Is Another Revival Possible?



Last week my wife and I ventured down to the Calvary Chapel Southern California Pastor’s Conference at Calvary Chapel South Bay. The theme of the conference was “Revive Us Again,” taken from Habakkuk 3:2:

“Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”

It was a great time in the Lord. Ten Bible studies over the course of two days, by nine different teachers. Very sobering, strengthening, convicting, and encouraging.

I want to comment on the talk that resonated with me the most. Brian Brodersen brought a very insightful message which started with Habakkuk 3:2:

“O LORD, I have heard your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

I have often prayed this prayer myself, so I was very interested in hearing what Brian had to say. I found myself in complete agreement with his premise, with his conclusion, and with his application. He said what I think, albeit far more clearly and thoroughly.

A very brief summary goes like this:

  1. The wrath of God will fall upon America, but we can pray for mercy as it falls. Judgment is God’s strange work, and He is merciful by nature. So we can pray for mercy.
  2. There have been two major revivals in American history, the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, there have been smaller moves of God. The so-called Jesus movement fits into this category.
  3. Revivals during the period of Judah’s kings came after periods of intense wickedness. The state of our nation prior to the Great Awakenings was both wicked and hopeless. The progressives, humanistic philosophers, atheists et al, were dominant. Evil had spread to every corner of the land. But the people of God cried out to the Lord, and revival came!
  4. The conditions in our country pre-revival were strikingly similar to today’s conditions. If it happened before, it can happen again.
  5. Following revival, many incredible social changes occurred (the ending of slavery, for example), and many powerful spiritual results took place (modern missionary movement, the Bible societies, etc.).
  6. We should hope (and pray) for revival, even though we know we’re in the last days. The Scriptures speak of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh through the entire period of the last days.
  7. Today, we’re seeing indications of revival and awakening taking place, world-wide. Could it be that the things the Lord has been doing are a preparation for His last big push prior to the rapture and ensuing tribulation period?

Three conditions that may enhance the possibility of revival/awakening:

A.  Repentance. Much sin has invaded the church and effected its leaders.

     B.  Prayer. Are we praying men? Are we praying women? We need to bring back the prayer meeting into our churches.

     C.  Faith. Childlike faith, in which we believe that God can do anything. We need to take steps of faith, and take ventures of faith. God wants to do more than we give Him   credit for, so much of the time.

I’m glad someone with our movement is saying these things. I can’t wait to hear this message again.


At this time in world history there doesn’t seem to be a day that passes where the State of Israel is not in the news in some way. It is my conviction that this is exactly as scripture foretold (Zechariah 12:2), and is key to the belief of many evangelicals—including myself—that we may be living in the very last of the last days. But convictions such as these and recent correspondence with other evangelical leaders has caused several questions to come to my mind.

[list style=”list1″ color=”grey”]

  • What should be the response of the church to National Israel in the last days?
  • How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” in the context of 21st century Christianity?
  • Should the evangelization of lost Israel take precedent over other lost peoples?
  • Does the promise of Genesis 12:3 (i.e. “I will bless those who bless you…”) mean that we—the church—should seek to bless, monetarily, the nation of Israel to receive a blessing ourselves?
  • Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Do Muslims?


I would love your thoughts, add your’s below. (click here to comment)

Baptismally Speaking

Just this morning, I opened up my Bible to continue with my through the Bible in a year reading. I just happened to open to the last page of my Bible and there is was. When I saw it, I felt a smile creep onto my face and joy filled my heart. There on the last page of my Bible was a picture that prompted my reaction. It is the picture of my baptism! My parents had baptized me as a child into the Catholic Church (and subsequently admitted to communion and confirmation). But as early as I could remember, I rejected it. I had spent virtually my entire life away from God. But as I gazed at that baptismal picture, I found myself transported back to that moment. The photo is from right before I was baptized at 21 years of age. I am standing thigh deep in the Ashland Creek. The pastor is standing behind me with his head obscured. My eyes are shut and there is a peaceful and slight smile on my face. I remember thinking at that moment, “Goodbye old life. Hello resurrected life!” What a glorious thought!

This photo has me thinking about baptism. Baptism is one of the two ordinances that Jesus gave to his people, the other being the Lord’s Supper. Just like Lord’s Supper, baptism is symbolic of the finished work of Jesus. Listen to Paul in Romans 6. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were eburied with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1-4). In the act of baptism, as we initially go down into the water, it is as if we are united with Christ going into the tomb. There is the death of the old man and the old life. As we come out of the water, it is as if we are being united with Jesus in His resurrection. We all know and realize that this is truly done, not by baptism, but by the Spirit who revives our dead hearts through regeneration. This is how we know that baptism is not necessary for salvation. Instead it is an issue of obedience. Jesus Himself was baptized. But baptism is a way that we celebrate what God has done in our lives. It is a glorious declaration and an amazing living epistle that we are Jesus’ and that He is ours.

As I think back to that day when I was baptized, when I came up from the baptismal waters, drenched from head to toe with water (in my mind overflowing with the Spirit), I knew that my life was God’s. I had known it before. My life was already His. But the very act of baptism somehow, at least in my heart, put an exclamation point on it. As I made it to the banks of the river, people hugged me and prayed for me. From that day, my life in Christ has taken many twists and turns. There has been up days and down days. I have been victorious and suffered heartache. But in it all, I can truly say, God has been in it. That humbles me. “Goodbye old life. Hello resurrected life!”

