election_2012

God Voted Obama

As I lay down to go to sleep last night I thought to myself, “What is the best way to respond to those I lead this week regarding the electoral decisions of our nation in this 2012 campaign.” A couple of hours earlier a member of the church had texted me asking, “Well, any words of encouragement, pastor?” My immediate thought and response was, “Jesus is the King of kings!” So as I faded into unconsciousness a reoccurring thought swirled in my mind, “God Voted Obama.”

I received an email this evening with the subject, “THE SADDEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE U.S.” The email happens to be from someone I do not know who somehow had placed me on their distribution list many months ago and instead of actually unsubscribing I’ve consistently just delete his messages, but this one caught my attention. After reading the opening sentence (that’s as much as I could handle), I once again began thinking “God Voted Obama.” The failure of the author to recognize God’s active involvement in the affairs of men is startling to me, but gives me some further insight into his theology.

I realize that what I’m about to say will not be popular with the largely evangelical, center-right crowd that will likely read this post, but I’m convinced it’s scripturally supported and worthy of consideration.

In the 6th century B.C. the Nation of Judah was led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. There are a number of contributing reasons for Judah’s captivity, but one of the major ones was Israel’s unwillingness to obey God’s command for sabbath rest. Every seven years the land was to lay fallow, but in Israel’s greedy desire for ever increasing yields, they disobeyed the sabbath rest for 490 years. Thus God required 70 years of rest for His land, which translated into 70 years of captivity for disobedient Israel, as they worked as slaves under the taskmasters of Babylon. This is just one of several such instances in the Old Testament. God is very serious about righteousness and justice. He does not take lightly disobedience. The blessings and curses of the commands still apply and are, I believe, generally applicable to all humanity.

For many years our nation has greedily pursued ever increasing yields. We’ve selfishly sought for extravagant abundance and idolized the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Our bent toward instant gratification has, in recent times, pushed us to do so with little thought for the long-term costs and consequences. After more than a generation and a half of such pursuit we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that “tomorrow will be as today and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:12).

Furthermore, as of December 23, 2011, a staggering 78% of Americans self-identify as Christians (Gallup). Obviously there are a number of cultural guilt factors that play into people identifying as Christians when asked. Be that as it may, there is good reason to believe that the 78% have at least some connection to Christianity in their past. Yet the scriptural exhortations to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), do justly, love mercy and walk in humility (Micah 6:8) have done little to stir our social engagement and curb our indolent pride.

With these things in mind I wonder; is it not possible that we’ve been given the government that will reprove and correct — even if it be by taxation — our unroghteous behavior? Is it possible that the church’s abdication of social responsibility has created a vacuum that someone or something must fill? The government being the logical “something?”

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like taxes per se. Nor am I a fan of individual mandates or social safety-nets hung upon deficits and debt. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and think loving charity is far more noble than begrudging taxation any day of the week. But if we indeed believe that promotion comes from The Lord (Psalm 75:6-7) and that there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1), then perhaps we should consider why God has given us the leaders we’ve elected? Before we tune in to Foxnews and Glenn Beck, maybe we should hearken the Prayer of Daniel…

1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.
8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;
10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.
14 Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.
15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.

Daniel 9:1-19

Let me end by affirming my heartfelt prayer for President Obama; for the president he defeated a mere 24 hours ago has left him with one heck of an economic mess.

 

fgjgfkgfdf

What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

611910_300

By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

battle_group

Local church lessons from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Part 1 of 2

If a gold-mine that has produced a number of nuggets already might actually contain a few more, only a fool wouldn’t take the time to make another excursion into the shaft and dig around for more.

In my relentless pursuit of analogies and/or illustrations that might be useful for making the truths of God more understandable, I recently ventured back down into the gold-mine of the U.S. Military.  On this latest trip in, I was looking for a nugget that might help the leadership of a local church to reconsider the priority that they have assigned to what has historically been referred to as “missions”.

And believe it or not, I found another nugget!  Actually, it’s quite a bit larger than a nugget.  It was actually….an aircraft carrier… the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to be exact!  This Nimitz class nuclear powered warship has the capacity to fully transport 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and has a crew of more than 5,600 people, (3,200 of which are for the ship itself and 2,480 that concentrate on the aircraft).

