What-if_

What if…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this simple phrase.
To me it speaks of possibility.
It speaks of transformation.
It speaks of the ways and thoughts of God.

What if…

…we made the greatest commandment our greatest commitment?
…we remembered that you can’t fulfill the great commission by neglecting the greatest commandment?
…we lived out the reality of the resurrection?
…we really chose not to worry or fear?
…we were as committed to unity as those who tried to build the Tower of Babel?
…we were really servant leaders?
…we love our wives as Christ loves the church?
…we didn’t use the ministry to keep us from having to interact with God?
…we viewed the church as a disciple making organism and not as a business?
…we stopped thinking that we had the right to share our opinions and stopped judging another man’s servant?
…we really believed in Jesus’ power to reconcile?
…we were really overflowed by the Holy Spirit?
…older pastor really mentored younger pastors?
…those same older pastors allowed younger pastors to be who God made them to be?
…younger pastors realized that they don’t know what they don’t know?
…we truly prayed without ceasing?
…movements and denominations didn’t resist the continual reforming of the church?
…churches gave their savings to the work of the kingdom in the least reached countries in the world?
…we truly died to ourselves?
…we stopped defining ourselves by what we are against?
…we realized that men will know that we are his disciples by the love we have one for another?
…we only cared what God thought?
…the church stopped being trendy and started being timeless?
…we truly fed the poor?
…we were more Christian than American?
…we were concerned enough for people to actually really share the life-giving gospel with them?
…we stopped snuggling up to the proclivities of our culture?
…we talked to people in person rather than behind their backs?
…if we truly feared God?
…we became the servant of all instead of lording our position over people?
…loved the whole world as God does?
…we lived out the grace that we proclaimed?

Perfect Bride 1

THE PERFECT BRIDE?

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-8

 

“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [and be] their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4

 

If there is a day on which a bride appears nearly in a state of perfection it is  her wedding day.  She isn’t wearing old and tattered clothing.  Whatever perceived flaws of skin and appearance are covered.  For many brides the joy of being united to their groom in marriage subdues even the most negative dispositions or would-be sources of discouragement on that day.  Little things that would seem monumental on any other day seem to fade away into insignificance at the joy of how she looks, feels, and what she is experiencing.

 

So it will be with the Bride of Jesus Christ (the church) in a similar way on her wedding day, yet her perfection will be entirely literal.  The scars she now bears will be utterly healed.  Her struggle with sin and unfaithfulness will be transformed and redeemed.  Her vulnerability to deception and discouragement will vanish.  God’s Word goes so far as to tell us that every tear will be wiped from her eyes.  Death will hold no threat in her life anymore.  And the greatest of all gifts is that she will never be separated by time, space, or sin from her glorious Groom, Jesus Christ!

 

The Bride

In the Bible the Bride is symbolic of the  church.  She represents all of Jesus’ people who are His through faith in the biblical gospel.  If you know that you’ve offended God in your behavior, thought-life, and attitude toward Him, there is good news! God came to earth as the Man Jesus Christ on a rescue mission of love for you.  Knowing you could never live a truly righteous life from the inside out, Jesus fulfilled that requirement for you.  He lived a perfect human life in your place never acting unrighteously at the level of thought, desire, emotion, or behavior for you.  He took the penalty you deserve to undergo because of sin.  The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death and Jesus died in your place for yours sins on a roman cross some two-thousand years ago.  Further, while on that cross He became a propitiation for you.  This means He soaked up the wrath of God the Father which was directed at your sin like a sponge soaks up water.  And victory of victories, He rose from the dead conquering satan, sin, demons, death, and hell on your behalf.  His offer of love is that if you understand your sin and trust in all He did for you to be a sufficient remedy to your sin and a bridge between you and the God from whom you are separated, He will forgive you.  He will clear your spiritual record forever.  He will consider you His perfect child, and part of His perfect Bride, in spite of your enduring imperfections in this life.

 

Already/Not Yet

Faith in this gospel brings the believing person into an already/not yet relationship to individual perfection.  Positionally, because of our faith in the gospel, we are already considered perfectly righteous because our proverbial spiritual bank account has been credited with the very righteousness of Jesus.  This is due to what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange.  At the cross Jesus took all of my sin. At the moment I trusted in the gospel Jesus credited me with all of His righteousness.  This Great Exchange makes us positionally perfect in this life.  And yet, practically and experientially we are not yet literally perfected until we as the Bride are united to Jesus our groom in the age to come.  Until that time we still sin, struggle, and wander at times.  But even in the hardest of times we have hope because we know that “He who began a good work in (us) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)

 

Application

What the already/not yet reality of the Bride of Christ means for us today can be looked at from at least two ways:

1. Pastors need to keep working toward a perfect church with perfect Christians, but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians prior to the wedding day.  Lately I’ve found myself dealing with a lot of heart-breaking sin in the lives of God’s people.  Fornication, adultery, marital conflicts, sectarianism, and other things seem to abound.  At times I’ve found myself wanting to think that somehow our church is disturbingly special in our consistent experience of these things.  But when I surveyed the writings of the New Testament recently what I saw was that nearly every book contained words of necessary rebuke and exhortation to sinning Christians, and an imperfect Bride.  Pastor, the reason that letters containing rebuke about sexual sin, relational sin,and  rebellion are the letters God saw fit to govern His Bride for all time is that those problems would persist in ALL generations of her stay on earth, including ours.  If you really seek to be the church and lead the people to holiness we should expect dealing with an imperfect bride in our hearts and churches to be the norm.  The reason we as people need pastoring is that we are not yet a heavenly people, though we will be one day.  Keep working toward spiritual growth and maturity in yourself and the body, but don’t think you and your church are special because you don’t hit that mark before the wedding of the Lamb.

 

2. Christians need to keep working but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians on earth as well.  One of the most common and saddening things I see in the church is people quickly leaving their local church when they’ve been offended by another sinner.  God’s call to us is to hold each other accountable and be willing to be held accountable.  If we continue to simply go find another group of Christians to hang out with at every little offense we face we will never learn how to pursue reconciliation with others through the gospel, our offenders will never grow because of a lack of loving but firm accountability in their lives, and we will continue to bounce from church to church as we are let down by the reality of offenders causing offenses in every house of prayer we enter.

 

Exhortation

The Bride of Christ is already perfect positionally, but we have a long way to go practically.  Let’s all look forward in eager anticipation of that day of perfection when we meet Jesus together face to face, and let us practice the grace of the gospel toward one another in the meantime as the Holy Spirit trains us together in this life for that final and only true utopia.

Is Jesus Coming … Soon?

When I began seriously walking with the Lord in 1973, there was much talk about Jesus coming back. Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth had been out for a few years by that time, and had created quite a stir among many Bible believing Christians. The signs seemed to be everywhere. Matthew 24 prophecies (generalized signs) were being fulfilled. Israel was back in the land (miraculously) and was an independent state. The nations of Ezekiel 38 and 39 were being identified as current countries with a common agenda: wipe out Israel. At Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Pastor Chuck Smith would sometimes bring newspaper clippings into the pulpit as a commentary on the prophetic passage that we were studying that day. On the back wall of the Calvary Chapel bookstore was the statement, Jesus Is Coming … Soon!

