Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ways of a Farmer

I am grateful for farmers!  Farmers who plant in the ground or who raise livestock of various types are heroes to me.  They work very hard, are very skilled and they have been in demand throughout all of history.  We are far removed from farming in the urban and suburban areas of the world today.  Few have ever had to cultivate the land, sow seed or tend to the crops or the herds.  And then there is the business of harvesting.  Whether it is the cutting down of crops or butchering of meat, few have ever experienced these segments that are required in order for us to drive to a store, put food products in our baskets and tote them home for consumption.  Most have no idea of the toil and strain, the patience or trust that goes into the producing of food.

Farmers may have a lot of experience and knowledge of their craft, but they are certainly at the mercy of the elements and surprises of life.  Every farmer needs a deep sense of trust in the ways of God in nature and a full reservoir of patience.  Listen to these words from book of James;

"7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient ; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged ; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful."  James 5:7-11

The persevering trust in God and the development of patience in the experiences of life are qualities that farmers must have if they are to see the fruit of their labor.  Followers of Christ also need these qualities developed in their lives but many (most?) tend to not like the route necessary for trust and patience to be developed.

We are wise to realize that God always has our best in mind.  He is always about developing those who follow Him to be more and more like Him.  Learning to trust God and to have patience in life often takes place in the droughts, bug infestations and the weeds that seasonally occur in our lives.   God most often develops us through these situations in a community of people, a church family.  The transformation from being full of ourselves to being fully others centered (Philippians 2) takes a life time to develop.  A deep trust in this truth, that God always is about our good, needs to be cultivated in the community of Jesus followers.  James 5:7-11 is a passage on a community of people developing patience and trust together over time.  As a modern day American, this passage can easily be understood that individually we must be patient and trust in the process, but I believe we are created for this development to happen in a group of strong spirited friends.

There is a deep connected relationship between the farmer and the land, between the farmer and his herd.  There may be certain sequences that happen in farming that can be predicted with any parcel of land or herd of animals, but the 'knowing' of the farmer and the soil or the herd is vital for the best health and fruitfulness.  And so it is with our development.  We all need to see patience and trust mature in our hearts and God expects this to be done in the close community of believers.
James 5:9 seems to indicate that being together over time will naturally bring issues that can lead to complaining about each other, but we are not to do so.  We are to work through the seasons of relational hardship, not run form them.  To run from them would not allow for patience to develop nor a deeper trust in Jesus to mature us.  As we move forward with faith and patience, we should be reminded of those saints (prophets in this context) who have gone before us and have endured and matured as they waited for the Lord's return.

As we begin 2012, spend some time listening to the voice of God for you and the develop of your patience and trust in God in the context of community.  Fruitfulness, the result of patience and trust, often is missed because of moving on from issues instead of working through issues.  Good farmers wait for the precious produce of the soil being patient, waiting for the early and late rains (James 5:7).  I hope 2012 will bring you a greater sense of trust in God and a development of patience in your life as you pursue Him in the midst of a strong, lively community of fellow strugglers. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thoughts on Worship

Music moves our souls like few experiences can.  The first few bars of Benny and the Jets by Paul McCartney and Wings can whisk me back to times in my high school gym.  Sandi Patti's song, Another Time and Another Place takes me rapidly to Highway 1 along the California coast on a car ride with my wife.  Chris Rice's Untitled Hymn beckons me back to my Grandmother's funeral while many worship songs remind me of sweet times of tears, just me and Jesus. 

When people talk about the power of music in worship, there is much truth.  That is probably why so many people use the style and quality of worship as a high criteria for the church they will choose to worship corporately...but I wonder if this is good thing.  Allow me to share four brief points regarding worship.

Worship is a way of life.
Worship is often coupled with music and for good reason, however, worship is so much more than music.  Worship can take place in a sunset or sunrise, worship can happen in a conversation or while drinking in the beauty of a painting.  Worship often takes place in our minds, all alone, as we think of all the God has done for us.  Worship can take place in the midst of sadness or in the middle of a time of stretching our faith.  Worship can happen in isolation, with a few friends or in the midst of thousands.  We are instructed to worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24).  Everything in our lives should bring glory to God (Col. 3:17).  Worship should be our way of life.
 
Worship is not for you...it is for Jesus.
When we choose to attend or leave a church because of the worship style or quality, we are headed down a slippery slope.  To begin with, we must remember that times of worship are for Jesus.  Times of worship are NOT for you.  I like good music as much as the next guy but if I need a certain kind or quality of music to worship Jesus, then maybe there is something wrong with my perspective.  When we choose or leave churches based mainly upon the worship style/quality, we are doing so based upon 20-30 minutes of a meeting.  I hope church is much more than this to Christians.  If we would choose churches based upon whether a community of saints is or isn't a family, the type/quality of music wouldn't enter into the discussion much of the time.  Always remember, worship is for Jesus, not for your musical tastes. 

Worship will be 'hot' and 'cold'.
Unless you are part of a larger church that has professional or quality musicians each week, you can almost count on weeks that are really inspired and weeks that are definitely flat or off.  But that is only talking about the music itself.  Even with professional or quality musicians, worship can be flat if the spiritual life of the leaders are experiencing a less than stellar week.  We must all learn to worship when things are wonderful in our song times and when things are musically or spiritually challenged.  To expect to be 'inspired' by the music at church each week is a set up for disappointment.  

Worship quality depends much on your heart.
I know that the quality of my worship experience (whether in music or life) is often determined by how much I am living out my faith in robust ways.  When I am flat in my faith, my quality of worship is usually challenged as well.  When I am filled with the Spirit and living out strong stanza's of life for Jesus, my heart is swollen with passion for my King.  This passion will not be curtailed by style or quality or lack of music, it will have to burst out.  My life will overflow with praise and worship for Jesus in everything I do.

Worship is meant for Jesus; to lift up His name, to speak/sing about what He has done, to declare to everyone that we are in love with Him, to spend ourselves in imitating His life.  When we have lives of worship, not just services of worship, the world will experience a depth of love that music can't communicate.   

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Battle and the Victory!

I am constantly aware in my own life just how hard the world, the flesh and the devil drive at eroding my footing in the Lord.  If not my selfish, never ending thirst for recognition, it is greed to want more or feel like I deserve more.  The battle rages and it is to be expected.  Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, "The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict." (NLT).  Always remember that the good news is that there is GRACE!

Jesus has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), this teaches me that He is for us; that He understands the battle that we are in and He will see us through it.  Not only will He see us through it, He will make us stronger, sharper and a warrior that the enemy will fear!  That is what Christ wants to do and be in and through YOU!

In my time with Jesus today, I was lead to read the 118th Psalm.  Here are some of the words that jumped off the page at me and I thought I would share them with you...

"13 You did your best to kill me, O my enemy, but the LORD helped me. 14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my victory. 15 Songs of joy and victory are sung in the camp of the godly. The strong right arm of the LORD has done glorious things! 16 The strong right arm of the LORD is raised in triumph. The strong right arm of the LORD has done glorious things! 17 I will not die, but I will live to tell what the LORD has done. 18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he has not handed me over to death."  (NLT)

Allow me to make a few comments about what I saw in this Psalm for me and for us.
1. There is an enemy and He is active in attempting to distract and destroy those who love Jesus (v. 13).  Do not be lulled into thinking this is not happening in subtle or overt ways in your life.  A passive, fearful, apathetic follower of Jesus is just the type of disciple the enemy would want to develop.
2. The Lord is available to help us (v. 13).  The Psalmist recognized the battle and looked to the Lord for strength, not to himself or leaders (check out Ps. 118:8-9).
3. Worship is crucial in our battle against the enemy to help us be focused on the One who has already provided the victory (v. 14).  Worship your King in strong ways privately and corporately.
4. We should tell and sing of the victory of the Lord in our lives.  Everyone loves stories so tell your stories of God's involvement in your life.  This will serve to bring encouragement, strength, truth and stamina to one another as we are engaged in the battle for our attention (v. 15-16).
5. The life you live should be a living commercial for Jesus (v. 17).  We should live to tell of what the Lord has done!  Don't pass this off as simply being nice, although that is good.  People need to hear the truth from your lips.  The truth is how good God has been to you, what He has done for you and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Of course it will include the truth that God is good, we have sinned and Jesus came to show us how to live and to pay for our sins by dying on the cross, rising again and providing the only way to life with God through being His follower.
6. God is so interested in you being a strong commercial for His grace that He will use your experiences to train you up, provide you with endurance, wisdom, dependence and courage.  All of this is only developed through His 'severe discipline' (v. 18). 

So as you worship this week privately and corporately, sing songs of victory to the Lord, tell stories of His goodness and grace.  Boast at how the Lord has disciplined you to become stronger for HIs cause of salvation for the whole world.  Encourage each other every day so that we will not lose heart (Galatians 6:9) and so we will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).  Lastly, be bold and confident that your friends and co-workers and family NEED to hear of the grace of God in your life.  Be the one who provides the most enticing commercial for Jesus that they have seen and heard. 

Jesus is worth our every ounce of strength and focus.  Live large for our King!

Why not leave a short comment on how the King is moving through your life or disciplining you for His glory - it will serve to encourage others to move forward for Jesus!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Staying Strong When You Aren't

The bad news kept coming.  A friend is battling for his life, a low tire ended up meaning I needed two new tires at the cost of $400.00, my wife was having some health issues that were bothering me, a ministry that I am mentoring is having some relational difficulties and I am really tired from a month of strong travel and ministry.  I was not feeling particularly strong in my faith on Monday.  The last of the bad news came when I had to spend another $50.00 to get my car aligned.  Deb and I were in the alignment companies lobby when I stepped outside to make a phone call that I didn't want to make (my attitude told me I was not strong).  After the call, I stepped back into the lobby to find Debbie and three men talking about Jesus.  What should I do?  Should I put on a fake, 'christian' attitude?  Should I just sit down and ignore their discussion (rude)?  Should I politely listen and nod?  Should I pretend to make another call?

In times like these, we really don't feel strong and probably are not strong in our faith.  For all of us, our faith can take radical turns for better or worse when life goes in unpredictable ways.  These feelings can last for seconds or years.  If we let the curves of life control us, we will be mostly out of sorts much of the time.  Staying strong and consistent in our faith and lives is the best answer, even when things are rough.  A question many will ask at this point is how can we stay strong and focused?

Here are five helpful principles that I apply to my life to help me stay strong when I don't want to be strong;

1. Stay Faithful

Remain faithful when things are smooth so that you'll have plenty of reserves when things get rocky!  This is more of a prevention against the temptation to wallow in bad times.  Staying strongly engaged with Jesus through prayer, the Bible and in community with others is vital.  Jesus told us to 'remain' or 'abide in me' (John 15).  When these basic Biblical disciplines are maintained in ones life, it will serve as an anchor when the seas of life begin to swell.  Many believers choose to 'coast' when things are smooth only to drain them of their strength instead of building up reservoirs of faith that will need to be called upon at some point.

The years of 2009 and 2010 were really awful for my family and I.  My wife went through breast cancer (she has no evidence of disease today!) and our church community went through hell (no other word for it).  These two events happened simultaneously.  The only way I made it through with strength, grace and faith is by accessing the years of strength and provenness that I built up in my life. 

2. Embrace Realities

People who come to Jesus often think that everything (or most things) in their life should go smoothly.  Somehow this false doctrine has crept into the minds of saints especially in the Western church.  Many believe that if they read the Bible enough, pray enough, fast enough and do enough christian things that God is then obligated to takes the bumps out of life.  This is really bad theology.  You cannot come up with one person in the Scriptures whose life went smoothly.  When you add to your life the desire to live fully for God, well, the heat seems to be turned up a notch or more.  Quick cures never resolve deep damage that has been done to our souls.  Life is often laced with confusion, doubt, fear and a variety of struggles.  Believers need to know that God is good even when things are bad or confusing.  God is in control even when life seems to be out of control.  We would do well to embrace the realities that invade our lives and know that the path to life comes through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23).  Dan Allender puts it this way, "The obstacle to life is the conviction that God will damage us and destroy us.  The problem is that the path [to life] does involved His hurting us, but only in order to heal us." (italics are my addition).

Why not begin a journal and jot down a sentence or two a couple of times week.  Write down what you are feeling, and some of the prayers that you are bringing to God.  Be honest and transparent in your writing and you will probably see more and more realities being embraced by your soul.  Know that living spiritually strong lives is costly and will be challenged by your flesh, the world's values and the enemies lies.  The reality is that you are in a war and you are on the front line.  The war is for souls and an allegiance to Jesus.  Expect opposition when you choose to live for the King.

3. Believe the Truth.

For too many people, believing lies and doing little to dismiss them is the norm.  The truth is that people get comfortable beating themselves up, allowing excuses to keep them down and feeling like the whole world is against them.  When this cycle happens, selfishness sets in people begin to live out the lies about themselves that they willingly entertain.  Instead, we should believe the truth that God says about us.  Some of these truths are that He loves us, He created us in His image (and God said it was good), that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, that Jesus will never leave us nor ever forsake us, that Jesus came to gives us life etc.

Jesus has taught us that the truth will set us free.  If you find you are one who dwells on negative things, find a friend and confide this habit and ask them to help you to begin the process of changing your thinking.  Find out together what the truth is that you should believe and dismiss the lies when they creep in.  Ecclesiastes teaches that 'two are better than one'.  Philippians 4:8-9 gives us some good things to dwell upon.

4.  Be Selfless

When people are not feeling strong in their faith, the last thing usually on their mind is being selfless and others centered.  When we are not feeling strong the temptation is often to become self-absorbed in our own world (entertainment, work, sleep, rest, complaining etc.).  Being self-absorbed will only serve to take you down a few more notches in your spiritual vitality.  The Scriptures teach us to treat others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2).  When we aim to be others centered, we find meaning or purpose outside of our selves.  The giving of our self in being others centered actually breathes new life into our spiritual lungs. 

