Monday, September 29

God loves you

Alan Knox has once again expressed well a message all need to hear. Thanks Alan.


I have a message for all brothers and sisters in Christ...

To those who did not want to paste a fake smile on your face and act like everything is fine... God loves you!

To those who did not sign up to help in the new "ministry program" even though you felt pressured and made to feel less spiritual... God loves you!

To those who did not feel like sitting through another mini-concert and lecture that did not apply to you... God loves you!

To those who struggle with sins that are not the kinds of sins other believers accept... God loves you!

To those who have been called uncommitted because they do not attend every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and special event... God loves you!

To those who have struggled with their relationship with God and have been instructed that the answer is to get more involved with programs... God loves you!

To those whose children do not memorize all their Bible verses or cannot find every book of the Bible within 2.7 seconds... God loves you!

To those who do not work in the nursery, even after being guilted and given dirty looks... God loves you!

To those who choose not to bow your head and close your eyes... God loves you!

To those who feel they can never be good enough, can never do enough, can never look good enough, can never say the right things... God loves you!

To those who have had their questions, struggles, and pains all too easily brushed aside or fixed... God loves you!

To those who can't live up to the obligations and expectations that others have placed on them... God loves you!

To those who ask the wrong questions... God loves you!

To those who are ridiculed for being different and who stopped trying to look and act like everyone else... God loves you!

To those who have nothing to put into the offering plate... God loves you!

To those who would prefer not to sing in public... God loves you!

To those who fell asleep before the closing illustration of the third subpoint of the second section of the sermon from Leviticus... God loves you!

To those who like their tattoos, piercings, and long hair... God loves you!

To those who do not get excited about the latest publication by Rick Warren, Beverly Lewis, Max Lucado, Gary Chapman, or even D.A. Carson... God loves you!

To those whose children are not little angels... God loves you!

To those who are ignored or shunned or maligned by leadership... God loves you!

To those who have not memorized the books of the Bible, don't know where Nineveh is located, and can't pronounce the name Melchizedek... God loves you!

To those who have children but no spouse, a spouse but no children, or neither spouse nor children... God loves you!

To those who need a listening ear instead of a lecture, a friend with a helping hand instead of a ministry project coordinator, or someone with a gentle tongue instead of wrath and rhetoric... God loves you!

To those who are afraid to trust, afraid to care, afraid to love, or afraid to try... God loves you!

To those who want to follow God, but don't fit any of the ministry categories... God loves you!

To those who missed "church" four weeks in a row and no one noticed... God loves you!

To those who need five hours of baby sitting instead of a 5 second hug or handshake... God loves you!

To those whose "Sunday best" includes tank tops, ripped jeans, and flip flops... God loves you!

To those who would prefer to have someone show them how to live faithfully instead of tell them to live faithfully... God loves you!

To those who feel burdened by those around them and are not allowed to rest in Christ... God loves you!

Friday, September 26

How to win the world in one generation

The following comes from LeakeSpeak's Points to Ponder #5 ...

Have you ever wondered how we could win the world to Christ in our lifetime?

The Great Commission, that command Jesus gave all his disciples to do while He was gone, boils down to this: make disciples. Tragically, we get distracted with programs and organizations and structures and almost anything other than making disciples like Jesus said to do. Making disciples, according to what Jesus said, very simply amounts to teaching them to obey everything He commanded.

Teaching everything Jesus commanded includes teaching disciples to make other disciples. That was one of His commands; therefore, a disciple, by definition, is one who makes other Christ-followers. Jesus spent His public ministry, first and foremost, raising up a group of followers and telling them to do the same. This is because He knows the power of multiplication.

Guess what would happen if just one follower of Christ, in the next year, raised up one new follower and taught him also to make one new disciple each year? On down the line, every new disciple makes one new disciple a year and each new one is taught to do the same. Get the picture? At the end of the first year, you have two followers of Jesus, at the end of the second year you have four since they each made one new disciple, and so on down the line. If things continued this way with no break in the chain of multiplication, the entire population of the world would be following Jesus in 34 years. (And that’s accounting for a lot of population growth.) Amazing!