I remember clearly the Yom Kippur war (October, 1973). Egypt and Syria opened a coordinated surprise attack against Israel on Israel’s holiest day of the year. On the Golan Heights, approximately 180 Israeli tanks faced an onslaught of 1,400 Syrian tanks. Along the Suez Canal, 436 Israeli defenders were attacked by 80,000 Egyptians. At least nine Arab states were involved in the attack in one form or another. Somehow, in spite of direct assistance from the Soviet Union, Israel fought back and survived the onslaught, but not without major losses (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/73_War.html). So much was happening on a global scale that confirmed the prophetic word (Daniel 12:4, 6-10). But obviously it wasn’t God’s time for the rapture and the eventual tribulation period to begin.

Every day I lifted my eyes and looked up (Luke 21:28)—certain that I and millions of others would be snatched up into the clouds to meet the Lord Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). In my mind, the Lord’s coming was imminent. There was no way that I would live to be as old as I am now. Jesus was coming back—soon and very soon we were going to see the King. Yet here it is … almost 40 years later … and we’re still here.

Has my belief in the 2nd coming of Christ left me? Not a chance. Have I altered my eschatology to adjust for the delay? No way. I’m as convinced as ever. Jesus is coming … soon!

What I have learned over the years is that I/we must be patient, and wait for the Lord’s perfect timing. This is not only true of the 2nd coming, but also of all of life. Patience is a requisite virtue. “Wait” is an important command. Difficult to obey, but vital to observe. God possesses unsurpassed wisdom. He knows what He is doing. Always.

The N.T. book of James speaks directly to this issue of the 2nd coming and our need to wait. (I love this passage.)

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. {8} You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, NKJV)

The following is taken from my devotional on the book of James. I hope its application will be a blessing to you today.

With the anticipation of God’s righteous judgment (James 5:1-6), there is also the hope of Jesus’ return. We want the Lord to set the record straight and end all the pain and oppression of man, but we also know, as Bob Dylan once sang, that “He’ll replace wrong with right when He returns.” We view the Second Coming as our blessed hope (Titus 2:13; John 14:1-3). All will be well when King Jesus shows up!

But we must be patient. Jesus will come in the exact proper time.

How do we prepare for the return of Christ? We watch, we pray, we stay busy with His work, we abide in Him, and we also wait patiently. It’s not always easy to do this, as we so deeply long to see our Savior’s face (Psalm 17:15; 1 John 3:1-3).

The farmer is a perfect example for this. He waits patiently and is entirely dependent upon the seed, the land, and water from heaven. He doesn’t waiver in his hope that a rich crop will result. So we are to consider the farmer as we learn to wait for our Lord!

James Application Questions

1. How would you describe the intensity of your hope in Christ’s Second Coming? Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. If it’s a low number, why is that so in your life?

2. In what ways will waiting patiently for the Lord’s return help us in relating to people, especially difficult people? Perhaps John 3:16-18, Matthew 7:1-2, and 1 Corinthians 4:5 will help you with your response.

3. Find, discover the meaning of, and pray the last prayer of the Bible to conclude today’s devotional.

directions

A Text – It’s Meaning and It’s Significance

As we are almost at the Christmas holiday, I have found myself teaching at a number of different places. I taught a midweek service at Cornerstone Napa (Bill Walden’s church). I taught this past Sunday at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA (Bill Ritchie, and soon to be me). Finally I will teach this Christmas at Calvary North Bay here in Mill Valley. What is fascinating is that I have taught the exact same text (Luke 2:1-7) all three times. But although teaching the same text, I have taught three different messages.

You may be saying, “How is that possible?”. Let me explain it to you. I have been highly enamored with what E.D. Hirsch described in his book “Validity in Interpretation” as the difference between the meaning of a text and its significance. The meaning of the text is what the original author wanted the original hearer to understand and was thus attempting to communicate. This speaks to the original intentionality of the author. The significance of a text would then be what the text means to the hearers in our present context. This is the Spirit’s intentionality in applying the text to a specific and local congregation. This drawing out of the significance for today is something that Eugene Peterson calls Contemplative Exegesis (on a side note, if you have never read Peterson’s books specifically on the pastoral ministry, boy are you missing out! He has 5 books specifically on pastoring and they are rich, searching and disarmingly personal). John Stott spoke of the same idea by saying “We need to find both what meaning of the text is and what it means for us today.”.

What I have been realizing is that Biblical exposition should be equal parts meaning and significance. We need to explain what the text meant from the author to the original hearers AND how these concepts speak prophetically into our current context. I have found a usual leaning in most Bible teachers to one or the other position. There are teachers who think that the only way to teach is to give the meaning (and unfortunately often malign those who focus more on the other position). They say that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to make application (which is true of course). Or there are those who only explain its significance for today (and never even think to do the socio-historical work to understand a text in its original context). I have sought to find that proper middle ground where each message is an explanation both of a text’s meaning and its significance.

So, now back to my three different messages on Luke 2:1-7. At Cornerstone in Napa, Luke 2:1-7 was explained both in its meaning (about the sovereignty of God (in getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem) and the humility of God (in the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth). But its significance was about doing ministry in an incarnational way. Allowing the radical identification of Jesus with humanity to be an example for us on how we out to interact with those outside the church. At Crossroads in Washington, I explained the same meaning of the text. But that message was about ‘The Calvary Road to Bethlehem’ and how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth mirror our experiences as we travel the Calvary Road of discipleship. Each verse had its own application. My teaching at Calvary North Bay (which will be on Friday, December 23rd) will have the same explanation of meaning. But the significance will be different seeing that it will be my last teaching at the church before I move north. So the significance of that text at this moment for the precious folks at Calvary North Bay will be unique to our collective experience.

Leadership Multiplication 1

MULTIPLYING LEADERSHIP

“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”[1] ­– Luke speaking of Jesus


“I also look at the men God gathered around me and I sort of chuckle as I see the ones that God has used…The whole purpose of God is to choose those who really aren’t qualified, but then to anoint them with His Spirit.  Then, when the results are forthcoming, it’s an amazement and wonder to the world.”[2] – Chuck Smith


One of the most interesting things about the ministry of Jesus is that He selected leaders to train who would one day lead His people before He began gathering followers.[3]  He called men to Himself.  He called them to spend long seasons with Him away from their families.  He called them to leave their former occupations and come after Him.  And as you read of the ministry of Jesus in the synoptic gospels you see that these men hardly left Jesus’ side for three years.

