Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Guest blog: A Tapestry of Beauty from Ashes (Part 2 of 2)

This is the final instalment of my friend, Steve Vickers guest article. Let me know what you think. “Why,” I asked Him, “Why did all this happen?” “That is the wrong question, Son,” He replied. “Do not ask Me why, but rather, what now.” Obediently I asked, “What now?” although everything within me wanted to know why. Why did everything fall apart? Why did friends turn against me? Why did I have to start over? Why? Why? Why? But I realized the “why” would have to be left alone with God. If he chose to tell me, then great, but if not, so be it.

Like a coach, a mentor, the Lord began to walk me through the “what now”. Step by step we started over—the Lord, Denice, and me. As we were beginning that journey, the Lord said, “On the rubble of what you have endeavored to build, I will build a church, my son.” And so He has.

If I could go back in my life and redo or undo things, I would not change what happened in that time. Did I make mistakes? Mistakes—that’s one of the constants in my life; I continually make mistakes. And though I don’t plan to make them or want to make them, I certainly don’t fear them. I’ve truly discovered that God is far greater than my mistakes. My Christianity, my hope and my faith are not held together by the glue of anything I do but by the unbreakable bond of what God did in Christ. So to answer your question—yes, I made mistakes during that time, and I have learned from those mistakes. Yet, I still would not change the path we have walked. I believe God has woven a tapestry that is our life (Denice’s and mine) and that, hopefully, to Him is beautiful. The dark threads have given brilliance to the bright ones. The contrast is what created the beauty. The dark threads have given clarity and definition to the picture.

Your life is a tapestry being woven right now. Perhaps it’s a bright, beautiful thread that’s being put in place now or perhaps a dark, dreary thread. Every life must have both to create the tapestry. Anchor your hope, your trust in God and do not be moved from Him, regardless of the weaving that is being done in your life at the present. Look to Jesus; focus on Him not the threads of your life. Whether victory or suffering is present in your life, never forget that Christ is also present, and He is what matters.

When you stand before God, will it be the victories you’ve won and the successes you’ve gained that truly matter, or will it be the wonderful truth of Christ in your life? Will He be your greatest gain? I think so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Guest blog: A Tapestry of Beauty from Ashes (Part 1 of 2)

Steve Vickers, president and founder of Harvest Churches International is one of my dearest friends. One of the wisest men I know, Steve planted and pastored Christian Life Church in Montgomery, Alabama for many years before heeding the call of God to relocate to Southern California and start again. He left a successful, growing and thriving church in his middle-aged years, eschewing the comforts and predictability of what he'd already built for the relative insecurity of a new life. Steve is one of the true "Barbarian warriors." I will be posting a two-part article that he wrote that really speaks to my heart deeply. I sure hope you enjoy it.

As I look out the window, the air is filled with smoke from the fires that remain. Though a number of the fires have either been contained or have burned out, nine still continue as of the time of this writing. But only one of those really gives any cause for concern.

This has been a harrowing experience for hundreds of thousands of people here in southern California. Many have lost everything but their lives. Some have even lost that. Thousands of families returned to find only rubble where their homes once stood. What do you do when you stand on the rubble of your life? What do you do when, suddenly, without notice, your life is turned upside down and dashed on the rocks of tragedy? What do you do when you stand, looking at the broken pieces of what used to be your life? What do you do in the heart-wrenching emotion of that moment? Your body tired, your emotions drained, your mind dumbfounded—what do you do?

My heart has gone out to those who have suffered such loss. Those who make light of it or try to downplay it make it obvious that they have never been there. Loss is never easy or fun; it always costs. Yet it is a necessary and normal part of life. We all suffer loss at times. No declaration of faith will keep us from it. Loved ones die, ventures fail, relationships cease—these and other pains are a part of everyone’s story. For some reason we don’t hear of them though, especially in Christian circles. It’s as if they were somehow mysteriously erased from the story of our lives, leaving only successes, gains, victories, and great times.

Well, don’t erase them from my life. They cost me way too much. Nothing that came at such a high price to me will be erased or even relegated to a secluded corner of my life. They are a part of the very fabric of my life—a part of who I am. They have helped to define me. To erase them is to erase a part of my definition. I lived them; I walked through the valley they plowed in my life. And it is not a sign that I missed God or that He somehow forgot about me. On the contrary, like their victorious cousins, they are another facet of the testimony of God’s never ending love and unwavering faithfulness. God’s character and power are not so fragile that I must eradicate from my story anything that doesn’t speak of success and victory as defined in the narrow minds of the religious.

That’s one of the problems with American Christianity; it has too many man-made parts—parts which cannot stand up to the test of the realities of life. So a fantasy world is guardedly maintained. And if you are honest about your life, then you are expelled from "their" beautiful place. I have suffered their rejection because I was going through loss. And I am grateful for it. When they rejected me and erased me from their memories, I thought I was all alone. Then I heard a beautiful voice saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” They had left me alone with Jesus, and there in His hand was a nail print. Looking closer, I was stunned as I saw my name engraved in His hand by the nail print.

Monday, October 29, 2007

He loves me, He loves me not...

I performed a wedding yesterday afternoon. I have done a few weddings in my lifetime but this was my first ever Sunday wedding. I absolutely love to perform weddings, and with me, you never really know what you're going to get. I think that weddings should reflect the character of the couple as well as the consuming joy of the occasion. For this reason, I don't do stiff and formal weddings 'cos I just don't marry stiff and formal people (even if they started out that way, by the time we're through with their pre-marital counseling they've lightened up considerably).

The theme of yesterday's wedding was love. Well isn't that the theme of every wedding you ask? Hold your horses a second and let me explain. You see, the couple is bi-racial. He: Quintessentially Midwestern-white-American from Iowa. She: Classic hot-headed-beauty from Haiti. Now before you begin to pontificate on the demerits of interracial marriages, let me save you the trouble by assuring you that all of those arguments are lost on me. I am irreversibly and irrationally sold out to the cause of the Body of Christ being a reflection of the heart of God. He has every tribe, tongue and nation inscribed upon His heart, and the more integrated we are, the more we resemble the church that looks like heaven. So, off my soapbox and back to my story. The theme was love because that is what motivates and drives this couple. They are under no illusions that they will (yes, even in todays post-modern age) draw stares and comments. They are patently aware of some of the cultural hurdles they will have to jump over. They are even conscious of the fact that their union will cause some doors to slam shut in their faces. But they did it anyway. Love makes you that way. It makes potential stumbling blocks look like stepping stones to greater heights of accomplishment.

Consider the story of Jacob working for his beguiling father-in-law Laban, for seven years so that he could marry the delectable Rachel. Imagine his utter shock and horror when he wakes up the next morning to find one-eyed Leah in bed beside him instead of Rachel. As a result of Laban's deceit Jacob has consumated a marriage with homely and unattractive Leah instead of with his beloved Rachel. What to do? Laban profers a solution: Work for me for another seven years and I will give you Rachel's hand in marriage too. Without a thought for the deceitful way in which his servitude has been contracted, Jacob agrees to this proposal. The Bible says that "...Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her." Do you see it? A stumbling block becomes a stepping stone because of love.

This is why marriage, according to the Scriptures, is the closest thing on earth to the relationship between Christ and the Church. It is motivated purely and solely by love (certainly His love for us). Again you ask, "Aren't all marriages motivated by love?" Apparently not. They should be. But many aren't. That's why the statistics indicate that there is as high of a divorce rate in the church as there is outside of the church today. We say we are motivated by love when we get married, but all too often, we are misinterpreting passion, desire, attraction, companionship and a lot of other good qualities for love. Love is completely selfless! Love desires to give and give and give again. Love takes stock of all the reasons why you shouldn't and then you go ahead and do it anyway (Like dying on a cross for a world that would still reject and ridicule you).

This is the kind of love that was celebrated at yesterdays wedding. It's called Agape. It's a Greek word that translates as "The God kind of love." I for one am thrilled to have a front row seat to watch this couples incredible story play itself out. So what about you? Are you in love? If you're married, are you married for the right reasons? If not, you can begin to make the change today. If you're not married but you're thinking it might be in your future, are you doing it for the right reasons? If you haven't yet, pause and think about that.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halloween's Deadly Door: Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)

You that love the Lord, hate evil

It must be understood that no matter how much we disguise it in its modern day application, the celebration of Halloween cannot be divorced from the accompanying spiritual implications and the attendant demonic attachments. Halloween is much more than candy and costumes, and its celebration, regardless of your motives, promotes and celebrates the spirit behind it.

Consider this excerpt from the Colorado Springs of October 30, 1998:

But Halloween also is a serious celebration in the pagan religious year, when the wall between the living and the dead is the thinnest. In other words, the holiday signifies an unusual closeness to the spirits of the dead.

On Saturday night, 150 to 200 people, many of them pagans, are expected to gather at All Souls Unitarian Church of North Tejon Street for a potluck supper along with some drumming, dancing, and ritual ceremonies relating to the dead.

“Halloween is a big holiday for us”, said Chris West, a founder of Earth Spirit Pagans, a group of about 70 people who practice witchcraft and sponsor an annual Halloween celebration (emphasis mine)

If, according to the above excerpt, communicating with the dead is indeed a focus of the celebration of Halloween, then it is in direct violation of the scripture which states:

When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? -Isaiah 8:19

Ted Haggard (former senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs), displayed remarkable insight into the occult roots of Halloween in an article that he wrote. He had this to say:

During the weeks that surround Halloween, people seem to be uniquely aware of the supernatural realm. It is the only holiday in this country that focuses on death and darkness. Halloween is the time when Americans visit haunted houses, hold sĂ©ances, dress like vampires and warlocks and watch scary movies-all in fun. But many people lack a basic biblical understanding of the spiritual realities associated with death and the devil – and what they don’t know can hurt them. (Emphasis mine) [2]

To fully understand the negative spiritual impact of Halloween on our society we must understand that there are three kinds of spiritual forces in operation, which exert influence on the human spirit.

· The Holy Spirit (John 4: 23-24)
· Angels (Psalm 8: 4,5)
· Satan and demons ( 2 Corinthians 11:14,15)

The influence of one or the other of these is always actively involved in the affairs of humanity, whether we give credence to that fact or not.

There is a constant battle waged between darkness and light for the control of the human soul and Halloween is a major entry point for Satan and his demons to sway the battle in their favor. Here are just a few reasons why:

·The Jack o’lantern came from the tale of a notorious man named Jack, who was turned away from both heaven and hell. Consigned to roam the earth as a spirit, Jack put a glowing coal into a carved-out turnip to light his way through the night. This harbinger (which became a pumpkin) symbolized a damned soul.

·Halloween costumes come from a Celtic druid idea that ceremonial participants should wear animal heads and animal skins to acquire the strength of the beast they portrayed.

·Trick or Treat came from the Irish tradition when a man led a procession to levy contributions from farmers, lest their crops be cursed by demons.

·Masks have traditionally been an animistic means of superstitiously warding off evil spirits or changing the personality of the wearer to communicate with the spirit world.[3]

Trick or Treat will bring defeat

So, how do we respond in prayer to the celebration of this feast I hear you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked since I was going to tell you anyway.

.We must pray that God would open the eyes of the parents so that we see the harm that is being done to our children through the celebration of this feast. (Acts 28: 26-27)
·We must pray against the influx of the demonic into our cities during this season. We must actively bind the strongman of the occult and witchcraft. (Ephesians 6: 12- 13)
·We must pray that witches and warlocks do not find our city conductive to their ritual celebrations during this period (Proverbs 26:2)
·We must pray that guardian angels with flaming swords will place a hedge of protection around our city during this period. (Genesis 3:24)
·We must saturate the atmosphere with worship and praise during this season so as to invite the presence of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 22:3)
·Finally, we should engage in an alternate celebration completely unassociated with Halloween. Family (Hallelujah) Night or a focus on Reformation Day, are two alternatives. At The Well we host an annual event we call Noche de la Luz (Night of the Light). It was October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg;[4]

[1] Ardy Friedberg, Halloween a potluck for pagans, (the Gazette, 1998)
[2] Ted Haggard, Speak of the Devil, (Charisma magazine, October 1998)
[3] The selling of Satanism
[4] David L. Brown, The Harm of Halloween, (, 1998)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween's Deadly Door: Fact or Fiction?

Over the next few days I will be posting a series on halloween from an article I wrote for Pray! magazine a couple of years ago. The article itself was excerpted from a book on witchcraft that I was working on at the time. If you don't believe in this sort of thing that's fine. I write this for those who are obliviously ignorant of the inherent dangers of the dark spirit world, and who might, in this season when darkness is unwittingly celebrated, be opening themselves up to more than they are aware.

Welcome, won’t you come on in?

It’s late in the evening and the lights are out in most homes on Kennedy Boulevard. Except for a few vagrants foraging through the garbage for scraps of food, and an occasional barking dog, the streets are devoid of life. An eerie silence hangs over the little town of Asgard as ominous storm clouds gather, casting long shadows against the backdrop of gray buildings. The thirsty ground sucks up the driving rain, as the vagrants scurry for shelter, leaving the impression of a ghost-town.

A few of the bolder townsfolk tentatively peer through theirs shutters, but most of the inhabitants huddle together in their living rooms, whispering, waiting, and wondering. The mysterious and gory deaths of four of the town’s residents at last year’s celebration of the feast have left a bitter taste in their mouths, and they can’t help but wonder what this year’s celebration has in store for their small but close knit community.

It is the feast of All Hallows. Unseen to the natural eye, there is a flurry of activity in the town of Asgard. This is the one feast that demons look forward to, the one celebration all year that pays homage to ghouls, goblins and ghosts, darkness and evil. It is the time of year when the line between the dark spirit world and the human world is thinnest. The demons swarm in like hungry locusts looking to devour everyone in their path. But they are not here as uninvited guests. You see, unwittingly, the inhabitants of Asgard have invited them into their town, their homes, and consequently their lives.

Sound like another Frank Peretti bestseller? Unfortunately, this is not fiction. Like Peretti’s books, the town above is fictional, but unlike his books, the story line is real.

Open doors lead to open hearts

The Bible is replete with warnings against “opening” ourselves up to the dark spirit world, and reminds us that we are continually in a battle that is not being waged against humans but against unseen spiritual forces in the heavenly places.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms – Ephesians 6:12

One of many doors that open our cities up to the dark world of the occult is the celebration of Halloween. Among numerous other practices that are an inadvertent venture into the occult, the celebration of this feast leaves us exposed to the influx of the demonic.

Halloween is a feast that celebrates the dead and the dark spirit world. As unsuspecting, well-meaning people delve into all sorts of “fun” things like “trick or treat” and dressing up in costumes (the more fiendish or devilish the better), they open themselves up to spiritual influences that they may not even be aware of. In almost every store on Main Street USA, you will find an entire section dedicated to Halloween costumes promoting dark fantasies. Ordinarily parents would be concerned if their children came home from school decked out in vampire costumes complete with fangs. However during Halloween this is quite acceptable. Harmless fun? You be the judge!

The origin of Halloween should serve as a warning for us to stay away from such activities. The celebration of Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic people. They lived about 2000 years ago in the geographic are that today marks out Ireland, the United Kingdom and France. The feast, originally known as the feast of Samhain (pronounced sow-ain), was celebrated on November 1 in commemoration of their New Year. The Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead became blurred. On October 31, the eve of the feast, they believed that Samhain, who was generally recognized as the lord of death, assembled the spirits of all who had died during the previous year. During this time, it was said that the spirits of the dead returned to earth to visit the living.

During the actual celebration of the feast, crops and animals were burned on a huge bonfire as sacrifices to appease the appetite of Samhain. By the 800’s the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, and in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saint’s Day to honor saints and martyrs. This celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowsmas (from Middle English alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can-nosed people

I've recently been studying about being committed to a cause, and being "burdened" with a purpose. This is a really big idea for me as, in my humble opinion, it essentially represents the ultimate goal of the Christian life.

One of my pet peeves is consumer Chrisitanity. I don't know if it's cultural or just my tenacious drive to achieve my purpose, but I am convinced that as christians we shouldn't be so much about "shopping" for a church that meets our "needs," as much as we should recognize that we are the Church, and the reason we exist is to be God's "love-letter" to a hurting world. Recognizing this big idea should change the way we approach ministry, church, and people. Like Jonathan's (king Saul's son) aide-de-camp, when we understand that we are simply part of an army that has a larger cause than ourselves, our response to our "commanders" call to battle in the face of impossible odds is "Let's do whatever you say. I am with you heart and soul."

