Reflections on Grace Through Others

To be the first to admit that I am a man full of folly and brokenness would be condescending in nature. For even the apostle Paul understood himself to be totally depraved and without a desire for good or for God (Romans 3, Romans 7).

I am not the first to recognize myself as being totally depraved.

However, this is my natural state of being.

This is all of our natural state of being.

But the grace of God outweighs our folly.

The grace of God outweighs our depravity.

The grace of God outweighs our corrupt human nature that bears the fruit of death, destruction, jealousy, envy, pride, and self-deprecation.

And man… is that grace often demonstrated with power.

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

How thankful I am that the depth of my brokenness is not equal to the depth of the sovereign Lord’s grace. No, His grace and mercy overflows the cavernous wasteland that defines my natural state of being. And far more often than not is that grace expressed through the truth in love given by God’s people directly to my soul.

May we forever present ourselves to God as weak and incapable that He might direct our hearts continually towards the power of the Savior and thereby make known His presence through us.

For where His presence is, there is true love.

And where there is true love, there is redemption.

And where there is redemption, there is the covering of a multitude of sins.

Reflections on the Collapse of Mars Hill Church

This: http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2014/11/04/former-mars-hill-elders-we-want-to-publicly-confess-our-sin/

and this: http://repentantpastor.com/confessions/letter-confession-bent-meyer-paul-petry/

break my heart.

When Jesus is rejected in favor of another man, love and justice cease to be the focus of the church. And when Jesus, love, and justice cease to be the focus of the church, God will intervene and make sure no more harm is done.

He does not care about numbers, because Mars Hill was still seen to be one of the fastest growing churches in America as of late Spring (including number of conversions; non-Christian to Christian).

He does not care about quality of programs or wine-skins, as many of Mark Driscoll’s Bible teachings were – and still are – wholly Biblical, helpful, and encouraging.

What He cares about is the intent behind everything that the leadership of the church chooses to do. He cares about what goes on behind the scenes. He cares about what motivates the heart to make decisions that affect the emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological health of the congregants.

He cares about people being pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone.

Not to the church.

Not to the leadership of the church.

But to Him alone.

Driscoll and company had to fight in order to maintain positions of power and leadership. Their congregants no longer saw them worthy to be so, yet they fought tooth and nail for it. They removed members. They removed elders. And they labeled them all as “unrepentant, in sin, and not subject to authority.” Eldership at Mars Hill often boiled down the outside criticisms as being “satanic attack (spiritual warfare) because he is not pleased with how many people are meeting Jesus in one of the least churched cities in America.”

Yet the congregants did not see their criticisms this way. They stood firm in their  rejection of the spiritual authority that was over them; and only over them by proxy of choosing to stay close to friends and family in Christ and not leave them.

The rejected what was unbiblical,

They rejected the damage authoritarian power structures had cause to their friends, acquaintances, and to those whom they had only heard horror stories.

But they clung to Jesus together, knowing that the God of all justice, all mercy, and all grace would bring to light the truth, whether in this life or the next.

It is no coincidence when hundreds – thousands – of members from the same congregation (former and current) have the same criticisms, have experienced the same authoritarian power structures, and have undergone the same emotional, spiritual, and psychological trauma that results from leadership who want to keep total control of their people through manipulative, pseudo-Biblical, means.

Pastors, leaders, when the multitude cries out with the same criticism against you or your leadership structure, open your eyes, open your ears, and open your heart, because God is speaking.

I do not think that Mars Hill will be the only church that undergoes such implosions. This seems to be the first of many, unless the many repent.

God has sent Isaiah’s, Jeremiah’s, and Jonah’s into the world. Some will respond, and some will not. Some will return to the basicality of the Christian gospel, and some will press further and further into the depths of power struggle and control until God says “enough is enough!”

Thankfully, after many years, some of those in leadership at Mars Hill recently came to publicly repent and confess the unrighteous, unbiblical, nature of their rash decisions:

“Paul, on Dec. 5, 2007, those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. The treatment was to have included ‘rejection and disassociation’ in the hope that you would ‘come to the acknowledgment of sin and repent.’ ‘The disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long-standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character… We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years… The Seattle base mega-church has imploded over the past eight months.”

My heart breaks for the Mars Hill family. My heart breaks for Marc Driscoll’s family. But my heart breaks even more for those two elders – and the thousands of MH members, and other congregants across the world – that have undergone unrighteous acts such as these.