By asking the following easily answered questions about the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and then asking similar questions about the local church–questions that I believe are also easily answered based on the bible, I’m convinced that a few challenging and God-glorifying truths might be made a little clearer.

1.  What is the functional reason for the existence of an aircraft carrier, specifically, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ?

–Can the answer be any simpler?  An aircraft carrier exists to…..CARRY AIRCRAFT!

A carrier is brought into existence for a purpose…to carry aircraft, and then given a mission.  That mission is to launch the aircraft it carries when commanded to do so by the captain of the ship in response to the orders the captain receives from the commander-in-chief.

2.  If the U.S.S. Reagan has a capacity for transporting and launching 90 aircraft, (most with not more than two people in the cockpit of those aircraft when they fly), then what is the purpose of the other approximately 5,500 people that are on board the ship?

–Everyone else on board makes up the team that is essential for the ship to do what it was created and designed to do…launch the aircraft and carry out its mission.  Every crew member has a specific job to do, but their job is always accomplished in unison with with all the other crew members and the jobs each of them do.  Every member of the crew must understand that they are an essential part of the whole team of people that work together so that the mission of the ship can be accomplished.  Any team member that doesn’t take their job seriously or do it to the best of their ability is putting the accomplishment of the mission at risk and could actually cost the lives of others and even their own.

Less than 5 percent of the crew are actually in the aircraft that the ship launches.  When those aircraft are launched, they will be the only ones to actually engage the distant enemy that represents a government in conflict with that the government the carrier represents.  That engagement will take place as many miles away from the ship as possible.

3.  The aircraft are launched to accomplish a mission at a great distance from the ship itself, but is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan also capable of accomplishing a mission in the vicinity immediately surrounding it’s own location?

–Yes, of course.  It carries other sea-capable craft and weapons systems that other crew members are trained to use and that can be deployed within the nearby vicinity of the ship.

4.  Does the captain of the ship ever fly off of the ship on a combat mission?

–No.  His primary role is to ensure the ship is in working order and is capable of being at the location it is required to be in, with all systems, including the aircraft, ready to do what they were designed to do.

As I was mentally chewing on these things and tinkering around with how these things might illustrate some truths that local churches would do well to consider, I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with a recently retired U.S. Navy doctor.

Any time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who has also served in the military, I seize the opportunity and pepper them with dozens of questions.  I genuinely love to hear about their motivation for joining, their specific occupation while they were in, and if they’re open to talking about, some of the lessons about life they may have learned during their time of service.

This doctor told me that the “mission” of a Navy physician changes when that doctor moves from duty on shore at a hospital or clinic, to medical duty on a ship.  Although every individual sailor, airmen, or Marine’s health care is important, when on a ship, that person’s healthcare has to be filtered through the “mission” of the ship and that person’s role in accomplishing that “mission”.  If I understood correctly, this doctor was telling me that even the health care needs of the crew of the ship must serve the “mission” of the ship which is the highest priority.

I honestly didn’t know that, but as I thought about it, it does make sense.  The health care needs of the crew are NOT the highest priority, the “mission” of the ship is.  In fact, every member of the crew knows that the ship does not exist to keep them healthy and that the actual accomplishment of the “mission” that they are committed to could very well be detrimental to their health, and may even cost them their lives.

Although I’m sure some of those you already see where I’m going with this, I will end this post with this thought:

Knowing why every local church exists and the mission it has been given by God is crucial and understanding that mission and making it the filter through which everything else it does is viewed should determine the way things are prioritized.

 

SEAL_Team_Two_(Echo_Platoon)

Make Church Count!

