This is the Best Food I Have Ever Eaten!

healthybreadYes… I am guilty. My wife, children and others have often accused me of assigning, “the best food I have ever tasted”  award to whatever happens to be in my mouth at any given time. It is true. Guilty as charged. It is also true of another food… God’s Word. Reading through the book of Isaiah this morning, I find myself thinking, “This is the best book in the Bible!” Of course, it’s not. It can’t be. For tomorrow I will surely think the same of another book of Scripture. The impossible question for me is, “What is your favorite book in the Bible?” I used to think I knew and have certainly had “favorites.” But they keep changing. Why is this? We should all know the answer. The Word of God is alive! The words we read are animated in a way like no other .

Hebrews 4:12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God the Holy Spirit was not only the author who committed the Words to print, but he is the God who animates their present life-giving vitality. Just like natural food, the Word we read is immediate nutrition. And just as the body processes the food it takes in and addresses an immediate need, the Word we consume addresses an immediate and present need. It may be encouragement…or hope… or understanding…or conviction. Whatever it is, it is exactly what we need for the exact moment we need it. And that’s why it’s the best thing we ever ate!

What Happens When ‘Pastor Video’ Stumbles

mars-hill-90991Following are some of my thoughts  arising from Christianity Today’s coverage of the disbandment of Mars Hill Church following multiple personal and professional challenges faced by its founding pastor, Mark Driscoll. My comments are not at all about Driscoll but rather the model of church he and others have so successfully introduced over the past twenty-five years. Although there are different presentations, the basic premise involves the multiple church locations anchored by the teaching/preaching ministry of one individual who, by necessity, is a very gifted, charismatic preacher. The temptation to extend the effectiveness of one individual’s ability to gather, inspire and otherwise positively impact peoples’ lives is very powerful. Yes, almost irresistible. Mars Hill Church, with its, at one point, fifteen satellite locations was a notable example of the potential of such a model of ministry. Western Christians do indeed love multi-site anything… it’s so comforting to know one is part of something big, popular and powerful.  I like to call such a model a “micro-denomination.” Mars Hill had all the trappings and bona fides of any successful enterprise… fast growth, hip expressions of high-tech everything. Great speakers, emerging conferences with all the benefits following. With these things in mind, note the following quote from an article written by Morgan Lee of Christianity Today on 10/31/2014:

“Rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities,” Dave Bruskas, primary teaching pastor, announced today to the Mars Hill family. “This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams.”

This quote gives new meaning to “going back the future.” I recommend everyone read the full article for all of its insightful lessons about church organization and leadership. For me, reading between the lines, it is a cautionary tale that should put the fear of God in pastors, future pastors and anyone interested in planting a church.

One Consequence of a Bad Worldview

Sometimes it is necessary to step back and take a broader view of the world and how it is changing. One of the courses we plan to teach students during the !mpact courses involves one’s “worldview.” Below is a portion of a paper (in Italics) presented by a former Vice Chairman of the CIA addressing some massive changes taking place in Western culture from what I would attribute directly to a secularized worldview. When God’s point of view is replaced by others’, destruction soon follows. Following is just one of many consequences of ignoring the counsel of Scripture about life.

 

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

 

INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING FOR CEO’s By HERBERT MEYER This is a paper presented several weeks ago by Herb Meyer at a Davos, Switzerland meeting which was attended by most of the CEO’s from all the major international corporations — a very good summary of today’s key trends and a perspective one seldom sees. Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. In these positions, he managed production of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimates and other top- secret projections for the President and his national security advisers. Meyer is widely credited with being the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union’s collapse, for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the intelligence community’s highest honor. Formerly an associate editor of FORTUNE, he is also the author of several books.  WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON? A GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING FOR CEO’s By HERBERT MEYER FOUR MAJOR TRANSFORMATIONS

(The following is point number 3 from a paper submitted by Mr. Meyer which addresses a major shift in population demographics resulting from low birthrates of Western nations.)

3. Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization. Most countries in the Western world have stopped breeding.  For a civilization obsessed with sex, this is remarkable.  Maintaining a steady population requires a birthrate of 2.1.   In Western Europe, the birthrate currently stands at 1.5, or 30 percent below replacement.  In30 years there will be 70 to 80 million fewer Europeans than there are today.  The current birthrate in Germany is 1.3. Italy and Spain are even lower at 1.2.  At that rate, the working age population declines by30 percent in 20 years, which has a huge impact on the economy.  When you don’t have the young workers to replace the older ones, you have to import them. The European countries are currently importing Moslems.  Today, the Moslems comprise 10 percent of France and Germany, and the percentage is rising rapidly because they have higher birthrates. However, the Moslem populations are not being integrated into the cultures of their host countries, which is a political catastrophe.  One reason Germany and France don’t support the Iraq war is they fear their Moslem populations will explode on them.  By 2020, more than half of all births in the Netherlands will be non-European. The huge design flaw in the post-modern secular state is that you need a traditional religious society birthrate to sustain it.  The Europeans simply don’t wish to have children, so they are dying.  In Japan, the birthrate is 1.3.  As a result, Japan will lose up to 60 million people over the next 30 years.  Because Japan has a very different society than Europe, they refuse to import workers.  Instead, they are just shutting down.  Japan has already closed 2,000 schools, and is closing them down at the rate of 300 per year.  Japan is also aging very rapidly by 2020; one out of every five Japanese will be at least 70 years old. Nobody has any idea about how to run an economy with those demographics. Europe and Japan, which comprise two of the world’s major economic engines, aren’t merely in recession, they’re shutting down.  This will have a huge impact on the world economy, and it is already beginning to happen.  Why are the birthrates so low?  There is a direct correlation between abandonment of traditional religious society and a drop in birthrate and Christianity in Europe is becoming irrelevant. The second reason is economic – when the birthrate drops below replacement, the population ages.  With fewer working people to support more retired people, it puts a crushing tax burden on the smaller group of working age people.  As a result, young people delay marriage and having a family.  Once this trend starts, the downward spiral only gets worse.  These countries have abandoned all the traditions they formerly held in regard to having families and raising children. The U.S. birthrate is 2.0, just below replacement. & nabs; we have an increase in population because of immigration.  When broken down by ethnicity, the Anglo birthrate is 1.6 (same as France) while the Hispanic birthrate is 2.7.  In the U.S., the baby boomers are starting to retire in massive numbers.  This will push the elder dependency ratio from 19 to 38 over the next 10 to 15 years.  This is not as bad as Europe, but still represents the same kind of trend. Western civilization seems to have forgotten what every primitive society understands-you need kids to have a healthy society.  Children are huge consumers.  Then they grow up to become taxpayers.  That’s how a society works, but the postmodern secular state seems to have forgotten that.  If U.S. birthrates of the past 20 to 30 years had been the same as post-World War II, there would be no Social Security or Medicare problems. The world’s most effective birth control device is money.  As society creates a middle class and women move into the workforce, birthrates drop.  Having large families is incompatible with middle class living. The quickest way to drop the birthrate is through rapid economic development.  After World War II, the U.S. instituted a $600 tax credit per child.  The idea was to enable mom and dad to have four children without being troubled by taxes.  This led to a baby boom of 22 million kids, which was a huge consumer market. That turned into a huge tax base.  However, to match that incentive in today’s dollars would cost $12,000 per child.

Oh the Psalms!

EPH 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These two verses speak volumes to our times. So much of the wisdom of God can be found here. One thing I would point out is the reference to “psalms.”  During my personal devotions, I read and listen to the Bible. I have been doing this for many years. For me, hearing and seeing the Word has a really cool affect. For past few days I have been in the Psalms. Oh the Psalms! That they would be upon our lips in everyday conversation and in our hearts as we face life’s challenges. Subjectively speaking, I know of no other book in the Bible that better helps one find context in life. I say “subjectively” because all of the Bible does the same thing as the Holy Spirit ministers to those reading it. However, for “all-in-one” impact of encouragement, hope, understanding and eternal perspective, my vote for today is the Psalms. I just love God’s Word!

From Outcast to Orthodox

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But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. Here Paul is writing to Timothy (2Ti. 3:1) to take special note of the times. Times that have arrived and those still ahead. As Barnes notes (no pun intended), “times of danger, or persecution, and of trial.” I have heard others teach that such reference can be described as “tight times”… as in times where evil seems to have us in a corner… pressing, overwhelming, suffocating. In spite of this, Paul tells us to “continue in what” we have learned. It’s as if he says, “Look at how I have handled this and do likewise (v. 10).” This is easier said than done. To know the times we live in and not give in to the temptation to be reconciled to defeat is hard.

I have been assisting with teaching a bible study attended by mostly elderly folks for about twenty years. I take turns with other pastors from various denominations along with other lay persons in presenting teachings each Tuesday morning. At one point, most of those attending were my seniors by twenty-plus years. My time with these men (and a few women) has been a great blessing. I have learned so much from them just listening to their life experiences. Most are from the “greatest generation.” Joe (now passed) was thirty-eight when WWII started, the “old man” on his Navy destroyer. Sam was a teenager when captured by the Germans after his bomber was shot down over Germany on his very first mission. Orbie was wounded twice in the Battle of the Bulge. I could almost feel his joy when Jack described the troop train he was on in Germany stopping and the officers announcing the end of the war in Europe. These are just a few of the many “stories” I have had the honor of spending time with on most Tuesday mornings. And not only the “war stories.” Dan has shared many of the highs and lows of pastoring in the UMC while Earl has lent insight into his life growing up in Chattanooga, his time in the dairy business and so on.  I mention these men because I have seen them often shake their heads in sadness over the times we are now living in. They have witnessed first-hand the stunning transformation of a society. Indeed they have seen the outcast become orthodox.

Outcast: One that has been excluded from a society or system, a pariah.

Orthodox: adhering to what is commonly accepted

All of us who are Christians were outcasts. We were excluded from fellowship with God because of sin. Once excluded but now included by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. God has always hated what kept us separated from Him… sin. One reason God hates sin is that it damages fellowship with His highest and most precious creation… us. Sin destroys life and God is all about life. God really hates sin.

Another way to look at sin is that it is behavior that ultimately destroys. God knows this but we sometimes too easily forget.  God hates what destroys us. There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end therein is death (Pr. 14:12; 16:25). The bible teaches us that we should hate what God hates. To fear the Lord is to hate evil (Pr. 8:13a). Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil (Ro. 12:9a). Hate is a word easily understood. There is little variation in its meaning or application. Hate is extreme, defined in the NT as “to utterly despise.” One can’t hate a little bit. To utterly despise, however, can’t even begin to capture how much God hates sin. Just as nothing in our inventory of expression or experience can truly describe God’s love for us. His emotions are so far beyond us.

If God so hates sin and wants us, as much as we are able, to hate sin, we truly find ourselves in “tight times.” In the span of less than four decades, we have seen behavior that has historically been outcast become orthodox. What has universally been unacceptable become not only acceptable but celebrated. Indeed, many “call evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20). It is easy to understand how those who have witnessed such a massive shift in national character could become downcast. Not only are they witnesses to this incredible moral decay, they are subjected to ridicule and isolation should they not “go along.” In more and more cases, those that hate sin have become the “haters.”

Although there are many issues that illustrate the outcast becoming orthodox, here are three. Each one represents fruit from the same tree, immorality.

From Outcast to Orthodox

Fornication: Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is now not only “accepted” in our society, it is the preferred approach to pre-married behavior. The most recent Gallup poll reports 60% of Americans approve of pre-marital sex. In 1969, the number was 33%.  Only 28% of those over 65 approve (imagine what the % would be for those over 80!). It would be difficult to find a television show or movie that does not present fornication as normal and acceptable. Indeed, we have reached the place where, “everyone’s doing it.”

1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral (fornicators) nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

Abortion: What do we do with all these “unwanted” babies! Duke Nukem was ahead of his time when he said, “Kill’em all!” 55,000,000 and counting. A heretofore unknown Texas politician recently became the darling of the national media after making an extended, impassioned speech before the Texas statehouse in favor of unrestricted abortion. Though a tidal wave of medical/scientific understanding has reinforced the notion that life in the womb should be protected, the 1973 opinion of seven ill-advised Supreme Court justices still holds sway.

PRO 6:16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,

PRO 24:11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

Homosexuality: Just this week, Disney announced contributions to The Boy Scouts of America would be suspended due to their disallowance of homosexual men as leaders within scouting. The simple quotation of 1 Co. 6:9 resulted in an extremely popular TV show being suspended until the backlash from the network’s customers forced its reinstatement. The President has for some time refused to allow the enforcement by the Federal Government of any law regarding the non-recognition of same-sex marriage. As I write this, it is fair to say that virtually every institution in American society (Education, Government, Business, Media, Entertainment, etc.) supports the proposition that homosexual behavior is acceptable.  Much of the momentum for the advancement of the homosexual agenda is found in America’s clergy. A recent poll of Millennials (under age 34) found that a third of those who had abandoned their Christian faith did so due to the negative teaching in the Church regarding homosexuality. Indeed, to contend that homosexual behavior is sinful today is to be way outside of the mainstream.

These are just three examples of how society has changed in “the blink of an eye.” The havoc such changes have brought to our culture become more evident with each passing day, month and year. Behavior that a very short time ago was “outcast” has become “orthodox.” But again, the Apostle Paul gives good advice. Keep praying, preaching, teaching, witnessing and believing God that there is still hope.

Prophetic Protection

My devotion this morning had me contemplating the connection between the Presence of God evidenced by the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in the Church service and the need to resist the temptation to fall away from one’s faith in Christ. On the whole, the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is an appeal perseverance in the faith. It is a majestic description of the priestly ministry of Christ saturated with quite a few “warnings” to stay the course. With this is mind, I was struck with the protection against falling away afforded by a robust prophetic environment in the Church. In reviewing the synopsis of our most recent Sunday morning service, I was so encouraged by the prophecies, visions, and new songs. The Apostle Paul makes at least two appeals concerning the “depreciation” of prophetic utterance… in 1 Th. 5 and 1Co. 14. I use the term “depreciation” in echoing A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) because it captures the challenge we face in allowing an erosion of appreciation for the prophetic in our services.
Depreciated: To be reduced in value over time.
Our temptation is to de-appreciate the value of prophecy over time. As Pastor Joseph so accurately shared in his message, the urgency and distractions of the “temporal” can easily crowd out “eternal” things. Prophetic utterances during a church service deal with eternal/divine issues as they bring heavenly perspectives to our lives. This is one way we are protected from being consumed with the “temporal.” None of us are immune from arriving at church loaded down with tugs and pulls of temporal. Prophecies and other speaking and knowledge gifts remind us of the fact that Jesus is truly in our midst corporately (Mt. 18:20; 1Co. 5:4; 14:25), thus protecting us from becoming stale. The forth-telling aspect of prophecy brings the divinely inspired, timeless Word of God to us in a fresh presentation. I believe this is one reason that Paul exhorts us to “eagerly” desire prophecy. In closing, I want to list a number of renderings from 1 Th. 5:20:
NIV- do not treat prophecies with contempt
NASB- do not despise prophetic utterances
NLT- do not scoff a prophecies
MSG- and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master
KJV- Despise not prophesying
CJB- don’t despise inspired messages
Darby- do not lightly esteem prophesies
GWT- Don’t despise what God has revealed
TLB- Do not scoff at those who prophesy
NCV- Do not treat prophecy as if it were unimportant
NTiMS (Weymouth) – Do not think meanly of utterances of prophecy
Young’s LT- prophesyings despise not (Yoda?)
Prophesying, along with other gifts of the Holy Spirit, provides protection against growing cold in our expectation of God showing up in our meetings. No wonder the Apostle Paul likens it to FIRE.
Note: On February 21-22, 2014, CCC will host a seminar on establishing and maintaining a prophetic church culture. This seminar will go a long way in affirming and refreshing everyone’s commitment to keeping the flame of God’s Presence alive in the Church. (Click here for Seminar Info)

Family Sunday… A Really Good Feeling

Family Sunday… A Really Good Feeling
Author and founder of Prayer Point ministry, Dr. Terry Teykl, once said that the happiest day in a pastor’s year is the Monday following Easter. Of course, this is a reference to the fact that Easter is often the most highly attended Sunday of the year. The underlying assumption is that what makes most pastors feel good about their ministry are the “the 3 ‘b’s… buildings, bank accounts and be-hinds in the seats.” Years ago, when CCC began the journey of becoming a Presence-based church, Dr. Teykl’s teaching on the subject served to be wonderful encouragement. The paradigm shift from consumer-based, program oriented church to Presence-based is easier said than done. Transactional Christianity (What’s in it for me- What program do you have for this, that and the other-How long do your services last- Do you have a good children’s, singles, youth, senior, etc. program) often crowds out the conscious and unconscious desires of most Christians to encounter God’s Presence on Sunday morning. Of course, programs rightly situated in priority can be very important as long as they don’t become the thing at the expense of the Presence. At CCC, we are committed to the proposition that the most satisfying report anyone can give upon visiting on Sunday or any other time is that they felt and experienced the Presence of God. This brings me to this past Family Sunday.
By this past Sunday afternoon, after all had gone home, I can honestly say that how many people came to church; how much money was in the church bank account; or how many buildings we occupied did not cross my mind. That is not to say my mind was not occupied. I was occupied, no, actually I was struck, with an overwhelming sense of peace and thanksgiving at what had transpired at church that day. The worship, praise and the operation of many gifts of the Holy Spirit again left me shaking my head at the goodness of God. He really does show up when we make room for Him. The sharing by the ladies with regard to their recent trip to India not only brought tears to my eyes but so inspired me to follow their lead in my faith and practice of Christianity. I wanted to be like them! The service was what the author of Hebrews 10:24 was getting at… provoked/inspired to love and service. The day was capped by a fellowship meal. This is an expression of body-life that is so important… the church family sharing a simple meal together. During the meal I could not help but notice the on-going laughter, conversations and good fellowship taking place. And the meal was not the only fellowship occurring. The cleaning, breaking down of tables, and general straightening up afterwards provided more time for healthy connections.
At the end of the day, I was a happy camper. Does this mean we have arrived? No way. We still have many holes in our nets and need big helpings of God’s grace. But our sails are set to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and God has set a course for us that will surely be a great adventure. Thanks to all of you for what you do for King Jesus and His Church!