Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?

A Second Wind

There arose another generation after them, which knew not the “Jesus People,” nor yet the works which they had done…

My three and a half year-old son, Ethan, is nearly four feet tall. Over the last month his voracious appetite has returned and he’s been in need of an afternoon nap again too. Last week he woke up complaining of pain in his legs; he refused to walk and wanted to be carried for much of the day. It’s not easy lugging a 50 pounder up and down stairs, nor explaining to him that he’s experiencing growing pains. Every Christian movement (denomination) has growing pains too. As a matter of fact, every organization experiences transitional tension.

I was completely unaware, when I stepped into the ministry 14 years ago, that the movement with which I’m associated was entering the throes of just such a time. In actuality, it’s unavoidable. Growth, in life, is inevitable; and if vitality is to be maintained, it must be welcomed. But in such times, when pains begin to emerge, the initial reaction of those at the top is the impulse to engage restricting mechanisms. They are tempted to employ means to moderate the discomfort of change, but if they are not careful they will effectively amputate the budding new growth of future life. Practically speaking, they will force the new life to find fertile ground for growth elsewhere. This happens both in the microcosm of a local church as well as on the larger scale of an entire denomination (In fact, this is how our movement got it’s start).

At this moment in church history, this is a fresh reality for the Calvary Chapel Movement. We are confronted with the difficult truth that the man whom God elected as the forebearer of this movement will, at some point, be called home to glory. It is absolutely certain that he has run the race well, and that there is now laid up for him a crown of righteousness as well as a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from the Lord. But it is also certain that those that have been called at this point to administrate this transition find themselves in a difficult position that requires delicate handling.

The temptation to “bronze the movement” and take this opportunity to identify, clarify and codify just what it means to “be Calvary” is very apparent. Steps have been taken in the last months to forestall such a move, but there are many questions that remain — and perhaps rightly so — unanswered. But in the midst of all this is the present reality that there is a significant demographic in the ranks of Calvary Chapel that do not share the common history of the Jesus Movement, nor the exciting things that defined it. They’ve grown up in an established church, with established structures (bible colleges, radio ministries, conference centers, youth camps, etc…). They, myself included, know nothing of a time before “The Word For Today,” “A New Beginning,” “Harvest Crusades,” “Murrieta Hot Springs” and “Chuck Tracks” vs. “Chuck Tapes.”

We want to see in our generation what we hear of only as anecdotal accounts of yesteryear from others. We desperately desire to run our leg of the relay, but feel hindered by those who began doing so at 18 and now in their 60’s look at us in our 30’s and question whether or not we’re ready to do so. The great oaks of our movement are in danger of stifling the life of those under them.

I’ll readily admit that we may seem a bit brash. Indeed, at times we may completely drive our older brothers crazy. We might come across irreverent or disrespectful. Please understand, we — perhaps I should say “I” — mean no disrespect and truly do esteem those that have pioneered the paths of pastoral ministry in our movement.

Yes, there may be some among our ranks that are “reformed friendly.” We may question the apparent fear of Calvin, but that does not in any way mean that hold a reformed soteriology. True, we may not speak as often of the rapture or hold prophecy conferences and end-times updates, but that does not represent a departure from a traditional Calvary Chapel eschatological position. Indeed, we “do ministry” differently than perhaps has been done over the last 30 years, but if it wasn’t emergent to be barefoot, in a tent, listening to Lonnie Frisbee, then neither are we.

I’ve been told I’m controversial. I recognize that I’ve ruffled a few feathers. My desire is not mere controversy; my intent is not to be critical; my only aim is to stir my brothers up to further love and good works. Should the Lord tarry, I pray that Calvary Chapel continues it’s run. But as an inside observer, I think we’re in need of a second wind.

When Your Heroes Don’t Measure Up

It’s standard fare for superhero movies. Hero (whoever he/she is, Ironman, Thor, Captain America, Spiderman, etc…) discovers great power, uses it effectively, rendering him/her a super hero. But then the phenomenally super hero experiences a crisis wherein his superhero status is challenged by someone or something for which his powers prove ineffective. Hero, to gain super status once again, must overcome said challenge by digging deep and finding unrealized super ingenious workaround to the challenge for which his powers have been inoperable.