Be bold and start with a small step like a phone call, an e-mail of encouragement, a text or a short cup of coffee with a friend.  Ask God who could use some encouragement and then serve it up!  Ask about how they are doing and reserve your story to when they ask and then be brief.  I know you'll find that Jesus will fill your soul and strengthen your weak knees.

5.  Christ is our Life

I saved the best for last :-)  Over the past couple of years, I have had to make a conscious decision to believe that God is good all of the time.  Life often doesn't make sense.  It is in times like these that I find I must remind myself and be reminded by others about all that Christ has done.  My wonderful wife often reminds me with statements like, "Which of God's provisions have not been adequate?"  In 2 Timothy Paul says that "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).  The next verse says, "Remind them of these things...".  In Colossians 3:4 Paul tells us that Christ is our life, He is our true identity.  Our faith and journey is all because, and all about Jesus.  He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12).  The more intimate and trusting we become with Christ, the more He will become our life. 

Stay faithful, embrace realities, believe the truth, be selfless and allow for Christ to really be your life!  What if every believer engaged life's challenges with these concepts?  How would the world be different?  Christ is our leaning post, the only one who can keep us strong when we don't feel like we are.  Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).  You can be strong through Christ, even when things are really hard.  That is what the world is desperate to see, the strength of God flowing through people and being different enough to make a difference.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you would like to share them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 7 - Transparent Leaders

I walked into the workout room in the hotel I was staying at and found one of the two treadmills available.  I jumped on it and began to jog at a slow pace while watching the news on the TV.  There was a man on the other treadmill who greeted me and identified himself as one of the attendees at the conference I was speaking at.  As we were running, he began a conversation with me about part of my topic from the previous evening.

I had felt sort of flat at the end of the talk that he was referring to so I was very interested in what he had to say.  He began by telling me that he had wanted to come and speak to me after the session ended, but there were too many people milling around where I was and that his comments wouldn’t really be that important anyway.  He said he knew God wanted us to talk once he saw me enter the workout room.  He began with moist eyes and tears were quick to follow.  There was no one else in the workout room and we remained alone until our conversation was finished.

This man was a pastor who was caught in isolation.  He knew something was wrong but couldn’t find his way out.  He had been in isolation for along time.  He was craving to be honest with someone in the church he is part of and to be cared for in his pain...but he found himself alone.  The night before, I had shared some thoughts about leadership and the need for true transparency in our leaders.  Allow me to give you the highlights of what I said.  

As we migrate away from the top down leadership model that has been copied from the world, we must also become real and transparent with people.  A hierarchical model allows for perceived perfection and the elevation of leaders to heights not desired by Jesus.  We must remember that Jesus has called His leaders to be servants and slaves of those He has charged to shepherd.  When leaders choose to step down from the pedestal they have been put upon, the perceived perfection is taken away.  As people begin to see leaders as real people with imperfections, there may be a gasp at first, but the gasps quickly become sighs of relief. 

Leadership is a gift from God and distributed to people as the Holy Spirit directs (1 Cor. 12:7).  People do need leaders in their lives.  According to Jesus, people need leaders to be ‘among‘ (Matt. 20:20-28 & 1 Pet. 5:1-5) people not ‘over’ people.  Leaders are to be servants of people, not expect people to serve their vision and plans.  Many leaders like describing themselves as servants, but they don‘t like being treated like servants.

The best leaders equip, empower and encourage people to employ their abilities given to them by God, not elevate their own gifts to a level above others.  All people need to be influenced to move in the direction of Jesus and this, in my opinion, is what leadership is designed to accomplish.  For this to deeply happen, leaders must lose the aura that they are better or that they sin less or that they are somehow more endowed by God with power or abilities.  We must take off our masks of perceived perfection or greater importance and we must become transparent with people.  This is vital if we are going to see the priests in our churches released in our communities to realize a rapid kingdom expansion.

Paul had to fight this ‘rock star’ elevation in his own life.  He often had to quell others wanting to elevate him to unhealthy levels.  We see him stop the crowds in Acts 14:8-15  from beginning to worship him for performing miracles.  We find Paul teaching the Corinthians to not follow any person (Apollos or Paul) but to focus only on Christ as the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:4-9).  In 1 Timothy 1:15, we find Paul being transparent calling himself the chief of sinners and then there is the Romans 7:14-21 passage where Paul confesses that he continues to do the things that he knows shouldn’t do.

Another strong portion of Scripture that has to do with being honest and transparent is found in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18.  Here is a quick over view of this section of Scripture.

2 Corinthians 3:1-18
1-6 Paul indicates that he had a deep connection with the people in this church....they were written on his heart!  We also see Paul reminding them that they, like he, are competent or adequate ministers of the new covenant. 

7-16  We are not to be like Moses who put a veil over his face once the glory of the Lord started to fade.  This is dishonest at best - Moses wanted to keep up the facade that he had something they didn’t have.  Paul says in verse 12 we should be very bold, not like Moses, and take off the mask (the veil) and be transparent with people.

17-18 We learn here that as we grow in Christ we are transformed by Him.  As leaders, others will be watching us.  When they see that we too are growing in our faith just as they must, it will spur them to move forward in difficult times.  As we tell the story that it is safe to trust God and allow Him to transform us, people will also trust God to transform them.  We must be honest with people and grow with grace ‘among’ them.

Too many leaders have grown up in the church learning that being transparent with others in the church is not safe and may even be a really dumb thing to do.  The logic goes is that if you are actually honest with others, they will not want to follow your leadership.  I actually think the opposite is true and that the church and her leaders have believed a lie about this for a very long time.  I believe that if leaders became honest in healthy ways, that the people would rise to a new level of health and the church once again would shine.  I believe that transparency by leaders would take them off the pedestal and put them on the same level as everyone else which would once again raise Jesus back up to His rightful place.

My new pastor friend from the gym told me that if I came all the way from Arizona for this moment, that it was well worth the investment.  I hope that you are able to be transparent with the people God has given to you to influence for Him.  I pray that you are free to be who you are which will only help the church be more vital to the world around us. 

I would love to hear from you regarding the benefits and liabilities of leaders being transparent with the people they serve.  You can post here or write me an e-mail.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 6 - Release People Immediately

If the church is going to expand and multiply on an ongoing basis, there are some issues that must be faced, admitted to, repented from and transformed to become more like Jesus.  The cornerstone issue that faces the church today regarding stunting its growth is our understanding of leadership in the church.  My next few posts will give some time to this topic and I would love engaging with you in a conversation about this very important issue.

There are two related sins in the modern church today and we must repent of both of them.  

We underestimate what God can do with a new life that has received the gospel.
We overestimate what we can do to help a new believer to grow in her/his faith.

