It is very important for us to consider that prior to his conversion, the early church was probably praying to God regarding Saul of Tarsus. But they were probably praying for God’s wrath and Saul’s destruction, as he was making havoc of the church through persecution. But God’s intent was not Saul’s destruction, but his salvation.
Years after his conversion, when he would come to be known as Paul the Apostle, he would write:
In times like these, especially during an election season, it is easy for us to become irritated, upset, frustrated, and angry about politics. But might I encourage (and exhort) you to—first of all—pray for the salvation of our leaders. God desires their salvation. And if they were transformed (as was Saul of Tarsus) by the grace and power of God, their worldview and politics would change too.
knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds,
and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
– Matthew 7:7-8
Ask, seek, and knock. Each of these words are in the imperative mood in the original Greek. That means they are commands from our Lord. He commands you and I to pray. He commands us to bring our petitions to Him; to seek Him for an answer and to do so persistently. And then He promises “everyone who asks receives.” Those that seek, they shall find, and the one who persistently knocks, it will be opened.
The apostle James wrote of the prophet Elijah, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly.”
This next month we are calling you to pray earnestly. We are asking you to ask, seek, and knock, brining your petitions and requests to the Lord for 31 days. And during that time, consider also social distancing from social media. To help you commit to prayer for 31 days in July, make sure you subscribe to our daily PrayerMinder, and follow along with us at PrayerMinder.org.
Also, during this time, as we continue provide physically distanced services as a Church, we are seeking to provide a way for the families within our church to promote the spiritual growth and discipleship of their children. If you’re interested in learning about our new program, and registering your kids (for free), please check it out at NewCity.lifeinconnection.com.
Commentators, scholars, and Bible teachers have been divided on this story for a very long time. The question of whether or not this division of the nation of Israel was according to God’s will, or not, will be answered (largely) according to how one views the sovereignty of God. Be that as it may, from an outcomes point of view, the division was ultimately not the best.
Almost as soon as Israel had rest in the promised land, and the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were released to return to their possession, the natural division between the two-and-a-half and the nine-and-a-half tribes descended into conflict. My third and final point in the message two Sundays ago was “Division in the nation inevitably leads to conflict.”
It is almost shocking how quickly division can lead to conflict. Every married couple knows this. If you and your spouse are divided on a decision, idea, or opinion, the division can lead to conflict in seconds. In more than twenty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve been a mediator—in counseling situations—between divided parties on many occasions. Countless times I’ve observed that division not only leads to conflict, but conflict fuels more division resulting in greater conflict, until things spiral out of control.
This is where we are as a nation. We are divided. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matt. 12:25) I am deeply troubled by the things that I am seeing in our nation. I think you probably are as well. While I am generally an optimistic person, and have (ultimately) an optimistic vision of the future (when Jesus returns and rules), the current conditions of our nation are troubling.
King David wrote:
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
It is believed that these words were penned around the time that the King’s son, Absalom, mounted a coup against his father, leading (nearly) to a full civil war. Division leads to conflict. And during this time, one of the greatest things we can (and should) do is pray.
I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for our nation. Pray for our leaders. Pray for those that are desiring justice. Pray for those that are oppressed. Pray for those that protest. Pray for those in law enforcement. Pray that God would move the hearts of men to be humble, and to turn to God in faith.
At the end of last year I sensed that 2020 was going to be a year of chaos. At that same time I attended a meeting led by Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. During the meeting, Pastor Rick said, “Wherever there is conflict and chaos God is getting ready to move.” Pray that God would move to bring true peace and order our chaos.
Beginning July 1st we are going to be seeking the Lord in prayer for thirty-one days. During that time, Pastor Mark will be providing daily direction on ways in which you can pray. I want to encourage you to do two things. First, consider social distancing from social media (and maybe even the news media) for 31 days in July. Second, follow along with us as we seek the Lord in prayer during that same period of time. If you’d like to receive our daily prayer-minders, subscribe at prayerminder.lifeinconnection.com.
For they shall be called sons of God.
– Matthew 5:9
I have a confession to make. I like UFC. There are probably a number of people reading this that don’t even know what that is. For those that don’t, it’s a mixed martial arts sporting league called Ultimate Fighting Championship. Some of you are aghast that your pastor would like UFC. Nobody’s perfect 😉.
Trust me, I have a point in making the confession … If you’ve ever watched a fight in UFC or boxing, you know that every match has a referee. The referee is there to make sure the fighters obey the rules (yes, there are rules in fighting sports). From time to time, when you’re watching a match, one of the fighters will be getting pummeled and the ref will have to jump in between the fighters to stop the match. Oftentimes, when that happens, the ref takes a punch or two, himself. No doubt, the ref doesn’t go into the ring expecting to get hit, but he knows that it goes with the territory of the job.
Again, I do have a point. I promise.
I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are a lot of fights going on right now. And I have observed that a lot of my brothers and sisters in Jesus have an impulse to jump into the fight, like a referee in a UFC or boxing match. I understand this impulse. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and Christians often have a deep desire to bring peace between waring parties. But if you jump in while the fists are flying, don’t be surprised if you get hit, and end up bloody.
A peacemaker is an individual who endeavors to reconcile those engaged in a disagreement. The desire to bring reconciliation and harmony is—I believe—a divinely inspired desire. But it is only possible if we recognize and understand where such reconciliation and peace are found. These are only found in and through the Gospel.
having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
The divisions of this world are always and ultimately the result of sin. And only Jesus—the Prince of Peace—can bring salvation from sin. So, don’t be a ref. Be a peacemaker. Preach peace in Jesus. Every other message will eventually fall flat, and is likely to get you hit.
cries out to Me from the ground.
– Genesis 4:10
I am ashamed that this week we, as a nation, are known for the words “I can’t breathe.” My heart breaks that George Floyd died crying out for mercy, as he did this week. I don’t know all the details of what happened leading up to the moments that George Floyd died. We may never fully know. And the details will never justify his death. But the fact that this happened as it did, I find myself thinking, “We can do better.”
In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. quoted the Prophet Amos, “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We can do better. We can pray for better. I think we would all agree that George Floyd’s blood cries out “let justice run down like water.”
I do not believe that this terrible happening defines who we are as a nation in 2020. But it does remind us of how much we need the unifying mercy and grace that are only ultimately found in Jesus, through the gospel. And only when He rules and reigns will the cry of of the prophet Amos be fulfilled.
Lord Come Quickly!
P.S. I know that some will be tempted to read way too much into the words above. I ask that you stop, wait, and pray before you respond. I’ve thought and prayed a lot about what to say, if anything, as it regards this situation. Additionally, I would encourage all of you who name the name of Christ to not engage in arguments on social media at this moment. We would do well to remember the words of the apostle James, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
“Lord, what do You want me to do?”
– Acts 9:6
I’ve often thought that Paul’s question (above) from Acts 9 is one of the most important questions you and I could ask.
Saul of Tarsus had spent (perhaps) years waging war against the early Christians. Finally, as he approached another city, seeking out followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2), he was met by the risen Jesus. And as Saul lay on the ground, enveloped by the light of the glory of God, he asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?“
Those words are an acknowledgement of submission. They revealed that Saul was not only recognizing the truth that Jesus is Lord, but that he was also setting himself to follow and obey Him as such. Now, it is one thing to say the words, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” It is quite another thing to actually obey Him when He tells you “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Have you acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus in your life? Have you begun to seek His will? Have you set yourself to obey His word? Maybe you might say, “Well, I don’t know what He wants me to do! If only He would tell me, I’d do it.” There’s one really good way to know what Jesus wants you to do. He’s given us the revealed truth of His word, and He desires that we would hear and heed it.
Right now, in the midst of our Covid shutdown, a lot of people are taking this as an opportunity to ‘reboot’ and establish some new norms in their life. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to make God’s word a part of your regular daily routine, if you haven’t already. One of the simple ways you can begin to do that is by listening through the Scriptures with The Listening Plan, or The Daily OT.
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
These words may be familiar to you. Especially if you grew up in a more traditional church. They were written by a hymn writer (Edward Mote) in the 19th century, and they’ve been song in churches worldwide, nearly ever since. I find that they fill my mind frequently when I am conftoned with challenging circumstances, which, in this life are both normal, and always temporary.
Those two things are super important to remember and meditate upon. Trying times and challenging circumstances are normal, and always temporary. Even when they seem to go on for a prolonged period.
As we find in the Psalms, that’s a good point for a SELAH (a short pause, to breath and think).
We live in a world that is broken. I can’t reiterate that enough. We are reminded of the brokenness of this world a lot right now. And sometimes the brokenness of a broken world can be somewhat overwhelming. Our souls can be troubled. Has your’s been troubled recently? If so, it’s normal. And ultimately it is temporary.
Mote’s hymn goes on to say …
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
I want to encourage you to take a moment to pause and breath, today (SELAH) … and to maybe mediate on Mote’s hymn. You can download the full lyrics, here.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). He also wrote…
I’ve shared these passages many times in the past, and quite a bit more recently. But they truly are worth thinking on.
This last Monday we launched “The Daily OT” listening plan, which takes you on a 929 day journey, listening through the Old Testament. Today’s reading is in Genesis 5, which contains the fascinating verse above.
You may have never heard of Enoch. He’s name only appears in a few genealogies in the Bible, once in Hebrews, and again in Jude. But his story has evoked a lot of interest and commentary. He was the seventh generation from Adam, the father of the oldest man recorded to have lived (Methuselah), and—the most interesting part of all—he never died.