Soteriology in the Middle (Part III)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16


In this post, my third and final post on soteriology, I wanted to think about the atonement.  Along with the resurgence of Calvinism and the dawning of what some call Neo-Calvinism in recent years, there has been an accompanying resurgence of a debate that has been going on amongst Christians for hundreds of years- the extent of the atonement.

Wayne Grudem defines the atonement this way:

“The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.  This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used.  Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross.  But…since saving benefits come to us from Christ’s life, we have included that in our definition as well.”[1]

Norman Geisler defines the atonement as “the substitutionary death of Jesus on behalf of our sins, whereby the just died for the unjust in order that God’s justice may be satisfied and His mercy justify the unjust.”[2]

 The idea of the atonement as articulated by the above theologians reflects the biblical teaching of the doctrine of atonement well.  The Bible tells us that God created human beings to know Him and to be known by Him in a relationship of peace, unity, and love.[3]  But our first human parents disobeyed the commands of God which were given to protect mankind and preserve the relationship with God they’d been graciously given.[4]  As a result all human beings are sinners from their core.  All humans break the law and heart of God in their actions, desires, and imagination on a daily basis.  This is the case because having a sin nature we are bound by natural inclination toward sin.  This is the result of inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam and Eve, sort of like human children that contract deadly diseases from parents who have engaged in sinful activities which have compromised their own health.[5]

Because of mankind’s sinful nature and sinful actions all humans deserve to experience the judgment of God.[6]  When someone breaks the law in human society it is common knowledge to us all that the guilty deserve to experience the consequences of breaking the law.  The Bible tells us that breaking God’s holy law carries with it the death penalty.[7]  This includes the experience of physical death upon which our soul separates from our bodies,[8] spiritual death in which our souls are separated from relational peace with God,[9] and the second death which is the experience of eternal conscious torment of body and soul in hell.[10]

 The good news for humanity in spite of our sinful condition and guilt before God is that the atonement is real, and its benefits are available to us through faith in Jesus.  Jesus lived a perfect life for us where we could not.  Though sinless,[11] He died in our place for our sins[12] on the cross experiencing and satisfying the penalty we deserved to undergo as spiritual criminals who have broken God’s holy law.[13]  In doing so He soaked up the wrath of God due us like a sponge absorbs water.[14]  He rose again from the dead conquering Satan, sin, demons, death, and hell on our behalf.[15]  Those who recognize their need for His penal substitutionary death accomplished in their place, and trust that it was sufficient to provide for their forgiveness and acceptance by God apart from any ritualistic, religious, or moral works performed by them are indeed forgiven, and experience the gift of new birth (regeneration).[16]



All Christians agree that the benefits experienced by those who have the atonement of Christ applied to them through trusting in Jesus are truly blessed with undeserved amazing grace.  They agree that only those who believe in the biblical gospel get to experience the merits of Christ’s atonement. The debate amongst Christians is in regard to the extent of Christ’s atonement.  Who does Jesus actually intend and desire to experience the merits of His atonement made on the cross?  When He voluntarily died on the cross did He intend to provide atonement for all individual sinners, or only the elect?

Some would affirm the doctrine of Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption which declares that Jesus died in a saving (atoning) way for the elect only.  Others would say that Jesus’ atonement is intended for and sufficient to save all individual sinners, but it is only efficient for those who respond to the gospel in faith.  This is what we would call the Universal Atonement view.  This latter view is not to be confused with Universalism which is a heretical view that has seen a recent rise in popularity in America due to the teaching of certain influential pastors.  Universalism basically teaches that since Jesus died for all people, all people will ultimately be saved and make it into heaven.  All biblical and gospel believing Christians reject such a view as heretical and demeaning to Jesus and the justice of God.  This being the case, Universalism will not be discussed in the rest of this post in detail.


Calvinism on the Atonement

On the Limited Atonement side of this debate are theologians such as John Owen.  He expressed the common reasoning behind Calvinist thinking on the atonement this way:

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either: (1) All the sins of all men, (2) all the sins of some men, or (3) some of the sins of all men. In which case it may be said: That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.  That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.  But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?  You answer, “Because of unbelief.”  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”[17]

 Similarly, John Piper articulates his belief in Limited Atonement this way:

“Christ died for all the sins of some men.  That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God’s punitive wrath is appeased toward them and His grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into His marvelous light.”[18]


Neo-Calvinism on the Atonement

 Though by his own admission he doesn’t appreciate the title, Mark Driscoll is held up by many as the poster-child for what is being called New Calvinism or Neo-Calvinism, and his view on the atonement which he terms Unlimited-Limited Atonement is increasingly becoming a predominant view of the atonement held by young Reformed Christians.  In explaining Unlimited-Limited Atonement Driscoll writes:

“At first glance, Unlimited and Limited Atonement are in opposition. But, that dilemma is resolved by noting two things. First, the two categories are not mutually exclusive; since Jesus died for the sins of everyone that means that He also died for the sins of the elect. Second, Jesus’ death for all people does not accomplish the same thing as His death for the elect. This point is complicated, but is in fact taught in Scripture (1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1).

Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as His possession and He then applies His forgiveness to the elect by grace and applies His wrath to the non-elect. Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and, subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in Him. This position is called Unlimited Limited Atonement or Modified Calvinism.

Therefore, Modified Calvinists like the Mars Hill elders do not believe anything different than Arminians; we simply believe what they believe and more. Lastly, perhaps the Old Testament sacrificial system provides the best illustration of this both/and position. The High Priest would offer a sacrifice for the sins of the whole nation on the Day of Atonement; this is, in effect, unlimited atonement. Then, each worshipper would repent of their own sins as demonstrated by the giving of their own sacrifices for their sins; this is, in effect, limited atonement.”[19]


The Bible on the Atonement

Personally, I think the Unlimited-Limited Atonement position has far more to commend it biblically than the traditional view of Limited Atonement.  My differences with Driscoll’s view aren’t in regard to the extent of the atonement but are over the means of the application of the atonement.  While Driscoll affirms a version of Universal Atonement he also affirms the classic Reformed understanding of Irresistible Grace which, in my opinion, wrongly teaches that regeneration precedes faith (see Part II of this series of posts on for discussion of this).  I would part ways with him on that point.  But in regard to the biblical witness on the extent of the atonement I believe Driscoll is right on, and that his Calvinist comrades have real challenges in squaring the intricate details of their Limited Atonement view with some clear statements of scripture on the issue.


Compelling Verses

As a formerly committed Five Point Calvinist let me give you some of the verses I found compelling (or troubling) as I began to shift to a universal understanding of the intent of the atonement.

1 John 2:2- “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

 John is addressing believers in these verses.  This is clear from the phrase “my little children” as well as the context of the entire book of First John.  Here he clearly says that Jesus’ death was not just for those who were believers already, but for those of “the whole world” also.  The common explanation of John’s meaning offered by those who believe in Limited Atonement is that he didn’t mean every individual person when he used the term “world.”  Instead they say he meant the believers to whom he was writing and all the other believers in Christ living in different parts of the world.  One of the glaring problems with this interpretation is that in the context of his book John tells us that the “world” does not represent God’s people, but in fact represents the realm, influences, and practitioners of evil throughout the globe.  Later in this same chapter John tells exactly what the “world” is to him:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that [is] in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”[20]

 According to John the “world” for whom Christ died is the entire world of evil influence, antichrists (non Christians), and the sinful impulses common to every member of the human race.  It is strange that some would try to designate the concept of the “world” in verse two as other believers living in places different from the audience to whom John was writing when John describes the world in such depraved, sinful, and unregenerate terms.


2 Peter 2:1- “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, [and] bring on themselves swift destruction.”  

 Here the apostle Peter is beginning a long section of Scripture detailing the marks, work, and fate of false teachers.  He will go on to explain that because they’ve led many astray from the truth of God that they will ultimately “utterly perish in their own corruption.”[21]  The thing we need to notice here is that these false teachers who are destined to utterly perish according to Peter were apparently “denying the Lord who bought them” by teaching a false gospel and denying Christ.  When Peter uses the term bought he is employing the language of redemption in reference to false teachers he believed would ultimately experience the eternal judgment of God!

If everyone for whom Christ died will ultimately be saved, how is it that these false teachers will utterly perish even though they were purchased by Christ?  Clearly this is a challenge for advocates of Limited Atonement which is sometimes called Effectual Atonement because this system conveys the idea that all for whom Christ died will effectually be drawn to Him for salvation.  Apparently that was not the case for these false teachers who were bought by Christ.

In response some Calvinists say that the false teachers weren’t really bought by Christ on the cross.  Instead, in an effort to find a way to cling to their doctrinal system in the face of such clear teaching, they insist that what Peter meant is that they were identified with those bought by Christ merely because they associated themselves with God’s people.  The problem with that idea is that it is not what the verse says.  Scripture says the Lord “bought them.”  It doesn’t say they were merely associated with those who were actually bought.


John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This is a favorite verse of advocates of Universal Atonement.  To them it affirms undeniably that Jesus was given to the death of the cross for the sins of all individuals in the world.  It affirms that Jesus’ death was atoning and intended for the entire human race, but that only those who believe out of the human race actually receive the benefits of the atonement applied to them for salvation.  In response, adherents of Limited Atonement say that what John meant was that God gave His Son for the elect scattered throughout the entire world, and not every individual sinner in the world.   

J.C Ryle ably refutes the interpretation of this verse offered by advocates of Limited Atonement in his commentary on John.  Since Ryle makes the case for the universal meaning of John 3:16 so clearly, allow me to quote him extensively on this point.

