Tuesday, September 30, 2008

STUCK! In A Rut!

Hey everybody!

This Thursday's Rap With Pastor Bill will focus on the "rut" that we often find ourselves stuck in. I know for me it's devotions and prayer. I have found that if I make time to pray with friends I get so much more out of it than when I pray by my self. But, I don't take the time to actually call someone and ask them to coffee for the expressed purpose of praying. When I neglect to pray the way that I know God speaks to me the best, I find myself praying half-heartedly and without much conviction.

What is the rut you find yourself in, either all the time or just from time to time? Some people find themselves stuck in a dead end relationship, stuck in a dead end job, or stuck in the past. Others struggle with self-esteem and self-worth issues, financial issues, or faith issues. These are just a few examples of the things I've helped people through in the last ten years of ministry, but I'm sure that you have other examples of just feeling like your spinning your wheels and not going anywhere. So, that's a start for this Thursday's discussion.

Let's get the discussion going early this week! You don't need to divulge deep, personal information if you don't want to, but commenting on something somewhat generic that most of us struggle with would be a great start. At the very least, comment and let me know that you at least read this note.

Thanks and we'll see ya' Thursday!

Bill

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Contest!

Jesus makes it very clear that He came to seek and save the lost and the be a doctor to the sick. He said He didn't come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He said that the Followers, Christians, should be humble and always put others first. He said that whoever wants to become great among us must be a servant and whoever wants to be first must be a slave. I think He really knew what makes a person great, and it appears as if the standards we have for greatness in this culture really has nothing to do with greatness in the culture of Heaven. So, in the interest of my next Sunday sermon, I would like to hear from as many of you as I can who you think is great among us.

First, some rules...
1) the criteria is based on the way Jesus explained greatness in light of humility (see Matthew 20:20-28).
2) the person does not need to be widely known, but must have at least one other person you know able to affirm your claim.
3) the person be can living or dead, but had to have lived in our life-time.

Second, the prize...
The winner of this contest will receive no compensation or recognition and will remain known only unto me.

Third, respond in the comment field below this post

Thanks!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Divorce & Remarriage

Jesus is the answer for the world today!

Have you ever stopped to think about all the people who have been effected by divorce? The national statistics show that somewhere between 40% and 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Evangelical Church statistics are some better, but not much. With numbers like that, I can imagine that you have either been through a divorce or have seen a close family member or friend go through it. Everyone I know has a been effected by this epidemic in some manner.

If you were to believe what you hear from the media, Christian and Secular, you might think that this is a new development within our own country. What if I told you that divorce is an ancient concept that has been an issue in just about every culture that has a recorded history. Even in the Old Testament of the Bible you can see that divorce was common. Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, wrote a special amendment to the Law to allow for divorce because he wanted to make sure that the people effected by it could continue to be cared for and have a certain amount of personal rights. Even Jesus and the Apostle Paul spoke to the subject in their day over 2000 years ago. Yeah, divorce is an problem in this great country of ours, but it is not new.

I love how Jesus handles this issue. In Matthew 19, a group of pharisees wanted to trip Jesus up by exposing His thoughts on divorce. (You can read one of my last posts if you want to know the background on the whole story here.) But instead of being duped into a discussion that would have caused dissension and possibly gotten Jesus arrested or killed, He simply pointed out what the intention for marriage was in the first place. He then follows up those thoughts by making it clear that there is only one acceptable reason for a divorce. Yes, there is an exception. The exception is this: divorce is permissible when a married person has a physical relationship with someone other than their spouse. That is all that Jesus said about the matter.

Paul, on the other hand, states the same exception, but adds a second acceptable reason. He says that is if a person becomes a Christian and the other non-Christian spouse no longer wants to be married to the Christian, then the Christian would not be committing any wrong doing if the non-Christian divorces the Christian (1Cor. 7). So there you have it, although hated by God (Mal. 2), there are two acceptable reasons for divorce.

Don't misunderstand the point, divorce for any other reason than the two mentioned above is wrong. Wrongdoing is also hated by God and called sin. So, logically speaking, you could say that divorce for any reason other than the ones mentioned is sin. You could make very good cases for the right to divorce because of physical or emotional abuse, but that would be covered by the second exception stated by Paul about a Christian being married to a non-Christian. Yeah, that that is a judgment call, but think about it... If a person is going to totally ignore Biblical authority in the area of self control and continue to habitually beat someone (for whatever reason) and has been approached in the manner of Matthew 18, then the church would be obligated to take the correct measures to insure the safety of the innocent party. (As Paul states, this is my opinion and interpretation not necessarily the Lords intention, even though I think it is. Please feel free to state a different opinion or argument.) Sin is sin and must be dealt with.

Yes, people who remarry after a divorce that didn't line up with the two positions stated by Jesus and Paul have committed sin, a wrongdoing.
However, the majority of marital mix ups are about as impossible to repair as the sin of murder. Therefore the guilty party may be forgiven by God, even though he cannot make all wrongs right. Even the guilty party will not find one word in the Bible which addresses them to separate from their present companion, much less find a Biblical example of a married couple that did separate because they had been divorced and remarried. The guilty one will find that they have sinned a sin like murder in the respect that they can’t make adequate restitution to the point of undoing the wrong they have done. In other words, if a guy divorces his present wife and breaks up their home in order to get remarried to his first wife, he would be adding another wrong to the wrong already done.