1 Cor. 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”  When it comes to the seed of truth growing in a person, this is God’s territory, not ours.  We can plant the seed, we can water the seed with prayer and encouragement and even point people in the direction of Jesus - the direction of health.  We must remember the truth is that God causes the increase.  Our methods do not cause the increase.  Our programs do not cause the increase.  Not even our excellence of programs or words will cause the increase.  People may grow and respond to any of the above attempts but those things do not cause the increase.  Only God causes the increase.

Jesus address this truth in Mark 4:26-28

"Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, while he's asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does  not understand how it happens.  The earth produces the crops on its own.'"  Mark 4:26-28  NLT

The lesson to learn from this is that leaders must trust the seed and Jesus' residence inside of people to germinate, grow and blossom into fruitfulness.  As the church trusts the seed and not the seed sower to produce growth, health and reproduction, we will then be willing to release people into dangerous places (among wolves) immediately, just as Jesus did.

ReLease Immediately
Once people give their life to Jesus, the question is what do they need and when should we ReLease them into ministry.  Maybe the best place to begin looking into that question is see what Jesus did.

"Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve--designating them apostles--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons."   Mark 3:13-15

This meeting with Jesus and twelve apostles took place in Jesus' second year of ministry.  A year or more is not a lot of time for Him to have trained them and yet Jesus does something very powerful and very much the opposite of what most Christian leaders would do today.
Jesus called the twelve to Himself so they could be with Him.  Jesus knows that His followers need to be close to Him.  Jesus, I believe, sowed seeds of truth in their hearts during the unrecorded conversation they had on that hill top.  It is important that we teach new believers to immediately begin their new faith life by spending time with Jesus for He is everything they need.

The second thing Jesus does is send them out...immediately upon appointing them.  They were fresh in their following of Jesus.  We must either think that Jesus is a fool to send people out so rapidly or that He is a genius and really knows what He is doing.  I think we would all agree that Jesus knew what He was doing.  Jesus didn't send out these new followers of His to direct cars in the parking lot or hand out bulletins, he had then preach and cast out demons!
Jesus often sent people out before they were ready.

This is the key to rapid expansion of God’s Kingdom and good leadership, sending people out sooner rather than later.  The longer we hold people back or don’t trust them to go out, the more likely it is that they will never be active in sowing large amounts of seeds.  When we indirectly train people that they are not able to do important ministry by asking them to be passive (sit, sing, give), we can set a pattern in their lives that calls them to a sedentary faith.  Instead, we should tell new believers to be active in their faith, to be listening for Jesus' voice and direction to do amazing things and giving them freedom and responsibility in their own realm to do those things for the King from the moment they are saved.  This would set a patter of strong active faith building.

Jesus immediately sends out His disciples to preach and cast out demons.  This is not light work as we all know and yet, Jesus is trusting these common, mostly uneducated rookies with these important dangerous tasks immediately upon His calling them to be His disciples.  This is not the only example from Jesus' life where He does this.

Mark 5 is about a man who was messed up in every way possible.  He was a wreck financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically and relationally.  Notice in Mark 5 how this man who had his life restored deeply wanted to leave that area to be with Jesus.  But Jesus turns things upside down again.  Jesus doesn’t allow the Garasene Demoniac to come with Him.  This seems like an insane decision.  In Mark 7:31-37 we find out that Jesus returned to this region and the people wanted to hear Him to asked Him to heal their sick.  All because this man sowed lots of Jesus seeds in that region.  I think Jesus is on to something here when He sends out people out sooner rather than later.

I was probably not ready to be sent out to witness to Mormons as I was a few weeks after being saved, but no one told me I wasn’t ready.  I was able to share the Jesus of the Bible with several people that day, I was physically threatened, had hands raised to strike me and even had the leader of the Ward (The Bishop) come out to confront me.  Jesus brought me through that and used the experience to show me that He will never leave me nor forsake me.  It has reminded me to be bold and courageous for the Lord Jesus.

The leaders of your churches in the new future are not yet saved.  In fact some are probably doing some pretty sinful things this weekend - but God will transform them and use them powerfully.  Just look at some of the people Jesus sent out immediately upon beginning a relationship with Him;

Mark 5 Demoniac (dysfunctional)
John 4 Samaritan Woman (immoral)
John 9 Man born blind (handicapped)
Acts 8 The Ethiopian Eunich (dignitary)
1 Thess. 1 These people made an impact in a wide region within the first year of faith in Christ (common people)

Getting people on mission early is vital.  Shepherds want to protect the sheep - that is good and healthful - but we must ask ourselves, how long do we hold on to people before we release them...to do important stuff?  We have people sitting in our pews for 5, 10, 20 even 40 years and they have never baptized anyone, they have never taught a Sunday School class, shared their faith or facilitated a home group discussion.  It seems to me that the church is the only institution where we have trouble promoting or releasing people.  Some of these people should be theologians by now - if they are not, after decades of sitting under our teaching, we must ask what is wrong with our teaching or our methods?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 5 - Leading People to be Scattered

If the church is going to expand and multiply on an ongoing basis, there are some issues that must be faced, admitted to, repented from and transformed to become more like Jesus.  The cornerstone issue that faces the church today regarding stunting its growth is our understanding of leadership in the church.  My next few posts will give some time to this topic and I would love engaging with you in a conversation about this very important issue.

When I was a young man, I attended a trade school for cabinet making during one semester.  My family owned a cabinet manufacturing business and I wanted to have some knowledge of the construction of cabinets before I went to work for the family.  In the trade school, I remember a couple of lectures on safety issues and why certain aspects of cabinetry were vital for making strong cabinets, but the lectures were rare.  Most of our time was spent in short, five to ten minute demonstrations on one aspect of cabinet making and then we got to work to imitate what the instructor had demonstrated.  Our ‘mentor’ would move around the room, watching what we were doing and correcting us on one aspect or another.  After a few weeks, I was making cabinets.  Our final project was to design a simple cabinet, produce a list of parts to manufacture and then assemble the cabinet to receive our final grade.  If we passed one particular level of cabinet making, we could then advance to the next level.

When I gave my life to Jesus and attended a local church near my home, I noticed that mentoring or making disciples looked much different than at the trade school.  In the trade school I was taught and shown something, imitated it, was coached to help me improve and then I was released to do it on my own.  In the church, we were taught things via lecture but there were no hands on demonstrations or practical encouragement to put the things we learned into practice.  There was no one to walk with me through the Christian life. 

Instructors (leaders) in the church must be about equipping and scattering (releasing) the saints into the world of their families, neighborhoods and vocations to live out and pass on the love, light and lessons of Jesus.  I believe that every church leader (pastor) does want to see this happen but there is very little time or investment in doing so.   The leaders time is mostly centered around administration, putting out fires in peoples lives and preparing a talk and organizing the inner workings of those meetings (worship services).  The following is a short two minute video that illustrates the correct understanding of what discipleship is to be and the cultural norm of what it actually is. 


This is Discipling from The Foursquare Church on Vimeo.

