Millennials and Eschatology

For many Evangelical Baby Boomers the word Millennial is connected to the “End Times.” This is largely due to the fact that one of the hallmarks of American evangelicalism in the last 50 years has been a vivid end times discourse. But in our 21st century American Lexicon, Millennial has a greater connection to the up-and-coming, and now largest Generation in American history than it does Eschatology. Millennials, those born [approximately] between 1980 and 2000 are beginning to come into their own; and as they are, it is creating an interesting dichotomy in the landscape of American Christianity. And the discussion of eschatology is one sphere that is sure to cause a stir.

I came late to the eschatology party. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” came 10 years before I was born. My introduction to the “End Times” came while I was in High School when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ fictional thriller series “Left Behind” hit the scene. In fact I remember very well being introduced to the series while on a family vacation the summer after I graduated from high school. I read the first 3 books in 3 days, which for a dyslexic who just graduated from high school vowing to never read another book, was a near miracle. Admittedly, the whole thing read like fiction, as that’s what “Left Behind” is. But the thought of what it presented actually happening blew my mind. I had been taught during the several years preceding my reading that these sort of things were soon coming to the planet nearest you… i.e. this one.

Before I continue, let me affirm my belief in the rapture of the Church. I absolutely hold a futurist position on Bible Prophecy. I, like virtually all orthodox Christians, look forward with hopeful expectation to the second coming of Christ. But as one who lives on the bridge between GenX and Millennials (decidedly closer in identification to the later) I find that interest in these things, both in myself and among my peers, is not as it is among Boomers. The lack of interest is evidenced by the fact that prophecy conferences and updates are not greatly attended by 20 and 30-something’s. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a concern among our Baby Boomer brothers, that our lack of interest indicates a departure from the teaching. It doesn’t, not necessarily. In conversations with peers I think there are a number of reasons for this change.

First, there is a concern for what appears to be a hyper-escapist bent in many Christians when discussion of the rapture comes up. The view that seems all to common is one that says, “The world is sinful and getting more evil. America is not as Christian as it once was. Tribulation is coming. I can’t wait for Jesus to come so we can get out of here!” This view also seems to carry with it a glee over the [apparent] worsing conditions in the world, as these somehow hasten the “end.” Right or wrong, these are the [anecdotal] observations I’ve encountered.

It is true, in the last days perilous times will come; the love of many will grow cold and wickedness will abound. But Millennial Christians are unwilling to sit as idle spectators watching with little to no engagement. The words of the lepers in 2 Kings 7 come to mind.

“Why sit we here till we die”

2 Kings 7:3

Secondly, the teaching that is sometimes presented in support of pre-tribulational rapture doctrine highlights and amplifies the cataclysmic doom and gloom that will come post-rapture, with very little concern for the billions of lost who will be left behind to suffer that doom. In other words, evangelistic fervor does not appear to be the immediate bi-product of the teaching. If it is truly believed that these things will soon come to pass, then our response ought to be overwhelmingly evangelistic.

Furthermore, the question arises, “If it is supposed that pre-tribulational rapture teaching produces a greater awareness of the imminent return of Christ, and therefore a more acute righteousness, then why aren’t followers of this view living more righteously?” It is clearly taught in scripture that expectation of Christ’s appearance should inspire righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13). But if such is not evident in many that affirm the teaching, then it is only right to ask, do they truly believe what they affirm?

Thirdly, many Millennials want to know what the proper (i.e. biblical) response should be to the current conditions of the world in light of the rapture and ultimate second coming of Christ? What does it mean for us as the body of Christ, today? Beyond pursuing personal righteousness, how should we respond to sin and suffering, pre-rapture? Questions such as this are the driving force behind initiatives that push for social justice, equality and modern abolitionist movements. Responses that only highlight the increase of wickedness as the end draws near are inadequate.

Fourthly, Millennials are tired of modern predictions as to the timing of the rapture. If Jesus said, “It’s not for you to know,” (Acts 1:7) then Millennials are fine with not knowing. In fact the mysterious nature of such things adds to their intrigue. Insistence upon perfect knowledge or understanding of things that are clearly mysterious (interesting concept, right?) is the height of arrogance. Millennials greatly respect a humble orthodoxy concerning things that are unknowable or where there is considerable disagreement.

