Monthly Archives: May 2015

Get Right – Stay Right

Weeks reading – Romans 5-9

One summer I went to a youth camp with our kids from the church I pastored. We saw a lot of emotional response to the Youth Camping experience. However, I noticed that even though the kids dealt with sin in their lives inside the sanctuary [gym], as soon as they got outside it was back to the normal of being a youth. I do not doubt that their worship and confession were real. If fact I believe they genuinely wanted to live for God. The struggle was that they were confronted with the “real world” as soon as he music and preaching stopped. The next night they would try all over again to “really mean it” and stay committed. We adopted the phrase “get right-stay right” as a group to hold each other accountable.

Paul addresses the same problem I believe that all believers experience, the spirit is willing, but the flesh it weak. How can we live out that spirit filled life that seems to evade all of us? We find that so much has been done for us through the cross, yet that isn’t the end, the Life we are looking for is the Resurrected Life of Jesus. The blood of Jesus saves us from the wrath of our own sins, but the Resurrected Life of Jesus Christ is our new life. Romans 6:1-7; is used all the time as a New Testament instruction of what baptism is all about. We die when Jesus died, when Jesus was buried, then resurrected, we to are raised to walk in newness of Life; all is symbolic or so we say. If it is only symbolic – I am still alive and sin rules over me. Gal 2:20; repeats Paul’s words that the person of faith and trust in Jesus has died to who they were so they can be free from the Law; released from the tyrant of the Law to condemn us. But we are still alive, and cannot grasp the fact that we were, but now we are dead TO sin because of Jesus.

Because of the Law we know that we are sinners, and that God is holy. For as in Adam all died because of the transgression in Eden, but because of the obedience in Gethsemane, we are all justified through Christ. Salvation is secure for sure. But the problem isn’t salvation but Sanctification. The kids on Youth Camp understood salvation, was to free them from sin, but when they continued to sin, they came into bondage all over again. Romans 6, Paul commands us to no longer submit the members of our body to sin, but to present them to God as slaves of righteousness. [Rom 6:19]

Chapter 7, through a simple but wonderful illustration of marriage and the vows, Paul explains, that if a woman goes to another man, while still attached to husband, she is committing adultery. However, if he dies, then she is free to marry another. In our case, the Law doesn’t die, we die – when we die, we are free from serving the old master. In chapter 7:14-ff, has been a relief for me as I grew in the Lord. The frustration of not being able to do what I want to do, but actually wind up doing the very opposite; continuously gave me a guilt trip. I knew better, but still could not seem to stop myself from doing the very thing I was convicted about.  I embraced Romans 7:25 gladly, Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord; He has delivered me from the Law! Because we are delivered, justified, and made to be sons and heirs with Christ, chapter 8 can say that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Free at last! Our salvation is not based upon our good behavior. Nor is it based on our bad behavior. It is based solely on Jesus Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Sanctification is an ongoing process of growing in Christ. We don’t ever stop sinning because we are in the flesh. However, we cannot use that as an excuse to allow sin into our lives. We CANNOT live the Christian life. We were never meant too. Jesus is the Christian life. [John 15:5] Jesus has already lived the life that the Father originally intended man to live, and now wants to live in each of us. I do not live, but Christ lives in me! We get Right by Faith in Jesus, we stay Right by Faith in Jesus. He [Jesus ] is the Christian Life!


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Why the Gospel is Needed

We began this week reading from the book of Romans. This is the strongest letter by Paul. For it outlines the work of God through humanity and especially the need for salvation for all. Quickly the Apostle Paul moves from a strong greeting and salutation to the crux of his intention of writing. Since Paul had not started the church, he may have been largely unknown to the church that was in Rome. In Romans, we find a magnitude of theological and doctrinal issues addressed. Particularly, doctrines of depravity, justification, salvation, sanctification, and glorification. Sounds like a lot of $20 words, but Paul spends much of Epistle writings to correct and instruct beliefs and practices within the church. In writing to the Romans, Paul wanted some fruit from them, in order to be sent on his way to Spain. It makes logical reasoning that Paul would need to present himself and his message to the people first.

Chapter one has become of late a very volatile passage for it clearly speaks to the issue of homosexuality. It speaks first to the foundational existence of God. Although He [God] cannot be seen, He is Known through the things that exist and observed with our eyes. There are other passages that describe the created order of things through Jesus [Col. 1:15-18, Heb. 1:2-4]. Paul quickly describes the work of Jesus as the Savior of the world, and thereby affirming that He is the Son of God.  In verse 18, Paul exposes the condition of mankind and the depravity of our minds. From verse 18 to the end of the chapter, one finds that there is sufficient justification for the wrath of God in the lives of rebellious people. Many of the actions expressed by the Gentiles is being lived out in our day. There is significant accusation about the behavior of the Gentiles. At the foundation of their rebellion is their rejection of the God that has been revealed to them. Even though they KNEW God, they did not honor Him as God. I often hear in arguments against the “Jesus only” salvation, that everyone hasn’t heard of Jesus – then they try to come up with a people who live in some obscure place, where the Gospel can’t get; in hopes that there are people who will be excluded from Hell because they didn’t hear of Jesus and the Bible. This argument is shattered, for “They are without excuse,” for the invisible God is know by His visible creation.

The thrust of Paul in identifying the pagan behavior, is to show how low and how far from God people will go to pursue their rebellious behavior.  The condition of the mankind is the basis for the wrath of God. God is holy and righteous. He does not have to put up with gross immorality. Note the Flood conditions are the same as Paul writes and God destroyed all the people. Jesus speaks of the only sign we will be given, as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the end times. [Matt 24:37 -ff] Our culture has adopted am “amoral” position with regards to good and evil, specifically morality. All is acceptable, because there isn’t a standard. To adopt this position, one must eliminate God – this is exactly what Paul brings out is chapter one.

You can almost hear the Jewish believers shouting Amen to Paul’s conclusion about the Gentiles. Wait a minute, Paul isn’t done. In chapter 2, Paul takes on the Jews. The Jews had the oracles the Law; yet Paul brings out that the Law no man can’t be justified. The Old Testament salvation was one of faith [Abraham specifically, Hab 2:4], the just shall live by faith. Then Paul brings the argument that when Gentiles by nature do the Law, without the Law, they become a law unto themselves, and are pleasing to God. In other words, God has in fact created mankind with a desire to worship and governed by an innate law within them. His statement, that the Jew is not one born of Jewish stock, but one who lives by faith. So then, a Gentile who does the Law, without the Law becomes in all essence a Jew,

Chapter 3 is a huge chapter, for it quickly gets to the point that no one seeks after God, it is God who seeks after us. [Jeremiah 29:12-14] Paul, having leveled the ground by revealing the both Jew and Gentile are condemned and in subjection to the wrath of God. All have sinned, all fall short, all will be the object of God’s wrath, if faith and repentance are not accomplished. Romans becomes a great book to show how the Gospel moves from a Jewish audience to a Gentile, and hence a global Gospel. No one can claim advantage – the advantage is not in circumcision, nor,  is it in ignorance.

justification is always by faith, not works – Ephesians 2:8-10. It is God who justifies, in a forensic sort of way we are “declared” righteous, even though clearly we are not. Out justification and righteousness is in the Son Jesus – who God the Father sent. Hence salvation and acceptance is not of boasting in who we are, but praise and worship to the One and Only Way to be reconciled – Jesus!

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Elephant and Dinosaur Churches

Elephant and Dinosaur Churches
Within the realm of Church Revitalization the subject of change is ingrained. Revitalization by definition requires change, but the changes must be necessary and vision focused. People do not like to change – I don’t like to change. While this is nothing new, it is an essential ingredient for anyone entertaining church revitalization. I have to be willing to change and as a leader, must be able to create a healthy atmosphere for the needed changes. Whether the revitalization is within a city, community or church; those advocating such must be prepared for conflict and confusion along the way. It has been often said that “unless the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, nothing will be done.” Those who advocate revitalization have to create a “climate” for change, doing so is often a very tedious task. I want to use the illustration of elephants and dinosaurs as a way of identifying both “climate and ministry” changes.
In my office I have a collection of elephants that church members have given me over the last 4 years. Each elephant represents an “elephant in the room” problem that has finally been addressed and dealt with appropriately. Even though many knew the elephant existed, they were not strong enough, nor willing to expose it and deal with it. Many times churches would rather take “The Kings New Clothes” approach to elephants. If you are not familiar with this fable, it means just going along with what everybody else says, until it is so glaringly obvious to all that what was said is in fact untrue.
1. Elephants are warm blooded mammals, which birth off-spring and nurture it to self-sufficiency. Elephant ears are normally 1/6 of their body size.
2. Dinosaurs are cold blooded and largely reptiles, and have many eggs of which they will try to protect until hatching, once hatched they are for the most part on their own for survival.
3. There are some times when an entity has characteristics of both. [They are ministries that are extinct and still eat a lot of church resources; giving only an occasionally “song and dance routine]
Dinosaurs are flesh eaters. They devour their prey; they became extinct when earth had an extreme climate change as a result of Noah’s Flood. There are some dinosaurs that have made the climate change; such as alligators/crocodiles. Most of the dinosaurs are found in museums, and really are not much more than skeletons. But their existence in churches must be self-evident.
Elephants are very large mammals that have a pre-flood ancestor called the mastodon. The mastodon didn’t survive the radical climate change produced by the flood. However, we do have a distant relative, the large pachyderm with us today.
We must agree that these two species exist in some form with in churches. When we look at these two species within the revitalization movement, they become very self-evident in the lives of churches. It must become obvious that dinosaurs and elephants cannot be treated the same way.
The church in America still has dinosaurs in existence. One could put the “Bus Ministry, or “daycare/school” in this category. Years ago every church adopted the Bus ministry because it was the thing to do in churches. It has been clear from recent history [that and the rusting busses in back of churches], that not all churches should have started a bus ministry. In more modern days the necessity to have “hand bells, organ, piano and choirs” could be considered dinosaurs that every church felt it needed.
In a dinosaur climate, everything the church does is for its own self-preservation, particularly outdated programs. These become dinosaurs when the climate has radically changed, and it becomes a “dead/extinct” program. In other words the programs became more important that the ministry they were hoped to be. Before I get into too much trouble, there are some places where these aforementioned programs “appear to be beneficial,” however, they really only have significance for those who are dinosaurs themselves. Many communities and churches find themselves in a climate shift, yet, will not or better yet cannot acclimate to the new environment.
I have been a pastor at a dinosaur church. It is very interesting, how many “historical programs” have ceased to function, yet thousands of dollars are invested to keep them on life support. One such case is opening a daycare or school in the church; in hopes that it will keep the church alive. Day-cares look good on paper, but rarely add to the Kingdom of God. This is similar to the “Bus Ministry” mentioned above, except that the daycare or school devours ministers and laity without giving back. In order for churches to become effective they must rid themselves of the dinosaur syndrome. Caution – the dinosaur will try to eat you if you provoke it! Much like the movie series of “Jurassic Park” the original intention may have been well intended, but in the long run the dinosaurs turned against its masterminds that brought them to life.
Elephants are different however, while they consume a lot of resources, they are not as nearly mean spirited. When churches have elephants the condition is more subtle. Dinosaurs will be loud and boisterous, when elephants are more behind the scene operators. When we address elephants in churches we find that everyone knows they exist, but feel the elephant [area of problem] is too big to mess with, and tend to leave them alone. This seems like a good idea, except, the dynamics of the elephant are such that they aren’t programmatic, but personal relationship oriented. As dinosaurs are more flesh eaters, [destroy people] elephants are more of a hindrance. It is tough to get an elephant to move if it doesn’t want too. The “Elephant in the Room” is a person, group or established order that has become sacred.
Both the elephant and dinosaur have their own way of doing things. Dinosaurs just want to destroy everything, whereas elephants want to just create resistance and blockages of change.
In church revitalization, I think I would rather deal with a dinosaur than an elephant. One has to only change the “climate” to rid themselves of the dinosaur. But the elephant has learned to adapt to the new surroundings and remain still the biggest obstacle to productive and effective ministry.
A church will have to deal with both types of churches; it is imperative that the “change Agent” know which he is dealing with in order to lead a church beyond the position of mediocrity. If the climate of change is not significant enough in the right direction, the “extinct dinosaur will keep the church in the Ice Age.” Too many churches have been held captive to the past climate; partly because the dinosaur has threatened to destroy everyone if any change would cause them to be extinct.
When elephants are allowed to lurk around in services, business meetings and fellowship circles, then the church will lack the courage to confront for fear of conflict. The one thing about allowing elephants in the room or church is they will not leave on their own.
So if you are burdened about the Cultural or Climate you find your ministry currently existing in; you will have to be able to “identify the species” and determine how you will deal with each one in such a way so as not to destroy the church or worse yet be destroyed yourself.

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Woes to Wow

This weeks blog encompasses Matthew 23-27. The last week of Jesus life is filled with controversy and conflict. The previous  3 years while marked with high popularity and miracles, gives over to a riotous crowd of religious hypocrites. In Matthew 23 Jesus seems to let all of the “hypocritical behavior” to the forefront. No longer will Jesus be quiet about who/what the Jewish religious leaders are, and their intention to kill him to preserve their institution – wow that sounds familiar for anyone ever been in ministry! Pharisim is exposed, no less than 8 times Jesus issues a “Woe unto scribes, pharisees and chief priests, hypocrites.” The primary point of Jesus’ exposure is more about what they do behind the scenes or under the auspices of serving God.  Another phrase that has a lot of weight in this chapter is “blind guides.” Obviously if someone cannot see, then how can they think they can lead others? Which is interesting, because their intention is not to honor God or the faith, but to secure their own positions and reproduce people like themselves.  Jesus came to his own and his own knew him not, [John 1:11] The way they treated the son of the Master of the Vineyard, [ Matt 21:33-41] is their indictment to punishment and the wrath of God.