This kind of trust requires more than just belief in a good idea. It requires a confident trust in God's ability to work through the "Body" to accomplish His purpose regardless of what the prevalent circumstances appear to dictate. It requires a certainty of your calling in the face of insurmountable odds. It requires a knowing that our hearts must continually be pliable in God's hands even when we have suffered "loss" in the midst of the battle. Battle scars have a tendency to harden our hearts in an effort to help us cope with the perceived losses. But hard hearts and accomplishing God's purpose are diametrically opposed ideas. This is why consumer christianity is dangerous. It has the tendency to create in us a sense of entitlement. In other words, our christianity becomes milque toast and self absorbed instead of selfless and others focused. Listen to what the Scriptures have to say on this issue: He who hardens his heart falls into trouble (Proverbs 28: 14).

One of the stories that I read in my recent studies that best illustrates this, is the story of the cow that stuck her nose in a paint can while grazing, and couldn't shake it off. Apparently can-nosed cows can't breath really well, and they can't eat or drink at all. This put both the cow and her calf at serious risk. The family that owned the cow chased the cow around the pasture for three days in an attempt to help get the can off her nose. Each time they approached, the cow ran. Finally, coralling the cow with pick-up trucks and ropes, they cornered and de-canned her. How does this relate you ask? Well, have you seen any can-nosed people lately? Malnourished souls? Dehydrated hearts? People who can't take a deep breath? All because they stuck their noses where they shouldn't, and when God stepped in to help, they ran away. Many of us often resemble bull-headed people ducking God and scampering around, starving and struggling, yet trying to make it all work on our own terms. We often run from the very One who can help.

These can-nosed people are trying to make life work on their own terms. Committed to a cause, it's all about them! When the cause that burdens you is all about you, you are guaranteed to stick you nose where it doesn't belong and come up wanting. It's imperative that we find our calling and purpose so that we may live out the God induced burden that keeps us awake at night with divine indignation. What's your cause? What are you burdened for?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Relevant or relative Christianity? (Part 4 of 4)

In this final part of exploring how to find the balance as we reach the lost and the irreligious, I want to examine a certain assumption we’ve made which influences our approach to ministry. We’ve wrongly assumed that being relevant is synonymous with watering down the gospel to accommodate a less-than-godly lifestyle. In reality though, relevant ministry is essential if we are to make an impact on the culture and environment in which we have been called to serve. However, relevant ministry does not entail blending in to look like the culture we are trying to reach. It does, however mean that we must learn to communicate in a language that they understand. Take Music for instance. Music is considered a universal “leveler” since it breaks the barriers created by the differences in language and culture. This does suggest that people are more likely to be attracted to music that is upbeat and appealing more so than they would be to music that sounds like a funeral dirge.

Interestingly enough, Craig Groeschel happens to be blogging on a similar topic today (I promise you that I didn’t know that before I began this four part series), and so I will borrow from some of his ideas rather than reinvent the wheel, since he is expressing my sentiments almost verbatim. Here’s what Craig had to say regarding being a relevant church.

“When I was a kid, many churches didn’t engage my generation. Most of my friends ‘went to church’ but we didn’t follow Christ. The American church (for the most part) lost touch with how to engage the younger generations.

The church needed to change. And it did. We needed to become more relevant in the way we engaged non-believers, challenged believers, and presented God’s Word. One result was the ‘seeker-sensitive’ church. This movement brought some very positive changes including:

We don’t assume everyone is a believer when they come to church.
We don’t assume everyone knows our language, has a Bible, or even cares about Christ.
We are more outward-focused

In my opinion though, in recent years, the pendulum has swung too far. Now, in some places, church is so relevant that we almost seem to worship culture more than Christ.”

Maybe Craig read my blog the past few days. It’s amazing how much in tune we are on this subject. You see, I agree that we can really overdo the stuff that we think makes church cool and relevant. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with all the stuff. The problem is when we begin to think that it’s the stuff that impacts and changes people’s lives rather than the pure, unadulterated message of the Cross of Christ. What truly changes lives is not the coffee shop in the lobby, not the lights and cool video footage we show, not even the casual dress style and haircuts we sport. It is simply the love of God that changes a life. The goal of being relevant should be to create an environment where people can come and experience Christ and learn of His love for them in a language to which they can relate.

Let me illustrate that point with a story. When I was in Bible College, my Hebrew teacher was one of the guys who had worked on translating the NIV Bible, as well as one of the few people left who could read and translate Ugaritic (one of the more obscure languages of the Old Testament). He once explained to us that he came from a long line of Christians, and that many of his siblings were in fact missionaries. He told us about his brother who was a career Missionary in Papua New Guinea. His brother had given his life to learning the language of the people of New Guinea, teaching the tribe he lived with and served, how to read, and then translating the Bible into their language. A tall order under any circumstance right? Well get this: he had to also figure out how to translate the Scriptures so that they would be relevant and make sense from the cultural context of the people he was called to reach.

He ran into a major roadblock with the verse where Jesus was saying to Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” The tribe had no sheep and didn’t even know what they were. The dilemma: If they didn’t understand the value of sheep, they couldn’t understand the value that Jesus was placing on the ones He was charging Peter to love, disciple and serve. He knew that his primary objective was to communicate the love of God to these people in a language they would understand. The solution: Pigs were their livelihood. They traded pigs for daughter’s hands in marriage. Pigs represented their most valuable possessions. The verse was translated, “If you love me, feed my pigs.” Blasphemy I hear some of you say. I guess you’re still stuck on the KJV of the Bible (which by the way is not a literal translation of the Hebrew or Greek). The larger point here is the fact that we are constantly faced with the challenge of translating God to the unbeliever, and our lives represent the language He uses. God’s love demonstrated through us speaks louder than any of the trappings of ministry we might employ that make us relevant, or for that matter, louder than the holier-than-thou Christian who doesn’t want any sort of change that suggests a leaning towards the culture of the day.

