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“I’m Sorry, Mr. Tree”?

As you read this, please understand that we live in Santa Cruz County, CA. But the rest of the country is catching up, if you want to call it that.

So a while back my wife is hanging out with one of our granddaughters at the local elementary school. As they are leaving, a couple of little schoolboys climb up into a tree. Boys will be boys … and after all, that’s what trees are for, right?

Not according to the yard duty supervisor. She tells them they need to get out of the tree (understandably, given the various liability and safety issues). After they descend, she then gives them firm instructions: “Now you must go tell the tree you’re sorry!”

Classic scene ensues: one little boy stands up to the tree and says, “Tree, I’m NOT sorry!”

Possible insubordination aside, it’s a pretty funny (and cute) scene. Were it not for probable encouragement toward disrespect for those in authority, my wife would’ve given these boys high fives.

“Tell the tree you’re sorry” is SO Santa Cruz.” People around here love that stuff. This is a tree hugger’s paradise. But this ideology/religion is wrong, and it stems from a rejection of God as Creator.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to hurt trees. That is, I don’t want to aimlessly or recklessly damage plants, trees, bugs, or animals. Maybe I did when I was a boy, but not now. But I will use trees to build my house, to heat the wood stove, and make my toothpicks.

These boys didn’t “hurt” the tree at all. They weren’t breaking branches, and the tree was plenty strong enough to support them both. Their “crime” was climbing the tree at all.

We’re in a worldview battle, folks. The camps are clearly divided between those who believe God created everything and then left man to use and responsibly manage what He made … and those who deny the existence of God and replace Him with the creation itself.

If there is no God as Creator, Sustainer, and Life Giver, then this life we’re living is meaningless.

I’ll worship God as the Creator of the trees, and then I’ll support responsible use of them.

But I’ll never apologize to a tree. Not gonna happen.

Romans 1:20-21 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, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:25 …who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Thanks for reading.

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Saturday Reflection – Biblical Shalom

“We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight, the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. It’s a rich state of affairs where natural needs are satisfied and natural giftings are fruitfully employed all under the arch of God and in His love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, [Eerdmans, 1995] p. 10)

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Gay Marriage and the Failure of the Church

Quite often I encounter the charge that the legalizing of gay marriage represents a failure of the church.  This charge has a couple of versions.

#1  We are failures because we weren’t able to prevent it.

If the church only prayed more/fasted more/voted as a bloc/were filled with the Spirit/boldly declared the gospel/cast down demonic strongholds – gay marriage would never have gained a foothold in American civic life.  Version 2 strikes the opposite note –

#2  We are failures in that we even tried to prevent it.

We should know better than this, we are scolded.  How can we expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people?  The goal of the church is not behavior modification, but heart transformation.  In that the attempt was even undertaken to prevent this form of behavior demonstrates that the church doesn’t understand spiritual reality.  The very act of taking into hand the political power of the voting booth is a denial of the spiritual power of the Spirit and clearly exposes our lack of love toward the gay community.

So, has the church failed?  Consider the legalization of gay marriage in the light of the abortion wars.  Is the availability of abortion a failure of the church?  What more could the church have done to prevent the millions of abortions that have polluted our land?  We voted/picketed/prayed/pleaded/reasoned/raged/provided alternatives.  The death of millions of babies cannot be laid at the door of the church.  We were/are not complicit.  This blood is not on the hands of the church.  These take place against our will/our vote/our cooperation/our permission/our blessing.  The church flexed all its might and still the nation turned to an abomination that had never even entered the mind of God.  The blood of millions of human beings is to be laid at the feet of a corrupt culture in moral free fall, not at the feet of a weeping church.

Was the idolatry of Israel the fault of God who sent His Word, prophet after prophet, calamity after calamity? The Lord cries through Isaiah, “What more could I have done…?”

Preventing gay marriage may indeed be the church fighting a losing battle, but even if we lose this battle it is a battle worth waging – we do not fail even if we lose.  The church only fails if the church fails to be the church.  And this is true whether you contend that this is a battle the church should be involved in or not.  (And, for the sake of clarity, the battle was not against gay marriage, but against a redefinition of the Biblical concept of marriage that would have/is having/will have significant repercussions on American life).

For 8.5 years our church was located across the street from the  L ’amour Shoppe – an adult book store.  A couple of times during those years there was the suggestion that the existence of that store represented a failure of the church (not just CC Fremont, but the entire church in Fremont).  If the church had a greater spiritual presence in the city, it was reasoned, the Shoppe would not exist.  I disagreed with them.  The existence of that store does not represent the failure of the church, instead it is to be traced to the moral and spiritual failure of its owners, operators, and clientele.  They sinned against conscience and the gospel to open that place and to keep it open.

