Hi my friends,
Many of you are in leadership…spiritual leadership. You join me in praying for the Lord Jesus to guide and direct us as His disciples in making decisions necessary for the health of our faith communities.
Despite what you have heard, read, or thought, people don’t need trendy or flashy to be brought to Jesus…they need Jesus and HIS love, pure and simple.
I ran into this article and thought to myself, “my leader friends need to see this!” This speaks the truth! I pray it is encouraging to you in what matters most…our love of Jesus and how He ministers to the people He loves through US.
Ed Stetzer is a prophet! He has researched the life (and death) of local churches of all “stripes” and tribes for years. This weekend, he published an editorial that, if it wasn’t so filled with indisputable facts, would be seen as lunacy in the scope of its analysis. Some might call him a prophet of doom…I’d rather simply call it as I would most of Biblical prophecy – he is reading the signs of the times. Here’s the link – read it yourself.
Here’s a shocking taste: “Christians recently celebrated Easter, a Sunday where many churches are robust and full. But, if current trends continue, mainline Protestantism has about 23 Easters left.”
Yes, you read that right…23 years left for some of the stalwarts of denominational Christianity in America. For most, this will be a call to prayer. For others, it will be a challenge to rethink old paradigms and challenge assumptions. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fact that Churches are good at prayer and NOT acting, I would be hopeful. But it is way past time for simply gathering together for prayer and beseeching God for intervention…it is a time for a TRUE intervention, the truth needs to be told…we need to be rethinking of our attachment to “insanity” (doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results) and then move to creative action and a re-embracing of mission and disciple-making. It is way past time for the Church to be the dispenser of religious goods and services…now it is time for Spirit to invade the Church and breathe a fresh and new life upon God’s people. There are no simple answers – we can’t return to the glory days of old nor can we purely adopt better marketing practices in order to gain a crowd. Rather, disciples of Jesus, followers of Christ in community need to be re-examining our purpose in fulfilling the call of Jesus. Truthfully, the Church would NOT move (institutions rarely do) unless they were faced with this tragic reality. Head in the sand? No longer! Time to wake up!
On Easter, I wrote a message about the resurrection and its intellectual underpinnings. As you may have guessed, many “smart” people have postured that the resurrection is something that is easily dismissed because of the weakness of its intellectual foundations. In other words, you can excuse it without much thought given the fact that the people of antiquity did not have “smarts” or sophistication that we have in the 21st century. These are not new arguments….in fact, I love what CS Lewis labels those who desire to marginalize the people of Jesus’ time – he calls them “chronological snobs.” Excellent article here!
Here are a few of the points I made on the voracity of the Easter event:
The Resurrection was not a private event. This was how it went…if you were following a Messiah, and again, there were many of them in the first century who claimed to be a Messiah…and your guy got crucified by Rome, as Jesus did, you had two choices:
1. Disband the movement…everybody go home and give it up
2. Or look for a new Messiah.
The Gospels are really clear. As we would expect, Jesus’ followers believed at and after the cross that they were finished. They were done. The movement was toast. And then two things happened, both of them spoken of in Matthew 28:
1. First, on Sunday, the tomb was empty.
2. Second, Jesus appeared to His followers then and for days afterward.
It was the combination of these two factors together that was overwhelming. One without the other wouldn’t do it.
• If it was just an empty tomb but Jesus didn’t appear to anybody, then skeptics could say, “It was just a case of grave robbery.”
• But Jesus did appear. The apostle Paul wrote within two decades of Jesus’ life that the “risen Christ had appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve, and then to more than 500 of the brothers, most of whom are still living.”
• Now you would not dare say something like that within twenty years of the event unless you know that there are those who can back you up.
On the other hand, if people had reported that they had seen Jesus somehow, but the tomb still had Jesus’ body in it, then skeptics could claim it was visions or hallucinations or something like that.
• Trust me, if the Romans could have produced the body they would have. Roman leaders were every paranoid of any “messiah” or “king” taking “press” and veneration from them.
• The graves of heroes, especially crucified messiahs, were commonly venerated as shrines by their followers, except for this one because the tomb was empty.
See this is simply not a story that could have been made up by somebody because it violated their understanding of what was happening in history.
Another reason why it was not a made-up story, the gospels say the empty tomb was discovered by “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” Notice what the two of these people have in common. They’re all women.
• Now we tend not to notice that.
• But In ancient Israel…this is really important…women were low enough in status, that they were not regarded as credible witnesses.
• In fact, they were not allowed to give testimony in court. You could commit a terrible crime, if it was only witnessed by women, you’d go scot-free.
• But the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb are women. And this is recorded not just in Matthew but in all four Gospels.
• If they were made-up stories, there is simply no advantage to having women serve as the eyewitnesses. It would have seriously undermined the credibility of the claim.
• The only plausible explanation for why all four Gospels say that it was women who found the empty tomb is that it was women who found the empty tomb.
Jesus’ followers were driven to an understanding, to an explanation of what happened that was impossible for them to have predicted or even thought about ahead of time. And it was not, “We have a sense of inspiration. We still somehow feel His presence. His vibe seems to be in our lives.”
It was, “Jesus is alive somehow. We don’t understand it, but He is not just alive. He is more alive than He has ever been before.” And then they came to understand that that LIFE, resurrected life, just doesn’t affect Jesus. You see, this is the twist that nobody was looking for…when they thought about the empty tomb, they started to understand that…
• Somehow in Jesus, the resurrection has begun…
• Somehow that age to come that every human being has been yearning for has started…
• That the fact that we were dead in our brokenness and ability to fall again and again and live out an essential imperfection in life that hurts/destroy
• The fact that we were cut off from God….And somehow when Jesus was raised again, through this risen Jesus, God promised He would fix the world. He would forgive…He would heal…He would redeem…through the resurrection, it has begun – now
You see, after the resurrection they realized that when Jesus died on the Cross it was more than just a death. They didn’t know that when it was happening. It took the resurrection for them to look back on that and say, “It wasn’t just His death. Somehow that was our death. Somehow our sin that we know need to be forgiven, your sin and my sin, they were forgiven through what Jesus did. He was the ultimate sacrifice…He paid the ultimate price. My death died on that Cross.” They did not understand that until the resurrection. Death and guilt were defeated.
Well, I read an excellent article today that gave MORE great info on the resurrection. In fact, this is an article written with “science” in mind. You can read that excellent article here!
What’s going on with Robin? Well, over the past few months Vicky and I have moved to McCall, Idaho. We received a pastoral call from two churches in the Long Valley of Idaho. Both are wonderful congregations of Jesus followers and we are looking forward to many years being in mission for Jesus with new friends and co-workers in God’s Kingdom.
Both congregations have websites – SO check them out if you would like to!
I am a HUGE fan of Hugh Halter. He and his buddy Mat Smay wrote a book that inspired and encouraged me at a critical time in my leadership journey. You can check it out yourself OR read the summary pages that I wrote here Chapter by Chapter Overview of Tangible Kingdom.
Hugh has written another book that I have NOT read yet (I’m having a few shipped to me even as I write this). He “previewed” the book on a missional website that I frequent with a short article entitled, “The Sacrament of the Party.” NOW, as a pure extrovert and self-confessed relational addict, that got my attention. Take a peek yourself at what Hugh says,
“Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. From the beginning of time and throughout the scriptures, God’s people patterned their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening. For God’s ancient fans, levity, sobriety, and a good ol’ fashion party helped create a social connection that makes spiritual connection possible. It used to be Five O’clock somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church is the last one to the party. I remember growing up as a Nazarene boy hearing that ‘good Christians’ don’t smoke, chew or have friends that do. As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look at art, play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends were Christians…all of them. As I entered training for ministry my reading of Jesus’ life didn’t square with a seminary prof who suggested that all wine in the New Testament was simply grape juice or the denominational leaders who wanted us to plant churches for them, but only if we abstain from having a beer with neighbor. It just seemed that at every turn, my old perception of being committed to Jesus didn’t allow me to follow Him or live like He lived. Now that I’m a big boy, not much has changed. Except for one small adjustment. I now pattern my holiness after the human life of Jesus instead of the traditions of any certain church, outdated ministerial code of ethics or leadership definitions born of prohibition, or the subjective and selective literalism so many of us grew up under. I simply want to be holy as Jesus was holy. And for Him, leadership, influence, witness, the gospel as good news, the new covenant, life according the heart & spirit instead of the law and his main message of the kingdom of God was no longer a matter of eating and drinking, which now meant you can do exactly that. Enjoy life, faith, friends, great food and drink and yes all while being holy.”
Hugh is the USA Director for the “missions training” network called FORGE. Forge believes, and rightly so, that we are experiencing life much like the early Jesus followers did in the first century. Hugh writes, “in a pure missionary context the church can no longer ask the secular culture to act the part of the missionary and come to us and our church services anymore. We must be the ‘sent’ ones again. We must be the missionaries.”
Amen to that! His point? A missionary starts NOT in the hallowed halls of the already convinced but where the people in culture are in an attempt to “connect, identify, and learn the context of one another’s story.” We call that CONTEXTUALIZATION.
This is what I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of contextualization,
“To “contextualize” means that you enter the world of another…you start to care about their lives…you come to understand what makes them “tick”…you stop the tourist life and become a resident. That’s why this is an important topic in terms of life living for Jesus. If we are just “passing through” this world, then why care? Why build relationships? Why do any of the things we do as a faith community with a passion and/or vision for God presence/power to impact people’s lives? Those who don’t “contextualize” build bunkers and fortresses to keep the rest of the world out and wait until the battle is over. Unfortunately, that’s not been the way God has acted in history. God is not a detached God…He has infiltrated human life at every intersection. In fact, one of if not the most powerful and history-shaking aspects of God’s work in the world is undoubtedly the incarnation – and please understand, the incarnation is all about contextualization – for the ultimate expression of contextualization is “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).”
Hugh quotes another good, missional guy, Alan Hirsch who has said, “PARTY IS SACRAMENT” when he starts to think out loud about contextualization. He says,
“Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people find faith..really how did it actually happen?” Another asks, “how do you disciple people to live more human lives like Jesus?” My answer is always the same. “You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It’s where everything starts.” It’s where we learn to listen instead of judge. Where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends. Remember, when teaching about the gospel of the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It’s time to include this in our own spiritual formation.”
Now, I wasn’t born yesterday (in fact, it was 61 years full of yesterdays). For Hugh to use the word, “sacrament” is bound to scare off or irritate a few. I don’t think that is his point as much as it is that you and I as Jesus followers have been “commissioned and called” to live out the purposes of God. Those moments where we rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit as well as find ways to “incarnate” the truth and grace of Jesus in and through our lives become holy indeed. I have written before on the issue of sacrament and what that means for Jesus followers. You can read that article here! For now, I’m going to think about this new “take” on following Jesus in daily life. Who knows…maybe a party is a sacrament in some sort of manner…yeah, it doesn’t necessarily “fit” in a classical sense of the word…EVEN SO, it does give the love of Jesus, the grace of God opportunity to do what the sacraments do – embody God’s Word, release God’s grace, give an experience of God’s promises…
“A means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification, and sanctification.”
“A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace.”
