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Give Thanks!

The famous scholar, Matthew Henry, wrote these words in his journal after being robbed of his wallet, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”  Have you ever wondered how some people can be so thankful regardless of their situation?  I know I have!

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective.

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us.

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

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Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

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Gospel Conflict

Conflict and the Gospel go together. You might think this is an odd pairing, but it’s an inescapable truth.  I recently read an article by Winston Smith entitiled, “Getting the Big Picture of Relationships.”* This gospel conflict was highlighted by this article. Pastorally, I found this concept extremely helpful.

Conflict began in Genesis 3 when humanity sins against the Creator. There is a promise of an ultimate conflict in Genesis 3:15, where Jesus would go to battle against the devil and though he would be bruised, the devil would be defeated. Winston points out that conflict exists because of sin, which we all know. He also points out that the gospel enters into conflict for reconciliation. Sin makes conflict unavoidable. We cannot get away from it being in a broken world. Conflict exists between us and God, between one another, and within each one of us.

It is important then to view God’s activity in conflict. Jesus came and endured hostility from sinners (Hebrews 12:3), but also with the Father (Isaiah 53:10), in order to bring about our redemption. As Jesus is the ultimate display of love, we see that love will enter into conflict. Some love conflict, and so they look for opportunity to enter conflict wrongly. Some love the absence of conflict and avoid it at all costs. The gospel calls us to love God and thus be willing to fight against sin for God’s glory, and to love our neighbour, bringing us into godly conflict against sin with others for their good (Matthew 22:36-40).

Such conflict as Winston puts it “is a God ordained opportunity to participate in the triumph of God over sin. Biblically speaking, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of sin. Until sin is completely destroyed, there will be conflict, not as a curse on man, but as a curse on Satan. It is a promise of redemption and a sign of God’s grace that Adam and his descendants are to be instrumental in the destruction of evil.”

Here in the U.K., the culture is an anti-conflict culture, which means anything goes. But conflict motivated by love and a desire for God’s glory and people’s joy is redemptively waging war on sin.

So let us love our Lord, and love our congregations.

*The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 22, Number 3, Spring 2004 (Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, 2004).

Normal Church

NORMAL CHURCH: How should the Church ‘do church’?

I have no wisdom to share, no hobby horse to ride, no burning coal of encouragement or rebuke. Rather, I have a question that I admit I have no answer to. This is not a Rob Bell-esque attempt to stir things up by posing a question and pretending I have no opinion on the matter while secretly pursuing an end. I truly want to know more about something, and hope that those who read, comment, and lurk on this blog will jump in and share their Biblically educated thoughts that I may be further enlightened; that we all may.

Does God reveal a specific design in Scripture for what the Church should look like? To this I say “yes”. I actually could write a post on that: the Biblical description of who the Church is, our position, our calling, our purpose. But that’s not the question I’m curious about.

I’m wondering if God reveals specifically how the Church should worship, meet, pray, and go about being and doing those things we know that Scripture calls the Church to be and do. Was it intended to be the same for all time, or to change and adapt? Have we ever done it right? What is “normal church” supposed to be? Are the guidelines loose enough to allow for many different cultural expressions of “doing church”? I hope I haven’t muddied the water in trying to ask the question. Let me get really specific.

It’s clear from the Biblical record of the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest gatherings of the local Church bodies met in homes, open-air locations, and other convenient places held by members of the body of Christ. We see the earliest church praying together daily, and sharing their resources for the common good of the body of Christ. This was in Jerusalem. But we also see small glimpses into the lives of local Church bodies in Antioch, in Asia, in Greece. We see the weekly “love feast”, the sending out of missionaries, the appointing of elders and deacons. The call to teach and shepherd and discipline the Church.

As stated above I don’t have definite answers to all my questions, but from what I have studied it seems that the Church meeting together in “church” buildings didn’t begin until the mid 3rd century. Now it’s considered “normal” and even required by some groups. In fact, when I affiliated as a Calvary Chapel pastor it was a requirement that the local Church body I was pastoring met in an official building of some sort and specifically on Sunday. And yet the Church grew and thrived for over 200 years in homes, open spaces, and other properties they had access to through members of the Body. Was this God’s plan all along? To build up His Church in these places until the day when legal ownership of their own building would be possible, and then that would become the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan that the individual members of His Body would meet together daily until such a time as they were able to get by with Sunday mornings and maybe a mid-week meeting? Is the bi-weekly meeting God’s plan for the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan for His Church to share things in common and send aid to other local Church bodies in desperate need until they became big enough to have so many of their own issues that they need only worry about themselves? Was this His design for the new “normal”?

