Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Parable of the Water Buffalo - Kids and Cars

Yesterday I took my 21-year-old out to buy her first car. At this stage of the game I have arm wrestled some of the best car thieves in New England. I remember going to buy my first new car-- man they had me signing a contract so fast, I don't even remember what color the car was. Being a little melancholy, I got buyers remorse before I got home. Honestly, I had expected it to be a fun experience. I lost control of the exchange pretty fast, almost feeling guilty about not buying a car that I liked OK, but didn't really want. It took another year before I tried it again.

Now that the economy is limping along, I thought they would be begging us to come in. And I was partially right. They offered me real coffee, with real half and half. They sat us down at a table in the middle of the show room-- no cubes and no desks in this place.

My daughter is a typical kid and somewhat typical of a female car buyer. "I like the gray one," she says.

I took my opportunity to put on the fake macho act. "Don't you care how many horses she's got under the hood?"

"No!" she fired back sarcastically.

"Well, it won't beat my Mustang." I said smiling.

"Hey look, it gets 37 MPG." she said, not really listening to me.

"It only gets that kind of mileage with a tailwind going down an icy mountain road."

She roles her eyes.

The salesman sat down at the table with a fresh coffee, and started asking questions. "What options do you need?" he said looking at my daughter.

"Automatic." She said, looking to me for approval.

"That's all?" he said looking across the table.

"She needs a plug for the iPod and brakes-- brakes are good." I added.

He look a little annoyed... now I had him! "She needs the payment to be $200 per month or less." She nods in approval.

The salesman leaves the table to go see what he can do. I get a second cup of coffee. He comes back with a Toyota Yaris. No matter how you spell it, I am thinking yak or water buffalo - mine is fat, and yours is slow. We get ready to saddle up with the dealer plate and take a ride. The daughter is going to navigate country roads without shoulders while the salesman and I try not to give her too many instructions. Who taught this kid how to drive? Oh right.

Ron, our cruise director, better known as "Cowboy," looks and sounds nothing like Julie. But hey, this isn't the Love Boat anyway. We're trekking the Serengeti on a yak. The daughter catches a vine on my rear view mirror at about 35, and snaps it against the side window -- just as he is explaining the side impact air bags. NOT FUNNY! Our cowboy starts talking faster and faster about the features-- apparently covering his nervousness. I guess he hasn't been to a rodeo.

She finds a parking space back at the dealership, and we unbuckle and head back to the 360 degree table. This is my favorite part-- my destiny-- kind of like cage fighting. We're going to make a deal or not.

I grab another cup of coffee-- this time black. In view of everyone, I drink it in one gulp and crushing the paper cup with one hand; with a well placed hook shot I land it in the trash can from my seat.

Ron brings the good news back to the table. "You're approved!"

My daughter is like "cool."

"We need the VIN for the insurance company to get a quote." I said.

My daughter is like "What?" I motion her to be quiet.

"Call the insurance agent and get a quote." I said.

I hear the conversation degrading with the agent. I ask my daughter for the phone. Right there at the table with the salesman and his sales manager, I start telling the agent to sharpen her pencil or she is going to blow the deal. Subliminally I am preparing the dealership team for a ride much worse than the test drive we just took!

Our man Flint drops the lease rates on the table like we're supposed to be impressed. It's $32 per month over our budget, and they know we just just got whacked with the insurance which was $1,926 per year and after a little sparring was now at $1,684.

I look at my daughter, "hey, sorry kiddo, let's grab lunch." I look at them, and we shake hands and start walking away. Our boy was pretty shocked, but he grabs the sales manger, apparently to come say good bye to us too.

An hour later they call her with a different deal-- it's starting to smell like water buffalo. With a few more jabs and a left hook, it all turns into the payment we want and a free oil change-- the kid signs up and writes a check.

A few hours later they decide they want a co-signer-- but I'm out of a job. I get on the phone, the kid is in tears and I am in protect mode. "You better make this work I tell the finance woman.

"Well Mr. J-"

"Make it work and call us back." I jabbed my thumb right through the LCD screen on my kids cell phone. I am so freakin' Christan sometimes, I can't stand it!

My poor princess, she is so disappointed, but I have another plan! I have her apply for a loan at my bank-- where I know the manager. Well, it's not like we are friends, I owe him a half a million bucks. In the morning, she gets the loan-- now we have the upper hand! We don't need them, they need us.

I decide that this time we're going to play good cop-bad cop. I have sweetness call and ask the salesman what his best price on the car is. I actually wrote her a little, but very whiny, script about her disappointment, and the fact that she now had a loan. "I just need your best price for the bank-- I am borderline, but at the right price, I can do this," she says with a glowing eye pointed in my direction. After she hung up, we were high-fivin' like a high school basketball team.

That's good cop.

An hour later the phone rings, and oh my, she is mysteriously approved by there bank. Amazing. "Well I have to go to work, can I call you tomorrow?" she said.

"Is everything OK,?" says the voice on the other end of the phone.

"I just have to be to work, I'll call you tomorrow."

Did you hear the car dealer hit the mat like a ton of bricks? I did.

They haven't talked to the bad cop yet... and we've got the water buffalo by the horns.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

This morning I went to the Memorial Day parade in Holliston, MA; a little town not too far from Boston. Me and the girls, we parked the car at St. Mary's, arriving early enough to get a shady seat on the bench in front of Fisk's Variety Store. My wife's family and friends are usually there, and the kids like the flags and the small town excitement.

In the distance we could hear the High School band and the crackle of police walkie-talkies. The excitement grew as the parade neared our vantage point across from the Superette. With blue lights flashing, Charlotte's uncle John rounded the corner onto Route 16 in his patrol car, clad in his Ray-Ban's and a proud smile, he blipped the siren signaling the last few pedestrians to get to the sidewalk. Behind him the rumble of a 30's something-or-other roadster, and the clickty-clack of a Ford Model-T succumbed to the applause of those of us lining the sidewalk. A round of cheers for the WWII vets, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and those in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wizened faces of historical figures, once young and vibrant, road by in military pride. Before us, a chapter in the history of the US faded into the distance as the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownies rounded the corner.

For a few moments, I drifted off to my childhood, remembering the white Chevy Biscayne convertible carrying the WWI vets, my dad, a proud WWII and Korean War vet with two purple hearts paraded past his family.

My thoughts quickly returned to reality when I heard the echo of 7 rifles, and then another. It was a very emotional moment for me as I heard the last blast of a 21 gun salute. I thought of all those the had once lay dying on the battle field so that I could walk down Route 16, free. I wondered how many cried out to God? How many were going to be in Heaven with me?

I remember my father's wake like it was yesterday. There lay the body of a man who spent most of his life as a disabled vet. He nearly died, not once, but twice for his country. Sargent Rice from the DAV came that day, to honor my dad. I can hear her voice, "Sargent Johndrow, I salute you." And they closed the casket forever.

Whatever you think of this country, I promise you, there are those that have given their lives so that you can read this blog. Honor them today by giving thanks for your freedom if you have it.

Memorial Day - Because Freedom Ain't Free

I was thinking of writing my own Memorial Day blog, but my brother wrote one that I liked a lot. For me, it's been a long time since I had to line up with a bunch of other naked men and bend over for the Army doctor at the New Haven Armed Forces Recruiting Center. 30 something years later I still know what a flagpole truck is. And believe me "give me 5" (50 or 100) has a whole new meaning when it's 112 degrees and 90% humidity.

Today we remember what's been done for us, the sacrifice made by millions of Americans over the centuries. From the battles of Bunker Hill and Lexington (which are just a few short mile from my home) to the deserts of Iraq. I salute you.

