Ephesians 1:18

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... Ephesians 1:18

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Grace Killers Among Us


The recent death of Pastor Fred Phelps and the resignation of Bill Gothard while being investigated on charges of sexual harassment brought to my mind Charles Swindoll's definition of a "grace killer" in his classic book Grace Awakening.

Swindoll doesn't mince words in his book, as he sounded the alarm in Grace Awakening,  "There are killers on the loose today.  The problem is that you can't tell by looking.  They don't wear little buttons that give away their identity, nor do they carry signs warning everybody to stay away.  On the contrary, a lot of them carry Bibles and appear to be clean-living, nice-looking, law-abiding citizens.  Most of them spend a lot of time in churches, some in places of religious leadership.  Many are so respected in the community, their neighbors would never guess they are living next-door to killers.  
They kill freedom, spontaneity, and creativity; they kill joy as well as productivity.  They kill with their words and their pens and their looks.  They kill with their attitudes far more often than their behavior.  There is hardly a church or Christian organization, school or missionary group or media ministry where such danger does not lurk.  The amazing thing is that they get away with it, day in and day out, without being confronted or exposed.  Strangely, the same ministries that would not tolerate heresy for ten minutes will step aside and allow these killers all the space they need to maneuver and manipulate others in the most insidious manner imaginable.  Their intolerance is tolerated.  Their judgmental spirits remain un-judged.  Their bullying tactics continue unchecked, and their narrow-mindedness is explained away or quickly defended.  The bondage that results would be criminal were it not so subtle and wrapped in such spiritual-sounding garb.
This day - this very moment - millions who should be free, productive individuals are living in shame, fear, and intimidation. The tragedy is they think it is the way they should be.  They have never known the truth that could set them free.  They are victimized, existing as if they are living on death row instead of enjoying the beauty and fresh air of the abundant life Christ modeled and made possible for all of his followers to claim.  Unfortunately, most don't have a clue about what they are missing."

Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, is easily identified as a grace killer among other things, because of his church's protests and picketing at funeral services including those of the military.  His anger was usually directed at homosexuals preaching that the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was God's punishment for society's tolerance of homosexuality.  

Gothard's focus on the law over grace set him up as a "grace killer". He developed a program with a lengthy set of strict rules and hierarchy in which to live by. Thousands of people followed Gothard and his extremely rigid code of conduct for marriage and raising children which he claimed was taken from the Bible. It was ironic that someone who never married and never had children could be such an expert on marriage and raising children.  While many swore by the school of Gothard, many others couldn't handle the control, manipulation, guilt and weight that was the result of his ordered life. 

These two are obvious targets but there are probably grace killers in your church as well that are not as easy to spot. Your pastor may even be one. Heck, you and I could be grace-killers without even realizing it.  

We need to first recognize when we personally begin to slide into the grace killing mindset.  Only by dying to self and letting go of the need to control others for our own personal gain will we avoid becoming grace-killers.  

What other actions do you find to be characteristic of grace killers?  If you are a pastor, how do you deal with those grace killers in your church?  How did Paul and Peter handle the grace killers in the early church?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Foundation of All Discipleship

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Yesterday during our Missional Association church planters luncheon I was reminded in a very strong way that the essence of all we do as pastors and Christ followers is rooted in this verse.  If all we do and who we are, is not abiding in Christ, our works, our ministry, our life is nothing.  Our day, our Christian walk must start out with this basic principle, abide in Christ.  

When we reproduce disciples, do we reproduce ourselves?  Or do we reproduce Christ?  Do we reproduce workers?  Or do we reproduce others who also abide in Christ?

When making disciples we must live and lay down this foundational truth found in Jesus' words of John 15. It is such a simple truth that we often overlook the significance of it in our lives.  In our busy days with so much to do and so much to teach, we breeze past it.  Yet everything rests on this principle of abiding in Him, all doctrine, every aspect of the Christian life. We cannot undervalue this aspect of the Christian life and cannot focus on it too much.  

What does abiding in Christ look like in your life?  

I've posted two other blog posts about discipleship and bearing fruit that speak to this.



Monday, March 10, 2014

The most important message to pastors and church planters

There's a lot of information to be processed and strategies to develop when planting and pastoring a church.   Much of it is important but if you neglect this, you will miss out on what God wants to accomplish in your life and church.
Frank Viola's message is the single most important aspect of a Christian leader's life. 