We love these things. Over the last decade plus, Marvel has done a marvelous job capitalizing on our fondness for such epics. Avengers alone grossed nearly a billion and a half dollars. We long for heroes. There are certainly times in life in which we wish an Ironman could appear on the scene to mop up a horrific situation. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want the superhuman ability to fly around in that trick suit? In fact — no lie — my 3 1/2 year-old son just came up to tell me, “Dad, my name is Superman!” which is a change, since for the last two weeks we’ve been unable to call him Ethan, as his name has been Captain America.

 

Yes, we recognize that such superheroes are fictional fare. Frankly, I’m fine with that. If the superheroes were real, then their counterparts, super-villians, would be also, and life is bad enough without Frost Giants. This doesn’t however diminish the desire for heroes.

The scriptures present a long list of individuals to look up to. Men, and women, who did phenomenal things. Certainly Hebrews 11 exhibits an exceptional list of names. Church history over the last 2 millennia has supplied many individuals for consideration. Secular histories too. The reality is, I find myself often looking for figures who’s lives are visible now; heroes with skin, if you will. For me, such heroes would be individuals that have trod a well worn path of service to God, and done so with excellence.

Over the last 15 years or so, there have been a number of individuals that have occupied that space for me. For one reason or another I’ve allowed these persons an elevated place in my mind; yes, a pedestal. Often they have been individuals that have been successful in ministry, having taken steps of faith that  [apparently] involved a level of risk. But the fact is, the closer you come to anyone, the more you see their inconsistencies, perhaps even their failures. I mean, isn’t that one of the downsides to HD TV? Who really wants to see virtually every blemished pore of the anchors on the news or the actors on TV?

I must confess, there have been times, even recently, in which I feel almost let down by the fact that such individuals are… well, only human. That, in actuality, the “superpower” that they “possessed,” I observed or even esteemed in them, seems to disappear in the face of [somewhat] unexceptional humanity.  Truth is, such “power” had very little to do with them. What I was actually in awe of, amazed by or respected in these heroes was Christ in them, in spite of the earthiness of the earthen vessel.

Realizations such as these are reminders to remain humble. They are a reminder for me — a pastor — to live at the level of those I lead. As leaders we cannot completely prevent others from placing us upon a pedestal, but we can determine to not cater to it. Pretentiousness is sin, and the more transparent that I become, the more of Christ people will see.

How to react when you’re wronged

I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit over the last several weeks; not necessarily because I’ve recently been wronged, but in response to my current meditations in 2 Corinthians.

There is no doubt that Paul had been wrongly treated by some within the Corinthian Church, and his response to such wrongs is both challenging and instructive. Furthermore, following Jesus through His passion, as exhibited in the Gospels, can be outright unnerving. In fact, every time I read the Gospel accounts I find a certain part of my heart that desires a different response from Jesus, one I know He’d never had allowed, and would certainly not have accomplished the salvific work. The word’s of the Apostle James strike so deep in my heart…

For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

— James 1:20

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10 have been especially challenging.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
(For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The Greek root translated “war” is related to the [Greek] word from which we get our English cognate “strategy” or “strategize.” It is so easy to “war after the flesh.” That is certainly my default. In thinking much on these verses I’ve found myself far more aware of just how quickly I revert to warring/strategizing with earthly wisdom and weapons when confronted with opposition. Thus I started to ask, “How should I react when I am wronged?

  1. Remember the admonition to turn the other cheek. (Matt. 5:39)
  2. Remember that the trial you now face is ultimately for your sanctification. (James 1:2-4)
  3. Remember that if God does not grant your repeated requests “let this cup pass from me” or “remove this thorn in my flesh,” then that which you face is allowed of Him for your good. (Matt 26:39-44, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
  4. Remember that it is always better to find God as your defender than to provide your own ineffectively feeble defense. (Psalm 89:18, Psalm 94:22)
  5. Remember to bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)
  6. Remember, you’re blessed. (Matt. 5:11)
  7. Remember to rejoice in your heavenly reward. (Matt. 5:12)
  8. Remember Matthew 18:15

I could certainly go on, but these are the ones that have been swirling about my mind. Somewhere in the process of this lies the all important task of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

One last thought. One of my favorite [non-biblical] stories/books is The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie that was done about 12 years ago is pretty good too. There’s a great quote in the movie; just before Abbe Faria dies he says to Edmond Dantes…

Here is your final lesson – do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, “Vengeance is mine.”