The Church Scattered
Ok so the church does need to be gathered (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:20, Hebrews 10:24-25) but it needs to also move beyond our gatherings as we saw in the video.  Church has been mostly relegated to gatherings.  Church should be seen as who we are, not what we attend (another set of blog posts for the future :-).  Let’s briefly learn about the church scattered from the Scriptures.

Eph. 1:22-23
“22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

These verses teaches us that Jesus’ body, the church, is the fullness of God on earth.  How can the church be the fullness of God when it is gathered together?  When believers are huddled together in church buildings, how can they fill the earth?  This verse certainly points to the church when she is scattered, not gathered.  The Church scattered (our whole lives except for 1.5 hours a week :-) is the fullness of God on earth.  When we are separated in our places of work or in our neighborhoods, we then have opportunity to be the fullness of God all over the place.

Do we believe that God wants to use Christians who are greeters at Walmart or Police Officers or Civil Engineers to bring blessing, hope, light and integrity to their co-workers and the business they work for?  Do we believe that God wants to use the ordinary woman to impact those she rubs shoulders with on a daily basis?  Isn’t the best advertisement for Jesus one person who is being transformed by him in the presence of those who do not yet know Him?  If you do believe the above statements, how are you practically equipping these people to live this out?

This is a powerful way to see the Kingdom of God impacting a whole city or region.  The church scattered is a powerful thing once we can see it, embrace it and encourage it.  The church scattered may be powerful, but how many of our people really think this way?  Unless the church leaders equip them to think like this and to pass along this teaching, we will not experience life for Jesus with maximum impact in our communities.

Eph. 4:11-16
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ ; 13 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. 14 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 ; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 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.

Allow me to make a few brief comments on this passage as it relates to the church scattered.

Eph. 4:11-12 - This passage puts a lot of how church is done in its ear.  These five gifts (made up of mature or seasoned leaders) are given to the body to equip all the other members to do the work of ministry...NOT to do ministry for them!  As churches adopt this thinking, it will require a whole different way of being the church together.  No longer would church be about high energy meetings but about sound practical equipping in the things of Christ and expecting those lessons to be lived out in the coming weeks.

Eph. 4:13 This equipping and releasing to do the work of the ministry is to go on for our whole lives - until we reach unity and maturity.  This maturing is done communally; “...until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith...” (emphasis mine).

Eph. 4:14  When the body experiences stability in perseverance, doctrine and focus, we can be sure we are headed in a good direction with our equipping.  This type of teach ing expects the common believer to be moving towards maturity and alertness in their faith as live out their faith.

Eph. 4:15  All believers are to grow up in all aspects as they directly connect to Jesus, the Head of the Church.  The church leaders will work hard to take people’s dependence off of them and point them to rely upon Jesus as their rock and stability.

Eph. 4:16 Each joint, each individual is to properly work and supply what is necessary for healthy growth as they mature in Jesus.  This is not a passive faith but a very action oriented faith.  This requires the empowering, releasing and encouraging of ordinary believers to be active both when we are together and when we are scattered.  Those who follow Jesus should do so in church settings, at home and at work.  The proper working of every individual is to be properly working at all times in all places.  Our faith should not, must not be compartmentalized.

That is an exciting journey to be on.  Each person, equipped, maturing and directly connected to Jesus to bring health to the body.  As the body is scattered, this type of maturity will only serve to bring greater brightness to the community mature saints live in.  The church should be equipping people towards expansion/multiplication in their daily normal lives instead of working hard to keep them attending meetings.  If we live this out as leaders, the people will keep coming because we are helping them to be fruitful in their daily lives and who doesn't want more of that? 

So what are your thoughts about leadership practically equipping the church to be the church, even when she is scattered?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 4 - Equip to Gather or Scatter?

Leadership can simply be described as influence.  In the community of saints, leaders are to be influencing people to be more like Jesus.  Leaders are at their best when they are encouraging people to be headed in the direction of Jesus.   We have learned that leaders are to be ‘among’ the people, not over them (1 Peter 5:1-5).   When leaders are among or with people, relationships deepen, hearts are exposed (on both sides) and  leaders are then able to hear the peoples hearts, know their needs and gently and lovingly help them to orient their lives in the direction of Jesus (health).  Like a medical Doctor who knows their patients history and currently symptoms, they can skillfully point believers in the path of spiritual health.  It is then up to the individual to choose to move on that path.  Leadership is influencing people to become more like Jesus and activate their gifts so they can be effective in the realm God has intentionally placed them.

For many leaders today, influencing is done by speaking to larger groups of people the truth from Scripture that should be taught.  Week after week, spiritual leaders around the world give talks to groups of people urging them to put their outlines into action.  Their intentions are good but the results fall short week after week only to find them trying hard again to deliver a home run the following week.  Their messages often urge people to be the ‘salt and light of the world’ but living it out doesn’t seem to be happening.  People are more likely to shuffle out of church, back to their jobs and T.V. programs only to show up again in a couple of weeks to hear another stimulating speech.  This cycle is in part propagated because their is a disconnect.  The disconnect is that the success of the leader is found in the gathering of the believers together instead of the scattering of the believers into the world.  The focus and energy of most leaders throughout the week is on how to draw in and keep the people interested in their worship services and sermons instead of spending time praying, dreaming , designing ways of scattering their people effectively throughout the week.

An Example
Some time ago I was talking to a pastor friend who was telling a story about a new person in their church who wanted to become a member.  The pastor made an appointment with this man to interview him, find out about his faith and tell him about their system of becoming a member.  During the conversation with this man, my pastor friend discovered that the man did not actually understand the gospel nor had he given his life to Jesus.  After a strong and appropriate conversation about salvation by grace, the man wanted to learn more but was not ready to make a decision.  My friend then gave a book by a very good and famous author on the basics of faith and instructed him to read this book so they could have further conversations.  After my friend finished this story I looked at him and asked him why he didn’t ask the man to read the Bible and instead gave him a book about the Bible?  My pastor friend thought about this and turned red with a slight embarrassment.  I then pointed out that it was possible that this man was handicapped at that moment.  He wanted to know Jesus and the Bible and he had some sound conversations about Jesus and the Bible with the pastor (the ‘holy man’) but after that conversation, when he needed to do homework, he was given a book about the Bible.  The message this communicates is that the common person may not be able to understand the Bible on their own, they need a ‘holy man’ to understand it so the ‘holy man’ gave him a book about the Bible (written by another ‘holy man’).

How did my friend use his influence to train this man seeking to be a member of his church?  Unfortunately, he influenced him from the beginning to be dependent upon the system of the church and a ‘holy man’ instead of pointing him to Jesus and to learn from His word directly.  The man was urged to come back to church the following week (a good thing) but not urged/influenced to seek the truth for himself or to share his journey with those in and around his life.  This was an opportunity missed to help this man learn that he could be immediately effective in the world God had called him to.
What do you think about this?

