falling_dominos

When Your Heroes Don’t Measure Up

It’s standard fare for superhero movies. Hero (whoever he/she is, Ironman, Thor, Captain America, Spiderman, etc…) discovers great power, uses it effectively, rendering him/her a super hero. But then the phenomenally super hero experiences a crisis wherein his superhero status is challenged by someone or something for which his powers prove ineffective. Hero, to gain super status once again, must overcome said challenge by digging deep and finding unrealized super ingenious workaround to the challenge for which his powers have been inoperable.

We love these things. Over the last decade plus, Marvel has done a marvelous job capitalizing on our fondness for such epics. Avengers alone grossed nearly a billion and a half dollars. We long for heroes. There are certainly times in life in which we wish an Ironman could appear on the scene to mop up a horrific situation. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want the superhuman ability to fly around in that trick suit? In fact — no lie — my 3 1/2 year-old son just came up to tell me, “Dad, my name is Superman!” which is a change, since for the last two weeks we’ve been unable to call him Ethan, as his name has been Captain America.

 

Yes, we recognize that such superheroes are fictional fare. Frankly, I’m fine with that. If the superheroes were real, then their counterparts, super-villians, would be also, and life is bad enough without Frost Giants. This doesn’t however diminish the desire for heroes.

The scriptures present a long list of individuals to look up to. Men, and women, who did phenomenal things. Certainly Hebrews 11 exhibits an exceptional list of names. Church history over the last 2 millennia has supplied many individuals for consideration. Secular histories too. The reality is, I find myself often looking for figures who’s lives are visible now; heroes with skin, if you will. For me, such heroes would be individuals that have trod a well worn path of service to God, and done so with excellence.

Over the last 15 years or so, there have been a number of individuals that have occupied that space for me. For one reason or another I’ve allowed these persons an elevated place in my mind; yes, a pedestal. Often they have been individuals that have been successful in ministry, having taken steps of faith that  [apparently] involved a level of risk. But the fact is, the closer you come to anyone, the more you see their inconsistencies, perhaps even their failures. I mean, isn’t that one of the downsides to HD TV? Who really wants to see virtually every blemished pore of the anchors on the news or the actors on TV?

I must confess, there have been times, even recently, in which I feel almost let down by the fact that such individuals are… well, only human. That, in actuality, the “superpower” that they “possessed,” I observed or even esteemed in them, seems to disappear in the face of [somewhat] unexceptional humanity.  Truth is, such “power” had very little to do with them. What I was actually in awe of, amazed by or respected in these heroes was Christ in them, in spite of the earthiness of the earthen vessel.

Realizations such as these are reminders to remain humble. They are a reminder for me — a pastor — to live at the level of those I lead. As leaders we cannot completely prevent others from placing us upon a pedestal, but we can determine to not cater to it. Pretentiousness is sin, and the more transparent that I become, the more of Christ people will see.

Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?

 

 

How Do I

For Me, a Real Game-Changer

Ten days ago I was really struggling. That Wednesday night Bible study had been a real chore, a heavy task. Emotionally, I can say that I was a real mess.

Background: my wife and I are taking a step of faith that for me is probably the biggest step I’ve taken since I left Southern California 34½ years ago for the Monterey Peninsula (with two Volkswagen Bugs, some clothes, furniture, and $125 in the bank;  no job and no certainty about where we’d be living beyond the first few weeks.)

This current step is in that same category, albeit the circumstances differ.

In my August 18 journal entry I wrote: “I’ve been hugely busy/preoccupied/worried about all the changes—the new house, all the work involved, the transition, provision for the future… yet, I have strongly sensed that this next season is of the Lord.”

In view of my calling, the Lord then began to remind me that I need to draw near to Him, that I need to be more a man of prayer and meditation (upon His word). My “doing” must and will proceed from my “being.”

Then I read and prayed through Jeremiah 32, part of that morning’s reading. This passage was a game-changer for me. As He always has whenever big things are in the works, He spoke to me through His word.

Perhaps you may need a bit of re-familiarization with its story line … but basically the story of Jeremiah 32 concerns the last days of Judah before the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem. The armies of Babylon had been laying siege against the holy city, and things were desperate. Jeremiah himself was held under guard by the wicked king Zedekiah.

It was at that time that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, telling him to purchase a field from his cousin Hanamel, a field which Jeremiah had the right to redeem. The message of this purchase was that once again, even though Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive, the Israelites would purchase properties and vineyards in the land.

Jeremiah was perplexed by this prophecy. He didn’t understand how this would happen, though he didn’t doubt God’s power to make it happen.

