fruit

Missionary, you’re chosen to go, bear fruit, and ask!

Just hours before His arrest and brutal death, Jesus shared some final thoughts with His closest followers. One of the sentences that He spoke to His apostles contains applicable truth that every missionary needs to have spoken to them on a regular basis.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

– John 15:16

Jesus had gathered His apostles in an upper room to celebrate the passover meal. He knew that in a few hours He would be arrested, given a trial that was a complete mockery of justice, beaten severely, and then crucified. Because He knew these things would be happening, He used their final meal together to reconfirm some of the truths He had already taught them, along with teaching them new truths that they were hearing for the very first time.

And even though He had already shared with them at different times and in different ways what was about to happen, what actually unfolded over the next few hours and days caught the apostles and most of His other disciples completely by surprise.

Although everything that He spoke to them during the meal was important, I would like to zero in on what I believe are crucial truths that every missionary should not only understand but also internalize and then be encouraged by.

(And I’d like to challenge you to insert your name every time you see the word “missionary” below, as if you and I were face to face over a cup of coffee or tea or a big glass of lemonade, and I was taking you personally through these life and ministry transforming truths.)

FIRST–Missionary, understand the reality that you did not choose Him. Oh you did make a choice but that choice was only in response to having already been chosen by Him. You have been chosen by your Creator and Redeemer to be in a real, personal, and interactive relationship with Him.

SECOND–Missionary, He not only chose you, but He appointed you, He assigned you, He SET you apart so that you should GO! You were chosen to GO! And you actually went. Be encouraged, this is no small thing. Your obedience to His appointment of you TO GO is a huge proclamation of His worth and value–He has been glorified through you.

THIRD–Missionary, be confident that you were not only chosen and appointed to go, (which you’ve obediently done), but that you are also bearing fruit. The fruit that your obedience is enabling to happen is diverse. For example, the Godliness of your attitude in different situations has increased, your righteous behavior is expressing itself in new and God-glorifying ways, and you have played a significant role in others coming to know and love Jesus.

FOURTH–Missionary, contrary to what you’ve experienced or what you might be feeling, trust Jesus when He tells you that your fruit will remain! The fruit that He has produced in you and through you because of His choosing and appointing you go, and your willingness to obey, will endure the test of time. Your efforts have borne fruit in time that will continue on into eternity.

FIFTH–Missionary, take seriously the final instruction that Jesus gives to you in this verse. Because all of what He just said is true, and because you have taken Him at His word and have moved forward and are living as if it’s true, then be assured that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus name, the Father will give you.

Join with me in amazement at the reality that Jesus encourages you to ask the Father “whatever” you desire and to ask it in His name.

Apparently, He has seen enough of Himself in your life and through your obedience to Him and His calling on your life, to trust you with bringing “whatever” is on your heart to the Father, and to bring it IN HIS NAME.

Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of His trust in you. Go ahead and ask the Father “whatever” Jesus has placed upon your heart and ask it in Jesus name.

cracked foundation

Verifying Your Foundation

In keeping with the theme of my last few posts on doing what is hard and not resting in past victories or stalling out in our spiritual growth… I’d like to share a bit from a sermon I just taught on Habakkuk.

In the first two chapters of Habakkuk we see a man struggling with the sin and corruption of his nation and her leaders; a nation that had covenanted with God to be His special people according to very clear terms and conditions. When God reveals to Habakkuk that He has a plan to bring about reform and renewal in Israel, Habakkuk doesn’t even have time to be thankful for the answer to his prayer. The reason? Because God’s plan for renewal required the covenant judgement He promised in Deuteronomy. Even more perplexing: that judgement would be at the hands of the Babylonians who were less righteous than Israel (1:13). So Habakkuk groans over the idea of Babylon being used by God, while Israel is being judged by God… at the hand of Babylon! God gets the last word in chapter two, describing how His righteousness not only requires covenant judgment, but also cosmic judgment. Babylon will pay. By the same methods and means Babylon employed in her wrath against humanity, so God will employ in His wrath against her.

In Habakkuk 3, the prophet switches from his already unusual style of prophecy through personal dialogue to and even more unexpected form of prophecy: singing! Habakkuk writes a Psalm; specifically a Shigionoth (not that it really matters. I just like saying the word “Shigionoth” over and over).

In this Psalm Habakkuk draws images for us, all of which either remind us of God’s past, present, or future work of redemption and wrath. It’s a Psalm that declares the power and glory of God. It demonstrates His righteousness in judgement. It remembers His mercy. It confronts one with the reality of the fear of the Lord. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to keep His word, including His particular word made famous by Paul in the New Testament: “The just shall live by faith.”