The Church in Jerusalem met daily. The Church in Corinth had love feasts and communion on Sundays. Was it His plan for those things to be temporary until we figured out a better way that would become the new “normal”?

Is our “normal” of today (and the last several centuries) just as flexible as the “normal” recorded in Acts? Or is our normal the end all? How can a pastor or elder have confidence that they are leading His Church in a way that He intended? In other words… how do we KNOW that a Sunday morning service with 30 minutes of singing/music/worship, followed by 30-60 minutes of expositional teaching, the collection of offerings, announcements, and maybe a potluck is how God truly intends for His Church to accomplish the mission of making disciples throughout the world? Or is it simply one of many ways?

Please don’t turn on the assumption afterburners and think that because I’m asking the questions I’m against these things or being contrary for the sake of stirring up conversation. I’m not entertaining some kind of dangerous doubt, or loosing the faith. If we can’t question and reaffirm why we do what we do in the name of Christ then we have no business claiming to do it in His name!

So, are these things done the way that we do them because God revealed that His Church should do them thusly? Or are they our interpretations of BIble and history and custom, tailored over time, institutionalised, and made comfortable via the vehicle of cultural adaptation?

If God never intended for there to be a specific Biblically mandated liturgy (beyond baptism and communion and the making of disciples throughout the world), then I’m okay with that. In fact it’s quite freeing to know that we can truly be lead by the Spirit within the bounds of common sense, cultural compatibility, and Biblical principles to carry out the work and ministry of the local Church body in the way He leads.

But if God gave us a specific design then what is it? If it’s what we see in the early church, then where in Scripture is it taught and why don’t we still do it that way? Why would a movement that typically decries the influence of Constantine’s legalisation of the Christian faith as “marriage to the world” then also cling to one of the chief results: the Church owning property and meeting in official buildings of worship rather than believers’ homes and other properties and open spaces in the community? Why was communalism okay then, but so heavily guarded against, and even sneered at now? Why was daily prayer and worship normal then, but beyond even the ability to imagine now (because people are busy with “their own lives”)?

If it’s what we see in the “normal” of today then where in Scripture is it taught and why didn’t the early church figure it out?

Or is it that those things were never normal and we’ve just misunderstood the record?

Or maybe they truly weren’t intended to remain “normal”, and the bi-weekly meetings of busy Body members with little to no real knowledge of each other and love of one another was always God’s goal? (Okay, I admit that one was opinion and a bit of bitterness masked in the facade of a question).

The thing is, it’s not normal in other places I’ve lived and spent time in. It’s not normal in many places I’ve heard from others about. What should the daily life and liturgy of the Church look like? Who got it right? The early Church? The African Church? The Indian Church? The Western Church? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? The Chinese underground Church? Or is there a “normal” or “right” way at all, other than just doing what is truly Spirit lead and best for the Body of Christ in each local Church body?

I know… lots of questions. Let’s here some of your answers. I’m really very curious and hope that many comment and share what they’ve learned from Scripture, prayer, research, and experience.

Thanks!

A Sobering Look Inward as a Parent

The tragedy from last Friday in Newtown is still bouncing around my mind. When I saw images of the children I literally lost my breath. It’s unexplainable and so sobering. We have seen tragedies like this at college and high school campuses but never something like this at an elementary campus with children so young. It provoked emotion in our nation that  hasn’t been seen in awhile. My heart and prayers go out to this community because it will be a long recovery.

Events like these always spark a debate nationally over things like gun control and mental health. I am not going to wade into that. What I would like to discuss is the personal level of this event.

On Friday I was spending the day with my wife down in Santa Barbara while my children were in school. No sooner had I arrived downtown that my phone started blowing up with texts, tweets, and emails about this event. It was hard to get an understanding because we weren’t near a TV but we got the kist of what was going on. You could almost feel the mood switch on State Street from jovial rushed holiday spirit to one of sobering reality.