Finally, Millennials are concerned by what appears to be a blind and blanket support for National Israel by many American Evangelical leaders. While pre-millennial Millennials recognize God’s future plan for His people under the Abrahamic Covenant, they question uncritical or unilateral support, which is sometimes financial, of the Israeli Government and Military. Such support often turns a blind eye to Israel’s open rejection of Jesus and is typically justified by the use of Genesis 12:3. At hand is not a question of whether or not God has a future plan for Israel, but rather does Genesis 12:3 mean the wholesale support of all things Israel? Or, is blessing/cursing Abraham more oriented toward Messiah and not National Israel? Let me be clear, these questions do not mean that I do not support Israel’s right to defend herself when threatened or assaulted; nor do I deny the holocaust or condone the terrorist actions of Hamas, Hezbollah, or others against her.

I highlight these issues so as to point out that millennials do not necessarily have a problem with the idea of the rapture itself, rather the over-emphasis of it, the way it is often presented and the implications of the teaching. Millennials have more of a Matthew 24:36-25:46 focus when it comes to the end times than do many of their Boomer counterparts. What do I mean? Boomers have often focused on the conditions preceding the rapture, the rapture event itself and the tribulation post rapture; whereas Millennials are more interested in our response to the teaching of the rapture and the conditions of suffering and sin in the world now. Essentially, millennials are more interested on ecclesiology over eschatology.

The ramifications of this reality are clear. The only prophecy update necessary for Millennials is “Jesus promised that He would return, He has yet to do so, there remains much work to do till He does, how shall we then live?”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:

– Psalm 50:14

 

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.

– Psalm 69:30

 

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

– Psalm 95:2

 

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, [and] into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, [and] bless his name.

– Psalm 100:4

 

What are you thankful for?

hint… leave your’s below!

Has God Cast Away Israel?

In these times, I think this article is so significant for what may lie ahead for the church,  especially for what may lie ahead for Israel and for the 16 million Jewish people living today.

Romans 11
Israel’s Rejection Not Total

I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.

If there was no other passage in the Old or New Testament to signify the state of the people of Israel and God’s attitude towards their unbelief, after their rejection of their Messiah and Savior, it seems it might suffice to meditate on the scripture quoted above where it is clearly shown how God acts towards this nation.  The authoritative and clearly distinct words of the Apostle Paul:  “God has not cast away HIS people” may serve as a starting point when we think or speak about the past and present situation of God’s Chosen People.

It is obvious to me that we are suffering from an anti-Biblical conception today – as if God had cast away His people.  This idea is not new.  It had widely spread within the first few years of Christianity among the early believers of other nations.  It seems that the apostle is not satisfied with just negating “God has not cast away” which is certainly an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.  He affirms his inspiration by quoting several passages from the Old Testament to clearly emphasize how ridiculous such an idea might be.  (The entire chapter of Romans 11.)

After so much irrefutable evidence that God did not and will not ever forsake His people, you would think that it would be apparent to every believer for all time that this nation remains God’s Chosen People forever.  It seems obvious that the promise given to them is irrevocable.  It seems as time went on God’s Word was misinterpreted more and more, much to the demise of this wonderful people group.  Today we hear many sermons from pulpits the world over which state that Israel is not only cast away but also cut off from God.

The question that begs a response is, where do such reasons and unbiblical perceptions of Israel come from?  Where did believers get the facts which allow them to speak about Jewish people in such a way?  I think the discussions are far deeper then this short article.  So many people I discuss this issue with have NOT been influenced by His Word but by the teaching of individuals who feel strongly that God has indeed cast away Israel through arbitrary interpretation rather then a literal sense.  Many Christians think that all the curses that Moses and the prophets spoke against Israel are actually fulfilled, while all the blessings and wonderful promises are to be taken figuratively.  It seems they believe that the latter are to be bestowed on the believers of all nations.  This results in the curses being left to Israel, while the promises and blessings are claimed by the Christians.

