Connecting thru Culture

“And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.””


Last night, I took my three oldest boys to the California Center for the Arts for a performance of the 1st Marine Division Band. We arrived a little early, and at 6pm there was a performance by a local Jr. High Drum Corps…and then a High School Drum Corps. Big difference in tightness, dress and performance…

There was a half an hour break before the main performance. Jonathan (6) was nodding off, the air seemed to be turned to a comfortable 80 degrees…

Then the Marines took the stage.

What a great time and an amazing performance of a wide range of Musical arrangements. Very adept, very emotional, very powerful. And I may be partial for a couple of reasons.

1) I was, and will always be, a Marine, serving in Alpha Co.,  1st Battalion, 7th Marines of the 1st Marine Division. (Okay…I’m WAY partial)!

2) I THOROUGHLY enjoy live music, especially classical, period music, orchestras, etc.

All that being said, The boys had a great time, and the performance (particularly the Drum Corps section that was highlighted during the performance of “Shiloh March” was especially incredible) was great. But I had some passing thoughts as I sat there in the midst of the audience that I thought I would share.

Let me begin by saying this; when the Lord gives you a vision of His desire for you and how you could represent Him as His ambassador here on the earth, in the community you have been planted in, all the things you are doing will come to be filtered through that vision, for that season, because you desire to be well-pleasing to Him who gave us that vision. And as we desire to walk in those things that He has prepared beforehand, we are directed by Him (Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delights in his way”). The result? He will place us in the paths of those He desires to touch, to speak to, to share a seat with, to speak a kind word to, and as we do this, He is glorified. And one of the real kickers is that it’s all while I am THOROUGHLY taking pleasure in something that would seem to some as “Non-Spiritual”. And yet when Jesus sent out the disciples, He instructed them to be of this mindset; “Wherever you go, what ever you do, know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that My kingdom is effectual and within the grasp of all those that you will come into contact with as My Ambassador.

Case in Point: After the performance, I was standing near one of the exits on the Mezzanine Level with Jonathan, while waiting for my other two boys to return from the bathroom. And who comes walking right by us? The Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in a plain suit, no uniform. I approached him, stuck out my hand, confirmed whether he was the C.G. or not, told him that I served in 1/7 …upon which hearing, he looked me in the eyes, thanked me for my service, which thanks I returned saying “No…thank YOU sir, for your service.” and we parted.


This morning, I couldn’t help but lift up the man, his heart, his life, his great responsibilities as a husband, as a son, as a Commanding General…and prayed that the kingdom of God was exposed to this man last night, once again, whether he is a believer (as there are many High-ranking believers in the USMC), or whether He has heard the gospel many times and not responded…God knows. And I know that the kingdom of God was at hand last night when I shook his hand, as I chatted with the elderly woman who sat next to me and my boys, as we shook hands with a Sergeant thanking him for his service to our country, and thanked a Staff Sergeant.

I also had the passing thought as I looked across the demographics of the almost packed house that most in attendance were Baby Boomers and Builders. Nary a Millennial in sight. And I wondered…will there be a resurgence of live music performances in the future, of this particular type (not just Rock, Trip-Hop and Hardcore shows…ok, jazz sessions, too, Daniel F. 🙂 because of the over-saturation of technology communication and entertainment today? I love the instant gratification of digital downloads or Spotify-ing any kind of artist or music at any time…but there is a whole separate world of sound and community and experience when the Marine Band comes to town, or a world renowned cellist shows up to perform select Bach cello suites…and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

How are you connecting with your community, with leaders, with citizens, with gas station attendants, or library clerks? How do you “preach” saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand?”



To Preach or Be Personable

As I survey the landscape of much of Christian ministry, it seems clear that the preferred evangelistic method of the day is to be relational, and missional.  For many, the days of preaching the gospel openly to a crowd (at church or anywhere) and calling for people to believe then and there isn’t effective or necessary.  Instead, people say what we need is to focus singularly on making long-term friendships with people who don’t know Jesus, and evangelize them through acts of service and conversation in the context of our friendship.

Let me be clear up front about the fact that I’m all for missional living!  I’m all for relational evangelism.  I’m all for organic witnessing.  But I think that our current obsession with the missional/relational approach to evangelism is only half of the portrait of biblical evangelism.  I believe that as we engage in the one-to-one relational evangelistic mission, we must not ignore or despise the place of preaching to crowds, and calling for decisions.  We need a both/and approach.

I come from a theological and philosophical background which promoted skepticism about calling people to respond to the gospel on the spot in a public way.  This is partly due to the abuses sometimes seen in the ministries of so-called evangelists.  But nut-jobs aside, I can remember hearing godly men give legitimate invitations to believe the gospel, and criticizing them.  I thought that it seemed like emotionalism, and lacking in emphasis on discipleship.

