Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Did We Get Here, Part 2

Do you ever feel like your church is tired, weak, irritable or looking somewhat pale? Maybe the answer is Geritol!
Many people in churches feel like the woman in the Geritol commercial (1960), tired and unable to dance. In the context of the church, they are unable to follow the lead of the bridegroom (Jesus) because they believe that they just are not capable of doing so. This feeling of inability to do significant things for the Lord is not what we find as normal for the church in the New Testament.
Here are some key principles taking place in the churches found in the New Testament that we have wandered away from in most churches today;
  • Interactive gathering of saints (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7-12 & 1 Cor. 14:26)
  • Servant and consensual leadership (Matt. 20:20-28 & Acts 15:22-29)
  • Priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-10, 1 Timothy 2:5 & Hebrews 10:19)
  • The expansion of the church by common people (Acts 8:1-4, Romans 16:3-5 & Col. 4:15)
  • Equipping of the church so the people would do ministry - not do the ministry for the people (Matt. 28:19-20, Eph. 4:11-16 & 2 Timothy 2:2)
A thread through the five principles listed above is that professional or skilled leadership in the church has taken over these areas of faith. The taking over of these five areas have caused saints to need the following;
  • A professional to give a sermon and lead worship in order to enjoy church each week.
  • At least one or at most a few men to tell us what we are to do as a spiritual community.
  • Ordained men (sometimes women) to do the more significant work of the Gospel.
  • Highly trained and/or skilled people to begin new churches and organizations.
  • Professional people to do the baptizing, administering communion, conducting church services, sanctioning marriages and officiating at funerals.
This dependence upon skilled leadership in the church has contributed to her becoming weak, tired, irritable and pale. Most people sitting in the pews of churches across the world do not feel empowered, able or competent to do many of things that were commonly done by all believers in the first century as I pointed out at the top of this article.
So what should we do? To begin with, we should NOT beat ourselves up over this. It is correctable. We still have the same Godhead to call upon for help in addressing these problems. The one thing we shouldn't do is to keep on doing the same thing. But change is hard and as human beings we are typically lazy. If someone else will do "it" for us, we typically will let them do so. This is what has happened in our churches today.
Here a few suggestions from my brain to yours on how to see the priesthood of all believers become a reality in your community.
  • Come to grips with the truth that for most folks, this transition to feeling competent will take a lot longer than you anticipate. That may sound like bad news to you but I believe it is true and therefore will end up being comforting because it will match your experience.
  • There will be no transformation to a more Biblical way of spiritual engagement apart from a work of God in the lives of people who love Jesus. In other words, it is a supernatural work so increase your conversations with God about the issue.
  • Plan for things to fall apart. My good friend Neil Cole calls this 'planned neglect'. If people are going to do significant things for the Kingdom, they will have to see that there is a need for them to do something and that will only happen as the significant things do not get done.
  • Encourage people with Biblical and practical truth that they are able to do something significant. They may have to find what it is and you may be helpful in causing them to think through what it may be, but they will find it and they will see God work through them.
  • Plant seed ideas in the hearts of people and then get out of the way and let them run with the idea the way they want to. If they come and ask for direction, certainly help guide them. Offer positive input along the way so they will know they are on the right track.
  • Know ahead of time that some will hate this idea and move on to another spiritual community. This will happen and it will hurt but it must happen.
  • Remind, remind, remind, remind, remind and remind people of the truths found throughout the Scriptures that they can do significant things for the Lord. Paul often reminds people of things throughout his letters. We would do well to follow His example. Here is just one Scripture that speaks to this whole issue:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor. 3:6
The Spirit gives life and the Spirit, He is the one who makes us competent. So move out in the competence that Christ has given you. I am surprised way too often with people coming up to me after a spiritual gathering to tell me that they knew God was prompting them to do something or say something and they hesitated. I constantly encourage people to err on the side of moving out but usually people take the safe way out and err on the side of silence. We can't learn about following the promptings of God if are usually silent when we sense them.
If you have a thought about these ideas, feel free to comment on them for all to read.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Did We Get Here?

Driving up to the building brought excitement to Aaron and Ellen. They had been looking for a church family to belong to for several months. They had visited many churches in their area from mega churches to churches with many seats and few people. In each and every experience, they felt like outsiders as they sat among brothers and sisters. Here they were again, pulling up to a building hoping that this experience would be different. They had been told about this church by some friends and it all sounded wonderful, but so did the last six churches they tried.

As they walked in the door Ellen noticed that the decorations were done very tastefully and Aaron noticed that there was some free coffee and snacks. They were greeted by another couple who introduced themselves and they exchanged pleasantries. As Aaron and Ellen stacked their plates with finger foods, they faded into a corner and watched. They overheard several conversations of friends who were catching up on their week, how prayers were being answered, how their jobs were going and how their favorite reality show was going down. The people in this church seemed nice enough, but just like other churches they had attended, they felt left out and that others were more interested in their old friends than making new friends. As they sensed the others moving to a more formal setting they hoped that the music, energy and teaching would fill the longing in their hearts.