After Jesus pretty much seals the deal with the Jewish leaders desire to eliminate Him, he begins to focus on the future things of the Kingdom of God. Everyone is interested in the future and the disciples were no different. Jesus answers more than a “when is the 2nd coming” question. He uses the Olivet Discourse as it is called to outline [albeit cryptic] the Fall of Jerusalem, the treatment of the disciples and the signs of His return. Jesus uses parables about known cultural life to explain, the conditions of the world, the lack of preparedness and about judgments and rewards. Jesus does give great warning, many will come pretending to be Him. Times will get bad with persecution and natural/man-made disasters. We live in a day when most church people [notice I didn’t say Christians] are trying to promote a soon return of Jesus to poor His wrath out on all the ungodliness and immorality. If that were really believed, wouldn’t it make sense that all of us would be trying to share the Gospel with great intensity?

I am going to fast forward to Matthew 26-27. A lot happens in one week.  From the Passover/Last Supper to the Gethsemane scene to the mock trials and illegal courts, Jesus is betrayed, forsaken, denied, condemned, scourged, mocked and finally crucified on the Cross at Golgotha. I was particularly moved by Matthew 27:31, I have overlooked this verse until recently. The phrase “they put His garments back on Him.” You may be confused at this point. Remember Matt 26:6-13?; a woman anoints Jesus’ body for burial. Another passage helps John 12:1-3, the anointing perfume was poured over His head, on to His clothes. The fragrance was so intoxicating it “filled” the room. My thought was this, how in such a horrid situation to find a breath of resolve. I think Jesus could still smell through the sweat and blood that fragrance of love!

Still moving forward, I want to talk of the veil that was torn in the Temple. The Temple was reconstructed according to the specifications of Solomon’s Temple. There is the courts, outer [Gentile], Women’s and Men’s courts. Then there is the inner room of the Sanctuary, then behind the veil is the Holy of Holies; where the High Priest goes only once a year. The Veil was to keep people out of the presence of God, except by appropriate sacrifice and atonement rituals. Thinking of the Veil – it was the width of a man’s hand or about 4 inches thick. Matthew 27:51, when Jesus dies, the veil is torn; torn from top to bottom. This means that God opened the access to Himself through the Flesh of Jesus. Jesus as the High Priest [after the Order of Melchizedek] enters on the basis of His own Flesh, through the Veil to offer His own blood as covenant obedience and forgiveness. [Heb. 6:19; 9:3 and 10:20] All this being said, Jesus’ death was God’s doing not man’s. Jesus’ flesh [Veil] was torn to give access to us to the presence of God. We have entrance through Jesus’ flesh and access to the throne based upon His blood sacrifice. Behind the death of Jesus [flesh] is the torn veil. His body was the veil, by which the blood was brought. Before, the High Priest had to make sacrifice for himself, then only once a year go beyond the veil to make atonement for the people. But the veil always remained in place year after year, after Jesus death, [the veil] all have access. With this in mind we “Have Confidence to come before the Throne [Hebrews 10:19-25]

The WOW for the week comes from all that happened when Jesus resurrects; Earthquakes, tombs opening up, spirits walking around, not your average Sunday – even though maybe it should be! The Roman soldier got it right when Jesus “gave up His spirit” he said “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Next Week we start reading the Magnum Opus of Paul, the Book of Romans!


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Tricks, Truth and Treachery

Our passage this week includes Matthew 18-22.

It seems that Jesus has completed His ministry, now it is time to head towards Jerusalem and Calvary. The emphasis in chapter 18 centers around understanding the Kingdom of God – what Jesus is actually going to establish versus the people’s ideas. It becomes very clear that holiness is a must for the people of the Kingdom. So much so that it is better to maimed then to enter in with corrupted body parts.

Jesus uses the illustration of the Child numerous times. The disciples have several times denounced the “insignificant” child from bothering Jesus. Jesus must be seen as a lover of little children. Their innocence and pure love for him is refreshing in comparison to the agenda driven  religious leaders and even the disciples. Matt 18:10, could be used to make the case for guardian angels of the little children.

