Cautionweb

Shooting with Civilians

I didn’t grow up shooting.  Maybe once, or twice, but nothing that made a real impact on me.  I learned to shoot in the SEAL teams.  From the get go, safety was hammered down my throat.  Things like, “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot”, “Never point your weapon at anything your not willing to destroy”, “A gun is always loaded”, and so forth and so on.  The threat of doing something unsafe or “sweeping someone” (i.e. inadvertently pointing a weapon at someone) would result in severe discipline or being kicked out of the program altogether.

With this fear set deep within us, the instructors let us handle the weapons.  We started slow with learning their components and breaking them apart and reassembling them, then static shooting (i.e. standing still on the range while shooting) progressing over time to very dynamic shooting (i.e. shooting while moving with a lot of moving parts).  As we progressed in these shooting scenarios, the threat of dangers increased because of odds of human error significantly increasing.  But everyone had been carefully trained in safely handling the weapon at all times.  Safety became second nature.  We went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, to a full blown sprint with the things we were doing, but gun safety was hammered home from day one and never was eased.  We were safe because the level of training we received on the weapons.  My time in the SEAL teams has made it virtually impossible to feel comfortable shooting outside of a military or law enforcement setting.  I’m sorry to offend anyone, but civilian shooters can be dangerous and goofy on the range.  I try to avoid it altogether.

This thought popped into my head the other day when I mulled over these verses:

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible describes itself as a great weapon.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is described as the only offensive tool the believer has been given.  With this truth, I think there are some lessons from shooting that I can apply to Bible study today.

Take a gun safety course.  I believe in safety with the Bible like I do with guns.  After becoming a Christian, I realized that I would often play “Russian Roulette” with the Bible.  I would open it flip through pages and just stop somewhere.  I had no idea the big picture of the Bible, the overriding theme, or anything really.  I didn’t know where to begin or how to handle this book of the Bible.  I literally could have made it say anything I wanted it to.  I see myself then and I was equivalent to a toddler playing with a loaded weapon!  As a pastor now, I recognized that many new Christians are not given any orientation class to the Bible.  If this is you, I would suggest reading a book like Howard Hendricks book, “Living by the Book” that will help you learn about hermeneutics–the art and science of studying the Bible.  I would also encourage you to attend faithfully a church where the Bible is taught in a systematic (i.e. Book at a time) way so you learn what Bible study looks like.

Never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy.  This rule in shooting makes the point that every gun is loaded and should be treated as such even if there is no bullet within a 100 miles.  Never loose your respect for the harm a weapon can cause people or things.  This point, as it relates to the Bible, is difficult to articulate.  The Bible is God’s Word, we must handle it very carefully.  When we quote it, we are sharing a Word of the Lord to encourage, rebuke, or shape one’s thoughts about something.  Unfortunately, I have seen many use the Bible in a way for self interest or personal gain.  I would like to urge us to use extreme caution as we are interpreting and applying the Bible.  Certainly this is true as we relate it to others.  It concerns me when I see people cutting and pasting the Bible to prove themselves right on a particular point instead of humbling themselves under the Word to discover the truth.  The Bible should never be used to win an argument, although the Bible has the power and authority to settle arguments if this makes sense.

Perfect practice makes perfect.  There is a saying, “Practice makes perfect” that the SEAL teams don’t agree with.  As I began shooting, one of the sayings I heard early on was, “Perfect practice makes perfect!”  Bad habits are hard to break and bad practice only conditions bad habits.  Because of this truth, I would encourage every believer, whether you’ve been a Christian for 1 day or 30 years, to grow in the practice of hermeneutics.  It’s never too late to start.  The sooner you are equipped to study and apply the Bible on your own, the faster you will be equipped to serve your Lord.  Paul said this to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  This command applies to all believers as far as I am concerned.

Some closing thoughts.  Let me be clear, every believer has the Spirit to guide them in the study of the Bible.  God has revealed His Word to us and has said this about it, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We have been entrusted with the use of a very powerful book.  I pray that we would take the time to learn how to read, study, and apply in our lives!