If every intricate detail of every marital situation could be untangled and resolved, the fact remains that not one time did Jesus attempt to advise individuals already divorced and remarried (guilty or innocent). He never tried to untangle the intricate involvements of the past. Jesus knew, and so must the church realize and under stand, that we should never try to repair something when we know before we start that, spiritually and socially, we will likely make matters worse instead of better. That must have been the reason Jesus never attempted to tell people who were already involved in divorce and remarriage what to do to solve their problem.

Now that I have said all that, let me tell you an awesome truth. Jesus forgives sin! He always has and He always will. He is in the business of healing wounds no matter how they were inflicted. Don't forget that marriage is the picture of intimacy that God wants with His people. That is why it is so damaging for people to go through a divorce for any reason, even the ones that are acceptable in His eyes. Just like untaping wrapping paper or separating super-glued fingers, some of the effected area will remain connected to the original bond. There really is no way around the pain of separating what God put together. Dealing with the guilt and shame of divorce through acceptance of God's love and forgiveness is the only way to live in the intimacy that God wants, even for the people who have been divorced, guilty or innocent.

Jesus left the door cracked open just a little bit on divorce, just read Matthew 19:11 and 12. There He points out that not everyone can live a celibate life. Keep in mind that He said that after He pointed out that divorce was not the original plan. He knew that human hearts are hard and that without His Holy Spirit, people will commit sin against Him and other people. He knew that we all have fallen short of His glory. But He also renews a right spirit in those with contrite, sorrowful hearts willing to admit to wrongdoing. If you have been divorced, take time to confess your part and then trust that Jesus has forgiven you and no longer holds that sin against you. For those of you who have been divorced for the acceptable reasons mentioned in this article or even for any wrong reason, forgive your ex spouse. As Jesus said in Matthew 17:7, "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" Take the person who has hurt you off your hook and simply place them on God's hook. He has promised to deal with the people who have caused harm, you don't need to carry that burden any longer. Divorce is not an unforgivable sin, and divorced people are not "damaged goods". Come to Jesus and He will set you free, even from divorce, guilty or innocent.

Ego and God's Will

(I wrote this blog several weeks ago but didn't publish it because I thought it was a little harsh and somewhat defensive. Now, though, I feel that it needs to be published so you can see that even I struggle, from time to time time, with self esteem and clear vision. Feel free to weigh in on this post, but I'm not looking for my own ego to be stroked and I'm not probing to find out if others feel as the two people mentioned in the article do. I truly just want you to see that I am human and have feelings that get bruised as I deal with the pressures of leading Willow into the future with the Vision He has provided.)

There a very few things that make me nervous. Things usually just don't bother me. But, recently I have been accused of some pretty bad things and have been feeling a little put-out by those accusations. I wrote a blog a long time ago expressing how personal "flavors" about how a church does church is important to so many people (http://kiddsplace.blogspot.com/2007/11/what-to-do.html), so I know that there is no way to please everyone who comes to Willow with our style, format, or way of doing things. But there have been a couple of comments made lately that have shaken me up. I was told that Willow will never experience what God wants it to be and that people are not coming to Christ because of the "way" I preach. Interestingly enough, the same sentiment was repeated almost verbatim to me by a friend of the first person. Never mind that that previous Sunday, several saints came forward and gave huge amounts of themselves to Jesus as He convicted them. Never mind that just two weeks before that service, two people got saved and I am in contact with them about getting connected to a church in their own hometown. Never mind that just last week 5 people took the membership class at Willow and will become members with the approval of the next church board meeting. No, I guess I'm not following God's will for the two people who don't like the way I preach. It was very difficult to listen to such criticism because I have devoted my life to bring Jesus to everyone I meet, let alone my congregation. To think that I (or any pastor) am the sole reason people do not turn to Christ really spun into a mighty big bout of self doubt and personal crisis.

O.K., I'm over it now! I have been feeling defensive and I know that is not what God intended when He allowed me to hear such hard criticisms. I have done nothing wrong, so there is nothing to be defensive about. And if I had done something wrong, then I wouldn't have a defense anyway. But, I can tell you this; I have way more resolve now than I have ever had! I know exactly what and why God gave me a vision for North West Lansing, and for the congregation of Willow! I have been labeled "Old School" for well over 5 years now in regards to me preaching style because I don't do topical sermons and I get very excited about what the Bible says verse by verse. I'm very comfortable with that title and the exegetical way I present God's Word, emotion and all. I really don't sense God asking me to change the way I have always preached, so I'm going to be who He has made me be even at the cost of alienating other believers. Maybe God will convict me of the way I say things on the platform and maybe He won't. I will deal with what He brings to my attention and other people will have to deal with what they hear and decide if personal "flavor" is worth walking away from the place God has called to attend or even to serve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Divorce?

Currently, on Sunday mornings at Willow Community Church, we are looking at the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Matthew which covers just about everything Jesus said and taught while on earth. Every pastor must decide if he should present topics of a controversial nature or just pass by them in light of lesser difficult topics. Each pastor must adhere to both Biblical and doctrinal standards on every teaching whether it is popular or not, so it would make sense to some pastors to overlook something that might seem hard to talk about, let alone deliver a message to people in order to effect change. When I made the choice to follow God's calling to preach through the book of Matthew, I knew I would have to talk about the stuff that I really didn't want to. That is why my personal purpose statement is, "To preach the Word of God whether is is comfortable or not."

