Monday, November 23, 2009

The Church Where You Matter

I'm very eager to share another excerpt from "Mega Shift" by James Rutz.

In this section, Rutz discusses the benefit of "the open church":



Take a quick look in your own heart. See any unmet needs there? OK, now see any compassion there for the thousands of folks in your town who are living stunted lives and struggling with problems they just can't handle? Well, then, if you have a Bible, you're probably qualified to go out and draw together a brand new branch of the family of God. May God bless you as you go.

The need is on every corner.

I used to attend a good tranditional church in Newport Beach, California, home of the world's largest small-craft marina. The pastor was Joe Aldrich, a young man wise beyond his years and a veteran of thousands of counseling sessions with the sophisticates of that wealthy city. One morning he was speaking about the desperate needs in the hearts of people everywhere. with a vague wave of his hand toward the million-dollar homes on the nearby hills, he stated quietly, "Knock on any door. It'll bleed"

A good open fellowship can stop the bleeding. If it doesn't, you're in trouble. As a poet said,

So is this not a place where my questions can be asked, then where shall I go to seek?

And if this is not a place where my heart cry can be heard, then where shall I go to speak?...

And if this is not a place where tears are understood, then where shall I go to cry?

And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wing, tell me, where shall I go to fly? (This poem adapted with permission (for Mega Shift) from Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Blessing (Pocket Books), 1990








Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SAINT OR SINNER?

In recent weeks I’ve come across real gems in a few books I’ve read. Today I’m sharing a new one. Before leaving for Israel, a new friend urged me to pick up the book “Mega Shift” by James Rutz. This is one of those hard-to-put-down works for so many reasons. In fact, I’ve added it with an Amazon link to my Recommended Reading list to the right of this post. One issue Rutz addresses is an issue near and dear to my heart: our identity. Are we saints or sinners? This excerpt comes from Chapter 3, “The New Saints”:

Your New Identity

Noted author Neil Anderson told me last year that he had done some counting in his Bible. He found 330 places where unsaved people are called sinners.
He found 240 places where saved people are called saints.
But he found exactly zero places where saved people are called sinners.
Now, that stands in wild contrast to the 16-centuries-long effort to make all Christians think they’re still sinners. How many condemnatory sermons have you suffered through? Two hundred too many?

We do sin, it’s true, and we need to confess, repent, and make amends whenever we do. But “Sinners’ is not our main identity anymore, and you need to reverse your self-image and free yourself from this crippling distortion.

The apostle Paul had no problem with this. Did he ever address a letter to the “sinners” in Rome or Ephesus or Phlippi? If the Bible calls you a saint, why would you demean yourself by denying it? The Lord Jesus paid a steep price to make you a saint, so smile and accept it and get on with a higher life.

This is not just semantics. It’s a practical matter. Ask yourself this: Just how many shining deeds should we ever expect from dirty, low-down, no-good sinners? See the problem? The SINNER label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’ve made a genuine, 100% commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re just as much a saint as Peter or Paul.

Awhile back I went to a novelty shop and blew five bucks on a silvery magic wand set with big jewels. (Go for quality, I always say.) So now in my seminars I walk down the aisle and canonize folks, touching them on the head and saying, “I pronounce thee, Saint Kevin; I pronounce thee, Saint Heather,” etc. Instant sainthood! My ritual may not be as impressive as the full-on Vatican treatment, but it has the advantages of no dying and no waiting.

As you can see, I’m willing to go to extremes and parody myself if it will get people to lift their faces out of the mud, throw their shoulders back, and walk confidently with the Father.

My aim is simple. I want to put a new song in your heart and show you how to enjoy being a true son or daughter of the living Lord. You don’t have to be a worker of miracles, but you do have to know who you are.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Spotlight: Lexington, Kentucky



I’m writing today from Richmond, KY. For some time I’ve carried a burden for this region to see a spiritual breakthrough in an area I’ve known to be very “religious”. This is not a slam on anyone or any group here… just what I believe is an informed assessment based on my 10 years here and ongoing relationships with people in the area. But like our own city, and Cleveland where I visited last weekend, there is a deep desire in God’s people to see something more.