If Christians would seriously consider these perceptions they would be made aware of their sin against God by their attitude towards His Chosen People.  If people would try to educate themselves and free themselves of these sad misunderstandings it may change our church forever.  These attitudes have caused tremendous damage, damage that is so clearly seen in our ability to spread the Gospel among Jews.  The consequences of misunderstanding of Jewish people have been written about by far more intellectual individuals than I.  My desire to communicate how this has affected both Christians and Jews.

This isn’t recent or new theology.  This began in the 1st century when Christian gentiles formed the majority.  These believers stopped considering the people of Israel as reachable.  They assumed it was useless to preach the Good News to the Jews and assumed that the Jews were incapable of accepting the faith.  The words of the Apostle Paul contradict this thinking:

24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?  Their own olive tree?

Romans 11:24
New King James Version (NKJV)

This caused some serious problems with Christianity, and the price was tremendous. They lost those rich branches of the natural olive tree, which would have brought forth much greater fruit.  Although this nation is especially gifted for this purpose and their special passion for God, the number of knowledgeable and inspired Jewish preachers has diminished more and more

This people I have formed for myself; they shall declare My praise.

Isaiah 43:21
New King James Version (NKJV)

It was clearly commanded to go “to the Jew first and also to the Geek” (Romans 1:16).  For this lack of obedience they suffered terrible consequences from the Lord.  Christendom sank deeper and deeper, it came to the middle ages and all it’s horrors, to the crusaders and their anti-biblical deeds.  It is even more unfortunate that the next generation failed to learn from these events.  And the majority of Christianity today behaves in the same way towards the Jews as the 1st century and later Christians.  The result is that believers have lost innumerable blessings from the Lord.  They are not able to radiate as much light as the Lord would gladly spread through them.  These in a brief article are the consequences for the believers.  The consequences for the Jews are still much more terrible.  NEXT WEEK (“Continued The Lost Jewish Opportunities of Salvation”).

The New Covenant (The Secret to Life and Ministry)

Last week, my primary meditation focused on one simple statement from the Lord Jesus, as He took up the cup after supper (at the Last Supper):

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20)

Think of the glory of the Old Covenant. Fire, lightning, thundering, fear, awe, the Presence, warnings, complete confidence within the people that they could (and would) keep every law and every statute that God gave them that day.

Now think of the New Covenant. It has a far greater glory, but its glory is wrapped in the humanity of the God-man, Jesus our Savior. Here there is sacrifice, blood shed for our sins, and complete awe of God’s grace; with a total admission on our parts that we do NOT have what it takes to obey God’s commands or to meet life’s demands. The cup Jesus raised that day was raised in quietness … in view of His upcoming suffering and death. Through that death, and by that blood, we have new life. Now the Spirit of the Living God lives within each true believer in Jesus. God Himself has become our forgiveness, our reconciliation, our redemption, and our ability to live life for Him.

I love the New Covenant. Ray Stedman sums it up so well in his definition of the New Covenant (from 2 Corinthians 3:5).

“Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me.”

This is the essence of life in Christ … that we live a life of full dependence upon the Lord for everything. He handles our worries, our needs, our past, our future, our relationships, our purpose, our ministries, our destiny. He’s got it all … the New Covenant allows us to trust Him in all things.

Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; {9} not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.{10} For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. {11} None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. {12} For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:8-12)

Traditional or “missional”….are Sunday services the game or the huddle?

The word “missional” is now in vogue within a large portion of the Christian church.  In my own experience, it’s generally the under 40 group of people that are using it to describe themselves, the churches they are planting, or the churches they already pastor.

I had a conversation with someone a while back who had recently heard some members of a newer church describe themselves and their church as “missional”.  He didn’t really understand what they meant by describing themselves that way and so he asked me if I knew what the difference was between a typical, traditional way of doing church and this newer, “missional” way of doing church.

Even though I’m not a frequent user of the word myself, (for reasons that I won’t delve into here), I did my best to describe to this person what I believe that difference is.

I asked him to think about……the National Football League–the NFL.

What do our Sunday services most resemble?  An NFL game on Sunday afternoon, or, the huddle that both the offense and the defense take part in before each play of the game?