The Missional Myth

A term you may hear thrown around a lot these days is the word Missional. You may have wondered what it meant, who was behind it, and who is being Missional. The church loves to name movements within. We have had the Great Awakening, The Azusa Revivals, and The Jesus Movement to name a few. Recently movements with in the church haven’t necessarily been revivals but instead methods of doing ministry. It started with the Seeker Sensitive movement (Attractional) which was counteracted by the Emergent Church movement. I am not going to define any of these movements but instead take a look at the movement of the moment which is the Missional Movement.

Now some would argue with me that Missional isn’t a movement but the true way to do church. We are all missionaries and we are to go and be missionaries in our communities, hence being Missional. If it was that easy I wouldn’t be writing this blog. In fact when I first heard of Missional and what it was my first thought was “Duh!” Unfortunately there isn’t one definition for being Missional. Tim Keller in his book Center Church identifies four definitions and then goes on to give his own.

The Missional movement, first defined in 1999, is really a morphing of many different movements. You will find a large section of Reformed pastors describing themselves as Missional. You will also find converts from the Emergent movement as well as the Attractional movement all jumping on the bandwagon. So what is the Missional movement? It is a push to get the church to look outward towards the lost in the community instead of inward. It is a movement to de-emphasize the position of the pastor and to lift of the Priesthood of all Saints.

Here is my issue with this movement. It over emphasizes social justice as a way preaching the Gospel. It  over emphasizes community over congregations. It also elevates contextualization over content. What I mean by that is that there is far too much emphasis put on not offending people with our message and that we need to speak in terms that they will understand. The over-arching reasoning that a Missional person uses is that our culture is changing fast and so we as a church needs to change as well. We are no longer a Christian culture (Christendom) and so we need to adapt to the culture. My objection to this is that the first century church wasn’t born into a Christian Culture and spent the first 300 years, not relating to the culture of the day, but instead sticking out.

The Missional movement celebrates the Mars Hill method of reaching people, reasoning with them. The irony of this it was Paul’s least fruitful ministry place. Right after Athens Paul went to Corinth and we see him attempt another tactic…humility. He preached Christ and him Crucified and that’s it! Corinth was a place that even our culture would blush at today yet Paul experienced great fruit in that city. Instead of the church trying to adapt to the culture what we need to do is strip ministry down to the basics and humbly preach Jesus Christ.

Here is the mythical part of this movement. It is a lot of theory but there is very little effectiveness going on. We can talk all day about equipping people to be on mission in their community or workplace but we aren’t seeing a lot of it. I am all for reaching the community but to me this movement seems like a repackaged concoction of a bunch of previous movements that have recently passed.

cracked foundation

Verifying Your Foundation

In keeping with the theme of my last few posts on doing what is hard and not resting in past victories or stalling out in our spiritual growth… I’d like to share a bit from a sermon I just taught on Habakkuk.

In the first two chapters of Habakkuk we see a man struggling with the sin and corruption of his nation and her leaders; a nation that had covenanted with God to be His special people according to very clear terms and conditions. When God reveals to Habakkuk that He has a plan to bring about reform and renewal in Israel, Habakkuk doesn’t even have time to be thankful for the answer to his prayer. The reason? Because God’s plan for renewal required the covenant judgement He promised in Deuteronomy. Even more perplexing: that judgement would be at the hands of the Babylonians who were less righteous than Israel (1:13). So Habakkuk groans over the idea of Babylon being used by God, while Israel is being judged by God… at the hand of Babylon! God gets the last word in chapter two, describing how His righteousness not only requires covenant judgment, but also cosmic judgment. Babylon will pay. By the same methods and means Babylon employed in her wrath against humanity, so God will employ in His wrath against her.

In Habakkuk 3, the prophet switches from his already unusual style of prophecy through personal dialogue to and even more unexpected form of prophecy: singing! Habakkuk writes a Psalm; specifically a Shigionoth (not that it really matters. I just like saying the word “Shigionoth” over and over).

In this Psalm Habakkuk draws images for us, all of which either remind us of God’s past, present, or future work of redemption and wrath. It’s a Psalm that declares the power and glory of God. It demonstrates His righteousness in judgement. It remembers His mercy. It confronts one with the reality of the fear of the Lord. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to keep His word, including His particular word made famous by Paul in the New Testament: “The just shall live by faith.”

