Preparation

Last night one of our interns, Michael Crepps, finished our latest series based on a portion of Luke’s Gospel (we referred to the series as Kindle – as in a spark that lights a movement). This portion of Luke’s narrative focuses on Jesus speaking to the crowd about specific ways of being his disciple – whether it be the way we deal with our prayer, priorities, pride, hearts, possessions, or worry. Crepps focused in on the portion dealing with the importance of Christ followers being prepared for his return.

Jesus taught, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 8:35-40, ESV).

First of all, it is vitally important that we talk about the Second Coming. Being a Pentecostal means that we hold to the conviction of Jesus as Savior, Baptizer, Healer, and Coming King. Too often we are guilty of zeroing in one aspect over the others. They all speak of the transformational work of Christ – and of the mission that we have been entrusted with. We have to find ways to present this message in a holistic matter – and in a way that compels the church to be the church in an age desperate for Good News.

Here is what I find most surprising about this passage – who he addressed and how he addressed them. Consider this . . . he was speaking to a crowd of people that was largely made up of disciples or at least those who had some religious background. This differs a bit from my experiences. Most “end times” fiction/film/sermons that I have heard have largely been geared towards those who are seeking the truth but have not yet responded. Not that I am necessarily against such media or messages . . . but the goal of such works have largely been to bring forward an urgent call for individuals to come to a place of repentance . . . so that they are not “left behind” etc. But it seems to me that Jesus rarely, if ever, used his return as a way of calling people to a relationship. He instead would call them to follow him NOW – to leave behind their rebellion and commit to him out of commitment. He was pointing people to the Cross (not the Sky).

His Return was not to spark fear in the seekers but faithfulness and fruitfulness in the committed. He was calling the listener to be ready . . . not just in right relationship – but in right action. He was calling his disciples to be in a stance of urgency. Go. Show Christ you are ready by being about his Message and Mission. It is not enough that you know the truth – give the truth to others. The idea of the Second Coming is not for the unbeliever (they must know the First Coming) – but that the church might be compelled to be about the commission of connecting all generations to God.

And when and if we do preach the Second Coming – whether it be to those who know Christ or not – may we share the entire story. It breaks my heart to think there are so many in our churches – those who are even in right relationship with Jesus – who are deathly afraid of the Return. Yes, I know that there are going to be terrible things that take place on earth as we approach the last of the last days (there are terrible things happening now for that matter) . . . but I also know that as darkness spreads . . . the light looks that much more bright. I also know how it ends . . . or how it begins again.

In fact, I know that even now we see glimpses of that glory. I write this blog with a heavy heart. My wife’s grandmother is very close to passing away . . . it could happen at any time. There will be a time of separation. Of good-byes. And yet, death no longer has the last word. The bible reads, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away'” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

Sounds like good news to me. Here is the paradox . . . as the church, we want Christ to come NOW but we want our friends, family, and (especially) our enemies to come to him FIRST. We know the Return is imminent. It could happen at any moment. This excites us. This motivates us. So we second the prayer of John when we say, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV).

Preparation

Dreamer

The Bible reads, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, ESV).

Signs and wonders are not enough to validate a true messenger of God. Remember, even the Pharoah’s men could do some of what Moses was able to do. Though I don’t understand all that goes into it, it seems as far as power goes, that God renews and restores while Satan twists and taints. We live in a world that is intrigued with the spiritual . . . in the magical . . . in the supernatural. The problem is that we are only looking for such otherworldly sources as a way for personal profit, power, or peace rather than as a way to know and be known by our Creator. And because of our hunger after such things we are greatly susceptible to deception. Anyone and everyone who can do that which we cannot do becomes a voice in our lives . . . without us ever asking the question, “Where are they taking us and why are we going there?”

Here are just a few thoughts to consider . . . when dealing with signs and wonders, with prophecies and dreams, look at the terrain and the teaching. For example, I believe that God heals today. That we are called to pray for the sick. I believe in the importance of allowing people the time in our gatherings to pray for each other, etc. And may God hear and act on our behalf – may these miracles be signs and wonders that point to the cross of Christ. And yet, what I see in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts is that Jesus and his disciples performed most signs outside the synagogues rather than inside of them. After all, that is often where you find most of the hurting and the helpless – go to them rather than wait for them to come to you. So is a “dreamer” or “prophet” doing most of their work inside the church or outside of it? Are they willing to go where the sick and imprisoned are (literally)?

And what is the end game? Who is getting all of the attention and adoration? What is the direction? Moses did what he did in order to bring deliverance. And the deliverance was ultimately that Israel would have a place to dwell WITH God again – not just to dwell. Jesus changed lives – not just a condition. He often told them to sin no more. He often showed his power that they might follow him. He called people to be disciples – not just to attend a service or give to an offering. It is not only what this person does but what they say that has to align with Scripture. They have authority – but do they have accountability?

God speaks to his people. Will we recognize his voice when he does?

Dreamer

Mouth

The preacher proposes, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messengers that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity;t but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, ESV).

I know that making vows does not necessarily play a large part in our worship culture . . . but I wonder if what the teacher is really focusing on is the temptation for all of us to say all of the right things while doing next to none of it? Believing all of the right truths but not allowing any of them to actually shape our behavior? Are there those in our churches who judge a sermon on if they agree with it or not? Does it merely confirm their convictions or does it actually bring conviction to their assumptions? Some people who ‘amen’ a message are more or less letting everyone around them know that they already know the right answer . . . but no one actually knows if they live it.

In fact, I am going to make a bold guess and say that we in some ways have discipled our people to death. They read all of the books. Hear all of the sermons. Practice many of the habits that they know they should practice. They are faithful in their attendance to a gathering and small group . . . and yet, their lives and worlds show little to know transformation. Could it be that what they need is “a little less talk and lot more action”? That they actually live out what they say they love? And I am not talking ministry within the walls of the church or even an organized outreach event . . . what if we all decided to serve somewhere in our community on behalf of Christ? Being the church.

And I am as guilty as anyone else. I can write a blog every day on being missional. Vows, vows, vows. But am I actually missional? Am I following Christ wherever he takes me? Am I trusting him and obeying him enough to do what I always tell others to do? Less vows. More vision. No more sitting. Let’s get to sending.

Mouth

Time

The preacher writes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV). The ebbs and flows of life. The longings. The nudges. The times that God screams. The times that he falls silent. I remember a specific moment in my life when there seemed to be this strange tug at my heart. It was subtle enough and yet I just could not shake it. I needed to respond. I needed to pray. In fact, this feeling seemed to surface in a moment leading up to a conference . . . and I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t care what the altar time is going to be about . . . or even if there is one . . . I am going up.” This was weeks before the event. There was just this odd expectation . . . an unexplainable expectation. And I am the one always reminding people that there is nothing mystical or magical about the altar. Just a designated spot for prayer – an act of outwardly approaching God. But I am always careful to explain that the power and presence of Christ dwells in the hearts of every believer . . . not just at the steps in the front of a chapel. But here I was . . . knowing in my heart of hearts that this week was an event in my life. A time for everything. So it was. One of the few moments in my life where I knew and I knew and I knew that he was speaking to me. It was not so much what he said – it was that he said it. God was directing me . . . he was doing something that only he could do.

Here is what is so scary about God doing something so vivid . . . we begin to think that is how he should act all of the time – or at least most of the time. Maybe he wants to do something new? Maybe he wants to do something unexpected? Maybe in order to change our hearts he is going to change the way he reveals himself? So that nudging . . . that tugging at my heart . . . that wonder and waiting . . . may I be ready and willing to receive all that he has for me in a way that is pleasing to him. May I trust and obey no matter what and no matter when and no matter where. Will it be private or public? Spontanous or planned? Loud or quiet? Sudden or through a series of events? Subtle or drastic? Terrifying or a dream come true? Or a little bit of both? Time will tell . . . .

Time

Honor

Our church launched a new series today titled, “Forgotten Virtues.” Pastor David Brakke talked about the lost characteristic of honor. He defined the virtue as treating a common individual as uncommon – as an ordinary person as extraordinary. While to dishonor someone is tear them down, honoring a person is the act of lifting them up. He suggested, “While respect is earned, honor is given.”

Pastor David used the illustration of Jesus’ homecoming to reveal the power of the virtue. The Bible reads, “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching” (Mark 6:1-6, ESV).

Isn’t he just one of us? Those from Nazareth saw themselves as common and ordinary – therefore they saw one of their own in just the same light. And here is the tragedy . . . many people missed out on the Kingdom work of Christ. it seems that it was not because God would not act – but that he could not act. It was here that Pastor David asked a troubling questions when he proposed, “Could it be that we limit God’s transformation when we show him dishonor? Maybe what we think of ourselves has the danger of coloring our view of God as well.

We all have the tendency to believe lies about ourselves . . . but to actually honor someone reveals the truth about them. We respect someone for who they are . . . but we honor someone for who they might be. Faith in the possibility. Is that why God loved us even while we were still sinners? Why Jesus honored the life of an adulteress? Why he honored the company of tax collectors? Is that why we should honor our leadership regardless of if they are due our respect?

So here is our assignment as a church . . . “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Wouldn’t that be something to see? In a world that goes out of her way to outdo others for praise. In performance. In appearance. In prosperity and power. What if we were less concerned with getting what we deserved and more about what others need?

