Friday, July 15, 2016

God's Purpose For The Church

If you were to ask the average member or even leader of a church, "What is the purpose of this church" most would look at you with an expression of confusion.  They would attempt to answer with a variety of statements, but they would miss the definition of God's Purpose for the church.  In this video I want to introduce you to answering the question of "What is God's Purpose for the Church?"

Much of the curriculum on my site is available for helping you implement what you're about to learn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8).

I just got off the phone with a brother in Christ who shared a personal encounter he'd just experienced that was similar to this story with the woman and some rock chuckers. He told me that he'd reached out to meet a fellow Christian brother who was involved in a church planting work.  My friend had gone through some very dark valleys in his life over ten years ago and through the ordeal lost his marriage, ministry, and health.  He made some poor decisions and was almost on the verge of suicide, but he'd since rebuilt his life, was in a profitable career, and married a beautiful Christian woman and together they'd been praying about being involved in ministry again.

He told me, "When the conversation ended I felt the stones crushing the bones in my skull and my heart was once again pierced with condemnation for something that happened over ten years ago. "I know about you!" he said, and began to elaborate with judgment about my character and accusing me of some ulterior motive. I apparently bled in the shark tank and he was a Great White! Shocked, and unable to even respond, all I heard from a man who'd never talked to me before was judgment and accusation about my character and accusations about my motives. But he'd heard the other side of the story, that was not all that accurate, and it was over a decade ago." Needless to say, my friend had met one of the guys with a stone and he threw it!

The women in this story had apparently been caught in the very act of adultery.  It's interesting how her condemners focused on her sin, but not that of her adulterous partner and didn't even bring him into the drama that unfolded. Those who point fingers often do that sort of thing and show favoritism or take sides in an issue. They were quick to point to the law she'd violated, and sure enough, she was caught naked with another man and was guilty!  No denying it! The religious teachers wanted to make sure that she was punished and used her indiscretion really as a trap to discredit Jesus.

"She should be stoned! That's what the law demands.  Jesus, what are you going to do about it?" And they taunted him with questions to solicit a response, but his response was not quite what they expected.  Instead of joining their rightful condemnation of her undeniable sin, he quietly bent down and began writing in the dirt.

I've read a lot of speculation about what he was writing and no one knows for certain,  but the guys with the stones in their hands looked over his shoulder and saw what he wrote.  He stood up, then made this statement, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he stooped over and kept writing. Did you catch their reaction?  Slowly, and one by one, you could hear the rocks hit the dirt without throwing a single one at the woman. They began to leave one by one, and I suspect they had their heads down, and most likely feeling angry and convicted, but they never threw a rock. What happened?  What did Jesus write? What did they read?

"Thou shalt not lie," and one remembered the lies he'd been telling his wife.  "Do not covet your neighbor's wife," and another remembers that he wanted to commit adultery himself, but didn't actually DO it! "Do not steal," and the third remembered the taxes he didn't pay. "Do not bear false witness," which might have been the very thing they were doing with this woman. "Judgment shall be without mercy to those who show no mercy."  And the rocks drop from their hands in shame.  Slowly. One by one. And they walk away.

I used to be one of the rock chuckers in the crowd, especially as a young preacher. Repent!  Turn or burn! Change or leave! And many people who sinned, left feeling the bruises of my stones as I condemned and judged them.  Jesus has an amazing way of showing us our own sin and rubbing our noses in our own ungodliness.  To these guys, he did it with his finger and a few words in the dirt. They felt the very condemnation they were attempting to levy against this woman.

David, the man after God's own heart, did the same thing.  He coveted another man's wife, committed adultery, murdered her husband, and lied in covering it up. The Lord's hand was heavy upon him and crushed him with guilt, shame, remorse, regret, even to the point he couldn't sleep as his anguish ripped his soul apart. He knew the law and that he should be stoned! Anyone who has ever sinned and done that which they arrogantly said they'd never do knows how David felt. Perhaps you've been there yourself? The lie that caused a scandal? The business deal you were less than honest in? The woman you became too familiar with? The blinking lights in your rear view mirror when you had that drink you knew you shouldn't?

