Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Breaking the News

Each week the news is filled with all sorts of information. Some items flow out of our mind as soon as they enter. Others stick with us for awhile. But a few events are etched into our memory, not only by what happened, but also where we were when we heard the news (and likely our reaction to that bit of news as well). Acts of terror, space shuttle disasters, weather-related catastrophes, and presidential assassinations (or attempts) are just a few of items over the past 50 years or so that stick with us forever. And a part of the reason these events stick with us is that we discuss, question, share concerns and/of frustrations, etc. with those around us. The reason? These events shake our very core...they alter our perception of the world and create a new reality.

So, imagine you were there nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus rose from the dead. We often consider this event so nonchalantly in our day, but I ask you, have you ever seen anybody come back from the dead? What about after having been dead for more than just a few hours, but rather days? Just like in our day, Jesus resurrection was BREAKING NEWS. But without Twitter, and Facebook, 24 hours news coverage, etc., the news took a little longer to break than it does now. But break it did because a new reality changed the perceptions of a lot of people, and is still doing so today.

Many events in history have captivated people and caused them to share their thoughts and understanding with others. But these events tend to be national, if not regional. Sure, some remain interested in international events, but most forget all but the most significant events beyond our own back yard, so to speak. But the resurrection of Jesus is altogether different. Having happened in a remote region of a powerful empire, this local news should have been forgotten quickly, but it was not. Why? Because this was truly BREAKING NEWS. A dead man had come back from the dead, after saying He would do it. The resurrection had occurred, but the story had to be shared. In other words, it was up to those who knew and believed to break the news to others. (This response was in contrast to their initial reactions. Click here for details.)

The question for us today is: do we believe? But let's get specific? Do you believe? If not, I encourage you to see that you are in company with those who were the first to break the news. (Again, click the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get more information.) However, if you do believe, then like the women, and the disciples, on that first day, we have some news to tell. If those first people had not broke the news to others, then we would likely not know it today. Thus, we must consider our need to break the news to others as well. The resurrection of Jesus IS the greatest news that has ever been told. If you believe that to be true, then imagine the opportunity because God has chosen you to be a part of the news team to break that news to others. But having been chosen, you still must respond? Will you break the news to others?

The news of the resurrection changed the world 2000 years ago. And it can do so today as well. So, let's go break the news to those who do not know, and remind those that do. After all, we are going to talk about some kind of news; let us make it worthwhile.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Opportunity Knocks

Over the last several weeks, I have been focused on helping the church I serve understand five important words of Jesus - "I will build my church" in Matthew 16.18. A large portion of that teaching is to prepare us to be ready to respond to whatever opportunities might come our way. The phrase we often use today is "opportunity knocks."

As I prepared to sit down to write this post with that phrase in mind, I was reminded of a movie that I haven't seen in probably 25 years, and may not have thought of for 10-15 years. The movie was named Opportunity Knocks and starred Dana Carvey. I really don't remember much about it other than it was funny (duh, Dana Carvey!), and the plot was about Carvey, playing a con-artist, pretending to be a house-sitter for a resident who was out of town. Essentially, Carvey begins to live the life of the person who was supposed to house-sit, but went out of the country instead. Of course, Carvey is deceiving others by pretending to be someone he is not, and that is what makes the movie funny. But he heard an opportunity knocking, so to speak, and seized the opportunity.


As I thought about opportunity, I realized the movie (I have typed about all I remember) is actually quite the opposite of what many Christians do. While Carvey seized an opportunity by deceiving others, many Christians deceive themselves by not responding to the opportunities around them. Now you may think this is my opinion, but the Bible says this plainly in James 1.22. James wrote, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

In context, James is writing about people who do not trust God, speak evil of others, do nothing to confirm their faith, show partiality, stir up dissension, boast of the their plans, etc. Most of that list would be considered wrong (i.e. sin), and it is often hard to do the right thing when others around you are doing the wrong things. But James words do not provide an excuse for doing nothing, whatever the circumstance. Instead, James essentially writes, "If you do nothing, don't call yourself a Christian. If you do, you are only deceiving yourself."

Many may quibble over what SHOULD be done, but the reality is that we can boil it down to three simple (yet difficult) aspects: Love God....Love Others....Love One Another (cf. Mark 12.30-31; John 13.35). Then the quibbling becomes over how love should be expressed toward others. Well, again, the simple answer is "as you love yourself." And the reality is that each of us love ourselves differently. But while that part of the argument is important, it is tangential for this post. The problem is that the term Christian has come to mean something that Christ never intended.

