Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Patience of Joseph

The Patience of Joseph (From Matthew 1)

The patience of Joseph is often overlooked in the nativity narrative. Before Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph had to first accept their unique calls. To father and mother the Messiah was an exclusive task, so wrestling in advance of God’s plan had meaningful implications. We can only speculate what Mary was thinking as Gabriel announced her favoring. If Mary did have any doubt in her ability to nurture the King of Kings, she had enough belief within to say what she needed to: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:42, NKJV)

Joseph’s struggle, conversely, is more apparent. Perhaps Joseph possessed greater unbelief. Perhaps trust hadn’t been solidified in his relationship with Mary. Perhaps his skepticism centered more on his incapacity to deal with other people’s thoughts. Whatever the case, we can be assured that Joseph loved Mary, as he sought to guard news of her pregnancy. If Joseph did have any belief in Mary’s testimony prior to his angelic encounter, his hope could not compete with vain imaginations. Fear prompted Joseph to detach himself from his destiny, but a divine dream would stir him to obedience. Obedience would then open the door for his patience to shine through.

Isaiah 7:13-14 (NLT)

"Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Note the only word repeated twice in the Isaiah 7 prophesy: patience. God needed Joseph to not only trust His word, but be faithful in every circumstance. The passing of Jesus as Son of God to Son of Man required parents of patience.

After fulfilling the Lord’s command to marry Mary, Joseph was not entirely out of the woods. In order for the Virgin Birth to be realized, Joseph had to withhold sexual intimacy from Mary until post-birth for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Many would argue the weight Joseph carried made it easy to be faithful to God's word. But despite successful submission, Joseph must have been occasionally anxious in postponing consummation. Again, patience was in order, and Joseph, being a good man, had learned to live in new reliance on the Lord, enabling him to remain faithful in testing times. His obedience and patience allowed the perfection of God to kiss His foothold.

Romans 5:17, 19 (NLT)

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yielding vs. Yearning

Yielding & Yearning

We like to be in control. Giving up our control can be a difficult thing…but does it have to be? Not only does yielding lead to freedom, but whenever we reference the Holy Spirit, we tap into the deep places of God that lead to the greatest joy and peace we can possibly know. But we can’t abide with a bad attitude either. Yearning keeps us from negative obedience. Thus, the two go together and reap a harvest.

Picture: What is the role of a yield sign? How does this apply to our relationship with God? = Yielding to God means letting him go first!
Question 1: Why yield? Is it necessary?

Scripture Study:

"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." [2Pt:1:21] ==> We can prophecy.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:" [2Cor:10:3] ==> Avoid succumbing to sin/the world.

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." [Gal: 5:25] ==> Walk closely with God.

We Have An Inheritance of Supernatural Power and Ability:
Did you notice in the above scriptures that according to God's Word: God has made available to every born-again person who receives His Spirit the following:
• Supernatural Power [Acts:1:8]
• A Supernatural Supply of the Spirit [Phil:1:19]
• Supernatural Guidance [Rom:8:14]
• Supernatural Help [Rom:8:26]
• Supernatural Strength [Eph:3:16]
• Supernatural Peace [Jn:14:27 • Phil:4:7]
• Supernatural Protection [Psalm 91 • Psalm 34:7]

Unfortunately most Christians have little or no knowledge of the fact that these gifts are available to them, nor do they understand how to access them or use them. This is definitely the case with young people. The Church must disciple and educate youth and young adults in this manner.

"For the natural man is not able to receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they seem foolish to him, and he is not able to have knowledge of them or understand then, because such knowledge comes only through the Spirit." [1Cor:2:14 BEV]

KEY: But when we yield to the Spirit, the foolishness of our natural minds is traded for the wisdom of God. And the wisdom of God allows us to experience the supernatural and be moved by the Spirit. If we are content with the mediocre and the superficial, then don’t yield (consistently), and brace for a bittersweet entry into the gates of Heaven.

Question 2: What keeps us from yielding? What keeps us from yearning?

In the Hebrew/Greek, it means to make warm, to be kindled, hot. To yearn, is to burn! Sins such as selfishness, anger, and stubborness can prevent us both from yiedling and yearning.

Prayer Points | Legacy Mission
Pray that…

1) We, as believers, can see the goodness in relinquishing control and the desire to be in control.
2) For those in bondage, chained to entitlement, pride, fear, and lack of self-control.
3) We will walk in the supernatural power and ability of the Lord Almighty.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Conformation, Reformation & Transformation

As I prepped for last week’s LEGACYouth message, I couldn't help but tap into some insight, thanks to the Stan Mosier workshops in Monteagle last week. Stan's talk centered on the relationship among conformity, reformation, and transformation - each word containing Hebrew and/or Greek significance with respect to spiritual development.

Below are some of the notes taken during the workshops...

Conform: to fashion self according to; abide by the same pattern, based from schema (Greek for shape). Conformation may come from information.

Romans 12:2 (Amplified Bible)

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”

To conform means to abide by worldly thinking and self-seeking mentalities. A basic analysis of conformity produces a mental track similar to the following:

‘Con’ refers to ‘with’ among many languages. God created us with a distinct form. Since sin entered the world and corrupted this form, we are bound by (and with) a far inferior alternative to what will be our eternal identity. To conform is to give into a weaker state of mind, of will, of soul, etc.

Reform: to be instructed; to learn via discipline (chastisement)

The Hebrew word that best fits our concept of ‘reform’ bares a similar connection to its usage in Jeremiah 6:8:

Be corrected, reformed, instructed, and warned, O Jerusalem, lest I be alienated and parted from you, lest I make you a desolation, an uninhabited land.”

Let’s take a look at another Jeremiah passage:

Jeremiah 31:18 (Amplified Bible)

I have surely heard Ephraim [Israel] moaning thus: You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; bring me back, that I may be restored, for You are the Lord my God.”

Reform differs from conform primarily by nature of standards. While conformation sticks to the sensible, human nature, reformation associates to higher standards – ones that point to an ultimate authority. How these standards are approached and followed, in respect to conformity, are secondary means of disparity. Reformation, however, is not limited to moral adjustments.

It can apply to a refining of understanding by way of instruction (Psalms 2:10) or correction (Proverbs 29:19). Reformation points in the direction of transformation, since restoration is a valid byproduct. It’s essential to note the gap between reformation-based restoration and transformation-based restoration.

Transform: a change of nature, made anew; to convert.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (New International Version)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

To be transformed is to be revolutionized into an entirely unique structure with an allegiance to both Spirit and Word. Whereas reformation is a change of mind, transformation is a change of nature, state, identity, and so on. While reformation is a horizontal manifestation of adapting, transformation is always vertical since it always comes from revelation by Word or Spirit. In 2 Corinthians, transformation finds heritage from metaschematizo, which supports the divine connotation of true freedom produced from true change.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finger in the Sand

For my latest scriptural query, I call John 8 to the stand.

My question is simple: Why did Jesus write on the ground with his finger when the adulteress was presented to him, and why was it important for John to include this? What’s the exegetical significance?

So much to say, so little time. Let’s divulge, shall we? And bring a spoon, ‘cause the finale is rather sweet.

Occasionally gawky myself, I’m captivated by the awkwardness of the whole situation. Jesus, who is teaching at the temple courts at the Mount of Olives (v. 1-2), is disrupted by a parade of Pharisees and religious fanatics, carrying not only an adulteress, but a devious plot to derail him of divine influence. Talk about Satan in motion! He had troops in the red zone preying on perfection with the clock winding down, despite the eminence of inevitable loss. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Satan to have tried Jesus away from the Temple, where he wasn’t preaching and in Word delivery mode? Honestly…

Now before I continue, have you ever wondered how the woman was actually caught? The text states Jesus was at the temple at dawn. So was she discovered literally in the act? Or could the woman’s partner have been the one who turned her in, as part of a preconceived plan to assault Christ’s sonship? Surely, the man at fault couldn’t have been too allusive to the point of disappearance altogether. I’d imagine he would want to be in on this dramatic scene unfolding.

