Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Ripple Effect

This is not a post singing the merits of textured potato chips. This is about infectious discipleship. The kind that ripples through the church and spills out onto everyone who is ready for change and growth.

We have been reading books as a leadership team. I have watched some of the individuals on our team totally embrace the concepts that are contained therein. Those who get it have incorporated the language into our vocabulary and have talked about it with passion and enthusiasm such that others get excited about it and are driven to read more. Then, the fresh recruits, in turn, share it with their friends and family and then the next wave catches it and gets excited about the concepts and their implementation.

This is about multiplication. The Christian life is not meant to be lone rangerism. It is meant to be a place of accountability and ripples. As I understand God's wisdom better and make successful, albeit hard, decisions, I share it with those around me. Then, the whole thing goes into other circles and suddenly, I am affecting change and growth in circles that I do not even frequent! God is good! He has enlarged our borders even without daily prayers of Jabez!! :)

NOTE: This post is about celebrating the joy of discovery and watching the aha! moments spreading in the body of Christ. These comments are based on a real situation that was just reported to me! :) YES! Remember to share the good stuff withthose who teach you! Gal 6:6

Sharing with you,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So What Report Are You Bringing Back?

Do you remember the story of the twelve spies who entered the land of Canaan first? They "scoped out the digs" for 40 days and then returned to give a report on the land before them. They had experienced the promise of God in a limited audience preview. They were the ones who were hand selected to report back on what God had in the immediate future for the nation, the people of God.

Andrew Murray draws on this image as he addresses the issue of the report of a loving community of believers, growing and bearing much fruit for the glory of God, the divine husbandman.

"Is not this [obedience to Jesus' command to love one another] some of the much fruit that Jesus has promised we shall bear, -- in very deed a cluster of the grapes of Eshcol, with which we can proveto others that the land of promise is indeed a good land? Let us try in all simplicity and honesty to go out to our home to translate the language of high faith and heavenly enthusaism into the plain prose of daily conduct, so that all men can understand it."
Abide in Christ, p. 184

What a pity, no rather, what a travesty if we see the love of God, flowing with milk and honey, and report back to others "It's too intense, it will cost you too much to have it, let's just settle for a taste, God can't give that kind of love to us". Or, in my opinion, even worse, report back to those around us -- silence about the greatness of the love of God. It would be the equivalent of the spies saying, "We had a huge cluster of grapes and they were tasty. But we ate them on the trip back from the vineyard and now there's nothing to show to you."

Don't hoard the grapes.
Don't consume all of the fruit by yourself.
Don't miss the chance to use the produce for ministry to others who maybe still don't believe there is a land of promise or a God who has promised it to them.

That I may bear more fruit,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Falling Into the Abyss


I apologize for the long delay. I just realized that the last post was back in October. (That's not exactly true!) This is December and we are closing in on one of the busiest times of the calendar that anyone should be exposed to. Let me catch you up on some really big stuff that is going on right now in our lives of ministry.

1. A DAD&LAD TRIP -- Scott and I went to Erie PA on an overnight Father-n-Son adventure. We took in some lighthouses, shot some digital photography, ate some Chinese, played in the waterslides, ate some hot wings, played chess and ate Timmy Ho's Canadian Maple Donuts!! Oh yeah, we also had a great conversation about coming of age, becoming a young man, and following after God. We used Proverbs 3 to have a "my son" speech of our own. Scott was pretty freaked out by the whole serious conversation thing. But I tried to tone it down when I saw how spooked he got. It was a great weekend, except for being beaten in chess by a teenager!!! :)

2. A DRAMA -- Sue and I are the husband and wife in a family holiday drama called "Baggage Claim". It is an outreach drama with a great message. The family looks the stereotypical part of four people with it all under control. In fact, my character makes a speech to his son about the world respecting a man who has in all under control, who takes charge of his own life, etc. In the end, all of their internal dysfunction comes out and they leave their baggage in the capable hands of the baggage bellhop character. It is a modern day parable of Jesus Christ and his offer of rescue for today. Very good script, very grueling schedule -- very great results?? We are praying to that end.

3. A SEASON of ADVENT -- our church has included the advent candles/wreath in our worship. We light the candles each week and talk about what each one symbolizes. We use this as a time fo rthe kids to come up front and interact with me around the wreath. The problem is that it is all unscripted. And as Art Linkletter (and later Bill Cosby) said "kids say the darndest things". It has been a good time of focus for Christmas for me and for the kids. We are using the nativity poem and characters from Family Life Publishing called "What God Wants for Christmas". It is really neat to watch them open each box. I hope that they get the ending!

4. AN MP3 PLAYER -- I just bought a Creative Labs Zen Stone MP3 player and have been enjoying downlaoding sermons, books, music and other stuff from off of the web. For a guy that loves information, an MP3 player is a very cool toy. I just listened to four pastors on a Pastor to Pastor intervew series with HB London Jr. on the topic of Church Health. Great stuff!

Well, please keep blogging and reading and growing and ministering, even when this page falls silent. Be assured that I have not laid down or fallen off the face of the earth. I also have been blogging with some other sites as a contributor rather than a host. Why don't you drop me a note and tell me what you are doing?

  • sites that you have visited in the past 24 hours
  • books that you have been reading
  • trips that you have taken, plan on taking for Christmas
  • ministries that you are involved in
  • etc.

I hope that you have not fallen into the abyss of busyness and that if you have that you are climbing out. I hope that you will drop me a note letting me know how you are doing,


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Did You Learn From Your Pain?

"God uses our suffering to wean us from self-reliance and cast us on himself alone."
Piper, Desiring God, p. 222
So, when I am entering an especially difficult time in my personal life, I must ask myself, "Have I become too self-reliant? Is God attempting to get my attention away from myself and on to him? Why am I trying to handle this myself?"

And when I am in the throes on such a turmultous set of rapids, I must ask myself, "Who has the strength that I need? Am I clinging onto the paddle too tightly, steering us right into the rosks that I want to avoid? Do I need to pray instead of panic now?"

And finally, as I come out into the calm waters below the raging river run, I must ask myself, "How could I have allowed to have more control in that ride? How much better would it have been if I had given him more of the rudder? Did I handle that set of rapids with better skill than the last set (ie did I allow God to have more control)? Am I more confident in my abilities now or God's? Have I praised him for his abundant power, wisdom, care, and control -- after all he did bring you through safely!"

As I tell the story of my extreme experience of suffering, who looks like the hero? Me? or God? Does God get the spotlight or the footnote in the telling of my tale? Am I more or less dependent on Him now than I was upriver?

I want to suffer calmly, knowing that the captain of my ship is not me!
"This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in self and the world."
Piper, Desiring God, p. 222
Riding the rapids, learning the lessons, praising the pilot,

Stuff You Won't See on a BillBoard

"Human beings flee suffering. We move to safer neighborhoods. We choose milder climates. We buy air conditioners. We take aspirin. We come in out of the rain. We avoid dark streets. We purify our water. We do not normally choose a way of life that would put us in "peril every hour." Paul's life is out of sync with ordinary human choices. Virtually no advertisement slogans lure us into daily dying [to self]."
Piper, Desiring God, p. 220

Monday, October 15, 2007

Suffering for Jesus

There is an incredibly hard decision point to be made when considering the texts of Scripture on suffering. What are we to preach to an affluent, propserous Christian in the US or Western Europe? Have we experienced real genuine suffering? John Piper's Desiring God has some incredibly challengeing stuff in his chapter on the topic. But I love this statement about all forms of suffering in the life of the Christian (even the US variety).

