Does the Omni God Limit Himself?

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?”

Tricks & Tools of the Day

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

dropboxDropbox 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.

iCloud

icloud2I’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.

Google Drive

google_driveThere 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.

Evernote

evernoteI 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)

kindleI 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!

 

 

Goodreader

goodreaderThere 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

mantisOk, so this is really two different apps/services, but they accomplish the same task, so I’ve grouped them together.

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.

blueletter

Mailchimp

mailchimpLike 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.

Mailbox App

mailboxSpeaking of email…

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

expensifyExpensify 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!

img_Expensify_laptopphoneExpensify is mostly free for the first 2 people on a team and then $6 for each additional individual. Well worth the cost, at least for us.

The Table

tableMany 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.

1Password

1passwordIt’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.


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logo-sanebox-2013-blue-fac53d24ba90186c66c7db3c260609f1**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.

Can we tolerate intolerance?

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.

Thoughts in Response to John Piper

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.

  1. I don’t know of any theologians who actually teach this or would recognize it as such.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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)

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

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.

Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

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.”

 

Personal Spirituality

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.

Boston Observations

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.

Bravery

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.

Solidarity

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.

Efficiency

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.

Idiocy

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.

Miles Wide

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

Food for Thought

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

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Millennials and Eschatology

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

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

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

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

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

“Why sit we here till we die”

2 Kings 7:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

– Psalm 50:14

 

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

– Psalm 69:30

 

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

– Psalm 95:2

 

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

– Psalm 100:4

 

What are you thankful for?

hint… leave your’s below!

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

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

2. Developing Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Voted Obama

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.

Daniel 9:1-19

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.

 

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.

Retrospective in Respect to Future Prospects

My how this week has flown by. This year even. I remember several times as a child my dad explaining to me the relative nature of time. Not necessarily the Theory of Relativity, but the fact that a year to a 10 year-old seems longer — as it is 1/10 of his/her life — than a year to a 30 year-old, as it is 1/30 of his.

I’ll be 33 at the end of next month. When I graduated from high school I couldn’t imagine myself in my 30’s. it seemed so incredibly far away, but now high school is a fading memory. Granted, I’m quite thankful for that.

I don’t quite know what it is, but I get nostalgic at this time every year. Perhaps it is that the fall/winter tend to be my favorite time of the year or that my birthday and the holidays are approaching. It might just be that football is back on TV, who knows? Whatever the case, I’ve been thinking back on the paths I’ve traveled while looking forward to those things that are to come and I’ve been confronted again with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend on a Friday night, about this time of the year in 1998. We had just pulled up to my parents house, after driving the 45 miles back from Bible College for a weekend home. I don’t remember all the details of the conversation, but I do remember telling Charles, “I don’t want to love my life in such a way that years from now I look back and say, “Oh, I wish I would have ______.”” Admittedly there are a number of things that I look back on and say “I sure wish I wouldn’t have done that,” but frankly, by God’s grace, I’ve yet find a single instance where I find myself thinking, “I sure wish I would have chosen option B over C.

It has been said “Time stops for no man.” I guess in the case of Joshua that wasn’t true, but statistically speaking the odds are in the favor of time. Each of us on the other hand, have a decided end approaching. Wisdom says that we should number our days and make the most of every opportunity. How are you stewarding the precious commodity of time?

Taking Steps of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Second Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Your Heroes Don’t Measure Up

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How to react when you’re wronged

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

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

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

— James 1:20

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

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

— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Thoughts From The Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Site Repeat…

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

 

 

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

 

 

Thoughts?

Your Word IS Truth

Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.

— John 17:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Does it matter?

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

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

[…]

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

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

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

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

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

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

Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Loss of Community

I began a new series of teachings on Mother’s Day at CCEsco called “Reconcile.” The series has grown out of a number of conversations, encounters and times alone in thought and prayer that have lead me to some great [new] realizations for myself and those that I have the privilege of leading at CCE. Primarily I’ve been impacted by the importance of this “ministry of reconciliation” that each of us as believers has been brought into by Christ.

This last week [especially] I’ve been meditating upon what humanity lost in the fall, and how those things are restored to us in salvation. Very little exegesis is needed to identify and account for what was lost in the fall. At the close of Genesis 2, man and his wife were naked and unashamed; 7 verses later everything had changed.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Genesis 3:7

With the fist sin shame entered in, and the glorious oneness experienced by the first humans was devastated. With sin came the loss of community and ever since man has been trying to restore that which was lost by his own sinful efforts. Those efforts took the shape of fig leaves in Genesis 3; today it’s all manner of sinful behavior which is practiced with the fleeting hope of satisfying the inner longing for that which was lost in the fall.

The second loss of the fall is illustrated by man’s response to God’s presence in the garden after he and Eve had sinned, and by God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:8-9.

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Genesis 3:8-9

Adam and Eve hid from God because of the shame of sin, and God identifies the separation between He and humanity in His inquiry, “Adam, where are you?” Sin caused separation between man and God, the loss of communion.

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Isaiah 59:2

I highlight these losses—of community and communion—as I’ve come to realize that by their loss man is left yearning for them to be restored. Although man may not be able to adequately verbalize his want, it is I believe, the deepest desire of every human soul. We were created to live in genuine oneness with one another and fellowship with God. Of course, this that was lost at the fall is restored by the cross; and we, ministers of reconciliation/restoration, are given the privilege of reintroducing the lost to communion and community.

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20

 

10 things on my mind this week…

1. Blessed to hold the hand of and pray with a sister about to step from this life to the next after a battle with an aggressive cancer. Her words to me, “I want to live.” You will, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, let not your heart be troubled.

2. Like eating Greek far more than reading Greek. Prepositions, participles, imperfect, active, indicative, third person singular… O my (or perhaps ομαι, which would of course be a deponent ending). Not sure just how well I’m getting it, but Greek class is mind bending. So wish I would have paid more attention in high school English class.

3. Find it interesting that it’s “wrong” to write an article in a public venue (i.e. blog) that can be openly challenged, but it’s perfectly acceptable to privately circulate a dozen page+ letter among ones peers and associates condemning and falsely labeling them, without their knowledge.

If someone has issue with something I’ve said or written they can comment here, email me, find me on Facebook, twitter, google+ or call my office.

4. Amazed by the spiritual insights gleaned from (1) raising Ethan, Addie & Eva, and (2) pruning the grape vine in my backyard.

5. So blessed by my mom and my wife as I approach Mother’s Day.

6. Intrigued by President Obama’s non-evolutionary “leap” to supporting gay marriage this week.

7. Thankful for the men God has put in my life that challenge me to be a better follower of God, husband to my wife, father to my kids and pastor of Cross Connection Escondido.

8. Excited by the several projects I’m collaborating on in multiple spheres. Am regularly blown away that I get to do what I get to do.

9. Consistently surprised by the graciousness of people to bless me and my family in very tangible ways that express their genuine love for us.

10. Praying for wisdom in unearthing and implementing a new paradigm in Christ honoring community for CCEsco.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 1 Timothy 4:8

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

Busy…

Having small children, as I do, ensures that I have a steady diet of Veggie Tales.  If you’ve never seen a Veggie Tales episode you are definitely missing out.  Bob and Larry are something of a staple in our home, which means that I regularly hear, and often cannot get out of my head, the little veggie ditties (i.e. songs; many of which are actually quite funny).  One of the songs that I recently heard (for the millionth time) says at one point…

We’re busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what we have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

It is an interesting thing when a song written for 3-6 year-olds challenges you to think and question whether or not you’re doing what you should be doing.

We live in an dizzyingly busy society, and I find myself so often caught up in the busyness of it all.  Words like “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and “Come aside… and rest a while” (Mark 6:31) are challenges that I often fail at.  It is staggering just how fast days and weeks fly by.  With seemingly endless things to “get done” I frequently find myself flying from one task to the next.  Sadly, with my mind on the 3, 4, 5 or 10 other things I “must” get done, I just mechanically process the tasks.  It’s like when you’re driving somewhere, with your mind elsewhere, and when you get to your destination you realize that you don’t remember any of the drive and wonder how you made it without an accident.

A few of months ago, while thinking on the story of Jesus at Lazarus’ house as Martha served and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet I was struck by Jesus’ word to Martha…

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled  about many things: but one thing is needful.”

Luke 10:41-42

There are a number of different ways to apply the passage, but as I meditated upon it I found myself confronted with the reality that I am often so absorbed with the “many things” that I need to do that I miss the opportunity to worship the Lord in the “one thing” that I’m doing at that moment.  The Apostle Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) And “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).  I’ve been challenged since that meditation to seek to worship the Lord with whatever “one thing” I am doing from moment to moment.  Whether it’s writing an email, answering a phone call, reading a Psalm or driving to an appointment; whatever I do, even eating and drinking, can be done as worship for the glory of God.

Trust me, it’s hard.  Especially since I keep finding myself distracted by the 12 other things I need to do when this post is done… 😉

 

For further consideration I recommend a post from my friend Mickey Stonier at The Rock Church, San Diego, Pastor’s Blog

 

Consistency?

At the beginning of this month the American South was devastated by 65 confirmed tornado touchdowns in less than 72 hours. The storms resulted in 41 fatalities and countless injuries. Immediately following the horrific storms many in the Christian community began to weigh in, as often we do. We aim, with our words to bring comfort, perhaps hope and, at times, to help make sense of what has happened from a biblical point of view. Following nearly every such event, one well known American Evangelical can be counted on to give his perspective.

Within 48 hours of the last tornado touchdown, Pastor John Piper had posted “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God” to his Desiring God blog. In his article, Piper wrote…

“We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

Piper went on to identify five verses that seem to lend support to his view that God, by His sovereign power, directed the awesome power of these storms to bring about the death and destruction that ensued.

Several well known evangelicals have weighed in on Piper’s words, some uttering their own words in agreement with “amens,” while others challenged his theology. Although I’m not in full agreement with Pastor Piper and have several contentions with the passages he chose to support his view, I do agree with his three concluding points, (1) that we can (and should) bless God in the midst of such tragedy, (2) that events such as these should soberingly inspire repentance, and that (3) Christians are not exempt from such suffering. My purpose here is not necessarily to challenge or question Piper’s theology or position, rather to pose a question that came to my mind as I read his blog earlier this month.


When I visited the Desiring God blog mid-month I found it interesting that this featured article sat right next to another Piper article entitled “Tell Your Children What Hitler Did.” Upon seeing that title, I was immediately struck with a thought, “If I’m to believe that tragedies such as these terrible storms, which took the lives of 41 Americans were the act of God’s sovereign direction and plan, then why not entitle the second featured article, “Tell Your Children What God Did [to the Jews]?”

Just a thought…

Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7

Thoughts/Comments?

 

 

On Pat Robertson’s position

NYT

Washington Post

Israel – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

At this time in world history there doesn’t seem to be a day that passes where the State of Israel is not in the news in some way. It is my conviction that this is exactly as scripture foretold (Zechariah 12:2), and is key to the belief of many evangelicals—including myself—that we may be living in the very last of the last days. But convictions such as these and recent correspondence with other evangelical leaders has caused several questions to come to my mind.

[list style=”list1″ color=”grey”]

  • What should be the response of the church to National Israel in the last days?
  • How should we interpret and apply Paul’s words “To the Jew first” in the context of 21st century Christianity?
  • Should the evangelization of lost Israel take precedent over other lost peoples?
  • Does the promise of Genesis 12:3 (i.e. “I will bless those who bless you…”) mean that we—the church—should seek to bless, monetarily, the nation of Israel to receive a blessing ourselves?
  • Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? Do Muslims?

[/list]

I would love your thoughts, add your’s below. (click here to comment)

Aliens

Last week I jumped into the political fray on the issue of homosexual rights, I figured I’d continue the controversy and tackle political hot topic #2, immigration. As with the marriage debate, this one is fueled by great emotion and is often used as a political campaign weapon. The “right” cries foul in favor of lowering debt and taxes, while the “left” plays the human rights card. It’s an emotional debate for sure; one that causes division in our society as well as within the church.

While it may not be entirely correct to say that a majority of American Christians lean “right of center” politically, I think American (especially evangelical) Christianity tends to be more socially conservative. Within this group it is almost a curse word to be labeled “Liberal,” which is exactly what I am sometimes called when I discuss this topic with acquaintances. I truly want to have an honest discussion about this important issue, but I’ve found very few people who can leave their emotions at the door. Furthermore I think it is unfortunate that we seem to have slid to a point where any [apparent] threat against a conservative position is seen as a threat against the kingdom of God, as if “USA” were synonymous with God’s Kingdom (it’s not, by the way). How do we openly discuss issues such as this when we’re unable to do so civilly? Again, a reframing of the debate is [I think] necessary.

As with much of the western world, America is watching national debts multiply faster than gremlins in a downpour, which – at some point – will likely require an increase of taxation. As it stands now illegal immigrants have become the scapegoat for this problem of increasing debts, and since I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually likes paying taxes (I just had a meeting with my CPA this morning in fact), we clearly have a recipe for frustration and anger.

I live and minster in a fairly conservative town that, perhaps more than any other in America, could be labeled “Anti-illegal immigrant.” Fifty miles from the Mexican border, Escondido has a nearly 46% Hispanic population. At the direction of the city, law enforcement regularly sets up “license checkpoints” which have been highlighted several times on the national news and challenged by the ACLU. Several years ago we garnered national attention when a city ordinance passed that prohibited landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. I’m not sure what came of that one, but I’m sure it has been hung up in court. Each of these measures are the result of decreasing revenues and increasing costs; the easiest place to point is the illegal immigrant population.

Please don’t misunderstand, from a political stand point, I agree; if people are going to immigrate to our nation then it should be done legally. We are, and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. My grandparents (on my father’s side) immigrated here from Italy, and I’m grateful that they did. That said, if I grew up south of the border and could provide a better life for my family by moving north, I’d likely do that however I possibly could. Our biggest issue with such immigrants is not that they’re lazy, cause they’re not. It’s not that they don’t pay any taxes, because they do (i.e. sales taxes, many of them pay payroll taxes under fictitious Social Security numbers, property taxes as renters, etc…). As conservatives, our biggest issue is that we’ve been baited, by political rhetoric, to believe that they (“aliens”) are the cause of our fiscal problems. I’m not convinced that they are.

Sure, they’re using civil and social services as they live in our communities, but these services are offered to anyone who meet the criteria for receiving them. Thus the problem is not the low income immigrants as much as it is the social services themselves. Many conservatives are not exactly proponents of such social programs in the first place. If you provide social services, people will utilize those programs; but then you cannot turn around and be mad at the people using the programs that you provided. This being the case, I’m convinced that the best way to change the discourse is divert our attention from those using the services to the services themselves.

Is it the mandate of our constitution that we provide such services (i.e. health and welfare)? Is it the place of the government to provide them, and therefore tax the people to do so? Or, is it actually something that we, the church, should look to do for the fatherless, widows and strangers in our midst?

For much of history this was a domain occupied by the people of God. At some point in the last century the church vacated that sphere and abdicated their responsibility. The vacuum left by the church’s absence was ultimately filled by the government, who must provide such services via taxation and not charity. The need of services for the fatherless, the widow and the stranger will never go away, as “the poor we will have with us always.” But would we rather share the love of Christ by willingly meeting the needs of those who have them, or will we horde what we have? If we are unwilling to render unto God what is His in loving our neighbor, we will certainly be required to render unto Caesar what is needed to meet a need that will never go away this side of the Kingdom of God.

Daniel’s article yesterday is a good reminder. Preaching the gospel and living the gospel are not mutually exclusive realities.

Just saying…

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

– Deuteronomy 10:17-19

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

– 1 John 3:17

Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.

Thoughts?

Paradigm Shift

[dropcap style=”dropcap3″ color=”black”]L[/dropcap] ast week myself and two of our assistant pastors attended a seminar on “storying” the Bible. For 5 days we we considered both the process and the purpose of such an approach. The interest in such a course is the result of much reading and a growing conviction (especially as a result of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course) that, because of high rates of illiteracy, the unreached and unengaged of the world require alternate methods, or means whereby they can discover and harness the truths of scripture. In the process of walking this path, I’ve discovered several things that are potentially paradigm shifting.

Stepping out-of-the-box is difficult.

While not a groundbreaking statement, it does need to be recognized that we have a certain Christian culture that we prefer, and like any cross-cultural experience, this brought a significant level of culture-shock. Within the western evangelical church, we value inductive, expositional Bible study; especially in our Calvary Chapel stream. We’re most comfortable with an open Bible, a pen and a notebook or journal. When the leader of this seminar required that we close our Bibles and put our pens and papers away, I knew I wasn’t at a Calvary event. During our hour+ drive home each of the first three days we found ourselves talking much of our [initial] dislike for this process.

Westerns can benefit too.

It’s a striking statistic, 87% of Americans are preferred oral learners. While only 14% are illiterate (which is higher than many might imagine), it’s the smallest segment of our society (13%) that are highly-literate. This means that a very small demographic of Americans are able to engage in any meaningful self-study of the Bible. I know, it’s difficult for us to believe this, but because most of our church services are geared toward the highly-literate, we have a much larger demographic of the 13% represented on the typical Sunday morning. Is it possible that we’re neglecting a large segment of our society?

Western culture places high value on literacy. In many ways it is considered the key to success. This is certainly seen in the money that developed nations give toward literacy programs, like that which UNESCO has focused on for decades. All such things are definitely good, but the fact remains “The illiterate you will have with you always.” I’m not advocating for any removal of literacy training, but I am thankful that God inspired Paul to write, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

For the last several years our church has partnered with a ministry that records and distributes audio scriptures for people-groups in highly illiterate nations. They have an ambitious goal of bringing the Word of God in recorded form to the 30 nations of the world with 50% or higher illiteracy rates. As one called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, I have found myself wondering, “How do we disciple those that are receiving our audio Bibles?” Discipleship is key; Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and apart from it many groups will fall into syncretism. I’m more and more convinced that the answer to my above question is a narrative discipleship method. The reality is, this is not exclusive to third-world developing nations.

While I think that our methods for discipleship are good and should not be discarded, another tool in the toolbox is certainly beneficial. As I mentioned several weeks ago in a previous article, our success as equippers should not only be based on having good Bible students. In considering this method and the fruit of it, I think it has great potential for enabling our congregation to discover and digest significant Biblical truth in a way that they can retain and apply it.

Narrative bible discovery is not emergent

Now I know, “Narrative Theology” and “Bible Storying” are code for Emergent. Be that as it may, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren will not be guest bloggers on CrossConnection any time soon. Perhaps the most enlightening revelation in all of last week’s course was the recognition that, when done correctly this method is actually more textually correct than not. While it may be hard to believe, I was struck by the Biblical accuracy that was maintained in simply telling, retelling and examining the stories for the observations and applications that are found in them. Anytime that someone—in this very interactive, dialogic process—brought forth something that was even the slightest bit “off,” the moderator (i.e. storyteller) would simply say, “Can we find that in the story?” Immediately the group was brought back to the word and it was easily sorted out.

The process was [very] different than what I, as a pastor/teacher, am generally use to. But, as the week went on it became a joy to see God, by His Spirit, direct the discussion and bring forth truths that I did not initially see, although they were right on the surface. While I’m not completely sure just how we will incorporate this into the life of our church, I do know that it will be utilized in some fashion as we move forward.

Further consideration:

Simply the Story
The God Story Project
GCM Collective
National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Willing to Change

“Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

– Ed Stetzer

It is hardly debatable that we are creatures of habit. This is proved to me every Sunday as I look out upon the congregation. Almost without fail I know where certain people will be seated. It is as if we have assigned season ticket seating in the sanctuary. Regular routines help ensure a certain level of comfort, and we like comfort. There is of course inevitable conflict; someone is bound to [uneittingly] take your seat. But if there is one thing we can be sure of in this life it is change. Change decreases our comfort and increases our stress, so it is not uncommon to find that we generally resist it.

Our church, Calvary Escondido, has been in a transitional period, experiencing many changes over the last 6+ years. The biggest of those changes has certainly been transition in senior leadership that took place when I began pastoring the church 4 years ago. It was a huge change for all involved; a change that definitely brought about some stress and times of discomfort. By God’s grace and faithfulness it has proven to be a great transition. In my observations and interactions over the last 4 years I’ve come to see that much of the stress of this change has proven to be “eustress” or good stress.

Yes, there is such a thing as good stress. Think of finishing your degree, taking a new job, getting married, going on vacation, buying a house or having a baby. At some level each of these bring about stress, most of which is healthy and enjoyable, but it’s stress nonetheless. In a normal life such things are [essentially] unavoidable. To go a step further, I think that it is important to recognize that in the normal life of a healthy church transitional changes are necessary and good. Such transitional changes are about to become a far more regular and normal occurrence. The overwhelming majority of Calvary Chapel Pastors are among the Baby Boomer generation which, as of last year, has now hit retirement age.

I recognize and understand that retirement for Boomer’s looks quite a bit different than it did for those of the “Builder” generation. This is all the more true for Christians (especially pastors) who find no biblical support for retirement as we [currently] know it in America. That said, I think we all recognize that many of our pastors and churches are in transition, whether we were planning for it or not. Such transition does not mean a rocking chair on a porch retirement, but it may mean a life that looks radically different than the previous 25-30 years has.

Embracing Change

As I set now, 4 years into our [very successful] transition at Calvary Escondido, I am incredibly grateful that, although it was difficult at first, my pastor embraced this transition and change. Pat Kenney had pastored CCEsco for 27 years. He had seen the church grow from 25 to over 500, and move from a school, to rented spaces, to the purchase and buildout of our very own facility. Under his leadership CCEsco had seen great leaders raised up, missionaries and church planters sent out, and new para-church ministries established. When God began to bring the initial winds of change, Pat did not fight against it. I know for certain that he was not planning such a move, nor did he actively set out for transition. If God had so willed, Pat would have continued pastoring this church for many years into the future. But when God began to direct in new paths, Pat was willing and open to what God was doing.

It is very easy for us to hold on to the status quo, and find ourselves kicking against the goads of God’s will. But being lead by His Spirit means being open to His moving, even if we are not initially desiring the change.

Mitigating Change

One of the reasons that our transition has gone so smoothly is that many years before it happened our Elders, in recognize the call God had placed upon my life, began allowing me the opportunity to preach and teach before the larger body. To that point I had been a youth pastor, with very little interaction with the adult congregation, but at 22 I was given the responsibility of leading our Saturday night service and regularly rotated in on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. A year before our transition in 2008, I began teaching nearly all of our Sunday services. This teaching schedule was not the product of a transitional plan, as much as it was out of necessity. Pat’s wife was undergoing treatment for cancer – which ultimately took her life – and Pat was facing health problems of his own that precluded him from taking a regular preaching schedule. Even so Pat was willing to allow the bulk of the teaching responsibilities to fall to his 27 year-old assistant. This openness greatly mitigated the ultimate transition; so much so that when it was announced in April of 2008, there were many newcomers to CCEsco who already knew me as their pastor.

Maintaining Consistency

Sure, we’d like things to stay the same, but they rarely do.  It is however important to maintain a level of consistency in whatever areas possible.  Thankfully we have a great team of elders, leaders and staff at CCEsco.  If it weren’t for the consistent leadership team, I’m fairly certain we would not have had as successful a transition as we have.  There is no way that everything will remain the same when new leadership steps in, but maintaining consistency of core values and mission is critical.  Furthermore, I believe it is important to make changes strategically and slowly in a church with a well established culture.  Even if they are big changes, they should be presented clearly and sometimes implemented incrementally.

After almost 6 years being married and 4 years as a head pastor (it’s hard for me at 32 to use the word senior :)) I’m more convinced now than ever that a church is like a bride; not my bride, but a bride nonetheless.  My bride [Andrea] desires security and consistency.  If I were sporadic or fickle she would have a very difficult time following or being submissive.  Although the church is not the bride of the pastor (some pastors sure live like it is, but that is perhaps a future article), she still desires security and consistency.  Sporadic and fickle leadership will scatter the sheep; thus maintaining consistency wherever possible during periods of change is important.  But resistance to change is not an option.

As the winds of change fill the air among many of the churches in our movement, it is vital that we face them with reasonable thoughtfulness.

Beyond Bible Study

For 21 years I’ve grown up in, been discipled under and now served within a movement of churches that is dedicated to verse by verse exposition of the scriptures. Prior to attending Calvary, my family attended an Episcopal church for several years and a fairly charismatic Pentecostal fellowship for a short time while living in London. Calvary has remained our home due largely to the fact that the scripture, and the teaching of them, has always been central. Expositional bible study is certainly not unique to Calvary, but “Simply teaching the word of God simply” has been something of a mission statement for the Calvary Chapel family of churches; may that never change.

Being raised up under such a model, and ordained a pastor within such a movement, I’ve always elevated bible study highly. I mean, the bible is God’s word, right? And God has exalted His word above His name; shouldn’t we therefore exalt it in bible study too? Of certain that has been the logic I’ve often employed and encountered; and not only within Calvary. The centrality of bible study within many evangelical churches is good, even great. Yet there is a downside I’ve observed, especially since becoming a senior pastor.

In my church and others, many believers find their Christian experience to be summed up by bible study. If asked to describe their Christian walk it is often boiled down to the bible studies they attend or are involved with. Planning to have a group of believers meet together in your home? It’s a home bible study. A coffee shop meeting, it’s a bible study. We have men’s bible study, women’s bible study, youth, college, young adults, mid-week, Friday night… The list could go one and on. If you say, “We’re going to start a Saturday night meeting,” the question comes, “What will you be studying.”

This was all the more evident to me more than a year ago when we put our men’s and women’s bible studies on hold for the fall, while we focused our attention on the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement class. I received more than a few notes and emails from people saying things like, “You’re taking away our bible study.” Some of them very dramatically said things like, “This is going to be catastrophic for many people in our church.” It wasn’t. Then again several weeks ago when we announced to our fellowship that we would no longer be having a mid-week bible study in the new year. Several people approached me with real concern. “What will I do with out the Wednesday night bible study?”

Please don’t miss understand. Bible study and a knowledge of the scripture is certainly important. But I’ve realized in the last year that I’ve often weighed my success as a pastor by whether or not the people under my oversight are good students of the bible and not by the exercise of spiritual discipline or bearing of spiritual fruit in their lives. I think, in part that this arises from the fact that we tend to make little to no distinction between the pastor-teacher role we find in Ephesians 4:11.

Many pastors, myself included, look to Ephesians 4:11-12 as those verses that describe their very calling. I have taught them and heard them taught many times.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-12

These verses unfold for us what has been oft referred to as the “fivefold ministry” within the church. Here we are presented with five roles or offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) that many evangelicals believe to be – in some way – still active within the church today. There are certainly different ways in which these roles are defined (especially apostles and prophets), but I think few would say they’ve completely disappeared. However, some question, whether it should be a fivefold ministry or four, as there is some reason to connect the roles of “pastors and teachers” into one office of “pastor-teacher.” The wording in the Greek makes it possible to connect pastor-teacher while separating apostles, prophets and evangelists. Yet, I believe the roles should be separate, albeit overlapping.

I could get real technical and delve into Granville Sharp’s rule, in which I’m convinced I could make the case for separate, but overlapping offices; for the sake of this article, I will not. Needless to say, I think it’s important to recognize that not all pastors are called to teach, and not all Christian ministry should be wholly bible study oriented. There is a real need in our day for pastoral leadership that aids in the development and encouragement of spiritual disciplines and fruitfulness in every area of the Christian’s life (i.e. church, home, work, school, recreation, etc…). Our Christianity must needs extend beyond bible study.

These realities are incredibly important for modernistic western Christianity to grapple with as our own culture continues to move beyond postmodern and Christianity persists in it’s push through the global south. Perhaps we would do well to consider how Christianity grows and flourishes in these settings. In such environments discipleship is more relational than informational. Narrative based discovery of the biblical texts take precedent over expositional exegesis. The applications of the biblical narrative overflow in intentional missional outreach; and churches are planted through spontaneous multiplication and not demographical manipulation.

 

Recommended Reading – “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader

The Joy of the Law

For the last 6 weeks I’ve been teaching a series at Calvary Escondido entitled “The Key to Unlocking Joy.” We’re finishing the series this Sunday, Christmas morning, with a message called “Joy to the World.”

My main thesis over the last 6 weeks has been that Jesus has opened the way into fullness of joy, but not all Christians experience increasing joy, unto it’s fullness, in their daily Christian journey.  Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).  Evidently God desires that our joy would be full [in Him], for our fullness of joy in Him, is glorifying to Him.  In other words, God is passionate about our joy, because He is zealous for His glory.  So then, how does the believer promote the increase of joy in their life?

The scripture is replete with exhortations and encouragements to this end.  We have in our series looked at three promoters – if you will – of our joy in God; gratitude, giving and serving.  Since I won’t be able, in our series, to cover another important promoter of our joy, I thought it good to post an appendix here at Cross Connection.

Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

The word “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 could also be translated “happy.”  We could therefore literally read this verse, “Happy is the man who walks not…” Thus, we can promote the increase of our joy in God by avoiding the way of ungodly sinfulness in our lives.  Further more, God’s law becomes our joyful delight as we meditate in and upon it day and night.  It is incredibly important that we not fail to recognize that all of God’s commands in the bible are ultimately promises for our joy.  Important, as it is difficult for us to actually believe that His law can become our delight.

Prior to conversion many people see God’s law as the killer of joy, not the promoter of it.  Our flesh is convinced that happiness is found in sex, and drink, and whatever other means that has pleasure as it’s end.  When a sinner is saved by grace and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, their [wrong] thinking is not wholly reformed at conversion; not at all.  Some carry into their Christian life the view that God means to remove all those things which bring happiness, because “all of those things are sinful.”  Don’t get me wrong, many of those things, in the wrong context, are in fact sinful.  The problem is that we quickly buy the lie, which the enemy is happy to sell us, that those things actually bring us [lasting] happiness.

There is pleasure in sin, but it is quickly passing and ultimately ends in joyless guilt.  Continuing in sin as a Christian bears this truth to reality in our lives; if you want to be a joyless disciple, persist in sin.  But, if we will reject the wisdom of the world, in favor of the wisdom of God, we will find that His law promotes our joy and therefore it [the law] becomes our delight.

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.  Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.  This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.  Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Joshua 1:6-9

Vision

By this time you might be beginning to recover from yesterday’s food coma.  Hopefully.  We (my family) are waiting for the arrival of our 3rd little baby.  She should be here any day; I hope we’re ready.

This time of year always brings me great joy.  I love the fall and winter; and preparing for the end of the year always brings great anticipation for what God will do in the new year.  Each year in early November our pastoral team goes away for a few days to plan and pray for the upcoming year.  As the result of a very full schedule this year we had to bump our meeting up a month to mid-October, but I’m pretty sure that everyone on our team is expecting good things in 2012, although it is supposed to be the end of the world.

After nearly 13 years in vocational ministry and almost 4 as a senior pastor, I’m more convinced than ever that one of the major roles for a lead pastor is vision seeking and vision casting.

In the early spring of 2001 I began teaching through the book of Exodus as a Jr. High pastor at Calvary Escondido.  At that time I was also working closely with Joey Buran and Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.  Joey was (and is) a pastor with great prophetic vision.  God used his discipleship and influence in 2000 and 2001, as well as my personal study and teaching of Exodus, to plant in my heart some important realities about vision seeking and casting.

In Exodus 25 God commands Moses to take up an offering from the Children of Israel, so that they might build a sanctuary for the Lord, which would be a tabernacle of meeting for the people and God.

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

– Exodus 25:8-9

With God’s command to build the tabernacle came a vision, from God, for that which was to be constructed.  As I studied and taught through this section of scripture over 10 years ago, the Lord spoke very clearly to my heart that as I sought Him, He would give me vision also.  It is incredibly important that those in leadership positions be actively seeking the Lord for direction and vision.  This should be a given for all Christians, but especially those in leadership, for where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18).

Vision from God primarily springs out of our devotional time with the Lord.  Moses was on the mountain-top, alone with God when he received the vision from the Lord.  This patter has held true in my life as well.  Dedicated time away to seek the Lord for vision is essential.  If we trust Him for this, He will certainly prove Himself faithful.  God’s word must always be the foundation of vision; the core values that govern what you do and how you do it, but I have found that God uses many [extra-Biblical] ways to reveal vision.

Conversations with friends, family and co-laborers; articles and books I read; videos I stumble upon online; stray thoughts I have running through my mind (especially as I’m about to fall asleep).  All of these things God has used over the years to develop and reveal vision.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not have a half-dozen or more inspirations for myself and my family personally and/or the church that I pastor.  Thus it’s crucial that I’m ready with a note pad – or the notes app on my iPhone (my current default) – to take down the ideas, because stray thoughts vanish quickly.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was a Wednesday night in the fall of 2001 that God spoke very clearly to me about casting or imparting vision to others.  I was walking to the main office at our church to get the teaching notes I’d just printed on Exodus 31; the first 11 verses of which read…

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

“And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:  the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle—  the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”

– Exodus 31:1-11

After meditating upon the passage and prepping my message I had a conversation in my mind that went something like this, “Miles, I’m going to give you vision just like I did with Moses.  But the vision that I’m going to give to you is something that you will not be able – by yourself – to accomplish.  So I am going to gather people around you that I have gifted to accomplish the vision I’ve given you.  You will have to impart the vision to those I’ve gifted, and then the work will get done.”

A vision is just a dream until it is shared with others.  Only then can you, by God’s grace and power, step out to make it a reality. But many dreams are not [completely] clear when we initially have them.  So I have found that it is important to develop the idea, make it clear and then share and impart it to others.  Some people will probably think that your idea is crazy, foolish or “out there,” but those that God has gifted and called will lay hold of the vision and run with it.

Be seeking the Lord for vision.  Be ready for when it comes.  Be diligent to clarify and cast it to others.  For…

The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
– Habakkuk 2:3

Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

Switching Fish Bowls

For all but one year of my ministry life I’ve served in an area [North San Diego County, CA] that is blessed with an abundance of solid, biblically sound, evangelical churches. Southern California truly is a “Christian Disneyland.” At present the website for our ‘denomination’ lists 329 affiliate churches in California. Our administrative pastor at CCEsco has often joked, “You can’t swing a dead cat in San Diego without hitting a Calvary.”

All kidding aside, I think it is a good thing we have so many [good] churches in this area. Would to God that we had twice as many (or more) bible believing/teaching churches in California, and an exponential increase nationwide. In Escondido there are three Calvary’s (one of them Spanish speaking), which have a combined weekly adult attendance of about 1,000, in a city of 140,000+. There is certainly no lack of opportunity and no room for territorialism. The push for church planting and church revitalization is [to me] greatly encouraging. But I’m bothered by an observation I’m sure many pastors could identify with.

Week after week we have new faces in our fellowship. Rarely does a service go by where no one raises their hand to identify there self as a guest, or does not drop a visitor card in our offering or agape box for more information about the fellowship. The irritation comes when you interact with the newcomer and find that they’re attending your church, having left another solidly biblical church to do so. So, church growth does not always mean CHURCH growth, especially when Barna has, in recent years shown a > 90% increase of unchurched adults in America (approaching 100 million in 2007). (1) (2)

The landscape is filled with a multiplicity of varying sized fishbowls, in which the Christian [fish] swim. They were once caught in the sea of humanity by fishers of men, but now much of the [apparent] growth comes through fishbowl switching and not drawing in the net. Furthermore, much of church growth initiatives I see come across my desk are aimed at casting the net in other fishbowls. When a mailer goes out from a church with words like “rapture,” “sanctification,” or an advertisement for Phil Wickham leading worship, it’s not exactly aimed at non-believers. The fact is, spiritual inbreeding is twisted.

“Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church” said Outreach Magazine in 2006. There’s an awfully big sea of people out there needing to be caught. Jesus’ word’s to (the fisherman who never caught a fish apart from Jesus’ help) Peter, are appropriate…

“Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”

Luke 5:4

The simplicity of Jesus’ command is striking; it surely went against everything that Peter’s expertise as a fishermen would have said. With all the writing out there on church growth, we sure seem to have a lot of expertise in our day too. Perhaps it’s time to seek the Lord for direction from the shore as to where to go for fish. His ways always seem to yield a draught.

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?

 

Join The Conversation

I’m on the road with my family this week, in fact, sitting in Daniel Fusco’s living room right now, so this is largely undeveloped… for that I repent!

This week CNN.com highlighted a group called the World Wide Web Foundation that is seeking to answer the question of how many pages are on the internet.  Their article referenced Kevin Kelly, a founder of Wired Magazine, who has written that there are at least a trillion web page.

The advent of the internet has made it possible for an exchange of ideas never before realized by man.  Or perhaps not realized since Babel.  An individual (such as myself) has a potential (vs. actual) audience that is incredibly large.  In times past the cost of reaching such a mass of people with your idea or product was well out of reach to the average person.  Today, if you’re not using the resources available (often freely) online, you’re wasting a great opportunity, and (as a Christian) I think you could make a good case that you’re not being a good steward of the potential.

The WWW Foundation estimates that only 30% of humanity currently has access to the resources of the internet.  We’re quickly reaching a point, through wireless technology, where 90% of humanity will have the ability to access the internet.  Al Gore must be proud that his baby is so revolutionizing the world.

While so many people can potentially access the web, there is still a major hurdle for many developing nations.  Much of the available online content requires the ability to read and write.  Furthermore, anyone interacting in discourse online is confronted with the reality that written discourse can be a difficult animal to tame.  An exchange I was involved in this week has [for me] brought this clearly to the forefront once again.

As I considered this this week I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several things required to play (i.e. discourse) in this sphere of open, mass exchange of ideas.  My list is still developing, perhaps you can help, so far I have four points.

1. Humility

If anything the internet has over and over proven that your/my idea ain’t the only idea on a subject.  Therefore we must come to the table recognizing that our idea is one among a billion, and could very well be invalidated in the fee [two-way]

My dad, whom of course I love and respect greatly, has told me for many years now, “Son, opinions are like %$#-Holes, everybody has one.”  Not the most refined truth, perhaps, but a truth nonetheless… and a good truth to keep in mind when discussing ideas with others.  To demagogue an argument by aggressively forcing your position as the only logical or right view is not helpful, unless you have a watertight, incontestable position.

2. Flexibility

Rigidity is not helpful in discourse.  Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.  Flexibility in discourse is evidenced by an individual’s willingness to argue from your opponents position; to stand in their shoes and consider their position from their point of view.

This honestly takes a humble spirit and a bit of work.  We all come to a discussion with bias; we must recognize that we even have bias and then try to identify what our bias presuppositions and assumptions are.  Like a good juror, we should try to leave our bias at the door and examine the evidence and testimony with as clear a mind as possible.

3. Teachability 

If you’ve truly come to the table with humble flexibility, then you must be willing to expand or change your position if it’s shown to be weak.  A lack of teachability is an immediate check for me when raising up leaders within our church.  A disciple is a learner, they must be teachable.  Wisdom that is from above is peaceable and open to reason (James 3:17).

4. Humanity

Two quick things under this heading.

First, you’ve got to come to a discourse with at least a little humor.  One of my biggest weaknesses in online discourse is that I have a terribly dry sense of humor, which can easily come across harsh or condescendingly in written form.  Knowing this about myself I try to assume this about others when they come across harsh or condescending.  Love hopes all things, and I try to see the best in an individual.

Secondly, agreeing to disagree is sometimes a must.  We must make allowances for disagreement.

Thoughts?

* * * * * Post comment additions… * * * * *

Since there have been some good commented thoughts, I thought it right to add a few more points.

5. Sincerity

6. Integrity

7. Reality

We may have to develop how these things workout… but hey, they’re all “ity” words.

Taking Over

I was reading on Forbes.com a couple of weeks ago about the proposed buyout of Motorola Mobility by Google. The author, Eric Jackson, views the move by Google to be a misstep by current lead executive (and Google co-founder), Larry Page. At one point Jackson writes…

Academic research clearly shows that some of the riskiest strategic shifts for companies happen in a new CEO’s first year on the job. They want to put their mark on the place. They’re also much more self-confident than they probably deserve to be.

I must qualify what I write by making very clear that the senior or lead pastor ought not be viewed as or act like a corporate CEO. Plenty of pastors have made terrible mistakes by an overestimated view of themselves. Be that as it may, this quote resonated with me as I inherited an established ministry nearly 4 years ago, and have counseled a number of guys on their “first steps,” as they do the same. As long as I’ve been in vocational ministry I’ve served under a pastor lead model for church. Such a model affords a senior pastor a significant level of authority over the ministry, which has both it’s pros and cons.