Everyone was welcomed and the singing began, the worship flowed, ministry to one another took place through the music and some personal interaction. Someone shared a section of Scripture, another said a prayer and more singing was enjoyed. As the time of worship softly ended a transition took place to a time of learning from the Bible. As church ended and people began heading for their cars there were a couple of hugs given to Ellen and Aaron from a lady who encouraged them to come back next week.

During their drive home Ellen asked Aaron if he sensed the Lord drawing them to this community of believers and also how he enjoyed the whole experience. Aaron said, “You know, I really was hoping that this House Church experience would have been much different than it was. For me, it was little more than church gone miniature. I think the Lord had much more in mind for His church.”

I hope you were surprised to learn that this fictitious couples experience took place at a house church. “How did we (the church) get to such a place” has been a question raging in my own mind and heart lately. I think most people would agree that during Jesus’ three and a half years on earth, that he had one continuous church experience with His disciples. If you agree, notice that almost none of what happens in churches today took place with Jesus and His disciples.

Large highly organized ‘services’ were unknown to Jesus and His followers. Focusing on how people feel and how comfortable they are was not on their radar. Large crowds are a marker of a successful church these days but Jesus often left large crowds to talk with His disciples privately and moved out to take new ground (Mark 1:29-38). Passive crowds of people waiting to be fed spiritually processed food did happen in Jesus’ ministry, but He never seemed to organize them or make them His main ministry. His message was always one of pushing people out to take His good news to others...even when He was working with brand new believers (Mark 4, John 4, John 9, Matt. 4:19, Acts 1:8).

When I look at how the church in the Book of Acts and throughout the Epistles interacted and were encouraged to conduct themselves, I begin to ask how did we, the church, indeed get to where we are today; one hour passive services, programs, slick marketing and consumer driven ministry? I also wonder how organic or house churches can look so familiar to the one in my story at the beginning of this blog? I’ll interact with those questions next time, but I’m curious, what do you think?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Some Key Concepts of Church (as I see it :-)

Ideas associated with the word "Church" are varied to say the least. It can range from very informal and small to very ornate and large. For some, church equals boring and a waste of time while for others it means encouragement and a large focus of their life. Some see church as an option and for others it is mandatory. A large chunk of people need a holy person and a holy building to have church while others need neither. On and on the contrasts and ideas could go. 

I'm attempting to put down some of the key concepts of church as I see them (this is not meant to be exhaustive or complete). I want to write these down so the world will know my thoughts about church, so our network of organic churches will have something to point to and also for those who may sense something is amiss with their concept of church and want to explore other options. So here are some of my key concepts of church:

1. Jesus is the head of the church, He is the only Senior Pastor there is!
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18
I think those verses are pretty clear on their own :-)

2. The church should be multiplying communicators not listeners.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1:8

And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles...Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Acts 8:1-4

Every believer in the church is to be on mission to share their story of what Jesus has done in their life and also tell the truth of His good news. Every believer is able to communicate what Jesus has done for them. As more and more believers become involved in sharing their stories with the world, the larger and larger the amount of communicators become. Eventually, everyone will hear the truth about Jesus when this happens. However, if we focus more on attracting listeners to the professionals and polished people of the church we will miss out on getting the masses into the nooks and crannies of the world where most of the people are. 

Let's be honest, if church leadership continues to do the work of spreading the good news through listener oriented venues, the believers have no reason to get involved beyond inviting. I think I can hear Jesus saying, "That's not what I had in mind. Read Acts 8:1-4 again." :-)

3. Discipleship is job #1.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." Matthew 28:19

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also...Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:2 & 22 (emphasis mine)

No one is commanded to plant or build churches but every believer is called and commanded by Jesus Christ Himself to make disciples as we go through life. This is a most important job of every believer. Think with me for a moment - what if every believer actually obeyed Jesus on this and they were making disciples, that is, fully sacrificial followers of Jesus? How strong would the church be? If more were focused on helping people to live like Jesus did (making disciples) there would be less focus on what we dislike about church and more dependence upon Christ!

4. The church should be smaller rather than larger.

No one verse can capture this concept but I think Jesus' life gave us this example. Jesus often times shied away from crowds but loved being with smaller groups of people. He spent more time with Peter, James and John than any of the other Apostles. He spend more time with 12 than he did with the crowds. Jesus spent a good chunk of time with the 70 as He sent them out and He spent the least amount of time with the multitudes. Jesus knew the value of remaining small so closeness, accountability, a family feel and I think, with a smaller group, there is a greater ability to spread out and multiply. 

5. Church is more like a family than a school.

Most leaders I talk to see their church as a family and not as a school. However, the reality after discussing the life of their church is that most churches do function more like a school than a family. Many are so concerned with services, programs, right nuances of doctrine and protection from error that churches in many cases becomes more school and information orientated than family. 

The New Testament is full of organic and familial metaphors to describe the church. Families have fun together, play games together, eat together, cry together and at times are even bored together. They fight, solve problems and support each other.
Look at the verse below to get a taste of the family Paul had in Church in Corinth.

Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. 2 Cor. 7:2-4

Here we see a taste of a family with problems, challenges and hardships yet Paul states that he is willing to die together and to live together with them. He is confident in them. This comes from a familial way of thinking about church instead of a more instructional way. For too many folks, when problems arise in church they skip on down the street to the next church - avoiding conflict and the opportunity to become closer - to become family.

6. The church is to be equipping people so they are empowered for ministry.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

I suggest you also read 1 Corinthians 14 for a good taste of how equipped people are encouraged to live out church together.

7. Leadership in the church is flat and non-hierarcichal.

And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just asthe Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:21, 24-28 (see the full context HERE)

Here we see the fleshly desire to be in control, or at least to be recognized as very important, raise its head. When the other ten Apostles got wind of the James and John's request, they became quite angry. Jesus called them all together for a family pow-wow. Jesus laid the law down that in His church, there was to be no one who acted like the Jewish priests and government officials did by being the ones in charge and in control. Instead, they were to be just like (if not lower than) everyone else. This doesn't mean that there are not gifts of leadership nor elders and deacons, there are those gifts and functions but they are not to be the ones in control. In my opinion, leaders guide the body in the direction of health. One way to ensure health and balance is for everyone to be in right connection with the Head of the Church, Jesus and to listen to Him for themselves.

8. Church is to be more interactive than passive.

For many, church is something you attend but I believe it is something you are part of and more who you are. To quote Reggie McNeal, "Church is not a what but a who". Today many simply go to a meeting (large or small) and sit and allow others to minister to them or for them. Rarely are people invited to get involved beyond singing. This is not the example we see in the Bible.

In the passage below, the words used to describe Paul's talking to this community late into the night is the word where we get our English word for dialogue. This long meeting in an upstairs room was highly interactive.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. Acts 20:7-9

It would be good to take a look at 1 Cor. 14 and especially verse 26 to get a glimpse into how Paul was instructing the church at Corinth to practice their faith when they got together. One should also study each of the 27 or so 'one another' passages of the Bible which indicates a high level of interaction. 

9. DNA at every level.

If you are unfamiliar with the DNA concept, please click HERE for a more detailed discussion.

So there you have a few of my key concepts of church. If you have any comments, please shoot them to me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Process of Transformation Part 3 - A Fresh Definition of Repentence

Transformation: change in form, appearance, nature, or character.
By definition, transformation requires change. A caterpillar changes into a butterfly or moth, a tadpole changes into a frog and so on. Change requires that something stops being one thing (a tadpole) or going in one direction (towards being a thief) and becomes another thing (a frog) or goes in another direction (becomes honest). When one changes direction, one repents. Here is one definition of repentance:
Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged.
For many people, repentance is a bad word, something to be avoided. The truth is, repentance is something we do all the time. When we make a wrong turn and correct that turn, we repent. When we make a statement that we didn't come out right and we correct it, we repent. When we move from smoking cigarettes to not smoking cigarettes, we repent. Repentance is actually a very good word and a very healthy thing to do. Of course for Christians, we think of repentance as agreeing with God that we are or were going in a wrong direction (away from God's ways) and we choose to turn and go in a direction that He knows is best. Repentance is necessary for transformation to occur. Often when one thinks of repentance it is thought of in the negative. We think I must repent and stop doing something bad or harmful and start doing something else. We put the emphasis on the negative and I think this is giving repentance a bad rap. What if we changed it? What if we started of thinking about repentance as running into the wide open loving arms of Jesus. What if when thinking of repentance we focused on the positive aspects of running to Jesus instead of thinking about guilt for our actions or how hard it is to turn from sinful but fun or selfish things in our lives? If we thought in the positive regarding repentance, would more people actually run to Jesus? I don't know but I'm beginning to train myself to think this way and to communicate it this way. Repentance certainly must include a turning away from certain things (sin) but it also includes a turning to Jesus and His life giving ways. Jesus wipes the slate clean, He delivers us from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, where we have become new creatures - the old is passed away and the new has come! If we start seeing repentance as a positive thing that causes us to run into the arms of Jesus, improves our relationship with Him, others and therefore our lives in general, I actually do think more people would enter the transformation process and gleefully repent. What do you think?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Process of Transformation Part 2

