What Should Donald, Hillary, or I Be Afraid of?

160302005451-trump-and-hillary-exlarge-169Hopeful ramblings…

I fear, it’s time we had a little less confidence and a little more fear.

Psalm 47:2 “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,  a great king over all the earth.”

This fear is rooted in the reality that God reigns supreme.  This world is His.  And all who have power are accountable to Him.

Psalm 47:7-8 “For God is the king of all the earth… God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”

None of us are open to the wisdom of God for his world, without the fear of God.  Without fear, we determine our own values, we define our own problems and we devise our own solutions!

Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

In the book of Proverbs, 14 times the fear of the Lord is tied to some aspect of living in wisdom and understanding.

When God’s character and sovereignty are ultimately revealed, it will evoke the response of fear and worship from all.

Revelation 15:3,4 “…Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God Almighty!     Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship you,  For your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Life will be better for all, if we would open our hearts and minds to this reality now.  My fear is that whomever we elect, God will need to teach him/her or them the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar.  Reading Daniel 4, God loved King Nebby and his world enough to force him to realize his pride and God’s right to rule and reign.  It took a humbling downfall to get him there.  But he got there.

Daniel 4:37 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Now, just in case we Christians are tempted to say, “Yeah, that’s right Donald!  That’s right Hillary!”  That same fear must reside deep in our hearts.  It is not fear of the world.  It is not fear of a ruthless, vindictive God.  It is fear of the God who rules and reigns over His creation.  Let’s call it supreme respect and awe.  It compels us to long for his salvation and live under his rule, leadership and authority.

It has been a mark of God’s people. And it should be again. It empowers our witness and enhances our effectiveness.

Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

2 Corinthians 5:11 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

I don’t really know how I’ll vote.  But what I hope to see before election day is a crack in the facade of self-confidence and a glimpse of humility, however small it may be.  I pray that this fear would also reside in me.

It is only in humble fear that any of us will be ready to receive the wisdom of God.

7 Indicators We May Be Losing Our Missional Edge

losing edge

We face an ongoing challenge in planting, or leading churches today.  It’s tough to stay committed to God’s mission of reaching the lost.  It’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing church without really impacting lives with the transforming work of the gospel.  It’s easy to lose the mission, while doing church!  As I’ve listened, watched and experienced in various ministry settings, there are indicators that we have lost, or maybe haven’t had a missional edge.

 

#1 Lack of personal transformation of the leader(s).  When we stop being shaped by God’s heart, in the deepest recesses of our soul, we lose God’s heart.  And God’s heart is for the lost.  Personal transformation keeps the leaders close to God’s heart for mission.

 

#2 Lack of personal outreach of the leader(s).  Recently, I’ve been reminded again and again, leaders who don’t live outreach can’t lead outreach.  Personal outreach constantly tenderizes the leadership heart for the broken around them.

 

#3 Sunday has become the mission.  When ministry’s effectiveness is measured by weekend attendance, the mission has been lost.  In missional churches, Sunday is the launching pad for a week of God’s people doing mission in their world.

 

#4 Transfer growth is the primary growth of the church and the church is okay with that.  When this happens mission has slipped.  We’re just shuffling sheep.  And if that’s enough, see #3.  Conversion growth is God’s desire and design for healthy church ministry.

 

#5 Paid professionals do the ministry because we want things done professionally.  Our ministry values make it nearly impossible for lay people to be involved, except to serve the desires of staff.  The mission requires that each believer be ready to use his/her gifts to bring the gospel to their world.

 

#6 We value image over substance.  We want to look good.  We want to feel successful.  We want church to work like a well-oiled machine.  We stop looking for deep, transformational, prayerful and messy change.  It’s only when we are being shaped by the presence of Christ, that we can show people the Kingdom of God.

 

#7 We want immediate ministry success (usually defined as numbers), over ministry resilience.  Ministry resilience (the ability to adapt, stay faithful and move forward in our world), requires enduring through trials over time while experiencing the faithfulness of God.  Ministry resilience is what keeps a ministry on mission for the long haul.

 

My prayer is that the body of Christ will be led by pastors and churches who are committed to staying on God’s mission for the long haul. If we’ve lost the edge, I think regaining the edge must begin with #1 and #2.  From there God can reshape his mission in us.

 

How have you seen these at work?  Are there other indicators that you’ve seen or experienced?

Please share if you think this would be of encouragement to any others!  Thank you.

 

A Rose By Any Other Name…

Look at these two News Headlines and ask, “What’s the difference?”

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.26.31 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.25.27 AM

Both stories show governments reaching beyond their God-given responsibility to control the church and limit the work of the gospel of Christ.  The first is a government trying to control the gospel outside the walls of a state-approved building.  The second is a government trying to control the life and message of the church inside the building.  Which is better?  Neither.  It’s the same spirit at work.

Just a note of encouragement… the gospel won’t be stopped!  It is life!  And life, grace, forgiveness, hope, righteousness wins.

What We Need to See Today

la-na-second-amendment-20160707-snap

My heart’s cry:  We need leaders in all spheres (religious, civic, social) who will be examples and pay the price to bring people together.