God, have mercy on Your church. Lord Jesus, show up in supernatural ways and redirect those in leadership to lead like You call us to in Philippians 2:5-8. Holy Spirit, infuse life into the heart of the leadership in the Evangelical church to never trust in numbers, to never trust in conversion rates, to never trust in how many are baptized, and to never trust in the man-centered quality of the wine-skin that they choose to employ. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pour out blessing on the Evangelical church to return to the roots of the basic gospel. To return to the roots of the gospel that calls people to pursue You, Lord Jesus, and to pursue You to the ends of the Earth. May You, Holy Trinity, always be the center of our focus. And may meeting You, experiencing You, and being led by You be the call that we make to our members. Jesus, I pray that You would break authoritarian power structures in the church. And if you must, bring to breaking those who refuse to repent. Father God, may Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, and may Your Kingdom reign on Earth through a people who know You, love You, and serve You because their leaders direct them towards You and You alone. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Reflections on Loving Women in Your Church

Love Your Women (no, not just your wife)

10 Ways to Love the Women in Your Church

SINGLE WOMEN

Pursue Them

No, not for the purpose of dating. Pursue them for the purpose of showing them what a man of God should be that they might desire that more than the pseudo-Christian lookalike who talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk. Some call them “friend dates.” That term is stupid, but it really does encapsulate the idea behind relationally pursuing a woman in your church. Model for her the type of man you would want your sister to marry. One that will lead her to Jesus before himself.

Listen to Them

This is almost a no brainer, but single men all across the board seem to fall short in this area every time. The best way to love the women in your church is to listen to them without the expectation of providing “quality counsel” that is supposed to “fix their problems.” Intently engage in conversation with them about real life, real things, and real issues (of course, with wisdom). Many women that I have met criticize men in the same way, “they always want to be correct and fix our issues, we just wish they would listen more.”

Pray for them

During your relational time, never forget to ask them about things that you can pray for. Write those things down. Save them in your smart phone. Write them on your hand. Do something to let them know that you will not just be like every other dude who solicits prayer requests simply to “have something to talk about.” Oh, and, actually pray about them in your quiet time with the Lord.

P.S. It never hurts to pray with them while you are together.

Encourage Them

Nothing is more satisfying that knowing that you are being thought about throughout the week by someone else, particularly someone you do not know well. As you are praying for your friend, ask the Lord to provide you with Scriptures that will build her up. Proverbs 31 is a really great way to encourage a single woman to continue steadfastly following the Lord (as long as you do not make it creepy, single dudes). In the same way, building her up to other people in your church is always a great idea. “Did you see that “so-and-so” has grown a lot in this area? Man, I really respect “so-and-so” because she is always… “So-and-so” is really good at…”

Ask for Prayers from Them

Yep. That’s right. One of the best ways to love the women in your church is to deliberately ask them to pray for you. Don’t make it superficial (“would you pray that God would give me a new car or a new house?”). Make it real. Do the best you can – with wisdom – to live in the light before her, and then ask her if she would pray for you.

MARRIED WOMEN

There are guidelines here that do not apply to the pursuit of single women. Biblically, it is very important not to encroach on the emotional life of a married woman in the way that her husband should. This builds unnecessary (and adulterous) emotional connections that are unhealthy for you and for her.

Encourage Their Husbands to Them

Typically if an individual is friends with a married woman, he usually knows the woman’s husband. This is something I have dabbled in and seen great success. Encouraging the woman’s husband you are interacting with – while you are talking to her – is an incredible way to build up that woman by helping her to generate a sense of pride (not unhealthy pride) in her family, the quality of her husband’s character, and how much her husband is impacting those surrounding him. Nothing speaks louder than knowing that the person you love the most is respected by his peers and has deeply impacted his peers on foundational levels.

Encourage Their Godly Qualities

Study the Scriptures and discover what they say about the character and nature of a Godly wife. Pinpoint some of these qualities in the married women that surround your life and encourage them. It is always a great idea to seek out her husband and ask if that is okay to do (as you do not want to jump into a potentially dangerous scenario where husband and wife have been fighting and you provide unbiblical emotional support to the woman). I have seen married women light up with joy after I have told them, “You model for me what a Godly wife should be, and for that I am so thankful.”

Encourage Them to Their Husbands

This is a surefire way to refrain from building too much of an emotional connection with a married woman. Sit down with your bro and let him know – preferably from the Scriptures – how Godly his wife is and how much she is impacting you by just being a prime example of living for Jesus. Don’t make it awkward. Now sit back and watch this brother light up, go home, and encourage his wife in ways he may not have thought about. Don’t be prideful. Don’t be selfish. Rejoice knowing that you are loving this married woman through encouraging her husband that he might encourage and love her better.