Transformation: change in form, appearance, nature, or character.
Transformation is always supernatural. No one can be transformed to be more and more like Jesus apart from a move by the Spirit of God in a persons life. The Scriptures teach us in Philippians 2:13 that God is always working in us giving us the desire to obey Him and the power to follow through. This teaches me that God is always willing to walk with a person or family or church down the road of transformation - He is always working in us. God also offers to us the desire to obey Him and also the ability to follow through. So why then, one may ask, is transformation seemingly difficult for many people? Mark 4 does give us some glimpses into the answer of transformation. In this section of Scripture, Jesus teaches His followers that their lives may be like one of four soils that He describes. The quality of the soil determines if there will be a healthy or unhealthy crop to be harvested. The type of crop depends upon the seed and that is where Jesus begins, by talking about the seed. Mark 4:13-14 teaches us that for there to be a healthy harvest, there must be the right seed put into soil. The seed, Jesus teaches us is the Word of God (Mark 4:14). There is no other seed sown into the soil of ones soul that will reproduce a healthy spiritual crop. So for there to be any real transformation, we must drink in the Word of God, which is the seed that will produce a harvest of holiness in our lives. The next important aspect of transformation is the soil itself. Mark 4:28 teach us that the soil produces crops all by itself. The right seed in good soil will produce a harvest. But soil must often be cultivated before it becomes nutritious soil capable of reproducing strong crops. When the soil is full of rocks, thorns, weeds or if it is shallow, it will not be able to sustain a hearty crop even with good seed planted in it. Part of God's 'always working in us' includes cultivating the soil of our souls to be the good soil and therefore reproductive. I think this is where many stray from the transformation process. They like the idea of transformation. They are glad to see others lives be transformed. But when God begins his cultivating of their lives to prepare the soil for the good seed (the Word of God), there often a backing up and away from the process. For cultivation to happen, violence must be done to the soil. It must be poked with a shovel deeply and then ripped out and turned over. It is often raked and has rocks unearthed and removed which disturbs the soil. All of this is quite uncomfortable. When God cultivates our lives it is painful and yet vital. We have to apply ourselves to cooperate with the Spirit of God as he prepares us to receive and reproduce. Transformation is always a work of God that does require the hard work of cooperation. Just this past week I was talking to a person who admitted they knew God was working in them and asking them to move forward in their faith which was not comfortable for this friend of mine. This person knew what God was asking but refused to cooperate. The result is that their soil remains weed infested and shallow. No amount of good seed sown upon this soil will produce lasting transformation. An effort must be put forward, but the effort is mostly, if not entirely, in the will of the individual. In Hebrews 12, we find a summary of the story of Esau. Esau sold his right to his fathers inheritance for a bowl of lentils to his brother Jacob. Of course Esau regretted his decision once his hunger pains left him, but it was too late. Listen to what Hebrews 12:17 tells us about Esau; "For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." Esau regretted what he did and wanted to repent. He even cried over what he had lost but according to this verse, he never choose to repent. He never choose to admit that he only thought of himself and his comfort. He was not willing to do the hard work of repentance; of agreeing with God that he was wrong. Ultimately, transformation is a cooperation with God. This requires a choice of the will to submit and allow God to lead however He wants. Once we cooperate with God, then God does all the work. Most people may not be experiencing transformation because they need to freshly submit to God - to surrender to Him so that He can cultivate the soil of our souls to make them rich and reproductive soil. Will you allow God to transform you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Process of Transformation

Transformation: change in form, appearance, nature, or character.
Most people like the idea of transformation. We like to see our bodies morph from flabby to fit or our houses from clean to dirty or our lives from lazy to disciplined. What we don't like is the effort and work it takes to become transformed. When we think of spiritual transformation most people that I know would prefer for God to snap His fingers so the process is begun and completed in the same instance. While this does happen at times, the normal growth in spiritual transformation is a process that takes God's intervention along with our work and effort and this is where the challenge occurs for many. But let's back up for a minute. TRANSFORMATION IS A PROCESS Transformation is a process that often begins with a question. We can see this initial stage of transforming in people like Zaccheus (Luke 19:1ff). Zaccheus climbed up into a tree because he had a question. He wanted to know who Jesus was. Nicodemus was another person with a question, he wanted to know how one could be born again (John 3). The rich young rulers chance at transformation began when asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16-25). Moses began to be transformed when he questioned how a bush could be burning with out being consumed by the fire (Exodus 3:1ff). Saul's life began to be transformed when he inquired who it was that caused him to be blinded (Acts 9:1ff). SEEDS OF TRUTH FOR TRANSFORMATION In each of the above examples, the question(s) is answered with a seed of truth. In the case of Zaccheus, he learned that Jesus was the giver of salvation. For Nicodemus he found that being born again is an act of God in the soul of a person. In the case of the rich young ruler he found out that eternal life is gained by dying to yourself and in his case that meant giving up his riches. For Moses the seed of truth was to obey the things God was calling him to do. For Saul the truth was to submit himself to Jesus, whom he was persecuting, and for him to receive the Holy Spirit. In every case of transformation, there must be a seed of truth planted in the life of a person. Mark 4:14 teaches us that the seed is the Word of God. There is no spiritual transformation apart from the truth of the God being planted in our lives. THE COST OF TRANSFORMATION In each of the above illustrations there was a cost for transformation to take place. This is where somethings can become sticky. The cost of transformation is often severe and there are a good number of people who are not willing to pay the price. They would prefer to take the 'blue pill' and 'wake up believing what ever they want' to quote Morpheus in The Matrix. For the rest, transformation occurs when we take the 'red pill' and see just how far the rabbit hole goes. That is a costly proposition that Jesus invites us to. For Zaccheus, it cost him most of his fortune, for Nicodemus, most of his reputation over time. For the rich young ruler, it simply cost too much and we never learn of him entering into the process of having a transformed life. For Moses it cost him his career (shepherd), and forty years of hardship in the wilderness. In the life of Saul/Paul, it cost him his prestige as a Pharisee a life that was often abused and misunderstood (2 Cor. 11:21-33). As we look back on the life of these people today, we certainly agree that their transformation was well worth whatever it cost them. As we look at the lives of our friends who have been through much and transformed much, we would also heartily agree that it is always worth the struggle. This brings me to a vital question; Why then do not many more who want to be transformed by Jesus see it happen in their lives? I'll give you my thoughts next time. What do you think?