The moral/spiritual collapse of the culture is not the church’s failure.  I cannot think of a Scripturally based, textually developed and derived argument that faults the church for the failure of the culture.  The church has her own failure…

What is the failure of the church?  The church’s failure is the moral/spiritual collapse of the church.  The failure of the church isn’t that the culture is looking less and less like the church, but that the church is looking more and more like the culture.  Their degeneration is not our failure, our degeneration is our failure.  We can’t expect the world to act like the church – but we can and should expect the church to act like the church.  The problem isn’t that the culture is departing from the Scripture, but that the church is departing from the Scripture.

Gay marriage/abortion availability/the prevalence of pornography/etc., is not the failure of the church.  It is the failure of those who sin against creation/conscience/Christ.  It is the failure of those who know that there is a God and that they are morally accountable to Him and yet suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  The moral and spiritual collapse of the culture is not the church’s failure, the church has enough failure of her own.

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Saturday Reflection – Christian Social Responsibility in the Lausanne Covenant

Something to reflect upon this Saturday

Here is the paragraph on “Christian Social Responsibility” in the Lausanne Covenant (Paragraph 5):

We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression. Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.

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Culture Shift – Part 1

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007

The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.

Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.

The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker,  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)

Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.

Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”

Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.

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When People Leave by Daniel Fusco

People leave churches just as they leave our lives. That is a simple fact. Oftentimes, pastors find more sorrow in people leaving then they find joy in people coming. Anytime someone leaves a church, it affects the pastor. If a pastor cares at all about the people in his family of faith, people leaving can often be quite devastating. Oftentimes, people can learn more about their pastor based on how he handles people leaving the church.

My heart in this article is to give some perspective on how to handle when people leave the church. I have heard of many horror stories about how people are treated by the leadership and congregation when they leave a church and I believe it breaks the Lord’s heart. For those of you who enjoy alliteration, our study on Leaving will center around 5 ‘L’s. Ultimately, I believe that the goal should be a heart that feels this way automatically (ie. the heart of Christ). But often the right heart follows obedient actions. I pray that this will be a blessing to you.

It’s an opportunity to LET

When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LET God be God. We have to remember that not every person fits into every congregation. In reality, all of the redeemed fit perfectly into the kingdom of God and His universal church. But on this side of eternity, no every person fits perfectly into each ministry’s style. There are times when people, for whatever reason, can not learn from a certain teacher. Maybe the messages are too cerebral or too milky. Maybe the Lord wants to use a person’s gifting in another body for a specific purpose. Could it be that God, in His sovereign purposes, wants someone to be somewhere else for their own growth and the growth of another body? Could it be that a certain person’s attendance at the church that you pastor will hinder His work? We have to remember that God is sovereign and it is His church, not yours. When people leave it is an opportunity to LET God order His church on this side of eternity.

It’s an opportunity to LEARN

When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEARN about your pastoring and people’s perceptions of the church. Now I realize that this point will not sit well with some people but I believe that it is important enough to pursue. Each child of God, pastors included, is in the process of sanctification. We are all continually being conformed to the image of Christ. Not one of us ‘has arrived’. When people tell you that they are leaving, if you have a teachable spirit, you can learn much. I have made it a personal policy that when people tell me that they will be leaving the church, to ask them a few questions. Now before you ever do this, you have to ready for them to answer it honestly and you shouldn’t get upset with them for their answers. Remember, you are asking them because you want to grow and learn. Back to the questions, ‘Is there any way that I, as the pastor, could have tended to you better?’ ‘Is there anything that you feel that the church is lacking that is causing you to want to fellowship elsewhere?’ ‘If you could change anything about our ministry here, what would it be?’

The answers to these types of questions can range from the purely trivial (ie. I don’t like the new color of the sanctuary chairs) to the profound (ie. My children leave the Kid’s church all spun out on sugar without any recollection of what, if anything was taught). Now the reason for these answers can be manifold but at least you will get an understanding of how the ministry is perceived and how you can pray and grow. To be honest with you, I have found this to be invaluable to understand my failings as a pastor.

In conclusion on this point, I think that it is important to take EVERYTHING that is shared in these situations to the Lord for Him to address with you. Too many times, a pastor will hear the same reoccurring reasons for people leaving and instead of bringing them to the Lord; they just stay upset at the people. When this happens, the pastor is missing out on God’s gift of growth.

