hope

The Only Hope That’s Left

For many years, I have pondered and taught on the inevitable downward spiral that takes place within a culture that suppresses the truth about God. Romans 1:18-32 tells the story. It is social and spiritual devolution—it’s God giving people what they want. They want a life without Him, and He gives them over to their own desires.

Living in a culture like Romans 1 describes is difficult and painful. The greed, murders, and all kinds of evil wear people down. “Life” becomes increasingly unlivable. People don’t feel safe, loved, or optimistic about future prospects. It can become a grind to just get up out of bed and face each new day. It’s not a pretty picture.

Romans 1:18 says that this downward spiral is the present manifestation of God’s wrath. God is angry at ungodliness and unrighteousness and the effort to avoid and ignore truth.

How are Christians supposed to live in such a place? Let me offer a few suggestions, if I may:

  • We are not to become self-righteous, but rather brokenhearted and empathetic. Romans 2 describes the moralist, the one who thinks that because he is able to criticize the sins of Romans 1 he is somehow exempt from judgment himself. We can’t be that guy. We need to follow Jesus, the One who wept over Jerusalem and paid for the sins of the whole world. We need to be like the Father, who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
  • We should engage the people living with us in this corrupt society, not withdraw from them. It would be easy, and is no doubt tempting—to isolate, move, disengage and remove ourselves entirely. But that would be a complete failure on our part to obey Jesus’ commands to be salt and light.
  • We should see the degradation of the culture as a great opportunity. The light of the gospel shines brightly in the darkness. The opportunity to be healed sounds wonderful in a hospital of sickness.

We really do need to be like Jesus. Jesus came as a missionary to this sin-laden planet. He was sent by His Father. He listened to His Father, He watched His Father, He obeyed His Father, He operated by the power and authority of His Father.

Now He turns to us and says, “As the Father sent Me, even so I send you.”

Therefore, we are sent by Jesus as missionaries. We are to listen to Him, watch Him, obey Him, and operate by His power and authority.

We’re the only hope that’s left. Christ in us is the hope of glory. There is no Plan B.

Cautionweb

Shooting with Civilians

I didn’t grow up shooting.  Maybe once, or twice, but nothing that made a real impact on me.  I learned to shoot in the SEAL teams.  From the get go, safety was hammered down my throat.  Things like, “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot”, “Never point your weapon at anything your not willing to destroy”, “A gun is always loaded”, and so forth and so on.  The threat of doing something unsafe or “sweeping someone” (i.e. inadvertently pointing a weapon at someone) would result in severe discipline or being kicked out of the program altogether.

With this fear set deep within us, the instructors let us handle the weapons.  We started slow with learning their components and breaking them apart and reassembling them, then static shooting (i.e. standing still on the range while shooting) progressing over time to very dynamic shooting (i.e. shooting while moving with a lot of moving parts).  As we progressed in these shooting scenarios, the threat of dangers increased because of odds of human error significantly increasing.  But everyone had been carefully trained in safely handling the weapon at all times.  Safety became second nature.  We went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, to a full blown sprint with the things we were doing, but gun safety was hammered home from day one and never was eased.  We were safe because the level of training we received on the weapons.  My time in the SEAL teams has made it virtually impossible to feel comfortable shooting outside of a military or law enforcement setting.  I’m sorry to offend anyone, but civilian shooters can be dangerous and goofy on the range.  I try to avoid it altogether.

This thought popped into my head the other day when I mulled over these verses:

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible describes itself as a great weapon.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is described as the only offensive tool the believer has been given.  With this truth, I think there are some lessons from shooting that I can apply to Bible study today.

