Christians and Drinking

How should Christians handle the question of alcohol consumption? This is a question Christians struggle with and argue over. Seriously, people get passionate discussing this issue.

Whenever I begin a blog concerning important issues (this is one) I feel I must give a disclaimer of the quality of work. This format is more of a conversation than a scholarly work. As a pastor, I get this question a lot from three basic groups of people: 1) the “parent” who is looking to me as the voice from God to affirm their position that consuming any alcohol is an abomination in God’s eyes; 2) the “partier” who is seeking to use the Scriptures to affirm their position that consuming alcohol is a gift from God and should enjoyed liberally by all; and 3) the “searching one” who is struggling (on either end of the spectrum) to understand what the Bible says and how it applies in their lives. My aim is to respond to this last group for the sake of helping someone, not for the sake of getting into a theological sword fight.  As pastors, we have people who sincerely struggle with this question and we should guide them according to the Word.

A few disclaimers. First, I am not covering every verse of the Bible concerning this subject. I am seeking to share some thoughts that come to mind concerning this issue. Second, Scripture is very clear about submitting to the authorities. So in light of this discussion, the Bible would frown upon any alcohol consumption that violates the law of the land.

Our relationship with God is based upon His grace poured upon us through faith in Jesus. As a young Christian I struggled with this concept of grace. When I “fell off the wagon” and went on a bender I was riddled with guilt and failure. I thought God’s love for me ebbed and flowed like the ocean tides and was contingent on my success or failure trying to walk the Christian walk. This works based relationship is not of the Lord. If you are reading this and struggling in this area, know that God loves you because He created you, He paid your debt of sin, and He is working on you in this area in you because knows what is best for you! On the other side of the coin, I haven’t drank in something like 10+ years. This doesn’t mean that God loves me more simply because I am observing this law that I have placed over myself because of my own failure with moderation. I have been tempted to have a glass of wine just to remove my ability to say with a prideful heart, “I haven’t consumed alcohol in over 10+ years. Look at how awesome I am!”

The dangers of alcohol. How can I adequately cover this section? I can’t. I would venture to say that alcohol has killed more people, destroyed more lives, devastated more relationships than any other drug. Forget biblical reasons for just a moment—consider alcohol from a purely pragmatic perspective. I often share with people that I didn’t stop drinking for religious reasons, I stopped because it was destroying my life. I was abused by my biological alcoholic mother until I was removed from her custody when I was about 12 years old. I started drinking at an early age which resulted in a number of terrible things in my own life—hurt shoulder (to this day) from crashing a dirt bike while drunk in the desert, an abortion, and a resisting evading arrest charge that led to the losing of my security clearance for a number of months. I literally can’t think of any good thing that alcohol has produced in my life (okay, I’ll give credit to rubbing alcohol and NyQuil).

Proverbs 23:29-35 shares wisdom concerning the temptation and danger of alcohol:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?  Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.  Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”

Jesus’ first miracle was making wine. Yes, this is true. It was wine, not grape juice. There is nothing more frustrating to me when people manipulate the Bible for the sake of supporting their side. Please, don’t go down the road of “Okay, it was wine, but it is so diluted you can’t get drunk with it.”  Jesus made wine. Jesus drank wine. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard by the religious of His day (Luke 7:33-34).  The detours of grape juice or dilution distract from the main issue which is drunkenness–not consumption of alcohol.  Jesus was NEVER drunk, for that would be a sin.

There is freedom for a Christian to consume alcohol—so long as they do not get drunk. This issue is ultimately control. There is no clear line between sobriety and intoxication. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be controlled by the Spirit of the living God. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). I find this verse uncanny. Drunkenness is forbidden and the Spirit filled life is commanded as the key to maintaining healthy relationships (i.e. Husbands to wives and vice versa, parents to children and vice versa, employees to employers and vice versa) in this life. The uncanny part is the vast destruction drunkenness has caused to these relationships throughout the history of humanity. How many lives and relationships could have been spared if people set down the bottle and lived Spirit filled lives?

Sure, you have the freedom in Christ to have an alcoholic beverage, but be very careful because the warnings concerning drunkenness are severe.

I want to end with an important section of Scripture. I would encourage you to open your Bible and read through Galatians 5. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom concerning this issue in your own life.

Galatians 5:16-26—the deeds of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?


Five Ministry Lessons for the Young Church Planter – Daniel Fusco

Planting a church is hard enough. But planting a church when you are young (I mean less than 35 years of age) can make it even harder. There are less life experiences to draw from, people’s perceptions, as well as, to be honest, the fact that younger people have a tendency to be more ‘green’. I say this because I was (am) one of those young planters. I was taken on staff at a church at 24 and I stepped out to plant a church at close to 26. Planted the second church at 30 and then the third one at 35. My hope is that this article will be an encouragement to those of you who are younger.