Habakkuk concludes the prophetic Psalm with a declaration of patient waiting upon the Lord for Him to fulfil His word in His perfect timing. Habakkuk was no longer anxious and frustrated with the sin of God’s covenant people. He was no longer perplexed about God’s design to use the evil Babylonians to bring covenant judgment upon His people and he chose to trust God when He said that Babylon would not escape His wrath.

There is A LOT there that I could take apart and write various posts about. What I want to focus on, though — the “hard thing” that I feel many are often afraid of, be they shepherds or sheep — is how Habakkuk approached the entire thing from the beginning.

  1. Habakkuk questioned God. That’s right. I said it. Habakkuk questioned God. This isn’t the same as “putting God to the test” as Scripture clearly tells us not to do. This isn’t a lapse of faith or an accusation against the Almighty. It’s a cry for help from a man gone mad with the violence, sin, destruction and lawlessness all around him. It’s an honest dialogue. “LORD, I just don’t understand.”
  2. Habakkuk sought an answer from the Source. He didn’t settle for the current theological trends of the temple. He didn’t consult the opinions of the priests. He lent not his ear to the leaders of his day. He sought his answers from the Source; from God, Himself.

Before your mind meanders into the land of “what ifs” and “yeah buts”, let me comfort you with clarification. I’m not saying that seeking counsel from godly men is wrong. Nor am I claiming that established theology should be avoided in tackling tough topics. So relax the radar for a minute and see if what I’m getting at makes sense.

One morning I did something highly unusual and spent the 7.95 for breakfast in town instead of eating at home. As I sat there sipping coffee, playing “word welder” on my phone, and waiting for my “full Irish breakfast” to arrive, a group of men began streaming in one or two at a time and taking a seat right next to me. As they gathered and gained numbers the conversation grew livlier and livlier. It was truly enjoyable to listen to the banter, the jokes, the arguments, the laughter, the ribbing, and the squabbling. They discussed everything from sports to money, current affairs to affairs of state. They were the “men at the gates of the city”.

Habakkuk could have been one of these men. He could have sat and discussed the affairs of the day and topics of the time. He could have argued, joked, or just listened  There would have been nothing intrinsically incorrect with doing so. But instead he chose the direct route. Instead He went to the Source: God. And in going to God he didn’t dance around the discussion. Habakkuk questioned Him.

How many times do we attempt to answer the hard questions of life, theology, relationships, and reality by finding out what everybody else thinks instead of what God thinks? How many times do we settle for the latest quotes on Twitter or Facebook as “good enough” to get us by, rather that getting a direct quote from the source? How many times do we mouth mantras of the faith to get us through difficult times, rather than using our words to dialogue with our Father?

Let me be specific, and let me say that I make no accusation that I, myself, have not been guilty of at some point.

  1. Eschatology. Do you actually understand your eschatalogical positon from Scripture so that you could intelligently and Biblically describe it to another person without having to refer them to the latest book by so and so? I’m not saying that you must be able to to this. It’s certainly not the most important area of general theology. But I know so many shepherds and sheep who do make it a major point and yet cannot do what I asked above. They have not taken the time to question God about it and seek answers from the source: His word. In my experience, they’ve normally done one of two things: they’ve spent just enough time to memorise the main points from their favorite downloaded pastor, or they’ve spent oodles of time memorising what all of their favourite downloaded pastors have said about it.
  2. Church Government. Same questions as above. In fact, since the Bible doesn’t give an exact formula for this one, it’s even more of an “open-handed” or secondary issue than eschatology. And yet the fervor with which so many shepherds and sheep hold on to their preferred system is confusing to me, when only a very few have ever been able to tell me why they feel that way.
  3. “Missions”. Why do you do “missions” the way you do it? If you are a shepherd, why do you lead the flock in “missions” the way you do? Have you just accepted the norms around you without ever questioning God about it? (Yes, I put “missions” into quotes because I can no longer be sure of it’s intended meaning in an audience or that they would understand my meaning to be).
  4. Day to day pastoral things: Order of worship/liturgy, “sunday school” / “children’s church” / “children’s ministry”, rules for worship service, Biblical gender roles in the ministry, “youth groups”, evangelism and discipleship, and many other things? Are you shepherding those areas based on the vision the Lord has given you, based on His word and careful study and patient prayer about them? Or are you just doing what everybody else does? Do you even know why you do things the way you do them?