That is why I love how Jesus handled the very difficult topic of divorce as presented here in Matthew 19:1-12:

The pharisees really didn't like much of anything that Jesus said or did, especially when those things directly challenged a current trend that they liked or didn't like. In the case of divorce, there were two different schools of thought; 1)A man could divorce his wife for any reason as long as he gave her a written document stating that she was in, in fact, divorced, or 2) A man could only divorce if his wife had been unfaithful in an adulterous relationship. If Jesus came down on the side of #1, the pharisees could easily say that He was watering down the original meaning Moses gave for allowance of divorce just to appeal to the people He was ministering to. If He came down on the side of #2, the people would have been very upset because divorce was very, very common and no one likes to be told they are wrong. The pharisees actually thought they had Jesus in an impossible situation.

Look what Jesus did; He turned the question back on them and started talking about the original intent of marriage instead of the allowance for divorce. That was awesomely brilliant! He gave them the Old Testament background for the institution of marriage and what it was intended for in the first place! He went right back to the very source, the Old Testament Scriptures, that He knew no one could argue with.

He pointed out that marriage is between one man and one woman, bond together by God becoming one person that cannot be pulled apart. That's really the bottom line. We're going to talk at length about what "cannot pull apart" means in the next post, but for now, look at what the Bible says was the original intent of marriage as pointed out by Jesus and the Apostle Paul based on Scripture.

1) Procreation - Genesis 1:28 -Having Babies! Making more babies is making more potential worshipers!
2) Pleasure - 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 - Not to be inappropriate, but God gave us the physical feelings we have because He loves us. Think about your taste buds. God only needed to sustain us, He didn't have to give us a way enjoying our sustenance!
3)Purity - Hebrews 13:4 - There is no shame in the conjugal state. When two become one flesh, there is a closeness that cannot be replicated in any other relationship, physical or emotional. We are physical and emotional beings with physical and emotional needs and God gave us all we need to deal with those needs through the state of matrimony.
4) Provision - Ephesians 5:28-29 - Taking care of each other is both selfless and fulfilling. When you put someone else's needs before your own, you begin to think in less selfish tones.
5) Partnership - Genesis 2:18-25 - Giving Adam a helper was the reason God made Eve. He gave him another person for companionship, assistance, procreation and pleasure. Whoa! Man! What a gift!!
6) Picture - Ephesians 5:22-33 - Marriage is really the most beautiful picture of Intimacy ever painted. God always intended marriage to be symbolic of our relationship to Him through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. There is a sense of perpetuating our relationship with Jesus among others so that more people may find the intimacy Christians have with their Lord. There is has never been more pleasure in the mind of a human than knowing they are being pleasing to God. There is nothing more pure than to stand blameless before the Creator without the guilt of sin and shame. There is nothing more rewarding than to put your needs aside, if even for a short time, and help to provide for someone else in need as Jesus did when He went to the Cross for our greatest need. There is no better partner to accomplish more than we could ever have hoped for or imagined than in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is nothing more intimate than the relationship between a human being and the God who created him.

Next up... Divorce and Remarriage.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who and How?

I've talked a lot about vision. Maybe, just maybe, I've talked too much about vision. I guess I'm stuck on this point because there really doesn't seem any other way to describe how God moves His agenda along. Without giving His people an idea of who, why and how to expand His Kingdom, we would all just be in the throws of worship. Don't misunderstand my point; Christians are longing for the Day of the Lord when we will be judged unto righteousness and spend eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ enjoying Him forever, but that time begins when we are in the Kingdom of Heaven in Heaven. While we are in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, we must be about our Father's business.

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." This is the passage of Scripture Willow Community Church rallied around to bring our mission statement into focus. We struggled for hours and hours with what we need to be doing as a church. In fact, when we finally landed on this passage, there was a collective sigh! God had finally enlightened the Willow family with a vision to get His work started!

That was about two years ago. We still understand the we... Exist to Draw People to the Truth of Jesus Christ! We still rally around that war cry! We still feel energized and excited whenever we collectively state those awesome words! But, what does the statement really mean? As the pastor of Willow I think it means that we must do whatever is in our power to do in order to deliver the message of hope and love and peace to a people in tremendous need. Most likely, every regular attender of Willow would agree. Even you who are not from Willow would agree to a certain extent that churches should be going after the lost as Jesus did and that once you've reached them you must teach them as Jesus did.

Think about it though, can Willow Community Church, or any church, singlehandedly get the message out to every person in need? No. That would be impossible. I believe that Jesus is using churches all over the globe to do that. So, that leaves me with two simple but very important questions: 1) Just who are the People Willow is supposed to Draw to Jesus? 2) How is Willow supposed to Draw People to Jesus? (Notice that I didn't include the "why". If you need more clarity on why, just read the last 8 or so posts on this blog!)

I have some very certain thoughts in this area, but I would like some feedback from you before I say anything more about my answers to these questions. Please comment and let me know who you think your church should consider going after and how. This subject absolutely fascinates me, so the more replies the better!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His Church (Corporate # 2)

York, England

York Castle is an absolutely remarkable work of medieval construction. It is has everything that you would expect a castle to have: mote, watchtower, grand ball room, throne room, etc... But check this out; the foundation of this monstrosity was first laid in 1068 A.D.! What is even more remarkable is that it continued to be built, rebuilt and added on to up through the late 20th century. Think about it, this castle has had some kind of continuous construction for almost 1,000 years! The last major work to be done, was to knock down a few buildings built in the 1800's that were used for a prison. Now, the prison buildings that remain on the site are used as a museum to show visitors how the different owners over the last 900 plus years have each envisioned the use of such a unique land mark.

