iic2

Imitation Christianity

When I was a boy and went with my mother to the grocery store, we would almost always buy ice cream.  If mom didn’t have enough money for ice cream, she would get imitation ice cream.  In doing a little research I discovered that imitation ice cream substitutes other edible fats for milk fat.  Milk fat is more expensive than other edible fats.  Real ice cream is more costly than imitation ice cream.  This is why many settle for the imitation – it’s less costly than the real thing. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus told His ministry team,

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:34-35

This is the real thing!  If the church fails to love, the church fails to be the church.  We as pastors know that it is costly to love as Jesus loved.  It costs money/time/energy – physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  We love those we don’t like and love those who don’t like us!  Real agape love, real Jesus love costs us our lives.

Because real love is so costly, so dear, because it demands so much of us, we have created imitation versions of Christianity even as the manufacturers of ice cream developed imitation ice cream.  The imitation contains inferior, less expensive ingredients and masquerades as the real thing – and demands less of us.  Here are some imitation versions of Christianity.

We have a SENTIMENTAL version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ loving feelings.  It hears Jesus say something like…

A new commandment I give to you, that you should have feelings of love for one another as I have feelings of love for you.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have feelings of love for one another.

A lot of people buy into this version.  This type of Christianity doesn’t require or expect real-time obedience, only inward emotional stirrings.  This version attracts those who desire to do all for Christ, but end up doing nothing for Christ.  This variety of Christianity states that if you are emotionally moved, that is enough to demonstrate spirituality.

We have a LEGALISTIC version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ solo performances of heroic purity.  Here is how we read this subconsciously:

A new commandment I give to you, that you should be holy as I am holy.  By this, all men will know that you’re My disciples, if you are holy.

Many think that a life of virtue and purity will convince the world that they are His disciples.  Another version: Let’s get serious about God.  Al-Qaeda is serious about God.

We have a CONSUMER version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ promises of happiness.

A new commandment I give you, that you prosper and have a great sense of overall happiness.  By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you prosper and have a lot of material good and never get sick.

This Christianity makes no demands because it aims to please.  God is into your happiness.  The best thing I can do to spread the gospel is to be healthy and wealthy and thus demonstrate the faithfulness of God.  I don’t have the time or energy to love you because I am all caught up figuring out different ways God can prove His love to me.

We have an PSYCHOLOGICAL version of Christianity – it seeks to prop up the sagging self worth of pitiful human beings.  Here we hear Jesus say –

A new commandment I give you, that you love yourself and feel good about yourself  and have a great self-image.  By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you love yourself and feel good about you.

We are told that we can’t love others unless we love ourselves and so we spend a lot of energy thinking about ourselves and how good we are.  Or this just becomes an excuse, “Since I don’t love me very much, I can’t love you very much.”  This imitation flavor of Christianity still does a brisk business.

We have an INDIVIDUALISTIC version of Christianity… it is self-focused/self-centered/self-consumed.

A new commandment I give you, if you can’t find the perfect church and people who don’t bother you, that’s OK, float from church to church.  By this all men will that you’re my disciples…if you float from church to church and never really love anybody, but intending to if you find anyone worthy of your love.

Love demands connections.  Love cannot be demonstrated by people not connected to one another.  When we float, we disconnect, and one of the greatest evangelistic persuasions is lost.

T. Austin Sparks writes:

The cause of delayed maturity is that people are merely going their own sweet way.  They are butterflies, simply flitting from one thing to another w/ no corporate life, no related life.  A butterfly is quite a pretty thing as it flits about, but there is all the difference between a butterfly and a bee.  A bee too may go from one thing to another, but it does so to very good purpose.  The bee’s life is a corporate life, the butterfly’s is not a corporate life; it is an individual life.

There are a lot of butterflies twitting about the Church of Jesus.

Finally, we have an ACADEMIC version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ doctrinal profession.  Jesus is imagined saying,

A new commandment I give you, that you believe the right stuff.  By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you believe the right stuff.

I think that the Sentimental and Academic flavors of imitation Christianity are the most popular.  This version says, “I may not love you, but at least I believe all the right stuff about Jesus and the Bible.”  Many eat this and say, “Yum!”

This is from the FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL CODE 39212.