Are we supposed to be built up on the foundation of our favourite pastors, or upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Scripture), with Jesus as the chief cornerstone? Shouldn’t we seek to truly know what we believe, question God, study His word (including what other godly men have written about it), and be open and honest with God about the questions and answers that arise from our study? Shouldn’t the foundation for our faith, our hope, and our worship of the one we put our faith and hope in be as rock solid as Christ Himself? Or should we settle for a foundation of what others are saying and doing and hope [in them] that they got it right?

Since learning the many basic theological foundations that I first learned through the ministry of Calvary Chapel in 1990, my faith has been rudely confronted by reality in many areas of the theology I was sure I had memorised.

We all have our own list of things that have challenged our faith and revealed cracks in our theological foundation. But the hard thing to do… the thing that took me some time to face up to doing… is to allow what we’ve memorised of our pastors’ theology and popular theology to be set aside long enough for us to question God about it. Seriously consider His word for ourselves. Take up the mantle of the opposite opinion and try to prove it Scripturally. Find those with differing opinions and dialogue with them. Search the Scriptures intently until you have as much confidence as possible, and then write down what you learned to reference later. Be honest with God about your doubts and questions and ask His Spirit to guide you to the truth. Be willing to be wrong so you can grow.

In the end, you’ll either: (a) learn that you were wrong about some things and be better founded now that you’ve been corrected (this is what happened for me in the area of “missions”); (b) learn that you were on the right track and gain further understanding and insight that better founds your faith going forward (this is what happened for me in the area of Church Government and Eschatology); or (c) learn that you were correct in your understanding and application of God’s truth and be all the more excited about living it and telling others (this may happen to me some day 😉 ).

Just like Habakkuk, my willingness to question God and the status quo has lead to rejoicing! Because I am constantly challenging what I think I know and either correcting or reaffirming it, I’m constantly reminded of God’s character, righteousness, mercy, power, and faithfulness. That’s what gave Habakkuk peace in the midst of adversity and put a Psalm in his heart.

May we, like Habakkuk, do the hard things of questioning God and the status quo, clarifying and verifying that our faith is founded on the truth, and enjoying a peaceful and worshipful heart as a result.

Newnan cemetery 1 29

Cemetery or Seminary?

In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist…this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays…I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God’s call, I wasn’t sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn’t have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors…which feels weird as I don’t really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God’s call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn’t know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute’s distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like “Old Testament Survey”, “New Testament Survey”, “Elements of Bible Study”, and “Advanced Bible Study Methods.” Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  I ended up completing a year’s worth of coursework through Moody’s program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Master’s of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was “All but dissertation” because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people. Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry–whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, “Did seminary really help you?” I laugh and respond with something like, “If I wasn’t in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis.”  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, “Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, “Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!”  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary–which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on “The Christian and Combat” we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don’t feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven’t been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting “cemetery” slip out of your mouth when “seminary” was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn’t need seminary to go to the ministry…we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

couch

An Uncomfortable Comfort

Yesterday I finished preaching through the book of Jonah (listen here). In the last couple verses, there is a powerful contrast where God says to the comfort-seeking prophet, “You pity the plant…” In the next verse God then says, “I pity Nineveh…” The word pity (ḥûs) used here in Hebrew carries the idea of teary-eyed compassion (a great example of what this looks like can be seen in Ezekiel 16:4-5). It’s the idea of a heart that is internally affected by an external circumstance.

Jonah’s heart was internally shattered for the death of his external comforts (the plant). He sought his comfort outside of God, which caused him to be apathetic to the things that matter to God. This is a major cultural sin in the United States as well as here in the United Kingdom. We console our soul with creation fixing our hearts on the temporary pleasures of created comforts. The plant God appointed was here today and gone tomorrow. Life is thus poured out on the momentary and the height of our passions and affections are warped around aspects of creation. The idol of the god of comfort is seen today in Romans 1:25.

At the same time, 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us that we serve “the God of all comfort” (different from the god of comfort). The God of all comfort comforts us, but his comfort moves us to extend what we are given to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). In other words, when we are comforted by God, we are moved to share in the afflictions of others. We are changed. Instead of apathy and indifference, there is God-reflecting passion and engagement.

Maybe this is why our churches sometimes seem disengaged and apathetic to the call of the gospel as well as some of its social outworkings (i.e. abortion, AIDS pandemic, fosters/orphans). God had pity on the 120,000 of Nineveh. Jonah had pity on a plant. We love our comforts and “can’t be bothered”.