Habakkuk concludes the prophetic Psalm with a declaration of patient waiting upon the Lord for Him to fulfil His word in His perfect timing. Habakkuk was no longer anxious and frustrated with the sin of God’s covenant people. He was no longer perplexed about God’s design to use the evil Babylonians to bring covenant judgment upon His people and he chose to trust God when He said that Babylon would not escape His wrath.

There is A LOT there that I could take apart and write various posts about. What I want to focus on, though — the “hard thing” that I feel many are often afraid of, be they shepherds or sheep — is how Habakkuk approached the entire thing from the beginning.

  1. Habakkuk questioned God. That’s right. I said it. Habakkuk questioned God. This isn’t the same as “putting God to the test” as Scripture clearly tells us not to do. This isn’t a lapse of faith or an accusation against the Almighty. It’s a cry for help from a man gone mad with the violence, sin, destruction and lawlessness all around him. It’s an honest dialogue. “LORD, I just don’t understand.”
  2. Habakkuk sought an answer from the Source. He didn’t settle for the current theological trends of the temple. He didn’t consult the opinions of the priests. He lent not his ear to the leaders of his day. He sought his answers from the Source; from God, Himself.

Before your mind meanders into the land of “what ifs” and “yeah buts”, let me comfort you with clarification. I’m not saying that seeking counsel from godly men is wrong. Nor am I claiming that established theology should be avoided in tackling tough topics. So relax the radar for a minute and see if what I’m getting at makes sense.

One morning I did something highly unusual and spent the 7.95 for breakfast in town instead of eating at home. As I sat there sipping coffee, playing “word welder” on my phone, and waiting for my “full Irish breakfast” to arrive, a group of men began streaming in one or two at a time and taking a seat right next to me. As they gathered and gained numbers the conversation grew livlier and livlier. It was truly enjoyable to listen to the banter, the jokes, the arguments, the laughter, the ribbing, and the squabbling. They discussed everything from sports to money, current affairs to affairs of state. They were the “men at the gates of the city”.

Habakkuk could have been one of these men. He could have sat and discussed the affairs of the day and topics of the time. He could have argued, joked, or just listened  There would have been nothing intrinsically incorrect with doing so. But instead he chose the direct route. Instead He went to the Source: God. And in going to God he didn’t dance around the discussion. Habakkuk questioned Him.

How many times do we attempt to answer the hard questions of life, theology, relationships, and reality by finding out what everybody else thinks instead of what God thinks? How many times do we settle for the latest quotes on Twitter or Facebook as “good enough” to get us by, rather that getting a direct quote from the source? How many times do we mouth mantras of the faith to get us through difficult times, rather than using our words to dialogue with our Father?

Let me be specific, and let me say that I make no accusation that I, myself, have not been guilty of at some point.

  1. Eschatology. Do you actually understand your eschatalogical positon from Scripture so that you could intelligently and Biblically describe it to another person without having to refer them to the latest book by so and so? I’m not saying that you must be able to to this. It’s certainly not the most important area of general theology. But I know so many shepherds and sheep who do make it a major point and yet cannot do what I asked above. They have not taken the time to question God about it and seek answers from the source: His word. In my experience, they’ve normally done one of two things: they’ve spent just enough time to memorise the main points from their favorite downloaded pastor, or they’ve spent oodles of time memorising what all of their favourite downloaded pastors have said about it.
  2. Church Government. Same questions as above. In fact, since the Bible doesn’t give an exact formula for this one, it’s even more of an “open-handed” or secondary issue than eschatology. And yet the fervor with which so many shepherds and sheep hold on to their preferred system is confusing to me, when only a very few have ever been able to tell me why they feel that way.
  3. “Missions”. Why do you do “missions” the way you do it? If you are a shepherd, why do you lead the flock in “missions” the way you do? Have you just accepted the norms around you without ever questioning God about it? (Yes, I put “missions” into quotes because I can no longer be sure of it’s intended meaning in an audience or that they would understand my meaning to be).
  4. Day to day pastoral things: Order of worship/liturgy, “sunday school” / “children’s church” / “children’s ministry”, rules for worship service, Biblical gender roles in the ministry, “youth groups”, evangelism and discipleship, and many other things? Are you shepherding those areas based on the vision the Lord has given you, based on His word and careful study and patient prayer about them? Or are you just doing what everybody else does? Do you even know why you do things the way you do them?