As I reflect back on my time in the SEAL Teams, I realize more and more that so much of military life translates to the local church.  One of my favorite training drills was “IAD’s” (Immediate Action Drills).  This is a training scenario where the platoon is faced with enemy contact.  An insane amount of firepower is blasted towards the threat as the team does a sort of dance breaking away from the threat.  It is overwhelming to see the amount of lead a SEAL platoon can sling downrange and for a significant amount of time.  As the platoon disengages from the threat, in addition to expending a ton of rounds, we will travel a considerable distance.  We will “rally up” once it is deemed relatively safe.  In the “hasty rally” we will survey one another with two questions: 1) How much ammo do you have, and 2) are you okay?  Guys with more ammo will share with guys who are running low and major injuries will be handled.  We then quickly move to get out of there.  There is no way to convey this experience into one paragraph (click here to see 2 minute video), but these experiences have transformed how I understand church life.

When I look out at the local church in our nation today, it seems like going to church is out for most.  For others it is a time to “pay back” God with an hour of boredom (well that was my childhood), or to appease someone like the wife, mom, or girlfriend…if one goes at all.  In this process we put on our “Sunday best” in order to show everyone how well we have this life mastered.  This is so backwards as the emphasis is on externals, not on our reality.  Hebrews 10:23-25 states this, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  I believe these verses paint a picture of church being more like the “hasty rally” in the SEAL teams, than the “doing our hour once a week” culture.  Let me explain with a couple of points.

“How much ammo do you have?”  Have you ever noticed how many military illustrations the Bible uses?  Christians have been enlisted for military service (2 Tim. 2:3-4) and we need equipping for the warfare we face.  As this relates to church our ammo could be likened to multiple things, but I will stick to the importance of Sundays worship service.  The music and Bible teaching should draw one closer to God and deeper in their understanding of Him.  As we grow in our understanding and relationship with Him we increase our fighting power.

“Are you okay?”  Humans handle this question in a funny way.  Without a doubt we answer, “I’m fine.”  I don’t care if it’s the battlefield or the church.  We like to hide our problems when things aren’t going well.  We need to get over ourselves, let our guard down, and be real about our ups and downs.  It’s okay to share your struggles, worries, and needs to fellow believers.  We aren’t here to judge one another, but there are times when a brother’s confrontation of your sin can be the best thing for you (Prov. 27:6).  The church is supposed to be a close-knit family where we can help and serve one another in this journey.

To the Believer.    Choose your church wisely.  Find a church where the Bible is taught.  I am convinced that a church that teaches the Bible (actually going through and teaching the books of the Bible, not random topical teaching) is the best environment to foster spiritual health.  Connect to a local church, be faithful, and don’t church hop.  Get grounded in your local church.  Part of the struggle is planting roots and developing meaningful relationships where you feel comfortable and there is someone who genuinely cares about you to listen.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  I’m not against the large church, but the reality is these types of deep relationships are harder to form to form in a crowded setting.  Whatever size church you go to, get plugged in and be intentional about developing meaningful relationships.

To the pastor.  Preach the Word.  Develop a culture of transparency by being transparent yourself.  Help the people of the church to develop meaningful relationships…I don’t have the answers of how to do this for your setting, but I am very convinced that we need to foster this in our churches today!

no revival

Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age

America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.

These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, read http://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).

While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:

1. Confess all known sin.

2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.

3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.

4. Confess Christ publicly.

Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin?  Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful?  Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit?  Hardly. Confess Christ publicly?  Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.

I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing book Not a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”  Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do),  “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.”  This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.

My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age?  I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.

  • We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.

Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.”  (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)

  • Live for Christ myself.

Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.

  • Preach and teach the whole Bible.

Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.

  • Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.

Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.

  • Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.

There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.” These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.

  • Make disciples.

Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.

  • Aim high.

 We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.

  • Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).

 Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.

  • Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

  • Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.

If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.

Concluding thoughts…

Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent book Implosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…

Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”

Amen.

military2

When the “perks” become ultimate, the ultimate becomes a “perk”

A few months ago, (May 4, 2012) I wrote a post about my conviction that the U.S. Military, as it exists today, provides an amazingly accurate analogy for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In this post, I’d like to take hold of the U.S. Military analogy one more time, but now I’d like to broaden the scope of the analogy from the individual believer’s walk with the Lord to the ultimate purpose Jesus has for His church that He builds, (hint:  He was, is, and always will be The Missionary God).

I’d like to begin by asking a multiple choice question regarding any and all branches of the U.S. Military:

Which one of the following is the ultimate reason the U.S. Military exists?  (Only one answer is correct!)