Typical, traditional church leaders and the majority of the members who attend their churches live their lives with a view that is similar to that of an NFL fan.  The game on Sunday is important to them and they will set aside the time to watch the game either live or in person.

They like to watch the game sitting alongside other people that are also fans of the game and especially their team.  If they go to the stadium, they are in the midst of thousands of others who watch the game with them.  If they watch at home, they might have some friends over, but even if they don’t, they know that thousands of others are watching the game too.

They trust that all the players, the coaches, the refs, and especially all the TV people have done their jobs in a way that will make their own personal experience of watching the game as comfortable as possible.

The game that they look forward to watching for a couple of hours each week doesn’t really have an impact on the way they live their lives throughout the other 6 and 7/8 days of the week.  It’s possible that they will have a short conversation with some one about the last game or possibly about an upcoming game if it’s a big one, but overall, their commitment to their team and watching the games of their team makes no significant difference in the way they live their lives.

On the other hand, those church leaders and members of a church that is “missional”, are more like the players that actually play the game.  For those 3 hours, the game is the reason they live.  They do gather together, but the purpose of their gathering together, their taking part in the “huddle”, is to be sure that all of them as a group know what they will be doing on the next play.

The huddle isn’t the point of the game and it isn’t something they take part in as just a spectator.  The huddle gives the whole group the plan that will hopefully accomplish the goal and it lets them know what their individual responsibility is for the success of the team.

The huddle isn’t something the players take lightly.  It’s crucial to their own personal success and the success of the team.  It’s incredibly important, but isn’t the point of the game.

Needing to run, I summarized the “missional” view in this way:

Sunday morning services for the “missional” minded church and its members are like the huddle of a football team.  Every other minute of life outside the church service is the game that everyone is involved in.  To be successful in the game of life, the huddle is essential, but it’s not the apex or the point of the players lives.

 

 

 

 

Tangaraj

In this third instalment of posts on pressing on to do the difficult things rather than being complacent in things easy and battles already won, I want to address the recently revived topic of church planting. Admittedly there has been an upswing in both talk and action in this area, but it’s still in the category of the “hard things” for the majority. I pray that what the Lord has been teaching me proves useful for you as well.

This past January I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to India to teach some of our brothers who pastor there the Inductive Bible Study method. After visiting three different regions of India, traveling by local airplane, car, taxi, auto-rickshaw, and bus, and teaching my part of the study at two large conferences to a total audience of several hundred pastors, the results were surprising.

They learned a lot of new information, techniques, and even some truths that they had not previously known. But that wasn’t the real surprise. They were extremely receptive and eager and thankful. That wasn’t surprising so much as it was humbling. The really surprising thing was this… I learned about church planting.

As of the time of my visit to India in January, 2012, I had already church planted twice: once in Southern California and once in East Africa. I had also traveled to 15 countries, taught in four different Bible Colleges, and spent the previous five years on the mission field in East Africa. So traveling to India for three weeks of IBS and other ministry was routine to me in a way. I expected the Lord would use us to bless the local pastors and then I’d be back to other ministry with a 16th country visited and the joy of knowing the Lord used me to further train indigenous pastors. What I got instead was a lesson in purpose… a lesson in doing truly hard things… a lesson in setting aside the excess weight of eloquent excuses… a lesson in fulfilling the great commission, rather than the great omission.

The Indian ministry that invited us to come has a fairly simple mission: gather together the many independent pastors of India with no training or resources and provide a network of likeminded brothers to pray for one another, be trained together, and fulfil the Great Commission together. At the second conference we did I met a man that all the other pastors yielded to. He was one of the oldest pastors there, but that’s not why they respected him so much. They honoured him for a different reason. His name is Tangaraj, but we called him the Apostle Paul of South India.