Friday, October 09, 2009

An Early Breakfast in Atlanta

I got up early this morning to have breakfast with two friends. One friend I met a year ago, the other I was meeting for the first time. Both of these friends are believers and both love Jesus very much. You can feel their desire to know Jesus. You can also feel their struggle to follow Jesus with deep passion. They are both committed to church attendance and worship. They both want Jesus to transform them but they are also honest to state that life is just too busy and the responsibilities too large. One of my friends stated that "...going to church on Sunday caused them to feel absolved..." from the previous weeks busyness and infused them with just enough spiritual juice to keep them going for another week of getting their batteries drained.
I challenged them to begin a L.T.G., to read the Scriptures deeply (20 -30 chapters a week), to talk about life it's difficulties and sins they succumb to along with praying for individuals and families to come to Jesus. After 30 minutes of discussion, questions about what I was challenging them to do and some hesitation, we parted ways with hugs.
Both of these friends stated that they needed and wanted to be 'abiding in Christ'. They both wanted to let the life of Jesus flow through them and onto others. They both knew it was a struggle to make the time to pray, read, meditate and soak in the Word of God and in the presence of Jesus. They wanted it, but life screams for more of them and Jesus simply invites them to follow Him. Screaming demands for time often wins out over the loving invitation of the one who purchased us for Himself.
How can we gain a heart that is desperate for Jesus? How can the Word of God become alive to us when it feels like a text book? What does it take for our spiritual hunger to grow to the point of driving us to God for more? How can I help my friends cross the line between the screaming of life and the invitation of Jesus. When will Jesus be enough for me, and for them?
I want to say thank-you to the folks at VLC for allowing me and providing for me to be in Atlanta this weekend. Because of their support for me, we (I and VLC) are able to affect the friends above and a whole bunch of other saints here in the Atlanta area for the Kingdom expansion of God. I'll try and post more later on what takes place here in Atlanta this weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Walk Like An Egyptian, er, I mean Christian

Do you remember the song "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles? To walk like an Egyptian you had to...
Slide your feet up the street bend your back
Shift your arm then you pull it back
Life is hard you know (oh whey oh)
So strike a pose on a cadillac
We usually know how to walk like an Egyptian, walk like a monkey or walk Frankenstein but what does it mean to walk like a Christian? In many passages in the New Testament, we are urged to walk like a Christian (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 1 John 2:6). But just what does walking like a Christian look like? Is it merely reading the Bible, praying and going to church meetings? It will include those things, but walking like a Christian is so much more than that.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul instructs us to walk or live out our lives in ways that honor Jesus because we love Him. Here are the five areas that He lays out in which we should live out our lives in ways that reflect Jesus so that we will 'Walk Like a Christian".

Ephesians 4:1 Walk in integrity

Integrity has been defined as who you are when no one is watching. This is the point that Paul seems to be getting at here in Ephesians 4:1ff. Far too many Christians walk or live a lifestyle of hypocrisy instead of integrity. In this passage, integrity includes humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance love, diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Every Christ follower should be living/walking out their lives with such integrity.

Ephesians 4:17 Walk distinctly

The way we live/walk should look differently than the world lives/walk. As you read Ephesians 4:17ff, you'll begin to see that Christians have been renewed and now have a new life and new, brighter morales, that should stand out from those who are not Christians. Our walk should be full of being others centered, love, service and hope.

Ephesians 5:2 Walk in Love

Here we find a central element to the Christian walk, namely, love. We should be selfless, sacrificial and sold out to be exhausted for the cause of Christ as we love others. Jesus set the example of great love for us (Phil 2:1-18) when He gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2).

Ephesians 5:8 Walk in Light

When we walk in the light or ways that are pleasing and represent Jesus, darkness will be extinguished. We are told in Ephesians 5:8ff to not participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead, expose them. This is exactly what light does, it gets rid of darkness and exposes those things that soil our souls. Walking in light brings greater joy and safety to the world we live in.

Ephesians 5:15 Walk as Wise People

It is very easy to walk in unwise manners which simply means doing the things that we want to do instead of those things we know are from God. Paul teaches us to 'be careful how you walk', there are many traps that would have us fall into their pits if we would walk in our own wisdom. Ephesians 5:15-21 give us some fantastic guidelines to consider as part of walking as Wise People.

So there you have it, five guidelines to be lived out as we Walk Like a Christian!

