We see the first church in Acts and are amazed. We want the power, the evangelism, the grace. What we fail to understand is that there were certain essentials in place to see that type of dynamic experience. This is true not only for churches but marriages, friendships and work environments. So what was the secret sauce of Pentecost?
Evangelicals have a conundrum on their hands. The very title suggest that they have a public faith, but few people feel equipped our empowered to make Jesus real to others in common everyday places they live. Pastor Adam Stadtmiller again breaks down the baptism of the Holy Spirit and it fundamental purpose. Evangelism.
I sat there waiting for the Executive Pastor to show up. He was twenty-five minutes late. I had been asked to interview for the newly created Campus Pastor position at this well known and highly effective Orange County megachurch.
The lobby was bustling and the waiting easy. There were plenty flat-screens on the walls pumping out the latest worship gigs, a Keurig station offering dark bold Sumatran, free wifi, leather couches and interior decor that coagulated the best of surf hipster, New York chic and rustic farm house. Stunning. Unfortunately, the few people hustling by did not seem to notice.
As I sat there in opulent comfort, my mind flashed back to a church meeting I had attended in Thailand a decade earlier. The coffee was instant, the floor seating hard and the only decor a faded picture of a brown eyed Jesus hanging on the cross. The spirit of peace in that place was tangible. It was as if no one was trying. I mean that in the best of lights.
The executive pastor arrived with lavish apologies for his tardiness. A radio interview had gone long. He was likable, focused and obviously loved Jesus. Under his arm was a copy of Fast Company magazine. He told me to wait another five minutes and that his assistant would come out and collect me for the meeting. I was offered another coffee. For me, the interview had already ended. I knew we were headed to the same destination, but on different paths.
If there is one thing I have learned in twenty-plus years of leading in churches is that you can buy church. Check that. You can buy or create a church experience for your community that will offer them the temptation to think that this church has it all together. It’s also a great growth strategy, as it allows people to check the box of being part of something that is effective and meaningful.
As a pastor of a small local church and having just come out of 10 years ministering in a mega church setting, I feel the pressure to create a “Fast Church”, one with all the modern bells and whistles, singing the latest anthems and offering clean efficient systems to organize people around legitimate spiritual causes.
The problem that I face, is that if I went after that, it would not be long before I was the wizard behind the curtain offering up an illusion of spiritual perfection that would not only be soul killing for me, but also for those I lead.
It’s one thing to talk about messy churches and lives from the pulpit, but it’s quite another to actually allow that messiness to be part of your church staff, volunteer base or even organizational systems.
What I often see are churches that preach and sing about brokenness and authenticity, but then go out and try to create a church image and culture that presents modern ideals of perfectionism. Here is what I mean. Would you allow a seriously obese person to be your door greeters? Can we allow someone to stay on staff who is not reaching their targets and goals for one reason or another believing that sometimes God cares more about your staff as individuals then what they can produce. Can someone be on the worship team that occasionally sings flat and do heads roll if the sound or PowerPoint is not run with Spielberg perfection?
I believe that when we present authenticity and imperfection from the stage but don’t allow that to play itself out in the ebb and flow of our church matrix’s and social systems, we are actually creating a culture that never let’s people truly be free. In fact it heaps unseen heavy burdens on their heads.
No, I am not advocating a sloppy church. Being an A Type control junkie, it pains me to be patient as God grows those I lead. I see every perceived misstep, off note and occasional unedited promotional piece. The thing is that deep down, my desire to present the perfect church has more to do with how I want people to perceive me then trying to offer them a savior who brought a casual perfection, but never demanded it in return.
Little did I know when I walked into Marshalls last month that I would do something I promised myself never to do. The problem was, the conditions were perfect. We were one day away from a month long trip to Europe to visit my brother, I had a little extra trip cash in my pocket for those last minutes extras before you leave, a travel pillow, pair of cheap sunglasses, a paperback fiction novel.
Moments from my escape and trying to seamlessly run the Marshall’s impulse shopping line gauntlet I saw it. The selfie stick. I tried to look away, but like a bee to a marigold I was sucked in with visions of full frame family selfies at the Eifel tower, Big Ben and Five Guys Burgers Edinburgh. Before I knew it, I had it out of the box and fitted to my life control device, the iphone 5c. It felt good in my hand and the semi-automatic shutter button made me feel like a social media Clint Eastwood asking Mark Zuckerberg if he felt “Lucky”.
Like it or not, we are living in a Selfie Stick world. I’m not sure that things have changed very much. Most people’s favorite topic has always been themselves. The only difference now is that it’s much easier to get a front row seat to others moments of self-obsession as well as have a platform for our own.
Few things scream, “Do you love me?” like the selfie.
Self obsession in all forms comes down to an issue of worth and where we are extracting that worth from. The scriptures tell us that in the end, perilous times will come as people begin to draw their worth from self-love. The reason self love is treacherous is that it is impossible to harvest love from yourself. Love is product of God and all pure love, even virtuous love of self must be generated and purified in understanding God’s great love of you.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self” 2 Tim 3:1
When we become lovers of self, we are once again trying to be like God. Love of self tells God that we don’t need his eternal and limitless love and mines a fool’s gold of momentary adrenaline and dopamine hits we can garner of our own efforts.
The fact is this. God has set His vast affection upon you. He calls you to plumb the depths of that love and to drink deeply for it is only by drowning in the love of God that we can really begin to breath.
Does this mean that all selfies are bad and a bi-product of egotism? Not at all. I believe God himself delights in the exposition of our daily lives. It’s just that He wants to be a part of every image you capture, standing there beside you saying, this is my son or daughter in whom I love and am delighted in.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
The Noah factor is when everyone tells you that what you are doing is crazy and insensible, but you go ahead and do it anyway. If you follow God long enough, you will probably have to employ the Noah factor at some point.
Jesus used the Noah factor when he went to the cross. Noah used it when he built his ark on dry ground and in a land that had never seen rain. Ultimately, Jesus and Noah knew something in the depths of their hearts that eluded all others. Like the couple Karie and I had coffee with this morning. They adopted a son from the Ukraine. No big deal, lots of people do that—but how many go through with it when seven days before they are set to get their son, the wife is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given months to live?
Karie and I sat amazed as we heard the story. It’s now five years after the fact and with the cancer in remission and a 9-year-old adopted son part of their family. At the time everything and everyone told them not to go through with it. Both sets of their parents were adamant and a best friend angry. To do this would be unwise and going against the counsel of their trusted inner-circle. But like Noah, who was the only one that saw a flood coming coming, our friends saw and heard something in the quiet of their souls that said, “Go, go get your boy, the cancer can wait.”
This is the rub of following Jesus. Yes, we are called to live and hear in community, but at the end of the day we serve a personal Jesus; a Jesus who at some point in your life might challenge you to follow him where no one else is going and when everyone else sees it a different way.
This is faith you have signed up for, and unlike a good business plan, faith does not always pencil out.
Have you ever had a million dollar idea, but not known what to do with it. Ten years ago, I thought I had that idea and started a dog leash company. “The Dingo”, was a multi-functional leash that did everything from tethering your dog in the back of your car to walking three dogs. You can find its remains online.
Back then, Google was pretty new, but still very effective. I searched something like, “make prototypes” and came up with about six results. Ten days later I had the first Dingo in my hand.
Deep in my heart there is another little factory with even faster turn around times. This one creates idols. It’s ability to shift the entire production operation in alignment with the newest desire of my heart or mind is unparalleled. One minute it is cranking out little bobble-headed idols fashioned to look like me with the word “pride” on its forehead, the next moment it is mass-producing idols that look exactly like you with the inscription, “Man’s approval”.
King David has one of these little factories in his heart as well. On one occasion it was willing to fire up in the middle of the night after one prolonged look at a woman bathing. We know the ramifications of that production order. Ours can be just as devastating.
Still, even after this major failure, David was committed to having nothing set before him other then God himself. He was a man desperately pursuing the heart of God. In Psalm 16:8 David writes, “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
So what is that little factory in your heart producing? There are plenty of idols ready to be cast. Idols of body image, addiction, fame and even your family can all beckon you to fall to your knees in worship.
So how do you close down that little factory? I’m not sure you ever will this side of heaven, but here is what you can do. Pray this prayer; “God, make everything and every area of my life where you are not preeminent, a bitter taste in my mouth.” Yes, pray now and as often as possible for the next year and see what happens to your desire to create idols. May God only be set high and exalted in your life today!
Everyone knows that if the speed limit says 65mph, you are free to drive 72mph. 7mph over the speed limit is the magic number of what is acceptable without getting a ticket. In school zones that number is only 2.6mph.
This is what I thought until I just got my 2nd ticket in 30 days. Even though I knew I was breaking the law, I was still ticked. I was mad at the cop for doing his job, politicians for agreeing to egregious laws, kittens and the universe in general.
Over the next few days, God barraged me with messages and teachings about loving the law. Ridiculous! Who loves the law?
The answer to that question was King David. When I came across Ps. 119:47, and especially the bit about David loving the law, I was immediately intrigued. I get following the law because God told me to, but loving the law is totally different.
David loved the law because he realized that laws are a representation of their author. The more you understand a law and its nuance the more you understand the one who created that law. For David, every law he followed became an opportunity to know and love God in a deeper way.
This is actually a form of acceptable legalism. It is a legalism allowed to us by grace. Grace is what gives us the opportunity to follow the law for loves sake. Without grace, you could not choose to follow the law strictly for loves sake. Without grace, law following is a requirement.
How stringently do you follow the law? Do you speed, show up to work late, cheat on taxes or walk when the light is red? Perhaps you are an ardent rule follower. The question to you is why? Is it for the sake of the commandment, self-righteousness or for the love of God!
Here’s a challenge. This week pursue a Davidic type of intimacy by trying to obey every law stringently. Do it because you want to know God. Yes, you are free from the law of death, but this type of legalism leads to life. As believers we need to be careful that our freedom in Christ does not keep us from knowing God.
1Pet. 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority.
Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So I have continued to have this discussion about God’s love with a host of close friends. What comes up most is the question of how our worth is then determined in the view of God. What makes us valuable to God.
The answer to that is “Choice”. While I am not loved by God because of any thing or innate value of my own, I am of unimaginable and immeasurable worth due to God’s Choice.
The fact that God chose (from within love) to create me in His image is one of many reasons that I have for finding a favorable view of myself in Him. Another is the fact that God sent His son to die for me. That reason alone, the fact that Jesus was willing to die for me and call me His chosen is where I find my worth.
The key here is that this worth is based on nothing I have done. All of it comes from the impetus of God’s choice. Because of this, we as believers are eternally anchored in His favor.
The distinction that has made the most impact on my way of living is when I based my understanding of God’s favor on a “because” which found its anchor in my merit, the feeling of God either being pleased with me in the present moment was tied to how I was performing. On days my walk was closer to my understanding of God’s requirement for holy living, the happier and more fully accepted I felt. If another day I did some act of unkindness, I would feel removed from God’s pleasure and acceptance until I made the relationship right with Him.
God’s favor of me is not tied to my feeble understanding or ability to walk in closer accordance to His words (the bible) calling. No matter how I perform, I am always accepted and approved of by God. Romans 8’s assurance of our freedom from any condemnation affirms this.
Let’s get back to the human relational out workings of this. When we decide to marry a person, it is not because we love them. I know that we think it is, but it is really just a choice. I married my wife not because I love her, but because she was the best choice for me. That choice was based on all kinds of “because”. I married her “because” she is a beautiful and amazing individual full of talent and kindness. This though is not why I love her. I love her for no reason other then God has called me to love her regardless. My love for her then is displayed in the “choice” I made to covenant with her. This is why we say “for better or for worse” when we get married. Love is based on no thing. Her performance in the marriage or my possible waning emotional state has nothing to do with how I love her. I love her no matter what.
This is why it is impossible to fall out of love. Instead, one person in the relationship has decided they no longer chose to be in relationship with their partner because of a “thing” or lack of a desired “thing”. What is really happening is that the person if falling out of affection with the other person. They are no longer being affected in the way they wish, and a state of emotional distance develops. Many divorce for this reason. Be assured that this is not love. Love conquers all these obstacles (1 Cor: 13). That is why it will be only one of three (Faith, Hope and Love) that remain. As we know, the greatest of these is love.
Let’s again look at God. The good news is this. You can never leave God’s love. If you are in Christ, you are the within the center of His great love. You can rest. There is nothing you can do that will separate you from that love. Besides that, you are also eternally favored due to His decision of you.