And, by the way, this year if all people who call themselves followers of Jesus each made one new disciple and taught them to do the same, in four years the entire world would be won to Christ. Four years! That’s the power of multiplication.

When we look at the needs around us and the fact that over 2.5 billion people have no self-sufficient church among them capable of making disciples of the rest of their people group, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We either get discouraged and do nothing, or we try and do everything, figuring, “It’s up to me to win the whole world”. Neither response is healthy or productive. The second response is the one that runs many professional clergymen into the ground as they try and build gigantic organizations and programs that will somehow turn the tide of lostness. The best action would be for us all to start obeying Jesus and disciple a few people around us as followers of Christ. This should be our first and most important work. If believers everywhere would only take this to heart, we would take territory from the kingdom of darkness on a scale rarely, if ever, witnessed before in human history.

So how about you? Will you take to heart the command to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded? Or did Jesus just give that command to special people not like you?

Tuesday, September 23

Following Jesus

Under Religious Views on my Facebook profile, I state "follower of Christ". What exactly does following Jesus entail? In reading the Gospels one finds a whole lot more detail and explanation than just going to church on Sunday, reading the Bible & praying, not cussing, smoking, drinking, or gambling.

One can land in just about any chapter of the Gospels and discover first hand what the twelve experienced with Jesus as they followed Him on a daily basis. It entails quite a different set of activities from what most modern disciples routinely experience.

In my quiet time these days I have been slowly going through Matthew's Gospel. Take a look at some of the things the disciples go through with Jesus in just a couple of pages (chapters 8 and 9) ...
  • going through a storm and nearly losing their lives
  • watching Jesus perform a miracle of calming the winds and sea
  • coming out of the storm only to face demon-possessed men (fringe/marginal people)
  • pigs running off a cliff and the locals traumatized
  • people begging you to leave their region (being unwelcome)
  • forgiving sins in Jesus Name (are we supposed to do this kind of thing?)
  • healing paralytics (those unable to walk on their own)
  • confronting religious opposition for doing what is good and right
  • identifying with sinners and outcasts of society (the non-church folks)
  • calling on sinners to leave what they are doing and follow Christ
  • going to a party, eating/drinking with non-followers of Christ
  • being given a lesson on mercy and what that means by seeing it first hand
  • being questioned about religious practices and traditions and answering
  • healing a sick woman
  • raising a dead child
  • healing the blind
  • driving out more demons
  • going from town to town teaching in synagogues
  • preaching Good News of the Kingdom
  • healing every disease and sickness
  • having compassion for the crowds
  • instructing disciples to pray for laborers
  • pointing out the abundant harvest to disciples
Does this sound like a typical follower of Christ today? Can we identify with the way Jesus lived and taught his own disciples and the kinds of things He exposed them to?

I am struck that these first followers of Christ spent so much time healing the sick and demon possessed. Yes, there is also the preaching, teaching element of discipleship, but a lot of time was spent healing and ministering to the sick and oppressed. How much of my time is spent in these kinds of activities? How much of the above list would characterize my own walk as a follower of Jesus? How about your own?

Wednesday, September 17

When Jesus leads us into a storm*

A personal dialog with Jesus
(from Matt. 8:18-27) ...

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea...

Why, Lord, do you lead us away from the crowds...activity...ministry just when things are beginning to look promising? There is so much to do. And just when the crowds are beginning to gather, you lead us to depart to the other side of the sea?

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him...

Yes, even though we don't understand your ways or timing, we who call ourselves followers of Christ, get in to the boat taking us far from all the action and exuberance of the crowds.

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep...

I might be able to deal with this storm if you were at least awake and personally navigating us through the crisis. How could you just lie there and SLEEP through the whole thing? This is terrifying. We're going under. We have no hope of getting out of this mess! What were you thinking when you led us away from the crowds and deliberately take us out into a dangerous storm? I'M NOT HEARING GETTING ANY ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS, LORD! Why the silence?!?! Don't you know that we're about 60-seconds from going under?!?!

