Friday, January 23, 2009

The kind of person Jesus is amazed by (Luke 7:1-10)

What kind of person would amaze Jesus? It is recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter 7 as the story of a Roman officer's faith.

The short version is that there was a Roman officer who had a valued servant. This servant was very sick, near death even. When he heard about Jesus he sent for him and asked him to come and heal this sickly servant. The Jewish entourage sent by the Roman officer spoke very highly of him and begged Jesus to come to his aid.

Jesus began his journey to the house of this centurion, but he is stopped by another entourage from this Roman officer. The message they brought is powerful and full of faith. His message is, "Jesus, you don't even need to come to my house for my slave to be healed, say the word from wherever you are and he will be healed."

This is paraphrased, of course, but you get the idea. There are some things that stick out to me. First, here is a Roman officer who is well loved by his Jewish counterparts! This is unheard of because the Romans and the Jews were bitter enemies. This surely must have gotten Jesus attention because of his own unusual nature and compassionate tendencies. This officer was a kind and generous man with lots of friends who are happy to help him in his time of need.

Secondly, it is clear that this officer had faith in Jesus' authority. Although he had never met Jesus personally he makes astounding declarations about Jesus' power and authority over the servant's sickness. He even pushes the envelope on his own faith saying that Jesus did not even have to come to the house to bring healing to it. This "pagan" had the ability to ask for more than what was practical or reasonable among Jesus' own followers.

Finally, Jesus says that this man had more faith than anyone He had seen in Israel. This is astounding because one would think that this amazing individual would have been someone who bathed in anointing oil and could quote the fundamentals of orthodox faith. There is nothing wrong with being a good religious person, unless that religion lacks faith. Hebrews 11:6 says " is impossible to please God without faith." (NLT) Has your belief system squeezed out every drop of true faith and replaced it with mechanisms of piety that keep you (and God) appeased in your own mind but not in reality?

You see, it is often outsiders who are willing to push the boundaries of faith and religion because they are not encumbered with fear of getting it wrong, or making God angry. The ironic thing is that "faithless religion" is the thing that guarantees God being displeased with you. I want my understanding of religion to be alive and full of "God-pleasing" faith. That is why I am stretching myself to ask God for stuff that doesn't make sense. I want to have faith like this centurion from the outside. I've been on the inside for a long time. I was raised in the church, but I am determined not to let that disqualify me from seeing the impossible.

God, help me to have faith that amazes you!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bring the booze...

Lifestyle evangelism is nothing new. In fact, it is a bit of a buzz word in a lot of Christian circles right now. Put succinctly, it is the ability to lead people to Jesus with every aspect of your life and not just your words. I thought I understood this concept, until today.

I was reading a story from the gospels about Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana and reflecting on my own experiences as a pastor at weddings I have officiated. Here's the thing that struck me. Jesus brought the booze...

Don't get mad at me, that was meant to shock you. Did it work? Think about it. Jesus obviously was not promoting evil in any way, but He was not concerned about propriety or the appearance of evil, which is often a misused idea anyway. You see, the people at this wedding had been drinking for days by the time Jesus arrived. I think its safe to say that some of them were plastered. But Jesus embraced the humanity of those around Him so that He could get the chance to move in close and show them real love.

Many of our neighbors and friends are daily beaten by the failures in their own minds and what happens when they come in to church? They get a heaping helping of guilt and condemnation. Now, I am not saying that I condone ridiculous behavior and debauchery, but I am saying that we can't be afraid to embrace it openly in the people we minister to, day in and day out, in the hopes that they will see Someone in us that will change their lives for the good.

Here's the test. Do you run away from the chance to meet people that do not share your faith to begin with? Do you avoid people of different faiths than you? Does someone's sexual orientation or behavior make you think twice about getting to know them? Do you want people to meet God on your terms or are you willing to break a sabbath rule to reach out to someone who may never have the chance to see God in you again?