In his prayer, the prophet acknowledged that the LORD:

  • Created everything and is omnipotent.
  • Is merciful and gracious and just (the meaning of God’s name, Exodus 34:6-7).
  • Did great things in the past (reviewing their history coming out of Egypt and into the land).

Yet, the people had sinned greatly, and thus the Babylonians had surrounded the city. The inevitable was happening! So Jeremiah says to the LORD as he concludes his prayer “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. {25} And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’”

Again, Jeremiah was stumped by the “how.” How will these things happen? How will it work out that Israel will once again be in the land to buy, sell, and live? Graciously, the LORD answered Jeremiah’s concerns.

As I realized the depth of Jeremiah’s implied question, peace began to flood my soul. I was able to let go of all my “how are You going to do this?” questions, and leave the how to the Lord. I was able to rid my very busy mind of things that are too wonderful for me.

The words of one of David’s psalms came into my mind: “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. {2} But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalms 131:1-2).

Now I’ve got my work cut out for me, but now it’s a work of faith, springing forth from faith. It’s no longer the work of self-effort or independence. It’s the work of a child trusting in His Father.

I’m not so naïve as to think that what I’ve re-realized will not be tested, but I’m sure happy that the Lord has spoken!

God bless you. May He direct you into His peace and hope (Romans 15:13).

A “goer” or a “sender”? Part 3

In my previous two posts, I’ve introduced the idea that because the God of the bible has made clear what His end game is, (Rev. 5:7 7:9), and has commissioned His church to participate with Him in making that a reality, “missions” really should matter to us.  And that basically, everyone of His followers is called to be a “goer” or to “send” those that He has called to go.

In this post I’d like to share some of my experience and my perspective regarding the path to becoming a church that “sends them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God”. (3 John 6)  If a church begins to take “sending” seriously, there’s something crucial that needs to be constructed to facilitate that happening.

Are there any ways to determine which ministries are really important to the pastor and leaders of a local church?  I believe there are.  Here are a few:

1.  How often is that ministry referenced in the announcement or bulletin portion of the church service?

2.  How often is that ministry or an aspect of that ministry made reference to by the pastor in his messages?

3.  How prominent is that ministry in the foyer or the public area of the church office or the public gathering areas of the church?

4.  What percentage of the church budget is expended for that ministry?

5.  If a person wants to become a part of a specific ministry, has a policy or “process” already been developed that they will need to follow in order to be a part of that ministry?

Whether church leaders realize it or not, the ministries in their church that are closest to their hearts are revealed by these things.

Although it’s always interesting to ask the above 5 questions in regards to “missions”, I’d like to zero in on question number 5 alone.

To set the context for the points I’m going to make based on question 5,  I should say that my perspective is the result of meetings I’ve had with the pastors and leaders of more than 50 churches over the past 15 years.  In most of those meetings, “missions” was the reason for my being there and interacting with them.  And even when “missions” wasn’t the primary reason for my meeting with them I always probed around and tried to get a feel for where “missions” fit in their overall view of themselves, their specific ministry, and the ministries of their churches.

Interestingly enough, every one of these churches had extremely well thought-out and written-out policies and procedures for serving in children’s or youth ministry.  And most of them also had some kind of handbook and training process that needed to be followed in order for someone to be approved to lead a home fellowship.  Some of them also had written guidelines for ushering, parking lot attendants, volunteering in the bookstore, and so forth.

But guess what?  Less than a dozen of those churches had any kind of policy or procedure that a potential missionary would need to go through before being “sent” from the church to the mission field.

When I encouraged them, especially the senior pastors, to think about the potential value of creating a written “missions” policy, I was intrigued by the main response that many of them gave me.  It was something like this, “oh man, written policies usually become something you end up being enslaved to and then actually kept by the policy from accomplishing the end game that the policy was originally created to help produce”.

It was strange to me that they didn’t take the same perspective regarding written policy when it came to children’s and youth ministry.

If one of the reasons why following a written policy for children’s ministry is God’s heart for children that is clearly revealed in His word, doesn’t His word even more clearly reveal His heart and love for people from all the ethnic groups and languages that He created?

If a written policy is an expression of His and our love for the children and youth of our own church, wouldn’t a written policy for reaching those scattered around the world also be an expression of love?  And in both cases, that written policy wouldn’t only be a blessing to those receiving ministry, (children or youth, or people in other countries) it would also be a source of growth and blessing to those who ministered within the guidelines.

