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You’re on a Need to Know Basis

Do you ever just wish you knew exactly how God was going to accomplish everything He’s promised to do in your life? Do you ever wish that in addition to the big picture of where He’s leading you He’d also show you each twist and turn in the stream which will take you to that ultimate destination? I definitely do! I find myself banging my head, getting discouraged, getting frustrated, and even scared at times over the things I DON’T know and understand, instead of enjoying what I DO know and understand. In times like these what God uses to minister to me is the subjective work of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of the Scriptures. The Scriptures remind me that I am on a need to know basis when it comes to God’s plans and direction for my days. He tells me what I need to know to follow Him and enjoy what He’s doing today, and He calls me to trust Him with the other details. Check out some verses that have blown my mind and also comforted me lately.

 

“The secret [things belong] to the LORD our God, but those [things which are] revealed [belong] to us and to our children forever, that [we] may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Look among the nations and watch–Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him [are] all things, to whom [be] glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth is there are sections in the Bible we just don’t want to think about. As I read I see God doing things like telling Abraham to sacrifice his son through which God brings a portrait of redemption. I see God telling Hosea to marry a pagan prostitute and have children and deal with all of the hardship of such a situation, and yet God brought through that uncommon (dare I say sinful in the normative sense) to paint a picture of redemption, turn many people to Himself, and grant encouragement to us. We see God call Abraham in Genesis 12 to leave his father, mother, and family to go to a land “I WILL” show you.

Most of us don’t want to think too deeply on passages like this. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand how they vibe with the normal ways God does thing.s Or maybe we aren’t interested in experiencing extraordinary kinds of assignments from Him because we like our comfort or rhythm of life. But these kinds of things remain staring at us in the Bible.

So I conclude God is loving enough and has the freedom to call me to do things that are totally out of the box. He can call me to do things that make me scratch my head. He may call me into seasons in which the only thing He can tell me is “if it were told you, you wouldn’t believe” how I’m going to do what I’ve promised. And my part is simply to trust, walk forward, and see what He does. I am on a need to know basis. The rest belongs to Him. I can rest in that because I know He is good, and that even if His plan leads me through hard situations and suffering, He will restore one hundred fold any loss accrued.

Why does He call us to such times? One reason is that the life of faith is all that pleases Him (Hebrews 11:1 and 6). So is God leading you through perplexing times? Strange times? Out of the box times? Don’t panic. That’s just what God does. Focus on what He HAS shown you, and trust Him to work out the rest.

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On Sermon Preparation

I’ve been asked to do a workshop on sermon preparation at the NorCal pastors and leaders conference. I’m sure there are plenty of men more suited to the task, but I accepted the invitation anyway.

In this blog I’m simply going to share my notes with you. In the actual workshop, I’ll fill in the blanks. Also, in the part about the necessity of being clear, near the beginning of the talk, I’m going to play a YouTube video entitled the Turbo Encabulator. It’s hilarious, a spoof … but illustrates (using exaggeration) how NOT to speak. I include the URL here for your enjoyment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLDgQg6bq7o

Blessings to all of you who regularly address God’s people by opening up God’s Word. May He gift and enable us to do this task well.


On Sermon Preparation

Sermon Preparation. Suggestions concerning more effective communication of Biblical truth, especially in verse by verse Bible teaching.

NOTE: it’s vital that we do this well, but it is NOT vital that it be pleasing to everyone. We don’t cater the message for our audience, although we may adjust it to meet present needs. Yet, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will set people free. The truth, understood and applied, will change people’s lives. We begin with the truth, and let it works its way to the people, by the Spirit. We DO NOT begin with the people, with their needs (felt or otherwise), and then organize scripture to satisfy them.

NOTE: we must be clear… clarity is of utmost importance in sharing the truth of God.

Thoughts on Hermeneutics

Assumption

  • Hermeneutics is the art and science of the interpretation of texts.
  • Biblical hermeneutics is the science of the interpretation of the text of the Bible.
  • Basic principle: for each and every passage of scripture, there is one primary and intended meaning of the text.
  • THEREFORE, it is the work of the interpreter to discover what that meaning is, and then make application of that meaning.

 TO DO THIS, we must not only understand the passage and its application, but also work hard at making it clear. If the interpreter does not understand the message, clarity will be impossible.

The Introduction

  • Like a takeoff in an airplane ride (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s introducing the passage. Tell them about the theme. Let them in on what they’re about to hear.