Tangaraj
When Tangaraj was a very young boy, an Indian believer walked into his village, placed a box on the ground in the centre of the village, lifted up a piece of scrap metal that he had shaped into a cone, and began proclaiming the gospel to the Hindu population. Before the day was over, the villagers stoned the man nearly to death. Tangaraj’s parents had pity on the man and dragged him into their small hut. They did their best to patch him up and then they sent him on his way. Years later, when Tangaraj was a teen, he was sick and needed to get medical attention at a British-run clinic in another village. The nurse there saw to his physical needs, but also shared the gospel with him. Tangaraj put his faith in Christ that day. As he returned to his village he thought about what to do now that he believed in Jesus rather than the village god and the multitude of other Hindu idols. He then recalled the image of the man from his childhood. The one who was nearly killed for proclaiming Jesus in his village. So the teenage Tangaraj found a wooden crate and a piece of scrap metal which he shaped into a cone. He then stood in the middle of the village and began to proclaim Christ. He knew only the basic truth of the gospel, and he proclaimed it boldly. He was beaten and chased away many times. He spent many nights sleeping in a chicken coop simply so that nobody could find him and he could finally get a bit of rest. As he grew and continued to risk his life, preaching in the villages near him, he had only one desire, one prayer: Lord, please let me plant twenty five churches for Your kingdom before I die.

By the time Tangaraj met up with SIM and became one of their key pastors, he was already in his sixties. And yet, he told us, he was disappointed because he had only been able to plant a few churches for Jesus. After partnering with SIM and taking younger pastors under his wing, he had since been able – both directly and indirectly – to be part of two hundred and seventy church plants in South India! You see the pastors in that mission have an agreement. They will receive a basic stipend to meet the basic needs of they and their families, and they will receive regular pastoral training. In return they agree to be serious about the work of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, committing to planting five churches in their respective regions in five years. Yes, I said that. Five churches in five years.

“But wait! That’s too fast!”

Says who?

“That can’t possibly work.”

It has.

“They won’t have strong leadership and will eventually fail.”

They haven’t.

But the Bible says…
I remember my first thought when I heard it, too. Being the typical representative of the group I’m a part of, my first thought was one of skepticism masked in a Biblical pretext: “But the Bible says not to lay hands on a man too quickly.” And that’s right. The Bible does say that. The Holy Spirit then gently knocked on my head… “Then don’t do it too quickly. Do what’s necessary to raise him up right in a shorter time frame. It doesn’t take as long when the man being raised up is serious, committed, and not distracted by the world like you were and like most the men you’ve discipled still are.”

In a conversation with myself and the Holy Spirit that seemed as though it took several minutes but really only lasted a second or two, I realised that basic Great Commission disciple-making and church planting had become a “hard thing” for me and so many similarly situated to me. It’s like somehow, somewhere we buried the disciple-making and church planting of the Great Commission somewhere under a pile of million-man altar calls and Bible verse soundbites so that they only surface when the Holy Spirit back-pressure builds up enough to cause an eruption. Then we say, “Okay, I guess God wants to plant a church. We’ll pray for you.”

It’s unrealistic
Even amongst the most level-headed, Godly, Christ-preaching and teaching pastor-friends of mine, the idea of purposing to plant a certain number of churches in a certain amount of time is beyond the realm of normal thinking for them. Why is that? In fact, a dear friend of mine was my roommate for that ministry trip to India and saw and heard and experienced the same things as me. This brother is the definition of Godly pastor, self-controlled, socially and personally conservative, well-mannered, mature, responsible, thoughtful, and whatever the opposite of “hasty” is. Yet at the end of the trip as we talked about the Indian pastors we had met he confessed to me that he had learned the same thing as I did in regards to church planting: we need to be more serious and purposeful about it. The Great Commission is not unrealistic, it’s what we’re commissioned to do. It may look different in different places and at different times, but it’s still something we need to be passionate and purposeful about doing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We’ll get to it in due time
We need to stop excusing it. We need to stop making it and eventual priority because we simply refuse to believe it can be done without a twenty-year plan. We need to stop using misapplied memorised Bible verses to bind and slow down the work of church planting. I’m the first to recognise and admit that it may take a little longer in America because — simply put — most men are much more difficult to disciple and raise up for ministry due to distraction. I know I was. It is most definitely a cultural thing. It is what it is, but what it isn’t is an excuse to not plan and purpose. Maybe five churches in five years is ludicrous for all the right reasons. But do we just forget about church planting altogether until it just spontaneously combusts? How about one church plant in five years? Can you focus on training up one individual or team of individuals in a five year period?