If a trade name is used on any vehicle which conveys, or any place where imitation ice cream or imitation ice milk is sold, the words “imitation ice cream” or “imitation ice milk”, shall be the same size as the largest letters used in the trade name and as conspicuously placed. In no case shall the letters in the words “imitation ice cream” or “imitation ice milk” be less than six inches high.

Can you imagine something like that on our church buildings, or over the entrance doors?

This church does not practice real Christianity, but several different imitation forms. 

What will loving one another look like?

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…  Rom 12:10 

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Pet 4:8 

Let’s be broken by our failure to love and not pained by the failures of others to love us.  Dr. Larry Crabb

Am I perfected in love?  Those of you who know me know the answer to that question.  I am not perfected in love, but I’ve tasted the real thing enough to know when an imitation is being passed off as the real thing – by myself or others.  Brothers, let’s keep the real thing before us and not settle for the imitation.

getty_rr_photo_of_man_drinking_beer_and_smoking

The Smell of Booze, Cigarettes, and Perfume…

The best odors my sanctuary has ever had!  On January 2, 2011, I received a very hard call.  A 20 year old female had taken her life the day before.  The family was devastated and they wanted my help.  I assured them we, the church, would do whatever we could do to help them through this very difficult time.  Long story short, I officiated the funeral services at the church and the place was packed–literally standing room only.  As the service began, it was clear that this was not a Christian crowd.  The smells of booze, cigarettes, and perfume were strong and distinct.  The hopelessness was heavy in this room as Christ was not known by the majority in the crowd. This was a sweet opportunity share to the hope I have in Christ to this group desperate for any sort of hope.  It has been almost a year since this event, and we have seen much fruit from this horrible event.

I would like to share some things I have learned from this event.

1.  Pastor, be out in the community.  Good things happen when you are out.  Get involved in the community you live in.  When I was in seminary a missionary came and shared about their ministry.  She said something I found very profound, “We share Christ because we love the people; we don’t love the people in order to share Christ.”  You may have to ponder that one for a while before you get it.  Do you love and invest in the people in your community genuinely?  If you do they will know it.

2.  Fruit takes time.  Results never come as fast as we like.  As I enter my fifth year at Valley Baptist Church, I am continually amazed by a visit from a family, or see something happen in the life of an individual that I encountered years ago.  I am reminded that my responsibility is to be faithful and God will be the increase in His own timing!  I believe we have to take the long-term approach in reaching our community.  It is more about planting roots, serving, and plowing away in the short term…but then a day comes when fruit starts coming from years of labor.  Don’t loose heart!

asphalt

Lessons From the Asphalt

NOTE: I wrote this back in July, 2006 for “Bill’s Musings.” But every time I re-read it, I smile. Oftentimes, I draw on its lessons. So with that as a background, I share this with you today.

________________________

Tonight, I’m in pain. It’s 11:43 PM (7/11/06) as I type this. My left palm is aching, my right knee is dinged up, my right elbow and wrist are scraped raw, and my right big toe has a chunk missing out of it.

What happened?

Well, it all started late in the day when I realized that my high-energy dog (aka “Mercy”) had not had any real exercise all day long. I didn’t have much time before I had to get going. I didn’t want to miss that dinner engagement with a dear, dear couple I’ve known for years, but if I didn’t hurry I’d be late. So I did what I have lately been in the habit of doing. I hopped on my mountain bike, wearing only an Aloha shirt (what else?), my shorts and my flip flops. Then I leashed up my ever eager canine friend for a 1-mile quickie, just to get her tension out.

About 90% through our ride, as things were moving along just swimmingly, a car pulled up next to me. It was a doctor friend who’d stopped to chat. His first words were, “Why you’re bold to be out on your bike like that with your dog pulling alongside of you!”

Knowing what he meant (he was referring to how dangerous it could be), I confidently assured him that all was well. “After all,” I said, “we’ve done this many times before, and this dog knows what to do. It’s no problem.” Then we talked some, and had a real nice conversation.

Eventually, he pulled away headed toward his home, wife, and kids. As for me, I once again just got going with my patient dog alongside of me, who by that time was very eager to get rolling.