Paul in his arrogance killed innocent people, destroyed families, destroyed lives. When confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus God didn't immediately save him.  Lucado said in his book, "God put scales so thick on Saul's eyes that the only place he could look was inside himself."  What you see about yourself in those times of blind darkness is terrifying!

The sinful woman saw Jesus sitting with a Pharisee and knelt down to wash his feet with her hair. Appalling! The Pharisee thought to himself, "If He knew the kind of woman SHE was he wouldn't have anything to do with her." Then Jesus again turns the tables of judgment and says to him "He who has been forgiven much, loves much." I've learned that you really don't love those caught in the horrors of sin until you've been there yourself - then love, mercy and grace take on a whole new meaning.

The Samaritan woman at the well had been divorced 5 times and was shacked up with a guy she'd left in her bed that morning before her encounter with Jesus. Oh, she knew the ten commandments and knew her Bible, but also felt the condemnation of her neighbors. She was thirsty, not for religion, but for forgiveness and compassion and Jesus gave her living water, but it was not from the well!

I thought about writing a ministry resume with this information, "I was entrusted by God as a leader of his people, but I coveted another man's wife, seduced her, got her pregnant, then had her husband murdered to cover up the scandal. The child I fathered died, and in guilt I married the woman and later mistrusted God in an even more horrible way and knew that God wanted me dead.  Instead of killing me, he took the lives of over 100,000 innocent people as a judgment for my personal sin.  I've also murdered people in the church and destroyed families because they didn't adhere to the soundness of the doctrines I upheld with a good conscience. But I can deliver a great sermon!

David and Paul wouldn't make the cut at most churches that were looking for a preacher! Their past would not be forgotten and they would never be trusted.

I no longer throw rocks.  I've dropped mine in the dirt because I see what Jesus's finger wrote about me in the sand. I've been harshly reminded that I have no business judging someone else and condemning their sins, especially those from a decade ago.  David the murderer, liar, adulterer was a man after Gods own heart.  Paul, the murderer and legalist was the most effective evangelist in Christian history who wrote about himself, "I am the worst of sinners!" But he also wrote, "Forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward the goal of the prize which calls me upward in Christ Jesus." The Bible also says that "God does not judge us as our sin deserves!" Thank God for that or we'd all be dead.

The rocks of condemnation and judgment can leave you feeling bruised  after what happened more than a decade ago in your life. "Wretched man that I am, who will set me free?" You'll still feel pains of regret and shame, but then when you read the next few verses in Romans 8, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord!"  The Lord  welcomed his prodigal son home smelling like a pig and he threw a robe around my shoulders, put a ring on my finger, and killed the fatted calf and threw a celebration! "This son of mine is home again!"  Funny, you'll still have the older self righteous brothers who reminds your father that you squandered your inheritance with wild living for a while, and the rocks of condemnation are still thrown - and yes, they still hurt. But His Amazing Grace is still greater than ALL your sin and there is nothing you can ever do to earn or repay it! Praise God that Jesus blood covers all my sin, including the ones I haven't even thought about doing yet. Yours too if you'll trust him to do so.

If you have a stone in your hand to chuck at someone you know is guilty, you may want to think twice before you throw it.  God has a not-so-amusing way of making sure its thrown back in your face!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Is your church a Cruise Ship or Battleship?

Dr. Bret McCall came up with the analogy of churches being like Cruise ships or Battleships. I learned a lot when I started looking at the comparison and thinking about why churches either grow or don't. I hope this makes you think as it did me. I preached a 16 week series on Battleship Discipleship to mobilize our church to be engaged in the mission of Christ to the world. So what is the comparison and how does it apply to your church?