This weekend I had the opportunity to reconnect with dear friends who have that heart. We’ve known Mike and Pam Krejci for nearly 20 years, but haven’t seen each other since we left Kentucky 17 years ago. I’m thankful that as many of our friends have fallen by the wayside, the Krejcis still love the Lord and want to see Him glorified in their lives, and in their community. As we fellowshipped and prayed together, it was like we never left. Our life in Him and through Him is truly eternal… timeless.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve periodically conversed with Mike and Pam by phone or through email. And several weeks ago, Mike sent an email that really encouraged me as we continue our journey in the organic church world. I’ve been looking for the time and opportunity to post it. What better time than now? I hope it edifies you as much as it edified me.

I don’t know if I will ever get this correspondence to you. I just read your comments on Jim Reynolds and Jose Sanchez. Very good, the word of the Lord spoken in each of their lives. I wonder if the people we are around have similar inspirational experiences that we don’t even know about because we lack community and true fellowship with each other. If this is the case, and I suspect it is, we suffer a lack of hearing the full word of God while He is so near and at work. Thanks for posting these testimonies and the other edifying comments and writings.

I have been looking at your blog and have been considering the “change in course” you are pursuing for a few weeks now. I regret not being able to give you some feedback sooner, but I assure you my heart has been with you since first reading the blog at your e-mail prompt. I trust you and your heart. I want to fellowship with you in this because I believe God has planted in you a true desire to be in His work, without any pretense. I can see the Holy Spirit is at work in you giving you revelation, pulling you toward Himself. A high blessing. This is the good thing, the significant thing, the measure of where God is breathing life. You are wisely responding to Him.

I love the church of Jesus because I love Jesus. I know the same is true of you. I do believe that institutions like service schedules and hierarchical leadership structures that come closer to fitting corporate business models than a community joined by the love of Jesus, are a hindrance to the testimony of the church. However, I see these things as having a more insidious negative impact upon the child of God than on the perception of the unbeliever. The unbeliever can view such hypocrisies and inconsistencies, offer a criticism and shrug of the shoulders and go on until they have their own real confrontation with the Holy Spirit. The child of God must figure out how to live in the midst of doctrine and tradition and perception and church politics and programs and any number of other pharisaical bondages, and somehow remain genuine as they find a balance adapting to all those considerations, while maintaining fellowship with believers caught up in serving these institutions. The seduction and deception of these traditional models is effective in the subtlety of the attack, because following these models (in contrast to loving Jesus Himself) is somehow too easily regarded in the notions of what is righteous. So, I think what I understand you to be pursuing is in a direction away from what I have described and I am for that. Our practices must be genuine beyond merely doing what is right for the evidence of God to be seen and lived out. I find it ironic and compelling that God seems to earmark His authenticity in the expression of love rather than power. How can His love be known outside of relational, familial expressions? If organic church takes a direction to encourage a love for Jesus and each other, good. Let everything that hinders this love be torn down.

If there is life in a thing or a pursuit, where our souls are refreshed and we are meeting with God, the “Life” is always Jesus no matter what it looks like. Be it liturgical or rolling on the floor. Fit your revelation of “organic church” in this context. I say, continue opening up your heart, your family and all that you have been blessed with, and continue to let God own it. This will only bear good fruit as it grows from the response of people who love Jesus. It can only become more garbage if the “improved” model becomes the distraction. Be wise as were the five virgins who obviously prepared and planned with a whole heart to give their lives to the pleasure and love of the Bridegroom. Let your love for Jesus continue to deepen. Let Him become your distraction. Of course, everything else will pass away and you won’t even notice.

Gladly made your brother in the blood of Jesus,

Mike


I Peter 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I believe this is the heart of God for EVERY city. One city. One church. Living stones built together on the foundation of THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE. If you have the same heart whether in Charlotte, or Cleveland, or Lexington, or wherever, we’d love to hear from you.




Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spotlight: Cleveland



We are rejoicing after a wonderful weekend in the Cleveland Metro area. We went to take part in events to promote National Orphan Sunday. Our friends Doug and Monica Robinson invited and hosted us. Doug did a teaching on the vertical and horizontal dimensions of adoption Sunday morning. We’ll have more on that shortly. And Sunday night, the Robinsons held a fundraiser to help with their upcoming Ethiopian adoption, and to draw attention to the tens of millions of orphans around the world. It was somewhat amusing on the flight from Charlotte to hear the pilot announce the current conditions in Cleveland, he continued, “the place also known as The Mistake on the Lake”. I didn’t hear any laughs so it could be the plane was filled with Clevelanders. In any case, our visit to the city for the weekend was anything but a mistake. It was clearly where the Lord placed us.

When I think of organic relationships that have emerged over the past year, our fellowship with Doug and Monica Robinson would certainly come to mind. After initially meeting Doug in St. Louis at a ministry conference last year, we stayed in touch and continued fellowship. And at another conference that summer our wives got to meet and they connected wonderfully. We were blessed to have them visit us earlier this year on their way to the beach. We share a love for the Lord, and a deep desire for Kingdom life, so it was no surprise to us when we learned they were planning to adopt a child (or more than one) from Ethiopia. For National Orphan Sunday the Robinsons organized a fundraiser, and it was clear to us that the Lord wanted us to be there for it. I must say I was profoundly impacted by the testimonies and the videos. I certainly had no idea how many abandoned children there are in this world… 143 million!



video

It is also a joy to partner together with others to make a difference for at least one child. I know the Robinsons will shower this child (or children) with God’s love. Doug also did such an awesome job teaching on the vertical and horizontal dimensions of adoption Sunday morning. He started by addressing reality: all too often we respond emotionally to human appeals out of human compassion, and that can serve a minimal purpose. But God wants us to walk out of Kingdom conviction. We can be emotionally affected on National Orphan Sunday, and all too easily go about our business on Monday. But convictions of the Lord about this issue will cause us to WALK this out because it is now a part of our DNA.

Doug reminded us that spiritually, we were once orphans. And he adds that this is the starting place for us living out of who we are instead of what we should do. Our text was Ephesians 1:1-14. It is here we learn that adoption is not a human invention. It is GOD’S idea. He planned before the foundations of the world to adopt us into His eternal family, which is a great lead-in to the first point of Doug’s message:

ADOPTION IS PLANNED In verse 4 we learn that the Father chose us in Him before the foundation of the world We are not accidents.

ADOPTION IS PURPOSEFUL He chose us to be holy and blameless before Him. We are part of His ultimate plan to unite all things on heaven and earth in Him

ADOPTION IS FOR HIS PLEASURE We read in Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Doug asked us if we see ourselves as objects of God’s pleasure. I know all too often, my view of myself is marred by sin or foolish self consciousness. We need to lay hold of this truth and let it set us free.

ADOPTION IS FOR HIS PRAISE Adoption brings glory to Him by showcasing not just grace, but his GLORIOUS grace.

ADOPTION COMES WITH A PRICE The Robinsons are learning the monetary price of human adoption… the cost is in the thousands. The cost of our adoption is immeasurably greater. In verse 7 we learn that our redemption comes at the price of Jesus, our Savior’s own blood.

ADOPTION GIVES US PRIVILEGES We now have an inheritance! We read in II Corinthians 1: And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. In Ephesians 1:13 we see that (we) were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee [4] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, [5] to the praise of his glory.

IN ADOPTION THERE IS A PRIZE 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Ahead for us is the redemption of our bodies. The prize is to ultimately be like Him, no longer tainted by the stain of sin. Doug did a tremendous job of helping us to see what the Lord has done for us and in us. And this positions us to walk in obedience to his command to care for orphans. We can do so for them because He has done so for us.

BRINGING LIVING STONES TOGETHER I will have much more on to say on this later, but my visit to Cleveland again reminded me of the tremendous burden in God’s people to come together in an atmosphere where Jesus reigns, where authentic New Testament body life can flourish. I saw this desire during my short time in Cleveland, in just a few short conversations with people. But as usual, God’s people continue to be scattered by institutions that divide us, institutions that don’t run on the Life of God but on programs and traditions of men. My appeal to people in that city and all others is to find other believers who want Jesus and Him alone and just begin RELATING. Stop just going to church and doing church and ask Jesus to help you BE the church. The Lord wants to do a new thing, but for us to enter into what God has for us, we’ve got to stop holding onto the old thing that’s draining our time, our hearts, our money, and to top it off, is all too often breeding nothing but discouragement, even bitterness and cynicism. If that’s what it is producing, I assure you it’s not the church Jesus is building. Jesus says those who don’t gather WITH HIM are scattering abroad. Ask yourself, am I gathering around JESUS, or am I gathering around a pastor, an organization or a brand? And after answering the question, ask the Lord for the wisdom and courage to make a change that will honor the Lord and advance His kingdom.





Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Jim wanted to live... why Jose was willing to die

In the past week my life has been profoundly impacted by two others' lives....and their deaths. Jim Reynolds' life was taken by cancer. Jose Sanchez died at the hands of calculating killers.

I did not know JIM REYNOLDS very long. A mutual friend asked me to visit him in the hospital to pray for and encourage him a few weeks ago. Jim was suffering from stage 4 cancer. When I met Jim he spoke of his thankfulness for the Lord Jesus Christ who redeemed him after many years of rebellion against God. He also shared his love for his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. A couple of brothers joined me in praying for Jim, that the Lord would intervene and give him victory over the cancer ravaging his body, but also that He would comfort Jim in his sickness and give him peace. Before leaving I asked Jim if there was anything I could do. His reply was curious to me: "Anything you can do? You've already done it!" Jim deeply appreciated the prayers and encouragement of God's presence in the hospital room that night.



The next time I saw Jim was at his home. He had endured a treatment of chermotherapy and radiation the day before. Gone was the energetic and vibrant voice I heard a couple of weeks before. Yet what remained was a heart to live....and for one reason....he wanted to share what the Lord had done in his life with others. Amazingly, he wanted to comfort others who were suffering as he was. Jim recalled other people he knew who had been stricken with cancer over his lifetime. "If I had known what they were going through, he said, "I would have been there for them".

Jim loved guns and he loved music, but now he wanted to live, not so he could enjoy his hobbies, but to SERVE others. Now at death's door, his transformation in Christ and his physical condition clarified as never before what really mattered. Selflessly, he wanted to pour out his life to serve others. If only he had more time.

Last night my friend Sandra called to tell me Jim's organ's were failing. There was nothing more doctors could do. By the time I arrived at the hospital, Jim had passed into eternity.

JOSE SANCHEZ is a man I never met. But the story of his life, and death reminded me of the true call of discipleship to follow Jesus. On my way to a fellowship meeting last Sunday night, another friend called to tell me about Sanchez' murder in Guatemala. The immediate concern was to get his family, who has also been threatened, out of harm's way.

Sanchez had been threatened as he fulfilled his pastoral call,to care for 4 churches and advance the Gospel. As he and his associate pastor walked along the road, on the way to hold services in the mountain community of Bonanza, they were ambushed and shot to death.

His 15 year old son made the desperate call for help, and stood guard over his dad's body to keep dogs from mutilating it. As a father, this bittersweet image broke my heart.

In the face of unknown danger and recent credible threats against him, why did Jose Sanchez stay? Because of his love for the Saviour. In hearing the story of Sanchez tragic death, a friend asked "was it really worth it to lose his life and leave behind a wife and 5 children?" In the natural, it does not make sense. But Jose knew that "to live is Christ and to die is gain". He believed that the loving Heavenly Father who saved Him and cared for Him in life, would hold his family in the palm of His Hand.

Before returning to his homeland, Jose Sanchez got to live some of the American Dream here in Charlotte. But when Jesus saved Him, his heart was captivated with a vision of the heavenly city. Jose knew that returning to Guatemala was a one way decision. He would not come back.

Like Jose, God gives us the grace to grasp this truth in our hearts so we can walk as strangers and pilgrims. No matter how much we love our country, this is not our home. Only by "fixing our eyes on Jesus" and setting aside the sin and weights... the worldly ones and the entangling religious ones....can we run with patience the race that is set before us. This race must transcend and trump "the American dream".

I'm reminded of Paul's testimony in Phillipians 1:21 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Paul was torn. Above all he wanted to be with Jesus. But at the same time He wanted to stay. Why? The only reason was to SERVE the Lord and His people and advance the Gospel.

So as we go through this day, let's remember Jim and his reason for wanting to live; and Jose and his willingness to die. I know your heart will be stirred, as mine was, as you watch the video tribute to Jose Sanchez below.

11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

video