What do you think? I'd love to interact with your comments or questions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ten (I added one) Lessons on Loving People in Your Church

It is a grand privilege to love people and together learn to become more and more like Jesus. Loving people isn't always easy. In fact, loving people can be one of the most dangerous things to do - we get hurt so often when we love well. But loving people is what Jesus commands us to do and we are to be teaching each other to obey everything Jesus commanded us (Matt. 28:20).
Below you'll find Nine Lessons that I've been learning from the Apostle Paul on what loving people looks like. I hope they are helpful to as well in your continual discipling of people in your life.
1. Give thanks to God for the people with whom you are called to live out your faith (your church). In 1 Thess. 1:2, Paul says he always gave thanks for these believers. Pray to God with thanksgiving for individuals and groups of people will allow you to see them in positive ways and be endeared to their souls.
2. Remember the good things about the people God puts around you. It is easy to remember the bad things people do! 1 Thess. 1:3 teaches us that Paul focused on their work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. We too often default to remembering the less than stellar things about people instead of the good things.
3. Verbally recognize the good that people do. 1 Thess. 1:5-10 sets the example of bragging about the good that people do in a public forum (that could be a group of 2 or 20,000 or more). Paul brags at how well the Thessalonian church was at sharing Jesus everywhere they went.
4. Love people as a nursing mother tends to her own children (1 Thess. 2:7). Recently I visited a new born and her mother in the hospital. The tenderness of the mom as she loved the child and brought the child to her breast to nurse her was amazing. This tender love should be a hallmark in our relationship to one another.
5. Sacrificial love is certainly needed as we engage each other to live more and more like Jesus calls us to live. 1 Thess. 3:8 tells us that Paul was so fond of the believers in Thessalonia, that He imparted not only the Gospel of Jesus, but also his own life because he had fallen in love with these folks. How can you and I give our own lives to those whom God has called us to come alongside and do church?
6. Be willing to exhaust yourself for the benefit of others (1 Thess. 2:9-10). Here we learn that Paul labored, endured hardship, worked night and day, proclaimed the gospel, and behaved devoutly, uprightly and blamelessly towards all of the believers.
7. Father people in the faith (1 Thess. 2:11-12). Paul exhorted, encouraged and implored each person just as a father would his own children. For that to happen, one must take seriously the role of disciple making. 1 Thess 2:12 says that one of the goals of loving people is so that they would live out their faith in a way that is worthy of the love of God for us.
8. Loving people includes checking up on them to see if they are doing alright (1 Thess. 3:1-10). Paul sent Timothy to find out an update on these believers in Thessalonica while he was away from them. Paul knew that hard times would come in their lives (1 Thess. 3:5) and he wanted to see if they remained focused on Jesus.
9. Encourages them to keep moving forward in their faith (1 Thess. 4:1-12). Paul instructs these people who are dear to him to not become complacent but to continue to strive and 'excel still more' in their love and obedience to Jesus (1 Thess. 4:1 & 10).
(Additional Lesson)
10. Affirm leaders for their hard work (1 Thess. 5:12-13) and guide people to stay strong in their living for Jesus (1 Thess. 5:14-15). Both require your observing their actions and engaging them where they are. This is not easy, but it is loving, helpful and will draw the body to become healthful.
What would happen if every believer actually followed Paul's example of loving each other like this in your church?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I've Been Asked This Question Alot Lately

This past week I've had lunch and coffee with several church leaders from around the Phoenix area. I've also been in conversation with many of the organic church leaders in our network of churches. It appears that God is putting the idea of reaching people for Jesus on the heart of His Bride here in Phoenix and beyond. I just got off the phone with a young organic leader in Minnesota who asked me about the same topic. The question goes something like this; "I am encouraged by the Spirit to be with people who are not yet believers but I don't have any friends like that. I'm so busy with life and church things, that I'm not with people who don't go to church. How can I change this?" There is no right 'method' to tell these friends how to proceed, but there are some strong principles that need to be applied. It is my opinion that the question above is one of the most pressing questions on the church today and once that question is address in a broad scale way, the Bride of Jesus will begin to see more and more people streaming into the Kingdom. "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." 2 Cor. 5:14-15 We must begin with having/allowing the love of Christ to control us. If the love for anything else controls us, we will not be very concerned with others getting to know Jesus. When the love of Christ controls us, we then are able to no longer live for ourselves and our desires but we will begin to live for Jesus' desires which is certainly seeing people come into His Kingdom. "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as thought God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:20 We should be clearing time in our lives to be able to hang out with folks and make new friends. We are to take seriously our appointment as an Ambassador of the Kingdom of God on earth. Earth is not our home. We belong to the Eternal King Jesus Christ and to His Kingdom. As long as we do reside on Earth, we are to be Ambassadors of Jesus. As Ambassadors, part of our job is to spend time with those who are unfamiliar with the Kingdom of Jesus and tell them about the wonderful things of that Kingdom and invite them to also become part it too. These two principles must take place if we are to become friends with people not yet in the Kingdom of God. We must allow the love of Christ to control us and we must take seriously the role of Ambassador that has been given to us by King Jesus Himself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Does This Bother You?

The USA today is made up of Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and INDIVIDUALISM. I was talking to my friend, Jim Hocking who heads the ministry ICDI earlier in the week. ICDI's ministry is to drill wells in Africa for water in locations where people do not have access to clean water (BTW - it is a great ministry to invest a few dollars regularly!). Jim told me that when he brings his African friends here to the USA one of their questions is why do Americans drive cars alone! They cannot imagine why people would not be sharing rides, going out of their way to drop off friends or want to spend time with others while driving.
This individualism spills out of materialism and into our faith. We like to choose when we want to be the church (or go to a church to get together), how deeply we want to be involved or which areas of the Bible we want to obey. This individualism begins to creep into how we live. When it does unhealth is sure to follow.
There are many passages in the New Testament that urge us to live in a way that honors our relationship with Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is like many others in the New Testament epistles (letters), "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God...that you excel still more." How we live or walk out our faith is important to Jesus.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 Paul writes these words, "...for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord." Somehow Paul's faith and life was impacted positively when those he loved followed Jesus on Jesus' terms and not their own convenient terms. Is it possible to stand firm in the Lord and live with another person intimately before you are married? Is drinking too much alcohol a way to show that you are standing firm in the Lord? Can we stand firm in the Lord and spend our money all on ourselves and not be generous and follow the heart of God with our resources? When we don't take the time to spend with Jesus in His Word, worship and prayer does that equal standing firm in Jesus?
It is NOT rare today for people who claim to love Jesus and follow Him with their lives to live together before marriage. It is NOT rare today for believers to justify the grace given to them to drink more alcohol than they ought. It is NOT rare today for those who go to church services weekly to buy the latest gadget, car or clothing and yet don't seriously consider what it means to be generous with the resources God has blessed them with. It is NOT rare for people agree with messages about living for Jesus on Sunday morning and yet do not pick up their Bibles to read, study and apply its' truths on a regular basis. These truths bother me. Do they bother you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Harvest Report

If you have read my blogs for very long, you must know I am very interested in seeing people come into relationship with Jesus. It is my passion to help believers to understand that they are 100% successful, 100% of the time that they choose to share Jesus with people. In my opinion, the lack of a strong harvest in the West is due, in part, to a lack of seed sowing on the part of believers. We know the Scriptures teach us that in order to experience an abundant harvest, we must begin with abundant sowing (2 Cor. 9:6, Mark 4:1-20).
This past week, I have heard several stories of folks coming to Jesus. In Southern California, a church who has cobwebs in their baptismal (from a lack of use) is going to baptize 5 new believers this next week. That is because a few in that congregation has chosen to sow the seed of truth (Mark 4:14) into the lives of many. A house church leader recently met a friend through a mutual friend who wanted to talk about his failing marriage. Through a series of conversations (some at very inconvenient times), the man with the marriage problem repented, came to Christ and is now praying and preparing for his wife and children to come to Jesus. A large baptism is about to happen for those folks as well. I also heard a story by a friend who used to be a boy scout troop leader who reconnected with an old boy scout that was in his troop through Facebook. After some long conversations about life and the challenges the younger man had in his marriage, Jesus came into the conversation. During that conversation on the phone, the man received Jesus in his life. In a Facebook entry right after this event, the man wrote, "
"Today I asked for God to come into my life, surprisingly I feel that a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I asked him to help with my families current situation, and some personal problems that I'm struggling with being away from my family and all. I can't explain how much better I feel."
I also heard from an Indian friend of mine who lives in New Delhi. He told me that while he was on vacation he and his family invited about 35 family members over for a meal, conversation and to talk about Jesus. At least one family of those who attended the get together were Hindu. After a good meal, conversation and a message from the Bible, seven people raised their hand indicating they wanted to receive Jesus as their savior. One of the Hindu women were included in this group of seven!
All of these stories are results of many people planting the seeds of truth into the lives of people in desperate need of Jesus. There must be an abundant sowing before we can enjoy an abundant harvest. So let me encourage you today to be casting many seeds of the Gospel of Jesus into the lives of people all around you. Ask Jesus to guide you in how and to whom He would have you share. Watch and see the growth of these seeds. They will grow, not because of you, but because of Jesus (1 Cor. 3:6).
Just a few minute ago, while I was ordering some lunch at a local hangout, a young waitress whom I have been praying for came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me, "How can I pray for you today." That is a question that I have been asking her. Soon, this young woman will be in the Kingdom of God...that is my prayer today.
Take courage because Jesus goes with us wherever we go! Get out there and cast some seeds!
If you have a HARVEST report, post a quick snippet of what is happening in your neck of God's world!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Holy Discontent