Next time we’ll explore some Biblical foundations for leaders to be equipping the saints to be scattered, not gathered.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 3 - The Leader's Priority

As we follow Jesus’ leadership style, we notice something very interesting.  Jesus spends most of His time, energy and resources on the few, not with the crowds.  Jesus seems to know that investing in a few and teaching them to do the same is the way for rapid kingdom expansion.  In this way, multiplication comes from the many investing in others.  Jesus embraced, loved, equipped and released very common (uneducated and untrained cf. Acts 4:13) people to do very dangerous and risky things (like re-tell the Gospel, cast out demons and heal sick people).

In the church today, it seems that more emphasis is put on the crowds rather than the few.  When we put emphasis on attracting crowds to dispense the Gospel, we are actually buying into the idea of addition for church growth, not multiplication.  Focusing on addition seems right and a smart use of our time and resources.  If we can impact more people, that is preferred.  But addition, although good, is sharply less than multiplication.  No matter how rapidly we add people to the church, it will never be faster than multiplication.  

Equipping people to multiply takes longer and costs us more of our time and emotional energy than we often are willing to spend.  Once people are equipped to multiply, we are then left to trust them to actually do it...and some will not.  Therefore, adding people to events is quicker, safer and more rapid - but this is true only at the beginning.  Multiplication will always produce more than addition.

Jesus focused on pouring Himself into a few men and called them to reproduce themselves consistently.  We often find Jesus removing Himself from large crowds and spending more time with the 12 and the 3.  Jesus wanted His disciples to risk, fail and try again.  As they risked and fail, Jesus walked with them, pointing them in ways of success.  When we see Jesus ascending into heaven, He tells His followers to go throughout their lives making disciples - reproducing (Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).  Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to invite people to sit and listen to them but to go and tell others about what they have just heard.  Paul seemed to understand this when he wrote...

"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."  2 Timothy 2:2 (NASB)

The Leaders priority must be to focus on reproducing him or her self in a few who will in turn do the same thing.  This is not always the easiest path nor the most popular path but it the ONLY path that will see the world won to Christ.  It is the ONLY path that Jesus instructed us to follow.  Never did Jesus teach us to gather crowds to preach, He simply told us to go through life guiding each other to be like Jesus and to pass on those truths.  This is the bench mark of a healthy leader who is interested in creating a culture of rapid kingdom expansion.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 2 - Jesus' Example

If the church is going to expand and multiply on an ongoing basis, there are some issues that must be faced, admitted to, repented from and transformed to become more like Jesus.  The cornerstone issue that faces the church today regarding stunting its growth is our understanding of leadership in the church.  My next few posts will give some time to this topic and I would love engaging with you in a conversation about this very important issue.

Leadership as a bottleneck towards creating a culture of rapid kingdom expansion.  There has been a disconnect between our theology and our orthopraxy (correct action correlated to our theology).   As we continue this discussion on leadership, we find some striking differences in how many churches are led today as opposed to what Jesus clearly taught about leadership.  Let’s continue by looking at what I believe to be the key New Testament teaching on leadership from the lips of Jesus.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." 22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What can be learned from this portion of Scripture?  One of the first things that jumps off the page is that it is a common thing for men and women to want to be in charge, to be in control or to feel important.  It can also be learned that mothers often try to push their children to the top.  Moms just want their children to succeed.  James, John and their mother were no different. 

When the other 10 disciples got wind of what James and John were up to, they become very mad and upset.  One reason why these guys became ‘indignant‘ may be because they too had the same desire deep in their soul; to be more important or in charge.  James and John just happened to be the first to push for it.  All of this relational tension caused Jesus to call a family meeting about self-promotion and leadership.

In verse 25 Jesus says worldly leaders rule people, they lord over people and act like tyrants.  To lord over people is defined as one acting as if they are in charge or in control  (see previous post on ReTooling Leadership: Who is in Charge).  Jesus then turns the concept of leadership upside down with His next four words, “Not so with you...” (v.  26 NIV)  These four words cause a major seismic shift regarding leadership in the church.  These four words teach us that leaders are not to lead in the same way as they have in the past.  Jesus is actually shifting concepts of leadership commonly understood in the Old Testament and giving leadership a major overhaul.  Leaders are not now to lead like Moses did (Exodus 18:21ff) nor are they to act like they are in charge or in control, in fact they are to lead in a much different way.

Jesus contrasts worldly leaders as being OVER (v.25) people and His leaders who are to be AMONG (v.26 cf. 1 Peter 5:2) people.  There is an enormous difference in this contrast.  ‘Over’ indicates control or importance, ‘among’ indicates equality and mutual submission, but Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues to turn leadership principles upside down by teaching that His leaders are actually be servants (v. 26) and slaves (v. 27) of the people.

Think me for minute about slaves and servants.  Do slaves or servants give orders or take orders?  Do slaves or servants do what they want to do or what is best for others?  How can these terms be understood any differently?  How do we apply them to church and leadership today? 

Remember that the context of Jesus’ instruction was caused by James and John wanting to elevate themselves which caused the others to be upset and Jesus setting them straight.  I believe one way to live out these principles is to lead from a position of weakness and let any authority you may have come from relationships with people (be among them), not position, titles or appointments (over them).

Asserting position, power or control over another should be as offensive to the church  today as it was to Jesus.  The reality is that leaders have to let go of control and learn how to serve, how to be transparent among the people.  Leaders must learn that deep relationships bring a level of authority in each others lives that is rarely experienced - but I pray it will not be rare much longer!

What do you think?

Next time we will explore where the leader's priorities ought to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 1 - Who is in Charge?

If the church is going to expand and multiply on an ongoing basis, there are some issues that must be faced, admitted to, repented from and transformed to become more like Jesus.  The cornerstone issue that faces the church today regarding stunting its growth is our understanding of leadership in the church.  My next few posts will give some time to this topic and I would love engaging with you in a conversation about this very important issue.

Leadership as a bottleneck towards creating a culture of rapid kingdom expansion.  There has been a disconnect between our theology and our orthopraxy (correct action correlated to our theology).   As we continue this discussion on leadership, we find some striking differences in how many churches are led today as opposed to what Jesus clearly taught about leadership.  Let’s continue by looking at what I believe to be the key New Testament teaching on leadership from the lips of Jesus.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." 22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What can be learned from this portion of Scripture?  One of the first things that jumps off the page is that it is a common thing for men and women to want to be in charge, to be in control or to feel important.  It can also be learned that mothers often try to push their children to the top.  Moms just want their children to succeed.  James, John and their mother were no different. 

When the other 10 disciples got wind of what James and John were up to, they become very mad and upset.  One reason why these guys became ‘indignant‘ may be because they too had the same desire deep in their soul; to be more important or in charge.  James and John just happened to be the first to push for it.  All of this relational tension caused Jesus to call a family meeting about self-promotion and leadership.