A.  To provide each member with specific vocational training and vocational work that will make their post military career much more likely to be successful?

B.  To provide the opportunity for career advancement, travel, and financial resources for further education upon completion of their term of service?

C.  To provide the opportunity for travel, first class recreation, decent housing, and all medical and dental needs for its members and their immediate family?

D.  To willingly obey the Commander-in-Chief of the United States when he deems it necessary for the good of the U.S. that the military actively engage an enemy of this country at any location necessary, even if by doing so, that member of the military might be required to give up his/her own life.

Clearly, although the U.S. Military provides everything listed in A,B, and C, above, those things are not the reasons why the U.S. Military exists.  Those are all good things, and the U.S. Military spends literally billions of dollars to ensure that those things are provided for its members.  But really, those things are more like the “perks” that are provided to those who willingly choose to submit themselves to the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Military, which is letter “D”.

I vividly remember the day that I “swore in” to the U.S. Army, at the age of 17, on May 29, 1976, (a month after I graduated high school).  All of the cool advertising and various marketing tools used by the recruiter focused on A, B, and C.  And it sure sounded like those were great reasons to join.  But at the AFEES station in Los Angeles on that day, the reality of what I was really signing up for hit me like a ton of bricks as I raised my right hand and repeated the oath of obedience,  voluntarily giving over to the Commander-In-Chief at that time, (Gerald Ford…soon to be Jimmy Carter), the authority to send me anywhere he deemed necessary even if it meant my life could realistically be brought to an end in the process.

Because of what I understood that I was doing on that day, even at that young age, I’ve always been bothered by those who have joined the U.S. Military as part of the reserves or the various National Guard units.  Unless I’m mistaken, they all “swore in” too, taking the same kind of oath that I did.   And because that is true, it irritates me to no end that when the wars of the last 12 years took place and they were called upon to transition to active duty and be deployed, a large number of them complained, saying something to the effect of “this isn’t what I signed up for!”  Wrong…its exactly what they signed up for!

Where did these complaining pseudo-soldiers/sailors/airmen go wrong?  They joined for the “perks” and were convinced that the “perks” were the reason the military existed, even though they actually did “swear in” and take the oath.  For some reason, they never actually understood or believed that the purpose of the U.S. Military wasn’t ultimately or primarily for their own benefit.

Might there be an application here to the local church and it’s members?  I’m convinced there is.

Have local churches, by over-emphasizing  the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members, actually contributed to a foundational misunderstanding by their own members of the ultimate reason for the church’s existence?  I think so.

Have the leaders of local churches inadvertently communicated to their members that the “perks” of being a member of God’s Kingdom and a part of their local church are what is ultimately important and thereby relegated the actual ultimate reason to a “perk” that the members of the church have the option to participate in or not?  Again, I think so.

And if the above two observations have any validity, might it not also be valid that the pastors and church leaders have contributed and communicated these things because they themselves believe the “perks” are what’s ultimate?

I’ve probably stirred enough irritation with this post so I’ll shut it down for now.  But I will expand on these things in my next post by spending a bit of time pondering U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and some principles they operate by that perhaps pastors and church leaders can learn from.

oaks

A Second Wind

There arose another generation after them, which knew not the “Jesus People,” nor yet the works which they had done…

My three and a half year-old son, Ethan, is nearly four feet tall. Over the last month his voracious appetite has returned and he’s been in need of an afternoon nap again too. Last week he woke up complaining of pain in his legs; he refused to walk and wanted to be carried for much of the day. It’s not easy lugging a 50 pounder up and down stairs, nor explaining to him that he’s experiencing growing pains. Every Christian movement (denomination) has growing pains too. As a matter of fact, every organization experiences transitional tension.

I was completely unaware, when I stepped into the ministry 14 years ago, that the movement with which I’m associated was entering the throes of just such a time. In actuality, it’s unavoidable. Growth, in life, is inevitable; and if vitality is to be maintained, it must be welcomed. But in such times, when pains begin to emerge, the initial reaction of those at the top is the impulse to engage restricting mechanisms. They are tempted to employ means to moderate the discomfort of change, but if they are not careful they will effectively amputate the budding new growth of future life. Practically speaking, they will force the new life to find fertile ground for growth elsewhere. This happens both in the microcosm of a local church as well as on the larger scale of an entire denomination (In fact, this is how our movement got it’s start).

