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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Verifying Your Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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.)

 

vision_eye

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

In my last post I ventured into the topic of vision and discussed the first of five important aspects of it for pastors, that of receiving vision.  I explained how that receiving vision is as easy as desire.  But, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage is that they’re not always entirely clear.  Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out what it is that we’d like to eat.  The specifics of the desire are often indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us this time to the second aspect of vision.

2. Developing Vision

I’m sure you’ve experienced the aforementioned scenario before?  For my wife and I it seems to be a regular occurrence that looks something like this…

I’m really hungry”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know?”
“Do you want Italian?”
“No…”
“Mexican?”
“No…”
“Chinese?”
“Maybe.”
“Indian?”
“Definitely not.”

So it goes as we hone the desire from the general to the specific. This is the refining stage of visionary desire and is a very important aspect of developing vision.

As I mentioned previously, vision is not always entirely clear.  In this development phase it is important for visionary leaders to gather around themselves others with whom the can explain and cast the vision so as to refine the raw materials of it.  Such sounding boards must be comprised of the kind of individuals that are able to handle the abstract and not be bothered by initial ambiguity.  In this process the visionary desire is pared down from a wide 90° spread to 80°, then 60° and 45°, on down to a fairly focused visionary plan.  Most often is takes place through a prayerful interrogative process.

I find that this development phase can be easily overlooked or under-engaged.  If either one happens a vision can be wholly short circuited at this point.  Refining a vision is a must, but many times leaders that are uncertain or lack confidence will not allow themselves or their vision to be scrutinized.  It is important to recognize that as you subject your vision to the interrogation and scrutiny of others, you may not necessarily have perfect answers for every question.  It is the question itself and the process of discovering an answer to it — with the help of your team — that will rein in and refine the vision.

At the close of every calendar year  I begin proactively seeking The Lord’s vision for our church in the new year.  Sometimes that vision is drawn from a verse or passage of scripture, at other times (like this coming year) it is as simple as one word.  For 2012 our vision was “Enjoying God’s Grace and Extending His Glory.” My desire and vision for our church in the new year is simply “Reflect.” In many conversations with pastors and leaders in our fellowship I share the desire (i.e. vision) of reflecting God in both local and global contexts, and we ask the question, “what would it look like to be reflections of Christ in the context of local outreach, or men’s ministry, youth, young adults or foreign missions? As we do so the vision is reduced from general to specific.

Ultimately our pastoral team gathers for a 2 to 3 day getaway in the end of every year at which we pull together the specific details of our vision and plan for the new year.  It is through this process of vision development that we are able to write the vision making it plain and essentially ready for the next step, impartation/communication.

A few more key considerations are helpful at this point.  First, know your rhythms. Each of us have a different cadence or pulse. This is true as it relates to how we approach our day, week or year. As a result there are times throughout these cycles where we are more apt to catch creative current. By recognizing what our rhythms are we can take full advantage of them more effectively.

Secondly, know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend Gallup’s Strengthsfinder for this. If your strong in the areas of Stretgic and Ideation, then make sure you make time for solitary idea development. But, also make sure that you work to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Surround yourself with co-leaders who complement your abilities and you theirs. People like myself that are strong with strategic ideas need Arrangers, Activators and Deliberative Developers around them. Never feel threatened by co-leaders who are strong where you are weak, rather strive for effective communication coordination of tasks to best suit strengths.

Finally, vision often seems bigger than our capacity or ability to facilitate it. Don’t be discouraged by big vision or expansive obstacles.  It can be frustrating to have such vision, until you recognize God’s timing and abundant resources.  Be faithful to develop the vision you receive of Him and He will supply what is lacking.

Playing_Cards

Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

persistent-widow

Abysmal, or Improving?

It can be said, I suppose, that the curse of the ministry is busyness. Some of it is what I call  administrivia. Some of it is the result of techno-preoccupation (I’m guilty). Some of it is the result of having way too many things on our plates. Some of it is due to the fact that we’ve done a poor job developing men … leaders … guys that are called and passionate to serve Christ’s bride along with us.

No matter what the cause, the greatest problem of busyness is prayerlessness. The poll numbers have been in for some time. We pastors are abysmal pray-ers, as a whole.

In my last post on Cross Connection Network, entitled “I’ve Got to Pray More,” I wrote on the subject of prayer, and the ways in which I was encouraged to pray more while at the reEngage Church Planting Conference.

Today, I’m at it again. I am serious about ramping up my prayer life. Since I wrote, I’ve seen some serious answers to prayer. But I’ve only improved slightly in my prayerfulness. My take is that the Father is pleased with any new effort in this regard. Like a father encouraging a son learning to ride a bike, our Father encouraged me with quick results. And I am encouraged.

(I wrote this blog on Saturday, November 3). Tomorrow morning I’m speaking at a church in the Bay area of CA. My message will be from Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward, the intent of which was to stimulate His disciples to always pray and not lose heart. I picked that passage because I need it. It was a selfish choice, admittedly. Hopefully, the result … in the long run … will benefit many.

Here are the notes from that message. It’s almost in manuscript form, so it’s fairly easy to follow. Check it out, if you so choose.

www.billholdridge.com/Luke/We Ought to Pray Always.pdf

vision

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.