“Enoch walked with God,” and then “he was not.” What does that even mean? And more strange still, “he was not, for God took him.” Truly a strange passage of scripture, if ever there was one. The “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 records, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death” (v. 5).
There are many things that we could speculate about Enoch, and his story. But the full details we’ll have to find out when we connect with him in eternity. But aside from all of those fascinating details we may one day learn, one thing we know for certain is worth thinking about as we head into another weekend, under the shadow of the Coronavirus.
Hebrews 11:5 gives us this important point; the reason for which Enoch’s name is listed in Hebrews 11: “before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” How did this man of God, who walked with God and was not, please the Lord with whom he walked? The author of the Book of Hebrews answers the question for us in verse 6 …
for he who comes to God must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
– Hebrews 11:6
The last 7 weeks have likely been a challenge and test for your faith. But if you simply believe that God is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, then you too will be pleasing to God. And you can have this sure and steadfast hope, that as you walk, pursuing God by faith in this life, you will walk with Him in His presence forever.
The verses above are a part of today’s passage from The Listening Plan. And they’ve been churning about in my mind the last day or so. As I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been thinking that they are a worthy meditation for you today.
I want to challenge you to try to memorize John 10:27-28, and then I’d ask you to mediate (think on) these words a bit this weekend. I’m asking you to do this, because, in the midst of all we are going through, these words are really important. They’re important because, if you are a believer in Jesus—one of His sheep—then you will follow Him. And if you are a follower of Jesus—one of His sheep—then He knows you, and He has promised to give you eternal life. Which means, you will never perish.
Yes, Coronavirus could kill you. So could a car accident, cancer, a bolt of lightning, a heart attack, a stoke, and too many Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (but what a wonderful death!). There’s no escaping this world without dying (you don’t need to correct me, by reminding me about the rapture. I know.). But if you are one of His sheep, you will never perish.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In another place he wrote, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). To be “well pleased … to be absent from the body” means that Paul was looking forward to death. How strange! Unless he fully believed that he would never perish.
I wish I could be with you all for church this weekend. Remember, church is the gathering of the people of God. So, I wish we could be gathered together, in person. But though we are “absent in the flesh,” we will be with one another in spirt. Don’t miss our online broadcasts at 9:00am, 10:45am, and 12:30pm on live.lifeinconnection.com.
P.S. We have a new offering for those of you who are looking for a pretty simple way to journey through the Old Testament of the Bible. Paul wrote in Romans 10 that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17). Which means you can greatly grow your faith by listening through he Scriptures. We’ve offered The Listening Plan for you to do that through the New Testament for nearly 5 years. But now we’re adding The Daily OT. Check it out and subscribe at TheDailyOT.com.
It’s a Sunday afternoon. Most Sunday afternoons I get home from the church, right about this time (it’s 2:15pm), after preaching 3 messages. Today was the third Sunday I didn’t do that, because the message was recorded on Video, and played (and watched) online. This, as they say, is the “new normal” for churches. It is a strange new normal. Especially in that this is Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday and Easter (next Sunday) are really important “events” for pastors and churches. For all intents and purposes, they still are this year, but our celebration of them is entirely different. If you had asked me even two weeks ago if I thought we would be celebrating Palm Sunday and Easter online only, I would given an emphatic “no.” But here we are, our new normal.
I have to say, I am really grateful for our leadership and staff team. I feel that our team members have adapted to this very well, and—as the leader of this team—I’m super blessed. Though it has been a fair amount of work to get it all moving in a new direction. Additionally, I’m really interested in seeing how God uses these challenging circumstances to move His church out, into the new marketplace (which, in 2020, is not so new, at this point).
In Acts 8, God used trying circumstances to move the early church out of Jerusalem, and into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts. Jesus had predicted this move in Acts 1:8. He promised that the Holy Spirit would fill and empower the Church, and that they would be witnesses in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts.” But by Acts 8, the church was still in Jerusalem only. And it’s not like Acts 8 was only a few weeks after Acts 1. It is likely that Acts 8 was years after Acts 1. The church was stuck.
The earliest work I did in ‘ministry’ was helping the church I grew up in (which happens to be the church I now pastor) get content online. In 1996 and 1997 I helped the church build its very first website. At that time we started archiving my pastor’s audio messages online using Real Audio (some of you might remember that technology). In the (nearly) quarter century that has passed, I’m sad to say that a lot of churches still have a website that looks like it was made in 1996, and they didn’t—until recently—have much in the form of audio/video content on their broken and old site. But trying circumstances have changed that.
The trying circumstances of the early church (persecution, largely from Saul of Tarsus) pressured the church to move out, into the wide-open mission field they’d previously been called to and empowered for. And, if we can receive it, the trying circumstances of Covid-19 has pressured the church to move out into the wide-open mission field of the Internet; a place we should have been taking ground in all along.
Yes, the content that is being put out by a lot of churches is not (yet) highly produced. But at least the content is out there, and now we can get better and better at it. This is a good thing, and I am rejoicing in these trying circumstances, because I believe God is going to use this for His glory, and for the growth of His Kingdom!
I think it is true that Jesus will one day return, and certain passages in the Bible reveal that His wrath will be poured out on everything that rebels against Him. But it is critically important that we understand God’s ultimate purpose in the world is not condemnation, judgment and punishment. His primary goal is to seek and to save that which is lost.
This weekend I know I’m going to hear all about how the Green Bay Packers lost, this last Sunday. Something else newsworthy from Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, are his recent comments about his departure from Christianity, on an interview podcast with his girlfriend, Danica Patrick. In a clip released on Patrick’s YouTube channel, Rodgers says, “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet, to a fiery hell. What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of His beautiful creation in a fiery hell at the end of all this?”
His question is valid. But it reveals his lack of knowledge about the whole of Scripture. God is just, and He will be no means clear the guilty. But He is also the fullness of love, grace, mercy, and compassion.
This Sunday we are beginning a study in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. It speaks a lot of law, and clearly communicates the consequences of not obeying God’s law. But it also reveals God’s grace, and desire to bless. A full understanding of the whole nature of God is necessary, or people—like Aaron Rodgers—will misunderstand God’s works.
Thankfully, just before mile 8, I came to a water station that also had a table piled high with honey energy gels. Over the next mile of the race, I slowly consumed the 1 ounce gel, packed with carbohydrates. As I did, I was reminded just how essential energy is for endurance. I’m not sure if the small pack of vanilla flavored honey was the difference between finishing or not finishing the race (I did finish, by the way), but it sure seemed as though it helped.
The Bible describes our Christian life as a race, and exhorts us to run well, with endurance. To do so, we need supernatural stores of energy. I’m convinced that one of those essential stores is the sweet honey of God’s word.
King David of Israel reveals how important God’s word is, when he writes the following in Psalm 19:
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
You have a race to run today. Make sure you’re well prepared to run with endurance, by consuming a well balanced diet of God’s Word. I’m certain that you’ll be glad you did.
God has clearly done a work in the rapper’s life in an inspiring way. One of the evidences of this transformation is the shift in the once “explicit” song. “Jesus Walks” has changed, and the song that once ended “I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long,” now ends “I wanna talk to God … I ain’t afraid no more … I ain’t afraid no more” (watch the song played here at City of Refuge Church last month).
“I ain’t afraid no more…” That’s what God’s love and grace does in our lives. I bring this up because 2020—the year of chaos, as I see it—has begun with a lot of fear. Fear generated (this last week) by the geopolitical happenings in the Middle-East. Fear amplified by politicians, the news, and social media. But “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). “Perfect love casts out fear!” (1 John 4:18).
If you (like many in our nation) are troubled by all the happenings in this world, remember that Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). He calls upon us to cast all of our cares and anxieties upon Him (1 Pet. 5:7). He exhorts us to bring everything to Him in prayer, and He promises to guard our hearts and minds with His peace which surpasses our understanding (Phi. 4:6-8).
If you are paying attention, I think you will agree that the discourse in the United States over the last two years has been divisive. The vast majority of the division is political. But the partisan divide has manifest in the form of fissures of racial division, socioeconomic division, division between white and blue collar sectors — you name it; there are deep divides in our nation.
Though no one individual is to blame, where this division is concerned, the argument could be made that one of the chief conductors, at the head of this discordant orchestra, is our Commander in Chief, President Donald J. Trump. Merely highlighting this, and using his name, will be enough to cause some to stop reading and write me off just two paragraphs in. Please don’t. This isn’t about President Trump — neither for or against. But it is about an issue that he’s helped ignite into an outright wildfire, having to do with what some refer to as a “constitutional crisis.”
A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!
The American President has an open disdain for the “fake news media.” I feel strange even writing that, though I’m quoting him in doing so. But his contempt for his critics in the press has stirred quite a response from those in and among the media outlets he criticizes. As Newton’s third law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” There has been an equal and opposite reaction for sure.
The press has responded to the president with equally hard-hitting editorial, comment and reporting. That is to be expected. And quite frankly, it is what we (if you are an American) should want. In the U.S., the press is sometimes called “the fourth branch of government.” It is the “Fourth Estate.” Thus when President Trump, this year, called the press “the enemy of the people,” he set a depth-charge that rattled the media establishment.
You might not like the president. You may not like the press. The fact is, neither has high approval ratings (actually, the president’s approval rating is nearly double that of the media). But both play an essential role in our republic, and both are constitutionally established. Therefore, when the president’s rhetoric targets the press, the fourth branch sounds the alarm, “It’s a constitutional crisis!”
THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Perhaps you think that response is a bit extreme. There are those who have told me that the president is joking when he says these things. If not kidding, “It’s just rhetoric, playing to his base, but certainly not to be taken seriously.” On the other side, his words are considered dangerous, “a dog whistle inviting violence against the media,” and absolutely “unpresidential.” Wherever you land on this issue, you cannot argue that the press, and it’s freedoms, is not enshrined in the Constitution.
The First Amendment of the Constitution makes very clear that, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” While not unique only to us, the constitutional guarantees regarding freedom of speech and the press are quite distinctive of the United States. We should be grateful that we have such rights firmly established, and we should be united in our opposition to any individual or group that would seek to restrict them.
Quite frankly, I do not believe that there is any serious attempt, in 21st century America, to restrict or “abridge” the freedom of speech or of the press. Sure, there are outliers and fringe dissidents who tweet and blog their objections. Indeed, the president has used his freedom of speech to do so. But I’m not yet convinced that such things have significantly harmed the press. No more so than their own bias and missteps have damaged them. And there is no legislative move on the freedoms of speech or the press.
But while I have yet to see any true attack — in recent times — against the freedoms of speech and the press, the same cannot be said for attacks against another aspect of the First Amendment.
THE FIVE RIGHTS
If one carefully reads the First Amendment of the Constitution, it will quickly become clear that the single, 45-word sentence contains five liberties or rights:
1. Freedom of religion
2. Freedom of speech
3. Freedom of the press
4. Freedom to assemble peaceably
5. Freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances
In our day, nearly every time one appeals to the First Amendment, it is regarding the freedoms of speech or the press. Both of these liberties are important and even essential. But as our culture shifts, and as it becomes increasingly secular, there seem to be those who forget, or at least overlook, the first words of the First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
While I’ve seen no serious attack upon the freedoms of speech or the press, that is not the case where the free exercise of religion stands. That’s not to say — and I don’t intend to say — that the free exercise of religion is legitimately threatened. It’s not. At least not at the moment. But it’s undoubtedly been attacked.
To this point, the freedom of religion has not seriously been threatened because (1) the vast majority of Americans are still quite religious and (2) the Supreme Court has — so far — consistently upheld religious liberties. Though, the margin has been rather thin. And one of the chief reasons so many Christians voted for Donald Trump, while not strongly supporting him, was to maintain the slim Supreme Court margin.
THE NEED FOR CONSISTENCY
I am a wholesale supporter of the freedom of speech and the press. I don’t always like what people say, or how they express themselves; but I support their right to do so. I often disagree with the positions and perspectives of some in the media, but I’m grateful for the press and — for the most part — the work that journalists do.
As I said previously, we should be grateful that we have both free speech and a free press, and we should be united in our opposition to any individual or group that would seek to restrict these liberties. But I would have much more sympathy for those in the press if they were as ardent in their defense of the first right of the First Amendment as they are for the second and third. Unfortunately, that does not always seem to be the case. In fact, many of the journalists that are the most alarmed by the president’s rhetoric have been the least vocal in defense of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, the Masterpiece Cake Shop or the California crisis pregnancy centers, when their First Amendment rights were infringed.
FINALLY, A NOTE TO THOSE WHO ARE CHRISTIANS.
It is important we recognize that Paul understood his rights as a Roman citizen and wisely called upon them at the opportune time (Acts 22:25). We face a temptation to be silent. We can be afraid of rocking the boat. But the fact is, we need to be resolute about our faith, even if there is the potential of suffering as a result of doing so. But we also need to be vocal about our First Amendment right to freedom of religion. There is a reason that the founders determined to make it the first of our fundamental rights. But if we are silent when it is brushed aside, we may wake up one day to realize its power has all but disappeared from our society.
Back in June, I wrote an article on “Why Jordan Peterson Matters,” and why Christians should take notice. My article got pushback from some Christians who — though I’m not sure they thoroughly read it — incredulously questioned why CalvaryChapel.com would run an article on Peterson, or why a pastor (me) would encourage people to listen to or follow such an individual. If one read the article, they would know I didn’t do that. That said, the conversations and feedback I received, and something I’ve heard Peterson say several times, got me thinking. I hope it might do the same for you as well.
In a recent interview on the PBS show “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover,” Peterson was asked a question, the gist of which he’s received many times before.
“I want to ask you about your personal faith. Christians who watch you have listened closely, over the last two years, about whether you self-identify as a Christian or not. … Why not take on this question of the existence of God?”
That is precisely the question that many Christians (and atheists for that matter) would like Peterson to give a concrete answer to. But his response, though not as clear-cut as they’d like, has been consistent for a very long time. And in the “Firing Line” interview, he gave a slightly amplified version.
“It isn’t obvious what belief means. People think that what they believe is what they say they believe. I don’t believe that. I believe that what people believe is what they act out. And so I said, ‘I act as if God exists.’ That’s a sufficient statement as far as I’m concerned. You know, what’s the old saying? ‘By their fruits, ye shall know them.’ Same idea, right? It’s a matter of action and a matter of commitment. It’s not a matter of me parading out my explicit statements about a metaphysical reality that’s virtually impossible to comprehend. You risk when you reduce, and I’m not willing to do that. And I’m not interested in providing people with easy answers.” (emphasis mine)
DON’T REDUCE IT TO A SOUND BITE
Immediately before giving that answer, Jordan said, “It’s not something to reduce to a sound bite, fundamentally.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. But that’s exactly what we often desire. We want the simple sound bite. The 240 character or less, tweetable proposition. Whether you’re a Christian or not, we like everything boiled down to broth, when in reality, these meaty issues require something far more substantial.
Unfortunately, our culture has been continuously digesting milk and not solid food for several generations. That is true among Christians, just as it is outside the church. In his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman concluded that this was a product of broadcast television. It’s an issue that a preacher in the 1960s hit on when he said:
“And so it wasn’t long until it got to our generation where the whole plan of salvation was to give intellectual assent to a few statements of doctrine, and a person was considered a Christian because he could say, ‘uh-huh’ at four or five places that he was asked to. And if he knew where to say ‘uh-huh’ someone would pat him on the back, shake his hand, smile broadly and say, ‘Brother, you are saved.'”
— Paris Reidhead, Ten Shekels and a Shirt
Have we reduced it all that much? Thankfully, I’m finding that many of the people I interact with want more than mere one-liner propositional platitudes. I’m hopeful they’re not outliers.
MORE THAN MENTAL ASSENT
Like it or not, Jordan Peterson’s answer is quite good: “I act as if God exists.” I took note of it the first time I heard him say it, and it has been stuck in my mind ever since.
As the Apostle Paul was testifying before Governor Felix in Acts 24, he said, “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Paul is effectively saying, “I act as if God exists.” He had hope in God, and in His promised resurrection, which caused Paul to live differently both before God (in whom he trusted) and man. Paul’s testimony is an echo of what James writes in his New Testament Letter.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:18-22).
It is not enough merely to say “uh-huh” to the question, “Do you believe in God?” Belief cannot be a casual mental assent. It must become a conviction, resulting in action. Faith, if it has not works, is dead.
ACTIONS PROVE OUR TRUE FAITH
On a few occasions, I’ve met with “believers” that are actively living in an adulterous relationship. They say they believe in God, but they act as if He were not there. The same is true for the Christian who perpetually looks at pornography. Or cheats on their taxes. Or lies to their spouse. Or lives a prayerless, thankless, anxious, hopeless life. It would be far better for one to act as if God exists than to simply say that they believe in His existence. Or better yet, say that you believe He exists, and let your actions say it too. Let’s not forget, it was Jesus who said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Or the most frightening of Christ’s sayings: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”
The devastating reality is that many professing believers are, unintentionally, practical atheists. Such practical atheism is one of the realities that make many atheists all-the-more steadfast in their unbelief. It strengthens their unbelief when you say you believe in God and live with little or no regard for His command or glory.
It is because of this that over the last seven to 10 years, I’ve stopped asking people to “believe in Jesus,” but instead to “trust in Him.” That may seem like nuanced semantics to you, I assure you, it’s not. The meaning and value of the word “belief” has diminished in our modern vernacular. “Belief” seems now to connote something of a loose, intellectual acknowledgment of an idea. But “trust” implies a certitude of confidence and conviction, which compels dependence, hope and expectation. When I ask someone to trust in Christ, I’m asking them to entrust themselves to Him and to act in accordance with His resurrected existence.
Our culture loves to pigeonhole, label and straw-man nearly everything it disagrees with. Which means, if you’re a miracle-believing Christian, then in the eyes of a growing demographic, you are branded a “science denier.” And in 21st century Western Culture, because of the high value placed upon “science,” that’s among the worst things you could be accused of. But foundational Christian teachings such as the incarnation, death, burial and resurrection of Christ, will earn you the badge faster than just about any transgression.
Read the rest at CalvaryChapel.com …
I have watched, somewhat in awe, over the last couple of years the rise of Jordan Peterson on YouTube, through podcasts and other media formats (books, blogs, etc.). I haven’t always been sure how to classify him or categorize his ascent. He’s not a Christian, at least not in an orthodox sense. Though I’ve heard him self-identify as a Christian, he would make a distinction. He would probably call me, and others like me, a “fundamentalist.” In some respect, that’s not far off, though every time I’ve heard him use the term, it seems to be dismissively, if not pejoratively.
Peterson is a celebrity by accident. He did not aspire to notoriety, but he’s certainly achieved it in the last year. He currently has over 700,000 Twitter followers and 1.2 million YouTube subscribers. His most recent book, Twelve Rules For Life, has been an Amazon bestseller since it’s release in January (it’s currently number two after nearly six months). As I write, Peterson is speaking nightly, nationwide, to sold-out crowds, on what is an extended book tour. Tickets cost as much as $600 apiece. Also, he’s pulling in an estimated $80,000+ a month from Patreon supporters. The once clinical psychologist, a professor at the University of Toronto, has no reason to ever return to the classroom or his clinical practice.
As I said previously, I’ve been intrigued since I first heard of him. I began following him when he first rose above the radar over a controversial Canadian legislative bill in the fall of 2016. He has a lot to say, and much of it reverberates with Judeo/Christian tones. Which is precisely why Christians should take notice. In watching and listening to him, several things come to mind. Five of which beg more in-depth consideration.
LONG-FORM MONOLOGUE IS NOT DEAD
For as long as I’ve been preaching (20 years next year), voices in our culture have been saying that preaching, especially long-form monologue, is dead. Those promulgating this perspective have told us that the collective attention span in the West has devolved. Americans, raised on 30-second ad spots and 22-minute television programs cannot handle more than 25-30 minutes of preaching, they say. Many of the same voices tell us that dialogue is essential for the 21st century westerner. “You cannot give a message from a platform; it needs to be a conversation in a circle.” Peterson proves that’s not true.
In the summer and fall of last year (2017), Peterson gave a series of 15 lectures, in the Book of Genesis, on the “psychological significance of the Bible.” He “preached” more than two and a half hours each time, to some 500 listeners, all of whom paid admission to come. He’s since promised that he will pick the series up again in the future with the Book of Exodus. If that happens, I’m certain of three things. First, he’ll need a larger venue. The 500 seat theater was already too small a year ago. His following has only increased. And the live audience pales in comparison to the millions of views the recorded lectures have received on Youtube. Second, he’ll charge a lot more for admission. By his admission, he’s an “evil capitalist.” Simple supply and demand will require much higher costs of entry. Third, his messages will not get shorter. Peterson loves to talk, and he’s found an audience of people who are longing to listen. In this he’s proved long-form monologue preaching is not dead
WESTERNERS ARE INTERESTED IN SCRIPTURE
Another cultural lie we’ve been told for the last 20 years: “The Bible has no place in our [post]modern society. We’ve advanced beyond its archaic ideas, views and teachings.” Really? Not only is that not true, it’s not true by a large factor.
Just this week (June 12, to be exact), Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning, came out in audiobook format. It’s more than 30 hours of audio, read, of course, by the author. It’s an instant bestseller. In print, it’s 564 pages. Much of it goes back to Scripture, and it’s significance. I guarantee that most of the consumers of this audiobook are males, ages 20-40.
Now, it should be noted that Jordan Peterson’s interpretive lens for Scripture is not something with which any preacher I know would be comfortable. He approaches the Scriptures from a purely allegorical and mythological angle. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. He does not use a historical, grammatical, interpretative method. As far as I can tell, he does not take the Scriptures literally, and he questions much of its history too. He is not an evangelical Christian. He is a Christian only so far as he sees value in the Christian ethic and the mythological narrative of the Bible. But, he’s gathered a large following of predominantly educated, millennial, male westerners. The very segment that Christians both need to reach and have had a hard time reaching over the last two decades. And the fact that he’s gained a devoted audience with this demographic leads to my final three considerations.
GOD IS NOT DEAD IN ACADEMIA
Peterson’s rise informs us that the need for classically trained, academically minded Christians is greater than ever. This isn’t a new observation. Groups like Francis Schaeffer’s L’abri, more than 40 years ago saw this with prescient clarity. Ravi Zacharias’ International Ministries has sought to address it for more than 20 years. Christians in the 21st century western world need to think and speak the academically oriented language of higher education, and they need to enter academia as missionaries.
Many in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are atheistic, or at the very least agnostic. The arts and humanities are almost worse. But that does not mean that God is dead among academics or in great academic institutions of the West. There are strong holdouts with well-reasoned Christian faith in the academy. But we need many more Christians to step into the academic sphere and “contend earnestly for the faith.”
It has been said that “the philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” I think that’s true, and being that it is, Christians cannot vacate the academic domain. Especially when you consider, that many of the great universities of the West, were originally founded by individuals with a strong Christian faith.
In seeing this reality, I am more than a little discouraged by my own experience. Twenty years ago this week, I graduated from high school. And when I did, I didn’t enroll in college or university, partly because of the discouraging tone of Christian leaders I esteemed. More than a few of the Christians who influenced my decisions at that time exhibited a suspicion and distrust of higher education. I know now that was not a helpful attitude. Be that as it may, as the Church moves further into the 21st century, we must realize that we need to adjust, as our culture has changed.
CHRISTIANS NEED A NEW AND PASSIONATE APOLOGETIC
The apostle Peter said, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” This we are to do in meekness and with respect. The concept of an apologetic arises almost solely from this verse. The word translated “defense” in many English translations of 1 Peter 3:15, is the Greek word apologia. It could also be translated “give an answer.” Christians have been doing this effectively for 2,000 years. But the answers are always in response to the changing questions of culture.
The questions of culture change continuously from generation to generation. Every worldview endeavors to answer these questions coherently. The far-reaching growth of the Christian faith from the first to the 21st century proves, I believe, that it’s answers are the most compelling. That is a truth that will not change, even if the pressing questions of culture do. And though the specifics of those questions vary, at the level of abstraction, the most important issues of meaning and value all fall under five essential headings: origin, identity, purpose, morality and destiny.
After listening to his lectures, watching his interviews and reading his books, I think Peterson is seeking to address these issues apologetically. And it is fascinating to see that, like many Evangelical Christians, he does so with something of apocalyptic fervor. He is passionate about his convictions and exacting with his words. I’m convinced that many are attracted to Peterson precisely because of his well-reasoned, authentic and genuine message, which seems to explode from a grave concern that our culture is fast descending into an abyss. Like an Old Testament prophet, Jordan Peterson is sounding an alarm in the West. He sees an unseen force of gravity, pulling our culture past the event horizon, into an inescapable black hole. And though he has met stiff opposition, he does not seem to be backing down. Which shows, finally…
STRONG WARNINGS AND STERN EXHORTATIONS ARE NOT UNACCEPTABLE
In our über-tolerant culture, some things are not tolerated. Peterson’s emphatic warnings and clarion appeals are definitely on the blacklist. The applications of Peterson’s message are hyper-individualistic (he despises collectivism) and gut-checkingly challenging. There is no wishy-washiness in his exhortations. He is dogmatic in every sense of the word. That too is not tolerated by many in the West. You might expect this would be a turnoff for his mostly millennial followers. And yet his appeal only seems to be growing.
Since the rise of the seeker movement of the 1980s, Christian leaders have promoted a softer, life-coach spirituality. “Don’t call people out. Address the collective ‘you plural.’ Focus on felt needs. Don’t be direct. Be encouraging.” In many ways, modern American Christianity fits perfectly in the $10 billion a year self-improvement industry, right next to Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey and even Jordan Peterson.
His book, Twelve Rules For Life, exists among other self-improvement titles, but it’s set apart by it’s bold and confrontational tone. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” “Tell the truth—or, at least don’t lie.” He’s mocked by his critics for calling on people to clean their room. But when he says, “If you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” you can hear the echoes of Jesus, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.” Or Paul, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”
Among all the nuanced and subjective shades of grey that are 21st century western culture, the objective contrast of white on black is refreshing. And though I in no way want to make Messianic allusions, Jordan Peterson’s rise is a reminder that when Jesus had ended the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount, “…the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Peter’s exhortation to church leaders in his first letter. Partly because I taught on the passage (1 Peter 5:1-4) almost exactly two years ago and partly because I’ve used it several times since as a passage to help teach young leaders how to study and preach through the scriptures. These four verses hold simple (albeit deep) exhortation for Christian leaders. Exhortations that are still as important and needed as they were nearly 2,000 years ago when they were written.
One of the values of the Calvary Chapel (the family of churches I grew up in) for the last five decades has been that of ‘servant leadership.’ This passage drills down into the topic in a great way and brings to the surface helpful points on how to lead well. Contained in this short paragraph are potentially dozens of helpful observations and correlations, but there are seven that I keep coming back to. None of them is earth-shattering or new. Each of them you may think, “Yeah, I knew that.” But if you meditate on them, and aim at putting them into practice, I think you’ll find them to be personally challenging.
Leaders Are Not Lords
“The elders who are among you I exhort“
Both the words “among” and “exhort” are a simple and important reminder of this key value for leadership. Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you” (Mark 10:42-43). For decades the well known former pastor and leadership guru, John Maxwell has taught that “Leadership is influence.” In many ways that may be true. But one of the problems is that the word “influence” can be defined in several different ways. When I read “influence” I often think of an influential example. But I do so because I filter the word through the concept of servant leadership, as revealed in the scriptures. I define it in light of Peter’s later exhortation in this same passage to shepherd the flock of God, not “as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples.” The problem is that the top synonyms of “influence” in my computer’s dictionary and thesaurus are the following: “impact; control, sway, hold, power, authority, mastery, domination, supremacy; guidance, direction; pressure.” Yes, those who are considered leaders in this world do use influence in that way. But it shall not be so among you.
In Peter’s mind, the Christian leader is to be among the people they are serving. And they are not lords, but examples. Peter himself exercises this concept of leadership by saying to the church elders, “I exhort you.” The word “exhort” is the Greek word παρακαλέω (parakaleō). It’s a compound of the Greek preposition “para” and verb “kaleō.” Para means to be “by, beside or near,” and kaleō is the verb “to call.” So the concept is that of a coach or even a trainer. The trainer comes alongside the one they’re training and calls them to press on, follow or move ahead. This is not a power play, but an influential example. And looking at the landscape of the current cultural moment in the West, I’d say that this point alone could be really helpful. We’re living in a time at which almost weekly a new leader, be it in the political, academic, the arts, business or even the church sphere, is being brought down because of their inordinate use domination, pressure, and control over those that are under their authority. There’s entirely too much influence as lords, and it’s sadly evident in the church. How can the climate change? I suggest we learn the next important value from the text.
Leaders Must Maintain Humility
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder“
Peter was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” He spent more than three years with Jesus. He walked on water (Matthew 14:29). He saw Jesus glorified (Matthew 17:1-2). He witnessed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He was appointed as an apostle and commissioned to carry the Gospel to the uttermost parts. Be that as it may, he self-identified as a “fellow elder.” In Jesus’ exhortation to leaders quoted above, He went on to teach, whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). The culmination of the teaching would come one verse later when He would say, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” That all requires humility.
Humility seems to be a lost concept in our 21st-century American climate. It is certainly not highly valued in our day. The current leader of our own nation is a lot of things; humble does not appear to be one of them. In fact, I would say that a lot of his appeal, among his supporters during the 2016 campaign, was his pomposity. The way up in American culture over the last half-century (and probably much longer) has been to be the loudest, self-promoter in the crowd. The way up in the Kingdom of Christ is down. Jesus not only taught this, He lived it. Paul highlights this truth when he writes:
“Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.”
– Philippians 2:5-9
Paul gave this example to illustrate his own exhortation, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). The early apostles all agreed; the way up is down. James wrote, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). Therefore would Jesus say, “whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant;” which leads to the next important value from 1 Peter 5.
The Greatest Leaders are Great Servants
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers”
As if this weren’t already clear from the previously quoted exhortation and example of Jesus in Mark 10, Peter picks up the theme again. Here we are given three important keys of service in these twelve words.
First, we serve in this work as overseers. The New International Version (NIV) speaks of taking care of this ministry, by “watching over” it.
Second, we serve as stewards. This ministry we are given to care for by oversight is entrusted to us as stewards. We are watching over a work and ministry that is not ultimately ours. Leaders (especially Christian leaders within a church context) must take care not to be ensnared by the trap of thinking that the work entrusted to them is their own personal possession. Those snared in this trap quickly find themselves in danger of seeking dishonest gains from the work under their care.
Third, our service is to steward and watch over God’s flock, as shepherds. The word “shepherds” here is the verb form of the noun translated “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11. This is why so many Christian leaders have opted to use the title Pastor in the work they are appointed to. But where did Peter come up with such an idea or concept of service as shepherds over God’s flock? That’s exactly what Christ commissioned him to.
Even a hurried reading of the Gospels makes clear that Peter was all but overcome by shame after his three-time denial of Christ on the night of His arrest. But after His resurrection, Jesus sought Peter out to restore and commission him for service. In John 21 we are invited to witness the restoration and reappointment. Three times Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” To which Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Following Peter’s three responses Jesus says, “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.”
Now though there is disagreement among some scholars and commentators, I think the dialog in the original (Greek) text is truly enlightening. The first two times Jesus asks Peter “do you love me with a self-sacrificing devotion” (Greek agapaō)? Peter basically responds, “Yes Lord, I love you like a brother” (Greek phileō). The third time Jesus seems to come down to Peter’s level asking him, “Do you love me like a brother” (Greek phileō)? Peter is grieved by the third inquiry. I may be reading into the passage, but it is almost as if Jesus says, “Do you really phileō Me? And it’s the third time! Previously Peter had denied Jesus in response to three different inquiries. But the nuance of the language isn’t what is actually interesting to me about the passage.
What is striking to me is that the level of your devotion—total self-sacrificing devotion verses strong affection—it doesn’t matter where the call and commission of Jesus is concerned. Perhaps you’re not completely ready to give up all to follow and serve Christ, but you are a committed follower. The assignment is the same: Feed and tend My lambs! This leads to a very simple conclusion.
The greatest leadership qualification and quality is love
Of course, Jesus’ ideal, as revealed by His inquisition of Peter, is that agapē love would be at the heart of a leader. This is the love described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It is a love that is patient, kind, humble, honoring of others, selfless, mild and forgiving. I don’t care if you’re a leader in business, government, a classroom, the church or just your home. If your leadership is characterized by this kind of love, then you will grow in influence and stature as a leader. And I think it is absolutely true, if you are a loving leader, you will be a loved leader. Moreover, if you this important quality is at the heart of your leadership then the next important point in this text.
Leaders are compelled by love to serve willingly
“not by compulsion but willingly”
We are not drafted or forced into this service. Though some of the apostles referred to themselves as “slaves of Christ,” they were actually bondservants. That is, they were servants by choice, not by force. In one of his letters, Paul writes, “For the love of Christ compels us.” His love is that which was demonstrated by His death on the cross. And that love, when properly understood, should increase our love for Him, which in turn should compel our love for others in very practical and Christlike ways.
In 1 Peter 5, the apostle goes on to say, “not for dishonest gain.” Another English translation says, “not for filthy lucre.” The Christian leader does not occupy the role for what they can get out of it. Though sadly it is clear that some have. The Christian leader is compelled by love to serve willingly. And those that fill the office of leader should do so recognizing the next truth in the passage.
Leadership is a stewardship
“nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”
Jesus said “Feed My lambs,” “Tend My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.” The “flock” is God’s flock; the sheep of His pasture. Any role of oversight and leadership that the Christian leader holds is as a manager and steward of another’s possession. We quickly find ourselves drifting into dangerous territory when we begin to see the position as our possession. As stated previously, leaders are not lords. Those who rule as barons over their plot have forgotten the exhortation to shepherd the flock of God which is among them as servants. But those who recognize the importance of leadership as a stewardship will be good examples to the flock, and they will realize the final point of the passage.
Faithful stewards will be rewarded
“when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
Though we’re exhorted to serve willingly and not for dishonest gain, there is no problem with serving to obtain the honest gain of the eternal crown of glory. Paul wrote, “Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize.” And this text makes very clear that we should lead in such a way that we receive the reward in glory.
As I said previously, none of these things is earth-shatteringly new. Each is rather clearly presented in the Scripture. But when applied as a whole, they produce leaders and organizations that are
Recently, while reading a blog post by Roger Olson I came across the following—from him—in response to one of the comments.
[The Bible] suggests that our praying can make a real difference in how God acts for the good. I can only speculate that is due to some self-limitation of God for the sake of our participation in his mission to the world. (emphasis mine)
Does the all knowing, all powerful, omni God place self-imposed limits upon His knowledge, power, will, etc.? Some would think such a question to be foolish and could not conceive of God doing such a thing. Be that as it may, there are some passages in the Scriptures that do support the idea.
For instance, Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 each remind us that the all knowing God—on the basis of His forgiveness—no longer remembers our sins. In interpreting such passages we will often employ wording like, “God chooses not to remember our sins.” I certainly agree that this is true, but it does infer that God chooses to limit His omniscience. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not willing that any should perish, yet we know that many do in fact perish. Apparently the all powerful God also limits His power.
This then begs the question, “In what other ways does God limit Himself?”
If you’re anything like me, then you are constantly looking for better and/or more efficient ways of keeping up with the regular tasks of day to day life and ministry. Being that I was raised with technology, that typically means that I am looking for apps and services that make my life and ministry a bit easier. With that in mind, I’d like to share twelve of the tools (some you probably know/use and a few you may have never used or even heard of) that I use on a daily basis that just work.
Dropbox is an essential tool for me. I’ve had an account with Dropbox since it became available, recommended it to dozens of people (which has increased my free storage) and purchased more storage (even though there are potentially cheaper or free alternatives) because it just works great. For more than two years now I’ve had nearly all of my data stored across all of my devices via Dropbox. I know that some people will decry potential security issues to this way of working, but I’m not majorily concerned. All the projects I am working on a always backed-up and up-to-date on each of my devices (laptop, desktop, phone and iPad) and accessible on any computer.
I’ve been a Apple/Mac user since I was in second grade. At that time it was all 3.5” floppies, Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego, but every year (in my opinion) Apple gets better and better at adding exceptional features. That’s definitely the story with iCloud. If you’ve been around Apple long enough then you’ve been through the growing pains of iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and even the early days of iCloud. But today iCloud is a major contender, and one I use constantly.
Besides synced contacts, calendars, notes and reminders across all of my devices, iCloud offers me the ability to easily work on documents anytime, anywhere. iCloud enables someone—like me—that uses Apple iWork exclusively (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) the ability to be typing notes in Pages on my iMac at home, edit them on my iPad or iPhone on the go, have the most current version available later on my MacBook Air (while at Starbucks no doubt), and then finish them up on my iMac at the office.
Yes, I know… I have an Apple disorder. People call our office “The Orchard.” If you’re an apple user too, iCloud is a no-brainer.
There is certainly some redundancy in these first three (perhaps even with the 4th too). Google drive can do many of the same things that Dropbox and iCloud do. One could make the case that Dropbox is unnecessary if you are using iCloud or Google Drive and that you should choose between iCloud or Google Drive. That’s for others to fight about. For me, I like all three for differing reasons and have found all of them to be helpful to my regular work flow and habits.
If you work with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (i.e. most churches and para-church organizations) then you really should look in to Google for Nonprofits (http://www.google.com/nonprofits/), which makes Google Apps freely available to your whole organization. At our church, Cross Connection, we’ve had an authorized Google for Nonprofits account for several years, and we use it extensively.
Our office uses shared calendars and Google Drive/Apps daily. We regularly collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and share project files and folders. Google Drive has also been a huge help in the work that I do with ministries outside of our local church. Whether it’s the Church Planting Network, our Online School, or individuals that I am mentoring or working with in the church. It is becoming more and more essential.
I started this post in Evernote on my laptop, and now I’m continuing it on my iPhone. I use Evernote constantly throughout my day. When an idea comes to mind or a new thought for a message or article, I reach for my iPhone and jot it down in Evernote. If I’m readying an article that of like to tag and save for later, I email a copy of it to my Evernote account from Safari on my iPhone, iPad or computer. The ability to attach pictures/files, tag, geotag, search and gather notes into notebooks makes Evernote my goto notes app.
Evernote is such a paradigm changer for some that books have been written entire websites dedicated to and seminars held on how to more effectively get things done using it.
Kindle App (for iOS)
I don’t think I’ve bought a “real book” (unless it was not available as an ebook) since the Kindle app came out for iPad. I’m the type of person that reads several books at one time. Kindle makes this all the more easy. I love the ability to have my entire library with me everywhere and at anytime. And to have highlights, notes and bookmarks synced across devices is a huge plus!
There are many reader/annotation apps for the iPad/iPhone (and other sub-par handheld devices), but I prefer Goodreader. Although I use it for all kinds of document files (PDF, Doc, XLS, PPT, etc.), my primary use of Goodreader is as my teaching notes tool.
The final draft of my teaching notes is always saved to Dropbox as a PDF. Then, when I’m ready to teach/preach I download the file from Dropbox in Goodreader, make any final highlights and annotations to it and step up to the pulpit.
Like I said, this is just one of many such tools, but it has a ton of features I’ve not seen in others.
Mantis Study Bible & Blue Letter Bible
I downloaded and purchased add-ons for Mantis Study Bible the first day I had my very first iPad. Although there are (now) other options available (even at a better price), I’ve stuck with Mantis because it works great, and I have got a bit of money invested in it. The only downside is that I wish there was a MacOS version available to use on my laptop/desktop, but that’s where Blue Letter Bible comes in.
I have Logos study bible, but I rarely open it. It has some great features and tools, but it has just never really fit into my workflow too well. I began using Blue Letter Bible as my primary Bible study tool more than 10 years ago. Thankfully they updated their user interface in the last year, but even before the update it was a topnotch tool that is totally free. I like it so much I’ve happily donated to the ministry of Blue Letter Bible. While it doesn’t have near the features of a fully featured Accordance or Logos, it’s spectacular for getting a study done.
Like several of other apps/services, Mailchimp is one of many options available to send mass emails to a large list of subscribers.
We use Mailchimp both at Cross Connection and the Calvary Church Planting Network. Each Friday I send out an email to more than 500 subscribers at the church to update them about what’s happening at our weekend services or about what’s coming up the following week. It’s a no-cost (for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month), easy to use tool, that returns great metrics/reports.
It’s a first-world problem that all 21st century first-worlders share… too much email (Yes, I know, with Mailchimp we’re contributing to the problem). I have way too much of it on way too many accounts. On average I get 100-200 emails a day (during the week). In all honesty, only about a quarter to a third of them are of much importance (side note: I’m testing sanebox to deal with the other 66%).** Not only do I have too much email, but I check my email mostly on my iPhone and I routinely see emails there that need more attention than just a quick response from the phone. The problem is that those emails often get buried by the time I get back to my computer and then, they get are missed… which is a huge problem.
Enter Mailbox App. With mailbox, when I see an email on my phone, I can swipe to the left and bring up a prompt to (essentially) hide it till later today, this evening, tomorrow, next week, etc.
[one_half][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5396″ caption=”slide left…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half] [one_half_last][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5395″ caption=”slide right…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half_last] A swipe a bit further to the left and I can easily move the email to a designated folder (CCPN, Cross Connect, etc.).
A partial swipe to the right immediately archives the message and a full swipe to the right deletes it. Don’t understand? Watch the video…
Expensify has made my (and our Cross Connection Staff’s) life so much easier! Expensify has a very clear and simple statement about what they do… “Expense reports that don’t suck | Simple, hassle-free expense reporting.”
In the past (until about 6 months ago that is) all of those on our staff that have credit cards would receive their monthly statement with something like a spreadsheet attached on which they would identify what each expense was and which ministry/account it was attached to. In addition they would attach their receipts to it and return it to our Quickbooks master in a timely manner. Problem was, it never actually happened that way… in a timely manner.
Lets face it, I lose receipts, and I’m terrible at getting things done that I just hate doing. But Expensify has completely transformed that. Now, when myself or one of our staff members make a purchase with their church card, they take a picture of the receipt with the Expensify App on their iPhone, record the info of who the payee was, how much it cost and which accounting category it falls under. Then at the end of the month, what use to take me a couple of hours has been reduced to minutes. I just check the statement with the data on Expensify’s website and if everything checks out I hit send and it emails a PDF expense report to our Quickbookie. AWESOME!
Many churches use church management software (CMS) like Active Network’s Fellowship One, ACS Technologies or Church Community Builder; some prefer a church social network like The City (which is now owned by ACS). All of these are great services. Each of them have their own pros and cons, and all of them come at a cost. If your church is not using anything for administratively managing the work, you should at least look into it. We (at Cross Connection) have looked at several and are in the process of implementing Fellowship One. The only problem was that we wanted something that would also decentralize certain aspects of administration, community and church life. Facebook is a definite option, and many churches use it effectively, but for us Facebook has too much noise. The City offers some great features, but (1) doesn’t integrate with our CMS and (2) it would be an additional cost on top of our management solution with F1. Which is why, about a year ago, we implemented The Table at our church.
The Table is a church focused/oriented social networking platform. It’s free, easy to setup and use, and has proven super useful for us. Also, The Table integrates with Fellowship One and shares user data across the platforms. So, when Joe Average updates his contact info on The Table, it is updated in our church management records.
It’s another 21st century, first-world problem. We have accounts for Amazon, Google, iCloud, Blue Letter Bible, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, The Table… and that’s just the apps and services mentioned in this post. At present I have 198 accounts with individual logins and passwords (I know, that’s insane). Enter 1Password.
Like Apple’s original Keychain (which I could never get to work properly) and now iCloud Keychain (which works pretty well), 1Password offers saving and syncing (using Dropbox) of your login and password information for your many accounts. Then, with a simple hotkey (Command+) it prompts you for your single 1Password password (only once while logged in) and then inputs the unique username and password for whatever site you are on.
iCloud Keychain is accomplishing the same basic functionality… I’ve just become accustomed to using 1Password over the years, so for now I’m still using it.
What apps or services are you using that are a help?
Share them in the comments below.
**After a few days using SaneBox I can say for certain that it’s worth a look! Although there’s a monthly cost for the service, it does a great job of reducing the clutter in my inbox. Check out the 14 day free trial, you may find that you like it.
At this moment, just days from Christmas, a whole lot of noise has been stirred up in American pop-culture, resulting from the “Duck Commander’s” words that are to be printed in the January issue of GQ Magazine. The Twitter-sphere, blogosphere and mainline newsosphere are all a buzz, which of course means I have something to say too 😉
Two blog articles have stuck out to me in the last 24 hours. One, a post from Brandon Ambrosino at Time.com and the other from Andrew Sullivan on his own site, dish.andrewsullivan.com. Interestingly, both men are openly gay. Thus, their views are particularly interesting.
Both writers essentially agree that Phil Robertson’s firing is unfounded. Sullivan rightly observes that A&E has fired the reality star for doing the very thing that has made the network a boatload of money, speaking his stereotypically southern, redneck mind. Ambrosino closes with a great question, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” Amidst all the chatter I find myself continually landing upon the same reoccurring thought: can we tolerate intolerance?
The collective voices of progressive pop-culture tell us “fundamentalist Christians” that we must be more tolerant of the LGBT community and lifestyle. By tolerance I can only deduce that they mean accepting and in many cases celebrate too. At this moment—barring changes that will likely come in the future—the definition of tolerant (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my MacBook Air) is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”
As far as I can tell, myself and most of the Christian pastors and church goers that I know, have been (according to the above definition) doing their best to be tolerant of the Homosexual lifestyle, whether they want to be or not. We’ve tried to show a willingness to allow the existence of opinions and behavior that we—and we believe the Scriptures—do not agree with. However, it does not seem that groups like GLAAD and others within the LGBT community are willing to offer the same tolerance to fundamentalist Christians like Phil Robertson.
My answer to the question is “no.” I cannot tolerate the LGBT and progressive pop-culture’s intolerance of our opinions that they do not agree with. I wish that they were a little more tolerant, and something tells me that Sullivan and Ambrosino would probably agree.
Pastor John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast this week discussed the question posed by Arminian Professor Roger Olson “Where’s the Arminian John Piper?” Upon listening to John’s response I asked my friend, Pastor Tim Brown, for his reactions. I found them very thought provoking and worth consideration.
Here is Piper’s podcast…
Here is Tim’s response…
I think it is self-serving and borders on intellectual dishonesty to recognize man’s role as opposed to God’s role as being the core of Arminian theology.
- I don’t know of any theologians who actually teach this or would recognize it as such.
- Man can do nothing unless God has done something. What rule of theology makes the responder superior to the initiator? What metric makes the final move the crucial move? One could argue that the move which makes possible the final move is the crucial move.
- If you were to give me $1 million, for me to walk away praising myself for having the presence of mind to extend my hand and take it from you flies in the face of psychology and history.
- Psychology – no one does this, i.e., walks away and focuses on their cleverness rather than the generosity of the giver. Everyone would walk away and say to others, “Wow, did you see what that guy just did? That’s amazing! Who is he!?” The focus would be on the giver and not the receiver and anything he did to position himself to receive.
- History – we don’t see what Piper asserts even in our most recent history. I am sure that Piper would consider Pastor Chuck an Arminian, or at least Arminianism would be a more dominant note than the principles of Calvinism. We see in our own quasi-Arminian movement a God-honoring focus on Jesus Christ. Our non-Calvinistic soteriology doesn’t produce the praise of man, but the praise of Jesus Christ. Our soteriology can bear the weight of worship and wonder.
- Isn’t it interesting that the man-at-the-core theology of Pastor Chuck birthed the Jesus movement and Piper’s God-at-the-center theology birthed the neo-Calvinist movement. The longer I think about it, the more Piper’s little clip strikes me as being self-serving and not well thought out.
In addition, for someone to take up Olson’s challenge to become the darling and champion of Arminian theology would be to betray the very gospel they preach. Pastor Chuck would have no interest in taking up this challenge. He wanted to promote Jesus, not a system. I’m sure that Piper sees Billy Graham as an Arminian. Billy wants to preach Christ and Him crucified – he doesn’t want to promote a system. Greg Laurie would be seen as an Arminian by Piper (no doubt), but Greg wants to preach Jesus and not argue system. It seems like the ones who are accused of being man-focused are more Christ-focused than the ones who say they are the ones who are most God-focused and God-honoring.
Piper’s contentions in his podcast don’t ring true theologically, psychologically, or historically.
[Furthermore] it’s amazing to me in the light of Piper’s contentions, that the Arminian theology of Pastor Chuck got the nation talking about Jesus and the Calvinism of Piper gets people talking about Calvin and Calvinism. You shall know them by their fruits. (struck through per Tim’s comment/retraction below)
Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.
Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?
First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.
The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.
This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.
The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.
Early this morning, Pastor Chuck Smith went home to be with Jesus, after a nearly two year battle with cancer. In thinking about Pastor Chuck, a few thoughts come to mind.
In about May or June of this year I tasked one of our staff members at CCEsco with clearing out an onsite storage area that had become nothing more than an archive of Bible teaching cassette tapes. With more than 32 to years as a church, you can probably imagine that there were quite a few archived tapes. A couple days into the process I walked into my office to find a cassette sitting on my desk. It was a teaching from Pastor Chuck Smith at a Calvary Chapel youth camp at Green Valley lake, from July, 1996. The guys who were clearing out the storage area had no idea what that camp and that teaching series by Pastor Chuck meant to me; it was no less than God’s sovereignty that the tape ended up on my desk.
I remember that youth camp very well. It was the first time I’d attended a Calvary Chapel youth camp. When I, as a sophomore in High School, journeyed up to Green Valley Lake that July I honestly had no idea that Calvary Chapel was any larger than the Calvary Chapel I attended (Calvary Chapel of Escondido), nor did I know the name Chuck Smith. The camp that year was themed “In Christ” and was based completely in the book of Ephesians.
As the sessions opened on Monday, July 22, 1996, Pastor Chuck Smith came to the pulpit and 400 high schoolers sat almost completely silent—aside from occasional laughter at his jokes—through three, 1-hour long studies in the book of Ephesians. One of those teachings (unfortunately not the one on the tape the guys found) I still remember to this day, for it was a defining moment in my life. No, I didn’t give my life to the Lord that day, I had done that many years before, but I am completely certain that I first sensed a call to ministry on that day.
Pastor Chuck, speaking from Ephesians 1, exhorted the room full of 15 — 18 year-olds to not waste their lives. He challenged us to not “meander through life,” but to follow and serve the Lord. I remember wrestling with the thought of what it was that he was teaching. I distinctly remember thinking, “If I do what this man is encouraging me to do, then God is going to call me to do something crazy or send me somewhere I do not want to go.”
Quite honestly, I resettled with that thought and that teaching for 2 more years through High School. But looking back, 17 years later, I’m absolutely convinced that that 1 hour teaching by Pastor Chuck, in Ephesians chapter 1, on Monday, July 22, 1996, completely changed the course of my life, and for that I will always be extremely grateful to Pastor Chuck Smith.
One more thing…
In my lifetime I think I’ve had no more than 5 or 6 personal interactions with Pastor Chuck. I’d like to share about two of them.
On that same Monday night in July of 1996, as Pastor Chuck walked to his car, following the eking Bible study, I followed him out the door and asked, “Pastor Chuck, will you sign my Bible?” Yes, it makes me laugh a little now. Yes, it was a little odd. In my defense (although I don’t need one) I wasn’t the only one who asked. Chuck, with the smile I don’t think he ever was without, kindly took my Bible and pen, sighed his name and a verse reference. Of course I immediately looked up the verse, which is likely the answer for Chuck’s enduring smile.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
— 3 John 1:4
The second interaction happened two and a half years later, as I was attending Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California. Following Pastor Chuck’s weekly Friday chapel session, I was talking with a few of my friends in one of the patio areas at the Bible College, when Pastor Chuck pulled up in a golf cart, jumped out, grabbed a broom and dust-pan from passenger seat and greeting us as he passed by us, he began sweeping up some leaves and dirt 5 feet from us. Several of us asked Pastor Chuck if we could help, he of course said “No, no,” and continued on his way.
While it is certain that Pastor Chuck was a huge heavy-weight in 20th and early 21st century, American Christianity, he never carried himself as such. Over the next several weeks I’m sure a lot of stories, like this one, will be told about Pastor Chuck, as he was exceedingly humble and walked in such a way as though nothing was below him. Truly, if anyone could say it, Pastor Chuck could declare, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
In the day in which we live, “religious” has been replaced with the term “spiritual,” which is both ambiguous as well as hard to define. That said, it is clear that religion and spirituality play a roll in the lives of every human being, as we were created to worship. Therefore, as individuals imaging the divine, we all have what might be termed “personal spirituality;” and in the protestant evangelical Christian tradition, personal spirituality is relational and not merely religious. Thus it is common to hear evangelical Christians say, “I don’t have religion, I have a relationship.” But if “spiritual” needs definition, then the concept of a relationship over religion certainly needs clarification.
As a pastor, I have regularly been confronted with the dreadful reality that it is far to easy to default to a pattern of life and ministry that is overly religious. By religious, I mean that daily life and ministry can have an appearance of spirituality and devotion, but be terribly devoid of genuine godliness and sincere worship. In other words, ministry, for the minister, can become inordinately professional. The task of sermon preparation and the sacerdotal functions in the ministry are inherently spiritual; or at least appear to be. Consequently, the minister and those ministered to by him, might wrongly assume that the one doing such things is inherently spiritual too. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Christian in general, and those called to Christian leadership specifically, must never allow the daily disciplines of Christianity (i.e. prayer, Bible reading, memory, etc.) and the functions of Christian ministry to become heartlessly mechanical. As an instrument of worship, the disciple of Christ must aim to worship through these activities and not simply do them by rote. Therefore, enjoying the relationship of Christianity demands Spirit directed devotion and worship; not just a codified ethic.
Like virtually every American I was glued to the news this last week as a result of the Marathon Bombing. I was however somewhat detached being that I was teaching at a small international bible college in Ireland. That said, I did have a few observations in light of the happenings.
Quite honestly it is awesome to behold the bravery of “strangers” in the face of the atrocious acts of cowardice displayed by the bombers. The bombers dropped their packages and briskly waked away, leaving destruction in their wake. But immediately following the explosions loads of people ran to the aid of the injured. My heart broke and was warmed all in one moment.
Brave men and women, knowing not whether other bombs were awaiting them, risked their lives to hurry to those that were hurt. Individuals tired after running 26 miles continued to run to nearby hospitals to donate blood. The cowards hid and [apparently] planned future acts of terror. Fortunately, aside from one other terrible act, their reign of terror ended quickly.
In Europe, upon hearing my accent each individual I encountered instantly expressed their sincerest sympathies. Their hearts hurt for the pain of our nation. They didn’t have to be American, they’re human, and the heart of any individual with a modicum of compassion, breaks in the face of such suffering.
The Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical communities are to be lauded for their expertise and efficiency. EMS workers worked with brave professionalism. I imagine that they would have prior to 9/11/2001, but all the more since. The Law Enforcement agencies [apparently] worked harmoniously together to identify (with the aid of many witnesses) the alleged terrorists and effectively remove them from the streets within 4 days of their conscienceless act.
The press displayed (almost as expected) absurdity. If they would limit their scope of practice to reporting the facts, it would be bearable. But in a day in which “that which bleeds leads” and he who is first to the story wins the ratings game, stupidity abounds. In addition flows the constant drone of editorializing and and biased interpretation. I’d much rather know what they know and not what some uppity news correspondent thinks it means.
I realize that at this point I’m editorializing too, but quite frankly that’s what a blog is.
Last week I traveled to the East Coast as a representative of the Calvary Church Planting Network at a Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference in Florida. In so doing I was honestly amazed by the scope of the Calvary Chapel family of churches. Walking onto the campus at Calvary Merritt Island was — quite honestly — like walking into a room full of strangers. Although southern hospitality was truly on display, I [personally] knew only about 6 people at the conference, and 3 of them were representing ministries from my church. This was a totally foreign experience for me, as every conference I attend on the West Coast is like a family reunion. In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend such conferences is to interact and fellowship with brothers I do not get a chance to see often. Those are wonderfully refreshing times. The South East Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference was a refreshing time too, but in a different way.
I was genuinely refreshed by the breadth of Calvary Chapel. There are hundreds and hundreds of Calvary churches throughout the nation (and the world), many, if not most of them are very small community fellowships. Their pastors are down-to-earth normal guys who stepped into the ministry as unlikely candidates for pastoral work. Their backgrounds typically have more to do with manual labor than ministry training, but by God’s grace and the work of the His Spirit, these men have become shepherds of God-seekers who are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior.
I was also struck by the importance of reaching out to those who may not know anyone or are significantly disconnected from others, with like DNA, in ministry. In San Diego County (where I serve as a pastor) there are upwards of 50 Calvary Chapel’s. Fellowship with others in the work is not just a phone-call away, but a 5 or 10 minute drive away too.
While there I met Pastor Fred, from Calvary Chapel Okeechobee. He and his wife started the church and when looking for a house in Okeechobee they happened upon an old church with a parsonage that was right in their price range. So, they bought a home and with it a meeting place for the church that [literally] is their home. They serve in a community with more cows than people, or so they said. I’m sure it’s true too. It’s there on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee — a lake you cannot swim in cause the gators would get you. I had no idea there was such a place as Okeechobee, or a Calvary there, but there is; and I’m sure there are hundreds of other Okeechobee’s and Pastor Fred’s in Calvary. They’ll probably never speak at a conference, and probably wouldn’t want to if they were asked asked, but they are faithfully serving and laying down their lives for Christ’s Bride.
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
– Hebrews 6:10
I was flipping through an old book on my bookshelf the other day and stumbled upon this section dealing with maintaining a middle-ground position on divisive theological points. Personally I appreciate such a humble orthodoxy.
Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division.
A classic example is the problem in our understanding of the Scriptures that refer to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Bible actually teaches both, but in our human understanding they’re mutually exclusive. People who become divisive on this issue claim that we can’t believe both, because if you carry the sovereignty of God to an extreme, it eliminates the responsibility of man. Likewise, if you carry the responsibilities of man to the extreme, it eliminates the sovereignty of God. This mistake is made when a person takes the doctrine and carries it out to its logical conclusion. Using human logic and carrying divine sovereignty out to its logical conclusion leaves man with no choices.
So, how are we to deal with rightly dividing the Word on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? We need to believe both of them through faith, because I can’t keep them in balance by my understanding. I don’t understand how they come together. But I do believe them both. I believe that God is sovereign, and I also believe that I’m responsible and that God holds me responsible for the choices that I make. I simply trust God that both assertions of Scripture are true.
Don’t get polarized. Don’t let the people get polarized. The minute you do, you’ve lost half your congregation because people are split pretty evenly on this issue. So if you take a polarized position you’ll lose half of your congregation. Do you really want to lose 50% of your congregation?
– Chuck Smith
I love how imaginative my kids are. Ethan (4 years old) and Addie (soon to be 3) have super vivid imaginations (I’m sure Eva does too, but she’s only just turned 1).
The other day while driving home from Costco we had one of their movies playing in the back seat. During the “moral of the story” wrap-up the main character told the kids, “You see you don’t have to be a superhero to help people.” Without a second thought Ethan quietly responded, “Yes you do.” In his mind you do, and in his world we are all superheroes. In fact, if you were to ask him which superheroes we are… I’m Mr. Incredible (he’s a smart boy), Andrea is Firestar (he made that one up), he is Spider-Man (or Ironman, or Captain America), Addie is Elastagirl and Evangeline is Dash. Ethan has a vision. He lives his vision and he loves to bring others into it. Bringing others into your vision is what impartation is all about.
In my last post on developing vision I spoke of casting the vision to those leaders closest to you for the purpose of moving it from the general to the specific. Although some aspects of development carry over into impartation, impartation is the real incarnation of vision in the hearts of others. At this stage the more specifically formulated vision that has been developed in step two is now imparted to the larger body so as to make the idea a reality. At this point there are three important steps in birthing the vision in the hearts and minds of the body.
REMIND the people of what God has done previously. At the beginning of each year at CCEsco I spend 2 to 3 weeks imparting vision for what is on the horizon and I always begin first by reminding the body of what has happened in the previous year. I share how the Lord has provided for the work and opened new doors of opportunity. I remind the body of what they gave in support of the work and how that has practically impacted our community and the world; and we take time to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned as a result of what we’ve seen and been apart of.
Once we’ve taken some time to rehearse what God has done and is doing, I then ARTICULATE the vision of what God has called upon us to do in the new year. This articulation is not an in-depth treatise on every detail of the vision, but rather a simple overview of what we’re desiring to accomplish by God’s grace. As much as possible I believe that it is important to be as concise and precise in communicating the vision as the details of it can be expressed more fully later. Think of impartation as a form of inception.
As you rehearse what God has done and articulate what He is preparing to do it is essential that you then ELICIT a response from your hearers. In so doing it is important that you provide easy on-ramps for them to step into the process of making the vision a reality. Don’t just paint an abstract picture of what could potentially be, but provide practical ways in which the body can participate.
In Exodus 25, as Moses was still receiving the vision for the tabernacle, he began to impart the vision to Israel and prompted their involvement by requesting an offering. This offering was the initial spark that involved and employed their participation in making the tabernacle a reality. It [the offering] gave the people a practical way in which they could be a part of the birthing of the vision.
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?”
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!
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?”
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.
As I lay down to go to sleep last night I thought to myself, “What is the best way to respond to those I lead this week regarding the electoral decisions of our nation in this 2012 campaign.” A couple of hours earlier a member of the church had texted me asking, “Well, any words of encouragement, pastor?” My immediate thought and response was, “Jesus is the King of kings!” So as I faded into unconsciousness a reoccurring thought swirled in my mind, “God Voted Obama.”
I received an email this evening with the subject, “THE SADDEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE U.S.” The email happens to be from someone I do not know who somehow had placed me on their distribution list many months ago and instead of actually unsubscribing I’ve consistently just delete his messages, but this one caught my attention. After reading the opening sentence (that’s as much as I could handle), I once again began thinking “God Voted Obama.” The failure of the author to recognize God’s active involvement in the affairs of men is startling to me, but gives me some further insight into his theology.
I realize that what I’m about to say will not be popular with the largely evangelical, center-right crowd that will likely read this post, but I’m convinced it’s scripturally supported and worthy of consideration.
In the 6th century B.C. the Nation of Judah was led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. There are a number of contributing reasons for Judah’s captivity, but one of the major ones was Israel’s unwillingness to obey God’s command for sabbath rest. Every seven years the land was to lay fallow, but in Israel’s greedy desire for ever increasing yields, they disobeyed the sabbath rest for 490 years. Thus God required 70 years of rest for His land, which translated into 70 years of captivity for disobedient Israel, as they worked as slaves under the taskmasters of Babylon. This is just one of several such instances in the Old Testament. God is very serious about righteousness and justice. He does not take lightly disobedience. The blessings and curses of the commands still apply and are, I believe, generally applicable to all humanity.
For many years our nation has greedily pursued ever increasing yields. We’ve selfishly sought for extravagant abundance and idolized the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Our bent toward instant gratification has, in recent times, pushed us to do so with little thought for the long-term costs and consequences. After more than a generation and a half of such pursuit we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that “tomorrow will be as today and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:12).
Furthermore, as of December 23, 2011, a staggering 78% of Americans self-identify as Christians (Gallup). Obviously there are a number of cultural guilt factors that play into people identifying as Christians when asked. Be that as it may, there is good reason to believe that the 78% have at least some connection to Christianity in their past. Yet the scriptural exhortations to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), do justly, love mercy and walk in humility (Micah 6:8) have done little to stir our social engagement and curb our indolent pride.
With these things in mind I wonder; is it not possible that we’ve been given the government that will reprove and correct — even if it be by taxation — our unroghteous behavior? Is it possible that the church’s abdication of social responsibility has created a vacuum that someone or something must fill? The government being the logical “something?”
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like taxes per se. Nor am I a fan of individual mandates or social safety-nets hung upon deficits and debt. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and think loving charity is far more noble than begrudging taxation any day of the week. But if we indeed believe that promotion comes from The Lord (Psalm 75:6-7) and that there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1), then perhaps we should consider why God has given us the leaders we’ve elected? Before we tune in to Foxnews and Glenn Beck, maybe we should hearken the Prayer of Daniel…
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.
8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;
10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.
14 Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.
15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
Let me end by affirming my heartfelt prayer for President Obama; for the president he defeated a mere 24 hours ago has left him with one heck of an economic mess.