God appointed the dismantling of the altar of comfort in Jonah’s life by appointing a worm and a scorching east wind. It seems in the end, Jonah did repent since the book was likely penned by his hand leaving Jonah as the books anti-hero. It has been said that God comforts the afflicted (as seen here in the Ninevites) and he afflicts the comfortable (as seen here in Jonah). May God do so in our churches until we find that our comfort comes from the God of all comfort and our teary-eyed compassion is shaped by God’s own passion.

storm

Millennials and Eschatology

For many Evangelical Baby Boomers the word Millennial is connected to the “End Times.” This is largely due to the fact that one of the hallmarks of American evangelicalism in the last 50 years has been a vivid end times discourse. But in our 21st century American Lexicon, Millennial has a greater connection to the up-and-coming, and now largest Generation in American history than it does Eschatology. Millennials, those born [approximately] between 1980 and 2000 are beginning to come into their own; and as they are, it is creating an interesting dichotomy in the landscape of American Christianity. And the discussion of eschatology is one sphere that is sure to cause a stir.

I came late to the eschatology party. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” came 10 years before I was born. My introduction to the “End Times” came while I was in High School when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ fictional thriller series “Left Behind” hit the scene. In fact I remember very well being introduced to the series while on a family vacation the summer after I graduated from high school. I read the first 3 books in 3 days, which for a dyslexic who just graduated from high school vowing to never read another book, was a near miracle. Admittedly, the whole thing read like fiction, as that’s what “Left Behind” is. But the thought of what it presented actually happening blew my mind. I had been taught during the several years preceding my reading that these sort of things were soon coming to the planet nearest you… i.e. this one.

Before I continue, let me affirm my belief in the rapture of the Church. I absolutely hold a futurist position on Bible Prophecy. I, like virtually all orthodox Christians, look forward with hopeful expectation to the second coming of Christ. But as one who lives on the bridge between GenX and Millennials (decidedly closer in identification to the later) I find that interest in these things, both in myself and among my peers, is not as it is among Boomers. The lack of interest is evidenced by the fact that prophecy conferences and updates are not greatly attended by 20 and 30-something’s. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a concern among our Baby Boomer brothers, that our lack of interest indicates a departure from the teaching. It doesn’t, not necessarily. In conversations with peers I think there are a number of reasons for this change.

First, there is a concern for what appears to be a hyper-escapist bent in many Christians when discussion of the rapture comes up. The view that seems all to common is one that says, “The world is sinful and getting more evil. America is not as Christian as it once was. Tribulation is coming. I can’t wait for Jesus to come so we can get out of here!” This view also seems to carry with it a glee over the [apparent] worsing conditions in the world, as these somehow hasten the “end.” Right or wrong, these are the [anecdotal] observations I’ve encountered.

It is true, in the last days perilous times will come; the love of many will grow cold and wickedness will abound. But Millennial Christians are unwilling to sit as idle spectators watching with little to no engagement. The words of the lepers in 2 Kings 7 come to mind.

“Why sit we here till we die”

2 Kings 7:3

Secondly, the teaching that is sometimes presented in support of pre-tribulational rapture doctrine highlights and amplifies the cataclysmic doom and gloom that will come post-rapture, with very little concern for the billions of lost who will be left behind to suffer that doom. In other words, evangelistic fervor does not appear to be the immediate bi-product of the teaching. If it is truly believed that these things will soon come to pass, then our response ought to be overwhelmingly evangelistic.

Furthermore, the question arises, “If it is supposed that pre-tribulational rapture teaching produces a greater awareness of the imminent return of Christ, and therefore a more acute righteousness, then why aren’t followers of this view living more righteously?” It is clearly taught in scripture that expectation of Christ’s appearance should inspire righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13). But if such is not evident in many that affirm the teaching, then it is only right to ask, do they truly believe what they affirm?

Thirdly, many Millennials want to know what the proper (i.e. biblical) response should be to the current conditions of the world in light of the rapture and ultimate second coming of Christ? What does it mean for us as the body of Christ, today? Beyond pursuing personal righteousness, how should we respond to sin and suffering, pre-rapture? Questions such as this are the driving force behind initiatives that push for social justice, equality and modern abolitionist movements. Responses that only highlight the increase of wickedness as the end draws near are inadequate.

Fourthly, Millennials are tired of modern predictions as to the timing of the rapture. If Jesus said, “It’s not for you to know,” (Acts 1:7) then Millennials are fine with not knowing. In fact the mysterious nature of such things adds to their intrigue. Insistence upon perfect knowledge or understanding of things that are clearly mysterious (interesting concept, right?) is the height of arrogance. Millennials greatly respect a humble orthodoxy concerning things that are unknowable or where there is considerable disagreement.

Finally, Millennials are concerned by what appears to be a blind and blanket support for National Israel by many American Evangelical leaders. While pre-millennial Millennials recognize God’s future plan for His people under the Abrahamic Covenant, they question uncritical or unilateral support, which is sometimes financial, of the Israeli Government and Military. Such support often turns a blind eye to Israel’s open rejection of Jesus and is typically justified by the use of Genesis 12:3. At hand is not a question of whether or not God has a future plan for Israel, but rather does Genesis 12:3 mean the wholesale support of all things Israel? Or, is blessing/cursing Abraham more oriented toward Messiah and not National Israel? Let me be clear, these questions do not mean that I do not support Israel’s right to defend herself when threatened or assaulted; nor do I deny the holocaust or condone the terrorist actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, or others against her.

I highlight these issues so as to point out that millennials do not necessarily have a problem with the idea of the rapture itself, rather the over-emphasis of it, the way it is often presented and the implications of the teaching. Millennials have more of a Matthew 24:36-25:46 focus when it comes to the end times than do many of their Boomer counterparts. What do I mean? Boomers have often focused on the conditions preceding the rapture, the rapture event itself and the tribulation post rapture; whereas Millennials are more interested in our response to the teaching of the rapture and the conditions of suffering and sin in the world now. Essentially, millennials are more interested on ecclesiology over eschatology.

The ramifications of this reality are clear. The only prophecy update necessary for Millennials is “Jesus promised that He would return, He has yet to do so, there remains much work to do till He does, how shall we then live?”

givethanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:

– Psalm 50:14

 

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.

– Psalm 69:30

 

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

– Psalm 95:2

 

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, [and] into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, [and] bless his name.

– Psalm 100:4

 

What are you thankful for?

hint… leave your’s below!

israel

Has God Cast Away Israel?

In these times, I think this article is so significant for what may lie ahead for the church,  especially for what may lie ahead for Israel and for the 16 million Jewish people living today.

Romans 11
Israel’s Rejection Not Total

I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.

If there was no other passage in the Old or New Testament to signify the state of the people of Israel and God’s attitude towards their unbelief, after their rejection of their Messiah and Savior, it seems it might suffice to meditate on the scripture quoted above where it is clearly shown how God acts towards this nation.  The authoritative and clearly distinct words of the Apostle Paul:  “God has not cast away HIS people” may serve as a starting point when we think or speak about the past and present situation of God’s Chosen People.

It is obvious to me that we are suffering from an anti-Biblical conception today – as if God had cast away His people.  This idea is not new.  It had widely spread within the first few years of Christianity among the early believers of other nations.  It seems that the apostle is not satisfied with just negating “God has not cast away” which is certainly an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.  He affirms his inspiration by quoting several passages from the Old Testament to clearly emphasize how ridiculous such an idea might be.  (The entire chapter of Romans 11.)

After so much irrefutable evidence that God did not and will not ever forsake His people, you would think that it would be apparent to every believer for all time that this nation remains God’s Chosen People forever.  It seems obvious that the promise given to them is irrevocable.  It seems as time went on God’s Word was misinterpreted more and more, much to the demise of this wonderful people group.  Today we hear many sermons from pulpits the world over which state that Israel is not only cast away but also cut off from God.

The question that begs a response is, where do such reasons and unbiblical perceptions of Israel come from?  Where did believers get the facts which allow them to speak about Jewish people in such a way?  I think the discussions are far deeper then this short article.  So many people I discuss this issue with have NOT been influenced by His Word but by the teaching of individuals who feel strongly that God has indeed cast away Israel through arbitrary interpretation rather then a literal sense.  Many Christians think that all the curses that Moses and the prophets spoke against Israel are actually fulfilled, while all the blessings and wonderful promises are to be taken figuratively.  It seems they believe that the latter are to be bestowed on the believers of all nations.  This results in the curses being left to Israel, while the promises and blessings are claimed by the Christians.

If Christians would seriously consider these perceptions they would be made aware of their sin against God by their attitude towards His Chosen People.  If people would try to educate themselves and free themselves of these sad misunderstandings it may change our church forever.  These attitudes have caused tremendous damage, damage that is so clearly seen in our ability to spread the Gospel among Jews.  The consequences of misunderstanding of Jewish people have been written about by far more intellectual individuals than I.  My desire to communicate how this has affected both Christians and Jews.

This isn’t recent or new theology.  This began in the 1st century when Christian gentiles formed the majority.  These believers stopped considering the people of Israel as reachable.  They assumed it was useless to preach the Good News to the Jews and assumed that the Jews were incapable of accepting the faith.  The words of the Apostle Paul contradict this thinking:

24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?  Their own olive tree?