The Body 

  • Like the actual flight of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s teaching the passage, working through its flow of thought, and working through its meaning and application.

The Conclusion

  • Like the landing of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’ve told them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s summing up, making the final point, it’s extending the invitation, it’s exhortation to do the application, etc. The conclusion can be many things.

OVERALL: we must give the people confidence that we know where we’re going, that we’ll get there, that they’ll be able to catch your drift, follow you in their thoughts, etc. If they lack this confidence, we’ll lose them. Their minds will drift off, or they’ll tune us out. The devil is ever ready to snatch the word out of their minds if they don’t understand it (Matthew 13:19).

WE STRIVE FOR CLARITY. I want the people to understand what is being said in the text, and how I am interpreting it. If someone tells me afterwards that the message was clear, I’m stoked.

Today’s Method 

  • I understand that sermon preparation is somewhat subjective, but I’m going to give you a summary of how I generally do things. At best, what I’ll share will spark a new approach for you and help you … at the least, it will provide a mirror at which to look at your own methods. When I was coaching, I often reflected on the good and bad traits of the coaches I played under. Their strengths and weaknesses taught me much.
  • Reading through the entire Bible. (Recommend: 30 Days to Understanding the Bible in 15 Minutes a Day)
  • Get your theology from the teaching of the books of the Bible. Soteriology: Romans, for example.
  • I read the text out loud, in prayer.
  • I outline the passage.
  • I study the passage, using O,I,A (inductive method: observation, interpretation, application).
  • I read commentaries. During the week I’ll listen to studies as I’m walking, driving, working out … I tend not to listen to studies and take notes while I’m listening.
  • I learn the movement of the passage, the theme of the passage. Sheri will ask me what it’s going to be about. I want to be able to answer her with one crisp and succinct sentence.
  • I give it a title. Even if it’s a midweek Bible study, going through a couple of chapters, I give it a title. The title grows out of the passage, not the other way around.
  • I type it out.
  • For a Sunday AM message, I usually sit on it, let it germinate, let it percolate. Then early on Sunday morning I’ll cut stuff out, insert illustrations, try to see the message in the big picture.
  • I pray, get up in front of God’s people, and let it rip. I don’t care how I feel, how frustrated I am with myself, how depressed I am about how things are going … I am not going to cheat the people, I’m going to give them the best I have, with God’s help.

 NOTE:  we cannot … we must not … underestimate the value of what we do. Lives do change, and hopefully, disciples are made. Self-feeders, believers who grow into mature saints.

 Sermon Notes—The Outline (example from a recent message)

“When Faith is Tested”

Matthew 15:21-39

CC Santa Cruz

August 26, 2012

I.  The Story of a Woman with Great Faith (15:21-28)

II.  The Story of the Faith of Desperate and Hopeful Crowds (15:29-31)

III.  A Story of Unexpected Blessing upon Unlikely People (15:32-39)

 

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Self-perception or the perception of others? Whose do YOU trust?

Self-perception.  Is it ever accurate?  Jere 17:9

More than 25 years ago I had a conversation with a senior pastor that provoked my thinking and prodded me to do a completely informal survey with about a dozen other senior pastors that I considered friends.  The survey took place over a span of about 5 or 6 years and the fact that all of the senior pastors I spoke with had the same perspective has embedded what I discovered into my mind, never to be forgotten.  A few conversations that I’ve had recently, along with some things that I’ve seen written on a few blogs by other senior  pastors over the past few months have stirred up one of those discoveries that I made all those years ago.

Although I don’t remember most of the specifics of that original conversation, the point of ignition for my further thinking on the subject was a comment from my friend, the senior pastor, that ended with him making a statement similar to this, “…..I’m not really sure why things unfolded the way they did, but I do know that I’m a ‘people-person’.”

When I heard this brother describe himself that way—as a “people-person”, I was more than a bit surprised.  To be sure that I had actually understood what he meant, I asked him to repeat the point that he had just made.  And he did so.  He was convinced in his own mind that he was a “people-person”.   I now knew that he genuinely believed that about himself.  He had just given me his honest perception of himself.

Apparently, because of the look on my face at that moment and because we’d always had a very transparent relationship with each other, he told me that he could tell I wasn’t buying what he was saying and he asked me whether I agreed with his description of himself as a “people-person”.