There are unique realities when taking over an established ministry, which should be considered before the new lead pastor endeavors to make significant changes. The more I consider these uniquenesses, the more attractive birthing new works becomes, as new works are far more flexible. The culture of a church is, in many ways, established in the first 3 to 5 years of it’s life, and course corrections are more difficult for a church with an established culture. This being the case I think that it is very important that incoming lead pastors, taking over existing works, take to heart the truth behind Erick Jackson’s quote; even if it isn’t directed at pastoral ministry.

It is certain that there are changes to be made when a new pastor takes over a church. Many of those changes can be made without much grief or pushback within the first 12 to 18 months, as that is something of a honeymoon or grace period for a new pastor. Longstanding “members” of the fellowship will be more forgiving and gracious, even if they’re not fully in step with the alterations. In some ways I think that the body views such moves with a good level of openness saying, “Well, he’s the new guy,” or “He’s just learning; still a little young/green.” Whatever it is, it’s easier to get away with in the first year and a half.

When initial changes are made, some people will leave. Generally speaking, the people who leave in the first 6 months of a transition would probably have left anyway. Unless they themselves had taken over the church. The alterations that are made serve as a nice smokescreen for why they left. It’s a whole lot easier to say, “I really didn’t like the change they made to the service order,” than “I don’t like the new pastor.” Not everyone will be able to connect with the “new guy” as the transition takes place.

Over the last four years I’ve discovered that the church is like a wife. I realize that this is not a totally insightful observation; she is called the “Bride of Christ.” I want to say what I’m going to say as delicately as I can, because I’m sure someone is going to misunderstand what it is I’m trying to say. A church, like a wife, desires security. The pastor is not the groom, clearly Christ is the groom and the church His bride. Be that as it may, the church still desires a level of security and consistency. A senior leadership change affects the consistency and can shake the security, so I’m convinced that making frivolous moves to to put the mark of the new leader on the place, which amount to nothing more than cosmetic window dressing, are unnecessary (e.g. “Let’s change the name to something cool”).

My counsel for new guys is simple.

  • Be strategic. Be calculated. Think through the ramifications of the changes, as ideas and adjustments have longterm consequences.
  • Fundamental changes to the vision and mission of the local body should only be made if it is clear that the church has been off course or without vision.
  • Vision/mission corrections should have firm Biblical basis (e.g. What is the mission of our church? To make disciples by equipping the saints).
  • Larger changes ought to be done incrementally. If a new [smaller] church plant is like an agile speedboat, an established larger church (or cultured church) is more like an aircraft carrier, which takes time to turn. So, instead of making a hard 90º turn, it may take six 15º moves to go in the new direction.

It’s definitely characteristic of youthfulness to desire to do things quickly, but when taking over, it’s good a good reminder… take your time.

¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12” foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

Cultural Shift – Part 3; Implications For Western Christianity

[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.

The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.

This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?

As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.

What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.

Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.

What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.

The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region.  They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.

As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.

Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.

I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”

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(1) National Congregations Study – 2006-07

Cultural Shift – Part 2

[dropcap3]M[/dropcap3]inistering in a theistic environment is relatively easy. Relatively easy in the sense that the you, and the person to whom you are ministering, are playing from the same deck. When you ask, “Can I pray for you?” there’s likely a common understanding about prayer. When you speak about God you can assume that your hearer has a similar concept of God. Religious people with a similar [theistic] worldview are generally more receptive to the gospel, thus “large-scale” evangelism can be effective.

Evangelism in America for several generations had been anything but cross-cultural. For many, “cross-cultural evangelism” has been the equivalent of “foreign missions.” That is simply no longer the case, and contextualization of the gospel is now commonplace for evangelism in our own backyard. There are however some problems. “Contextualization” seems foreign to most ministers over 40. The mainline church is still [largely] relying on evangelistic tactics that are oriented toward a theistic worldview, and expecting receptiveness to the gospel like what you’d hope for among theistics (if I can make up a word).

At the close of 2008 I began teaching through the book of Acts at Calvary Escondido. Six months later, as we came to chapters 10 & 11, I was struck by how the move of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to the “uttermost parts” – or the Hellenistic Roman world – mirrored the shift of culture the church is now facing in 21st century America. In many ways we’ve reverted to a 1st century mindset and culture in the west. How’s that for progress? This is incredibly foreign for the western church, as it has not experienced such an environment for centuries. This epic shift has given rise to the term “Post-Christian,” which strikes great fear into the hearts of masses of evangelicals.

The first week of April, 2009, Newsweek’s cover featured the headline “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” John Meacham’s provocative article “The End of Christian America” got more than a little rise out of many in the Christian community. A year prior, in February, 2008, The Pew Forum released it’s nearly 150 page “Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew’s survey of more than 35,000 Americans explored this religious and cultural shift; it was, in many ways, the catalyst for Meacham’s article and Newsweek’s cover.

Post-Christian. This is the cultural landscape of 21st century America; and Western Europe for that matter (Europe is actually far further down the path). Christianity and the “Christian worldview” are no longer the default in America. Some staunchly hold that America is a Christian nation and consider it their call to defend [politically] “Christian America.” Every time I am confronted by this mindset, I am reminded of Jesus’ words to Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight… My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36, emphasis mine) Perhaps we’d do well to actually read those bumper-stickers that are so trendy among evangelicals today.

Why does this reality seem to frighten us so much? Have we totally forgotten that the world in which Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and many others ministered was wholly non-Christian by the very fact that it was pre-Christian? Do we honestly [and arrogantly] believe that America is the last hope for the Christian faith? Look at the statistics, Christianity is not slowing it’s pace of growth in the least. Sure, it may be growing fastest in places other than America and Western Europe, but the Christian faith is not in decline, even in the west.

What then is in decline? To answer that we’d have to ask, “What exactly is “Christian America?”” I believe that “Christian America” has actually meant “Christian Consumerism,” or if I can make up another word, “Consumeranity.” If that is dead or dying, may it be that the DNR is signed and notarized.

Certainly the long way about it, but what exactly is the point for 21st century evangelism in America? Clearly it’s going to look different than it has, but it’s going to be more like it was, as in the days of Paul.

Large scale “crusade evangelism” may still have a place [for a time]. However, most who attend crusades are already theistically minded. They are, for lack of a better analogy, the low hanging fruit. Paul did seek such individuals in his evangelism. Always when he entered a new city he searched for the synagogue; he first desired audience with the Jews and gentile god-fearers. Ultimately he would endeavor to reach the unreached; the paganistic, polytheistic, pluralistic Roman mind.

Evangelism with Romans involved contextualization and more explanation; and uptake, or receptiveness to the gospel was on a much smaller scale. Roman’s were skeptical and suspicious. At Athens in Acts 17 there were a few who were open, but most mocked and dismissed Paul’s defense. This is what I believe awaits the evangelist of our day; skepticism, suspicion, mocking and dismissiveness. Add to this, they, the modern day lost, are not going to come to us; we must meet them in the marketplace, outside the structure of the church.