 

 

Thoughts From The Road

My wife and I have been traveling for the last 24 hours and have finally arrived in Westport, Ireland. A friend of ours flew us out so that I could perform his wedding ceremony tomorrow afternoon. The time of non-connected reflection that the flight afforded me and the wonderful generosity of a friend has caused some thoughtful contemplation (as I’m a “contemplative pastor”). Two things are consuming my thoughts.

1. The importance of uninterrupted solitude
2. The difficulty — perhaps because of pride — of receiving gracious blessings/gifts.

Uninterrupted solitude is hard for us, in fact we’ve not made it very easy. Newsweek’s cover-story this week — “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” — is worth the read. It highlights what is no longer just a trend, but a fully matured reality, that it is increasingly difficult for us to “unplug” and that our plugged-in existence is not necessarily healthy or helpful. I’ll be the first to admit (as I type this on my iPhone) that I have a hard time unplugging.

With all the discussion here over the last couple of weeks about the importance of planning and optimally using the 168 hours we have each week, I’m wondering how myself and many other Christians (especially pastors) might be well served by scheduling uninterrupted silence for the bulk of a 168 hour period. I wonder what “times of refreshing from the presence of The Lord” the church would receive from such a move. I think that one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy overseas trips, most specifically our short-term trips to Africa, is that I’m unable to be connected.

Pastors are notorious for being hesitant in receiving from others. Or at least many of the pastors that I know personally, myself included. We, by our nature and training are givers. Servant leadership is central to the stream of Christianity that I grew up in, and we exalt highly the principle revealed in Mark 10.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

But those are the words of Jesus. Last time I checked “Son of Man” was a messianic title. And giving ones life as a ransom for many was His task, which He finished. I don’t mean to say that we are not to be servants, Jesus clearly taught the importance of becoming and being servants of all. But over the last couple of years, and particularly through this trip, God has been challenging my thought process in this area.

Why is it that some of us don’t like to receive from others? At least for me, there are two key reasons. First, it’s humbling to receive superfluous blessings from someone. Second, I find that I feel guilty for accepting them, as if doing so is taking advantage of the giver. Yet I think that is important that while we are learning to be gracious givers/servants we learn to be a gracious recipients too.

Multi-Site Repeat…

We posted this about a year ago, but with the discussion yesterday I thought it would be a good repeat.

 

 

I thought it would be helpful to post the video that Jeff was referencing too…

 

 

Thoughts?

Your Word IS Truth

Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.

— John 17:17

This is one of the first Bible verses I can remember memorizing. For a dyslexic (which, by the way, is a terribly hard word for dyslexics to figure out how to spell) teenager it was relatively easy, and thankfully 17 years (+/- a few) later I still remember it. It came to the forefront of my mind the other day when I was confronted [again] with the reality that our current culture seems to consider it our pass-time to question the veracity of truth.

It is interesting to me that within hours of this prayer Jesus was asked of Pontius Pilate “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Western culture seems enamored with this question, thus I am thankful that Jesus, in His prayer, presents us with His standard for truth.

Truth is that which conforms with fact or reality. Therefore, the Word of God is that which agrees with what is real and right. Jesus, of course, is the Word became flesh (John 1:14) and He refers to Himself as “the truth” in John 14. He—both who He is and what He said/taught—is the truth which sanctifies.

I recognize that for many of our readers this is essentially “preaching to the choir,” but I bring it up as I am more and more convinced that in an environment such as ours, that questions truth at every turn, it is increasingly important for us to clearly articulate the truth revealed by God in His Word (i.e. in Jesus and in Scripture, which is God breathed). Whether people agree with Jesus or not—that the Word is truth—is another issue entirely. But their belief, or lack there of, does not diminish the veracity of who Jesus is, what Jesus said, or His ability cleanse and consecrate by His Word.

With this in mind I’ve been considering recently some of that which is exposed as error by the truth of God’s Word. Our culture esteems abortion is the hight of a woman’s freedom of choice; the Word reveals life to be a sacred creation of God. Many hold as true the proposition that man is inherently good; the Word exposes the deep-seated depravity of the human heart. I often meet people in and out of the church who question the existence of evil; the Word identifies evil and the source of it. I regularly challenge the false premise, held by many in the church, that contact with sinners will somehow make one unholy or unclean; the Word reveals that it is not what goes into a man that defiles.