I don’t know about you but I am personally convinced that I can reach the lost one person at a time as long as I speak a language that they understand. I for one want to be relevant. Love is a great cultural equalizer. Love is relevant under any and every circumstance. By the way, I’m convinced that those wonderful people of Papua New Guinea who painstakingly learned to read so that they could read the Bible in their own tongue and accept the Lordship of Jesus, are all going to heaven right alongside you and I even though they think Jesus loves pigs and not sheep! Now that’s what I call relevant!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Relevant or relative Christianity? (Part 3 of 4)

As I attempt to share some of my thoughts with you on the issue of finding a balance in the way we do church let me relate a conversation I had this past weekend with a pastor friend of mine. While sitting down to lunch with himself and his wife, our conversation drifted in the direction of discussing our favorite Christian authors. I mentioned that I was particularly partial to Erwin Raphael McManus whereupon my friends wife proceeded to tell me that she had heard that he was too “seeker sensitive” in his approach to ministry. I asked her to clarify her assertion and she further explained that the seeker sensitive crowd were the people who watered down the message of Christ so drastically that it lost its potency. I then asked her if, in her estimation he was not preaching the gospel and reaching people for Christ and her answer shocked me to the core. She said she didn’t know!

Wow! I didn’t know how to react to that. Her response seemed to imply that because a Sunday service does not incorporate “miraculous” healings, speaking in tongues, “falling-under the anointing,” prophecies and various other demonstrations of “super” spirituality, it would of necessity have to be labeled seeker sensitive, as if that is somehow a blight on the character of Christianity. Jesus Himself said He had come to seek and save those that were lost. Before you begin to question my stance on supernatural ministry, please believe me when I tell you that I have absolutely no issue with supernatural manifestations, in fact I have been both the instrument and the beneficiary of supernatural healing, but I also recognize that sometimes, these acts are forced during church services in an attempt to create a sense that God is moving. I have heard horror stories of people being pushed down as the preacher prayed for them and “released the power of God” so that they would fall under the anointing.

As we further pursued the discussion, I realized that we were in many ways at complete divergence in our approach to doing church. They were convinced that church is meant for the Christian; a place for discipleship, supernatural manifestations and the like. They opined that the irreligious or the unbeliever was welcome to attend the service as long as he was aware that it was a believers meeting. I on the other hand am just as convinced that church is an extension of Jesus and is meant primarily to reach the lost. This fundamental difference in philosophy, though on the surface simple, is really the crux of our approach. You see if you believe that church is primarily where Christians receive their spiritual nurturing, where supernatural ministry occurs, and where marriages are healed, then you will think that everything has to be accomplished in your Sunday service. You will believe that this is the only opportunity you have to “minister” to the visitors that come, so that they are impacted by the power of the anointing.

If on the other hand, you are persuaded that your Sunday celebration is primarily a point of contact to introduce people to Jesus, then you are less inclined to think that everything that the visitor needs has to be accomplished in that one service. The goal, at least from where I stand, should be to create an environment where the irreligious are accepted not threatened or confused (note that I didn’t say where they are comfortable), so that it opens the door to dialog and ultimately a desire for a relationship with Jesus. This has been our amazing experience at The Well, and I have learned that it is much easier to pray for healing in a marriage in the privacy of my office than it is to “prophesy” from the pulpit about a husband who is cheating on his wife, but about how God wants to touch and heal their marriage if he (the husband) will come forward and repent.

I take this position largely because I believe that you must earn the right to speak into people’s lives. You do that by creating a safe and non-threatening environment of mutual trust. I am not your pastor simply because you attend a Sunday Celebration Service at The Well, I am your pastor because you have learned to trust my calling, my commitment to you, and my ability to coach you in living life well according to the dictates of the Scriptures. All of this suggests that it’s actually not a sin if you don’t speak in tongues from the pulpit on Sunday morning. It means God is not necessarily mad at you if prophecy doesn’t happen after worship. It means you don’t have to have a separate sermon for the offering in order to “convince” people of the need to give. That’s what small groups are for: To teach people the doctrines of the Bible. That’s why we have encounter retreats, and discipleship classes, and growth tracks, and all the other things we do that provide an avenue for growth in, and ministry to the Body. Tomorrow I will explain a little bit more about the idea of finding balance in doing effective ministry.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Relevant or relative Christianity? (Part 2 of 4)

Yesterday we asked the question, “So where’s the balance?” I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out. On the one hand I know that we must be loving and accepting of all people. But on the other hand, I know that we cannot be loving and accepting of a lifestyle of sin. Somehow, Jesus managed to navigate the slippery slope of cultural norms, calling sin, sin, yet exonerating and restoring the repentant (like the woman caught in the act of adultery) in a culture that was a lot stricter than ours. There are those who have tried to suggest that, in order for us to impact our culture, we must not only identify with their shortcomings, but we must let them know that we are no different from them save for the fact that we have Jesus indwelling our hearts. These generalists would have us believe that the only thing that makes us different is that we profess the name of Jesus and that even with Jesus in our hearts; we have the same propensity to sinful tendencies the way the irreligious do. If this were true, then it would make nonsense of the need for Jesus to indwell a heart.

He indwells us so that He can bring us slowly but certainly to a place of total and complete transformation by His Spirit. We may have the same temptations to sin, but by golly I sure hope we don’t have the same proclivity to sin. As we yield to Jesus indwelling us, we become more like Him and less like the world. It’s almost akin to getting used to walking with a new prosthetic limb after replacement surgery, it takes time and constant practice until it becomes second nature, and suddenly you find yourself doing it without sparing much thought for the process, in much the same way you respond to driving a car).

