Yes, Even You.

“It may seem incredible to us now, but during the sixties and seventies, missions was commonly presented as an all-or-nothing issue for evangelicals. The mission decision seemed simple: either God was calling me to a high calling of being a missionary overseas, or God was calling me merely to support missionaries by giving and praying. The Perspectives course introduced the amazing notion that God was calling every Christian to live with the same level of commitment, fulfilling diverse but nonetheless critically significant roles in pursuit of one great global church.”

–Steve Hawthorne, found of Waymakers, co-creator of the Perspectives course

A Pall of Acrid Smoke

“The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able at all times to succeed in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke.”

–J.I. Packer

Do you measure your success by visual results?  Material success is material and you can see it.  Spiritual success is spiritual, and mostly invisible.

A successful church is a church that is numerically growing; but a numerically growing church isn’t necessarily a successful church.

The Little Things

I have always been wired to want more.  That’s the way I think.  More is better.  More power.  More influence.  The bigger, the better.  The mindset comes out whenever I go backpacking.  It is always my goal to climb the highest peak, to get to the tip of that tree branch.  I love being at the top.  I love “conquering” things.  I love winning.  My “bigger is better” mindset has helped me in some ways, it was a pressing motivation in my sports career, to be the best I could be.  I think it contributes to my hatred of mediocrity, and my frustration with people who “just don’t care” about their lifestyle.  To me, if it’s not MORE, if it’s not BIGGER, if it’s not the BEST IT COULD POSSIBLY BE, I’m not satisfied.

But I’m not sure God always thinks like I do on the subject.  Is bigger really better?  Of course God desires ALL to be saved; that NONE should perish.  The gospel will to to ALL the nations, and then the end will come.  It’s obvious he has an incredibly enormous plan for the entire universe, involving not only America but the entire world and not just the entire world, but all the universe.  God is big, his plan is big, his church is big– does that mean MY ministry should be big too?

I can’t control size, but faithfulness is in my hands.  I can’t make things bigger and better, but obedience is my perogative.  Thankfully, the things that are out of my hands are resting in God’s.  I am continually thinking of what Jesus said in Luke 16:10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”  I’ve found that there are some thoughts that continually help me in ministry.

The first is this: be faithful with what you’ve been given.  Invest in it, do your best with it, but don’t devalue it by always seeking the bigger and better.  Take it slow.

Second: Have an eternal perspective.  Think about heaven often.  Heaven is the catapult I use to launch my anxieties to God, because he cares for me.  In heaven, all will be resolved, so take risks and aim at things that are eternal.

Third: Have fun. Enjoy the kids. Make jokes. Stop being critical, pessimistic, and worrisome.  Do things that you enjoy.

How we deal with the little things in life is indicative of our faith.  It’s my goal to joyfully labor for the Lord being faithful with what I’ve been given.  And rest in God.

Thoughts on a Healthy Church

Thinking through some of the things that make a church healthy.

In preparation for a vision casting elder’s meeting we’re having tomorrow, I put together four marks of a healthy church.

What does it look like?

· It’s a church operated by prayer.

“Prayer is the visible engine that drives our church.”–John Piper, author and head pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

· It’s a church that has a passion for the lost, and has organized, publicized, unified efforts to bring the gospel to their community.

“Take what is in your hand, and offer it to who is in your reach.” – Robert Bishop, head pastor of Whittier Hills Baptist Church.

· It’s a church in which young and old are entwined through the biblical means of mentoring and discipleship.

“Jesus trained His disciples superbly for their future roles. He taught by example and by precept; His teaching was done ‘on the way.’ Jesus did not ask the twelve to sit down and take notes in a formal classroom. Jesus’ classrooms were the highways of life; His principles and values came across in the midst of daily experience.”–J. Oswald Sanders, author of Spiritual Leadership.

· It’s a church that has God’s heart for the nations, and is willing to take faith-filled steps to go.

“Many Christians are oblivious of the most glorious story in world history, the spread of Christianity through the blood and tears and joy of world missions.” John Piper, in Brothers We ArSANY0708e Not Professionals.

Radical Ministry?

set_apart_logoI feel a call to radical ministry. I always wonder what that looks like in youth group terms. And it’s hard to feel like you’re doing something radical when you spend most of your time planning. Whether it’s messages, meetings, or minutia (alliteration is always sweet). I think my idea of what is radical has a lot to do with its ties to mission.

Here are some things I’ve done recently:

1) Build up a kind of strategy for organic, personal outreach and emphasized it with the group. The series went something like this:

* What is an oikos? (Focused on teaching what an oikos was–an oikos is 8-15 people God has placed in your sphere of influence so that you can minister to them– and how to identify yours)

* Why an oikos (Focus on why oikos evangelism is effective)

* How does it all work (Focused on the heart behind the evangelism-what is the motivation?)

* How it can fail (Focused on how outreach will fail without first being true followers of Christ)

2) Organized a mission/vision statement that focuses on the three aspects of the youth ministry, which would look something like this:

* Set Apart (this is who we are, who we want to be)

* Operation Infiltration (this is our mission, our two-word summation of the Great Commission to go. Our goal is to infiltrate our worlds (oikos) with the gospel.

* Oikos (this is our mission field. It’s our 8-15 people God has strategically and supernaturally put into our lives.)

3) Everything we do is based around cultivating these things.

* Sunday mornings are focused on biblical teaching as to how we are to be Set Apart for God’s use.

* Our small prayer group meets before every Wednesday night to pray for the kids in youth group.

* Wednesday nights are an outreach program that kids can bring their unsaved friends to. It’s intentionally programmed to be made for unsaved kids to come (but the gospel is not watered down!)

* Other events are opportunities for kids to invite their friends (oikos) so we can build relationships and extend our sphere of influence.

The kids in the youth group are responding with enthusiasm with the right motivations (I think) but we have yet to see numerical growth…Which is okay!

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

How the Gospel is Essential for All of Life

Me on Half Dome

Lately the recurring theme in and around my life has been the gospel. It has come at me from every angle- sermons, books, videos, etc, but it is coming with a fresh perspective. An essential perspective that I’ve overlooked for too long.

I recently finished How People Change by Paul David Tripp and Timothy Lane. It is categorized as a biblical counseling book. It’s essentially on how God changes people from who we were before salvation to people he wants us to be, mainly focusing on the heart.

Chapter 1 is called “The Gospel Gap.” His premise is that for most of us Christians, there is a gaping whole in the middle of the gospel. We all understand what the gospel did (cleansed us from our sins) and we know the future benefits of the gospel (go to heaven someday) but we don’t know the everyday, right-here-right-now implications of the gospel. How does the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins by dying on the cross and raising back to life affect me RIGHT NOW? How does this affect me when I take our car into the shop and am told that the repairs are going to take a while and cost me more than I can afford? How does the gospel affect me when I’m tired from a late night and just want to relax but my wife wants me to do the dished? Is there any practical correlation between the two events: JESUS’ DEATH & LIFE and MY STRUGGLE?

That is the gap in the gospel. Even after reading the book I’ve been thinking about how these go together. We, by and large, don’t know how these two events correlate. And to find the correlation we have to back track a little. In order for the gospel to have an affect on your daily life, you have to first address the issue of idolatry.

FACT #1: WE ALWAYS WORSHIP. Idolatry, as defined in Romans 1:25, is “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshiping a created thing rather than the creator.” Idols are not always bad things, they are, as Mark Driscoll puts it “Good things, made into God things, and they become bad things.” Humans were made to worship; we are unceasingly worshiping–the question is “WHAT are you worshiping.”

FACT # 2: WE WANT FUNCTIONAL SAVIORS. We worship things that we believe can act as functional saviors. We want salvation– we want happiness, fulfillment, purpose, satisfaction, joy, etc. So we turn to things that can offer us some kind of practical salvation in our daily lives. For some of us, our HELL is a life of obscurity in the background, where no one notices us. Our SAVIOR is popularity and influence. Our MEANS of attaining our savior is manipulation and cutting corners. For some girls, their HELL is being called ugly. Their SAVIOR is the adulation and complements of other people. Their MEANS of attain their savior is by dressing skimpy and spending money on clothes. Men may think HELL is a life without being able to satisfy sexual desires. Their SAVIOR is sex. Their MEANS of attaining their savior is pornography or a immoral relationship. Popularity and influence are not bad. Adulation and complements are not bad. Sex is not bad. But when GOOD things become GOD things, they’re BAD things. And the way you know that they’ve become your functional savior is this: you feel like you need it and you can’t live without it.

FACT #3: WE WANT SALVATION. We are all searching for salvation–our IDOLS are what we think will get us that fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness, joy, and purpose we so badly desire.

FACT #4: SIN COMES FROM IDOLATRY. All sin comes from our idolatry. The idols that we set up in our heart cause us to worship things that are not God. And that’s where all sin comes from– I won’t lie if I am worshiping God, because if I’m worshiping God that means I’m not worshiping my reputation, and the reason that people lie is usually to protect their reputation.

So ALL sin comes from misplaced worship: idolatry.

And the way to conquer idolatry is to uncover the lie of the idol. Remember Romans 1:25. The first thing idolaters do is “exchange the truth of God for a lie.” Every idol lies the same way, saying “worship me and I will give you what you need.”

The gospel is your iconoclast. The gospel is fashioned to destroy idols. And the gospel does this with three truths:

1) Jesus has, through the gospel, given you “life abundantly in Christ” which is more satisfying that any idol.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 But you have to “taste and see” for yourself to believe me. I can’t convince you that it’s more satisfying that all other idols.