Monday, January 12, 2009

New vision and comfort...

...These things don't seem to fit together. They don't take long strolls on the beach sipping mimosas and talking about the good old days. They are not like peas and carrots. They would not find each other on eHarmony. They are not even in the same zip code. They are like Clark Kent and Superman, as soon as one appears you start asking where the other one went.

At this moment, I am wondering where the comfort went.

Doubt, fear and uncertainty are certainly a certainty when you take on new vision, for certain, but there is something I am discovering as I embrace the discomfort. When the pressure of achieving this new vision becomes overwhelming to the point that I am breathing through a brown paper bag to avoid hyperventilation, I remind myself that it is not my job to sustain this work. It was given by Him and therefore He will sustain it (and me) when it seems insurmountable. Suddenly, I experience comfort in the presence of this new vision. They are compatible, but only when Christ is in the center of the equation.

All of us on staff at Freedom Valley are stretching ourselves beyond what seems possible, Vision '09 is proof of that. However, we are asking for things that are beyond what seems possible. It's a lot like when my 4 year old son Samuel tries to help me with something I am working on. More often than not he ends up undoing what I have done as quick as I have done it. I feel a lot like Samuel right now.

God help us not to rip this thing out of your hands, but allow us to persevere in faith. If we wait on Him we might be involved in the next upper room experience to visit the earth. I choose to wait upon the Lord...but I am waiting with one hand on the plow and the other raised towards heaven.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

One foot in front of the other...How to start a site. I think.

Ok. I have surrendered my ambitions to Him and I have begun to experience the most enjoyable discomfort I have ever known. A friend of mine always used to say to me, "The moment you give your life to Christ is the last comfortable moment you will ever have!" He is right...

I have decided to plant a site/church. I have no idea how to do that. Still, I am going to press on, one foot in front of the other to try and pull some thoughts out of the soupy swamp that is my head so that I can see the next season of my life the way God sees it. This is my attempt at creating a 1 year time line for this church plant...(don't laugh, it's harder than you might think) So here goes...

Essentials: (forever and ever, amen)
  • Pray constantly
  • Fast weekly
  • Be led by the Holy Spirit
  • Push toward the outside (be evangelistic)
  • Stay close to Jesus

Long Term: (10-12 mos. from today)
  • Weekly services begin
  • Volunteer worship team (leaders) developed to launch
  • Volunteer kids' ministry team (leaders) developed to launch
  • Occupying site by lease (Outlet mall, shopping center, et al.)
  • Operating daily at new site with outreach programs and ministry activities
  • Fast one 24 hour period each month in addition to weekly fast
Short Term: (6-10 mos. from today)
  • Small group meeting in monthly preview services
  • Volunteer worship team (leaders) in place and in training
  • Volunteer kids' ministry team (leaders) in place and in training
  • site location secured and finalized
  • Leadership network organized to create ministry opportunities in new site
  • Fast one 24 hour period each month in addition to weekly fast
Shorter Term: (4-6 mos. from today)
  • Small group (launch team) meeting monthly with worship and bible study
  • Leadership training for ministry leaders in full swing with 5-10 people involved
  • Site name and focus will be determined
  • Develop leadership network and fill matrix with potential leaders
  • Finish credentialing process with AG
  • Complete church planting boot camp
  • Complete church planters evaluation process with Tom Reese
  • Fast one 24 hour period each month in addition to weekly fast
  • Pray with core leadership team weekly to develop vision further
Even Shorter Term (2-4 mos. from today)
  • Develop monthly small group meeting in home
  • Begin credentialing process with AG
  • Meet bi-monthly with church planting/sites team and coach
  • Fast one 24 hour period each month in addition to weekly fast
  • Pray for more vision and write it down (Habakkuk 2:2)
(This list is in no way complete, but it's a start)

Please pray with me that I can do this with faithfulness and complete dependence on God. Thanks people.