 Encountering Invitations in Acts

Today I give public invitations for people to believe the gospel and be saved every week at the church I serve.  I’m in a very different spot than I used to be on the issue of invitations.  What ultimately brought me to where I am today on this was surveying the points of appeal that are recorded in the Book of Acts.  As I set out to try and get a biblical perspective on invitations I had two questions: 1. Are on-the-spot invitations to believe biblical at all? 2. What is the primary thing offered to unbelievers for believing in Jesus in the appeals recorded in the Bible?

What I discovered in my survey of Acts were numerous points of appeal where the apostles called their hearers to respond to the gospel in faith right then and there.  Secondly, I discovered that the main benefit of believing in Jesus that the apostles offered to people publically was the forgiveness of sins.  It wasn’t a better life now or even a personal relationship with God (though of course the latter of these is not wrong).  The primary thing they promised people for believing in the gospel was forgiveness.  This makes sense considering Jesus’ declaration that the Holy Spirit is right now on a mission convicting the entire world of sin, and failure to believe in Christ. (See John 16:7-11)

A good example of this is seen in Acts 2:38 and 40: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the promise of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’”

Peter believed in calling people to make an immediate, public profession of faith in Jesus.  He believed in having them demonstrate that profession of faith with action (baptism).  He offered forgiveness to all who heeded him.  He didn’t do so casually or briefly, but with many words exhorted them to be saved!  This same kind of process permeates the testimony of the book of Acts.  On your own time consider the following passages: Acts 2:38-40; 3:19 and 26; 10:42-43; 11:14 and 21; 13:38-39;14:21; 16:3-34; 17:30-34; 18:4-8; 19:4-5; 26:17-18 and 28-29; 28:23-24.

 Objections to Decisions

For various reasons people object to any kind of public appeal to immediately believe in the gospel.  For some their reason is theological.  I’ve heard some from strict Calvinistic backgrounds object to such an appeal on the basis that it is God who makes the decision.  If you believe a person has to be born-again before they believe, there’s no cause for passionate appeals to respond to Jesus right now!  God will take care of their response in His time, so just relax.  They believe it to be miss-leading to tell people to believe.  In response I’d point out that Peter disagrees, if you consider his appeal in Acts 2 alone.  Whatever theology drove him there, he was perfectly content to make passionate, persuasive pleas for people to believe in Jesus right now for salvation, and get baptized.

Others object to appeals for decisions on the basis of emotionalism.  To be sure, some evangelists are simply able to stir emotions and get professions whether they preach the gospel or not.  But this doesn’t mean its wrong to be emotional when you preach the real gospel.  I would contend that if you believe people will spend eternity in hell without trusting in Christ, you’d better be a little passionate and emotional when you call them to faith!  If you’re not, I wonder where your hearts at, and how much you believe the gospel you preach.  I heard Pastor Pedro Garcia tell a story about a question he was asked at the end of an evangelistic service he preached.   At the closing of the service a man inquired, “Are you always this passionate when you call people to receive Christ?”  What was Pedro’s emblazoned response?  “How can we not be!”  Some of us need to ask that question.

 Objections to Common Methods

Still others are bothered by methods utilized to give people a chance to express faith in Christ publically.  We’ve all heard the “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to receive Christ just raise your hand up, and I’ll pray for you” approach.  I used to criticize it heavily, and others like it.  Now I even use it sometimes.  Why?  The truth is that the most biblical way to call people to faith in the gospel is to call them to believe, and then call them to demonstrate that belief by getting baptized right away.

As a church meeting in a school, our baptismal is an inflatable portable hot tub originally designed for camping!  So I can’t call people to believe and get baptized at every service.  When we do baptisms we do them open invitation style, and its always beautiful to see how God uniquely blesses the call to believe and be baptized with conversions.  On the other weeks, I figure that giving people some practical way to respond is better than giving them none.  So sometimes I ask them to raise their hands as a symbol of appeal for God to save them in light of the gospel.  Sometimes we just invite them to come pray with us after the service if God’s spoken to their heart.  I find God blesses the offering of a variety of opportunities for people to publically express the faith of their hearts.  What I know is we see people come to Christ in our services when we give them practical ways to express faith way more often than we did when we weren’t offering methods like this.  It also helps us see who God’s been working in so we can follow-up with them.

The funny thing I’ve found is that most who criticize people who use methods other than baptism to immediately demonstrate new faith in Christ don’t call for immediate decisions followed by baptism either.  They don’t really call for belief at all.  When you consider the biblical record, to me, the burden of proof is on them.