Use Them as Examples

Discussing how specific aspects of their life have impacted you during Bible teachings, small group discussions, discussions with their friends/disciples/church members, is always loving. We see examples in the New Testament where Paul encouraged specific women, some who were married (Priscilla), to the particular church he was writing to. This will get back to them. And this will make them feel loved.

Pray for Them

Once again, nearly a no brainer. Ask them for ways that you can pray for them throughout the week. Be sure to take a healthy step back if things begin to get too personal about her married life, issues in her married life, etc. (that is for her female friends, and her husband). You are also free to pray with her about things that are not too emotionally personal. Such a great way to love married women is to pray that God would bind together their family in supernatural ways and heal any pain/fighting that may be going on (you do not need to ask about this, but you can always pray for it anyways).

 

Reflections on Isaiah 12

“Then you will say on that day, ‘I will give thanks to You, O LordFor although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned awayand You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraidFor the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.‘ Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation. And in that day you will say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoplesMake them remember that His name is exalted.’ Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things; Let this be known throughout the earthCry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12)

And what an incredible period in history that was. Isaiah foretold of this One who would bring salvation to all who seek it – who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, the root of Jesse – in Isaiah chapter nine and chapter twelve.

And this One who came to bring salvation was Jesus of Nazareth. He came. He died. And He rose from the grave on the third day conquering sin, satan, and death that we might come to know Him personally.

Because Jesus was our substitute, God’s anger towards the way we hurt ourselves and one another was poured out on Him.

Because Jesus was our substitute, God has become our salvation, our comfort, our strength and our song.

But Isaiah’s prophetic message did not stop with the incarnation of Jesus the Christ.

Isaiah also foretold of the coming Kingdom of God that would be inaugurated at the birth of the Christ, and completed at the return of the Christ. Much of the scroll of Isaiah has to do with the coming King – the Messiah, the Christ – when he reigns in His future Kingdom. That is the beauty of the interaction between God and Isaiah; the Father shows him the coming of the Suffering Servant who will shed His blood for the sins of the world (Isaiah 42, Isaiah 53) but He also gives Isaiah a picture of the completed work of that Suffering Servant at the culmination of human history when He will rightfully reign in His kingdom thereby removing all fear, all disease, all pain, all sickness, all brokenness, all sin, and all death.

Two comings. One Christ.

And what a magnificent day that will be.

Revelation 21:2-6 declares,

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’  Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.'”

Who will be His people?

Those who come to Jesus.

Where will His people be?

In a new Earth, following a King who – as He is faithful to do – meets His people where they are at, wipes away evil, and reigns in love; joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Why?

Because He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace, the Author of Love, the Suffering Servant, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Almighty Creator who loves His creation so much that He came in the humble form of a servant to suffer with them, die with them, and rise again to save them.

And this we make known to the world. And this we cry from the heights of the mountains to the depths of the valleys. And this we risk everything for.

Because He is worth it.

May billions be met by the Lord Jesus Christ because we made Him known to the world. May billions stand in the presence of His glory and proclaim with us, “He is my comfort, my strength, my song, my salvation.”

And may billions rejoice to know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in, and to, us” at the coming of our King, Jesus the Christ.

Reflections on Jonah

He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life…’Then the Lord said, ‘You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?’” (Jonah 4:10-11)

“Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9d)

Prejudice is a pervasive evil fueled by the fires of jealousy, anger, and deceit. And “the people of God” are not exempt from being infected. Even in the times of Jonah did this flourish.

The most terrifying thing about prejudice among Christian circles is this: prejudice so distorts our view of other human beings that they become mere objects of disposal, not deserving of the goodness and grace that God promises to show to all who turn to Him.

Sometimes the very people who need to meet Jesus the most are the very people whom our hearts despise the most.

And sometimes the ill nature of our words and thoughts reveal the true position of our hearts; that even we have not repented and clung to the mercy offered to us by Jesus on the cross.

We know that Jonah’s last words – words said directly to God Himself – were, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” (Jonah 4:9b) Jonah’s story ends on this note, with a rebuke from the Lord God.

Will you allow prejudice to consume you? Will you plead with God to not show grace towards others because you have objectified them?

How will your story end?

Do not let jealousy, anger, and the deceitfulness of your own heart control your experience of the wonders and grace of God.

Let it go. And let Him open the eyes of your heart to see the world anew; to see the nations and all of their beautiful uniqueness the way that He sees it.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘[We agree!], blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might,be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’” (Revelation 7:9-12)

A prayer: Lord, my heart is deceitful above all else. And I cannot cure it. God, it is true. I do not see people who are different from me the way that you see them. God, I have turned certain individuals, certain groups, into objects of disposal. Please, God, give me the eyes to see and the wisdom to understand your grace. Your Spirit lives in me God. And your Spirit desires that all come to know you. Lord, you have revealed beforehand that I will be standing with multitudes of people from every tribe, from every language, from every skin color; I will be standing with them worshiping you. God, help me to love them now. Help me to see them as those that need you as much as I need you. May you be merciful to me in my shortcomings, for I know that there is no condemnation for those who are in You. Amen.