A few years back, I took the time to read and study with many, many people a “paradigm” shifting book, The Tangible Kingdom. The book’s contents and challenges still ring true. In fact, I’ve been planning over the past couple of months to take both of our new faith communities through the book’s main points and transformational thesis. I decided to post anew the PDF of my thoughts from 2009 as I read and attempted to outline for the people who were doing life, ministry and Kingdom work alongside of Vicky and Me at that time. I pray you find these thoughts helpful but more importantly, that you take the time to read the book. The 21st century and western culture needs disciples who know how to live Jesus!
I’ve had many thoughts about this post over the past days. Some might say I have “hit the wall” on my frustration concerning a lack of awareness among Jesus followers regarding the spiritual season which we enter on this night. Ash Wednesday is NOT the culmination or the conclusion to the season of Mardi Gras as if our life’s celebrations are systematically squashed or boundaried by some depressing, outdated ecclesiastical ritual. Rather, Ash Wednesday is a beginning…a revelation if you will of the necessity in all disciple’s lives for a purposeful walk into the “wilderness.” Roman Catholics and Monastics beckoned every spiritual pilgrim to a discipline of desolation and consolation. How appropriate that language is in summarizing the absolute necessity for all people of faith to enthusiastically and seriously (and intentionally) embrace the season called, “LENT.”
Lent is a season for all of us where we can reflect, re-choose, and allow the Spirit of God to re-shape our lives. Lent is one of the oldest seasons or times of observation/commemoration on the Christian calendar. Like all days and holidays that are considered “holy” (i.e. set apart, different), there have been changes over the centuries on how it is observed, but its purpose has always stayed essentially the same: Lent is a season of self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. A significant leader in the early church, Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200), wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the Christian movement, but in his time it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.
In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting and self-examination that should be observed by Christ-followers, but it’s not perfectly clear on whether its original intent was JUST for new Christians to prepare for Baptism (which usually occurred on Easter day) or if it was supposed to be a season held dear by the entire Church. Lent has been observed by believers throughout the centuries as a time dedicated to self-denial, sacrifice, spiritual formation, spiritual discipline and prayer. In many traditions, fasting plays a huge role. In history, people were regularly encouraged to fast daily (eating only one meal a day). In other traditions, prayer and confession were the primary focus on the 40-day Lenten journey.
Though Lent is still devoutly observed in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.), others hardly mention it at all. Though I’ve noticed that there seems to be a rise in the significance of Lent among some followers of Jesus, it is interesting and a bit disappointing to me how even the most “churched” of those who love Jesus take Lent seriously. The busyness of life has edged out this important spiritual discipline. Even so, frankly, there cannot be a better emphasis than for all of us to focus on our relationship with Jesus. Lent is a time to get in touch with that part of us that is broken and needs healing. It is a season to be able to openly acknowledge our deep desire for transformation and Christlikeness.
I read another blog post today that tried to spell out the personal “rewards” of Lent. And although there is a part of me that bristles at the idea of having to “sell” Lenten observation to people who should be those most apt and motivated to embrace it, I feel compelled to at least review some of the points this author made.
Why should you observe Lent?
1 – Because it will help you be a better person. “What’s cool about Lent is that it falls just about the time that our New Year’s resolutions have fallen to the wayside. Use Lent as a reminder of all the things you wanted to do to make 2017 a better year. It’s your second chance.”
2 – Because grief is good. “Part of Lent observance is mourning. I’m not saying that everyone should go around sad and pitiful for a month and a half, but Lent may be a good time to dig deep into your heart about your losses. One of the biggest issues people don’t even realize that they have is a lack of grief. You lost a job, a spouse, a friend, or even a period of time in your life that you enjoyed is over. Did you properly grieve it? A lot of times, we walk around still carrying the weight of something we’ve lost. Here’s something: Write loss a letter. Whatever it is that you’ve lost, even if it’s not a person, write it a letter. Express how you feel about it and how you miss the good times. Share any hurt or pain its loss has caused… Then throw it away. When you do that, you release yourself from its weight and you can truly move on.”
3 – Because repentance means saying, “I’m sorry”. “Lent is a good time to apologize to anyone you’ve wronged. None of us are perfect and we’ve hurt people in our lives. It takes a brave person to admit he or she is wrong. Be that brave person this season.”
4 – Because it’s also about forgiveness, and we all need to forgive someone. “Just like you need to apologize, chances are that you also need to forgive someone else’s offenses. It could be a kid who was mean to you in school more than 30 years ago or an ex-spouse who still causes you trouble. It doesn’t matter. Lent is a time of forgiveness, so let go. The bitterness you hold in your heart for that person hurts no one but yourself. Release it this season; make the conscious effort to do so (every day, if you have to).”
5 – Because fasting makes you awesome. “Fasting is tough. It bends our will and puts the selfish, chidlish side of us in a corner. It requires self-discipline and a certain strength of character. Not everyone can give up something that they love. But if you really want to see exactly what you’re made up, I challenge you to give up one luxury. Just one. Coffee, Facebook, cookies, swearing, whatever you indulge in. It’s not only a good way to kick a bad habit, but it shows you just how tough you really are.”
6 – Because sacrifice is good for the soul. “Many religions (in fact all of the major ones) require and/or advocate fasting. Religions that differ vastly on the creation of the world or morality issues often times agree that sacrifice is good for a human being’s spirit. It expands you somehow on the inside. Why? Because it gives your body and brain a vacation. You get to operate out of something bigger that’s on the inside.”
I don’t know if you resonate with any of the comments above…but if you are a Jesus follower and you are reading this now, heed my encouragement – take Lent seriously. If you are sitting at home tonight wondering what you are going to watch on TV or passing the time with any number of other issues that happen in all of our lives, here’s something to consider – challenge yourself to engage in a discipline that has inspired and transformed the lives of millions of followers of Christ throughout the ages – observe Lent. If you have a church home, attend Lenten services. If you have access to Lenten devotionals, read them. If you need suggestions, email me and I’ll give them to you! Pick up a spiritual discipline and follow it for 40 days…pray more intentionally…worship more regularly…listen to the Spirit with more intensity. Don’t let this season pass you by!
Grace – God’s Undeserved, Unmerited, Unearned love and acceptance of you…
1. It’s the ring on your finger, robe on your back, kill the fatted calf and let’s have a party kind of love
2. It’s God’s love despite the fact that you have a ball and bat in your hands and a broken window to point to which is the result of your actions and past
3. It is God saying, “I love you” – no more guilt, no more shame, no more fear, no more hiding
4. It is PEACE when you are caught up in the pit of despair and anxiety
5. It is LIFE when you are in the clutches of death
6. It is a SMILE in a world filled with frowns
7. It is a HUG in a life more interested in doing you harm than give you love
8. It’s ASSURANCE when all you feel is that you’re grasping for a lifeline
9. It is a TOUH OF LOVE in the midst of a world that is much more apt to give you a smack of rejection
10. It is ACCEPTANCE when you are unacceptable
11. It is FORGIVENESS when you are unforgivable
12. It is HOPE when you are hopeless
13. It is STRENGTH when you can’t stand
14. It is HEALING when you are broken to pieces
15. It is RESPECT when you are feeling like you have not a shred of self-respect
16. It is NO CONDEMNATION when all you are feeling is condemned
17. It is FREEDOM when you are caught in the vice of judgment
18. It is JOY when you are burdened with sadness
19. It is MORNING when you’re always living in the dark
20. It is RESURRECTION when you feel pinned to a cross of death
21. It is LIGHTNESS in the weight of difficulty
Grace…when you are standing over your life looking at the stuff that gone on in you…when you are shamed by the wreckage you’ve caused…lies you’ve told for self-preservation…or opportunities you missed because you were so self-involved…when in moments that only quiet and solitude can surface within you…when your junk catches up to you like all junk does sooner than later and you get stuck in guilt…it is time to embrace GRACE!