“Some think…that the word ‘world’ here means God’s elect out of every nation, whether Jews or Gentiles, and that the ‘love’ which God is said to love them is that eternal love with which the elect were loved before creation began, and by which their calling, justification, preservation and final salvation are completely secured.  –This view, though supported by many great divines, does not appear to me to be our Lord’s meaning.  For one thing, it seems to me a violent straining of language to confine the word ‘world’ to the elect. ‘The world’ is undoubtedly a name sometimes given to the ‘wicked’ exclusively.  But I cannot see that it is a name ever given to the saints.—For another thing, to interpret the word ‘world’ of the elect only is to ignore the distinction which, to my eyes, is plainly drawn in the text between the whole of mankind and those out of mankind who ‘believe.’  If the ‘world’ means only the believing portion of mankind, it would have been quite enough to say, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that the world should not perish.’  But our Lord does not say so.  He says, ‘that whosoever believeth, i.e., that whosoever out of the world believeth.’ –Lastly, to confine God’s love to the elect, is taking a harsh and narrow view of God’s character, and fairly lays Christianity open to the modern charges brought against it as cruel and unjust to the ungodly.  If God takes no thought for any but His elect, and cares for none besides, how shall God judge the world?”[22]


1 Timothy 4:10- “…the living God…is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.”

Paul teaches the same thing here that John does in John 3:16.  Though God is especially the Savior of believers (the elect) because the merits of the atonement are actually applied to them through faith, He is also the Savior of all individuals because His atonement was sufficient for their salvation as well.  The difference between those Jesus is “especially” the Savior of and those He’s not especially the Savior of isn’t about who His atonement was intended for; it’s about who believes the gospel so that the atonement may be applied to them.


What About Verses that Teach Jesus’ Death was Specifically for Christians?

Some claim there is biblical support for Limited Atonement in verses that specifically describe Jesus’ atonement as being accomplished for His people without reference to unbelievers.  An example of such a verse would be Acts 20:28: “…shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Advocates of Limited Atonement point out that this verse says Jesus (God) purchased “the church” with His own blood, and not all individuals.  While it is true that it says Jesus purchased His church with His blood, it is also true that it doesn’t say that Jesus didn’t purchase those who don’t come to faith in Him.  In light of the universal language of other clear passages of Scripture it would be perfectly reasonable to affirm that Paul has in mind those who actually benefit from Christ’s redeeming work on the cross through faith, while not denying that He also died for those who don’t come to faith as well (such as the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1).  It is an inference to say that since Paul affirms that Jesus died for His church that he is also saying Jesus didn’t die for anyone else.  We use language like this every day in communicating with one another.  For instance, when I say “I love my wife and work to provide a livelihood for her.” it doesn’t follow that I don’t love my daughter and also provide a livelihood for her through my work.


Answering the Big Question

When you get into a discussion on the extent of the atonement the proponents of Limited Atonement almost always fall back on the same question.  This question was popularized by Calvinist theologian John Owen and was noted earlier in this post.  To quote Owen again, he asked, “…why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?  You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”[23]

While at first glance this question might seem to pin the believer in Universal Atonement with a logical problem from which they cannot escape without becoming particular redemptionists, this is not the case.  Two things need to be pointed out in response to Owens’ famous logic problem.  First of all, whether or not the teaching of Scripture is easily graspable within the confines of what we consider human logic isn’t the issue.  The question of the truth of a doctrine isn’t resolved by whether or not it is logical to us, but whether or not it is actually taught in Scripture whether it makes sense to us or not.  The truth is that the Bible affirms that there are infinite spiritual realities that are true, and to which we are subject that we cannot understand in our finiteness.[24] For example, consider the reality of the Trinity.  The Bible affirms that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, there’s only One God, and that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not each other.  Is that beyond human logic?  Absolutely!  Is it true and affirmed by all biblical Christians?  Yes!  Why should we not approach understanding and explaining the biblical data on the extent of the atonement with the same humility and trust in the Scriptures?

Secondly, the question is based on a faulty view of the application of redemption.  It muddies the water and places the provision and the application of redemption as occurring simultaneously at the cross.  If this is true, the elect were forgiven for their sins at the moment the atonement was made for them when Jesus died on the cross. On the contrary, the Bible seems to teach that though the provision was secured for our forgiveness through the atonement at the moment it was accomplished on the cross, the application of the provision isn’t granted until we believe the gospel during the course of our lives.[25]

As far as the sin of unbelief itself is concerned, to be sure, it is a sin for which we stand deserving of judgment like every other sin.  But “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”[26] And when faith is enabled through the power of God’s Word and a sinner repents of the sin of unbelief, the merits of the atonement are applied to them and they are forgiven for their prior unbelief as well as every other sin they’d committed to that point, or will commit in the future.  The promoters of Limited Atonement are the ones who want to make unbelief a special category of sin.  If we distinguish rightly between the time that the provision of atonement is made for all sins (the cross) and the time that the application of the provision is granted (faith and conversion) we come out biblical and without conflict and confusion.  But whether it feels logical to us or not the Bible is clear that those who experience God’s judgment do not do so because atonement was not made for them, but because they refuse to believe that it has.

“Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:29

[1] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Page 568.

[2] Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: Vol. III Sin & Salvation. Page 254.

[3] Colossians 1:16

[4] Genesis 3

[5] Genesis 6:5; Romans 5:11-14

[6] Romans 3:19-20

[7] Romans 6:23

[8] Genesis 2:17

[9] Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:17

[10] Revelation 21:8

[11] Hebrews 4:15

[12] 1 Corinthians 15:3

[13] 1 Peter 3:18

[14] Romans 5:1; 9

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:4; John 16:7-11

[16] Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Galatians 2:16; 3:13-14

[17] Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

[18] Piper, John. What we Believe about the Five Points of Calvinism.