1. Let no one despise your youth
Therefore, you shouldn’t either

Paul wrote 2 letters to Timothy that we have in our Bibles. Timothy was a young pastor and Paul exhorted him to “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”(1 Timothy 4:12). Paul told Timothy that it was not about your age but it was about your walk. Young church planters will often hear a lot of misgivings by older people about their age. I sure did. But we need to take the Word of God to heart. We should be an example of godliness. Let no one despise your youth. Oftentimes a younger pastor will despise his own youth. Listen, if the Lord has called you into the ministry, than you should trust Him. We have tremendous examples of young men who were mightily used by God: David with Goliath, Stephen in the Book of Acts, and our Lord Jesus. Oftentimes, the Sovereign God can use the zeal of youth powerfully.

2. Shut up and Listen.
God may have blessed you with teachers

One of the biggest mistakes that young pastors make is talking too much. Let me give you an example, you teach a sermon on Creation. Then someone who is a college level physicist comes up to you and begins to call you to account on your bad science. Most young pastors will start to argue and walk away and think, ‘This guy doesn’t trust the Lord’. I have found that God will put people into our fellowships that know a lot more than us about many things. We are called to teach the Word and love the people. But that doesn’t mean that we have cornered the market on all forms of knowledge. When someone in your fellowship is taking the time to correct you about something that they know more about, shut up and listen. Ask questions. Learn from the people that God is asking to learn from you. In my life as a pastorate, I have been blessed to have men and women in the fellowships that are significantly smarter than me in many areas. I have learned, grown, and been shaped by the wisdom that God has given to these precious people. Don’t forget to shut up and listen!

3. Honor your Elders
People in different life places understand things uniquely

This point is very similar to point 2 in many respects. When I say honor your elders, I mean it in two distinct ways. 1) If the Lord has given you elders in leadership in the fellowship, honor them. This is both Biblical and rational. Elders will often keep you balanced and sharp. They will be the first to stop you from making a major mistake. They should have opportunity to speak into your life. 2) People who are older (and in different life places) than you should be honored. Before I was married, I honored the married people in the fellowship by learning about the experience of marriage from them. For the parents, I would ask them about the application of the Bible to their parenting. I honored them by seeking to understand how the Lord is leading them in their respective office. I have been blessed in both church plants that I have been involved with to have godly elderly people involved. They are invaluable resources of wisdom. Honor them.

4. Let all Criticism be Constructive
Even when it wasn’t meant to be

As a pastor, you’ll hear tons of criticisms about everything. The fishbowl of public ministry can be grueling to even the thickest-skinned pastor. I have learned that every criticism that I have ever received has some merit. I remember one time; an angry woman told me that I had no love because I refused her request. She said it in anger and I could have easily dismissed her. But in reality, I don’t love nearly as fully or perfectly as Jesus does. So her criticism drove me to seek the Lord for more of His love. Rather than dismissing criticism out of hand, why not take a moment to bring it before the Lord to see what He might say. I have often found that the best thing I can do when someone levies a criticism is to ask him or her to pray for me right then and there. The Lord almost always ministers to my heart at that time.

5. If you Defend Yourself, God will let you
So don’t be defensive and let Him be your defense

I’ve heard Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel say ‘if you defend yourself, God will let you’ a myriad of times. It’s so true. If you go to defend yourself, God will let you. Being defensive is simply pride on display. David let the Lord be his defense. So did Jesus. You don’t have to defend yourself. If you are in the right, the Light of the world will reveal it in due time. If you are in the wrong, well, the Light of the world will reveal it in due time. Until then, trust in the Lord with all your heart. Repent when needed and rejoice in His grace.

The local church and illegal immigrants–remember the Gibeonites!

I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m a pastor of a local church that is heavily engaged with serving the immigrants that live in our local community, and I’m a person who believes the bible is God’s self-revelation and that the historical events recorded in the bible actually took place at a specific time in history. I also believe that God has recorded those events, and many other things, for our benefit (1 Cor 10:11). I’m also convinced that if we take the time to understand the historical and cultural context of the times in which these events took place, we can discover principles that transcend all times and cultures. I also believe that those principles can and should be expressed by specific practices relevant and understandable to any specific culture.

Having said all of this, I am also something else, I am…….deeply troubled.

What specifically is troubling me? It appears to me that many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus here in America view themselves first and foremost as citizens of the United States of America, rather than first and foremost as citizens of the Kingdom of God. That for a number of reason too numerous to go into here, they live with the faulty understanding that somehow, the United States is a valid and perhaps the only true expression of the Kingdom of God in a political form. That the American “way of life” and the American “dream” are somehow in complete agreement with and are actually a great example of the truths that citizens of the Kingdom of God should navigate life by. And that somehow, the stumbling and unraveling of America will inflict a major death-blow to the Kingdom of God.

Needless to say, I beg to differ with those that hold these views.

I base the above summary of Christian American’s views on many conversations I’ve had with people around the country and right here in Phoenix. If you don’t understand why I would describe many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus in this way, here’s a quick summary of just some of what I’ve experienced since I arrived in Phoenix and began working among the refugee community:

The Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state, has run a couple of articles in the past few years about the work my church does with refugees in our local community. After each article was published I received telephone calls from people claiming to be Christians who accused me of being a contributor to the train wreck that the American “way of life” is headed toward. I was told that I had no idea what I was doing by giving help to “those people” and one lady went as far as stating that she hoped when the kids of “those people” start gangs and cause turmoil, that my kids and grandkids will suffer at their hands. Again, these were people claiming to be Christians. Even when I explained that we work primarily with refugees who arrive completely legal under U.S. State Department guidelines and oversight and that 90 percent of the refugees would go back to their home country tomorrow if they could do so without the risk of being put tortured or put to death by a variety of means, some of these callers still spit venom in my direction. But, and this too is troubling, even those who softened their rhetoric after understanding the situation of refugees, on the other hand, were quick to tell me that those other immigrants, those “illegals” are the main culprits that are contributing to the ruin of our country.