At this moment in church history, this is a fresh reality for the Calvary Chapel Movement. We are confronted with the difficult truth that the man whom God elected as the forebearer of this movement will, at some point, be called home to glory. It is absolutely certain that he has run the race well, and that there is now laid up for him a crown of righteousness as well as a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from the Lord. But it is also certain that those that have been called at this point to administrate this transition find themselves in a difficult position that requires delicate handling.

The temptation to “bronze the movement” and take this opportunity to identify, clarify and codify just what it means to “be Calvary” is very apparent. Steps have been taken in the last months to forestall such a move, but there are many questions that remain — and perhaps rightly so — unanswered. But in the midst of all this is the present reality that there is a significant demographic in the ranks of Calvary Chapel that do not share the common history of the Jesus Movement, nor the exciting things that defined it. They’ve grown up in an established church, with established structures (bible colleges, radio ministries, conference centers, youth camps, etc…). They, myself included, know nothing of a time before “The Word For Today,” “A New Beginning,” “Harvest Crusades,” “Murrieta Hot Springs” and “Chuck Tracks” vs. “Chuck Tapes.”

We want to see in our generation what we hear of only as anecdotal accounts of yesteryear from others. We desperately desire to run our leg of the relay, but feel hindered by those who began doing so at 18 and now in their 60’s look at us in our 30’s and question whether or not we’re ready to do so. The great oaks of our movement are in danger of stifling the life of those under them.

I’ll readily admit that we may seem a bit brash. Indeed, at times we may completely drive our older brothers crazy. We might come across irreverent or disrespectful. Please understand, we — perhaps I should say “I” — mean no disrespect and truly do esteem those that have pioneered the paths of pastoral ministry in our movement.

Yes, there may be some among our ranks that are “reformed friendly.” We may question the apparent fear of Calvin, but that does not in any way mean that hold a reformed soteriology. True, we may not speak as often of the rapture or hold prophecy conferences and end-times updates, but that does not represent a departure from a traditional Calvary Chapel eschatological position. Indeed, we “do ministry” differently than perhaps has been done over the last 30 years, but if it wasn’t emergent to be barefoot, in a tent, listening to Lonnie Frisbee, then neither are we.

I’ve been told I’m controversial. I recognize that I’ve ruffled a few feathers. My desire is not mere controversy; my intent is not to be critical; my only aim is to stir my brothers up to further love and good works. Should the Lord tarry, I pray that Calvary Chapel continues it’s run. But as an inside observer, I think we’re in need of a second wind.

pass-the-baton

Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

hearseesay

Self-perception or the perception of others? Whose do YOU trust?

Self-perception.  Is it ever accurate?  Jere 17:9

More than 25 years ago I had a conversation with a senior pastor that provoked my thinking and prodded me to do a completely informal survey with about a dozen other senior pastors that I considered friends.  The survey took place over a span of about 5 or 6 years and the fact that all of the senior pastors I spoke with had the same perspective has embedded what I discovered into my mind, never to be forgotten.  A few conversations that I’ve had recently, along with some things that I’ve seen written on a few blogs by other senior  pastors over the past few months have stirred up one of those discoveries that I made all those years ago.

Although I don’t remember most of the specifics of that original conversation, the point of ignition for my further thinking on the subject was a comment from my friend, the senior pastor, that ended with him making a statement similar to this, “…..I’m not really sure why things unfolded the way they did, but I do know that I’m a ‘people-person’.”

When I heard this brother describe himself that way—as a “people-person”, I was more than a bit surprised.  To be sure that I had actually understood what he meant, I asked him to repeat the point that he had just made.  And he did so.  He was convinced in his own mind that he was a “people-person”.   I now knew that he genuinely believed that about himself.  He had just given me his honest perception of himself.