And so, being the personality-type that I am, I told him that although I would describe him to others in many positive ways, his being a “people-person” would never be one of them.  And not only that, but I also told him that if I went around to the people who he interacted with on a regular basis and asked them to describe him to me, more than likely, none of them would him as a “people-person” either.

Now it was his turn to be surprised.  He asked me if I was serious and I reminded him that he knew better than that.  And this is where the conversation got even more interesting.

I then told him that through my experiences in management in the secular world, the graceful honesty of my wife and immediate family members who loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself,  and many principles that I had I learned from God’s word since becoming a follower of Jesus, I had learned to exercise extreme caution when it came to trusting that my perception of myself was actually accurate.

I said that I had learned that I if really want to know the type of person I am, the most accurate way to do that is to ask a close friend to go around and do a mini-survey of the 8-10 people that I interact with at least once or more per week.  I would give my close friend, the surveyor, very simple instructions.  He should ask each of these people individually, to describe ME in five or six different ways using a few words or phrases for each description.  And when my close friend gave me the responses,  I would accept that these people’s descriptions are more than likely the way that I actually am.  Even if those descriptions might not even be close to the way I perceive myself.

At this point, my conversation with my senior pastor friend turned even more interesting.  He told me that if those who know him best really wouldn’t describe him as a “people-person” it was either because they hadn’t gotten to know him well enough or because they had expectations of him that he could never live up to.

He really said these things to me.

That conversation ended with me challenging him to consider a few things, including the possibility of having a close friend doing something like the mini-survey that I told him about.

And then, as I said above, over the next few years I asked 5 or 6 other senior pastors some questions based on what I had learned from the original conversation with my senior pastor friend.  The questions and a summary of their answers went like this:

1.  Do you believe that you’re a “people-person”?  (All of them said “yes”)

2.  Would those who interact with you on a regular basis describe you as a “people-person”?  (Most of them said “yes”)

3.  But if someone other than you asked them to describe you to someone else, would they describe you to someone else as a “people-person”?

(All of them said, “probably not”)

4.  Whose perception is most accurate, yours or theirs?  (All of them said their own perception of themselves was more accurate)

5.  If your perception is the accurate one, what is the source of the mis-perception of others?  (In one way or another, they all said it wasn’t anything to do with them, it had something to do with the other people)

Although I believe that a fairly reasonable case can be made that a senior pastor should be a “people-person” along with quite a few other character traits, that’s never been what really bothered me.  What bothered me then and what has cropped up to bother me again today is the core issue of conflicting perceptions.

When self-perception is contradictory to, or the opposite of the perception of a group of other people who know us and love us, what should be provoked within us?

–Should we throw the burden on others to figure out what we already know about ourselves?

–Or, should we move forward humbly recognizing that our own self-perception hasn’t been accurate and that if we desire to be perceived in a different way, we might need to repent and be willing to change a few things in our own lives, and have those that love us help us make those changes?

And finally, referring to someone as a “people-person” is probably not taking place these days among the age groups under 40.  My guess is that rather than describing someone as a “people-person”, this younger group would more than likely describe that type of person as “relational”.

Either way, here’s a brief summary of what a “relational” or “people-person” does:

–Makes you not only feel comfortable in their presence, but makes your being with them so totally enjoyable that you can’t wait to hang out with them again.

–Demonstrates a genuine interest in you that shows itself through the questions they ask, the diligence with which they listen to your responses, and then the next few questions they ask you that are based on your previous answers to the questions they asked you.

–At just the right times, reveals their own thoughts, experiences, struggles, or victories in a way that makes them real to you and gives you confidence that they have a real connection with you.

–Never gives you the impression or the “vibe” that they are spending time with you for any other reason than a sincere desire to know you more so that your relationship with them can deepen and you can be a greater blessing to one another.

–Even when your relationship with them has a “task accomplishing” angle to it, you never feel like if you stopped accomplishing the task for them that they would no longer have an interest in spending time with you or caring about how you’re doing.

 

 

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Draw Your Own Conclusion?

A couple of years ago I sat through a seminar where a seminary professor lectured on the value of telling stories in the pulpit without necessarily explaining their meaning.  He said that we could trust the people to draw the appropriate conclusion and make the necessary application.  His lecture mirrors the advice I read somewhere online.

It is fascinating to me that in our Protestant religious culture, such a strong emphasis is placed upon literal interpretation. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.  From Sermon Resources for May 6, 2012.

