spheres

Sphere’s of Gospel Sovereignty

Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Prime Minister of the 19th Century, developed a concept known as Sphere’s of Sovereignty. The idea is that different principalities hold different authorities in different areas in different ways. Last week in our Sunday gathering we were considering the Great Commission as presented by Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus says to his disciples in this passage, “ALL authority is given to me.” This would have seemed a radical statement to make to a group of marginalised peasants out in the sticks of the Roman Empire. But it’s true.

We live in a society that has authorities in different spheres. People go to work under their employer’s authority. They live in a nation under government authority. They live life in familial structures, in contexts of social authority. We are all dominated by authority structures and these are not a bad thing. Authority is God-given, but some authorities over-step their mandate. There is an authority that reigns supreme. All these domains of authority exist within the realm of Christ’s authority. It all belongs to Jesus. Kuyper, in speaking about spheres of authority says this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'”

Gospel Spheres

The fact of the matter is Jesus trumps all authority claims. The work place assumes authority that says, “you can’t mention Christ here.” Families assume authority that say, “Christ doesn’t have dominion over the skeletal closets, and familial practices.” Governments assume authority which says, “There is no place for your God here.” Society assumes authority that says, “Don’t talk about faith, that’s a private matter.” Religiously assumed authority says, “Every faith is equally valid, your faith is no more valid than mine.” But there is an over-riding all-legitimate authority. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me… Go…”

The Great Commission is about responding to a higher sphere of authority. Paul was subdued by political authority being placed in chains, but he said the gospel is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9).

GOSPEL Fears

There are other spheres of authority though. These are the spheres of our idols and fears. Sometimes, it is the unnamed things that wield the true weight of authority in our lives. The authority of approval says, “If you tell me about Jesus, I will no longer accept you.” The authority of comfort says, “To make disciples of Christ is work, and you will no longer be able to maintain your comforts.” The authority of control says, “If I make it clear that I’m a Christ-follower, I will no longer be able to control people.” The authority of superiority says, “This person doesn’t deserve to hear the gospel. I do not want to see them as my equal.” What fear or idol is assuming the authority in our lives and the lives of our church families? These are forces to be reckoned with. But here’s the answer. Jesus has all authority over every sphere. He is Lord of all.

The Great Commission is responding to Jesus’ All-authority, over all peoples, to obey all Jesus’ commands, recognising his empowering presence at all times and in all places.

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Dig Up the Old Wells

And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. (Genesis 26:18, NKJV)

I am a fan of this passage, and its present application as it pertains to church life. Last week, Jon Langley introduced the question about how to do church. From my perspective, Genesis 26:18 helps greatly in answering the question.

(Note: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached his incredible series on revival based largely upon this text, but that won’t be my subject here. For that treatment, check out the book. It’s called Revival.)

The passage tells about Isaac—young Isaac, inexperienced Isaac. As he began to move about in the land and enjoy/obtain the promised inheritance, he encountered some difficulties with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In spite of these difficulties, Isaac was blessed and became very prosperous.

Things were going well for him when he came upon some wells that had been dug by his father Abraham. Although these wells had been earthed by the Philistines for some reason, Isaac felt it well worth the time and effort to unearth and re-dig the same wells. Apparently he sensed that these wells were valuable, having been dug by his well-respected father. Not only did he re-dig the wells, he revived their names. He called them exactly what they’d been called when Abraham had named them at first.

The connection between this story and the present day question of how to do church seems obvious to me. The application of this connection may not be so obvious.

If we’re going to do church today we should do it in view of history, in the light of what has been done before. Like Isaac with his father, we should respect the work of those who have gone before, and we should build upon any solid, Christ-centered foundation they have laid.

So how far back do we look?

As far as the church is concerned, we have to go back to her Founder, namely Jesus. Sadly, in far too many places even His well has been covered up. Living water isn’t flowing in such places, to be sure. Jesus is the One who said that He would build His church. Paul later added that no other foundation could be laid than that which has been laid. The foundation is Jesus Himself.

(Pastor, here are questions for you: is the church you are pastoring built upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know Him well? Do the people know Him well? Are the grace and truth of Jesus part of your personal and church DNA? Is the sole aim of the people to follow Him? Is it your sole aim to follow Him? Is He your example for love and grace?)

We must also look back and re-dig the wells of the apostles and prophets. We do this primarily through the study of the NT epistles and the book of Acts. We don’t need to look around today nearly as much as we need to look back. We look back to Romans for soteriology, to Ephesians for ecclesiology, to Colossians for Christology, to James for practical Christian living, to the book of Acts for the pattern of ministry in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, we look back and re-dig the Christ-centered, apostolic wells that are evident from church history. When we find such wells, we drink deeply and wisely, constantly measuring water quality through the tests of Christocentric and Biblical revelation.

And when we do look around at current methods of doing church, we’re in a constant evaluation mode. Is this thoroughly Biblical? Does it appear in the nature and teaching of Jesus? Is it found as a pattern anywhere in the book of Acts? Is there specific teaching on it in the epistles? Does it square with the two great commandments?

Isaac would have been extremely unwise (and disrespectful) had he decided to just pass by and ignore those old wells. So it will be for us, if we only look around at what others are doing … and fail to look back to what has gone before within the plan and purposes of God.

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

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

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

– John 15:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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!

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What in the Worldview….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paying the Cost

In my last post I introduced the idea of remaining vigilant in the process of growing in grace, and not doing the easier things of life and ministry as a means of avoiding the harder things, or next things, that need doing. I used the metaphor of caber tossing and triathlons as a means of expressing those things that come easier to me versus those things that I tend to avoid like the plague.