Just like the written policy for children’s and youth ministry, a written “missions” policy accomplishes the following purposes:

1.  It proclaims to everyone that this area of your ministry is so important that you have thought through and recorded ahead of time the direction and structure necessary to fulfill the vision God has given you in this area.  This instills confidence and trust in your leadership.

2.  Provides a “process” and guidelines that can be easily followed and lets everyone what they can expect if they desire to be involved in this area of ministry.

3.  In many cases, it protects the pastors or other church leaders from having to be the one that says “yes” or “no” to the person who is following the process of the policy on the journey to the mission field. Because the policy was instituted by a group of people at a point in the past and as the result of much prayer, thought, and research, the policy itself can play a major role in who/what is approved or disapproved.  A good written policy provides an incredibly useful “screening” process.

The bottom-line is that a well written missions policy that is the “fleshing” out of the vision of the senior pastor–customized to flesh out his vision and to fit within the unique needs of that church, can be a major blessing to every aspect of a local church.

If the leadership of a local church desires to progress in being “senders”, a written missions policy should be one of the first steps to ensure that “sending” of one of their own is done in a manner that is worthy of our Missionary God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

contentment

Contentment

The droplet said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a puddle.”  So the droplet tried real hard to make himself more than he was, spread himself too thin, and evaporated.

The puddle said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a pool.”  So the puddle lifted itself from the confines of its boundaries and went here and there and drained away.

The pool said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a lake.”  So the pool spread itself wide and became so shallow that no one came to swim anymore.

The lake said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a river.”  So the lake stirred up its waters to go this way and that.  Its motion became commotion and many were afraid to go to the lake anymore.

The river said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was an ocean.”  So the river stopped its mighty flow and the waters of the river widened and destroyed many lives.

Tim said: “I am not happy with who I am.”

brown-crack-leather-texture

A Wineskin in the Smoke

Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your statutes”, Psalm 119:83

I have been preaching through Psalm 119 over recent weeks.  I love the Psalms and the refreshment they bring to my soul.  I don’t think I could preach straight through them as a whole, but I love covering them in random order in between breaks of other books.  A couple of weeks ago the above verse gripped me with its imagery.

A wineskin in smoke would become brittle and unusable for in practical purposes.  This is how the psalmist describes  his condition.  I love being a preaching pastor.  It is what I have been called to do.  I cannot imagine not preaching the Word of God on a week-by-week basis.  With this being said, I have to admit preaching every week and leading a church can be draining as it demands much from the individual.

I’m not in this for the short-term.  As I have studied other pastors that are many years ahead of me, I have discovered that it takes a lot of P.M.S. (I couldn’t resist but to through a Navy term in here…”Preventative Maintenance Service” for you you non-sailors out there) to insure that we do not dry out spiritually and loose our passion for the ministry.

What can we do to keep our freshness and passion for serving in this capacity?

Take time off each day.

I read a book somewhere where the pastor understood each day to have only three parts–morning, afternoon, and evening.  He attempted to only work two of the three parts each day.  I don’t always succeed at this, but the thought has been very helpful to me in governing my days.

Take a Day off.

Once a week…if you can.  Well, you can see that this is a tough one for me.  It is just so hard to disengage.  I know it is good for me, for my family, and for the church.  I shoot for Thursdays, but I don’t always make the mark.  In my short coming in this area, my family and I adopted a new strategy about three years ago.  My grandfather-in-law lives outside of San Luis Obisbo on a 40-acre ranch.  We head up there once a month for a two-day (Sunday evening through Tuesday) getaway.  I love this time and has been very fruitful for my family.

Vacation.

Take an extended period of time of each year.  I am learning to open up this time more and more.  I think taking 3-4 Sundays off is ideal.  This year we had a baby and didn’t go anywhere so I don’t feel like I relaxed as much as I could have, but I did manage to read about 3 books that had nothing to do with the ministry which was very rewarding!  That being said, I am already looking forward to a vacation next year.

Read Biographies and non-studying type books.

I was recently reminded of the importance of reading books outside of our field of study.  We should be reading a ton in preparation for our preaching.  I believe in digging deep.  There is no way to short cut study time for good preaching.  That being said, reading on top of that can be difficult, but it is good for us to read “non-study” books and biographies.  It is okay, and beneficial, to read books for fun.  They will have a greater impact on you that you realize.

Exercise.

Pastors and exercise shouldn’t be an oxymoron.  Getting your blood-flowing won’t kill you, go on…give it a shot!  Some of my best sermon prep happens on runs, in the gym, or during a soccer match!  I refer you to my previous blog Spiritually Fit, Spiritually Flabby if you want to know more of my thoughts on this subject.