But how?
The hardest first step of restoring a relationship is to listen without the need to defend oneself.
Listening without defending allows us to truly hear the needs of the other.
Listening without defending allows us to be honest about our own role in the conflict.
A tough second step is to affirm and act on our commitment to come through this together, whatever the personal cost.
It will cost us our preferences.
It will cost our resources (time, energy, and money).
It will cost at least a bit of our own ideologies.
When this process seems too costly, or too difficult…
First, let’s consider the cost of not doing it.  We’ve paid just a small amount of the price the last couple of days.  We can be assured there is more to come on both sides of the divide.  Being right may just be too expensive.
la-1467966677-snap-photo
Second, consider the example of Christ.  He willingly gave us His own life to give people a new life of oneness and unity – a people made up of every ethnicity, every language under heaven.  For those of us who name Him Lord, our choice is made.

Joy In the Morning

amc

Note:  This devotional was written for the “Wherever” Devotional book, published for Village Creek Bible Camp in Lansing, IA.  Available Here.  I am posting it today in honor of #AMCawarenessday, and as a reminder to all of us that God has a joy-filled purpose for everything He writes into our story.

Psalm 30:5 (ESV)
5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

“Dad, it’s not good.” I was trying to hear through the fuzzy bluetooth connection, register what was happening and hurtling down the highway at 75 miles per hour. My oldest son called to give an update on the birth of our first granddaughter, Clara Grace. We asked what was wrong and through tears, he said, ”a lot.” Clara was born with arthrogryposis; a name we wouldn’t learn until much later. What it meant was that her arms and legs were bent, her joints were tight and constricted.  At that moment, breathing was the big concern.

     For the next 90 minutes, my wife and I cried, prayed, and hoped. We couldn’t imagine the pain our kids were feeling. My anxiety and pain increased as I anguished and rehearsed what life might hold in the days ahead. At the hospital, we heard the updates, and as a family went into the NICU. I sat in a chair and Andrew handed me his little girl. She seemed half her size. Her legs were bent. Her chin was small.  Her arms gripped her torso, unable to stretch. She was a bundle, all balled-up.

     I held her, afraid and filled with love. I was also filled with a palpable joy. My tears flowed as I told her again and again that she was loved. God loved her and so did we. Where did the joy come from? It didn’t come from empty promises of an easy life. Nor did it come from any knowledge that this would be fixed. It came from getting a glimpse that Clara’s story was part of God’s story of grace and redemption. The joy came from understanding the Author of all things was writing a story that only she could live. And because He’s good, her story would be good.

     The psalmist wrote, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Weeping may hang out in darkness, but something happens in the light of day. It doesn’t fix things. The light of day brings clarity. It helps us see that God’s at work. There is One who is carefully and skillfully crafting a story for us to live with Him. Clara Grace’s name means “clear grace.” That is what the morning brings, a view of God’s clear grace. When we see it we know great joy, even with tears.

     Father, thank you for the joy the morning brings. Thank you for the the windows through which the light of understanding comes. Thank you for the joy the floods my heart.  In every moment of sorrow, or frustration today, help me wait with you for the clarity only You can give.  And in this glimpse fill me with unending joy!  In Christ’s name and for your glory!  Amen.

The Radical Pursuit of Rest, book Review

radical pursuit

The Radical Pursuit of Rest, by John Koessler is more than a how-to.  Though there are practical implications of application for each of us.  John has written a lively, engaging, convicting theology of rest that makes us face the unique dangers of our culture inside and outside the church.  These very dangers keep us from experiencing the greatest blessing of our salvation – true Sabbath rest.

John begins by helping understand how our culture has shaped our view of productivity.  We belong to a busyness culture.  It drives us in our workday and in our worship of Christ.  Because of our bent of valuing productivity above all else, it becomes the measure of our faith.  “Since our devotion to Christ should know no bounds, neither should our activity.  No matter what we are doing now, we should do more.  No matter what we have done in the past, it has not been enough.” p.19
 