It’s an opportunity to LOVE

When someone tells you that they are leaving the church, I believe that the Lord is giving you one last opportunity to LOVE and PRAY for the person. Do people leave the church having felt disrespected and disposable? Or do you send them away blessed and encouraged? I have made it a personal policy to always pray for and bless people on the way out the door. I commit them into the Lord’s hands for His loving care. I ask the Lord to place them exactly where He wants them for His glory. When the prayer is over, I remind the people how much I love them and have been grateful for our time together. I tell them that I am always there for them and even though we may fellowship in different places, we are all part of His body. I believe that this gives God tremendous glory and I can’t tell you how many times, those same folks have gotten in touch when things have happened so that I can pray for them and encourage them. They may never come back to the church, but at least that relationship stays in tact.

It’s an opportunity to LEAN

When somebody leaves the church, it is an opportunity to LEAN upon Christ. The Bible teaches that we can ‘cast our cares upon Him because He cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). As children of God, we are constantly learning how to abide in Christ. We know that we cannot bear any fruit unless we do. We abide in Him when we choose to lean upon Him at those times of struggle and trial. When people are leaving the church, it gives the pastor a great opportunity to walk by faith and to learn to rest in His everlasting arms. Whether the anxiety stems from ministry needs, a drop in the offering, what people might say, etc., when people leave the church it can cause intense amounts of pastoral anxiety. Brothers, lean upon Christ and be at rest when people leave.

It’s an opportunity to LEAD

When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEAD the church in grace. It is all too often that churches have a cultic feel to them because the people shun or look down upon people for leaving. As the pastor, we can often foster this type of mentality by speaking ill or talking down on the people who have left. Oftentimes the pastor does this to make himself feel better and it is totally carnal. As the pastor you are a sheep with a bell on at most. When people leave, do not abide gossip or maliciousness. Continue to lead the church as Jesus does: with grace, dignity, integrity, and love. Remember Jesus walked the Calvary road before us and leads by example. He didn’t stop walking in grace simply because He was hurt. He kept on to the glory of God.

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Initial Leadership For Your New Church – Part II

INITIAL LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR NEW CHURCH PLANT (Part II)

 LOOKING FOR A LEADERSHIP TEAM?

            Hopefully at this point you’re convinced from part one of this series that it would be a good idea to pray about the possibility of gathering an accountability board to help you as you plant your new church.  But maybe at this point you’re wondering what to look for in potential board members.  In part two of this series let me give you some points of practical wisdom in this area that I’ve gleaned through trial and error:

 MEN WHO’VE GONE BEFORE YOU

First of all, you want to pray for at least one if not a couple seasoned men who can guide you who have planted a church before.  Guys who have been through the gauntlet of church planting uniquely understand the challenges you’ll face.  That’s not to say anything negative about pastors who haven’t planted the churches they pastor.  I know that the church climate in the west today tends to treat pastors who haven’t specifically planted a church as sort of second rate pastors.  That is stupid, to put it bluntly.  There are good men who pastor churches who have never planted a church.  These guys can help you a ton when the church is planted. But in some ways not all of them may be able to fully relate to the unique battles of actually planting a church from the ground up.  Pray for the Lord to give you humble and helpful men who can serve you who have actually done the specific kind of work you are going to attempt.

 

I have transitioned into pastoring an existing church as well as planted a church from the ground up.  While pastoring an existing church helped prepare me for some things I encountered in the process of planting, there were other challenges I faced that were totally new to me in planting a church.  For one example, in the church I assumed leadership over, by-laws for the ministry were already written and the church had 501c3 status before I began leading.  As a result, when I went out to plant a church I really didn’t know where to start in getting those things in place.  I was glad to have a brother like Daniel Fusco in my advice corner who’d worked through those issues in his process of planting who could point me in the right direction.

 

A lot of guys who haven’t planted a church from scratch are like I was before planting.  They haven’t thought about how the systems and infrastructure that exist in the churches they lead actually got put into place through the pastor who planted their church.  Some will, but they seem to be the exception.  So the point is, it is a good idea to pray for help from at least one or two guys who have gone through all the nuts and bolts of specifically starting churches who can help you out with good advice and direction.

“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.” –Ecclesiastes 12:11 NKJV

 MEN WITH WISDOM IN DIFFERENT KEY AREAS

Second, pray for men who have wisdom in different key areas of ministry according to your context.  Planting churches isn’t just about preaching the Word.  That’s the main thing, but there are many other practical things with which you may need helpful wisdom when it comes to establishing local churches.  I’d encourage you to seek elders who can serve as advisors in main areas.