2) Jesus has, through the gospel, given you every resources you need

“His divine nature has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” and “No temptation has overtaken you except that is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of espcape, that you may be able to endure it.” Because Jesus conquered sin, we are free from it.

3) Jesus has, through the gospel, secured a future for you.

This works two ways: First, it’s the promise that God will not leave us all alone to live, but will continually be working on our sanctification day in and day out. Every dilemma should be looked from the perspective that “God is using this for my good and His glory! He’s using it to turn me into a person more like Jesus.” Second, it’s the promise that God already has a final destination for us. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” says Paul. We’re all taken care of, and no matter what happens in this life, we can live in hope and joy of the unmoving promise of heaven.

And that is why the gospel is essential for all of life. It gives me the fullest life, it gives me everything I need for life, and it secures a future for me in this life and the next.

Those three truths are freeing.

And all you have to do is receive Jesus by faith. Wow!

How the Gospel Changes Us

Jesus beatenYou who know me know that I can’t stand lessons or sermons or advice that tells me that I need to be a certain way. Don’t tell me I need to love people more, I already know that. Tell me how to change my heart so that I will love people more. Advice that aims at changing my behavior first is a short-cut, it’s shallow, it breeds legalism, and it’s ultimately fruitless and futile–most importantly, it’s lacking grace. As a pastor I need to stop demanding behavior and start shepherding hearts toward a grace-filled life. The first step in doing this is repentance.

Repentance is the act of turning from sin toward obedience to God, motivated out of love for God. For many of us, the act of repentance is very easy in concept, but incredibly difficult–borderline impossible–in deed. Why? Because repentance involves much more than the will. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians, “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what EARNESTNESS this godly grief has produced in you, but also what EAGERNESS to clear yourselves, what INDIGNATION, what FEAR, what LONGING, what ZEAL, what PUNISHMENT…”

Earnestness for reconciliation, eagerness for restoration, indignation at our sin, fear of its consequences, longing for righteousness, zeal in pursuing it, willingness to endure punishment for it– these are not acts of the will. I cannot will myself to feel these things. So how can I come to this state of repentance? If we are to turn from our sins in repentance, what must we do?

Paul gives us a great hint in Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” God’s kindness to humanity in Jesus Christ, that is the GOSPEL, is what leads humanity to true repentance, which results in a changed heart. Knowing, understanding, and experiencing God’s grace to us, through Christ, will lead us to repentance. The grace of the gospel is the most practical and useful message for all people of all ages, because it leads us to repentance.

And true repentance is what changes our lives.

The Point: BECOME AN EXPERT ON THE GOSPEL (know what exactly Jesus did for you and how his death burial and resurrection affects you TODAY)

The Cycle of Encouragement

First thing that came up when I googled Epaphras
First thing that came up when I googled Epaphras

Colossians 1:3-8

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

3 Observations:

* Epaphras has been ministering the gospel to the Colossians faithfully.

* Epaphras relayed the good news of the fruitfulness of the gospel in Colossae.

* The reason Paul is writing to the Colossians is because he heard what was going on there from Epaphras.

I imagine that the reason Epaphras told Paul about the Colossians “love in the Spirit” is because he was excited to see the gospel bearing fruit in the lives of those he was ministering to. The joy of being used by God is by nature outpouring. Epaphras can wait to tell Paul how the gospel’s bearing fruit, knowing that Paul will be encouraged by it. Paul, a spiritual leader in the churches, rejoices in the forward progress of the gospel. And his friends and fellow ministers love to share their joy with him.

Do you see the cycle of encouragement, and how it travels? First, Epaphras ministers. I imagine that there were some struggles and some hardships and resistence, like all ministry. Then, the gospel breaks down walls and open eyes and hearts. The people begin to grow and bear fruit. Epaphras is in awe of the work of God, and he rejoices. In his joy, he writes to Paul, relaying the power of the gospel and the fruit that is growing and the love that is happening. Paul is relieved and rejoices with Epaphras and writes a letter BACK to Epaphras and the Colossians, relaying how the good news has encouraged him. He says in this letter in vs. 9 “From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you…” The encouragement Paul received from Epaphras caused Paul to continually pray for the church, which undoubtedly is an incredible affirmation and encouragement for Epaphras and the Colossians.

There is a healthy relationship of love and encouragement and prayer between Paul and Epaphras and the Colossians. It reminds of the the Proverb, “Whoever brings blessings will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (11:25)

I think this is why Paul said in Galatians 6:6 “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” Paul didn’t want to miss out on encouragement!

The Point: Let people know when they’ve encouraged you. Let people know when you are praying for them. Let people know the good things God is doing in your life.