Godly Fear (part 1 of 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shooting with Civilians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining A Vibrant Faith At Seminary


God has graciously provided for me to attend seminary part-time. We’ve already had a little banter on Cross Connection about the ‘semantic range’ of the word seminary, specifically whether or not cemetery is in the gloss. All humour aside, a relevant issue is keeping your faith vibrant in seminary. This statement does not imply that seminary kills our faith. I want to get a little more personal. My wicked heart is what kills my faith. The question of how we maintain a vibrant faith is valid for all areas, but I want to zoom in on the unique environment of seminary. Here are some things that I do to keep my faith not only alive, but flourishing in an academic environment.

1.) Remember that it is the Word of God that you are studying. Remind yourself that you are not performing an autopsy, but rather discovering life. This is not a dead word that is being dissected, but rather a Living Word to be applied. A danger for any student (seminary or otherwise) is to approach God’s Word as a mere text. If you put latex gloves on your heart so as not to be affected by the content of your study, then you’re detaching yourself from God’s Word. You need to remember (and be reminded) that this is the Word of God.

2.) Don’t let God fall into the 3rd person. Watch and make sure that your conversation doesn’t become consumed with speaking about God, but remember that you speak to him. Prayer needs to be part of your theological study. We study to learn more about God IN ORDER TO know Him. If my conversation stops at the third person and it never moves into my personal fellowship with God; faith gets divorced from theology.

3.) Pursue humility. Guard your heart against thinking certain things are below you. Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but it is also extremely dangerous. Be sure that you are still willing to serve people and love people where they are at. What you learn is NOT for the purpose of impressing people. If you find that you are unable to listen to a sermon from someone who doesn’t know what a hortatory subjunctive is or who cannot pronounce pericope, then you are in danger! Even more, if Joe Christian is too simple for you to fellowship with, then knowledge has puffed you up and you have begun to view your acceptance before God on the basis of works of an intellectual nature, rather than grace. Pride is how the devil fell… not a very good role model.

4.) Repent of sin. If what you are learning is not sanctifying you, then you are hardening your heart. How do you know if you are learning? You are repenting of sin. If your study causes you to see the shortcomings of others (academically or theologically), instead of your own personal need of a Saviour, your faith will become head faith without heart.

5.) Eat! A chef can be in the kitchen all day cooking. A farmer can be handling fruit from dawn to dusk. This doesn’t mean they are eating. Your own soul needs God’s word. Read the Bible for yourself, not just for your syllabus.

A great book for those who are considering seminary, Bible college, or any other intense regime of study is by Helmut Thielicke, and Charles Taylor called A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978).

One last thought, if you are looking to pick a seminary, pick one where the teaching faculty are committed Christians holding to the faith once delivered to the saints.

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Missional Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Follow Me” — The Essence of True Christianity

One Woman’s Story 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Commission

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

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

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

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

The Basis of Our Identity

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

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

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

Freedom from the Confusion of Religion

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

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

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

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

We Follow Not Knowing Everything About Where We’re Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– John 15:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verifying Your Foundation

In keeping with the theme of my last few posts on doing what is hard and not resting in past victories or stalling out in our spiritual growth… I’d like to share a bit from a sermon I just taught on Habakkuk.

In the first two chapters of Habakkuk we see a man struggling with the sin and corruption of his nation and her leaders; a nation that had covenanted with God to be His special people according to very clear terms and conditions. When God reveals to Habakkuk that He has a plan to bring about reform and renewal in Israel, Habakkuk doesn’t even have time to be thankful for the answer to his prayer. The reason? Because God’s plan for renewal required the covenant judgement He promised in Deuteronomy. Even more perplexing: that judgement would be at the hands of the Babylonians who were less righteous than Israel (1:13). So Habakkuk groans over the idea of Babylon being used by God, while Israel is being judged by God… at the hand of Babylon! God gets the last word in chapter two, describing how His righteousness not only requires covenant judgment, but also cosmic judgment. Babylon will pay. By the same methods and means Babylon employed in her wrath against humanity, so God will employ in His wrath against her.

In Habakkuk 3, the prophet switches from his already unusual style of prophecy through personal dialogue to and even more unexpected form of prophecy: singing! Habakkuk writes a Psalm; specifically a Shigionoth (not that it really matters. I just like saying the word “Shigionoth” over and over).

In this Psalm Habakkuk draws images for us, all of which either remind us of God’s past, present, or future work of redemption and wrath. It’s a Psalm that declares the power and glory of God. It demonstrates His righteousness in judgement. It remembers His mercy. It confronts one with the reality of the fear of the Lord. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to keep His word, including His particular word made famous by Paul in the New Testament: “The just shall live by faith.”

Habakkuk concludes the prophetic Psalm with a declaration of patient waiting upon the Lord for Him to fulfil His word in His perfect timing. Habakkuk was no longer anxious and frustrated with the sin of God’s covenant people. He was no longer perplexed about God’s design to use the evil Babylonians to bring covenant judgment upon His people and he chose to trust God when He said that Babylon would not escape His wrath.

There is A LOT there that I could take apart and write various posts about. What I want to focus on, though — the “hard thing” that I feel many are often afraid of, be they shepherds or sheep — is how Habakkuk approached the entire thing from the beginning.

  1. Habakkuk questioned God. That’s right. I said it. Habakkuk questioned God. This isn’t the same as “putting God to the test” as Scripture clearly tells us not to do. This isn’t a lapse of faith or an accusation against the Almighty. It’s a cry for help from a man gone mad with the violence, sin, destruction and lawlessness all around him. It’s an honest dialogue. “LORD, I just don’t understand.”
  2. Habakkuk sought an answer from the Source. He didn’t settle for the current theological trends of the temple. He didn’t consult the opinions of the priests. He lent not his ear to the leaders of his day. He sought his answers from the Source; from God, Himself.

Before your mind meanders into the land of “what ifs” and “yeah buts”, let me comfort you with clarification. I’m not saying that seeking counsel from godly men is wrong. Nor am I claiming that established theology should be avoided in tackling tough topics. So relax the radar for a minute and see if what I’m getting at makes sense.

One morning I did something highly unusual and spent the 7.95 for breakfast in town instead of eating at home. As I sat there sipping coffee, playing “word welder” on my phone, and waiting for my “full Irish breakfast” to arrive, a group of men began streaming in one or two at a time and taking a seat right next to me. As they gathered and gained numbers the conversation grew livlier and livlier. It was truly enjoyable to listen to the banter, the jokes, the arguments, the laughter, the ribbing, and the squabbling. They discussed everything from sports to money, current affairs to affairs of state. They were the “men at the gates of the city”.

Habakkuk could have been one of these men. He could have sat and discussed the affairs of the day and topics of the time. He could have argued, joked, or just listened  There would have been nothing intrinsically incorrect with doing so. But instead he chose the direct route. Instead He went to the Source: God. And in going to God he didn’t dance around the discussion. Habakkuk questioned Him.

How many times do we attempt to answer the hard questions of life, theology, relationships, and reality by finding out what everybody else thinks instead of what God thinks? How many times do we settle for the latest quotes on Twitter or Facebook as “good enough” to get us by, rather that getting a direct quote from the source? How many times do we mouth mantras of the faith to get us through difficult times, rather than using our words to dialogue with our Father?

Let me be specific, and let me say that I make no accusation that I, myself, have not been guilty of at some point.

  1. Eschatology. Do you actually understand your eschatalogical positon from Scripture so that you could intelligently and Biblically describe it to another person without having to refer them to the latest book by so and so? I’m not saying that you must be able to to this. It’s certainly not the most important area of general theology. But I know so many shepherds and sheep who do make it a major point and yet cannot do what I asked above. They have not taken the time to question God about it and seek answers from the source: His word. In my experience, they’ve normally done one of two things: they’ve spent just enough time to memorise the main points from their favorite downloaded pastor, or they’ve spent oodles of time memorising what all of their favourite downloaded pastors have said about it.
  2. Church Government. Same questions as above. In fact, since the Bible doesn’t give an exact formula for this one, it’s even more of an “open-handed” or secondary issue than eschatology. And yet the fervor with which so many shepherds and sheep hold on to their preferred system is confusing to me, when only a very few have ever been able to tell me why they feel that way.
  3. “Missions”. Why do you do “missions” the way you do it? If you are a shepherd, why do you lead the flock in “missions” the way you do? Have you just accepted the norms around you without ever questioning God about it? (Yes, I put “missions” into quotes because I can no longer be sure of it’s intended meaning in an audience or that they would understand my meaning to be).
  4. Day to day pastoral things: Order of worship/liturgy, “sunday school” / “children’s church” / “children’s ministry”, rules for worship service, Biblical gender roles in the ministry, “youth groups”, evangelism and discipleship, and many other things? Are you shepherding those areas based on the vision the Lord has given you, based on His word and careful study and patient prayer about them? Or are you just doing what everybody else does? Do you even know why you do things the way you do them?

Are we supposed to be built up on the foundation of our favourite pastors, or upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Scripture), with Jesus as the chief cornerstone? Shouldn’t we seek to truly know what we believe, question God, study His word (including what other godly men have written about it), and be open and honest with God about the questions and answers that arise from our study? Shouldn’t the foundation for our faith, our hope, and our worship of the one we put our faith and hope in be as rock solid as Christ Himself? Or should we settle for a foundation of what others are saying and doing and hope [in them] that they got it right?