Bottom line: If justice had been closer to the heart of these teachers, the better approach would have been to present both to Jesus and to have rephrased the following statement/question:

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (v. 4-5)

Hold the phone though, Mr. Teachers O. De’Law. What is this nonsense? Your profession is studying the Torah – the law of Moses - and yet, you still “interpret fail” in front of the King of Kings? Ouch! Clearly, you have denied the authority of Jesus with malicious intent. Clever that your pitch offers little room for deviation. I will give you that. Swing high and Jesus is guilty of condemnation. Swing low and he has contradicted the law of Moses. But little do you know your curveball is about to be smashed out of the ballpark. Don’t you know Jesus is like superman? He’ll outmaneuver you as opposition with the cunning of a champion chess player and the strike of a Expecteria Trouserius. He will succeed and remain preyless to your accusations, both to the woman and his identity. Honestly…

Of everything in this story, this is what astounds me most: Christ could have very well voiced the correct response right away. However, he yielded and referenced his Father. He deliberately chose to seek him at one of the most crucial points in his ministry. The decision to honor authority manifested itself through wisdom – the timing and nature of his spoken words. But first, he had to align his lens to the Father, so that his words were in sync with His. He had to be initially silent to fulfill his calling in this instance.

Then, what does the Word say he did? He stooped down and wrote on the dust with his finger, no doubt, basking in open communication with God as he sought the right response. Interestingly enough, this is the only report of Jesus writing in the Bible, and the allusion to ‘finger’ may, in fact, point to the only other ‘Deity writing’ reference – God’s commandment inscription on the stone tablets in Exodus 31.

But what did Jesus actually write? There’s no direct answer - only speculation based from context clues. Truly the act bore symbolic significance, as the ‘finger’ represented Jesus’ ‘Messiahship’ – that he offered the same authority as God because he is God. Obviously, the Pharisees were blind to this truth.

“But when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said unto them, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’” (v. 7)

Imagine hearing this response live; talk about chills! Fittingly, Jesus based his answer from the Scriptures. So what started with silence, ended with silence.

Deuteronomy 17:6-7: "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people."

Was/were the witness/es actually present? That’s up for debate. Assuming the partner turned her in, you still only have one witness! So the ultimate clincher is the witness had to be without sin. This is what the Lord was after. Jesus' smarts fully concealed the Pharisees’ trap.

But wait! There’s more!

In v. 8, we find Jesus stooping down a second time to write on the ground. Again, what could he be drawing up in that dirt? Well, a big hint comes in v. 9, when John claims the teachers began filing away one by one, starting with the oldest.

This tells me Jesus had a deliberate plan and order set, most likely exposing each accuser by jotting down his/her sin within. In some form or fashion, the iniquities of the Pharisees and teachers were miraculously on display, to allow the power of Christ to triumph.

One of the greatest victories in Jesus’ ministry, topped off by a Mufasa-ish ending:

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ No one, Lord,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and sin no more.’”

We are all like the adulteress; every day we are guilty of death. Every day we are saved from it. Every day we can go and sin no more. For so much in this life would not have happened perhaps, if it weren't for his finger in the sand...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of Prayer in Healing

A stern yearn for God’s power to be known presses me, as I bid on right words to express my heart…

Recently, I read an article that stirred my hatred for narrow-minded deception.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1072638.ece

The author, perhaps blinded by bias and partiality, declared prayer to have a neutral effect on the sick. Though he refrained from a bigoted attack, his approached carried a lifelessness that managed a potent sting. The study at the center of discussion carried a $2.4 million price tag and involved a staged experiment exploring connections between theology and science. Three congregations participated: St. Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul, Silent Unity in Kansas City, and the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Now, trust me, folks. I understand the wisdom in steering clear of selective venting. I dare not challenge the quality of spiritual fervor in these Christian hubs, though I won’t deny my internal skeptism concerning these flocks’ prayer life. My main itch is the likelihood of non-organic submission to God. You can smell it right off the page as you read the link. Can we trust man to genuinely yield to God when the thrust of perpetual surrender is the ship of scientific discovery? I feel mixing in modern science with an abandoning heart is like forcing a frail fishing boat into the eye of a hurricane. I don’t believe in separation from church and state, church and science. I do believe God delights in any effort to tap into His knowledge more, with science as a vehicle. But launching an investigation that is seemingly bent on checking faith? Call it a mere vibe. I can’t help but cringe at what very well could be the driving nature of this author’s message.

You just can’t impose ungodly parameters on mountain-moving faith. Either you have it or you don’t. Am I extreme for thinking several million buckaroos went to waste on this study, when it could have gone directly to medical funds benefiting the ailing? Oh, the brutal misery when I consider the possibilities…

And yet, despite the letdown, I discover a mysterious calm that takes over as I process the read. Through means of grace, we can (and should opt to) burn righteously – blazing to see holy glory revealed AND satanic schemes destroyed. Granted a fire for God is never detached from discernment, so it’s essential to not overdo zeal to the point of madness. Like a good journalist, all sides must be taken into account before sharing any perspective.

But to burn is to defer to God; deferring is an act of dependence and probing further, we find that it keeps childlike faith alive and active. So I suppose what really irks me about this article is the complete absence of such faith – the kind that acknowledges supreme infiniteness and omnipotence. Again, research is not the problem. It’s the heart of it in this case that bothers me - the capped boundaries that prevent a honest outcome concerning God’s nature and our communication with Him.

So judge the lines and test science, not God. The problem with scientists these days is they convert absolutes into variables. Everything is subjective because spirituality is religiousness. But I don’t agree. My relationship with Christ is NOT a religious issue as compared to a governing spiritual reality.

“We admit, O God, how badly we've lived...we've all sinned against you! Your reputation is at stake! Don't quit on us! Don't walk out and abandon your glorious Temple! Remember your covenant. Don't break faith with us! Can the no-gods of the godless nations cause rain? Can the sky water the earth by itself? You're the one, O God, who does this. So you're the one for whom we wait. You made it all, you do it all.” ~ Jeremiah 14:19 (The Message)

A penny for your thoughts, my friends…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

LEGACYouth: 5 Ways to Grow Faith in 2010-11

Five Ways to Grow Faith in 2010-11

1) Expand your world. Expand your territory.
Psalms 119:32
- “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” (NIV)
- “I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.” (NLT)
- “I will run the course of your commandments, for you shall enlarge my heart.” (NKJV)

Chasing God’s heart and yielding to His authority produces true freedom, which ultimately leads to a divine broadening of our understanding/thinking. By submitting to His boundaries, fixed in love, yet abounding in purpose, our hearts can encounter holy development. A stagnant heart suggests either an embracing of obduracy or a false contentment in merely walking the course. Satan desires us to remain content on merely “wanting to go” – the reciprocal of an Isaiah 6:8 heart.

Territory in the Bible often refers to land, nations, physical measures of influence, etc. We see this in numerous occasions, including Job 12:23, Exodus 34:24, and Deuteronomy 12:20. But territory refers to internal points as well. In 2 Samuel 22, David relates territory as a spiritual pathway (v. 37). The entire song paints territory as a matter of heart, soul, mind, and the utmost spiritual reality (praising the Lord for who He is).

2) Be rooted & established in love.
Ephesians 3:14-19 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (NIV)

Establishing every word and action in love is crucial. Great rewards are inherited when the loveless are loved, and often, it starts by meditating on the infinite dimensions of Christ’s love. The Spirit enables us to experience the deep places of God’s heart, so faith is essentially increased. To experience fullness, faith must rush with rivers of love, for it is the Holy Spirit’s power that permits us to understand the depths of eternal, unconditional love.

3) Put yourself in radical faith positions.
I Peter 1:6-7 – “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (NIV)

Faith is jello when it’s not anchored. Radical faith is anchored by divine opportunities met with consistent courage (see point #4). But joy has to be incorporated into the picture. Note how Peter opens with “greatly rejoice”, then in the next sentence, remarks on faith maturing by fire refinement. Fire grooms and tests faith so it may be real in our lives. What are ways this is evident? Peter answers this in the passage: giving God praise, glory, and honor.

4) Garner strength. Be courageous. Rejoice in the process.
Philippians 1:18-21 – “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (NIV)

A familiar theme emerges when comparing Paul and Peter’s writing. Strength becomes weakness without reJOYcing. Here, Paul summons courage that stands fearless when death abounds. Real strength discerns the link between God’s ability to save us from death, while realizing death is a greater victory. Courage gives us the win-win – no matter what the outcome, Christ is exalted.

5) Strive for peace with holiness in tact.
Hebrews 12:14-15 - "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (NIV)

Peace is futile apart from holiness. You can’t aim for either/or. The two must be joined together. Secular culture places a premium on peace (or the lack thereof), and holiness is quick to exist stage left. Don’t create bitter roots that will eventually have to be excavated. Plant the right seeds. Let fruit grow in your lives, not weeds.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Expansion

Coming off a week of lockin intercession, I’ve been stuck on the word “expansion” lately, as well as the phrase, “expand your world” the past week, primarily as a result from lockin intercession.

In my response, I've been drilling down on a couple questions:

Question #1) How does the Bible emphasize “expand”, and how should believers interpret and apply the term?

Psalms 119:32

- “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” (NIV)

- “I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.” (NLT)

- “I will run the course of your commandments, for you shall enlarge my heart.” (NKJV)

Chasing God’s heart (Note the pro-activeness here) and yielding to His authority produces true freedom, which is equal to a divine broadening of our understanding/thinking. By submitting to His boundaries, fixed in love, yet abounding in purpose, our hearts can encounter holy development. A stagnant heart suggests either an embracing of obduracy or a false contentment in merely walking the course.

I Chronicles 4:10

- “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm…’” (NIV)

- “He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain…’” (NLT)

- “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge      my territory, that your hand will be with me, and that you will keep me from evil…’”(NKJV)

Jabez’s honorable stature bubbled from his desire to be blessed by God. To request honoring honors God, as long as motives are purely fastened to Jesus. Beseeching on behalf of territorial expansion, Jabez never lost sight of what was infinitely greater: being with God. A fearless submission ended up granted since it proved selfless as well.

Question #2) What is meant by territory?

Territory in the Bible often refers to land, nations, physical measures of influence, etc. We see this in numerous occasions, including Job 12:23, Exodus 34:24, and Deuteronomy 12:20. But territory refers to internal points as well. In 2 Samuel 22, David relates territory as a spiritual pathway (v. 37). The entire song paints territory as a matter of heart, soul, mind, and the utmost spiritual reality (praising the Lord for who He is). In the Psalms, David directly mentions “paths” twenty times (NIV), while stressing the importance of following God’s will. If we tie the loose ends on these Scriptures, we find that if we are not on the right path, by God’s grace, our territory cannot be expanded. We can’t act like modern Jabez’s if we don’t lock in a Psalms 119 attitude.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Upgrading the Church (Part 2)

The church can take quite a cue from Paul’s preaching, especially on how to be effective for Christ in pursuing the deep things of God. The points below discuss attributes the church must emphasis when equipping saints (inspired by I Corinthians 2:1-16). Often, the church fails to strategically mark these components of Christian living in the way Paul illustrates in this passage:

What to strive for:

v.1 – Thirst for God’s wisdom

In opening, Paul references humanly wisdom, and how one must not become reliant upon it. Knowing the difference between Godly wisdom and humanly wisdom produces freedom. Though humanly wisdom is not wrong, it still must be seen as drastically inferior to that of God. Human wisdom involves knowledge that God has already made known and can be discovered without necessarily seeking Him. Godly wisdom possesses knowledge that only He can give at an appointed time (1 Corinthians 12:8 – the Spirit provides word of wisdom and knowledge).

Key question: So how do we tap into Godly wisdom? The answer is simple. We ask! (James 1:5)

Bottom line: True Godly discernment knows the difference between wisdoms and asks for both.

v. 3 – Humility (note Paul’s angle)

To be with people in weakness is to exemplify selfless courage. Such absence of fear combined with meekness represents genuine humility, which Paul is displaying here.

v. 4 – Operate in God’s power

Paul preached with Spirit and power (not “and/or”).

The power of God comes through the “demonstration of the Spirit”; otherwise wisdom becomes man-generated and thus, contains no real power.

Key question: What exactly is a demonstration of Spirit? How does it manifest?

The Greek word, apodeixis, refers to a demonstration being any way where it validates or reveals truth or presence (i.e. glory of the Gospel).

v. 7 – “Mystery” – not literally mysterious, but hidden from understanding until God chooses to show

1 Corinthians 2:9-11 (New Living Translation)
“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,
‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.”
v. 10 – Why is the baptism of fire/Spirit necessary? Because Holy Spirit baptism, though not dependant for salvation, boldly declares that we want to know the deep things of God! It’s one of the most important announcements we can make to the spiritual realm. Two elements must be in place to tap into the deep things of God: 1) A revelation from God by the Spirit (the Holy Spirit is like God’s mailman) 2) Man’s response (a.k.a. obedience)

v. 11 – Only the Spirit knows the deep things of God, so we have to be in fellowship and communion with the Spirit (Note how this testifies to the existence of the Trinity).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Upgrading the Church (Part 1)

I’m hearing a stack of smack about the postmodern church needing an upgrade. And with church currently carrying an out-of-tune melody, the declarations hold merit.

How does God view His house these days? And how would He fix the disarray within?

Ask yourself these questions routinely and dare to be unmotivated.

Neil Cole, author of Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, voices this well in his recent release, claiming an organic operating system is crucial concerning the effectiveness of programs, worship methods, and structural issues. And organic, for those who need clarification, is simply the nutritional value (sustenance) of a church’s spiritual life and efficacy to witness.

**Just a quick side note: If you read about this subject matter often, you may find writers indirectly evaluating the church as the latest Microsoft product or a Triple Play Starter Package. – I’ll do my best to veer from this “norm.”)**

Now, I believe the church doesn’t require a complete makeover, but it unquestionably needs renovations that shatter some funky mold that has been in place for several centuries. Cole, in fact, traces certain meticulous huff back to 300 A.D.

Bottom line: The church is not doing everything wrong. It just could do most things better.

Lingo-shmingo aside, let’s investigate why the church is integral to Christianity, and what improvements should be made without finger-pointing preferences. Seriously, the last thing anyone should want to hear is constructive criticism masquerading as biased nitpicking.

So the church is guilty for not penetrating secularism, the marketplace, and the neighbors next door, eh?

Chances are you’ve heard a blend of the following as to why this is so: an overemphasis on clergy-led political structure, an over-institutionalized approach, a strong internal community with a weak external counterpart, etc.

For the most part, these assertions are correct. Church is incredibly business-like in its procedures these days, and rising generations aren’t grasping church as a people, as compared to a place. They don’t understand church is just as much verb as it is noun. (By verb, I’m implying the heart of any church – the community of God at an appointed place – should strive to see the far corners of nations reached, starting from backyards to unchartered igloos and Asian shacks.)

Is church necessary? Yes! Why? Because it links koinonia to the Kingdom.

It is encouraging to hear the volumes of youth hungry to expand the Body from the comfort of homes to the chaos of the streets. However, the fact the same persons doubt the answer to the question above is a strong indicator that the church in America, as a whole, is not succeeding at full potential. Perhaps the definition of church has become so skewed, we can’t separate church from sanctuary.

The key word is balance.

In the post-ascension era, the early church held two services a day, both at a chosen meeting place and the home (Acts 2:46). Back then, there wasn’t so much division over location, since abundance of life flowed from the quality and quantity of social and positional diversity. Also, clergy weight didn’t have the same prominence as it does today. So the end result revealed healthy corporate activity, both relationally and spiritually (Much more I could say, but I’ll try to keep this brief…)

Today, the scene is much different, though somewhat similar in certain circles.

Yes, we have to place higher value on relationships and a discipleship culture that fuels evangelism. And yes, the church must utilize a systematic approach to make this happen. After all, organization is a branch of holiness. But there’s abuse in the house these days. There’s too much temple junk penetrating ministries, curriculums, and church agendas around the world - too much selling, self-promoting, and divide between clergy and congregation.

Bottom line: Without anointed balance, things get ugly…fast!

Of course ministries and programs are a blessing. But it’s a curse for the Kingdom if opening blind eyes loses focus. It’s a poison to manifestations of the Spirit that illuminate the existence of an all-mighty Supreme Being.

Many verses in Bible portray how church was intended to function. One of my favorites comes out of Ephesians 4:

“For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… may [we] grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

~ Ephesians 4:12-13; 15-16

Note the analogy of the body and parts. Like in Romans 12, the exercising of spiritual gifts among all is vital to church life. And once again, we’re back to determining exactly what is it means to be “organic.”

Interestingly enough, the philosophical dictionary captures a similar viewpoint on the term: If an entity such as a work of art, or the state, or a complex of pleasure and desire, is thought of as an organic unity, the implication is that the whole cannot be exhaustively understood in terms of the parts, since the parts and their functioning have in turn to be identified by their role in sustaining the whole.

In conclusion, the church must make a shift in format and perspective, not a total overhaul that forsakes the genuine right. The answers can be found by a balanced mindset, applying established historical concepts, and remaining true to the Word.

More to come on this matter in the days to come…

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Favor & Fire

Two years ago, I began settling into what would be the breakthrough summer of my life. I regained a solid stride. My outlook recaptured its idyllic state. Electric expectancy became my calling card. And finally, after a grueling transition year, my destiny had gathered some sheen.

Things were looking up then.

But one essential ingredient was missing: the trials. Though new wine of a changed heart had been tasted, it hadn’t garnered a seal of approval. And yes, though I had tapped into some momentum under favorable conditions, the road to freedom had only begun.

Back then, the stark contrast alone between past and present days provided propitious hope. But despite the abounding good, youthful ignorance kept subtle habits (i.e. replaying the past, sporadic forgiveness, belief in certain deceptions) from being completely relinquished. Thus, every defining moment during those summer months lost crucial capability to intimately cement itself to my identity.

I still showcase a smile when reminiscing about those days. For in the accounts of my memory bank are profusions of affirming memories.

But with those past “deposits” granted, the Lord should have been permitted to drill more of him deeper into my being. Instead, I rode on waves of diverting contentment, which loosened select standards and cracked me to concerted brokenness.

During last weekend’s Not Alone 2010 conference, the difference between times became more apparent upon hours of soaking prayer. Among the prophetic words of knowledge, pictures, and healings that took place, perhaps none struck me so vividly then the following revelation:

Often times, our knack to celebrate integrity can only happen to the extent we overcome adversity and emerge victorious from moral combat. When failures emerge from resolute patterns, as compared to erratic blunders, the veracity of a person must be interrogated. Still, I would submit it’s better to learn from heart pains, than coast on a cruise control that caps Christ’s power to permeate his glory into our radiance. For when God shines, we must absorb all His glimmers, sparks, and gleams. When favor falls, hold to it closely. Never let go. Quench the temptation to convert excitement into a distraction. Burn the right way. Don’t let a genuine Spirit move fizz into an evaporating buzz that crashes the Kingdom (rather than advancing it).

For how can one be on fire, if it is not asked or desired? How can roots of sin and strongholds deracinate without a thirst for iniquity-consuming flames?



Fire (a.k.a. a passionate, holy burn) should always be a versatile element no matter the realm. It helps maintain a hunger for the ways of God and consumes transgression at the point of surrender. If we want a soul fire, why not let it burn vertically? Are we believers that want convenient bonfires or explosive wildfires that push our thresholds of vulnerability?

It’s time to get real, people…

Monday, June 7, 2010

Loving with Total Strength

The sky couldn’t be more stunning for a June summer day. Blanketed across the sky are dazzling blowoff cirrus clouds whipping with the cumulus, as widespread convection over the Plains and Mississippi River valley stir in their aerial splendor.



Yet atmospheric energies haven’t been the only things churning as of late.

The past few days, my heart has been pounding faster than an “I am Legend” darkseeker. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but point being I’ve gained some incredible, new life, having joined to an unshakable revelation that had been brewing for weeks. Saturday, the light bulb went off; Sunday, the word was confirmed (thanks in part to an anointed man destined for Pacific greatness).

Once the clock struck noon yesterday, I knew I had undoubtedly heard the heartcry of God.

Isn’t it amazing when the Holy Spirit overflows unfathomable refreshment, even when shame and guilt are inches away?
You see, I’ve been loving people (from those I love most intimately to strangers on the street) with all my heart, but I haven’t loved them with all my strength! So I suppose it’s fair to say I really haven’t been loving people with all my heart, since complete love breaks the yoke of weakness. One can’t be so content that he or she is exalting Christ with a reverent heart. It must be fearless as well, since true love accompanies AND is supported by true strength. And the hard truth, in my case, is that I haven’t let maximum strength permeate my relationships. Even at 95%, I am very unsatisfied.

The fascinating part to this story is I haven’t felt as if I’ve fallen down. Instead, I’ve been raised up. I haven’t been knocked out; just simply awakened.

Now since grace is rooted in love, we can interchange them for sake of point and emphasis.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:9 with the substitution applied:

“'My love (grace) is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Here, Paul makes a worthy association between power (strength) and love (rest). Paul knew his apostolic ministry could not be demeaned by the schemes of the enemy. Paul knew weakness couldn’t ultimately separate him from God’s love and the assignments granted to him. He possessed complete assurance and faith in the manner in which Christ qualified him. Despite the times he had fallen short, Paul understood the links connecting holy satisfaction to suffering and sin.

2 Corinthians 12:10“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So if we are to love, we must desire to love with the best of that which we’re given. The Great Commandment, from Deuteronomy 6:5, concludes with loving God with all strength, suggesting love is only superficial without a submissive brokenness to sacrifice. Just imagine a husband loving his wife, but not giving up an unhealthy addiction or destructive habit for the sake of greater love. Too much of love these days is pick-a-little, talk-a-little. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.

But God’s grace and love is distinguished by unimaginable strength. It’s a facet of His nature we must all collectively aspire to. So if I find myself casual to the point of compromise in any one area, I should know I am not loving with my everything. And how can I dare say that isn’t sin?

In Jeremiah 16:19, Jeremiah cries out to the Lord, acknowledging him as both strength and fortress. Thus, we can realize strength is not confined to just power, but represents security as well. The Hebrew meaning (“azaz” – to be firm and strong) is referenced approximately 100 times in the Old Testament alone. That right there should tell us “strength” is a big deal.

When we share God’s love with others, we need to recognize that God loves with all His strength, not just all His heart. And yes, heart should imply strength, but at the same time, their discreteness must be taken into account. The fact is many people love with their hearts, but not enough foundational strength as backing. And since love without strength is powerless, our lives must exemplify a heaven-aimed passion saturated with strength (see 2 Sam. 6:14 – David dancing before the Lord with all his strength).