Discipline within the body of Christ is necessary. However, many churches do not address sin in their midst. Matt 18:15-20 is the biblical formula for taking care of faults and restoring and/or removing fellowship of sinning church family. I have heard Matt 18:20 used so many times, I often cringe when I hear it used, for it is often used to support God hearing our prayers because two have gathered in His Name. This view does not fit the context of the passage. The purpose of the passage in correction and restoration. In other words when we come together to discipline with biblical counsel, Jesus is affirming our action being taken in the body of Christ. The continuing emphasis on forgiving follows to the end of the chapter. The reference to two or more gathering in His Name is in reference to doing the work of God, through the power of God, with the agreement of God.

In Matt 19 – Jesus brings up the children again, still the disciples don’t get the Kingdom mindset. The Kingdom isn’t for the socially accepted, but for those that often are rejected by the religious and the churched! [Matt 21:31] Jesus uses the parable literary genre to prove His case about conditions in the world. The Laborers in the Vineyard, speak clearly how we are people are greedy and want more than others. The rewards of God are grace and truth. Just because God has been gracious and called us to labor in His field longer, does not give us seniority over others that have come later. I find this often in churches, who feel that they are more deserving just because they have been members longer and that their way should be the right way. Both last and first have been treated graciously by God. We don’t deserve anything – God doesn’t owe us!

In the Triumphal entry, Jesus is not on a mission for coronation, but condemnation of the religious leaders. His parable of the Landowner clearly is an indictment to the Pharisees and Sadducees treatment of the prophets who came before. In Mt. 21:45 – they finally understand that Jesus is speaking of them, hence the desire to kill Him. Their attempts at tricking Him with topics about which there isn’t any relevance just shows their denial of the truth spoken by Jesus and the treachery to condemn and undermine His popularity with the people. [Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, yet ask a question about it]

Matthew 22 is a sad chapter for three times people were invited to attend the wedding feast of the King’s son. The had received the invitation, they were reminded of the event, and when the day actually came, they declined. This is a parable about Israel – the people of God. Jesus was the final opportunity for the people to return to God and serve Him, but their denial/rejection resulted in a the Kingdom being given to another people. [Matt 21:43-44]

Hearing the truth isn’t always freeing, often it is convicting and condemning. If truth is rejected by people we will become treacherous towards anyone who thinks otherwise. Truth cannot be destroyed by a lie, no matter how many accept the lie.

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What’s a country to do?

Tomorrow is National Prayer Day here in America.

I have been inundated by social media, newspapers, newscast and Christian web sites that solidify a “doom and gloom” future for America and the world. There are more books being written about how these are the “last Days.” If these are the Last Days, why are we [the Church] not more concerned about the Lost instead of our own comfort and convenience? The theme passage tomorrow is 1 Kings 8:28 – it is the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple he built. A parallel passage which is more familiar is 2 Chronicles 6&7 [2 Chron. 7:14]. King Solomon focused  not “if” but “when” the people of Israel drifted and departed from worshiping the true God to worship of cults and idols.  He was the wisest man, he knew that the people were fickle and would drift away from God. So he outlined several situations where he knew the people would be found unfaithful, and asked God to “hear their cry” and deliver them from their own generated dilemma.

As we look at United States, much of the news is about how bad conditions are here. There has been a lot of publicity about Prayer and prayer groups. I know in my own denomination there is the rally cry for people to pray about another “Great Awakening.”

Just as God told Israel if they would obey His commands and statutes, they would be blessed and their enemies would receive the wrath of God. However, if Israel wouldn’t obey the LORD, then the wrath intended for the pagans would become Israel’s fate, and the unbelieving nations would receive the blessings.

There is a danger with disobedience and departure from God. I believe that a person, church, community and nation can become so far removed by disobedience, that the Glory of God will depart and eventually God will not hear the cry of His people. In Jeremiah there are a number of passages that tell Jeremiah not to pray for the people for God will not hear their cry. [Jer. 16:5; 14:11; 11:14]

My greatest concern with conditions of America and the world is have we come to the stage of global apostasy and anarchy that God no longer listens, and His wrath is soon to be poured out. Ezekiel 22:30-31, tell us that Judah got to the point where there was no one who had the heart of God, no one was praying and seeking the LORD.

Now that I have painted such a gloom and doom picture; I must still hold out for hope. Passages such as 2 Chronicles 7:14, 1 Kings 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:10-14; give us hope. We must pray, but we must become desperate for the heart of God. Like the nation of Israel in Egypt crying out for deliverance and the Negro spirituals sang by the slaves for freedom; we must desperately seek out and call upon the LORD. We have to come to the end of ourselves and Hope the our prayers are not too late where God has turned a deaf ear!

The Church, the Bride of Christ must quit her adulterous ways – Jesus is faithful always. Faithful to bless, but equally faithful to discipline. Will America turn, will you and I turn from our wicked ways?


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