[19] Driscoll, Mark.

[20] 1 John 2:15-18 NKJV (Emphasis added)

[21] 2 Peter 2:12c NKJV

[22] Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Vol. III. Page 154.

[23] Ibid

[24] Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 11:33-36

[25] Ephesians 1:13; 2:8-9

[26] Romans 1-:17b NKJV

A “Theology of suffering”: Develop it and pass it on–there’s trouble ahead!

A number of our church members are refugees from Burma/Myanmar.  Needless to say, based on their personal experiences with the government of Burma, they have zero trust that anything the government has agreed to recently will actually change the situation for their families, other Christians, and other ethnic minorities that still live in that country.

My associate pastor and his wife are from Syria.  They are the only members of their immediate families that live in the U.S.  His wife’s parents live in Homs and have had to move to a village in the hills outside of the city–a village that has had the electricity cut off by the military and food  and medical supplies severely limited.  They don’t know yet whether their home in Homs has survived the bombings.

Suffice it to say that for some of our church members and almost ALL of the refugees that our church reaches out to, government or ethnic oppression has been a way of life.  Personal SUFFERING as the result of the decisions of others has been the norm in their lives, not the exception.

Ministering to these people from the truths of God’s word isn’t a great challenge.  His word has much to say about the subject of suffering and most of it has to do with suffering that is the result of persecution rather than the suffering that results from disease and so forth.

And in this process, something has become painfully and convictingly apparent to me:  I need to tighten up my “theology of suffering” to include that which is the result of animosity from others due to being known as a follower of Jesus.

As I survey the history of the church in the United States even right up till today, outside of a few strands within the African-American church,  a “theology of suffering” has never really been developed and passed on to American Christians as part of that which will help them mature in Christ.

Here’s my take on why this is and what I believe pastors need to consider:

First–In my opinion, America is not now and has never been a valid political and governmental expression of the Kingdom of God.  No earthly government or political system can be an expression of the Kingdom of God.  If the United States or any other country actually was, then Jesus was mistaken when He clarified to the Pharisees what the Kingdom of God actually is, (Luke 17:20,21).

Second–During the entire history of the Christian church, there have only been a few countries where being a follower of Jesus actually “pays” rather than “costs” in any substantive way.  The United States has been the greatest example of this.

Third–If we’re being honest, the sheer fact that we as pastors need to define New Testament words and terms like:  “persecution”,  being “reviled”, being “hated”, being “defamed”, being spoken against as “evildoers”, or “suffering for righteousness sake” for our members should tell us something about the odd environment that we live and minister in.

Fourth–If that isn’t clear enough, then the reality that we need to find examples of what this type of treatment looks like from church history or from what is currently taking place in many countries around the world, should set off our alarm bells!

Let’s face it–life for the follower of Jesus in America just isn’t that similar to what is described as the norm in the New Testament or what others in church history or in other countries today experience.

But…….if we’re paying attention at all to what is happening in this country,  then we know that radical changes have begun and will more than likely continue–even if the current administration suffers a defeat in the next election.

What kind of changes?  Changes that I believe  will make it possible for us to give examples of the things above, (included in my 3rd point), FROM WITHIN our own country and perhaps even our own personal experiences.

Personally, I believe that God is permitting things to unfold in such a way that the requirement to find examples from history and other countries will be removed—we’ll be living it.  We’ll be fully biblical in a way that we always thought we were, but maybe actually weren’t.

I’m convinced that God is steering the foolish decisions of many powerful and influential leaders in our country so that not only will it be clear to everyone that the Kingdom of God and the United States of America are not one and the same, (which many Christians don’t understand right now), but also so that those who truly are citizens of His Kingdom will know by experience themselves a greater number of the truths of His word.

In other words, I don’t believe it will be long until 2 Tim 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, becomes a description of our own experiences and not just those from history or other countries.

Now please don’t misunderstand me.

–I’m NOT praying that God destroys the country I’ve been blessed to be raised in and have served as part of the military.  The country that has probably done a better job of representing some Kingdom principles in its interaction with other countries than most other countries and that has provided resources for me and and thousands of others to go and live in other countries to spread the good news and help with expanding His Kingdom around the world.

–I’m NOT eager to suffer persecution or any of the other things that the bible seems to indicate could be the norm for someone who follows Jesus.

–And, I’m NOT saying that we should abandon the freedoms we have in this country that God has blessed us with so that we really can have a meaningful influence on the political system or government we live under.  By our vote, our voices, and many other means, we can and should try to move the government and political system towards standards that are in line with righteousness and are ultimately best for all citizens.

So, because of all the above, I believe each and every pastor would do well to develop a “theology of suffering” and then pass it on BEFORE the reality of what so many others have experienced becomes a part of our experience.



Last week I jumped into the political fray on the issue of homosexual rights, I figured I’d continue the controversy and tackle political hot topic #2, immigration. As with the marriage debate, this one is fueled by great emotion and is often used as a political campaign weapon. The “right” cries foul in favor of lowering debt and taxes, while the “left” plays the human rights card. It’s an emotional debate for sure; one that causes division in our society as well as within the church.