York Castle, or any other castle for that matter, is made up of millions of bricks piled, one on top of the other, to make up a huge amount of rooms. There are rooms of every size and for just about every occasion. Each room has a different decor to it depending on what it is used for, but each room is still a part of the same foundation as the rest of the castle. I like the progression of York because I can imagine how, over time, certain people, kings for instance, developed a different vision for a certain room and set about to change that room to fit their particular taste or function for that room. I also can see how sometimes there just wasn't a room suitable to change for the vision the king had, so a new room was added to what was already there, which meant that the foundation of the castle had to be extended. I can also imagine that there were just some pretty old parts of the castle that nobody wanted to go to or do anything with, so those parts fell into disrepair. Over the last 1000 years or so, York has been changed to look different than it's original shape and size, but it is still the same castle, just bigger.

I think the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is very much the same as York. The Foundation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God was laid over 2000 years ago. On that Foundation are many, many Bricks (The Followers) that make up many, many rooms of varying sizes and shapes. Each room is based on a vision from God given to one person (the Leader) who develops a plan to make that room what it should be (the Cause). Usually, the person blessed with the vision (The Leader) has an idea of what the final outcome will look like, but until the room is fully complete the vision will not be 100% clear. However, the room can not be built on the Foundation by only one person. It is built by a group of others (The Followers) who understand the vision for that room and have a vision of their own on how to best enhance it. Someone will have a vision for the heating and duct work that must be installed. Someone else will begin to see how they can use their gifts and talents to lay the flooring or install the electrical wiring. Someone else will develop a sense of vision for a color scheme in order to make the room attractive. And, just like York, while working on the vision of one person (The Leader), some individual (A Follower) may develop a vision for a different part of the castle. The person (now The Leader) then develops a plan to make that room what it should be (The Cause) and others (The Followers) begin to understand the vision for that room.

I believe that every church, missionary board, Christian rock band, Christian liberal arts college and the like are just different rooms built on the same Foundation. We all follow Jesus because we believe that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God. We are each given a vision of our own unique contribution to expanding the Kingdom while we follow the vision someone has for a certain country, state, city, neighborhood or people group until such a time a more definitive vision for something else becomes a little more clear. Look at it this way, I have a vision for Willow Community Church to Draw People to the Truth of Jesus Christ in Northwest Lansing, MI. I even have a pretty good idea of what that could look like in the not too distant future. While I share my vision with other Believers, some begin to see what their unique role might be to help accomplish my goals. While they work with me, they help me refine my vision and help bring that vision into sharper focus. Some even begin to develop a vision for a new ministry that wasn't a part of my original vision but could strongly enhance my vision. And, on occasion, some may sense Jesus giving them a vision for a different people group, neighborhood, community, state or country based on what they have seen and learned while working with me and the vision that I have.

You see, Jesus has a vision of seeing His Kingdom expanded. He has given each person what they need to do their part and has chosen to use people to manage His Kingdom in order to see more people come to the belief that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God! Every Christian, every church and every Christian organization has but one goal in mind and that is put more Bricks on the Foundation! And that is Corporate Vision!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His Church (Corporate)

8.8.08
The 2008 Olympic Games open on Friday night! My family will be complete and total TV bums! The thing that is so interesting about The Games is how our country becomes embroiled in seeing our athletes win as many contests as they can. Every single athlete that makes the team have visions of standing on the podium and receiving the the ultimate prize for all the hard work, training and God-given talent they have. All the athletes have a huge support/coaching staff that help them do their very best. Everybody has a role and everybody has one thing on their mind: Winning the Gold! The more medals USA wins, the more pride we collectively have as a nation. We have a corporate vision of kicking butt and waving our Flag!

The Church isn't so different. In fact, Jesus gave the apostle Peter a vision of leading a new ministry that would eventually become a world wide movement. That's an Individual Vision. Jesus also knew that there would be a lot of work to be done in order to build His Kingdom on Earth. He endowed the other 11 apostles and many, many other followers with talents, gifts and abilities to accomplish that goal. As discussed earlier, Jesus is in the business of people, so it would stand to reason that He would use people to manage the work that needs to be done with people. That's a Structural Vision. All the individual vision and leadership structure that was in place had just one thing to work toward, drawing more people into the Cause of building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. That's a corporate vision.

Just like all the countries that compete on the world stage of the Olympic Games have a vision to win more medals than any other country, the Church has a vision of winning more souls for Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Remember, the Church is not a building of brick and stone, it is a movement of people, Believers, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Each individual Believer has been given gifts, talents and abilities to help the Kingdom grow. Each group of Believers has to be managed in order to have some sort of structure because more can be accomplished in numbers than by individual effort. But... the effort of every individual or group of Believers is not to gain personal fame or glory, it is and always has been to see more people become Believers, or to build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Every Christian church, regardless of denomination or location exists to expand the Kingdom on Earth. Jesus makes it very clear that He came to seek and save the lost. To fulfill that purpose, He died and took the punishment for all of our sin. He did His job, but are we doing ours?

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His Leaders (Structure)

In my last post I said we would look into what I meant by; If there are followers, there must be a leader. If there is a leader, there must be a cause. If there is a cause, there must be a leader. If there is a leader, there must be followers. So, without further delay... Read On!