Click on the link to hear the message Audio message

For the written shortened transcript click The transcript

I'd love to read your thoughts on Viola's message.  

What does Jesus' statement "pick up your cross and follow me" mean to you?

What are some of the crosses has God given you to carry?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The One Thing That Hinders My Mission Is The Church!


Recently a missionary friend confided to me that the only thing that was keeping him and his wife from reaching the lost and doing what they felt God had called them to do was the church!  This couple had recently retired and moved across the ocean to minister in an area of the world where the Gospel had once been vibrant but now had become dark and spiritually void. 

They had partnered with a small evangelical church which had invited them to be missionaries in their community to reach the lost. They didn't come with a plan or agenda, they were coming with open hands curious to see what God had in store for them.  Within a few days, God had flung the doors wide open and given them wonderful opportunities.  They were meeting people, building relationships with the lost. God had provided a place to live that included a ministry downtown and several great opportunities to make an impact for Christ in this community. 
However, the one stumbling block to their ministry seemed to be the church in which they had partnered.  Instead of helping, the church began to control and say "no" to almost every idea they had for ministry.  They either could not do something because of "doctrinal" issues or "methods" that were contrary to the church's teaching or tradition.
  
In the mist of God's miracles and this incredible energy and excitement for sharing the Gospel, there was this wet blanket being thrown over them by the church.  It was taking the wind out of their sails and discouraging them at every turn. Here in this incredibly dark region of the world with so many people living without Christ, the leaders of this small church were debating doctrine and arguing over what method they should be using to reach the lost.  It's like a group in a life boat in a sea of drowning people arguing over which type of life-saving device they should use.  

It breaks my heart to hear anyone say that the one thing that stands in the way of being the church is the church itself!  And yet unfortunately many churches that desire to be salt and light to their neighbors morph into institutions that impede the efforts to reach the lost.  They are extinguishers of the gospel fire, instead of the lighter fluid. 

Liz Wiseman writes in her wonderful book Multipliers that many leaders can become accidental diminishers.  Here is a link to the chart of the different types of leaders who unintentionally shutdown the productivity of those they lead. view chart.  Similarly, pastors and leaders of the churches become diminishers also when they get caught up in doctrinal squabbles.  They can also shut down creativity by limiting the ways they do ministry.  

These are just two of the ways the church acts as a deterrent rather than a catalyst for ministry. What might be some other ways you can think of that the church may be accidental diminishers, deterring what they are trying to accomplish?

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to understand the New Testament and first century church better

Depiction of early church painted on a church in Romania

I recently had the fortune to read Frank Viola's book, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament.  Wow! This book has really helped me understand the bigger picture of just what it took for this new faith to grow and how it all fit together.

In The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Frank Viola takes all the New Testament books and puts them in their proper chronological order, detailing the missionary journeys of Paul and how the early churches began.  We get a first-hand "you are there" narrative, traveling with Paul on his journeys and feeling Paul's disappointments and his victories. 

Here are some of my takeaways from the book, other than the big picture:
  • At one point I had to put the book down and just contemplate the complexities and dysfunction of the early churches. You think you have problems in your church! So many churches struggled with false doctrine and battles over control. That's what Paul's letters were all about, but reading this book helped me see just how important Paul and Peter were to keeping the church from totally self-destructing. 
  • Paul's commitment, determination and laser focus to do what God called him to do is incredible! In spite of beatings, stoning, imprisonment and threat of death in almost every city and town he visited, in spite of reports of deep rooted problems and conflict in churches he had started, he kept going and kept leaving a group of believers behind in each local who would become the church.
  • The end of the book describes how each of the disciples was martyred for their faith. I was numb after reading because I had gotten to know them better. It was as if you are watching the closing credits of a movie about individuals and you see how each turned out, the rest of the story. Well the rest of the story of the disciples is not pretty. They died horrendous deaths for their faith. 
I would encourage everyone to get the book and read it. Viola adds great footnotes at the end of the chapter which let you know where in the scripture he is referencing along with insightful bits of information that make the story of the first century church come alive. I had the Kindle version and read the book on my iPad and used my iPhone to read the footnotes at the end of the chapter as I came to them on my iPad.  I'm sure it will inspire any church planter to overcome obstacles and to press on and make disciples.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Living With The End In Mind