 

If I had it to do over again, as someone who planted in the west I’d look for one guy that is great with business oversight, another who is good with systems for things like discipleship and ministry structure, a guy who is great on the pastoral shepherding side of ministry, and another guy who is great at preaching.  A team like that could really give you some rounded encouragement, direction, and accountability for planting in a context like mine.

 

The specific areas in which you need insight will vary culture to culture. So the key is to determine what shape a local church needs to take to fit your culture, and then look for wisdom from others who are familiar with the practical needs you’ll have and the challenges you’ll face in that context who can advise you in how to bring that church shape to fruition as Jesus plants the church through you.  Pray about it.

“Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.” –Proverbs 20:18 NKJV

 MEN WITH SIMILAR MISSIOLOGICAL VISION

Third, pray for men who share a similar missiological vision to yours.  This way counsel you receive from your board will be moving down the same stream you’ve been called to float.   You won’t find yourself hung up with them over missional strategy and amoral issues.  For example, if you want to plant a church that is urban and nontraditional you may not want to have a guy on your board who leads a church that is rural and traditional.  This isn’t always the case if you both think like contextualizing missionaries.  You just want to make sure that the prospective accountability elder in such a case isn’t going to make a certain form or style of church an issue of right and wrong.  If you partner with them and this type of thing happens you’ll end up either having to fire a friend for causing more barriers than being helpful, or you will end up with a guy who is a constant thorn in your side because you don’t have the guts to make the hard choice and take him off the team.  Neither situation is desirable.  Pray for guys who have a missionary vision similar to yours.

 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” –Amos 3:3 NKJV

 MEN WHO ARE ACCESSIBLE

Fourth, pray for men to whom you will generally have easy access.  You want these guys to want to make time for you.  You don’t want to have to bang down their door anytime you need to get some help.  You will want guys who prayerfully agree upfront to conference with you in person at least once a month for a board meeting.  It’s easy to include guys on your leadership team who live far away from you in prayer and discussions by way of media tools like Skype and other social network resources.  No matter how it shakes out practically you mainly need to know that you’ll have appropriate access to your guys for help when you need it.  Of course, never forget that even though all human advice be cut off from you, Jesus is with you always even to the end of the age.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17 NKJV

MEN WHO PRAY

The true source of wisdom is the heart of God.  We access His wisdom through His Word, and through prayer.  It’s really tempting in church planting to only focus on “how-to’s” and practical stuff.  We must never forget that sometimes the Spirit wants to do something that is beyond our logic and resources.  So you want to first be a man who defaults to prayer over every mission decision, even if the thing to do seems obvious from a practical standpoint in a given situation.  Likewise, you want men who will seek wisdom from God on how to advise you, not just their own logic.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” –Proverbs 1:7 NKJV

“…Men always ought to pray, and not lose heart…” –Luke 18:1 NKJV

 

Kellen Criswell

Lead Pastor, Refuge Church

www.refugeutah.org

www.refugeutah.tumblr.com

www.calvarychurchplanting.org

 

 

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Interdependent

It is a great blessing and privilege to live in a nation such as the United States of America. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many nations around the world in my life thus far, and I’m always blessed to return home. I know that people from other lands would say the same thing if they were returning to their nation of origin, but I believe there is something special about the USA.

Liberty is no doubt at the heart of what makes the America great. A trust in God has, I believe, been of great importance too. Dennis Prager adds a third value – E pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One” – which he shows can each be found on our coinage.  He calls these three values “The American Trinity” and sites them as the foundation of American exceptionalism.  Independence Day is certainly one of our favorite holidays as a people.  It looks back to the great “Declaration of Independence” ratified 235 years ago today, and celebrates our national independence.  National independence is essential for any nation to thrive; we could also call it national sovereignty.

Independence day often causes me to ponder another reality that has nothing to do with the USA.

As a sinner places their trust firmly in God, He grants to them liberty from sin and death.  While doing so He also gathers the many who come to Him for salvation, into one body, His church.  What this means for the Christian is that he (or she) cannot truly be individually independent.  We (Christians) are wholly dependent upon God, and at the same time interdependent upon one another within the body of Christ.

The more time I spend in fellowship with God, the more I find that my cultural values as an American often conflict with the values of the Kingdom of God.  The individual independence which is so highly exalted in 21st century America is actually counterculture to Christianity.  No Christian survives long on their own.  God has created us, in Christ, with this interdependence.  Self-reliance is therefore, not really possible for us; and quite honestly, this is hard for me, because of pride.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV