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PASTOR, WHO HAVE YOU BEEN MEETING WITH!

“Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.’”[1]

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”[2]

A hot topic in the body of Christ in North America these days is the issue of unity.  Simply, followers of Jesus are wondering about what kinds of churches and Christians they can affirm and hang out with.  Can a Calvary Chapel Christian hang out with a Reformed Christian?  Can a seeker sensitive church affirm a fundamentalist church?  Can a pastor who favors expository preaching go to lunch with the topic-driven preacher across town?  Can we develop meaningful relationships with anyone outside of our immediate denomination, movement, or dogmatic theological persuasion?  Let me share some things from a couple different meetings I’ve recently attended that have caused me to revisit the issue of unity in the body of Christ amongst pastors and congregations afresh.

A Tale of Two Meetings

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to gather at two different meetings with two different unity dynamics.  The first meeting was with four pastors including myself from different denominations, theological and educational backgrounds, and churches with different philosophies of ministry.  The second meeting was with most of the Calvary Chapel pastors of Northern Utah and their wives.

Meeting with the Calvary Chapel Camp

At the meeting with the Calvary Chapel pastors and wives there was lots of good fellowship, food, and encouragement.  It was a good chance to get to know each other better and pray for what God is doing, and just catch up.

The unity factor in this meeting was primarily founded on the Jesus of the Bible and the biblical gospel.  But there was more to our unity than Jesus and the simple gospel.  That particular group had what we could call wider doctrinal unity as well.  In addition to the essential doctrines of orthodox Christianity we shared similar perspectives on philosophy of ministry, theological issues like eschatology and soteriology, and the method of Bible teaching (expository preaching).

Points of Greatest Impact

Having unity in Jesus and His gospel was definitely the most important thing to this group.  But it is true that we also had a special connection over secondary issues like those named above.  We agree on many things that a person doesn’t need to affirm to be considered a born-again Christian with a genuine relationship with Jesus.  I enjoy having wider doctrinal unity with friends.  It’s fun to talk about and appreciate our unique role in the body of Christ locally and globally.  So, enough about that; let’s move on to the next meeting.

Meeting with the Multi-perspectival Camp

My other meeting was with some pastors from a multi-perspectival frame of mind.  In this group, instead of having wider doctrinal and methodological unity, we had what you could simply call gospel unity.  This is because, beyond the biblical gospel, we have differing perspectives and practices on a number of things.

One of the pastors is definitely the guy with the coolest church in town.  They’ve got an awesome building, awesome music, inspiring messages, lots of art and technology, and all that good stuff.  They do really well reaching the un-churched and younger generations in the Salt Lake Valley.

One of the other pastors at this meeting is a seasoned man with lots of wisdom and experience.  He is from a Dutch Reformed background, and serves in our area as a sort of pastor of pastors helping planters and their families stay healthy and network together.

Another pastor in the group has been a prominent leader regionally in the Evangelical Free Church, and is now one of a number of teaching pastors at one of the largest churches in Northern Utah.  The church at which he serves gets much love and criticism in our area because on the one hand they seem to be reaching lots of people. But on the other hand they are seen by some as a kind of Walmart style church because they’ve successfully worked through a few church mergers which resulted in one multiple campus church which used to consist of at least four independent churches.  No matter what your opinion is about the philosophy of ministry of this church, the truth is that Jesus is using them to save many people in Northern Utah.  They are being used greatly by the Lord to reach Mormons and former Mormons in our area, and I praise God for that.

Lastly, there was me!  I am the lead pastor of a Calvary Chapel affiliated church called Refuge Church in Riverdale, UT.  If you were to come to our church you’d typically find loud music, one hour expository sermons, and an atmosphere of love.  As of the time of this writing we are planning our sixty-sixth baptism in the past fourteen months which is to take place on Christmas day because Jesus has been graciously saving and changing lots of people through a less than two-year-old church-plant.  Most of the people whom Jesus has saved at Refuge are burnt out on religion because of the influence of the predominant religious institution in our state.  They are normal people, with human problems, looking for a God of grace and transformation.

Obviously, this group of pastors could come up with many things on which they have differences of perspective and practice.  Some of us prefer topical preaching while some of us prefer expository preaching.  Some of us have a more Arminian bent when it comes to salvation, and some of us are decidedly Calvinistic and Reformed.  Some of us preach for thirty minutes, and some of us preach for over an hour.  We could potentially go on for a while listing differences of perspectives, doctrinal positions, and methodology represented by each man at this meeting.

Points of Greatest Impact

In all of the differences one might be able to deduce from the men represented in this meeting, it wasn’t our differences, but the things in which we had unity that impacted me most.

Confession time: In the past I have definitely spent much of my time beating up the body of Christ with which I don’t have wider doctrinal unity.  I’ve been one of those guys content to read only books by guys I have full or at least buzz topic agreement (certain bents on the finer points of soteriology, etc.).  I have been content to mainly hang out with Christians and churches I have almost total agreement with, while criticizing any church or pastor that seemed seeker sensitive, topical, emergent, and on and on and on.

Time for more confession: I had even had some of the thoughts and emotions described above toward some of the ministries represented by the pastors who were with me in the second meeting.  About five years ago, the Holy Spirit worked me over in regard to my sectarian mentality, and I’m thankful for that.  Sometimes that residue of sectarianism still creeps up and I have to kill it, and the pride that spawns it in my heart.  This meeting helped me do that again.

I saw a number of things in this meeting that both challenged and encouraged me which spurred me on to write this post:

1. These guys showed love for our brothers in Christ that I wasn’t sure I possessed.

The entire point of this meeting from the perspective of these men was to figure out how they could bless Utah church-planters.  They didn’t care if the guy was Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Reformed, Arminian, or what, as long as they stood for the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel.  I saw in the eyes, and heard in the voices of these guys a love for other brothers that was born simply out of the reality of being brothers in Christ with them!  I honestly didn’t know if that kind of heart was beating in my chest with the same genuineness and grace I sensed in these men, and I prayed for it silently right in the meeting as the Holy Spirit was challenging me through what I was seeing.

2. These guys showed incredible love for me which I knew I didn’t deserve.

Additionally, I was humbled by the love these guys had for me.  As I sat and listened to these guys I couldn’t help but wonder how I had ended up at a meeting with men Jesus was using so much.  And yet, it didn’t matter to them that I was younger, different in some ways, or whatever.  They believed we could work together for the good of the kingdom beyond our wider doctrinal and methodological issues, and they were glad I was there.  They even wanted to hear my ideas!

3. These guys really are on the same mission to which Jesus has called me and the church I lead.

No matter what differences the men in this meeting have, we have the more important things in common.  We worship the same Jesus, preach the same gospel, and advance the same kingdom.  Those common bonds are greater than any differences we possess, even important differences.

4. These guys really do have the same enemy that I do.

This last point was perhaps most impacting for me in regard to unity.  As each man shared about spiritual warfare in their life, it occurred to me that we were not only unified in our Savior and mission, but in our enemy.  Each man had dealt with spiritual warfare in the form of demonic dreams, depression, and sickness.  We’d dealt with all the same kinds of satanic opposition to the work Jesus had called us to complete.  As we talked about the struggles and challenges of serving Jesus in a demonically oppressed place like Utah, it suddenly became even clearer that we are certainly not fighting for different teams at the end of the day.  We go about the fight differently.  We emphasize different weapons at times.  But when it comes down to it, we’re fighting for the same kingdom, and we’re fighting against the same enemy.

Exhortation

If you struggle with sectarianism, repent and be blessed.  Whoever isn’t against you is for you.  I’d encourage you to meditate on Luke 9:49-50 and see what the Holy Spirit has to say to you.  Let’s enjoy the wider doctrinal unity we have with other believers, churches, and pastors in our unique theological and methodological camps.  But let’s also enjoy simply having gospel unity with those outside our specific camps.  Find and pray with pastors and Christians of other backgrounds.  Develop relationships of encouragement with them.  The very witness of the gospel depends upon it.  Let me leave you with a prayer of Jesus He offered to the Father on behalf of all of His people, world-wide, of all generations:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”[3]  

 


[1] Luke 9:49-50 NKJV

[2] Psalm 133:1 NKJV

[3] John 17:20-21 NKJV

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“For This Reason”

Ephesians 5:31  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

 

Paul is saying that “For this reason”…this was God’s intent from the beginning, even in instituting marriage. He draws upon the institution of the marriage relationship by our Creator and says that “This is the reason that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, the two becoming one flesh.” It is for “this reason.”

Marriage is to be a picture of what our relationship with Christ is supposed to look like…we are members of his flesh…we are one with Him. Husbands and wives are to be one with each other in the same way…and as a result the watching world would see a clearer picture and gain a better understanding of why they were created and come to a better understanding of just what their purpose is.

In seeing a husband and wife joined as one, they would begin to discover where their greatest joys may be realized, where they might find their greatest security, where they might discover just what true love is…unconditional, sacrificial, and expecting nothing in return. That they would uncover the Source where this love flows from in immeasurable and unfathomable quantities…and yet at the same time so tangible, so real.

When a husband and a wife are submitted to one another in the fear of God, the world has a continual reminder before them that for this were they created, for this reason they still live, and that the seemingly insatiable yearnings and longings they have burning in their hearts, and souls and minds, to be one, to be joined, to be complete, to find their Helper, were put there by the One who created them, in the hope that they would see and understand just how great the overwhelming and overpowering love of God the Father is toward them.

That love is most clearly displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.

And this is exactly what Paul is saying to us as husbands, that our love for our precious bride is to be the same. It is to be the same as His love towards us is…unconditional, sacrificial, expecting nothing in return. And shame on me, shame on us, as husbands, when we are selfish and more concerned about how we feel, what our needs are, what we want, what we desire, what we think, what our opinion is…than the feelings, the needs, the wants, the desires, the thoughts, the opinion of what our wife is.

Aren’t you thankful that Jesus isn’t this way toward you? He is the exact opposite toward us. He laid down His life for us even when we wanted nothing to do with HIm!

If we truly loved our wives in this way, husbands, you would see your marriage transformed. It’s not them, it’s you. It’s your leadership, your example, your dependence upon your Lord, your Head, to lay down your life sacrificially for your wife, that you would cherish her, and reverence her, and do all that was in your ability (as you are trusting in the Person of the Holy Spirit to empower you) to be a living expression of the love of Jesus. There is nothing more manly, more masculine, more godly than this.

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The Holiness Of Worship Leading

Worship leaders need to realize the holiness of the activity they are involved in.  They stand before people, and sing to the Creator of the universe.  They stand before God, and sing to Him and about Him. They use their God given gifts and talents to worship God in such a way that inspires others to join in.  Leading worship must be viewed as a holy endeavor. God is holy, and our worship of God must be holy as well.

Consider the worship of God that was offered by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-4.  We read, “ 1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”

These mighty angelic beings cover their eyes and their feet.  It has been said that they covered their eyes, because they were not worthy to look upon God, and that they covered their feet as a sign of humility. Their worship of God was a result of their clear view of His holiness, and their actual giving of worship reflected their understanding of God’s holiness. There was humility and adoration because they had a clear understanding of the holiness of God.

As a worship leader, do you think about the holiness of God?  Are you in awe of God’s holiness?  He is completely above and apart from anything common, mundane, unclean, or immoral. Holiness means to be separate, different.  God is infinitely higher than the most holy man on Earth.

Is your view of God is that He is “a lot better than you”, or that he is infinitely better than you?  Do you experience any reverential fear of God as you ascend to the front of the church to offer Him praise?  Is there any sense of your own unholiness?  Is there a deeper desire to grow in holiness, that you might more rightly represent God, and be sensitive to His Spirit?

Do you bring ungodly attitudes and behaviors to your worship leading experience?  Do you live in sin?  Don’t you know that those sinful actions/attitudes make you less effective in being sensitive to God’s Spirit?  They also make you harder to work with.  Sinful attitudes make musicians and singers overly sensitive, lazy, indifferent, selfish, and a host of other unspoken feelings that are communicated to the church congregation through what does or doesn’t happen.  Carnal worship leaders make life more difficult for other worship leaders, and they taint the worship experience for the congregation.

A man who practices habitual sin cannot suddenly rise to a practical holiness that is evidenced by a visitation of God’s Spirit.  God can and does use such a man, but the experience is never what it could have been had that man walked closer with God.

Conversely, if you are walking by the Spirit, your worship leading will be Spirit led, and people will sense the difference.  There will be a sweetness, a holiness, and a presence of God’s Spirit that accompanies you as you worship and lead others in worship.

A godly worship leader is sensitive to the condition of the church congregation at any given gathering.  When the church gathers, the Lord knows what the people need to hear, and to experience.  The Spirit led worship leader has that “X-factor”, that unspoken but very real sensitivity to know how to lead a group of people in worship.  Certain songs may be added or dropped at the last minute.  In service changes take place as that leader senses the congregation being touched by the Lord.  Choruses and refrains are repeated for emphasis.  Times of silence are allowed, as people sit before the Lord.  Songs may be suddenly dropped.  The entire experience is organic and led by the Spirit of God, and is a moving target that cannot be anticipated or planned for, but can only be responded to when one is in the moment.

A Spirit led, godly worship leader senses all of that.  An ungodly worship leader misses all of that.  They may still be proficient at playing, singing, and arranging, but the “X-factor” of being led by God’s Spirit is totally missed by the unholy worship leader.

I have sat before godly worship leaders that have had moderate talent.  I have also sat before excellent singers and players that have lacked a discernible anointing and presence of God’s Spirit.

I always prefer to be led in worship by a man who fears God, rather than one who is an excellent player/singer, but seems to lack any reverence for God.  I want to and need to experience the holiness of God.   Don’t need to be entertained at a church service.  I want to and need to be impacted by a holy worship service.  The style is secondary, but holiness is primary.

A holy worship service may be a bit difficult to describe, but you know when you are experiencing it.

A word of exhortation to all who ascend the platform and stand before God’s people:  Worship is to be a holy endeavor.  It is best accomplished by people who fear the Lord, and who live in the awareness of God’s holiness on a daily basis.

1 Peter 1:15, 16  15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

 

Pulling the carpet out from under American culture

When I taught the missions classes at CCBC in Murrieta from 1997 to 2000, I absolutely loved the assembly at the beginning of each semester when the instructors were introduced to the students. But it wasn’t being introduced that was so pleasureable to me. It was watching the faces of the students when Pastor Chuck got up behind the podium to welcome everyone. They were in awe at this incredible man of God and the way God had used him over the years.

Here were all of these young people dressed pretty much whatever way they wanted, with various lengths and styles of hair and piercings of various kinds on display in all kinds of interesting places. They were so excited to hear from one of the key figures of the Jesus Movement.

Every one of them knew this was the man that reached out and loved on young people and hippies just the way they were. This was THE key man that God used to begin a church movement that was built on rebels to the status quo. The man of God who made no big deal about the way people looked, the style of music they enjoyed, or most of the language they used. This was the guy who made clear that the people attached to the bare feet were more important than the carpeting in the sanctuary.

As Pastor Chuck began speaking these young people hung on every word. It was amazing to watch.

But then, after welcoming them and sharing his excitement about them being there, he basically pulled the carpet out from under them. Ohhh, the looks on their faces when he said something to this effect:

“….and by the way. Young men, as students at this bible college, the only place a ring a should be seen on you is on one or more of your fingers. Not on your ears, in your nose, or anywhere else. Young women, rings should only be on your ear lobes or on your fingers. Pay attention to what the majority of people outside the grounds of this college look like. Change, if necessary, for the sake of the message.”

It was incredible to watch the wind go out of the sails of so many students. I would talk to many of them later in the afternoon or over the next few days. They said they were disappointed at the “legalism” that had obviously overtaken Pastor Chuck and the Calvary movement. A few of them decided they just couldn’t go to a school that obviously majored on such minor things.

Needless to say, I agreed with Pastor Chuck. Obviously, he knew that you can challenge and even demand things from those who say they follow Jesus that you can’t, and shouldn’t from those who are just checking Him out or who have recently decided to begin following Him. Brilliant. Mission-like.

One of the reasons I rejoiced at Pastor Chuck’s admonishment was because during my time on the mission field in the Philippines I ran into way too many Christians from America, including Calvary Chapel missionaries and visiting senior pastors, that had a similar attitude to these students. They obviously weren’t paying attention to some of the ways Pastor Chuck actually ministered over the years. Instead, they lived with an American cultural trait that they had come to believe was actually acceptable in the Kingdom of God.

Here’s the most succinct way I can express it:

The individualist aspect of American culture produces a mindset, an attitude, and then actions that communicate the following:

“My individual need to express myself in the way I feel most comfortable with is what is ultimately important”.

“Because of this, it is your responsibility to accept me the way I am”.

“I have a message I would like you to hear, in fact, that you NEED to hear”.

“Now, if there is anything about me, including my hairstyle, dress, or language that might distract from this great message I have for you, it is your responsibility to sift through it and then pay attention to this great message”.

“I have no responsibility to change anything about me in order for this great message to be more easily understood by you”.

“When you’ve grasped and responded to this great message, you’ll be set free from sin and self, just like I am”.

Is it possible that this accepted cultural trait is also a contributor to the issue Chuck M. brought up regarding Millennials and their view of drinking?

How does this kind of thinking square with Phil 2:3-11 and many other texts?

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Olearipietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eu

The Millennials Rising Problem

I am seeing a growing problem in the church that is ready to trap a generation. Alcoholism is on the rise in the church and it is not with the down an out or with the older generation but instead with the young and successful generation known as the Millennials. Now I haven’t done any formal survey but I do have seventeen years experience working with Millennials and after talking to numerous parents and other people I am seeing the problem of drinking rising at an alarming rate amongst this age group. If you don’t think it is a problem read this article by John MacArthur here.

When I say this age group I mean the group of people called the millennials who are just now going into their thirties. There has been much written about this group and I don’t want to elaborate on it. I do want to point out though that this is group of people who really haven’t been denied anything in their lives, which I think is the source of the problem. Think about this for a moment. The group of people that encompass the age group of 34-18 year olds have grown up in a world of instant access. As children they perfected the play date with perfectly arranged times of playing with children who would be a good influence on them. As teenagers they moved in tribes because the nucleus of friends was the most important factor of all. Group thinking and their opinion was elevated above truth or what was best for them. As they entered the workforce this generation demanded a place at the table and wanted their voice to be heard without having to put in the hours of earning the respect of their co-workers. Because of this I think we have a generation that is extremely bored with themselves and thus are finding relief in their drinking because it is the one vice with a Christian loophole, you can drink, just don’t get drunk.

Remember that I said I see the problem not in the down and out but in the young and successful. The area where I see the most problem is with people who are in their late twenties to early thirties, have graduated from college, are married with children, usually own their first home, and have a successful career. They have everything their parents told them they could have. These are people who have grown up in Christian homes and where the church has been and may still be a big part of their lives. So why is drinking on the rise in this group?

I think there are several factors:

  1. They are Bored: I mentioned this earlier but it bears repeating. They have obtained everything life has to offer and have realized that it is empty. It would be easy to blame the parents here for misleading them but that is not the problem. The real problem is that they have been focused on themselves for so long that once they accomplished everything they could they don’t know how to shift their focus.
  2. It’s Their Theology: The most popular theology amongst Millennials is the New Reformed theology championed by people like Mark Driscoll. This new Calvinism emphasizes liberty and license as an overreaction to legalism. They freely talk about drinking beer as part of their missional lifestyle and rage against anyone who might suggest that sanctification would mean they stop drinking. A big part of the equation is also the doctrine of predestination. Their thinking is that “If I am part of the elect then really how I live is of little consequence because I am good with God and I can’t lose my salvation.”
  3. The Wrong Emphasis: One thing that was always said about the Baby Boomers was that they were all about themselves. It was called the “Me” generation. They worked a lot so they could obtain all the things that were perceived as successful. When they did play it was to release from all the stress of their work. The Millennial generation works to play. Instead of working hard to accumulate all the things, they already have the things and hence work has become a means so they can go and play with their things. They are always planning the next event, looking for what their tribe of friends are doing next, and seeing how they can fit another adventure into their work life without upsetting the balance.

Here is the thing, it is progressively getting worse. Ten years ago I saw this group (which most had just gotten out of my youth group) start with the beer. To tell you the truth I got tired of seeing former youth in pictures on the internet (pre-Facebook) holding the infamous red dixie cup. Many of these people were in Christian colleges, who had very clear code of ethics statements forbidding drinking, but in their liberty were living the life. Over the last ten years I have seen the drinking progress from beer to wine to hard liquor. I now see people in their early thirties drinking mixed drinks that only hardcore alcoholics drank and were usually much older.

The scary thing is that this generation gets bored at a very quick pace. They lose interest in things at an alarming rate. My fear is that we are going to see many proverbial train wrecks in the near future. I have a friend who is an emergency room doctor who says that he see people on a frequent basis in their early thirties who are raging alcoholics and are on the verge of losing everything. We need to stop with all of the theological mumbo jumbo about our freedom to indulge in things that we know lead to destruction and start to obey the Lord. It’s not about what we can do but instead about what scripture commands us to do. In a generation that has been given everything and ended up bored it is time to take all of that Biblical teaching they have been given and start to live for Christ. Your life, your marriage, and now your young family hangs in the balance.