On our recent trip to Romania we happened upon a beautiful cemetery full of graves which had elaborate carved wooden cross markers.  Each colorful marker was unique with a carved picture and written summary of the life of the one that was buried in the grave below.  Each painting gave the world a visual obituary, the dead one's occupation, favorite hobby or passion.  Some showed how the person died.  One had a depiction of a little girl being hit by a car.  This girl died when she was 3 years old, so her death was the most defining moment of her life.  
As I walked through the cemetery, I began to try to picture what my grave marker would look like if I was buried here.  How would my loved ones sum up my life?  
This is a great process to help us define our purpose and craft the life we would like to live.  If we can begin with the end in mind, it can help us envision our purpose, values and goals for the here and now. What would your visual obituary look like?  As you begin to visualize the picture you would like, work backwards by setting your purpose based on the picture that you would want to see on your grave marker.  

I exist so that ...
Because I exist to ____________, therefore I must do these things______________, ____________, ___________.  Then set your goals to help you to accomplish your resolutions.

We all live from our purpose, whether we realize it or not.  For many, their purpose, not stated but lived out, is to serve themselves.  As a believer, my purpose changes from serving myself to serving God and others.  And I must constantly remind myself of my new purpose as Romans 12:2 states, so that I begin to make decisions on this new chosen objective and not from my old default ambition of selfishness.  As we live from our stated and desired purpose, we can begin to realize the life that God has for us, regardless of the circumstances.    
When our life is over, your footprint will be left on those you have encountered.  What will they remember about you?  What picture would be on your grave marker?  

  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Casting Your Net On The Other Side

Painting by Greg Olsen www.gregolsen.com
When Jesus encounters the disciples on the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection, we have this beautiful story of Jesus once again empowering the disciples to accomplish something they couldn't do on their own.  He tells the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat. The disciples are obedient and the result is an incredible haul of fish. As with any act by Jesus, chronicled by his disciples, there is an underlining reason or message for us beyond the miracle itself. Yet, we are left to speculate to the significance of this miracle. There is no definitive explanation offered in scripture. The disciples had gone back to fishing, to the the life they had before Jesus had called them to join him in being fishers of men. Jesus shows up and performs a similar miracle to the one in which he performed when he first met them.  You could easily say that the miracle was a wakeup call, a reminder for the disciples to continue their mission without Jesus and if they obeyed Jesus, their success would be bountiful.

But could it have also signified to the disciples and future believers, that they were now going to be fishing for men in different waters. They would be called in the near future to go beyond the Jewish race, beyond Jerusalem, to Judeah, Samaria and the ends of the world to do their fishing?  They would be fishing in the Gentile waters and the haul would be incredible.

And could there also be a message for us today?  Could it be that Jesus is calling pastors, church planters, and all followers of Jesus to cast our nets on the other side, into different waters? Could it be that the lack of growth in the church the past 20 years in the U.S. is because we have been fishing in the wrong waters?   

To be real honest, most churches do a very poor job of reaching the lost.  We have been fishing in an aquarium for the past 50 years.  Church has been primarily to and for Christians.  A pastor friend of mine told me the other day that he preaches consistently that their church is there to reach the lost.  He said he actually had one of his members come to him and say, "I really don't like it when you preach that we are here for the lost.  Pastor that is not true.  We are paying you to minister to us.  Our church is here for us Christians!"  I imagine there are many church members who feel that way, but would never come out and proclaim it.  When it comes to church, we have become more like country clubs rather than mission posts.  

With that in mind, do you think that Jesus is calling us to fish in another pond, to really try to reach those who are far away from God?  Could Jesus be telling us that casting our nets on the other side means spending our time, energy and resources in targeting those who do not know Jesus instead of to those who already know Christ?  Do you think that perhpas God is calling us to cast our nets back into the urban areas to reclaim what we have for the most part abandoned?  

We have been praying at The Missional Association that we can reach those in the urban areas of San Antonio who live in communities that are spiritually bankrupt. And God has sent our way several young men who feel God calling them to plant in urban San Antonio, to be missionaries in the city center.  It has been really exciting to work with these young men, to watch God transform lives and start to change whole communities. It is difficult work and requires a different mindset than planting in the suburbs.  But the harvest is plentiful and the need for workers is great. Please join The Missional Association in prayer for all of the churches and church planting movements that are commited to casting their nets into the waters on the other side of the boat, into the waters of the inner city, that we may reap an abundant harvest for God.