What is going on here? In my opinion, as I’ve described above, some crucial lines have been blurred regarding the Kingdom of God and the United States of America. I’m convicted and convinced that it is the responsibility of those who take the Word of God seriously, especially those who pastor local churches, to bring some biblical truth and principles to bear regarding followers of Jesus and immigrants, even ILLEGAL-IMMIGRANTS!

The bible is full of admonitions for God’s people to be an expression of His love and care for the fatherless, the widow, the poor and oppressed, and the “stranger” that lives among us, (Deut. 10:17-22 being just one of dozens of examples). But does the bible have anything to say about the stranger or foreigners who live in our midst and who came here by “illegal” means? How should His people relate to those who have used deception to circumvent the clear laws of a sovereign people in order to sneak in and live in the presence of God’s people? How should His people interact with those who have snuck in among us in order to avoid what they perceive as an inevitable death much earlier than they would desire?

Are there a principles from a historical incident recorded in God’s Word that might apply to the situation followers of Jesus find themselves in at our moment in history? I believe there are.

Let’s consider those pesky Gibeonites!

Is it possible that God recorded the whole story of the Gibeonites and their interaction with God’s people so that His followers in America more than 2,500 years later might be able to clear up some of the very important lines that have been blurred? I think so.

Without expositing the texts in detail, let me give you a few key points from the story of Israel and the Gibeonites that I believe contain principles for us today.

1. God permitted the Gibeonites to deceive Joshua and peace was made with them and a covenant agreed to that will permit them to live. (Josh 9:15)

2. When they discovered they had been deceived, they didn’t give them what they deserved. A commitment had been made to them and Joshua wouldn’t permit them to break that commitment…even a commitment that was actually the result of the Gibeonites deceptiveness. This decision was not popular with the majority of God’s people and caused them to complain against their spiritual leaders. (Josh 9:18)

3. The Gibeonites agreed to be woodcutters and water carriers, (jobs nobody else really wanted to do), to stay alive and live among and be blessed by the blessings God was going to pour out on His people. (Josh 9:21-27)

4. The “long day of Joshua”, when the sun stood still, was triggered by God’s calling His people to protect the Gibeonites that were living in their midst. (Josh 10:6-15) The Lord fought for Israel in a unique way as Israel was His tool of protection for the “illegals” that lived among them.

5. Even generations later, mistreatment of the Gibeonites by Saul and some members of his house in their zeal for their own ethnicity brought serious consequences on members of their own family at a later point in time, David even permitting the Gibeonites to determine what form the justice should take (2 Sam 21:1-9)

Me thinks it would behoove the body of Christ in America to consider and apply the principles I’ve just unpackaged.

The following is my thought process based on these principles:

–Personally, I’m not commissioned by my government to enforce immigration law, but I am commissioned by my God to love the stranger, the poor, and the oppressed, regardless of their immigration status.

–I don’t view the changing ethnic make-up of our neighborhoods and our country as a threat to the American “way of life”. I view them as an amazing opportunity for me personally and the members of my church and God’s true followers nation-wide, to be able to obey the “great commission” (Matt 28:18-20) and have a direct, participatory role in helping Rev. 5:9 and 7:9 a reality….what a privilege!

–If those I serve and share Jesus with are here illegally and they are apprended and deported, I will weep with them, encourage them to stand strong as they face the justice of deportation that they deserve, view them as missionaries being sent to a needy field at government expense, and then maintain communication with them as they represent Jesus in their cities and among their own people.

–I don’t believe any country’s borders should be eliminated. I believe it’s every government’s responsibility to have immigration laws and enforce them. I don’t have a problem with a border fence, national ID cards, or any other reasonable steps a government takes to try to ensure the safety and success of it’s own people. But none of those things is the responsibility of the Kingdom of God…it’s priorities–the King’s priorities are usually quite opposite.

Let’s grab our motto back from the Blues Brothers: “we’re on a mission from God here”! And let’s thank God for those pesky Gibeonites and what it reveals about Him and the responsibilities of the citizens of His Kingdom.

Ideas on Doing Outreach – Daniel Fusco

The critical mistake that many church planters make is that they think that God’s calling on their lives equals a ‘successful’ plant. Planters think that since God is calling them to an area that they will simply show up, put up a sign, and people will flock into the building because they are ready to teach the Bible. Oftentimes people get the false impression that if you simply teach the Word, people will flock into a new church. This may be true if you are planting a church in the middle of a full on revival, but in reality, in 2009, there aren’t too many place in the United States that are in the middle of a full on revival. Effective church planters need to do outreach to meet people so that they can come to the building to hear that Word of God. This was brought into focus for me when I was speaking to one of the older pastors in the Calvary Chapel movement. This pastor was there in the beginning of the Jesus Movement. He told me that not only was the Pastor Chuck Smith’s teaching anointed, but there was also a ton of outreach going on. There were concerts and Christian communes. There were outreach studies going on in schools, homes, and by the side of the road. Greg Laurie was inventing new cartoon tracks and they were being handed out. Teaching tapes were being given out. There were people, outside of the church building, meeting people with the intention of communicating the Gospel to them. A successful church plant is one that is reaching out to their community. When the people who are reached come to the church, then they will get the opportunity to hear God’s inspired Word.