While it may not be entirely correct to say that a majority of American Christians lean “right of center” politically, I think American (especially evangelical) Christianity tends to be more socially conservative. Within this group it is almost a curse word to be labeled “Liberal,” which is exactly what I am sometimes called when I discuss this topic with acquaintances. I truly want to have an honest discussion about this important issue, but I’ve found very few people who can leave their emotions at the door. Furthermore I think it is unfortunate that we seem to have slid to a point where any [apparent] threat against a conservative position is seen as a threat against the kingdom of God, as if “USA” were synonymous with God’s Kingdom (it’s not, by the way). How do we openly discuss issues such as this when we’re unable to do so civilly? Again, a reframing of the debate is [I think] necessary.

As with much of the western world, America is watching national debts multiply faster than gremlins in a downpour, which – at some point – will likely require an increase of taxation. As it stands now illegal immigrants have become the scapegoat for this problem of increasing debts, and since I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually likes paying taxes (I just had a meeting with my CPA this morning in fact), we clearly have a recipe for frustration and anger.

I live and minster in a fairly conservative town that, perhaps more than any other in America, could be labeled “Anti-illegal immigrant.” Fifty miles from the Mexican border, Escondido has a nearly 46% Hispanic population. At the direction of the city, law enforcement regularly sets up “license checkpoints” which have been highlighted several times on the national news and challenged by the ACLU. Several years ago we garnered national attention when a city ordinance passed that prohibited landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. I’m not sure what came of that one, but I’m sure it has been hung up in court. Each of these measures are the result of decreasing revenues and increasing costs; the easiest place to point is the illegal immigrant population.

Please don’t misunderstand, from a political stand point, I agree; if people are going to immigrate to our nation then it should be done legally. We are, and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. My grandparents (on my father’s side) immigrated here from Italy, and I’m grateful that they did. That said, if I grew up south of the border and could provide a better life for my family by moving north, I’d likely do that however I possibly could. Our biggest issue with such immigrants is not that they’re lazy, cause they’re not. It’s not that they don’t pay any taxes, because they do (i.e. sales taxes, many of them pay payroll taxes under fictitious Social Security numbers, property taxes as renters, etc…). As conservatives, our biggest issue is that we’ve been baited, by political rhetoric, to believe that they (“aliens”) are the cause of our fiscal problems. I’m not convinced that they are.

Sure, they’re using civil and social services as they live in our communities, but these services are offered to anyone who meet the criteria for receiving them. Thus the problem is not the low income immigrants as much as it is the social services themselves. Many conservatives are not exactly proponents of such social programs in the first place. If you provide social services, people will utilize those programs; but then you cannot turn around and be mad at the people using the programs that you provided. This being the case, I’m convinced that the best way to change the discourse is divert our attention from those using the services to the services themselves.

Is it the mandate of our constitution that we provide such services (i.e. health and welfare)? Is it the place of the government to provide them, and therefore tax the people to do so? Or, is it actually something that we, the church, should look to do for the fatherless, widows and strangers in our midst?

For much of history this was a domain occupied by the people of God. At some point in the last century the church vacated that sphere and abdicated their responsibility. The vacuum left by the church’s absence was ultimately filled by the government, who must provide such services via taxation and not charity. The need of services for the fatherless, the widow and the stranger will never go away, as “the poor we will have with us always.” But would we rather share the love of Christ by willingly meeting the needs of those who have them, or will we horde what we have? If we are unwilling to render unto God what is His in loving our neighbor, we will certainly be required to render unto Caesar what is needed to meet a need that will never go away this side of the Kingdom of God.

Daniel’s article yesterday is a good reminder. Preaching the gospel and living the gospel are not mutually exclusive realities.

Just saying…

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

– Deuteronomy 10:17-19

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

– 1 John 3:17

General & Specific Revelation

I posted this blog before we actually launched this blog so I thought it would be worth a repost.

The arguments never seem to end.

There are those who argue that evangelism must come only through words. “The Gospel must be preached!” They yell.

Then there are those who argue that evangelism must come first through actions. “Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.” They parrot (supposedly attributed to Francis of Assisi).

Both sides are very adamant that they are right and yell at the other camp. Well more honestly, one side yells and the other side shakes their heads condescendingly but in the name of love will not address it publicly. 🙂
So Christians are again finding themselves fighting against other Christians instead of outshining the lost in the cause of Jesus.

Read more

For My Bi-vocational Homies

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 2:3

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21


The Clueless Pastor

I’ll never forget attending a conference in Washington two months into being a lead pastor.  It was the annual conference that Pastor Wayne Taylor and Calvary Fellowship put on, this time at Warm Beach in Washington state.  When me and my wife received the invitation for the conference I looked at Jen and said, “I need to get trained.  We’re going to this conference!”

Because one of the conference speakers had to cancel last minute there were a few hours that needed to be filled during the conference schedule.  Much to my dismay as an introvert, pastor Wayne decided that during the open times we would pass around a microphone and give each pastor the chance to stand up in front of the five or six-hundred people in attendance and request prayer for something specific in their lives or ministry.