Pick up a hobby.

I’m not much of a “hobby guy.”  But in many respects I think my wife and kids are sort of a hobby for me during this time of my life.  I love spending time in the pool, going to the zoo, watching ballet, practicing Spanish, going for walks, or simply hanging out.  Probably the closest thing I have to a hobby is being a chaplain to law enforcement…yes, ministry you’d say, but the reality is that it is fun for me and helps me do things like shoot and blow up stuff which is hobbyish!  This being said, I do think having something fun that is not ministry related is great for your soul over the long-haul.

How do you stay fresh?

 

Team-GB1

Kingdom Minded

During the London 2012 Olympics, the road race passed right through our area of greater London. It was exciting to stand at the sidelines and cheer the cyclists on.

I loved the strategy of Team GB, which was made up of five men. Their goal was simple. Each member of the team would take turns pushing through the wind to allow Mark Cavendish the opportunity to sprint the final length to win a gold medal for Great Britain (the United Kingdom). Only Cavendish would have won the medal, but all of Team GB would have rejoiced in their participation in the victory. This post would have been cooler had Team GB won, yet it still got me thinking.

I was reminded of the importance of being Kingdom Minded by their strategy, which was for each person to do his part so that the United Kingdom could get the glory of the gold. It didn’t matter who was thrust centre stage in the triumph. They had a common goal, and were willing to work hard and do their part. Even cyclists such as Brad Wiggins would give his all in the road race, possibly hampering his own chances of a gold in the time trials two days later (btw, Wiggins did get his gold in the time trials).

It is important for us as pastors to be Kingdom Minded. Are we more concerned for the glory of our particular church or the glory of God’s Kingdom? During the race, a few churches (all gospel-preaching, including ours) were reaching out with the gospel. There was an understanding that in the Body of Christ, some of us together on Christ’s mission was better than all of us on our own mission. This ought to emphasise our unity in Jesus and the great truth that gospel unity in the midst of diversity magnifies Jesus the Lord of the Church rather than one expression of it. Surprisingly some Christians compared our giving out the gospel as a competition between the churches. Yet, if someone came to Christ and went to a different church (as long as that church was gospel-centred), We should rejoice. Why? Because God’s Kingdom is furthered!

We must be careful that we don’t become like the mistaken disciples in Mark 9:38-40, who thought that they were the only show in town. If it’s Jesus’ Kingdom that we race for, then as long as he is glorified, we are victorious.

wrong_way

How to react when you’re wronged

I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit over the last several weeks; not necessarily because I’ve recently been wronged, but in response to my current meditations in 2 Corinthians.

There is no doubt that Paul had been wrongly treated by some within the Corinthian Church, and his response to such wrongs is both challenging and instructive. Furthermore, following Jesus through His passion, as exhibited in the Gospels, can be outright unnerving. In fact, every time I read the Gospel accounts I find a certain part of my heart that desires a different response from Jesus, one I know He’d never had allowed, and would certainly not have accomplished the salvific work. The word’s of the Apostle James strike so deep in my heart…

For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

— James 1:20

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10 have been especially challenging.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
(For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The Greek root translated “war” is related to the [Greek] word from which we get our English cognate “strategy” or “strategize.” It is so easy to “war after the flesh.” That is certainly my default. In thinking much on these verses I’ve found myself far more aware of just how quickly I revert to warring/strategizing with earthly wisdom and weapons when confronted with opposition. Thus I started to ask, “How should I react when I am wronged?

  1. Remember the admonition to turn the other cheek. (Matt. 5:39)
  2. Remember that the trial you now face is ultimately for your sanctification. (James 1:2-4)
  3. Remember that if God does not grant your repeated requests “let this cup pass from me” or “remove this thorn in my flesh,” then that which you face is allowed of Him for your good. (Matt 26:39-44, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
  4. Remember that it is always better to find God as your defender than to provide your own ineffectively feeble defense. (Psalm 89:18, Psalm 94:22)
  5. Remember to bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)
  6. Remember, you’re blessed. (Matt. 5:11)
  7. Remember to rejoice in your heavenly reward. (Matt. 5:12)
  8. Remember Matthew 18:15

I could certainly go on, but these are the ones that have been swirling about my mind. Somewhere in the process of this lies the all important task of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

One last thought. One of my favorite [non-biblical] stories/books is The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie that was done about 12 years ago is pretty good too. There’s a great quote in the movie; just before Abbe Faria dies he says to Edmond Dantes…

Here is your final lesson – do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, “Vengeance is mine.”