How About You?

Do you ever make an appeal for an immediate response of faith to the gospel?  Why or why not?  What practical methods do you use to encourage people to demonstrate their heart’s response of faith to the gospel?  Do you think your theology or practice in this area promotes or hinders you and your church from experiencing the blessing of seeing people come to faith in Jesus the moment they hear the gospel?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!



Secular Prophets

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.  Titus 1:12-13

Even as there were secular prophets in Paul’s day who had their finger on the pulse of a generation, whose testimony was true, so we have secular prophets today to whom we should pay attention.  Much secular prophecy today is put to music.  The three greatest rock songs of the 20th century give us prophetic insight into the desires and the discouragements of overlapping generations.  I was listening to a countdown of the 100 greatest rock songs of the 20th century and the top three songs have a very interesting story to tell.

The greatest rock song of the 20th century is “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  The lyrics are telling.  The singer is on a quest for satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment – but this proves to be an illusive goal.  It doesn’t matter if he’s driving in his car, trying to pick up girls, or what – he can’t get no satisfaction.  He tries and he tries and he tries and he tries, but he can’t get no.  That great British theologian, Mick Jagger, has captured the frustration of overlapping generations in three stanzas and a chorus.  And surprisingly, what comes through is a thoroughly Biblical doctrine – the flesh does not, cannot, will not satisfy – no matter how hard you try (and try and try).

The song in the #2 slot is Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”  All Aretha is looking for is a little respect when she gets home – just a little bit will do.  She’s giving her man kisses and money and all she wants in return is a little respect when she gets home.  There is an ache in her heart that pleasure and money can’t fill.  She wants to be more than a sex object and a money maker – she desires to be seen as a person, in her home, by her man.  Is that too much to ask?  He can even sock-it-to-her.   The lyrics go on to say that she gets tired, but she’s going to keep on trying.

Mick desires a satisfaction that he’s not finding and Aretha is asking for a respect that’s being withheld from her.  What’s a person to do?  I know – escape this stingy world and buy a “Stairway to Heaven.”

And that’s exactly what Led Zeppelin did in the #3 rock song of all time.  Read the opening lyrics:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed

With a word she can get what she came for

The reality is that there is no satisfaction or real respect to be found here in this life and so let’s escape to a place where even if the stores are closed and the doors are locked and no one is opening to us, we can, with a word, get what we came for.  Let’s travel to a place where we don’t have to depend upon the good will of others to experience satisfaction and feel respect.  It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that LSD was the stairway to heaven where everything became possible and available – at least for a while.

Mick is frustrated, Aretha is rejected, and so thoughts turn heavenward.  And why not?  Isn’t this, too, a Biblical theme?  We weren’t created for this life, but for the life to come.  We are pilgrims, not settlers.  I just learned this last week that the full title of Bunyan’s book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” is actually “Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which is to Come.”  These secular prophets unwittingly reveal they are on the same journey, albeit, taking a much different path that will not lead them where their hearts yearn to be.  We know that Christ is the path which leads from this world to that which is to come.

These ‘three greatest rock songs of the 20th century’ are not so just because of their musicality – their rhythm and beat.  Lyrically, they resonate with the thoughts, dreams, and desires of overlapping generations.  In these songs we find a backhanded recognition of Biblical truth – we are created for a different world and this world cannot scratch our deepest itches, this world cannot reach our deepest places.  Secular prophecy has much to teach us about the desires and doubts of this generation, while at the same time it has much to teach those who author it about their own hearts.  May this generation listen to their hearts, because if they really do, they will be in a place to hear the voice of God.


To Him Who Has Ears to Hear

It happened during the revival that took place in Judah, under the godly leadership of Hezekiah. They’d not observed Passover in a great while. Imagine that … no “communion” for many years in Israel or Judah! In fact, Hezekiah’s father Ahaz had been so corrupt and idolatrous that he’d completely shut down the temple, and cut off all sacrifices and worship to Yahweh.

So after making the Levites and priests sanctify themselves and then clean out the temple, sacrifices began again. The joy of worship and the covenant returned to God’s people. That’s when they moved to celebrate Passover, out of sheer appreciation for the LORD.

Hezekiah wanted to reach out to his brethren in the north, to the ten tribes of Israel. They’d been even more corrupt than Judah, but Hezekiah could not and would not hide their Lamp under a bushel. Good news is intended for sharing. So he sent out “evangelists” to invite their brethren to Jerusalem, that they might join them in the Passover and get right with God, and experience the joy of renewed and reconciled hearts.

2 Chronicles 30:10-11 So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them and mocked them. {11} Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 

As these runners went out, they were met with mixed responses. Many laughed and mocked them. But some humbled themselves and responded to the good news.