The other school of thought suggests that we should “white-knuckle” our way through our Christian experience, forcing a lid on the can of our struggles to ensure that our sin never escapes. This, they suggest, demonstrates to the irreligious our commitment to our faith and our unwillingness to condone sin in any form. The problem with that theory is that the lid will inadvertently come off the can sooner or later. But don’t take my word for it, ask those Christian leaders who have struggled with secret sin for decades of their lives until they were finally exposed, with devastating consequences for them and their families.

So if the answer is not in accepting that we are no different from the world, so that when we do sin they are more accepting of us since we have already established that we are just like them; If the answer is not in white-knuckling our way through living sinless lives so that we demonstrate how “holy” we are, then what is the answer. I don’t profess to be the authority or the expert on these matters but let me give you my own two cents for what it’s worth. I know, I know, I'm making you wait until part 3 to give you the answer. Hey, if it works on Deal or no Deal, it sure as heck works here. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Relevant or relative Christianity? (Part 1 of 4)

Sometimes I think we try too hard! As Christians, we want so much to connect with the culture that we have been called to reach, that we risk becoming ineffective in our purpose as we end up blending in rather than standing out.

It kind of reminds me of parents that are trying too hard to be cool so that they can be accepted and liked by their kids and their kids friends. This is always a bad idea. For one, as a dad, you’d look kind of foolish sporting a Mohawk, “sagging” your 3-sizes-too-large pants, and hanging out at the mall with your son and his friends. Neither your son nor his friends would think you are cool. Quite frankly, they really wish you’d “grow up” and be the parent. If he hasn’t told you that yet, I’m sparing you further humiliation by letting you in on that open secret.

Before I completely take off on a rabbit trail, let me return to my prevailing idea of trying too hard to be accepted by the culture. As a pastor I can really relate to this conundrum. You see, I know what it feels like to attend a conference at a really great church that’s just oozing momentum all over the place, and wondering if maybe I might be missing something, which would explain (at least to my mind) why my church isn’t quite as rocking as theirs. Then I begin to try and figure out the next great fad, or the next great buzz word in the Church, so that I can latch on to that train and hopefully develop some momentum of my own (I know this never happens to you). Lately though, I have been really pondering the big idea of reaching the lost with the truth of the gospel. In my studies, I have gone back to the basics of what Jesus did and said (remember there were no Christians coming to His church when He started out in ministry, the only people He had to reach out to were the lost).

I discovered that I had devolved into shoddy thinking based purely on church cultural norms and dictates. All too often, for some misguided reason, we think that the way to impact the culture around us is to learn how to look, sound, and act like the culture. We even adapt their music styles, communication styles, fashion sense and everything else that makes secular culture what it is. One of the latest crazes is to develop a sermon series off the theme of a popular reality TV show and “make it ours” so that we can be more relevant and in touch with popular culture. Mark you, I am not by any stretch of the imagination condemning these practices, as I have had my own fair share of sermon series based off of reality TV (remember I said I can relate to the idea of trying too hard to be accepted by the prevalent culture). I am however beginning to ask the question as to the efficacy of the way we pastor our churches and lead God’s people.

Churches that have really loud, powerful music with all the accoutrements of lights, smoke and other “concert” paraphernalia tend to be seen as cool, progressive and enlightened churches. We often promote our dress style as, “Come as you are,” even at the risk of people dressing as if they threw something on and missed. We do all of this so that we can be seen as accepting, loving and non-judgmental. But I have to wonder: Is this really what Jesus would do? The dilemma, it seems, is in wanting to be all of these things (loving, accepting and non-judgmental) yet reflecting the power and truth of the gospel. Some are accused of being so “seeker-sensitive” that their message of the gospel is a watered down, half-truth rendition of what Jesus said. Others, in an attempt to speak the truth, have become harsh, insensitive and condemning of anything that doesn’t look like them. So where’s the balance you ask? The balance is in.... I guess if you really want the answer to that question you're just gonna have to come back tomorrow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thanks for the memories Hope

Hey Guys, I sure hope you enjoyed Hope's guest blogs (no pun intended). Hope is our Worship Ministries Pastor at The Well and I find her writing really inspirational, which is why I invited her to guest blog for me. If you didn't get a chance to respond to some of her questions and comments, now would be a great time to do so. Just scroll down to part 1 of "How God Made Me."

If you're local, and you were inspired by her writing, then come check her out live on Sunday mornings at The Well. Who knows, perhaps you might even convince her to guest blog for you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Guest Blog: How God Made Me (Part 3 of 3)

While dissecting my own personality traits, God showed me a few ugly things. I was really shocked, because I thought I was being good…being like Jesus… being the person He designed me to be. But in some areas, I wasn’t. I learned that God has created us with gifts. Those gifts are described in the Bible and demonstrated by God. (Gal. 5:22, 1 Cor. 7:7, Eph. 2:10, Jam. 1:17) He did not put in us anything that is not of Him. Everything else came from another source, whether that’s the sin nature from our forefathers, or the experiences we had as a child. And often, the very gifts that God has given us get twisted into another manifestation.

It took me a minute—okay, a while—to realize that my gift of Mercy had been twisted into something that refused to confront. I would allow myself, and others, to be repeatedly used, rather than confront in love. My gift of Mercy was twisted into making me an enabler… one who actually condones hurtful actions by not confronting them. The moment I realized that, I became accountable to God for it. Once we realize where we are wrong, it is our responsibility to begin immediately to change that thought process.