Follow Me

I have written elsewhere (as have others) that Jesus never said, "Go to church" or even "Be the church;" He said "Follow Me." But we have claimed the term Christian and developed a meaning for the word based on mental belief. But the early "Christians" did not coin the term for themselves. No, it was coined for them because of their actions and attitudes. The term was first used in Antioch (Acts 11.26) because the people observing this new group of people following Jesus (Followers of the Way was the original designation they gave themselves) could not call the group Gentile, nor did they fit the idea of a Jew. So a new term was coined for these "little Christs (which is essentially what "Christian" literally means)." The point is that this new group was so intent on "observing all that I have commanded" (Matthew 28.19-20) that people placed this moniker on them - and it stuck.

But the point is that it stuck because the people were actively following Jesus. Were they perfect at it? No, and truly we can be thankful for that fact. Otherwise we wouldn't have all of the letters in the New Testament to help correct our issues as well! But their faith wasn't just a matter of the mind. No, in order to love the Lord their God it also took heart, soul, and strength. In other words, action. And to follow, as in "Follow Me" we must move, and be active. Or again, in the words of James, be doers of the word, and not just hearers only.

Opportunity is Knocking

As doers, we have the opportunity to prove our faith and bring glory to God. Jesus said, in Matthew 5.16 that our good works cause others to glorify the Father. That is astounding. But it requires doing good works - not for salvation, but because of it. This week, Holy Week, we celebrate what Jesus did for us. He saw an opportunity. He seized that opportunity, and because of that we are offered, through faith, more than we can possible ask, think, or imagine. But while we can not earn God's favor with our works, we can express our thanks by them. Opportunities exist every day for us to be doers of God's Word. Like the early "Christians" we will not be perfect in what we do nor in how we do it. But that should not prevent us from being active anyway. For, if we ignore the opportunities around us, and the needs before us, then as James writes just a few verses later, "this person's religion is worthless" (James 1.26).

We must take steps (a part of following) to be like Jesus and seize the opportunities that God brings our way. Maybe it is just one a day. If so, that's a start. But doing so will open the door wider for God to not only bless you, but more importantly to allow you to bless others.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faith vs Fear

Imagine being taken to a place where sexual immorality is rampant, pagan rituals are extreme, and the idea of worship combines both. Imagine that the place has been declared off-limits by all who adhere to the pre-dominant faith of the day. And that faith wasn't some obscure faith, it was faith in the one true God. Now, imagine that you are not taken there against your will, but are led there by the Son of God.

This was the situation when Jesus led His disciples to Caesarea Philippi (c.f. Matthew 16; for a complete - and long - look at the details of  the location as well as Jesus' purpose for going there, see the post on Fairfax Baptist Church's blog, here.). The location was a place where gods were worshiped, but also feared. One god, in particular, was the god named Pan. Pan was the Greek god of the wilderness and the mountains. But he was also the god of fear (from which we get the word "panic".) It is this place that Jesus chooses to lead His disciples to ask the question that leads to the truth of who Jesus is - the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt 16.16). This truth leads to Jesus promise to build His church, a promise made more conspicuous because of the location.

Jesus is clearly pitting the idea of faith against the nature of fear. The contrast between the gates makes this obvious. Fear is consumed with the "gates of hell" from which all kinds of terror might come. However, the keys (to lock or unlock an unmentioned gate, that is, to bind or loose) Jesus gives to His followers (not just these disciples, see Matthew 18.18-20) are presented because of their faith.

So, Jesus launches the movement of His church (the people of faith) in an area known for worship of the god of fear. This is certainly worthy of our reflection. It is often said that the Bible says, "Do not fear" once for each day of the year. But, we must admit, that is much easier said than done. But just because we may experience fear, we can (and must) choose not to live in fear. Fear chokes out faith. The Bible says "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen" (Hebrews 11.1). Fear, on the other hand, is an emotional response related to the idea that danger awaits.