When I got home they were reporting on the shooter and his family. They described his troubled youth, withdrawal from school, and his very quiet but brilliant nature. They were associating him with previous shooters at places like Columbine. As a person who has been in ministry close to twenty years and worked with youth for over half of that I recognized this type of kid immediately. What the news described as mental illness resides in millions of teens today. Sadly many young adults feel the way this young man feel but almost all of them don’t act on it. Many harbor thoughts of doing harm to people who have hurt them but never follow through.

I am of the belief that this could’ve been prevented. I am not talking about counseling or even intervention. The seeds of this behavior are planted early. Let me explain. You often see the beginnings of this type of behavior early on. Left on it’s own it only manifests itself. There are some things that can trigger it later in life, like in this situation the divorce of parents, but often you see the acting out of the child from the early stages.

This results a lot from the behavior of the parents. What I am about to say is probably controversial and even offensive but needs to be said. There is a lot of selfishness in parenting today that produces a lot of acting out by children. Let me give you an example. Tuesday night I was at my son’s basketball game. There are several players on the team that are behavioral challenges. The coach spends as much time chasing after these boys as he does coaching the team. On Tuesday the team was on the floor playing and these three boys were on the bench. They decided they were bored so they left and wandered into the lobby. The coach had to chase after them. The funny thing that all three parents were sitting right by the entrance to the lobby and didn’t stop them. Shocked? It’s really becoming the norm in youth sports.

There was a mother who was totally disinterested and by her body language didn’t want to be there. There was the mother who had her nose in her phone and wasn’t aware of anything going on. Finally there was the mother who had a glaze over her eyes and had checked out. There wasn’t one father present.

I think these three are perfect examples of why children are turning out the way they do. Whether it be disinterest, distraction, or disengagement all point to a parent that is more interested in themselves than anything else. I am not naive, parenting is the hardest work anyone will ever do. It totally wipes you out and never stops requiring more. I think that is what catches many of these parents off guard. For some reason they think they can go on living like they did before they had children. You Can’t.

Parenting takes everything you have and then some. If you don’t rely on the grace and power of God you aren’t going to make it. That said there are some things need to be done by parents that only parents can do. I want to suggest three:

  1. Discipline: What I mean by discipline is not punishment but consistency. I heard a great definition of discipline the other day; “Discipline is the consistency of actions and values over a long period of time.” Children need that kind of discipline. They need constant reinforcement of action and values to produce consistency. That means that they go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the right time every morning. They complete their school work and show up to commitments on time. Actions like these produce discipline that produces improvement.
  2. Behavior Modeling: Every child that I see who could fall into the dangerous category has behavioral issues. By this I mean that they tend to be shy and reserved. This is normal in most children but can be improved. They do this by watching their parents talk with adults and when they interact with adults they are made to respond. If an adult greets your child make them respond in a polite and respectful way. Shyness can be an excuse that many deviant behaviors are rationalized.
  3. Expectations: I am blown away at the lack of standards children have today. Hold your children to expectations. This may mean behavior, academics, sports, relationships. Parents are becoming more and more weary of confrontation with their children and so let them do whatever they want. When my children are playing a sport we have certain expectations of how they should play. It has nothing to do with stats but with effort. We have the same expectations with how they deal with their peers and adults. If you fall before these expectations we are going to tell them. Children are always testing to see what they can get away with. As parents we have to maintain a level of expectations with our children. They may resist but every rebellious soul resists what is right. We have to be that standard bearer in our children’s lives.
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Godly Fear (part 1 of 2)

Hundreds of times the Bible instructs others and us to NOT FEAR: don’t fear circumstances, don’t fear people, don’t fear the unknown, don’t fear difficult things, etc. But the one singular consistent thing that we are to fear… is GOD!

Psalm 33:8 — Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

We’ve all heard it said: godly fear is a great awe or reverence. Like watching a very large storm with raging winds, lightning, and thunder. But I believe that to be a very simple, incomplete answer. It’s so vitally important that we get this one right. Let’s look into it a bit further.

Proverbs 1:7 — The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

There is no real foundation for understanding and knowledge apart from a proper fear of the Lord. Without it all knowledge and understanding is fatally flawed:

  • origin sciences
  • psychology
  • astronomy
  • physics
  • chemistry
  • history
  • medicine
  • ethics
  • business
  • Theology
  • How to Make Disciples
  • How to Plant Churches
  • Preaching and Teaching
  • Blogging 😉

Proverbs 23:17 — Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.