Jesus and Leadership Multiplication

What’s all of this about?  It was about training the future leaders of His people.  In addition to spending lots of time praying alone with the Father, preaching to large crowds, and being available to serve individuals He came across who were in need, Jesus spent a ton of His time training leaders.  The twelve apostles were constantly sitting at His feet learning.  Generally speaking, Jesus would spend time formally teaching them in a small group settings.  This would be followed by giving them opportunities to serve.  He would send them out to preach, baptize, and work miracles by the Holy Spirit.  After these field trips the apostles would then come back to Jesus and He would give them more instruction, and the whole thing would begin again.[4]

As the story of the New Testament unfolds, Jesus spent three years teaching these men, testing these men, and allowing them to watch Him work.  At the end of that time Jesus died for our sins, was buried three days, and rose from the dead.  He then spent forty more days giving the apostles the last bits of information and training they needed before ascending back into heaven from where He came and pouring out the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost.  From that moment when they received the power of the Holy Spirit those men began to lead Jesus’ people in His physical absence, under His leadership, in accordance with the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

The Apostles and Leadership Multiplication

Fast-forward in the book of Acts and you find the apostles training other men after the pattern of how Jesus trained them.  In the missionary journeys of Paul you often see him traveling with a group of companions who were assisting him and learning from him.[5]  After serving faithfully alongside Paul and being tested in regard to personal gifts and calling, young men like Timothy and Titus were placed as pastors over local churches they had assisted in planting.[6]  The Apostles practiced Jesus’ example of multiplying leaders for the people through apprentice and assistant style training, and placed new leaders over new church plants wherever they went.[7]

Early Church Pastors and Leadership Multiplication

The teaching of the New Testament is that this element of intentionally training leaders in an apprentice style system wasn’t to stop with the apostle’s individual ministries.  Paul wrote as much to his assistant Timothy when he was pastoring the church in Ephesus: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”[8]  Timothy was to see carrying on this method of multiplying leaders, which began in Jesus’ training of the twelve and continued in the apostles’ training of early church pastors like him, as a major part of his duties as a pastor.

 

You, Me, and Leadership Multiplication

I would suggest that the mandate to multiply leaders after the example of Jesus and men like Paul and Timothy is as real for church planters and pastors today as it was in the first century.  In seeking to follow the example of the New Testament in this area I began to pray for a church planting team when I sensed Jesus was going to move us to Utah to start Refuge Church.  The Lord provided a great team for the task.  When we held our first service, though we only had about twelve people in attendance, we had a small worship team, Bible teacher, and Sunday school teacher prepared to serve.  All of these roles were filled by six adults Jesus put together for our church planting team.

In addition to prayerfully putting together a planting team when we started the church, we also started Refuge School of Ministry when the church began to grow and become more established.  The school of ministry is designed to be a church-based context in which men who sense a call to ministry and church planting can get theological instruction, character strengthening, and spiritual gift and calling discernment through practical service opportunities.  Usually our class times consist of our pastors teaching and praying with ten to twelve guys who sense a call to ministry.  The Lord has blessed this venture in faith in huge ways.

A Command to Leaders

We didn’t start the school of ministry to be cool, or because we saw a burning bush telling us to do so.  We did it in response to the example of Jesus, the apostles, and the command of 2 Timothy 2:2.  My challenge to you if you are a pastor is to ask yourself if you’ve taken the command to multiply leadership seriously enough.  If not, why not?  If you are an aspiring church planter, pray that God would give you the right team to assist you.  With a team you can not only do far more than you could on your own, but you will be able to begin training leaders from day one who will be able to assist you, and perhaps even plant more churches in the future.  Hopefully you don’t just want to plant a church, but a church-planting-church.  The fact is that if you don’t pray and work toward multiplying leaders you will never have a church-planting-church in the long-run.  The Lord wants to train others through you.  Let Him.

 

Sending New Leaders

The Lord is fulfilling the vision he gave to us at Refuge Church to be a church-planting-church.  He is training men in our midst.  He is giving clarity on place, timing, and methods for planting new churches.  We believe that as we train men and pray for the Lord’s leading He will continue to reveal specific the men He is calling and gifting to plant more churches from within our local body.  This conviction is born out of what we see in the book of Acts.

“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’  Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands of them, they sent them away.  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went…”[9]

Exhortation

 Is this dynamic happening in your leadership team?  If you’re looking to plant a church, is the training of new leaders something you’re already praying over as you prepare to step out in faith? Multiplying leadership is a New Testament church planting mandate.  Brothers, let’s do our job.


[1] Luke 9:1-2 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Pages 107 & 108

[3] See Matthew 4:18-25

[4] The Master’s Plan of Evangelism. Is a great resource that explains Jesus’ method of training and discipleship.

[5] Acts 20:1-6

[6] 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5

[7] Acts 14:23

[8] 2 Timothy 2:2 NKJV

[9] Acts 13:1-4a NKJV

multiperspectival 1

PASTOR, WHO HAVE YOU BEEN MEETING WITH!

“Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.’”[1]

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”[2]

A hot topic in the body of Christ in North America these days is the issue of unity.  Simply, followers of Jesus are wondering about what kinds of churches and Christians they can affirm and hang out with.  Can a Calvary Chapel Christian hang out with a Reformed Christian?  Can a seeker sensitive church affirm a fundamentalist church?  Can a pastor who favors expository preaching go to lunch with the topic-driven preacher across town?  Can we develop meaningful relationships with anyone outside of our immediate denomination, movement, or dogmatic theological persuasion?  Let me share some things from a couple different meetings I’ve recently attended that have caused me to revisit the issue of unity in the body of Christ amongst pastors and congregations afresh.

A Tale of Two Meetings

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to gather at two different meetings with two different unity dynamics.  The first meeting was with four pastors including myself from different denominations, theological and educational backgrounds, and churches with different philosophies of ministry.  The second meeting was with most of the Calvary Chapel pastors of Northern Utah and their wives.

Meeting with the Calvary Chapel Camp

At the meeting with the Calvary Chapel pastors and wives there was lots of good fellowship, food, and encouragement.  It was a good chance to get to know each other better and pray for what God is doing, and just catch up.

The unity factor in this meeting was primarily founded on the Jesus of the Bible and the biblical gospel.  But there was more to our unity than Jesus and the simple gospel.  That particular group had what we could call wider doctrinal unity as well.  In addition to the essential doctrines of orthodox Christianity we shared similar perspectives on philosophy of ministry, theological issues like eschatology and soteriology, and the method of Bible teaching (expository preaching).

Points of Greatest Impact

Having unity in Jesus and His gospel was definitely the most important thing to this group.  But it is true that we also had a special connection over secondary issues like those named above.  We agree on many things that a person doesn’t need to affirm to be considered a born-again Christian with a genuine relationship with Jesus.  I enjoy having wider doctrinal unity with friends.  It’s fun to talk about and appreciate our unique role in the body of Christ locally and globally.  So, enough about that; let’s move on to the next meeting.

Meeting with the Multi-perspectival Camp

My other meeting was with some pastors from a multi-perspectival frame of mind.  In this group, instead of having wider doctrinal and methodological unity, we had what you could simply call gospel unity.  This is because, beyond the biblical gospel, we have differing perspectives and practices on a number of things.

One of the pastors is definitely the guy with the coolest church in town.  They’ve got an awesome building, awesome music, inspiring messages, lots of art and technology, and all that good stuff.  They do really well reaching the un-churched and younger generations in the Salt Lake Valley.

One of the other pastors at this meeting is a seasoned man with lots of wisdom and experience.  He is from a Dutch Reformed background, and serves in our area as a sort of pastor of pastors helping planters and their families stay healthy and network together.