I was really sweating it as the microphone was making its way to me.  I didn’t even feel qualified to be standing with the other pastors having only been “official” for a couple months.  Honestly, I even thought about trying to sit down and hope the mic would pass me without anyone noticing.  But rather than lie, I decided to stand and just be open when my turn to speak came.  So when I got the mic I simply said, “Hi. My name’s Kellen and I’m from Salmon, Idaho.  I’m twenty-five years old.  I’ve been a pastor for two months and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”  To my surprise the whole place broke out in spontaneous applause and laughter!  After the laughter died down I added (while shaking mind you), “Please just pray for continued confidence in the Lord’s enablement.”  And that’s what pastor Wayne prayed for me along with the other people.

“Confidence in the Lord’s enablement.”  I now believe that prayer request was Spirit-born.  I thought I was just being nervous.  But looking back now I can see that is exactly what I should’ve been praying for then, and what I need to be continually relying upon and praying for now seven years into vocational ministry.

Real Ministry = Pressure

Ministry is intense.  To be sure some seasons are more like a pressure-cooker than others, but ministry always brings with it heat and trials.  One of the most challenging times of my life was when I was pastoring a Calvary Chapel in rural Idaho.  During one particular season I was taking 20 credit hours from Calvary Chapel Bible College by correspondence, preaching Sunday mornings in Acts, leading the midweek study on Wednesday evenings in Genesis, teaching the new believer study on Tuesday nights, leading the leadership training class on Saturday mornings, doing all the administrative and counseling work for the church during the week, planning/leading worship and running the team rehearsal on Wednesday afternoons, learning how to be a pastor and a new dad at the same time, and working to stay fruitful and invested as a husband.  Looking back at that time I know I should be dead.  The only explanation for why my wife and I are still in the game is the supernatural enabling grace of the Holy Spirit!

Turning up the Heat

If that season of ministry was tough, church-planting was brutal.  Working forty hours a week, commuting nearly an hour one way to start shifts which were at times as early as 4:30 am (harsh for a non  morning-person), leading a men’s study on Tuesdays, a house church gathering on Wednesdays, preaching on Sundays, continuing to learn how to be a dad and stay invested as a husband, hear from God about location, vision, new leaders, and overall church-plant strategy were some of the many things I had to chip away at during our first year planting Refuge Church.  I praise God for the original planting team of five other adults and our three kids that were there helping through this process in so many ways.  With their help planting was brutal. Without their help I dare say it would’ve been impossible.

This month marks one year that I’ve been supported full-time by Refuge Church.  I’m so thankful to be in this spot.  I certainly don’t feel like I have any more time than I did when I was bi-vocational.  But I can at least spread my time with greater flexibility so as to get things done.  As I write this today I’m incredibly thankful for the unexpected but fast growth of our church.  I’m thankful that we are planning our seventieth baptism since launching two years ago which will take place in March.  I’m thankful for so many blessings of God that we’ve seen.  But one of the things I’m most thankful for are the co-laborers God has raised up to assist me.  God has given me seven other good men that are carrying the load of oversight.  One of them has already been ordained as a pastor at Refuge Church.  The six others are in our elder/pastor assessment and training process sharing the load with us.

As we wrap this post up I want to give encouragement to these men and others who are in shoes similar to theirs, and similar to those I’ve been in.  I want to encourage the bi-vocational guys with a few things that the Spirit has spoken to me at different times to keep me going when the pressures of jobs, school, family, and ministry have seemed too much in different seasons.  When the flames of trial are licking our face, we remember…


1. God is Sovereign 

When you’re bi-vocational your tendency is to stress over the fact that you can’t get done what you want to get done because you don’t have enough time in the day.  The enemy uses this dynamic to get us focused on “going full-time” so we can have more time.  Satan uses this to get us frustrated and discontent.  God’s sovereignty is the antidote to this unhealthy place of heart.  Do what you do have time for to the best of your ability and entrust the rest to Jesus, the real pastor of the church.  It is His harvest and work.  He can give you more time, a different job, or turn the hearts of those you feel may be holding you back.  If He isn’t doing those things than your job is to do what you can do faithfully and then rest in God’s sovereignty.

I recently heard a pastor say that though many preachers deliver beautiful and powerful messages on the sovereignty of God with their mouths, they preach a message of open-theism with their lives.  They say God is sovereign but their stress and micro-management preach that they are sovereign.  They say God is sovereign but their anger toward those not giving them their God-promised opportunity preach that those over them are sovereign.  So, our wives and families hear us preach God’s sovereignty in the Bible study, but at home they know dad believes everything really depends on him.  Rest in God’s sovereignty men.

 2. God is Sanctifying You Today 

This one can hurt.  Instead of asking “When will this end?” every five seconds when our circumstances are hard we need to spend more time asking “What is this for?”  God is more concerned about what He is doing in you through the instruments of life’s trials than He is concerned about what’s getting done through you.  There is no such thing as wasted suffering and pain for God’s people.  As hard as things can seem at times, if God is letting us go through trials it is because He intends to do something in us through them that will be more beneficial to us than it would have been had He let us skip the trial altogether.

3. God is Preparing you for Tomorrow 

The lessons we learn through ministry pressure and suffering are not just about us, but they’re about those we will lead in the future.  If you know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet as a poor and over-worked bi-vocational pastor, you will be a great comfort to those you counsel later in ministry who are struggling to make ends meet.  If you learn how to trust God through working a job you don’t enjoy with difficult co-workers, you will be a better counselor to others in similar situations.  When we suffer God is making us useable for future ministry opportunities.  As Dustin Kensrue wrote, “As long as we live every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart.”