1. If there are Followers there must be a Leader

a) Jesus came to "Seek and save the Lost". He had a clear mission with an obvious vision for the souls of people.

b) If you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then you are a "Christian". Christian simply means, "Christ-follower" or "Follower of the Messiah". Therefore, Christ must be the Leader.

c) Christians, or Followers, make up the Church, not brick, glass and stone. Church means, "Called out ones" or "Assembled ones for a common cause". Christians, then, are simply Following their Leader!

2. If there is a Leader there must be a Cause

a) If Jesus is the Leader and His mission was to seek and save the lost and has commissioned His Followers to build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, then the Cause is to build Christ's Church, to make more Christians, to assemble more people or, to lay more stones on the Foundation. Laying more stones on the Foundation perpetuates the Cause!

b) Jesus Gave Peter the Key(s) to the Kingdom. The Key(s) is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and believing in Him leads to Everlasting Life. Christians follow Jesus because they believe that He saved them from eternal separation from God... or 'death' for short. The Church, the Called Out Ones, the Followers of the Messiah now have purpose for existence!

c) The Church's purpose, then, is to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God so that others will be saved and therefore become more stones laid on the Foundation! The more bricks laid on the Foundation, the more help there is to accomplish the Cause! What is the Cause? To proclaim that Jesus is the... you get the picture!

3. If there is a Cause there must be a Leader

a) As Jesus spelled out to Peter in Matthew 16 and in John 21, the church belongs to Him, it is His property, He is the final say and ultimate authority; He is the leader. But, Jesus knew He must ascend to His Heavenly Kingdom, therefore, leaving His Followers to grow His Kingdom on Earth.

b) Jesus knew that without a leader, people will quickly delve into chaos. It would only stand to reason that since Jesus' Cause is for people to come to know Him and for those who believe to proclaim that Truth, then it makes perfect and logical sense that Jesus chose to manage His Church with people. Peter was the first to proclaim the foundation of Truth that Jesus Is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and shortly thereafter became the Leader of the Church after Jesus ascended into Heaven.

c) But... Peter was just the first among many millions of people to make that same proclamation. For over two thousand years, Jesus has raised up Leaders by giving them individual vision (see the last post) of how to accomplish the Cause. He calls all Believers to the Cause, but some He gives more clarity which leads to more responsibility which, in turn leads to more authority. In our next post, I will breakdown who receives more authority which leads to more responsibility which is based on more clarity of a vision to accomplish the Cause.

4. If there is a Leader there must be Followers

a) The Leader can not accomplish much of his vision without help. Followers work together to accomplish the Cause by developing the Leaders vision. Some Followers are equipped to work soully within the framework of the Leaders vision for that part of the Kingdom, some on the other hand, start to develop a vision of their own while helping the Leader accomplish his vision for accomplishing the Cause.

b) In that case,the Leader helps the Follower develop a clear vision for accomplishing the Cause in a different way or in a different place or with different people. Don''t forget, the Cause is the same, the only thing that changes is the way in which the Cause is accomplished. One more thing... different does not mean WRONG, it only means different!

c) The Follower then becomes a Leader with Followers of his own with a vision of how to accomplish the Cause by getting more Christians to place more stones on the foundation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Starting to see a pattern here??


Next Up: Jesus Gives Vision To His Church (Corporate)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jesus Gives Vision to His People (Individual)

When I was a little kid, a long, long time ago... I just knew I was going to grow up and be the next Big Time Wrestling Champeeeen of the World! I remember watching some scufflin' with Papaw Lawson every time we visited his house near Detroit, MI. I can still see The Sheik, Bobo Brazil, Dick the Bruiser and Andre' the Giant tearing the snot out of each other. Once, a huge refrigerator box from my Mamaw's new Kenmore received a world class beating that ended in a knock-out by way of a flying drop kick! I still have a bruise on my left hip to prove it! Yeah, what a dream!

As I grew older, however, the idea of being the next Rick Flare kinda' faded away. At some point in my late teens, I began to search for a more realistic meaning to my life. I thought I had found it in my marriage, then in my chosen career, then in my children, but nothing really seemed to give me that deep satisfaction of doing or being what I was supposed to do or be. About that time, people around me started praying for me and invited me to visit a men's event where I finally found the purpose for my life. I had rediscovered Jesus! The same person I had grown up hearing about because my dad was a pastor, but hadn't believed that He was anything more than a bigger-than-life persona stoked by the church instead of the media. But once I understood that He was real and did what He said He would for me, I decided to learn all I could about Him and what He wanted from me and for me.

If you have been a Christian for even just a few months, you have probably heard or read Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." That verse was written to people who knew who God was. They were given that promise because they had a lot of questions about their then current situation. God had major plans for them as a whole and for them as individuals, but unless they believed that He was in charge and in control, they would never experience the legacy He had in mind just for them. You see, God was going to bless those people with the legacy of saving the entire human race through their bloodline. He promised that they would make a difference in the world.

The Apostle Peter was given vision for his life in Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus told Peter that he would be a leader of a group of people that would also change the world! But... Peter would never have known what that legacy would be if he hadn't first acknowledged that Jesus was, in fact the Christ, the Son of the living God! So check it out, point #1 is this: Jesus has a purpose and a plan for every individual, but that purpose and plan will never be realized until that individual proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. No one will ever receive a vision of God's ultimate plan until they ask Jesus into their life.

Point #2: Jesus gives vision to every Believer, but the vision is always for the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Many people are talented and have so much to offer humanity, but true fulfillment comes from knowing that you are doing what God created you to do. As discussed in an earlier post, God uses people to grow His Kingdom, so the vision He gives is always with that in mind. The vision may not be all that clear when you first ask Jesus into you life, but study, prayer and experience, God will sharpen that vision. If you don't think God has placed in you anything useful to expanding His Kingdom, then continue to ask Him for clarity. He has promised to give you a hope and a future, but that hope and future is fulfilled through Kingdom expansion. Proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of the Living God is just the first step in understanding your unique contribution. Look at it this way, being the next Big Time Champion could be used by God as long as more Bricks are being laid on the Foundation because of the proclamation of the Champion that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God! Otherwise it's just self promotion and selfish ambition and those are awful weak foundations to lay anything on.

Peter didn't quite understand what Jesus had commissioned him to do at first. He thought he was supposed to protect Jesus from harm. Not until Jesus approached Peter after His Resurrection, did he fully understand his vision as leader and care taker of the people who would later become the New Testament church. You can read that very interesting dialogue between Jesus and Peter here. So, point #3 is: Jesus always equips His vision. Once the vision is received and understanding begins to dawn, maturity follows. Just like Peter, so many of us run ahead of the vision that God has given. We tend to make decisions and plans based on an unclear picture of a future outcome. We need to slow down and "work out our salvation". We need to ask Jesus for clarity and sit tight, following, helping lay more bricks on the Foundation, doing what the Bible tells us to do until we have enough training, understanding and faith to step out and work the unique vision Jesus has given just you.

Once again, the three points to Jesus Giving Vision to His People are:
1. Jesus has a vision for every single person, but that vision will never be fully understood until they confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
2. Jesus gives vision to every Believer, but that vision is always for Kingdom Expansion.
3. Jesus equips every Believer to accomplish His vision, but understanding comes through prayer, experience and faith.

Next up... Jesus Gives Vision to His Leaders

Friday, July 25, 2008

Matthew 16:13-21: Introduction

In my last post, we discussed that Jesus is in the business of saving lost people. We also discovered that the Foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is the Truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Pointing out that the Apostle Peter was the first stone, or brick, that was laid on that Foundation and from that time until now, millions and millions of stones have been laid on the same Foundation, makes the case for how Jesus intended to grow His Church.

Today, I want to start a series of four posts explaining how Jesus gives vision to His church with the intention of making His Kingdom on Earth bigger and bigger. Please keep this one main point in mind, the people who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God are the stones that Jesus is using to build His Kingdom on Earth with. The more stones that are placed on the Foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth means that more stones, or people, gain entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven in Heaven!

But before we dig into point #1, let's make a couple of things clear. First, the word church means much, much more than a building with a steeple on top. It is actually the English word we use for the Greek words ecclesia & kuriakon. Ecclesia means assembled ones; it also has a sense of assembling the proclaimers, the called out, or the followers. Don't forget that the word Christian refers to the people who have proclaimed that Jesus is who He says He is and did what He said He would do, but it means Christ-Follower, or Follower of the Messiah. Kuriakon quite simply means the Lord's house. So, we must understand that when Jesus commissioned Peter to build His church, He wasn't talking about a building, He was talking about Christians coming together proclaiming that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and that that proclamation will convince people to become stones (Believers) on the Foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth which means, in turn, that more people will be in Heaven after their days on earth have ended.

Second, we must never forget that Jesus' Vision for His church is a Global, Worldwide Vision that all should come to know Him. If we, the Church, the Called out ones, the Followers of the Messiah are doing our job, then there has to be a way to organize all the building that is being done. Since Jesus is in the business of people, it only stands to reason that He will use people to manage His Kingdom. Look at it this way, we who are Christians are followers and if there are followers, there must be a leader, if there is a leader, there must be a cause, if there is a cause, there must be a leader and if there is a leader, there must be followers. I'm going to unpack that last sentence in the future, but for now, read through Matthew 16:13-20.

The next three post will break down how Jesus manages His Kingdom by giving Vision:

1. Jesus Gives Vision to His People (Individually)
2. Jesus Gives Vision to His Leaders (Structurally)
3. Jesus Gives Vision to His Church (Corporately)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On This Rock

Jesus had one main objective; to seek and save the lost. You can argue all you want about other things that He did, but when He says in Luk 19:10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost", there really doesn't seem to be any other purpose for His existence. Argue with me if you want, but I'm kind of a "cool-aid drinker" on this one!

With that being said, let's look at what Jesus said in Matthew 16:13-18, "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

These words have been interpreted in a whole bunch of different ways, but there are really only three possibilities that make sense in contexts to Luke 19 or anything else in the Scriptures for that matter.
1) Jesus is calling Peter the rock on which the Church will be built. That would seem to contradict what Peter himself said in 1 Peter 2 (see earlier post). Although Peter was the first to preach the Gospel of Christ to the Jews (Acts 2) and to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10) nowhere in Scripture do we see that Jesus commissioned Peter to empower anyone posthumously with the authority equal to Scripture. We must give him some major props for being the first New Testament Pastor/Leader, but if he acknowledges that Jesus is the Rock, the Cornerstone, the Living Stone, then who are we to put Peter in that place of honor?
2) Jesus is making a game out of the words used as a nick name for Peter and the authority of Himself. This one makes a little more since to me. I can almost see Jesus saying, "Yes, you are Peter a rock, strong, firm and brash, but I am the Big Rock, the Foundation for all things to come!", while He points both of His thumbs toward His own chest. Sometimes we don't give Jesus enough credit for being light-hearted. We seem to always put Him in the "serious teacher" mode. You have to make some assumptions in the original language to make that imagery stick, though. The punctuation used in this sentence doesn't give us any real clues as to how Jesus said it. Don't get me wrong, Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation of Truth and the Church, Scripture proves that thought, but did Jesus really compare Peter to Himself?
3) Jesus is acknowledging that the statement Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", is the Foundation of the future Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. This makes perfect sense to me, but you would, again, have to assume some things based on the punctuation of the original language.

The Catholic Church takes the first interpretation to an extreme, and the Protestant Church seems to combine interpretations 2 & 3. But consider for a moment, that Jesus could have been talking about all three. Stick with me on this... To take away any leadership authority from Peter would be putting all of the Bible into question. He most certainly was the first to proclaim the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of the Living God and he was the first to be affirmed of a future ministry and then later was the first to be confirmed as the leader of the new church. The Catholics make some pretty sweeping assumptions that cannot be backed in Scripture, and as a result, the Protestant Church takes a different approach by making Peter out to be a loud outspoken often times blundering imbecile, but we should not take away anything from what the Bible says about Peter and his leadership. On the other hand, it is absolutely true that Peter was just one stone of millions and millions that have proclaimed that Jesus is, in fact, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We must look closely at the book of Hebrews in order to understand that all Believers, all Christ-Followers, are priest and have a holy obligation to proclaim what Peter was the first to proclaim.

So, for me, it would seem that the Rock, the Foundation on which Jesus has built, is building and is going to build His Church on is the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and that Peter was the first of many Christians to proclaim that truth in order to lay more stones, more Christians, more Followers of the Messiah, on that Foundation. Just imagine how huge the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth truly is because of the work Peter did and continues to be done by all true Followers Of The Christ, The Son Of The Living God! It seems to me, that Jesus is still in the business of saving people when they proclaim that Ancient Truth and become one more stone piled onto the Living Foundation making His Kingdom that much bigger!

A Living Stone and a Holy People

1 Peter 2:1-8 (ESV)

2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

8 and

“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wheat and Weeds

This year, Willow Community Church will be 100 years old! Yep, 100 years of making disciples!
Some of those years were an awesome expression of love and commitment toward God and Lansing, Michigan, but some of those years were not. In fact, the previous year before Kimy and I started working at Willow the average Sunday attendance was under 30. It has been really rather cool to see Jesus change that over the last two years! With the help of Pastor Dave and his wife Annie and a whole bunch of other people and an innumerable amount of prayer, Willow has grown to 90 in attendance on Sundays! Yep, that's 300% growth in about 24 month!! OK, I know that growing from 30 to 90 is a lot different than growing from 90 to 270, but still!

The last two weeks we have been studying Matthew chapter 13. This is the passage where Jesus teaches in parables. A parable is like a simile. A simile is a simple comparison between two things that make up one idea. I could say that teaching 5th grade boys is like sticking a dull needle in my left eye, and most of you would get the point! A parable is like a simile on steroids! A parable uses a bunch of analogies to help the listener understand one main truth about how to live in the Kingdom of God on earth.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells us a parable about a farmer who throws seeds on four different types of soil. The seeds represent the message of Jesus' love for the world and the soil represents the response to that message. If the soil represents the response to the message and the message represents the seeds of Jesus' love, then who is throwing out the seeds? Christians! Yes, the one main point in this parable is that the farmer is the Christian telling the story of Jesus' love to the world. Jesus uses the imagery of the soil to give comfort to the Christian's disappointment of the response that the world will have to their story. He is pointing out that the likelihood of someone responding in a positive manner and becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus is very slim. Jesus is actually taking the pressure off of the Christian in such a way that makes it clearly the listeners responsibility to respond positively and Jesus' responsibility to convict and convert, neither of which is the story teller's responsibility. All a Christian is required to do is sow the seeds of Jesus' love and leave the rest up to Jesus and the listener!

Jesus continues teaching in parables when He says that a field represents the entire world and that the field is full of wheat and weeds at the same time. He mentions that the farm hands hired to cultivate the field shouldn't pull out the bad weeds because they could possibly pull out the good wheat at the same time. He says that once all the vegetation is harvested all the wheat will be used for good and all the weeds will be burned in a furnace. The one main truth in this story is that the followers of Jesus live among people who do not follow Jesus. To make this point stick, Jesus explains that the followers don't need to judge the world or hold it to their standards because when the end of time comes, those who do not follow the truth of His teaching will be judged and ultimately experience total separation for God. Again, Jesus is helping the Christian take the pressure off by telling them to stop worrying about the way the world lives, but to love them as He loved us and let Him be the judge.

OK, so what? What does any of this have to do with the first two paragraphs of this bog? Well, before I tell you, look at these statistics:
In 1920 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 people, in 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 people and in 1996 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 people. Now think about this: Each of the 11 churches should average 909 people in attendance just to cover only 10,000 people in any given city. Average church attendance in the U.S. is 90, virtually unchanged since 1990. Willow currently averages over 80. In 2006 the population of Lansing, MI was 114,276 people. That means that there should be 1270 churches averaging 90 in Lansing! Current estimated population in the zip code where Willow is located (48917) is 32,000 people. Since there are only 11 churches for every 10,000 people, 35 churches averaging over 900 people are needed to ensure that every person in 48917 has a place of worship to attend! If we look at the national average of only 90 people attending any given church we would need 355 churches just to give everyone in 48917 a place to worship! Now keep in mind that healthy church growth is an increase of 5% more in attendance than the previous year. Since Willow is around 90 people 5% more next year would see 94 in attendance next year , 94 X 5% = 100 the year after that and 100 X 5% = 105 the year after that. Through 4I's (Willow's Outreach program), small groups, PIN, and various other outreach events aimed at 48917, we can safely estimate that we can effectively touch 3,200 people in one year; that's only 10% of the total 48917 zip code. A realistic percentage of response to intentional invitation to church is 2% (that goes up to 25% if you have a personal relationship with the person you are inviting). Check the math on this: 2% of 3200 intentional invitations to Willow in one year = 64 people visiting just one time. A first time visitor is only 34% likely to visit a second time (34% of 64 = 21.76 (22)). A second time visitor is 51% likely to visit a third time (51% of 22 = 11.22 (11)) and a third time visitor is 78% likely to make that church their spiritual home (78% of 11 = 8.5 (8 to 9)). 5% over our current attendance over three years would be about 15 people more than we have in attendance now if Willow just wants to be average. I think I like the 2% of 3200 rule better; 2% of 3200 invitations to Willow should yield 27 to 29 people more in attendance over the next three years!!

The one main truth of all of this is quite simple (even if the math isn't!): Willow Community Church must sow the seeds of the love of Jesus Christ all over the 48917 area and surrounding communities! We must realize that we are not responsible for convicting or converting anybody but that we are called to love the people of our wonderful city! I would like to come right out and ask you to help us to do this. I would love to introduce you to the awesome people of Willow Community Church and share with you the vision we have to see our community go to heaven with us! If you are not currently involved in a local, passion led, vision oriented church then please come check us out at 11am Sunday mornings. If your involved in a healthy, reproducing church, then please pray for Willow and its people as we work to fulfill our purpose in Northwest Lansing, Michigan!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Malachi 3:10

Hey everybody! Kimy, my lovely wife, wrote a small but sweet blog about the faithfulness of a Christian sister who trusted God with her money. In that blog, she quoted Malachi 3:10. Apparently, someone we have never heard of took strong issue with her thoughts. I think the comment to her blog was sent by a robot that automatically sends out a reply whenever it hits a website or blog using certain key words and phrases. If it was a real person, then they should read the comments I put on Kimy's blog and respond again. I'm actually writing this post to see if I get the same response. Check out all the action at http://www.justbestill.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the old man

Up until a few years ago, I had spent my entire life trying to please all who know me. Do you have any idea how tiring that was? In fact, I became so overwhelmed by trying to be the perfect songrandsonbrotherstudentemployeehusbandfather that I kinda' checked out of everything except the bare minimum duties to feed myself and my family. I remember being so angry with the very people I was trying to impress that I ran away from most of them. There were years when I didn't speak to anyone close to me because I didn't want them to see what I was really feeling inside. I felt that if I let them see the real me, the real hurt, the real anger, the real disappointment (in them & in myself), they would surely reject me. The proverbial "mask" was so much easier to ware when I was many miles away. I must admit that Kimy, my loving and beautiful wife of 21 years, stayed with me even though I wasn't the most likable person to be around.

Have you ever been so low that you feel desperate for change? Have you ever been so confused about the way things turned out in your life that you would rather just curl up on the couch and watch TV until the day you die? Been there. Done that. Don't ever plan to go there or do that again. You see, I found out that there is someone who loves me just the way I am, unconditionally. Yes, Kimy's love for me is as close to unconditional love as I could ever expect from another human being, but the love I'm talking about is superhuman! When I felt that I was at the end of my life, I reached out for God and I found Him. I, like so many of you, had heard and even grown up hearing about God and the free gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ, but I really never bought it. But when things seemed out of control and I felt as if I had nowhere else to turn, it just seemed like the right thing to try something different but familiar. Since I made the decision to trust in the love and forgiveness of all the dumb, stupid and awful things I have done and started to change the idea of impressing people to impressing Jesus, my life has taken on whole new meaning! Now, I wake up in the morning passionate about doing God's will!

With that being said, I still, on occasion, struggle with feelings of anxiety. There have been a few times recently that I knew with out any doubt that I was doing God's will and that I had made the right decision about something. I knew that I was prayed up, that I had done my homework, that I had gotten wonderful advice from other Godly people and had made the correct choice. But... whenever there is a decision to change anything there is always loss. For instance, I knew that all of the decisions that were made at Willow Community Church were made within a group of trusted and Spirit lead people and that all decisions were made with a "what is God asking us to do?" and "We all stand behind what We decide God is asking us to do" attitude. I truly love and embrace the accountability and support. The end result though, is that I am the face of that decision. I know that the people of Willow have my back because they all helped make the decisions and they all know that God is totally in control, but there will still be individuals that see me as the ring leader and final decision maker. I can't change that. I would make every decision that we have made the exact same way if we had to make them again, because I know that God is in those changes. I don' walk around in regret of doing God's will, but I do feel awkward around people who disagree with what has been decided. That is the part of my old self that I am trying to come to terms with these days. Being the one person that others hold responsible for their discomfort is something entirely new for me.