Not 20 seconds later it happened. The Unexpected. A neighbor’s Dalmatian came out of nowhere, itching to mix it up at worst, or just play at best, with my dog. Not good. One thing you need to know about Mercy, she is a big ole’ chicken when it comes to other dogs. When she sees one, she reacts. Biting, barking, threatening, and cowering, all at the same time.

Needless to say, this collision of canines messed up my bike ride real quick. The next thing I knew I was being hurled forward, out of control, hands outstretched, surrealistically waiting to hit the ground, which I eventually did. Ouch. Hence, the aching palm, dinged up knee, and scraped up appendages.

Is there a lesson in all of this? But of course! I have to laugh when I think about it.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Boy, did I have everything under control! Wasn’t I the master of the situation? My dog and I, we’ve been doing this bike-ride-dog-run thing for a long time, you see. Both she and I know what we’re doing. No problema. Hah!

I thought I was “standing.” In reality, I was setting myself up for a fall. Literally. My pride, over confidence, and self sufficiency were once again the sources of my demise.

I do this same thing in my spiritual life as well. I become confident in an area in which I’ve experienced success. My strength then becomes my weakness. I go from “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” thinking to “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” thinking to “I can do all things” thinking.

Then my Father, because of His great love for me, lets me fall of my bike. Reality Check “101” for the 500th time. When will I ever learn? I’ve come to the conclusion that I suffer from spiritual Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, I will learn, but only one day at a time. Sometimes only one moment at a time. That’s not to say that I can’t benefit from long term memory of God’s past faithfulness, because I can. But it is to say that I need daily, fresh awareness of God and His ways, or I’ll be likely to fall down. It’s sort of like D.L. Moody’s answer to the question he was asked re: his habit of constantly praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit. “Why do you pray that prayer so often, Mr. Moody?” His response: “Because I leak.”

If Moody leaked, then I’m a sieve. I need the Lord. Thankfully, I have Him. Christ dwells within me, and is completely for me. He’s for you, too!

Fortunately for me, I got off lightly. It could’ve been a whole lot worse. Broken bones, perhaps a bashed skull, who knows how bad it could’ve been? (“Thanks, angel!”)

Lessons from the asphalt. In the last two Musings, we’ve had lessons from the Vineyard.

This evening, I experienced what Matt Redman calls “Face Down Worship.” Now I know what that means.

May God bless you and keep you powerfully. Oh, how He loves you and me!

In Christ,

Bill Holdridge

vision

Vision

By this time you might be beginning to recover from yesterday’s food coma.  Hopefully.  We (my family) are waiting for the arrival of our 3rd little baby.  She should be here any day; I hope we’re ready.

This time of year always brings me great joy.  I love the fall and winter; and preparing for the end of the year always brings great anticipation for what God will do in the new year.  Each year in early November our pastoral team goes away for a few days to plan and pray for the upcoming year.  As the result of a very full schedule this year we had to bump our meeting up a month to mid-October, but I’m pretty sure that everyone on our team is expecting good things in 2012, although it is supposed to be the end of the world.

After nearly 13 years in vocational ministry and almost 4 as a senior pastor, I’m more convinced than ever that one of the major roles for a lead pastor is vision seeking and vision casting.

In the early spring of 2001 I began teaching through the book of Exodus as a Jr. High pastor at Calvary Escondido.  At that time I was also working closely with Joey Buran and Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.  Joey was (and is) a pastor with great prophetic vision.  God used his discipleship and influence in 2000 and 2001, as well as my personal study and teaching of Exodus, to plant in my heart some important realities about vision seeking and casting.

In Exodus 25 God commands Moses to take up an offering from the Children of Israel, so that they might build a sanctuary for the Lord, which would be a tabernacle of meeting for the people and God.

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

– Exodus 25:8-9

With God’s command to build the tabernacle came a vision, from God, for that which was to be constructed.  As I studied and taught through this section of scripture over 10 years ago, the Lord spoke very clearly to my heart that as I sought Him, He would give me vision also.  It is incredibly important that those in leadership positions be actively seeking the Lord for direction and vision.  This should be a given for all Christians, but especially those in leadership, for where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18).

