risk

Taking Steps of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

dry

Pastoral No Man’s Land

When I entered ministry almost twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Attractional or Seeker Sensitive movement. There was a lot out there on how to program you ministry right down to the very last detail. Being fresh out of college without any ministry training or education I kind of got swept into it, except for one small detail, I wasn’t very good at it. It threw me into quite the quandary because that is what success was being measured by. For a long time I felt like I was in pastoral no man’s land.

No man’s land is a metaphor that has been used to describe a lot of situations but to me it comes from the Tennis world. I played in high school and college and no man’s land was the area between the baseline and service line. You didn’t want to get caught in that area because that is where the ball usually bounces and it is hard to return a ball that is bouncing right at your feet. You needed to be behind the baseline where you can hit the ball at the apex or up at the net putting away a volley. If you got caught in no man’s land you usually didn’t win the point.

The problem is that many pastors find themselves in pastoral no man’s land. They are somewhere in between in a lot of areas. You can be in pastoral no man’s land when comes to being attractional or missional, being outgoing or an introvert, or being a visionary or academic. If you read popular books they tell you that you must commit to one or the other to be successful. The problem is that it is the Type A personalities who write these books and they are geared towards that style. From their perspective being in no man’s land is ineffective.

The fact is that I enjoy doing a lot of things as a pastor. I love studying the Bible and teaching but I don’t want to spend my whole day doing it. I enjoy counseling people but after too many appointments I am drained and think everyone is whacked. In secret, which I never admit at any pastor’s conference, I love spreadsheets, profit and loss statements, and numbers. I like variety but if I listened to other people, which I used to, I would think I am in Pastoral no man’s land. They tell you that you have to do one thing really well and delegate the rest and if you focus on too many areas you aren’t doing anything well.

To be honest God doesn’t look for us to do even one thing well. One lesson I have to learn over and over is that “Where I am weak He is strong.” The older I get the weaker I realize am in all areas. I have taken too much credit for any success in my life. It’s when I give up from exhaustion God usually takes over and accomplishes in seconds what I tried for weeks to do.

The fact is that we have three callings as a Pastor: Prophet, Priest, and King. Most of us specialize in one of these and struggle in the other two. Neglecting one or more of these areas will eventually take its toll on us or on the ministry God has blessed us with. If you feel like you are in pastoral no man’s land take heart. God may have you there to show His glory through our weaknesses. Stop trying to measure up to other pastors and books. Instead decide to be content where God has you and start seeking Him more for the increase.

pass-the-baton

Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

images-5

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.

sermon prep

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)

 

drawcon

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?

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?

 

 

Where_Rubber_Meets_The_Road_Web

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Some days I just need a reality check! A million things happen in life (and in the work of the Lord) and sometimes I find my heart sitting a bit off kilter. Oftentimes a Sunday afternoon can be that for me. Having just preached two services and prayed/encouraged/spoke to people before, in-between and after the services, eight hours later, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon I can feel like I am dragging my head and heart around. Many folks who devote their Sundays to serving can feel this way. On top of that, there is the inevitable (for some of us) Sunday afternoon feelings of uselessness, fear, apprehension and “what did I just say?” moments.

Last Sunday was one of those days for me. But God…

I received an email from someone in the fellowship. They were in the hospital with their newborn daughter (who was born 5 weeks early by emergency C-section). But they weren’t emailing for themselves. Instead they were emailing for their closest friends, who were actually in the next room. This couple and I had prayed for their friends almost 7 months ago. Right away, this couple’s pregnancy was at risk as the baby had a chromosomal abnormality. The child was not growing at the normal rate and pregnancy went to full term. I was emailed to see if I can come and visit the couple. They were in the hospital and the doctors had given the couple a 99% chance that the baby would be stillborn.

When I got to the hospital, I met the brother who emailed me. We spoke for a bit about his wife and new daughter who was in the Neo-natal intensive care. He shared the entire story about his daughter and wife. And about their friends who we were about to see. He was without sleep and had yet to hold his daughter. His wife was recovering from surgery and there were concerns about his own family. Yet his wanted to serve and bless his friends.

I entered the hospital room and began to talk with this couple. They shared about their journey and what was ahead of them. The reality of the possibility of giving birth to a stillborn child. The unknown. The fears. Yet, in all of the discussion, the tears and sadness, there was that precious hope in the God who can do anything. As we spoke about the reality of Jesus, the reality that God knew all of this and was there for them, the strength that is available by the Spirit, I thought to myself, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” This couple was heart-broken and scared yet so rooted in the unwavering love of God. We prayed. We cried. We laughed. We spoke of life, death, heaven, eternity and homesickness. We read Psalms and spoke of Jesus preparing mansions. We spoke of anger, faith and loss. Yet in all of it, there was a simple faith and an awareness of God’s grace at work in all of this.

I think that sometimes, in all of the rumblings and ruminations of a million voices, controversies, ideas and internet arguments, it is so easy to lose focus on the simplicity and awesomeness of the reality of God in Jesus. I was blessed with a return look at why I wanted to follow Jesus in the first place. Simply because He is and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Not a reward of getting everything we want, but the reward of Himself in whatever transpires. That is where the rubber meets the road. This is what was sustaining a young couple in the face of the most horrific of circumstances. This is where I want to spend much more time than I do. In that simple place of the reality of God. A place where there is no arguments, no bickering, no frustration, no question marks. It is the place where there is only grace, love and peace. Resting in the arms of God in the midst of a beautiful mess.

To close out the story, little Jonathan was born at 6 am on Monday morning and his parents got to take him home today. A total miracle. Although there are many complications and the prognosis is still dire (the doctors said some children can fight death of a few weeks), this precious family has been able to spend time with their son until he is goes home to be with the Lord. The couple who first contacted me’s daughter (Mackenzie) is completely off of all her tubes and Lord willing will be heading home in the next day or so. The testimony of these two families has touched the hearts of the hospital staff in profound ways. We are hoping and praying (if the Lord wills) to do a joint baby dedication at church on Sunday! Where the rubber meets the road, God is God. He finished the work on Calvary’s cross and will be faithful to complete the work He began in us.