Since learning the many basic theological foundations that I first learned through the ministry of Calvary Chapel in 1990, my faith has been rudely confronted by reality in many areas of the theology I was sure I had memorised.

We all have our own list of things that have challenged our faith and revealed cracks in our theological foundation. But the hard thing to do… the thing that took me some time to face up to doing… is to allow what we’ve memorised of our pastors’ theology and popular theology to be set aside long enough for us to question God about it. Seriously consider His word for ourselves. Take up the mantle of the opposite opinion and try to prove it Scripturally. Find those with differing opinions and dialogue with them. Search the Scriptures intently until you have as much confidence as possible, and then write down what you learned to reference later. Be honest with God about your doubts and questions and ask His Spirit to guide you to the truth. Be willing to be wrong so you can grow.

In the end, you’ll either: (a) learn that you were wrong about some things and be better founded now that you’ve been corrected (this is what happened for me in the area of “missions”); (b) learn that you were on the right track and gain further understanding and insight that better founds your faith going forward (this is what happened for me in the area of Church Government and Eschatology); or (c) learn that you were correct in your understanding and application of God’s truth and be all the more excited about living it and telling others (this may happen to me some day 😉 ).

Just like Habakkuk, my willingness to question God and the status quo has lead to rejoicing! Because I am constantly challenging what I think I know and either correcting or reaffirming it, I’m constantly reminded of God’s character, righteousness, mercy, power, and faithfulness. That’s what gave Habakkuk peace in the midst of adversity and put a Psalm in his heart.

May we, like Habakkuk, do the hard things of questioning God and the status quo, clarifying and verifying that our faith is founded on the truth, and enjoying a peaceful and worshipful heart as a result.

Cemetery or Seminary?

In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist…this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays…I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. 🙂

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God’s call, I wasn’t sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn’t have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors…which feels weird as I don’t really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God’s call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn’t know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute’s distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like “Old Testament Survey”, “New Testament Survey”, “Elements of Bible Study”, and “Advanced Bible Study Methods.” Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  I ended up completing a year’s worth of coursework through Moody’s program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Master’s of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was “All but dissertation” because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people. Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry–whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, “Did seminary really help you?” I laugh and respond with something like, “If I wasn’t in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis.”  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, “Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, “Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!”  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary–which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on “The Christian and Combat” we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don’t feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven’t been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting “cemetery” slip out of your mouth when “seminary” was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn’t need seminary to go to the ministry…we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

An Uncomfortable Comfort

Yesterday I finished preaching through the book of Jonah (listen here). In the last couple verses, there is a powerful contrast where God says to the comfort-seeking prophet, “You pity the plant…” In the next verse God then says, “I pity Nineveh…” The word pity (ḥûs) used here in Hebrew carries the idea of teary-eyed compassion (a great example of what this looks like can be seen in Ezekiel 16:4-5). It’s the idea of a heart that is internally affected by an external circumstance.

Jonah’s heart was internally shattered for the death of his external comforts (the plant). He sought his comfort outside of God, which caused him to be apathetic to the things that matter to God. This is a major cultural sin in the United States as well as here in the United Kingdom. We console our soul with creation fixing our hearts on the temporary pleasures of created comforts. The plant God appointed was here today and gone tomorrow. Life is thus poured out on the momentary and the height of our passions and affections are warped around aspects of creation. The idol of the god of comfort is seen today in Romans 1:25.

At the same time, 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us that we serve “the God of all comfort” (different from the god of comfort). The God of all comfort comforts us, but his comfort moves us to extend what we are given to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). In other words, when we are comforted by God, we are moved to share in the afflictions of others. We are changed. Instead of apathy and indifference, there is God-reflecting passion and engagement.

Maybe this is why our churches sometimes seem disengaged and apathetic to the call of the gospel as well as some of its social outworkings (i.e. abortion, AIDS pandemic, fosters/orphans). God had pity on the 120,000 of Nineveh. Jonah had pity on a plant. We love our comforts and “can’t be bothered”.

God appointed the dismantling of the altar of comfort in Jonah’s life by appointing a worm and a scorching east wind. It seems in the end, Jonah did repent since the book was likely penned by his hand leaving Jonah as the books anti-hero. It has been said that God comforts the afflicted (as seen here in the Ninevites) and he afflicts the comfortable (as seen here in Jonah). May God do so in our churches until we find that our comfort comes from the God of all comfort and our teary-eyed compassion is shaped by God’s own passion.