They’re not ready yet
As we raise up these men and/or teams of people, do we spend way too much time trying to make images of ourselves who will then make copies of our church rather than making disciples of Christ who may very well do things differently than us? I really and truly struggled with this at one point in ministry. It was hard to let God use me to disciple and raise up a man that didn’t’ think just like me, make exactly the same decisions I would, or end up leading a church that didn’t look or feel exactly like what I thought it should. But is making a disciple of Christ and helping him to plant a church supposed to be about what I think is best or is it about what Christ wants? How can we “disciple” a man to be lead by the Holy Spirit and then correct Him for doing so because he does something that’s not how we did it last time? As we disciple and see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a man’s life we must be willing to let him be lead by the Spirit and do things according to his own personality and relationship with the Lord. We need to let go and trust God to do great things with and through him, rather than trying to micromanage the formation of a replica ministry. We mustn’t be about the business of mimeographing ministry style and form, but rather reinvesting the grace of God into the lives of others whom God will lead and use according to His purposes and not ours.

It might fail
I know some will only think of the potential failure of trying to plant churches with such purpose and passion. I truly hate failure. In fact, it’s a very real and burdensome fear that I have to deal with daily. But through my experiences of failure and success I’ve learned that even if some fail for one reason or another, the potential for failure has NEVER been a reason to say no to God’s clear call and commission.

I went to India to share what I knew about studying the Bible and in an unexpected twist was truly and deeply challenged in the area of church planting. I know it’s become a popular topic of late and I hope I’m not repeating anything already spoken. I’ve had a chance to listen to a couple of the teachings from Calvary Church Planting Network’s Re-Engage Conference that just took place. One thing that stuck was something Brian Brodersen said: that the great commission is a church planting mission because discipleship best takes place in the context of the local church (my paraphrase). I think it’s time for a proper re-evaluation of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in the local church today. I think we can learn a lot from the attitude, purpose, and vision of our brothers in the church in India. We need to be passionate and purposeful about the Great Commission of making disciples via the local church rather than carrying on the great omission of neglecting these things.

(Since finishing this article I came across an encouraging statement on the homepage of Calvary Church Planting Network. What a blessing it was to read it. Carry on brothers. Carry on.)

 

A Nation Taken into Captivity

Last Tuesday I wrote “Election Tuesday” on my personal blog.  I had no idea what the outcome of the election would be as I wrote.  It was pretty clear that I, with the majority of Evangelical Christians, was hoping for a different outcome.  As I wrote that blog, this line stood out to me: “I would suggest our faith in Him is tested most when things don’t turn out as we think they should.”  With the results in, I have seen a growing fear concerning the future by conservatives and Christian’s alike.  I say this without trying to undermine the real issues we as a nation face.  They are real.  They are closing in around us and something will have to give one way or another sooner, rather than later.  Even in the worst case scenario, I still believe we Americans live in one of the greatest countries and have the highest quality of life as I reflect on humanity throughout history.  We have much to be thankful for lest we loose sight of the larger picture.

In the last 48 hours, the biblical story of Daniel keeps surfacing in my mind.  Israel had wandered from their God over and over again.  God had warned them through numerous prophets like Isaiah, Habakkuk, and others that discipline was coming.  They did not care (neither do we).  The book of Daniel opens with this prophecy coming true.  Daniel 1:2 states, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…”  This was huge.  The Northern Kingdom had already fallen captive to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and now the Southern Kingdom was taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  The nation of Israel existed no more.  It would not come back as a nation until May 14, 1948.  Clearly the situation presented in Daniel chapter 1 is worse than anything we are going through right now.  It is worse than anything we could imagine.  Period.

Here Daniel, a young man, was taken as a prisoner by a ruthless people who hated and destroyed the nation of Israel.  Daniel was exiled to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the Babylonian way for the purpose of eroding any remnant of Judaism.  Did I mention this was a really bad situation?  I wish I could review every story recorded in Daniel, but time and people’s attention spans are limited.  In light of this, I would like to fly over the Book of Daniel and draw out some practical principles from the life of Daniel.