Are we supposed to be built up on the foundation of our favourite pastors, or upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Scripture), with Jesus as the chief cornerstone? Shouldn’t we seek to truly know what we believe, question God, study His word (including what other godly men have written about it), and be open and honest with God about the questions and answers that arise from our study? Shouldn’t the foundation for our faith, our hope, and our worship of the one we put our faith and hope in be as rock solid as Christ Himself? Or should we settle for a foundation of what others are saying and doing and hope [in them] that they got it right?

Since learning the many basic theological foundations that I first learned through the ministry of Calvary Chapel in 1990, my faith has been rudely confronted by reality in many areas of the theology I was sure I had memorised.

We all have our own list of things that have challenged our faith and revealed cracks in our theological foundation. But the hard thing to do… the thing that took me some time to face up to doing… is to allow what we’ve memorised of our pastors’ theology and popular theology to be set aside long enough for us to question God about it. Seriously consider His word for ourselves. Take up the mantle of the opposite opinion and try to prove it Scripturally. Find those with differing opinions and dialogue with them. Search the Scriptures intently until you have as much confidence as possible, and then write down what you learned to reference later. Be honest with God about your doubts and questions and ask His Spirit to guide you to the truth. Be willing to be wrong so you can grow.

In the end, you’ll either: (a) learn that you were wrong about some things and be better founded now that you’ve been corrected (this is what happened for me in the area of “missions”); (b) learn that you were on the right track and gain further understanding and insight that better founds your faith going forward (this is what happened for me in the area of Church Government and Eschatology); or (c) learn that you were correct in your understanding and application of God’s truth and be all the more excited about living it and telling others (this may happen to me some day ;) ).

Just like Habakkuk, my willingness to question God and the status quo has lead to rejoicing! Because I am constantly challenging what I think I know and either correcting or reaffirming it, I’m constantly reminded of God’s character, righteousness, mercy, power, and faithfulness. That’s what gave Habakkuk peace in the midst of adversity and put a Psalm in his heart.

May we, like Habakkuk, do the hard things of questioning God and the status quo, clarifying and verifying that our faith is founded on the truth, and enjoying a peaceful and worshipful heart as a result.

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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?”

givethanks

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!

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The New Covenant (The Secret to Life and Ministry)

Last week, my primary meditation focused on one simple statement from the Lord Jesus, as He took up the cup after supper (at the Last Supper):

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20)

Think of the glory of the Old Covenant. Fire, lightning, thundering, fear, awe, the Presence, warnings, complete confidence within the people that they could (and would) keep every law and every statute that God gave them that day.

Now think of the New Covenant. It has a far greater glory, but its glory is wrapped in the humanity of the God-man, Jesus our Savior. Here there is sacrifice, blood shed for our sins, and complete awe of God’s grace; with a total admission on our parts that we do NOT have what it takes to obey God’s commands or to meet life’s demands. The cup Jesus raised that day was raised in quietness … in view of His upcoming suffering and death. Through that death, and by that blood, we have new life. Now the Spirit of the Living God lives within each true believer in Jesus. God Himself has become our forgiveness, our reconciliation, our redemption, and our ability to live life for Him.

I love the New Covenant. Ray Stedman sums it up so well in his definition of the New Covenant (from 2 Corinthians 3:5).

“Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me.”

This is the essence of life in Christ … that we live a life of full dependence upon the Lord for everything. He handles our worries, our needs, our past, our future, our relationships, our purpose, our ministries, our destiny. He’s got it all … the New Covenant allows us to trust Him in all things.

Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; {9} not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.{10} For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. {11} None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. {12} For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:8-12)

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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.

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Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

vision

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.

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?