And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!"

Now that we're in the middle of the storm you led us into, unless you personally intervene and save us, we will certainly perish!

Where is the God of Psalm 121, "The Lord is your KEEPER; The Lord is your SHADE on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord WILL PROTECT you from ALL EVIL; He will KEEP YOUR SOUL. The Lord WILL GUARD YOUR GOING OUT and your coming in From this time forth and forever." Aren't those your very words? Where are you now when we need you so desperately to come through for us?

He said to them, "Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?"

Afraid? Duh, of course we are afraid! Don't you see the waves around us? Can't you feel the wind blowing us away? Is this really the best time for a rebuke about our little faith?

Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.

Another second longer, and we most certainly would have gone under. Why did you wait so long to intervene? Why do you lead us out into storms like these?

"Sometimes God calms the storms;
and sometimes God lets the storms rage,
and calms the child." (Unknown)

The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

Now I am beginning to understand. There isn't a single aspect to our lives that you do not have completely under your control. Just as surely as you control the winds and sea, you are well aware of the "storm" I am going through right now. While I might feel anxious, troubled, and fearful at its "winds and waves", you are right there with me. You have allowed this storm in my life for a purpose. You wouldn't have allowed this storm unless it was part of your greater overall plan. I trust you now that you are in perfect control of everything happening around me.

I want to be faithful, and praise you in this storm.

"Praise you in this storm" by Casting Crowns.

*This post dedicated to all my friends and brothers out there currently going through a storm.

Sunday, September 14

Luther on house churches

The following material comes from Lutheran pastor, Tim Thompson's blog The Feral Pastor. If reformer Martin Luther would have followed his stated beliefs on church praxis, the evangelical "norm" might well have been house/simple churches, rather than what we have today.

"...Luther himself proposed house churches as the natural, even preferred context for people who were serious about following Jesus. (He calls these people the ones who are "desirous of being Christians in earnest and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth.")

The following characteristics summarize Luther's "Order of Divine Service" as to the "how" churches should be organized.
  • Self-organized
  • Home-based
  • Lay led
  • Full sacramental life
  • Stewardship and social ministry
  • Simple catechetical instruction
  • Ideal context for loving accountability after Matthew 18
  • "Form and Order" are not imported but emerge spontaneously from community life.
These are derived from material found online at the Hanover Historical Texts Project, and in Volume 53, pp. 63-64 of Luther’s Works, American Edition.

Here is Luther in his own words:
But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix. Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can. In the meantime, I would abide by the two Orders aforesaid; and publicly among the people aid in the promotion of such Divine Service, besides preaching, as shall exercise the youth and call and incite others to faith, until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together; to the end that there be no faction-forming, such as might ensue if I were to settle everything out of my own head.
So why didn't Luther follow through with these convictions concerning church practice?

Thompson shares two reasons: 1) he lacked the "requisite persons" (leaders, presumably), and 2) no one wanted to do it. So he decided to wait "until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together."

But Tim Thompson also suggests that the time is ripe today for reversing Luther's reasons for not implementing these views on church practice:

"Well, we've got lots of people capable of leading this now, and lots of people who want it, and I can tell you, there are a whole lot of people discovering each other and cleaving together..."

Do you agree that the conditions are finally ripe today? Can today's churches gather in ways similar to those suggested by Luther clear back in 1526?

I think so. Let's bring on the New Reformation!


P.S. If interested in reading more on this subject, check out Alan Knox's two excellent posts along the same lines, Luther and the Church, and Luther and the non-Christian "worship service".

Sunday, September 7

Why are we so program oriented?

Several years ago I was invited by one of our Baptist churches in Ecuador to preach their Sunday evening message. Even though I came prepared to preach, as I sat waiting my turn, I sensed from the Lord to use the allotted "message time" to lead the church in a 1 Corinthians 14:26 gathering. When given the pulpit, I briefly shared two brief passages about what we should be seeking when the Body of Christ assembles:

Hebrews 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

1 Corinthians 14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

I asked the congregation to rearrange the plastic chairs into a circle. Then with a few words of encouragement to literally "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" and "each one has..." for the edification of the saints, we began...