I’m impressed by the fact that the runners went out, that they shared the great news, that they invited many to join in their worship of Yahweh … even though many would reject the message! They persevered in their invitation. They did not focus on the ones who would laugh and mock, but rather upon those who would humble themselves and join in.

This reminds me of the persistence and motivation of the apostle Paul, who said “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul knew there would be some who would respond and become part of God’s family, so he endured the laughing, the mocking, the ostracism, the persecution … his prize was God’s chosen ones, the ones who would believe. Of course, Paul’s prize is the Lord’s prize. The hidden treasure in the field (the church) was so worth it to Jesus that He went and sold all that He had to purchase the field (that He might have the treasure).

So here’s where this all shakes out for me, and I think for us.

I think we should be much more concerned for those who haven’t had a fair hearing, than about those who will laugh and mock.

I minister in Santa Cruz County. Recently, a guest speaker (a worldwide traveler who has ministered in many, many places here and abroad) made the comment that in all the places he’s ever been, Santa Cruz is the darkest place of all of them. Then he congratulated the fellowship for coming to Christ and being together as a body.

So yes, it’s a dark and challenging place. There is much opposition to the gospel here. There are many who mock the message of Christianity, and the Jesus they think is the real Jesus. They laugh.

But who cares? I/we need not be concerned about such folks. They may or may not respond when presented with the gospel of grace. It’s their choice. When resisted or rejected, we’ll just shake the dust off our feet and find those that will humble themselves and receive the good news.

I’m convinced of this: the Lord has His people in this place. There are numerous pre-Christians waiting to be told about our Blessed Master … and invited to join in.

They will be our focus. The gospel of grace, the preaching of the cross and resurrection, will be our message. We will be known for what we’re for, not for what we’re against. We’ll love Jesus, live for Jesus, and preach Jesus. Those who will come, will come. That’s our mission, worth enduring everything for.

Israel – Part 2

I received several great responses to the questions I posed in my last post; exactly what I was hoping for when I posted them. So with this post I’d like to give some of my own answers.

What should be the response of the church to National Israel in the last days?

I think it should stir us to be keenly aware of what God is doing [prophetically] in our day. As I see it the Nation of Israel’s regathering and existence in these days is fulfillment of both Old and New Testament prophecies. I do recognize that my amillennial brothers (Daniel) will not agree, but you will one day 😉 (sorry I had to). Therefore, I think that the church should respond by doing just what Matthew 24 and 25 say in parable, be watching, waiting and continue working for the glory of Christ’s kingdom.

That said, I’m concerned that we (the evangelical church in America) sometimes turn a blind eye to certain unethical dealings of National Israel because, “Well, they’re ISRAEL.” Israel is an incredibly secular society filled with sinful people who need Jesus and therefore we ought to respond evangelistically. Yeah, I know, that’s a given.

How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” in the context of 21st century Christianity?

Let me preface my remark by saying, James Class, I totally respect your desire to serve among the Jewish People in Israel. I believe your heart for this was developed in prayer and by seeking God’s direction. Therefore, if any leader comes to the same conclusion by seeking the Lord for missions strategies, I applaud them.

That said, I don’t believe, as a general rule of missiology that the church should begin all missions endeavors by beginning with “the Jew first.” Furthermore, Jesus commission to His disciples, to begin at Jerusalem, move to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts, should not be held over all that we do in fulfilling the commission. In other words, a church in New Mexico doesn’t need to send missionaries to Jerusalem or Jews before they go to Africa or China. I think the principle has more to do with doing at home and in your own sphere first what you plan to do else where in missions.

How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” then? Just as they were intended to be when Paul wrote them. The gospel, by order of who it came by, came first to the Jewish people, but was never God’s intent to stay only with them. The power and magnitude of the gospel is not only for Jews. Praise God, it’s for us non-Jew gentiles too.

Should the evangelization of lost Israel take precedent over other lost peoples?

In line with the last answer, I don’t believe so. Lost peoples are lost peoples and there are a lot more lost non-Jews than there are lost Jews. Fact is we need more people fulfilling the great commission everywhere.

Does the promise of Genesis 12:3 (i.e. “I will bless those who bless you…”) mean that we—the church—should seek to bless, monetarily, the nation of Israel to receive a blessing ourselves?

So I’ll admit, this is kind of a trick question. If you read carefully you’ll note that I said “seek to bless… to receive a blessing.” I point this out because I believe the worst form of giving is giving that gives for the purpose of getting. This is akin to prosperity teaching that says, “You give to the Lord and you’re sowing a seed, you’re going to get tenfold, maybe even a hundredfold in return.” I am [personally] bothered when I hear people encourage physical or monetary blessing to the nation or people of Israel so that we can get a blessing in return.

Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Do Muslims?

This may be the toughest question of the lot. It is, however, a relevant question to ask in light of discussion this past month  prompted by some articles surrounding Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church’s reported associations with Muslims in Orange County, CA.  I’m not sure I have the best answer for this, my own question, but I do have a few thoughts.

True worship of God must be offered through Jesus Christ as He is God, and [is] the way by which we are given access to God. Some could argue that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but I’d say that only worship offered in Christ is acceptable to God. Therefore, worship of the right God in the wrong way is [essentially] idolatry and therefore sinful. To this I would add that Muslims have a far greater respect for Jesus than Jews (twice in the last 6 months I’ve had Jewish Rabbi’s make rather condescending/mocking remarks about Jesus to me, that wouldn’t happen from a Muslim), which is, at least, an interesting thought for consideration.

Like the scribe of Mark 12, I think there are many Muslims in the world who are “not far from the kingdom of God.”

Seeking that Still Small Voice

I have to admit that I am in a transitional season in my life. Newly transplanted in the Pacific Northwest, transitioning into the Senior Pastor position at Crossroads Community Church, changes are everywhere. I have moved from young, small churches to a very large and established church. New surroundings and experiences. New challenges and events. But truly the biggest change that is happening is in my own heart. God is doing something in me.

I have realized in a new and profound way how loud our world has gotten. I have always been a fan of technology. I have always been an early adopter. But whether it is the Twittesphere, the blogosphere, the new Facebook crazes, viral YouTube videos, so much of it is just straight up noise. For some time I have been noticing how most of the internet chatter is just a regurgitation of a few profoundly gifted people. I find myself waking up and checking the phone first off, Twitter, Facebook, email, texts. All noise I tell you. I have no less than three noise devises on my person at any given time. How many of us find ourselves staring at our devises while people, true and living images of God, are right in front of us being ignored? How many of us hide behind our emails or computers while there is a vast and lost world needing to be connected with in Jesus’ name?

Deep within my heart there is a longing for the simplicity of the still small voice of God. The voice that doesn’t pander to celebrity or the winds of culture. The voice that speaks of love, community, hope and redemption. It’s that voice that doesn’t live in our superficial divides over theology or ministry style. It’s the voice that is deeply Biblical without being legalistic or superficial. It has nothing to do with the proclivities of modern evangelicals and the various camps. That voice has everything to do with love and truth. The voice that wants to help us help others see God’s grace at work in their lives and circumstances.

I have also realized that that still small voice is terrifying renegade. We come seeking one thing and we get another thing. We have wants/desires/hopes/dreams and we get God’s alternative and deeply perplexing agenda. We want to do and God says don’t do. We want reward when God says decrease. We want American dreams spiritually fulfilled and instead we get our status quo called into question and new and terrifying horizon energized.

I cannot speak for you. But for me, I am seeking that still small voice.

The Real Saint Patrick: His Life and Mission


Saint Patrick, the great fifth century Christian missionary to Ireland, has historically been a most intriguing and obscure figure to the Christian church, as well as the entire world. Countless myths and legends have been told about this man. Many poems and stories have been written about him. Many theologians and missiologists have debated extensively on his religious allegiance and missionary philosophy. The question is can anything be agreed upon about Saint Patrick? In all of the hype and interest generated by his life and mission, is there anything that can be known for sure about him in the twenty-first century?

This writing is an to attempt to give an account of the facts generally agreed upon by students of this intriguing man with the goal of painting as accurate a picture of his true life and mission as possible. The life and mission of Saint Patrick are a most fascinating and edifying study, and I’m excited to share some of what can be known about them.


Patrick was born sometime in the late fourth century between the years 385-390 A.D. in the area known today as northeast England. His people were called Britons. They were a Celtic people that had been Romanized under the Christian Roman Empire which in part encompassed modern-day England. Thus, Patrick was culturally very Roman and disconnected from his Celtic roots. The Britons spoke mainly Latin and an early form of Welsh. Patrick was born into an aristocratic, wealthy, and religious family. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon in the Roman Church and owned at least two estates. Not much is known about his mother.

Patrick seems to have been a fairly average boy in his early childhood. He went to school where he learned Latin (the common language at the time due to the influence of Rome) and Welsh, which was the more native and peasant tongue of the British Isles. Though his parents were actively involved in church and Patrick had grown up going to Mass, Patrick was at best a very lukewarm Christian in his younger days. Through a series of tragic events set in motion when he was a young man, his life, and especially the state of his lax Christian devotion, would change forever.