Often, when you begin changing your thought processes, you will find one of two things: 1. Either you were taught or “programmed” to act that way by family or experiences (your culture). 2. Or you believed a lie and a demonic influence has been at work. When you talk to people who have been through deliverance they will say “Since I’ve been delivered of xyz, I don’t know how to respond in that area any more. It’s as if I’m empty in that spot and something that has always controlled my response there is gone now. So now I have to fill myself with God and find out how I’m really supposed to act in that area!” I have been through deliverance and have said that same thing. I thought all along that it was my “personality” that acted that way…that was just “how God made me.” But really it was a demonic force working in me to twist the gift that I had been given and stop my growth.

2 Peter 1:5-8 says this:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For is you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:3-4
“His divine power has given us every thing we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

There is a “divine nature” He intended for us to have. We are to have it in every area of our life. And it’s His divine power that provides it for us. We don’t attain that by trying or striving, or through rules or self-professed humility… we receive it as a free gift when we allow Christ to live in and through us. Corruption of this world is not just murder and other vile things…it is corruption of God’s design…corruption of the gifts He has given you. We are to pursue Him and His nature in “increasing measure.” That means, once you think you have an inkling of it, never stop getting more. There should be none of this, “That’s how God made me, so the end, period, I’m done…no more growing!” The Bible says to renew your mind…and that starts with the deepest core of who you are as a person. Yes, Christ has a “personality”… as do you, but that “personality” is to be comprised entirely of God and Godliness… “It is not I that live, but Christ that lives in me.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Guest Blog: How God Made Me (Part 2 of 3)

You know, this subject of personality traits is very sensitive. That’s why my discussion with my husband was so “passionate”. And that’s part of why I suddenly realized that there was probably an issue here.

It’s because this is personal. Personal because we see these things as part of our make up—part of WHO we are. So when you question that thing, when you confront it, it feels like you are attacking ME. You are questioning “Me.” That part of how I was raised…part of how I grew up…part of what I have learned…part of how God has created me.. part of how He’s formed me and allowed me to be—and by allowing, I do mean condoning.

So here’s my challenge to you. Take a personality trait you have been questioned or confronted about and ask this: Is that really how God made me?

Stop there. If you get defensive when approached on this trait, then that may be a good sign that you need to research it with God. Dissect your answer… the structure of that trait may be Godly, but there may be some leeches attached. If you would say “Yes, that’s how God made me”—and you are right, then great for you! But if not, then you are faced with two issues:

1.If you answer, “No, that’s not how God wants me to be” and you have come to a point of realization, then from this moment on if you don’t repent and change, you condemn yourself by continuing in that sin. You have signed your signature on your own rebellion. You have said, “Yep, I know this isn’t exactly how God wants me to act, but I’m gonna anyway.” You are in rebellion and on top of it, you know it.

Here’s a great example: Pride If one more person in the church says to me, “Oh it’s just my pride…” as if that’s an excuse…I think I’ll throw up. Pride is the oldest sin. It got Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the garden and it got Satan kicked out of Heaven. It still exists today because its roots are deep. We walk around today and say, “Yes, yes, my pride…Oh God’s working on me there.” We talk about it as if it’s the sin that we’ll never get rid of…because everybody has it. And since everybody has it…let’s not really deal with it yet. Pride is like any other sin, once you are aware of it, if you don’t stop, repent and turn 180 degrees and go the other way, you are in rebellion and responsible before God. Get rid of it! He is sooo quick to forgive and clean us once He sees a repentant heart. His love is so incredibly, indescribably healing.

2. If you would say, “Yes, this is how God made me,” and you’re wrong… Then every day you are prophesying your own refusal to become everything that God wants you to be. You have found the “perfect” excuse to continue in something that is so much less than what God would have you be.

You have believed the lie that you can be nothing better than who or what you are now.
You have, in effect stopped dead in your growth walk with Christ in that area. He will not change you until you are willing to change—and you just said that you didn’t need to!
So ask your self again….really, is your response/action/thought process in this area exactly how God would have you act? If not, then it’s time to change.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Guest Blog: How God Made Me (Part 1 of 3)

“That’s just who I am…”
“That’s how I’m wired…”
“That’s just how my mind works…”
“That’s just the way God made me.”

You know, a thought once occurred to me after I’d made one of those comments. Is that how God made me?… or how I choose to be? So I thought for a moment and pondered and dug deep down inside myself… and decided that it was definitely how God made me. Then some time passed and the question rose again. Are “quirks,” or definitive parts of my personality really part of how God made me, or how I have become? Could I be using that comment as an excuse?

My husband and I had a discussion that sparked all of this—and of course we saw it completely differently. Kenneth, along with others, has told me I’m too accommodating… sometimes too soft… I shouldn’t let people “walk all over me.” I said, “Well, accommodating is how God made me. This is who I am!” Kenneth said it’s how I’ve become and choose to be. I have told Kenneth that I think sometimes he’s too quick to judge someone and then discard them. He says quick judgment is part of how God made him…he’s decisive—and that’s good. I say it’s how he’s become and chooses to stay.

So I started to listen and see if anyone else said that about themselves. Shortly after, I overheard a man telling his friend a story that dropped my jaw. He told his friend that he bought his fiancĂ© a boat for their engagement (really more for him than her), and named it “The Ring.” He said—and I quote, “She knows! I’ve been this way for 6 years and I aint’ gonna change…it’s her choice to marry me.” (Wow… now I’m sure it’s the way God made me…I’m way more holy than that guy.)