Another pastor in the group has been a prominent leader regionally in the Evangelical Free Church, and is now one of a number of teaching pastors at one of the largest churches in Northern Utah.  The church at which he serves gets much love and criticism in our area because on the one hand they seem to be reaching lots of people. But on the other hand they are seen by some as a kind of Walmart style church because they’ve successfully worked through a few church mergers which resulted in one multiple campus church which used to consist of at least four independent churches.  No matter what your opinion is about the philosophy of ministry of this church, the truth is that Jesus is using them to save many people in Northern Utah.  They are being used greatly by the Lord to reach Mormons and former Mormons in our area, and I praise God for that.

Lastly, there was me!  I am the lead pastor of a Calvary Chapel affiliated church called Refuge Church in Riverdale, UT.  If you were to come to our church you’d typically find loud music, one hour expository sermons, and an atmosphere of love.  As of the time of this writing we are planning our sixty-sixth baptism in the past fourteen months which is to take place on Christmas day because Jesus has been graciously saving and changing lots of people through a less than two-year-old church-plant.  Most of the people whom Jesus has saved at Refuge are burnt out on religion because of the influence of the predominant religious institution in our state.  They are normal people, with human problems, looking for a God of grace and transformation.

Obviously, this group of pastors could come up with many things on which they have differences of perspective and practice.  Some of us prefer topical preaching while some of us prefer expository preaching.  Some of us have a more Arminian bent when it comes to salvation, and some of us are decidedly Calvinistic and Reformed.  Some of us preach for thirty minutes, and some of us preach for over an hour.  We could potentially go on for a while listing differences of perspectives, doctrinal positions, and methodology represented by each man at this meeting.

Points of Greatest Impact

In all of the differences one might be able to deduce from the men represented in this meeting, it wasn’t our differences, but the things in which we had unity that impacted me most.

Confession time: In the past I have definitely spent much of my time beating up the body of Christ with which I don’t have wider doctrinal unity.  I’ve been one of those guys content to read only books by guys I have full or at least buzz topic agreement (certain bents on the finer points of soteriology, etc.).  I have been content to mainly hang out with Christians and churches I have almost total agreement with, while criticizing any church or pastor that seemed seeker sensitive, topical, emergent, and on and on and on.

Time for more confession: I had even had some of the thoughts and emotions described above toward some of the ministries represented by the pastors who were with me in the second meeting.  About five years ago, the Holy Spirit worked me over in regard to my sectarian mentality, and I’m thankful for that.  Sometimes that residue of sectarianism still creeps up and I have to kill it, and the pride that spawns it in my heart.  This meeting helped me do that again.

I saw a number of things in this meeting that both challenged and encouraged me which spurred me on to write this post:

1. These guys showed love for our brothers in Christ that I wasn’t sure I possessed.

The entire point of this meeting from the perspective of these men was to figure out how they could bless Utah church-planters.  They didn’t care if the guy was Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Reformed, Arminian, or what, as long as they stood for the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel.  I saw in the eyes, and heard in the voices of these guys a love for other brothers that was born simply out of the reality of being brothers in Christ with them!  I honestly didn’t know if that kind of heart was beating in my chest with the same genuineness and grace I sensed in these men, and I prayed for it silently right in the meeting as the Holy Spirit was challenging me through what I was seeing.

2. These guys showed incredible love for me which I knew I didn’t deserve.

Additionally, I was humbled by the love these guys had for me.  As I sat and listened to these guys I couldn’t help but wonder how I had ended up at a meeting with men Jesus was using so much.  And yet, it didn’t matter to them that I was younger, different in some ways, or whatever.  They believed we could work together for the good of the kingdom beyond our wider doctrinal and methodological issues, and they were glad I was there.  They even wanted to hear my ideas!

3. These guys really are on the same mission to which Jesus has called me and the church I lead.

No matter what differences the men in this meeting have, we have the more important things in common.  We worship the same Jesus, preach the same gospel, and advance the same kingdom.  Those common bonds are greater than any differences we possess, even important differences.

4. These guys really do have the same enemy that I do.

This last point was perhaps most impacting for me in regard to unity.  As each man shared about spiritual warfare in their life, it occurred to me that we were not only unified in our Savior and mission, but in our enemy.  Each man had dealt with spiritual warfare in the form of demonic dreams, depression, and sickness.  We’d dealt with all the same kinds of satanic opposition to the work Jesus had called us to complete.  As we talked about the struggles and challenges of serving Jesus in a demonically oppressed place like Utah, it suddenly became even clearer that we are certainly not fighting for different teams at the end of the day.  We go about the fight differently.  We emphasize different weapons at times.  But when it comes down to it, we’re fighting for the same kingdom, and we’re fighting against the same enemy.

Exhortation

If you struggle with sectarianism, repent and be blessed.  Whoever isn’t against you is for you.  I’d encourage you to meditate on Luke 9:49-50 and see what the Holy Spirit has to say to you.  Let’s enjoy the wider doctrinal unity we have with other believers, churches, and pastors in our unique theological and methodological camps.  But let’s also enjoy simply having gospel unity with those outside our specific camps.  Find and pray with pastors and Christians of other backgrounds.  Develop relationships of encouragement with them.  The very witness of the gospel depends upon it.  Let me leave you with a prayer of Jesus He offered to the Father on behalf of all of His people, world-wide, of all generations:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”[3]  

 


[1] Luke 9:49-50 NKJV

[2] Psalm 133:1 NKJV

[3] John 17:20-21 NKJV

Discipleship 1

Making Missionary Christians

“Do you love Me?…Feed my sheep.”[1] – Jesus

“…the church exists for the edifying or the building up of the saints; to bring the saints into full maturity so that they might engage in the work of the ministry.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“Preach and teach the Word—the very life of the church depends on it! It has the power to save lives, change lives, and give life.”[3] – Brian Brodersen

When men who are called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God preach the gospel, people become new creations.  They come to spiritual life for the first time.  This is what happened on the day of Pentecost.  The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are told that upon hearing the gospel from the lips of this imperfect but Spirit-filled man who was chosen by Jesus, over three-thousand people believed in Jesus and became born again.[4]  We may not see three-thousand people come to Jesus when we preach, or maybe we will.  What we can be sure of is that if we are called to plant churches someone is going to come to Jesus from time to time when we preach the gospel.

 

The Vision of Jesus for His Church

The truth is that Jesus doesn’t just want people to be saved; He wants people to be discipled.  I like to think of a disciple as a spiritual apprentice.  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven He told the twelve: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”[5]

 

According to Jesus you need to do two things to become a disciple: First, you need to get baptized publically demonstrating that you have repented of your sin and trusted in His work on the cross for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Second, you need to begin learning to live by His commands as explained by the apostles and prophets to whom His commands were originally given.  The cool thing is that we have access to the commands of Jesus that were received by the apostles today in the pages of the Bible.  This means that people today can be born again through faith in the gospel message, and then become disciples by being baptized and beginning to learn to live by the teaching of Jesus that we find in the Bible.

 

Missionary Training Centers

Church planters need to see the local church communities that are gathered through their preaching as missionary training centers.  In fact, Jesus’ original intent for giving leaders to His church is that those leaders would teach His people, disciple His people, and train them in the Word that they might be able to serve Him effectively in their individual callings.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this in Ephesians four: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[6]

 

Each type of Spirit-gifted man listed above has in common the fact that they are all communicators of God’s Word in one way or another.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers all have their own version of a Bible communicating ministry.  According to Paul, Jesus gave men with these gifts to the church specifically that through their teaching the rest of the church would be equipped to serve God in their respective callings.  This is discipleship!  Gifted Bible teachers teaching Christians to obey Jesus’ commands for their lives is the picture in Ephesians four, and it is Jesus’ plan for how His command to make disciples is to be accomplished.

 

This means that churches that are merely evangelistic are only doing half of their job at best.  Jesus style churches don’t just get people saved by giving them the gospel; they equip and disciple them through teaching them the Bible.  The other side is true as well.  If a church is only focused on deep teaching and doesn’t charge the people to take what they learn in the Bible and put it into practice on mission in their personal lives, they are merely encouraging spiritualized consumerism.

 

Getting Our Priorities Straight

If you want to be a church planter, you must have this straight.  If you don’t set up systems for discipling new converts and training Christians in the Word you will never have a missionary church that is going into the world to do the work of the ministry.  You will have a bunch of unhappy baby Christians who are so hungry because of a lack of being fed the Word that they will eat each other, and you.  If you feed them the Word you will see the love of God in your church.  You will see Christians mature in their relationship with Jesus and start living like Jesus.  You will see them begin to share the gospel in their lives.  You will see them take care of one another.  And yes, you will see those who merely want to consume and never contribute hit the road.  But the result will be that you will have a vibrant local church that really is a missionary training center that is being used by Jesus to advance His kingdom.

 

I want to leave you with a biblical picture of the first local church that was birthed by the gospel, nurtured in a community of discipleship, and used to bring many other souls into the kingdom as a result.  This can be your church if you do it God’s way.

 

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  Then fear came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” [7]

 

Summary and Exhortation

That dynamic, Spirit-filled, loving, sharing, and kingdom spreading local church began as a group of newly saved Christians who, “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine.”  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Do it.


[1] John 21:17a-c NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel. Page 3.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 10.

[4] Acts 2:41

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV

[6] Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

[7] Acts 2:42-47 NKJV

contextualization 3

CONTEXTUALIZATION

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”[1] John the Baptizer speaking of Jesus

 

“Ritualism is nothing more than a rut, and the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length and depth.”[2]Chuck Smith

 

 

Something that has always existed in the Calvary Chapel Movement is the practice of what is known as contextualization.  The basic idea behind contextualization is allowing people and churches to express devotion to the core non-negotiable elements of Christianity in ways that are natural to their cultural background.

 

Contextualization and Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel did this during the Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  At a time when most people wore suits to church and sang only hymns in their services, Calvary Chapel allowed the thousands of hippie kids who were coming to Christ to come to Jesus and the church just as they were.  Pastor Chuck wouldn’t allow the kids to feel as if they had to take a shower, put on a suit, and start learning hymns if they wanted to follow Jesus.  Instead, he allowed them to come into Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in their bare-feet, dirty clothes, and eclectic styles.  They let the kids express their love for Jesus in new songs they were writing in different musical styles than the old hymns that churched people were used to singing.

 

Whether people were calling what Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel were doing “contextualization” or not, that is exactly what it was.  The hippies came from a different culture, and as they came to Jesus they weren’t forced to adopt the culture of established Christianity in its forms and traditions.  They were allowed to let their new love for Jesus and commitment to Him be expressed in forms and styles appropriate to their own culture, and this openness provided many more open doors for sharing the gospel with the hippies.

 

The Biblical Example

Many people don’t realize that Jesus Christ contextualized His ministry.  Jesus was a cross-cultural missionary.  He came from the kingdom and culture of heaven to a specific kingdom and culture on earth.  Jesus came to a specific place, at a specific time in history.  He ate the food of the culture He was in.  He attended the festivals and observed the customs of the culture in which He lived.  He spoke the language of the people of the day.  As He taught the truth of God He used illustrations and parables with which the people He was ministering to could relate and understand.[3]

 

Paul would carry on the great missionary example set by Jesus as he practiced contextualization as well.  When he knew he was going to be traveling through and preaching the gospel in an area where many Jews lived he actually went so far as to have his pastoral assistant Timothy circumcised, even though the poor dude was nearly thirty years old at the time![4]  Why? We know from books like Galatians that it had nothing to do with Paul believing circumcision had anything to do with one’s salvation.  Paul was contextualizing.  This was the level of Paul and Timothy’s missional commitment.  They were removing an amoral barrier to communication that would exist between them and their Jewish audience so that the people would give an ear to the gospel they preached.  He and Timothy were willing to lay down their rights in amoral areas to win a listening ear with lost people and we should be willing to do the same.

 

Personal Story

When I was pastoring a church in Idaho a group of us used to go to the local nursing home and do ministry once a month.  We would usually sing some hymns and then give a simple gospel message.  I remember on one occasion as I began to open in prayer a Mormon woman in her seventies yelled out, “Hey! You better fold your arms!”  What was the problem?  In LDS culture it is a sign of reverence to fold your arms and bow your head when you pray.  She didn’t want me praying irreverently in her presence and so she wasn’t going to let me go on with the meeting until I folded my arms.

 

So what did I do? I folded my arms!  I didn’t do it because I had to, but because I wanted to.  I know Jesus didn’t care whether or not I folded my arms, lifted my hands, or laid on the ground when I pray to Him.  So it didn’t bother me one bit to fold my arms.  But it would have bothered this woman greatly if I didn’t, and she wouldn’t have tuned her ear to one word I had to say from that moment on.  So, the meeting when on, I preached the gospel, and about a month later through a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit that same woman got saved!  Sensitivity and flexibility to cultural issues matters greatly at times.

 

No Compromise

Inevitably when the subject of contextualization comes up people pull the compromise card.  They say you want to water down the gospel and the teaching of the Word with all this contextualization business.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Expressing his commitment to contextualization Paul said,

 

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”[5]

 

Now, notice that Paul didn’t merely say he didn’t do certain cultural things to win a listening ear with lost people.  He said he became certain things to win a listening ear with lost people.  He temporarily adopted cultural and even religious practices that were amoral for the purpose of removing barriers to people hearing him out in regard to the gospel.  Paul’s flexibility in this enabled lost people to hear the Word preached and become saved through faith in Jesus.  But it started with Paul contextualizing so as to win an ear with the lost.

 

So what does this have to do with compromise? The same man who wrote this in his passion for contextualization also wrote, “even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”[6]  Was Paul into contextualization? Yes.  Was he into compromise? NO!  Contextualization is about having flexibility in forms and methods, not the message of the Bible.  As church planters we need to work to practice contextualization in our methods and yet remain unyielding in our no-compromise commitment to preaching the unadulterated truth of the gospel specifically, and the rest of the Bible generally.

 

What a Culture is Vs. What it is Becoming

Sometimes the best way to contextualize is to become the opposite of what a culture has historically been.  This is something I’ve learned while doing ministry in Idaho and Utah.  Utah is a predominantly Mormon state.  That being the case, most people think going to church includes wearing collard white shirts, dresses, singing songs that are at least sixty years old, sitting through a boring two or three hour weekend service, drinking water for communion, and trying not to fall asleep as you struggle through the predictable monotony every week.

 

Some might be tempted to think that contextualizing to reach people in Utah must mean designing your church services to be like what I’ve described above so that Mormon people will feel comfortable in your service, and therefore be able to hear the gospel.  To be sure, this might be a good thing to consider in some cases.  But I have found the opposite to be the case at Refuge Church.  What we have discovered as we’ve done church in a more casual and free way is that it is a breath of fresh air to people who have grown up in a very formal church environment.  People love that church is just about normal people who don’t have it all together getting together informally to worship a Savior who truly does have it all together.

 

So the point is this: Practicing good contextualization doesn’t always mean exactly conforming to the predominant norms in a culture.  Sometimes people who have grown up under one style of church or in one kind of spiritual environment are actually longing for something different than what they’ve known.  So again, it all comes back to being flexible with forms and uncompromising with content.  All you can do is pray, know your culture, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He will never steer you wrong in how to reach the people in your context.

 

The Dependable Path of Authenticity

The last thing I want to mention on the issue of contextualization is the issue of authenticity.  Frankly, sometimes in an effort to contextualize guys end up changing so much about themselves and their church that they really just come off as being fake.  I know a pastor who was a successful business man before entering the ministry.  Due to his background he was a wealthy guy, so he tended to dress really nice and keep a clean-cut appearance.  As a pastor he started out dressing and behaving in the same way he did while working as a business man for almost twenty years. But one day he began to change.  In an effort to be relevant he grew a goatee, started wearing baggy clothes, and got a new hair-style.  The result was that the young people he was hoping to reach with the gospel through his extreme makeover became his biggest critics.  They thought he was inauthentic and felt like he was trying to sell them something rather than be real about what he truly believed.

 

Personal Story

Authenticity is always the strongest course of action.  Again, I learned this pastoring in the small rural town of Salmon, Idaho.  As a city kid who grew up playing in punk rock and metal bands and living a vegan straightedge lifestyle, a rural Idaho rancher town like Salmon is the last place I would’ve ever thought God could use me to reach people.

 

My wife and I moved to Salmon in 2006 and were immediately beat down with culture shock.  I’ll never forget going to Cowboy Church the first week we lived in Salmon.  It was definitely a church service like I had never experienced before!  The congregation sat in stands used in the horse and mule auction, the band played on the back of a flatbed trailer leading the people in Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb, while cowboys road real horses into the arena waving the American and “Christian” flags.  The preacher yelled a lot and looked like he’d just come from a ride on a bull at a rodeo.  All me and my could do was sit back in awe, and wonder what minister of Satan had deceived us into moving to such a place that was so incredibly different from us culturally.

 

As I struggled a bit with how God could use me to reach a place that was so different than anything I had come from or appreciated culturally, the Lord told me just to be myself and teach His Word.  That’s what I did.  And you know what, over time those cowboys, hunters, farmers, ranchers, loggers, and tough down-home people we served in that community welcomed us with open arms.  It didn’t matter that they fished on icy rivers and killed bears and all I wanted to do was listen to metal, watch movies, and read books.  The people saw belief and passion in the message that was preached.  They heard the teaching of God’s Word instead of motivational speeches and pithy comments from the pulpit.  They respected authenticity and the uncompromising teaching of the truth.  Sure, we did some things to accommodate the culture.  But more than anything it was authenticity that went a long way in reaching a culture different than my own.

 

Exhortation

Consider your context.  What are some cultural things you may need to adapt or challenge to get an ear with lost people in your context who need to hear the uncompromised gospel?  Prayerfully let the Holy Spirit guide you as you answer that question.  And as He does, be you, be authentic, and by all means preach the Bible!  Preach the everlasting gospel!

 


[1] John 1:14a & 1:18 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Page 101.

[3] Matthew 13:13

[4] Acts 16:1-5

[5] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NKJV

[6] Galatians 1:8 NKJV

grave

How to Wake the Dead

“…You shall be Witnesses to Me…”[1] – Jesus  


“If you are a Calvary Chapel pastor or in teaching leadership, chances are you are concerned about the death of biblical truth in our culture and within our churches…As a pastor or teacher, you have the privilege of expositing and expounding God’s truth to your community.”[2]Chuck Smith

Speaking of the biblical gospel in a letter written to a group of believers living in Rome during the first century, the Apostle Paul said it is, “The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”[3]  That is a brilliant statement of truth!  The word gospel literally means good news.  The message of the biblical gospel is that even though human beings are spiritual criminals who are evil from the core of their being, God still loves them.  It tells us that though all humans have broken God’s law and heart at the level of behavior, desire, and imagination, God has chosen to freely provide a way for us to be totally forgiven for our crimes.  He has made a way for us to know and enjoy Him forever in personal relationship.  We have a way to be viewed by God as perfect and righteous even though we know deep down we could never be those things practically speaking, from the inside out.

 

The Rescue Mission of Rescue Missions

How in the world could these things be possible?  Only through the life, death, and resurrection Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf some 2,000 years ago.  The core of the good news of the gospel is that the infinite, totally adequate, self-sufficient, self-existent Holy God of the universe came to earth to reach out to humanity when we had no way of reaching up to Him in an effective way.  This was the greatest rescue mission the world has ever seen, or will ever see. He came and was born to a young virgin girl named Mary becoming not only God, but also 100% human.  He proceeded to live a life of perfect obedience to the law of God in behavior, desire, and imagination on behalf of every sinful human being.  He died the death that every person who has ever lived deserves to die on a roman cross as a substitute for all people.  There He took the full force of the wrath of God that we deserve to experience as spiritual criminals.  He rose from the dead conquering the power of Satan, sin, demons, and death on behalf of all.  He now offers us forgiveness for our sins and restoration to relationship with Him if we will simply believe in this great message of His love.  This God, who came from heaven to earth to do for us all that we could never do for ourselves, is the God-man, Jesus Christ!  This is His gospel.

The Fundamental Goal of Church Planting

The basic tenets of that message inherently carry the power of God to bring the person who accepts them from spiritual death to an experience of spiritual life if they are embraced with the heart.  It is that message that Jesus has commanded His people to proclaim boldly and without shame or fear in all the earth.  The fundamental goal of planting local churches is to establish strategic centers for the preaching, spreading, and advancement of the gospel in the world for the glory of the gracious Christ.  A church should not be planted but with the goal of functioning as an effective tool for spreading the message of Jesus in the world.  If a gathering, organization, or any so-called Christian entity exists without the express purpose of spreading the powerful gospel, it is not a church.  It is not representative of the church.

 

We need churches like the first century church in Thessalonica.  Paul commended that local church as being a community of believers who were on fire for spreading the gospel they had received.

“And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.  Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”[4]

 

The community of believers at Thessalonica didn’t simply receive the gospel, get saved, and sit around playing church and enjoying their relationship with Jesus as they watched the rest of the world go to hell.  On the contrary, they became a center for missional gospel proclamation.  The gospel was sounding forth from the mouths of people who had their hearts changed by it’s power.  The joy over their salvation implanted into their hearts by the Holy Spirit who now indwelled them caused an overflow of gospel preaching and gospel living that brought many more people into the kingdom.

 

Every church planter’s goal should be that God would establish a church through him that is like the church in Thessalonica.  Their dream should be that of a group of people being saved by Jesus through gospel preaching who become so passionate about the gospel of the God who saved them that they spread it everywhere they can.  This is the New Testament picture of a mature and gospel-planted church.  This is the kind of church I pray for, and work toward by God’s grace.

 

The Command

Planting churches through gospel preaching is not merely one permissible option for church planting strategies among many.   It is church planting as God has commanded it to be done.

 

I know by experience that there is intense pressure from within and from without for church planters to get clever with their preaching.  You see some guys who have flashy churches, major resources, tons of money, and yet the weakest sermons in regard to biblical content.  After a while you might start to wonder if just teaching the Bible simply isn’t enough.  So you start softening a truth here, glossing over a doctrine there, and all in the name of reaching people.

 

Over against this kind of thinking is the teaching of the Holy Spirit in the Bible:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For U determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”[5]

 

Now when it comes to preaching there are generally two extremes that should be avoided at all costs.  Some think that using technology, media, props, and even illustrations to effectively communicate the gospel is carnal and unfaithful.  These people confuse flexibility in methods with compromising the integrity of the message.  Jesus Himself was a master illustrator who used the familiar pictures and experiences in the environment and technology around Him to communicate God’s timeless truths in timely ways to His hearers.

 

Still others are so focused on methods and strategic communication that they sometimes fail to actually present the simple content of the gospel faithfully.  The pure message of the Bible gets twisted or lost in all the wrappings.  These people seem to forget that while good missionaries are culturally sensitive and utilize practical tools and technology to communicate the gospel, the methods and techniques are not what God has promised to bless with His power.  The simple gospel message is what God blesses with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit to bring people from spiritual death to life.  I once heard Francis Chan ask a group of Bible teachers, “Do you want to be a good communicator, or a powerful communicator?”  We would do well to ask ourselves that question.

 

The Choice is Ours

So, every church planter has to decide where he will fit.  Will you focus on methods to the exclusion of the message like many seeker sensitive and liberal churches do today?  Will you be a fundamentalist and preach the Bible but ignore the cultural communication stumbling blocks that get in the way of the people who hear you receiving the gospel?  Or will you be in the missional middle and preach the simple gospel faithfully while being sensitive to the cultural hang-ups of the ears who hear you?

If you are all method in your ministry I would challenge you to get back to the real source of power which is the simple gospel.  You can have nothing but the power of the Holy Spirit and the pure message of the gospel in your heart, and you will have all you need to plant a church.  That is all that the first church planters had and they did well to say the least.  I would encourage you to read Acts two and pray over the topics we’ve covered so far in this post right now asking God to show you if and where your heart is out of step with His on the gospel.

 

How to Reach Young People

Something that always concerns church planters is how they are going to reach young people for Jesus.  Many leaders are convinced that kids need to be entertained and have all sorts of extra wrappings encapsulating the gospel and the teaching of the Word for them to plug into churches.  I believe this is a lie from hell intended to get Bible teachers side-tracked.

 

I was as liberal and post-modern as they come when it came to my view of truth before Jesus saved me.  I can vividly remember personally saying many of the things that pastors often quote in their sermons as depicting the epitome of the post-modern mindset.  I would give people the, “what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me,” line all the time.  And I believed that with all my heart.

 

But one life-changing day the Holy Spirit shot the truth of God into my mind like a bullet.  I couldn’t defend myself against it.  I couldn’t force it out.  He convicted me of my sin and drew me to seek God.  I found myself reading the Bible at home strangely desiring to figure out it’s teachings, something I had never desired to do before.  I remember that as I read I realized that what this book said was true of my heart was undeniable based on my human experience.  I knew it was right when it told me I couldn’t help wanting and doing things that I knew deep down were things I shouldn’t do or want to do.  I knew it was right when it told me I couldn’t make myself do or want to do things that I knew deep down I should want to do and practice.  I knew my heart was captive with the chains of sin it described.  This was my journey to becoming born again through reading the written Word.

 

After I got saved I developed an appetite for the Word like newborn babies desire milk.  I could understand the Bible where I hadn’t been able to before, and I wanted to learn God’s Word.  I found a Bible teaching church and began to soak up what I was hearing.  And the funny thing looking back is that the church I attended was about the least cool place I’d ever been from my previous cultural perspective.  The “new music” we sang were worship choruses from the 1970’s, the décor of the church looked like it was supplied by my grandmother, the pastor preached in a full suit, and the only visual images in the service were these poorly done and horridly distracting landscape scenes that would appear at random behind the lyrics on the projection screen.  You know what kept an artsy former metal and punk rock musician/social activist coming to such a lame place?  I knew I was getting stronger in the spirit through the unadulterated preaching of God’s Word!

 

Many of my friends have been saved from similar backgrounds to mine and have the same kind of stories to tell.  And as I meet lots of young people who come to the church I pastor and hear them talk about why they are with us, it isn’t the cool lighting, awesome band, or the fact that I listen to the music they do that keeps them coming; it’s the often blunt, sometimes offensive, always present preaching of gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God!

 

If you’re an older church planter or pastor trying to reach a younger generation, my encouragement to you would be to stick with the thing that God has chosen to bless with His power, and preach the gospel!  Teach the Bible!  Sure, you can draw a crowd with all sorts of things.  But the only thing that will change people, the only thing that will grip them at the core of their very being, is God’s Word.

 

Conclusion

The preaching of the gospel is what Jesus has chosen to build His church.  Preaching the simple gospel isn’t merely an optional way to do the work of church planting, but the only way.  Utilizing different methods to communicate the gospel is fine and can even be good missionary strategy, but methods must never get in the way of communicating the simple gospel message in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we want to wake the dead gospel proclamation is a non-negotiable.

 

Note- The above is an excerpt taken from “The Spirit-led Mission” by Kellen Criswell


[1] Acts 1:8b NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Line Upon Line. Page 12.

[3] Romans 1:16 NKJV

[4] 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NKJV

[5] 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NKJV

Power 2

PLANTING POWER

PLANTING POWER

“John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’”[1]John the Baptizer speaking of Jesus

“We believe that there is an experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that is distinct and separate from the indwelling of the Spirit that takes place at conversion.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“The baptism with the Spirit was not optional for the apostles nor should it be for us.  Jesus had commissioned them to go into all the world with the gospel, but commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from heaven.  Jesus saw this as absolutely essential to fulfilling their calling.  And I believe it is essential for us in the twenty-first century as well.  The Lord wants to empower us for ministry.”[3]Brian Brodersen

Discerning whether or not Jesus has called you to church planting is essential if you’re thinking about becoming a church planter.  There is more to have than a clear sense of calling though before you step out into the adventure of church planting.  The mission of church planting is a spiritual offensive on the kingdom of darkness.  You come against powers beyond yourself on the mission field.  That reality makes it necessary for the church planter to access a power beyond himself that is even greater than that of the kingdom of darkness if he wants to survive the mission.  He needs the very power of God through the reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (or Spirit-filling if you like).  Only then will he even be able to begin to be truly effective in the mission of Jesus.

 

The Personal War

Jesus conveyed this message to me in a very interesting way shortly after I arrived with my family in Utah to plant Refuge Church.  Early on in the life of the church I began to experience intense opposition.  I went through a season where I dealt with a lot of physical affliction.  I came down with swine flu, shingles, successive intense and unusual chest colds, culminating with an episode of stomach flu which left me puking my guts out all day, every day, for a week.

The physical pressure I was under at that time gave way to spiritual pressure.  As things intensified bit-by-bit the enemy began to tempt me to doubt God’s call and favor on our lives as we endeavored to start a new church in enemy territory.  I was getting really frustrated and insecure in some ways.  In the heat of all this, the Lord gave me what I now know was my first truly prophetic dream.   In the dream my wife Jen and I came to a large open field that was over-run with people participating in demonic worship.  They were dancing in worship in an absolutely chaotic frenzy.  There was an intense sense of darkness in the atmosphere around us.  It was freaky!

As the dream shifted gears, suddenly Jen and I were standing before a fence overlooking the field where we had before witnessed the satanic gathering.  Now it was broad daylight and we could see the narrow cliffs lining both sides of the field stretching far out into the horizon.  Jen and I were passionately praying over the field.  We were crying out to God to take that land from the power and kingdom of darkness and possess it for the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  We prayed for Him to use us as He took the enemy’s territory for Jesus!

And then it came.  As we prayed a giant and seriously intimidating red horse emerged from the field.  The horse came charging out of the field through an open gate a few yards from where we were praying.  I braced myself as the horse reared up to trample me down and kill me.  Then perhaps the craziest thing happened; As the beast lifted up to stomp me, I grabbed it’s front legs and twisted them until the horse was forced to the ground in submission.  After it was defeated the horse vanished and we were safe.  At that moment I woke up feeling really spiritually affected as I’m sure you can imagine.

As I prayed over the vision during the next few days the Holy Spirit granted the interpretation of the dream to us.  He reminded us that the picture of a field is often symbolic in the Bible of places in the world where He intends to bring His Kingdom.[4]  He showed me that in my dream the field represented Utah, the place He had called us to be some of the instruments through which He would bring His Kingdom.  In the dream He was confirming to us that as we work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of Christ in Utah, we would experience opposition that was too great for us to overcome on our own.  The opposition we would face as we served Jesus in Utah was represented by the horse coming out of the field to stop us as we prayed.  The ending of the dream in which I twisted the horse’s arms until it was forced into submission was a word of encouragement.  It was a declaration that even though the opposition would be great, we would ultimately overcome it through a power greater than our own, the power of God the Holy Spirit!  Even in the dream I was amazed that I was overpowering this fierce animal, and knew that something had to be working with me to accomplish this.  It was the power of God.

Where the Power’s at

The word of God given to the prophet Zechariah summarizes what the Lord was telling me through that dream in regard to what would make us successful as we fought on the front lines in spiritual battle as church planters.  Our ability to be successful and push back the gates of hell in Utah would come, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”[5]

We’ve made relying on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission of Jesus through Refuge Church our relentless pursuit from the first moments we sensed Jesus was calling us to plant.  The Lord was reminding us through this dream to continue on in that mindset as we served Him in Utah.  As we’ve sought to obey Him in this we’ve seen the Holy Spirit continue to move through our local assembly of believers in powerful and undeniable ways.  It’s so exciting to watch the Spirit of God work through the people of God, for the glory of the Son of God, Jesus Christ!

 

The Need

Jesus spoke of the need for His missionaries to access the power of the Holy Spirit for their mission as much as anyone else did in the New Testament.  Consider a couple texts and their implications for the call to missionary church planting:

 

“And being assembled together with them He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”[6]

 

These verses describe the last interaction that Jesus had with the apostles before He ascended into heaven.  This is what He wanted to leave fresh in their minds as He was sending them out into the world to continue the ministry He had started during His time on earth.  They were about to go preaching the gospel, discipling believers, healing the hurting, and church planting as the kingdom came on earth.  They were to start in Jerusalem and not stop until Jesus had a witness in every nation, even to the ends of the earth.  But they were to attempt none of this until they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit!  Without the Holy Spirit leading and empowering every aspect of their missionary lives they would be absolutely helpless to successfully accomplish the work to which Jesus had called them.

Luke records the concern Jesus had that his men understand their need for Holy Spirit empowerment at the end of the gospel He wrote as well:

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”[7]

The importance of experiencing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the work of church planting is clearly something that Jesus wants us to thoroughly understand.  If we think that we can be clever enough, cool enough, strong enough, strategic enough, or inspiring enough to bring people from spiritual death to life and beat back the gates of hell, we are at best naïve, biblically uniformed, prideful, and far from the heart of Jesus.  The work of God requires the power of God.  It is that simple.

As we venture out to the front lines where the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light meet in battle, which is exactly what we do when we enter into the work of church planting, we must consciously, prayerfully, dependently, and daily receive and rely on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make our mission fruitful.  If you don’t believe that, or aren’t prepared to walk in the power of the Spirit by God’s grace, DON’T PLANT A CHURCH!

Horses Vs Tanks

          I once heard a story of a cavalry unit that charged into battle against an armored tank division.  The cavalry unit was the last resort of defense for a country not as advanced militaristically as their invaders.  I’m sure it goes without saying that the cavalry unit was utterly destroyed!  Why? They didn’t have the adequate fire-power or equipment to even come close to overpowering the enemy they faced.  I would submit to you based on the words of Jesus Christ that if we try to be victorious in church planting over the opposition we face in the demonic realm without relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a billion times more foolish, and will be far more fruitless than that cavalry unit ended up being as they challenged that armored tank division.  In the words of brilliant theologian, captain Kirk: “We just-don’t-have-the power![8]

Ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven from where He came, the disciples did in fact experience the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  As they prayed in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them in power.  He manifested His power through them first by enabling them to worship God in languages unknown to them,[9] and later through the powerful preaching[10] of the gospel through which 3,000 people became born again.[11]  Since that time, all followers of the biblical Jesus have access to the empowerment and various gifts of the Holy Spirit[12] which He distributes according to His will as we seek and desire them.[13]

Summary and Exhortation

As believers, pastors, elders, and church planters, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is an absolute must in our lives!  If you’re not seeking the power, don’t attempt the work.  If you want to experience the daily empowering of the Holy Spirit all you need to do is continually meet with Jesus in the word of God,[14] pray over the mission you’ve received from Jesus,[15] and ask to receive a fresh work of the Spirit in your life from the Father. [16]  It’s a gift.  We don’t have to beg for it; just receive it.  May we not have dead words!  May we have powerful biblical messages to share as we preach the Bible to the church and the gospel to the world because we depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit alone for our success, just like Jesus[17] and Paul did![18]


[1] Luke 3:16 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Page 31.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 27.

[4] Matthew 13:38-44

[5] Zechariah 4:6

[6] Acts 1:4-5 & 8 NKJV

[7] Luke 24:46-49 NKJV

[8] Random Numerous Star Trek Episodes, Captain Kirk

[9] Acts 2:1-4

[10] Acts 2:14-39

[11] Acts 2:41

[12] Acts 2:39

[13] 1 Corinthians 12:11 & 14:1; Ephesians 5:17-18

[14] Colossians 3:16

[15] Acts 4:31

[16] Luke 11:9-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Acts 9:17

[17] Luke 4:1

[18] 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Note- The above excerpt is taken from the book “The Spirit-led Mission” by Kellen Criswell