Monday, June 19, 2017

JESUS' TRANSFIGURATION

“Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.” Luke‬ ‭9:28-36‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)


Raphael's The Transfiguration
Like was Jesus custom he had gone to the mountains to pray. Jesus had often sought the face of the Father. He lived what it meant to be in communion with the Father. Prayer and revelation go hand in hand God will make himself manifest to us if we make ourselves manifest to Him. By saying this I do not mean to diminish the revelation of the Word of God. I mean we often wait on God to reveal himself to us and don’t reveal ourselves to Him. Our relationship with God is a two way street. More precisely, I mean that God cannot mainfest himself outside of His word. However prayer goes hand in hand with the revelation of the Word of God. We have to manifest ourselves (i.e. show up) to God through the Word and prayer.

Jesus became dazzling white not by some trick or figment of imagination because Mark's Gospel records that he was whiter and brighter than any bleach could have made him. His brilliance shone from the inside out. He displayed the glory that he had from the beginning. "From the Father full of grace and truth."

Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Him of his departure, which was a subtle way to say they were talking about His death. First, Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets respectively. Both Moses and Elijah confirm here Jesus as the fulfilment of the law, and as the greatest prophet. He is the most excellent prophet and fulfillment of the law through wonderful and humble departure on the cross. They were most likely discussing with Jesus how his departure would fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Moses presence at the transfiguration validated that. From Elijah's perspective Jesus death would also confirm the fulfillment of every Biblical prophecy. Jesus is God's prophetic utterance. Jesus Himself said the Law and the Prophets speak of Him

Being the middle of the night probably Peter James and John were heavy with sleep. Probably because of the Brilliance of Christ are they rudely awakened. Have you ever been rudely awakened? I always loved waking my dad up from a nap he would always wake up with the most surprised face and would always say "Huh What Huh? It was hilarious. In general we are pretty hilarious when woken up in th middle of the night. We are usually just not logical until we are fully awake. Just like Peter I'm also not the sharpest tool in the shed right when I'm woken up in the middle of the night. Peter is woken up and cannot believe what he is seeing And his thoughts are a little bit disoriented. He says they should build tents for all three of them. Even the text is kind of like "uh Peter didn't know what he was saying...it was waaaaayyyy to early in the morning!" poor guy he is just trying to in his own way honour Jesus, and it is hilarious. 

God the father's shekina Glory overshadowed them in a cloud and they were afraid...this was the usual response from Biblical characters as they encountered the presence of God (Isaiah, Zechariah, shepherds (sore afraid), Adam and Eve in the garden). Why are (should) we sinners be afraid in the presence of a Holy God? Just for that very reason we sinners know that to be in the presence of a holy God would require one of us to die, and it's not going to be Him. Even though they had every right to be afraid Jesus says in the glory cloud "fear not!" And why mustn't we fear any longer? Jesus is the go between, the mediator, our great advocate before a holy God that is why we can boldly come before the throne of grace where we can find mercy in our time of need. Jesus our mediator intercedes for us in the glory cloud of God's holy presence and therefore we must not fear!

Out of the cloud God the Father speaks and says "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" And directly thereafter Jesus was there standing alone. All that was said was all that needed to be said. God needed no big long sermon or discourse. Jesus is His sermon to us! Jesus is the full embodiment of the Father's discourse that is why he says "listen to him." Jesus is confirmed as God's Son the chosen Messiah the prophet, priest, and King. God confirms that everything Jesus says is from me so listen to Him. You have heard the truth when you hear Jesus words and the implication is not just to listen to what he says, but to do what he says. How can we obey Jesus if we know not what he said? We must know what he has commanded and said before we can take any steps of obedience. Have you made it your life's ambition to know the voice of the Good Shepherd? It is never too late to start. Crack open your Bible and listen to His voice!

Most current "manifestations" of Gods presence in recent years seem to have not been quietly treasured, but rather loudly braggadociosly proclaimed from the hilltops. You might even find a YouTube clip or two of Glory clouds, gold dust, or other bizarre manifestations of "God's presence." What happened to a humble quiet experience of God's fearful presence like the Sons of Thunder experienced? It seems that it might have been hard for Peter, James, or John to hold a cell phone to record this awesome event, because they were probably on the ground facedown. Until Jesus put his hand on their shoulders and said "fear not" would they have dared to look. You certainly see their fear and homage after the fact in that they dared not speak of or spread any news of this holy encounter before it was recorded in the Gospels. Where is our reverence for our encounters with the Holy God? It seems to be lost on this generation. The Holy Spirit does His finest most historic work were prying eyes cannot see. In creation he hovered over the waters, in the incarnation the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, and in regeneration he transforms the heart of the Christian. We on the other hand want to bring the Holy Spirit up on stage and parade Him around like a gimmick before an amused audience for our own entertainment and euphoria. In reality the Holy Spirit works in the quiet subtle moves of the heart to point us to Jesus. That is what is happening here in this Holy encounter in the cloud. The Holy Spirit was illuminating and glorifying Jesus. The Holy Spirit appeared through Jesus so brilliantly that the glory shown from inside out not outside in. The Holy Spirit was and is the spotlight shining on the glory of the One being illuminated. Do we seek the manifestation, or the one being manifested? Are we more interested in the feeling of the presence, or are we more obsessed with the One to whom the presence belongs? Do we worship the the Son the 'chosen one' and all that He says, or do we want some radical experience that we can post on YouTube? These men kept this experience quiet and did what the Father said they "listened to him." 