At first there was little understanding of what was expected, and the "how to" do what the Scriptures exhort us in these two passages. With a little prompting and some awkward silences, people slowly began to open up. We sang several songs of their choice, a couple of testimonies were shared of how God had been working in their lives. A sister shared a passage of Scripture that had spoken to her during the week. Someone asked for prayer. We gathered around that person laying hands on them and prayed. One brother confessed he had long harbored in his spirit something against another brother who was present. The two asked forgiveness of each other, hugged, cried, and prayed for one another.

By then we had gone well over the "30 minutes" allotted sermon time, but nobody was eager to break up and go home. After TWO HOURS of open sharing and Spirit-led interaction, I turned the "service" back over to the pastor of the church. He stood, thanked me (didn't he mean the Holy Spirit?) for leading them in a most "interesting" evening. Everyone was then asked to rearrange the chairs back into rows. The offering was collected, and the pastor announced that next week they would resume their regular message series. What we had just experienced was simply an interesting Sunday night special program, but was clearly not the norm for the church to continue to meet in this fashion.

Why are we so programmed oriented when we gather as the church? There is so much that the Head of the Church, Jesus, wants to do in our midst: heal, encourage, build up, teach, yet to risk any embarrassing or awkward moments that might take place in such a Spirit-controlled environment, we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Obviously we are much safer controlling all that is said and done by carefully planning of what takes place when we gather, and WHO gets to be the ones to speak/share/lead.

On our previous Stateside Assignment (furlough) I was invited to fill the pulpit at another Baptist church who was then between pastors. Again, instead of preaching, I (and another visiting missionary) shared with them something similar to what was described above. Even though everyone was seated in pews, the same thing happened! The people were freed in the Lord to share Jesus with one another. What took place was a powerful moving of the Spirit as young and old alike were freed to share in the Lord.

This church enthusiastically continued this practice on Sunday evenings for many weeks thereafter. That is, until they finally called a new pastor. Sunday evenings then reverted back to the "normal format" of song service and preaching. The voice of the saints was again given back over to those leading everything from the pulpit. By then we had long returned to Ecuador, but I heard how much they missed gathering in the New Testament way. They tried to understand why, what had been so meaningful to them, had to be discontinued for the traditional song service/preaching format again.

Why are we so program oriented? Why are we afraid to gather today in what is clearly a much more Biblical way, than what takes place in most churches with a controlled program format?

Monday, September 1

Seeing legacy churches through simple church eyes

We've been back in the USA for 90 days now. During this time we have had the opportunity of visiting some wonderful Baptist churches here in Texas. Texas Baptists are some of God's most precious saints on the face of the earth! However, after years of being immersed in simple church values and practices, it has been quite a personal adjustment to re adapt to the way "traditional church" is done with its programs, practices and structures.

After now sitting through three months of worship services and Sunday School classes in half a dozen different churches, what follows are a few observations coming from someone who has long been out of practice of "going to church" as is commonly practiced here in America.

Sunday Morning Sermon. Instead of preaching 30-45 minutes and then everyone going home and promptly forgetting all/most of what has been so conscientiously prepared, why not share a reduced 15-20 minute message and spend the balance of time allowing interaction by the congregation? This personal interaction with the message would bear far more fruit than simply listening to a good man preach. Depending upon the size of the church and seating layout, this could be done in several different ways:

1) The pastor could end with a few key questions that get at the heart of what he was trying to share. As people begin to respond back to the pastor a dialog could ensue amongst all those present. The pastor could facilitate the discussion as several share their wisdom and understanding from their rich experience.

2) People could be encouraged to break up into small groups and share with one another what they sense God is saying to them through what has been shared through the Word.

3) Ask people to share how they intend on applying what they have learned from the Word. What specific actions is the Spirit of God impressing upon them in response to the message? Wouldn't 10-15 minutes praying for one another and applying the message with their individual situations have a more meaningful impact than simply one person doing all the talking?