After the professor’s lecture, I went to my hotel room and read through all the stories of Jesus – parables and otherwise.  I found only one story where Jesus didn’t supply the meaning – but the context in which the story was told supplied the meaning. Yes, He did tell stories where He didn’t immediately give the interpretation, but He did so later.  Many of the parables went intentionally unexplained, but were later interpreted for His disciples.  Why?  Precisely because His disciples couldn’t draw their own conclusions.

Jesus told parables and left them uninterpreted and His disciples and the crowds were confused.  “Explain it to us”, His disciples asked Him.  Well, it turns out that the unadorned parable, the bald story, was not meant to illuminate, but to obfuscate.  It falls in line with the prophecy of Isaiah – in seeing they will not see…  Why?  The uninterpreted parables were judgments against His listeners.  Jesus didn’t expect His hearers to draw the appropriate conclusion – He expected them to remain in the dark!

There is a series of stories in Luke 15 – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.  He tells one story after another without any commentary.  Yet the historical setting in 15:2 provides the interpretive context: Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  These stories of sheep and coins and sons are told in response to this Pharisaic concern.  Jesus is basically saying, “Here’s why I receive sinners and eat with them.”

I am not decrying story telling or the power of stories to capture the imagination or the aesthetic beauty of stories.  I am not disputing the ability of stories to capture and convey spiritual truth.  I am not challenging the current emphasis on storying the sermon.  I am disputing the unadorned, the uninterpreted story.  I am questioning the wisdom of leaving the congregation to draw their own conclusions.  Consider the following:

I heard a story about a dancer who danced an incredible program. After she finished, one of the women from the audience approached her. “That was an amazing dance,” she said. “I was moved to tears, but I just have one question—what did it mean?” And the dancer replied, “If I could tell you what it meant, I wouldn’t have had to dance it.”  Some things cannot be explained, summarized, analyzed, or tied up with a neat little bow.  Sometimes explanations aren’t sufficient.  Think about the story of The Prodigal Son. What is it about? What’s the theme? How would you explain its message? Is it about love? Yes. Grace? Yes. Repentance? Judging others?  Yes, yes. Salvation? Decision making? God’s sovereignty? Man’s free will?  Yes to all of the above.  And more.  http://www.sermoncentral.com/article.asp?article=a-Steven_James_07_16_07&ac=true

The author mentions so many things the Prodigal Son points to except what the context of Luke 15 indicates!  Love or grace or repentance or forgiveness?  Take your pick – after all, the story is elastic.  And indeed the applications are manifold, but it has a beginning point – somewhere – right?

I love the following story and have told it often.

“There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the old men of the desert why it is that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up after a short time and returned to their lives in the city.  The old monk told him, “Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined in the chase, barking and running. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the wilderness was echoing the sounds of their pursuit and the chase went on into the night. After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt. “Do you understand,” the old man said, “what I have told you?”

“No,” replied the young monk, “please tell me father.”

“It is simple,” said the desert father, “my dog saw the rabbit.”

Even as the ancient monk needed an interpretation, so do modern audiences.  The simple picture of dogs chasing a rabbit didn’t resolve into immediate significance.  The ancient monk’s dilemma is the difficulty of our hearers, especially when the demands of time and life undermine our attempts to live a reflective life and work strongly against any effort given to contemplation.  And if this is true of the pastor, what of the one in the pew?  The uninterpreted story is like dogs chasing rabbits… where is this going?

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Get Out of Your Office!

Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”, 2 Timothy 4:5.

How are you intentionally building relationships with non-believers?  Can you readily name non-believing friends you are burdened for?  I think one of the greatest dangers for the pastor is losing touch with the world and to isolate themselves in a Christian bubble.  This is easy to do.  I love my study.  I can get lost in here digging, researching, preparing for my next sermon or speaking engagement, planning out the church calendar, and dealing with church people.  It’s easy to end up in a place where you have no meaningful relationships with those who are apart from Christ.

It seems the further we disconnect with the nonbelieving world the harder time we have proclaiming the Gospel in a relevant manner.  Let me clarify this point.  I believe the gospel is relevant.  I actually abstain from worldly activities more than the average pastor–I don’t have cable, I don’t drink, I rarely go to the movies, etc, etc.  That being said, I find it critical to be out establishing relationships and engaging people who are not a part of the church.  Failing to do so ultimately diminish your sharpness, passion, and zeal as the Lord uses you to engage a lost world.  Your teaching will become dry.