In verse 25 Jesus says worldly leaders rule people, they lord over people and act like tyrants.  To lord over people is defined as one acting as if they are in charge or in control  (see previous post on ReTooling Leadership: Who is in Charge).  Jesus then turns the concept of leadership upside down with His next four words, “Not so with you...” (v.  26 NIV)  These four words cause a major seismic shift regarding leadership in the church.  These four words teach us that leaders are not to lead in the same way as they have in the past.  Jesus is actually shifting concepts of leadership commonly understood in the Old Testament and giving leadership a major overhaul.  Leaders are not now to lead like Moses did (Exodus 18:21ff) nor are they to act like they are in charge or in control, in fact they are to lead in a much different way.

Jesus contrasts worldly leaders as being OVER (v.25) people and His leaders who are to be AMONG (v.26 cf. 1 Peter 5:2) people.  There is an enormous difference in this contrast.  ‘Over’ indicates control or importance, ‘among’ indicates equality and mutual submission, but Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues to turn leadership principles upside down by teaching that His leaders are actually be servants (v. 26) and slaves (v. 27) of the people.

Think me for minute about slaves and servants.  Do slaves or servants give orders or take orders?  Do slaves or servants do what they want to do or what is best for others?  How can these terms be understood any differently?  How do we apply them to church and leadership today? 

Remember that the context of Jesus’ instruction was caused by James and John wanting to elevate themselves which caused the others to be upset and Jesus setting them straight.  I believe one way to live out these principles is to lead from a position of weakness and let any authority you may have come from relationships with people (be among them), not position, titles or appointments (over them).

Asserting position, power or control over another should be as offensive to the church  today as it was to Jesus.  The reality is that leaders have to let go of control and learn how to serve, how to be transparent among the people.  Leaders must learn that deep relationships bring a level of authority in each others lives that is rarely experienced - but I pray it will not be rare much longer!

What do you think?

Next time we will explore where the leader's priorities ought to be.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Priests, Ministers and Other Common People

A few weeks ago, I wrote encouraged us to ReThink the Priesthood of Believers in practical terms.  We need a new breed of priests if the church is to rapidly expand.  If there is going to be a culture of rapid Kingdom expansion, we must see every believer as a competent minister of the new covenant in all ways (2 Cor. 3:6).  This will encourage and inspire people to be seen as important.

Leaders would do well to understand that the God who spoke to Adam and Noah in Genesis, is the same God that spoke to Peter and Paul in the New Testament and is the same God who spoke to George Fox, Martin Luther and Charles Wesley.  These people are not rare or exceptional examples of God communicating to His children.  They should be considered the normal pattern just like any parent-child relationship.  Without going into too much depth on this topic, we must understand that God is equally connected to all of His children.  In fact, He is more connected to Jesus followers today than He was to Adam...what?, you might think.  Jesus indwells His children today while He did not indwell people a permanent basis before Acts 2.  Amazing!  Believe the truth about you.  Be a Priest (1 Pet. 2:5-9), Ambassador (2 Cor. 5:18-21), a Competent Minister (2 Cor. 3:6), an Ordained One (John 15:16) to the world who desperately needs to be told about and invited to the forever party Jesus is throwing!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Check Your Compass

And the Seduction of Self

The Scriptures are full of rewards and warnings for us to enjoy and to heed.  In Daniel, we find lots of stories about men of integrity holding on to God and seeing truth reign and how they overcame adversity.  We also see several stories about great men who place their focus in the wrong direction and end up in misery.  Like any good adventurer, we should always check our compass to make sure we are headed in the right direction.

Heading in the right direction is really what God desires from us.  He fully knows that we will never be perfect as we walk on this earth so He is very interested in the direction we are headed.  Hopefully we choose to be headed in the direction of health.  That direction clearly points to Jesus Christ because He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

In Daniel chapters 1-6, we find Daniel and three friends making a large impact on the nation of Babylon.  Judah has been captured by King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and these four men were part of the plunder taken.  They were selected as young, bright and strong men who could serve in the King's service if they were able to be properly trained.  We encounter Daniel and his three friends in chapter one immediately standing up for God and choosing to not defile themselves with the unclean food of the Babylonians.  The consequences of not eating the King's food could be fatal but these four men stand true to God's ways.  They choose to be vegetarians and God blesses them for honoring His dietary standards and they are shown to be stronger and smarter than the others in their training school.  They are awarded to serve the King which affords a whole bunch of opportunity.

On the other hand, the leaders of Babylon did not choose to honor God.  Once Daniel made a stand to honor God and His ways, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and asked for his 'magicians' to tell him the dream and its interpretation.  David was the only one who could do this.  Daniel was also clear that the "God in heaven who reveals mysteries..." was the one who made the dream known to Daniel.  Nebuchadnezzar was astounded that Daniel could tell him the dream and interpret it.  Daniel was handsomely rewarded and promoted in the kingdom and then King Nebuchadnezzar said, "Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries" (Dan.2:47).  This sounds like the King is headed in the right direction. 

But after this, the King made a golden statue of himself and required everyone to bow down and worship the statue at the appropriate times.  If someone failed to worship, he would be thrown into the furnace and burned to death.  Daniel's three friends were caught in the act of not worshiping the statue and was thrown into the fire but they were not burned.  When they came out, King Nebuchadnezzar decreed, "...that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against of the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb...inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." (Dan. 3:29). 

The King had yet another amazing dream and again, Daniel was able to interpret it for the King.  The dream told of the King's great kingdom and how it would be uprooted and the King would become like a wild beast, eating grass for a long time.  Again, Daniel was rewarded but the King disregarded the interpretation.  Daniel urged the King to repent and perhaps God would have mercy on him.  But the king continued to grow hard in his heart.  Finally, twelve months later he was over looking his kingdom and said to himself, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30).  As he said this, God spoke to him in audible voice telling him that he will become like a wild beast and eat grass until he was humbled.

Once the King came to his senses and the Kingdom was returned to him, he said, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride."  (Dan. 4:37).

Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar became king and violated God's standard's intentionally.  This caused God to write on the wall with a large hand in front of the King and his guests at a party.  No one could interpret the meaning of the writing except Daniel.  Once again Daniel gave the interpretation that this Kingdom would be taken away from Belshazzar for violating God intentionally.  David was again promoted and given expensive gifts.  David also reminded Belshazzar what his father went through and that Belshazzar had "...not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord o heaven..." (Dan. 5:22-23).  Belshazzar died that night.

So today, I encourage you to check your compass and make sure that your life is pointed in the direction of Christ Jesus.  Pride is subtle and yet ugly.  It will lure you to feel strong and then cause you to fall headlong into misery.  Do not be deceived by pride and self confidence, follow the example of Daniel and humble yourself before God and be rewarded.  Do not follow the ways of the leaders of Babylon and end up in misery.  What direction are you headed?

Your input...
How do you check your compass in life to see what direction you are headed?
The Scriptures teach us to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.  How do you imagine that looks like in practical terms?

I would like to hear your insights.

Get out there and cast some seeds!

Friday, April 01, 2011

ReThink: Priesthood

What concepts come to mind when you think of the word, priest?  I was at an organic church recently and I asked that question.  The answers ranged from a 'a person to go between God and man' to 'a holy man' to 'one who offers sacrifices to God'.  How would you answer the question?