Vision from God primarily springs out of our devotional time with the Lord.  Moses was on the mountain-top, alone with God when he received the vision from the Lord.  This patter has held true in my life as well.  Dedicated time away to seek the Lord for vision is essential.  If we trust Him for this, He will certainly prove Himself faithful.  God’s word must always be the foundation of vision; the core values that govern what you do and how you do it, but I have found that God uses many [extra-Biblical] ways to reveal vision.

Conversations with friends, family and co-laborers; articles and books I read; videos I stumble upon online; stray thoughts I have running through my mind (especially as I’m about to fall asleep).  All of these things God has used over the years to develop and reveal vision.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not have a half-dozen or more inspirations for myself and my family personally and/or the church that I pastor.  Thus it’s crucial that I’m ready with a note pad – or the notes app on my iPhone (my current default) – to take down the ideas, because stray thoughts vanish quickly.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was a Wednesday night in the fall of 2001 that God spoke very clearly to me about casting or imparting vision to others.  I was walking to the main office at our church to get the teaching notes I’d just printed on Exodus 31; the first 11 verses of which read…

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

“And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:  the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle—  the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”

– Exodus 31:1-11

After meditating upon the passage and prepping my message I had a conversation in my mind that went something like this, “Miles, I’m going to give you vision just like I did with Moses.  But the vision that I’m going to give to you is something that you will not be able – by yourself – to accomplish.  So I am going to gather people around you that I have gifted to accomplish the vision I’ve given you.  You will have to impart the vision to those I’ve gifted, and then the work will get done.”

A vision is just a dream until it is shared with others.  Only then can you, by God’s grace and power, step out to make it a reality. But many dreams are not [completely] clear when we initially have them.  So I have found that it is important to develop the idea, make it clear and then share and impart it to others.  Some people will probably think that your idea is crazy, foolish or “out there,” but those that God has gifted and called will lay hold of the vision and run with it.

Be seeking the Lord for vision.  Be ready for when it comes.  Be diligent to clarify and cast it to others.  For…

The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
– Habakkuk 2:3
thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving Devotion

Psalm 75:1 (NKJV)
1 We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks!
For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.

The Psalmist Asaph begins our Scripture verse with a simple declaration. It is the declaration that the people of God will give Him thanks. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5). You see, it is wrong not to say thank you to someone who has been generous towards you. Imagine if you had a child. Your friend comes over and brings your child a gift. Your child takes the gift and runs away and plays with it. Then your child ignores your friend for the rest of their time with you. You are no doubt, mortified. Normally, you would take the child and say, “Now what do you say?” The child says, “Thank you.” The Lord is to be given thanks for all of His abundant grace and mercy. Every breath that we take, every interaction we have, everything in its totality is because of the mercy of our Creator. “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15). Our thanksgiving is meant to abound to the glory of God.

“For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.”

We have abundant reasons to give thanks to the Lord. The Psalmist makes sure that we understand that. He says, “Your wondrous works”. The Lord’s work is indeed wonderful. All one has to do is to look around. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20). The creation itself declares the attributes of God and holds all men to be without excuse for praising Him. All that goes on in a person’s life declares that God is near. He has made Himself abundantly known in every experience of humanity. Nothing happens outside the will of God. He is sovereign over all things. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18). He has authority over all things, no matter what it is. All that happens declares the nearness of God. Dear reader, we are called to give Him thanks. Let us do so with all of our hearts.

Discipleship 1

Making Missionary Christians

“Do you love Me?…Feed my sheep.”[1] – Jesus

“…the church exists for the edifying or the building up of the saints; to bring the saints into full maturity so that they might engage in the work of the ministry.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“Preach and teach the Word—the very life of the church depends on it! It has the power to save lives, change lives, and give life.”[3] – Brian Brodersen

When men who are called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God preach the gospel, people become new creations.  They come to spiritual life for the first time.  This is what happened on the day of Pentecost.  The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are told that upon hearing the gospel from the lips of this imperfect but Spirit-filled man who was chosen by Jesus, over three-thousand people believed in Jesus and became born again.[4]  We may not see three-thousand people come to Jesus when we preach, or maybe we will.  What we can be sure of is that if we are called to plant churches someone is going to come to Jesus from time to time when we preach the gospel.