Since I have been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church, I have been very convicted that it is paramount for me to be involved in the community.  Whether it’s Kiwanis, the local cemetery board, or serving as a law enforcement chaplain I have been compelled to be out amongst the nonbelieving world.  As I have done this, I have established genuine friendships.  I have been questioned about my faith.  I have been called to help in crisis.  I have seen God work through me and it is exciting!  These events shape my preaching and pastoring in a good way.

God has not called us to be taskmasters telling the people what to do, but to lead with our lives and to teach out of the outflow.  As you engage with people who are not Christians, you are reminded

 

 

 

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Sinkhole

Several years ago, I read Gordon MacDonald’s book “Ordering Your Private World.” He begins by describing sinkholes in Florida. Water aquifers drain leaving a subterranean void that will, without any notice, give way. Suddenly a house sinks into a massive hole; all the while nobody expected it.

A little over a year ago, I fell into one of these sinkholes. It was a Sunday morning and I stood up to preach, as I had done hundreds of times before, but this particular Sunday, I lost control and began to weep. The next five minutes seemed like an eternity as I worked to regain my composure. The church was completely caught off guard (not to mention the fact that Brits have a reputation of holding a stiff upper lip). They had no idea that I had been under such stress. My internal anxiety had been increasing because of a combination of church finances, critics within the church, inability to minister to particular deep needs of people, exhaustion, mounting discouragement, etc. I remembered MacDonald’s sinkhole as I lay in this pit, depressed and lacking in faith. Simply put, I wanted out.

 Here are some of the early warning signs that I failed to notice.

  • I ceased to have vision for the church and found myself just trying to maintain.
  • I viewed myself as the servant, and therefore didn’t give others the opportunity to serve me in my mounting need.
  • My times of prayer decreased while my times of anxiety increased.
  • I began to use my creativity to look for ways to get out of full-time ministry.
  • I internalized my conflicts, rather than sharing with trusted friends/counsellors my struggle and fatigue.
  • I had begun to feel like I was a sermon machine, needing to birth a sermon every few days.
  • I found that I was being careful not to ruffle feathers of certain critics, seeking their approval instead of God’s approval.
  • I had put people’s spiritual needs above my own.

Here are some things that particularly helped.

  • I began to put my spiritual needs first. This seems antithetical. I had thought that I had what it took to minister to people. In order to serve others, I need to receive from the Lord. It’s like those pre-flight announcements. If the oxygen mask drops down, put your own mask on before you help your child. If you don’t, you will have no strength to help anyone. 1 Samuel 30:6 tells us that “David strengthened himself in the Lord.” One of the ways I began to do this was to take a monthly day of retreat to pray and seek the Lord. This isn’t for the church, but for my own soul. The great Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne said the best thing he could give his church was his own personal holiness.
  • I began sharing my struggles with the church (obviously what is shared requires discretion). One of the reasons for my sinkhole was a lack of help and co-labouring by the church body. Since the church felt I had everything under control, their involvement in the church had become passive. Since I began to humble myself and share my struggles and my perpetual need for God’s grace, the church has become far more active taking on ministry. This has also helped people see that perfection is not the benchmark for ministry, but availability to God is.
  • When I’m struggling I tend to isolate and internalize. This is not wise (Proverbs 18:1). I keep in regular contact with other pastors who keep me accountable and who have carte blanche to speak hard truths to me. My wife also, has the same right. When she sees signs, she will challenge me and will exhort me.
  • I purpose to serve for the pleasure of Jesus. If I’m pleasing people, my joy or energy rises and falls with their perception. I remind myself that I am already “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6 NKJ). Paul said in Galatians 1:10 that we cannot seek to please men and be Jesus’ servant.
  • I began to pray with thanksgiving. This is commanded in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but thanksgiving can easily be substituted with grumbling which essentially is an accusation against the Lord.
  • I began to say ‘no’ to ministry opportunities. I am free from doing things simply because people want me to do them. My place is not to do everything, but to do what God has called me to do. I pray about the opportunity and ask if this need is a need I am to meet. I am not the saviour; I serve the Saviour.

God is a gracious fountain who never runs dry. These changes have been helpful in keeping my feet from wandering from the fountain of living water.

 

By the way, we will be away on holiday (vacation) for the next 10 days, so if there are any comments, I may not get to responding to before then.

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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.

Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?