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If You Go, They Will Come

November 26, 2012 1 comment

My wife and I recently made a commitment to be more intentional and proactive in ministry. We decided to make a weekly commitment to go somewhere – so far it’s been a local park – and try to find at least one person with whom to share Christ.

The first week, we met Junior. He grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, but hadn’t been to church in years. We invited him to our church and to our Life Group and encouraged him to seek the Lord for himself, and told him that God had an awesome plan for him. Though I believe he was encouraged, and though I know I planted a seed, he has not come to church or our Life Group.

The next week we went back to the same park, this time with an infant and a two-year-old in tow. This made things more challenging. We didn’t get a chance to share Jesus specifically with anyone, but we met a lady and her granddaughter who come to the park often, and we felt we may have made a connection that would pay off in the future.

This last week, we weren’t able to make it out to the park, but we met someone at church who had come for the first time, so we decided to invite him out to lunch. He never showed.

I chronicle all of this to show that, quite frankly, I don’t feel our efforts have been particularly fruitful. Honestly, its been a bit discouraging. Of course, as an  optimistic young preacher, I assumed that the second I opened my mouth, the heavens would open and the audible voice of God would boom out, “This is my servant! Hear him!” None of that happened.

Then there was this morning. As I am leaving my house to go to work, my next door neighbor was rolling out her trash to the curb (kinda weird because trash day is tomorrow). Anyway, I say hello and start getting into my car. All of a sudden, she’s knocking on my window. She proceeds to tell me that her husband is in the hospital having problems with his heart, and since she knows we are Christians (they are Catholic), she asks us to remember him in our prayers. I say, “Let’s pray right now!” So we grab hands, and I pray the prayer of faith for her husband. When I look up there are tears in her eyes, and she thanks me profusely. Tomorrow, Lauren and I will knock on her door and follow up. Maybe she’ll even come to Life Group.

Here’s my point in all of this – and it’s something I’ve experienced in the past, but somehow forgot. When we begin to step out in faith, when we leave the comforts of our couches and homes to try and advance the Kingdom of God, God sees. Even though it seemed that I was not having much of an effect, I was out there, trying my best, doing my part. Then, lo and behold, God brings someone to me!

There’s a reality that the more willing we are, the more we will be used. I remember the story of Philip. He started a city-wide revival in Samaria. Then, for some strange reason, the Holy Spirit led him away from the revival out into the wilderness to minister to one man. That man turned to Christ and believed, and Philip baptized him. Then, something weird happened. Philip vanished and appeared a few miles away in the city of Azotus preaching the Gospel.

As freaky as this incident may be, I think it tells us something about Philip, and about God’s attitude toward us when we are obedient. Think about this man. First, he is a faithful member of the Jerusalem church, which lands him a position serving tables for widows. Then, when persecution hits, he flees the city, preaching Jesus as he goes. Then he gets to Samaria, and God moves powerfully, and many in the city turn to Jesus. Then when God tells him to leave and go preach to one man, Philip obeys without question. Here’s a story of a faithful and committed Christian, determined to advance the Kingdom wherever he goes, even willing to leave the revival he started, to preach to a single man who needed Jesus. I think God saw the faithfulness of Philip and said, “Now here’s a man I can use! No need for him to waste time walking to the next town, I’ll just beam him up!”

Similarly, I think that when God sees our faithfulness, He will give us opportunities we would never have otherwise had. How often do we have people literally knocking on our door asking for our ministry? I know it doesn’t happen too often to me – maybe its because I am only now gathering up the courage to step outside of myself and make a difference for Jesus.

What are you doing for the Kingdom of God these days?

 

The Work and the Glory

So I read a good chunk of Exodus today as part of my “Through the Bible in 90 Days” plan. I am about a week behind where I should be, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, today I found myself slogging through the section in which the precise instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle were laid out. That was a little tough to get through. Measurements of gold, silver, bronze and acacia wood; purple, scarlet, goat’s hair, grating, poles, rings, curtains, “fine-twined linen” and the like. And just when I thought it was over, then comes the section in which the skilled workers come in and construct everything “according to the pattern.” To my dismay, the whole list is repeated – every blessed detail gone over a second time! I hate to admit that I was bored by the Bible, but in this particular instance, I was.

Then came chapter 40. In verse 34 it starts:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

I was reminded of my first experience serving in full time ministry as a Youth Pastor. You come in fired up and ready to take on the world. You are expecting glory and excitement around every corner. They don’t tell you that much of your time in ministry is spent in an office, or on the phone, or in meetings, or planning events, or desperately trying to figure out why your painstaking efforts time and again seem to yield so little fruit.

I was also reminded of a discussion we had last night at Life Group about the importance of faithfulness. Matthew 25:23 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Promotion in the Kingdom comes through our faithfulness. That is, when we are consistent and content with the task to which we have been entrusted, we are counted worthy of greater responsibility and a wider sphere of influence.

At the beginning of a new project or ministry endeavor, motivation is easy and excitement is high. It usually only takes a couple of weeks before that’s gone, and all you’re left with is the work. I would have to imagine that’s how it felt in the construction of the tabernacle. First of all, all the gold and silver came in the form of earrings and bracelets. It had to be melted down and fashioned. Everything was from scratch. There was no Lowe’s or Home Depot. Add to that the probability that Moses was walking around all day going, “No! Not like that! This has to be PERFECT! God said so!” Yeah, I’ve had bosses like that…

But after all the work was done, after the countless painstaking hours, after a million mistakes, bruises, scrapes and cuts – the glory came. After frustration upon frustration, and failure upon failure – the glory came. After many long days and sleepless nights – the glory came. This is the reality of ministry. Nothing just happens. My Pastor once said, “It takes about 15 years to become an overnight success.” We can be assured that our work in the Lord is never in vain, we can know that after all the work is done, the glory will come. It’s interesting that when God’s glory came, Moses’ couldn’t do anything. I believe that’s the goal of ministry. To toil to make sure our ministry is a place where the presence and glory of God is welcomed, and then, when He shows up, we just sit back and watch God work.

The moral of the story. If you want the glory, you’ll have to do the work.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 1

October 25, 2011 3 comments

This title alone is likely to attract all sorts of criticism and angry comments. I’ve written a few blogs on Calvinism before, and I always end up with comments from strangers who are either angry, or who pity me for not being as enlightened as them (my apologies for the sarcasm). However, I think I have some things that need to be said, even if they will inevitably (attempt to) be refuted in the comments.

My beef with Calvinism today is the following:

Calvinists believe in a cruel and unjust God.

Perhaps you feel this is too harsh. Maybe I ought to have chosen a less controversial statement to begin with. But perhaps it is all the politeness that has allowed this false doctrine (maybe heresy) to become so popularized in America lately.

I say that the Calvinists believe in a cruel God, not because it is how they speak of Him, or even believe Him to be. I say this because their claims inevitably lead to this conclusion. Allow me to quote Jean Calvin:

“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”

Find quote here.

In an attempt to be fair, let me quote him yet again:

“No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief”

I can agree with the second statement, but not the first. In fact, the two are mutually exclusive and contradictory and cannot both be true. How Calvin is able to say both, should be of concern to all Calvinists.

How are they contradictory? In the first, Calvin states that “a part” of the human race has been preordained to eternal salvation, whereas in the second he states “the gate of salvation is set open unto all men.” So is salvation for a “part” of the human race, or for “all?” It cannot be both.

Indeed it is clear that Calvinism, as a theological system, is set upon the idea that only a part are predestined “by God’s grace” to salvation, and the rest are excluded. Some will say that God does not predestine the rest to damnation, only He has not predestined them to salvation. Either way, the result is the same – the rest go to hell for eternity.

Predicated upon this fundamental belief, all of the 5 Points grow outward. The first, Total Depravity, states that because man is totally/entirely depraved, he cannot ever desire or choose God. Thus God must choose him. Unfortunately, God hasn’t chosen everyone – even though He could have. Calvinists acknowledge that faith is essential to salvation, but since we cannot ever come to faith on our own, God has to give faith to us (cf. Total Depravity). Again, unfortunately God has not chosen to give faith to everyone.

Here’s  the issue: if man cannot believe, then he cannot rightly be held responsible for believing or not. Yet Calvinists say that God is just in sending such people to hell because they don’t believe. Such a scenario is akin to a father insisting his children clean their rooms or else be punished, only then to lock one of those rooms, thus preventing his child from cleaning it, but still proceeding to punish that child for failing to clean his room.

I hear their arguments already…”The issue is not that the child could clean his room, but is prevented from doing so. The issue is that the child is not capable of cleaning the room! If the room is to be cleaned at all, the father will have to clean it for him!” Unfortunately, this scenario is worse. If the child is incapable, then the child is inculpable (like what I did there?). If the room must be cleaned (i.e., a person must believe in Jesus), but only the father can clean the room (i.e., only God can grant that faith), and the father chooses not to clean the room (i.e. God does not grant faith), and then the father punishes his child (i.e. the person goes to hell), that father has become the cruelest and most unjust father on the planet! Yet somehow, Calvinists believe just that about God, and say that He is just because man is sinful.

“If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to you.”

The God portrayed by the Calvinists is cold and cruel. Under his regime, children are born without any hope of ever knowing Jesus, without ever having the joy of sins forgiven or hope of heaven. Babies are born to burn in hell for eternity.

The Scriptures portray a different God; a God whose promise of salvation is universal:

“For everyone who calls upon the name of Lord will be saved.” Rom. 10:13 (cf. Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21)

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” Isa. 45:22

“…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:3-4

“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Pet. 3:9

There are more scriptures. Many more. This truth – that God desires ALL MEN to be saved, and NONE to perish – is so clear in the scriptures that the attempt to teach anything only reveals a deep blindness. Those who purport that God has preordained only a few, that Jesus died only for a few, cling desperately to the teachings of a man, and not the clear teaching of scripture.

Therefore, I am bold to say that God is calling you, whoever you are, and that God will save you if you will call upon Him. Choose Him today. He already sent His Son to die for you, placing upon you the highest possible value. You are loved beyond words by the same God who put the stars in the sky. He’ll take you in, embrace you, forgive you, give you purpose and direction and you will become part of a family that you will know for eternity. You are not excluded. Come to Christ today and be saved.

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

The Conflict of the Gospel

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently had a wonderful experience with Matthew chapter 10. In it, Jesus chooses and commissions the Twelve, and sends them out to “preach and to heal” (as Luke’s version puts it). Jesus gives some basic instruction to the Twelve, mostly encouraging them to trust God for all their needs as they go.

I noticed, however, that Jesus takes a surprisingly different approach in motivating His disciples. Most of us, were we to commission and send a group of missionaries, would likely extol the virtues of service to God, and excite them with promises of a life filled with miracles and wonders. Though these are doubtless true, yet this was not Jesus‘ tactic. In fact, His first words of “encouragement” were scarcely encouraging at all!

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…”

As if this were not enough, Jesus goes on and on citing the various horrors which these green preachers were sure to encounter.

“Beware of men for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues.”

Wait a minute Jesus, shouldn‘t people love us? I mean we are bringing them good news aren’t we?

“…and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake”

Seriously, Jesus. This is not what I signed on for! I mean, if this is what it’s going to be like, I might as well just go home to my family.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

This seems hardly the appropriate choice of words to speak just as you are sending out new ministers into the world. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how genius, and frankly necessary this approach is when commissioning people into the ministry. You see, Jesus understood, and later the apostles would as well, proven by their teachings in the epistles, that those who commit themselves to the ministry of the gospel in the world, are doing nothing less than enlisting in the Lord’s army, to push back the forces of darkness wherever they encounter them. This is war! Preaching the gospel is not a nice cushy desk job. The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit, Paul says. With it we battle our immortal enemy. Satan has sway over the hearts and minds of many, and we must wrestle them back from his grip. Furthermore, Satan hates God and all who belong to Him, and he will stop at nothing to destroy every last one of them, if he is able. Peter said, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pt 5:8). The simple and undeniable fact is that when you preach the gospel, you are advancing the Kingdom of Christ into territory which Satan has long held, and which he will not readily give up. Conflict is not only certain, it is in fact at the very heart of the ministry of the gospel. This is perhaps why Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Mt. 1:12). Jesus, of course, never promoted physical violence, but rather instructed us even to “turn the other cheek,” and to “love your enemies.” Here Jesus speaks of a spiritual violence. A hatred for the enemy of our souls, and a passionate determination to ruin his kingdom wherever we find it. Such people, though they themselves spread a message of love, invariably find themselves hated and persecuted. The simple, yet mystical reason for this, is that those who need our message are themselves already under the influence of Darkness, and those wholly under its sway may be moved by that Darkness to lash out against the light. It is a strange consistency which spans even the divide between old and new covenants, that those who are faithful to God, seem always to be the most hated people on the earth.

Why is all this important? Because just as any good commander would not think of sending his soldiers into the battle without giving them an accurate picture of the danger they face, so Jesus, the Captain of the Lord’s Host, is unwilling to send His soldiers into battle without first giving them the lay of the land. This I say, on the authority of Jesus’ own words, to all who serve the gospel, and to all who sense the Call to ministry – YOU WILL EXPERIENCE CONFLICT. People will hate you, they will revile you, they will lie about you and try to sabotage you. In fact, I am convinced that the more single we become in the purposes of God, the more likely conflict and persecution will become. Did not Jesus Himself experience constant conflict in His ministry, ultimately ending in His death (though He is alive!)? Thus Jesus says in Matt. 10: 24, 25:

“A disciple is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?”

Jesus served God perfectly and it got Him killed. So it was with many of the early disciples of Jesus. So it is with many of our brethren around the world today. Conflict is inevitable. The sooner we are willing to embrace this reality of the gospel, the better, and the more equipped we will be for the battle.

The verse that really got me studying this section of scripture is this:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10:37-39)

Considering the context into which this particular passage is set, sheds new and glorious light on its meaning. Jesus was not talking about an arbitrary renunciation of all family ties. But rather he is referencing back to the earlier statement that even brother would deliver up brother to death. When the gospel advances, those who are its enemies are revealed. As sad a scenario as it may be, sometimes the enemies of the gospel are those closest to us. The temptation to water down the gospel, or to shrink back can be almost overwhelming, due to the deep sense of loss toward those with whom we used to be so close. But Jesus‘ question to us is this: “Will you embrace your earthly relationships at the expense of your heavenly relationship with Me? Will you compromise to avoid conflict, or will you stay true to my gospel?” Thus it is required to love Christ more – sometimes this will require estrangement from family, sometimes a loss of closeness, other times, it will result in the saving of your household. But only steadfastness and absolute commitment to the gospel will accomplish this. For those of us willing to offer up our lives, our treasures, even our relationships when necessary for the Kingdom of God, we are promised great reward, both in this life and in the life to come.

So I say again, CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE. But do not fear those who trouble you. God is on your side, and He cares deeply for you. CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE. Though the battle is hard, victory is sure. CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE. Those who remain faithful through the difficult trials of faith, will receive from Jesus the supreme honor of being “confessed before my Father in heaven.” CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE. It is the reality of the spiritual war which now rages silently and invisibly around us. CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE. Do not be fooled into thinking that the Christian life is one of ease and comfort. Though we experience the great joy and peace which alone comes from salvation, yet our service to God is that of a cosmic struggle against the reign of evil in our world.

Know that conflict will arise because of your faith. Be sure that you will fight many battles. But know that you are on the winning side and that God is with you through the battle. Amen.

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

Hmmmm…

May 24, 2010 2 comments

I just read this post on Ragamuffinsoul.com, and it got me thinking. I think I see two primary concerns in the Christian life: 1) personal holiness, and; 2) evangelism. Now by ‘holiness’ I don’t mean to refer only to abstinence from sin. Holiness is way more than that. Holiness is total commitment to God. Total. It is being completely yielded to His perfect will, which includes, but is not limited to, abstinence from sin.

In times past (and still somewhat today), there were those who so emphasized this aspect of the Christian life, that they decided to create cloistered communities where they could practice their holiness with minimal worldly distractions. I must admit, there have been times when the idea of living in a monastery sounded wonderful to me! But such people (and I myself in those fleeting moments) have missed something. Though their willingness to sacrifice and leave all to devote themselves to prayer, study and personal devotion is commendable on some level, it also fails to acknowledge that God calls us to be light in a dark world. If we hoard all our light, put it all into one room, and shut the door, we fail to brighten the world. In fact, failing to shine our light where there is darkness, sounds a lot like hiding it. It was exactly this tendency, to hide our light, that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 5:14-16. Furthermore, our holiness, in part, is meant to show the world that there is a different way, a better way. This, again, was Jesus’ message in Matt. 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So church, be holy. And let the light of your holiness shine to those around you. Whether you intentionally hide your “Christian-ness” from others by your actions, or you simply fail to interact with those in desperate need of the light that you possess, choosing instead to only ever hang out with your Christian buddies, you have hidden your light. Get out there into the darkness and shine!

Categories: Life, Ministry

Sunday Setlist 01/31/10

January 31, 2010 1 comment

My name’s Jeff, I play guitar for our worship team at Living Hope Family Church in Tucson, AZ (and bass and drums when called upon).

Worship was absolutely AWESOME at church today!

I’m Not Ashamed – Hillsong United

The Time has Come – Hillsong United

We Shine – Fee
This was a brand new song. I personally didn’t think we were ready, but I was pleasantly surprised. We weren’t perfect, but did well, and the congregation seemed to love it!

You Never Let Go – Matt Redman

You Are My Strength – Hillsong United
This one was great! I finally figured out how to play it this Sunday – well, more accurately, I figured out the right part for this song.

Here in Your Presence – New Life Worship
This one tore the roof off the place. There was such an awesome sense of the presence of God during this last song. I got on my knees for a portion of the song, as did one of the singers. The pastor even came up and asked us to play it again after we had ended it – something I’ve never seen the pastor do before.

Offering – Better Than Life – Hillsong United

This Sunday was awesome! Primarily (of course) because of the Presence of God, but also because I think we were really on our game today. I felt we all played really well, we hit all our cues, our dynamics were great, etc.