Cruise Ship Churches

Think about what happens on a Cruise Ship.  You purchased a package deal to take your family on the ideal vacation.  You're met by people who check you in, greet you as you walk across and board the amazing ship designed to take you on a memorable cruise.  Your surroundings are comfortable, the buffet has every selection to meet every appetite. Accommodations are immaculate, air conditioned, clean sheets, clean towels and all you have to do is pick up the phone for room service.

The crew are trained professionals, groomed to not offend anyone, and to be at your beckoning call. They organize events to entertain and allow you to enjoy a wonderful experience. You can sit by the pool and your waiter will bring you whatever you need or desire to make your experience a memorable one, after all, you paid for a cruise ship experience!

Battleship Churches

Battleships are not designed for pleasure, but for war.  There are no passengers aboard a battleship, only highly trained crew-members.

Every crewmember knows his job and understands that their job insures the safety of the ship and the accomplishment of the mission. The galley isn't fancy, but designed to provide good food for nourishment to keep the crew healthy and fit to accomplish the mission commissioned by the Commander in Chief.

The crew isn't a democracy and doesn't hold meetings to vote on what they think should be happening.  They don't get to complain if the seas are rough or if the conditions are uncomfortable.  They wouldn't even consider such mutiny! They are enlisted in the service of their country and have pledged an oath to defend and serve the mission!

Which is Your Church?

Cruise ship churches have a paid staff whose job it is to make sure that the passengers enjoy the experience of coming aboard.  The only mission is to make sure the passengers are well taken care of. Classes are well organized, greeters strategically positioned at the doors as the passengers board, coffee and drinks readily available to make the experience a memorable one.  You don't want unhappy passengers!

The crew members understand their job is to serve the passengers who sit in nicely padded seats and listen to the entertainment - great worship team, dynamic preacher, great sound system, and the timing must be perfect.  You can't go too long or you'll interrupt the passenger's experience of going out for lunch and gathering for the ball game in the afternoon!

Battleship churches understand that there are no passengers aboard. At enlistment, every warrior swears and oath to defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. Everyone is trained and equipped for battle against a real enemy whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy.  They fully understand that this isn't a vacation but a life and death mission for the salvation of the human race! The crew isn't trained to entertain, but to fight the battle and to watch their brother's back. Semper Fi - Always Prepared  Semper Paratus - Always Ready! No man gets left behind.  And for every victim the enemy has wounded, the battleship is on a deliberate search and rescue mission. The crew are fully armed, and fully equipped with all their weapons poised and prepared for battle with a real enemy who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour.

Assemblies aren't for entertainment, but muster for warriors.  Attention to detail. All are accounted for. Roll taken. Daily the flag is raised at sunrise, and all hands on deck stand at attention and a sharp salute of honor pledging allegiance to the banner of freedom, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!"  Every sunset, taps are blown, the crew once again snap sharply to attention and salute as the flag is secured and folded carefully with deep respect because the crew knows whom they serve and their lives are proudly offered in service without question!

A Call to Arms

In the Western World our churches resemble cruise ships more than battleships.  Someone said that Christianity was born in a cave and died in a cathedral. If you examine the early church, they met publicly and from house to house.  They sold their possessions to make sure every crew member was taken care of.  They sacrificed their lives and many died in defence of the faith they proclaimed. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!"  There were no fancy church buildings, or professional staff hired for the purpose of entertaining the passengers.  "If anyone comes after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23).  "Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Jesus didn't come to establish what I see in our padded pew, educational model of church. "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations!" (Matthew 28:18).  The cry of our Commander in Chief is a call to arms for the crew of a battleship, "Battle Stations!" "Put On the Full Armor." "Join me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer." (2 Timothy 2:4-5).

When you compare Christianity in the Western world, we'd have to admit that it's not anything like the early church or even like the church we see in other parts of the world like China where it's illegal to be a Christian or even assemble. Preachers are still imprisoned and Christianity is still the most persecuted group in the entire world - but not in the West! The West has built cruise ships to entertain passengers, not to mobilize warriors to turn the world upside down!