4. God has given you a mission field

God could have you in any job.  He could have opened any opportunity He wanted for you.  But He gave you the job you have.  You are sent to your workplace every day as a missionary.  Until and unless God’s purpose for you being in the mission field of your job is complete, you will stay there.  How you stay there is up to you.  Will you be there grudgingly and complaining?  Or will you go to work every day with a sense of discovery praying toward fulfilling the purpose and touching the people Jesus has sent you to fulfill and bless?

5. Jesus is your Sabbath

The truth is that if you’re not satisfied in Jesus as a bi-vocational pastor then you won’t be satisfied in full-time ministry either.  I’ve chased the carrot of ministry opportunities only to discover that nothing I attain, and no opportunity of service I receive ever satisfies my heart if that’s what I’m expecting it to do.  I’ve had the chance to be involved with many types of ministry that most guys my age wait for years to enjoy.  But you know what my heart says every time I get to fulfill a ministry dream? “Well, it’s still not Jesus.”  Jesus is our Sabbath and our soul rest.  We tell people no job, experience, or relationship will satisfy them and that the hole in their heart must be filled with Jesus to be healed, and then we treat ministry as our idol expecting it to do what only Jesus can.  Let’s practice what we preach and be satisfied in Jesus alone.

Final Encouragement

To all my bi-vocational homies out there- Hang in there!  We love you, and so does your God!  God is stretching your capacity.  He is making you an instrument of grace for future use.  He is doing heart surgery in you so you can be spiritually healthy.  He is sovereign and also your sabbath rest.  Our goal isn’t to “go full-time.”  Our goal is to fulfill whatever role Jesus has for us to play in spreading His kingdom, die faithful, and enter into the joy of our Master with the title of “faithful servants.”  My prayer for you today is the prayer I requested for myself at that conference.  I’m praying for you that today and for the rest of your days you will enjoy continued confidence in the Lord’s enablement to fulfill your ministry, faithful to the end.


Magnets — The pulpit AND the people skills of the pastor.

I’m in the midst of discipling, mentoring, and preparing another young man for ministry as a senior pastor.  I’ve done this with a handful of guys over the years both in the U.S. and abroad and I totally enjoy the process.  Whether I’m training a pioneer church planter or someone to step into the role as the senior pastor of an existing church that is making a transition to a new pastor, there are a few foundational principles that I believe are extremely valuable to pass on to them.

Over the past few weeks both in Phoenix and in my recent trip to the San Diego area to teach the Perspectives course, I have met with quite a few pastors and other people who are in various forms of full-time ministry or who are missionaries.  The subject of the “church” always seems to come up and we inevitably begin sharing our views of what “doing church” looks like now and how it may need to be radically altered in the not so distant future.  And as you know if you read this blog at all, these are the kinds of issues that are regular topics on this blog.

It does seem to me that what all of us acknowledge and are mostly in agreement with is the reality that technology and the unlimited availability anyone has to access great bible teaching 24 hours a day, is probably going to be more and more of a game changer in the way we “do” church.

In the “old days” the local church pastor’s ability to teach and preach God’s Word was the primary magnet for drawing in and then keeping new people.  In many ways, if the average person wanted to hear God’s Word proclaimed in a relevant way to where they were living, the pulpit ministry of the local church was really the only place to find that.  At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, the strength of the magnet that the pulpit was in times past has probably lessened to some degree and will probably continue to do so.

Because of this new paradigm we’re in, a paradigm that I believe will continue and thus require greater and greater consideration by the leadership of local churches, the Lord has shown me that a couple of the key principles that He taught me and that I’ve passed on to men preparing for pastoral work are more relevant than ever.  Here’s a summary of two of those principles:

1.  When you’re new to the role of the being a senior pastor, (or the regular guy in the pulpit), you’re ability to teach God’s Word will NOT be what draws people in or what keeps people in the church.  Honestly, most new guys just aren’t that good at teaching God’s Word!  Looking back on my own pulpit history, it’s painfully clear that my ability to communicate God’s Word wasn’t the primary tool God used to build the churches I pioneered.

What does God use to draw and keep the people?

2.  You’re willingness to engage people in real relationship.  When you take the initiative to spend time with individuals and families in their homes and of course, while they’re at church, and transparently share your story and genuinely probe them to find out their stories, people respond.  When they know that your desire is not just to feed them from the pulpit, (which you aren’t that good at right now anyway), but to sincerely tend them, (John 21:15-17), they are more likely to choose to be a part of what God is calling you to lead.

The people will hang with you because they are known and loved by someone who is also willing to be known and loved–while your teaching skills increase.  In other words, your relationships with them will give you the slack you need in order to develop your teaching gift.

With where things are at now and where they are headed in our culture, these two points are even more important.  Because the local church is no longer the primary place or source to obtain solid bible teaching and because of the priority that personal relationships and “community” seem to have among younger people, it’s probably time to concentrate on increasing the strength of another magnet.  We must certainly maintain and keep strong the pulpit magnet because the competition is incredible.  But the times seem to indicate that if we neglect the magnet of real relationship and community and are unwilling to take that magnet out of the walls of our church buildings, rust and less useful to God may be ahead.


Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.