Romans 11:24
New King James Version (NKJV)

This caused some serious problems with Christianity, and the price was tremendous. They lost those rich branches of the natural olive tree, which would have brought forth much greater fruit.  Although this nation is especially gifted for this purpose and their special passion for God, the number of knowledgeable and inspired Jewish preachers has diminished more and more

This people I have formed for myself; they shall declare My praise.

Isaiah 43:21
New King James Version (NKJV)

It was clearly commanded to go “to the Jew first and also to the Geek” (Romans 1:16).  For this lack of obedience they suffered terrible consequences from the Lord.  Christendom sank deeper and deeper, it came to the middle ages and all it’s horrors, to the crusaders and their anti-biblical deeds.  It is even more unfortunate that the next generation failed to learn from these events.  And the majority of Christianity today behaves in the same way towards the Jews as the 1st century and later Christians.  The result is that believers have lost innumerable blessings from the Lord.  They are not able to radiate as much light as the Lord would gladly spread through them.  These in a brief article are the consequences for the believers.  The consequences for the Jews are still much more terrible.  NEXT WEEK (“Continued The Lost Jewish Opportunities of Salvation”).

monkimage

The New Covenant (The Secret to Life and Ministry)

Last week, my primary meditation focused on one simple statement from the Lord Jesus, as He took up the cup after supper (at the Last Supper):

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20)

Think of the glory of the Old Covenant. Fire, lightning, thundering, fear, awe, the Presence, warnings, complete confidence within the people that they could (and would) keep every law and every statute that God gave them that day.

Now think of the New Covenant. It has a far greater glory, but its glory is wrapped in the humanity of the God-man, Jesus our Savior. Here there is sacrifice, blood shed for our sins, and complete awe of God’s grace; with a total admission on our parts that we do NOT have what it takes to obey God’s commands or to meet life’s demands. The cup Jesus raised that day was raised in quietness … in view of His upcoming suffering and death. Through that death, and by that blood, we have new life. Now the Spirit of the Living God lives within each true believer in Jesus. God Himself has become our forgiveness, our reconciliation, our redemption, and our ability to live life for Him.

I love the New Covenant. Ray Stedman sums it up so well in his definition of the New Covenant (from 2 Corinthians 3:5).

“Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me.”

This is the essence of life in Christ … that we live a life of full dependence upon the Lord for everything. He handles our worries, our needs, our past, our future, our relationships, our purpose, our ministries, our destiny. He’s got it all … the New Covenant allows us to trust Him in all things.

Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; {9} not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.{10} For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. {11} None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. {12} For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:8-12)

handsin

Traditional or “missional”….are Sunday services the game or the huddle?

The word “missional” is now in vogue within a large portion of the Christian church.  In my own experience, it’s generally the under 40 group of people that are using it to describe themselves, the churches they are planting, or the churches they already pastor.

I had a conversation with someone a while back who had recently heard some members of a newer church describe themselves and their church as “missional”.  He didn’t really understand what they meant by describing themselves that way and so he asked me if I knew what the difference was between a typical, traditional way of doing church and this newer, “missional” way of doing church.

Even though I’m not a frequent user of the word myself, (for reasons that I won’t delve into here), I did my best to describe to this person what I believe that difference is.

I asked him to think about……the National Football League–the NFL.

What do our Sunday services most resemble?  An NFL game on Sunday afternoon, or, the huddle that both the offense and the defense take part in before each play of the game?

Typical, traditional church leaders and the majority of the members who attend their churches live their lives with a view that is similar to that of an NFL fan.  The game on Sunday is important to them and they will set aside the time to watch the game either live or in person.

They like to watch the game sitting alongside other people that are also fans of the game and especially their team.  If they go to the stadium, they are in the midst of thousands of others who watch the game with them.  If they watch at home, they might have some friends over, but even if they don’t, they know that thousands of others are watching the game too.

They trust that all the players, the coaches, the refs, and especially all the TV people have done their jobs in a way that will make their own personal experience of watching the game as comfortable as possible.

The game that they look forward to watching for a couple of hours each week doesn’t really have an impact on the way they live their lives throughout the other 6 and 7/8 days of the week.  It’s possible that they will have a short conversation with some one about the last game or possibly about an upcoming game if it’s a big one, but overall, their commitment to their team and watching the games of their team makes no significant difference in the way they live their lives.

On the other hand, those church leaders and members of a church that is “missional”, are more like the players that actually play the game.  For those 3 hours, the game is the reason they live.  They do gather together, but the purpose of their gathering together, their taking part in the “huddle”, is to be sure that all of them as a group know what they will be doing on the next play.

The huddle isn’t the point of the game and it isn’t something they take part in as just a spectator.  The huddle gives the whole group the plan that will hopefully accomplish the goal and it lets them know what their individual responsibility is for the success of the team.