Reflections on Communion

Since I began following Jesus six-years ago, it has been a strange thing to me that the general practice of the church is to participate in communion weekly through the taking of a small cup (of wine or grape juice) and small cracker or piece of bread. While I am not opposed to this method, per se, it seems not to capture the scope of what Jesus desired communion to be. Whenever I read the account of Jesus with His disciples in the upper room – and the meditation of Paul on this account – I cannot help but feel that the significance and value of Jesus’ instructions on communion has been diminished by the modern practice of communion.

Jesus commanded His disciples to eat of the bread and drink of the cup in the context of prayer filled, relaxed, fellowship with other believers in Jesus and the sharing of a meal with one another.

Let’s read:

“[In the upper room] When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the disciples with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover [meal] with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:14-20)

There is intrinsic spiritual value in believers in Christ gathering together (fellowship). Jesus Himself teaches that the community of believers, the Body of Christ, as it were, is a place where God shows up in a unique way (Matthew 18:20). And Jesus knew that. He knew that those who followed Him were going to, often, share meals with one another. And Jesus wanted this communal gathering to be about more than simple sustenance and friendships.

“When you come together, and share a meal with one another, remember My body broken for you – and My blood shed for you – that you might live apart from your sin and together with Me in the Father’s Kingdom forever.”

The scene in the upper room is merely a reflection of the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Matthew 22, Revelation 3, and Revelation 19 display the glory of the disciples of Jesus Christ dining with Him as King in His Kingdom at His second coming.

He came first to dine with us as the suffering servant.

And He will come again to dine with us as the rightful King of all things living.

“As often as you do this (share a meal together), remember that I have given my life for you, and remember that I am coming again soon; and when I come we will eat together in My Kingdom, just as I ate with the disciples in the upper room.” (paraphrase 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Communion is as much about being thankful for the Kingdom of God as it is about remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Jesus came, died, and rose that the Kingdom of God might be populated with forgiven and redeemed, broken, people. And Jesus promised that He would come again to usher in the full Kingdom of God where evil, death, sadness, and pain will all be wiped away. (Mark 1:5; Revelation 21:1-9)

How much more valuable would communion be if we decided that expressing the remembrance of Jesus in His suffering – and the thankfulness that His return to usher in His kingdom is inevitable – happened in the context of close fellowship with other Christians, thankful prayer, and the sharing of a meal with one another.

However, in whatever way you do it, ensure that Jesus and the Kingdom of God are the main focus, rather than form and obligation.

A prayer: Jesus, thanks that you offer me life. Thank you that you gave yours up, that you did not see equality with God as something to be grasped so that you could humble yourself to the point of death, for me. Thank you that through your resurrection the Kingdom of God broke into the world. And thank you that that Kingdom is full of power. Thank you for who you are and who you have made me to be. Come soon, Lord. I am excited to sit and have a meal with you. Amen.

Reflections on Speech

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom… For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1a-2)

When fancy philosophies and zealous passions – albeit good things – get in the way of the core message of the Bible, and the central mission of the church, our words become merely a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt… for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Colossians 4:6a: Romans 8:1)

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt… for if I have not love, [my pursuits] profit nothing” (Colossians 4:6a: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Christ. And Him crucified.

That should be our ocean of words. And that should be our central focus in training, equipping, rebuking, and encouraging. Anything else is built on a foundation of sand.

The foundation of true, life changing, spiritual power comes in the form of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, for “what is of first importance is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then rose again on the third day;” and this – this gospel – is the power of God to all who believe. (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 1:16)

There are far more injustices – far more unrepentant sin – in the world than individuals can remedy on their own. And that is why we, as God’s masterpieces, were created by Him “for good works prepared before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 2:10) Our passions and philosophies to do good were put in us by the very hand of God Himself. And He wants us to preach these good things to fellow members in the body of Christ that they might join us and grow. But He also wants us to make sure that our priorities are straight in what we decide to preach of first importance.

And Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we want to see real change in people, real acceptance of the good things we want them to join us in doing, and if we truly want to love and honor God, we must love and honor our friends, our neighbors, our enemies. And the only way to ensure that we do that is by preaching

Him

And Him crucified.

A prayer: Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (Psalm 19:12-13)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14)