Here is a video of Chinese Christians getting a copy of the Bible for the first time. When's the last time you held a Bible in your hands and felt like this?

It's time to kick the cage around the zoo and reexamine our faith.  Do we even understand the severity of the battle we've been called to or the value of the search and rescue mission for which we've been commissioned? Cruise ship or battleship?  Passenger or crew member?  Isn't it time to really examine what we are doing?

They met publicly and from house to house Acts 20:20 - Our House Church

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pocket Knives and a Winchester™ Hatchet

We sat alone at the antique table sometime after midnight just outside the city limits of Spokane. My friend John, a cowboy horse breeder and skilled plastic surgeon and I shared a cup of his specialty brewed coffee cooked over a coleman stove. As I carefully listened to the painful words of my cowboy friend, from the corner of my eye I watched the skilled hands of a surgeon fondling  a small pile of pocket-knives lying on the linen table cloth. "These were  my dad's knives ."  John had just returned from his father's funeral in Wichita, Kansas and these few momento's  were the silent reminders of the past - the haunting characters that brought a cold reality that his father's life was now over. The enemy had claimed another victim, and whittled another notch on his belt of grief. The touch of my friend's hands on the  broken steel blade of a pearl handled pocket-knife revealed the dull ache of regret in his chest over losing a father that he had loved and yet had not really known as his friend.

In an oak framed glass cabinet were several western hats that my good friend wore, some daily, some saved just for special occasions like when we went to church together. Among his prized head-wear, rested a small hatchet that also belonged to his dad. The brand mark on the head said Winchester™ . "I've never seen another one like it," John said, as he  briefly held the darkened handle and laid it carefully back in its place.

John talked of a tool box from which his father had worked. He mentioned that on the next trip back home he was going to restore the tool box the way it was when his father used it in his work. A handyman of sorts, Jabez, John's dad, had raised his boys in a Christian home the best he could. He fed them, clothed them, and tried to teach them about what really mattered in life. Nothing elaborate or fancy.  He would come home sometimes angry and overbearingly stern , "Why isn't this chore done!?" "Why haven't you done this!?"  Perhaps frustrated expressions of a life that might have been.  Perhaps loving demands that his boys do better than he. Perhaps a bit of both.

Pocket  knives, a hatchet, and a tool box. Prized possessions. Often touched.  Often admired. And used to carve out a living by a simple man from Kansas. Watching my friend hold those simple objects in his hand it was as though his hands became the hands of his father caressing the pear-handled pocket knife. They now had a special symbolism that would remind my companion for the rest of his life.  Each time he looked at them, each time the cold steel head of the Winchester™  hatchet was sharpened,  a man's life would be remembered. He would never look at these simple objects through his own eyes again, but through the eyes of his father.

I wonder how many times Jesus went to the dusty carpenter shop after Joseph's death?  How many times had he rearranged his dad's tool box  and smirked a bit thinking of the expression on Joseph's face as he slammed his thumb with a hammer, maybe wanting to yell in anger, ... all the time knowing that God was holding up the other end of the board?  Did Jesus ever regret not raising Joseph from the dead?  Did a silent tear drip from his cheek when he held his dad's bridle? Simple possessions of a man take on a new meaning when he dies.

"Do this in remembrance of me." Simple objects - a piece of unleavened bread and a bit of juice from a grape.   They too are simple reminders of the past.  But more than that, they are declarations of the future.  Testimonies, not that the enemy had claimed another victim or whittled another notch on his belt of grief, but that the enemy had now become the victim!

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes!" To the casual observer, a piece of cracker and a sip of juice are pretty insignificant. Kind of like an old pocket knife, or box of old tools, or a Winchester™ hatchet. Insignificant, that is, until you can visualize a man's life through them, and touch them with his hands and see their meaning through his eyes.