The huddle isn’t something the players take lightly.  It’s crucial to their own personal success and the success of the team.  It’s incredibly important, but isn’t the point of the game.

Needing to run, I summarized the “missional” view in this way:

Sunday morning services for the “missional” minded church and its members are like the huddle of a football team.  Every other minute of life outside the church service is the game that everyone is involved in.  To be successful in the game of life, the huddle is essential, but it’s not the apex or the point of the players lives.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1513 - Version 2

Tangaraj

In this third instalment of posts on pressing on to do the difficult things rather than being complacent in things easy and battles already won, I want to address the recently revived topic of church planting. Admittedly there has been an upswing in both talk and action in this area, but it’s still in the category of the “hard things” for the majority. I pray that what the Lord has been teaching me proves useful for you as well.

This past January I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to India to teach some of our brothers who pastor there the Inductive Bible Study method. After visiting three different regions of India, traveling by local airplane, car, taxi, auto-rickshaw, and bus, and teaching my part of the study at two large conferences to a total audience of several hundred pastors, the results were surprising.

They learned a lot of new information, techniques, and even some truths that they had not previously known. But that wasn’t the real surprise. They were extremely receptive and eager and thankful. That wasn’t surprising so much as it was humbling. The really surprising thing was this… I learned about church planting.

As of the time of my visit to India in January, 2012, I had already church planted twice: once in Southern California and once in East Africa. I had also traveled to 15 countries, taught in four different Bible Colleges, and spent the previous five years on the mission field in East Africa. So traveling to India for three weeks of IBS and other ministry was routine to me in a way. I expected the Lord would use us to bless the local pastors and then I’d be back to other ministry with a 16th country visited and the joy of knowing the Lord used me to further train indigenous pastors. What I got instead was a lesson in purpose… a lesson in doing truly hard things… a lesson in setting aside the excess weight of eloquent excuses… a lesson in fulfilling the great commission, rather than the great omission.

The Indian ministry that invited us to come has a fairly simple mission: gather together the many independent pastors of India with no training or resources and provide a network of likeminded brothers to pray for one another, be trained together, and fulfil the Great Commission together. At the second conference we did I met a man that all the other pastors yielded to. He was one of the oldest pastors there, but that’s not why they respected him so much. They honoured him for a different reason. His name is Tangaraj, but we called him the Apostle Paul of South India.

Tangaraj
When Tangaraj was a very young boy, an Indian believer walked into his village, placed a box on the ground in the centre of the village, lifted up a piece of scrap metal that he had shaped into a cone, and began proclaiming the gospel to the Hindu population. Before the day was over, the villagers stoned the man nearly to death. Tangaraj’s parents had pity on the man and dragged him into their small hut. They did their best to patch him up and then they sent him on his way. Years later, when Tangaraj was a teen, he was sick and needed to get medical attention at a British-run clinic in another village. The nurse there saw to his physical needs, but also shared the gospel with him. Tangaraj put his faith in Christ that day. As he returned to his village he thought about what to do now that he believed in Jesus rather than the village god and the multitude of other Hindu idols. He then recalled the image of the man from his childhood. The one who was nearly killed for proclaiming Jesus in his village. So the teenage Tangaraj found a wooden crate and a piece of scrap metal which he shaped into a cone. He then stood in the middle of the village and began to proclaim Christ. He knew only the basic truth of the gospel, and he proclaimed it boldly. He was beaten and chased away many times. He spent many nights sleeping in a chicken coop simply so that nobody could find him and he could finally get a bit of rest. As he grew and continued to risk his life, preaching in the villages near him, he had only one desire, one prayer: Lord, please let me plant twenty five churches for Your kingdom before I die.

By the time Tangaraj met up with SIM and became one of their key pastors, he was already in his sixties. And yet, he told us, he was disappointed because he had only been able to plant a few churches for Jesus. After partnering with SIM and taking younger pastors under his wing, he had since been able – both directly and indirectly – to be part of two hundred and seventy church plants in South India! You see the pastors in that mission have an agreement. They will receive a basic stipend to meet the basic needs of they and their families, and they will receive regular pastoral training. In return they agree to be serious about the work of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, committing to planting five churches in their respective regions in five years. Yes, I said that. Five churches in five years.

“But wait! That’s too fast!”

Says who?

“That can’t possibly work.”

It has.

“They won’t have strong leadership and will eventually fail.”

They haven’t.