It is strange that week after week so much effort has gone in to preparing good Biblical messages, only to be concluded with an invitation which usually has nothing to do with what has been preached. Sometimes 2-3 people will go forward during the invitation, but rarely does it have anything to do with the preceding 30-45 minutes. Why is the bulk of time given to one brother speaking week after week while the remaining 99% just sit and listen? Is church primarily about the message preached by the pastor? What happened to the exhortation by the writer of Hebrews, And let us consider one another, to incitement of love and of good works, not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, as is the custom of some, but exhorting, and by so much more as you see the Day drawing near?

The offering. Instead of passing the plate while soft instrumental music plays in the background, or someone sings a "special", why not have someone testify how money given is actually impacting lives and making a difference in the Kingdom? For example, have the VBS Director come forward and share how the budgeted $1000 was spent and the impact this effort had on the lives of 200 kids. Share a few stories. Let people hear first hand how their giving is actually helping to make a difference in people's lives. Invite a missionary to share for a few minutes during the offering time what God is doing in their country and how the church's giving to missions is actually impacting Peru or wherever.

Sunday School. Instead of the goal being to get through the week's lesson, why not allow the Spirit of God to take us where He wants to lead us? Sunday School is the closest thing in legacy churches (in my opinion) to New Testament ekklesias--or has the potential of being so. Here we have the chance to really minister to one another through the Word in a smaller group setting. Yet, class after class, I have sensed that what matters is getting through the lesson, not on building up--encouraging--one another in the Lord. Sunday School seems more an intellectual, educational pursuit where we learn something from the Bible passage studied. There is nothing wrong with studying the Bible, but it could be so much more if we would allow the Living God to not only stimulate our intellects, but minister those studied truths into one another's lives.

Singing and praise. Maybe it's just me, but week after week, 75-80% of what is projected onto the overhead screen are songs I am hearing for the first time. I personally find it frustrating that all the songs are chosen ahead of time by the worship leaders and they are the ones calling all the shots from behind their amplified instruments and microphones. My voice is dimmed and unable to compete with the electronic powers that dominate what passes as "worship" to the Lord. I am getting close to thinking that maybe the non-instrumental Church of Christ churches are far closer to the true spirit of worship with their a cappella singing than what passes for today's contemporary worship practices. As I said, maybe it's just me, but this is truly a struggle not being able to interact more with what is sung and hear from others what they are thinking/feeling as they sing to the Lord. Also, what happened to hymns? They've disappeared from the churches! I am not against singing unto the Lord a "new song", but it does bother me that the great hymns of the faith which have sustained God's people for decades (centuries) are being substituted by songs with with far inferior content and lyrics. A possible solution? Un-program the worship times. Give worship back to the people. Yes it would be messy at first and some would not like it--it would be awkward--but after a few weeks of adjustment, worship would gradually return to being worship instead of what, seems to me, a programmed performance where we follow along with whatever is fed to us from up front.

Probably the most striking thing I have noticed after years of being away from legacy churches is the almost non-existent place of prayer in the gatherings of believers. Prayer is used more as a way to begin and close meetings, but I have seen little real praying when believers gather. Singing praise and worship songs is certainly a way of addressing our Lord, but there are so many other aspects of our communion with God that are going unaddressed in our gatherings: prayers of repentance/confession, prayers of united intercession and supplication, prayers for laborers (Lk. 10:2), prayers for wisdom/guidance/discernment, spiritual warfare, prayers for healing and for the sick, prayers for those who do not know the Lord, etc. Prayer takes time. I see little time in our gatherings being spent in prayer. Maybe the problem is we have to cram everything in between 11am-12noon. There simply isn't time for prayer when we gather if we are going to sing for 20-minutes and listen to a 30-minute message. But then, is it any wonder we have such little spiritual power in our midst? Maybe we should reschedule church on Sundays from, say, 5-8pm to give us adequate time to deal with truly being the Body of Christ and all that implies.

So, what are some of your thoughts? How can we be the church, be God's people; instead of going to church and doing church?