Some other examples I observed:
· My husband says I worry too much about things and people… But God gave me a heart of compassion for others and it’s good to dwell on and pray about things. He made me that way.
· My wife says I should be more giving to others and not so closed fisted… But God made me the provider for this household and He wants us to be blessed. God made me a go-get-em person so we could have what we need.
· I tend to get angry about things a lot…but it’s always righteous indignation! God was like that—He got angry too. He just gave me an extra portion.
· I tend to take things personally and take offense easily. God just made me sensitive.
· My friends say that I’m loud and obnoxious and talk too much…but God made me that way! He gave me a big mouth so I could use it.

Now what do you think? Both my husband and I justified our own actions, while believing the other’s actions was unjustified. We all know that God has a personality and emotions… we have them because He created them. But what does God really say about my personality or yours? Are the quirks that we are born with really put there by God? What do you think? More to come….

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The One

If we are visionary Christians, then we are constantly "disturbed" by the need to walk more intimately with God and to have a greater impact on the lives of the people with whom we have community. I have written exhaustively about the price of success as defined by the scriptures and not by the culture. Bloodied face, broken body, stranded, starved... these were some of the Apostle Pauls recollections of the "joys" of successful ministry he had to endure. I recently was on one of my favorite blogs where I read a number of different quotes that had been submitted by different people. Some of them were profound while others were bordering on obnoxious (just my opinion).

Paul and other modern day Christians like him, became successful because they recognized early on how to define success. Such people are tenacious in the pursuit of their purpose and this drives others to follow them, knowing that wherever they end up is a pre-determined destination as opposed to a random chance happening. One of the more profound quotes I read on the blog really inspired me to examine this fact a little closer. The quote was:

Of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't be there. eighty are nothing but targets. Nine are real fighters... we are lucky to have them... they make the battle. Ah, but the One, One of them is a warrior... and he will bring the others back.

- Hericletus (circa 500 B.C.)

Remember Neo in the Matrix? He was undoubtedly "The One." The Apostle Paul was undoubtedly "The One," which explains how come one who didn't come to faith until after the death of Jesus could account for having written two-thirds of the New Testament. Successful Christians are usually "The One." The ones who define success differently from the secular worldview. The ones who typically bring the others back, or, as the case may be, lead them to where they are going. Which one are you? Have you heard or read any quotes recently that profoundly impacted you? Please share.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Irrational Love

What manner of love is this: that a man would die for people that He doesn't know, knowing that many of them would still reject His sacrifice? I think often about the selfless sacrifices being made by our soldiers fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war ravaged areas of the earth. I think about the fact that many of these men and women are fighting to defend the freedom and liberty that many of us take for granted. Whatever your position may be about the justification of these wars, these men and women that bravely put their lives on the line daily to defend our freedom, don't have a choice.

They are enlisted in an army that requires them to follow orders to the letter. Their very lives, and the lives of their compatriots depend on it. So they fight. Some of them conscientiously objecting to the efficacy of the war, but they fight. That is what soldiers do. They fight wars to defend what they believe in. Some of them give their lives for the cause. You don't become a soldier unless you are willing to go to war and give your life for the cause. Moreover, soldiers get paid to fight. My understanding is that they even get hazardous job pay over and above their basic salaries. Why do they do it you might wonder? I would speculate that the reasons are many and varied. Some do it out of committment; some out of conviction; many out of obligation. But how many do it out of pure, unadulterated love?

That's why Jesus did it. That's why He went to war against the devil, to defend everything He believed in. He did it out of love for you. You see, He believes in you, even when no one else does. The difference between Him and the US soldier is that He has a choice. He is God incarnate after all, and He could have wiped out our world completely and started afresh. But He didn't. He chose to die for the cause, even knowing that many of us would still reject Him and His sacrifice. If the soldiers in Iraq feel hurt and rejected by people criticizing them for fighting a war in which they had no choice to begin with, I wonder how our Savior must feel being criticized and rejected by the very ones for whom He is fighting the war, especially since He has a choice. Then I realize, He isn't hurt by our rejection, He is simply heart broken at the possibility of losing any one of us to the enemy. This is true love.

Even after generations of people had spit in His face, He still loved them.... And yet, it is that very irrationality that gives the gospel its greatest defense. For only God could love like that (Max Lucado - God Came Near)

How does a person remain so focused on a cause in the midst of such abject adversity and criticism? The answer lies in clearly understanding your purpose. Jesus knew why He had come to earth. Nothing that the enemy attempted to do to distract Him worked. The enemy tempted Him with food when He was desperately hungry, knowing that He had the power to turn stones into bread. He tempted Him with a lust for power, suggesting that He throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple and then save Himself, knowing that He (Jesus) held the power of life and death. And he tempted Him with a desire for possessions, offering to give Him the kingdoms of the earth, forgetting that he was offering the earth to its Maker. Non of these distracted Jesus from His cause because He had the strength of self-mastery. His love for us motivated Him to remain singular in His purpose and vision, and so He gave His life for His creation. What manner of love is that? Have you ever loved anyone selflessly? Would you be willing to share that with me in this post?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Voice of Truth...

Theodore Roosevelts quote (below) is my quote of the month. I am amazed at the astuteness and insight into human nature he displays in his assessment of visionaries and their critics. Jesus expended little energy on responding to or dealing with critics. He recognized that His energies and efforts were better served pouring Himself out into the people who were hungry, needy and desperate for a touch from God. If, in the pursuit of your God-breathed dream you have had to contend with undue criticism, judgemental people, slander, and other such unpleasant experiences, then I have good news for you... actually President Roosevelt has good news for you:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. (Theodore Roosevelt)

Remember that what you do is vital and valuable to the lives of the people you have been called to touch with your life. The voice of the critics should not be the loudest voice you hear. Look around you; observe the lives of the people you have impacted with your life. Their lives and their triumphs should shout louder than any critics voice. Isn't that worth everything that you have had to sacrifice to be where you are?