But the Bible says…
I remember my first thought when I heard it, too. Being the typical representative of the group I’m a part of, my first thought was one of skepticism masked in a Biblical pretext: “But the Bible says not to lay hands on a man too quickly.” And that’s right. The Bible does say that. The Holy Spirit then gently knocked on my head… “Then don’t do it too quickly. Do what’s necessary to raise him up right in a shorter time frame. It doesn’t take as long when the man being raised up is serious, committed, and not distracted by the world like you were and like most the men you’ve discipled still are.”

In a conversation with myself and the Holy Spirit that seemed as though it took several minutes but really only lasted a second or two, I realised that basic Great Commission disciple-making and church planting had become a “hard thing” for me and so many similarly situated to me. It’s like somehow, somewhere we buried the disciple-making and church planting of the Great Commission somewhere under a pile of million-man altar calls and Bible verse soundbites so that they only surface when the Holy Spirit back-pressure builds up enough to cause an eruption. Then we say, “Okay, I guess God wants to plant a church. We’ll pray for you.”

It’s unrealistic
Even amongst the most level-headed, Godly, Christ-preaching and teaching pastor-friends of mine, the idea of purposing to plant a certain number of churches in a certain amount of time is beyond the realm of normal thinking for them. Why is that? In fact, a dear friend of mine was my roommate for that ministry trip to India and saw and heard and experienced the same things as me. This brother is the definition of Godly pastor, self-controlled, socially and personally conservative, well-mannered, mature, responsible, thoughtful, and whatever the opposite of “hasty” is. Yet at the end of the trip as we talked about the Indian pastors we had met he confessed to me that he had learned the same thing as I did in regards to church planting: we need to be more serious and purposeful about it. The Great Commission is not unrealistic, it’s what we’re commissioned to do. It may look different in different places and at different times, but it’s still something we need to be passionate and purposeful about doing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We’ll get to it in due time
We need to stop excusing it. We need to stop making it and eventual priority because we simply refuse to believe it can be done without a twenty-year plan. We need to stop using misapplied memorised Bible verses to bind and slow down the work of church planting. I’m the first to recognise and admit that it may take a little longer in America because — simply put — most men are much more difficult to disciple and raise up for ministry due to distraction. I know I was. It is most definitely a cultural thing. It is what it is, but what it isn’t is an excuse to not plan and purpose. Maybe five churches in five years is ludicrous for all the right reasons. But do we just forget about church planting altogether until it just spontaneously combusts? How about one church plant in five years? Can you focus on training up one individual or team of individuals in a five year period?

They’re not ready yet
As we raise up these men and/or teams of people, do we spend way too much time trying to make images of ourselves who will then make copies of our church rather than making disciples of Christ who may very well do things differently than us? I really and truly struggled with this at one point in ministry. It was hard to let God use me to disciple and raise up a man that didn’t’ think just like me, make exactly the same decisions I would, or end up leading a church that didn’t look or feel exactly like what I thought it should. But is making a disciple of Christ and helping him to plant a church supposed to be about what I think is best or is it about what Christ wants? How can we “disciple” a man to be lead by the Holy Spirit and then correct Him for doing so because he does something that’s not how we did it last time? As we disciple and see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a man’s life we must be willing to let him be lead by the Spirit and do things according to his own personality and relationship with the Lord. We need to let go and trust God to do great things with and through him, rather than trying to micromanage the formation of a replica ministry. We mustn’t be about the business of mimeographing ministry style and form, but rather reinvesting the grace of God into the lives of others whom God will lead and use according to His purposes and not ours.

It might fail
I know some will only think of the potential failure of trying to plant churches with such purpose and passion. I truly hate failure. In fact, it’s a very real and burdensome fear that I have to deal with daily. But through my experiences of failure and success I’ve learned that even if some fail for one reason or another, the potential for failure has NEVER been a reason to say no to God’s clear call and commission.

I went to India to share what I knew about studying the Bible and in an unexpected twist was truly and deeply challenged in the area of church planting. I know it’s become a popular topic of late and I hope I’m not repeating anything already spoken. I’ve had a chance to listen to a couple of the teachings from Calvary Church Planting Network’s Re-Engage Conference that just took place. One thing that stuck was something Brian Brodersen said: that the great commission is a church planting mission because discipleship best takes place in the context of the local church (my paraphrase). I think it’s time for a proper re-evaluation of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in the local church today. I think we can learn a lot from the attitude, purpose, and vision of our brothers in the church in India. We need to be passionate and purposeful about the Great Commission of making disciples via the local church rather than carrying on the great omission of neglecting these things.

(Since finishing this article I came across an encouraging statement on the homepage of Calvary Church Planting Network. What a blessing it was to read it. Carry on brothers. Carry on.)