Daniel’s God was bigger than all his problems.  Nation taken captive?  Being deported to a foreign land to be indoctrinated into a godless system?  No problem, my God is bigger than these problems!  I don’t know about you, but I hate the emotional roller coaster my emotions are capable of.  As I walk with God and come to know Him with greater intimacy, the less moved I am by the ups and downs of life.  I pray that we all would walk in a way that brings true grounding like Daniel had with God.

Daniel was most concerned with his own relationship with God.  As he was faced with an opportunity to go with the flow of his culture, he faced a critical decision.  Daniel could have very easily slipped into the things that would have led him away from God, but he stayed focus on the priority of his relationship with God.  This internal focus ultimately led to others noticing that Daniel was different.  God honors Daniel over and over again because his passion for God was second to none.  I believe revival starts with the individual, with you right where you are.

Daniel was a gracious as he could be when the outworking of his faith was infringed upon.  In the first chapter Daniel was faced with his first dilemma–eat the food that went against his convictions, or rebel against his captors.  What would he do?  How would I handle this if I was in the same situation?  I love the graciousness and trust in God as Daniel makes his request to honor his convictions.  True class.  I love that God granted Daniel favor and compassion as he live at peace with all men so much as it depended on him (Rom. 12:18).

No Compromise.  Daniel 3 develops into a intense story about Daniel’s close friends.  Daniel was not here.  We don’t know where he was, but I am convinced that Daniel would have been right there with them.  Daniel’s friends would not bend at the threat of their lives to bow down and worship an idol.  They stood firm.  There comes a place where the believer must draw the line.  I’m not sure where this is in today’s context, but clearly they would not bow down to worship anything other than God.  I see no rebellion in Scripture like this that relates to taxes or other things that bug us.  This sort of rebellion seems limited to the place of comprising true worship or a restricting of the Gospel (Acts 4:19-20), or possibly in the defense of another.

Daniel fervently prayed for his nation.  I would encourage you to pause your reading of this blog and read Daniel 9.  The heart of Daniel’s prayer is humbling.  Did you notice his heart?  Full of awe for God.  Sensitivity and responsibility for both his sin and the sin of his nation.  Confession and cries for God’s intervention.  Daniel poured himself out so completely in prayer that he describes his state as being in “extreme weariness” (Dan. 9:21).  I don’t think I have ever prayed for my nation like this before.  What would our land look light if we as Christians prayed for our nation with this intensity instead of complaining about how bad things have become, or are going to get?  Maybe we should give this a shot?

A final word.  In looking at Daniel’s life, I believe these points should help us get back on track.  If you are not a Christian, and you find yourself deeply concerned about where we are and where we are heading as a nation, I would encourage you to turn to Christ.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is not asleep at the wheel and He will take care of you if you turn to Him by faith.  To those of us who believe, I would encourage you to examine your thoughts and the words that come out of your mouth.  What do they say about your God?  I would encourage you to turn your hope to the creator and sustainer of the universe.  He is moved by prayer and has commanded us to pray.  Let us turn our hearts and prayers to Him as our country faces difficult times ahead.  May we reflect His light in the midst of a world that is so dark.

My Church Is The Best!

The Church is a display of God’s beauty and grace to the world. It is in the church that the world gets the chance to glance at God as people indwelt by God interact one with another. Jesus is manifest through a Body. God has even ordained his manifold wisdom to be made known to the spiritual realm through the Church (Eph 3:10). God is amazing! The church is like a frame adorning the picture in the centre.

Recently I attended another church, a large church, which was quite cutting edge. I had been on their website and visited the church simply because our churches minister in the same radius. While there in this church, a couple guys spoke to me for about fifteen minutes talking about how great their church was.  Here were some of the statements that were made to me. “I don’t know what I’d do without my church.” “Hey, you like coffee? Our church has the best coffee.” Etc.

Jesus loves the Church. We should love the Church. We should love the universal Church locally expressed. I want our people to love Disciples Church where I pastor. But strangely, I was hearing about how great this particular church was for a quarter of an hour, yet Jesus was never mentioned. Being a bit of a techie guy, I was impressed with the technological prowess of this church. I was intrigued by their use of contemporary culture, but I was saddened that the glory and greatness expressed was a church and not her Saviour.