Several years ago, Wendy's fast food chain created a one of the most memorable marketing slogans ever when the elderly lady looked at her hamburger and sharply stated, "Where's the beef?" When one orders a burger with large hamburger buns, an equal sized hamburger patty should accompany it. When it doesn't, we know something is wrong. Wendy's supplied what was missing and put big burgers on big buns and the company saw a growth spurt in sales.
Today, many churches offer relevant preaching, theatre seating, hot worship bands and fast paced video clips to send our adrenal glands into overdrive. All of this is like a big bun with a small hamburger patty and causes many to say, "Where's the beef?" Or maybe better, "Where's Jesus?". To quote Len Sweet, the church has a strong case of JDD, Jesus Deficit Disorder! We need Jesus to be the central and only focus in our churches. Without Jesus, there is no church from a Biblical perspective. When there is JDD, we know something is wrong.
I currently have what I am calling a Holy Discontent in my soul because of this Jesus Deficit Disorder. I want the bride of Jesus (every believer) to be strong, healthy and reproductive. I desire for every believer to be in a strong and growing obedient relationship with Jesus, doing things His way, not their own way. I desire to see believers be sacrificial with their faith, with their stuff and with their hearts to all people. I desire for those who claim to be Christ followers to have an urgency to be reaching out to those not yet following Christ. This is the example that Jesus gave us to follow.
Jesus said "Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). We are not to follow pastors or denominations or our own whims, we are to be following Jesus and His teachings and His Word. This requires us to be personally responsible for our faith and not push that responsibility off to a pastor or other spiritual leader. As we do this, we grow and deepen in our relationship with Jesus, we can each hear His voice and follow His lead and that will lead us to be strong, healthy and reproductive.
When Jesus walked this earth, He had an urgency about Him and His purpose to get His good news out to everyone. You can see it in his response to Zaccheus climbing a tree to get a look at Jesus. Jesus saw him in that tree and said, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5). Jesus had an urgency about Him here. He wanted Zaccheus to 'hurry and come down'. Jesus said that He "must stay" at Zaccheus' house that very day. Jesus was full of urgency to share life with people. Today, I see people with more of an urgency to take from the church than to share Jesus with others. This has left me with a Holy Discontent.
Christ who is our Life!
Living a Jesus filled urgent life by believers cannot happen by simply mustering up enough faith or committment to imitate Christ's urgency or passion. This never works. We must understand and rely upon Christ's indwelling Presence in our beings (John 15). We cannot do things for Christ by simply imitating His ways, we should allow Christ to flow and move through us, that is were the real life is! I am learning to stop pushing people to imitate Jesus and instead pointing them to lean into the breast of Jesus who indwells them and listen to His voice. Once one hears from Him they should choose to obey Him and let the indwelling Spirit guide them by His power. That will bring a Holy Contentment I think.
What do you think?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Seduction From Words (Rough thoughts from a Passionate Soul)

Seduction is the act of enticing someone astray from right actions or belief.
There has been a shift taking place over the past several years in Christian circles. There has been a reduction of intentional verbiage about the message of Jesus and in exchange there has been a strong encouragement and increase in thoughts given to deeds of righteousness like serving the poor and mending the less fortunates fences. We are told by many that we must earn the right to be heard* before we give out the Gospel. Many today simply believe that they never get to the place where they have earned the ability to tell the story of Jesus or how Jesus has swept them off of their feet. They keep serving and praying but often not speaking.
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus was very clear that his followers should be out casting lots of seed (the Word of God) indiscriminately. Jesus also teaches us that He will give us the best and most effective words at the exact time we need them when we choose to share the news about Jesus with not-yet-believers (Matt. 10:16-20; Mark 13:9-11; Luke 21:12-15). Paul teaches us that people cannot believe in Jesus without hearing about Him and to hear about Him there needs to be a proclaimer (Romans 10:14). Paul even prays that He will be given the words and boldness needed in his sharing of the good news (Ephesians 6:18-20). I've often wondered how many conversations Paul may have had where people called him crazy for wanting to share about a man who is also God and was mistreated, falsely accused, crucified, died, buried and rose again from the grave three days later.
Jesus taught us to love one another and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). John records Jesus teaching us that the world will know that we are His disciples if we love and care for one another (John 13:35). The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) certainly teaches that when we see a need we should step up and meet it instead of turning our heads away from challenging situations.
The seductive piece of my thoughts comes in watching how many in the church have for the most part, laid aside the speaking of the truth of Jesus for living the truth in the name of social justice and other good deed ideas. I really like social justice thinking and doing but somehow the church has largely been seduced to believing that our words are no longer effective. I do believe that we have much to learn about living out our faith instead of just being bloated with words about eternal life, abundant life, heaven and Jesus (hell is not mentioned much in today's Church). We really do need to have our deeds match our beliefs and our words, but does this need to be done in the absence or diminishing of words? Could it be that somehow we have been seduced into being quiet because it is more PC (politically correct)? The Scriptures are clear, without a proclaimer of this good news, people will not get saved.
There does need to be a synthesizing of words and deeds - a living out the words that we speak and the Word that we believe (1 John 3:18). Without the truth in our hearts, we cannot be set free. Without the planting of seeds (The Word of God according to Mark 4:14), we cannot have a harvest of souls.
So get out there and cast some seeds and love on people a whole bunch. Put action to what you believe and love large.
*You can find this thinking in "The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson page 13