Grace wasn’t free for me!

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.08.29 PM

Years ago a former student of mine made a big mistake.  He was arrested for drinking and driving.  While that’s a problem, it was complicated by the fact that he was now in college attempting to get a degree in pastoral ministries.  By the time I received the phone call with his confession, you could hear the defeat in his voice and wondered if he was now disqualified from ever being a minister.  After talking with him for a short time I assured him that he was going to hell for what he did.  Just kidding!  I felt horrible for his poor decision and the consequences that were sure to follow.  He was seriously concerned about what his future would be like now that he had messed up.  I reassured him that I’d help him walk through this process.

The grace he received was free to him, but it cost me something.  It cost me gas since I had to pick him up after he lost his drivers license.  It cost my family extra time as a result of driving his behind everywhere.  It cost me a meal here and there since he didn’t have a job for a while.  It cost me hours of my time talking, praying and listening to him.  It cost me a load of extra work because I had to train him to do things that I already knew how to do.    It cost me extra money from our student budget so that he could go to and participate in conferences/camps.  It cost me a parent’s trust since I was willing to work with someone who had messed up in a manner that was not acceptable to them.  But… IT WAS WORTH IT.  Grace always costs us something, but his life was worth it.  Others could have viewed the situation as worthless, but grace views people as always being worth it.

His story reminds me of another example of grace.  In the bible, there is a book dedicated to telling the story of a woman named Ruth and her family’s legacy.  The story reveals an amazing portrait of grace.  Ruth was a Moabite who just so happened to be hated by the Jews.  The reason was because when the Israelites were being set free from Egypt the Moabites refused to help the Israelites.  Pretty sad considering that they were actually distant family members.  The Moabites were descendants of Moab who just happened to be the son of Lot.  If you recall, Lot was the nephew of Abraham.  For a group of distant family members to refuse to help you was a real slap in the face.  In fact, God was so upset with the Moabites that he told Israel that they were not to intermarry with them for 10 generations.  In a Jerry Springer type moment the Moabites and Israelites would go to war with each other.  There were at times extreme racism towards each other that resulted in the countries going to war with each other.

Now, I’m not going to retell the entire story, but let’s skip ahead.  By the time Naomi moves back to Israel she does so without her husband and two sons, who died while in the land of Moab.  Instead she comes back with a daughter-in-law who refused to leave her side.  This was pretty awkward considering the dislike Israel had for the Moabites.  But Naomi finds a family redeemer to try to help the two of them and begins to play match-maker.

Our story picks up with Boaz receiving a shocking visitor in the middle of the night.

Ruth 3:7-9a.   When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet! 9 “Who are you?” he asked.

And this is why some churches do not promote drinking. Boaz fills his stomach and takes a few drinks and then wakes up with a woman at his feet. All you single folks, don’t get any ideas from this. It’s probably not the best example to follow. Okay, joking aside, as you can imagine, waking up to a woman laying at your feet was a huge shock! Coming out of a deep sleep and not recognizing what’s happened, he asks the woman at his feet who she was…

Ruth 3:9.  “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

• She introduces herself and asks for him to spread the corner of his garment over her because he was a redeemer in her deceased husband’s family.  So Boaz begins to figure out how to redeem her.  What’s interesting is that Boaz didn’t have to redeem her.  She was a Moabite.  He was released by God from redeeming her as a result of God’s removing the Moabites for 10 generations.  The removal of the Moabites was directed to the men of Moab, but the hatred was so severe that many in Israel extended this separation from the entire Moabite people.   Boaz approaches the family member who is actually closer in line to redeem her and asks if he wants to.  The redeemer said no.  Many scholars believe the first family member in line to redeem her didn’t want to redeem her simply because she was a Moabite.  So he tells Boaz, you can be the redeemer since it could create all sorts of problems in my household.

Here’s where I want to challenge you.  Why would one family member be willing to redeem her and another not?  Why would one family member refuse grace while another offer grace?  The answer is found in a simple look at a family genealogy.

Ruth 4:21.   Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed,  

Boaz was the son of Salmon.  Salmon was a Jew who married another famous woman in the Bible. Boaz’s mother was Rahab the prostitute who protected Israel’s spies before they took Jericho. If you recall, Rahab was saved because she lowered a red garment from her window, which saved her and her family. Her family embraced the God of Israel and the customs. Salmon eventually married the prostitute Rahab and their child, Boaz was born into Israel. Boaz heard all the stories of grace given to his mother despite she should have been considered the enemy.  Keep in mind that Israel didn’t have to include her family into their community.  They only promised to not kill them. But they made an invitation for her and her family to join their community.

Many years later Boaz has an opportunity to once again rescue someone with a garment that was symbolic of the one that saved his own family. He embraced a woman who many in Israel wouldn’t have even given the time of day. He gave an invitation to join his broken family and as a result, the greatest Grace giver was born through his descendants.  What others saw as worthless Boaz saw as being worth it. What others saw as being an expense, Boaz saw as an investment. The expense involved with an invitation is always worth it.

Relaunching a church is hard work, but the greatest reward is watching our church embrace the cost it takes to giving grace to others.  As of December 2015 we have given more money to offer grace to people in our community than we did my entire first year as Pastor at Oakdale.  This church has embraced the cost behind grace and the result is some amazing fruit both in resources and in lives being changed.  It’s my prayer that you’d not just enjoy the grace you receive but that you also pay the price to give grace to others!

 

 

Where is the lost and found?

lostandfound

About 5 years ago I had an opportunity to get something I always wanted.  I wanted a black lab and there was an incredibly nice man giving away labs for free in a Walmart parking lot!  On an emotional high I grabbed a dog that looked solid and brought it home.  I named her Gia.  The first 2 weeks were a dream come true.  Even her “accidents” in the house weren’t bothersome.  But things changed.  Gia began biting and scratching some of our valuables.  So we put her outside.  She continued bitting things and eventually pulled out the electrical wiring to our HVAC Compressor.  We lost AC for days in the middle of summer because of this stupid dog.  We fixed it and she did it a second time.  So once again we called the HVAC man and he fixed it by putting the line to the compressor underground.  As time progressed our backyard took a beating.  We didn’t have much grass but what grass we had was dying because of her.  It was at that time I decided to lay new sod out in our backyard.  After laying hundreds of feet of sod she had the audacity to start digging it up.  She literally rolled back one entire section of sod.   I’m not going to lie, I wanted that dog gone.  I jokingly threatened to put her in one of my neighbors yards Christmas day to surprise their children with a gift from Santa.  What I learned was that what I wanted wasn’t really what I wanted.  Not even a year into owning the dog I realized that caring for a lab wasn’t what I thought it would be.

As a Pastor relaunching a church I felt the same way when I realized that lost people aren’t just those who don’t go to church.  Today’s church culture is embracing a trend of reaching out to the “lost”, but what many really mean is unchurched people.  And while this is a popular focal point for pastors I wonder if we truly understand who the lost is as much as we think we do.  The question is, are we really reaching out to the lost or just the unchurched?