This caused me to reflect on the church I pastor. What do the people that I lead say about Disciples Church? Is our church a window through which Christ is made visible to the onlooker, or are we busy pointing to the bevels in the window? I don’t have an answer, but I’m resolved to make sure the answer is Jesus. What makes the Church beautiful is her Saviour who purchased her by his own blood. The beauty of the Church is the beauty of Jesus. Let’s never reverse that. Let’s never sell our people the vision for our church at the expense of a vision for Christ. In actual fact, the more we magnify Christ, the more beautiful our churches become. This beauty is anchored in God and not us.

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

In my last post I ventured into the topic of vision and discussed the first of five important aspects of it for pastors, that of receiving vision.  I explained how that receiving vision is as easy as desire.  But, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage is that they’re not always entirely clear.  Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out what it is that we’d like to eat.  The specifics of the desire are often indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us this time to the second aspect of vision.

2. Developing Vision

I’m sure you’ve experienced the aforementioned scenario before?  For my wife and I it seems to be a regular occurrence that looks something like this…

I’m really hungry”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know?”
“Do you want Italian?”
“No…”
“Mexican?”
“No…”
“Chinese?”
“Maybe.”
“Indian?”
“Definitely not.”

So it goes as we hone the desire from the general to the specific. This is the refining stage of visionary desire and is a very important aspect of developing vision.

As I mentioned previously, vision is not always entirely clear.  In this development phase it is important for visionary leaders to gather around themselves others with whom the can explain and cast the vision so as to refine the raw materials of it.  Such sounding boards must be comprised of the kind of individuals that are able to handle the abstract and not be bothered by initial ambiguity.  In this process the visionary desire is pared down from a wide 90° spread to 80°, then 60° and 45°, on down to a fairly focused visionary plan.  Most often is takes place through a prayerful interrogative process.

I find that this development phase can be easily overlooked or under-engaged.  If either one happens a vision can be wholly short circuited at this point.  Refining a vision is a must, but many times leaders that are uncertain or lack confidence will not allow themselves or their vision to be scrutinized.  It is important to recognize that as you subject your vision to the interrogation and scrutiny of others, you may not necessarily have perfect answers for every question.  It is the question itself and the process of discovering an answer to it — with the help of your team — that will rein in and refine the vision.

At the close of every calendar year  I begin proactively seeking The Lord’s vision for our church in the new year.  Sometimes that vision is drawn from a verse or passage of scripture, at other times (like this coming year) it is as simple as one word.  For 2012 our vision was “Enjoying God’s Grace and Extending His Glory.” My desire and vision for our church in the new year is simply “Reflect.” In many conversations with pastors and leaders in our fellowship I share the desire (i.e. vision) of reflecting God in both local and global contexts, and we ask the question, “what would it look like to be reflections of Christ in the context of local outreach, or men’s ministry, youth, young adults or foreign missions? As we do so the vision is reduced from general to specific.

Ultimately our pastoral team gathers for a 2 to 3 day getaway in the end of every year at which we pull together the specific details of our vision and plan for the new year.  It is through this process of vision development that we are able to write the vision making it plain and essentially ready for the next step, impartation/communication.

A few more key considerations are helpful at this point.  First, know your rhythms. Each of us have a different cadence or pulse. This is true as it relates to how we approach our day, week or year. As a result there are times throughout these cycles where we are more apt to catch creative current. By recognizing what our rhythms are we can take full advantage of them more effectively.

Secondly, know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend Gallup’s Strengthsfinder for this. If your strong in the areas of Stretgic and Ideation, then make sure you make time for solitary idea development. But, also make sure that you work to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Surround yourself with co-leaders who complement your abilities and you theirs. People like myself that are strong with strategic ideas need Arrangers, Activators and Deliberative Developers around them. Never feel threatened by co-leaders who are strong where you are weak, rather strive for effective communication coordination of tasks to best suit strengths.

Finally, vision often seems bigger than our capacity or ability to facilitate it. Don’t be discouraged by big vision or expansive obstacles.  It can be frustrating to have such vision, until you recognize God’s timing and abundant resources.  Be faithful to develop the vision you receive of Him and He will supply what is lacking.

Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!