These may be changes from the norm of Christianity in America, but the reality is that what we’ve experienced in America has not been normal to Christianity. American Christianity for the last hundred years (or more) has made abnormal, normal. So much so that we’ve lost sight of the fact that every Christian is called to be an evangelist on mission. We have exalted a few key leaders as evangelists and cast on their shoulder the burden of the task. The harvest is white and the few laborers are bound to grow weary unless we reengage the body as a whole.

Culture Shift – Part 1

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007

The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.

Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.

The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker,  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)

Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.

Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”

Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.

Interdependent

It is a great blessing and privilege to live in a nation such as the United States of America. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many nations around the world in my life thus far, and I’m always blessed to return home. I know that people from other lands would say the same thing if they were returning to their nation of origin, but I believe there is something special about the USA.

Liberty is no doubt at the heart of what makes the America great. A trust in God has, I believe, been of great importance too. Dennis Prager adds a third value – E pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One” – which he shows can each be found on our coinage.  He calls these three values “The American Trinity” and sites them as the foundation of American exceptionalism.  Independence Day is certainly one of our favorite holidays as a people.  It looks back to the great “Declaration of Independence” ratified 235 years ago today, and celebrates our national independence.  National independence is essential for any nation to thrive; we could also call it national sovereignty.

Independence day often causes me to ponder another reality that has nothing to do with the USA.

As a sinner places their trust firmly in God, He grants to them liberty from sin and death.  While doing so He also gathers the many who come to Him for salvation, into one body, His church.  What this means for the Christian is that he (or she) cannot truly be individually independent.  We (Christians) are wholly dependent upon God, and at the same time interdependent upon one another within the body of Christ.

The more time I spend in fellowship with God, the more I find that my cultural values as an American often conflict with the values of the Kingdom of God.  The individual independence which is so highly exalted in 21st century America is actually counterculture to Christianity.  No Christian survives long on their own.  God has created us, in Christ, with this interdependence.  Self-reliance is therefore, not really possible for us; and quite honestly, this is hard for me, because of pride.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV

Desire, Door & Do..

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Philippians 2:13 NLT

I had the opportunity this morning to share with about 20 of our summer interns from the youth group at CCEsco.  It’s always a great blessing to share with young disciples that are experiencing their first real exposure to God’s call upon their lives.  I know, for me, that the three summers I spent as a youth intern at my church were incredibly formative.  With that as a backdrop I’m excited to see how God transforms the minds, hearts and directions of these teens.

Philippians 2:13, the primary text we considered today, has been a “goto” passage for me for many of the last 10 years.  Every semester at the bible college I meet students who are confronted with God’s call and challenged by what, or where, they are to go and do next.  My question – which is also my answer – when they seek counsel on the call of God is always the same, “What do you want to do?” For some reason this question is initially bothersome to most.  As I’ve talked with dozens of inquiring students in the last 7 years, I believe I’ve discovered the reason why [partly].

Sadly, we have disconnected our will, desire and enjoyment from God’s call and His glory in our lives.  Pastor John Piper does a great job identifying this unfortunate reality in the first chapter of his book “Desiring God.” Over the last 12 years of vocational ministry I’ve witnessed these things work in perfect concert as God has directed my path.  I have come to see that most often God directs me [first] by desire

Ok, so I anticipate an objection at this point.  Yes, desires can be dangerous.  My assumption is that the person seeking God’s will and direction is [hopefully] filtering their desires through the revealed will of God, in His word.  A fool might say, “I desire to sleep with my girlfriend, ultimately God created me with this desire, He created a way in which I can satisfy this appetite.  He must therefore be “ok” with me indulging.” No, God’s word is clear, the body is not for fornication (I have a teaching on this point if needed).  The word of God is always our standard.  My desires have to be measured by the character of Christ and His word.  Adam Clarke was right when he said, “The godly man never indulges a desire which he cannot form into a prayer to God.”

The Psalms are full of verses that seem perfectly suited for greeting cards and calendars.  Psalm 37:4 has found it’s way on to many of them (can you imagine the royalties King David is receiving in heaven?).

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

Psalm 37:4 KJV

As I’ve meditated upon this verse I’ve concluded that there are at least two ways to read it.  The common way to read it is to say, “If you delight yourself in the Lord, then He will give you the things that you desire in your heart.” I certainly think this reading is correct, but I believe it’s equally valid to read it, “If you delight yourself in the Lord then He will place [new] desires into your heart.” Haven’t each of us experienced a shifting, if not a wholesale transforming of our desires as we have set ourselves to delight in God?  God works in us to desire His good pleasure, and when we desire His good pleasure He delights to grant to us what we desire.

In walking with the Lord we are regularly confronted with crossroad decisions.  It is at such intersections that we are challenged with the call and will of God.  “God, what path do you want me to take?” In asking that question many times I have often sensed the Lord responding, “Which path do you want to take?”

Upon graduating from high school I, like so many, was confronted with such a junction.  I was interested in photography and graphic-design, had a natural ability/talent with computers, and a desire to serve God in a church setting, especially with youth.  Three doors stood before me.  I knew that whichever one I proceeded through I’d find a way in the will of God to use it as a ministry.  To be quite honest, I chose the door I liked the most and enrolled at Calvary Chapel Bible College.

A few months into my first semester at college I found myself faced with something of a dilemma.  Bible College was great, the setting was beautiful, but I found that much of what I was learning I’d already received through the school of ministry at my home church.  The problem was amplified by fact that I was hindered from being apart of body-life within a church while at the college.  A new desire began to form in my heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 1998.  That night is indelibly imprinted in my heart and mind.  Pastor Jon Courson shared at lectures from Genesis 22, on the sacrifice of Isaac.  During his message Pastor Jon said, “Perhaps the Lord has called you to leave the Bible College next semester.” Those words gripped my attention as he continued, “If the Lord tells you otherwise 3 days from now, make sure you listen.”

Five days later, following the Sunday services at my home church, myself and a friend from the college (Chuck) were invited to join the church staff as interns in the new year.  As my desire met an open door I immediately chose to return to my home church.  Chuck couldn’t understand how I could make such a quick decision without [apparently] praying about it.

The following day I was presented an alternate door when I was invited to join the internet services staff at the Bible College.  Desire won out, I returned to CCEsco as a pastoral intern in January 1999.  Since that time I have continually seen God work in this manner.  The desire to teach at a foreign Bible College extension campus was met one year later by an open door serving under David Guzik in Siegen, Germany.  The desire (given in 2002) to take over as the senior pastor of Calvary Escondido was met with an open door five years later.

In many ways I have come to expect that God will lead me by a desire, an open door and the resources or ability to do just what it is I desire, and all for His glory and pleasure.  His glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive.