Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Doin' the Stuff

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (Jas. 1:22).

I believe the North American Evangelical church has been afflicted with a particular malaise. We seem to be obsessed with knowing the Word, but deficient in doing it. 

One of the most common questions I hear from people new to a church is "Do you have a Bible Study I can join?"

Don't get me wrong. I believe in learning more and more about the Bible. It is our only infallible guide for faith and practice. It is the authority upon which the church must build. Neither tradition, nor church hierarchy nor charismatic leadership can substitute for the Word of God. I personally have a regular reading and study routine and I participate in Bible Studies. When I preach, I try to expound God's Word so that people can grasp it and conform their lives to it.

However, with that said, I recall a story of John Wimber's (founder of the Vineyard Movement). When he started attending church, he asked one of the elders, "Where do we go to do the stuff?"

"What stuff?"

"You know, the stuff in the Bible. Healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the Gospel to the poor."

"Oh, we don't actually do that stuff. We study about it, we hear sermons about it, but we don't actually do it."

"You mean I gave up drugs for this?" (Of course this was said tongue-in-cheek.)

This led to one of John Wimber's most famous pithy Wimberisms, "Doin' the stuff." That is, God wants us to actually go out, just like Jesus and His disciples did, and demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom of God by doing the same stuff that they did.

Are you satisfied with a Christian life that merely listens to the Word but does not actually do it? I must admit that this has been a constant struggle for me. It takes a major effort for me to take what I have received within the safe confines of the church and go into the streets where I might encounter resistance, rejection and failure. But when I do, God meets me there, and I think He is smiling.

It would be nice to hear someone at church ask, "Where do we go to do the stuff?" And it would be even better for us to be able to answer, "Come with me."

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Jesus Goes Viral

"Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him" (Matthew 4:23-25).

One of the phenomena of modern social networking is called "going viral," that is, when some kind of online post, video or photo becomes re-posted so quickly that it obtains the holy grail of social networking: a million-plus views. However, it does not seem to matter whether something that goes viral is positive or negative. The goal seems simply to gain the most notoriety, no matter what the issue. Whether it is a recipe using Oreo cookies, a funny cat video, or an ad campaign to rename IHOP to IHOB--you have succeeded if people begin to share your post around the globe.

In Jesus' time, technology had not advanced very far in the area of communications. Word of mouth and the occasional public announcement were the way that news could travel throughout the Roman world. However, in Matthews Gospel, he tells us about the excitement that stirred throughout Palestine, from Syria, Galilee and the Decapolis in the North; all the way to Jerusalem, Judea and even Trans-Jordan in the South. News about Jesus spread quickly. In other words, Jesus went viral.

What made people get so excited about Jesus? What was it that they wanted to share with everyone around them? The answer is: His healing ministry.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was involved in doing three things: teaching, preaching and healing. But if Jesus had only done the first two things, teaching and preaching, and not the third thing, healing, it is very unlikely that news about Him would have spread so fast. Why do I say that? Because in verse 24, it does not tell us that "the curious, the theology students, and the intellectuals" were flocking to hear Jesus. Instead it says that "the people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed..."

In general, people do not flock to great teaching and preaching, they are drawn to great power. And they are drawn, not because they are merely curious, but because they are needy. People who are hurting and have the opportunity to receive a powerful touch from God are usually the ones who will push through barriers and difficulties to get it. Remember the shame and cultural obstacles that the woman with the issue of blood needed to overcome to simply touch the hem of Jesus garment? And what was in her mind? "She said to herself, 'If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed'" (Matt. 9:21).

Even a casual reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus did not just speak the message of the kingdom of God, but He demonstrated the reality of the presence of the kingdom as well. When the kingdom of God comes, it comes with power.

What happened when people began to bring their sick relatives and friends to see Jesus? "...and he healed them" (Matt. 4:24b).

Even Paul confirms that: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (1 Cor. 2:4-5). And the writer of Hebrews tells us: "This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" (Heb. 2:3-4).

So why does the church seem to settle for great teaching and preaching, but forget about power ministry? Because they can control the first two. Because they can learn to do the first two using human wisdom and clever marketing techniques. But power ministry is totally dependent on God. If God does not show up, we can feel pretty foolish. So we cling to what we know we can do and avoid what is out of our ability to control.

And yet, God's way of "going viral" is not through "wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power." That is how God penetrates to human hearts and brings conviction. That is how Jesus went from being an obscure Galilean carpenter to the greatest figure in human history with over 2.2 billion followers.

So, are you willing to believe in the power of God? Are you willing to look foolish in the eyes of the wise of this world in order to allow God's power to be manifest? This is God's divine marketing campaign and He has never revoked it. As John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard, used to say: "I'm a fool for Christ: who's fool are you?"

Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Testimony

I am currently helping our church (Vineyard Community Church Pomona/Claremont) to start a new Celebrate Recovery program. We have been meeting as a group of leaders for several months and had a "soft launch" in June. Our "hard launch" is scheduled for 2 weeks from today. I am very excited to see the depth of commitment to recovery in our leaders and to hear the significant transformation in so many lives. Tonight I will get to share my own testimony. So, I thought I would write it out briefly here.

For many years, I viewed my childhood through rose-colored glasses. That is, until I took a class called "Personal Growth" at the Anaheim Vineyard in about 1986. It was taught by then-intern John Mumford. (John now heads the International Consortium of Vineyard Churches).

John encouraged us to think about our relationships with authority figures. It was then I realized that I really didn't have relationships with anyone in authority. I went through University avoiding meeting professors. I would have the impulse to just go up and meet them after a lecture. But as a line of students formed,  I would have an internal script play that sounded something like this: "He's too busy for me. I don't really have anything important to say. Maybe next week."

Julianne and I would also visit churches and, after the sermon, I wanted to meet the pastor, but then I would have the same script play inside of me: "He's too busy for me. I don't really have anything important to talk about." It never occurred to me that they would want to actually just meet me--little old me.

I realized that my relationship with my own father had affected how I related to authority figures. And this even spilled over into my relationship with God. He felt distant and not really that interested in my day-to-day life. My prayer life was affected.

My dad had not gotten what he needed when he was little. You see, my grandfather had died when my father was only 4 1/2 years old. So, he felt rather distant from everything "family" compared to my mother's side. So, my own father did not really have the tools to initiate relationship with me, or to tell me he loved me, or to include me in fatherly things around the house, like working on the car. And being a kid, I didn't conclude that my father had "stuff" to work on. Instead, I concluded that there must be something wrong with me. I was not worthy of dad's time and attention.

That is a basic "shame" message. And I learned it very well.

So, I compensated for that core shame by becoming an achiever. I got good grades. I became president of clubs at school. I starred in theater productions and loved the attention and the applause. I felt good for about 5 minutes after the applause died down. Then I started to wonder if I was really good, after all.

And I found out that when I was feeling sad or anxious or bad about myself, I could use sweets to comfort myself. And they were very effective for a short period of time. And they had the unintended effect of packing on weight. I have lost thousands of pounds in my life on diets (the same pounds again and again).

Then, in 1989, as I was helping Julianne teach a group that became "Christian Adults in Recovery" (CAIR), I realized that I had all of the traits of codependency. And I realized that I needed to spend time recovering from what I now call "subtle neglect." It seems that it is much easier to realize we are broken when we can point to overt abuse in our childhood. But it is much harder to realize the painful and damaging affects of neglect.

Pain results from getting what we didn't need--or from not getting what we did need. And I experienced much more of the latter.

So, my recovery has been focused much more on getting in touch with the pain of neglect and the dysfunctional ways that I compensated for that pain. For me, it has been overeating and codependency, or what I call "approval addiction."

And when I became a pastor, my "stuff" seemed to become amplified as I began to be the recipient of other peoples' authority-figure expectations. My need for recovery became even more acute as I entered the ministry. And I knew that I had to face my issues so that I did not end up working out my stuff on the very people who were coming to me as a pastor. I have not done that perfectly and I have probably hurt people (for that I apologize).

And for all of this, God has provided the body of Christ for our healing. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (Jas. 5:16).

Healing happens as we get together with other hurting people in safe and confidential groups and we share honestly about our past and what is really happening on the inside. The guidelines for small group sharing should be designed so that, in response, we receive unconditional love, acceptance and positive regard.

As my longtime friend, Linda Salladin, used to say: "Go where the love is; not where it should be."

Are you needing a safe place to work on your stuff? Check out a Celebrate Recovery program near you or get something going in your faith community. Or attend any one of thousands of support groups. Or do what I also did, pay for good therapy. It will all help build a life of wholeness, maturity and wisdom. And then begin to give it away to others who are hurting. You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Slow to Anger

We recently got a new German Shepherd puppy named Zena. She is as cute as a button, but a bundle of energy. She's teething, so she is constantly nipping at things around her, including my hand. Despite a pile of chew-toys to chews from (yuck, yuck), she keeps latching on with her mouth to everything else in her sphere of influence, including the edges of furniture, area rugs and my shoes.

I just spent 7 months sleeping downstairs on the sofa, attending to our last dog, Kyra, who was getting so arthritic that I needed to be her nurse-maid through the night. We had to make the decision a couple months ago to "put her to sleep." I have to admit that I was not really ready to raise a puppy again (this will be our 5th German Shepherd). But here we are doing it one more time.

Why do I bring this up? Because I have been experiencing some moments of intense anger. You see, puppies need a lot of correction. They don't understand what it is you are telling them to do. Remember what the Peanuts cartoon characters heard when adults talked to them? The sound of a muted trumpet, "Whah, whah, whah..."

So when I want some "me" time and Zena wants to pee on the rug, or chew on my pant leg, or do any number of puppyish things, I find myself more than annoyed. My anger is palpable. And the anger in my correcting "Off!" or "No!" is a little more intense than might be normal. And I yank her leash a little harder than is necessary.

Where does all that anger come from? She is just a puppy being a puppy. She doesn't deserve to be yelled at. She doesn't deserve such a strong yank on her leash.

As James says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires" (Jas. 1:19-20).

Anger is perhaps one of the most commonly felt emotions. Yet, we are often not equipped to deal with it. James is not saying, "Don't be angry." That would be impossible. He is saying that we are called to be like God Himself, who is often described throughout the Old Testament as "slow to anger" as when He revealed Himself to Moses, "and he passed in front of him proclaiming, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness'" (Ex. 34:6).

Anger is what I call a "secondary" emotion. That is, it is usually masking an underlying vulnerable emotion. For instance, when the puppy ignores me and does her thing, I feel powerless and weak. Anger then jumps up to give me the power, through the release of adrenaline in my body, to act. It is called the "fight or flight mechanism." I like to add the word, "freeze." Adrenaline gives me the power to fight the thing that is making me feel weak, to run away, or I may actually freeze in place.

So, since I can't run away, I feel the "fight" mechanism get released. As a result, I raise my voice or yank on the leash.

Jesus felt angry too. You see, even though He is fully divine, He is also fully human. But Jesus did not hurt others when He felt angry. For instance, when the Pharisees showed the hardness of their hearts in the synagogue, "[Jesus] looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored" (Mark 3:5). Jesus' anger resulted in healing the man with the withered hand.

The goal of Christian transformation is to become more and more like Jesus, the Son of God. He is "slow to anger." That is, His anger does not lash out capriciously to hurt others. God's anger burns against the sin of mankind, which is really a rejection of His love and grace. Yet, mankind is not destroyed. God is slow to express that anger. Instead, He reserved it for the day that Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then the righteous wrath of God was poured out on Him.

God is right now offering forgiveness for sin because Jesus took the wrath upon Himself on the cross. Our part is to respond by placing our faith, our trust, in Him.

And when we feel angry with others in the body of Christ, Paul tells us to work as soon as possible to resolve it. Unresolved anger leaves a foothold for the enemy to sew discord in the body. "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 'In your anger do not sin:' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph. 4:25-27).

Are you struggling with inappropriate bursts of anger? Or are you harboring anger against your brothers or sisters? Let Jesus into those vulnerable places in order to be healed. Receive His patience and His attribute of being slow to anger. Speak the truth to your neighbor and resolve the anger before it becomes an entry-point for the enemy into your relationships and into the church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What Is The Fear of the Lord?

Quite a few years ago, I was leading worship every three weeks in my former church. Casey Corum of Vineyard Music had written a song about "The Fear of the Lord." The chorus was very simple, "Teach me the fear, the fear of the Lord..." 

My wife and I really liked the song and did it a couple of times at church. One week we were rehearsing the song with the band for Sunday. I sensed a less than enthusiastic response from the rest of the band when we worked on it. So I asked what they thought of the song and all of them said that they didn't like it. I was shocked. I thought it was deep, profound and the tune was good.

But the band members did not like the idea of singing about the "fear" of the Lord. To them, it was too much of a bummer to think of being afraid of God.

But is that what this phrase really means?

A very common expression in the Old Testament is "The Fear of the Lord." This is especially true in the Wisdom books, especially Psalms and Proverbs.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, 
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Pro. 9:10).

One of the ways we can understand the meaning of various Hebrew words is to see how they are used in poetry. You can tell you are reading poetry because the phrases are given a separate line in most of our translations, instead of being written in prose paragraphs. For instance, all of Psalms and Proverbs are poetic. And Hebrew poetry is constructed around the concept of "parallelism." That is, two lines are conveying parallel thoughts and often the words and phrases in the first line are mirrored in the second line.

The two lines can be either restating the same idea or contrasting that idea with an opposite. And sometimes the parallelism becomes more subtle and sophisticated. The purpose of this blog is not to give an exhaustive teaching on Hebrew poetry, but to show the meaning of "The Fear of the Lord."

For instance, in Proverbs 9:10 quoted above, the first line is parallel in meaning to the second line. "wisdom" and "understanding" are both in the same position and therefore are referring to the same concept. "The fear of the Lord" is in the same position as "knowledge of the Holy One." To know God is to understand that He is awesome in power and to be treated with respect. 

In other places, fear of the Lord is in parallel to the ideas of "honor, respect, reverence." 

To enter the presence of God is to enter the presence of the Highest Power in the Universe. Someone who recognizes that will be mindful of their humble and weak state relative to God's glory. One might tremble in the presence of such power. One of the little discussed names of God is related to this concept: "The Fear of Isaac" (Gen. 31:53).

If I were invited to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, no matter who is currently holding that office, I would prepare myself beforehand and would be mindful of my lowly position. I would be respectful, full of honor and reverence for the office. Should we not also act that way when approaching the Creator of the Universe?

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12: 4-5). God is the only one who fills this description. Yet just a few verses later, Jesus says, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Luke 12: 6).

So therein lies the key. If you belong to God, you do not need to be afraid. You are "accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6 KJV). Yet, you should exhibit reverence, honor and respect for God because of who He is and because of who you are relative to Him. "Teach me the fear, the fear of the Lord..."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Offense of the Cross

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14: 6).

What is your reaction to this verse? It says a lot about where you are relative to Jesus.

Some people might think, "I am so glad that I know Jesus! He is the one who ushers me into a relationship with His Father. And through this relationship, I am ushered into eternal fellowship with both the Father and the Son." Thus, their reaction is one of hope, joy and peace.

Other people might think, "How arrogant of Christians to think that only they are right. This is the height of pride and intolerance." Thus, their reaction is one of indignance, rejection and offense.

These two reactions stand at the heart of the great divide that Jesus Himself provoked while He was here on earth and that continues throughout this age.

"Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household'"(Matt. 10: 34-36). In other words, there is a division that is created when Jesus places the option to believe or not to believe in front of people. And even households will be divided by this.

"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12: 32).