To envy the ungodly means that you don’t trust the Lord; His plan, His purpose, His will. In order to truly trust the Lord you must properly fear Him.

Matthew 10:28 — And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

To fear anything or anyone else other than God is to not understand Him and trust Him. God alone is the ultimate authority and nothing will happen without His sovereign permission or decree. He alone should be feared, not any person or circumstance.

Matthew 28:8 — So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Here we see “fear” and “great joy” in the same context! What kind of “fear” is compatible with “great joy”? The kind that recognises the awesome power of a God-man who can resurrect to life and is overjoyed by this reality. Proper fear of God doesn’t reduce our ability to experience the joy of the Lord… it heightens it. It both primes it and catalyses it. A proper fear of the Lord is like oxygen to joy’s flame.

Mark 4:35-41 — On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

Fear of everything else but God is lack of faith in God because you don’t really know Him (“who then is this”). Conversely, to truly know Him and His character, and therefore truly trust Him, a proper fear of God is required. More than required, it is a natural antecedent to faith.

Mark 5:35-36 — While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Again we see the dual opposites: fearing man/circumstances/world is the opposite of fearing God. To fear man/circumstances/world is to think only carnally and put your faith in the things of this world which fail, rot, lie, hurt, and die. To fear God is to put your faith in Him and His perfection, sovereignty, power, love, grace, mercy, and will.

Luke 1:46-55 — And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 

Here we see the relationship between fear and humility which leads to God’s mercy. We cannot properly fear God unless we are humble. It’s interesting that the Bible does not list humility as a gift of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t talk about asking for humility. It only speaks of doing it:

  • Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:6)
  • Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5)
  • “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”. (James 4:6-7)
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
  • “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Pet 3:8)

Luke 7:12-16 — As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”

Their reaction to witnessing the power and majesty and authority of God was a fear which lead them to glorify God! Proper fear of God leads to proper worship of God.

Luke 8:37 — Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

There is an opposite reaction to witnessing the power and majesty and authority of God. In this case the people were not humble and therefore they didn’t express proper godly fear and submit to the power and majesty and authority of God. So instead of proper fear which leads to proper worship, they were fearing the wrong things (a fear of how God might ruin or interrupt or change their lives), which lead to the opposite of worship… rejection.

Luke 23:39-43 — One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Here again we see the dichotomy of proper and improper fear. One criminal fears death. He is thinking only of self and carnal things. He lacks the humility to admit his sin and fear God. The other criminal humbles himself, fears God, and asks for forgiveness. This man has a proper fear of God, based in the humility of knowing that he is a criminal and Jesus is the Judge; he is a vile sinner, and Jesus is a pure and holy Saviour; he deserves death and wrath, but Jesus does not, though He suffers it anyway.

Acts 9:31 — So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Here we see the connection between a proper fear of the Lord and the growth of the Church. Just as proper fear requires humility and leads to faith, God’s mercy and salvation, and encourages proper worship and joy for the individual believer, so it does the same for the corporate body of believers, the Church. The health and growth of the church was and is directly related to the proper fear of the Lord.

Acts 10 – This chapter tells the story of the Centurion who, along with his entire family, FEARED GOD.

Peter says that “in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” Cornelius and his family have a proper fear of God which leads to salvtion and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.

Romans 8:12-17 — So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

Those who walk in the flesh are slaves, seized with fear. Those who are sons and heirs of God are not seized with fear and do not walk in the flesh because the Almighty, powerful, majestic, awesome, glorious, merciful, gracious, loving, holy God of heaven and earth is their “Abba”! And yet they do fear Him.

So it seems clear to me that there is a kind of fear, truly fear, that is not only good, but a natural antecedent to salvation and true faith. In my next post I want to look at an example that may help us regain the ability to recognise this “good” fear, and embrace it fully in our faith and practice.

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Shooting with Civilians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

superhero

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Missional Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Jesus

“Follow Me” — The Essence of True Christianity

One Woman’s Story 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Commission

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

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

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

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

The Basis of Our Identity

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

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

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

Freedom from the Confusion of Religion

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

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

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

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

We Follow Not Knowing Everything About Where We’re Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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