"All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecuion or sickness or accident, have this in common: they all threaten our faith in the goodness of God and tempt us to leave the path of obedience. Therefore, every triumph of faith and all perseverance in obedience are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ -- whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin, or sabotage." p. 216

So if I weather the loss of a job well, I am suffering for Christ, even if I didn't lose it because of my relationship with Christ.

How are you doing today? Are you suffering well? Are you suffering for Jesus?

Definitely on the easy suffering path,

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My First Beach Wedding

I just got back from Virginia from a great wedding connected with a pile of firsts.

1. 1st wedding with a condensed pre-marital counseling period (4 sessions in 1 week)

2. 1st wedding on the beach (first attended, AND first officiated)

3. 1st wedding in bare feet (the whole bridal party too)

4. 1st wedding performed out of state (I am now officially registered to perform weddings in VA)

5. 1st wedding with a unity sand ceremony instead of the unity candle (same basic principles)

Overall, it was a great long weekend with Sue at the beach. How cool is that? :) The wedding brought back a lot of memories of our wedding, almost 17 years ago now. We had some good conversation and some special moments together too. Not bad for an old married couple! :)

Still happily married to the wife of my youth,


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Engage and Reflect on the WORD

May I ask you a question? It is from the study of Colossians that we are doing this quarter (and probably next at the rate that we are going at).

Is spiritual growth possible apart from God or His Word?

I believe that we, as North Americans and US citizens, have a huge deposit of truth. I saw a statistic recently about the % of the world's population that is Christian and the % of that number that were in North America. Staggering! We are truly blessed to have such a comfortable state. Yet has it really driven us to contemplative spirituality? By that I mean, have we thought long and hard about what it means to be a disciple of Christ?

We have been given God's Word in multiple translations with cover choices, study notes choices, color choices and even with our names embossed in gold foil. But has familiarity bred contempt or neglect? Can we truly grow without studying and diving into intense mediattion on God's written special revelation of Himself?

Want a place to start? Read Romans 11:33-35. Then think about this very insightful quote,

"What we know about God is only what God reveals to us. To imagine that we can fathom the depths of God is to posit a God too small.
Paul asserts the infinite distance between human knowledge and God's action. Humans do not counsel God. They can only, in a sense, think God's thoughts after God. God is the source of all knowledge and wisdom."

Then reflect on Isaiah 40:13; Proverbs 8:22-31; Job 38:2-39:30. That should sufficiently challenge you to engage in humble worship and a recommitment to growing in the knowledge of God.

I want to know You more,


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is God a Manipulative Cosmic Bully?

As we study in Exodus for the eX-Men's Bible Study on Wednesday mornings, we have discussed and discovered some amazing truths about men, leaders, and God. We have been spending a number of weeks in the 10 plagues. Normally this study would be at most three weeks long. We have been here a long time.

[sidebar: When one of the men returned from an unplanned sabbatical, he inquired about our location and found that he had not missed too much textual coverage. But he had indeed missed out on some great conversations! This study is as much about accountability to get out of bed and study with one another as it is about material coverage.]

This morning in our discussion of Pharaoh and God (and their lively interchange in light of the impending doom of plague #7, hail), we discussed this question:

Is God arrogant? Doesn't it seem that the reading of 9:14 suggests that God is manipulative and using Pharaoh for his own agenda? Is God posturing in front of Pharaoh or trash-talking him or trying to intimidate him?

I believe that this discussion is helpful when thinking about those around us who reject our evangelistic efforts (technically they are not rejecting our efforts, but our Master's efforts to reach out to them). We must remember that God is longsuffering, while at the same time unwillling to wink at sin or rejection of truth. There are some consequences to rejection. Maybe we should add this after the invitation is given and rejected in our gospel presentation training!

God is unwilling that any should perish. But some are bent on it. Out of rebellious and stubborn hearts, they choose freely the way of destruction. Pharaoh is a textbook example of this posture before a patient God. God has exposed the junk in his life and called for submission. Yet, Pharaoh has refused to submit and has gripped his delegated power/authority even more tightly. In plagues #7-#10, God is beginning to unleash the destruction on Egypt. Even the "wise men"/magicians begin to see that this is a losing battle.

How like us! When God calls us to follow there are two ways, God's way (the better) and our way (the harder). Even though God's way may seem harder (requiring more effort against our old nature) it is always better. Pharaoh would have been better off if he had yielded after the pre-plague signs (snakes from rods). The results are the same -- the Israelites are released -- but the paths are different. Pharaoh could have released them willingly, but instead chose to fight God tooth and nail until the end. Then even after being bested by God, he chased the Israelites right into his own watery grave. The end result is also that Pharaoh yields -- he chooses to do it the hard way.

One of the guys commented, "Sometimes we learn better from our mistakes". While there are benefits to learning from failures, I still prefer to learn from successes! It is always much less painful and much more enjoyable. I choose to pursue excellence and growth through the pains of success than through the pains of failure.

God is not a cosmic bully. He is not simply getting his jollies watching Pharaoh squirm. He is not manipulating Pharaoh.

[sidebar: This understanding of the gods being above men's world but pulling the strngs and watching men dance is the Greek/Roman theology. Zeus is seen as a moody god, threatened in his ultimate leadership and defending it jealously with lightning bolts and bullying force. Zeus is so not my God!]

God is demonstrating a longsuffering and a mercy that is "wasted" on the stubbornness of this pagan king. Yet He still shows His character. Even in rejection, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that God is THE ONE AND ONLY GOD. God accomplishes exactly what He intends to do. Pharaoh misses out on a relationship of joy and contentment and gets the teeth of judgment. His loss. God's plan is not thwarted. God's arm is not shortened (except in His own self-restraint). God's promises are not "fluff".

Yield or be exterminated,
(I choose yielding),

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Vacation Pic

Just to not be outdone by Todd. This is us as we got out at Newaygo after a 3+ hour cruise down the Muskegon River on innertubes!

Kindling for Your Soul's Fire

Great read this morning from the pages of Piper's classic tome, Desiring God. Man, I love to read this book. (This is my second time through.) His chapter on Scripture is subtitled "kindling for Christian hedonism". That is a great subtitle. It draws a great image up in my mind, especially while on vacation. The campfire at the end of the day is a great highlight and it all begins with kindling.

But Piper's point is that the fire needs to be started at the beginning of the day -- probably an allusion to the cooking fires of a day gone by. As the day begins, we must stoke the fires of the soul and plan to keep it burning throughout the day. The utility of such a fire much be highlighted -- warmth, food, and security. Piper's call is to heaping the kindling on through the regular intake of Scripture.

"If you go without the kindling of Christian Hedonism [the Scriptures], the fire of Christian happiness will be quenched before mid-morning."

Of course in the pursuit of happiness, Piper is talking about the kind of soul contentment that the Psalmist sings of in Psalm 1. This kind of soul satisfaction brings forth fruit in its season and does not wither for it finds the kind of nourishment and irrigation that sustains it through the droughts and troubles of the trees lifespan.

1. What Scriptures are you heaping up in a kindling pile to get your fire rip roaring hot?
2. Who or what has really helped nail this truth home with you?
3. Have you thought about how to pass the fire along to someone else today? (Sing a verse of Pas It On here and think of the bonfire at camp!)

Burn brightly in your happiness friend,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In the Margins

Great quote read this morning, during some quiet time at the Lakehouse retreat we are enjoying, from my brother Oswald;

"I indeed was this and that; but He came, and a marvellous thing happened. Get to the margin where He does everything."

He was referring to the "I baptize with water but he will baptize with the HS" discussion that John the Baptist had in Matthew 3:11. My ministry is so pale in comparison with Christ himself. I must decrease and He must increase. The fact that I am striving for impact sometime is nothing more than me trying to "pad" my ministry portfolio and build my self-esteem as a minister. I really want to get people to the margins where He can take over and really do something extraordinary.

We have taken to calling them "WOW" moments at camp. The moments which are unplanned, unarranged, unprogrammed. Real moments is what Greg Stier of Ministry Mutiny calls them. I am reading this book on vacation. I couldn't put it down this afternoon. I was totally drawn into the discussion.

I just love being stretched and grown.
I want to go wider and grow deeper.
I want to be more in love with Christ than with the ministry of Christ,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lead Us Not into Temptation

As Pastor Evans worked through the Lord's prayer (aka the disciple's prayer) on Wednesday nights, he came to this phrase:

"lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"

He read a quote, by an apparently famous person that I should have recognized, but did not, about temptation:

"Temptation excites, gets the blood [and adrenaline] flowing, and enflames the imagination [and passions]."

Wow! No wonder we can't get anyone to resist it. It sounds great! But what is righteous living like? Is it not quite as good as temptation or sin? Is righteous living a drag? If it is then it's no wonder we can't get more people to buy into it!

Pastor Evans suggested that the prayer was a prayer for help; do not allow us to succumb to the temptations; do not allow us to play with sin; lead us away from temptation and its power. I need that kind of prayer. I need to pray the Lord's prayer every day -- maybe not as a rote quote, but in its principle. Will you pray it too?

Deliver me from evil's power,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Word from God

I am not a metaphysical person. I don't buy into the whole "God told me to..." movement. I try, in fact, to avoid such speech! I diligently seek to be clear in my speech about the "impressions of the Holy Spirit" and am not a big fan of experiential episodes as the "proof" that something must be normal.

So it will take you by surprise perhaps that I share this anecdote. It has never happened this way before. As I was reading Joshua 6 in preparation for the sermon that I was going to preach, I had a very clear, very articulated statement enter my mind. Again, I never have that happen, I usually work really hard at defining my propositions. And so I wrote it down. Again, I don't proclaim myself as the new prophet, but I definitely feel that this was a key statement so I wrote it down. It is the thought that has been rattling around in my brain ever since.

"Faith is repeated obedience without evidence of impact or effect."

Send me a note about how you have had to apply this concept recently or how this statement starts to rattle around in your head. I hope that it encourages you like it did/does me.

So keep walking around those walls; keep following after God's divine plan; get ready to shout in victory! Roo-ah!

Joshua's Stonehenge

In the course of the summer, even an associate pastor gets to preach. This is a huge blessing and contains no dread for me whatsoever. I have become even more convinced that, quite simply, I love to preach. This love most definitely grows out of an appreciation of good Bible study.

For the past two weeks, I preached through 3 chapters in 3 1/2 sermons. Here are the residual take-homes for me.

"These Stones Cry Out" Joshua 4:1-24
The stones were probably erected in standing stone fashion and may have been assembled in a stonehenge-like circle. These stones were both a sign and a memorial to the greatness of God. Consider building your own rockpile. Note: Lamoka Baptist Camp has begun to follow this technique at the close of camp each year.

"Emergency Surgery at the Wilderness M*A*S*H" Joshua 5:1-12
This sermon was graphic reminder of the build-up of disobedience and the passing on of wrong attitudes to my kids. We also need to circumcise our hearts of the junk before we try to move forward. We must get ready for the next unknown steps by taking care of the known preparation steps. Your kids' spiritual health depends on it!

"Spiritual Victory: Pulling Down the Fortresses" Joshua 6:1-21
Spiritual victory begins with a close encounter with the Lord of Hosts, means following an unconventional divine battle plan, and are won as the result of an obedient, silent march. I must have and demonstrate full acceptance of God's timing and full assurance that God is still on track to victory (bringing Himself glory).

"and the Lord was with _______" Joshua 4:14, 6:27; others
When studying out the phrase, "and the LORD was with" someone, I found that this expression communicated a deep intimate relationship with God. This was more than knowing the theology of presence of God. When God is with you, things go well for you and God can use you for mighty things. 2 Chron 17:3 formed the applicational section of the message drawing out the reasons why the LORD is with me.

The last sermon was a shortened one at one of our series of "Fire n Fellowships" (an outdoor service followed by a hot dog roast and fellowship picnic at a host home). Thus the 1/2 sermon. All in all I was energized myself by the messages that I was able to preached and felt challenged personally first; this makes for the best sermons!

If any of these abstracts catch you attention, I would love to discuss them some more in detail. Until then, keep growing in the Word and sharing your faith 'til Jesus comes to get us.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Life's Spiritual Honor and Duty

Oswald Chambers gave a pretty good challenge yesterday (He being dead yet speaketh! :) ). I, of course, read it this morning as I was previously engaged in regular WyBC ministry happenings yesterday. Nonetheless, this stuff prints/preaches any day of the week/year.

"[in reference to Romans 1:14] Paul was overwhelmed with the sense of his indebtedness to Jesus Christ, and he spent his life to express it. ... Every tiny bit of my life that has value I owe to the redemption of Jesus Christ. ... Quit praying about yourself and spend your life for the sake of others as the bondservant of Jesus. That is the true meaning of being broken bread and poured-out wine."

Again, Oz has some pretty amazing insights or thoughts about how this whole thing called "the Christian Life" ought to unfold. His strong grasp of the total depravity of man has some really great applicational thoughts; it's not about me, it's all about Him! I must decrease, but He must increase. Selfless service for the love of my Lord -- the Mary principle in action.

Which Mary? you may ask. Whichever one that you want! Which principle? Each Mary exhibited total surrender of their lives and assets to the worship and celebration of Jesus. These women demonstrated their love for Christ by their honor and duty.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, referred to herself as the Lord's handmaiden, willing to give her womb and her reputation to the Father to be used for His plan. She pondered these things in her heart and meditated on this babe, not her morning sickness or the public ridicule or the pain of childbirth.

Mary Magdalene, the one in whom there were seven demons, poured out a valuable perfume and cried on Jesus in worship. She knew that there was no way that she even gets close to being a duaghter of God except for Jesus is about to do for her. She prepares His body for death/burial/resurrection. Her debt is no larger though than mine!

Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, sat at Jesus feet and listened intently to the words of truth that were setting her free. She focused her attention and time on being with Jesus even with the price tag of ridicule by her sister, Martha. Jesus called her brokenness and humility the better thing choice. She intentionally allowed her time to be absorbed in becoming more like Jesus.

He means so much to me, how can I remain silent about Him? O God, Give me courage to infect those around me with contagious Christianity again today. I pray that I will focus my attention on the praise, honor, and glory that You are so worthy of. You paid much too high a price for me! Yet You did it voluntarily, so I simply respond with a breathed out whisper, "thank-you for the cross" and "there is a redeemer"!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines

"Christian discipline can be of three types: enforced or external discipline, such as we use with children and immature people; self-discipline, which primarily consists of adult attitudes and decisions; and Christlike discipline, based on spiritual surrender. ...
All Christian leaders must come to the place at which they take responsibility for personal discipline rather than always needing the encouragement and push of other people."

Coaching Ministry Teams, p.29

Creativity in Leadership

I was suppposed to get my van's oil changed at the local muffler shop. I had a 9:00 appointment and expected to be in and out with no problems. But I grabbed a book just in case I was delayed. Needless to say, when I got to the waiting area and found that there were no seats, I was worried. But the book that I had grabbed was Kenn Gangel's, Coaching Ministry Teams: Leadership and Management in Christian Organizations. I read portions of it while on internship and figured that it was appropriate for me right now as I wait for a ministry trip to Lamoka in August.

Here are some of the nuggets that I found (or maybe re-found):

"Creative people bring about something unusual... Creative people are dreamers, dissatisfied with the way things have been because there's always the hope they can be better. ... Like leadership, creativity is learned; it often comes down to a restructuring and reforming of

Coaching Ministry Teams, p.26

That quote is where I am in my leadership journey. I am so dissatisfied with the status quo that I can barely keep it harnessed. I have a dream, a vision of where the church leadership team could be if we would lift up our eyes and see the harvest fields. If we could catch a glimpse of what it would be like if we got busy about personal spiritual growth, holiness and responsibility, we would all be straining at the reins. And then Gangel did it; he crossed the line.

"Joshua's years of preparation allowed him to enter his leadership role with the important quality of patience, a treasured companion of creativity in leadership." (emphasis by Gangel)
Coaching Ministry Teams, p.26

Oh yeah, patience. It has now officially become my most hated word. It makes my little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I cringe as people use it. I know I should exercise it; but I despise its overuse and the resulting excuse for inactivity. So once agin in the school of pastoral leadership, I am forced to acknowledge my weaknesses. As much as I would like to hitch my wagon to the whirlwind thoroughbreads named Creativity and Zeal, I must keep them attached to the wagon with the riggings of Patience and Timing.

So once again I have to pray,
Help me to wait upon the Lord to renew my strength, to mount up with wings like eagles and then to run and not be weary, to walk after your ways and not faint in them. Help me to balance the zeal and desire to be passionate about everything I do with the discipline of self-control. Keep me from rejecting and discarding those caught in apapthy. Make me a voice for positive, sensible, Biblical change. Keep me growing personally. Allow me to follow You, as I attempt to lead these dear people that you have entrusted to me today. May my consuming zeal be contagious and attractive inside the fire ring of the Spirit's control and filling. Don't let me be a dangerous uncontrolled wildfire.
Keep me burning til the break of day,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Great "Get-out-of-bed-hit-the-floor-running" Quote

Hey! Need a get-you-fired-up-and-ready quote for the day? It comes from a great little book called Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray:

"The branch does not exist for itself, but to bear fruit that can proclaim the excellence of the vine: it has no reason of existence except to be of service to the vine."

Abide in Christ, p. 30-31

Trying to grow Vine-glorifying fruit today,

The Horror Film Plotline in Exodus

This morning in Bible Study, I was dialoguing with the X-men (eXodus MEN's Bible study) about the plagues. We are currently in the plague of flies. It struck me that this series of events that we affectionately refer to as "the Ten Plagues" is really the stuff of horror films. The plotline is so similar that I can't belive that I didn't see it before:
  • A. Man is minding his own business out in woods at midnight
  • B. Man is confronted with scary creature/villian/terror
  • C. Man runs to place of comfort/security, breathes sigh of relief
  • D. Man is again confronted with terror in the security of his hiding place
  • E. Man grabs at anything to rid himself of terror, deals what appear to be a death blow, breathes sigh of relief
  • F. Man is again confronted with terror after apparently being done with it
  • G. Repeat cycle to absurdium

Pharaoh is a textbook case. He is confronted with Moses and Aaron who give him a word from YHWH -- "Let my people go". His response was "No" and he went down to the river to settle his accounts with the gods (a method/attempt at security).

Mo and Aaron show up again this time with terror (blood water). Pharaoh runs and hides at court with his magicians who comfort him with a "natural explanation" of the "trick". Pharaoh is secure -- or so he thinks.

He is confronted with Mo/Aaron and more terror.

Do you see the pattern? Again, if we really got the graphic nature of the Bible, we might not be so quick to "dumb it down" to flannelgraphs, finger puppets and coloring pictures. This narrative is really "Nightmare on Nile Street".

The only flaw in the plotline is that God is not the boogey man. He is powerful enough to trump the boogeyman and the monsters on TV and He's watching out for his kids. To those who will receive it, He gives mercy; to the rebellious, He gives judgment.

I wish that Pharaoh had not chosen to keep trying to destroy God. I want to scream into my Bible, "Don't fight Him! You'll only make it worse!". This response is somewhat akin to the reaction of the horror film audience that hoarsely whispers, "Don't go back out there, the thing will get you!" as they watch the protagonist cycle through the plotline.

Where are you today? Are you trying to run from God? Eventually that type of avoidance will kill you. (see Ex. 14 and listen to the hit single that it spawned in Ex. 15) You don't have to live in terror. You can know this God personally and enjoy Him forever.

No longer scared,

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Finger of God

In the plague narrative in Exodus, Pharaoh's henchmen make an interesting anthropomorphic conclusion during the third plague (gnats/lice/insects/bugs).

"The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh' s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said."
Exodus 8:16-19, NASB

The finger of God. I believe that the magicians intended for this to be a harbinger of things to come, intended to dissuade Pharaoh from further irritation of this Hebrew God, YHWH. THey were saying, in effect: "We're dealing with a seriously higher power here dude!" or "We are so definitely out of our league on this one." This statement highlights the fact that there was a divine influence in this situation. If the magicians were in charge, it would have only taken three plagues instead of the power of ten. They were ready to release the Hebrews on their own recogniscence. This is a God thing, king! Pull out now while we're still standing here.

Yet, the king in all of his own worldy wisdom allows this episode to further bake his heart into a sun-dried brick! He doesn't take even the advice of his own "wisemen". He is up for a showdown with God, YHWH, the Self-Existent One. That is exactly what he gets. The finger of God writes in judgment of sinful, corrupted hearts, "Mene, mene tekel upharsin" [weighed, weighed and found wanting]. Just like Beltashazzar, Pharaoh was in a serious spot of light shone from the finger of God. Like the finger of the prophet Nathan, the plagues from the staff/hand of Moses, pointed out "You are the man". Yet in the face of indictment, Pharoah demands and maintains his innocence or at least his superiority.

The finger of God is only the wake-up call. It is the tip of the iceberg, the first part of the migty hand of God that has been promised to bring God's people out of the land of bondage. Too bad that Pharoah keeps rolling over and hitting snooze.

  1. Is God pointing out an area that needs some confession, repentance and rearranging?
  2. Are you listening or are you hitting the snooze button?
  3. Are you allowing the hardness of today to soften your spiritual sensitivities and draw you closer to God? Are you allowing them to bake your hardened, selfish heart and drive you farther from Him?

Don't wait for the mighty hand of God; choose to hear the finger.

Paying close attention myself,

**for further finger of God things, read Ex. 31:18/Deut 9:10, Luke 11:20, John 8:6

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorizing for More Than Memory's Sake

Want some help moving beyond the memorization to meditation and application? Try these questions as you are memorizing Scripture:

WHO? who is speaking/writing? who is he talking to? who does this verse apply to?

WHAT? what is happening? what are they doing? what does it mean?

WHEN? when is this taking place? when will this promise be applied?

WHERE? where is this taking place? in a home? in the marketplace? in a garden?

WHY? why should I obey? why should I avoid this activity?

Here's a sample: using John 11:35, "Jesus wept"

WHO? Who wept? Jesus. Who was he weeping for? Lazarus. Who else was around? Mary, Martha Lazarus's sisters and some other mourners.

WHAT? What is Jesus doing? Weeping. What happened to Lazarus? He was dead and buried for four days.

WHEN? When did this take place? four days after Laz had died

WHERE? Where were they? at Laz's house in Bethany, a place that Jesus frequented regularly, the closest thing that he had to a second home

WHY? Why did Jesus weep? Because in all of his humanness, he cared. He was so moved with his compassion that he breaks down in public. He wept with those who wept in keeping with his emotional ties to people. He didn't put on the ministry game face, he didn't quote platitudes, he didn't try to appear "strong for them in this painful passage". He emoted!

Wow! Now the quickie recitation of this shortest verse in the Bible is met with a little more weight. Memorizing is not just for kids. Memorizing is not just for the filling of the skull with useless drivel. It is for life impact and personal edification and worship fodder. It is indeed good for what ails you, so memorize! Just remember to do it with understanding.

Mike (currently memorizing John 15 with the ministry team)

PS -- Thanks to my friend, Karen Lytle for these thoughts (the who/what/when/where/why questions) as part of her lesson prepared for 3rd-6th graders.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Amazing Grace

What more can be said about grace? Dan P over at Pyromaniacs has an excellent post about grace -- not just saving grace, but sanctifying grace as well.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!

Simple hymn, complex theme, enjoyed by millions! :) [sing a few bars of it as you read Dan's post.]

Grace to you,

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

As the old love song goes, "breaking up is hard to do". The bond between people and pastors in a local church is a precious, sweet communion and fellowship. It has been referred to as a marriage. I want to be careful about using that image as God does not deal in divorces, yet He sometimes moves ministers to other parts of his vineyard.

One of the blogs that I regularly read is that of a pastor in my area in another denomination. He has heard clearly the call of God to move into a church planting role in the south after only two years in "Western NY". You really must read his blog post about the intensity and passion of the ministry through these separation days. Top shelf stuff!

If God were to call me/lead me to another part of the vineyard (as He has at least four other times before), I pray that I would be able to lead with such leadership strength as Paul is demonstrating.

Go in grace,

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thanks for Holding

Thanks for holding. Your readership is important to us. We are all very busy here tryng to keep all of the balls in the air. The next available author will post as he is available. Please do not hang up or quit checking this blog. We appreciate your visit.
(musical interlude)
Thanks for holding. Your readership is important to us. We are all very busy here tryng to keep all of the balls in the air. The next available author will post as he is available. Please do not hang up or quit checking this blog. We appreciate your visit.
(musical interlude)
Thanks for holding. Your readership is important to us. We are all very busy here tryng to keep all of the balls in the air. The next available author .....

Hello there. This is Mike Paris, author of the Open Mike. As the prerecorded message mentioned above, I am extremly busy. But I appreciate those that have stopped here to check in on me and my thoughts about ministry.

Let me just say that in the past week and a half I have led an evangelism training seminar, attended a funeral of a young man (58) from our church, led three worship services and a hymn sing, taught two Sunday School lessons on evangelism, attended two board meetings, missed a board meeting, bought a new van, attended a Shop Talk pastors seminar on funerals/cremation, ate lunch with a WOL area missionary, led a ministry team training session on "teamwork", memorized the first five verses of John 15, painted the craft building and 8 cabins at Lamoka, had two very incredible warm-the-cockles-of -your-pastor's-heart conversations with two members of the church, took a two-hr nap on Sunday afternoon, prayed with a man who told me after I said amen, "You are a true friend", and mowed the grass.

Phweeeew! No wonder I feel rung out on Monday morning. But I am looking forward to another great week. I hope to be able to post a couple of the things that I am learning in the process too though. Including a good compassionate wounding given to me by my dear wife. But that is fodder for another post.

I want to leave you with a quote from a book that I am reading,

"There is a big difference between simple and easy. Simple is basic, uncomplicated and fundamental. Easy is effortless. Ministry will never be easy. It is messy and difficult because people are messy and
difficult.... Leadership in the local church is extremely challenging.
Leading a local church is neither easy nor simple, but the church strategy does not need to be complicated. The ministry design can and should be simple."

Simple Church, Rainer & Geiger, p. 16

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself,
unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing.

Jesus, John 15:4-5

Minstering passionately,
Yet striving for simplicity,

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Meaning of Life

Philosophers are those people who can effectively be efficient with life and can boil it down into a few brief statements. Life is too complex to do such legitimately, but here is the 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant's attempt:
All the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the three following questions:
  • 1. What can I know?
  • 2. What ought I to do?
  • 3. What may I hope?

Immanuel Kant

Biblical Christianity has the answers for these questions. It is a philosophy -- a practical study guide of the stuff of philo (life). If our faith in God doesn't offer the steps to find truth in these key questions of life, then it is of no value.

But it does! We are of all men most blessed! Why not consider sharing the answers to these questions with your friends as they search for menaing and purpose in their days ahead.

You can know that God exists and that He desires to have an intimate relationship with his creation; You can live in full surrender to His sovereign plan for your life, glorifying Him by enjoying Him forever; You can hope (confidently look forward to) a home in heaven when you die, free from the eternal punishment that your sins deserve. These are great truths of good news (gospel)!

Spread the Good News,

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Great Worship Thought

This past weekend at Word of Life's Teens Involved (TI) regional competition, I was able to judge the jr. high preaching category. In one of those messages (truly missiles as they were only 10 minutes in length), one of the lads was speaking of the greatness of God. His topic was the reverence and respect that God is due. As he concluded his message he made this great statement,

"It just makes sense to reverence God."
Indeed, it does just make sense, good sense.

Well-said lad,

New Ideas As a Team Measuring Stick

We are reading a new book now with our ministry team (Simple Church). In this book, the authors suggest that in an organization of passion, new ideas will emerge.

Where there are passionate leaders and passionate volunteers, there is always an abundance of new ideas. Combine this passion with the many needs that are prevalent in the lives of church members and you have the equation for new programs and special events.
Simple Church, p. 48

If this is true, then we must do something about a staff meeting that concludes with little or no discussion of the next step/course of action (these have occurred a lot lately). No new ideas is a subpar measurement. We can make a couple of possible assessments:

  • The leaders are not passionate
  • The leaders are not creative
  • The leaders are not observant
  • The leaders are not leaders
Employing the observation, interpretation and clarification method (OIC), I must now move towards clarification. I must engage the other team members in a dialogue that will cause them to shed more light on this situation. I do not want to conclude that the team that we have aren't leaders or observant or creative or passionate. But if they are, what then? We must move them towards those goals. That is the responsibility of leadership! We must set the table to allow them to eat their fill and nourish their hearts on the healthy diet of biblical, simple leadership.

May the cry of our heart be passionate, creative, observant leadership of the sheep entrusted to us as shepherds. May God grow us first so that we in turn may lead others to the same end and that we may say, as Paul did, "follow me as I follow Christ".

For passionate leadership full of ideas,

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Disciple-Making Change Monger

Last night in an informal gathering (in a living room and not in the office) our leadership team, the topic of change came up. No, to be perfectly honest, I brought it up. I used a quote from the Disciple-Making Church by Bill Hull to draw the topic out.

"Denominations that change their methods and cast off unproductive tradition will flourish and experience God's power, while those
who insist on the status quo will die a slow, unpleasant death."
The D-M Church, p.11

The immediate reaction was against the idea that change is a good thing. We shouldn't simply change because we're guessing -- i.e. the old shooting in the dark method or fling it up against the wall and see if any sticks. But we must be changing. We must be matching ministries to real needs, not just our shortened list of approved needs. We are not supposed to meet the needs of people that are already well; we must listen, evaluate, and respond to the cries for help going on around us all of the time.