When Patrick was just sixteen years old he was taken captive along with many of his family’s servants when Irish pirates raided one of his father’s estates near the west coast of Britain at a town called Bannavem Taberniae. Patrick was forced onto a ship which sailed away to Ireland where he was sold in the slave market to a tribal chief and Druid named Miliuc Moccu Boin. The chief put Patrick to work tending his cattle herds in the Irish countryside.

Patrick remained enslaved for six years. It was during this time that he came to know the truth of Romans 8:28— “And we know that God causes all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are called according to His purpose…” in experience. In his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again, George G. Hunter writes about the three key changes that Patrick went through during his time in captivity:

“During his years of enslavement, Patrick experienced three profound changes. First, the periods when Patrick was isolated in the wilderness herding cattle connected him with what theologians call the ‘natural revelation’ of God. He sensed with the winds, the seasons, the creatures, and the nights under the stars the presence of God; he identified this presence with the Triune God he had learned about in the Catechism. In his more or less autobiographical ‘Declaration’ Patrick tells us, ‘After I had arrived in Ireland I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me and my faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day and in the night nearly as often.’ Patrick became a devout Christian and the change was obvious to his captors.  Second, Patrick changed in another way during the periods he spent with his captors in their settlement. He came to understand the Irish Celtic people and their language and culture…Third Patrick came to love his captors, to identify with them, and to hope for their reconciliation to God. One day, he would feel they were his people.”


Thus, Patrick was converted, and now God had plans for him. In the sixth year of Patrick’s captivity he received a vision from God in which he was told that he was to escape his slavery and that a ship was waiting to take him home to Briton. A voice told him, “You are going home! Look! Your ship is ready!” Patrick rose from his sleep and fled from his captors to find a ship waiting for him. He attempted to acquire permission to sail home on the ship but the captain refused him. Patrick began praying and he tells us in his aforementioned Declaration that before his prayer was even completed God had changed the captain’s heart and he began calling for Patrick to come aboard. So Patrick made the 200 mile trip back to his homeland and people in Briton as the Holy Spirit had prophesied to him.

Once back home Patrick had hardly settled in when he would receive another word from God, this time functioning as his call to be the first missionary Bishop to Ireland, his place of captivity. John Holmes documents the extraordinary event:

One night he had a vision in which he saw a man named Victoricus coming to him with a great number of letters. He read the title of one which said, ‘THE CRY OF THE IRISH’ and at that moment he seemed to hear the voice of the people who lived by the Wood of Volcut which is by the western sea. Unitedly they said, ‘Holy youth we are asking you to come and walk among us again.’ Patrick was so moved that he could read no more…It would seem that from that moment there was born in his heart a burden to bring the Gospel to that nation from which he says, pointedly, ‘I was only just able to escape.’”


Upon receiving this divine commissioning Patrick determined to prepare himself for his destiny as a missionary to Ireland. He began studying the Celtic people and Irish language intently as his heart flamed for them. He also began to be very active in his local church. He became a Deacon and in a short time was elevated to the office of Bishop. Shortly after receiving his bishopric he left his homeland again for Ireland; this time not as a captive of pirates, but as the slave of Christ for the Gospel to the Irish. It was the year 432 A.D.


The Irish people that Patrick would serve were, in Roman terms, very much uncivilized. They had no organized cities, no real road systems, and they had no unified form of government. They moved in small nomadic groups through the rough countryside and forests of Ireland living off the land. The people lived in tribes (clans) that consisted mainly of extended family. Patrick knew that he would have to be innovative when it came to ministering to them. He would not be able to simply plant parish churches in the traditional sense near a populated city as the Church had done everywhere else. There were no such cities. He had to find new methods to reach a different culture.

So what did he do? Patrick’s method of reaching these tribal nomadic people was what we would call “contextualization” in missiological terms today. It seems that his practice was to seek out the leaders of the tribal settlement he went into in hopes of either converting them or at least getting permission to serve amongst them for strategic purposes. Next, he would engage people in conversation and service ministry for relationship building while looking for receptive individuals within the clan. He would pray for physically impaired and demon possessed people as well as assist in mediating conflicts between tribesmen. He would engage in open air preaching.

In all of this he did a great deal of contextualizing. For example, the Irish people were very musical and poetic, so Patrick employed the use of these art forms which made sense to them culturally in an attempt to communicate the truth of the Bible in ways they would understand. He wrote worshipful lyrics set to Celtic tunes for them to sing and portrayed biblical images for them in Celtic forms of visual arts. This enhanced his ability to communicate the message of Jesus to them effectively.