As a result of the fall, our minds and hearts exude foolishness and error. The transforming power of God’s Word in renewing our minds is only evident if we actually allow ourselves to be washed by the water of it.

Father, cleanse and consecrate us by the truth of Your Word.

 

 

By The way – Thank you to those of you that take the  time daily to check-in with us at CrossConnection.  This week we celebrated our 1st birthday, and we are greatly blessed by what we’ve seen God do this last year.

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Fellowship

This week most of us who write for Cross Connection attended an annual conference for the Senior Pastors of Calvary Chapel. There are many such conferences throughout the year in other parts of the nation, but this one is unique as it is hosted by Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Pastor Chuck Smith.

Over a 1,000 pastors came to worship and be encouraged together, but more than any other thing I think we gather to see one another. In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend is for the blessing of seeing and spending time with good friends who are serving in other parts of the nation and the world. It’s our annual family reunion.

Yesterday morning I was blessed to have coffee with Pastor Tim Brown. I’ve know Tim for several years now. We met through an online email forum for pastors, and all of our interactions for three or more years have been online; until this week I’d never spoken with Tim in person.

It’s strange the “connected” world in which we live in the 21st century. Although we’re separated by [sometimes] great distances, we’re connected virtually. Such virtual connections give a ‘sense’ of community and fellowship, but I am more and more convinced that they do not satisfy our genuine need for connectedness.

Email, texts, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin… virtual social networks abound and make it easier than ever to connect. I can instantly interact with my friend Luke as he travels through the bush of Mozambique. I can see my wife and kids on my phone via FaceTime when I’m in Europe, or even just down the street at my office. But there is no substitute for person to person connection. In fact, seeing them in that context only serves to kindle more the desire to see them in person. In our conversation yesterday, Tim and I actually zeroed in on this reality for a bit.

As I shared a couple of weeks ago, we were created for oneness. Virtual social networks cannot satisfy the inner need and desire. Therefore, I’m thankful for conferences such as the one this last week.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

About a month ago a friend challenged me with the question, “How do you gauge your spiritual growth?” This friend is an associate pastor within a very large church that requires their staff to chart out spiritual growth goals every 6 months. And these goals are not ambiguous or undefined. In fact, each pastor is accountable to someone within the pastoral team as to how well they are accomplishing their growth goals. To be very honest, it’s been awhile since I wrote out specific goals for growth. Unfortunately we [pastors] sometimes assume growth as a given, as if it were growth by osmosis via proximity to the “Church.”

The numbers don’t lie. Both Barna and the Schaeffer Institute have found that more than 70% of pastors only study the Bible when they are preparing for sermons or lessons. Only 26% “of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.” Not only do the numbers not lie, they’re incredibly challenging. Perhaps such apathy and atrophy in the pastorate is why the profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”

I certainly didn’t realize it when I stepped into the pastorate, but this is a profession that chews up and spits out many who occupy it. The average pastor lasts only five yeas, which is startling, considering that I just began—last week—my 5th year pastoring Cross Connection Escondido. Peter Drucker once stated that the four hardest jobs in America are the President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and… a pastor. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that if you are to survive in pastoral ministry, you’d better be proactive about your spiritual life, which I believe holistically involves every other aspect of your being too (i.e. physical, mental, emotional, etc…).

When I first began in the ministry as a youth pastor, the theme verse for our youth group was 1 Timothy 4:12…

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Over the last several months I’ve been brought back to 1 Timothy 4 a number of times. Another verse of the same chapter says…

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

– 1 Timothy 4:8

This verse is often jokingly put forth as a reason to abandon physical exercise, which is an obvious misapplication. But the glibness with which it is often thrown about in some ways lessens the impact and importance of what is being said. We need to be physically and spiritually well exercised, especially pastors.  Most certainly spiritual exercise, or godliness, has longer lasting benefits (in this life and eternity).  If we are to be exemplary in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith and purity, then we need to make sure that we exercise ourselves toward godliness. Thus, I’ve been challenged to more diligently set some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific • Measurable • Achievable • Reliable/Realistic • Timely) about my spiritual and physical disciplines; because there are far too many in my “profession” that do not finish well.