The second response was against the word unproductive. We must not continue to pour resources into a ministry that is not effectively reaching our goals. Underproduction (or even worse non-production) is not just measured by the number of people attending -- unless that is our stated goal. The goal of number of people gathered is too simple a goal; even the world, without divine empowerment, can draw a crowd and hit "numbers in attendance" goals. Our goal is life change or discipleship!

Therefore, our goal might be "number of first time visitors who could hear the gospel message" or "number of gospels of John handed out by the counselling staff in one-on-one conversations" or "number of young people responding to the call for full-time ministry" or "number of verses [truly] memorized". Ultimately it comes down to number of people changed by God through our efforts. These goals are daunting because they are totally out of our hands. But we must never shy away from trying to be the best planters and waterers that we can be.

I am not just preaching to the choir. I have led this type of change already in our Sr Hi Youth ministry. We no longer attend an all-night teen evangelism rally, for example, not because it wasn't enjoyed by our teens, but because they were no longer inviting unsaved teens to come with them. We must not change things so often that it becomes chaotic, but we must evaluate and adjust, adapt, rework, revise and cast off the ministries that do not meet very specific discipleship goals. We eliminated an annual fall event because the schedule was too full. We attend another camp in Western NY for winter camp instead of the one that we support in the summer, because it has a better snow camp program (not just fun either).

We must be innovative and creative and purposeful in our decision-making. We should not let "we've always done it this way" or even "we like it the way that it is" come off our lips until we have given the change a fair discussion. [Please note I am not saying that you may not like something that we do or it is sinful! :) ] The reason for keeping a program, ministry of element must only be that it is the only means whereby we may be effective in the discipling of another believer. We should not let "We haven't ever done it that way before" be any more than an observation of teh totally obvious! It must not stall our attempts at fresh, doctrinally conservative methodology. The church is too important to God to give Him second rate, half-baked left-overs! We must serve with passion and zeal that draws others to hear about the One that drives us on in our growth and service.

"Leaders are disciples you are in touch with God... The discipling church is a community of disciples and their leaders seeking to know God and do His will."
The D-M Church, p. 38-39

That is the call of leadership. It is a call to evaluation and change. It is a call to personal growth and stretching. It is a call to fully functioning discipleship at the feet of Jesus Christ. Be committed to growth!

With my deepest affection,
The Disciple-Making Change Monger
(aka Pastor Mike)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Life is Short... Evangelize!

Life is too short and the world too compassion-starved for you to keep subsisting in situations that drag you down and curtail your potential to help advance the Kingdom. There's just too much at stake.
Hybels, Becoming A Contagious Christian
p. 73

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Great Set of Quotes

Two quotes that have made me stop and think today:

The proof that I have experienced crucifixion with Jesus is that I have a definite likeness to Him.
Oswald Chambers

We enter the mission field every day we step out of the door of our homes, whether we live in North America or Africa.... As those called by the Lord, we are always on mission. We are living testimonies to Him.
Gary Fallesen

God's Learning Objectives

This morning in Bible Study, I had an interesting thought that formed the structure for the discussion of Exodus 6 & 7. I noticed that God's stated purpose for both sides (Israel and Egypt) of the plagues was almost identical:

"...Then you will know that I am the LORD your God..." 6:7

"... By this you will know that I am the LORD."

God's learning objectives for Moses, Israel, Pharaoh and Egypt were all starting at the same spot. As a result of experiencing this 10-part lesson, the student will:
  • KNOW that God is LORD (YeHoVaH).

The FEEL or emotional response for each character is slightly different. God desired a heart change in each case.
  • For Moses; FEEL confident in YHVH's ability to use him in spite of limitations (I needed to hear that one myself!).
  • For Pharaoh; FEEL hardened by the rejection of YHVH's specific 10-fold call to repentance.
  • For Israelites; FEEL protected by the hand of YHVH or FEEL valuable in YHVH's eyes (we are His people!).
  • For the Egyptians; FEEL convinced that YHVH is a better alternative to the pantheon that we are currently serving.

The DO or action items are also somewhat varied according to person involved, but the bottom line result is always the same: to glorify God. All of the parties involved, eventually, whether they accept or reject YHVH's personal involvement in their lives, will bring glory to God (YHVH).

"Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Phil 2:15

God has some pretty specific goal for my education today too. The situations that come into my life are for the intention of bringing me to the knowledge (experientially and first hand) of Him. YHVH is so sovereign and omniscient that He has even sometimes planned the same event to affect different people in different ways. This is the stuff of personal application! But ultimately all of the decisions whether for or against obedience to God's directions, whether right or wrong, wise or foolish, all will bring glory to God! (yes that is to suggest that sin glorifies God)

Think about this some more and post a response! I am in a very humble teachable mood today! :)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

They Are Not Listening

The story of Moses is fascinating on a number of different levels. One of them is the leadership angle. Moses is counted in the top ten great leaders that Israel ever had. He is in the Leadership Hall of fame if you will. Had he been born a few thousand years later, there would probably be an award named after him: the Moses Award for Excellence in Large Group Leadership.

I do not have a group the size that Moses led. The flock that God has given me for now is considerably smaller. Yet, Mo' faced the same sorts of problems that I face on occasion.

"So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage."
Exodus 6:9, NASB

There are times that people just don't listen to me either. I try to lead and they just don't respond. I have been in this situation and thought about the leadership proverb recorded by John Maxwell (Developing the Leader Within You), "A leader without followers is simply out for a walk". I don't like walking off by myself any more than I like staying with resistant sheep.

The key I believe in this passage is that people didn't respond because they were too consumed with the stuff of everyday life. They were so loaded up that they couldn't hear Moses. They thought they heard him in chapter 4, only to be loaded up even more in chapter 5! It was too much! When this hearing/listening stoppage occurs, there are four encouragements for the discouraged leader.

1. They didn't listen to Moses either. I am not alone; this is not a new development that is targeting me. I have the record of Moses' leadership, even in the face of resistance or outright rebellion, to challenge me to do what I have been called to do -- with or without followers. This epsiode of non-listening did not cost him the leadership trophy!

2. They may not be ready, willing or able to hear me. I may need to help lift their load, or help them rest a while, or plan on carrying them for a distance. More good news! I can be the most eloquent speaker or even the faltering lipped leader and still not be heard.

3. I am not responsible for their response. I only need to take the message to them. I cannot answer for them or make them hear it. I cannot wait to speak the message when I can get the response that I want. I cannot wait to get a message that I like to speak (one that heeded).

4. I must not become short of spirit because of their responsiveness (or lack thereof). The people couldn't hear because they were "short spirited" or discouraged or despondent. If I take on their same attitude (sink to the level of the bleating sheep) then I may also become unable, unwilling, or unready to hear the voice of God through another messenger. Leaders lead by example.

I don't like to be not listened to or ignored. I love it when people are responsive (positively). But God may have me leading a group of people that, for whatever reason, can't or won't listen. Moses was. Oh how much I need a shot in the arm from God to get through the discouragement of non-responsiveness. God gave Moses Aaron to bear his load. God has given me key men to turn to as well. Who has God given to you? Be encouraged to lead in the face of non-response.

Leading whether they're listening or not,
And striving to hear myself,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Brothers, Keep Away From the Idols

I would never worship an idol. I am too smart for that. I would pick up the fact that I was praying to a piece of hay, wood or stubble. I would never serve a piece of metal, wood, stone or plastic. There will never come a day when I prostrate myself before a grotesque statue or a foreign/strange shrine. It just won't happen. I'm not falling for that obvious a trick of the adversary.

But Oswald Chambers ask the question(s) in this way, today:

What is it that blinds me in this "my day"? Have I a strange god - not a disgusting monster, but a disposition that rules me? More than once God has brought me face to face with the strange god and I thought I should have to yield, but I did not do it. I got through the crisis by the skin of my teeth and I find myself in the possession of the strange god still; I am blind to the things which belong to my peace. It is an appalling thing that we can be in the place where the Spirit of God should be getting at us unhinderedly, and yet increase our condemnation in God's sight.

I was especially pulled up short by the statement Chambers makes about getting through the crisis and going right back to my old ways. My old ways are often the idolatry -- the things that steal my energy and excitement rightfully belonging to the God. I choose to be in control of my life instead of yielding. I desire my own comfort and pleasure over ministering selflessly. I rush into the temple of my heart, the sanctuary of my life, and brush the Holy Spirit aside so that I can put my own old man statuette on display. Sometimes when my mind is not being renewed, I even ask the Holy Spirit to hold the statuette. I think that since He is holding it I am really worshipping Him. My own hands/mind have fashioned this weak shadow of the real desirable object of my affection -- God.

I am so grateful that I no longer have permanent condemnation with God (Rom 8:1) -- even when I am stupid about avoiding the idols!

My prayer this morning is based on the words of the great hymn, "Whiter Than Snow"

Verse 1
Lord Jesus I long
To be perfectly whole
I want Thee forever
To live in my soul
Break down every idol
Cast out every foe
Now wash me and I shall be
Whiter than snow


Whiter than snow

Yes whiter than snow

Now wash me and I shall be
Whiter than snow

Verse 2
Lord Jesus look down
From Thy throne in the skies
And help me to make
A complete sacrifice
I give up myself
And whatever I know
Now wash me and I shall be
Whiter than snow

Verse 4
Lord Jesus before You
I patiently wait
Come now and within me
A new heart create
To those who have sought You
You never said no
Now wash me and I shall be
Whiter than snow

Amen. Brothers keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Doctrine is Important Enough to Argue About Online

Thanks to Todd for the link to John Piper's "Desiring God" website. In it, I found a quote about the value of blogging about significant theological issues. [Assumption: the preceding discussion of communion has indeed challenged you and caused you to think. I threw that third link in only to see if you would read it. It did indeed lack depth = it was spray.] Piper contends that this is a healthy thing that three brothers (and ever so seldomly a father) engage in online! :)

"The increasing abandonment of truth and moral absolutes in our culture, as militant diversity threatens all firm conviction, has dramatically influenced the evangelical mindset. The political spin doctors who specialize in deflecting attention away from truth onto feelings and relationships and styles have their counterpart in the evangelical tendency to avoid doctrinal disputes by casting issues in terms of demeanor and method rather than truth. Serious disagreements are covered over, while vague language and pragmatic concerns preserve hollow unity at the expense of theological substance and Biblical clarity and power."
(John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory, p.24)

Soooooo, keep on challenging me for my growth, and listening to my arguments and the arguments of others, and be free enough with your brotherhood to say, "that last one is spray". I need to know that I cannot get by with shotty arguments or "unity at the expense of theological substance" reasoning. That stuff won't fly here! Just remember to do it respectfully and be driven by honest truth pursuit and not one-upmanship or vainglory.

Let us be given to non-vague language and thinking,

Communion Links for Further Thought

As I have been thinking about the issue of "why do we do it that way" and reading many of your insightful observations, I have compiled some more food for your thought.

A thorough discussion of the communion issues -- Southwestern Baptist Seminary theologian
A blog detailing my view as "local church only" communion
A simple Baptist "4 reasons" why it has to be this way

My conclusion is that the reason that we practice communion in the local church only is a combination of our caution (a really good thing) and authority of the local church (a really important thing) and tradition (not always a bad thing). You will not find a single passage that says "thou shalt practice communion only in the local church building with only the sr pastor presiding using oyster soup crackers and Welch's graps juice served in plastic disposable cups". It is in fact a combination of principles and practical effects of the church's operation that have shaped our "local church only" communion.

Let's keep discussing,

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Powerful Communion

Communion is a regular part of our worship here at WyBC. We partake of this ordinance every month, usually in the morning of the first Sunday. We do it often enough to remember and seldom enough to make it special. But I have never led a communion service outside of that slot.

Last night's youth group lesson was a look at the last supper. The last supper is the communion model that we follow. Two elements representing, in symbolic forms, the incarnate form of the suffering servant given for me. We used some oversized kaiser rolls and some cranberry drink and read through the Luke account. I was struck with some amazing "experiences" as I reflected on this text with the teens.

As we sat on the floor, the change of position generated a lot of discussion and chatter amongst the teens. "oh this floor is hard", "someone's feet stink", "I'm tired" (one boy tried to act disinterested and attempted to fall asleep during the lesson), etc. I waited, saying nothing, smirking and observing these rascals that I love. How like Jesus, I thought. As he made ready for this special celebration of Communion, there must have been some banter going on amongst the men; fussing about the accomodations, complaints of stinking feet, whining about physical exhaustion, etc. Yet Jesus waited and when he had there attention he said, "I've been looking forward to this time for a long time". "Here, here" I heard one of the disciples say. "Let's eat!" (one of the teen girls actually squealed, "what is it?" as she tried to discern what might be in my semi-transparent grocery bags. "oh good! its food; we get to eat!")

I thought how Jesus must have ached as he saw once again that the disciples were on the verge of missing one of the most significant final moments with their Master Teacher. He finished his statement, "This is one of the last times that we will be together before I go to suffer". Silence. The chatter stalls as the disciples heard the seriousness of the man that they recognized as their leader.

I counted my band of "merry men and women"; there were 13 of them. How much like the Savior on that Passover night! This group that I was trying to teach was very similar in size as the first communion takers. How strange to feel that bond with my Lord.

The verses continued, "he took the cup and gave thanks". What did he give thanks for? I am not sure, since the text does not record an .mp3 webcast of the event. But I believe that he could not have prayed "blessthisfoodtoourbodiesamen". He might have prayed through the liturgical thanksgiving associated with the Passover meal. But I belive that he made the liturgy his own, adding phrases and emphasis that the disciples had never heard before. I made every attempt to change this communion service from the somewhat formal (it is about the only high church liturgy that we do in the baptist church) event that we celebrate each month. I wanted these teens to get what Jesus was doing and saying. "This is a symbol of my body which will be broken for you in a few short days".

The teens were strangely silent. I hope that it was that they realized that this was not like any other lesson that we had ever had. I also hope that they were responding to the Holy Spirit's directions to be still. Whatever the case, they listened. I gave them time to close their eyes and think about the significance of this bread and juice and pray silently. "This is my body broken for you/me", "This cup marks the new covenant that I am about to seal with you/with me", now "this do in rememberance of me". I could not chew long enough or drink enough of that juice. I wanted that meditation time to go forever. I wanted teens and leaders alike to savor that moment. I prayed and I listened. I had brought these young people that I love to a communion moment with God. Some of them got it, some did not. "How like my Savior", I thought.

Think on these things at your next communion service,
Until he comes to get us,

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Ears are Underdeveloped Too

Yesterday, Oswald made another poke at me without ever having met me. I hate that when coincidentally, something written hundreds of years ago references something written thousands of years ago and it crosses my life at a critical juncture. Oh and it just happens to be on track with my spiritual needs for the day. [Taking my spiritual tongue out of my cheek, I turn it to praise: God's mighty arm is not shortened!]

Here, again, is a profound statement about discerning God's will for me today.
"God has to hide from us what He does, until, due to growth of our personal character, we get to the level where He is then able to reveal it."

So what Ozzy is saying is that if I don't hear what God's will is for me right now, my ears need to be developed? Is he suggesting that an understanding of God and His direction for my life might be based on whether I can handle it yet? Ouch. Oh man. That smarts.

I know that God can show me things that are too wonderful for me to grasp. (Job 42:3, Ps 139:6, Prov 30:18) I know that He can take me there even without me knowing what He is up to (been there, done that, bought the T-shirt). But imagine if He is simply waiting for me to grow up before He can invite me to come up higher or gives me the next piece of the puzzle. Imagine if I am indeed trying to run before I can walk. Imagine if He wants to get me to level 6 and I am stuck at level 1 because I am unwilling to stay at level 1 until my ears are more fully developed?

Almost in response to Monday's post, another chorus rings in my head with a personal twist on the lyrics: (Robert Cull, (c) 1976)

Open MY eyes, Lord,
I want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch Him
and say that I love Him,
Open MY ears Lord and help ME to listen
open MY eyes, Lord,
I want to see Jesus

I come once again as a teachable servant. Help me to grow in my personal character today so that I am ready to hear Your next step for me. Help me to be prepared to go when I finally can hear Your directions for me. I am so ready to "hear" what Your plans are for today. I once again am forced to work on personal character in the waiting room while I wait for my next appointment with You. Keep me focused on my homework!
I love You and long to be ready and usable for Your work,
Please grow me first and then advance me,

I desire to worship and obey,
Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening,

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Spiritual Vision Impairment

I wear corrective lenses. I do not have enough money to afford lasik surgery. I need help my physical eyes to see properly.

Oswald Chambers wrote his commentary (My Utmost for His Highest) on Matthew 5:8 for today about spiritual vision. His title "Spiritual Vision Through Personal Purity" is an advertisement for spiritual laser surgery.
"Purity is the result of continued spiritual harmony with God. We have to grow in purity. ... If we want to maintain personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ, it will mean refusing to do or even think certain things. And some things that are acceptable for others will become
unacceptable for us."

I want to be pure, I want to be holy, I want to be clean, and I want to be intimate with my Savior! Paul Baloche has penned these great lyrics:

"Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see You,
I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory,
Pour out Your Spirit and love,
As we cry Holy, Holy, Holy!

Holy, Holy, Holy!
I want to see You"

Dear Jesus,
The only problem with this desire of spiritual sight is that to get a full force view of Your total and unleashed glory would decimate me. So God, just give me another glimpse. Make me holy so that I can catch another view of just Your train as it passes by! Make my face shine after the time that I spend with YOU in purity. Burn away the junk and give me an unobstructed, unclouded view of the one that I adore. Let me see only You!

Longing to know Jesus better through a cleansed life,

Angels Among Us

Do you remember that old spiritual,

All day, all night,
angels watching over me, my Lord
All day, all night,
angels watching over me.

I do not think about angels. My philosophy for the most part is: "can't see 'em, don't look for 'em, don't need 'em". Have you ever stopped to think about the ramifications of angelology on your every day life? I was recently challenged to do that by the Sr Pastor here at WyBC during his sermon series on the topic of Angels. It caused me to stop and rethink my theology at least in its relevant applications.

My conclusion is that the doctrine of angels does matter. (I knew that it did or it should!) But how? Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

  1. Angels are real. -- This point may be too simplistic a place to start, but I need an "easy button" here! This point of "like duh" theology reminds me that I can be caught up in the tangible, material world around me. My thinking worldview is often contorted into the world's pretzel shape -- I believe what I can see. But that is not the life of faith. I love the story of Elisha and the servant (2 Kgs. 2:15-17) where the eyes of the servant were opened. I wish that I had the eyes of Elisha or Tim LaHaye to see the armies doing battle. But I don't need to. I know that the battle is real because the Word tells me so. And I have weapons of warfare that are not carnal/fleshly (2 Cor 10:4) so that I can wrestle against spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). APP: Pray= do not let me be sucked into the trap of naturalism, keep me alert for spiritual warfare; Do= believe without sight (John 20:29)
  2. Angels are not to be worshipped. -- Again, don't miss the significance here in this basic building block. The world, especially the postmodern one is susceptible to this phenomenon. They want a supernatural, extra-ordinary experience. They crave new and exciting! This trend is good news for charismatic groups. However, it is an exposure of the finititude of the human mind and body to the power of the occult. This action is not recommended. But lest we think that this a new wave, consider that there have always been curiosity seekers when it comes to spiritual and miraculous things (cp. Acts 8:18-19, 9:13-15). Angels never accepted the worship and homage of men. They always stopped the process (Rev. 22:9) APP: Pray= I worship You alone O God! Do= do not seek an audience with angels or spirit guides, worship and commune with God alone
  3. Angels are on a mission from God. -- I don't need to go looking for them. If they have a message for me, I will see them. It's the old "don't call us, we'll call you" line. I don't need to waste one ounce of energy looking for their activity or even trying to summon it. God is the only one that I pray to. God is the Sovereign, the LORD God of (the angelic) Hosts. I have a hotline right to the commander-in-chief. He will let me know when I need to have an intervention with an angel. Until then, I will continue to speak to Him. APP: Pray= Open my ears to your message by whatever messenger you choose. Do not allow me to be deceived by false witnesses. DO= test the spirits whether they are from God or not (1 Jn. 4:1).
  4. I have something that the angels do not have; salvation. -- My life here on this earth, in the earthen vessel, is significant. It is not the vessel that makes it so, but the treasure inside! The Holy Spirit dwelling on board because of the Savior's substitutionary atonement is something that the angels are excited about (Luke 15:10) and long to understand personally (1 Pet 1:12). But they cannot. This is a gift. APP: Pray= Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift (2 Cor 9:15) Do= Do not take this lightly, tell others how they can have such an awesome gift, true supernatural power in ther life!

So, angels do affect my everyday life. But I don't need to obsess about them. They are there and they are busy about the Lord's work -- as I should be! So, I must get back to work, since I too am a servant/messenger of God! :) Please note that I will not be ordering an angel pin for my lapel or an "I brake for angels" bumper sticker. I might watch "Touched by an Angel" reruns, but not to build my theology of angels. :)

The King of Angels is watching over me,


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Are You Tired of Waiting?

This is an update from my writing conference. I have been writing curriculum for 1st -6th graders on the assigned topic of Matthew's Life of Christ (the gospel). So I have been studying for that using some books that I have acquired from one of my book sources Ray Roseman. The book is The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Ray's name is in the inside flap with the date of '66 ((c) 1965).

There, nestled in the pages, I found this insightful statement regarding the baptism of Christ section. Of course Matthew'w gospel has lots of kingdom language and discussion. Edersheim paints the picture of John the Baptist holding out the last great Israeli hope to those in real need of it -- the Kingdom. He writes:

"The long winter of disappointment had not destroyed, nor the storms of suffering swept away, nor yet could any plant of spurious growth overshadow, what had struck its roots so deep in the soil of Israel's heart."

I was moved by the passionate resolve in the final phrase of deep struck roots. I thought about the fact that the second Advent, the return of the King for the rapture of His church is our next great hope. I wonder, have I grown weary of waiting for the Kingdom? Am I blown away by the relatively temporary storms of life? Or am I like a first century believer -- baptized by the Spirit and watching the skies, fully expecting my Lord's return. Have I lost the passion of a deep struck root, immovable steadfast, always abounding in the work of the ministry. Do I have the drive to make this the cry of heart -- Maranatha! Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

With my eyes on the skies,