In one of Mark Driscoll’s books, he gives a great and simple insight into casting vision for outreach. He asked three simple questions: Who are you reaching out with? Who are you reaching out to? And how are you reaching out? Feel free to read that article to see the finer points of these questions. But to begin our discussion, these questions are important. Who are you reaching out with? Is it just you? Do you have a small team? A large group? The answer to this question will affect the scope of our outreach. Who are you reaching out to? Depending on whom we are trying to reach, this will color the style of outreach. In the Jesus Movement, Christian concerts worked well, but might not in every context. This speaks to the need for cultural exegesis and understanding our target communities. This is where statistics and demographics can be incredibly helpful. Do we love the community that we are called to as Jesus does in such a way as to understand them? Finally, how are you reaching out? This is the culmination of the first two questions. When we understand who we are reaching out with and who we are reaching out to, then we can formulate an action plan as to how we are going to reach out. It is this third section that I want to spend some time on.

Have A Plan

It is simply wisdom to have a goal and that can be executed. If we have a plan and set some goals, we will have a better chance of accomplishing anything. So I always recommend that church planters come up with a plan, no matter how basic it may be. Set some goals and work towards their fulfillment.

Don’t be Seeker Sensitive, Be Seeker Sensible

I don’t know who coined this pithy phrase, but I like it. We need to be sensible to the people that we are trying to reach and the message that we are giving out. This is important because oftentimes our outreach ideas are not relevant to the people we are trying to reach. We have a tendency to import an outreach strategy that we saw used in another context. We need to be sensible. There is nothing worse then investing time and energy into something that isn’t sensible.

The Gospel is Free; But Getting It Out is NOT Cheap

We need to spend money on outreach. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. It seems that oftentimes we would rather spend our money on anything else other than reaching people for the Gospel. We would rather spend money on the building a church (building) than building the church (community). Are we more concerned with getting ourselves a salary our reaching our community? Getting the Gospel out in our community will cost money and we should be prepared for this. It is money well spent (as long as we are mindful of who we are trying to reach).

It’s The Slow Drip That Works

What I mean by this is simply that it’s the cumulative effect of all the outreach attempts that work. We are apt to judge the effectiveness of an outreach based on immediate fruit. But in a church plant, it is the entire breadth of outreach that will have the effect. A continued outreach initiative, over time, will be effective. So have a broad view of it. Think about it, how many times have you heard about something before you try it? Like a restaurant? Oftentimes you’ll see an advertisement or two, maybe a billboard, then you’ll hear of a few people who went there and then you’ll try it. Churches are the same way. After someone gets used to seeing your name, if they know someone who likes it, often they will try it.

Put Your Name and Logo On Everything

This is the simplest outreach style. I call it ‘passive outreach’. To simply get name recognition, you want to put your logo, name, and website on everything: handbills, t-shirts, pens, everything. If you put your branding on everything, eventually people will notice you. As a Calvary Chapel pastor, if I am driving through a town and I see a dove, I instantly know what that means. There is recognition of the name and symbol. In our towns, if no one ever heard of us, there is a good chance that they are not stopping by for a visit.

Maintain A Good Website (and keep your name in the Yellow Pages)

In the technologically obsessed United States, it is criminal not to have a strong web presence. We are really shooting ourselves in the foot if we are not all over the web. Simply google your community and see what comes up. Put your name everywhere. On every community website that you can. The internet is here to stay and we want to be a part of it. People still use the Yellow Pages as well. Make sure your name is in the Yellow Pages. Also, don’t forget that you can negotiate with the Yellow Pages salesman. That we have in the Yellow Pages was being offered at $120 per month and we settled on $30 per month. That’s an extra $90 for other outreach ideas.

Train The Congregation in Community Engagement

Jesus’ outreach style was to train up twelve apostles. Jesus knew that having thirteen points of contact (Himself plus the twelve) would be more effective than it just being Himself. As we are teaching the people the Word, we need to be constantly raising up people who are effective witnesses on their jobs, while at school, as they recreate and the like. I am constantly downloading outreach sensibilities to the congregation as we walk through the Scriptures together.

Finally, The Church Will Be Passionate About What The Pastor Is Passionate About

Brothers, if we are not passionate about the lost, neither will the folks in our fellowship be. Just as Jesus reproduced Himself spiritually in His disciples, so will we. If our hearts do not burn for the lost, then we will never inspire them to care enough to share. Brothers, do we have a passion for the souls of men? Is it a passion that will drive us out of the safety of our offices and studies and into the places where people congregate to them won for Christ? A church planter without an outreach passion is not a church planter.

Biblical Meditation and Spiritual Blessing


Psalm 1: 1-2 “(1) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.

Spurgeon Insight: “He delights to be in it (the Law) as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read it by day and think upon it by night.”[1

Two Sources of Influence

This Psalm is about two different types of counsel by which a person can live, and the practical results a person can experience from following one or the other.  On the one hand the Psalm warns against living life by the counsel of the ungodly, those who don’t live by God’s wisdom and have a right relationship with Him.  On the other hand the Psalm graphically describes the blessed life a person will enjoy if they turn to God’s law for counsel which is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

The Subtle Key to Blessing

I have often read this Psalm and took encouragement from it to keep studying the Bible as my guide in life decisions.  Reading it over today it stands out to me that being blessed through God’s Word involves a lot more than studying the Bible.  The Psalmist doesn’t say that the person who merely reads or studies the Bible will be blessed.  He says that it is the person who “delight(s)” and “meditates” on the Law of the LORD who will be blessed.  Delighting in God’s Word speaks of taking pleasure in it.  Meditating on God’s Word isn’t just reading it, but chewing on it mentally, and I believe, praying over what is found in God’s Word.

Delight = Spiritual Nourishment

So the big application for me is not to stop short with mere Bible reading and expect to be transformed by the Word.  I must delight in God’s Word and meditate on God’s Word.  Only then will I be the blessed and transformed person glorifying God that this Psalm describes.  The ability to do either of these things will take the grace and enabling of the Holy Spirit.  Pray with me…

Lord, we pray right now that you would increase delight for your word inside our spirits.  Increase our capacity to enjoy it through meditation.  Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak.  By Your grace and Spirit accomplish these things in us so we can live the transformed and blessed life You desire to produce in, and through us.

[1] Spurgeon. Charles. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Psalms. Page 2.

Note- The above post is taken from “Lift: a Devotional Journey through Selected Psalms” By Kellen Criswell

The Biggest Peer Group

Pastors and church leaders make many valid efforts to promote church unity.  In any city, there is the church universal.  Each of our particular churches is a sub culture of the City Church, and then within each church, there are sub-sub cultures, such as youth groups, 50’s plus groups, college groups, etc.

We are conscious to understand each sub-sub culture, to speak on their terms, and be sensitive to their world.  We seek to promote activities that appeal to those sub-sub cultures, and to bring age appropriate blessings to them.

These efforts are good efforts, in that they reach into people’s worlds.  We meet them where they are at.  We become “all things to all men that we might save (and bless) some”.

Human nature is such that we love our peer groups.  Birds of a feather flock together.  We all have that tendency.  Like attracts like. Little or no effort is needed to mingle with people like ourselves.  It is an unconscious human response to seek out peers that understand us, accept us, and approve of us.  And so, sub-sub cultures exist within our church.

While recognizing and ministering to sub-sub cultures in our church has its benefits, it can also create problems regarding church unity.  The blessing of attending church can revolve around easily fitting into our sub-sub culture peer group.  There is almost if not actual immediate gratification in peer groups.  Social and cultural mores are understood, and have been previously navigated.  People enter into sub-sub cultures, and though the balance of things changes at times, lesser adjustments can be quickly made.

Most people that I know have little time to expand their circle of friends, much less try to break into a different sub-sub culture.  The thought of learning another social language, another culture, etc., is not only not natural, but troublesome and too challenging for most people.

Yet this is what must happen if our churches are going to continue past one generation, and if they are going to be trans-generational.  Younger people need to learn from older people, and older people need to realize their responsibility to raise up the next generation.

The Apostle Paul teaches that in Christ, we are created as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15).  There is a new culture called “Christian”.  There is a new man called “Christian”.  There is a new peer group called “Christian”.

If a man or woman or teen can see that the greatest oneness they have is not the cultural “sameness” of  this present fleeting moment, but the eternal oneness of being one in Jesus, then suddenly that person’s “peer group” is no longer a sub-sub culture, but has grown to include the entire Body of Christ.

If a person can capture the idea that they have settled for the ease of living in a sub-sub culture peer group, but have missed the greater blessing of knowing the entire church, they just might be motivated enough to push past present cultural trends, and actually try to understand another Christian from a different sub-sub culture.

We all understand that the best evangelist for a teen is another teen.  Kids come to church because their friends convince them to. Like attracts like.

I submit that if a pastor can convince a few teens that their peer group is the entire church, and not just the youth group, that those kids will begin to reach out to older people in the church.  They will convince their friends to go with them as they do it.  The same is true for every sub-sub culture peer group.  All you need is one or two people from a sub-sub culture to break out and be convinced that their true peer group is actually the entire church.

Therefore, whereas understanding and reaching into sub-sub groups can be effective, and ought to be done, I suggest that we never sacrifice the unity of trans-generational fellowship for the sake of reaching out to a slice of society.  Both are needed.  We may reach people by focusing on a sub-sub culture, but we need to help them mature into seeing the entire Body of Christ as their peer group.  Trans-generational love and nurturing must occur.  Kids need to know that the old people want them, not that they simply hire a youth leader to reach them.  Old people need to know that young people genuinely respect them for their accomplishments, and are willing to sit and listen to them.

