Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Beautiful Love Song

Its always a blessing to hear the Lord speak to us in the midst of our daily lives. And when he says the same thing to us from 2 sources within a couple of hours, I certainly take notice!
That's exactly what happened Wednesday night. I was talking with a dear friend who has recently gone through some very difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, to the best of my understanding, this friend has rejected the truth of God's word and followed her emotions in a direction that perpetuates a path of disobedience. And yet as we talked,she was very profuse in her praise of me, about how much she appreciates my friendship. As you might expect this is very uncomfortable to me. It is so because there does not appear to be any grasp of spiritual reality... that while praising me as a Christian friend, she's expressed no interest in taking the hard but necessary steps to bring her life into conformity to God's word.
The Lord reminded me of a verse from Ezekiel describing this phenomenon:

"And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say but they will not do it." Ezekiel 33:32

So imagine my surprise when I came home and continued reading Terry Virgo's "A People Prepared", to find this:

"Sadly some Christians have developed such a love and respect for the Word that simply to hear it faithfully expounded can become an end in itself. Delighting in "sitting under" good teaching we can be in danger of becoming Ezekiel's hearers; that is, like those who love to hear a love song sung well, or an instrument played well (Ezekiel 33:32). The fact is that Paul's gospel was with word and power. He reminded the Corinthians, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (I Cor 2:4-5)

I hear people who speak frequently about how "well taught" they are. That's nice. But it really means nothing in and of itself. We learn in James 1:22 that being hearers of the word only and not doers leads to self deception.

My conviction is that we need a dynamic synergy of Word and Spirit. Not one or the other, but both! We need the Spirit of God to confirm His word with signs and wonders to hold the "hellbound spellbound", and to rattle the cages of some of us religious people who are inclined to find contentment in a mere form a godliness, while denying its power.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Journey Part 7: Our First Gathering

As I write this, I’ve just wrapped up reading the book of Joshua. One thing I find interesting from Joshua and Deuteronomy is the emphasis on remembering the story the Lord is writing. As Moses anticipated his own death before Israel entered the Promised Land, he reminded them of God’s hand at work, from Joseph’s journey to Egypt, to Israel’s bondage and Exodus ending with the destruction of Pharoah’s army, to the journey and miracles in the wilderness, all the way to the point they were ready to enter the Promised Land. Similarly, Joshua rehearsed the story before his death, recognizing how important it was that they never forget how God’s hand worked among His people. Notice even in the New Testament as Peter ties together the story of God’s involvement with His people all the way up to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Stephen does the same before stepping into history as the first martyr of the Christian faith.
With these accounts in mind, I believe it is vital that we are freshly aware of the story the Lord is writing in our lives, not just as individuals, but as a people. This blog is an attempt to keep the memory of the Lord’s work in bringing together a new church in Charlotte fresh in our minds.
We pick up in February of 2008. When we decided to leave our old church and begin something new, we did not know what to expect. We took a month off to establishing some stronger foundations in our family. We started a special Sunday morning devotional time and began going through the book of Acts. One of the blessings of this season has been watching the children make connections between what they read and what’s happening in our lives. One example of this is during a recent devotional time we discussed one of the early apostles’ journeys to minister to believers. As we read, one of the children quickly chimed in “oh that’s just like Mr. Carl!”, a reference to Carl Herrington, the apostolic leader from Newfrontiers USA who is actively involved in the Charlotte church plant. Our hope is that our children will correctly understand that Acts is not a mere history book recording the “glory days” of the past, but a preview of what the Lord wants to do in our day, perhaps on a grander scale as we anticipate the day when “the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
I told people that if we started meeting and our home and no one else showed up beyond our family, we were ready for that. But the Lord clearly had other plans. About 2 dozen came to the first Saturday night gathering in our home in February of 2008. We had a time of worship and those in attendance endured a message from yours truly. The theme was about a church with 2 foundational priorities, fellowship with God, and fellowship with each other. And those pursuits would position us for mission, to reach our city with the gospel.
We went around the room and asked everyone why they attended that first meeting. There was a lot of curiosity and mystery in the air. What would become of this gathering? Would it really amount to anything? We weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Our hearts were just to obey the Lord and leave the results to him. Now, exactly a year later, as we expected, we recall the names and faces of people who “dropped in” but ultimately did not sense a call to join us for the church plant. From the beginning, our hearts have always been to welcome in those the Lord brought to us, even if only for a season.
It should be noted that while my wife and I were interacting with Carl Herrington, we began meeting in our home with no promises or guarantees from Carl or from Newfrontiers. We just knew the Lord was in this. I can say that we were very anxious for people to meet Carl and the wonderful people we met from Jubilee Church Atlanta. That would happen just weeks later. And from there a sequence of events that developed faster than many of us imagined. Ahead, details on Carl’s first visit to Charlotte, and our first group visit to Atlanta, as “The Journey” continues…

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Evangelism Mode

By now you know I am very much affected by the ministry of Terry Virgo. Terry is the visionary founder of the church planting ministry, Newfrontiers. What has captured my attention is his "big picture" thinking. His book "Restoration in the Church" was the first time I saw in print the things the Lord had been stirring in my heart for years.
Having just drifted into somewhat of a passive lull, the Lord recently prompted me to re-read "No Well Worn Paths". It chronicles the ministry of Terry Virgo and the development of Newfrontiers. What encouraged me so much when I read this in the fall of 2007 was one of the values the Spirit of God was drawing my attention to from the New Testament. I like to say "the church God is building is nimble". In other words, its not a static, bogged down, committee driven organization immobilized with paralysis by analysis. The church the Lord is building is on the move! It is a movement! So you can understand my profound distate for what to me appears like the discussion of and dissecting of theology for theology's sake. All too often this kind of "religion" never catches fire. The result of this is most evident in our lack of evangelistic fruit.
One section of "No Well Worn Paths" that grabbed my attention was a place where Terry explained the decision prayerfully made to end a conference called "Stoneleigh". He talked about all the time, energy and resources required throughout the year to pull off the event, and how this could hinder evangelism in the way the Lord was calling them to pursue:

"God led us to get ready; to clear the ground for what he was preparing. Like Joshua, we were about to cross Jordan. We were to move out of dwelling in tents and into invading cities. It was time to mobilise."

So in explaining what the Lord was doing in that season, Terry Virgo sums up the decision to close Stoneleigh with these soul stirring words:

"Conferences can be helpful, but they are not essentially what we are. They help us on our missions, but they do not constitute our mission. Our mission in the world is to go and make disciples of all the nations. God has brought a group of churches together in Newfrontiers to accomplish what we as individual churches could never accomplish alone. He has developed strong bonds of love and friendship, and he continues to raise up the Ephesians 4 ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers through our ranks.
We also acknowledge our indebtedness and dependence up on the whole body of Christ, having received so much from people form many diverse backgrounds. Across the UK, a growing tide of expectation grips many and the need for the nation to be evangelised and for hundreds of churches to be planted must take priority. We must become more mobile and embrace mobility as a lifestyle. Pastoral mode and 'celebration' mode must give way to evangelism mode.

So what do you think? I welcome your comments on this one.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Mission

I have met so many people in recent days who are hungry for God and eager to get on the front lines of our mission to carry the gospel to our city, the region, the nation, and the "uttermost parts of the earth". They have lives to offer. They have money to give. They have property they want used for God's glory. But how do they go about it? These are people who are ready to put their feet on the gas, but their leadership doesn't seem to have a direction to give them in discipleship and mission. So it makes sense that the words I will share next would leap out from the page at me today. I sensed the Spirit prompting me to re-read Terry Virgo's "No Well Worn Paths" again some weeks ago.

Terry is the founder of church planting ministry Newfrontiers, based in Brighton, England. There are around 600 Newfrontiers churches around the world.
The Father has been faithful to use my reading to stir fresh passion and vision in my heart. And there are those provocative quotes I come across that I just can't resist sharing. So here is one of those. I welcome your comments in response.

"Jesus did not invite fishermen to leave their nets simply to study systematic theology, but to accompany him immediately on his mission to establish his kingdom in the world. He taught them truth as they went with him. So devotion to Christ is in the context of mission and teamwork among churches that help to open doors and create contexts for service as God leads."