Apparently, because of the look on my face at that moment and because we’d always had a very transparent relationship with each other, he told me that he could tell I wasn’t buying what he was saying and he asked me whether I agreed with his description of himself as a “people-person”.

And so, being the personality-type that I am, I told him that although I would describe him to others in many positive ways, his being a “people-person” would never be one of them.  And not only that, but I also told him that if I went around to the people who he interacted with on a regular basis and asked them to describe him to me, more than likely, none of them would him as a “people-person” either.

Now it was his turn to be surprised.  He asked me if I was serious and I reminded him that he knew better than that.  And this is where the conversation got even more interesting.

I then told him that through my experiences in management in the secular world, the graceful honesty of my wife and immediate family members who loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself,  and many principles that I had I learned from God’s word since becoming a follower of Jesus, I had learned to exercise extreme caution when it came to trusting that my perception of myself was actually accurate.

I said that I had learned that I if really want to know the type of person I am, the most accurate way to do that is to ask a close friend to go around and do a mini-survey of the 8-10 people that I interact with at least once or more per week.  I would give my close friend, the surveyor, very simple instructions.  He should ask each of these people individually, to describe ME in five or six different ways using a few words or phrases for each description.  And when my close friend gave me the responses,  I would accept that these people’s descriptions are more than likely the way that I actually am.  Even if those descriptions might not even be close to the way I perceive myself.

At this point, my conversation with my senior pastor friend turned even more interesting.  He told me that if those who know him best really wouldn’t describe him as a “people-person” it was either because they hadn’t gotten to know him well enough or because they had expectations of him that he could never live up to.

He really said these things to me.

That conversation ended with me challenging him to consider a few things, including the possibility of having a close friend doing something like the mini-survey that I told him about.

And then, as I said above, over the next few years I asked 5 or 6 other senior pastors some questions based on what I had learned from the original conversation with my senior pastor friend.  The questions and a summary of their answers went like this:

1.  Do you believe that you’re a “people-person”?  (All of them said “yes”)

2.  Would those who interact with you on a regular basis describe you as a “people-person”?  (Most of them said “yes”)

3.  But if someone other than you asked them to describe you to someone else, would they describe you to someone else as a “people-person”?

(All of them said, “probably not”)

4.  Whose perception is most accurate, yours or theirs?  (All of them said their own perception of themselves was more accurate)

5.  If your perception is the accurate one, what is the source of the mis-perception of others?  (In one way or another, they all said it wasn’t anything to do with them, it had something to do with the other people)

Although I believe that a fairly reasonable case can be made that a senior pastor should be a “people-person” along with quite a few other character traits, that’s never been what really bothered me.  What bothered me then and what has cropped up to bother me again today is the core issue of conflicting perceptions.

When self-perception is contradictory to, or the opposite of the perception of a group of other people who know us and love us, what should be provoked within us?

–Should we throw the burden on others to figure out what we already know about ourselves?

–Or, should we move forward humbly recognizing that our own self-perception hasn’t been accurate and that if we desire to be perceived in a different way, we might need to repent and be willing to change a few things in our own lives, and have those that love us help us make those changes?

And finally, referring to someone as a “people-person” is probably not taking place these days among the age groups under 40.  My guess is that rather than describing someone as a “people-person”, this younger group would more than likely describe that type of person as “relational”.

Either way, here’s a brief summary of what a “relational” or “people-person” does:

–Makes you not only feel comfortable in their presence, but makes your being with them so totally enjoyable that you can’t wait to hang out with them again.

–Demonstrates a genuine interest in you that shows itself through the questions they ask, the diligence with which they listen to your responses, and then the next few questions they ask you that are based on your previous answers to the questions they asked you.

–At just the right times, reveals their own thoughts, experiences, struggles, or victories in a way that makes them real to you and gives you confidence that they have a real connection with you.

–Never gives you the impression or the “vibe” that they are spending time with you for any other reason than a sincere desire to know you more so that your relationship with them can deepen and you can be a greater blessing to one another.

–Even when your relationship with them has a “task accomplishing” angle to it, you never feel like if you stopped accomplishing the task for them that they would no longer have an interest in spending time with you or caring about how you’re doing.