 

The Vision of Jesus for His Church

The truth is that Jesus doesn’t just want people to be saved; He wants people to be discipled.  I like to think of a disciple as a spiritual apprentice.  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven He told the twelve: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”[5]

 

According to Jesus you need to do two things to become a disciple: First, you need to get baptized publically demonstrating that you have repented of your sin and trusted in His work on the cross for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Second, you need to begin learning to live by His commands as explained by the apostles and prophets to whom His commands were originally given.  The cool thing is that we have access to the commands of Jesus that were received by the apostles today in the pages of the Bible.  This means that people today can be born again through faith in the gospel message, and then become disciples by being baptized and beginning to learn to live by the teaching of Jesus that we find in the Bible.

 

Missionary Training Centers

Church planters need to see the local church communities that are gathered through their preaching as missionary training centers.  In fact, Jesus’ original intent for giving leaders to His church is that those leaders would teach His people, disciple His people, and train them in the Word that they might be able to serve Him effectively in their individual callings.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this in Ephesians four: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[6]

 

Each type of Spirit-gifted man listed above has in common the fact that they are all communicators of God’s Word in one way or another.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers all have their own version of a Bible communicating ministry.  According to Paul, Jesus gave men with these gifts to the church specifically that through their teaching the rest of the church would be equipped to serve God in their respective callings.  This is discipleship!  Gifted Bible teachers teaching Christians to obey Jesus’ commands for their lives is the picture in Ephesians four, and it is Jesus’ plan for how His command to make disciples is to be accomplished.

 

This means that churches that are merely evangelistic are only doing half of their job at best.  Jesus style churches don’t just get people saved by giving them the gospel; they equip and disciple them through teaching them the Bible.  The other side is true as well.  If a church is only focused on deep teaching and doesn’t charge the people to take what they learn in the Bible and put it into practice on mission in their personal lives, they are merely encouraging spiritualized consumerism.

 

Getting Our Priorities Straight

If you want to be a church planter, you must have this straight.  If you don’t set up systems for discipling new converts and training Christians in the Word you will never have a missionary church that is going into the world to do the work of the ministry.  You will have a bunch of unhappy baby Christians who are so hungry because of a lack of being fed the Word that they will eat each other, and you.  If you feed them the Word you will see the love of God in your church.  You will see Christians mature in their relationship with Jesus and start living like Jesus.  You will see them begin to share the gospel in their lives.  You will see them take care of one another.  And yes, you will see those who merely want to consume and never contribute hit the road.  But the result will be that you will have a vibrant local church that really is a missionary training center that is being used by Jesus to advance His kingdom.

 

I want to leave you with a biblical picture of the first local church that was birthed by the gospel, nurtured in a community of discipleship, and used to bring many other souls into the kingdom as a result.  This can be your church if you do it God’s way.

 

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  Then fear came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” [7]

 

Summary and Exhortation

That dynamic, Spirit-filled, loving, sharing, and kingdom spreading local church began as a group of newly saved Christians who, “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine.”  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Do it.


[1] John 21:17a-c NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel. Page 3.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 10.

[4] Acts 2:41

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV

[6] Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

[7] Acts 2:42-47 NKJV

boat teach

“Do You Trust Me?”

Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

Luke 5:3

In Luke 5 we see Peter made his boat available. Jesus got into it, Jesus told Peter what to do and where to cast his nets, there was a huge catch of fish and what was Peter’s response?

“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

That’s where Jesus found me. Pulled up on the shores of life, after spending all night in my own strength, doing what I thought I knew to be best. And as I contemplated if I should waste my time on washing my dirty nets again…I looked up and saw Jesus standing there…and He wanted to climb into my boat.

I made my life available, and Jesus climbed in. He has done and continues to do the miraculous, the supernatural in and around my life…I was blind, but now I can see. God has called me out of darkness and transferred me into the Kingdom of His dear Son. And I have found out one thing…that as I grow in my understanding of who He is, and in light of who He is, and watching what He is doing in and through me, it makes me  painfully aware of who I really am. I fall so miserably short in so many areas of my life and in others lives…and I feel like saying to the Lord Jesus, as I crawl backwards over the miraculous things He has done and continues to do in my life…“Get away from me, Lord, I’ll only taint Your reputation.”

And He says, “Do you trust Me?” (If you do, then you’ll walk in simple obedience to do the things I ask you, thereby proving you trust Me.”)

How is He teaching from your boat?