home and kids with dads who aren’t engaged in intentional relationships with their kids.  If you got right beneath the surface one would find so many people with wounds left by Mom or Dad many years before.

Parenting = Sacrifice. I know what it will cost me.  I hope I am willing to give it all.  And I’m going to keep fighting.  Because so many things will vie for my attention and if I’m not on my guard trivial things will distract me from one of the most important tasks in my life right now.  Trivial things will pass and when I look up, there my kids will be all grown up and my influence will be gone.  My kids are counting on me.

And for Mr. Holland?  Well, I won’t spoil the surprise completely.  He got his reward in the end.  I’m sure he realized his sacrifice was worth it.  As will I, I trust.  In a few years I will have no memory of these sleepless nights and no regrets about the things I missed out on because of the time and attention my children required.

I’m positive I will only regret not spending more time with them.