I said I would write in my next few posts about those things that can be very hard for many of us, so in this post I want to explore “paying the cost”. “WHAT?” I can hear the theological gears going into overdrive in response to a phrase like that. “Jesus paid the cost! What kind of craziness are you proclaiming here?” Before I lose you in your own theological tangent, follow me to Luke 14:25-35.

In this oft mentioned portion of the Gospels we read about “the cost of discipleship”. The standard sound byte we hear associated with this passage is “counting the cost”. I say, “wrong!” If we look closer at the passage we see that the metaphors Christ used involved both counting and paying a cost. That was the whole point, in fact. If you don’t count to see how much you have to invest in the endeavour before you begin then how can you pay what’s necessary to carry out and complete the task? When it comes to discipleship, we must not only count… but pay.

Before answering the call to foreign missions there was an admonition from others to “count the cost” in advance. I did so. I truly searched my heart, surmised certain scenarios and circumstances, imagined ill-fates, focused on hard realities and uncomfortable truths. I carefully considered the costs! And after much meditation and prayer concluded that we, as a family, understood the costs.

Some of the “costs” I had counted were in relation to my children (aged 9, 6, 4, and 11 months at the time). I counted the cost that I was separating my children from their grandparents who loved them dearly and loved to spoil them. I counted the cost that my children wouldn’t be able to see and play with their friends any more, that they wouldn’t have English-speaking kids all around them, making it much more difficult to make new friends and playmates. I counted the cost that my children would only be able to bring a couple of their toys with them in the move, and not get to enjoy cartoons or the latest instalment of “Ice Age” at the movie theatre. I counted the cost that they would have to eat very basic diets and be cautious of dangerous creatures. I counted the cost that my children might be unhappy, uncomfortable, and upset, that they would be exposed to life-threatening illnesses and in the worst case scenario even death. These were the costs I calculated in regards to my children.

But counting and paying are two different things!

These costs were easy enough to calculate, but very difficult for me to pay because I often struggle with viewing success as a father as heavily dependant upon my success at blessing my children with fun, toys, activities, friends, playmates, food they enjoy, and entertainment. Even though I know better, I’m honest enough to admit that I still have a hard time in this area. So for me this was, and is, a “hard thing”; a cost easy to count but painful to pay.

I thank God — truly, truly thank Him — that some of the costs that could have been required were not. We still have all of our children. In fact, we gained two along the way! I thank Him that some of the tolls on our road weren’t as high as they could have been. Though two of our youngest girls had a deadly strain of malaria on a couple of occasions and our oldest son contracted Tuberculosis while on an outreach to an extremely remote village, we all still have our overall health. But even now, as we have left the more physically threatening environs of East Africa and live in the more modern world of small-town Ireland, I still struggle to pay the cost of not being able to bless and spoil my kids! It sounds silly in comparison to the costs I was willing to pay in so many other areas. But as I said in my last post, different things are hard for different people. Not being able to afford to take my kids to McDonalds — or by them treats or snacks or toys or ice cream — is still a cost painful for me to pay.

Counting and paying are two different things.

I bring this up only as an example. Many times it’s easy to think we’re moving forward in sanctification and growth because we’ve become experts at counting the costs, talking about the costs, telling others about the costs, but we still avoid wilfully paying the cost the way a fat man avoids a triathlon (yes, I’m fat so I’m allowed to say that).

Shepherds… we can blog about how pastors or churches should do this or change that, telling others how important and necessary it is, and yet never really do it ourselves. We can teach about true discipleship and yet never make any true disciples. We can preach about holiness and yet never implement church discipline for fear of the potential financial implications involved. We can proclaim the importance of church planting and yet never implement a plan to plant a church. Scriptures tell us not to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Are you an ox that treads grain, doing the hard things and paying the cost of discipleship by the power of the Spirit? Or are you an ox that pontificates on the nature of grain and grain-treading?

Sheep… we can talk about how “the church” should do this or that or the other, but never be the ones to do it. We can agree with the pastor that we need to support local outreach and foreign missions more but never give a dime towards it. We can ask for prayer for our neighbours’ salvation but never share the good news with them. We can make a stand for righteousness come November, but not live and walk in the light of Christ’s righteousness in our thoughts, in our homes, and in the secret places of the heart year-round. Scriptures call us “the body” of Christ. Are we paying the cost of discipleship that the Spirit has empowered us to pay by moving according to the commands of the Head? Or are we spastic and undisciplined members of the body, moving on our own and even against the signals from the Head?

Counting and paying are two different things. But the Spirit gives us the ability to pay!

If I were going to actually enter a triathlon there would be MUCH to count as far as costs go (not many 6’3″ 340lb men in triathlons). I could talk about the triathlon and the costs involved in entering it. I could even sign the forms to enter, preach every Sunday about how good and necessary it is, and encourage others to enter as well. And doing all of that would probably make me a popular pastor. But it wouldn’t make me a healthy pastor… a true leader of God’s sheep… a disciple who does the hard things God calls him to by the Spirit of God, for the glory of God, and the good of the Kingdom of God.

Please pray for me, and consider yourself as well. May we as shepherds (and sheep, too) go beyond our mastery of counting and get to the often difficult duty of paying the cost of discipleship — a spiritual discipline made possible by the Spirit of God in us. Christ has laboured in this discipline before us, and bids us to be yolked to Him and join Him in the unexpected joy of slavery.

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By Any Means Necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

risk

Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?