Honor

Exile

I had one of those absolute eye-opening and earth-shattering moments yesterday. And as it so often occurs – it was in the context of a conversation over coffee with a friend (this time with Marshall Snider of Bridgetown Ministries . . . check out what they are about at http://www.bridgetownministries.com/). He was talking about his dream for his city – on why he is compelled to do what he does for the people of Portland, OR. So he quotes a prophet who once said, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV).

Interesting predicament that Israel had found herself in. The nation had lost almost everything that they held near and dear – no more land and no more leadership. They were exiles to the Enemy – and Babylon was doing everything that they could to strip the little identity that they had left as the Chosen People. They did not belong here . . . this was not the way it was supposed to be. What was God going to say? What was he going to do? Everything in Israel was probably screaming, “Run away. Pull away. Make sure that you are seperete and holy.”

Then comes the Message. Seek peace. Make things that are oh so very wrong oh so right. Show them and share with them how they might know God, be known by him, and make him known to others. Yes, even a pagan nation can be redeemed by a Kingdom. Ironic, isn’t it? It took disobedience and destrcution for Israel to finally be true to the Abrahamic Promise. That they would be “blessed” in order to be a blessing. The exiles were to care less about their return (which would indeed happen but was out of their control) and more about restoration of their enemies? They were to care about the things that God cared about. They were to rebuild a city that they had no real vested interest in. God cared about more than just the Holy Land. He wanted to make other lands holy.

So where does that leave Snider? Portland? Your church and mine? Have I ever stepped back long enough to consider what my community really needs? How the Kingdom might come in my very backyard? How heaven might meet earth? A good question, by the way, for anyone considering a church plant. What will your group do that no one else is willing to do on behalf of Christ? Yes, we are in exile. This world is not what it was supposed to be. Things just aren’t right, are they? Our citizenship is with a completely different Ruler. And yet, we are here. So what do we do? Bring peace. Do what only our King can do. Yes, he will return. Yes, he will make the Heavens and Earth new again. But what if he wishes to begin now? What if he aims to begin with the cross? Continue with your heart and my heart? With my church and yours? With your city and mine?

I will be honest, when someone mentions the 29th chapter of Jeremiah, this is the not the verse that first comes to mind. I think we are all more familiar with verse 11 and beyond (how he has plans to prosper and us and to give us a hope and future). But what if God prophecied their return to Jerusalem as a way to propel them into action rather than into a mindset of apathy? Those seventy years were not to be filled with days of senseless waiting. They were to continue on the mission – even though the situation was less than ideal. Makes me wonder what contexts we have more often than not used vv. 11-14. Take graduations for instance. We reassure the students that God has a plan and purpose for their lives . . . and he indeed does . . . but we focus on how the next season of preparation and training will be paramount in them discovering that call upon their life. But what if they are already in the midst of that call? What if the university is their “seventy years”? What if they are to be in exile that they might bring peace? What better place to be a light? What better way to show Kingdom-Living than in the midst of the Ivory Tower? Anticipate the Return. Maximize the Exile.

Exile

Elders

I worry sometimes that we are so connected as a culture that we have failed to realize that we are not connected to those who matter the most. I am grateful for the fact that we can now keep in contact with people through cell networks, social media, and the like. But such venues are no replacement for mentoring and accountability. Distance now often gets in the way of generations. Though my children are incredibly loved by their grandchildren – they visit often throughout the year, talk frequently on the phone, and share gifts/cards/notes – this does not make up for the fact that they are still seperated by a great distance. I see the value in the past when families shared property – they were able to share life together. Children being in close proximity of several generations. For example, I will never forget those priceless moments of riding along with my grandfather in a U-Haul or coming home from school to sit at a barstool and talk with Evelyn Galbreath about what life used to be like in her day. The wisdom. The courage. The understanding that people view life differently and why they view it that way. A respect and a reverence. I might not share every opinion – but I at least learned the art of listening and learning. Of being teachable.

The Bible reads, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastenst to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later thingst yet to be among those who come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, ESV).

The preacher/teacher saw life in much a different way than he had in his youth. He saw the world for what it was. He was no longer impressed or intrigued with the temptations of his younger days. And he wanted to share what he knew. He wanted to pass on what was most important. He wanted to see his children and his children’s children avoid the pitfalls that he himself fell into. He wanted them to build upon his legacy rather than have to create one of their own. Oh, that the emerging generations would pay attention. That they would not discount those who have gone before them but pay respect to the past as they move into the future.

In the same way, it is important for the older generations to recognize that they did not do everything that they could have nor in the way that they should have. The preacher is honest in admitting that he had his fair share of failures. The Builders and Boomers were not perfect. The good old days were not all good . . . and they need to be honest with themselves to encourage their children to learn from their successes AND their shortcomings – to be proud of the younger generations for changing that which needs to be changed – but never to change just for changes sake.

As for me, I am listening . . . .

Elders