In the Old Testament, we learn that priests main job are to bring two parties at odds together for peace.  In other words, a priest is a go-between for man to God.  A priest was to mediate between himself and God (Lev. 9:8, 14:28-29), between his family and God (Lev. 16:6, 16:11) and between the people and God (Lev. 9:15, 10:17, Numb. 8:19).  Priests are also to do what is in God's heart and soul (1 Sam. 2:35).  These responsibilities are a high calling.  It was an honor to be a priest in the Old Testament and only a small percentage ever had the honor to a priest.  To be a priest of Jehovah was the best job one could have.

The New Testament also talks about priests of God but the application for priests was changed.   As the church age began to mature, the church seemed to revert to a more Old Testament concept of priest where one man would represent a whole group of people before God and also speak for God to the people.  The Catholic Church has promoted this Old Testament concept of the priesthood for over 1700 years now.  On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, in this he began to deny the priesthood as it was then known and began to elevate the concept of the priesthood of every believer.  This truth is certainly found throughout the New Testament (1 Pet. 2:5-9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). 

Martin Luther changed the theology regarding the truth that every believer is a priest before God but since 1517, hardly anything has changed in practical terms in the church.  Whether Catholic or Protestant, most churches simply do not allow the common people (the laity) to administer communion, baptize believers, perform weddings nor are they trusted to impart the Word of God with authority to people.  In reality, there still is a division between the clergy (priests or pastors) and the laity (common people).  This division must be done away with by doing away with the laity.  We must adopt the Biblical concept that every believer, from the moment of salvation is a priest of God and is capable of pointing people to Jesus for salvation, strength, hope and faith.  Every believer is a child of God, equally connected to the head of the Church, Jesus Himself.  Every believer has the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God is able to minister to and flow through the youngest and newest believer with powerful results (Mark 5:1-20 is just one example). 

So today, we must recapture the truth that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a priest of God to the nations to bring the Good News of our King to their ears and hearts.  It is our distinct honor to do so. 

Your input...
How should the truth that every believer is a priest for God change the church?
If you lived out this truth, that you are a priest of God , how would it change the way you do life?

I would like to hear your insights.

Get out there and cast some seeds!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Spiritual Information Addicts

For most Americans, more stuff seems important.  How many bikes do I need to have covered up in my backyard or hanging from my garage rafters to be enough?  Do I really need another patio set to use once or at the most three times a year?  Why am I opposed to borrowing one from my neighbor when I need it?  Do I really need another pair of shoes?  The questions and lists could go on.  What is it about acquiring more that is so intoxicating?

But I don't want to talk only about items we own around our homes, I'd rather talk about our culture's addiction to acquiring more information, specifically about the Bible.  Far too many believers will sit in a comfy chair two weeks a month to hear a 30 - 40 minute talk about some good and solid spiritual truth and rarely do anything about what they have learned.  These newly acquired truths sit in their brains and are too often forgotten.  In the following week or two they head back to the same comfy chair to hear another 30 - 40 minute talk about some other solid truth, only to have it be forgotten and not applied.  What is it about acquiring Biblical information that is so intoxicating?

What if instead of simply acquiring more and more Biblical information, we focus on distributing the spiritual resources deposited in our souls?  I believe this would serve to enhance the realms we travel in.  What is the responsibility of teachers who move from topic to topic, week after week, serving to saturate brains and souls with truth never lived out?  I really don't know the answer to that question but I do believe we must ponder it.  Is there a way to help people live out what they are taught?  Are those teachers simply and unintentionally serving more information to spiritual information addicts?

So here is the Scripture I read this morning that flooded all of these thoughts to my soul. 

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."  Luke 12:48b

What is required of those of us who are constantly acquiring more and more spiritual truths but who are not distributing these truths?  What does it mean when we are 'entrusted' with spiritual truth?  One of the first truths we ought to be taught is the last thing Jesus said to His disciples, "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them...and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded...".  It seems to me that living out this spiritual truth will take the rest of our lives, even as we learn more.

I would love to hear what you think.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What Does It Mean to Make Disciples?

Jesus' last words to His followers was to go through life making disciples.  This is vital to the continuance or reproduction of disciples and of the church.  According to Jesus, everyone is suppose to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).  In my experience, I find that very few people have even considered engaging in the activity of making disciples and even less who are doing it.  So, if Jesus' last words were for each of us to be making disciples, then we probably should know what it means to make disciples.  So I'm asking you for input on this, what does it mean to make disciples?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Romancing God

"Oh, how I love your law!  I think about it all day long."  Psalm 119:1 (NLT)
So how does a person get this point of loving God's Word and thinking about it all day long?  Is this only for people in the Bible or for super Christians?  How can we fall in love with God's Word?  There are certainly plenty of ways to accomplish this but they must have at least this one common denominator.  That commonality is to engage the Word, spend time in the Word and let it soak into your soul.  When that happens, you'll find yourself oozing God's love and truth naturally.
For too many Christians, reading God's Word is boring...which is too bad because it is anything but boring.  Yeah, there are some dry spots in it (think genealogies) but much of the Bible is full of stories that movies are made of and out of amazing principles about which books are written.  In the Bible we find good versus evil, right versus wrong, betrayal meets loyalty, wild chases, injustice corrected and on and on.  The world and our common enemy (Satan and his followers) want us to believe the Bible is boring and/or hard to understand but do not believe it.  The Word of God is full of LIFE!
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the "Word of God is living and active...", that sounds like it is actually alive and dynamic, which it is.  Remember that the Holy Spirit lives in believers and He wrote the book through men.  He will reveal the deep layers of truth through the Word and open our minds to understand the Word.  We simply have to engage the Word by opening it up, asking God for fresh eyes and to open our minds, then you will begin to see amazing things.  God will speak to you!
I have been married for 33 years and yet my love for Debbie is stronger and more passionate than ever.  How is that possible you might ask?  It is possible because I work at it.  I allow my thoughts to be surrounded by Debbie's influence, the memory of her perfume and feel of her eyes staring into mine.  I'll often have a mushy card  or note  she has written to me near my desk to peak at now and again.  Because I keep my eyes on her, my heart craves more time to be with her.  This same commitment or focus should be applied to ‘romancing God’ and being in HIs Word.
If we are going to be ‘romancing God’, we have to believe that “...He is a rewarded of those who diligently seek Him.”  Reading what He has written to us certainly is one of the ways that we can diligently seek Him.  
Imagine your church full of people who are reading God’s Word in large volumes every week (like 20 - 30 chapters a week)?  Imagine the wealth of insights, knowledge, wisdom and maturity that would emerge from such a church.  Is it too hard to read 20 - 30 chapters of Scripture a week?  It takes about 20 - 30 minutes each day to accomplish it.  The benefits of that investment, Jesus guarantees, will pay off wildly!  So go ahead and romance God, you will both enjoy it.