Cultural awareness is important, but love always finds a way to navigate through cultural waters, and reach a kid, a single mom, or an elderly person.  Cultural relevance is a tool of understanding, but love is the heart of the matter.  Oneness in Christ is the banner that every Christian needs to ultimately see as the glue that not only builds the church, but holds it together, and pushes it forward into the future.

Understanding Your Context – Daniel Fusco

When I speak with church planters, I always want to find out about the area that they are ministering. I ask them about the community, its values, its style, the demographics, etc. I find that oftentimes men haven’t taken the time to do any cultural exegesis. At first, this took me aback. But then I remembered that when I planted the church in New Brunswick, I did barely any cultural exegesis. I was a young man with a Bible who knew that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. I had seen the Lord change my life and I had a passion to see people experience that same change. So I set on out, without thinking much about where I was, the uniqueness of the area, etc. Even when we first began, although I was saying all the right things about my understanding of the community, the reality was that I didn’t really take the time to understand the average person in New Brunswick. I didn’t love the community enough to want to really know and understand them. The ministry suffered because of this. Not because I didn’t teach the Word, but because I did but not in a way that anyone could understand. It suffered because I exported the ministries that I had seen at the church that I was an Assistant Pastor at, rather than seeing my area for what it was and tailoring the ministry accordingly. So now, we’re going to look at ways of understanding our ministry context as well as some of the pitfalls that church planters face.

The Most Important Thing about Contextualization

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unchangeable. It is fixed. It cannot be altered and still be honoring to God Himself. But how we communicate these truths need to be changeable. They will change as the times do and as the culture does. The reason that I say this is the most important thing about contextualization is that many people don’t want to contextualize the gospel because many people change the Gospel to reach a culture (this is called syncretism). This is wrong. But you can package the gospel in such a way as to keep people from actually being able to hear it. Imagine if you were interested in using a new computer. You go and talk to a ‘professional computer guy’ and he speaks to you in very technical, computer geek language. Within a few minutes, you are completely lost and your eyes glaze over and you decide that learning about the new computer is not for you. Is it that you weren’t really interested in learning or was it that the computer guy just shot soo far over your head that you just couldn’t get it? I’m sure a lot of our churches are like this. So in any discussion about contextualization needs to begin and end with the unchangeable gospel that God asks each of us to package specifically for our target audience, our community.

The Scriptures are Completely Contextualized

This was a mind-blowing realization to me. There are four Gospels. Each one has a different audience. Matthew, writing to Jewish people, quotes extensively from Scripture and is constantly looking at the fulfillment of prophecy in the life of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel has very little of this, as he was writing to a different audience. You’ll notice in Luke’s Gospel how he is always clarifying things to explain things that the average Roman wouldn’t understand about Jewish culture. Each of Paul’s epistles are contextualized to a specific area. The Galatians were struggling with the Judaizers, so Paul spoke to them about the necessity of faith apart from works. The church in Corinth was simultaneously spiritually gifted and carnal. So Paul shared to them the unsearchable riches of Christ within their context. Although all of this is God-breathed, it was inspirationally directed to a specific group of people. Not only were the words and concepts inspired, but also that those words and concepts were to be directed to a specific target audience! Jesus was incarnate into first century Judaism. He looked and dressed as they did. He understood how they were raised, as He was raised the same way. He spoke their language. If the Lord would have been incarnate say today in New York City, the Gospels would contain the same truth, but in drastically different packaging. One of the keys to understanding your context and ministering effectively within it is to ask the simple questions (with radically important answers), “If Jesus were to be incarnate today into (insert your location here), what would His ministry look like?” “If the Apostle Paul was doing his missionary work in (insert your location here), where and how would he do his ministry?” Then you should ask the question, “Why aren’t I doing these things?”

Demographic Research Is Not Unspiritual

I had always thought that it was unspiritual to look at demographics. As if using demographics somehow made your calling of God of a lesser effect. I had heard people speak ill of Rick Warren for surveying the area that he hoped to plant in to find out about what the people’s experiences with church and their perceptions of what would be the type of church they would attend. He found, among other things, that people wanted sermons that had real life application to it and they wanted a church that really valued their children. I believe that God wants these things as well for His church. Wikipedia defines demographics as ‘Demographic or demographic data refers to selected population characteristics as used in government, marketing or opinion research, or the demographic profiles used in such research. Commonly-used demographics include race, age, income, disabilities, mobility (in terms of travel time to work or number of vehicles available), educational attainment, home ownership, employment status, and even location. Distributions of values within a demographic variable, and across households, are both of interest, as well as trends over time.’ Demographics are simply a compendium of who lives in your area. It was completely illuminating to read the US Census Data for Mill Valley, California where I currently serve. The people here are 90% Caucasian. 60% of the people have a college degree and one in three people have an advanced degree. The average per family income is more than twice the national average. This simply teaches me that the people here are primarily Caucasian, wealthy, successful and very well educated. This has profound implications for ministry style and approach. Would it be wise to come into a primarily Caucasian area and harp on the need for the ministry to be multicultural? With the education of the area that I am in, I have to make sure to anticipate the intellectual arguments of very well educated people and pepper all messages with this. Demographics are a snapshot of the makeup of your community. You want to know who you are trying to reach and make sure that your approach takes into account the people you are trying to reach and not just your own personal preferences.