Of course these men were transformed by this event just as Jesus was transfigured right before their very eyes. When we gaze upon Him we also are transformed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image (The Image of Jesus) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬ 

When God removes the veil from our eyes he transforms us into the likeness of Christ. To be transformed We must...

1. behold him in His glory 
2. receive him in his departure (death)
3. obey Him for his words.

Will you behold His glory, receive His departure (death), and obey His words? 
Let Him rise up as Lord in your heart. This song from My Epic is really hitting me lately I hope it hits yo too

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF CANNOT STAND

According to Matthew 12:22-32 some might assume that Jesus emphatically means that Satan cannot or will not give power to people to perform exorcisms of his own “house." When Jesus says, “A House divided against itself cannot stand,” does he mean that demonic work will never be initiated against other demons by the prince of demons? 

Satan's House of Cards will topple
First, I would like to say that Satan, Lucifer, all other demonic forces, and our enemies house, will not stand in the end. Lucifer the angel of light is a defeated foe. He will be toppled like a house of cards. There is no power in his house that God does not grant. God is the ultimate power in the universe (Colossians 1:15-20), and Satan bows to His will (Job 1-2). Jesus says in those same words, "how can his house stand?” That is a good question. How can his house stand? The house of lies, evil, wickedness, and destruction cannot stand on the final day. His house will fall tumbling down before the judgement of the righteous judge (Revelation 12:7-10 1 Corinthians 15:24-26). Until that time when the Lord of heaven's armies destroys once and for all the works of the enemy (Revelation 20:10), we are given the authority over his power and forces in the mighty name of Jesus (Colossians 2:15; James 4:7-8).

Second, Satan certainly does work against himself. The question is, does he ever work to cast demons out of people? Jesus is certainly correct here when he intonates that Satan hopes to destroy people by possessing them, And does not cast himself out of people. He would rather continue possessing people. What do we know about Satan? He is deceptive, a liar, evil, and will do anything to make us take our eyes off of Christ (1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11 John 8:44). If he can use "Catholic exorcisms,” “demonology,” or any other such bizarre practices, he will do it. He will lie, deceive and otherwise seek to throw the church and its Saints into confusion by "accusing us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10)." He often succeeds in this task through confusing us with supernatural events. 

Thirdly, as Jesus did this miracle of freeing this demonized man, Satan had done well at throwing the people into confusion. The people asked, "can this be the son of David?" The Pharisees seeing the power slowly slipping through their fingers, made a stunning accusation that Jesus was doing these works by Satan's power. Jesus returns accusation with accusation. “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub by whom do your sons cast them out?” In other words, exorcisms were a practice of the Pharisees and their sons. Were the Pharisees saved? Were their sons? Did they trust Jesus? Did they cast out demons in the name of Jesus even? The answer is probably "NO" to all these questions. Then how were they able to cast out demons? How are nonbelievers able to cast out demons? This is the difficulty in saying then that "signs and wonders” are confirmation that a movement is from God. That is why Jesus himself said, "do not believe me unless I do the works of the Father,” and "I only speak what the father has spoken.” What are the works of the Father? The word of God are His works. His gospel and repentance into new life are His works. Jesus did those works and spoke that truth from the Father during His earthly ministry. 

How are people able to navigate in the supernatural and not be Christians? How are people, Catholics, Animists, Witches, and those in the Occult, able to perform seemingly miraculous exorcisms. How are supposed Christians able to perform such works, and as Jesus said be, "wolves in sheep's clothing?” How did these sons of the Pharisees cast out demons as Jesus says? 


It is true that people are able to navigate in the supernatural by the power of the enemy. The Bible makes it plain that false prophets will be able to do wonders by another power that is not from God. Now whether or not they cast out demons by Beelzebub or some other power then becomes unclear because of Jesus words. But it is rather clear that these false prophets will navigate with "signs and wonders" through another power. We see this clearly throughout biblical history. Some have been able to exercise power over spirits and demons through other supernatural powers. Many false prophets did great wonders but did not work through the power of the God of Israel. One possibility is that these powers could just be a natural powers. This is certainly possible. We see powers like this at work in world religions that deny that there even is a supernatural world. In contrast there are many religions that embrace the supernatural and use that power to their advantage. The Occult for instance, embraces evil, wickedness, and anything that goes against Christianity. The Occult embraces the manipulation of supernatural powers, even though it is clear that Satan is manipulating those who practice such things. Other such occult religions are Animism, Wicca, Satanism, New Age, etc. 