Jesus was lifted up on the cross as a kind of banner that rallies all of humanity to Himself. Those who look to the cross with eyes of faith are saved. Those who look at the cross, but do not believe, are left in their existing state.

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life...Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3: 14-15, 18).

The "snake in the desert" refers to a story in the book of Numbers. The people were being plagued by snake-bites that were fatal. As a cure, God instructed Moses: "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (Numbers 21: 8-9). This image of a bronze snake became the symbol of medicine.

To "look at the bronze snake" indicates more than receiving the image of the snake on the back of your retina. When someone was bitten, they needed to believe that looking at the bronze snake held promise of salvation. Implied in looking at the bronze snake is the idea that one was looking with faith in God's provision for their healing.

And the picture of the bronze snake on a pole is a beautiful illustration of Jesus on the cross. He actually "became sin" (2 Cor. 5: 21) for us on the cross. When we look to Jesus by faith, lifted up on a cross, bearing all the weight of sin in Himself for us, we are saved.

When Jesus was crucified, there were two condemned thieves also crucified on each side of him. One of them looked to Jesus and believed He was the Messiah, the Son of God, who was bearing the penalty for sin as He hung there. He placed His faith in Him. And Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23: 43). The other thief mocked Jesus and did not look to him in faith. All of humanity is summarized in these two criminals.

Back to our original question, how do you react to Jesus' claim that He is the only way to the Father? If you are in the "joy" category, it is because you have grasped that it is a question of who Jesus is, not which religion is right. If you are in the "indignant" category, then you see the question as a religious question of who's right.

It all boils down to the person of Jesus, Himself. He is the unique Son of God who came to do for us what only He could do, die for the sins of humanity in order to bring us to God the Father. No other person in all of human history has made such a claim. And because His claim is so radically challenging, it divides all of humanity into two camps: those who look to Him in faith, and those who are offended by His claims.

On what side of the cross do you stand?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Addiction and Recovery

"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water"
(Jer. 2: 13).

Jeremiah's prophecy to Israel was directed at their constant temptation towards idolatry and away from total dependence on Yahweh, the God of Israel. The false idols of the surrounding pagan world were broken cisterns. And this problem describes perfectly the issues that lie at the heart of addiction, and indeed, the problem of sin itself.

A cistern was a kind of well. Essentially a huge jar was buried in the ground and filled with water to be used as an oasis and source of water in arid climates.

Imagine that you have been traveling in the desert and arrive at a cistern to water your flocks and take a long drink yourself--only to find that the cistern is broken and all the water has leaked out of it. The thing that promised to be a source of life may actually kill you since you now have to try to find another source of water. Will you make it to another cistern in time?

Gerald G. May, M.D. wrote a wonderful book, Addiction and Grace. In this book, he notes that we are all made by our Creator with a desire to attach to Him and that, ultimately, all of our other desires will be fulfilled only through that attachment. Addiction is the forming of an attachment to a substance or behavior in the hopes that it will "scratch the itch" that naturally exists whenever we are not connected to God. The substance or behavior is a broken cistern that cannot hold water. But we keep going to it, ignoring the source of true living water, in hopes that our thirst will be quenched.

Addiction itself is a perfect picture of sin and how it works to undermine our attachment to God. God stands by, the true source of living water. As Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7: 37-38). But instead, we keep going to alcohol, drugs, food, work, TV, gambling, exercise, approval, etc. hoping to find our desire fulfilled. All of these things are broken cisterns.

This reveals the brilliance of the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. First we must acknowledge our desperate helplessness to save ourselves. Then we must acknowledge that God exists and has the power to rescue us. Finally, we must surrender to Him, rather than struggle against the addiction. It is only in surrendering to God that we get in touch with the source of true living water that will satisfy our deepest desires.

Are you struggling with an unhealthy attachment to a "broken cistern?" Why not admit your powerlessness, acknowledge God's ability to meet your needs and surrender to Him today? It would also be helpful to get connected in a community of recovery people and lovers of Jesus who can help keep you coming to the spring of living water.