We Absolutely Need to Understand the Average Person in our Community

Now I hate to say this but you won’t understand the average person in your community reading Bible commentaries and listening to your favorite pastors. Don’t get me wrong, you need to study to show yourself approved and be edified. But this will not help you understand your missiological context. Are your neighbors reading Bible commentaries? It is doubtful (although we wish they would). Do your neighbors really care about what some group of Christians are doing in some place that they’ve never been that you don’t agree with? Again, it’s doubtful. But oftentimes, this is what pastors do.

I have found that in order to understand the people that you are called to minister to, there are certain things that you can do to aid yourself.

1) Purposefully vary your people context.

Make sure that you spend time with non-Christians and find out what is important to them. It is really easy for church planters and pastors to spend all of their time with folks from within their congregation. It is essential and a disciple to vary your people context. Find out where they get their information from, the books they like, the movies that seem important to them and what they laugh at and why. Talk to them about sports and politics, but not to argue with them, but to understand them.

2) Read their information sources.

Read your local newspaper if it is popular and widely read. Read magazines that are targeting a population that is similar to your own. Read the popular books in your area. You can go into the local large bookstore change and ask them for their list of the most popular books that the store has sold. It’s a good idea to buy a book or two and read it with a mind to both understand your target population and also have a point of contact to begin dialoguing with people about (like Paul’s ‘Unknown God’ reference in the Book of Acts). I have found that magazines are easier than books as they are shorter and not as involved/time consuming. Also, if your area is strongly of a certain political flavor, you want to really understand their worldview so listen to their pundits, even if it makes you a bit nuts. If you want to understand whom you are trying to reach, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.

3) Find the Points of Commonality

As you speak to people and as you digest their information, find the areas that you can agree on with the culture at large. Most people are used to Evangelicals being completely adversarial in their approach. It turns them off, just as it would us, if we were in their shoes. In almost every culture, there are things that there is agreement on. It’s important to find those points and use them as a relational bridge.

4) Proximity Breeds Accountability

I always encourage church planters to live directly in the community that they are called to. You want to live in the same context as they do. People will consider you irrelevant if you are living in the suburbs and trying to plant a church in the middle of a city ghetto. Your contexts are different and they will see that. You want to shop where they shop, work out where they work it, have the same weather, etc. And by all means, if you move into an area, change your cell phone number to have the same area code as everyone else, there is nothing that says ‘outsider’ more than having a cell phone number from some unheard of area code. And on that note, get your license plates changed ASAP if you move across state lines.

5) Teach As If Your Community’s Seekers Are There

If all of your messages are directed at evangelical people and are concerned with evangelical sub cultural discussions, then the only people who will be interested in them are evangelicals. But in most of our communities, there are less and less evangelicals and more and more people who don’t go to church. If you ever hope to reach your community, you want to make sure that you are teaching to an audience (whether you are in actuality or not) who includes those who are not yet Christian. Don’t just invalidate the average concerns with mockery. Those are real people’s concerns. Teach the Scriptures and show the community God’s love from them by lovingly addressing their most common concerns and explain to them how that concern is either unfounded or way more important than they realize. When you teach, teach as the average person in your community is there, and Lord willing, one day they will be and there will be conversions in the church.

6) Make Sure that You Really Love Them

Love is always relevant. I often think of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners. He was nothing like them, at all. But yet He loved them and spent copious amounts of time with them. Even though He was distinct from them, He was there with them and no doubt, they knew that He loved them. We need to make sure that we love the community that we are trying to reach. We need to beg God for His heart for the people. He loves them. Jesus Christ died on a cross so that those who would come to Him might have life and have it more abundantly. God give us your heart of love for our communities.

Inexplicable God

One of the most mind-bending and yet rewarding things we can do is meditate on the trinitarian nature of God.  While not all agree, the Trinity, or Triune nature of God, is a reality most definitely affirmed by the teaching of Scripture.   The biblical testimony portrays God as existing as three separate persons who all equally share one divine essence.  These persons have revealed themselves as God the Father, Jesus (who is God the Son), and God the Holy Spirit in the Bible.


The Bible and the Nature of God

The biblical teaching on the nature of God can be summarized as follows:

1. The Father is God (Jn. 6:27)

2. The Son is God (Jn. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:7-8; Col. 1:13-17)

3. The Spirit is God (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 13:1-4)

4. There is only One God (Deut. 6:4; Mk. 12:32; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:6)

5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are NOT each other (Matt. 3:16-17; Jn. 1:1-3 & 18; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)


What Does the Biblical Data Mean?

The Bible clearly teaches each of the above five realities regarding the nature of the One true God.  There is only One God. He exists in the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the three are divine, and they are not One another.   They are not three separate God’s.  They are not one divine Person portraying Himself three separate ways.  They are three literally distinct Persons unified by one divine essence.


Um, Can You Explain that Please?

Usually this is the point that our brain starts to hurt.  As we try to stretch our finite minds to the point where we can wrap our proverbial arms around the awesome and infinite reality of God’s nature, feelings of futility and inadequacy soon follow.  While we can certainly apprehend the biblical teaching regarding the Triune nature of God, we cannot fully comprehend it in it’s fullness.