In Luke 15 we see Jesus give 4 examples of lost people found in 3 parables (stories).  The first story is an example of lost sheep who represent lost people.  The second story is a story of a lost coin and I’ll talk about this one in more detail shortly.  The final story has two individuals, the son who leaves the family and the older faithful son.  We generally accept the lost sheep and prodigal son as lost, but what about the other two?  I want to challenge you to see that all four are lost.

Let’s look at the story of the lost coin.  The lost coin was in the house but was couldn’t be found.  The lost coin wasn’t bringing value to the owner of the house.  The owner of the house was the one who had to look for the valuable coin/individual that was lost despite the fact that it was in the house.  I wonder how many of our churches are full of people who have value but we’re not looking for them because we don’t perceive they’re even lost since they’re in Church.  We think just because they’re in the house that they are fulfilling their purpose.  Or worse, we limit their value to only serving within the church ministries.  Some of the greatest and most effective Christians serve Christ outside the church with the help of Pastors leading them to pursue a ministry outside the church.  As the story proves the one coin is still valuable and worth finding despite the fact we have 9 others that are doing great!

Then there was the two sons in the parable of the prodigal son.  We widely agree the prodigal son who left the family to live wildly was lost.  However, what about the older brother.  The older son felt entitled and wanted the house led under his own preferences.  Now, many people look at the Jesus’ response to the older brother as a slam on the Pharisees and Religious teachers, but when you read it, the language shows something totally different.  Jesus uses the words “dear son” to show his love for the older son, though he was lost in his priorities with the family!  Jesus revealed the religious teachers and Pharisees were lost in regards to their role within the family.  These parables show 2 outside groups of people lost and 2 insider groups of people who are lost.

What’s common in all of the parables is that there was always someone willing to bring the lost into the community/family.  I wonder, are we really concerned for the lost coin who is present in the house but lost in purpose?  Are we really concerned for the older brother who was lost in his own entitlement?   In our culture it feels as though many of us claim we want to reach the lost, but if truth be told our values are only aimed to reaching one or two lost groups with very little patience for another lost group.  If we’re going to make disciples, its going to require us to reach the lost inside the church as well as the lost outside the church.   Back to my story…

I ended up working with the dog that I wanted so badly and now that dog is a very well trained dog.  I didn’t know what it would really take to get the dog I dreamed of.  It was a lot of work, but now she’s an amazing dog.  Like my dog, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I said I wanted to reach the lost.  It’s a lot of work.  It’s a lot to work with people inside and outside a church who are lost, but don’t even known it.  If we’re going to truly accomplish our goal of reaching the lost, we can’t expect to do so successfully without reaching all lost people!

Religion And Politics

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.54.29 AM

Ok, so I know religion and politics are a hot topic for most of us.  But today I want to challenge you to think beyond your typical ideas. A political religion is dangerous.  A political religion will benefits one group while ignoring or taking advantage of another.  We’ll dive into this in more detail in this post, but let’s begin by talking about culture.

-We know Elvis sang blue suede shoes.

-Lucile Ball & Ricky were the stars on what tv show?

-The lone ranger’s horse’s name is?

– Those turtles who know karate moves?

We all understand that culture plays a big role in our life. And there’s nothing that will divide us quicker than when we start talking about our culture through the lens of politics, right?  Politics seem to guide most of our culture. Whether you’re connected to the democrats or republicans there’s no denying how both parties disagree to nearly far extremes. To complicate things even more you have Christians on both sides of the coin.  Both sides have views on how the culture should be led by each political party. Everyone has an opinion of how a political party could affect change for the better. Our culture has pushed us to pick sides politically and sadly this has influenced our religious views too!

For many outside the church, the church is seen no different than another lobbying group, lobbying for or against things like abortion, marriage, prayer in schools, the bible in public venues, etc. Some see the Church/Christians as discriminating and sadly at times the Church/Christians have discriminated.   Some see the church/Christians as an extension of a political party or their agendas, and sadly some Churches/Pastors/Christians have used their religion as a personal platform for their personal success. If you’re not a follower of Christ I have some good news for you. As unattractive as those examples may sound, Jesus didn’t like them nor did He live that way.

As a Church and followers of Christ we too struggle with the political battle created by our culture. There are political battles within the church that have been influenced by our American culture. Some of us are focused on laws in a manner that controls others, while others are fighting for more freedom. The direction of the church is shaped more from our political views than from our desire to know and follow Jesus. The reality is that, our culture has bled into our churches and personal lives in a manner that has the potential to change the direction of Christianity from its intended purpose. Just like in biblical days we want a political religion that fits our culture. And if you really think about it, that should be a scary thing for all of us. Because the reality of a political religion is that one group will always benefit more than others. One group will always have the power, wealth and force while others are subjected to the mistreatment that comes from those in power, with wealth and force. Only one group of people, generally, those like our selves, will have needs met in a political religion. Fortunately, Jesus wasn’t that way. He didn’t promote a political religion. In fact, what He taught us shows the exact opposite. No matter what side of the coin you find yourself on when it comes to politics we all face a similar challenge.

As followers of Christ we struggle with reconciling our identity as a follower of Christ and our legal freedoms as Americans. Like our nation we expect our churches to operate with power, wealth and force that supports our cultural views. However, true Christianity is not a political religion. It never has been and never will be!

During Jesus’ day the Jews looked for a Messiah, but they wanted a messiah that would establish them as a nation. At this point, Israel was under the rule of the Romans. In fact, throughout history they had been slaves to many other countries and rulers. To have prophets share that a Messiah was going to prepare for them a Kingdom was something that was extremely exciting. When you’ve been held captive by a nation that doesn’t recognize you as people and then to hear that God would establish you as a people with power wealth and force you kind of get excited.  Once you have a Kingdom you can pay back others for treating you harshly. You no longer are the ones on the wrong side of the coin. Now everything caters around what you want. And this is exactly what the Jews were expecting with Jesus. However, Jesus had other plans.

Our story picks up with Jesus meeting individuals who were possessed by demons. As Jesus approached them, they were all to ready to ruin Jesus’ purpose!

Mark 1:24,25 + 34

24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” … 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

  • So Jesus is in the spotlight but instead of receiving the fame and establishing himself politically, He separates Himself from the political systems. Had he allowed the demons to speak they would have announced to everyone that Jesus was something that he really wasn’t. They knew that if they could make people think of Jesus as a political leader that they could destroy Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus stopped them from announcing his identity so he could lay a greater foundation for all of us.
  • Like us, we look to Jesus to be a power in our life. We look to Jesus to use his miraculous works to bail us out of a bad decision, destroy our enemy or perform a miracle that would help us succeed in our own culture. However, Jesus didn’t come to establish a culture based on power. Jesus removes himself from being seen as a political figure to the people. He didn’t want to be viewed that way.
  • And that’s not the only example of this. When Jesus healed a Samaritan he told the Samaritan to not tell anyone how he had been healed. When Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John, Jesus told them not to tell anyone. And then Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone that He’s the Messiah. Do you get the point here. Jesus didn’t want everyone to know He was the Messiah, because they would have attempted to make him their political king. They would have attempted to resist Roman authority and qualify themselves as their own nation. They would have flipped the coin on every nation that had done them wrong. Once again, a political religion would have been a disaster and Jesus knew this. But we’re not through. Power is only 1/3 of what we expect in a political religion.
  • We continue with Jesus healing many sick people. The people who witnessed it were amazed. Then Jesus does another big thing, with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish Jesus blesses it and begins feeding over 5,000 people. They were amazed as He performs this miracle right in front of their eye. Obviously not knowing anyone who could ever do such a thing, they realize that this must be the Messiah.

John 6:14-15

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

  • People begin looking at Jesus providing them with free food and healing and see Jesus as a wealthy individual that can bless them as a nation. If he can heal the sick and feed people with next to nothing, imagine if he were King. Imagine how that could affect our economy. Imagine the upgrades to my business, home or chariot! The more miracles they see the more they want Jesus to be in political power.
  • The problem is that they begin to believe the wrong thing about Jesus. You see, we all believe something about Jesus. But the question is this, is what we believe the reality of who Jesus is? Knowing the heart behind the people and that they were going to take him and physically make him their King, he slips away and hides.
  • Sadly, like the Jews, we all like Jesus, but too many times we want Jesus for our own selfish reasons. We want Jesus to establish a culture for us that brings us wealth. And knowing their hearts Jesus withdraws for the sake of protecting his purpose. He didn’t come to establish power or wealth in our life.
  • This was hard for many to understand. Especially Jesus’ closest followers. They struggled knowing how Jesus would establish His Kingdom. And this was never more true than when Peter tried to force Jesus into power.

Luke 14:46-47

46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 

  • Here comes Peter with his sword in hopes of establishing Jesus as King. He’s going to step up to allow Jesus to reveal his political power through the force of violence. Yet, Jesus rebukes Peter letting him know that he didn’t come to make Israel a violent force.
  • In 3 years Jesus removed himself from the political power, political wealth and political force. He removed himself from the world’s view of a Kingdom. He removed himself from the culture established in every other nation and set up a new standard.

Ephesians 3:10-11

10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

  • Instead of establishing a political religion Jesus gave His followers the responsibility to demonstrate a spiritual Kingdom. One that is based on Grace, Love, Mercy, Justice and Forgiveness. And by demonstrating His Kingdom on earth, nations would see how to live successfully.
  • What makes a nation isn’t it’s power, wealth or physical force. What makes a nation great is the success of followers of Christ demonstrating God’s purposes on earth through Christ Jesus. Through this wisdom, nations are established and blessed.

So what does this mean for us?

Like Israel, we can want Christianity for a lot of reasons. Like Israel we can want God to establish our church for our own benefit. We can believe in God, but for all the wrong reasons. And just like in Jesus’ day, every time we position ourselves with a political Jesus, Jesus will remove himself from our endeavors. He already established His Kingdom and there’s nothing more that we can add. But what we are supposed to do is represent His Kingdom on earth. And that takes courage. If we’re going to overcome our culture we must find courage in the love of Jesus.

How do we do this?

Jesus used his power, wealth and force for the benefit of others.  We must leverage our power, wealth and force for the good of others.  If you’re not sure if your personal walk with Christ is led by politics or by the pure love of Jesus, ask where you apply power, wealth and force and that should give you a pretty good idea.

3 Questions

Slide1

As I’m preparing to write this morning I saw a statement that resonated with me.  A friend of mine, Jeremy Isaacs, was teaching at a church staff meeting and said, “Not every season is a reaping season.”  This was such a powerful statement to me.  It’s been a year and a half now since I’ve become pastor at Oakdale and my time has not been a time of reaping as much as I had hoped.  Instead, it has been a season of planting, preparing, watering, more planting, pulling weeds and hard labor.  And the reality is I still have more work to do.  Lots of it!  The reason I share this with you is because there came a point that I began to question if what I was doing could really make an impact in those outside our Church.  And the answer was a tough one to accept; no.  Very little I had done that year was something that could impact those outside of our church.  I realized that I wasn’t going to reap a harvest until something changed.  But how?  I began to ask three tough questions, which began to make me think differently about reaching out and planting seeds into our community.

I’ll share the questions with you and then I’ll talk about each one with some context.  The three questions I began asking are…  What am I planting?  Where am I planting?  Does what you plant give you enough time and opportunity to build relationships and gain influence in someone’s life? These three questions should bring your church and its effectiveness to light.

What am I planting?
When I first came to Oakdale the only planting I did was to use our building during a snow storm to help stranded people.  That made a big impact on those around us.  They appreciated it, however, it wasn’t something sustainable.  That was such a small seed that had such a small effect!  I couldn’t invite people to stay the night at the church every night.  This quick outreach, while speaking volumes, wasn’t something that would have a long term effectiveness.  I continued to look for other ways.    We had a film shot in the church and rented the building to multiple other groups.  While this was effective to generate some income it still couldn’t help us connect to our community.  So I began spending lots of money for our small church to throw together some big events.  We had 3 big events that drew no more than 45 people per event.  We went big and did things with excellence but we just didn’t have influence in our community yet to get a response like I was hoping for.  With this failure in plain sight it made me think about what I was planting.  Simply using my facility wasn’t a seed that would have great effect.  There was something missing.  What I was planting wasn’t very helpful.  Its at this point my wife and I felt like we had given all that we had to offer.  Yet God spoke to me and reminded me about the parable of the talents.  In this parable we learn that God gives talents to each of us to invest in the lives of others for God’s Kingdom.  This challenged me.  So I began to ask my wife and our volunteer Worship Pastor, what talents do we have that we could invest in people outside of our church.  We came up with 4 things.  That’s it.  Just 4.  We had a building, a playground, musical talent and a couple of women who knew how to quilt, sew and crotchet.  My wife made the suggestion that we should start free music lessons for the community.  This sounded like the worst idea to my worship Pastor and I, but my wife convinced me to give it a try.  So we gave it a try and our first music class had 15 students.  And what I realized by the end of the class was that this was a greater approach than any of my big events.  We had a captive audience for 6 straight weeks.  During this time relationships were built and influence grew.  Its at this point that I recognized I was going about sowing seeds all wrong.  I was sowing in all the wrong places.  I began to ask a deeper question.  Where am I planting?

Where am I planting? 
Prior to this music class I had not planted anything sustainable.  I had only planted in a one time big event.  That was not the place to plant, at least with our lack of influence in our community.  I had to figure our where to plant.  I realized that if I was going to make a difference in our community that I was going to have to plant somewhere that would meet a sustainable need.  The thought occurred to me that “A relationship worth having is a relationship worth investing in.”   I had to find real needs in our community and plant myself where those needs were in order to invest in that relationship.  As a result, the second 6 weeks of music classes ended up growing from 15 to 39 in just 2 months.  Where we planted was important was meeting a need and a season of growth came quickly.  At this point I began to rethink what needs our community had that we could meet.  I began to ask, what relationships could we lean on to help us meet the needs of our community.  And did ideas began to fly.  We are about to open up a crafting class to the public with the women in our church who know how to quilt, sew and crotchet.  We’ve announced this in our music classes and the parents have been pumped.  Once again, word of mouth is starting to take this new ministry off the ground with people we have yet to meet!  We’ve since found talents in the church that we had not thought to look at.  Now we have an entire years worth of places to plant that we have never thought to plant before.  We’re in the process of attempting to team up with a science, technology and robotics group to use our church this summer for 6 weeks to connect with kids in our community.  We’re looking at offering a wood working group, a baking class and  CPR training just to name a few.  Yet while planning where to plant the third question popped up.  What good is all of this planting in the community if we cannot sustain a relationship and gain influence in our community?

Does what you plant give you enough time and opportunity to build relationships and gain influence in someone’s life?
When I first started the music classes I began to see that the relationships that were developing were giving me a chance to get to know people and their struggles in life.  I had the opportunity to pray with many people who didn’t go to church.  They appreciated it and said that while they don’t go to church, if they ever did they would come to our church.  The time we had gave us an opportunity to build relationships and gain influence into people’s lives.  Now, my priority is not to just grow my church!  I truly want to help meet people’s needs.  I know that I’m not going to draw everyone to our church through planting seeds like this in our community.  In fact, Paul, the greatest church planter knew this all to well when he said “I’ve become all things to all people in order that I might win some.”

Giving away free classes in and of itself won’t be effective unless you’re able to communicate the reason you’re giving away free classes. Our vision at Oakdale is “To demonstrate God’s love to our community.”  People need to know, and will probably want to know, why you’re doing what you’re doing.  In every seed that you plant you need to have a plan to share hope and more opportunities to connect with your Church.  Using language that invites people to participate without joining your church frees people to know that you’re not just trying to grow your church but you truly want to help people grow.  You need a transitional piece that is more than just an invite to come visit your church.  You need a transitional piece that is more than preaching at people about sins and salvation at the close of your ministry time.  Planting requires work but so does sustaining that seed so it can grow into fruit within your church.  According to Paul, there are many seeds we can plant into someones lives.  The more seeds we plant the more fertile their hearts become towards your church.  In other words, the more you invest in someone the more they see your value.

As for me, at the end of each class I’m students and parents to participate in more classes, some free and some inexpensive.  I’m inviting people to join us, if they don’t already have a church, so they can learn why Jesus helped people in his day like we are helping people in our community.  I assure them that our church is a great church to begin exploring who Jesus is.  But then I give them the freedom to know that we don’t offer these classes just to get them to come to our church.  We invite them to attend every event without ever coming to church.  This freedom helps people understand that we’re here for them without pressuring them to support us.  And isn’t that how relationships begin anyways?  When someone invests in us long enough we begin to find appreciation in that relationship and return the favor.  We’ve already seen a small season of growth from our planting, but the best is yet to come!  If you really want to see a season of reaping, then get to planting with the seeds you have, where it matters and with a plan for long term influence!

God tricked me!

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.53.40 PM

God tricked me and now I’m paying for it!  This past June I received a phone call from a general contractor offering to build a playground for our church at virtually no cost.  He told me that he had been building something for his kids and God spoke to him saying… “what you build for your kids, I want you to build for “My” kids.  Hook, line and sinker!  I fell for it.  I said, sign me up.  Over the next few weeks we found a couple of used play sets that we could take and build into something greater.  We paid a very minimal amount of money to get the project started and the contractor took care of the rest of the costs.  Now we’re near the end of the project.  Painting the playground and a few other small details is the only thing keeping us from opening it to the public.

Sounds great, right?  I was excited until I came across something in my devotional time that convicted me.  God led me to read about the parable of the talents.  I read this over and over again before it dawned on me how God tricked me.  In the story we see that Master gave sets of talents out to his servants.  Then he left.  Immediately 2/3 of the servants invested the talent the Master gave them.  Soon the Master comes back and sees that 2/3 servants had taken what the Master had given them and created a profit with it.  Then there was the one evil servant that hadn’t done anything with their talent.  The master took the talent away from that servant and gave it to one of the other servants who had done well with the Master’s talents.  At this point in my devotion I felt like the man with 10 talents.  I felt like I was receiving something that I didn’t ask for because I had somehow been seen as faithful in God’s eyes.  However, God revealed to me that I was at risk of becoming the evil servant.  Honestly, I didn’t see that one coming.  I was so excited that God had given the church a playground.  But after reading the parable I realized that God didn’t give me this playground for my kids.  Neither did God give us this playground for the few kids who attend our church.  God was giving us a talent to sow into people’s lives who aren’t currently a part of His Kingdom.  The Master told the evil servant… “You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?”  God gave us as a Church a talent to sow into foreign ground.  So now the hard part comes for us as a church.

God has called us as a Church to sow this talent into the lives of the unchurched in our community.  So God may not have exactly tricked me, but I can say I didn’t see this coming!  As a church relaunching itself into the community we have a unique responsibility ahead of us.  We have a lot of work ahead of us if we’re going to be found faithful with what God has given us.  As a Church we’re going to have to readjust some priorities.  We’re going to have to tackle some unchartered ministries.  We’re going to have to take some risks.

So as I wrap this up I want to challenge you to rethink how you use the blessings God has given you.  Are you simply holding on to God’s talents for yourself or are you sowing the talents God has given you for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

A Leap Of Faith

Image

Everyone has faith.  Everyone!  What we put our faith in may be different but faith is a risk we all take.  Some put faith in a person, a move, a job, a circumstance or a religion.  The common thread that goes through everyone’s faith are questions and doubts.  It is impossible to have faith without also having questions or doubts.  After all, faith is believing something is true despite not knowing for sure.  As a Pastor trying to relaunch a small existing church I’ve been challenged to take leaps of faith.  And I’ve been challenging our church to take leaps of faith as well.  In order to take leaps of faith we have to be looking for opportunities to do so.  At the close of January we had an opportunity to take a leap of faith towards helping people in our community.  There was a major snow storm in Atlanta and people were stranded all over Atlanta.  We realized the opportunity of connecting with complete strangers was a risk.  We didn’t know how strangers would respond to a church, what the dangers were of having almost 100 strangers in a room for almost 24 hours, how much money it would cost the church and what the church would look like after everyone left.  Those questions could push a person away from taking a leap of faith, but we kept asking.  What if, by doing this, we actually help people?  What if, by doing this, we actually change the perspective of a church to someone who thinks the church is a group of haters?  What if, by doing this, we could share the message of hope with someone who needed it?  What if, by doing this, someone accepted Jesus?  What if by doing this, God would bless the church in greater ways because of our faith?  Those questions led to past memories of how God provided for us in greater ways.  I remembered working at a homeless shelter and God providing at the right time.  I remembered tithing without enough money to live on afterwards, but God provided everything we needed. I remembered how we received two cars and a trailer when we didn’t have the money to buy it on our own. I remembered how faithful God had been to me through the years.  All the stories of God’s faithfulness soon began to overwhelm me to the point that I realized the risk was worth it.  The fear associated with the step of faith soon disappeared with confidence that God would provide at the right time in exactly the right way.  So we jumped.  And the result are stories like this incredible woman we met at the church that night.  Below is her blog post sharing her story of how our church affected her life.  The point for all of us is… Take a leaps of faith towards trusting God and pointing others towards God.  Don’t let your circumstances drive your faith.  Let your faith in God drive your response to your circumstances!  Believe me, it’s worth it.

Here’s Jacquie’s story:  http://www.queenofpromotionalproducts.com/blog/culture/a-heart-warming-promotional-products-story

Consistency can hurt your church

Image

Last week I read a blog post about a man who separated from his wife.  He was confused about why she was wanting out of their marriage.  As I read his story it seemed at first that he was an incredible husband.  He faithfully helped his wife around the house.  He faithfully spent time with his kids.  He faithfully helped with chores around the house.  They didn’t argue very often.  And when he was served the divorce papers, to his disbelief, her reason for wanting a divorce was because she didn’t feel like he loved her.  He was shocked.  He had been so faithful in serving her.  He had been so faithful with the kids.  He worked hard for his family.  How could she feel this way when he had been so faithful?   As I continued to read, it became clear to me the problem in their marriage.  He felt his faithfulness was proof that he was committed to their relationship.  However, being there faithfully didn’t show her that he was committed to her relationally.  She didn’t feel loved.  His faithfulness in helping with the kids didn’t show her that he was concerned for how difficult her day had been.  His faithfulness didn’t show her that he thought she was pretty.  His faithfulness never told her, with words, that he loved her.  That blog opened my eyes to something I had never thought of before.  Specifically, I never thought how faithfulness and consistency can be two total opposites.  Think about it.  A spouse can consistently live with their partner, tell them that they love them and yet sleep with another person.  In that instance, consistency at home doesn’t equal faithfulness to that relationship.  And now that I’ve given it a lot of thought I’ve come to realize that this can be a problem in local churches as well.  

As Pastors we love those who are “faithful” in our Church.  We continually reference how important it is to be “faithful” to the Church and to God.  However, there is a major problem with our teaching on how to be faithful.  We tend to relate to our congregations that we are being “faithful” if we are “consistent” in church attendance, giving, bible reading, prayer and serving.  However, as we just learned from this husband and wife, being consistent doesn’t mean that we are being faithful with our relationship to God.  It is entirely possible that some of the most consistent people in our churches are some of the most unfaithful people to God.  In fact, I want to challenge us even further.  It’s entirely possible that there are prostitutes and money launderers that, while inconsistent in their obedience to God, may very well be more faithful to God than those who are consistently engaged in the work of God.  Don’t believe me, let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say about this!  Jesus actually, warns us that consistent lifestyles is not proof of a faithful relationship to God.   

Matthew 21 is an action packed chapter.  This is the familiar passage in which Jesus triumphantly enters Israel, throws out those trying to make a quick buck at the temple, curses (a fig tree) and then addresses the “faithful” religious leaders of the day that question Jesus’ authority.  Immediately following these events, Jesus addresses the obvious problem.  There are two groups of people in Israel.  There are those who have entered a faithful relationship with Him and those who only appear to be in a faithful relationship because of a lifestyle that looks good.  Jesus offers a parable of these two groups replacing them with two sons to help us understand that there is a difference between faithfulness and consistency.  

Matthew 21: 28-32
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered.  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

The first son represents sinners and not just any sinners. Jesus’ example wasn’t good ole Jews who lived a fairly good life, went to temple weekly and tithed regularly.  Jesus’ example of the first son were highly disreputable sinners, a prostitute and tax collector.  These weren’t just Jews that went to the Temple and struggle with some “smaller sins.”  These people were obviously those who don’t live consistently yet Jesus recognizes that their relationship with God is legitimate!  These sinners are faithfully looking to know God greater despite the fact that they don’t have it all together yet.   The second son represents Jews who are respectful and appear to be consistent but the problem is, they’re disconnected from the relationship.  The first time I read that I felt so uncomfortable.  How could a prostitute be closer than the religious leaders.  However, the more I’ve read it the more I’ve come to understand that this account is very similar to the blog that I read about the man and his wife.  At the heart of this parable is how faithfulness trumps consistency.  Consistency is a routine but faithfulness is a process and that’s a big difference.   As a Pastor I have to be careful that I don’t teach that consistency is the same as faithfulness.  Here’s the best part of this teaching.   The result of this is a church that can relate to sinners in a greater way.  Here’s why: When our focus is faithfulness we recognize how unfaithful we really are.  And as we recognize our own unfaithfulness it becomes impossible to elevate our lives over anyone else!   Remember, the goal isn’t to live the most consistent life, it’s to grow a faithful relationship!  That’s why so many prostitutes, tax collectors and other disreputable people followed Jesus.  As Pastors, staff and ministry leaders, let’s remember that consistency is not the goal, being growing a faithful relationship with God is!  

Advent Conspiracy

Image

The world is flat and if you go too far you’ll fall into space and die!  Man has never been to the moon.  It’s impossible for humans to fly.  Imagine what life would be like if people would have been afraid to go against the culture.  Further, imagine what life would be like if after truth was revealed, people continued to pretend it didn’t exist.  A change in belief is not easy.  A change in belief for an entire culture is even more difficult.  However, failing to address the truth and change people’s beliefs because of social or cultural awkwardness is extremely dangerous.  

Christmas is almost here and with this holiday comes an unique opportunity to share the gospel with those who are usually opposed to it.  Statistics reveal the Churches see the greatest number of unchurched visitors during Christmas and Easter.  The problem is, what unchurched person who knows that Jesus wasn’t really born in December is going to take our message seriously when we embrace a lie from a culture created 200-300 years after Christ’s life?   Continuing to carry a culturally created belief in order to prevent a social awkwardness is killing the Gospels and our influence with unchurched people.  Whether you’re a minister or a church member, I want to share some information I’ve recently discovered that will help us communicate the Gospel in a more powerful and effective way!  

Christmas:  Most of us know that December 25th is not really Jesus’ Birthday, but rather a celebration that stemmed from astrologers celebrating the winter solstice.  For those who do not know, in 274 B.C., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25.  Countries influenced by Rome began adopting worshipping their gods at this time as well.  So, Christmas, became a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals.  Officially we came to Christ’s birth in December because Constantine, Rome’s 2nd century emperor who was a Christian, removed a feast celebrating the birth of Sol Invictous (the unconquered sun) and replaced it with the birth of Christ, the unconquered Son.  By 529 A.D., after Christianity had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian made Christmas a civic holiday. 

According to Luke, we know that Jesus’ birth was around September.  Scholars agree that the suggested date is around the feast of tabernacles.  This is extremely important to know.  The Jews celebrated their entrance to the Promise Land (Israel) and remembered their sinful wanderings as well as the promise of a Messiah.  Personally,  I find it highly symbolic that God would send His son to fulfill a promise of salvation at the same time that the Jews celebrated God fulfilling a promise for their future as a nation through a Messiah in the Promised Land.  

While this is not new information to many of us, failing to embrace it compromises our integrity, influence and ability to be trusted by those who know the truth.  So what do we do about this?  Do we start a movement to celebrate the birth of Christ in September?  Do we throw Christmas out of church?  Do we just ignore this information and hope people don’t find out the truth?  I don’t have every answer to this, but I do know this… If we’re going to effect our culture then we have to address Christ’s birth.  I have some ideas for this, but before I suggest how I feel we can effectively engage the culture we need to take a deeper look at Christ’s birth.  

Jesus’ Birth:  One of the most interesting facts I’ve found concerning Jesus’ birth is in discussions about what kind of stable Jesus was born in.  While we all have views of Jesus surrounded by shepherds behind an Inn with all of the guest’s livestock, this isn’t entirely accurate.  We have some clues from the Old Testament that really give us some eye opening facts that blow away our cultures understanding of the stable Jesus may have ben born in.  The popular conception that the word “manger” refers to a trough where animals were fed may be accurate. However, it could mean simply a stall. The Greek word which is translated in our English Bibles “manger” is Yatnh phat-ne, pronounced fat’-nay (insert your own punny fat animal joke here). The definition of the word is of a “stall” where animals are kept and in Luke 13:15 is translated as such.  In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word means a stall or a crib.  The question is what kind of “stall” or manger is the New Testament referring to and what kind of animal was fed or housed there.  You see, not every stall served the same purpose and knowing what kind of stall Jesus was born in could be valuable to us in understanding more about Jesus’ birth.  Micah, an old testament prophet, gives us an amazing glimpse in God’s plan for the birth of His Messiah.  

Micah 4:8 (NIV)
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;   
kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”

This Old Testament passage is a references that the Messiah would be born at the “tower of the flock” in Bethlehem.  The phrase “tower of the flock” is the Hebrew phrase “Migdal Edar” [mig-dawl ay-der] and means a “watch tower of the flock.” This watch tower from ancient times was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild beasts. It was also the place ewes (pregnant lambs) were safely brought to give birth to their baby lambs.  Rabbi Short states, “This Migdal Edar was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but it lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem.   These special lambs came from a unique flock that was designated for sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem.  A passage from the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple sacrifices.”  Jesus was not born behind an inn, in a smelly stable where the donkeys of travelers and other animals were kept. He was born in Bethlehem, at the birthing place of the sacrificial lambs that were offered in the Temple for the sins of Israel in Jerusalem.  This not only gives further symbolism about Jesus’ life, but it also clarifies why the gospel writers focused so often on calling the sacrificial lamb.  

In John 1:29, John the baptist proclaimed of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is presented in the Bible as being “in type” as a sacrificial lamb. It was not by chance but by choice that Christ identified His death with the time of the observance of the Passover. Peter spoke of our redemption as brought by the “precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”( 1 Pet. 1:19); and Paul told us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” ( 1 Cor. 5:7).  Even heaven reveals Jesus as the Lamb who was sacrificed for the sins of us all and who will reign forever in Revelations 5:6-13.  

While this is information is interesting what does it have to do with Christmas?  My answer is simple, everything!  This symbolism gives us an amazing picture and a point of emphasis for Christmas.  Let me explain further.  

The origin of Christmas was a word originally created for Christ’s Mass, or communion on the Winter Solstice (December 25th).  You may recall that the Winter Solstice is the day with the least amount of light.  In essence, it is the darkest day of the year.  Here’s the point of these two seemingly unrelated topics.  Jesus came to save us from our darkest moments in life.  Because of this communion, not advent, should be our focus!  Jesus wasn’t born and he didn’t die in December.   Since Jesus tells us to take communion in memory of Him, this is a perfect time to do so.  Let’s make Christmas, about the fact that Jesus saved us from our darkest hours.  Let’s create a new tradition.  Let’s take what we know as lies and replace it with an unaltered gospel full of integrity and hope for all people!   Sure there will be social awkwardness.  Sure people will claim that we’ve been wrong about our faith.  Sure some will use it as an opportunity to promote their faithless political view and agendas.  However, in my opinion, the fact that we are going to great lengths to reveal the truth will give us far more influence and the ability to further prove the amazing lengths God went to reveal Himself to us!   

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!  

 

Women in church leadership

 

Image

As we approach Thanksgiving, Christmas and a New Year I’m reminded about how great traditions can be.  Each of us have memories that our families have given us.  We also have our odd traditions that make our family so unique.   Whatever your traditions may be the reality is that they also have a way of losing their original meaning over time.  Once  traditions lose their meaning new traditions take place.  And somehow we treat our new traditions as if it was originally created for that purpose.  For instance, America no longer attempts to meet with indians for a Thanksgiving meal.  We give very little thanks for crops turning out well, since very few of us farm our land.  Now we meet to watch football with our families, stuff ourselves, enjoy naps and make plans to overspend on Black Friday sales.  While this is something that I even take part in, it’s not the purpose for why we originally celebrated Thanksgiving.  While new traditions aren’t inherently bad, forgetting their purpose can create problems for future generations. Probably one of the greatest examples of this is found in church history.  Before we move forward let me give you a heads up.   I’m going to give some lengthy context in order to set the stage for this controversial conversation.  But hang in there, it will definitely be worth it.  

 

One of the greatest and most controversial topics in the American Church is the role of women in the Church and leadership.  Probably one of the most misunderstood phrases in the New Testament is when Paul summarizes how he doesn’t permit a woman to “speak.”  The problem is that many times we read those words without considering the context.  Before we dive into Paul’s famous statement in Timothy we’re going to take a look at Paul’s earlier writings along with Luke in the book of Acts.  I believe this will shed some light as to why Paul said what he said.  (Final note; The following is written by myself, scholars and historians who have contributed to wikipedia.org.)

 

Let’s begin.  Ancient Corinth was an important town for the Roman Empire.  Corinth was a major trade route and an extremely wealthy nation.  However, Corinth wasn’t as strong as it once was.  Corinth, during Paul’s time, had been rebuilt after being destroyed due to war.  The culture was heavily influenced by Greek religion, which believed in multiple gods.  The Greek temples were filled with temple prostitution.   This was a concern for Paul in both of his letters to the Corinthian Church.

 

The first Epistle occasionally reflects the conflict between the thriving Christian church and the surrounding Greek run religious culture.  In Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla who became faithful believers and helped Paul through his other missionary journeys. The couple followed Paul and his companions to Ephesus, and stayed there to start one of the strongest and most faithful churches at that time.  According to Luke, in 52 AD, the missionaries sailed to Caesarea to greet the Church there and then traveled north to Antioch where they stayed for about a year before leaving again on their third missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11).  Note, Paul did not convert them to Christ.  

 

Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers as was Paul.  Priscilla and Aquila had been among the Jews expelled from Rome by the Roman Emperor Claudius in the year 49 as written by Suetonius. They ended up in Corinth. Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila for approximately 18 months. Then the couple started out to accompany Paul when he proceeded to Syria, but stopped at Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia, now part of modern Turkey.  The following portion of Luke’s account in Acts 18:18-23 is fascinating.   At face value it appears that Luke is simply letting his reader know where Paul and his group of followers are headed next.  However, there are some key statements here that actually carried with it a different meaning for those in the 1st century.  Let’s take a closer look combining Paul’s account with Luke’s.  Luke shares that Priscilla and Aquila accompany Paul.  This appears to be a short unique encounter until you read Paul’s letter in 1 Corinthians.  In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul passes on the greetings of Priscilla and Aquila to their friends in Corinth, indicating that the couple were in his company. Paul founded the church in Corinth.[1 Cor. 4:15] His including them in his greetings implies that Priscilla and Aquila were also involved in the founding of that church.  What makes this scripture in Luke so unique is that Priscilla was honored by listing her name in front of her husband’s name in scripture.  This was unheard of during an age where women were considered to be nothing more than a piece of property.  Women were not valued the way they are today.  In fact, Luke was not the only one who honored her this way.  (Examples: Acts, Romans, Corinthians and 2 Timothy)  Each scripture acknowledges Priscilla not only above her husband but implies she was a disciple of Christ.  Let me explain. 

 

Hippolytus of Rome was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of Apostle John. Hippolytus’s works were lost for a time until their discovery at a monastery on Mt. Athos in 1854.  However once found, one particular document indicated a list of 70 names that are held to be the original 70 disciples that Jesus sent out in Luke 10.  While Priscilla’s name isn’t listed, Apollos is.  This isn’t out of the ordinary in a male dominant world.  Further, it wasn’t uncommon for women to be present but unlisted historically and in biblical accounts.  Just think about the times Jesus performed miracles feeding huge crowds.  The numbers given accounted for men and didn’t include women and children.  Many scholars agree that she was likely within the 70 disciples who Jesus sent out to minister in Luke 10, but unlisted. This is believed for multiple reasons but one of the most convincing reasons is because of the freedom she has to minister among the apostles and to the apostles!    

 

Priscilla and Aquila were among the earliest known missionaries.  In Acts 18:24-28, Luke reports the couple explaining Jesus’ baptism to Apollos, an important Jewish-Christian evangelist in Ephesus.  Paul indicates Apollos is an apostle, an “eloquent speaker” who had a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures”.  He had been “instructed in the way of the Lord” which he taught with great “enthusiasm”. He began to preach boldly in the synagogue. However, he knew only the baptism of John the Baptist—not the baptism taught by Jesus.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him “more accurately”.  Again, historically speaking, many times the person who’s name is mentioned first is the one who led the way.  Think back to Peter and the apostles on the day of Pentecost.  Peter is mentioned first despite the fact that they were all participating.  The reason is because he was the main character.  For Luke to mention Priscilla’s name first indicates her lead role in instructing Apollos above all who were present.  Further, the fact that a woman instructed Apollos, who was an apostle, would have been outrageous if she weren’t considered to be a peer or a disciple of Jesus!  

 

Among churches today, Paul’s message to Timothy is often held in perceived tension with Paul’s explicit forbidding of females teaching and in business meetings.  In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul writes to Timothy that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  The tension can be resolved as we look at the context and culture. The separation of men and women during services and business meetings stemmed from Jewish tradition.   According to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony.  Note this was Jewish law and not the law of Moses.  Culturally speaking since Paul and the other disciples were regularly in Jewish synagogues preaching about Jesus, it made sense to keep up with the Jewish cultural traditions.  The Jewish audience would not listen to Paul if he barged into their synagogue and disrespected their culture.  Since the Jews knew Paul was a Roman citizen from Tarsus, a Roman town run by Greek religion, they would also know that surely he would have had an understanding of the Greek religion and what sinful things that took place in their synagogues.  Further, being a former devout Jew he knew that the Jews would feel the invitation of a woman to the stage would be an attempt to infiltrate Greek religion in the Jewish synagogues.  Paul was a smart man to protect this new movement by denying women an opportunity to speak in the synagogue.  Christianity would have been crushed.  However, Paul’s decision to deny women wasn’t because of the law of Moses.  It was to further Christianity!  The Jews created these laws because they were fighting a perverted culture.  Remember, in Greek influenced areas, they worshipped god’s of love which encouraged wild sexual encounters.   Many pagan religious ceremonies during Paul’s time and earlier involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevented or at least discourages this within Jewish Synagogues outside of Israel.  Here’s the point.  When Paul says to Timothy that he doesn’t allow women to speak or to be involved in leadership there’s an amazing reason to it.  We sometimes forget that Paul and his audience was not in Israel.  They were in Roman run communities where the Greek religions were predominant.  The sexual sin taking place in the Greek temples were at times a temptation for the Jews.  For this reason the Jews established a law separating women and men.  Paul makes this famous statement to Timothy to protect the church from sin, to empower church growth and to protect women to continue ministering in culturally relevent ways.  

 

What does all of this mean? 

 

Unfortunately the traditions of limiting women in ministry and leadership is no longer needed.  We have upheld traditions in the church far after its purpose was necessary.  It is obvious that Luke, Paul and the other disciples were not against women in ministry, teaching or leading the church.  In fact, they considered Priscilla a peer!  Otherwise they would not have honored Priscilla the way they did.  They wouldn’t have allowed her to teach Apollos, an apostle.  The only exception to this rule was when they were in Jewish synagogues where breaking that tradition would destroy the opportunity to spread the Gospel.  However, now that the culture has changed and the temptation of orgies breaking out after church are no longer present, the role of women in church leadership should be reconsidered.  Our traditions have continued while our reasons for this tradition have been long forgotten.  And as a result we have oppressed women in ungodly ways.  

 

Change won’t be easy, but one thing is for sure.  This first time pastor, relaunching an existing church, is surely going to fight to empower women not only in ministry but also for roles in leadership within my denomination!  

Leading, not excluding

Image

Today we will talk on our iphones, watch movies on our flat screen tv’s, read from 4 books on our ipad and catch the tv show we missed last week on our roku/apple tv device.  We love technology and all rave about upcoming updates, devices and productivity that will improve as a result.  Whether you’re an apple, android or, windows (if they even exist any more) fan one thing we all have in common is our enthusiasm and support for the companies we love patronizing.  We drive with window decals freely advertising the businesses we love.  We tweet humorous comments degrading competitors of the companies we love.  

The funny thing about the companies we love to support is that we have an image of these companies that are rarely accurate.  Have you ever really considered that?  Honestly, when you hear about Apple you probably don’t think about a company that employs people over 30 years old.  When you hear about Samsung you generally don’t think about a company that gives their employees cheap plastic chairs with one long desk that looks like an old science lab from the 1980’s.  We generally think about hip, young and creative people who infiltrate these companies.  I have to be honest, I’m guilty of this too.  I’ve even pictured their janitorial staff as being young kids dancing with their headphones blaring the latest song from a group I’ve not heard about yet.  Maybe Glee or High School Musical is to blame for that view, but either way, my bet is that you and I have a huge misconception about these companies.  For example, Apple employs these guys!

Image

Not exactly what you think of when you think about the Apple Corporation.  That’s rough, but it gets worse.  Samsung’s hip lab for developing new technology is anything than what you would imagine!  We don’t think about the necessary work areas like this…

Image

We can all relate to the fact that things are not always as they appear.  And in many cases, it’s a good thing that things aren’t as they appear.  What if Apple only hired 20-30 year old people who had a certain look.  There is a high probability that we wouldn’t have the devices that we have today.  What if Samsung didn’t create work spaces that enabled the greatest quality parts to go into our phones, including our iphones!  Here’s the point.  We need the diverse personalities and skill sets to make a company like Apple or Samsung work effectively.  This is also true for the church.  

Church planting and relaunching existing churches have a lot in common.  In my opinion, they’re two sides to the same coin.  They obviously have different challenges, different approaches and different systems, but the goal is the same, namely to reach unchurched people.  Now, what I’m about to say doesn’t really apply to church planters up front as much as it does to those who want their existing churches to grow, but it eventually effects everyone.  As a pastor relaunching a small church I get the following statement a lot.  “Brian, you’re in a great place.  You already have facility completely paid for.  Now all you have to do is get rid of the old crew and build your team and you can relaunch that church the way you want it.  You have such a small group of people that it’s not going to hurt to let them loose and start over.”  To a certain degree I know that they’re trying to tell me that I don’t have to limit myself to their traditions which could hurt the ability to reach unchurched.  Yet, I get so frustrated when I hear those kinds of comments.  Because here’s the reality, God hasn’t called us to only reach unchurched people.  I’m proud of the movement we have created focusing on reaching unchurched people.  It’s a great movement, but there’s a major problem in conversations I’ve been having lately.  The conversation focuses around reaching the unchurched and not caring about what happens to the current followers of Christ.  Many of these types of conversations are focused on the parable of the lost sheep.  And part of their statement is great and true, however, God never intended us to go after the one lost sheep and never return to the flock!  The goal is to bring the unchurched into the flock, not find the one lost sheep and build a new flock.  Again, what I’m saying isn’t for those planting churches at their beginning stages but for those trying to relaunch existing churches.  That’s another side of the coin with a different scenario.  However, it will become true for church planters as their churches become older and established.  

As a pastor trying to relaunch an existing church my goal has to be leading the flock from where they are to a place they need to be.  The experiences they have is going to require me to teach, instruct and correct.  While I realize there is going to be a time that I may have to dig in and make a stand that could cause people to leave the church, that’s not the norm, that’s an exception.  We have to become like Nehemiah.  Let me explain.  

Israel, as a nation, had missed the mark.  God allowed judgment to come and exiled them to other nations via the Babylonians.  When the Persians defeated the Babylonians some 50 years later we see Nehemiah enter the picture.  His response is extremely interesting and is an example all of us can learn from.  After Nehemiah learned of the physical condition of the city of Jerusalem he broke down.  He cried, prayed and fasted.  Yet, what he cried, prayed and fasted for isn’t what you’d expect.  He didn’t have this emotional experience because the city was burned down to the ground.  He didn’t have this emotional response because the economy was struggling.  Nehemiah responded because God’s people were far from God on two fronts.  First front were those who had been exiled as the result of idolatry.  Historically, the reason God judged Israel was because they were involved in idolatry.  The greek culture was infiltrating Jewish culture.  Multiple gods had entered a part of their lifestyle.  His prayer was not for God to restore the economy, the government, the wall, the temple or his family.  Nehemiah’s prayer was that God would restore His people.  The second front was for the remnant that remained in Israel.  They didn’t have the ability to move forward without a leader.  In essence he saw the need to reach the churched, faithful Jews and unchurched, Jews involved in idolatry!

We miss the point so often.  The point of our Church isn’t the ministries, productions, music or events.  The point is bringing God’s people back to God and His purposes for both the churched AND unchurched.  This is the unpleasant side of relaunching an existing church.  This means that I have to bring people from the place that they currently are and help them get to where they need to be.  This means that I have to be patient and not move faster than my people can move.  This means denying stylistic preferences that I prefer for the good of the current people that exist.  That’s not to say that I’m not trying to lead them to a new place, but that it means that I’m doing it for their benefit, not mine.  I introduce changes at a time that becomes beneficial to the flock while also trying to connect with the unchurched just as aggressively!  

When we refuse to fight to bring our current church along for the ride we’re in essence saying I refuse to love and teach the very people God loves!  Destroying God’s kingdom to reach the unchurched is unacceptable!  Yes it may take a greater amount of time to get where you want to be including the entire flock, but its the right way!   I make every attempt to pull people with the gifts I need into the roles I need.  Some would say, come on, you can’t put unprofessional people up front.  Tell that to Jesus and the 12 disciples!  Because he took the time to develop them they led the very church into existence.   You may say, well I take Jesus’ approach.  I have a church full of Pharisees.  Jesus didn’t use them.  But that’s not true.  Jesus took one of the greatest, Saul, and after YEARS of being taught by the apostles, he launched his ministry and eventually became the man we now claim as a hero to our faith!  

So what we can learn from this story is similar to what we can learn from our favorite multi-media companies.  A diverse group is needed to make an organization successful.  As a Church we need people of all generations, backgrounds and experiences.  Yes, even those socially awkward!  Don’t lead by excluding!  It proves to God that you’re not ready to reach the unchurched.  After all, at some point all of those unchurched people you want to reach will eventually become churched people, then what?  

Saturday before my first Sunday as Lead Pastor at Oakdale I had a member call me in tears.  They were very upset that I was there pastor.  They didn’t like the fact that I didn’t dress up and that I didn’t sing all of the songs the way they used to sing.  We talked for over an hour and I shared the reasons I did what I did.  I acknowledged her feelings and she still disagreed with me.  I told her that she wasn’t wrong for disagreeing with me and that I wasn’t wrong for dressing the way that I did.  She agreed to go ahead and come the following week but she wasn’t sure she could continue to come.  After we hung up I made a few phone calls and had a variety of input from people I look up to.  Some told me to keep moving forward because my goal was to reach unchurched people.  Other’s told me to wear a suit because you don’t want to lose any members.  After taking some time to think about and pray about it I made up my mind.   Sunday morning I dressed up more than I had in the past, but I didn’t wear a suit!  I chose a couple of songs I knew the church knew and we had service.  Later that week I called this woman back and told her that I respected her desire for her church to dress up which is why I dressed up the previous Sunday.  She thanked me for that.  I then told her she wasn’t wrong for desiring that, but I also told her that we needed to change the culture to reach out to the surrounding city.  I told her that there would be times that I would dress up and times I would dress down.  I told her that the Bible tells those of us who are mature in our faith to not make it hard for those who are immature in their faith.  I told her that was my reasoning for song selection and dress.  Then I proceeded to tell her that if she still felt like she needed to leave that I didn’t want to tell the church why.  Not because I didn’t want people to know of this confrontation, but because I didn’t want anyone in the church to have a negative view of her for leaving the church over an unbiblical preference.  I told her to let me know if she was going to leave and that I would celebrate her and allow the church honor all that she had done in the church.  She was speechless and told me that she would think about what I had to say.  3 months later she’s still here and not only that, she’s since stopped me to address our previous conversation.  She told me that she didn’t think she could ever like me as her pastor, but now she loves me and wouldn’t want another pastor.  I took the time, taught her and was willing to deny my preferences and because of this I now have someone who is undeniably committed to reaching the unchurched.  So much so that she led the way in 2 offerings going to help plant other churches and provide for a family who lost a family member!  Lead without excluding and you won’t be disappointed!