As groups of people began to be born-again through Patrick’s gospel teaching, instead of forcing them to become culturally Roman he would allow and encourage them to express the essence of real Christianity in Celtic forms. The most fascinating way he did this was by creating what Hunter calls “monastic communities” instead of Roman cathedrals. These were essentially the native Irish version of a church-plant. The monastic community lived the Christian life together in a circularly built fort. They would meet multiple times a day for worship and prayer, and in the evening for a biblical message every night. They lived together, worked together, ate together, and worshiped together. It was an extremely tightly knit body of believers that lived all of the Christian life in vibrant spiritual community. In his book Church History in Plain Language,Bruce Shelley said of these communities that, “…the monastic community, maintaining itself on the land, fitted the agricultural communities of the Celts better than the parish-church system so common in the Roman Empire.”


The main method of outreach from within the monastic community was that of hospitality. They had a guest house in a sectioned off portion of the community that was by far more comfortable than any other dwelling used by the believers themselves. They would love and serve every visitor that came to them and live the life of Christ out before them. Patrick considered himself and the believers in these communities accountable to God to serve this way because of his biblical conviction that believers are each a “letter of Christ.” He wanted the message of the love of Jesus to be communicated without words to unbelievers through their lifestyles of love and grace. They wanted to influence the lost into the faith by extending the love and Person of Christ to them in behavior and community.


Patrick’s method of contextualizing the gospel in presentation and the essence of Christian community in Celtic cultural expression proved very successful in the conversion of massive amounts of Irish people. Though much of Ireland is said to have remained unconverted upon his death in 460 A.D. there is thought to have been thousands of Christian converts in Ireland due to his ministry. Some estimate that there may have been as many as one-thousand believers in some of the individual larger monastic communities.


However, in spite of Patrick’s success in Ireland, his missionary years spent there were not all easy. In his Declaration Patrick writes of being persecuted, slandered, and even enslaved as many as three more times during his ministry. Things weren’t always easy for his converts either. In fact, one of the two original writings of Saint Patrick (unanimously held as authentic by scholars) which the world has access to today is a letter in which he rebukes a local ruler for allowing his men to brutally murder and pillage a group of freshly baptized believers and to sell their young women.

Clearly the most cutting opposition Patrick endured during his ministry was that of the disapproval of his tactics later expressed by the very church and people who had once affirmed and sent him out to serve Ireland. The traditional minds of the people in his hometown did not accept Patrick’s replacing of the culturally Roman aspects of Christianity with culturally Celtic expressions. Patrick clearly wrote from a distressed heart in addressing this issue in his Declaration.

The far-reaching missional impact of Saint Patrick’s ministry is impressive. Historians point to Ireland as becoming a mission work launching pad for years to come after the death of Patrick. It served as the home-base for missionary endeavors for the eventual evangelization of Britain, Germany, and Switzerland to name a few. An example of the great Irish missionaries that are said to have been products of Patrick’s work years earlier were men like Columbanus. A century after Patrick, Columbanus led the missionary charge into the above mentioned countries and established them as centers for evangelistic efforts.


Another thing that has been perpetuated throughout history ever since Patrick’s death is what seems to be a never ending debate between Catholics and Protestants over whether or not Patrick was what people today would consider a good Catholic or more of today’s evangelical theological persuasion. Patrick seems to be an interesting mix of both camps. While he was certainly an ordained Bishop in the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Roman Empire (which certainly means he had practices and beliefs in common with today’s Catholicism), even a quick reading of his Declaration makes clear that his single most emphasized teaching was that of the simple gospel of grace. That fact shows that he was very evangelical even though the term was not yet used. It seems he was Roman Catholic by tradition, but evangelical in the essence of his gospel faith. This is abundantly clear from this quote taken from his Declaration in which he wrote of his purpose and success, “For I am very much God’s debtor who gave me such great grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth as he once had promised through his prophets.” The words “grace…reborn…and faith” in this quotation say it all.


Patrick’s life serves as a reminder to us that our circumstances are never out of the plan or control of God. Patrick was taken prisoner when he was just sixteen and was in captivity until he was twenty-two. I think Patrick must have been confused and lonely and wondered at times (even after his conversion) if God could or would help him. Yet, by the end of Patrick’s life it is absolutely clear that his time in captivity is exactly what he needed to go through to become the missionary warrior God wanted him to be. God was there the whole time working things out for His glory and Patrick’s good, no matter how bleak things probably seemed.

I have certainly never experienced anything like being taken captive for six years, but I have been through things like family divorce, physical affliction, and more. So in terms of application, I believe God would remind us through the life of Saint Patrick that our past is not an accident, and our present and future are not out of God’s control. God has allowed or caused everything we come into contact with because he wants to use it now or in the future to prepare us to effectively serve others for His glory. This is the truth in our hardships.