Memorial Day - Lee Johndrow

My dad was a veteran of World War II. Like many he paid a price. (Even as I write this, today would have been his birthday.) When he died left behind 2 Purple Hearts. My Dad was proud to have served his country. He lost many friends. (One of his Purple Hearts was the result of losing a buddy in a foxhole.) He was soldier, through and through. And memories included that he never passed a wounded veteran without speaking to him. And no matter how "cheap" the artificial red poppies looked, he always gave.... More

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Everyone Gets to Play

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, used to say "everyone gets to play." What he meant was that the leadership wasn't going to be doing all the ministry. And that is a good thing because, in most denominations, the pastoral and overseeing authorities were really separated from the laity. They were the paid "holy men," often doing all the praying, all the teaching and all the administration and counseling too. Bigger churches just had more paid holy men to carry out the so called ministry of the church.

When I was doing missions in Brazil, I found it really difficult to just be a regular guy, trying to do what I saw the Father doing. Everyone wanted to address me with some sort of title -- out respect for sure -- but I wasn't ordained at the time. The separation between me and them was perceived. Sure, I studied the Bible in a formal school... but really, who gives a flying epistle? Paul the apostle was a very well educated Jew, but he didn't count his formal education as anything that made him special. Me, all I wanted to be was David... I even insisted on it.

I once ministered in a Korean church. They required that I have an ordination certificate, so I went out and got one from a local congregation that was a plant of a mega church in OK. It's been in a packing box for nine years. I remember ministering in the sanctuary, and my friend Holy Spirit came in a mighty way. For many there, this type of ministry was new, however; the pastor was very savvy. Instead of having another altar call where the manifestations of the Holy Spirit could be misunderstood, he simply sat me in the front pew, and let folks come in one at a time to let me minister to them. Wow! All the paradigms of church went out the window as God healed a woman with a deaf ear, caused demons to flee, and provided insight and wisdom from His Spirit. And the Asian Buffet next to the Waffle House was great too!

I have come across all kinds of religiousness in my day, and sadly, been one of its promoters too.

Another thing that I loved about the Vineyard movement was that they trained everyone to pray for others. My church taught me the laying on of hands, how to pray with someone for salvation and/or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Sure, I knew how to do some of that, but this was a complete package. It took only four two-hour sessions, and changed the paradigm from "we are the senior holy men" to "you too can partner with Christ for the work of the kingdom." I don't promote any denomination, but the training was freeing for me. Since that time, I have received ministry training from a number of other big name venues... but it all comes down to, be loving, listening for God's leading, be willing to mess up and be accountable, and getting out there and doing it.

What is the impact of this type of Christian life? I find it exciting, amazing, humbling and little scary sometimes.

When I was in Brazil the first time, I went to a Full Gospel church... one where they believed in the gifts of the spirit (1 Cor 12). I traveled with a team (see top photo); one with a healing gift, another a preacher with a doctorate in theology and another a real evangelist. As the worship played, I just prayed in the spirit-- mostly because I didn't understand the words. This particular night my team decided that one of us would preach, and I would do a time of ministry and the laying on of hands.

Something was a little odd about all that was going on there. From the outside, it looked like a standard Pentecostal worship service. But as folks came forward during the ministry time (altar call), there was a lot of speaking in tongues and flopping around on the floor... honestly, this isn't a problem for me, but this night there was something wrong. As I laid hands on people, they began to jump around like pogo sticks, praying in tongues - but they were false tongues. You might be thinking, how do you know the difference if you don't understand tongues? I dunno-- some sort of Holy Spirit insight is all I can say.

After a few of the folks went bouncing off, a young woman came forward and started the pogo stick-ing along with the false tongues. I simply said, as she went up and down while I laid my hand on her forehead, "I break the spirit of religion in the name of Jesus!" In the spirit, I heard a loud snap, just like a breaking bone, and she hit the concrete floor and lay there under the power of the Holy Ghost. After a few moments she began praising God-- and then something stranger happened, she began to speak in tongues; Holy Spirit tongues. It was beautiful, just beautiful. As she did this, tears streamed down her face to the floor. I continued down the line of bouncing congregants.

After a few minutes she got up and began to speak very loudly, and with such authority. The worship team stopped playing, and she gave a short testimony. Through the interpreter, she said. "Brothers and sisters in Christ, I have received this prayer and God has changed me. I know Him now and I didn't know Him like this before. Come, get in line with this pastor (they just can't help themselves :o) ) from the the USA. Don't pray, and don't hop, just receive." That night many religious spirits were broken in the name of Jesus. By the end of the service we had such an amazing turn out that they scheduled a special meeting the next morning for us to minister again.

Formal religion can be tough because there are so many perceived expectations of so called leaders. They must be this and that, gone to school for this and that -- yikes. No wonder we feel separated from them, and worse, less useful to the Kingdom! They have been given the job that is rightfully that of all believers. You don't need to have a degree-- thermometers have degrees and you where some people put those. You just need to have a heart for the Kingdom of God. Jesus said it is at hand-- your hand and His. Jesus said that we could do greater things than He did. SO why aren't we?

Paul Cain, a man I perceive to be a prophet, gave a mighty prophecy about a nameless and faceless generation for workers that would simply be Jesus to a lost and dying world. A generation of sold-out and equipped Christians, that would go out and make a difference for Jesus. I don't know about you, but that's what I am looking for-- a place to just be me, and do His work.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Advanced AIT - Combat Division

Division and disagreement in the church is nothing new, but it sure ain't God's fault. For awhile it seemed like the most popular church planting model was a resentment and coffee pot! As I discussed in the blog "The Great Divide", there needs to be a way to reconcile the opposing views by inserting the will God over everything else. This is not an intellectual endeavor, but a spiritual one. However; division in the church is historical.

1 Corinthians 3:3 For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?

There are more divisions in church then there are denominations! It's still not God's fault. The central problem lies with human nature-- but hey, aren't we supposed to control that with the Spirit?

In the US Army, AIT is an acronym for "advanced individual training"... but for the purpose of this blog, it means, "attitude, integrity and teaching." That is how we combat division. We can't all be right, and we can't all be in God's will. So, we need to find a way to get in His groove, and leave behind our good ideas and get with God's ideas.

The first thing we need to change is our attitude. There is no room for judgment of those of "lesser faith." There is no room for looking down on others because of their beliefs, or there social stature or position, or lack of it in the church. I like the saying, Jesus isn't judging anyone until they are dead, so why should you? Sure we need to be discerning, and if we have a track record for that, I say go for it. If not, shut up. ;o]

Part of changing our attitude is the problem of being easily offended. If you are like most people, you have probably been offended in one way or another either by someones comments or actions. Holding on to grudges because you were offended does not contribute to your happiness or mental health-- and it sure isn't God. We need to grow up, and realize that we are all human, and have flaws that will be offensive. We need to stop being over sensitive, and follow some of the wisdom of Proverbs and James in taming the tongue.

The second part of overcoming division is integrity. We need to take responsibility for our actions, admit when we missed God; when we were wrong, and ask others for forgiveness. Without this crucial element, we will never overcome division. Pride, arrogance and ego will take over and rob from us, and others, what God wants to do.

A big part of integrity is that our private lives match our public lives. A good test is this. If you can't say it, or show it to your spouse, or from the platform in church, it is probably off limits. Another facet of integrity is preferring and serving others. You will reap what you sow in terms of giving time, resources and relationship.

The problem for so many is the biblical model of conflict resolution is not followed. Here is the proper way to resolve conflicts with Christians.

-1 Go the them first! Matthew 5:24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

-2 Bring someone with you - Matthew 18:15-20 15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

-3 And remember, be angry but do not sin. Understand the source of your anger to overcome it. IE: Separation, Disapproval, Rejection, Inadequacy/Failure, Deprivation, Betrayal, Humiliation, Exploitation/Manipulation or Injustice/Unfairness (From the Rage Within)

And the last element of combating division is teaching. I find that so many are poorly taught in some areas, and get the same food week after week. Well, even caviar eventually gets boring. And there is a long list of topics that divide the church, when, for those that really read and study the word of God, are pretty clear. They maybe outside of your experience, but God's ways are not your ways.

Here are some divisive topics, yet they should never be avoided:
- Leadership structure
- Woman in ministry
- Spiritual gifts - especially tongues
- Tithing
- The Eucharist
- The laying on of hands
- The color of the hymnals
- Worship volume

Babes in Christ will have an opinion about all these. But I think God has one opinion, and it may not agree with mine or yours, but for those that truly seek Him, they're likely to be closer to the truth, don't you think?

It seems we are so focused on the milk, that we can't get to the meat. Why is that? I mean someone is running the local church! It might be time to recheck attitude and integrity. If there is no fruit, it is pretty likely not God. Paul had a lot to say on growing up, getting taught, and who was supposed to do it.

Ephesians 4:11-25 (NKJV)

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Blues - You Can't Just Play It, You Gotta Live It

I have been playing guitar for along time. I grew up in the rock-blues era of the late 60's and early 70's -- that is when I formed my musical DNA. When I was in music school, I learned lots of different stuff, but I learned the blues which a bunch of homegrown guitarists. In the movie Crossroads, there was great line. "You don't play the blues, you live it." It's funny how music can be such an expression of the emotions, yet so technical. I guess that my writing is a bit the same... maybe you identify with some of the emotion-- shaking your head, sometimes saying , "yeah, I feel like that" - and you are not too worried about my comma-sense. It is parallel to the difference between being legalistic or spiritual. One is the essence of God's Holy Spirit, and the other is simply head knowledge about God. As we battle to forces of life, God is building character, and that is something that you just gotta live. Happy Friday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Great Divide - Relationship and Annointing

Yesterday I grabbed lunch with a guy that seems more interested in what's going with me than anyone else I know, except my wife. (I actually have some online friends that call me and pray for me too.) We had a long discussion about what's important in church. Of course we have different experiences and opinions about that.

What I found interesting as I distilled our conversation, and many others that I have had over the past few years, down, was this. I am now seeing two sides of the church, and it is almost as polarized as politics. Have you noticed? If you haven't, I suggest that you survey every Christian that you know, and you will discover two extremes which folks are passionate about: relationship or anointing.

One group is comprised of long-time church members that have had friends for a number of years-- folks that they get together with in small-groups and possibly other places. I will call them the relational and friendly type.

The other group are the anointing junkies; extreme lovers of His presence and sold out for the supernatural. They are the ones with the amazing testimonies-- and the ones whose character is sometimes suspect. They are often found in para-church ministries, and outside of church.

Sure there is a third group, which is religious, and would probably be categorized as "nominal Christians." This group is neither relational, or expecting God to act supernaturally. And they are ineffective in the Christian debate.

So what is the great divide? Folks that attend Sunday service week-in-and-week-out are often relational. In many ways they are the more stable ones, and respond best to pastoral care. They are often the ones that become "pillars" of the church; set in place to be the backbone of the local church. These folks are essential.

The folks that attend very anointed conferences and churches where there are a lot of supernatural displays of power, healing and the like, tend to be absorbed in what the Spirit is doing, and not so much what people are doing. They are essential too.

Most folks fall into one camp or the other, that is where the divide is. The relational folks think that the "swing from the chandeliers" folks are shallow and operate in the flesh. And the supernatural junkies think that the others "low voltage" folks are a little un-spiritual, not very passionate about Jesus, and they to operate in the flesh. Just like liberals and conservatives.

The truth is both are essential in the church, and both are operating in the flesh from time-to-time. How do I know, they are judging each other, that's how.

Can't we just coexist? No! Coexisting is to relationship, what cohabitation is to marriage. We must learn to love one another, and be grateful for the gifting that is in our midst. How can we judge powerful manifestations of the Spirit, while we quietly call out to God for healing for a friend or loved one? Some things don't fit in a nice neat little God box! Have I stepped on your toes? Well ask yourself this, do you think the disciples were a just a little freaked out with screaming demons, and the use of mud and spit to heal a blind man? Then how is it that spiritual pride gets in our way when we watch a televangelist, whom we think is of bad character, ask for money? Have you considered this? If you had found a place for him in your church, he wouldn't be there asking for money-- and he may have had a chance to grow up in your congregation - well, if you had loved and nurtured him, trained him and taught him -- oh and recognized his gifting.

For those that prefer low voltage, predictable Christianity that is more related to others, then it it is to God, you need to ask yourself this. What is your relationship with God like? Have you quenched the Holy Spirit? If you can say that you haven't, then you need to find a way for others that are not created like you, to be in relationship. The type of fellowship and relationship that God wants. There is never a place for us to judge, just to encourage, to love and to prefer one another.

Have you heard the saying, so heavenly minded one is no earthly good, and so earthly minded one is no heavenly good? On the surface that seems to be the problem, but it is much deep in that we must be led by the Lord. This requires an intimate relationship with Jesus.

The purpose of the cross is to reconcile us to God, so that we can be in relationship with Him, and those around us.

As Christians, it is essential to close the gulf between these opposing views of Christianity, and become unified. We don't need to be like each other, or be concerned about style, and paradigms. Unity simply says that others exist, just like you do, for the purpose of the kingdom. When we recognize the kingdom values in others, we will not be concerned about what, or how God does things, just that He is there and doing it.

When it comes to relationship, we are called to love. To love like Jesus did with the Gospel; one with power. Because a gospel without power is only a philosophy. Relationally we are not called to be nice to one another, but to lay down our lives. To goal of local church relationship is to get us to a place where we can wash each others feet, confess our sins one to another so that we can healed, made whole and of become of good character. Together, as a body, we get to do what Jesus did-- all of it, not just the part we like.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unemployment - The Bright Side

Well, I am 4 days into my new found unemployment. I am trying not to think about the potential crises the harbingers of financial hell might bring in a few weeks if I don't find a job. So, today I am going to concentrate on the bright side. After all, some days are so bad that you have to laugh. Like this morning, I bought a computer from a guy-- delivered from Craigslist. Well now that the Boston Craigslist Killer is behind bars, I am taking my chances again. However; I did think about an armed man coming to my house to take my cash and life. So, I parked my Mustang GT in the driveway so that my "Gun Owner - Voter" bumper sticker was very visible. He sheepishly parked in the street and waited for me to come to the porch door before stepping onto the lawn.

In an email I had spelled out exactly what it needed this PC to do, so he showed up without the IIS installed from the 386 folder! So, I pulled out my semi-auto -- just kidding. He had to go home to get a disk. Me, I have to leave for an interview-- so much for planning. While he was out, I decided to get my suit on. I opened a new shirt and tossed it on the ironing board. It had stains on it! Fortunately I had purchased two. One with, and one without stains. I am standing in my underwear and the computer guy comes back. I grab what clothes I can, and head down the stairs. "Yay, IIS is installed! Here's your cash; gotta go, bye!"

I find my wireless key and I am on the Internet... shoot, this thing has no virus protection! I shut it off, and gather my thoughts. I am good to go, I have a suit and tie that match, are pressed and I am only running 15 minutes late... but I planned half an hour extra, so I am feeling a little edgy, but pretty certain I will make my first job interview on time.

Ten minutes into my 1 hour or so trek to Providence, RI, the gas light comes on-- "50 Miles To E" - damn, it's 67 miles each way. I pull into the nearest Shell station and drop 8 bucks in the tank. A few minutes later, I pull onto Interstate 495 and rocket up to 85 MPH. The heck with global warming. I set the cruise control, and then reach my index finger towards the stereo when I remember that I left the employment application, and NDA documents in my briefcase near the porch door. @#^*&!! (Don't worry, that is not the Lord's name) This recruiter asked me to be a few minutes early, dress for an interview and bring two signed pieces of paper! And I have failed him.

I grab my cell and call a buddy from mens group-- whining about how stupid I am -- he quietly agrees. I mean, these guys know me.

In Providence, I am following directions from Google Maps that I have texted to myself the night before... apparently they were outdated by this morning!!! Instead of panicking, I call the Misses at work, and politely ask her to find my address. She leads me on a cellular, block-by-block tour of East Providence. You have to be kidding me, no one could find this place... how do people get here for work? I mean the Google Maps satellite looks down here and says, "who cares!" I can imagine the Mr T. narrated Garman GPS going, "We dead, we dead now fool."

I have arrived 20 minutes early. I thank God for all that He has done so far. As I am putting on my tie, I notice a sharp pain in my Adam's Apple. I forgot to take one of the pins out of the new shirt. I rolled down the window and through it half way to Block Island.

I begin thinking about how grateful I am not to be in getting stem cell treatment like my friend Dave. Or the fact that I am not stage 4 cancer like my wife's best friend from 6th grade... Nope, now that I have time off, I am going to get my year 50 physical-- with pictures -- before my insurance runs out... I am not just #1 once a year, but now it will be on film. And I am going to dentist to get the root canal I have been putting off, but was reminded about again with the ice water I had for dinner. Actually, I am hoping to have both procedures done at once so I can save the extra co-pay.

BTW - The interview went fine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Have it all Figured Out - Some Twisted Theology

I checked my blog stats today, and my readership dropped to 6 for one day this week. Thanks for humbling me. Apparently my readers were all over at Tony C Today' blog looking for a chuckle... he's a funny guy, and looks great in tutu-- well for a guy.

I have been musing over my job loss, thinking about all the stuff that I need to do, and it occurred to me. I am not in control today either. Nope, I can't get any one to call me back about a job. I tried to answer a call from an application that I submitted, and the cell went dead. So, I called them back on my home phone which also went dead. So, I went to get a haircut and now I am itching physically and emotionally too. Oh well, nothing a clay pot can solve.

I left my debit card at McDonalds. I knew I should haven't eaten there-- doubtful any of that stuff meets the Levitical dietary laws.

So, here I am meditating on the how God takes care of the sparrows and the lilies. But they live outdoors, and I was hoping that I didn't have to. My wife hates camping, and my daughter hates bugs. Me, I like warm showers. Well if God will take care of me like a lily, then I should probably live somewhere that a lily can survive... like Florida or the US Virgin Islands. I can see myself living on the beach. And the last time I was there I found a few vacation drunks who managed to sleep out overnight; hit the Caribbean for a quick swim, and look presentable for brunch. I am thinking this is where God is leading me.

That said, because God is leading me to do little or nothing on a tropical island -- like Paul and John -- well Paul took care of the snake in the fire and John wrote Revelations-- I am going to need the support of my readers. You can make checks out to me, or my wife, she gets them all anyway.

I am believing this to be a great ministry. I can preach the gospel to folks on vacation, wardrobe costs will be low-- we're talking shorts, flip-flops and a teal t-shirt silk screen with "HEY MON" on the front. The modern day Jesus would be similar. We can pick citrus and avocados off the trees, eat coconuts and praise God for the great weather. Are you with me?

And while I am out there basking in the sunshine, you can pray for me-- I burn easily. But this is a mission, a sacrifice for Jesus-- a chance for souls... well mine anyway. Can I get an amen!

You know I was thinking, a God who gets the church loaded for their debut (Acts 2), I can handle that. You know the new-agers don't have anything like this... well demon rum, but that makes you sick-- trust me on this one. Each morning we'll get up like 11:59 AM and grab a quick swim, and get loaded on the Holy Ghost. We'll sit on the beach laughing and talking about the amazing things God is doing in this wonderful ministry!

Finally, after all these years or trying, I am giving up, and doing it His way-- the new man is going tropical, because that way it will be easier to be a lily or sparrow. And God can concentrate on those I leave behind in New England.

Or I could get a grip, and go to the interview at 10 tomorrow morning, and get a real job. I wonder what God is saying?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Crises - A Dangerous Opportunity

Hmm... well when you write about the cost of following Jesus, you get to practice what you preach. A few days I go, I lost my job. It was a good job, good pay, good benefits, and some days so much fun, I wouldn't have cared if they paid me at all. Because it was a good job, I have a little bit of money to get me through for a few weeks... just enough so I might try to figure this all out by myself. Honestly, I am in crises mode. You know, a time when every waking moment is focused on ending the crises.

I once heard a sermon where the pastor said that the word "crisis" in Chinese (no, I don't know if it is Mandarin, Cantonese, Simple or Traditional) but that it translated into "dangerous opportunity." Wow, that sounds like me today. We are in danger of our whole financial world coming down on top of us. And you know, that is what happened three years ago too. You see, both my wife and I are unemployed-- well in about 3 weeks she will be, and I am already. Her job is little bit seasonal, and slowest in the summer. So, every few years, it just gets really slow. Me, I just keep ending up in a places that eventually run out of financial gas, or burn to the ground, or whatever. That's dangerous. The opportunity, well I look to the Lord for that. If he is opening a door, then I want to go through it.

I have heard loads of sermons on how to get through a crappy week. But you know there are a couple of verses that don't get read too often in the church... well, none that I have been in.

Romans 5:2b And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Now really, what Christian with real hope, has not suffered? The life of the Christian brings peace, but the only time the word "easy" is used in the Bible, is to describe the yoke of Jesus. That's it!

Trial forms our character, and allows us to empathize with others. That is why crises is an opportunity, it is chance for us to rely on God, and look for His grace in all things.

What about severe loss and suffering?

2 Corinthians 8:2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

God can use that too. James had his eye on the reward of eternal life with His Lord and Savior. Peter said, don't be shocked at trial, it is normal for Christians.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

1 Peter 4:12
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

And in the end, there is nothing that God can't use for His glory...

Romans 8:28-40 (New International Version)

More Than Conquerors
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cost of Following Jesus - For What It's Worth

Have you ever wondered what it was really like for the disciples to follow Jesus? Think about it, you leave your job, you drop everything, and go into full-time ministry. Most people I know, can't just leave their job and house and go into ministry. I also hate to call it ministry, because they actually became friends of Jesus; even Judas. Real ministry flows out of relationship.

Jesus' insight, genuineness, warmth, and His can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it qualities were some how very attractive. Of course, now we know why, but the disciples, they didn't. They had some sort of religious notion that there would be a messiah, a king greater than David-- one that would rule and reign in Israel, defeating all their foes. Which is true, but the way that God carried it out, well it wasn't what they thought-- not even close. How about you, do you have some sort of religious notion about church, about Jesus?

I could write a hundred things about being religious, and I have. However; today, I want to write about what is costs to follow Jesus. The disciples went from working for a living, to living by faith. They had no idea what was going to happen to Jesus-- I doubt they knew what was going to happen next. The Triumphal Entry must have made them feel amazing, even exhilarated-- and then the crucifixion shortly afterwords. That was one of the prices for Jesus' ministry here on earth-- He is our example. He also became poor, and never married. He put His life in danger more than once. How about you? What is it costing you to follow Jesus?

Certainly at times, the disciples; later apostles, feared for their lives because of their relationship with Jesus, and in some cases suffered persecution, imprisonment and for eleven of the thirteen, death.

For most of the church in today's world, things are different for Christians; they don't fear for their lives. (I don't mean to minimize what goes on in some places in the world. It is heinous)

I think the love of mammon and the love of God are very similar. We look to both to provide for us, protect us, keep us healthy, provide for leisure (happiness) and give us some sense of worth. Money and things can do that. The difference is what it costs us in terms of tension, as we try to insure and protect our wealth. One weighs us down, the other lifts us up. Where are your treasures?

But what about you? What has serving Jesus cost you? Money, prosperity and materialism can certainly come between us and God. But there is a much deeper cost to serving Him. What would you do to have an all expenses paid mission trip to Brazil. Out of the blue, a man at church writes you a check for $1000, and the church sends you off with a powerful time of prayer? Most folks could probably do that pretty easily. I know I did. But what if you came home to find you were laid-off from work, or lost a parent to an unexpected illness? I have experienced both.... and I am no martyr, not even close. I am just your average Christian going though my days trying to make a difference for the kingdom.

I took another trip to Europe and received a call from my kids with an emergency, there was nothing I could do. Even Paul was buffeted by the Devil. It is part of the cost of following Christ. In some ways, it is easiest to say it this way, "you trust Him or you don't." I didn't at the time.

Luke 14:28 "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it--"

There is so much more to the cost of following Christ-- we forsake all that we have, all that we are, and all that we own. As followers Christ there is always the possibility for losing our earthly treasures-- but there is for those that don't follow Christ. Paul also said that they could take our life, and that to, would be glorious. I have some friends that were missionaries in Indochina. They expected to lose their lives for Christ at some point, yet they pressed on preaching the gospel in Communist countries. They often prayed, "Lord we give it all to You, but could you spare us the torture please."

The cost of serving Christ is greatest when we have a lot of earthy possessions to lose. When our treasures are stored up in Heaven (Matt. 6:19-21), we can do all that we are asked by the Master without fear. The less we have to lose, the more valuable we are to the work of the Kingdom.

As I was writing this blog I was reminded of a story about a little girl. I believe it was in the book, Intimacy Cover Up. Her Father loved her so, and took her on outings; just the two of them. He bought her little gifts, but she especially loved her sting of "princess" pearls. Of course they were only plastic, but she loved them so.

He father saw how much she loved them, and decided to buy her real pearls-- for she so treasured the plastic ones he was certain that she would take care of them. One evening he looked at her while she lay in bed waiting for her goodnight kiss. In his pocket was a string of beautiful pearls in a velvet jewelry box. But when he asked her for her plastic pearls, she said emphatically "No, I love my pearls, Daddy! But you can have my purple pony." Her father kissed her good night as he always did, and left the room.

He returned the next night and asked her the same question. She was confused, "I love my pearls Daddy, but you can have my dolly." Each night her father would come into the room to kiss her good night, and ask her if she was ready to let him have her treasured plastic pearls.

One night he came in to say good night, and she was sitting up in the bed crying. In her hand she clutched her beloved plastic pearls. "Here Daddy, you can have them." He placed them in his pocket, and caressed her face as she sobbed. Finally, from his pocket he withdrew that little velvet box, and with delight, he watched her open it. "Oh Daddy, they are beautiful!"

He lovingly looked at her and said, "I have been longing to give you these."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hearing God - Part 2 of 2

In part 1 we discussed some of the reasons that we might not hear God, as well as some of the problems that might be associated with it. But what happens when we've heard God? I have previously written about the ways in which God speaks. That blog (list) is HERE.

Hearing God is an interesting endeavor because we don't usually hear His voice in the same way we hear a normal human voice. To hear God under most circumstances, we need to hear Him in our spirit. The Bible describes this as our heart, and the place where rivers of living water flow from. (John 7:37-38) For most Christians that I know, the ones that claim to hear God, most of them speak of impressions, or a sense of knowing. The Bible describes this as the "still small voice." When God spoke to Elijah on Mount Horeb, He could have done so in the wind, earthquake, or fire. But He didn't. He spoke with a “still small voice” 1 Kings 19:10-12

This whisper appears to be the most common way, but not the only way that God speaks. Sometimes this voice is accompanied by other physical sensations such as heat, wind, water and other forms of the manifest presence of God. But hearing His voice is not about the sensations, it is about the message. As you become accustom to hearing God, you'll begin to recognize it. As all things God, there is no formula. As my daughter liked to say, "there is lots of error and trial."

God will speak all sorts of things to us if we will listen. Remember, He pursues us as a head-over-heals lover pursues a mate. (Song of Songs) The difference is that we have to learn His language-- the language of the Spirit. As Christians, we are supposed to be in a personal relationship with Jesus-- but He is a King, a Father and a Daddy. What He speaks will be related to the "roles" that He plays in our lives. Let's take a quick look at the types of things God might say, if we were listening.

He speaks:
- of His love for us.
- of His destiny for us.
- words or pictures of revelation and wisdom.
- instructions.
- commands.
- discipline and correction.
- revelations for others, for church, for situations and countries.

Of course there are many examples of God speaking to His people. From Moses to Gideon, to Paul and all of the events of the book Acts, God speaks for kingdom purposes. Phrases that use the words power, voice, heard, knew are all clues to the types of things God says and does. We can't know God's voice (unless we have a road to Damascus like experience for specific purpose) without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our receptor, witness and teacher. Without Holy Spirit's witness, we are just operating under our own power, engaging others with our own ideas, and leaning on our own understanding. As long as you do that, you be far off from the voice of God.

Once we have heard the voice of God, we are responsible for it. If it is an instruction, then we must do it-- this will take faith! Obedience is not just to a set of legalistic principals set down in print, but to the voice of God as we navigate the day-to-day. Jesus said, "I do what I see the Father doing." This why John Wimber well defined the problem of hearing God, when said that hearing God was a problem too. Delayed obedience is sin too.... this is where real faith comes in. We to listen and obey. For those that are parents, you know what I am talking about.

In the end, it really is a joy to hear from Heaven, and to do it. The Holy Spirit will give us confidence as we grow in the art of listening to the Master. We are certain to make mistakes. That is part of the process.

I suggest journaling these impressions, and sharing them with someone that you trust. They could be about people that you know-- complete strangers. You should exercise your listening spirit in a tangible way. Take a few minutes when you pray to listen. Write those things down. At some point you'll be able to compare what you heard to reality.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hearing God - Part 1 of 2

How many times have you heard this verse? "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27) And how many sermons have you listened to which included one or more of the following terms: sin, backsliding, lack of faith, out of God's will or doubt? Do you see the correlation between the two extremes? In one we hear God and do it, and the other, we have obviously missed it.

Any good evangelical can focus on sin, and what's wrong with your "walk." But I always think there is more fruit when we focus on what to do now! You can beat yourself later with the your sins of omission (stupidity). For now let's think about a solution to the problem of hearing God.

John Wimber once said, "The Christian has two problems. One is hearing God, and the other is not hearing God." When God doesn't speak, we won't know what to do, or when to do it. When He does, then we are responsible for whatever it is that He has spoken to us.

God speaks in many different ways, there is a list HERE if you need one.

First let's tackle the problem of not hearing God. Let's consider this verse in John. "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me. The sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice…." (John 10:14) The implication is this. If we are saved, we should know God's voice. The problem is in not hearing it. Before we condemn ourselves for not knowing how, or not hearing His voice, let's take moment and look at why we wouldn't recognize the voice of someone in the natural.

- We don't know them, or have never heard them before.
- They are not speaking loudly enough, or we are not listening carefully enough.
- We are listening for the wrong thing.
- We are not accustom to listening.
- We are doing all the talking.
- There is interference.
- There is too much noise.
- We need to turn up the volume.
- We've been texting, but not having a real conversation (Just reading the word.)

I could write 10 blogs on how to be better listeners, how to make room for God in our lives, or how to pray-- and I may. But don't you want to hear God today? Here are some steps to take to make that happen.

- Time: To hear God, is to know Him. It is going to take time-- otherwise you'll just be in doubt.
- Understanding: To hear God, means that you have to learn how He speaks. Here I can tell you, it is most often the "still small voice" It will be a whisper in your spirit. So, be sure to find a way to tune into your spirit. This is a personal relationship, so for you, it will be different that for me.
- Atmosphere: God speaks all the time, and everywhere. However; He seems to be the loudest when you are soaking in worship, in prayer or in some sort of meditative time. This could be at work, at home, in jail (as with Paul) or any other place where you have learned to tune in to His spirit.
- Anointing: I have written about the manifest presence of God; the here and now presence not the abiding presence of God. In His manifest presence, there is often a specific thing that He will speak. These are rich times for many Christians, times that make knowing Him even more valuable.
- Sovereignty: God speaks when, and where He pleases. Sometimes we pass through a desert time-- but even there, we can receive water from a rock.

Hearing God is work, but once you begin-- once you become accustom to Him-- you Christianity will become so much more real.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Perfect Church, No Kidding, You're It!

Every time I press for things that I believe are important in church, I hear, "There is no perfect church." Personally, I think that is an excuse for bad behavior. Here's why. I will certainly agree that there are no perfect people, and the church has plenty of those. A true logistician would say that the argument for a perfect church fails -- and without God's grace, it does. The point is this. We can use imperfection as an excuse for doing nothing, or at the very least, doing it poorly. We can end up leaving excellence up to someone else.

Perfection (the pursuit of excellence) in church, like everything else, begins with a single person making a single decision. When a group of folks (2 or more) do this, we start to see church as something that can be changed for the better. Most established churches have a blend of employees and volunteers. But the Bible doesn't make a distinction between the two in terms of excellence of service. Here are a couple of examples.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 "Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might."

Psalm 33:3 "[Regarding music] Play skilfully with a loud noise."

The pursuit of perfection is called excellence. Excellence is a spiritual value that we must uphold. We don't get to say, "That is good enough for me." We need to ask ourselves if it is good enough for God? Some years ago there was a story circulating the Internet. It was about a man that had worked as a carpenter for many years. The owner of the company knew that he was about to retire, and told him that he could split the profits of the last home he was going to build. The carpenter, knowing that every cut corner would put money in his pocket, did everything that he could to save money. He bought the cheapest of materials, fixtures and hired the least expensive sub-contractors. When it was finally completed; his last day of work, the owner handed him a check for half the profits and congratulated him for being so frugal. Shaking the carpenter's hand, he also gave him the keys to the house, and said, "enjoy your new house and have a fruitful retirement."

It's a good illustration. Amen? I am sorry if I stepped on a few toes. If we think that there is a different standard because we are a volunteer, or low-paid worker, there isn't. We are bound to the principal of excellence, and if we commit to something, our "yes" and our back-side better be there.

The following verse takes excellence in our day-to-day Christianity to the next level.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you—make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too. (NET)

As a wannabe blogger, I am pounding the relationship drum again. As Christians, I just want to know where we get off, showing up and going home on Sundays, after passing out a few handshakes, maybe a couple of hugs and few smiles before we go home to light the BBQ? Has is occurred to you that folks at church are there because they need something, and might get it from you? or are you there just to get your needs met? And I might ask, is that happening? I have found that in trying to meet the needs of others, we need to know what they re are!

Paul recognized this problem in the church.

Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound [excel] still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (NET)

He encouraged those in the church to persevere in the excellence of relationship, called love. There are many more examples of excellence in the Bible, maybe take a few minutes to meditate on these.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound (excel) in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 3:13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. (NASB)

1 Thessalonians 4:10 for indeed you do practice it (love) toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (NASB)

1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (NET)

Matthew 5:48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 23:37-38 Jesus said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 22:38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your Ministry - Tips for Partnering with God

So, you want to serve Jesus? There are some things that you should know before you get in, or maybe understand now that things are not going quite the way you envisioned.

We have an adversary, that is the devil seeking to devour us. We also struggle with our flesh and our sin nature, along with the damage that has come to us from our sin, and the sin of others against us.

Even Paul suffered as he partnered with God to take the kingdom back; buffeted by the devil.

In Luke 22:31,32, Jesus warned Peter that Satan would sift him like wheat. But, Jesus had prayed for Peter; and Peter would be restored to be able to strengthen his brothers. Though Satan would try, he didn't destroy Peter's destiny.

Maybe you just want a peaceful existence and do what you can at your local church to serve others, but when you got saved you joined an army; the army of God. Regardless of whether you chose to engage or not, here are your marching orders.

Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. KJV

Beyond what the devil is doing, and will continue to do until the end of time, there are some things that we can do to enter into a partnership with God that is effective and fruitful for the kingdom.

After 30 years of salvation, here are some thing that I have learned about serving God. I have spent a considerable amount of time on the sidelines, some of it my own doing, and some of it working against the religious spirit that is present in any place that the church is established for a period of time.

-1 Random meetings (divine appointments) with Christians on the street have produced more ministry invitations than I ever had from attending a local church. 1 meeting turned in to 2 trips to Brazil where I ministered 2 or 3 times a day for weeks. The other was a guy I just decided help bring his belongings up to a third floor apartment, that gave me 12 months of preaching and ministry engagements.

-2 If you are going to choose a church to be a part of, that has a senior pastor, go to him from day one to see what his vision is. Because most churches do not embrace the 5-Fold ministry model, he'll usually be one of those-- having a heart for evangelism, a heart for pastoring and healing, a heart for revelation... but he will not be motivated in all areas unless he is an apostle. If your personal ministry vision is something that unlike his, KEEP looking. I can't tell you how many churches where I didn't fit the pastoral mold and I ended up sidelined and rejected!

-3 Assess your ministry and spiritual gifts and see how they might fit into your local church. You and God need to work out your calling. It's worth the meeting to say to leadership, this is on my heart, and this is who I am, can you use me? I'd really like to serve Jesus here. IE: If deliverance is your thing, then you need to see if the pastor needs someone to cast out demons. If not, KEEP looking.

My particular gifting has often been threatening to pastors. Why they won't embrace gifting they do not posses themselves, is still somewhat of a mystery. Waiting to "come out" is never a good idea, the end result will be the same; lack of acceptance. You need to look at the fruit of your ministry. If you are prophetic, how accurate are you? If you are an evangelist, how many people have you brought to Christ? If you are a teacher, is it being received? Be honest with yourself, and check it out with Christian that know you. It's about fruit, not numbers

-4 Who is promoting your gift, you, or the Holy Spirit? If it is you, you may be on the sidelines for awhile. Get with God on it. The Lord spoke to me about 11 years ago, and said, "Never invite yourself anywhere, and never ask for money." I have worked in marketing, and I know how to execute promotion. I have spent a lot of time on the sidelines, but obedience is where it's at.

-5 Ministry can easily flow out of relationship-- and should! Have gatherings at your home and allow anyone to come. Each year for the last 4 years, we have invited the neighborhood, and also folks that we know from church to an open house. I have yet to get to minister anyone, but I have had a lot of questions from the neighbors about stuff social issues. We have also tried home-groups, marriage groups and movie nights. God is about small beginnings-- don't despise them.

-5 Authority is often misused in the church. Period. Real shepherds lead from the rear of the flock, and so should pastors. Fear and pride end up inviting a controlling spirit to church. This is why the 5-fold model provides for all ministries and full vision for a church, not just one or the other. Being released by someone in authority is certainly the best scenario. But conditional release is a misuse of authority.

-6 Character and humility is essential, but not required. When God does use us, it is easy to get all big on ourselves. We then to say "I" a lot more than "He." This happens the most, from ministries that operate from the platform or pulpit. The Lord spoke this to me some years ago. "David, be sure to ask my forgiveness before you minister a single prayer, or play a single note. Without it, you would be nothing. David, you know I love you, and when you give me the glory, I can fill you to overflowing." I am a little religious about both asking for forgiveness, and giving thanks after an event. However; I need to rely on Him.

-7 If you need a mentor or an equipper, press those that can help you. I had some wonderful experiences carrying the briefcase of a highly regarded minister. Another time, I drove a big name minister around my region for 4 days. I took him to dinner, carried his stuff, dropped him at meetings and at the hotel. I learned so much from that. Being around the anointing was very cool. It never hurts to ask. Personally, I am sad that we don't have many more leaders like Elijah that were all about having an Elisha with a double portion. Leaders are you listening?

-8 Prayer and fasting are different for each of us, just make it personal with God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Whatzit Look Like?

Wow! This morning I had a wonderful revelation. Church is never going to happen if you and I don't get involved. And it requires the Spirit of God. I know, you already knew that. However; today, it's rhema.

Did you know the church cannot function without vision? Nope, and most of us either embrace the pastor's personal vision, or we find ourselves rejected and left out. This is good for those that embrace it and tough on those that don't. The Bible says that the people perish for lack of vision. (Proverbs 29:18) So, we gotta have vision. The problem is that a pastoral vision is incomplete. Ouch!

Every vision is subject to the Biblical principals. As the president of the United States may have vision, he is still subject to the laws of the land. His vision couldn't include some sort of illegal policy. It is the same with church vision. Spiritual vision cannot violate God's principals.

I want to take a look at the overall mission of the church so that we can attach a local vision to it, and get something done in our community for Jesus. The overall mission of the church is to preach the Good News, and get out there and heal the sick, cast out demons and use other types of "power" and "love" ministry to advance the kingdom of God. The vision of the local church needs to achieve this mission. The actual work is done through the church, and the individuals in it. From the macro view, "what" to the micro view "how," that is how we need to look at this.

The problem with the personal vision of a single leader, is they spend a lot of time trying to get everyone to adapt to it. It will ultimately fail the mission even though it may grow a local church. The fruit of the biblical mission is not numbers, it is disciples that can replicate the vision and accomplish the mission! Jesus did it, then he sent out the 70, then the 120, and then He gave the "great commission" for us all to go out.

Many different models have been suggested for replication and church growth. Since the beginning of the church, small fellowship groups models have proliferated. And I think small groups are good, but they replicate a significant problem in the church. Most of them are pastorally led. Many times, they don't do evangelism or outreach, and the small group pastor is usually forced into teaching. While many do not have a prophetic voice.

As much as I love huge celebration services with hundreds or thousands of people, small group is still church. Therefore; it needs to be a collective microcosm of the 5-Fold ministries or roles. Jesus said that where two or three come together, I am there. I am going to suggest that you would want to have the pastoral and teaching roles met, and hopefully add evangelism. The apostolic and prophetic roles certainly can be resident, but they may foundationally support more than one group.

Before we get all legalistic about how to run a small group, there is some very good advice from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. The primary point of this passage is that we should, based on our gifting, be prepared to bring something by His Spirit. This would be a hymn (some sort of worship music), a lesson (teaching) and a revelation (prophecy or tongue with interpretation). These are the essential ingredients in a church meeting, and are as valid for a home/small/cell-group situation as a giant celebration.

What has happened with this model, is that the pulpit has become an icon for "church," pushing aside the apostle, the prophet, the teacher and the evangelist.

The "senior pastor" vision is often very unbalanced depending on the gifting of the senior-pastor or small group leader. What I see is leaders that staff to replicate themselves, and not for their weaknesses. The purpose of many churches is to get some sort of pastoral care to the flock. But this does not promote the spreading of the Gospel. It is essential that the local church vision includes teaching, directing (prophecy) , bring in new converts and caring and discipling those that are in. In the process they need to be equipping all the saints to replicate this vision. Why? Because a disciple is one that can give testimony to God's ability to save them, grow them and send them out to produce fruit in the Kingdom of God.

If our 5-Fold equippers have done their job, their small groups will replicate a vision that fulfills the mission of the church on a local and regional level.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What I Love About God - Finally!

I went to church today. I go pretty much every week, and it has become part of my rat-race -- the ones that the rats are winning at the moment. When I got there, I dropped the kids in Kid's Church, and headed into the sanctuary. Instead of sitting down I decided to just stand in the back. Sometimes you need to break up the monotony (can you believe it) and do something different in church. So, I paced the back wall just praying as my spirit seemed to see fit. I enjoyed that along with the worship which doesn't really do anything for me most of the time. Well, I mean I don't really engage with it most of the time.

After the worship, and my prayer time ended, the pastor, who had just returned from Spain with a mission trip that included the youth group, got up to the platform. He began to speak about doubt; his doubts regarding the trip. Basically, everything they had planned, fell through. From interpreters to youth participation, nothing seemed to work out. They couldn't get permits to work the park or the local outdoor market. So, they went with what they had, bottled water with tags from the local congregation, and 20 kids. They started making balloon animals and painting faces, worshiping publicly, and praying. The kids came and brought their parents. This went on for days. They had so much success in the park, they actually went to the outdoor market without a permit. They gave out water, and did what they could to speak with people. The police even assisted them! One cop was heard to say, "I don't see anyone giving out water!"

My favorite story was of a boy and his mother. The little boy came every day to get his face painted with Spider Man. I guess he was a little bit annoying, and put some of the staff off. But on Sunday, out of 4,000 printed invitations to church, they were only ones that came.

I think that is it wonderful that our team spent $40K to bring two people to the local church. Some would say that is crazy, but I see it as great thing for my American church. Their sacrifice was to Jesus, and not based on numbers. And, if it gets them to do something more here at home, awesome!

I love testimonies. I have written about them many times in this bog. Try searching for Brazil, or Norway. In the end, all we have is our testimony and the blood of Jesus.

Revelation 12:11 "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death." NAS

I was speaking with an acquaintance after the service, and said, "I don't know what the hell I would want to go to work for, when I could be doing that [missions]!"

Friday, May 1, 2009

Intimacy - A Really Personal Relationship with Jesus

Do you ever find that most people have some sort of expectation about church, and about the church people in it? I mean they wouldn't think that we are some sort of hypocrites if we lived up to their expectations, right? It is easy to see that sin is the problem, but that can become an excuse for bad behavior. Really, we all sin, and Jesus forgives sin, so as a Christian we are all set. Besides, we are working hard at being good, changing and getting past our past, right? So, why can't we get it right? Sin is the very thing that separates us from God isn't it?

As Christians we have all sorts of problems relating to God and sin just adds to the problem. The Bible tells us that Jesus is King, Father and Daddy (Abba). How we relate to a king is probably different than how we relate(d) to our own daddy.

In America we don't have a King, but in countries that do, there is a certain reverence expected for the authority of the position. We don't barge in on the king, we, at the very least, need an invitation. In the king's presence we probably have some sort of edicate to follow. Let's just say there are some kings and rulers for which we would receive the death penalty for disrespecting. The point is this, we don't relate to royalty the same way we relate to the local bank teller.

To see Jesus as our father or daddy, is something quite different. Because the King is also our father, a different relationship begins to take shape. There are a few words in the Bible that define the depth of our relationship with our King and Father. One is yada (Hebrew) it is the same word that is used when the Bible in the verse, "Adam knew Eve." It means a number of things: to know, to acquaint, to declare, to make known, to have sex, and to reveal. It this type of intimacy that God's relationship with His children is meant to be. The other koinenea (Greek), which is often translated communion. Again, this word means the deepest and most intimate relationship. Therefore; communion should be one of the deepest moments we have with God. Is that true for you?

This type of intimate relationship is misunderstood, most often by our worldview, the fact that God is supernatural and we're not, and our paradigm for relating to the father.

Our God is supernatural, perfect, eternal-- and always right. Therefore our ways can never be His ways. Why? Because of our natural ways and the sin nature that lives within us. The point? He is God and you never will be. He doesn't respond to the laws of nature, or the limitations of the finite human mind, but to the deep calling deep that is within our spirit. We cannot understand God with our mind, but we must commune with Him in or spirit. Herein lies the problem. We are constantly taught to fix the old man, when all we need to do is let the new one-- the spirit man-- out. Letting the new man out is such a powerful and supernatural experience, that it strikes a death blow to the old man. Then the only problem becomes our mind and heart which are at work to regain control of the old man.

One way in which many Christians are damaged is in their view of what a father actually is. Some natural fathers have been loving, but others have been abusive, controlling, distant, or have completely abdicated. Some fathers argue, berate or belittle their children. But our God is not like that. We often hear that He is a loving God, but what does that really mean? How does a supernatural God actually love us? Can we tell by the blessings that we have on our lives, or lack of them? What about trial, would a loving father allow us go through that? And the age old question, where is God when bad things happen to good people? We can't answer these questions in the natural. They must be answered in the the supernatural realms.

If you are a parent, there are some things that you learn about kids if you spend any time with them. We can't expect a young child to drive a car; he's just not going to be ready. No matter how much God wants us to achieve our destiny, we are going to need to grow in the relationship of the spirit to achieve it. Some folks would have you believe that this is prayer, Bible study, going to church and eventually serving. These can all be very religious, but not always relational. To build this relationship with God, we do need to spend time, but it needs to be spent doing relational things, not religious things.

All kids need a blend of fathering. Sometimes it's tickle time, lap time, teaching time, dinner time, vacation time and sometimes it is time-out or a spanking time. To build our relationship, God uses those, and many other facets of real relationship with us. He knows us so well, that He will create special ways in which He communicates directly with us. Think about it, when was the last time you directly heard from your Father in Heaven? If it's been awhile, maybe you are being religious, and not relational.

Each one of my kids is different and responds to different acts of love. One likes gifts and another likes time together, one is affectionate, and the other calls me everyday. God knows what tugs on our heart strings, and He pursues that as a way to have relationship with us.

As an earthly father, I want to give things to my kids-- even more so God would want to give to things to His kids. What amazes me is that kids are so short sighted, that they'll miss the opportunity to go for a treat, and squander it on bickering or being disobedient in some other way. Are we missing some good things in our relationship with Jesus because we find a million other things easier and more gratifying in the moment?

The idea of having a deep and personal relationship with Jesus is done in the spirit, not in the mind. As His spirit commingles with ours, something becomes alive that words can never explain. But this is just the beginning! You see, a relationship is much more than a warm fuzzy from the Holy Spirit when we got saved. This relationship is described in many ways in the Bible.

"His mercies are new every morning." Lamentations
"His love endures forever." Romans
"He has counted the hairs on our head." Matthew
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God." Romans
He seeks us out like a romantic lover. Song of Songs
"He forgives our sins as far as the east is from the west." Psalms

He calls us His lover, and His bride. What could better describe the love that one has for his new girlfriend of boyfriend... and new spouse? And He works all things, even bad things, and even our sine for the good if we'd just love Him back. But for most of the church we want to be a "bless me club," and see God as a spiritual bellhop. But He is a King and Father. He has authority, not to overpower us, but to protect us, and carry out a perfect plan, if we'll just do our part.

So, how do you do it? How do you get intimate with Jesus? I wish there was a formula, but then we'd be all religious about it. However; here are a few suggestions beyond church-going, prayer for "stuff," and Bible study.

-1 Ask Him - The Bible says that you don't have what you need because you don't ask. This may sound like prayer, and technically it is. But God says whatever you ask in my name, He'll give it to you. Something like this. "Lord I want to know You, I want to hear Your voice." I am of the mind that God likes prayers that grow our relationship more than He likes the "gimmie" prayers. Do you think think your kid would appreciate an unsolicited gift, of say a special time together that he or she wasn't expecting? What if God spoke to you, and you were just blown away at His love for you? The wonderful thing about knowing God, is a simple moment that can take your breath away. And it could be anywhere, from the mountain tops to the a prison cell, God can find you, but can you find Him?

-2 Worship Him - Try some new songs-- ones about knowing Him. "I Want to Know You", "Surrender," "Hungry," "More Love, More Power," or "Your Name," to name a few. I don't care what style, but the lyrics become really important to how we commune with God. Praise Him, thank Him, cry out to Him in desperation, turn the music up loud, or be very still, but find a way to focus your passion on Him.

-3 Listen - God is often a still small voice, but that doesn't mean that He doesn't have a lot to say! Think about what it's like to get to know someone that you love? God is like that. He does want to know you. Read Song of Songs, it is all about that wonderful romantic loving relationship. Romance is simply being thought of when your lover is doing something else. This is the intimacy part. Many of us are so damaged when it comes to intimacy. We create walls or have conditioned responses from being treated badly in life. It's no wonder we can't get close to people, or God. But if we can get still, He will be there.

-4 Turn off the noise - For many, there is so much going on, that we can't cut through the noise in our lives. There has got to be a time where you shut down the things from the outside. It can be in the car on the way to work, but there needs to be a time. Time is the currency of relationship. A quiet meditation, a long walk, the mountains, the ocean, the beach, an empty sanctuary, the recliner or the bedroom. Find a place to get away even for a few minutes.

-5 Holiness - Maybe you need to start asking God to forgive you once a day. It seems simple, but it is way to rely on God for what God wants to do anyway. Cut down the diet of R movies, garbage TV etc. It is different for everyone. Our world is really unholy, and you can't be all religious about it. But I guarantee that if you create an atmosphere of godliness, it will make all this easier.

-6 Anointing - The anointing breaks yokes. If you are not familiar with it, then you are missing out on so much that God is. The manifest presence of God comes for certain reasons, at certain times. Why? Because God is God. He loves His kids and wants to be with them. We can't live our whole Christian life believing that God exists. We must experience God, or remain babes in the faith. The anointing hangs out where folks are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

-7 Love - When Christians love the unlovable, something amazing happens to both parties. Anyone can have the pastor or deacons over for lunch, but try committing to someone that isn't making it in the main stream church.

-8 Fellowship - God moves where two or three are gathered in His name. It really works best if God is invited. This can be anywhere anytime.

Even as I read this, it gets a little bit like the same ol', same ol'. But this is how God works. Find a partner to share it with and keep asking, keep searching, keep worshipping, and most of all keep loving.
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