Jeremiah 19:21“Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know My hand and My strength; and they shall know that My name is the Lord.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Understanding the Relationship Between Evangelism and Discipleship

Draft for Pentecostal Ecclesiology thesis
(Footnotes not included)

INTRODUCTION

Across denominational lines, the dynamic relationship between discipleship and evangelism has generated much debate. Most Pentecostal groups have recognized the connection, only to partially bridge the gap between the two emphases. Spiritual leadership in the Western Church has understood the Scriptural significance of discipleship and evangelism, but through misinterpretations and skewed application, she has failed to penetrate cultural gates by balancing these mandates. One of the critical problems of the missional church has been the muddling of discipleship and evangelism priorities. On the other hand, we see the tendency for certain Pentecostal circles to place greater incentive on evangelism over discipleship. All churches should deliberately examine the question of how the relationship between discipleship and evangelism is supposed to work, concerning its eschatological purpose and its orderly applications.

As the polarization between discipleship and evangelism has increased, contemporary means to fulfill the Great Commission have become more ineffective. This is partly due to neglecting the place making disciples has within Christ’s command to give witness to the Gospel. In addition, many scholars and Christian leaders have felt that the church has deemphasized the Great Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 1This thesis centers on finding a balance between discipleship and evangelism functions, using Scripture as the chief reference to determine proper definition, teaching, and application within the body of Christ.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DISCIPLESHIP AND EVANGELISM

In a recent address on May 11, 2009, Henry Blackaby echoed his sentiments on the discipleship-evangelism dichotomy. In his speech, Blackaby stated he is concerned over the disproportionate balance between discipleship and evangelism, with discipleship losing critical ground. With greater efforts centered on saving souls, the training of disciples has been unintentionally relegated to the backburner by the ecclesia. Blackaby condensed a significant portion of his concerns into one key reason for discipleship’s .decline, with the belief that “substituting activities for relationship…is why many churches are in decline or on a plateau.” 2 The relational component is vital to the extent God’s power and presence is manifested. According to Blackaby, without relationships and equipping believers with discipling tools, evangelism becomes superficial at best, topically meeting needs of the lost without allowing God to permanently change them. 3 The essence of Blackaby’s words boil down to being on mission with God: “Anybody coming under the lordship of Christ automatically has a God-given DNA to be on mission with their Lord…not a matter of trying to get our churches back on the program of the Great Commission, but rather into the relationship with the living Lord…” 4

Deferring from relationship with God as chief priority has neutralized missional effectiveness in the body of Christ. Part of the evidence is in the increasing number of churches bent towards evangelism without an understanding of how discipleship fits. With the scale tipped, a number of believers are forgetting the true meaning of both the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission. As John Piper states in an article from "Desiring God", the church needs to focus on maintaining its "spiritual wisdom, not so much tradition...how to be culturally sensitive and cautious. How to be prayerful, thoughtful, culturally alert, self-critical, Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, reflection driven by passion to be filled with all the fullness of God." 5

Discipleship combines an understanding of true obedience to a faith in God’s unconditional grace; it accepts the responsibility to remain disciplined to Christ’s call to provide leadership, wisdom, teaching, and guidance to those within the faith and younger generations. As John said in 3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” 6John’s words illuminate the innate grasp he had concerning the right discipleship attitude. If proclaiming the Gospel fulfills the Great Commission, and if a believer is truly born-again, Christian priorities this purpose. Dr. James Kennedy breaks down this responsibility into two facets. Initially, “it is the responsibility of the individual evangelist and the team who leads the new believer to Christ; second, it is the responsibility of the local church family.” 7If the church seeks to obtain credibility, one piece to the puzzle is developing discipleship programs that hold leaders to an unwavering structure of high standards and systematic methodology.

Though a chief characteristic of the prospering church is evangelism flowing from discipleship, Kennedy notes, “it is impossible to disciple or follow up properly on someone who has not been effectively evangelized. A spiritual stillborn person has no new life to develop.” 7 In addition to nurturing, the ability to cultivate relationships propels the mission of the disciple. For without love, the mission dies, and discipleship becomes pointless. Materials may serve as adequate supplements, but if the heart of God is separated from discipleship, the Christian life dwindles. With love, follow up communication can be enhanced, correspondence can help facilitate spiritual growth, and witness-centered partnerships can be established.

From a team perspective, the approach changes, though the mission and vision remain the same. To reproduce Christians and build them in the likeness of God requires environments where spiritual growth is consistently evident. According to Kennedy, Godly leadership needs to meet a balance of Word and Spirit, laced together by love and rightly placed priorities. This marriage of Word and Spirit must shape healthy decision-making among leaders and the life of the body of Christ in general. When Jesus addressed the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He answered their question concerning marriage, which represented worldview, and the Resurrection, which symbolized salvation in heaven. 8 Not only did Jesus claim they were ignorant of the Scriptures, but of the power of God as well. Thus, the wisest men of the times were instantly humbled, exposed through a lukewarm mindset that failed to minister the good news to the lost. It could be argued that one of the unsung motifs from this account is to illustrate everything that discipleship should not be. Furthermore, discipleship must engage both Word and Spirit if it is to have any impact on secular culture. Kennedy adds that without a knowledge of the Scriptures, we turn into “emotional, unstable, ignorant fanatics”, while absent of the Spirit of love, we become “argumentative, Pharisee, harsh and abrasive.” 9

In a similar analysis of evangelism and discipleship, Dorothy Kennedy relates the two to effective Christian church membership, not just ministry. As twins, Kennedy reminds us they are not to be seen as separate identities, but as descendents birthed together. Of the two, discipleship needs to be understood as the firstborn. Kennedy describes discipleship as “the act of becoming a capable soul winner who is able to train others to be and to do the same…[drawing] people into the fellowship of the local church.” 10If evangelism centers on winning souls, then the significance of chronological order, in which discipleship proceeds evangelism, can be understood.

For the evangelical church, her leadership should involve every member into discipleship action, while clarifying the Great Commission as a mandate. With the Great Commission serving as the ultimate assignment, discipleship must be recognized as a required feature of the church. To sufficiently disciple the believer, the person must “be evangelized and brought into the knowledge of salvation and accept Christ as their Savior, receive follow-up instruction and sustaining information…become knowledgeable concerning witnessing and its power, and [share] with someone what [they]…have experienced.” 11However, before one is accepted into a discipleship program, not only must the believer have an active relationship with Christ, but should recognize the discipleship process as an essential qualification for evangelism preparation. At the heart of any ministry, “evangelism and discipleship should be created and continually pursued. Then and only then can [people] reach unbelievers with the Gospel and promote the Kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of His children as spoken in Hebrews 8:10.” 12

THE GLORY OF PRESENCE

Though structure and methodology are crucial to discipleship and evangelism efficacy, an imperative ingredient that ties training to opportunity is the presence of God. The efficiency of the Word is capped at best without the manifestation of the Spirit of God. Steve Fry captured divine presence well in his book, Rekindled Flame, providing a threefold definition to the glory of God’s presence as “the magnificence of all that He is, sweeping over our souls in…unbounded joy…to walk with God [as] to encounter Him… [and] a place where the Scriptures burn in the heart, where the soul is drawn out of its voracious self-absorption into a fascination with His holiness…” 13 To find such vivid portrayal of presence in discipleship manuals and textbooks is rare. Nevertheless, presence must be viewed as something higher than the spiritual glue that bonds discipleship to evangelism. Behind every word preached and lesson taught must live the truth that every disciple, principle, and strategy yields before the presence of God. However, how do the church and the individual integrate intimacy with Christ into the foundations of inspired mission?

As Fry submits, a step in the right direction starts with focusing on the foundation itself. Discipleship training, evangelism, even apostolic ministries, should all open the door for a believer to discover his or her identity. 14 As this process unfolds, the relational dynamics from post-evangelism conversion to post-discipleship outreach becomes principal. Often times, laying groundwork for activities and programs is comparable to fortifying walls with stones, as was the case with the temple in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. If construction with stones represents the progress of discipleship and evangelism curriculums, certain criteria ought to be satisfied. First, as the faculty of Christ, believers should shepherd upbringings where Jesus can transform individually. Whether calendar planning for one-on-one sessions, transferring counseling responsibilities to a spiritually-qualified leader, or making time for the mission field, allotting breathing room for God to work supernaturally should be interwoven into any missional infrastructure.

Secondly, discernment development should find influence in the handbook of Spirit-controlled discipline. If wisdom is allowed impartation by God and Spirit, then God will grant acumen to Christian leadership so each willing vessel can be rightly employed. What discipleship needs to stress in cultivating spiritual gifts is how service and benevolence surpass the sensible. Even if “someone in leadership asks [one] to do something we don’t feel enthused about, it is easy to couch our apathy in terms of ‘God’s leading’ and resist arenas of service that don’t emotionally fuel us. Being rightly fitted together often means dying to your own preferences.” 15

While faith trusts in God’s ability to place us missionally, humility understands God’s authority to position us however He chooses. In some churches, the flow of the Spirit is tragically replaced with the popular ways of doing church. As a body, every believer ought to accept the artistic design of the Creator. Pastors should do more than educate crowded congregations, but tend the appointed role in a way that goes after the individual heart. Inside the confines of discipleship, giftings must be recognized, so they can be sharpened before stepping onto a spiritual battlefield. When teaching servanthood, the pathway to service should be accompanied by the fact it is at the heart of God. When discipleship, and the evangelism that flows forth, reaches maturity, the affected people and the persons doing the affecting both recognize missional utility as an extension of worship. 16

UNDERSTANDING THE DYCHOTOMY IN CHURCH CONTEXT

Walter Brueggemann also found intimacy to be a key player in the affiliation between discipleship and evangelism. Through closeness with God, Bruggemann believes the believer can realize how discipleship and evangelism are designed not to be diminished to just an action, but rather a way of being – not just a church program, but also a standard of life that shakes us loose from social comfort zones and lifts a love relationship with Christ. 17 If a church is to create a guidebook for their members to grow from, part of the aim should seek to “engage in disciplines that disentangle [those] from ways in which are schooled and stupefied and that introduce new habits that break old vicious cycles…drawing us into intimacy with this calling God.” 18

Factoring in a supportive biblical backbone, Brueggemann mentions what he calls theological presuppositions concerning discipleship and evangelism. The essence of Christ’s mission starts with the truth that God bestows authority, calling in a transformational way that recognizes His worthiness of obedience. Having redeemed those He has called to share the Gospel, along with the command to engage in His work, is the equal charge to disengage from the world so the outflow of God’s power will be apparent to all. 19 In terms of identifying current problems, Brueggemann suggests a mixed hybrid of qualities - God’s character, reality, will and purpose - all contribute to a certain conflict between discipleship and evangelism. In a culture laden with ungodliness, “…society wants to silence the voice of this God of miracle and imperative. Where the dominant script succeeds in eliminating God, moreover, the possibility of discipleship and the capacity for evangelism evaporates…” 20 Ultimately, the church owns the responsibility to commission disciples to effectively spread the Word, instruct them to teach the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, and how to establish prayer and koinonia within the body.

William Easum and Thomas Bandy provide complimentary wisdom and relational comparisons in sync to Brueggemann’s statements, associating the bodies that derive answers to key apologetic questions as spiritual redwoods. When enhancing community within both discipleship and evangelism, action must meet initiative. The koinonia aspect needs to recognize the person over the office and gifts of the Holy Spirit over the institution. 21The buildup of emerging personalities must be done carefully in a way that spiritual giftings are made known, individually and corporately. Out of awareness, release in the Spirit and mission of Jesus should flow, locked in the realization of being an agent in God’s calling. When discussing purpose, destiny should be included so the fulfillment of both mission and purpose can come to fruition in the minds and hearts of the believer. 22 Every teaching and outreach opportunity must be firmly secured in the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the church, so every person, upon reaching a place of discipleship maturity, can be sent out as a spiritual redwood, inspiring the heart of God to saints and equipping them with authority and integrity.

LeRoy Eims further drives this premise home in The Lost Art of Disciple Making, noting two critical problems within the church concerning its managing approach to discipleship and evangelism. The first issue lies in the church’s wrongly emphasized motivation. According to Eims, the primary incentive should not come through a network of programs as compared to training spiritually qualified workers for Christ, multiplying disciples and facilitating spiritual growth through fellowship, training objectives, and leadership training that seeks to hone and refine ministry skills. 23 The second problem area concerns the process in which church leadership pushes discipleship training further behind on the backburner, and places the greater emphasis on winning souls. The result creates a disproportional balance between discipling believers to effectively carry the mission of spreading the Gospel and the quality of missional evangelism.

In light of Eim’s perspective, Carl Wilson adds additional insight in how to achieve evangelism aptitudes. Not only should both discipleship and evangelism apply a Scriptural structure and divine ministerial methods, but also Christian leadership should seek to strengthen the connection between Christ-centered propensities found in the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that enhance the Kingdom of God on earth. 24According to Wilson, this can happen through ministry training, delegation, communication, motivation, strategic prayer, and education. Healthy discipleship, within every curriculum and vision statement, should encourage and equip people to endure the challenges of adapting and relating to a lost world. 25

CONCLUSION

Though churches and leaders have understood the necessity of discipleship and evangelism, most have not been able to fuse the two together in a maximal way. A notable problem within Pentecostalism has been the struggle to rightly prioritize and recognize how the relationship works. For evangelism to lead the lost to Christ, the church must allow it to move out of discipleship ministries designed to equip all believers. If greater emphasis is placed on evangelism or discipleship, the ability to effectively reach culture will be handicapped. Instead, church leadership should focus on growing believers in spiritual maturity and Scriptural understanding. In this way, discipleship and evangelism within the church will be reinforced.

In addition, connecting discipleship to evangelism requires awareness in experiencing the glory and presence of God. While curriculums and program structures are important, without the passionate pursuit to encounter God, all efforts to strength ministries become futile. Whether training, designating authority, or creative expression, all dimensions of discipleship and evangelism should be seen as an expansion of worship. When this happens, the Spirit and Word will combine to bring abundant life to the church and its ministries. Subsequently, the temptation to overstress discipleship and evangelism as programs over Spirit-driven opportunities will diminish. As authentic communities are established within the church, not only will the Great Commission come to greater life, but also the corporate understanding of how discipleship and evangelism are to blend will be realized.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

True Humility

Last weekend while attending Hope Force International training, I listened to an enlightening series, laced with wise, whispering words about humility.

Snug in my cushion of coziness, my spiritual understanding soared, engaged with interest yet slight discomfort due to truth (over)saturation. Still, in light of the perpetual parade of “amen’s” and “Yes, Lord’s”, I figured I’d deposit some fresh nuggets of delicious revelation on the cyber table of inquiry.

But enough of the verbiage. Let’s get down to “business”! Besides, most people simply want to know what humility is and how it works, a very nice place to start indeed…

So what about this facet of righteousness do we know?

For starters, most of us know humility involves a lack of pride, commonly noted behind the many pulpits of America. Others conjure up ideas of modesty and goodness of heart…all right answers, though I’d submit not completely correct.

Even worse are the mentalities of those who downplay humility to the point it’s not perceived as virtue. What is tragic? I know, Mr. Trebek.

Based on gathered receptions, I contend humility should be well received by present and future generations. Why? Because true humility is the genuine effort to be authentic, robed by a willingness to be recognized for who you really are. The bottom line goes back to that pleasure-quenching word: real. All definitions, rules, and boundaries bow to that which is true and sincere versus what is fake and artificial. It’s that simple. And who doesn’t like simple in a complex, muddled world of depravity?

Paul’s life was a story of two halves marked by defining irony. In the first half, (S)aul spent years counterfeiting his soul, putting on a sort of masquerading veneer to his divinely appointed identity. Briefly tapping into my sports enthuse, one could say his early years imitated the story of an underachieving basketball team sunk by turnovers and poor execution (no pun intended). And like bad court-play, Saul, through the persecution of what he would eventually become, set himself up for a major halftime deficit and a dramatic comeback.

Still, after two periods, Paul’s scoreboard with respect to humility wasn’t very good. No doubt, the demons surrounding his life were winning as he strode off to Damascus that climatic day. Of course, most of us know the conversion account, and how God used a regenerated Paul to change the spiritual landscape of the future. God’s victory through Paul at the end of the game would triumph…

What amazes me about Paul is his level of humility in his writings, teachings and words as his ministry matures…

Check out I Corinthians 15:9-11:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Now that’s good stuff! For one thing, Paul provides the most basic yet profound twist on grace in the New Testament. By transforming grace, we are who we are – changed agents saved from sin’s sting of death. But note how he weaves humility in with grace throughout this passage. To be effective Christians, we have to be who we are, an intense blend of 1) how God designed us to 2) working hard to stay faithful to His commands, His mercy, His faithfulness, etc. If anyone needed a 1-2 punch on how to be a real person, there you go! Be true to yourself…IN CHRIST and be true to God. (As if you can hide anything from Him anyway…)

The buzzer sounds on your life and who do you want to be known for? The answers could vary, but the one consistent lining I’d vie for is being real…for real…

Humility. Chew and savor…

Bon appétit!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Missional Triune

For the Church to radically fulfill its mission, the kerygma, koinonia, and diakonia must be in sync, or in unison concerning how each facet of ministry is exercised and utilized. In order for the Spirit-filled Church to faithfully influence culture and the lost, each component should be entirely associated with a transcending Kingdom mindset. In order for successful engagement between these components and culture to take place, each missional element must remain intertwined among every spiritual dimension, so that firm foundations may be established within the church.

The proclamation aspect, kerygma, should not only teach the Word and minister truth effectively, but it should also encourage the koinonia constituent for stronger fellowship in the Body. Essentially, the communal vision of a church should not be separated or distinct from the missional vision. Contrarily, the two should provide a one-two punch so believers can live among community in a way that bridges the Kingdom with culture. When service and benevolence, along with worship, become ultimate, rightly placed priorities among koinonia, diakonia is produced, thus satisfying an essential ingredient in continuing Jesus’ ministry through the Church. As quoted by Harper and Metzger in “Exploring Ecclesiology”, John Perkins states, “…the Church should maintain a vital presence in the community and abandon upwardly mobile ways to identify…[recreating] family and community by becoming an incarnate presence in society…” (244).

Furthermore, as Althouse notes in “Towards a Pentecostal Ecclesiology: Participation in the Missional Life of the Triune God”, the kerygma, koinonia, and diakonia ministries of the Church should mirror the missional values of the Trinity characterized by “the proclamation of the Word made flesh in Christ Jesus...the fellowship we have inside and outside the Church for the other...and the service we give to the other reflected in the kenotic self-giving of God in Christ Jesus by the Spirit” (245).
In other words, kerygma should play an important part in voicing the connection between ecclesiology and missiology, koinonia as the uniting dialogue between ecclesiology and missiology, and diakonia providing the final portrait of the amalgamated relationship between ecclesiology and missiology. Embodied in each dimension is the call to abide by the Great Commission and the greatest commandments: to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself. To be missionally effective requires a love-relationship with God first and foremost; however, this relationship must filter into human relationships as well.

Karkkainen, in “Towards a Pneumatological Theology”, captures the essence of diakonia and its relationship with koinonia well, by reminding us that the early Christians’ concern “for the poor, widows, and strangers was not seen as entirely separate activity but rather an extension of their worship (214). While today’s Church is somewhat capped by compartmentalization of responsibility, the early Church lived out diakonia as a continuation of koinonia, while understanding the importance of every action being an act of worship unto the Lord.

Harper and Metzger contribute additional notions, claiming how“[reshaping] our relational, familial, and vocational values in light of Christ’s countercultural and upside-down kingdom values” inspire the work of Christ to manifest and be made known among those we reach to (268). In doing so, the power of the Church, Christ’s bride, is enhanced and strengthened, forming an even tighter bond among each missional dimension.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Individuality, the Corporate Body & the Triune God

Several problems exist within the context of the question, “Why can the church not be thought of as merely like-minded individuals voluntarily coming together for the purpose of worship?” The first apparent fault lies in the word “like-minded.” Not only should believers be like-minded, but united in heart and purpose as well. A follower of Christ must not merely see through the lens of individuality, but understand the body of Christ is corporate.

Applying the nature of the Trinitarian God, according to Dr. Peter Althouse in his lecture on the Doctrine of the Trinity, we would be making a fundamental error if we equated God as three individuals to God as three persons. If the idea of ‘individuals’ is better removed from a Trinitarian mindset concerning the essence of God, so should ‘individuals’ be taken out of the church relational infrastructure. As Dr. Althouse suggests, church, as a corporate gathering of persons, should not be seen as a hub of independence as compared to an identity defined by a community dependent on its interconnections and networks. Since the modern notion of free will has become culturally synonymous to the individual, associating the nature of the individual to the ecclesiology of the church would misrepresent God’s intended purpose for the gathering of saints. Furthermore, if the church’s role is diminished to a volunteer opportunity or as the cultural thing to do, the gathering of any fellowship will lose sight on the significance of amalgamating koinonia with worship, and the holy effectiveness produced when worship precedes community. Without hearts fused together for the ultimate goal of experiencing God and His manifested presence, church is reduced to the status of social club or volunteer program.

Subsequent to confessing the existence of God is the acknowledgement of the Trinitarian God: the Godhead, three in one – Father, Spirit, and Son. A tri-unity of God, as Van Gelder asserts in The Essence of the Church, sheds light on how the social nature of the church should be in reference to the social community of the Trinity. The tri-unity complies with the relational aspects of God; thus, the Trinity offers a relational template for the social community component of the church. In addition to the Godhead serving as a marker in viewing the church as a social community, other focuses emerge such as the reality of the church associated to the being-ness of God and the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit relative to creation and re-creation, as Van Gelder notes on page 35. In essence, the three persons within the Godhead provide the highest representation for human community.

Understanding the greatest fellowship of all can invigorate a community of faith in the body of Christ, especially in light of these final days before Christ’s second coming. The social ramifications influenced by a Triune God can move believers in ways that could only come in the context of community. If several gather together to confess and worship in truth in a corporate setting, faith among the body will be enhanced from person to person. For one to know God cannot come without a relationship. The existence of God itself testifies to the ongoing relationship He has with the church and the individuals within. So what God imparts in a relationship with one His children can be shared communally so that multiple hearts can be refreshed and enlightened. By analyzing such a brief example, we can see how the glory of God can be made known relationally, which thus fuels the church, as a community of faith and as the body of Christ. The church, with the anticipation of consummation, must live and operate in the Spirit at all times so the Triune God relationship mirrors the way in which believers gather with one another, depicting a corporate relationship with God opposed to an individual relationship.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Flash Weather: 2009-10 Winter Midseason Recap

The buzzer has sounded on winter’s first half. With five more weeks of winter still on the menu, it’s time to reflect on what has been an historical snowy season that still shows little sign of letting up anytime soon. Below is the 2009-10 winter history for Middle Tennessee/Southern Kentucky thus far (also open for “outlying comments” as well):

January 7-9, 2010 - A blown forecast of 2-3” of snow bursts the bubble of confidence for most Middle Tennesseans on Thursday, January 7. An average of only 0.5” blankets the midstate due to unforeseen dry slots at 850 mb that evaporated snow before reaching the ground. The following night, an unexpected 0.5”-1” of fresh snow coats the pre-existing snow depth – a small amount, but historic considering the prolonged journey of the snow having originated from Lake Michigan! This unique occurrence is the first of its kind since 1994.

Total snow accumulation: 1.0”-1.3”

January 29-30, 2010 - An active southern jet shoots a massive winter storm into Middle Tennessee in congruence with arctic air spreading southeast. Early forecasts indicate a wintry mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain could leave 4-6” of mixed precipitation for most areas along and north of I-40. The preliminary sweet spot of accumulation, however, ends up in southern Williamson, Maury, and Marshall Counties, where up to 6” fall, before northern areas along the Kentucky Stateline catch up Friday night. Snow commences in Nashville around 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, Jan. 29th, and falls steadily through the nighttime hours, before transitioning to sleet and freezing rain early Saturday morning. The scene at 8:00 a.m. reveals a crusty, brittle snow, hardened by a moderate layer of ice seemingly preserving it beneath. Snow showers linger into mid-morning before tapering off. Jackpot snowfall amounts reach 9-10+” in Macon County and other northwestern plateau counties.




Total snow accumulation: 5.7”-6.1”
Total ice accumulation: 0.2”-0.3”

February 8-9, 2010 – Most local forecasts heading into late Sunday called for little to no accumulation of snow and mostly rain for Monday, Feb. 8. However, daytime temperatures remain five degrees below prediction, setting the stage for a surprising round of short-lived snowfall. Moisture arrives at dusk to provide a three hour period of moderate to heavy snow that deposits a thick 2” on the ground in Williamson County, and increasingly more in counties northwest of Nashville. Areas up in Montgomery County, near Land between the Lakes, pick up 5-6”. Unfortunately, the snow turns to rain at 9:00 p.m. in Brentwood, as warmer air invades the mid-levels, though surface temperatures hover around freezing. The above-freezing air bypasses western Kentucky, where a personal expedition to Murray State University on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 8 more than makes up for lost snow that eluded most parts of the Nashville-metro area.

Total snow accumulation (Brentwood) : 1.8”-2.2”
Total snow accumulation (Murray): 5.9”-6.7”

Total snow/ice accumulation 2009-10 Winter Season (as of 2/10/10): 8.7”-9.9”
Total experienced snow/ice accumulation 2009-10 Winter Season (as of 2/10/10): 12.8”-14.4”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Burning the Right Way


Last night I received a short and sweet revelation.

As the workout run morphed into prayer walk, that numinous* communication cable inevitably reached a new signal.

You see, the past few months, I’ve been inundated with a fresh hatred of sin. Words cannot express how much I loathe moral failures, selfish endeavors, indulgences, satanic plots, etc. Not to sound as if this is a recent development, but the level of repulsion has indeed raised lately, no doubt due to an increase of awareness concerning its sly and destructible nature.

But I wonder if a righteous passion should ever be primarily rooted in hating sin, hating hate - even if that hate owns necessary property within. Should there exist a healthy unsettlement that overtakes us when disgust seems to be dominant over love? Should we live our lives with the burn set more in the direction of adoration and grace as compared to the despising of wickedness?

In other words, which should be the leader: A love for faithful righteousness, or hate of its opposition? Well, certainly the correct answer is the first option, with the latter branching off of it. Clearly finding a holy balance is key. We should always detest transgression, but we shouldn’t let a hatred of past iniquity be the driving mechanism to why we live the way we do. If we do, how are we not avoiding the rear-view mirror perspective?

We’re called to abide by grace and allow it to transcend our actions. Otherwise we run the risk of dwelling mainly on how we do not want to be. This can bear more serious consequences then we realize, such as missing out on hearing the voice of God, reaching out to another (potential self-centered struggle), or experiencing a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Bottom line: a seemingly appropriate odium of sin can venture the edges of shame and take pieces of our focus away from God. And shame should not be underestimated, as it joins with pride as the top two byproducts of the self-absorbed lifestyle. Please note I am not advocating taking sin lightly by any means, or suggesting we do not take seriously the call to analyze our hearts. But where lays the brunt of our burn? Where does grace fit in concerning our approach to loving the new life in Christ versus the dead version Jesus died for?

As David Nasser says in “A Call to Die”, “Our motives for obedience are clarified. Grace turns a teeth-gritting, ‘do or die’ attitude into a thankful, ‘do because He died’ gratitude. We obey out of love, not because we’re afraid” or because we’re furious with ourselves or another. We live out of love, not hate. Dealing righteously with sin in our personal lives does not mean we have to let it dictate our motions and steps.

May you realize how to prioritize love and hate in your life, keeping love as the forefront, the desktop, AND screensaver of our lives. Let the handling of sin rest in the light that God still loves us in spite of weakness. As Nasser continues, “The more we are aware of our sinfulness, the more we will be aware of God’s grace! The law was added so that the trespass (and our awareness of sin) might increase (Romans 5:20).”

~ Cameron

* In the divine sense of the word

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vision vs. Mission

Whether within a church, business, or at the epicenter of one's personal life, understanding the difference between mission and vision is imperative. Today's Gate leader/staff retreat touched a bit on the comparison, thus signaling the research guru to come out of the shell temporarily.

Vision, in essence, is not measured by what is achieved as compared to what is eternal. V. Vision "always is." It's the happy place, a source of refuge and firm foundation. The vision should NEVER change. Contrarily, the mission is the means the vision is carried out. A mission should be allowed breathing room to transform according to newness of vision, as it certifies to what is real by God's standards. The mission WILL often change. So attempting to find permanent criteria to a mission statement could open the door to future discouragement. The reality is often times the methods of carrying out vision require tweaking or refining down the road; however, this does not translate into some form of spiritual failure necessarily.
So perhaps
the initial split-off between vision and mission is knowing what should remain the same versus what should be subject to collaboration, while understanding the mission is simply the tactical strategy in arriving at/reaching the base of vision.

A convenient place to start in discerning the dichotomy is analyzing the life of Paul the apostle. Paul's mission, as the case with any principal, pro-Jesus character in Scripture, needs to be realized apart from the broader vision. Yes, vision and mission must be seen in their interwoven relationship, but separating the entities is a crucial step in comprehending such a link.

In the book A Vision for the Church: Studies in Early Christian Ecclesiology , Markus Bockmuehl and Michael B. Thompson mention the following concerning Paul's vision:

"Paul’s vision for the communities that he wrote to can be summed up quite succinctly. He sees them as being a new creation in Christ, filled with the Spirit, possessing gifts of the Spirit and overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit, controlled above all by love; they are communities that should be pure and holy, mutually supportive and interdependent, completely united, transcending the oppositions and tensions between different groups within the community, and with every kind of barrier that would divide them in normal society broken down." (105)

Furthermore, an abbreviated version of Paul's calling can be found in Acts 9:15 when the Lord reveals the blueprints to the disciple, Ananias:

"...he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (NKJV)

Paul's mission, at least some facets of it, can be found only a few verses later beginning in v. 20 (scattering to v. 31):

"Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God...confound[ing] the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ...[and] spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists...then the churches throughout all Judea, Gallilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were mutliplied..."

Paul's story provides a clear-cut example of how mission yields to vision. Often, the Lord will grant vision while placing the ball in our court. The subsequent and proper response on the receiving end is simply aligning to His Word and call in order to see/hear clearly how the vision should be carried out. Sometimes frailty and weakness interfere initially, which might trigger a retreat down the road to "square one." The joy of the vision-mission model lies in the existence of hope in knowing the vision stays the same and never changes.

To be continued...