Take a gun safety course.  I believe in safety with the Bible like I do with guns.  After becoming a Christian, I realized that I would often play “Russian Roulette” with the Bible.  I would open it flip through pages and just stop somewhere.  I had no idea the big picture of the Bible, the overriding theme, or anything really.  I didn’t know where to begin or how to handle this book of the Bible.  I literally could have made it say anything I wanted it to.  I see myself then and I was equivalent to a toddler playing with a loaded weapon!  As a pastor now, I recognized that many new Christians are not given any orientation class to the Bible.  If this is you, I would suggest reading a book like Howard Hendricks book, “Living by the Book” that will help you learn about hermeneutics–the art and science of studying the Bible.  I would also encourage you to attend faithfully a church where the Bible is taught in a systematic (i.e. Book at a time) way so you learn what Bible study looks like.

Never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy.  This rule in shooting makes the point that every gun is loaded and should be treated as such even if there is no bullet within a 100 miles.  Never loose your respect for the harm a weapon can cause people or things.  This point, as it relates to the Bible, is difficult to articulate.  The Bible is God’s Word, we must handle it very carefully.  When we quote it, we are sharing a Word of the Lord to encourage, rebuke, or shape one’s thoughts about something.  Unfortunately, I have seen many use the Bible in a way for self interest or personal gain.  I would like to urge us to use extreme caution as we are interpreting and applying the Bible.  Certainly this is true as we relate it to others.  It concerns me when I see people cutting and pasting the Bible to prove themselves right on a particular point instead of humbling themselves under the Word to discover the truth.  The Bible should never be used to win an argument, although the Bible has the power and authority to settle arguments if this makes sense.

Perfect practice makes perfect.  There is a saying, “Practice makes perfect” that the SEAL teams don’t agree with.  As I began shooting, one of the sayings I heard early on was, “Perfect practice makes perfect!”  Bad habits are hard to break and bad practice only conditions bad habits.  Because of this truth, I would encourage every believer, whether you’ve been a Christian for 1 day or 30 years, to grow in the practice of hermeneutics.  It’s never too late to start.  The sooner you are equipped to study and apply the Bible on your own, the faster you will be equipped to serve your Lord.  Paul said this to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  This command applies to all believers as far as I am concerned.

Some closing thoughts.  Let me be clear, every believer has the Spirit to guide them in the study of the Bible.  God has revealed His Word to us and has said this about it, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We have been entrusted with the use of a very powerful book.  I pray that we would take the time to learn how to read, study, and apply in our lives!

superhero

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

I love how imaginative my kids are. Ethan (4 years old) and Addie (soon to be 3) have super vivid imaginations (I’m sure Eva does too, but she’s only just turned 1).

The other day while driving home from Costco we had one of their movies playing in the back seat. During the “moral of the story” wrap-up the main character told the kids, “You see you don’t have to be a superhero to help people.” Without a second thought Ethan quietly responded, “Yes you do.” In his mind you do, and in his world we are all superheroes. In fact, if you were to ask him which superheroes we are… I’m Mr. Incredible (he’s a smart boy), Andrea is Firestar (he made that one up), he is Spider-Man (or Ironman, or Captain America), Addie is Elastagirl and Evangeline is Dash. Ethan has a vision. He lives his vision and he loves to bring others into it. Bringing others into your vision is what impartation is all about.

In my last post on developing vision I spoke of casting the vision to those leaders closest to you for the purpose of moving it from the general to the specific. Although some aspects of development carry over into impartation, impartation is the real incarnation of vision in the hearts of others. At this stage the more specifically formulated vision that has been developed in step two is now imparted to the larger body so as to make the idea a reality. At this point there are three important steps in birthing the vision in the hearts and minds of the body.

REMIND the people of what God has done previously. At the beginning of each year at CCEsco I spend 2 to 3 weeks imparting vision for what is on the horizon and I always begin first by reminding the body of what has happened in the previous year. I share how the Lord has provided for the work and opened new doors of opportunity. I remind the body of what they gave in support of the work and how that has practically impacted our community and the world; and we take time to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned as a result of what we’ve seen and been apart of.

Once we’ve taken some time to rehearse what God has done and is doing, I then ARTICULATE the vision of what God has called upon us to do in the new year. This articulation is not an in-depth treatise on every detail of the vision, but rather a simple overview of what we’re desiring to accomplish by God’s grace. As much as possible I believe that it is important to be as concise and precise in communicating the vision as the details of it can be expressed more fully later. Think of impartation as a form of inception.

As you rehearse what God has done and articulate what He is preparing to do it is essential that you then ELICIT a response from your hearers. In so doing it is important that you provide easy on-ramps for them to step into the process of making the vision a reality. Don’t just paint an abstract picture of what could potentially be, but provide practical ways in which the body can participate.

In Exodus 25, as Moses was still receiving the vision for the tabernacle, he began to impart the vision to Israel and prompted their involvement by requesting an offering. This offering was the initial spark that involved and employed their participation in making the tabernacle a reality. It [the offering] gave the people a practical way in which they could be a part of the birthing of the vision.

 

The Missional Myth

A term you may hear thrown around a lot these days is the word Missional. You may have wondered what it meant, who was behind it, and who is being Missional. The church loves to name movements within. We have had the Great Awakening, The Azusa Revivals, and The Jesus Movement to name a few. Recently movements with in the church haven’t necessarily been revivals but instead methods of doing ministry. It started with the Seeker Sensitive movement (Attractional) which was counteracted by the Emergent Church movement. I am not going to define any of these movements but instead take a look at the movement of the moment which is the Missional Movement.

Now some would argue with me that Missional isn’t a movement but the true way to do church. We are all missionaries and we are to go and be missionaries in our communities, hence being Missional. If it was that easy I wouldn’t be writing this blog. In fact when I first heard of Missional and what it was my first thought was “Duh!” Unfortunately there isn’t one definition for being Missional. Tim Keller in his book Center Church identifies four definitions and then goes on to give his own.

The Missional movement, first defined in 1999, is really a morphing of many different movements. You will find a large section of Reformed pastors describing themselves as Missional. You will also find converts from the Emergent movement as well as the Attractional movement all jumping on the bandwagon. So what is the Missional movement? It is a push to get the church to look outward towards the lost in the community instead of inward. It is a movement to de-emphasize the position of the pastor and to lift of the Priesthood of all Saints.

Here is my issue with this movement. It over emphasizes social justice as a way preaching the Gospel. It  over emphasizes community over congregations. It also elevates contextualization over content. What I mean by that is that there is far too much emphasis put on not offending people with our message and that we need to speak in terms that they will understand. The over-arching reasoning that a Missional person uses is that our culture is changing fast and so we as a church needs to change as well. We are no longer a Christian culture (Christendom) and so we need to adapt to the culture. My objection to this is that the first century church wasn’t born into a Christian Culture and spent the first 300 years, not relating to the culture of the day, but instead sticking out.

The Missional movement celebrates the Mars Hill method of reaching people, reasoning with them. The irony of this it was Paul’s least fruitful ministry place. Right after Athens Paul went to Corinth and we see him attempt another tactic…humility. He preached Christ and him Crucified and that’s it! Corinth was a place that even our culture would blush at today yet Paul experienced great fruit in that city. Instead of the church trying to adapt to the culture what we need to do is strip ministry down to the basics and humbly preach Jesus Christ.

Here is the mythical part of this movement. It is a lot of theory but there is very little effectiveness going on. We can talk all day about equipping people to be on mission in their community or workplace but we aren’t seeing a lot of it. I am all for reaching the community but to me this movement seems like a repackaged concoction of a bunch of previous movements that have recently passed.

Follow Jesus

“Follow Me” — The Essence of True Christianity

One Woman’s Story 

A couple of weeks ago in our Men’s Bible Study Calvary Chapel Santa Cruz we looked at the subject of repentance. For many guys, a surprising aspect of that study was the fact that repentance is not only for the time one initially responds to Christ. Repentance is for Christians as well as non-Christians.

Our study that night began with a story of one woman’s repentance. Here is how her story began:

 “After 23 years of being active in church life, I was burned out. I was tired of trying to live the Christian life, and in my heart I knew I was only giving lip service to the Lordship of Christ. My heart had become cold and calloused. I sought escape through sleep (having been addicted to over-the-counter sleeping pills for years), hobbies, novels, television—anything to fill the void and to avoid facing the barrenness of my life.”

This woman suffered from what many church goers suffer from … she had no idea what it meant to have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. She didn’t know what it really meant to follow Him.

She was active in church life. She was active in the mechanics of the church, the activities of the church. (But the church is first and foremost supposed to be a fellowship of believers, not an organization; the church exists for God and for each other, and as witnesses of Christ to the world around us. The church doesn’t exist for the purpose of maintaining its existence.)

She was tired of trying to live the Christian life. Somewhere along the line it became her burden to live a certain way. She was trying to do what many people end up doing … she focused on rules she should obey, spiritual practices she should engage in, the group she should be a part of. All of it was the thinking that if I perform … if I obey … I’m accepted. The gospel is the opposite: the gospel says to the true believer that because you’ve identified with Jesus Christ and are in Him, you are fully accepted, therefore you obey. Jesus Himself actually comes to live within the true believer, by the Holy Spirit, to give us what we need to live this life. It’s Christ in us, the hope of glory.

She knew in her heart that she was only giving lip service to the Lordship of Christ. Outwardly, she was acting like other people thought she should act like, at least in public. But in her heart she was a mess, and she knew it. Jesus was not her Master, her Lord, in the day-to-day, moment-by-moment things of her life. She was a hypocrite, because her heart and real, inner life were the opposite of her public, external life. In her real life, she was addicted to drugs, and addicted to mind-numbing activities all designed to keep her from facing the truth about herself. She was miserable and depressed. She started blaming her husband, living in a dream world in which she imagined living life without him. She began to think about divorce…

Happily, this woman’s story ended well, and is ending well. She became so desperate that she cried out to God, for Him to do a work in her life. She admitted to God her sins borne of pride, took responsibility for her own attitudes and actions, and quit blaming her husband. She turned from her destructive, mind-numbing behaviors. She allowed the Lord to revive her heart, which He did.

Prior to her repentance and personal awakening, this woman put the proverbial cart before the horse. She put the doings of the Christian life before the identity of the Christian life. Many do the same thing today. Like this woman, many of us need to learn the difference between religion and relationship; between duty and devotion; between law and love. Jesus calls us into relationship first. The responsibilities He gives us and commands He lays upon us flow from that relationship.

The Great Commission

The church is commissioned to evangelize the world and make disciples of Jesus. The Lord Jesus has called us to follow him (discipleship), and then help others to do the same.

This entire process is unique, according to the tradition of the Jewish people. In their culture, students chose their rabbis (teachers), not the other way around. A student would observe a rabbi, learn about his teaching and influence, and then say to him, “I want to study with you.” If a rabbi was noteworthy, he would have many such requests. But Rabbi Jesus calls us to follow Him, to be His students. The message in this is clear: calling is on Jesus’ terms. No one can have a relationship with Jesus unless He calls them into it. It’s a privilege by invitation only, and only from Jesus Himself. Thankfully, we’ll see that He does call anyone who desires to follow Him, to follow Him.

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”                                                 (Matthew 16:24)

This is an inestimable honor. Imagine a human king or president inviting us to spend just a single day with him. We’d have quite a story to tell, memories to share. It would be an unforgettable experience. Yet our Lord Jesus … who is the King of kings … calls us to follow Him, to spend each and every day with Him. There are conditions, of course. We’ve got to say no to the self life. He must have full access to us—to our hearts, our wills, and our decisions. He is Lord, and totally expects us to treat Him as such.

The Basis of Our Identity

In most cultures in the world, their family is the basis of their identity. The family name, the family reputation, the members of the family, what your father does, what he is within the community … these all reflect on the individual. An individual is the product of his/her family.

Not so in relationship to Jesus. He demands allegiance beyond our human families. In fact, if we can’t put Him first within the context of our human family, we’ll have to leave our family to follow Him.

We are human beings, not human do-ings. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. The only real and true thing about us is what God says. For the true believer, what God says has to do with who we are in Christ.

Freedom from the Confusion of Religion

We desperately need to be freed from the errors and confusion of religion. The truth is that it’s all about Jesus, the God-man, our Savior, the Messiah, our Lord and God. If it’s about Him, it won’t be about religion (in the negative sense of the word).

When Peter said to Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he was saying to Him “You are the Messiah, the One whom all the Law and the Prophets said would come. You are the Son of the living God, the Lord of glory, equal to the Father, very God of very God, the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The One who commands the winds and the sea, who raises the dead and gives life to whom He wills, who heals every kind of disease, who taught with the authority of God Himself (“I say unto you!”), who forgives sins (because He is the One we have sinned against), who was crucified on a Roman cross, and who raised Himself from the dead three days later, is the same One who has invited us into His life to follow Him. Because of who He is, He is supremely worthy of being followed.

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”                                          (Matthew 16:24)

We Follow Not Knowing Everything About Where We’re Going

We start out on this journey with Jesus not really knowing where it’s all going to lead us. 

When I was called to follow Jesus, I was in the process of completing my college degree so I could go into coaching and teaching. I soon realized that was not what the Lord wanted. So then I floundered around a bit … headed over to the city of Orange, CA to apply for a position with the fire or police department. That wasn’t it, either. Not what Jesus wanted. Then one day I took the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00 o’clock, and asked the Lord to direct my steering, so He would show me where He wanted me to go.

I was like a child; I had no idea what it would be like, and the things that would actually happen. I was like a young man sitting with his fiancée in the pastor’s office, doing premarital counseling. Almost every young couple I’ve ever met with was pretty sure they understood what marriage is all about. But marriage is a journey.

So is this Christian life, following Jesus. It’s a journey for every true follower. For the pretender, or for the one who wants to do Christianity in moderation, it’s boring or wearisome.

Following Jesus, we only need to stay close to Him and we’ll find out what who we are, and what He wants. I don’t need to know everything about the way, only that He is the Way.

Imagine Paul: he was told how many things he would suffer, and that he would bear Christ’s name before the Jews, Gentiles, and even kings. But he probably didn’t know that after some early “success,” he’d be spending 8-10 years of his early walk with Christ in his hometown of Tarsus.

Phillip most likely didn’t know that after serving the Grecian widows in the Jerusalem church, he’d end up leading many Samaritans to the Lord. And then when the Lord told him to leave Samaria and go south to the desert, he didn’t know the reason. Then after finding the Ethiopian eunuch and leading him to Christ, he had no idea how he ended up at Azotus. All he did know was that he should continue on following Jesus.

No one who follows Jesus sticks with his/her own plans. That’s the essence of following Him. It’s not about trusting our own hearts or leaning on our own understanding, but it is about trusting Jesus Christ and asking Him to lead and guide us in every part of life … in our relationships, in our work, in our service, in everything.

Many have become convinced that the Christian life is about doing Christian things. 

  • The Christian life is about feeding the poor. 
  • The Christian life is having and maintaining a devotional life.
  • The Christian life is being missional.

But all of these approaches are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

When we do that, we get stuck like the woman in the beginning of this blog. The so-called Christian life bears no actual resemblance to the real thing. That “life” is boring, binding, and blinding.

The actual life we have in Jesus is exciting, freeing, and eye-opening.

It’s sad that so many today are being called only to “accept Jesus.” In reality, that’s only the beginning. The real thing begins when we follow Him.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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)

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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.)