And this is the true nature of Jesus purpose in choosing the location. Jesus knew what awaited Him. His time to complete His mission was drawing near. The weight of the world's sin was literally upon Jesus causing Him to cry out to His Father for another way to be made (Matthew 27.39). Jesus faced a "danger" that none of us can truly fathom. Yet, His faith allowed Him to overcome whatever fear may have tried to cripple Him. Jesus knew that the promise of what was to come far outweighed whatever He would have to experience in the present. The anguish with which He prayed suggests this was not easy for Him (He did sweat blood as He prayed - Luke 22.44). But that is one aspect that makes faith in Christ possible for me. In the midst of my fear(s), I know that my Lord struggled. But through the assurance of faith, I know that my Savior overcame.

Personally, I would rather not be led into a place like the one Jesus took His disciples. If I was there, I would like to know that Jesus was with me in that place, like He was with His disciples. But for me, for each of us, we can choose to allow our faith to overcome our fear. We must choose to believe Jesus' promise to securely build His church - a promise based upon a faith in the One who cannot fail.

My fear may infringe on my faith sometimes. The "oh me of little faith," is still learning to cast those fears aside and live according to the faith I claim to have. It is not always easy, but it is necessary in my training to become more of the man that God wants me to be (Romans 8.29, Ephesians 5.1).

Faith versus Fear. Really, it should be no contest. But it is, because we allow it to be. So, let us remember the example of Jesus, and later His disciples, to live boldly, despite what may be happening around us. After all, what is happening around (or to) us today, pales against what will be true of eternity for those whose faith is in Him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Ok, so the title of this post is not a real word. It is a neologism (yes, that is a real word). A neologism is the coining of a new word. I honestly do not know if I am the first to use the word "decentralplication," and do not really care if I am. I am not the first to talk about the concept and that is what is important. The word is the combination of decentralization and multiplication, both of which are powerful in their own rights, but together form a synergism that is powerful for ministry.

Consider the example of Jesus. He is not only the only human ever to have a perfect theology, but He is also the only one to live it (apply) it perfectly - not only for Himself, but towards others as well. Yet, He didn't let the fact that others would not properly understand or apply stop Him from incorporating the "...oh, ye of little faith..." others into His plan for ministry. Why? Because Jesus understood the power of decentralplication.

Consider that Jesus had many people around Him at certain times (feeding 5000 and 4000 on separate occasions). But He invested Himself in far fewer whether that be the seventy-two in Luke 10, the twelve we usually consider (Luke 6.12-16), or the inner circle of three (Matthew 17.1). In any event, investing in others was more than just for their sake, it was extending Himself, not only during His life, but preparing for the time after His resurrection and ascension.

In last week's post, I mentioned the prospect of each person making two disciples over the course of a year. And then if each new disciple also made two over the course of each of the next four years as well. The impact on the Kingdom would be phenomenal. Well, taking that a step further, what if we were each to follow the example of Jesus, what could that mean? For instance, if I invested my life into 12 people who each invested their life into twelve, who each invested their life into twelve. The numbers become staggering rather quickly. At just three levels, we have 1,728 (1x12x12x12). And the reality is that in some ways it would be less stressful than what many try to do in a church of 75.

Think about it. One pastor cannot be effective pouring himself into 75 people (but we will consider just 72 for mathematical comparison). If the pastor does this at an equal level, then each person will get very little of the pastor and the pastor will have nothing left to give. But if the pastor is only being poured into 12 who will each invest in twelve others, the pastor has much more to give the twelve (decentralized) and the overall effect is twice as many people could be served (multiplication). Moreover, the pastor is being poured into by one person along with eleven other peers which provides support.

Now, you may consider me naive to think this will work. But it can...indeed, it should. Actually, it truly will! For it was the model of Jesus. And it represents the kind of church He (wants) wills to build. Why hasn't it happened? Well, it did! The early church grew at an astounding rate because of this principle. But it isn't happening because we, humans, are often more concerned with building a church suitable to us, than one suitable to the One who promised to build it in the first place.

So, we must first be willing to follow Jesus in extending His ministry. I may be able to do some, but others can do much more and, after all, a major role as pastor is to equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4.11-13). Thus, I need to encourage people to do, even when it means mistakes will be made. Of course, that is a part of the process of learning. But the encouragement then comes in helping the person move forward from that lesson.

Second, we must encourage those around us to be investing in others as well. Ultimately, this model reflects one that was important to Paul. He had a Barnabas to train and encourage him and a Timothy to train and encourage himself. But a quick count reveals more than thirty individuals that Paul incorporated into ministry along the way. Each one had different abilities, but all had a place in extending Paul as he extended the ministry and gospel of Jesus at one time or another.

Today, we each have a call to extend the gospel of Jesus as well. We may be able to do a good deal by ourselves, but if we will learn to practice the idea of decentralplication, we might be amazed at how much God will actually do in, around, and through us. Will you join me in practicing the process of decentralplication?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Making Disciples or Squeezing Turnips

Recent years have seen an emphasis on changing the scorecard for the church. While bodies, buildings, and budget once reigned supreme, many in the modern church have come to realize that people can show up, serve, and give to a local church and not even love Jesus, or really know God. Now, I don't mean that there is not an awareness of God (though possible), or a growing awareness of God's presence in a life (a good thing). What I mean is that people do certain things, including going to church (and serving/giving) out of habit.

And while this happens, some within the church are actively participating but are not counted among the numbers. (For instance, this coming week, two couple from our church will be gone, so they will not be counted among those present. Yet one couple is attending a church in a nearby town where the husband is preaching. The other is involved in proclaiming the gospel through music and will be doing so in another church this week.) So, the emphasis in many churches is changing to reflect a differing set of measurements. Yet, the objective nature of measuring the old standards, remains preferred in many areas.

The bigger problem is that some of the old measurement standards do not reflect what was important to Jesus who is the one who promised to build His church (Matthew 16.18). Jesus said His people should make it their task to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20). As was mentioned above, one can be present at church, serve, and give and not be a disciple. But a disciple would do all of those things, and learn to do them not from obligation, but out of love. And the concerns that many have over budget matters, etc. would be resolved in disciples were being made.

Consider the following example. The average church has slightly less than 100 congregants in it. So for the sake of argument, I will use a much smaller number - 50. If 50 people in a church each led one person to Christ and as a part of discipleship process were able to get each new person to give only $10 per week, then after one year, the added budget amount would be $26,000. For a church of 50-100 people, that is a huge increase in the budget. And that is after just one year of one new disciple giving only $10 per week (if that was a title, the person would make only $5,200 per year, but if they haven't been giving, its a start!) (Calculation: 50 people x 52 weeks x $10/wk).

Or consider if those same 50 people, led two people to Christ each year for five years. If each of these new Christians did the same, then using the $10 per week figure, over that 5 year period over $750,000 would be available for Kingdom work. But it isn't about the money, it is about the principle of multiplication, and more importantly the principle of observing the command of Jesus to make disciples. Because more important than the $750,000, is the 1600 new souls in the Kingdom and the impact they will continue to make for the Kingdom.

So how does this relate to squeezing turnips? Perhaps you have heard the expression "squeezing blood from a turnip." The idea is that people only have so much to give. Eventually, to get any more, you have to squeeze it out of them, and that is only so effective. This principle is not new, even if the euphemism is.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel Israel. We saw a few olive presses as we visited various parts of the country. But one location, near the home of the prophet Micah, we saw two olive presses in the same room. The round press was the "first press."

Olive Press - First Press
The first press was responsible for getting the first oil from the olives. This is the best oil (the virgin or extra-virgin olive oil). The oil was collected to be sold, but more oil remained. So a second press was developed. This press was effective at getting out the remainder of the oil, and it flowed through a small channel where it, too, was collected and then sold (or used for cooking). The oil from this press was not worth as much because it was what remained (the "leftovers") from the first press. But it still had a purpose. The problem was that after going through two different presses, the olive was useless.
Olive Press - Second Press

As Christians, and especially some Christian leaders, we find ourselves in need of getting more out of the people in our churches. Ideally, all people would choose to radically respond to the powerful truth of the resurrection, but most do not (self-included, more often than I would like to admit). If each person in the church could give just a little more, it would radically improve budgets and service within the church. However, if the people of the church were disciples making other disciples then the number of disciples would increase and the first press may be sufficient enough. The reality is that more disciples means even more disciples which will mean more money and more servants as well. But more money and more people serving does not necessarily equate to any disciples. And without more disciples the people currently involved will begin to feel like that olive that has been pressed too long, or in too many ways, to be useful any longer (or like the blood squeezed turnip).

So, before we ask for more __________ from those who currently attend our churches, we need to consider if we are making more - disciples. Only one approach will prove fruitful in the long-run. Only one approach follows the teachings of Jesus. And only one approach will truly be partnering with Jesus to fulfill His promise of "I will build my church."