The answer is not a self-imposed withdrawal from activity.  As John writes, we don’t need a vacation or new leisure activities, we need a new yoke.  The yoke of Christ is a yoke of rest.  It is given as a gift to the weary (Matthew 11:28-30).
While rest should be pursued by us, John reminds us, it never earned.  It is given and received.  Rest shows up a lot like sleep.  “Sleep comes to me as a surprise, greeting me like a lover who embraces me from behind.  So it is with the rest of Christ (p.32).”
Rest is a gift given to us as we pursue Christ.  John doesn’t say that we shouldn’t reorder our lives, so we can receive this rest.  But neither does he chide us into creating new “restful” activities out of guilt and shame.  Rest isn’t just a better thing to do.  Rest is a gift to live in.
Two chapters really encouraged and challenged me.  One was chapter 4, “False Rest.”  He writes about the difference between true rest and slothfulness.  “Sloth is rest’s dysfunctional relative, he says.”  He quotes Dorothy Sayers, “It [sloth] is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for (p.65).”
Sloth destroys our prayer life.  That is understandable because prayer is truly a labor of the soul.  But, sloth will also hide itself in vision, John warns.  We can get so wrapped up in creating vision for the grand and glorious that we stop doing the ordinary work of serving.  We ignore mundane by constantly painting a picture of how we think life and church ought to be.  As one who likes to talk about vision and hopes and dreams and faith, I am convicted that at times, I have ignored the work in front of me in order to rework the vision.  Or more accurately I have spent hours reworking vision, painting a new picture, in order to ignore the work in front me.
A second chapter that confronts me as pastor and church leader, is chapter 6, “Worship as Rest.”  John challenges us to see worship as an act of resting.  We tend to speak of and plan for a worship experience filled with activity, a holy busyness.  Meaningful activity for sure, but certainly not rest.  In my first church, there was a man from the community who only attended Sunday evening service (remember when we had those?).  As a 24 year old pastor, I assumed he had to be at least 100 years old.  Now, as a 54 year old pastor, he probably was closer to 75.  Each Sunday night, after the hymns were sung and I got up to preach, we would settle himself in.  He always sat on the far end of the pew.  He turned at an angle toward the pulpit, wedging his back against the side and back of the pew.  He slid he rear forward to the edge of the bench.  At that point, he folded his arms, lay his chin against his chest so his neck would disappear.  And before I was done with the introduction, he was fast asleep.  Several people in my church apologized to me for him.  And my reply was, “it doesn’t bother me.  He’s sleeping in the arms of Jesus.”  Truth is, it bothered me a bit.
John doesn’t imply that we should all sleep in church.  But we should find worship together as a time that is filled with the rest of Christ.  John quotes theologian Donald Bloesch in saying, “Worship is not simply an attitude that permeates all things Christians do, but an engagement with the sacred in acts of praise and thanksgiving.  Service to our neighbor proceeds from worship, but worship is something much more than service.  It involves an encounter with the Holy that brings us interior peace and salvation (p.102).”  That sounds like real rest to me.
Rather than continue giving away the details of the book, let me encourage you to read it.  Use it personally.  Use it for your church staff.  Use it in your small groups.  Knowing the rest of Christ, by experience, will take a change of thinking.  It will take the courage to reevaluate what we are doing and why.  But after reading the book, I believe you will become aware of your weariness from much of what we do.  You may also discover a new longing to receive what Christ has been trying to give us all along.
On a personal note, I am privileged to count Dr. John Koessler as a friend and colleague.  He is a fellow disciple who is walking the journey we all walk.  He has been there to encourage me as well as give advice in my role as pastor, father and follower.  He is in the right place, preparing future pastors in how to love and serve Christ and His church.  I appreciate how God has gifted in the area of writing and look forward to more from him in the future.

Don’t Fall for Being a Genius!

IMG_2617

You’ve seen these all over Facebook haven’t you?  It’s a puzzle.  But it’s also a lesson.  As a puzzle, the answers of each equation lead you to find a pattern which will give you the answer for the last equation.  It really doesn’t take a genius.  The reason I know that is because I figured it out in about 15 seconds.  You just take the sum of each equation and add it to the numbers of the next equation.  5+2+5=12; 12+3+6=21; therefore the last equation adds up this way: 21+8+11=40.

[Here’s an additional approach, taken by the more genius of my readers (Dave Wick): “there is one other pattern. Each complete equation could also be the result of adding the first number of the equation to the multiple of the first and second number, making the last answer 96.”]

But as I said, this is not just a puzzle.  It is also a lesson.  You see, the way it’s written, the first equation is right.  The second is wrong.  The third is wrong.  And the answer the fourth is 19.  Just because other people get it wrong, it doesn’t change the rules of math, or let’s say, the “truth” of math.  The context of 8+11 doesn’t change the truth of how math works.  You can put these equations in any order and the real answer is the same… 19!

“But I want to be a genius,” you say!  And that’s just too easy.  It’s too simple-minded.  Maybe.  But it’s true.

Christians are being told that our context is changing.  And it is.  We may need to change our approaches.  But that doesn’t change truth.  People in our culture are looking for new patterns, new ways of defining, new ways of understanding the most basic, enduring truths the world has known.  And many believers are tempted to follow suit.  We find more and more Christians who are afraid of letting the truth stand.

This applies to both conservative and liberal Christians.  We all are tempted to shape the gospel to be what fits us and those around us.  We are tribal and we all want God to look like our tribe.  Truth, if it exists, should look like us.  But the believer who takes truth seriously will constantly look for signs that we have made truth fit us, rather than truth bending us toward God’s reality.

Like psalmist, with God’s Word open, we should pray…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! 

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139:23-24

Now, I don’t think we need to be rude about truth when we find it.  But neither do we need to stop believing and living out what is true.  Here is some truth to chew on… Christ is Lord.  The Bible is His Word.  Faith and repentance are the responses God requires of us.  Love is defined by God and His Word.    Sacrificial love (as defined by God) is to be given to God, to my neighbor, to my brother and sister in the faith, and also to my enemy.  These are all truths no matter our context and no matter our circumstances.

Let’s not fall for being a genius in our culture and context.  Let’s be faithful to truth as God has revealed it.