People can also navigate in the supernatural in Jesus name, and NOT be followers of Christ. Acts 19 describes such a story. Seven sons of a high priest name Sceva adjured the name of Jesus upon people who were possessed by demons. And they were successful up to a point. Until one day they encountered a Demon who answered them, but did not recognize their authority, and gave them such a beating that it says the demonized man, "sent them out of the house bleeding and naked." Jesus himself describes the day of judgement where those who have cast out demons, healed people, and done mighty works in Jesus name will be condemned and rejected by Christ. How will they do that? Why would God allow false teachers to do that in Christ's name? I tend to think God loves deliverance no matter how it happens. Jesus came to, "seek and to save that which was lost.” I also believe that the gospel has a better chance to take hold of a delivered and free person because that person is free. Their eyes and ears are then maybe more open to the message of the gospel. I think of the demoniac. When Jesus delivered him he wanted immediately to go with Jesus. Jesus did not let him come with them. Why not? Because Jesus knew he would become an immediate evangelist. And he did. He went to his hometown and told everyone about what Jesus had done. However, we know that miracles do not make an immediate convert. I think of the ten lepers. Only one came back to thank Jesus! “Where are the other nine?" Jesus asked. He did that to point out that healing and even deliverance from demons is not tantamount to repentance and faith. It can be used to direct people's attention to Christ, but the words of the gospel of repentance are necessary for a second birth. The holy spirit can and is using all of these events to draw people to Christ. 

Jesus goes on to say, “If the Spirit of God casts out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” And what do we know about that kingdom? It is a kingdom of repentance! Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus goes on to describe the kingdom. One power must be overtaken for a new power to move in. So the devil has much control over this world, which is given and allowed him by the sovereign God. Even so his power is limited. In the heart of a Christian, Jesus has moved in after the strongman’s kingdom was overthrown. In so doing Jesus, "destroys the works of the devil." He is doing so and continues to do so, so that his kingdom of repentance and forgiveness of sins can take hold instead of the "strong man’s" evil kingdom. Jesus has come to plunder his house! 

Jesus said, “When salt loses its saltiness it is no longer good for anything but to be trampled under foot by men.” The only way salt can lose its saltiness it's to be chemically altered by dilution or pollution. So either the church dilutes the message of the gospel and makes it about "signs and wonders” where the message of repentance and faith in the gospel is not presented, or we maintain the full message of the saltiness of the gospel. Salt that Jesus is referring to is the flavor and preservation of the true message of Christ. Do we seek to preserve the salty gospel or are we letting it be diluted? The other way that salt loses its saltiness chemically is by the introduction of a pollutant. I'm thinking of a pollutant as false teaching, false gospel, false message, or sin. In these words Jesus is asking us to keep the purity of the gospel message clear. The simple gospel must remain undiminished, unadulterated, and unpolluted in the face of the works of the devil. The gospel message stands the test of time, even in the face of confusing supernatural phenomena. Signs and wonders do not prove the work of Christ, but rather should only confirm the message of the gospel. When the gospel is not preached alongside “signs and wonders” we should be very suspicious that the power is from God, and that the salt has not lost its saltiness. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Pastoral Restoration Biblical? The Ashley Madison Controversy Exposes Deeper Issues

Pastoral restoration? With all the moral failures in ministry lately what's a path to restoration? To my knowledge, The Bible doesn't lay out a path for "pastoral restoration" per se. I could be corrected, but all the things I have read on pastoral restoration use biblical passages on general Christian restoration. Let me propose that is because we have made the pastoral ministry something it was not meant to be. Have you ever heard the phrase "called to the pastoral ministry". That is kind of a misnomer because the role of pastor/overseer/elder are filled by particular spiritual gifts, not this huge hierarchical position that we have turned it into. That is why the the scripture only lays out qualifications for those who practice their pastoral gifts. If a man falls into a "sexual sin" he is just no longer qualified because he is not "above reproach" anymore. 

Let me ask you a question to clarify. If a person with the gift of evangelism is caught in an adulterous relationship, does that disqualify them from the spiritual gift of evangelism? No, of course not they have just fallen into sin and need to be restored, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)

Or put another way. What if another with the spiritual gift of helps and hospitality has been found to have abused their hospitality, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a guest? Are they disqualified from the spiritual gift of hospitality? No they still have the spiritual gift they just need to be restored in a "spirit of gentleness."

I believe that the problem is that we have elevated the "ministry" to a place where I believe the New Testament did not mean it to be elevated to. The New Testament writers talk about the pastoral giftings as "one among many" gifts that are equal to any other gift in the body. So, in our current structure, when a pastor falls into sin it is more egregious than when a person with the gift of hospitality falls into an inappropriate sexual relationship. 

Also the modern pastor has more visibility than in the past. With the rise of the of the Internet with sermons online, and other organizations like the Gospel Coalition, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, and pastoral conferences with thousands in attendance, and other such church planting and ministry training organizations, there has been this unbiblical and unhealthy move toward superstar attractional ministry leadership models. You can probably name your favorite pastor. Where do you know them from? Probably online. I am as guilty in supporting this as any other. How often have I watched a sermon from a talking head superstar pastor? How often have I read their books? How often have I visited their church or personal websites? This feeds the system. However, the New Testament had a completely different style of pastoral leadership. It was a bottom up, one of many, servant leadership type of shepherding ministry that was happy to be unknown outside of the congregation of which they were shepherds. 

They (i.e. The Apostles) didn't train for years and years in seminaries separated from the local body they had come from. Only to return later to another Church that they had no previous contact to. Being devoid of any real practical experience besides a one year practicum/internship, in which they got to preach one time on a Sunday where almost the whole church was away on vacation. See my point? We have to radically rethink the pastoral ministry. 

Besides all this. If the spiritual gifts are spread out in the congregation relatively equally, how many with the pastoral gifting would there be in a typical church. Probably in a church of 200 there might be up to 10% that's about 20 people or so with that gift. What are those men doing with their pastoral/teaching gifting? Probably sitting on their hands because the lead pastor has his "Kung-Fu grip" on the reigns of leadership. They probably aren't even aware they have a pastoral gifting. I bring this up because if there were 20 pastors of a church it would protect the church when one of the pastors fell. The church could carry on and the church would be able to "restore such a one (fallen pastor) with gentleness" without everything collapsing. But as is the current leadership structure, there is one pastor who has full and final authority. Elder and Deacon boards do nothing in practicality in those leadership structures. Actually they do something, everything the pastor tells them to do. This must change!

Let me be clear, I do not believe that a pastor caught in a extra-marital affair should just be kept in ministry after forgiving him, or one week later hired somewhere else. Or worse yet taking on a new Church Plant in a different city. What I am saying is that the whole system is unbalanced, and lends to a unbalanced pastoral ministry. We need a practical pastoral reformation, kind of like the great theologies that were won for us in the first reformation (i.e. "the priesthood of all believers."). That Priesthood of all believers needs not just to be believed, but practiced in our current congregations. In other words "every member a minister." 

The current Ashley Madison controversy exposes many problems and we are all going to talk about the sexual aspects and what is wrong with pastors. We definitely need to bring those secrets out so that the Church can deal with it, and seek to be a righteous and pure bride once again. But I want to challenge us to think in Biblical paradigms, and not to leave the current hierarchical pastoral position untouched. 

Pastor, please do not continue to usurp authority, but rather give it away. What I mean is in areas that the Bible does not prescribe for you to have authority over, please give your authority to other gifted men who are there already in your congregations. Train others to take your job and take your place. Its kind of like working yourself out of a job. In the end you and your church will be stronger and more protected as a result. Ultimately God is in control of His Church, and He will see that it is transformed from the top to bottom. Let us with renewed vigour make Jesus Lord, and ask our congregations to practice the priesthood of all believers along with us who are spiritually gifted as pastors, so that the body can be whole from the bottom on up. The most encouraging thing about Pastoral failure, or the Church being in upheaval is that Jesus still reigns! No matter how bleak things look he shall reign forevermore, and He can redeem, He can salvage, and mend all that was broken. My new favorite song is by The Silver Pages an old Hymn called "Jesus Shall Reign." I hope it encourages your heart that Jesus is the cornerstone of His church!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Superstar Preachers, Pastoral Moral Failure, and the State of the Evangelical Church

There has been a rash of moral failures in high profile pastors in the evangelical world in the past several years. I will not name any names, because I think that would be counterproductive, and not graceful to the families and men who are involved in these failures in ministry, envethough they had very public ministries and very public failures. In a quick count off the top of my head I counted more than ten pastors that I could think of off the top of my head in the last few years. What I would like to address is the current state of the American Pastor and church. What I do believe is that these failures in ministry are not about adultery, or pastoral abuse, or pornography, or alcoholism, although those things are very wrong with terrible consequences, but rather these are symptoms of much deeper issues that the church is facing and must face and come to terms with before we can move forward or ever be a righteous "city on a hill" once again. I want to first address personally what I faced in ministry, and secondly what the Church has taken on in leadership structures that I believe are unbiblical, and should change through the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit

The Current State of Pastoral Ministry
Pastoral ministry is challenging for many reasons, but most of all because you are seeking to lead people into a relationship with Christ. Because I want people to know Christ above all things, I will do whatever it takes unless it is plainly unbiblical, unethical, or immoral. But sometimes those lines can become a little blurred. This has been what I believe has happened to many pastors in my opinion over the last few years. The Slippery Slope starts with small decisions to not do the biblical, moral, or ethical thing. Let me explain.

Pastors do not decide one day that they are going to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from their churches. They decide that they will use their ministry credit card once and then twice for personal items. Pastors don't decide one day that they want to cheat on their wives with the secretary, they make one decision to have a "working lunch" with their personal assistant and then decide to have dinner with her a few months later. A pastor doesn't decide one day that he wants to topple a church with his power structure and have that church crumble under his failures. He decides to change the church bylaws to get "everyone on board with his leadership." A pastor doesn't want to be an alcoholic, but he gradually slides down that slippery slope because he comes home in the evening and wants to "take the edge off" when faced with the unbiblical model of a multi-site megachurch that he is the superstar of. These are the small compromises that I have seen and experienced in my years in ministry. Men In ministry must take measures to be "above reproach."

Let me give you a personal example of this. When we moved to California to become youth pastor we were required to register our car 90 days after the first day it was in California. Of course I waited a few days too long. When asked on the form when the first day the car was in California, I lied that it had been in California less than 90 days to avoid the penalty. I was so convicted that I returned to the DMV to tell them that I had lied and I was there to pay the penalty. The woman at the DMV was shocked that I would even want to return to make things right. She even said I should not worry about
it, but I insisted that lying is not acceptable for me as a Christian and if you let me get away with it now then on another occasion I might also lie. I had to pay a hefty fine, but that was a powerful lesson for me and through that and other lessons I was able to build honesty into my life and ministry. Later on I accidentally used my Church credit card for personal use. I realized it later, and immediately went to our church administrator to pay back what I had spent. Integrity means that what you say, do, and think are all consistent with each other. The slippery slope that we find ourselves on is sometimes very hard to discern in pastoral ministry. The word of God gives us clear parameters, and the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and righteousness.

Pastor, some questions that might help you avoid these pitfalls are, do you have a living, humble, needy, celebratory, affectionate, meditative, worshipful, loving, and tender, communion with Christ? If not why not? Has the ministry become your identity in Christ? or is Christ alone still your identity? Or do you, as I did often say, "I am not an emotional person." Maybe you need to open your personality up to godly changes. Ask the Lord to make you a tender, emotionally connected person, like Jesus our master. Lord remove our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)!

The Current State of the Evangelical Church
I would like to address what I also see as systematic problems within the evangelical church in America. There is such a thing as an ungodly unbiblical model of church governance and I believe the evangelical church is flirting with those unbiblical models. Here are the problems we face...

1. We are attracted to the superstar preacher. If he is charismatic and funny and a great preacher we listen and good preachers gain a following quickly in our information rich culture.
2. We are not self feeders anymore. Christians have a hard time because of superstar evangelical preachers. We don't feed ourselves spiritually we look first to those leaders/pastors.
3. We have innovated ourselves to death. Megachurch structures, multi-site campus churches, and entertainment/superstar preacher driven ministries are the byproduct of our over-engineering of church ministry, and I believe are not biblical models and should die with the pastors who plant them.
4. We overlook serious moral character flaws or outright sin (i.e. the "cussing preacher") in pastoral leadership if they are charismatic and entertaining preachers
5. We have forgotten the mandate of leadership in 2 Timothy 2:2 especially in regards to empowering and multiplying new preachers and teachers. Instead those preachers hold on to their pulpits with Kung-Fu grip.
6. The entertainment mode of ministry has so enamored the church in America it is hard to imagine any other way for the average Joe who is not gifted so charismatically to be seen and understood as successful. The average Joe minister may be very successful at making disciples, multiplying leadership, and planting new churches, but he doesn't have 5,000 sermon views a week and so we discount him as unsuccessful. We need a new ministry scorecard.
7. We have forsaken personal holiness for a consumer driven brand of church. Look at the numbers on divorce, pornography usage, alcohol abuse, etc. and it becomes clear the church of Jesus Christ looks exactly like the world. How can we be a mirror of the gospel if in reality we only mirror the world. My brothers and sisters this should not be. Ephesians 5 describes how we should walk in holiness as the church...
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (Eph.‬ ‭5:1-12‬)

I am so sad about this current trend in pastoral failure and so that is why I am writing to at least bring the topic up and investigate some solutions to systemic problems that I see. Most of all we can pray that God would bring us back to sole devotion to him, his word, and his glorious church and the proper government of that church. The hope that we always have even as fallen pastors is that the immense Grace of God extends even to us who have fallen in ministry. God is sovereign and even when we walk through the fire, even in our brokenness, and our failures, he is there and he will and can restore us. He may not restore us to ministry, but he will forgive and his grace knows no bounds. This however does not mean that we can treat his grace cheaply or take advantage of it. Thank God! That is the good news that is available to every man woman and child. It is also available to those of us who serve the Lord in professional ministry. He has taken our punishment and wrath upon himself that we might be credited with his perfect record of righteousness! Hallelujah!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Do We Sing? A Case for Christian Worship through Singing


Why do we sing? Why do Christians sing in worship? What is the point? Hardly any other group, or club, or community sings together. I have thought about this lately. I love singing honestly. I have mostly all my adult life loved singing to Jesus through worship. I have lately come across more and more men (and some women) who are a little reticent to sing. It is not their thing, and or they are like most men and don’t care for singing. It seems a case needs to be made for why we as Christians sing. I have thought of fourteen reasons why Christians should sing...

1. The Bible Commands Us to
In Colossians 3:16; and Ephesians 5:18-19 it is pretty clear that the new community of Christ sang and did it in obedience. The early Church sang as a rule, and these passages command us to sing together. 

2. It Reminds of God's word
That same passage in Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” From this passage it is clear that the word of Christ dwelling richly includes admonishing, and singing. How do we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly? First teaching or admonishing and then second singing. Singing is a teaching tool. So as we sing through worship it reminds us of God’s word

3. It is Our Emotional Connection to God
First of all we are commanded to be emotionally connected to God. in Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” No matter how we spin it love is an emotion. We do make decisions to love, but if you are not emotional about the object of your love, then I would say that love is lacking something integral to a healthy love. It is a total love, a full love, and what Jesus describes here is deeply emotional, and singing helps us stir our emotions.

4. It is a Way to Show Our Affection for Christ 
In the same vein as being emotionally connected, we must foster and fan into flame the fire of affection for Christ. singing to anyone is an affectionate thing. That is why people have sang and written love songs for centuries. That is why we listen to love songs together with our wives, husbands, boyfriends, and girlfriends. We love to increase affection, but why when it comes to singing to the creator of the heavens and the earth we suddenly get tongue tied? This should not be. Loose your tongue and sing your affection for Christ! You can’t love Christ too much. You can’t think about him too much, or thank him too much, or depend upon him too much, or sing to him too much. All our righteousness, is in Christ and that should make us rejoice with affectionate singing. 

5. Jesus Did
If Jesus sang then we should. He is our Lord and master. He is our Head worship Leader. You might ask, "wait, he is God what did he sing about?" Did he worship himself? No, he sang as an example to show us that singing is necessary in worship. Of course singing is not all of worship, but like Jesus, he didn't neglect it. Like a healthy diet if you only eat one thing too much, or never eat the healthy stuff you will not be healthy. We need a balanced diet in worship, and Jesus showed us how, he prayed, and he sang with the disciples. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The writer of Hebrews quotes scripture, and writes it as if it were Jesus speaking, "saying, "I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”” (Hebrews 2:12) In Romans Paul also writes as if Jesus were the one speaking in the scriptural quote, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”” (Romans 15:8-9) So Jesus will and continues to lead worship by glorifying God’s name through singing.

Czig√°ny The Singing Monk
6. Generations of Saints Before us Sang 
If this is true we can join the throngs of saints who have gone before us. Augustine said, “The clouds of heaven thunder out throughout the world that God’s house is being built; and the frogs cry from the marsh, We alone are Christians. What testimonies do I bring forward? That of the Psalter. I bring forward what you sing as one deaf: open your ears; you sing this; you sing with me, and you agree not with me; your tongue sounds what mine does, and yet your heart disagrees with mine. Do you not sing this?” (Exposition of Psalm 96). Tertullian also said about the martyrdom of Perpetua, “Perpetua sang psalms, already treading under foot the head of the Egyptian;” (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, Schaff’s). Clement of Alexandria also noted the importance of singing, “But let amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. Let them praise, it is said, His name in the dance, and let them play to Him on the timbrel and psaltery. And what is the choir which plays? The Spirit will show you: Let His praise be in the congregation (church) of the saints; let them be joyful in their King. And again he adds, The Lord will take pleasure in His people. For temperate harmonies are to be admitted” (The Paedagogus, Book 2, ch.4). Eusebius summarizes Christian worship as "The singing of psalms and recitation of other such words as have been given us from God" (Church History X.iii.3). In Revelation John also has a vision of what will happen before the throne of God in heaven, "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-9) Join the throngs of saints who have come before us and will follow us with singing. 

7. It is a Test of Spirituality Maturity 
People who sing often to Jesus show that they are mature Jesus loving Christians. Those who make excuses not to sing should question why they would make excuses to not worship the one absolutely worthy of being sung to. Jesus said, "He who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47), and so when we do not return love to Jesus in song, it shows the outside world that we think very little of Jesus. Do you love him? Then you will act like a crazy person singing love songs in the shower. Well now wouldn't that would be awkward at Church on Sunday?


8. The Church is One of the Only Places in Culture Where Communal Singing Takes Place
It is a great thing and community building to sing together. Have you ever been to a concert where everyone in the whole audience was singing together every word of the songs? There is an incredible community building component when we sing together. I remember seeing U2 at the Oakland Coliseum. When it came to the time for U2 to play their very popular song “Where the Streets Have No Name," we all shouted the lyrics together! It was exhilarating, it was community, it was the way church ought to be. The one place where regular communal singing takes place is in the church, and we should engage in it for our own sake, and for the sake of the communal experience in giving God glory together. 

9. You Build up the Body of Christ with Encouragement Through Singing
In Ephesians 5:19 Paul writes, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” In our worship through singing we "address one another" now what could that addressing do for us? It is a form of submission to each other's needs as that passage further points out “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21). So why would we as a body of Christ neglect something that  is so important for "one another." So build each other up through singing. 

10. It is a Missionary Act 
“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (Psalms 105:1-2). This passage in psalms shows us how singing is an opportunity to tell people of God's wondrous works, and it is making him known to an unbelieving world. Do you want to be a missionary and make Christ known? Then sing!

11. Singing is a Direct Attack on the Enemy
What does Satan hate more than anything? He hates God, and so it follows that he would hate anything that would give glory to God. Because Satan is ultimately a glory stealer. And so when we sing to God we give him glory, and steal it from Satan. Thus it follows that Satan hates worship through music. And it is also a direct attack on Satan's glory stealing attempts. It is very hard to sin while you are singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Satan would love to see you sin. And as a Christian, I have found it almost impossible to sin when I'm worshiping God through song. Every time in ministry where I have dealt with demonic, or enemy powers in some way, I have asked the rest of the body of Christ to sing, and pray. 

12. Singing is Preparation for and Encouragement During Trials
What did Paul and Silas do during their imprisonment in Ephesus? They sang! “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25) Saints under persecution have sung during imprisonment, torture, and trials and have taken seriously the command to "rejoice in the Lord always.” Richard Wurmbrand the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs and imprisoned in Romanian prisons for 14 years said, "While in jail, we sang. Once the director of the prison entered our cell, furious. 'I was told that you sing subversive songs here. Let me hear one,' he commanded. We sang these moving words: 'O sacred Head now wounded, with grief and shame bowed down...' He listened to the end, then turned and left without saying a word. Later he became a brother in the faith" (Jesus Freaks page 290). The current president of Voice of the Martyrs Tom White recounts his experience in a Cuban prison, "I started singing...I was no longer conscious of the cold, only of Jesus...I had entered the highest level of warfare against the enemy--praise. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits our praises...He held my shaking body in His arms. (Jesus Freaks page 259) As the saints before us have done let us sing to prepare ourselves to joyfully endure suffering and trials in the service of Jesus.

13. It Glorifies God 
How many times in the Scriptures are we commanded to sing "to him" or "unto him?” It is one of the most often commanded things throughout the Psalms, Prophets, and even on into the New Testament. It is seen as a one of the most normative act of worship in the New Community of Christ. 

14. You Increase Your Joy
James is clear that singing can and will increase our joy. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13). Singing is clearly linked to our Christian cheer. So sing and increase your Joy in the Lord, or on the other hand don’t sing and you can stay in your sorrow. Never heard of 'Sorrow of the Lord?' That’s because it isn’t a thing. 

Singing to the Lord is not something that we must resist, but rather submit to for our good and the glory of the Lord. A simple way to apply these truths is to sing joyfully. For instance don't skip the singing times in Sunday services, but go with gladness and focus on Jesus. Another idea is to use Spotify or Pandora as a tool to always fill your heart and mind with the songs of worship. Search for worship artists and create worship channels it's easy. Maybe these songs will soon come out of our mouths too at just the right moments. So Lord fill us with your Spirit that we would respond to you with great Joy in song. No matter how good of a singer you are, we can all sing and shout with a ragged voice because Jesus has saved us. He said, "It is Finished!" SO SING!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Nicknames Are Important For The Church

I was that guy when I was growing up. That guy that made fun of people. Yes I was a bully. To my everlasting shame I was a bully and made fun of people without regard for who, as long as it was not
me. I was merciless with no discrimination as to who it was, as long as it was not me being laughed I was ok with that. It probably had a lot to do with me being harassed and ruthlessly being picked on as a Middle Schooler. What is it with Middle School that brings out the worst in kids. It certainly was a horrific experience for me too. So when I got into High School I decided that I was going to be the one doing the bullying, and not being bullied. With incredible remorse now looking back, I know I hurt many people in the process, all the while claiming to be a sold out Christian. I am terribly ashamed of that part of my life. Part of my bullying included name calling. I was good at making up embarrassing, silly, and rude names for people. After confessing and repenting from these terrible sorts of bullying practices, I realized that God was not quite done with that part of my life, and wanted to use that and turn it for His glory in my future ministry. Early on in my ministry in College, I made up my mind that I would NEVER again degrade anyone with name calling, or mocking nicknames, but rather I would use this ability to empower others, and build them up by finding positive, empowering nicknames that would build the teenagers in my ministries up as people, and give them an identity in the community of Christ. 

The Lord began to use this ability in my life. I gladly decided to never ever denigrate or make fun of people again, but rather build people up with the ability to find nicknames. I started to use silliness and fun to create community. In nicknames I have found an empowering aspect for people, personalities, and the greater community of Christ. I started to to do this with consistency in youth ministry in the past 10-12 years. This has specific application to youth ministry, but I believe the broader body of Christ also. I will give a few examples. Ryan we called Rhino, Peter we called Uncle Pedro, Rebekah we called Sassy Pants (Which she loved by the way), just to name a few. This was a mixture of on the spot nicknaming people according to their personalities, and according to the fun stuff we did together. In the Bible there are many examples of people with nicknames. There was none more effective and interesting at this than the example of Jesus himself. Jesus named his closest three friends Peter, James, and John "Sons of Thunder" (Boanerges in Greek). He named Peter himself "Petra" or rock. Thomas was called "Twin." Jesus seems to use nicknames for specific purposes. He used godly empowering nicknames in a few specific ways...

1. Jesus and the rest of the Bible give nicknames or new names to call people. He gave nicknames to call them out of the world and into his work. For example, when Jesus says to his disciples that they will no longer be fishermen, but in a turn of phrase, they will now be "fishers of men." That is a calling that Jesus placed on their lives. When Jesus called Peter "Rock." he said and "on this rock I will build my church." This is the calling that Jesus placed on Peter's life. We see also that the early Church took on this value of giving new names. For example, Barnabas was named "son of encouragement." The Church nicknamed Barnabas because God had given him the calling as a great encouragement to everyone who he was around. This is how Jesus employed nicknaming people, to call them to a higher calling. 

2. The Bible and Jesus use nicknames or new names to give people a new identity in Christ. Jesus called men to a new life and identity in Him and his power. This is never more evident than in
Barnaba Introduces Paul to the Church (From a Kids Book)
the life of Saul of Tarsus. He was a hateful man who tried everything he could to persecute the Church of Jesus. Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and intervened and saved him. Jesus literally gave him a new identity. With that new Identity Jesus gave him a new name. He was no longer Saul, but Paul. In this case a nickname would not suffice. What was needed was not to accentuate a personality trait, but rather a new name which brought with it a new identity. And who was there in the end to bring Paul into a communion and acceptance into the community of Christ? Barnabas the "Son of Encouragement." This is the type of name calling God had in mind. One of these men had a new name and new identity, and one had found his identity as the "Son of Encouragement" in the Community of Christ. Names are important, and we ought to use what God has given to call people into a New Identity in Christ

3. The Bible and Jesus used nicknames and new names to give people a new work and goal. Jesus gave three men Peter, James and John a new challenge and
A favorite picture is Jesus laughing with friends
possibility to turn the world upside down, and bring their thunderous gifts to bear in His church; to this work of the gospel. Some people debate the semantics and source of the term "Beaneries." Wether it means "Sons of Thunder" or "They Act Like Oxen" it does not really matter. Either of these nicknames could lead us to believe that Jesus had a great powerful work planned for these three men. Jesus in using this nickname was intimating that these three men of power might give their power and kraft to the work of the Gospel. History and the Scriptures reveal that these men put their whole lives and "Thunderous Oxen Power" into the ministry of the Gospel. Jesus obviously used fun, laughter, and nicknames to empower people in Ministry, Calling, Identity, and New Work. This side of Jesus personality is often overlooked for the more serious aspects of his life and ministry, but he was an emotional man that was wholly engaged with his disciples, and people whom he loved deeply. So deeply that he knew them and used names, and nicknames to call them to a new identity in Him. Let us take Jesus example and invite people into the community of Christ wether we give people nicknames or not, and love them the way Jesus did us. This has specific application for youth ministry, but also for the wider Church community. Jesus has called us in love and we can respond to him in love by calling out to him. It seems to me a little weird sometimes to call on the creator of the universe by name, but he has called us by name. He has called and named us as his friends. in John 15:15 Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." This is the big brother we have, he has called us friends, and given us a new name in Him. That name he has given to us who trust in him is, "Friend!" Now that is something to celebrate! "In this fortunate turn of events you (Jesus) ask me to be your friend!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

WORSHIP IS THE LITMUS TEST FOR SPIRITUAL MATURITY

HOW MUCH WORSHIP DO YOU NEED?
I have heard so many people over the last year or so say that they don’t need that much worship. I understand what they are saying. they don’t need all that singing and modern worship music. I have even heard someone more recently say, they "don't need that much worship music." I understand what they're getting at. They don't need that much singing in a church service. The problem with that statement however, is that it assumes that worship music is about me or us. Worship music isn't about you, it's about God! What we have done in modern worship music is distilled things down to four songs that might or might not make me feel good.

WORSHIP WARS
I can remember the worship wars back in the early 90s, we fought so hard to get drums and guitars into church we might not have been fighting the right battle. Back then we were fighting the battle to be able to express ourselves in worship. However, looking back on things now we didn't fight the battle to keep God at the center of worship. It was more about the music. I look back on that with some sadness because my generation was the one that was fighting that battle that allowed people to be more expressive through different forms of music. Music that was not previously allowed in church. I am however glad that new forms of music emerged. I have to confess my part of making it more about the music than God. I am also sad now at that outcome, and that people can say with such ease that they don't need that much worship music.

WORSHIP LITMUS TEST
I believe the depth of your worship life is a litmus test for your spiritual maturity. If you spend little time in worship and giving God worth with your words, with your life, with your body, with your music, with your song, with your writing, with your pocket book, with your heart, with your soul, with your mind, and with everything you are, then I could say with a high degree of certainty that you are a spiritually immature Christian. I come to that conclusion because the Bible is full of allusions and references to spiritually mature people who spent an inordinate and exorbitant amount of time in worship and praise. You could take almost every single biblical character, and look at their worship life, and see how spiritually mature they were according to how they worshiped. 

US SHAPING CHRISTENDOM OR CHRISTENDOM SHAPING US
What I think we do in most of Christendom is we create a Christendom that works for us. We want something that fits our lifestyle, that matches our values, and that fits into the scope of what we want to do. What we haven't done is let Christendom form us. David said it this way, "I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.” (2 Samuel 6:22). David didn’t care that he was perceived by the people as foolish. He knew that his redeemer lived. He was worshipping a great God who deserved great worship. He was letting his love for Christ form him, and he became undignified. So in David’s eyes and so many other Biblical characters, worship was not about whether or not I liked to sing, and liked the music or didn’t like the music, it was done because JESUS WAS WORTHY! So they all brought to him their "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" to express their undying emotional love to that worthy king. David danced with all his might, and the new testament Church also worshipped daily. "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.” Does that sound like the church in the NT was saying, “I don’t need that much worship?” No on the contrary they couldn’t get enough. They wouldn’t stop. They worshipped continually. Now I know that doesn’t mean they sang all the time. But worship certainly includes that. We have lost the passion somehow to make much of God through worship. How did that happen, when God wants and asks for something more?

     WHAT DOES GOD WANT?
What does God ask of us? In the end what does God really want? He wants people everywhere to recognize him as God and Creator and worship Him. As Romans 1 points out, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t WORSHIP him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused." (Romans 1:20-21 emphasis mine) So what we see from this passage is that Worshipping God, the creator, is the most basic thing that he asks of us. And I do believe that the Bible throughout teaches us that loving heartfelt worship should be a pattern of our Christian lives. Jesus said it himself, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”(Luke 7:47 emphasis mine) maybe your worshiplessness is more about realizing just how much you have been forgiven. Worship is the most basic form of EXPRESSING love because we have been forgiven much, just like Jesus said.

GAINING A PASSION FOR WORSHIP
My hope for you is that you might gain a passion for singing through worship, or gain a passion for prayer through worship, or gain a passion for listening to God through worship, or whatever other form making much of God takes on for you. Be open to God, and however you do it make much of God in every aspect of your life! Don't be immature. Grow up! Don't be a spiritual weakling! Worship God in whatever form consistently, wholeheartedly, affectionately, bodily, authentically, enthusiastically, passionately, unreservedly, and zealously. Then you will grow up to maturity in Christ. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28). Blessings to you on your journey to a fuller maturity through worshipping a very worthy Christ.