How ’bout an Illustration?

The truth is that we cannot even adequately illustrate the Trinity.  Many have tried to do so, and I personally believe they have done so in vain.  Even the closest illustrations fall short at the end of the day.  Let me point out the most common illustrations people set forth in attempt to better understand or articulate the reality of the Trinity:


1. The Clover- Some say that to illustrate the nature of God to the people he was trying to reach in Ireland, Saint Patrick would point to the three-leaf-clover.  He would suggest that the nature of God is like a clover that, while being one entity, has the three parts in the leaves which ultimately all connect as one.

2. The Egg- Some suggest that the fact that an egg has three parts (yoke, white, and shell) while still being one egg can serve as an illustration of the Trinity.

3. The Water- Others point to water which can exist in three forms (gas, solid, liquid) as an illustration of the Trinity.

4. The Family- Still others would point to the family as a potential illustration of the Trinity.  Admittedly this is my personal favorite.  These folks point out that, biblically speaking, men and women become one flesh through marriage and sexual relations.  When parents reproduce and have a child, the child genetically proceeds forth from the essence of both the father and mother who are one flesh through marriage.  In the end, it is contended that this illustrates the Trinity in that the human father, mother, and child are all three separate persons and yet one in a legitimate sense.


The truth is all of these illustrations fall short for various reasons.  And while helpful for lifting our minds to a perhaps good starting place as we begin to try and appreciate the complexity and beauty inherent within the Triune nature of God, none of these should serve as absolute pictures of the precise nature of God.


Reaction Time

When we get to this point in meditating on the Trinity, I have found people react in two ways depending on where they’re at with Jesus in their personal lives.  First of all, the skeptical non-Christian begins to mock.  They say, “If I can’t explain it, or find something of comparable nature to illustrate it, it must not be true.”  Secondly, the new or untaught Christian might begin to doubt.  They might find themselves thinking, “Can this be true if we cannot explain it?  Are the skeptics correct, and the Trinity is just another made-up human superstition?”


Answers for the Skeptic

In response to the skeptic I would say three things:

1. Either the Bible is God’s Word, or it isn’t.  Many who are in opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity also affirm the inspiration of the Bible.  Their are some religious groups who affirm the divine inspiration of the Bible, and yet because the Trinity doesn’t make sense to them logically, they reject it and come up with other translations of Scripture foreign to the original languages in which the Bible was written for the sake of supporting their view.  This is all done to justify making Scripture conform to their logic, rather than bringing their supposed logic into conformity with the plain meaning of Scripture.   At the end of the day either the Bible is God’s Word and must be accepted, or it’s not.  But you can’t have your cake and eat it too on this one.  If the Bible is God’s Word the Trinity is the only possibility based on the teaching of the whole counsel of God as summarized above.  Either the Bible is God’s Word or it’s not.


2. Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought. Don’t you think it’s possible that there might be some things that are true about the infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe that are just a little difficult to wrap your much smaller, finite mind around?  Do you really think you’re so smart that you should be able to fully wrap up everything about the nature of God in a nice little intellectual package that is easy to understand and explain? Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought.


3. Don’t be a hypocrite. The fact is that every skeptic who scoffs at the doctrine of the Trinity based on it’s incomparableness is a hypocrite.  They know that there are many things they affirm to be true though they can’t fully understand or explain them.  I know there are many things like that in my life.  There are things that I know are true, that are scientifically explainable, that I still can’t fully comprehend.  I know there are scientific explanations regarding how giant aircraft carriers made of steel, transporting thousands of people, planes, and supplies can float in the water, but it still doesn’t make sense to me.  I know science can explain why it is that a fly can float in the cab of my truck while I’m driving 75 down the freeway and not splat against my back window, even though I know that fly isn’t moving in the same direction as my vehicle, at the same speed.  And yet, if I were to stand up and jump in the air in the back of my truck going the same speed, I would be dead in the road.  How does all that work? I mean, is there a problem in the matrix, or what?  You can explain it to me scientifically, but it still won’t fully make sense.   I believe even the most ardent skeptics regarding the Trinity hold to many truths in their lives which they  apprehend and affirm while knowing they cannot fully explain or comprehend them The honest skeptic would agree.  Don’t be a hypocrite.


Answers for the Christian

For the new or untaught believer who is struggling with doubt over their inability to articulate, understand, or illustrate the Trinity, I would comfort you with the truth of Isaiah 40:18: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?”  In short, the Bible itself declares the inexplicable nature of God!  We don’t need to worry about not being able to explain or illustrate what God has already told us is inexplicable and without illustration.  Part of being God is being absolutely unique amongst all other things in existence!  The reason you can’t point to an illustration and say, “That is what God is like,” is because He is altogether unique and incomparable in every single possible way!


At Refuge we like to say in regard to meditating upon the mysterious nature of our God that, “Logic can only take you so far before all you can do is stop and worship in awe!”    I hope this brief reflection on the inexplicable nature of the One True and Living God has inspired you to do that.  Let logic, reason, and understanding take you as far as it can.  And when you come to the end of that finite road, worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who together exist as our One True God!