Holmes, J. M. The Real Saint Patrick. Belfast, N. Ireland: Ambassador Productions, 1997.

Hunter, George G. III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language 2nd Edition. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.


The Unconscious Ill-Equipping Of The Saints

The good Bible teaching that occurs in many churches is not enough to equip Christ following congregants to interact effectively with the world.  In fact, I believe that some pastors are unconsciously hindering their flocks, and are, as a result, “ill-equipping” them for the work of ministry.

I recently heard a tremendous quote, and I will try to paraphrase.  The speaker spoke of the American Church and said, “We are a subculture of a sub culture.  We read each other’s book, we sing each other’s songs, and we scratch each other’s backs”.

I completely agree that the Body of Christ is a sub culture, and that each movement or denomination is a further sub culture, and finally, that each individual church within a movement or denomination is a sub, sub, sub culture.  There is nothing wrong with that…to a point.

Each culture and sub culture has its own language.  The lack of awareness that we (the Church) have regarding our sub, sub culture language is the thing that concerns me. What do we sound like to the world?

As followers of Jesus, we have been given the Great Commission, to “make disciples of all nations”.  Most of the people in our churches understand and agree with that.

However, here is the rub.  Here is the problem.  The people in our churches often parrot the words they hear us pastors speak.  If they hear us only speak “Christianese”, and our particular brand of “Christianese”, then that is how many of them will speak.  They will seek to explain the eternal truths of God by using language that is familiar only to their sub, sub culture.

I believe that we who stand in the pulpit need to speak in the language of our culture and of the current generation.  We do not need to descend into vulgar speaking or innuendo, but we need to communicate the truths of Jesus in ways that would make sense to any unbeliever walking in off the street.

The purpose for that is not just for the unbeliever who walks into our church.  The bigger and perhaps more important purpose is that we will equip our churches to use words that the unbelieving world will recognize.  Without telling them how to communicate the Gospel, we will be bestowing upon them a language, a vocabulary, and a communication style, whereby they will be unconsciously equipped to speak to an unbelieving world.

A word to those who preach and teach: Let us be careful to not use decades old “Christianese” simply because that is what we grew up on.  May the younger generation of pastors not only use the Christian sub culture language of their generation. May we read and listen widely, that we may adopt the language of this generation, so that we might more effectively preach the Gospel, and equip our listeners to share the Gospel in a language that can be understood by the world around us.

Is Another Revival Possible?



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

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

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

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

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

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

A very brief summary goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ministry Idolatry

Our hearts are idol factories. We all know this to be true. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has been doing its best to value itself outside of God and for its own purposes. Martin Luther was correct in his assessment that if a person gets the first commandment right (having no other gods before Him) then they would not ever transgress the rest of the commandments. All of our sins are rooted in our heart’s predisposition towards idolatry.

This can become increasingly a problem for people who have been called into ministry. Because the human heart is always looking for a way to justify itself outside of Jesus, it is very easy for us to try and find our standing before God in our service. Let me say from the outset, there is a fine line between walking out our callings and having ministry idolatry. Only God knows the intricacies of the human heart. So please do not think that I think that I know the motivations of another’s heart. I do not and realize (more and more each day) that before his own master a servant stands or falls. There are too many people writing in the comments sections of internet sites that think that they can speak about the motivations of another’s heart. I do not wish to add myself to that cacophonous chorus. But I do want to address a very present struggle that is at work within the heart’s of every minister.

For many of us, we struggle with finding our full identity in Christ alone. There is something glorious about being used by God to bless the world in the name of Jesus. But it is very easy to find our identity in our ministry rather than in Jesus alone. I believe that this is why so many cannot imagine their spiritual lives outside of the work that they do for Jesus. I often ask myself, “How would I do if God asked me to leave the pastoral ministry? Would I be bored? Would I like going to church? Would I feel a void?” By asking these questions, I have found that my heart finds its value in a million things other than Jesus. Looking back over my past as a Christian, I have found my heart exalting “being a Christian”, “being on the worship team”, “being an elder”, being an assistant pastor”, “being a church planter”, “being a part of a specific movement”, “being a conference speaker”, “being an author”, and on and on ad nauseum. Do you see how this goes?

Ministry idolatry is a way to allow our service of God to keep us from actually relating with God. We can be incredibly busy and effective but yet really not relate with God at all. We allow our service for Him to define us rather than allow Him to define us for us. Anything that we value ourselves by or whatever our allegiance is outside of the person and work of Jesus, that is idolatry. So let us ask the Spirit of God to expose our heart idolatry!